Ancient greece and the persian war
During the ancient times, kingdoms were battling intensely for power. It was necessary before that you expand your kingdom’s territory and capture other lands in which you can utilize their resources for your kingdom’s good. The history of the ancient world presents a list of wars and battles on territories. However, there are certain empires that appeared to be very powerful during those times, thus, created fear for them with other neighboring kingdoms.
Persia is one of the largest and the most powerful civilization that was built in the ancient world. They had contributed important innovations and practices to the human race. In addition, they had conquered a handful of kingdoms and captured much of the known world that time. They fought bloody battles with many races including the Greeks.
The Persian War, also known as the Greco-Persian War, was a sequence of conflicts between the great Achaemenid Empire of Persia and the city-states of the classical Greece.
Technically, it was only the battle of Persia under the rule of Darius the Great and his son, Xerxes I but can be concluded as an important part of the Greek history. The historic event started from 499 BC and finally ended in 449 BC. The Persian War was considered as a defining moment for the ancient Greeks.1 Almost all accounts available today related to the historic Persian war are all Greek since the Persians was not able to leave any traces of their history which can be uniquely identified as their own.2 The Greek historian, Herodotus, was the primary sources of the important events of the Persian War. He was considered as the “Father of History” and tried to retell the story of the Persian War in his work, “Historia” which is considered to be still a relevant source up to now. Many criticized the accounts of Herodotus of the war since they believed that Herodotus was not pro-Greek enough. However, historians today believe that the approach of the “Father of History” on the event was novel. Using Herodotus’ descriptions, we now set off the sail to a journey to the notable episode of the ancient history that changed most part of Greece, the Persian War.
The Ionian War: The War that Started the Conflict
Ionia, along with the other Greek city-states in the coast of Asia Minor, was initially captured by the Lydians which were led by their king, Croesus. Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated Croesus in a battle. The Persians, who continually to rise in power, conquered the Lydians in 546 BC. All the territories that were captured by the Lydians became, apparently, the territories of the Persians including Ionia.3 The latter watched their new territories very closely.
Tyrants were appointed to rule the captured Greek city-states that were captured and had received great dissatisfaction from the occupants of the said city-states. They had also required the people to pay taxes and work for the Persian Army. One of the tyrants from Miletus appointed by the Persians was Aristagoras. When Aristagoras finally felt that his job was becoming a burden, thus started to seek for independence, he started a rebellion in around 499 BC. His idea of initializing a war happened when he convinced and appointed by the Persians to launch an expedition to conquer Naxos. Aristagoras, being an ambitious and opportunist leader, wanted to boost his position in Miletus, both socially and financially. However, the said expedition was a failure. Aristagoras was alarmed with what will his Persian bosses would do to him.4 He then lastly decided to arrange a war against the Persians. He ran into various groups before he was able to get help from the Athenians. Heseltine described how the anxious Aristagoras went around Greece for assistance:
It was with these thoughts that he decided to organise a rebellion. Turning first to the Spartans, considered to be the most powerful of all the Greeks, he pleaded for assistance. They were wary of him though and declined. Next he asked the Athenians, and they agreed to help, providing twenty ships. After all, it had been travellers from Athens that had originally settled on the Ionian coast. As well as the Athenians, Aristagoras persuaded other lesser Greek city-states under Persian rule to rebel. Issues such as high taxes and mandatory service in the Persian army were reason enough for them to join in. (Heseltine 2002)
He urged the whole Ionia to revolt against their Persian conquerors, who was, currently, had Darius the Great as their king. Seeing the strong Persians defeated in a battle (battle in Naxos), the said revolt finally set off. In 499 BC, the Ionian War began when troops from Athens and others, captures and burned the capital of Lydia, Sardis. However, upon returning to their homes, they were followed by Persian troops. A battle between them happened, known as the Battle of Ephesus. Persians went back to their homes defeated. That was the only time that Ionia went on an offensive stance. In 497 BC, the Persians responded with three branched attacks with the aim of regaining control on the outlying areas of the said rebellious territory. However, when Darius’ largest army heard of a successful revolt in Caria (it is one of the territories, along with Ionia, that also warred with the Persians during that time), they decided to relocate their men in Caria instead. While the army was setting a camp in Caria, they were ambushed at the Battle of Pedasus. Boardman and the other saw this incident as “stalemate for the rest of the 496-495 BC”.5
Darius the Great was ever furious because the Ionians destroyed Sardis. He intensified his army and decided an all-out attack on the epicenter of the rebellion, Miletus. The Persian army and navy was rearranged and headed out straight for war. The Ionians aimed to defend Miletus by sea. Yet, the Ionian army was defeated in this epic battle, known as the Battle of Lade in 494 BC. The citizens of Miletus were captured and enslaved. The Carians were also forced to surrender to the Persians. In 493 BC, the Persians finally settled a peace treaty with Ionia.
However, the Ionian War was only just the beginning of a sequence of wars in which the Greeks and Persians will be involved in. As Holland quoted it,
The Ionian Revolt constituted the first major conflict between Greece and the Achaemenid Empire, and as such represents the first phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Asia Minor had been brought back into the Persian fold, but Darius had vowed to punish Athens and Eretria for their support for the revolt. Moreover, seeing that the political situation in Greece posed a continued threat to the stability of his Empire, he decided to embark on the conquest of all Greece. (Holland 2006)
This was only just the start. Darius was fuming and wanted to crush Greece. He had sent campaigns to remove the threat imposed by the Greek city-states like Athens and Eretria.
Thus, the first Persian War, at last, began.
The First Persian War and the Resistance of Greeks
There are two main campaigns that were launched by Darius the Great. In about 492 BC, he launched the Mardonius’ campaign and in 490 BC, the Datis and Artaphernes’ campaign.
Mardonius, Darius’ son-in-law, led the first campaign. He successfully recaptured Thrace and forced the Macedon to become Persia’s client kingdom since Macedon was an ally but still independent. Carrying Darius’ high hopes for him, Mardonius set off with his fleet. However, the campaign wasn’t able to push through because Mardonius’ fleet was destroyed by a storm in their voyage along the coast Mount Athos. Mardonius was injured during a raid. He was ultimately forced to go back home. A year after the failed expedition, Darius sent out messengers to all cities of Greece, demanding for them to surrender. Almost all of the cities submitted to Persia except Athens and Sparta, in which they executed the Persian messengers that were sent. Darius still had the purpose to pursue and capture the struggling Greece.
The second campaign was piloted by Datis and Artaphernes. They were given an amphibious invasion force. They were able to capture Naxos. After capturing Naxos, they made an island-hopping on their way to Eretria, capturing every citizen and making them slaves and hostages. Eretria made no move to stop the Persians forces in their land when they arrived, allowing themselves to be besieged. The Persians attacked their walls for six days. When finally two Eretrians opened the city’s gates and sold the Eretria to the Persians.6 The city was burned and all the citizens remaining were turned into slaves.
The fleet now headed to Athens, through the coast of Attica and made a landing at the bay of Marathon. The Athenian army blocked the two exits from the mainland of Marathon, under the command of a former Persian general, Miltiades. The battle, known as the Battle of Marathon, was delayed for five days. However, the Greeks made the first move. ——– illustrated the Battle of Marathon,
Miltiades ordered his army to attack the Persians at first sight. This prevented the Persians from taking position and attacking the Greeks in a systematic manner. The Greek hoplites were far superior to Persian for a hand-to-hand fight. The Greeks maintained their formation and when the Persians counterattacked they retreated in order. They closed in on the Persians. They were able to defeat their enemies and join forces behind the Persian center, surrounding it. The Persians were frightened and Greeks and broke down on them with great force. Huge amount of army and cavalry was killed. About 6,400 Persians were died compared to 192 Athenians. ( 2002)
There was messenger from the Battle of Marathon traveled to Athens to tell the Athenians that they had won the war. Immediately after telling the message, the said envoy died on the spot. This had become an inspiration for the modern day Marathon. The Battle of Marathon became an important event to Greece. The Athenians have proved their power right in the face of the highly powerful Persian Empire. Many Greek cities, who had surrendered to Persia before, withdrew that support and decided to assist Athens and Sparta.
After the shameful battle at the bay of Marathon, Darius the Great began to raise a huge army to crush and finally, incarcerate Greece. Conversely, in 486 BC, the Egyptians revolted against Persia, thus postponing any Greece expeditions. Darius died eventually while preparing for a battle in Egypt. His son, Xerxes I, was the new king of Persia. He crushed the rebelling Egypt easily and started to prepare for the invasion of Greece. Xerxes devised strategies that are, as quoted by Holland, “feats of exceptional ambition.”7 The attack was delayed for a year because of another rebellion in Egypt and Babylonia. The number of men in Xerxes army preparing for the second invasion is still a debatable topic in history up to now. However, current estimation plays around 200,000 men.
After preparing for four years, Xerxes’ army was now ready to launch an attack on Greece. The Persian Army was gathered in Asia Minor in the autumn of 481 BC.
The Second Persian War and the Persistent Persians
The army of Xerxes I traveled to Greece, starting from Hellespont. From Hellespont, they arrived in Therme unimpeded. Moving on with the expedition, Xerxes estimated arrival on Thermopylae intersected with both the Olympic Games and the festival at Carneia in 480 BC. According to Holland, “for the Spartans, warfare during these periods was considered sacrilegious.”8 Despite of the bumpy feeling, the Spartans considered these as a very grave threat. The Allies proceeded to occupy the pass of Thermopylae, rebuilt the currently existing wall and waited for the Persian Army. Allies is a term used to refer confederation alliance made the Greek city-states, with the Athens and Sparta taking the leading role. When Xerxes arrived on Thermopylae, he waited for the Allies to go away. Xerxes was finally convinced that the Allies had no desire to let them pass, he launched an assault. The Persians and Allies battled for two days, known as the Battle of Thermopylae. However, a local resident betrayed the Allies. Upon knowing this treachery, a large chunk of the Allied army was withdrawn. The remaining men on the battlefield were ordered to guard the rear of the pass. On the last day of the battle, the remaining part of the Allied army decided to go beyond the pass to meet and slaughter as many Persians they can. Nevertheless, these remaining men were the ones who were slaughtered by the Persians and left no one breathing. Simultaneous with the Battle of Thermopylae was the naval attack at the Straits of Artemesium. After being beaten badly by the Persians in this battle called the Battle of Artemesium, the Allies retreated to the islands of Salamis.
The remaining Athenians were evacuated to Salamis after the victory of Persians at Thermopylae. The Allies arranged a defensive line at the Isthmus of Corinth by building a wall there. They finally abandoned Athens and left it to the Persians. When Xerxes entered Athens, he defeated a small number of Athenians who remained and annihilated the entire city. Holland described how the Persians is on the verge of finally winning this war that was quoted as the Battle of Salamis, “The Persians had now captured most of Greece, but Xerxes had perhaps not expected such defiance; his priority was now to complete the war as quickly as possible.”9 Xerxes also thought that if he could destroy the Allied fleet, he would now have the power to force the Allies to surrender. On the other, Themistocles (a politician who filled the gap left by Miltiades death) hoped that if the Allies fleet could destroy the Persian convoy then complete invasion would not be successful. Even after Athens fell to the Persians, the Allied fleet remained in the coastal area of Salamis trying to fool the Persians to battle. Then, at last, the navies of the two warring groups met at the now confined strait of Salamis. Because of the Persians huge army, the ships became difficult to maneuver and later, became disorganized. The Allied fleet took the opportunity and attacked. They were ultimately victorious and were able to sink or capture at least 200 Persian ships. Xerxes attempted to build a land bridge to attack the Athenian evacuees instead but later, abandoned the idea. His general Mardonius remained in Greece with hand-picked troops to continue the invasion. As for Xerxes, he finally retreated and went back to Asia. The Athenians went back to Athens and rebuilt their city.
Aftermath of the Persian War
After the epic Battle of Salamis, the Greeks finally returned home. Some historians had claims that, after the Battle of Salamis, a peace treaty was agreed between the Greeks and the Persians. This treaty is commonly known as the Peace of Callias. To whether this treaty had existed or not is still hot topic for debates in history.
After years of warring with Persia, Greece had finally experienced independence. Though the Persian War was over, internal conflicts still occurred in Greece. Sparta and Athens broke out a war, which is commonly known as the Peloponnesian War and Greece continually plagued with internal rebellions.
As to Persia, there were no conflicts recorded between Greece and Persia until 396 BC, when a Spartan King attempted briefly occupied Asia Minor. As to that point, the Greeks were busy overseeing the obliteration of their power than fighting some “invaders.”
1. Richard Hooker, “The Persian Wars” (1996); Available from http://library.thinkquest.org/17709/wars/persian.htm.
2. Tom Holland, Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West (USA: Abacus, 2006).
5. J. Boardman, et al, The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 5 (USA: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
6. Herodotus, The Histories (Godley translation, 1920); Available from http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Hdt.+6.101.
7. Tom Holland, Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West (USA: Abacus, 2006).
Boardman, J., et al, The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 5. USA: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Herodotus. The Histories (Godley translation, 1920); Available from http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Hdt.+6.101.
Heseltine, Simon. “The Persian Wars in Ancient Greece” (2002); Available from http://www.essortment.com/all/persianwaranci_rhnf.htm.
Holland, Tom. Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West. USA: Abacus, 2006.
Hooker, Richard. “The Persian Wars” (1996); Available from http://library.thinkquest.org/17709/wars/persian.h
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