Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Greece by Mary Macgregor
The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

Histiaeus Shaves the Head of His Slave

For a few years after Histiaeus was summoned to Susa, the Greek cities in Asia showed no disloyalty.

But about 500 b.c. the people of Naxos, an island in the Ægean Sea, rose and expelled the nobles from their city. This was the beginning of a war between Greece and Asia, known as the Ionian revolt.

The nobles, when they were turned out of Naxos, went to Aristagoras, tyrant of Miletus, to beg him to help them to punish the rebels and to gain possession of the island.

Aristagoras knew that alone he was not strong enough to regain Naxos for the nobles, but he said that he would ask Artaphernes, the Persian ruler in Sardis, to help him.

So Aristagoras went to Sardis and begged Artaphernes to give him a hundred ships to sail against Naxos, promising if he would do so to reward him with money and with gifts.

Artaphernes offered, if Darius would consent, to give not only a hundred, but two hundred ships. The great king bade his brother do as he thought well, so two hundred ships, under the command of Megabates, were sent from Sardis to join Aristagoras in his expedition against Naxos.

The two leaders, Aristagoras and Megabates, had not sailed far together when they quarrelled, and it was because of this quarrel that the plans of Aristagoras went awry.

One night Megabates found that no watch had been set on one of the ships belonging to Aristagoras. He was so angry with the captain for being careless that he ordered his head to be placed in one of the oarholes in the side of the vessel. When this was done the unhappy man could do nothing to set himself free, but with hanging head he was forced to gaze into the water.

When Aristagoras found what Megabates had done he went at once to ask him to set the culprit free. This Megabates refused to do, and the tyrant himself released the captain.

To have his authority flouted in this way made Megabates angry, but when he would have spoken, Aristagoras proudly bade him be silent, saying, "Did not Artaphernes send you to serve under me?"

Perhaps it would have been wiser to allow the Persian to speak, for now his anger smouldered in his heart, and he resolved to be revenged on Aristagoras. So he sent a messenger to Naxos to warn the citizens that an enemy was at hand.

The Naxians at once strengthened their walls and brought provisions into their city, so that when Aristagoras arrived, he found to his astonishment that the citizens had been warned and were ready to resist an attack.

For four months the Greeks and Persians besieged Naxos, but all their efforts to take the city were vain. Then, their money and their provisions having come to an end, Aristagoras was forced to order the fleets to withdraw.

The tyrant was now in great trouble. He had neither gold nor gifts to give to Artaphernes as he had promised. He had wasted Persian money on a useless expedition, and he had made Megabates his enemy. What would Darius say when he heard these things? Aristagoras was afraid that the king would no longer allow him to be tyrant of Miletus.

It seemed to Aristagoras that the only way to save himself from disgrace was to persuade the Greeks in Asia Minor to revolt against Darius and himself to become their leader.

Now just at this time Histiaeus was more than ever determined to escape from the court of Susa. He thought if Aristagoras would but incite the Greeks to rebel, Darius would send him back to Miletus to restore order to the city.

So while Aristagoras was still hesitating about rousing the citizens, a slave was shown into his presence. He came from Histiaeus, and said that his master had bidden him tell Aristagoras to shave off his hair and look at the message that was branded on his head.

This was a strange way to send a message! But Histiaeus had been unable to think of any other way to tell Aristagoras what he wished him to do. So he had himself first shaved the head of his slave, and branded on it certain signs which meant that the tyrant was to revolt against the Persians. He had waited only until the slave's hair had grown again, when he had at once sent him to Miletus.

When Aristagoras looked at the slave's head and learned that Histiaeus encouraged him to revolt, he hesitated no longer. He determined to rouse the Ionian Greeks, and he began with his own city Miletus. When he had assembled the citizens he told them that the time had come to throw off the Persian yoke. He then gave up his position as tyrant that Miletus might be made into a democracy. The example of Miletus was quickly followed by many other cities, and the Greeks were soon in open rebellion against Darius.

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