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Ionian Revolt

Circa 500 BCE, the political situation in Ionia became desperate; the Greek colonists of Ionia had survived good and bad rulers but since the Persian conquest fifty years hence, the plight of the Ionians was becoming less and less tolerable.

The seeds of the Ionian Revolt were planted when the political party of the democrats banished some rich men from the island of Naxos; these men took refuge in the Persian city of Miletus and appealed to the local tyrant, Aristagoras, for help in regaining control of Naxos; Aristagoras did not have the resources or authority to mount such an invasion so he took the matters up the Persian chain of command with promises of an easy victory and that Naxos could be used as a staging area for the invasion of the other islands of the Kyklades (Cyclades) Group and, finally, the Greek mainland.

The Persian king, Darius, approved the plan and a fleet of 200 ships was launched with a Persian named Megabates as the commander; preparing for the attack on Naxos, the fleet gathered near the island of Khios (Chios); when Megabates was making his inspection of the fleet, he found one of the ships unguarded; Megabates had the ship’s captain bound with his head protruding through an oar-hole; Aristagoras appealed for mercy but Megabates insisted on the humiliating punishment; Aristagoras deliberately disobeyed Megabates and freed the errant captain; Megabates was furious and devised a clever plan where Aristagoras would lose his wealth, power and his life.

Megabates secretly sent a messenger to Naxos and warned the unsuspecting islanders of the impending invasion; the people of Naxos made hasty preparations and were ready when the Persians arrived; a siege of four months ensued and the Persians realized that they could not afford to continue because their war-chest was empty and the easy victory which Aristagoras had promised was not to be had; the Persians withdrew and Aristagoras realized his future looked bleak.

At this same time, a captive of king Darius named Histia (Hestia)eus, sent a message to Aristagoras and urged him to organize a revolt of the Ionian Greeks; the time seemed right to Aristagoras so he plotted to arrest all the princes of the Ionian cities and replace them with men he could trust; with the institution of military governors and the revolt against Darius clearly in the open, Aristagoras sailed to Sparta to seek an alliance.

The Spartan king, Kleomenes (Cleomenes), when he heard how far the Persian capital of Susa was from the Aegean Sea (three months march), dismissed Aristagoras abruptly; Aristagoras then tried to bribe Kleomenes but was again rebuffed; Aristagoras took his appeal to the city of Athens and presented his proposal to the popular assembly; where Aristagoras had been unable to persuade one man (the Spartan king), he had no trouble gaining the support of the people of Athens; they promised twenty ships and appointed a commander named Melanthius to assist Aristagoras.

Other allies joined the revolt and Aristagoras organized an attack on the Persian city of Sardis; Aristagoras did not go to Sardis himself but sent a large ground force to capture the city while he waited in Miletus; circa 498 BCE, Sardis was burned but not captured; the homes of the city were made of straw and when one house was set ablaze, with the exception of the akropolis (acropolis), the entire city burned to the ground; the Ionians retreated to the city of Ephesus and were soundly defeated by the pursuing Persians.

The Athenians withdrew their support for the Ionians but the revolt continued; the city of Byzantium was captured and other northern provinces joined the Ionians against the Persians; the island of Cyprus tried to join the revolt but was soon recaptured by the Persians; Darius instructed his best generals to quash the revolt and the Ionians were soon losing territory to the Persian onslaught.

Aristagoras realized that his fate was not going to be one of victory or honorable defeat; he took his few supporters to Thrake (Thrace) and tried to continue his tyranny on the humble people of that land; he was finally killed trying to capture an unimportant town in a poor nation.

The Ionian Revolt ended with the Persians again in control of the Greek colonies but now the Persians were openly hostile to the cities of the Greek mainland for their support of the Ionians; when the Greeks had burned Sardis, the temple of the goddess Kybele (Cybele) was inadvertently destroyed and the Persians, in retribution, desecrated many Greek temples and shrines when they eventually invaded the Greek mainland in 490 and 480 BCE; also, the Persians never forgave the Athenians for meddling in the affairs of their empire and the burning of Sardis was a pretext for the burning of Athens in 480 BCE.

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