Miltiades

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Miltiades

Miltiades (ca. 549-488 B.C.) was a brilliant Athenian military strategist and statesman who successfully brought about Athenian victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.

Son of Cimon, an Athenian aristocrat, Miltiades was chief magistrate under the tyranny at Athens in 524 B.C., and in 516, with the tyrants' support, he went to seize power in the Chersonese area of Thrace. Shortly afterward he captured Lemnos. But the advancing power of Persia arrested this portion of his adventuresome career. When Darius invaded Europe and campaigned in Scythia, Miltiades entered Persian service; according to Herodotus, Miltiades wished to destroy the bridge over the Danube and cut off Darius's retreat.

By 510 Miltiades was back in Athens, driven out of the Chersonese by raiding Scythians. When the lonians rose in revolt against Persia, Miltiades returned to the Chersonese at the invitation of the native people and ruled from 496 to 493. He withdrew when the lonians were finally defeated.

As leader of the Philaid clan, Miltiades had many opponents at Athens. They brought him to trial on a charge of tyrannical rule in the Chersonese. But he was acquitted. Because of his unrivaled experience in Persian warfare, the people elected him one of the 10 generals who took office in July 490, when the Persian fleet was already on the way.

Battle of Marathon

When the Persian army landed at the Bay of Marathon, Miltiades proposed in the Assembly that the Athenians provide themselves with supplies and set out and meet the enemy at once instead of holding Athens and waiting for help from Sparta. His proposal was adopted. On the evening after the Persian landing, heavily armed Athenian infantry moved into the Plan of Marathon and blocked the Persian advance. The following day the Persian army moved into position and offered battle.

By this time 1,000 Plataeans had joined the 10,000 or so Athenians, and it was not known whether aid was coming from Sparta; yet Miltiades advised engagement. The voting of the 10 generals was equal, but the polemarch, Callimachus, broke the tie in favor of Miltiades. While Miltiades waited for an opportunity to meet the enemy under favorable terms, news came that the Spartans would march out when the moon was full. But before the Spartans arrived, Miltiades saw a good opportunity and at dawn ordered an attack. He used the tactics of a weak center and strengthened wings against a superior infantry force and was successful.

The hero of the day, Miltiades took command of a naval offensive in the Cyclades in 489. In an unsuccessful attack on Paros, he was wounded. On his return he was impeached, condemned, and fined. He died soon afterward as a result of his wound.

Further Reading

The ancient sources for the study of Miltiades are Herodotus and Cornelius Nepos. Among modern works which deal with Miltiades are Andrew Robert Burn, Persia and the Greeks: The Defence of the West, ca. 546-478 B.C. (1962), and N.G.L. Hammond, A History of Greece to 322 B.C. (2d ed. 1967). □

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