A RISTIDES lived during the earlier part of the fifth century before Christ, a time when the liberties of the Greek states and cities in Europe were threatened by the vast hosts of the Persian Empire. The Persians had already conquered and enslaved the Greek cities of Ionia, that is, the coast districts and adjacent islands of western Asia Minor. Moreover, the Greeks in Europe were by no means united in opposition to the Persians. Hence it appeared almost certain that the vast forces at the disposal of the Persian king would speedily overrun the Greek states, and that their liberties and their civilisation would be destroyed, or at any rate profoundly altered, by the rule of a despotic foreign king. Had such been the event of the war, the whole subsequent history of Europe through all the ages would have been changed, since our civilisation has its roots in the glorious achievements of Ancient Greece. For this reason the great victories in which the Greeks overthrew the vast Persian armies have a direct personal meaning for every one of us to this day.
In the three great battles by which Greece was saved, Marathon, Salamis and Platæa, Aristides played a distinguished part. The first of these, the battle fought in the plain between the mountains and the sea, where
'The mountains look on Marathon
And Marathon looks on the sea,'
showed that the Persians, who had never before been beaten by any army of Greeks, were not invincible. It proved indeed that their vast hosts could be conquered by a small number of Greeks who were inspired by staunch patriotism and dauntless courage.
The chief credit for the second of the great victories belongs to Themistocles, the great rival of Aristides. Not least among the glories of Aristides, however, is the lofty patriotism with which he put aside all feelings of personal enmity, and devoted himself to second the plans of his rival by which the sea-fight at Salamis was won, the Persian navy destroyed, and King Xerxes himself driven from Europe.
In the battle of Plataea the army which Xerxes had left behind was utterly destroyed and the dread of Persian conquest removed. In this battle the Spartan, Pausanias, was in chief command, but Aristides shared in the glory of the day, though, in truth, the victory was won by the valour of the Greek soldiers rather than by the skill of their generals.
A RISTIDES was an Athenian by birth, but accounts vary as to his station in life. For While some say that he was always very poor, another writer contradicts this view, and endeavours to prove that his family possessed a fair estate.
Some writers say that Aristides was from infancy brought up with Themistocles, who was destined to be his chief rival in the leadership of affairs at Athens. They tell us also that even in childhood the two were always at variance, not only in affairs of some importance but even in their sports and games, and that in their opposition they showed the differences in character which distinguished them throughout their careers. Themistocles was plausible, bold and artful, changeable in mood and yet impetuous in action. Aristides, on the other hand, was plain and straightforward, absolutely just and incapable of any falseness or deceit even in play.
When both had grown up, Themistocles proved himself a pleasant and agreeable companion. He made many friends, and his strength in public affairs depended largely upon his popularity. He did not hesitate to favour his friends, and when some one remarked of him that he would govern the Athenians very well if he would do so without respect of persons, he exclaimed, 'May I never sit upon the seat of judgment where my friends shall not receive more favour from me than strangers.'
Aristides, on the other hand, pursued an entirely different course in public affairs. He could not be persuaded to any act of injustice in order to oblige his friends, though he was willing to help them when what they requested was right and proper. He saw indeed that many, relying upon their interest with people in power, did things which could not be justified, but he, for his part, held that a good citizen should trust for his safety solely to the justice and rectitude of his actions.
But, as Themistocles made many rash and dangerous proposals and always endeavoured to thwart him in every way, Aristides was, in his turn, obliged to oppose his rival similarly, partly in self-defence and partly to lessen the power of Themistocles, which was daily growing through his popularity. Indeed, with the latter purpose, he was sometimes induced to oppose proposals of Themistocles which were good in themselves. Thus, on one occasion, he strenuously and successfully opposed a motion of Themistocles which he nevertheless felt to be of advantage to the public. Conscious of the evil of this rivalry between them, he could not forbear saying as he went out of the assembly, 'Athenian affairs cannot prosper unless both Themistocles and myself are put to death.' Very often Aristides put forward his proposals by means of a third person, in order that the public welfare should not suffer through the opposition of Themistocles to him. His steadfastness amid the frequent changes of political affairs was wonderful. Honours did not elate him nor was he cast down by ill success; in either case he pursued his course, convinced that his country had a claim to the services which he rendered without thought of advantage to himself. Not only was he able to resist the promptings of favour and affection, but also the temptation to let enmity and revenge sway the scales of justice.
It is said that, on one occasion, when he was prosecuting an enemy and had brought his charge against him, the people were about to give sentence against the accused without waiting to hear his defence. Thereupon Aristides came to the assistance of his enemy, and entreated that he might be heard in accordance with the laws. Another time, when Aristides was himself the judge between two private persons, one of them observed that his opponent had injured Aristides many times. 'Tell me not,' said Aristides, 'what injury he has done to me, but what harm you have suffered from him, for I am trying your cause and not my own.'
Now about this time, when Aristides was in high reputation with his fellow-citizens, the Persian King Darius sent one of his generals to invade Greece. His pretext was the punishment of the Athenians for burning the city of Sardis in Asia Minor, but the real object of the invasion was the conquest of the whole of Greece. The Persian fleet arrived in the Bay of Marathon, and the invaders began to ravage the country round.
The Athenians now appointed a number of generals to command their army against the Persians. Of these Miltiades was the first in dignity, while in reputation and authority with the people Aristides stood next. Miltiades, in a council of war which was held, was in favour of attacking the enemy, and Aristides by seconding him added no little weight to his advice. Now it was the custom for the generals to command in turn, each for a day. But when it came to the turn of Aristides, he surrendered his right to Miltiades. Thus he stilled the spirit of contention, and induced the other generals to follow his example, so that Miltiades had supreme and continued command, and the other generals readily submitted to his orders.
In the battle of Marathon the main body of the Athenian army was the hardest pressed, for the Persians made their fiercest attacks upon the tribes which were stationed there. Themistocles and Aristides belonged to these tribes, and fought at the head of them. In the spirit of emulation which inspired them, they fought with such fury that the Persians were put to flight, and sought refuge on board their ships. The Greeks, however, saw with alarm that these vessels of the enemy, instead of sailing by way of the isles to return to Asia, were being driven in by the winds and currents towards Attica. They feared, therefore, lest Athens, left undefended in their absence, might fall an easy prey to the Persians. Nine of the tribes marched homewards at once to defend their city, and such speed did they make that they reached Athens in one day.
Aristides was left behind at Marathon with his own tribe to guard the spoils and prisoners. He did not disappoint the general opinion of his probity, for though there was much treasure of gold and silver scattered about, and rich garments and other spoil of great price in the tents and in the ships which had been taken, he was neither inclined to take anything himself nor would he suffer others to do so. Notwithstanding his watchfulness, however, some enriched themselves with stolen plunder unknown to him. Among them was Callias, the torch-bearer. One of the defeated barbarians, happening to meet him in a quiet place, prostrated himself before him and, taking him by the hand, showed him a great quantity of gold that lay hidden in a well. Callias, not less cruel than unjust, took the gold, and then slew the barbarian lest he should tell others of the matter.
Of all the virtues of Aristides, the people were most impressed by his justice, because that merit was of most advantage to the commonwealth. Hence, though he was a poor man and a commoner, he was given the royal and divine title of the Just. The name at first brought him love and respect, but, as time went on, envy began to arise. Themistocles was chiefly the cause of this, for he insinuated that Aristides, by drawing all cases to himself for decision, was practically abolishing the courts of law, and that he was thus insensibly gaining sovereign power, even though he was without the guards and outside show of royalty. The victory of Marathon, too, had greatly swollen the pride of the individual citizens, and they resented the fact that one of their number had risen to such extraordinary honour above them. They assembled, therefore, at Athens from all the towns of Attica, and pronounced the banishment of Aristides by the Ostracism, disguising their envy of his virtue under the pretence of guarding against tyranny.
The Ostracism was wont to be conducted in the following manner. Each citizen wrote the name of the man he wanted to be banished upon a shell or a piece of a broken pot. This he deposited in a part of the market-place enclosed with a wooden rail. Afterwards the magistrates counted the shells, and if the number did not amount to six thousand the Ostracism stood for nothing. If there were that number, however, or more, the shells were sorted, and he whose name was found on the greatest number was banished for ten years, but was allowed to retain his property.
It is said that while the people were writing the names on their shells a certain citizen, who could not write, came up to Aristides, whom he did not know by sight. Handing him the shell, the citizen requested that he would write the name of Aristides upon it. His hearer was greatly surprised at this, and inquired whether Aristides had ever injured him. 'No,' said the fellow, 'and I don't even know him, but it wearies me to hear everybody call him "the Just." ' Aristides made no answer, but taking the shell, wrote his own name upon it and returned it to the man.
Aristides and the Citizen
When, in obedience to the decree of banishment, Aristides quitted Athens, he lifted his hands to heaven and prayed that the people of his native city might never see the day when trouble would force them to remember him.
That day, however, came three years afterwards when King Xerxes with his vast host was advancing by long marches upon Attica. The Athenians then reversed the decree and recalled all the exiles. Their chief inducement to do so, however, was their fear lest Aristides would join the enemy and by his influence persuade many of the citizens to side with the Persians. Those who feared this little knew the man. Before the order for his recall was issued, Aristides was already busily engaged in stirring up the Greeks to defend their liberty. And afterwards, when Themistocles was appointed to the command of the Athenian forces, Aristides supported him both in person and by his counsel, being ready in the public welfare to contribute to the glory of his greatest enemy. It was he that, sailing by night with great danger through the Persian fleet to Themistocles at Salamis, brought news that all the narrow straits were beset by the ships of the enemy. As soon as he reached the tent of Themistocles he desired to see him in private, and spoke thus to his rival: 'If you and I are wise, Themistocles, we shall now lay aside our vain and childish quarrels, and contend only as to which of us shall do most for the safety and preservation of Greece.' He approved also of the plans of Themistocles, and set himself to further them. His former rival especially begged his support in impressing upon the Spartan Eurybiades the necessity of fighting the Persian fleet at once in the narrow seas, for he knew that Aristides had more influence with the Spartan leader than he himself had. In the council of war which assembled on this occasion, a Corinthian officer who was present said to Themistocles, 'Aristides does not agree with your opinion, for he says nothing.' 'You are mistaken,' said Aristides, 'for I should not have been silent had I not considered the counsels of Themistocles the best for our situation.' Hence, it was determined to fight in accordance with this advice. Aristides then, seeing that a small island which lies in the straits over against Salamis was full of the enemy's troops, embarked a number of the bravest and most determined of his countrymen on board some small transports. With these troops he attacked the enemy upon the island so fiercely that they were all cut to pieces, except a few of the most important persons, who were made prisoners. Aristides then placed a strong guard round the island, so that, of those who were driven ashore there, none of the Greeks should perish and none of the Persians escape. For it was round about this island that the battle raged most fiercely.
After the battle Xerxes, alarmed at the report that the Greeks intended to break down the bridge of boats across the Hellespont and thus cut off his retreat, hastened thither with all speed. However, he left behind him three hundred thousand of his best troops under Mardonius.
With so great an army the Persians were still very formidable, and Mardonius wrote menacing letters to the Greeks in such terms as these: 'You have indeed at sea defeated landsmen unused to naval war. There remain, however, the wide plains of the mainland, where we shall meet you with horse and foot.'
He wrote particularly to the Athenians, stating that he was empowered by King Xerxes to promise that their city should be rebuilt, that large sums of money should be paid the citizens, and that they should be given the sovereignty of Greece, if they would refrain from taking any further part in the war. When the Spartans heard of these proposals, they were very much alarmed lest the Athenians should accept them. They therefore sent ambassadors to offer shelter for the wives and children of the men of Athens and provision for the aged. Certainly the Athenians were in great distress, for they had lost both their city and their country. Nevertheless, by the influence of Aristides, they returned such an answer as can never be too much admired. They declared that they could forgive their enemies for thinking that they could be bought for silver and gold, since the barbarians knew of nothing more excellent. But they could not altogether forgive the Spartans for having so poor an opinion of them, as to think it was necessary to bribe them to fight in the cause of Greece by the offer of a paltry supply of provisions.
Aristides, having drawn up the answer in the form of a decree, summoned the ambassadors, both of the Spartans and of Mardonius, to an audience. To the Spartans he gave this message: 'The people of Athens would not barter the liberties of Greece for all the gold that exists above or under the ground.' Then, turning to the envoys of Mardonius, he pointed to the sun and said . 'So long as the sun shines, so long will the Athenians wage war against the Persians, to avenge their country which has been laid waste, and their temples which have been profaned.'
After this failure to win over the Athenians, Mardonius invaded Attica a second time, and the Athenians again retired to Salamis. Aristides was then despatched as ambassador to hasten the sending of the Spartan levies to their assistance. Afterwards he was appointed general of the Athenian forces, and, with eight thousand foot, marched to Plataea. There he was joined by the Spartans under Pausanias, who was commander-in-chief of all the allies, and by the troops of the other Greek states, who daily arrived in large numbers. The Persian army, which occupied an immense tract of ground, was encamped along the river Asopus. Within the camp they had fortified a space ten furlongs square, in which were stored their baggage and other things of value.
When the posts of the allies in the order of battle came to be assigned, a great dispute arose between the Athenians and the people of another town, for both claimed to be placed upon the left wing. Aristides, however, sought to compose the quarrel. 'This is no time,' said he, 'to dispute with our allies as to our relative bravery. Let us say to the Spartans and to the rest of the Greeks, that we are ready to do honour to any position by our actions. For we are here, not to quarrel with friends, but to fight our enemies, not to boast of the courage of our ancestors, but to show forth our own valour in the cause of Greece.' The council of war, however, decided in favour of the Athenians, and gave them the command upon the left wing, the Spartans being stationed on the right. When the armies were thus encamped near one another, Mardonius, in order to test the courage of the Greeks, ordered his cavalry, in which lay his chief strength, to skirmish with the enemy. Nearly all the Greeks were encamped on the slopes of a mountain on steep and stony ground, and could not therefore be well attacked by the enemy's cavalry. The Megarensians, however, three thousand in number, were posted in the plain. They were thus exposed alone to the attack of the horsemen, who charged them on every side. The greatly superior numbers of the Persians threatened to crush them, and they were obliged to send a messenger to Pausanias beseeching assistance.
Pausanias was at a loss what to do. He saw that relief was needed at once, for the camp of the Megarensians was darkened by the shower of darts and arrows rained upon it. He knew, however, that his own heavily armed Spartans were not fitted to act against cavalry. He therefore endeavoured to get the other generals and officers to volunteer to go to the aid of their distressed comrades. All declined with the exception of Aristides, who offered the services of his Athenians, and at once gave orders to one of the most active of his officers to advance to the rescue with a chosen band of three hundred men and some archers.
The Athenians were ready in a moment, and hastened to the attack. The general of the Persian cavalry, a man remarkable for his strength and graceful carriage, saw them approaching, and immediately spurred his horse and charged them. The Athenians received the attack of the Persian leader and his followers firmly, and a sharp conflict ensued. At length, however, the Persian general's horse threw his rider, who was so heavily armed that he could not recover himself. Indeed, for the same reason, he could not easily be slain by the Athenians, so thickly was he covered all over with plates of gold, brass, and iron. At last, however, the visor of his helmet leaving part of his face exposed, he was despatched by a spear-thrust in the eye. The fall of their leader decided the combat, and the Persians broke and fled.
Not many of the enemy were slain in this action. Nevertheless, the fight appeared important to the Greeks, for the general who was killed was second only to Mardonius himself in courage and in authority with the Persians, who loudly mourned his loss.
After this engagement with the cavalry, both sides forbore from fighting for a long time, for Greeks and Persians were alike assured by their diviners that victory would rest with the side which stood upon the defensive. At last, however, Mardonius, finding that he had only a few days' provisions left, and seeing also that the Greek army was daily increased by the arrival of fresh troops, grew uneasy at the delay. He resolved to cross the river at daybreak the next day and fall upon the Greeks, whom he hoped to find unprepared.
But at midnight a horseman quietly approached
the Greek camp, and addressing the sentinels bade
them call Aristides to him. The Athenian general
came at once, and the stranger said to him: 'I am the
King of Macedon, who out of friendship to you have
come through great dangers to prevent your fighting
under the disadvantage of a surprise. Mardonius will
Aristides therefore went immediately to the tent of the commander-in-chief and laid the whole matter before him. At once the other chief officers were sent for, and were ordered to get their troops under arms and drawn up in order of battle. At the same time, Pausanias, it is said, informed Aristides that he intended to change the position of the Athenians from the left wing to the right. His object was to bring the Athenians against the Persians, because they had already had experience in fighting them, and would on this occasion fight with the more confidence because of their previous success.
All the Athenian officers, except Aristides, thought that Pausanias was acting in a very high-handed manner in thus moving them up and down without consulting them, while he left the other allies in their allotted posts. Aristides, however, reproved them. 'You contended,' said he, 'for the command of the left wing, and now, when the Spartans of their own free will offer you the right wing, which is in effect the leadership of the whole army, you are dissatisfied.'
Influenced by these words, the Athenians readily agreed to change places with the Spartans, and nothing was now heard among them but words of encouragement and confident anticipations of victory. 'The Persians,' said they, 'bring neither bolder hearts nor stouter bodies to battle than at Marathon. We recognise the same gay clothes and the display of gold, the same effeminate bodies and unmanly souls. And, for our part, we bring against them the same weapons and the same strength that have conquered them before. Bold in the memory of our victories, we fight them again for the trophies of Marathon and Salamis, and for the glory of the people of Athens.' But, while the change of posts was being carried out, the movement was perceived by the Thebans, who were serving with the Persians, and intelligence of it was given to Mardonius. The Persian general thereupon immediately changed the position of his wings, and this was followed by yet another change on the part of Pausanias. Thus the day passed in marchings, backwards and forwards, without the two armies coming to action at all.
In the evening the Greeks held a council of war, and determined, because their water supply in the position they now occupied was disturbed and fouled by the enemy's horse, to move their camp during the night. Accordingly, when darkness had fallen, the officers began to march off their men to the new position which had been chosen. The movement, however, led to great confusion, for the men followed unwillingly, and many regardless of discipline made off to the city of Plataea. The Spartans, too, were left behind, for one of their officers, a man of undaunted courage, bluntly called the retirement a disgraceful flight, and declared that for his part he would not quit his post, but would remain where he was with his troops, and fight it out alone with Mardonius.
In vain Pausanias urged that the retirement was made in agreement with the decision of all the allies. Taking up a large stone, the officer cast it at the feet of his general. 'There,' cried he, 'is my vote for battle, and I despise the timorous counsels of others.' The commander was at a loss what to do, but at length sent word to the Athenians, who by this time were advancing, to halt a while. He then set off to join them with the other troops, hoping that by doing so he should in the end induce the stubborn Spartan officer to follow him.
By this time day had dawned, and Mardonius, who was aware of the movement of the Greeks, set his army in order of battle and bore down upon the unsupported Spartans. The Persians and their allies rushed to the fight with loud shouts of triumph and clanging of arms, as if they expected rather the plundering of a mob of fugitives than a battle. And indeed it seemed like to be so, for though Pausanias halted and ordered every one to his post, yet for some reason he did not give the order for battle, and hence the Greeks did not engage readily. Moreover, even after the battle was begun, the Greek forces remained scattered in small bodies.
Meanwhile, Pausanias sacrificed to the gods. The omens, however, were unfavourable, and he therefore ordered his Spartans to lay down their shields at their feet and await his order. Then, while the Persian cavalry was still advancing, he offered other sacrifices. At last the enemy came within bowshot, and a number of the Spartans were wounded by their arrows. Among them was one who was held to be the tallest and finest man in the whole army. As he was on the point of dying this brave soldier exclaimed, 'I do not lament dying for Greece, but bitter it is to die without sword-stroke at the enemy.' In this trying ordeal the firmness and steadiness of the Spartans were wonderful. They stood as marks for the enemy's archers calmly awaiting the orders of their general.
At length the omens for which Pausanias had waited and prayed appeared, and the diviners promised him victory. Then at once his orders to charge rang out, and the Spartan phalanx leapt into life, like some fierce animal erecting his bristles and preparing to put forth his mighty strength. Then did the barbarians see that they had to deal with men who were ready to shed their last drop of blood, and covering themselves with their targets, they shot their arrows thickly upon the advancing Spartans. Steadily, in a close compact body, the phalanx bore down upon them, their targets were thrust aside, and pike-thrusts at faces and breasts brought many of them to the ground. But even when overthrown they fought desperately, breaking the pikes with their naked hands, and leaping to their feet again they stood the quarrel out with sword and battle-axe.
Meanwhile, the Athenians at a distance remained at the halt, as they had been ordered. But the tumult of battle reached them and, moreover, an officer sent by Pausanias informed them of the position of affairs. At once they hurried to the assistance of the Spartans, and as they were crossing the plain, the Greeks who fought on the Persian side came up to attack them. As soon as he saw them, Aristides advanced a long way in front of his own troops, and with a loud voice called upon them to give up this unnatural war and not to oppose their fellow-Greeks, who were risking their lives for the common country of all their race. But he found that the foe paid no heed to his words, but continued their hostile advance. He had therefore to await the attack of this body of Greeks, who were about five thousand in number, instead of going to the assistance of the Spartans as he had intended.
Thus the battle resolved itself into two actions, the Spartans against the Persians, and the Athenians against the traitor Greeks, of whom the Thebans made up the chief part. The former of these two actions was the first decided, for the Persians were broken and routed and their general slain by a blow on the head with a stone, as the oracles had foretold. The barbarians then fled before the Spartans to their camp, which they had beforehand fortified with wooden walls. Soon after the Athenians routed the Thebans, killing some three hundred of their most distinguished men on the spot. Just at this time the news came that the Persians were shut up in their wooden fortifications, and the Athenians, leaving the defeated Greeks to escape, hastened to join in the siege.
Their assistance was timely, for the Spartans were unskilled in the storming of walls, and therefore made but slow progress. The Athenians, however, soon took the camp, and there was made great slaughter of the enemy. It is said that out of three hundred thousand men barely forty thousand escaped. On the other hand, only one thousand three hundred and sixty of those who fought in the cause of Greece were killed. Of these fifty-two were Athenians, while the Spartans lost ninety-one.
This great victory at Plataea went near to being the ruin of Greece, for the Athenians and the Spartans began to contend as to which of the two had gained the chief glory of the day, and to which should be given the honour of erecting the trophy for the victory. Indeed, it is likely that the quarrel would have been decided by arms had not Aristides exerted himself to pacify the other Athenian generals, and to persuade them to leave the matter to be decided by the general body of the allies. Accordingly a general council was called, and, in order to avoid civil war, it was decided to award the palm of valour to neither of the disputants, but to a third place. In the end Plataea, the scene of the battle, was pitched upon for this purpose, it being a place which could not excite the envy of either Athens or Sparta. To this proposal Aristides first agreed on behalf of Athens, and was followed by Pausanias, who accepted it for Sparta.
Thus the allies were reconciled. Eighty talents were then set aside for the Plataeans, and with it they built a temple and set up a statue of the goddess Athene. There annually they celebrated the victory with solemn services and sacrifices, and with a libation to the memory of the men who died for the liberties of Greece.
Some time after these events Aristides was sent, with Cimon as a colleague, in command of the Athenians, to continue the war against the Persians. He found that the pride and insolence of Pausanias and the other Spartan generals were making them very unpopular with the allies. For Pausanias scarcely even spoke to the officers of the forces of the other states without anger and bitterness, and he punished many of the men severely, flogging some, and ordering others to stand all day with an iron anchor upon their shoulders. In all things he gave first place to Spartans, and would not allow any of the allies to supply themselves with forage, or sleeping-straw, or drinking-water, until the Spartans had first been supplied. Indeed, he stationed servants with rods to drive off any who should attempt to take these things before it suited his pleasure. Aristides went in vain to remonstrate with him. The only answer of Pausanias was to knit his brows and say that he had no leisure to hear such complaints.
Aristides, on the other hand, treated all with courtesy and kindness, and prevailed on his colleague Cimon to behave with equal affability. Hence the sea-captains and officers of the allies, particularly those from the islands, tired of the harshness and severity of the Spartans, besought Aristides to take the chief command. Two of the officers indeed boldly attacked Pausanias's galley at the head of the fleet. They told him that the best thing he could do was to retire, and that nothing but the memory of the great victory which fortune had permitted him to win at Plataea, prevented the Greeks from wreaking upon him a just vengeance for his treatment.
The end of the matter was that the allies left the standards of the Spartans and ranged themselves under the ensigns of Athens. The people of Sparta took the matter in a noble and wise spirit. They saw that power had spoiled their generals, and they therefore sent no more in their place, for they thought it more important that a lesson in moderation and regard for right and justice should be given than that they should retain the chief command of the Greek forces.
The allies now further begged that the Athenians would allow Aristides to fix the amounts which each state and each city should be called upon to provide for the purposes of the war. This power, which in a way made him master of Greece, was given to him. But in his hands authority was not abused. He went forth to his task poor and returned from it poor, having arranged matters with such equal justice that the allies blessed the settlement as 'the happy fortune of Greece.'
Indeed, though Aristides had extended the influence of Athens over so many allied cities and states, he continued poor to the end, and gloried in his noble poverty no less than in the laurels he had won. This was clearly proved in the case of Callias, the torch-bearer, his near relation, who was prosecuted by certain enemies. When the accusers had alleged what they had to bring against him, which was nothing very serious, they brought in other matters which had nothing to do with the case, and thus addressed the judges: 'You know Aristides, who is justly the admiration of all Greece. You have seen how mean his garb is, and that his home is almost bare of necessaries. Yet this Callias, the richest man in Athens, is his own cousin. He, nevertheless, allows his noble relative, of whose influence he has availed himself, to live in utter wretchedness.'
Callias perceived that the charge thus dragged into the case was likely to prejudice the judges against him. He therefore called upon Aristides, who testified in the court that Callias had many times offered him considerable sums of money, but that he had always refused the proffered gifts, with some such words as these: 'Aristides has more glory in his poverty than Callias in his riches. We see every day many who spend freely for good or ill, but it is hard to find one who bears poverty with a noble spirit. And he only is ashamed of poverty who is poor against his will.' When he had thus given evidence, there was not a man in court who did not feel that it was indeed better to be poor with Aristides than rich with Callias.
His conduct with regard to Themistocles furnishes a striking instance of his uprightness. For when Themistocles was accused of crimes against the state, Aristides had the opportunity of revenging himself upon the man who had been his constant opponent and the chief cause of his banishment. But, While many others of the leading men in Athens joined in the outcry against Themistocles and aided in driving him into exile, Aristides alone made no accusation against him. As he had not envied his rival in his prosperity, so neither did he rejoice at his misfortunes.
Aristides died in the year of the banishment of Themistocles. It is said that his funeral was conducted at the public charge, since he did not leave behind him enough money to defray the cost, and that the city of Athens further gave marriage portions to his daughters, and a gift of land and money to his son.