4 – Aristagoras: Miletus (513- 499 BC)
Aristagoras was an important participant in the Ionian Revolt against the Persians which lasted from 499 to 493 BC. He was the son-in-law of Histiaeus, who was the tyrant of Miletus from 518 to 514 BC. The early years of Aristagoras’ reign are undocumented, so we don’t know how he governed Miletus. He was probably tyrant of Miletus for 14 years before the Ionian Revolt. Histiaeus was a Persian puppet, but they never trusted him fully. As a result, Darius called Histiaeus to Susa where he was placed under observation. Eventually, Histiaeus managed to send instructions to Aristagoras to orchestrate the Ionian Revolt.
It turned out that the Persians were planning to interfere with Miletus directly and the plotters hoped to use Greek anger at the Persians to incite an uprising in Ionia. Aristagoras failed in his attempts to gain the assistance of a major city state; Sparta refused to help, and Athenian assistance was half-hearted at best. Aristagoras knew that one Ionian city was about to be crushed, so he approached various cities to try and forge an alliance. He gave up his tyranny and persuaded his new allies to do the same.
However, while he apparently established democracy in the region, he insisted that other Ionian cities create a board of generals that had to report directly to him. There is no mention of voting in ancient texts, and a new sovereign state was formed with Aristagoras as the leader. Instead of selflessly stepping down, he had actually moved up. His new state had the power to levy troops and taxes, and he was the commander of the allied armed forces. Moreover, Miletus was the new capital of this state.
Although the Ionians fought bravely, they were unable to prevent the Persians from getting the upper hand in the war. Aristagoras knew the revolt was doomed to fail and began to search for places where he could execute a strategic retreat. He chose Myrcinus in Thrace but the Thracians attacked the invaders, and Aristagoras was killed in battle. Herodotus is scathing in his assessment of the tyrant and refers to him as a coward for fleeing when the revolt needed him most. Sometime in late 494/493 BC, the Persians won a naval battle at Lede and Miletus fell soon after.