Themistocles and his rivals

Ostracism from The Greeks documentary
Ostracism, from The Greeks documentary

The stunning victory at Marathon gave the Athenians a new sense of their city's power and potential, but also led to overconfidence and a series of unnecessary confrontations with rival city-states.

During this turbulent time Themistocles faced a number of powerful political rivals. The most important of these was Aristides. A wealthy aristocrat known for his education, even-temper and honesty, he was the opposite of Themistocles in almost every respect. The rivalry between them was said to have begun when both men had competed for the affections of the most beautiful youth in Athens, but more importantly, they had come to represent two different factions within the popular assembly.

Whereas Aristides spoke for the hoplite class - the well-off conservative farmers who could afford their own armour - Themistocles appealed to the lower classes, mainly made up of poorer urban craftsmen, called thetes.

By 487, both men were at the height of their influence. It was also the first year the assembly used the power of ostracism, an institution invented for banishing dangerous politicians, but never before used. Suddenly, the stakes had increased dramatically and it was clear neither would rest until he had imposed banishment on the other…

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