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The Ionian Greeks

ionian greeks

The Ionian Greeks, who lived on the coast of Asia Minor and the adjoining islands, had produced some of the leading poets and thinkers of the Greek world. Thales of Miletus (640-546 B.C.) predicted an eclipse of the sun and introduced geometry to the Greeks. Pythagoras of Samos (c. 500) won fame as a philosopher and mathematician, although it is not now thought that he discovered the geometrical truth which bears his name (i.e. that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides). Thales was interested in politics as well as mathematics and tried to unite the cities of Ionia into a federation. Each city-state would have renamed independent but would have sent representatives to a council to discuss affairs of common interest. This scheme did not succeed. The Ionian cities of the mainland (except for the largest, Miletus) became subject to Lydia and later, when Cyrus conquered Croesus (p. 21), they all became subject to Persia. Even some of the islands succumbed. Polycrates, the fabulously wealthy tyrant of Samos, whose position was such that he could enter into a treaty with the king of Egypt, was enticed by the Persians onto the mainland and killed (522). In the year 522 a pretender had seized the throne of Persia and some nobles, of whom Darius was one, joined in assassinating him. They then decided that they would ride out early in the morning and that the one whose horse neighed first after the sun rose should be King. Darius’s groom saw to it that his master’s horse neighed first and Darius became King of Persia. Neither fate nor the other nobles punished him for cheating in this way. He ruled Persia until 485, by no means …

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A Tyrant Who Was Not Tyrannical


A tyrant’s first problem was to seize power. Peisistratus had to solve this problem three times. In 560 he came before a meeting of the Assembly wounded and bleeding, alleging that his political opponents had attacked him. Sympathisers voted him a body-guard, with the aid of which he was able to seize power, but his opponents soon forced him to take flight. His next descent on the city was made in a chariot, in which he was accompanied by a handsome woman dressed up as Athena. He alleged that his companion was in fact Athena and that she had chosen him to rule her city. No doubt this escapade, if it really took place, impressed the simpler supporters of Peisistratus and amused the wiser ones. Anyway he again established himself as tyrant and after another short spell of power was again thrown out. This time he stayed away ten years. When he returned for the third time, in 546, he made a less spectacular entry than on previous occasions, but remained to rule until his death in 527. During that period his talent for display found a more useful outlet. He organised the annual spring festival of Dionysus, at which the great tragic dramas of the following century were performed and the Panathenaea, a festival in honour of Athena, which included the recitation of poetry as well as athletics and drew competitors from all over Greece. He saw to it that Athens had buildings and sculptures worthy of her guests. We have become so accustomed to thinking of Athens as the most splendid city in Greece that it is hard to realise how insignificant she was before about the year 600. Solon having prepared the way, Peisistratus put Athens on the map, not only by skillful showmanship but also by …

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Early Civilization Spreads by Land and Sea


Now Hiram, King of Tyre, sent his servants to Solomon, when he heard that they had anointed him King. . . And Solomon sent word to Hiram, “ . . . I purpose to build a house for the name of the Lord my God. . . Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me; and . . . I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set; for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians [people of the city of Sidon].” . . . And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, “. . . I am ready to do all you desire in the matter of cedar and cypress timber. My servants shall bring it down to the sea from Lebanon; and I will make it into rafts to go by sea to the place you direct and I will have them broken up there, and you shall receive it; and you shall meet my wishes by providing food for my household.” So Hiram supplied Solomon with all the timber of cedar and cypress that he desired. while Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand cors [measures] of wheat as food for his household and twenty thousand cors of beaten oil. . . And there was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and the two of them made a treaty. And King Solomon built a fleet of ships. . . And Hiram sent with the fleet his servants, seamen who were familiar with the sea. . . These words adapted from the Bible tell the story of trade agreements between two kings who ruled about 1000 B.C. You have probably heard of Solomon. He had the reputation of being the wisest king of ancient times. But …

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The Conquerors 343 B. C. – 323 B. C.


In 343 B. C., the philosopher Aristotle left the quiet of his study and journeyed to Macedonia, a country in the mountain wilderness north of Greece. He had been hired to tutor the rowdy young son of a king. The boy, Alexander, was a yellow-haired thirteen-year-old. His manners were polite and he seemed to be clever enough, but he was wild. It was hard for him to pay attention to his studies. He much preferred galloping across the fields on his huge horse. He proudly told his new tutor that he had tamed the horse himself. When he did come to his lessons, instead of discussing arithmetic and Greek grammar, he chatted on about armies and his father’s campaigns and his own great plans to conquer the world. Alexander said he was a descendant of the family of Achilles – his mother had told him so. The Iliad, Achilles’ story, was the one book he loved. He carried it with him wherever he went and read it over and over until he knew it by heart. He dreamed of growing up to be a hero like the ones in Homer’s poem. He pestered Aristotle with questions about Greece and Athens, which he longed to visit. Aristotle said that it was very different from Macedonia. Philip of Macedon In those days Macedonia was just beginning to be a kingdom that civilized people talked about seriously. The Greeks still said it was a country of barbarians, but the Greeks called everyone who wasn’t Greek a barbarian. Macedonia was changing. Alexander’s father, King Philip, had spent his youth as a hostage in Greece and he had learned to love almost everything Greek. He had studied the language and tried to learn the ways of the people; but he had also heard the Greeks …

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A New People, a New Faith 650 B. C. – 330 B. C


BABYLON, the final capital of Mesopotamia civilization, had fallen to warrior tribesmen from the east, the Medes and Persians. The Medes and Persians were descended from the Aryan peoples who for centuries had been moving out of the grasslands of central Asia with their horses and herds. Some of the Aryans settled in the valleys and slopes of the mountains surrounding the great arid plateau between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. From them the region took its name, Iran, or Land of the Aryans. The Aryans who lived in the mountains northeast of Mesopotamia were the Medes, familiar to their prosperous neighbours as breeders of horses and as raiders of cities and trade caravans. Other Aryans settled south of the Medes, in the region of Parsa along the valleys, foothills and plains of the Zagros Mountains and these people became known as Persians. About 650 B. C., one of the Persian chieftains, Achaemenes, organized a small kingdom. His descendant, Cyrus, later brought the various tribes of Persians and Medes under his rule and led the united forces into Babylon. Before Cyrus formed the Persian nation, a man appeared who would influence the Persians in another way. He was Zoroaster or Zarathustra, who around 600 B. C. began to preach a new religion to the people of Iran. The Aryans had always worshipped many gods, especially Mithra the sun god and they often sacrificed animals. The priests who supervised the many rituals became a privileged group. Among the Medes, these priests were known as the Magi. Zoroaster introduced no new rituals and started no new priesthood; he was a prophet and reformer. Zoroaster was most active in eastern Iran, perhaps as a priest of the old Aryan religion, but he soon withdrew from society and went to live on …

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