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Histiaeus

(c. 515—493 bc)


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Tyrant of Miletus, loyal Persian functionary and ambitious empire-builder (c.515–493bc), saved the Persian king Darius I's expedition beyond the Danube when fellow Greek autocrats pondered betraying their overlord (c.513). He protected Darius' interests in the undermanned western provinces of Anatolia, suitably rephrasing for Hellenic sensibilities oriental monarchy's commands, and gained Darius' gift of Edonian Myrcinus on the river Strymon, a hub for Ionian penetration and economic exploitation of the Thracian-Macedonian coastlands (Hdt. 5. 11, cf. 8. 85).

Suspected of potential rebellion or excessive power by rival Persian grandees, he was summoned to Susa, long detained, and honoured by Darius as his Aegean expert. Histiaeus overboldly promised (499) to regain the allegiance of Miletus and other Ionian cities that Aristagoras, his appointed deputy and relative, had led into rebellion. Like Hecataeus (Hdt. 5. 36), he appreciated Persian power and Hellenic inadequacies. Sent to pacify Ionia, after several Ionian repulses (6.1–5), he dared not return to Susa and so departed for his Thracian project. Unlikely ever to have encouraged Aristagoras' premature mainland revolt, his absence from the defeat at Lade suggests realistic evaluation of the coalition's chances. He subsequently launched shipping-raids from Byzantium and descents on Chios, Thasos, and Lesbos that less resemble self-interested marauding than independent operations. He intended either to curry renewed favour with Darius or support faltering rebels. As he foraged near Atarneus, Persian units captured and impaled him (6. 26–30, 493).

Herodotus unsurprisingly found only hostile Greek and Persian sources. This first biography supplies sinister motives for Histiaeus' every mysterious move, but the biased narrative invites doubts about parochial malice. Herodotus acknowledges Histiaeus' steady services to Darius that led Harpagus and Artaphernes to execute him. Largely irrelevant to the Ionian Revolt, Histiaeus was none the less vilified both for starting it and for avoiding martyrdom in it.

D. G. Lateiner

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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