The Ionian Revolt was the first part of the Greco-Persian Wars however it wasn’t part of the main conflict, led primarily by Sparta and Athens against Persia. It did however unleash over 150 years of acrimony and warfare between Persia and a large changing list of Greek enemies. But as important as this event was it wasn’t started in a very typical way, even though it could have easily. After years of discontent under the whim of tyrants they had no love or need for the Ionians were fully ready for some kind of revolt. It took the actions of one tyrant to set everything into motion.
The revolt started with a man named Aristagoras so I find it fitting to start with him. He was the tyrant of the Greek city Miletus within Ionia. However he was only serving in the position for his uncle, Histiaeus. This man had become a trusted companion of Darius the Great, the current Persian monarch, after campaigning with him against the Scythians. Scythia is a very broad term for the general region north of the entire Achaemenid Empire and east except for India, expanding into Russia a considerable distance. Due to the lack of historical records the dynasties, customs and tribes are hard to come by within the vague area called Scythia but due to their independence from other governments it can be assumed that they were at least strong enough to hold their own territory.
Unfortunately after the campaign Darius offered him a reward and he chose to control a new military base, constructed near the Scythian borderlands in Thrace, called Myrcinus. Thrace was a region compromising European Turkey, southwestern Bulgaria and part of the eastern arm of Greece, all except for the shores, that was all Greek. The city Histiaeus asked for lay on an important transportation route linking Persia to Europe as well as containing abundant sources of timber and silver. This caused some doubts regarding his loyalty, since in a monarchy the more territory, men or resources you possess the greater a threat you are to royal authority. Megabazus, a prominent general under Darius, voiced his suspicions to Darius regarding Histiaeus’s loyalty but Darius still considered him a loyal friend.
While it is a bit hard to separate exactly what happened, the known event is that Darius invited Histiaeus to his court in Susa as a trusted companion and advisor. Susa was a major city of the empire and an occasional capital. A king’s court was the personal group of people under his command, family, patrons, diplomats, guests, royal guards and a mix of anyone else was invited or attended regularly. Also, capitals of major powers would shift simply on where the king and his court had moved to, so in many empires the capital could change constantly. Now, back to Aristagoras. As tyrant he decided to launch a campaign that would eventually have consequences that reverberated throughout Europe and Asia.
Some exiled citizens of Naxos, a large island in the Cyclades, came to Aristagoras, asking troops from him so they could retake their homeland. The Cyclades are an archipelago between the Peloponnese and south western Anatolia, in the middle of the southern Aegean Sea. They extend out from mainland Greece to the southeast. It was here that Naxos, described by Herodotus as the most prosperous Greek island, rested, content with its dominion of trade over its peers. As a bonus it was also very fertile compared to its neighbors which were fairly sparse. For Aristagoras, this meant he may have a chance to become ruler of Naxos. On this idea he accepted but said he would need to see the satrap of Lydia, Artaphernes, for assistance since he had a large army and navy. This man also happened to be Darius’s brother. The Naxians accepted this and gave him some money.
In Sardis, the capital of the satrap, Aristagoras wove a detailed line of reasoning for the campaign, describing the island as fertile and rich, close to Ionia (making it easy to monitor), promising he would fund the campaign, also giving Artaphernes a bonus and finally adding that it’s capture would allow him, as a Persian ruler, to extend his influence over the Cyclades, which could then be used as a base for attacking Euboea. The second largest island after Crete, Euboea follows the Greek mainland into the Aegean stopping just short of the Cyclades. Since the mainland contained some of the richest cities of Greece you could use Euboea as a place to land an army to then easily invade their homeland. All of this was done under the implication Artaphernes would become its ruler, whether or not Aristagoras truly intended so or not. But did Artaphernes agree? Find out next time when we delve deeper into Aristagoras’s schemes and desires.