The Ionian Revolts were triggered by the actions of Aristagoras, the tyrant of the Ionian city of Miletus at the end of the 6th century BC and beginning of the 5th century BC. They constituted the first major conflict between Greece and the Persian Empire. Most of the Greek cities occupied by the Persians in Asia Minor and Cyprus rose up against their Persian rulers in a war lasting from 499 BC to 493 BC. The Ionians had early success with the sack of Sardis, but the ensuing Persian counterattack by both the army and navy was too strong: the Ionians were decisively defeated at the Battle of Lade off the coast of Miletus in 494 BC.
In 499 BC, Aristagoras called a council of the leading citizens of Miletus and laid out a plan of rebellion. They all came to support the idea of revolt, except (famously) the historian Hecataeus. Aristagoras, who had already dispatched soldiers to arrest the leaders of Mylasa, Termera, and Mytilene, laid down his Persian governorship, and the city adopted a democratic form of government. The revolt spread quickly through the whole of Ionia, and the Greeks soon found universal freedom from the Persian governors/tyrants. They realized, however, that the Persian Empire would soon be sending a military expedition to reclaim their cities. Consequently, Aristagoras travelled to Greece in an effort to garner support. There he repeated his former tactics of offering money he did not have, alienating Sparta, but gaining the support of Athens and Eretria.
It is said that when Darius the Great, the Persian Emperor, heard of Sardis being burnt by the Athenians he swore vengeance upon them, and tasked a servant with reminding him three times each day of his vow. In some accounts, Darius is entirely unaware of the existence of Athenians before the attack—so vast was the Persian Empire, and so minor were the Greek peoples. Having met with some measure of success, the Greek troops were forced to return to Ephesus as Persian reinforcements approached. On their way, however, they were ambushed by the Persian army and disastrously defeated. The Athenian troops rapidly effected a retreat onto their vessels, and returned to Greece.
By the sixth year of the revolt (494 BC), Artaphernes had successfully captured many of the revolting city-states and had begun to lay siege to Miletus. In 494 BC, the decisive Battle of Lade was fought at the island of Lade, near Miletus' port. Although out-numbered, the Greek fleet appeared to be winning the battle until the ships from Samos and Lesbos retreated. The sudden defection turned the tide of battle, and the remaining Greek fleet was completely destroyed. Miletus surrendered shortly thereafter, and the Ionian Revolt came to an end. A year after the capture of Miletus, The Capture of Miletus, a play by the poet Phrynichos, was performed in Athens, reducing the entire amphitheater to tears. The Ionian Revolt, although ultimately a failure for the Ionian Greeks, was a touchstone for both Persia and Greece. As such, it marks the beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars.
Tuesday Book: Too Much Greece in the Recipe the Pimlico Dictionary of Classical Civilizations by Arthur Cotterell, Pimlico, Pounds 12.50
Aug 25, 1998; "WHAT IS a Classic?" asked T S Eliot, not in jest, and gave a rather staid answer. Snappier by far was Italo Calvino's article...