Miltiades the Younger (c.554-489 BC)

Miltiades the Younger (c.554-489 BC) was the victorious Athenian commander at the battle of Marathon, but he died in disgrace in the following year, a victim of the often poisonous politics of Athens.

Miltiades was born into a wealthy Athenian family. His uncle had established Athenian authority over an area in the Thracian Chersonese, but died childless. In around 516 BC Miltiades moved from Athens to the Chersonese (Gallipoli), where he ruled as a tyrant, complete with a bodyguard of 500 men. He also married Hegesipyle, a Thracian princess. This all came during a period when Athens was ruled by a series of Tyrants, starting with Peisistratus (ruled 546-528 BC). Miltiades was sent to the Chersonese by his son Hippias, tyrant from 546-510.

Soon after Miltiades arrived in the Chersonese the Persian Emperor Darius I crossed into Europe for the first time, in preparation for a campaign against the Scythians west of the Black Sea. The Chersonese fell to the Persians and Miltiades was forced to acknowledge Persian rule. He accompanied Darius to the Danube in 513. Darius and the Persians crossed to the north bank to campaign against the Scythians, leaving the Greeks to defend the bridge across the River. According to Herodotus Miltiades tried to convince his fellow Greeks to destroy the bridge, trapping the Persians on the northern side of the river, but was overruled.

In 499 the Ionian Revolt began. After the Ionian cities of Asia Minor won some victories over the Persians Miltiades joined the revolt. During this period he entered into friendly relations with the recently established Athenian democracy. This may also have been when he captured the islands of Lemnos and Imbros, which he later gave to Athens. After some early successes the Ionians were defeated. In 493 a Persian fleet arrived off the Chersonese. Miltiades realised that his time was up, and fled to Athens with a small fleet of five boats. One boat, captained by his oldest son Metiochos, was captured by the Persians, but he was treated very well and even married a Persian princess. Miltiades did escape with his younger son, Cimon, who was born in c.510 and thus a young adult at the time of the escape.

Soon after his arrival on Athens, Miltiades was put on trial, accused of tyrannical rule in the Chersonese. However his part in the Ionian Revolt and escape from the Persians meant that he had much support in the city and he was acquitted.

In 493 Miltiades became one of ten Athenian generals who shared command of the army, a post he held for the next four years. It was clear that the Persians would soon mount an invasion of mainland Greece. The Athenians and Spartans ended a war, and agreed to unite against the invaders.

The invasion finally came in 490. The Persians landed on the plains of Marathon, near Athens. The Athenians had 10,000 of their own men and 1,000 Plataeans at hand. Miltiades was able to convince the Athenian Assembly to send the army to the heights overlooking the plains of Marathon, where he hoped the terrain would negate the Persian cavalry. As the Athenian army moved towards Marathon, a runner was sent to Sparta, calling for help. The Spartan's replied that they could only come in six days time, at the end of a religious ceremony. 

The Athenian generals were now divided on what to do next, with half wanting to wait for the Spartans and half, including Miltiades, wanting to attack at the first opportunity. Miltiades was able to win over an eleventh official, the polemarchos, Callimachus, who had the casting vote. Command of the army was held by each general for a day in turn, but his supporters gave Miltiades their days, so he had command for half of the time.

Battles of the Persian Invasions of Greece
Battles of the
Persian Invasions
of Greece

He was in command when some Ionian deserters reported that the Persian cavalry was away from the camp. He ordered a general attack, with a thin centre and strong wings. The strong Greek wings defeated the Persians on both flanks and then turned inwards to defeat the Persian centre. The battle of Marathon was a crushing Greek victory. According to Herodotus the Athenians and Plataeans only lost 192 men, while the Persians lost 6,400.

The Persians had been defeated, but it was clear that their morale had not yet been broken. Once they were back on their ships they attempted to launch a surprise attack on Athens, but the army had made a forced march and arrived back just in time. The Persians then gave up and returned home.

Miltiades next suggested that Athens should attack Paros and other islands that had supported the Persians. He was given command of this expedition, but it ended in failure. He was accused of misconduct and found guilty. He was punished with a heavy fine, but died in disgrace of a wound suffered on the expedition. His son Cimon managed to clear his debts, and after performing well at the Battle of Salamis came to dominate Athenian politics for twenty years before also falling from grace. Miltiades was remembered in Athens as the man who had saved them from Persian rule.  

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 December 2015), Miltiades the Younger (c.554-489 BC) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_miltiades_younger.html

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