Ionian power

Herodotus was a great narrator. Reading his books is really entertaining, and he manages to simply estate things and give quite a good deal information without it becoming a burden. He has some agenda, but I find him more trustworthy than Ktesias, for example!

What I have gathered from him and other sources, for the time being, is that, as Pierre suggested--and until I can read Briant's book to get a more Persian POV--, the Ionian state-cities were indeed very powerful by themselves, probably more powerful than the Western Hellás cities (not in Italy and Sicily, I mean the Continental, Balkanic cities).

Authors suggest that Ionians were less powerful than mainstream, Hellenic cities like Athens, Corinths, Megara... because they didn't have so many colonies, which indicates a lower growth rate.

But the truth is that most Ionian--and Cycladic--cities enjoyed better fields and crops, most of them grown on aluvial planes of the water rich Ionian rivers, which dragged lots of minerals from the mountains after defrost and rains, and could sustain bigger populations before engaging the colonization resource to keep the population under control. We then have a handful of cities (traditionally around 12, but it fluctuates with time) in the Asia Minor coast, and then several important islands (the most prominent were, probably, Naxos and Chios, although Samos , Lemnos and Lesbos were very important as well) with big cities, large forests and important naval power.

Bigger population means bigger hoplite-class citizens, which means they could field larger armies if need arouse. The fact that Athens, as metropolis of Miletos, was able to send 20 trirremes, which was half her navy at the moment--they were about to have trouble with Egina, and decided it was wise to keep something for themselves--, is very significative. Athens only managed her huge navy the next decade after getting hold of important silver mines which were put to massive ship construction by the leading democratic party of the moment. Eretria--not exactly a big state-city, it's truth--could just send in five ships. That was probably a big war effort from the most impotant Euboean city.

As a comparison, just four years later, Chios sent 100 trirremes to the Battle of Lade, and they probably had several more to defend the town while the fleet was out. Each ship was sent with a compliment of 40 hoplites (or epibatai, which are a kind of Marines which could work both at naval battles or to form a phalanx on the ground) instead of the usual 10 in later, Delian League times. Samos sent 60 trirremes, Mytilene sent 70, and gave 8 more to Histriaios, Aristagoras's father, who became a Hellespont pirate.

The total war navy the Ionians could gather to the battle of Lade--which is, by necessity, lower than the total available at the moment, and the quid is in assessing how much smaller than the full navy it was--was composed of 353 trirremes, full of fighters.

An equivalent fleet gathered at the time in the Continent would have seen Athens 40 ships, Eritrea 5-10, Corinth probably was the most powerful navy at the time (let's suppose double the Athenian, 80), and not many more cities would have had big navies, their war bussinesses mostly conducted by land troops...

So the Ionians were powerful, prosperous, and conducted their bussiness with success, even under Persian rule, until they lost access to the enporion in Naukratis, after Great King Cambyses II took over Egypt ca. 525-4. The decreased revenue from such an important market must have been a strong blow to the Ionian cities, and it may have threatened their ability to keep their high life-style and paying their taxes to the satraps.

My thinking goes in the following direction: while the cities in the Panionion (the Dodekapolis) were able to get together a big hoplite army, they weren't as motivated to do so until the Athenians arrived in Ephesos. After the sack of Sardes, and the Battle of Ephesos, the Ionian, Karian, etc cities were pretty busy defending themselves from the Persian army which was striking the rebel cities in many simultaneous fronts, and the possibility of a big, grand, final land battle was denied because they could not move their land armies to get together. Therefore a naval battle was proposed, which the Persians, probably led by Prince Datis (of Marathon fame) after recovering the insurrect territories on Chiprus and Karia, didn't fail to accept.

What's for sure is that they were able to put up a good fight, and that's probably why the Great King Darius the Great decided to create a "buffer zone" between the Western and Eastern yaunâ, a sent Datis and Artaphrenes Jr. to take over the Cyclades and Euboea. i think Marathon was just a 'plan B' to get Hyspias back into the power in Athens, but that it was far from being the main goal of the expedition.

But we will discuss that later on... :)

As Samhain approaches, and the weather is foul, Nanowrimo is closer and I am eager to start writing (even when I haven't yet been able to find suitable names for my Persian main characters!). With the Sun and the leaves Fall, we will enter into a darker period, the Season of the Chrone, a time of inner reflection, deep mysteries, magic and shadows, ideal for staying home writing... :-)



Pacal said...

Interesting. I accept that the Ionian City states were fairly powerfull.

I suspect that your right about the idea that the goal of the Persian Expedition into the Aegean that ended in the battle of Marathon was not simply to punish Athens. I suspect that we can dismiss Herodotus' speculations concerning Darius' desire for revenge for the burning of Sardis. (The stuff about Darius after dinner being told "remember the Athenians" after Marathon can be tossed out as humerous hyperboyle also).

There is fairly extensive literature about the battle of Marathon including such things such things as.

1), Size of the Persian force sent. May I note that 20,000 soldiers is larger than the forces sent by Kublai Khan to Japan in his first invasion. And it is about the same size of the the Roman Army sent to besige Carthage in the First Punic war, complete with a huge fleet of over 300 ships. (the actual number is disputed but it was probably 500+) So I find the 20,000 figure absurd. (We must also remember that not all the soldiers would be on land some would be on ships).

2), Just where was the Persian Calvary? A 12th century Byzantine source mentions that the Calvry was on the Persian ships when the Greeks attacked, this appears to be based on much earlier sources. Certainly it appears the calvary was not mentioned by Herodotus.

3), The size of the plain of Marathon would seem to preclude 20,000 men, and given that at least 1/2 the plain was a marsh this would make that figure even more dubious. Were exactly on the plain was the battle fought? I suspect near the south west edge.

4), Persian strategy. I suspect the Persian plan was the fix the Greeks guarding the passes from the Plain of Marathon while their fleet swong around and tried to take Athens, with the convient help of certain citizens of Athens. The Persians were smart enough to avoid the suicidal path of attacking those passes.

5), I suspect that the Persians were emabarking part of their army when the Greeks attacked and drove the Persians to their ships (taking 7 0f them). The Greeks had to do this because if they withdrew The Persians would advance from the plain of Marathon into Attica but if they stayed passive the Persians might take Athens behind them.

6), I'm amazed at the acceptance of the figure of 6000+ dead for the Persians, that would speak of a crushing overwhelming victory. Given that the Persians tried to sail after the battle to try to take Athens and apparently came close to doing so. I have my doubts about a crushing victory. Sorry the Persians didn't behave like a badly beaten foe. Oh and Herodotus's figure of 162 dead for the Athenians reads like an "official" body count, i.e., rank propaganda.

7), REagarding the aims of the expedition, I suspect that they were to reestablish Persian control of the central Aegean, (Naxos etc) and to punish Eretria and and Athens. It seems to have largely accomplished this.

8), Did all the Persians expediniary forces anchor at Marathon? It can be argued from Herodotus that only a portion of the expediniary force in fact landed at Marathon.

Just my thoughts.


Excalibor said...


Yes, considering, as Herodotus told us, that Persian trirremes were full of men carrying 40 soldiers (compared to the 15 the Athenian trirremes will carry during the Egyptian Expedition) we can think about much smaller numbers: 200 ships give 8,000 soldiers, which is a pretty big army, anyway.

At this capacity, we would need 500 ships with 40 soldiers on it to reach the 20,000 soldiers, which is about 87,500 rowers... Over 100,000 people with less than 1/5 fighters (although some rowers could be armed as light infantry if necessary).

I'd say that 5,000-8,000 is a pretty realistic army size, about 20 or 30 soldiers per ship, which would make the fleet going to Naxos and Euboea the size of 166 to 266 (30 per ship) or 250 to 400 (20 per ship) ships... I am not sure about the size of the fleet Datis and Artaphrenes Jr. moved to the Egean, but I don't think it would be huge: at the battle of Lade the Persian ship was 600+ ships, but a good part of it would be needed to secure the Ionian, Carian ports and would be spreaded about to control the recovered cities... 200 is probably even bigger than the real life (lots of food and water, anyway!)

About the cavalry, it was probably deployed on ships to get away to Phalerus when the Athenians were forced to attack. If the Greek numbers are reliable (1,000 per Athenian philum) then there were about 2 Greeks per Persian at Marathon.

As for how many and where were they, I seem to recall that Artaphrenes was not at Marathon as he stood with part of the army at Eretria, in Euboea. If that's so, Marathon and Phalerus would seem (with less than the total forces, which were not even as big as it was said) a kind of showoff, to remind the Athenians the old treaties they had broken by attacking Sardes during the Ionian Revolt.

We will discuss this more extensively later on the novel, I'm sure... :-)

Thanks for your thoughts, I'll have them present when I'm planning and writing!