Themistocles' early life

Closeup of Themistocles from The Greeks documentary
Closeup of Themistocles from The Greeks documentary

Themistocles was born about 523 BC. Although he came from the aristocratic Lycomid clan, his lineage was not particularly distinguished and almost nothing is known about his parents. Rumours that his mother was a slave or prostitute are probably no more than propaganda put about by the many enemies he managed to make during his lifetime.

As a teenager Themistocles would have been aware of the revolution in Athens which led to Cleisthenes establishing a popular assembly of the people, and this may have been one of the reasons he chose to dedicate himself to politics from a very early age. Something of a loner, he is said to have spent much of his youth practicing how to make speeches. Unashamed about his lack of a traditional aristocratic education, the Greek biographer, Plutarch, records what he said in his own defence:

"I may not know how to play the lyre or flute, but I do know how to make a city great."

Other historians, such as Herodotus, were less sympathetic characterizing him as greedy, devious and unscrupulous. Yet, even Herodotus does not deny that he was one of the greatest generals and politicians in Greek history.

back next

507 BC - Revolution in Athens

The Reforms of Cleisthenes - the tribes

The Rest of the World at the time of Classical Greece