Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 6 Affairs In Greece Summary

Histories | Study Guide

Herodotus

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Histories | Book 6, Affairs in Greece | Summary

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Summary

Because the Athenians had aided the Ionians, Darius aims to punish them. He sends his general, Mardonius, to attack Greece. Mardonius leads both a navy and an army, and with little difficulty they add Thasos and Macedonia to Darius's possessions. A series of events cause Mardonius more trouble. On land, the barbarian Brygi attack, wounding Mardonius and depleting his army, and at sea, a storm wrecks much of the Persian fleet. However, Mardonius soundly defeats the Brygi.

Before he invades, Darius decides to "test the attitude" of the Greeks. He sends heralds to the Greek cities, requesting submission in the form of a gift of earth and water. The inhabitants of Aegina submit, and their Athenian enemies tell the Spartans of this. Cleomenes goes to Aegina at the head of an army, but he faces opposition. Dryly, he tells the people of Aegina: "There's trouble coming for you." Sparta, however, has a system of a dual monarchy—two kings who rule together. Cleomenes has to break off his expedition to Aegina to tend to troubles at home, started by his coruler, Demaratus. Demaratus is deposed and flees to Persia. Cleomenes, with a more favorable coruler by his side, attacks and subdues Aegina.

Cleomenes's fortunes decline from this point. He is forced to leave Sparta, but he is brought back after he appeared to be rallying the citizens of Arcadia to attack Sparta. Cleomenes subsequently descends into madness and eventually kills himself.

Analysis

Darius's goal to destroy the Athenians for sending such small aid to the Ionians might seem like an overreaction given the distances involved and the expense of an invasion. But if Herodotus has shown anything to this point, it is that Darius believes that to defy him is to invite destruction. At this point in the narrative, Herodotus begins to explain events he knows well and for which he has reliable sources. As a result, the level of detail increases and the stories become more reliable.

Although Darius is warlike, he knows the power of coercion. The demand for earth and water is apparently specific to the Persians. It is meant literally: the submitting city would send a sample of the ground and the water from their lands.

The Greeks know that Darius is a threat, and it is partly for this reason that they try to deal with Aegina. The Spartans and Athenians are constantly squabbling with Aegina, an island very near Athens with a navy of its own, and one of the rare threats to Athenian naval supremacy. The other Greeks think that to leave Aegina to its own devices is to risk their collaboration with the Persians. A disadvantage the Greeks face compared to the Persians is this lack of unity.

Demaratus, the deposed Spartan king, appears later as a member of the Persian court. He serves as a literary device to give the Persian kings a Greek character to speak to.

Cleomenes's madness had been mentioned when he was first introduced. Here, it causes his downfall.

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