The Alcmaeonidae

A powerful presure group mainly from the Alcmaeonidaes wanted nothing better than to do a deal with Persia. The Alcmaeonidaes regarded themselves as long term realists. Darius' overlordship in Greece was, they argued, inevitable. Against them stood the plain, decent, stupid men: farmers and craftsmen and sailors who were not clever enough to know in advance when they were beaten, men who still placed honour above calculation.

In the early spring off 493 B.C. Phrynichus put on a play in Athens called 'The Capture of Miletus', vividly depicting the collapse of the Ionian Revolt.[1] The audience weep tears of grief and patriotic shame. Stung into swift action, the pro-Persian lobby got the play banned. Phrynichus himself was fined 1,000 drachmas (almost three years pay for the average working man). But the idea of subservience to Darius, was loosing ground. By the end of spring Themistocles' own election won on a tough-line-with-Persia ticket. The newly appointed Chief Archon. At the age of thirty-one, just above the minimum age for eligibility - Themistocles, had been elected to the highest civil office in Athens.

Miltiades with his thoroughly shady record arrived in Athens near midsummer. Some said, prosecute him. Exactly the commander we need, said others: appoint him to the Board of Generals. There was no one who watched this debate more closely, or weighed up the odds with greater care, than Themistocles.

Miltiades supporters would agrue though that his vast knowledge of Persia would be invaluable for Athens at this critical time. Themistocles and Miltiades had really nothing in common except a determination to fight, but that for the moment was enough. Miltiades knew both Darius and Hippias personally. His twenty years of being a military commander in the Chersonese would be invaluable. Charges brought against thim were summarliy dismissed (it seems reasonable that this would have been done by Themistocles). And soon afterwards, by popular vote, he was elected general of his tribal division.

Alarming reports flooded Athens of the Persian invasion plans. Themistocles responce now, later and always was that the best course was to fortify Piraeus, abandon Athens, and stake everything on a strong navy. This policy ran into violent and predictable oppostion from the whole conservative group. This plan was always going to offend the landowners, and those with the sense of honour about defending homes and shrines. Moreover, Themistocles main support came from the much-despised salior rabble. Somewhere in 493-92 B.C. his naval development programme was defeated, but the assembly did vote for the fortification of Piraeus.

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'Histories' by Herodotus published by Wordsworth 1996

'The Greco-Persian Wars' by Peter Green published by University of California Press 1998


Note#1: This play may be the first time that recent historical events, as opposed to myths, were represented in the Athenian theatre, however this play has never been found.

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