ABSTRACT

Even before the poet Ovid made the Hellespont famous for swallowing up Leander and depriving him of Hero’s “fragrant kisses,” and certainly well before Lord Byron, self-declared “degenerate modern wretch,” famously imitated Leander’s swim in the nineteenth century, gaining both “glory” and a bad cold,2 what Homer called the “riptide straits”3 of the Hellespont had been the site of numerous, legendary crossings and the idea and image of crossing it had earned epic significance in the Western imagination. There crossed the Achaeans, the Achaemenid Persians, the Athenians, the Spartans, the Macedonians, the Seleucids, and the Romans. They rushed, one after another, to or across the Hellespont in the major imperial conflicts of the sixth through second centuries BCE. Coming from either direction, they claimed imperial rights of conquest or inheritance over the Ionian and Troad regions of western Anatolia, where peoples from the Aegean and Mediterranean seas to the west had established colonies many centuries earlier.4

Those areas came under expanding Persian control in the sixth century, unleashing a series of revolts, wars, and imperial campaigns in which crossing the Hellespont consistently had central significance. In the seminal histories of each conflict, however, while the powers that cross the Hellespont change, the idea and character of their crossings remain fundamentally stable. The Persian ruler Darius crossed with his army several times, first in

retreat during Persia’s first invasion of Europe in 513 BCE5 that had been launched across the Bosphorus to the north,6 and then twice in his efforts to avenge and punish the Athenians for their role in supporting the Ionian revolt from Persian rule from 499-494/3.7 Enmities had begun to grow eight years before the revolt, when representatives of the Athenian ruler Cliesthenes had approached the Persian governor of Sardis, Artaphrenes, seeking an alliance. “Who are these people,” Artaphrenes asked as he rejected their offer, “and where in the world do they live that they ask the Persians to become their allies?”8 Another Athenian – Hippias, the son of the despot Pisistratus – approached Artaphrenes as well, scheming to take power back in Athens. Herodotus blames Hippias for much of the conflict that followed, for “he stirred everything up, slandering the Athenians to Artaphrenes and trying to manage it that the Athenians would become subjects of himself and Darius.”9 Learning of Hippias’ plans, the Athenians “sent messengers to Sardis to urge the Persians not to listen to those who were banished from Athens,” but Artaphrenes returned a stern warning: “if they would keep their skins safe, they should take back Hippias.” When the Athenians heard this, they rejected the idea and “resolved to be openly at enmity with the Persians,”10 and, “just at this moment, when they were thinking like this and were at odds with the Persians,” the Athenians received the Ionian ruler at

Miletus, Aristogoras, who was seeking support for a revolt against Persia. Furious with the Persians, the Athenians agreed to assist Aristogoras by sending ships to support the Ionian revolt. For Herodotus, “these were the ships that were the beginning of evils for both Greeks and barbarians.”11