Friday, 21 December 2012

Bribery in Ancient Greece

In 480bc the combined fleets of the Greek city states were at Artemisium when a vast Persian war fleet was spotted by scouts. A council of war was held to decide what to do.

The council of war, says Herodotus, decided to abandon the position at Artemisium before the Persian fleet destroyed them all. The Greek fleet was to put to sea that night and row away as quietly as possible in the hope that the Persians would not realise they were gone until dawn, by which time pursuit would be impossible.

The Euboeans who were bringing supplies down to the League fleet heard what was afoot. Realising that this would leave them at the mercy of the Persians, they hurriedly found Eurybiades and begged him to stay at least long enough for the Euboeans to get their women, children and livestock to safety. Eurybiades refused, insisting the fleet would leave that night.

The Euboeans then went to Themistocles who, as leader of by far the largest part of the allied fleet could be relied upon to have some influence. Moreover, he was known to be in favour of staying at Artemisium. The Euboeans handed over 30 talents of silver to Themistocles on the understanding that he would keep the fleet where it was.

Themistocles then went to see Eurybiades and slipped him five talents. This, Herodotus says, was enough for the Spartan admiral to announce a change of heart. The other commanders were surprised, none more so than Ocytus, commander of the Corinthian ships. Themistocles then confronted Ocytus openly in front of the other commanders and shouted “Never shall you betray us by leaving. I will give you more for staying with us than the Great King of Persia would pay you to desert us”. Themistocles then privately handed over three talents of silver to the abashed Corinthian. The wily Athenian then pocketed the rest of the 30 talents for himself.

The story may be suspect as it deals with events supposed to have happened in private and portrays the Corinthians and Spartans in a poor light. By the time Herodotus was collecting information, the Athenians would have wanted to hog all the glory for themselves and had fallen out badly with both Corinth and Sparta. It is suspicious that the only states named as wanting to flee were the two which Athens would have wanted to denounce by the time Herodotus was writing.

from "The Battle of Thermopylae" by Rupert Matthews.

Buy your copy HERE

Book Description

30 Sep 2008 Campaign in Context
Tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie. One of the most remarkable actions in ancient or modern military history took place at Thermopylae in 480BC. Rupert Matthews has personally examined the battlefield in order to try to explain how 300 Spartans could hold at bay the hordes of the Persian Emperor Xerxes. This was no vain sacrifice; the delay gave breathing space for the Greek states to organise their defence, and ultimately defend successfully their homelands. Among other intriguing revelations the author explains the importance of the half-ruined wall that sheltered the Spartans against the onslaught. With concise diagrams and maps of the entire campaign, the reader can begin to understand the extraordinary, apparently impossible outcome of the war.

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