Gateway to the Classics: Famous Men of Greece by John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
Famous Men of Greece by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland



Y OU remember that when Xerxes was preparing to invade Greece, Themistocles tried to get the Athenians to build ships and quit their city, and trust to the "wooden wall" of a fleet.

One day, while the people were still in doubt about what they should do, a tall and handsome young man, with a bridle in his hand, was seen hurrying through the streets of Athens toward the Acropolis. He entered the temple of Minerva, hung up his bridle as an offering to the goddess, and took down from the walls a shield. He prayed to the goddess and then carried the shield through the streets of Athens to the Piræus.

The young man was named Cimon. He was the son of the famous Miltiades and belonged to a class of Athenians called knights, who fought on horseback. For him to hang up his bridle in the temple was as much as to say that Athens now had no need of horsemen, but of seamen, as Themistocles was urging.



People were fond of young Cimon because of his pleasant ways, and when they saw that he thought well of Themistocles' advice a great many who had not liked it changed their minds.

Cimon himself sailed in the Athenian fleet and fought bravely in the battle of Salamis. He distinguished himself so much that not long after the Persians had been driven from Greece he was elected admiral of the fleet.

At that time there were a number of pirates living on the island of Scyros, in the Ægean Sea. They captured the merchant vessels that carried on the trade of the Mediterranean. Cimon took possession of their island and made the Ægean Sea safe for traders.

The island was the one on which Thetis had tried to hide Achilles when the Trojan War began, and somewhere upon it Theseus, the great hero of Athens, had been buried. Cimon made a search for the burial place and found it. He took the bones out of the tomb and carried them to Athens.

When he arrived at Athens and told that he had brought the bones of Theseus the whole city was filled with rejoicing. Games were held and theatrical exhibitions given. The great poets Æschylus and Sophocles wrote plays for the occasion.


A Garden of Ancient Greece

Cimon took so much booty from pirates that after a while he became very wealthy. He was also very generous. His fine gardens were open to the public and people were allowed to gather fruit in his orchard. The Athenians said, "He got riches so that he could use them and then used them so that he got honor." His fellow-citizens almost worshiped him.


A FTER some years of fighting the allies of Athens grew tired of warfare. So Cimon agreed to let them furnish ships and money, and he hired seamen and marines from among the Athenians, so that though the fleet was in name the fleet of Greece, it was really Athenian. He drilled his men well in naval warfare and took them on one expedition after another. Thus they became the finest sea-soldiers in Greece.

At one time Cimon learned that there was a Persian fleet off the coast of Asia Minor. Immediately two hundred ships were made ready and he sailed to attack the Persians. They had about twice as many ships as he had, but the Greeks destroyed a great number of the Persian vessels and captured two hundred.


The Generosity of Cimon

Cimon then disembarked his men and fought a Persian army on land. He completely defeated it and so gained two victories in one day. Immediately after this he was told that another Persian fleet was not far off, and at once he sailed to the spot and destroyed or captured all the ships and the men upon them.

The Persian king was now glad to make peace. He agreed that no army of his should ever go nearer to the Ægean Sea than a day's journey on horseback—about fifty miles—and that none of his war-ships should ever sail near Greece.

The spoil taken on Cimon's great expedition was immense. It sold for so much that the Athenians took part of the money to pay for building the foundations of the great walls called the "Long Walls." These were to connect Athens with her ports and serve also as fortifications. Cimon paid for part of this work out of his own share of the spoils.

It seems strange that the Athenians should ever have turned against Cimon after all his victories. Yet they did. The reason was this:

A terrible earthquake happened in Sparta. The whole city was ruined and only five houses stood unharmed after the shock. One large building fell upon some of the young men and boys who were drilling and killed them.

While everything was in confusion and everybody was filled with alarm, the Helots flocked together from the fields, intending to massacre their masters. Fortunately, one of the kings heard in time that the Helots were arming themselves. He at once ordered an alarm to be given by sounding trumpets, and the Spartans seized their shields and spears and gathered together. When the Helots reached the city and saw the citizens ready to resist them they went back into the country.

But they had a large and powerful army and they persuaded some neighbors of the Spartans to join them. Then they seized a strong fortress near Sparta.

The Spartans were now in a dreadful plight. Their homes were in ruins, their slaves in revolt, and their neighbors aiding the slaves.

In their distress they sent to the Athenians for aid. The great comic poet Aristophanes says, "There was a wonderful difference between the scarlet robe and the white cheeks of the Spartan who came to ask us for troops."

Some of the Athenians advised that none should be sent. They thought it would be a good thing for Athens if Sparta lost her power, for the two cities were rivals. But Cimon persuaded his countrymen to send a large force. He said, "Athens and Sparta are the two legs of Greece. Do not suffer Greece to be maimed and Athens to lose her companion."

So Athenian soldiers went in command of Cimon and fought for the Spartans. But the Helots and their allies were too strong. The fortress was not taken. Then the Spartans suspected that the Athenians had not done their best and they said that they wished no more Athenian help.

This made the people of Athens very angry. They were enraged not only with the Spartans but with Cimon. They declared that any friend of Sparta was an enemy of Athens, and so they banished Cimon.


A FTER the Spartans had conquered their slaves they sent an army to attack Athens. A battle was fought not far from the city and the Spartans gained the victory.

Then some one was needed in Athens who could either beat the Spartans or make friends of them. Cimon was therefore recalled from banishment. Not long after his return he made a truce with the Spartans which lasted for several years.

Cimon thought that the best way to keep peace in Greece was to fight the Persians. So he fitted out a fleet and set sail from Athens to attack parts of the "Great King's" dominions.

He really hoped to overthrow the whole Persian empire. Before making any attack he sent friends to the oracle of Jupiter. The god refused to answer the question that they put and gave as a reason, "Because Cimon is already with me." The messengers wondered what this could mean, but when they reached the Greek fleet they found that Cimon was dead.

Some say he died of sickness, others of a wound which he had received while besieging a city.

Before he died he ordered his officers to conceal his death from the soldiers and to carry his body to Athens. This they did.

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