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Themistocles: Father of Pericles

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Themistocles was not an aristocrat by birth, but rather a son of a craftsman. He was skilled in the art of rhetoric, which made him a prolific and radical politician.

Themistocles was not an aristocrat by birth, but rather a son of a craftsman. He was skilled in the art of rhetoric, which made him a prolific and radical politician. The democracy is Athens was in utter disarray, and at the time in which Themistocles came to power, politicians like Xanthippus (the father of Pericles) and Aristides were ostracized. He finally took the office of archont around 493 BCE. He was a “demigod”, reveling the masses for political gain. Around 483 he starts to rabble rouse when he’s chosen as strategos. He picks off opponents, and then he comes to absolute power when he discovers silver mines in Attica. Although Aristides had urged him to share the wealth with the Athenian citizens, he explained to the citizens that the money could be used to build a fleet for the war with Aegina. His agenda was clearly different than what he expressed to the masses. Themistocles desired to create a powerful naval force with the money from the silver mines, believing that “nothing short of a strong fleet could effectively stop the Persian war machine” .

Themistocles' policy, therefore, meant the radicalization of the democracy. There was a problem, however. The building of such a large navy meant that the Athenians wanted to employ poor people as rowers. It was evident that Themistocles was preparing for evacuation of the city, but many politicians failed to see this. He explained to the Athenians that they had to prepare in the event that they had to evacuate. The navy was then sent to Artemisium and Salamis, however, King Xerxes had already reached Sardes in Lydia- the Greeks sent envoys to the oracle of Delphi, asking advise from the god. Apollo advised them to rely upon "a wooden wall", i.e., the navy. Allies ensnared the Persian fleet in the Straits of Salamis and the Greeks were victorious. The decisive Greek victory there was the turning point in the invasion, which was ended the following year by the defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Plataea.

Themistocles was a hero among Athenian politicians, however, he ordered the re-fortification of Athens after his decisive victories, and his arrogance led to his exile in Argos in 472/471 BC. Themistocles was implicated in the treasonous plot of Spartan general Pausanias. Themistocles fled from Greece, and travelled to Asia Minor, where he entered the service of the Persian king Artaxerxes I. He was made governor of Magnesia, and lived there for the rest of his life .

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Diane Zoller-Ciatto
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Lauren Axelrod

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