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Themistocles

Themistocles (thəmĭsˈtəklēz) [key], c.525–462 B.C., Athenian statesman and naval commander. He was elected one of the three archons in 493 B.C. In succeeding years many of his rivals were eliminated by ostracism and he became the chief figure of Athenian politics. He persuaded the Athenians to build up their navy, foreseeing that the Persians, defeated at Marathon, would send another and stronger force against Greece (see Persian Wars). Xerxes invaded Greece in 480, and military defense of Athens was impossible; Themistocles evacuated the city. Although the Greek fleet was entrusted to a Spartan, Themistocles determined its strategy, thus bringing about the decisive victory of Salamis (480) and the retreat of Xerxes to Persia. A purported copy of Themistocles' decree to evacuate Athens, discovered at Troezen in 1959, indicates that the evacuation, as well as the battle of Salamis, was not hastily planned but was a measure carefully conceived months before to trap the Persians at Salamis. However, many scholars question the authenticity of the document. Despite Themistocles's prominence, in 479 the chief commands went to his rivals, who had previously been recalled from exile to fight the Persians. Themistocles devoted himself to strengthening the navy and the fortifications, especially those of Piraeus. About 471, after his opponents came to power, he was exiled. Ultimately he lived in Persia, where King Artaxerxes made generous provision for him.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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