Themistocles, an Athenian general, born about 514 B. C, died in Magnesia, Asia Minor, about 449. He took part in the battle of Marathon in 490. After the exile of Aris-tides in 483 Themistocles was the great political leader in Athens. His main endeavor was to make Athens a great naval power, and to prepare it to resist the inroads of the Persians. In the beginning of 480, when the force of Xerxes was on the point of passing the Hellespont, he and the Spartan Euaenetus were in command at the defile of Tempe, which they abandoned on finding that troops could be landed in their rear, retreating to their ships. Afterward he took charge of the Athenian portion of the fleet stationed at Artemisium. When the vast number of Persian ships was discovered, the Spartans were disposed to draw back to the Peloponnesus; but the Euboeans gave 30 talents to Themistocles, with which he induced them to remain and defend Euboea. In the ensuing battle the Greeks had the advantage; but the Athenian ships being much crippled, it was determined to retire. (See Greece, vol. viii., p. 190.) At the instance of Themistocles the Athenians abandoned their city, and removed mainlv to Salamis, where the whole naval force of Greece was gathered.
It was only by his influence and devices that the fleet was kept together, and the naval battle was fought which resulted in a complete victory for the Greeks. The Athenians were desirous of pushing on to the Hellespont to prevent the retreat of Xerxes, but their confederates refused. Herodotus says that Themistocles privately sent word to the king-that he had restrained the Greeks from pursuing his ships and breaking up his bridges over the Hellespont; and that he did this in order to induce Xerxes to return, and for the purpose of securing for himself a safe retreat in case any mischance should befall him at Athens. Modern historians consider this highly improbable. After the division of the booty gained at Salamis, the Greeks sailed to the isthmus, where Themistocles, though deprived of the first prize for skill and wisdom by each of the commanders voting for himself, was declared the wisest man in Greece, and the whole country was filled with his fame. He was received in Sparta with unprecedented honors; and though the Lacedaemonians gave to Eurybiades the crown of valor, they gave to Themistocles the crown of wisdom.
When the Athenians returned to their city, the Spartans opposed their rebuilding their fortifications on an enlarged scale; but Themistocles was sent to them as ambassador, and he contrived to deceive them until the walls were far enough a'dvanced to be in a state of defence. Athens was now secure against external enemies, and Themistocles was more than ever desirous of making her a great maritime power. The work on the Piraeus was resumed on a far grander scale, and by his advice the three harbors were enclosed by a wall nearly seven miles in circuit. He also persuaded the Athenians to add 20 triremes to their navy every year. His political ascendancy soon declined. His opponents in Athens were headed by Cimon, son of Miltiades, and by Alcmaeon. He was acquitted of treasonable intercourse with the Persians, but about 471 was ostracized and went into exile at Ar-gos. According to some versions, Themistocles was accused by the Lacedaemonians of sharing the treasons of Pausanias; but he, having notice of his impending arrest, fled to Susa, where he addressed to Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, a letter claiming protection on the score of his services to his father after the battle of Salamis, and asking permission to wait a year and then to come before him in person to explain his views.
His request was granted. At the end of a year, having mastered the Persian language, he entered into personal communication with the king; and no Greek, says Thucydides, had ever before attained such a commanding influence and position at the Persian court. He excited Artaxerxes with plans for the subjugation of Greece, and was presented by him with a Persian wife and with large presents. After having visited various parts of Asia, he lived at Magnesia on the Maeander, and received his maintenance from the revenues of that and two other cities. Some of his property at Athens was secretly sent him by his friends, but the bulk of it, amounting to 80 or 100 talents, was confiscated. He is said to have poisoned himself because he knew his promises to the Persian king could not be fulfilled. This is perhaps the most popular form of the story, of which other versions relate that the Persian king had set a price of 200 talents upon his head, that he went to Susa in the disguise of a stranger for the king's harem, and that he was actually put on trial to answer the accusations of Mandane, the sister of Xerxes, for the loss of her sons who fell at Salamis. We have no contemporary history of the life of Themistocles, and when Thucydides wrote his history his enemies had done their best to heighten prejudice against him.
His life was written by Nepos and by Plutarch.