The Hellenes used to pay a sort of contribution for the war even while the Lacedaemonians had the leadership, but now they wished to be assessed equably city by city. So they asked the Athenians for Aristides, and commissioned him to inspect their several territories and revenues,1
and then to fix the assessments according to each member's worth and ability to pay.
And yet, though he became master of such power, and though after a fashion Hellas put all her property in his sole hands, poor as he was when he went forth on this mission, he came back from it poorer still, and he made his assessments of money not only with purity and justice, but also to the grateful satisfaction and convenience of all concerned. Indeed, as men of old hymned the praises of the age of Cronus—the golden age, so did the allies of the Athenians praise the tariff of Aristides, calling it a kind of blessed happening for Hellas, especially as, after a short time, it was doubled and then again trebled.
For the tax which Aristides laid amounted to four hundred and sixty talents only; but Pericles must have added almost a third to this, since Thucydides2
says that when the war began the Athenians had a revenue of six hundred talents from their allies. And after the death of Pericles the demagogues enlarged it little by little, and at last brought the sum total up to thirteen hundred talents, not so much because the war, by reason of its length and vicissitudes, became extravagantly expensive, as because they themselves led the people off into the distribution of public moneys for spectacular entertainments, and for the erection of images and sanctuaries.
So then Aristides had a great and admirable name for his adjustment of the revenues. But Themistocles is said to have ridiculed him, claiming that the praise he got therefor was not fit for a man, but rather for a mere money-wallet. He came off second best, however, in this retort upon the plain speech of Aristides, who had remarked, when Themistocles once declared to him the opinion that the greatest excellence in a general was the anticipation of the plans of his enemies:
‘That is indeed needful, Themistocles, but the honorable thing, and that which makes the real general, is his mastery over his fingers.’