From the Archives - The Chians Have a Bad Day
In 499 BC, many of the Ionian Greek cities on the west coast of what is now Turkey rose in rebellion against Persia, to which they had been subjected for many years. City-states on the Aegean Islands and mainland Greece soon began lending support to their fellow Hellenes. Arguably the decisive battle of the war was a naval action in 494 BC, off Lade, an island near Miletos, now the Turkish city of Milet.
The Ionians and their Aegean allies, among whom were numbered the Chians, from Chios in the Aegean, had about 350 ships, while the Persian fleet, provided by their subject allies from Egypt, Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Cilicia, supposedly totaled 600, a figure perhaps needing some salt. But even if the Persians didn’t have that many ships, they had other weapons in their armory, including treachery, having suborned the loyalties of some of the allies. This was bad for the alliance, and, as Herodotos tells us in The Histories, even worse for Chios.
When they had now neared one another, and joined battle, which of the Ionians fought like brave men and which like cowards, I cannot declare with any certainty, for charges are brought on all sides; but the tale goes that the Samians, according to the agreement which they had made with [the Persian agent] Aeaces, hoisted sail, and quitting their post bore away for Samos, except eleven ships, whose captains gave no heed to the orders of the commanders, but remained and took part in the battle. The state of Samos, in consideration of this action, granted to these men, as an acknowledgment of their bravery, the honor of having their names, and the names of their fathers, inscribed upon a pillar, which still stands in the market-place. The Lesbians also, when they saw the Samians, who were drawn up next them, begin to flee, themselves did the like; and the example, once set, was followed by the greater number of the Ionians.
Of those who remained and fought, none were so rudely handled as the Chians, who displayed prodigies of valour, and disdained to play the part of cowards. They furnished to the common fleet . . . one hundred ships, having each of them forty armed citizens, and those picked men, on board; and when they saw the greater portion of the allies betraying the common cause, they for their part, scorning to imitate the base conduct of these traitors, although they were left almost alone and unsupported, a very few friends continuing to stand by them, notwithstanding went on with the fight, and ofttimes cut the line of the enemy, until at last, after they had taken very many of their adversaries' ships, they ended by losing more than half of their own. Hereupon, with the remainder of their vessels, the Chians fled away to their own country.
As for such of their ships as were damaged and disabled, these, being pursued by the enemy, made straight for Mycale [on the coast of Asia], where the crews ran them ashore, and abandoning them began their march along the continent. Happening in their way upon the territory of Ephesus, they essayed to cross it; but here a due misfortune befell them. It was night, and the Ephesian women chanced to be engaged in celebrating the Thesmophoria. The recent calamity of the Chians had not been heard of so when the Ephesians saw their country invaded by an armed band, they made no question of the new-comers being robbers who purposed to carry off their women; and accordingly they marched out against them in full force, and slew them all.
Such were the misfortunes which befell them of Chios.
There’s an old saying which surely applies to the Chians, “sometimes you can’t win for losing”.
As for the rebellion, the Persians prevailed in 493 BC, reestablishing their domination over the Ionians. Resenting the aid given to the rebels by the mainland Greeks, Persian Shah Darius I (r. 552-486 BC), decided to take his revenge, initiating the Campaign of Marathon in 490 BC with disastrous results. His son Xerxes I (r. 486-465) tried another invasion in 480 BC, which was even more disastrous.