Skip to comments.Themistocles decree -- 480 B.C.
Posted on 12/25/2013 4:36:42 PM PST by SunkenCiv
Resolved by the Boule and the People.
Themistocles son of Neocles of Phrearrhioi made the motion.
The city shall be entrusted to Athena, Athens' protectress, and to the other gods, all of them, for protection and defense against the Barbarian on behalf of the country.
The Athenians in their entirety and the aliens who live in Athens shall place their children and their women in Troezen, [to be entrusted to Theseus ?] the founder of the land. The elderly and movable property shall for safety be deposited at Salamis. The treasurers and the priestesses are to remain on the Acropolis and guard the possessions of the gods.
The rest of the Athenians in their entirety and those aliens who have reached young manhood shall embark on the readied two hundred ships and they shall repulse the Barbarian for the sake of liberty, both their own and that of the other Greeks, in common with the Lacedaemonians, Corinthians, Aeginetans and the others who wish to have a share in the danger.
Appointment will also be made of captains, two hundred in number, one for each ship, by the generals, beginning tomorrow, from those who are owners of both land and home in Athens and who have children who are legitimate. They shall not be more than fifty years old and the lot shall determine each man's ship. The generals shall also enlist marines, ten for each ship, from men over twenty years of age up to thirty, and archers, four in number. They shall also by lot appoint the specialist officers for each ship when they appoint the captains by lot. A list shall be made also of the rowers, ship by ship, by the generals, on notice boards, with the Athenians to be selected from the lexiarchic registers, the aliens from the list of names registered with the polemarch. They shall write them up, assigning them by divisions, up to two hundred divisions, each of up to one hundred rowers, and they shall append to each division the name of the warship and the captain and the specialist officers, so that they may know on what warship each division shall embark.
When assignment of all the divisions has been made and they have been allotted to the warships, all the two hundred shall be manned by order of the Boule and the generals, after they have sacrificed to appease Zeus the All-powerful and Athena and Victory and Poseidon the Securer. When they have completed the manning of the ships, with one hundred they shall bring assistance to the Artemisium in Euboea, while the other hundred shall, all around Salamis and the rest of Attica, lie at anchor and guard the country.
To ensure that in a spirit of concord all Athenians will ward off the Barbarian, those banished for the ten year span shall leave for Salamis and they are to remain there until the people decide about them. Those who have been deprived of citizen rights are to have their rights restored.
[Wikipedia, with some appropriate editing] The Decree of Themistocles is an ancient Greek inscription discussing Greek strategy in the Greco-Persian Wars, purported to have been issued by the Athenian assembly under the guidance of Themistocles...
The stone bearing the Themistocles decree (Epigraphical Museum, Athens, EM 13330) was discovered at some point before 1959 by Anargyros Titiris, a local farmer at Troezen, in the northwestern Peloponnese. For some time, he used the inscribed marble slab as a doorstep. In 1959, he donated the stone to a collection of artifacts from Troezen that a local schoolteacher was displaying at a coffeehouse. There, Professor M.H. Jameson of the University of Pennsylvania saw the slab, and, the next year, published its contents along with a translation and commentary.
The inscription begins with a statement that the contents are a resolution of the Athenian assembly, proposed by Themistocles. It then lays out a plan to evacuate the women, children, and elderly of Attica to Troezen and Salamis, while the men board triremes and prepare to defend the city, leaving only the treasurers and priestesses on the acropolis. The majority of the extant text then turns to the specifics of preparing the fleet, with the text on the slab becoming illegible before the end of the decree...
It should be emphasized that nothing in the decree explicitly contradicts the narrative of Herodotus... The historian himself nowhere explicitly ascribes definitive dates or strategic intention to the Greeks or the Athenians. In fact, the narrative of Herodotus at 8.40, often pointed to as a crux of inconsistency between Herodotus and the decree, tends to support the authenticity of the decree... The decree itself is mute as to preparation of fortifications at the Isthmus and so, again, there is no explicit contradiction with the narrative of Herodotus.
Decree of Themistocles, National Archaeological Museum of Athens, 13330
The Decree of Themistocles
Copy of the ‘decree of Themistocles’
The rats would have surrendered!
The rats would have surrendered!
Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian war is an incredible work. Without it, I doubt we would know much about Themistocles, Pericles, etc.
When I was in high school, my Brother checked it out of his college library because he knew I was interested in ancient history.
The book was both fascinating and a bit tough to read. It was so long that I don’t remember a lot of it.
I think the Athenian defeat of the Persian fleet at Salamis was the most important event of the Persian/Greek wars. More important than Thermopylae and Plataea.
I wonder what happened to the Athenian Priestesses who remained on the Acropolis? Did Xerxes have them killed?
I just realized I put Themistocles in the Peloponnesian war. Of course he was much earlier than that.
Nope, you had it right.
No, I wasn’t thinking. Themistocles fought at Marathon then later commanded the Greek fleet which had the Spartan’s back at Thermopylae. He defeated the far larger Persian fleet then more than held his own until the Spartans were all dead.
He later gave the Persians a backbreaking defeat at Salamis from which Xerxes never completely recovered. He was later ostracized tho I can’t recall why. In an ironic development, he lived his last years as governor of a Persian region under the Persian King.
Salamis was indeed, and while it was Themistocles’ brainstorm, he was denied overall leadership at the battle, because the Spartans wouldn’t participate unless a Spartan was in charge. Spartans were landlubbers you know, and didn’t play a role in the victory.
The Persian land army was forced to live off the land after the destruction of the navy, and couldn’t be resupplied, reinforced, or rotated by sea. Salamis made the denouement possible. It also swept and kept the Persians out of Aegean.
The temple that preceded the Parthenon was wood, and the Persians burned it. Perhaps the staff died in the fire, perhaps they were taken alive and dragged off to Persia, and of course, perhaps they decided to bag it and GTFO when they saw the soldiers carrying torches. That act by the Persians laid the precedent for the massive arson performed by Alexander the Great at Persepolis.
Thermopylae was militarily insignificant; furthermore, it was made necessary from Sparta’s earlier blowing off of the resistance to the Persian invasion, when Athens led its coalition of the willing to victory at Marathon.
I also wonder if Spartan politics played a role, as they did at Leuktra, when Agesilaus sent his co-ruler to fight the Thebans, a battle that literally and unexpectedly ended the hideous slave empire of the Spartans.
There’s a cool vignette in Herodotus, the Greek naval forces met with Leonidas on the shore near the Gates, just a few days before the last stand. There was some expectation of earlier engagements with the Persian navy, and those did occur, but the Persians were headed straight down toward Athens, on a mission.
Themistocles had their number.
You’re only saying that because they always do.
Whoops, you said Themistocles, I was thinking Thucydides. [blush]
It is totally fascinating to think that somewhere around 480 B.C. you could muster 200,000 men to man a navy.
The construction of the trimarans would require a large supply of lumber, skilled and semi-skilled labor. The quartermaster issues are impressive.
The economies of the various city states and the trade must have been as advanced as today’s. Fordham’s archives indicate that Themistocles cut taxes, which in turn attracted foreign businessmen to settle in Athens
The practice of ostracism was one of the stupid ideas that persisted for a long time in Athenian mobocracy. In the case of Themistocles, it was partly a matter of ballot box stuffing — a pile of ostraca with his name scratched in each one was found in an ancient drain, where they’d been dumped after the vote count began. Who do you want to ostracize? Bob? Sure, his name is written right on this one (all of them said Themistocles, not everyone could read).
The allegation was that Themistocles had embezzled some funds — and like those three hired guns in “High Plains Drifter”, it sounds like a frame-up, he’d supposedly hidden the cash in the thatch of his house. Amazing that someone just happened to find it, huh?
So, he was exiled for ten years, but never went back after he got the gig with the Persians. He was fabulously popular in Anatolia, among the occupied Ionian Greek cities, and he sold the Persians on the idea of giving him a job.
Contrast this with the Age of Pericles — Pericles was a classic New Dealer, and demagogue, who lived with and had actual discussions with a courtesan/geisha/hooker. It took twenty years to build the Parthenon, and plenty of Athenians hated the garishly painted grandiose structure. Most however had participated in some way in its construction, or didn’t remember the earlier skyline because they were new in town themselves.
Pericles began the Peloponnesian War, died in the plague (probably typhus) that resulted in the crowding in of Athenians from the outskirts of town (beyond the Piraeus wall), and the Athenians also didn’t have the brains to use the truce that followed their victory at Pylos to wall off the Spartan territory and start asymmetrical warfare using recruits from the Spartans’ massive pool of slave labor.
And of course, they were jackasses to launch the impressive but disastrous Syracuse campaign.
That is interesting.
It does sound like Themistocles was railroaded (before they even had railroads). I never knew the reason he was ostracized.
Having a village council, where decisions are considered and voted upon by all who show up, works in smaller places where everyone more or less knows everyone else and aren’t transients (or renters, for that matter), but was a disaster in a city the size of Athens.
Socrates wound up getting railroaded simply for criticizing an earlier stupid decree (execution of some generals) and forced to kill himself (IOW, he wasn’t merely exiled).
Besides the annual ostracisms, the entire war with Sparta was started because of escalating craziness among the jokers who apparently had nothing better to do than to show up and pretend to run the city. The Athenian Empire began as an alliance against Persia, but since the Athenians were the ones with the huge navy, the “democracy” decided to use a protection racket to extort money from the “allies”. There wasn’t a single ally rushing to defend Athens from Sparta.
Thank you. I very seldom buy books anymore tho I do much prefer being able to hold the book in my hand, putting a page marker in and going back to it.
I think I will buy this one. As I mentioned before, Thucydides is both fascinating and tough going at the same time. Maybe this one will be more readable.
I have a strong belief that the Greeks of the Golden age were extremely intelligent people.
Now if I can only find it at a cheap price.
Second the motion. The difficulty with Athenian democracy was that it was so very subject to ridiculous passion in time of war. Nearly all of the major Athenian strategoi - generals - were eventually stabbed in the back by the passions of the mob: Miltiades, Themistocles, the historian Thucydides, Pericles' own son, even, arguably, Socrates' disciple Alcibiades - stupid, wasteful behavior that cost Athens the war. The objective historian cannot avoid the conclusion that they deserved to lose.
Themistocles, however, was a military figure of the first rank. What Persia was attempting was a massive combined-forces campaign that was unprecedented in warfare. Themistocles appreciated that the defeat of either the land or sea arms would be fatal and managed to scrape together a strategic opposition on both land and sea. The land opposition took Leonidias and the Spartans (and the Thespians and the Thebans) to Thermopylae; the sea opposition a mostly Athenian fleet under Themistocles just offshore of there at Artemisium. When Themistocles was finally forced back by the superior numbers of the Persian fleet he sent a boat to inform Leonidas of the fact. They found only the dead.
Themistocles got their collective revenge at Salamis. Athens by then had been burnt twice. Had the latter not happened the apparently sincere Persian offers for peace might have been accepted. I think that the Athenians might not have been quite so insistent about building their city on Delian League money, but that's only speculation. A year later Plataea, the death of Mardonius, and the end of a truly remarkable Persian campaign.
Did you hear the one about the man with torn pants who went to a Greek taylor.
After looking at the pants, the Greek said, “Euripides?”
Said the man, “Eumenides?” :-)
Hey, it was fun while it lasted.
Most of the Athenian hoplites were captured, rather than killed, and death was preferable.