When Polycrates, ruler of Samos died, a victim of his own greed, his power and riches passed to his steward Maeandrius.
Now Maeandrius was a good man, who wanted nothing more than justice for the Samians. He assembled them and said to them, “People of Samos, you know that all the authority held by Polycrates has passed on to me. If I wanted to, I could rule all of you as he has done. But I do not wish to, for I refuse to lord it over people equal to myself. I will proclaim everyone equal before the law. All I ask in return is a share in Polycrates’ riches, and the right for my family and I to serve as priests.”
But far from accepting this proposal, the Samians were outraged. “Why should we listen to a low-born villain like you?” they cried, “The rulership of Samos is not yours, neither is the money you have stolen!” Maeandrius then realised that none of the Samians wanted equality. If he were to step down as ruler of Samos, someone else would take his place and lord it over them – and himself! Immediately he had the most powerful citizens arrested and thrown in prison, before they had the chance to kill him and take the rulership.
Now Polycrates had a brother, Syloson. This man, when he realised that his family’s power and riches were in the hands of its servants, made his way to Darius, the Great King of the Persians. He begged Darius to help him regain the rulership of Samos, reminding the king of a beautiful gift he had once given him, a dashing crimson cloak. Darius was persuaded, and agreed to help. He gathered a great army, led by the general Otanes. They were to sail with Syloson and recapture Samos for its rightful rulers.
Years had passed since Maeandrius ruler of Samos had arrested the most powerful citizens. For years he was poisoned by hatred for the insolent Samians, and angry that he could not carry out his justice. Then he learned that Syloson, at the head of the mighty Persian army, was heading straight for Samos with a mind to retake the rulership. He now regretted that he had since killed all the prisoners in his fury, for he knew that none of the Samians would lift a finger to defend him.
And so Syloson and Otanes arrived at Samos, and the Samians peacefully accepted Syloson as their new ruler. Maeandrius begged Syloson to be allowed to leave Samos instead of becoming a prisoner, and this was granted. But at the last moment Maeandrius turned back; after tasting power, he could not bear to part with it so easily, nor could he bear to see the people of Samos, who had so gravely insulted him, live at peace under their new rulers. So he gathered his soldiers and attacked the Persians as they rested, killing many of them. Now, thought Maeandrius, the Persians would have their terrible revenge on Samos.
Otanes was indeed enraged, and his revenge was terrible. Even though Darius had ordered him to spare the lives of the Samians, Otanes now put all of this out of his mind. The Persians killed the Samians in the streets, their young men were cut down and their bodies dishonoured. Women and children were dragged out of the sacred temples and butchered. Young girls were handed over to the soldiers before being sent to Persia as slaves. In this way Otanes handed Samos to Syloson empty of people. As for Maeandrius, he boarded a ship and made good his escape.
And so a good man allowed himself to be poisoned by hatred, and in his fury he handed over his own home to destruction.
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