Mardonius was the son of Gobryas, a Persian nobleman who had assisted the Achaemenid prince Darius when he claimed the throne. The alliance between the new king and his friend was cemented by diplomatic marriages: Darius married Gobryas' daughter, and Gobryas married Darius' sister. Furthermore, Mardonius married Darius' daughter Artozostra. Thus Darius the Great was simultaneously Mardonius' uncle, father-in-law, and half-brother-in-law.
Persian Wars with the Greeks
Darius appointed Mardonius as one of his generals and, after the Ionian Revolt, sent him in 492 BC to punish the Greek city-state of Athens for assisting the Ionians. On his way to Athens, he used his army in the Ionian cities to depose the Greek tyrants and set up democratic governments, an action which surprised the Greeks at that time. Historians consider that he may have taken this action so that the Ionians would not revolt a second time after the Persian army had passed through. His fleet and army then passed across the Hellespont. Mardonius first attacked Thasos, a Greek island which possessed gold mines. It became a tributary of the Achaemenid empire. The navy and the army continued onto Macedonia, which was soon added to the Persian Empire.
However, after these victories, Mardonius’ fleet was destroyed in a storm off the coast near Mount Athos. According to Herodotus, the Persians lost 300 ships and 20,000 men. Around this time, Mardonius was commanding the army in a battle in Thrace. While Mardonius was wounded in the battle, he was victorious, resubjugating Thrace into the empire. Nevertheless, the loss of the fleet meant that he had to retreat back into Asia Minor. He was relieved of his command by Darius, who appointed Datis and Artaphernes to lead the invasion of Greece in 490 BC, and though they were subsequently successful in capturing Naxos and destroying Eretria, they were later defeated at the Battle of Marathon.
Mardonius came back into favour under Darius' successor Xerxes I, Mardonius' cousin and brother-in-law. Xerxes was at first not interested in renewing the war with Greece, but Mardonius, who had the most influence on Xerxes in all of Persia, repeatedly tried to convince him that he must avenge Darius' defeat. This view was opposed by another of Xerxes’ advisors, Artabanus, who urged more caution in the matter. Herodotus, who portrays Mardonius as a somewhat evil adviser (as opposed to a number of other good advisers whose arguments are never followed), says that Mardonius simply wanted to become satrap (governor) of Greece and had a love for 'mischief and adventure'.
He was present at the Battle of Thermopylae, and after the Persian defeat at the Battle of Salamis, he attempted to convince Xerxes to stay and fight yet another campaign. This time Mardonius could not persuade Xerxes, but when Xerxes left he did become governor of those parts of Greece that had been conquered by the Persians. He subdued Macedon, ruled at that time by King Alexander I, but Alexander himself gave valuable information about Mardonius' plans to the Athenians, saying that, as a Greek, he could not bear to see Greece defeated. Then Mardonius sacked Athens, which had been deserted before the Battle of Salamis. He offered to return Athens and help rebuild the city if the Athenians would accept a truce, but the Athenians rejected the truce and prepared for another battle.
Plataea and his death
Mardonius prepared to meet them at Plataea, despite the opposition from another Persian commander, Artabazus, who, like Artabanus, did not think that the Persian army could automatically defeat the Greeks. Mardonius was killed in the ensuing battle by the Spartans (see Battle of Plataea). It is claimed by Herodotus and Plutarch a Spartan called Arimnestus killed Mardonius with a stone. This led to his army breaking up.
Herodotus relates of the Spartan leader Pausanias’ response when an Aeginetan suggests mounting on a pole the head of the slain Persian general Mardonius—a suggestion taken by Pausanias to threaten the very root of civilization: "Such doings befit barbarians rather than Greeks, and even in barbarians we detest them...Come not before me again with such a speech nor with such counsel, and thank my forbearance that you are not now punished".
In popular culture
- His name is given to the genus Mardonius (family Spirostreptidae), which contains nine species of giant African millipedes.
- In the movie The 300 Spartans (1962), Mardonius is portrayed by actor Kostas Baladimas uncredited
- In the novel Creation by Gore Vidal, Mardonius is portrayed as a lifelong friend of Xerxes and Cyrus Spitama the grandson of the prophet Zoroaster.
- In the video game 300: March to Glory, Mardonius is the top boss that you must fight 4 times: In the end of "The Third Day", and 3 times in "Battle of Platea": once on his rhino, once with his armour and once where you kill him as Dillios.
- In the novel Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, Mardonius is portrayed as one of Xerxes's most trusted advisors, along with Orontes, captain of the Immortals, and the warrioress Artemisia.
- Herodotus - The Histories, with an English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1920. OCLC: 1610641 ISBN 0-674-99130-3, ISBN 0-674-99131-1, 0674991338, 0674991346