(Θεμιστοκλῆς). A celebrated Athenian, the son of Neocles and Abrotonon, a Thracian woman, and born about B.C. 514. In his youth he had an impetuous character, and displayed great intellectual power combined with a
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lofty ambition and a desire for political distinction. He began his career by setting himself in opposition to those who had most power, among whom Aristides was the chief. The fame which Miltiades acquired by his generalship at Marathon made a deep impression on Themistocles; and he said that the trophy of Miltiades would not let him sleep. His rival Aristides was ostracized in B.C. 483, to which event Themistocles contributed; and from this time he was the political leader in Athens. In 481 he was Archon Eponymus. It was about this time that he persuaded the Athenians to employ the produce of the silver mines of Laurium in building ships, instead of distributing it among the Athenian citizens. His great object was to draw the Athenians to the sea, as he was convinced that it was only by their fleet that Athens could repel the Persians and obtain the supremacy in Greece. Upon the invasion of Greece by Xerxes, Themistocles was appointed to the command of the Athenian fleet; and to his energy, prudence, foresight, and courage the Greeks mainly owed their salvation from the Persian dominion. Upon the approach of Xerxes, the Athenians, on the adviceofThemistocles, deserted their city, and removed their women, children, and infirm persons to Salamis, Aegina, and Troezen; but as soon as the Persians took possession of Athens, the Peloponnesians were anxious to retire to the Corinthian isthmus. Themistocles used all his influence in inducing the Greeks to remain and fight with the Persians at Salamis, and with the greatest difficulty persuaded the Spartan commander Eurybiades to stay at Salamis. But as soon as the fleet of Xerxes made its appearance, the Peloponnesians were again anxious to sail away; and when Themistocles saw that he should be unable to persuade them to remain, he sent a faithful slave to the Persian commanders, informing them that the Greeks intended to make their escape, and that the Persians had now the opportunity of accomplishing a noble enterprise, if they would only cut off the retreat of the Greeks. The Persians believed what they were told, and in the night their fleet occupied the whole of the channel between Salamis and the mainland. The Greeks were thus compelled to fight; and the result was the great and glorious victory, in which the greater part of the fleet of Xerxes was destroyed. This victory, which was due to Themistocles, established his reputation among the Greeks. On his visiting Sparta, he was received with extraordinary honours by the Spartans, who gave Eurybiades the palm of bravery and Themistocles the palm of wisdom and skill ( Herod.viii. 124). The Athenians now began to restore their ruined city, and Themistocles urged them to rebuild the walls and make them stronger than before. The Spartans sent an embassy to Athens to dissuade them from fortifying their city, for which it is hard to assign any motive except national jealousy. Themistocles, who was at that time προστάτης τοῦ δήμου (i. e. one of the leaders of the popular party), went on an embassy to Sparta, where he amused the Spartans with lies, till the walls were far enough advanced to be in a state of defence. It was upon his advice also that the Athenians fortified the port of Piraeus. The influence of Themistocles does not appear to have survived the expulsion of the Persians from Greece and the fortification of the ports. He was probably justly accused of enriching himself by unfair means, for he had no scruples about the way of accomplishing an end. A story is told that, after the retreat of the fleet of Xerxes, when the Greek fleet was wintering at Pagasae, Themistocles told the Athenians in the public assembly that he had a scheme to propose which was beneficial to the State, but could not be divulged. Aristides was named to receive the secret, and to report upon it. His report was that nothing could be more profitable than the scheme of Themistocles, but nothing more unjust: the Athenians were guided by the report of Aristides. It is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the statement in Arist. Ath. Pol.25, that Themistocles intrigued for the overthow of the Areopagus, with the date of his exile from Athens. The attack upon the Areopagus was in 463; but in 471, in consequence of the political strife between Themistocles and Aristides, the former was ostracized from Athens, and retired to Argos.
After the discovery of the treasonable correspondence of Pausanias with the Persian king, the Lacedaemonians sent to Athens to accuse Themistocles of being privy to the design of Pausanias. Thereupon the Athenians sent off persons with the Lacedaemonians with instructions to arrest Themistocles (466). Themistocles, hearing of what was designed against him, first fled from Argos to Corcyra, and then to Epirus, where he took refuge in the house of Admetus, king of the Molossi, who happened to be from home. Admetus was no friend to Themistocles, but his wife told the fugitive that he would be protected if he would take their child in his arms and sit on the hearth. The king soon came in, and, respecting his suppliant attitude, raised him up, and refused to surrender him to the Lacedaemonian and Athenian agents. Themistocles finally reached the coast of Asia in safety. Xerxes was now dead (465), and Artaxerxes was on the throne (Thucyd. i. 235; Plut. Them.23; Nep. Them.4). Themistocles went up to visit the king at his royal residence; and on his arrival he sent the king a letter, in which he promised to do the king a good service, and prayed that he might be allowed to wait a year and then to explain personally what brought him there. In a year he made himself master of the Persian language and the Persian usages, and, being presented to the king, he obtained the greatest influence over him, and such as no Greek ever before enjoyed—partly owing to his high reputation and the hopes that he gave to the king of subjecting the Greeks to the Persians. The king gave him a handsome allowance, after the Persian fashion; Magnesia supplied him with bread nominally, but paid him annually
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fifty talents. Lampsacus supplied wine, and Myus the other provisions. Before he could accomplish anything he died; some say that he poisoned himself, finding that he could not perform his promise to the king. A monument was erected to his memory in the Agora of Magnesia, which place was within his government. It is said that his bones were secretly taken to Attica by his relations, and privately interred there.
Themistocles undoubtedly possessed great talents as a statesman, great political sagacity, a ready wit, and excellent judgment; but he was not an honest man, and, like many other clever men with little morality, he ended his career unhappily and ingloriously. Twenty-one letters attributed to Themistocles are spurious.
See Wolff, De Vita Themistoclis (1871); and Wecklein, Ueber Themistokles, etc. (1892).