Age of Heroes
Athenian strategos and prominent citizen
Miltiades (/mɪlˈtaɪəˌdiːz/; Greek: Μιλτιάδης; c. 550 BCE – 489 BCE) is a shrewd politician from the immensely wealthy Philaid clan and the son of Cimon Coalemos, a renowned Olympic chariot-racer. During the early years of the democracy he was often elected to the role of Strategos, one of the ten elected generals who made military policy for Athens. He has red hair which his name, meaning of the color of brick, refers to.
He is known mostly for his role in the Battle of Marathon; as well as his rather tragic downfall afterwards. His son Cimon was a major Athenian figure of the 470s and 460s BCE. His daughter Elpinice is remembered for her confrontations with Pericles, as recorded by Plutarch.
Miltiades is often credited with devising the tactics that defeated the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. Miltiades was elected to serve as one of the ten generals (strategoi) for 490 BCE. In addition to the ten generals, there was one ‘war-ruler’ (polemarch), Callimachus, who had been left with a decision of great importance. The ten generals were split, five to five, on whether to attack the Persians at Marathon then, or later. Miltiades was firm in insisting that the Persians are fought now as a siege of Athens would have led to its destruction, and convinced the decisive vote of Callimachus for the necessity of a swift attack.
He also convinced the generals of the necessity of not using the customary tactics, as hoplites usually marched in an evenly distributed phalanx of shields and spears, a standard with no other instance of deviation until Epaminondas. Miltiades feared the cavalry of the Persians attacking the flanks, and asked for the flanks to have more hoplites than the center. Miltiades had his men march to the end of the Persian archer range, called the “beaten zone”, then break out in a run straight at the Persian horde. This was very successful in defeating the Persians, who then tried to sail around the Cape Sounion and attack Attica from the west.[Miltiades got his men to quickly march to the western side of Attica overnight, causing Datis to flee at the sight of the soldiers who had just defeated him the previous evening.
The following year, 489 BCE, Miltiades led an Athenian expedition of seventy ships against the Greek-inhabited islands that were deemed to have supported the Persians. The expedition was not a success. His true motivations were to attack Paros, feeling he had been slighted by them in the past. The fleet attacked the island, which had been conquered by the Persians, but failed to take it. Miltiades suffered a grievous leg wound during the campaign and became incapacitated. His failure prompted an outcry on his return to Athens, enabling his political rivals to exploit his fall from grace. Charged with treason, he was sentenced to death, but the sentence was converted to a fine of fifty talents. He was sent to prison where he died, probably of gangrene from his wound. The debt was paid by his son Cimon. Pheidias later erected a statue in Miltiades’ honor of Nemesis, the deity whose job it was to bring sudden misfortune to those who had experienced an excess of fortune, in the temple of the goddess at Rhamnus. The statue was said to be made of marble provided by Datis for a memorial to the Persians’ expected victory.