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Persia and Greece
The Persian Wars
The Persians wars were a series of battles fought between Ancient Greece and Persia. For an introduction Greece and Persia were both ancient civilizations. The Greeks were a series of independents city states, the most powerful were Athens and Sparta. Athens had many great philosophers and thinkers along with having the world’s first democracy for a government. They mostly relied on trade for resources. The Spartans on the other hand were very different. To start off they were a militaristic city state. They were originally the Mycenaean’s from the North but then they went down through Greece and steeled on the Peloponnesus Peninsula. In order to get enough resources to support themselves the Spartans conquered the nearby Messenia to the west and forced them in to slavery. The Messenian’s farmed for the Spartans while the Spartans sat back and took the product. Later after a Messenian (now called the helots) revolt the Spartans decided to build a military that would dominate Greece, and they became the Militaristic superpower. The two city states may have been bitter rivals but they along with the other background city states would have to come together to fight the invading Persians.
On to Persia now, The Persians were the dominating power of their day. Their Empire stretched from modern day Turkey to Afghanistan. They had conquered most of the lands and forced many of the men to fight in their superior military, although they did not force the people they conquered to change their culture so there was little chance of a revolt. The Persians were able to govern their huge empire by using Satraps, or regional rulers. This system allowed the Persians to govern their huge empire effectively. The 2 civilizations would be put to the test in the Persian Wars.
1. There were many causes of the Persian Wars. The most obvious was simply Persians wanted to rule Greece. The Persians saw Greece as simply an independent nation which would make a nice addition to the Persian Empire. The Greeks were heavily outnumbered and didn't seem like they would be able to put up a major resistance. The Greece simply seemed like an opportunity for Persian profit.
2. The Greeks weren't trying to be a threat to Persia but they certainly were in a position to be one. The Greeks were right next to Persia and in a position to aid a rebellion to help many Greek colonies were right in Asia Minor and already creating friction with the Persians. However more importantly Greece was like a gateway to Europe If Greece was gone there would be nothing in the way of the Persians pushing into Europe and extending their empire even further.
3. This was the last straw for the Persians. The Greek colony of Ionia had asked for the Greeks to aid them in a rebellion against Persia. The Greeks sent soldiers and supplies to the rebels and helped the Ionians burn the city of Sardis to the Ground. Xerxes was not so amused at this and he sent a huge invasion force to punish the Greeks for their actions.
There were 4 major battles of the Persian Wars. They were the battle of Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea.
Marathon: The first major battle of the Persian Wars was the battle of the Marathon which occurred in 490 B.C. The Greeks were not supported by the Spartans due to it being the time of a religious festival for the Spartans. Being outnumbered 3-1 the Athenians were mounted themselves on the hills behind the plain to give them an advantage in a Persian attack. For 4 days the 2 armies were locked in a stalemate and neither provoked or attacked the other. The Persian commander, Datis was running low on supplies for his army so he decided to attempt to send half of his force directly to Athens while the rest of his army kept the Greeks troops waiting for the remainder of Persian forces to attack them. Datis attempted to slip away by night because in the Greeks discovered the Persian forces leaving the remaining Persian forces would be vulnerable to a Greek attack. The Greeks had planted many spies in the Persian camp and the Greeks were informed of this plan. Soon after the Persians had loaded all of their cavalry and some of their infantry onto the ships the Greek forces charged down at the Persians. Even though half of the Persian forces were out for the battle Miltiades the Greek commander and his soldiers were still outnumbered 15,000-11,000. Due to the numerical disadvantage Miltiades had to choose between keeping his flanks strong or keeping his center strong. Miltiades chose his flanks and while the center of the Persian forces pushing the Greek center back the flanks stood their ground. Then when then Persians central force were surrounded on 3 sides by the Greek center and flanks the butchery began. The Persians were slaughtered until the remaining flanks and central force fled to the ships which were heading to Athens. The Greeks who were exhausted from battle immediately collapsed on the ground to rest. To inform Athens of the victory Miltiades sent a runner named Phideppedies to inform Athens of the victory. Phideppedies ran for 26.2 miles to Athens and yelled out "Nike" which was Greek for victory and then collapsed on the Ground and died. Modern marathons today are based off of Phideppedies run and named after the Plain of Marathon where the battle took place. After Miltiades and his troops had rested they marched on to Athens where they arrived just before Datis. Datis who was disheartened from the loss at Marathon did not even disembark to fight the Greeks and simply left giving the Greeks the victory.
The Battle of Marathon
Thermopylae: Thermopylae is probably the best known battle of the Persian wars, although many things you hear about it today not true. To start off Thermopylae was not a battle of millions of Persian warriors fighting 300 Spartans and unlike the movie 300 the Spartans were not super soldiers who could kill dozens of Persians but rather relied on their phalanx formation, a formation where the soldiers protected each other using their shields to form sort of a wall. Now that the myths are cleared up lets start the real story. The Persian king Xerxes was sending a Persian force to conquer Greece in retaliation for the Greeks aiding the Ionians in a revolt against Persia which led to the burning of the city of Sardis. Although the Persians quickly crushed the rebellion King Xerxes swore to avenge the burning of Sardis and sent a massive Persian of over a quarter of a million troops to crush the Greeks in retaliation. The Greeks learned of this and quickly mustered a small defense force but the Persian army still greatly outnumbered the Greeks. The Greeks didn’t have enough time to create a military or navy to stand a chance against the Persians to they sent a small force of 7,000 allied Greeks along with 300 Spartan Hoplites to hopefully delay the Persians long enough to build a fighting force. The Greeks being outnumbered nearly 50-1 had to choose a battle location that would cancel out the Persians numerical advantage so the mounted positions at the narrow Thermopylae pass. With the Aegean Sea on one side and large mountains on the other the Persians would not be able to use their numerical advantage to out flank the Greeks or use cavalry because the pass was so narrow. The Greeks quickly assembled in their phalanx formation, a tactic use so the Greeks were protected by each other and their shields overlapped. Before the battle Xerxes sent a messenger to attempt to get the Greeks to submit but the Spartan King, Leonidas refuses the offer. Then the most famous 2 lines of the battle come. The Persian messenger states "be warned, our arrows will block out the sun" and one of Leonidas's officers named Dieneces states "good, then we will have our battle in the shade". That pretty much sums up what the battle is going to be about, the Persians have hundreds of thousands of troops which using their numbers can achieve deadly feats but they are up against the toughest, deadliest, elite fighting force of the known world.
Xerxes hoped to end the battle quickly so he ordered his archers to fire a volley of arrows at the Greeks but with their thick armor and large hoplon shields the Greeks so nearly no damage at all to the arrows. Abandoning his archers Xerxes ordered 10,000 light infantry to attempt to crush the Greeks. The Greeks with their superior skills, armor, and weapons slaughtered the Persians until the Persians turned and fled back to their camp. Darius ordered his light infantry back onto the battlefield until they fled once again from the fierce Greek lines. Xerxes had had enough. He ordered his elite fighting force, the immortals to go and wipe the Greeks out. The immortals were the king’s elite guard of 10,000 warriors. They were called the immortals because every time one would die or step down a new warrior would be waiting to take their place. The fierce Spartan warriors would now put their name to the test. The immortals slowly and silently advanced on the Greeks and then the real combat began. The Immortals had trouble piercing the Spartans thick armor while the Spartans had no trouble getting their weapons through the Immortals thin scale armor. The Immortals fell one after another until like the light infantry they turned and fled. Things were looking good for the Greeks who had held off every Persian attack that had been thrown at them, the Persians couldn't get past the Greeks line and the supplies were being consumed but the tide was about to turn. An Athenian named Ephialtes saw a chance to get rich quick and he went to Xerxes and revealed a secret path that would allow the Persians to go around the Greeks outflanking them and attacking them from the front and the back. Xerxes seeing that he could not penetrate the Greeks line sent 10,000 troops to attack the Greeks from behind. However Leonidas and the Greeks had positioned 1,000 Phocian troops behind the pass to stop any such Persian attack. However somehow word reached the Phoecians that the Persians were planning to attack the Phoecians homeland of Phoecia and the Phoecians retreated back to their homeland to protect their friends and family. Now the Persian force moving through the mountain pass was unopposed and they soon were too late to be stopped. Leonidas seeing a certain death ordered the withdrawal of the Greek troops so they would live. Leonidas and his 300 Spartan Warriors along with 1,000 soldiers for Thessaly stayed and fought to the death against the Persian warriors, until they were killed by waves of arrows. After getting past the Greeks Xerxes went and burned the city of Athens to the Ground. There are many questions about why Leonidas chose to stay behind and die at the hands of the Persians, some say that he was buying the extra day for the retreating Greeks and the Greeks back at home to assemble the army, others say he was fulfilling the prophecy made by an oracle that a Spartan King would have to die in order for the Greeks to win the war. We will never know the answer to the question but we know the Leonidas's sacrifice was not in vain and the legacy he left at the Thermopylae pass along with the patriotism he showed in battle would ultimately bring Greece victory in the Persian Wars.
The Battle of Thermopylae
What was your favorite battle of the Persian Wars?
Salamis: After the battle of Thermopylae the Greeks asked their Oracle what they must do to save themselves from the Persians and the oracle replied that the Athenians would find an indestructible wooden wall to help them fight the Persians. Most of the Athenians saw this as building a huge wooden wall around Athens but a Greek Naval commander named Themistocles saw it differently. He saw the wooden wall as a fleet of ships to fight the Persian navy and convinced the Greeks of the same. After a few years of intense work the Greeks produced a force of over 200 triremes to fight the Persians. Even though the Greeks had the fleet they were still outnumbered 2-1 and had to find a way to get past this disadvantage. Themistocles made a plan to split up the Persian forces and then to use bottlenecking tactics to cancel out the Persians numerical advantage, the question was "how to do it"? Themistocles sent a loyal servant to the Persian king Xerxes to plant false information. The servant pretended to be a traitor dispersing the Greeks plans. The servant told Xerxes that the Greeks were in disarray and were planning to flee. At hearing this news Xerxes ordered half his fleet to cut off the Greek Retreat route and the other half to move in to attack the Greeks. The Persian force was shocked to see the Greeks no in disarray and attempting to flee but in battle formation. The Persians with no choice but to fight had to engage on the Greeks in the narrow straight. The Persian wad the bigger stronger ships but this would turn into a disadvantage as the Greeks with their smaller ships had an easier time maneuvering in the narrow straight and the Persians were blown to smithereens by the Greeks Triremes. Eventually the remaining Persian forces turned and fled back to Asia Minor. The tide had turned and Xerxes was forced to return to Asia Minor never to return.
The Battle of Salmis
Plataea: After the battle of Salamis Xerxes left Greece never to return. However he left a captian to hold the Greek lands he had origanaly conquored. The Greeks sent an army to drive out the Perisans and they were successful. Despite being outnumbered 3-1 the Greeks victoriously drove out the Persians. The war was over and never again would Persia set foot in Greece again.
The Battle of Plataea
More on Ancient Greece
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- Sparta and Athens
A description and comparison the 2 superpowers of ancient Greece
- Alexander the Great: From the Medeterranian to Middle East
A biography on the life of Alexander the Great
- The Golden Age of Athens
A hub on the Golden age of Athens
Delian League: After the Persian war most of the Greek city states joined the Delian League. The Delian league was the group of city states that banded together to prepare in case of another Persian invasion. The city states met on the island of Delos and contributed ships and money to the league. Athens led the Delian league while some 200 other city states joined later.
Athens becomes an Empire: With the help of their leader Pericles Athens began to dominate the Delian league and take advantage of it. Since Athens was the undisputed leader the Athenians took some of the leagues funds and used them for their own ambitions such as the construction of the Parthenon
Peloponnesian War: After Athens became an empire with their domination of the Delian League the Spartans grew jealous and suspicious of Athens. The Spartans backed by their allies on the Peloponnesus peninsula eventually declared war on Athens that would lead to the downfall of Greece.
A Greek Hoplite
Persian War Statistics
Affect: Greece became stonger and more united
Greece stopped the first Persian Invasion, Persia became more determined to defeat Greece due to thoughts of revenge
Persia burned Athens to the ground
A large portion of the Persian navy was destroyed.
Persia was ultimatly defeated, and lost the Persian war.
Greece-128,000 Hoplites during combat Persia-565,000 Infantrymen during combat
Greece-11,000 Greek Hoplties Persia-15,000 Infantrymen(Persian figures only include those not on the ships.
Greece-7,000 Greek Hoplites Persia-250,000 Infantrymen-
Greece-371 Small Triremes Persia-700 Large Triremes
Greece-110,000 Hoplites Persia-300,000 military units
Commander: Persia-Xerxes Greece-Leonidas
Straight of Salmis
Battle of Salmis
- The Persian Wars
A breif description of all the major events of the Persian Wars
- Google Videos Salmis
A detailed 25 minute video about the battle of Salmis.
- Military History Online - The Battle of Plataea
A detailed article about the battle of Plataea
- Youtube Thermopylae
An 90 minute video about the battle of Thermoplyae. Describes tactics,events and much more.