The Siege of Naxos

The Siege of Naxos was a prelude of sorts to the Ionian Revolt and the following Persian War between Greece and Persia. Ionia was the name given to a small area of land on the western coast of Asia Minor. The islands between Ionia (Asia Minor) and Greece were left independent and were called the Cyclades. These islands were important trade routes, with Naxos being the largest and richest among them.

Cyrus of Persia

Around 546 BC, Cyrus of Persia took over all these places, crowning himself King of the Kings. Higher taxes and tyrant rulers created a lot of dissatisfaction and unrest among the people. The angry people of Naxos successfully drove away some nobles and rich men from the island in protest. These banished aristocrats sought the help of Aristagoras, the tyrant ruler of Ionia's largest city, Miletus, to gain control of Naxos once again. Aristagoras readily agreed to know that if they were reinstated using his help, he would be able to annex Naxos for himself once the conflict ended. However, he did not have the resources or the authority to take up an invasion of such a massive scale by himself. He, therefore, approached Artaphernes asking him for help.

He seduced him with the idea of an easy victory over Naxos which could then be used to invade other islands in the Cyclades and finally gain control over the Aegean. Artaphernes agreed to help him because there was minimal risk to the Persians. He was then given a fleet of ships under the command of Megabates, one of Persia's most esteemed generals. Together they set out with dreams of overtaking Naxos.

Tension between Allies

Aristagoras hoped to lead the expedition himself, so there was a certain amount of tension between Megabates and him when Megabates was made in charge instead. That escalated further when Megabates wanted to punish one of the captains for finding his ship unattended. Aristagoras, on the other hand, freed the guilty captain. Megabates was furious and, to settle the score, sent a secret messenger to Naxos to warn them of the impending invasion.

When the invaders arrived, Naxos was prepared, albeit haphazardly. Ironically, the Persians were the ones surprised when they arrived on the shores to find the Naxians ready to fight back. Even though they tried to defeat the islanders, Naxians put up a good fight. Four months after their arrival, the Persians were out of resources and forced to withdraw. The well-manipulated plan of Aristagoras had failed miserably.

Persian defeat at Naxos

The defeat was an embarrassment for Artaphernes, to whom Aristagoras had promised an easy victory. The Persians suffered extensive financial losses as well. Aristagoras couldn't repay him. Having deceived Artaphernes and earned the enmity of Megabates, he could not expect any favor from the Persians - the empire he had once hoped would be his ally was now his biggest enemy. He realized that his life was in grave danger. In a desperate attempt to save himself, Aristagoras tried to coax his own subjects to fight against their Persian masters in the name of Greek liberty.

He was supported by Histiaeus, a former tyrant of Miletus. In 499 BC, Aristagoras called a council of the leading citizens of Miletus and presented the plan of the rebellion before asking them for their advice. They were all for it except a historian named Hecataeus. Aristagoras then had the leaders of Mylasa, Termera and Mytilene arrested, abdicated his own rule, and initiated a democratic form of government in Ionian cities.

The Revolt Spreads

The cities that were pro-Persia were taken by force. Other Ionian cities were quick to follow, as they were fed up with tyrant rulers and high taxes. With the encouragement of Aristagoras, city after city either killed or drove off their Persian rulers. Realizing that the Persian Empire would try and reclaim their cities, he then sailed to Greece to gain the support of Sparta and Athens. While Sparta refused, Athens agreed and provided 20 ships. Aristagoras came back with these reinforcements only to find that Miletus was already under siege. Instead of attacking the Persian troops in Miletus, Aristagoras decided to surprise them and attack the capital of the Lydian satrapy, Sardis. They set the city on fire, burning it to the ground.

Having had some success, the Greek troops were forced to retreat for Persian reinforcements were fast approaching but caught up with them at Ephesus. The Persian army managed to completely defeat them. The Athenian troops rapidly fled back to Greece after that wipeout. While the battle of Ephesus was a defeat, the revolt continued in other cities. It spread to Greek cities in Cyprus and those surrounding Hellespont and Propontis.

Persians Reconquered the Greeks

Although it seemed as if Greece had earned its independence, the Persian Empire was way too mighty for the Greeks. Cyprus was the first to be won back, followed by other cities along the coast. Somewhere around this time, Aristagoras abandoned the revolt and fled to Thrace, where he was killed. By the sixth year of the revolt, Artaphernes successfully re-captured the majority of the revolting cities. In 494 BC, the Battle of Lade took place near the port of Miletus. That was sort of the pivotal battle of the war.

Although the Greek fleet appeared to be winning initially, the Persians managed to destroy the Greek fleet in the end. Miletus surrendered after that, and the Ionian Revolt ended. After the revolt, Persian policies significantly changed. Artaphernes called regular assemblies of heads of Ionian states to listen to the people's grievances. He also reduced taxes.

The Significance of the Siege

Later on, tyrants were deposed, and democracy was established. The Siege of Naxos was a milestone in a revolutionary era of Greek history. The fact that Naxians managed to defend themselves against the Persians showed the world that the Persians were not as strong as they portrayed themselves to be, which gave people hope against the tyrannical rule. Although there is no denying that the Siege of Naxos was a failure by itself, it was a landmark in both Greek and Persian history. Life for Greek citizens changed in many ways, mostly for the better. If the Siege of Naxos never happened, people could not have imagined that a brighter future was possible.