Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 5 The Ionian Revolt Summary

Histories | Study Guide

Herodotus

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Histories | Book 5, The Ionian Revolt | Summary

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Summary

At this point, Aristagoras arrives in Athens with his request for aid. The Athenians are persuaded to aid Aristagoras and agree to send 20 warships to aid Ionia. Herodotus notes that "these ships were the beginning of evils for the Greeks and barbarians"; that is, the true beginning of the wars.

The ships sail to Ephesus. The Greeks and Ionians join up and launch an attack on Sardis, which they capture and burn. The Persians strike back with some success, and they succeed in convincing the Athenians to stop backing the rebellion. Other places join the revolt, including Cyprus. Darius blames the Athenians for the success of the revolt and swears vengeance upon the city.

A Persian army, using Phoenician ships, attacks Cyprus and, after some difficulties, reconquers it. Other armies dispatched by Darius defeat the rebels in multiple cities, and the rebellion is gradually suppressed. Aristagoras, seeing his rebellion faltering, attempts to flee to Thrace, but he is killed by its inhabitants.

Analysis

The Athenians, unlike the Spartans, agree to aid Aristagoras. Although their democracy is strong, the Athenians are not so skilled at war or as politically canny as the Spartans, who take the wiser course in refusing aid to the doomed Ionian revolt. The Persians have little trouble in crushing the revolt, and Aristagoras meets a worse fate—death—than that which he hoped to escape in the first place—demotion.

Darius's oath of vengeance is an entertaining and important narrative moment. The idea that he ordered his servants to remind him three times a day of his oath to conquer Athens is highly theatrical and unlikely to be a real historical fact. Nevertheless it is another instance of Herodotus's skill as a storyteller and scene setter. He needed to show his audience why Athens mattered so much to a distant foreign king. The forces sent by the Athenians were not great, and the rebellion not especially difficult to suppress. Darius's oath of vengeance is another episode in Herodotus's narration of his life that shows him to be a wrathful and arrogant man. Athens must be destroyed not because they harmed Darius; it is for the crime of opposing him at all. Herodotus offers this as yet another piece of evidence in his ongoing argument against tyranny.

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