Siege of Paros, 489 BC

The siege of Paros (489 BC) was the final campaign of Miltiades, the most important Athenian leader during the battle of Marathon of 490 BC. In the aftermath of that battle Miltiades decided to attack the island of Paros in the central Aegean, close to the route the Persians had used to cross to Greece before Marathon. For some reason he didn't tell the Athenian public where he was planning to attack, but instead requested a fleet of 70 ships, an army and the necessary funding. He promised that the expedition would be lucrative, and the Athenians, who now held him in very high regard, provided everything he wanted.

According to Herodotus, Miltiades had two reasons for the attack. In public he claimed it was because Paros has contributed a trireme to the Persian fleet during the Marathon campaign. In private it was because of a grudge he had against Lysagoras, a Parian who had helped turn the Persians against Miltiades in the years before Marathon.

The Athenian army landed on Paros and laid siege to the main city. After a few days Miltiades sent in a herald to demand a ransom of one hundred talents, or he would remain on the island until the city fell. However this was largely bluster. The defenders turned down the demand, and instead put a great deal of effort into improving the defences of the city.

After a few weeks one of Miltiades' prisoners, a Parian priestess called Timo, asked for a meeting, where she told Miltiades that if he wanted to take the city he needed to do something at the sanctuary of Demeter the Lawgiver, just outside the town. Exactly what the plan was isn't stated. Miltiades wasn't able to use the doors to the temple precinct, so had to climb over the walls. Just before entering the shrine itself he lost his nerve and decided to leave. On his way back over the wall he suffered a thigh or knee injury.

Soon after the failure of this unclear plot Miltiades lifted the siege (after twenty-six days). He returned to Athens, where he was accused of misleading the citizens and put on trial. By the time the trial came to court his injury had turned toxic, and he was mortally ill. His supporters had to conduct his defence, and managed to convince the Athenian people not to impose the death penalty. Instead Miltiades was fined 50 talents, but before he could pay he died of his infected injury. His wealthy son Cimon paid the fine, and went on to have a distinguished career of his own. Miltiades' fate saved the priestess Timo from any punishment.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 June 2015), Siege of Paros, 489 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_paros.html

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