Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 5 Origins Of The Ionian Revolt Summary

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Histories | Book 5, Origins of the Ionian Revolt | Summary



Trouble is brewing in Ionia. Naxos at this time is recorded as being the wealthiest of the Greek islands. Aristagoras, the ruler of Miletus, a city in Ionia, attempts to arrange the attack of Naxos so that the island will be brought into the Persian Empire. He is encouraged to do this by wealthy exiles from Naxos. However, the venture fails. Aristagoras fears that he will lose his position as a result of his failure, and urged on by Histiaeus (who sends a slave with a secret message tattooed on his head), he decides to revolt against Darius. Aristagoras begins a revolt and rallies supporters to his banner. One man, Hecataeus, warns the rebels of the strength of Persia and the wrath of Darius, but he is ignored. To increase the rebels' chance of success, Aristagoras gets on a boat and heads to Sparta to request aid.

Cleomenes, the king of Sparta, is introduced. He is described as "on the verge of madness," and this madness has caused the Spartans no end of trouble. Cleomenes receives Aristagoras and agrees to hear his request. Aristagoras argues that the Ionians are engaged in a struggle for their liberty and deserve the aid of the "leaders of the Greek world," the Spartans. Moreover, Aristagoras insists that the Persians will be easy for the Spartans to defeat, for the Persians fight "in trousers and turbans" and have "little taste for war." Cleomenes responds by saying, "Your proposal to take Lacedaemonians a three months' journey from the sea is a highly improper one." In short, he refuses.


Halfway through the narrative, the wars between the Greeks and Persians begin. This is why Herodotus has kept the audience informed of the affairs in Ionia for all this time. It is in Ionia that the troubles between the two peoples really begin. Although at various points Herodotus describes the role of fate and the gods in human affairs, the events related here have their origins in human greed and ambition. Aristagoras (d. 497 BCE) fears his failure to capture Naxos (a wealthy island) will result in a demotion, and so he rebels. Histiaeus convinces him to do so because he chafes against Darius's rule. The rulers of Naxos conspired with Aristagoras because they had lost power on their home island. These are all the deeds and problems of humans, recognizable throughout history. Hecataeus assumes the role of the ignored advisor who urged caution.

Aristagoras's attempt to sway the Spartans is full of interesting details. The Persians' habit of fighting while wearing trousers is meant to indicate their decadence and lack of skill in warfare. Brave Greeks wore skirts. The Spartan king Cleomenes (d. 491 BCE) is no fool. He knows that Aristagoras is exaggerating the ease with which the Persians may be defeated. His pithy response is an example of the famous Spartan sense of humor. The Spartans were famed for dry wit and a determined outlook on life, which complemented their famed prowess as warriors. The modern word laconic, meaning a dry wit and wry outlook on the world, is derived from Lacedaemonia, the region of Greece in which Sparta is situated.

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