Cimon: Greatness Runs in the Family

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Cimon was the son of a military hero who became one himself. He was also an accomplished statesman, in the Golden Age of Ancient Greece.

Cimon was born in 510 B.C., the son of Miltiades and the grandson of another Cimon, a champion charioteer. When the younger Cimon was 20, his father gained unremitting fame by captaining the Athenians to victory at the Battle of Marathon. The very next year, however, Miltiades suffered a serious wound in a defeat and was charged with treason and sent to prison, where he died, leaving a huge debt. Cimon paid that debt.


Proving his military valor in the Greek naval victory at Salamis, he found himself appointed to the rank of admiral and elected a strategus–one of the 10 top generals–and was re-elected every year for nearly 20 years.

Cimon was also an adept statesman and got himself appointed the principal commander of the Delian League, an alliance of city-states that came to be dominated by Athens but began as a mutual protection arrangement against further Persian encroachment.

Returning to a military role, Cimon led Greek troops in a series of victories over their opponents in Asia Minor. He assumed Greek control of much of the Thracian coast and then installed Athenian rulers on the island of Scyros, in the process returning to Athens the remains of the famous King Theseus. Cimon's greatest victory is said by many historians to have been at the River Eurymedon in Pamphylia, in southern Asia Minor. As was often the case, the Greeks had fewer ships yet found a way to defeat the Persians; in this battle, he and his men captured the entire Persian fleet, all 200 ships. Cimon continued his Asia Minor expeditions with a reconquest of Chersonese (modern-day Gallipoli), which his father had held several years before.

Cimon returned to Athens in 463 B.C. to face charges of misconduct; he was acquitted but had lost his star power with many Athenian elites. The following year, he led a force of Athenians who went to the aid of Sparta during a revolt; the expeditionary force suffered great losses. He was ostracized in 461 B.C. and was exiled for a decade, as was the custom.

After serving out his 10-year expulsion, he returned to Athens, heading up another military expedition, this one against the Pheonician city of Citium; there he died, of either a wound or an illness. He was buried in Athens, near a monument honoring him.

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