Themistocles, son of Neoklis was born around 527 BC and died in 461 BC in Persia. In the beginning, he didn’t have any political rights as his mother was from Thrace and not an original Athenian. Thanks to statesman Kleisthenes,(founder of Democracy) that he changed that law, Themistokles started his political career.
Battle of Marathon
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He was one of the generals in the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, leading his tribe (Athens had 10 tribes). After the glorious win in Marathon, Miltiades, the chief commander of the battle took all the glory. For years Themistokles had Miltiades as his hero, but also he wanted to become a bigger hero than him. History recorded his phrase “ Glory of Miltiades doesn’t let me sleep in the nights’
He was the only politician in Athens saying that the Persian threat is still alive, he tried to convince the Athenians to build a strong navy in order to face the Persians but, nobody was listening to him, saying as an excuse that the cost was tremendous.
And here starts to show his amazing skills, he funds a theatrical theme which was showing the destruction of the city of Militos by the Persians. That started to scare the Athenians, actually, he was the first that used the social media of his time for his goal!!
Then, he used the lower classes of Athens to vote against his political rivals and he succeeded, all of them were exostracised for 10 years from the city.
Now, Themistocles had to convince his fellow citizens to build a navy. How he could do that? The King of Sparta changes and the new one starts to support the island of Aigina instead of Athens, Themistocles starts a conflict with Aigina’s navy knowing that they fight better on the sea.
Athens loses the naval battle and Themistocles finally convince the Athenians to give their share of the silver mines of Lavrion in order to build 200 battleships.
When the second Persian campaign was started by king Xerxes, Themistocles advised the other generals (from the Greek alliance), and especially the Spartan king Evryviades, to sail all Greek ships to Artemision to face the Persian fleet in the narrow sea of Artemisio, while the Spartans will hold the ground forces of Xerxes in Thermopylae.
The Greek ships were 366 while the Persians were 1204, plus around 3000 smaller supply boats. They didn’t have any chance to face them on open seas, only in narrow. After Thermopylae’s defeat, the Spartan king says to make a defense in Corinth’s canal area, which meant the full destruction of Athens. Themistocles using wisely the oracle of Delphi says to the Athenians to leave the city and move to Salamis Island.
Battle of Salamis
While arguing in the Generals council with Evryviades, he says to him another famous phrase “ hit me but listen to me’ to the Spartan king that wanted to hit him. That convinced Evryviades to face the Persians in Salamis.
While both fleets were standing, some city-states wanted to brake the Greek alliance, on the Persian camp, the Phoenicians (well experienced on the sea) were saying to Xerxes that the position of Salamis was very dangerous and they must face the Greek ships on open seas.
Seeing this situation, Themistocles sends his personal slave to Xerxes to inform him that the Greeks are arguing and now is the right moment to attack. Xerxes believed him and ordered the attack. With this move, he united the Greek alliance and trapped the Persians.
After the Persian defeat, the Golden age of Athens just started. Themistocles finished the fortification of Athens, cheating the Spartans that were against the walls.
Unfortunately for Themistocles, the Spartan’s influence in Athens make him exostracised from the city. Knowing that his life is in danger, he went to the Persian king Artaxerxes, who welcomed him well and treated him with huge respect.
The end of his lifetime
In 461, the Persian king asks Themistocles to lead his army against the rebellion of Egyptians who made an alliance with Athens against the Persians. Refusing to betray his country, Themistocles drank bull’s blood and suicide. His body was transferred in secret to Athens and buried with great honors.
His tomb is in Piraeus and everybody can visit it.
Thanks to Themistocles, the Greeks won the biggest empire of that time. Definitely, with defeat, all the light that Greek civilization gave to the world would be missing without him.