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Themistocles was born in such humble circumstances nobody would have predicted his eventual greatness. He may be lucky that he was born in Athens, where Democracy prevailed. But still, he compensated his luck with his intellect, being perceptive and making Greece victorious in a war that began the demise of the world’s largest empire at the time. Even modern historians are impressed with him. He was ostracized due to his alleged betrayal and made Athenians angry by seeking refuge with their enemy, the King of Persia.
See the fact file below for more information on the Themistocles or alternatively, you can download our 25-page Themistocles worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
FAMILY AND PERSONAL BACKGROUND
- Themistocles was born in 524 BC in ancient Attica. His father, Neocles, came from the Lycomid Family, and was described by historian Plutarch as “not a very conspicuous man”. His mother was more obscure because nobody knew her real citizenship. They lived in a humble home, with Themistocles showing signs of preparing for public life.
- Themistocles had a wife, Archippe, who bore him three sons: Archipolis, Polyeuctus, and Cleophantes.
- He had two older sons, Neocles and Diocles. The former died, bitten by a horse, and their grandfather, Lysander, adopted the latter.
- Plutarch also mentioned that he had four daughters; one of them became a priestess of Cybelle.
- Themistocles’ humble beginnings did not hinder his eventual greatness. He came from a Lycomid family through his father, but the status of his mother, a non-Athenian and possibly a concubine, made his life more difficult.
- Luckily, for him, being born into and living in a democratic government paved the way to do things that someone like him would not be able to do during that time.
- He became a legitimate citizen of Athens after 16 years when Cleisthenes legislated that all free men in Athens became Athenian citizens.
- This new status gave him a chance to be a lawyer. It made him visible to the upper ranks of society and foster friendships with the high-born children.
- He was already well-known among the commoners because he was one of them.
- These circumstances, plus his leadership skills shown in the Battle of Marathon, helped make him an Archon, a chief judicial and executive officer in Athens, in 493.
LIFE AS A POLITICIAN
- He continued to fight for democracy and lobby Democratic amendments. He also used this position to develop Piraeus as Athens exit harbor, which is still in use now.
- He also initiated a series of naval reforms that served Athens in its many battles. He predicted that Persians would come back and try to conquer them again, so he insisted on making more powerful naval vessels for them.
- He was the voice of the lower class Athenian, making him more popular among the masses.
- The lower class were the main supporters of Themistocles’ naval reforms.
- Being popular among the masses had its drawbacks. Several political opponents sprang up on his way to the top.
- Most worth mentioning is Aristides, who was the opposite of Themistocles. He came from a wealthy family, and was well-educated.
- Some historians believe that the rivalry began when they had to compete for the affections of the most beautiful women in Athens.
- But the most apparent conflict came from the different factions they were supporting. Aristides backed the hoplites, the wealthy farmers that could afford to buy their armor while Themistocles supported the lower class – the thetes, or the craftsmen.
- When the power of Ostracism became a legal institution to banish dangerous politicians in 487, they would not stop until the one was ousted by the other.
- During this time, the archons were debating what to do to the newly discovered rich vein of silver. It formed two opposing factions, the first one led by Themistocles, proposed that they used it to fund the development of more powerful naval forces.
- A faction led by Aristides insisted that they stick to what they knew – land-based infantry. This issue became the deciding factor on who would be ostracized between Themistocles and Aristides.
- Themistocles’ group won, and Aristides went into exile.
BECOMING A HERO
- After Athens’ won in the Battle of Marathon, Themistocles did not grow complacent. He always knew that the Persians would come back and seek their revenge.
- As an archon, he developed a way to strengthen Athens’ Naval Army.
- They built a shipping vessel called Triremes. It was oared by one hundred and eighty men, did not rely on the wind for its speed, and had a bronze ram that made the opposing ship sink if it collided with it.
- Themistocles also built Piraeus as the largest naval base in the Greek world. He built walls around it to guard the city against the Persians.
- Themistocles used the harbor, their superior naval army, and himself (being a master strategist) to their advantage.
- The Battle of Salamis was the embodiment of how these factors helped the Greeks to win against the thousands of men and ship vessels of the Persian King, King Xerxes.
- As a master strategist, Themistocles lured the Persians into the Strait of Salamis. He sent a messenger to tell King Xerxes that the Greeks are going to flee due to the unceasing discordance of their leaders.
- The King was aware of their disagreement with each other, so he ordered his generals to attack the straits using their thousands of ships and men. They were surprised to find that the Greek army and naval vessels were there in perfect formation and ready to battle.
- The Greek naval ships led the Persians to believe that the Greek ships were retreating. They followed them until they were trapped in the narrow straits of Salamis.
- When Themistocles had the Persians in the ideal location, they began to attack. The Persians vessels were not able to maneuver because of the strait’s narrowness.
- Despite the Persians having the advantage in quantity, they retreated as they had their ships significantly reduced in number. The Battle of Salamis was considered one of the most important battles in human history. This battle started to diminish the power of the Persian Achaemenid Empire.
AN OSTRACIZED ATHENIAN
- After winning many battles for Athens, Themistocles was not immune to criticism.
- The Battle of Salamis made him a hero. The Spartans even awarded him a prize for his great tactics.
- But after the honeymoon period was over, the Athenian leaders went back to arguing. They specifically saw Themistocles as a threat. They accused him of working with the Persians, even without enough evidence.
- He also angered the Spartans by rebuilding the Piraeus walls adding to the increasing conflict about the Hellenic League.
- His fellow Athenians ostracized him. He went into exile at Argos and later fled to his previous enemy, Persia. He was accepted by King Artaxerxes I and given a government position in Magnesia, Ionia, where there was a coin minted with his name.
- It angered the Greeks further and they officially declared him as a traitor. They confiscated his properties and condemned him to death.
- There was no official account of the actual cause of his death, but different historians concluded that he might be poisoned, died of illness, or committed suicide.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Themistocles across 25 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Themistocles worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Themistocles who was born in such humble circumstances nobody would have predicted his eventual greatness. He may be lucky that he was born in Athens, where Democracy prevailed. But still, he compensated his luck with his intellect, being perceptive and making Greece victorious in a war that began the demise of the world’s largest empire at the time. Even modern historians are impressed with him. He was ostracized due to his alleged betrayal and made Athenians angry by seeking refuge with their enemy, the King of Persia.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Themistocles Facts
- His Early Life
- His Political Opponent
- His Battle Plan
- His Life At A Glance
- His World’s Words
- His Reputation
- His Life in Details
- His Supposed Betrayal
- His Rivalry with Aristides
- His Battle in Salamis
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