Aristides was a 5th century Athenian politician

Image ID: 1623641 The ostracism of Aristides. (1906)
The ostracism of Aristides. "Painted especially for 'The Historians' History of the World" by A. Raynolt". NYPL Digital Gallery

Aristides son of Lysimachus was a supporter of the democratic reformer Cleisthenes, and a political opponent of Persian War leader Themistocles. He was noted for his sense of justice and often referred to as Aristides the Just.

Aristides the Just

The story goes that one time when the Athenians were voting on whom to ostracise, to send into exile for ten years, by writing names on potsherds (ostraka in Greek), an illiterate farmer who did not know Aristides asked him to write a name down for him on his piece of pottery. Aristides asked him what name to write, and the farmer replied "Aristides". Aristides dutifully wrote his own name, and then asked the farmer what harm Aristides had ever done him. "None at all," came the reply, "but I'm sick and tired of hearing him being called 'the Just' all the time."


During the first Persian invasion (490), Aristides was one of the ten Athenian generals, but when his turn to command came, he gave up his turn to Miltiades, thinking him to be a better commander. The other generals then followed his example. After the battle of Marathon, Aristides and his tribe were left in charge of the plunder taken from the Persians, and Aristides made certain that nothing was stolen.

Three years after Aristides' ostracism, the Persians invaded again (480). Aristides offered his services to Themistocles, his political rival, and the main force behind his ostracism, and helped persuade the other Greeks that Themistocles' strategy of fighting a naval battle at Salamis was a sound one. After the battle of Salamis, Themistocles wanted to cut the bridge Xerxes, the Persian king, had built across the Hellespont, but Aristides dissuaded him, pointing out that it was in their interest to leave Xerxes a route for his retreat so that the Greeks would not have to fight with a Persian army trapped in Greece itself.

At the battle of Plateae (479), Aristides was one of the Athenian commanders, and was instrumental in keeping the Greek alliance together despite its internal disagreements between the forces of the different city states. The five-yearly games to be held at Plateae in commemoration of the Greek victory and the levy of weapons from all the Greek states to provide for continuing the war against the Persians were Aristides' ideas.

After the war, Aristides was instrumental in making the archonships open to all male citizens. When Themistocles told the Athenian assembly that he had an idea which could be of great benefit to Athens, but which had to be kept secret, the assembly ordered him to explain the idea to Aristides. The idea was to destroy the Greek arsenal in order to make Athens the master of Greece. Aristides told the assembly that nothing could be more expedient than Themistocles' advice, and nothing would be more unjust. The assembly then dropped the idea.

As one of the Athenian commissioners for the continuation of the war, Aristides won over the other Greek cities, who were becoming restive under the harsh and selfish command of Pausanias, the Spartan commander (477). It was Aristides who was fixed the rate for each city when the levy was changed from weapons and manpower to money. He managed to do so with his reputation for incorruptibility and justice remaining intact. Indeed, when he died (468?) he did not even leave enough to pay for his funeral, or a dowry for his daughters. The city bestowed a dowry of 3000 drachmas on each of them, and an estate and pension for his son, Lysimachus.

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