The Greeks and Xerxes

Herodotus aim’s in writing history as clearly stated by him is to ‘display his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time” his narrative aims to perpetuate human achievements and the role of individuals so that they will not dwindle through time and that their “great and marvelous deeds- some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians may not be without their glory”, therefore enabling them to leave their imprint on generations to come, something Herodotus thought their dually deserved.

His main objective is to outline the causes of the conflict between Xerxes and the Greeks, hence he attempts to explain the reasons behind the Persian Wars. Through his efforts to marvel and praise the achievements of individuals, he often overemphasizes them, providing a superficial analysis of events.

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His account contains bias and numerical inaccuracies but unique in the fact that he was the first to attempt at writing and recording events that had taken place and he had researched and enquired about in such a manner, thus his title “Father of History” nevertheless we have no other major source to compare Herodotus with except any archeological evidence found. A prominent element in Herodotus’s narrative concerning the aspects of political power is his portrayal of powerful and ambitious kings such as Croesus, Cyrus and Xerxes.

Persian being a monarchy, and Darius is one of its most of successful rulers being proponent of the system itself ,individuals that held the empire’s power are of utmost importance and influence and this is shown not only by Herodotus work which depict their greatness but in his narratives, but too Herodotus displays the various downsides of such a system it has on the person ruling and the the effects on the empire they ruled in.

This is seen in the constitutional debate through the speech of Otanes “The typical vices of monarchy are envy and pride; envy because it is a natural human weakness and price because excessive wealth and power lead to the delusion that he is something more than a man” when Darius goes on to speak where he concludes and dismisses such a proposal that monarchy is not a fit method of ruling “the best form of government is monarchy”.

Darius’s influence is not only felt by Herodotus but on a wider scale too, as in his power being felt “in every corner of his dominions”, his greatness is also depicted in other sources such as,The Behistun inscription significant as it a one of the little Persian sources available and delineate of Darius’s achievement “Says Darius the King” but his inscription is noteworthy as the king appeals to the readers of the inscription and to his successors to keep the inscriptions in good condition and pass on its account of the king’s achievements and his aspirations to the future.

It is up for question however whether Darius attacked the Greeks to avenge the Ioanian Revolt or for ulterior motives such as revenge and expansionist desires thus to “subdue all the Hellenes” as non-contemporary Plutarch states and to suffice and live up to name of previous kings and conquer territory which is a prerequisite for any Persian King and something Darius had yet to do, to acquire “ a deed worthy of mention” as relatively unreliable Diodorus Siculus tells us and furthermore to avenge the Burning of Sardis something that influenced his motives greatly and even to an extent he prayed “Grant O God,that I may punish the Athenians” and commanded one of his servants to repeat him the words “Master remember the Athenians” whenever he sat down for dinner.

The question remains however whether Herodotus chooses to focus his writing on Darius desires to become a warrior king and whether his sole aspirations to achieve his own personal glory surpassed all other factors that could have led him attacking the Greeks? A main influence being his wife Atossa. Atossa is seen in Herodotus as persuading him to ignite the flame that will influence and shake all of Greece. “Now is the time for action while you are young; for the body grows in strength, so does the mind but as the years pass and the body weakens, the mind ages too and loses its’edge”.

This is apparent as a downside in the system of monarchy as Democedes had instructed Atossa to say just so “what I want you to do is to invade Greece” and thus influenced him in his decisions “no sooner said than done”, this somehow justifies Herodotus reasons for focusing on individuals rather than deep rooted causes of events because perhaps individuals were enough cause. The monumental act of rebellion that is the Ioanian Revolt is a clear cut example on how Herodotus disregards and prefers to analyze the personal ambitions of Histaeus and Aristagoras rather than investigate the actual causes such as the loss of autonomy. Histaeus, tyrant of Miletus hoped to become the ruler of Naxos and Aristagoras wishing to gain further power even if it meant him to disgrace himself and desperately seek help from powerful states such as Athens and Sparta.

At Athens Aristagoras is seen “anxious” in asking for Athenian aid as he has previously ‘been turned down out of Sparta by Cleomenes” overrules any description about the Hellenic feeling of the city states wanting to revolt against the tyrant leaders. Herodotus tends to focus on the two individuals he believes led this outbreak. Another important individual Is Leonidas and his important role in the Battle of Marathon. His Being in a narrow passage and strategy would not give an advantage to the numerically greater Persian army and there Leonidas could defend central Greece, making also a stand to encourage unity. He was ‘respected’ and ‘in command of the whole army’, with ‘the 300 men whom he brought to Thermopylae being chosen by himself’, consequently he was responsible for choosing the most capable men.

He was such an important figure in the struggle against Xerxes that he was sent in advance of the main army to discourage the medizing of other states. In this specific event Herodotus puts aside his pro Athenian bias and presents it as a feeling of Hellenic unity and something worthy to be proud of a “memorable fight” even if they were not victorious. Leonidas’ army was so successful at first that it made Xerxes “leapt from his seat three times, in terror for his army,” however when Ephialtes betrayed a secret passage to the Persians, Leonidas had no choice but to stay and fight in order to give his army time to retreat. “Honor forbade that he himself should go” as some of the Greeks that accompanied him did.

Herodotus here indeed focuses on individuals as his emphasis is only on the Spartan sacrifice, accusing the Thebans that assisted them of “strongly being suspected of Persian sympathies” and the neglect and absence of Thespian contribution at Thermopylae. Artemisia role is also crucial in Herodotus as he depicts his fascination of strong dynamic woman and narrates and showcasts Artemisia’s intelligence. She is seen giving advice to Mardonius “Spare your ships and do not fight at sea, for the Greeks are as far superior to your mean in naval matters are men are to women” thus depicting her importance in a era were women were not of importance but her being not only an “exception” but a woman of “marvel” and great influence.

Furthermore Themistocles where Herodotus is seen to underemphasize his importance in comparison to other individuals which he has a tendency to overemphasize, in contrast where Themistocles is praised by Plutarch for a man of “courage” and vigor and “stood high in the affection of the people”. Apart from Artemisium where Themistocles used bribery, pro-Hellenic propaganda on the rocks and outstanding maneuvering, his everlasting achievement was Salamis. He was among those that believed that the Delphic oracle meant ships when it said that ‘”the wooden wall shall not fail, but help you” therefore “he advised his countrymen to prepare to meet the invader” at “divine Salamis” He even managed to persuade the Spartan commander Eurybiades that there was the most appropriate place to fight.

Herodotus, also describes an incident that Themistocles sent a slave to Xerxes, urging them to attack them at Salamis since at the time they were divided on opinion as to where to fight but it is believed it was a scheme put together by another brilliant idea of Themistocles that contributed to eliminating the Persian fleet. Salamis was the battle that destroyed the Persian fleet of Xerxes to the point it eliminated the possibility of a future naval advance all because of Themistocles, despite the fact that Herodotus presents his as supposedly receiving advice from Mnesiphilus on how to act. Themistocles cunning strategies and him thinking ahead left Persians unwilling to encounter Athens again at sea, and Herodotus hardly gives him any credit for it.

Herodotus also focuses on a supernatural element which also took a toll on Xerxes and his decisions was “ not after all” “ be a good thing” he is depicted as a man “terrified” of his own dream and the meaning of it “been haunted by a dream which which will not allow me to act as you have advised”. This however could be a superficial unrealistic reason Herodotus covers in his narratives instead of again underlining the main possible cause for invasion. But one cannot blame Herodotus for just so and furthermore his inability to understand military tactics but focuses on stories he himself find fascinating, his work is vital in our modern understanding even if causes are overemphasized through individual ambition or not mentioned at all.