Mazares’s death left a power vacuum in Lydia, one immediately filled by none other than Harpagos, the guy who masterminded Cyrus’s rise to power and the rebellion against Cyrus’s father Astyages. Did Harpagos murder Mazares via knife in the gut or thallium in the drinking water? Herodotus doesn’t speculate. But one way or another, Mazares was out and Harpagos was sitting on the still-warm throne. He sent a quick note to Cyrus, politely informing his protege/liege that he was going to go ahead and attack Ionia, but waited for Cyrus’s go-ahead before going ahead.
Once again in case you missed it, Ionia was a region in Turkey which was in Herodotus’s day more or less Hellenic; not part of Greece but inhabited by Greeks, right across the Aegean Sea from Greece. Trading partners, cultural ties, blah blah blah.
Rather than screw around with Lydia or Kyme or Branchidai or Mytilene, Harpagos went right for the Ionians! First stop, the city of Phocaia. Harpagos marched a chunk of the Persian army to just outside the city, and lay siege. However he didn’t besiege the back of the city, where the harbor was. The Phocaeans pretty quickly up and departed in boats, swearing oaths to never return.
While Harpagos looted their homeland, the Phocaeans considered their options. An oracle told them to fix up Kyrnos, but instead for some reason they sailed to Chios. You may remember it as the city-state that had abducted Pactyas to kiss up to the Persians. Unsurprisingly, the Chians refused to let the Phocaeans in. “It would spoil our plans to kiss up to the Persians,” they explained.
“Fair enough,” said the Phocaeans, and sailed back to Phocaea with their heads held low. Sad music played.
By the time they returned to Phocaea, Harpagos’s army had already looted the place pretty much out, and moved on to the next city-state. Harpagos didn’t have a lot of troops to spare, so left only a skeletal garrison in the looted city. The Phocaians had little trouble retaking their home, but then they were in a quandary.
“Didn’t we swear an oath never to return?” asked one.
“Shut up,” suggested another.
“No no, she’s right,” said a third. “We should go to Kyrnos like I wanted to in the first place!”
“Screw that, I’m staying!”
And so the Phocaeans split into two groups. Half stayed in their ancestral home, while the other half settled the island of Kyrnos. Funny story, says Herodotus. The folk of Kyrnos became infamous pirates, who were eventually caught and put to the sword. By then they’d amassed a great deal of pirate loot, which went unrecovered for years until the folk of another island, Agylla, found it. Of course, it was cursed (having belonged to pirates) but the Agyllans came up with a method to ritually purify the loot: athletic contests and horse-racing!
“That makes sense, right?” asks Herodotus.
“Of course,” we all assure him. “It makes perfect sense.”
It turned out, actually, that the Phocaeans who became the pirates from Kyrnos had misunderstood the oracle’s instructions. They hadn’t been supposed to settle the island of Kyrnos, says Herodotus. They had been supposed to build a temple to the demigod Kyrnos, whom the island was named for. Ironic trombone sound here!
Meanwhile Harpagos was rolling down the coast, sacking Ionian city-states as he went. Teos, for instance, which was on the site of the modern-day city of Izmir, he attacked right after Phocaea, and its people responded in a very similar fashion. They fled, they did some banditry, they settled a different island. It wasn’t a very interesting story. Anyway, one by one the Ionians fell or surrendered, until Harpagos controlled the whole of the Ionian mainland. As he turned his eyes to the islands (packed with refugees from his conquests) one of the Ionians, Bias from Priene, had an idea.
“Let’s all move to Sardinia and start a band or found a city-state together!”