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Xanthos

Name: Xanthos

Born: 505BC

Died: 438BC

City/ region: Ialysos, Rhodes

Affiliation: Changeable

Occupation: grapevine & cereal grower/merchant/trader


Xanthos was the first-born of a wealthy aristocratic family of grapevine and cereal merchants and traders.
Born in 505bc with severe ikterus, his first few weeks of life were nearly his last, his skin having a very yellow appearance, and his condition complicated by his reluctance to feed or stay awake.

Throughout his illness his parents sacrificed daily to Helios, patron God of Rhodes, praying for the recovery of their “yellow boy”. When he recovered and survived, his parents gave thanks and credit to the God, commissioning a magnificent statue in his honour, and named their son “Xanthos” the Greek word for yellow as a reminder of his origins and mortality.

Others were to claim that the child’s survival was due to Tanith, his Phoenician wet nurse and midwife, who had been hired at great expense during his mother’s difficult pregnancy and retained throughout Xanthos’s childhood.

Tanith had been trained in medicine and midwifery skills at the well-respected medical school in the Temple of Sais (Sa el-Hagar) in Egypt. She insisted the child should always be exposed to the sun and only fed on her breast milk, the purity of which she ensured with a diet of herbs in hot water.

Whoever was responsible for Xanthos’s recovery, he formed a close bond in infancy with Tanith which was to last throughout her life.

Like his father, Xanthos was a passionate believer in Hermes Kerdoos, god of profit and trade, whose image and name appeared on the families amphorae stamp, although he also remained devoted to Helios, adopting his image on his aspis.

Raised and educated in the privileged aristocratic ruling class of Rhodes the young Xanthos wanted for nothing and was more interested with the leisurely pursuits of a wealthy youth, such as hunting, riding, hosting symposiums and visiting other cities, than learning his family business, or performing his citizen duties in the assembly or the phalanx.

However, he did quickly learn from his father the importance of putting profit before allegiance and appearing to support the power of the moment, whether Persian or Greek.

This ethos was ably demonstrated by Xanthos father during the Ionian revolt. His ships first supported the revolt while Aristagoras, tyrant of Miletus, had the upper hand, and later deserted the Ionian fleet at the Battle of Lade, when the Persians had the upper hand, the 11 year old Xanthos aboard his father’s trireme at the time.

Learning life influencing lessons from this experience, it was also the first, but by no means the last, occasion when Xanthos or his family were referred to as "Philobarbaros".

In 482 Xanthos married Aglea, first born child from another leading aristocratic family and became great friends with her brother Diagoras, who was later to win great fame as a boxer.
In 481 Xanthos suffered the double tragedy of the death of his father, and of Tanith, who he had hoped to retain as midwife to his own children.

Assuming the family lead, he continued his father’s desire to support whoever could bring the most profit, which at the time was Persia. He supplied 5 cargo ships and a bireme and trireme to the Persian fleet in 480, losing 3 of the cargo ships in storms at Artemisium.

Always with an eye on profit, Xanthos was minded to submit a suitably inflated claim to Xerxes for the loss of his ships, until he was reminded of the fate of Pythius the Lydian.

Pythius, Xanthos was reminded, wealthy beyond all the aristocrats in Rhodes and Athens together, and honoured friend of Xerxes, King of Kings, had claimed that the eldest of his 5 sons, all serving with the Persian forces, should be allowed to stay at home to care for Pythius in his old age. This so angered Xerxes that he ordered the eldest son cut in half with each half placed either side of the road for his army to march out between. On reflection, Xanthos thought better of submitting any claim for his ships.

Keen to display his loyalty to the Persian cause, Xanthos bireme and trireme were present in the Ionian contingent of the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis in 480. Witnessing his bireme rammed and taken by a Spartan trireme, and other Spartan ships heading for his own trireme, he realised the tide of battle had turned against the Persians and decided to withdraw his trireme, “preserving its use for the eventual victors” as he later claimed.

Hedging his loyalties for the next few years, he finally supported Rhodes joining the Delian league when it was evident the Athenians had the upper hand, although he was always mindful that he could get a greater profit for his cereal in Ionian if it could be engineered without Athens knowing.

He had two sons and a daughter with Aglea and lived a prosperous and generally profitable life. His two main concerns were always the irresponsible & carefree attitude of his sons, without realising they only mirrored his own behaviour at their age, and the risk his trade suffered at the hands of the numerous pirates ships which he constantly, but unsuccessfully, urged Athens to do something about.

Witnessing the 79th Olympiad victory of his friend and brother-in-law Diagoras in 464, he threw a great celebration on their return to Rhodes, as he also did for Diagoras four victories at the Isthmian games, the two at Nemea, and at other games held in Rhodes.

He also witnessed the tragic death of Diagoras, who died of pride, while being carried on the shoulders of two of his sons, Damagetos and Akousilaos, who were celebrating their victories at the 83rd Olympiad in 448, Damagetos for the prankration, Akousilaos for the boxing, like his father.

Well-known in later life for his excessive and extravagant entertaining, Xanthos died of heart failure in 438 age 66 whilst hosting a particularly raucous symposium which included a competition involving undiluted wine and a troop of Carian female “gymnasts”.

Glossary:

Ikterus – Jaundice
philobarbaros – fond of barbarians
prankration – a blend of boxing and wrestling but with scarcely any rules. The only
things not acceptable were biting and gouging of the opponent's eyes.
gymnasts – those who train naked


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