Aristides


Aristides

Aristides or Aristeides (Greek Polytonic|Ἀριστείδης, 530–468 BC) was an Athenian soldier and statesman. He was one of the 10 commanders against the Persians in the Battle of Marathon under Miltiades.

Aristides was nicknamed "the Just" because he was popularly recognized as never seeking personal glory or financial gain in his public service to the people of Athens. As a result, during his adult life, Aristides was asked to arbitrate difficult private and public issues. Herodotus, writing just 40 years after the death of Aristides, said that "there was not in all Athens a man so worthy or so just as he". [ [http://www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/Herosal.html The Histories of Herodotus, Book 8] ]

Aristides strongly defended the Athenian aristocrats cause and opposed Themistocles' naval policy until he was ostracized by his political enemies, led by Themistocles. Nonetheless, Aristides' ostracism came to a sudden end when Persia under Xerxes I was about to invade Attica and he was allowed to return to Athens from banishment in Aegina.

Aristides was one of the ten Athenian "strategoi" during the Greco-Persian war. He was involved in a number of major battles against the Persians, including the famous victories at Marathon (490 BC), Salamis (480 BC), and Plataea (479 BC), although it was only at Plataea that Aristides was the primary commander of the Athenian contingent. After these battles, the Persians never again seriously attempted to invade the Greek mainland.

In 487 BC, he introduced sweeping changes to the Athenian constitution which allowed all citizens, without taking into account their rank, to be admitted to the archonship.

He was instrumental in having Athens, rather than Sparta, become the ruling state of the Delian League.

Early life

Aristides was the son of Lysimachus and a member of a family of moderate fortune. His tribe was the Antiochis. Otherwise, very little is known of his early life, other than his becoming a follower of the statesman Cleisthenes. His strong admiration of the famous Spartan leader Lycurgus meant that Aristides favoured and later led and publicly defended the aristocratic party in Athens. []

From the evidence now available about life in Athens at the time of Aristides' youth, the difference between the rich and poor in Athens was not too great. So despite Aristides’ rather humble origins, he was able to gain membership of Athens' aristocratic party. []

Aristides knew Themistocles from their very childhood. Both fought about a boy, Stesilaus of Chios. Additionally, they rivaled, in many sports where--even then--Aristides distinguished himself always by his clean play. []

Military career

Plutarch points out that Aristides was there in the most glorious Athenian victories, which were Marathon, Salamis, & Plataea, although Aristides never distinguished himself conspicuously. At Marathon, the victory was credited to Militiades. At Salamis, Themistocles got absolutely all the glory. At Plataea, Pausanias was most celebrated. []

trategos at Marathon

In 490 BC, the Persians under Darius I attempted to invade Attica. Aristides was named strategos for his own Antiochis tribe. Miltiades was selected ahead of Aristides to lead the Athenians. Aristides supported Miltiades' plans in the Athenian Assembly and gained the Athenians' support for attacking the Persians at Marathon.

At the battle camp, Aristides relinquished his command to Miltiades, an example followed by all the other Athenian strategoi. This action united the leadership of the Athenian army.

During the Battle of Marathon, Aristides fought bravely alongside Themistocles, who, like Aristides, was "strategos" of his tribe. Their tribes were placed in the middle of the battle front where the Persians were tightly concentrated and where the fiercest fighting took place.

After the Athenian victory, Aristides was left to protect the treasures captured in the battle as he was regarded as incorruptible. Additionally, he also looked after the prisoners of war. []

As a consequence of the distinction with which he served in the battle, he was elected Chief Archon for the ensuing year (489–488 BC).

Defending Athens in the Battle of Salamis

Early in 480 BC, Aristides took advantage of the Athenian decree recalling exiles. It is thought that Themistocles agreed to allow Aristides' return in order to prevent the latter joining the Persian forces. His recall is also believed to have been supported by the Athenian people.

After returning from exile in Aegina, Aristides was appointed strategos and immediately joined Themistocles in preparing the defence of Athens. []

At the Battle of Salamis the Persians were attacking due to Themistocles' strategem; Aristides was amongst the first to perceive the Persian manoeuvers. The night of the Persian's attack, Aristides rushed from Aegina sailing dangerously through the enemy's blockade towards Salamis. There he met Themistocles in his tent. Themistocles thought that, with his reputation, Aristides could convince the Greek navy, particularly the difficult Spartan Admiral Eurybiades, that the Persians had indeed blocked the Greeks inside the bay. Themistocles told Aristides that he had, indeed, provoked the enemy in order to force the Greeks to fight rather than retreat to a different position. Aristides supported this decision and defended him.

Immediately after meeting Themistocles, Aristides commanded the toughest Athenian infantry at Psyttaleia destroying the Persian garrison. He captured several notable Persians, among them three of Xerxes I's nephews. Before the main battle, it was rumoured that these children were sacrificed to Bacchus. []

Salamis was an historically decisive Athenian victory. The battle left the Persian naval expedition unable to support its land troops. Aristides was questioned by Themistocles because, initially, the popular Athenian leader wanted to tear down the Persian bridges that spanned the Hellespont. Immediately Aristides opposed this, convincing Themistocles that it would be better to allow Xerxes to withdraw his 300,000 man army out of Greece. Consequently, Themistocles dispatched a missive to Xerxes threatening to immediately destroy the bridges. The Persians believed the lie and withdrew most of their troops. []

The battle at Plataea

With prestige thus increased, Aristides was re-elected as strategos for another year. Thus, in 479 BC, he commanded the Athenian army in the Battle of Plataea, along the Asopus river. There, the whole Greek army was led by the Spartan Pausanias while the Persians were led by Mardonius.

Advised by reports of a series of oracles, dreams, and prophecies, Aristides was instrumental in evoking a voluntary gift of territory by the Plataeans to Attica. As a result, part of one of the oracles was fulfilled, namely that the Athenians would win victory if they fought within their own territory. []

Later, Aristides was particularly upset when many Athenian soldiers who were former aristocrats whose land had been damaged by the Persian occupation began conspiring on the Persians' behalf. []

Right before the battle, the Macedonian King Alexander sneaked out of the Persian camp and told Aristides that Mardonius - whose troops were starving - was about to attack. []

After the Greek victory, Aristides made proposals to the general council of Greeks concerning the division of Persian booty, commemorative religious celebrations, and about a levy which would finance new Greek forces to combat Persia. []

Aristides' respect for the common body of Athenians that had fought so well against Persia, combined with his recognition that the forces for democracy were strong, led him to propose that the archons henceforth be chosen out of the whole body of the citizens and not just the higher census of property holders. []

At the Aegean Sea

In 478, Aristides was sent to Ionia, and, there, he won the local Greek cities' trust because he opposed the tyrannical policies implemented by the Spartan Pausanias. These complaints led Sparta from here on out to look to the corruption of its captains. The Greek colonies gave absolute discretion to Aristides in the fixing of the contributions of the newly formed confederacy, the Delian League. Aristides' annual 460 talent assessment was universally accepted as equitable, but was later raised by Pericles and the demagogues who followed. [] Aristides also performed a ceremony that celebrated Athens' devotion to the league. He ordered that all local Greeks pledge enmity against Persia. Then he threw burning iron wedges into the sea so the gods "might treat any traitor similarly." []

However, as Athens' power in the League increased and events seemed to demand it, Aristides took a nationalist position. He defended the proposal to move to the League's treasury to Athens from Delos, betraying the earlier spirit of the League, and is reported to have said "this isn't a just action, but it's expedient." []

Political career

Though comrades in arms at Marathon, Aristides and Themistocles were constant opponents in the Athenian assembly. Pursuing the aristocratic party policy, which focused on maintaining Athens as a land power, Aristides was among the chief opponents of the pro-naval policies of Themistocles.

Aristides was very critical of Themistocles, noting that Themistocles was "a clever man, however with an itching palm". []

Indeed, this struggle forced Aristides to oppose any political initiative that could benefit Themistocles, even if it would have been of benefit to the people of Athens. In the Athenian assembly, Aristides is said to have stated that unless they sent both Themistocles and himself to the barathrum (a deep pit into which criminals were thrown), there could be no safety for Athens. []

By 484 BC, Themistocles was left face-to-face with Aristides, the last hope of the conservative aristocratic party. Both sought popularity by offering to resolve disputes amongst their fellow citizens. Therefore, they criticised each other for setting themselves up as judges and bypassing the courts of law. Themistocles favoured developing an Athenian navy, a policy more popular with the poor, for whom it provided work, than with the rich, who would have had to pay for it. Themistocles had no doubt that the Persians would attempt another invasion, this time by sea. Aristides argued in favour of retaining land forces, as the troops were provided by the richer citizens of Athens and were unpaid (therefore costing the government treasury little).

The conflict between the two leaders ended in the ostracism of Aristides around 483 BC. Themistocles argued that Aristides had weakened the Athenian courts by requiring all Athenians to seek arbitration through Aristides' office. Thus, Themistocles argued that Aristides would effectively become "king of Athens" although "he didn't have any bodyguard, yet." . []

It is said that on this occasion, an illiterate voter who did not know Aristides came up to him and, giving him his voting sherd, desired him to write upon it the name of Aristides. The latter asked if Aristides had wronged him. "No," was the reply, "and I do not even know him, but I am tired of hearing him everywhere called, 'The Just'." After hearing this Aristides wrote his own name on the sherd. He was then exiled for a period of five years.

Leaving Athens, Aristides raised his hands and he prayed that "no crisis may force that Athens may have to remember me." []

His Later Years

Afterwards, he continued to hold a predominant position in Athens. At first he seems to have remained on good terms with Themistocles, whom he is said to have helped in outwitting the Spartans in the rebuilding of the walls of Athens. Indeed, Aristides witnessed his ostracism although he abstained from declaring against Themistocles and didn't celebrate his condemnation. []

Later, some sources report that Aristides was banished, others that he was condemned on false charges. His name was sometimes included with those of other Athenian generals who suffered similar ill treatment. []

Some said that Aristides died at Athens, cherished and honored by the people, whereas other sources said he died on an official journey to the Black Sea, at Pontus. The date of his death is given by Nepos as 468 BC, before Pericles' ascendancy. In any case, Aristides' tomb was located at Phalerum, where they say it was built at public expense because he could not afford his own funeral expenses.

His estate thus seems to have suffered severely from the Persian invasions and from his own scrupulous honesty in public affairs. Plutarch cites evidence that his descendants even in the 4th century received state pensions.

His Humble Traits

Plutarch states at the beginning of the Life that reports of Aristides' wealth varied and cites evidence that he was of the upper economic class throughout his lifetime. Later in the Life, however, Plutarch often suggests the contrary, for example citing stories that illustrate Aristides' poverty and his lack of shame at being poor. [] For instance, in a trial at which Aristides' cousin Callias, the richest man in Athens, faced capital charges, the officials compared him unfavorably with Aristides, whom they said had helped Callias in his affairs but had received no material help in return: "How do you think his family lives at home, when he appears publicly wearing such a worn-out cloak? Is it not probably that someone who goes out so exposed to the cold must lack food and other necessities at home?" []

Quotes

*"As long as that [the sun] retains the same course, so long shall the citizens of Athens wage war with the Persians for the country which has been wasted and the temples that have been profaned and burnt by them." []

References

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