The Ionians knew that they would not be able to throw off the Persian yoke without help from their kinsfolk in Greece. So Aristagoras was appointed to go to Sparta to beg king Cleomenes to help the Ionians, who were of the same race as were he and his people.
When Aristagoras reached Sparta he tried to tempt the king to help the Ionians by telling him of the wealth he might gain for himself. After Artaphernes was conquered at Sardis it would, he said, be an easy matter to go to Susa and seize the treasures of the great king. He then showed Cleomenes a thing he had never seen before—a map engraved in bronze. Aristagoras pointed out to him all the countries he might make his own if he would aid the Ionians in their revolt.
The king listened and looked, then he dismissed the Greek, promising to think over the matter. In three days he sent for Aristagoras and asked him how long it took to journey from Ionia to Susa.
"Three months," answered the messenger.
"O stranger," then said Cleomenes, "depart from Sparta before the sun goes down; thou art no friend to the Lacedaemonians when thou seekest to lead them three months' journey from the sea."
In spite of the king's command, Aristagoras still tarried in Sparta. He had made up his mind that he would see Cleomenes once again ere he left the country.
So one day, taking an olive branch in his hand as a sign of peace, he went to the king's house. He found Cleomenes alone with his little daughter Gorgo, a child about eight years old.
Aristagoras begged the king to send his daughter away, but Cleomenes said, "Pay no heed to the child."
Then the Greek tried to bribe the king to send help to Ionia. Ten talents he offered, twenty, thirty, but in vain. Forty, fifty! Surely, thought Aristagoras, the king would be won by fifty talents.
But at that moment little Gorgo interfered. "Father," she said, "the stranger will corrupt you unless you rise up and go."
Cleomenes listened to the child's words and knew that they were wise. He rose and left the room, and Aristagoras knew that he had been beaten by the little princess.
But although Sparta would not help, Athens might. So Aristagoras went to the beautiful city and found that the Athenians were willing to send twenty ships to the aid of the Ionians. "These ships," said Herodotus, "were the beginnings of evil both to the Greeks and to the barbarians."
In 498 b.c. the Athenian fleet was ready. It sailed across the Ægean and the troops landed at Ephesus, where they were joined by the Ionians. Together they marched upon Sardis.
Artaphernes saw that he could not hope to hold the town against the force that was approaching. So he left the city to be plundered, while he with a small band of soldiers took refuge in the Acropolis.
As they met with little resistance, the Athenians at once began to pillage the town. One of the soldiers set fire to a house, and as many of them were made of wickerwork, while all the roofs were thatched, the flames spread quickly through the city until Sardis was destroyed. Then the Greeks, loaded with plunder, began to march back to Ephesus, but on the way they were met by a troop of Persians and defeated. The Athenians now determined to go home. Aristagoras begged them to stay, but they paid no heed to his request, and hastening to the shore they embarked and set sail for Athens. Nor did the Athenians take any further share in the Ionic revolt.
But they had already done enough to rouse the anger of Darius. The great king knew that it would be easy to punish Aristagoras and the Ionians. As for the strangers who had burned Sardis, one of his capital towns, they, whoever they were, should suffer most heavily. He was told that the strangers were the Athenians.
"The Athenians—who are they?" he demanded haughtily. And when he had been told he sent for a bow and shot an arrow high into the air, saying as he did so, "O Zeus, suffer me to avenge myself on the Athenians." He then bade one of his slaves say to him three times each day as he sat at dinner, "O king, remember the Athenians."
Meanwhile Aristagoras saw that there was little chance of the revolt being successful against the forces of Darius. So, like a coward rather than like a brave leader, he deserted those whom he had encouraged to rebel and fled to Thrace. Here, while besieging a town, he was slain.