1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aristides the Just

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ARISTIDES [Άριστείδης] (c. 530–468 B.C.), Athenian statesman, called “the Just,” was the son of Lysimachus, and a member of a family of moderate fortune. Of his early life we are told merely that he became a follower of the statesman Cleisthenes and sided with the aristocratic party in Athenian politics. He first comes into notice as strategus in command of his native tribe Antiochis at Marathon, and it was no doubt in consequence of the distinction which he then achieved that he was elected chief archon for the ensuing year (489–488). In pursuance of his conservative policy which aimed at maintaining Athens as a land power, he was one of the chief opponents of the naval policy of Themistocles (q.v.). The conflict between the two leaders ended in the ostracism of Aristides, at a date variously given between 485 and 482. It is said that, on this occasion, a voter, who did not know him, came up to him, and giving him his sherd, desired him to write upon it the name of Aristides. The latter asked if Aristides had wronged him. “No,” was the reply, “and I do not even know him, but it irritates me to hear him everywhere called the just.”

Early in 480 Aristides profited by the decree recalling the post-Marathonian exiles to help in the defence of Athens against the Persian invaders, and was elected strategus for the year 480–479. In the campaign of Salamis he rendered loyal support to Themistocles, and crowned the victory by landing Athenian infantry on the island of Psyttaleia and annihilating the Persian garrison stationed there (see Salamis). In 479 he was re-elected strategus, and invested with special powers as commander of the Athenian contingent at Plataea; he is also said to have judiciously suppressed a conspiracy among some oligarchic malcontents in the army, and to have played a prominent part in arranging for the celebration of the victory. In 478 or 477 Aristides was in command of the Athenian squadron off Byzantium, and so far won the confidence of the Ionian allies that, after revolting from the Spartan admiral Pausanias, they offered him the chief command and left him with absolute discretion in fixing the contributions of the newly formed confederacy (see Delian League). His assessment was universally accepted as equitable, and continued as the basis of taxation for the greater part of the league’s duration; it was probably from this that he won the title of “the Just.” Aristides soon left the command of the fleet to his friend Cimon (q.v.), but continued to hold a predominant position in Athens. At first he seems to have remained on good terms with Themistocles, whom he is said to have helped in outwitting the Spartans over the rebuilding of the walls of Athens. But in spite of statements in which ancient authors have represented Aristides as a democratic reformer, it is certain that the period following the Persian wars during which he shaped Athenian policy was one of conservative reaction. (For the theory based on Plutarch, Aristid. 22, that Aristides after Plataea threw open the archonship to all the citizens, see Archon.)

He is said by some authorities to have died at Athens, by others on a journey to the Euxine sea. The date of his death is given by Nepos as 468; at any rate he lived to witness the ostracism of Themistocles, towards whom he always displayed a generous conduct, but had died before the rise of Pericles. His estate seems to have suffered severely from the Persian invasions, for apparently he did not leave enough money to defray the expenses of his burial, and it is known that his descendants even in the 4th century received state pensions. (See Athens; Themistocles.)

Authorities.—Herodotus viii. 79-81, 95; ix. 28; “Constitution of Athens” (Ath. Pol.), 22-24, 41; Plutarch, Aristides; Cornelius Nepos, Vita Aristidis. See also E. Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums (Stuttgart, 1901), iii. pp. 481, 492. In the absence of positive information the 4th-century writers (on whom Plutarch and Nepos mainly rely) seized upon his surname of “Just,” and wove round it a number of anecdotes more picturesque than historical. Herodotus is practically our only trustworthy authority.  (M. O. B. C.)