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Themistocles (524 BC-459 BC) was an Athenian statesman and general who led Athens during the Greco-Persian Wars. A populist, he became a hero among the lower classes and became the most prominent politician in the city-state after the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, but his arrogance and his angering of Sparta led to his ostracism in 471 BC. He became the Persian governor of Magnesia, and he died in 459 BC.


Themistocles in battle

Themistocles was born Phrearrhioi, Athens in 524 BC, and he was known to have had a passion for politics since he was a child. He worked as an attorney and arbitrator for the common people, giving him populist appeal, and he was elected Archon (the highest office in Athens) in 493 BC. He oversaw the construction of a new port at Piraeus, advancing Athens as a naval power; as naval power required the mass mobilization of citizens as rowers, it put more power into the hands of both the average Athenians and Themistocles.

In 490 BC, Themistocles served as one of the ten strategoi at the Battle of Marathon, during which he repelled the first Persian invasion of Greece and was said to have wounded Darius I of Persia with an arrow. After the victory, Themistocles became the most prominent politician in Athens, and, in 483 BC, he persuaded Athens to build a fleet of 200 triremes. During the second Persian invasion, he commanded the Greek fleets at the Battle of Artemisium and the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC, repulsing the Persian fleet in the turning point of the war.

After the conflict ended, Themistocles retained his pre-eminence, but he aroused the hostility of Sparta by ordering the re-fortification of Athens, and he was ostracized in 471 BC, forcing him to go into exile in Argos. The Spartans them implicated Themistocles in their general Pausanias' treacherous plot in 478 BC, and Themistocles was forced to flee into exile at the court of Alexander I of Macedon at Pydna and then to Asia Minor, where he entered the service of Artaxerxes I of Persia as Governor of Magnesia. Themistocles died in 459 BC, and he was posthumously rehabilitated, as he saved Greece from the Persian threat, turned Athens into a naval power, and had unparalleled genius.