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2nd Period: The Persian Wars, and Struggles. Among the Greek States for Supremacy (500-338 B.C.). page 2

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Themistocles and Aristides now became the leading statesmen in Athens. Themistocles, one of the chief founders of the power of the commonwealth, was a man of wonderful mental resources. Sprung from the ranks of the people, he had a political genius at once tortuous and profound. He was marvellously quick and wise in foreseeing events, and most ingenious and prompt in devising means to attain the ends which he had in view. This intensely clever man was certain that Persia would not rest content with the decision given at Marathon. He advised his countrymen to devote the income derived from the silver-mines at Laurium to the creation of a powerful fleet. His eye was fixed on maritime greatness for his country. He saw in the bays on the coast at Piraeus, four miles from Athens, ready-made harbours for naval and commercial purposes. He gazed on the waters of the AEgean, and saw in the "Isles of Greece" and the coast-towns in every quarter of the seas in that region a territorial empire, bringing with it the leadership of Greece for the state which should possess unequalled naval power. His advice was taken. 200 galleys were built and equipped in the course of ten years. In order to ensure the prosperity of the navy the great Athenian statesman strove for the creation of a great maritime business and population by attracting the people to a seafaring life. The bays around Piraeus were made into good fortified harbours, and a busy trading town, called Piraeus, grew up on the shore. The political rival of Themistocles was Aristides, one of the noblest characters of antiquity. His sympathies lay with the aristocratic element in the state. He foresaw that a naval force must be chiefly manned by the poorer class who were not landowners, and that these men, if they fought well for Athens, would quickly gain a political ascendency. The good old ways would be set aside for a life of adventure and change. His view was, no doubt, a wrong one, and he was trusting to one element of power instead of two when he urged that the Athenians should resist the Persians again by land. The rivalry between the two statesmen became so sharp that, at the suggestion of the Council, the Ecclesia or popular assembly called the ostracism into play, and in 483 b.c. Aristides was condemned to ten years' exile. The pure and honourable character of the man, inaccessible to bribes or to any personal interest, was shown in his after-conduct. The man renowned as " the Just " bore his sentence with dignified resignation, praying the gods, as he quitted his beloved city, that the Athenians might never have cause to repent of their decision. Three years later he was recalled, and, on the eve of Salamis, he hurried over by night from AEgina, through the midst of the Persian fleet, eager to serve and save those who had banished him, and gave important information to the Athenian commanders. He did good service in the ensuing battle, and also fought for his country as a general-in-chief of the Athenians at the decisive battle of Plataea. We must pass quickly over the events of the second Persian war. Xerxes, king of Persia, son of Darius I., invaded Greece in 480 b.c. with a naval and military armament so vast that, without attempting to criticise 'the alleged numbers, running into millions of men, we may take as mainly true the statements of the Greek historian which relate the gigantic caprices of infinite wealth and despotic power: the bridges across the Hellespont, roads for armies spread upon the waves; the canal for galleys cut through Mount Athos, in rounding which the fleet of Darius had been wrecked 12 years before; the streams drunk dry, the provinces exhausted to supply food for the invading host. The defence of Greece rested mainly upon Sparta and Athens. To the congress held at the Isthmus of Corinth- in the autumn of 481, Argos and Achaea, from hostility to Sparta, sent no deputies, and Argos even favoured the Persian cause, as Thebes did, from her hatred to Athens. Plataea, of course, was at the side of Athens, and Thespiae, Thessaly, and the Peloponnesian states, save Argos and Achsea, helped the common cause. No aid came from the chief colonies. By land no effective resistance could at first be made. Leonidas. a Spartan king, died bravely at Thermopylae in July 480 b.c., with his 300 Spartiatae and a few hundreds of Thespians who refused to leave him. The land-force of Xerxes swept onwards, destroying Thespiae and Plataea, in Boeotia, and receiving the forced submission of the whole country. During the three days of fighting at Thermopylae the fleets had been engaged indecisively off Artemisium, at the north of Euboea, but the Persians lost 200 ships in a storm, and, in a second day's encounter, the Greeks severely handled the enemy, retreating on the third day to the Gulf of Salamis, As the Persian military host, in irresistible numbers, drew near, the Athenians abandoned their city, the whole of the people, carrying what they could in their hands, being conveyed on ship-board to neighbouring islands and places of safety on the coast. Xerxes at last took revenge for his father's wrong received at Sardis. Athens was burnt with all its shrines. The Spartans, during this time, had kept the Peloponnesian forces at the Isthmus of Corinth, where they began to build a wall across, leaving their Athenian allies to their fate. The matter was decided in the great sea-fight at Salamis, where nearly 400 Greek vessels met about double that number of Persian. The defeat of the invaders was largely due to the overcrowding of their vessels, and Xerxes retired by land with a large part of his army, which suffered much from hunger and disease. The great day of Salamis is remarkable in connection with the three chief Attic writers of tragedy. AEschylus, whom we saw at Marathon, was also a combatant in the naval battle. Sophocles, then a youth, danced at the festival which celebrated the victory. Euripides was born, on the day of the action, in the isle of Salamis itself. The real deliverer of Greece in this second great encounter of East and West was, beyond doubt, Themistocles. It was he who had provided the fleet, and his counsels and crafty policy during the invasion were of inestimable service to the cause.

When Xerxes quitted Greece, he left his general Mardonius, with a great host, probably at least a quarter of a million men, to winter in Thessaly. In the spring of 479 the Persians advanced on Athens. The Spartans were again not forthcoming, and the partly rebuilt city, perforce again abandoned by its people, was destroyed. Mardonius then retired into Boeotia, and fixed his headquarters at Thebes, where the citizens, in their fanatical and unpatriotic hatred of Athens, served in the Persian ranks. At last the Spartans put forth their whole strength, and crossed the Isthmus of Corinth in the summer of 479, with about 30,000 heavy-armed infantry of their own and their allies, and twice as many light-armed troops. The 90,000 men were joined by about 10,000 Athenians, Plataeans, and Thespians, under Aristides, the whole force, the most imposing army ever raised in Hellas, being under the supreme command of Pausanias. In the last week of September the opposing forces met in the great and decisive battle of Plataea. The opponents, in numbers, were far more nearly matched than at Marathon, and the Persians, with the storming of their camp, were not only defeated but destroyed, Mardonius being slain in action. An immense booty was taken, of which a tenth was dedicated to the gods - gorgeous couches; bowls, goblets, tables, chains, bracelets, scimitars, of silver and gold, decked with gems; countless horses and camels; and many chests of Persian coin, now to become current in Greece. A peculiar interest is attached to one of the presents offered in the shrines of national deities. A golden tripod, supported by a three-headed brazen serpent, was sent to Apollo's temple at Delphi. This relic is still to be seen in the Hippodrome or Atmeidan at Constantinople, preserved through the long ages of the Greek or Byzantine empire to become at last the possession of its Tartar conquerors. We may note with satisfaction that, after the victory which for ever rid Greece of Persian invaders, the leaders of the Persian party at Thebes were executed on the Isthmus of Corinth, and that the Plataeans, receiving the prize of valour, were charged with the duty of preserving the tombs of the slain Greeks, and had their territory, on which the battle had been fought, declared sacred ground. The successes of the Greeks did not end here. They had already taken the offensive on the coast of Asia Minor, and on the very day of Plataea they gained a great victory at Mycale, north of the mouth of the river Maeander, defeating the Persians on land, and destroying by fire the whole of the ships which their commander, remembering the issue of Salamis. had hauled up on the beach, afraid to meet Athenians on the sea. The Ionian cities on the coast were thus freed from Persian sway, and joined the Hellenic league, along with several of the islands, as Samos, Lesbos, and Chios. The grand triumph of Greece over Persia in this whole contest, amidst much cowardice, treachery, and vacillation in various Greek states, was due partly to the mistakes of the Persian commanders, and mainly to the courage, enterprise, and resolution displayed by the Athenians from the beginning to the end of the war, under the leadership of Themistocles. The energy of Athens had been, on the whole, well backed in military affairs by Sparta, and by the Peloponnesian states which were wont to act in union under her.

Athens now began to receive her reward in the hegemony of, or ascendency in, the Greek states, a position which she held for over 60 years. The city was rebuilt and enlarged, and, through the foresight and craftiness of Themistocles, was strongly fortified, in spite of jealous opposition from the Spartans. The harbour of Piraeus was made thoroughly defensible, and the maritime and naval greatness of Athens was established. The real supremacy of the body of the people at Athens came at this time, as Aristides had foreseen, from the fact of all able-bodied citizens, rich and poor alike, having served on board the fleet in the great war. The poorer citizens claimed the right of holding state-offices, and it was Aristides himself who, in 477 b.c., met their views in carrying a measure by which all citizens were admitted to the archonship and other high offices of the state. The Hellenic confederacy was now formed, with Athens as its political head. This "Confederacy of Delos" was designed to exclude Persian power and influence from the AEgean Sea. The religious centre was the temple of Apollo in Delos, where the treasury was placed and the assemblies were held. Aristides was appointed the first treasurer, with the duty of assigning to each state its share of the general contribution. At first some of the smaller states contributed money instead of ships and crews, and in time most of the others, in order to avoid the trouble and danger of naval service, adopted the same course. The position of these states was thus changed for the worse. They became tributary subjects of Athens instead of free allies, able to defend themselves, in case of need, by combining their naval forces; and further mischief came when in 459 b.c. the treasury was removed from Delos to Athens, a step which gave her really the headship of an empire, instead of the leadership of confederated free states.

The war against Persia in the eastern Mediterranean continued, and in 466 Kimon, son of Miltiades, gained a double victory, by land and sea, over the Persians at the mouth of the river Eurymedon, on the south coast of Asia Minor. Three years before this date, in 469, aristocratic jealousy and Spartan intrigue had caused the exile, by ostracism, of Themistocles, and Kimon became leader of the oligarchical party. He was a good general and an honest statesman, favourable to Sparta, and anxious to see rivalry between her and Athens ended by their alliance against Persia, the common foe. The new political leader, with the spoils of Persia, began to construct the important two long walls connecting Athens with the harbours of Piraeus and Phaleron. He won popularity by the lavish expenditure of his own great wealth in public works for the benefit of the citizens, such as porticoes, groves, and gardens, while he was munificent in feeding the indigent and helping deserving traders or artisans with loans. In 459 b.c. Kimon was exiled by the ostracism, and a new democratic statesman came to the head of affairs.

This was Pericles, a man of noble family, whose name has acquired additional brilliancy from his association with the period called "The Age of Pericles," the great days of Athens in literature and art. Steps towards the aggrandisement and, as it proved, the corruption and decline of the Athenian democracy, had already been taken in the law carried by Ephialtes which deprived the court of Areopagus of all its former political control, and confined it to judicial functions, and in the measures passed for paying citizens who served in the army or acted as jurors, and for bestowing alms out of the public treasury upon the poor at the public festivals. In supporting these measures Pericles seems to have had an honest belief that it would be well for the state that the body of the citizens should receive political education by taking part in the decision of all kinds of public matters in the Ecclesia and in acting judicially, and he was anxious to keep the oligarchs, who favoured Spartan views, from having any control in affairs of state. The mistake made was that it was impossible to secure a succession of wise and conscientious leaders like himself, and that human nature, always capable of corruption, was in fact corrupted.

An idle, capricious, light-minded body of men, secure of subsistence and pleasure at the public expense, was invested with the supreme control of affairs. More ready to criticise the speakers in the assembly than to weigh calmly the probable results of measures brought before them, greedy of flattery, easily led away by promises, careless and hasty in decision, they became the supporters, after the time of Pericles, of a crew of demagogues. Evil ambition was aroused; the allies, really subject-states, were alienated by extortion, and the sway of the Athenian democracy became jealous, oppressive, cruel in vengeance on revolted cities and Greek foes. For the present, however, the new democratic empire flourished. The stately, eloquent, imperturbable Pericles, the "Zeus of Athens," ruled by the sheer force of his individual character, by his superiority of native genius and acquired knowledge. This central figure of Grecian history, wielding at will a restless democracy by an oratory never surpassed for condensed and vivid imagery, saw his country raised, by his own influence over the energy and ability of her citizens, to a great height of power in the Greek world. War was waged with various success against Sparta and the supporters of her oligarchic system. AEgina was conquered, revolted Euboea and Samos were subdued, new colonies were founded, the fortifications of the city were completed by the construction of a third long wall, parallel with the one leading to the Pirseus. The magnificent buildings rose on the Acropolis and elsewhere in Athens, the remains of which are the admiration and despair of modern architects.

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