How Did Themistocles Fall from Grace?


Bust of Themistocles

The epic series of battles between the Greeks and the Persians in the fifth century BC known as the Persian Wars, or Greco-Persian Wars (499-479 BC), in many ways solidified the Greeks’ place in world history and established many attributes of Hellenic civilization that were carried on for centuries until the collapse of the Roman Empire. The events were written about by a number of Greek and Roman historians and geographers including Herodotus, Plutarch, and Pausanias, whose often well-embellished narratives still come to life because of vivid descriptions of the many Greek heroes.

Among the most interesting of the many heroes was the Athenian general and politician Themistocles (ca. 524-459 BC), who was responsible for building Athens’ large naval fleet and for leading the Greeks to victory at Salamis, which proved to be the beginning of the end for the Persians in Greece. For his role in the victory, Themistocles was given awards and accolades and celebrated as a hero in both Athens and its rival city-state of Sparta. But after the conclusion of the Persian Wars, Themistocles’ fame soon turned to infamy. He was eventually accused of collaborating with the Persians, which led to his ostracism and eventual forced exile from not just Athens, but all of Greece. Themistocles’ life ended thousands of miles away from his beloved land and his reputation was ruined for centuries. The evidence shows, though, that Themistocles’ fall from grace was probably related to Machiavellian machinations by his opponents, which ultimately made him the victim of a real-life Greek tragedy.



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