Cimon, c.510-451 BC

Cimon (c.510-451 BC) was a major Athenian commander during the Greco-Persian Wars and helped build up the power of Athens after the defeat of Xerxes's invasion of Greece.

Cimon was the son of Miltiades, the Athenian commander at Marathon in 490, and a Thracian princess. Athenian politics could be brutal, and in the year after Marathon Miltiades was given a massive fine for misconduct on a later campaign. He died in disgrace in 489, leaving behind a large debt. Cimon arranged a marriage between his sister and Callias, the richest man in Athens and was able to clear the debt and with it the disgrace.

In 480, as the Athenians prepared to abandon their city to the Persians, Cimon led a group of young men who offered their bridles to the goddess Athenian, as a sign of the sacrifice of their role as cavalry. He then played a major part in the Greek victory at Salamis. This firmly established him amongst the Athenian elite, and he was elected as one of the ten strategus or generals from then until 461.

His first achievement was to help his fellow Athenian commander Aristides to win control of the anti-Persian coalition from the Spartans, who had rapidly alienated their allies. The eastern Greeks offered their support to Aristides, and through him to Athens. This led to the formation of the Delian League, at first an anti-Persian alliance, but soon to evolve into the Athenian Empire. Although Cimon's activities in this period qwew partly at the expense of Sparta, he represented a party in Athens that believed in a dual Athenian and Spartan leadership in Greece.

His first job as commander of the League was to expel the Spartan commander Pausanias from Byzantium, where he was suspected of dealing with the Persians. He then expelled the Persians from most of their footholds on the Thracian coast, where they had been established since the reign of Darius I. This campaign began with the siege of Eion.

He then defeated the pirates of Scyros, and was able to return in triumph to Athens with the alleged remains of Theseus, king of Athens. A new shrine was built for them in Athens, part of the rebuilding of the city after the Persian sack.

In 466 Cimon led a fleet along the Ionian coast, liberating a series of Greek cities. He then defeated a large Persian fleet, manned by Phoenician sailors, at the mouth of the Eurymedon River. The Persians had retreated up the river to take shelter with their land forces, but Cimon followed and won a land and sea victory, capturing the entire Persian fleet. This effectively expelled the Persians from the Aegean, and removed any threat to mainland Greece. Next Cimon defeated the Persians in the Thracian Chersonese (modern Gallipoli). The spoils of Eurymedon were used to build a new south wall for the Acropolis, extending the area of the monumental area.

Cimon's next exploit was a sign of the changing nature of the Delian League. When the island of Thasos decided to leave the league the Athenians responded with force. Cimon defeated their fleet and then conducted a two-year long blockade of the island, which finally surrendered in 463. The voluntary league was rapidly turning into an Empire.

Although he was still a successful military leader, Cimon's position in Athens was weakening. Pericles accused him of accepting bribes not to attack the king of Macedonia. Although he was acquitted, the accusation itself was a sign that his position was no longer secure.

His support for Sparta also cost him popularity. In 462 the Spartans asked their allies, including Athens, for help against rebellious helots defending Mt Ithome in Messenia. Cimon convinced the Athenians to send a contingent of troops, and led 4,000 hoplites to join the siege. Soon after they arrived the Spartans began to worry that the Athenians might side with the helots and sent them home. This embarrassment destroyed Cimon's popularity, and in 461 he was ostracised, or ordered to go into exile for ten years. It also altered the balance of power in Athens, and helped the democrat Ephialtes remove the powers from the aristocratic court (the Areopagus) and pass them to the Popular Assembly (Ecclesia), the council (Boule) and the law courts.

460 marked the start of the First Peloponnesian War, a period of intermittent conflict between Athens and Sparta. In 457 Cimon turned up at Tanagra in Boeotia, where the two sides were about to fight a battle. He asked to be allowed to fight as a normal hoplite, but this request was refused. He then asked his supporters to fight bravely in the battle, and they were all killed in the fighting. The battle ended with a Spartan victory.

The sacrifice of his supporters helped restore Cimon's popularity. Pericles proposed that his period of exile should be shortened, and he was able to return home. He played a part in negotiating peace with Sparta in 451 (a temporary peace and the war didn’t really end until 446). The temporary peace allowed Athens to concentrate on the war against Persia. A previous attempt to help anti-Persian rebels in Egypt had ended in disaster (459-454) and the loss of the entire army, but Cimon was now given command of a new naval expedition. He led 200 ships to Cyprus, and sent sixty to help the Egyptians. He then began a siege of Citium, but died of either a wound or sickness.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 January 2016), Cimon, c.510-451 BC ,

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