|Greek city states, particularly Athens and Sparta||Persian Empire and allied Greek states|
The Greco-Persian Wars or Persian Wars or Medic Wars were a series of conflicts between several Greek city-states and the Persian Empire that started about 500 B.C.E. and lasted until 448 B.C.E. The expression "Persian Wars" usually refers to either or both of the two Persian invasions of the Greek mainland in 490 B.C.E. and in 480-479 B.C.E.; in both cases, the allied Greeks successfully defeated the invasions. Notably not all Greeks fought against the Persians; some were neutral, and others were allied with Persia.
What is known today of this conflict is derived primarily from Greek sources (mainly Herodotus), and to a lesser extent some Roman writings. The Persians enter Greek history after they conquered the Lydians and thus the Greek city-states of Ionia that were previously under the Lydians. When in 499 B.C.E. an attempt to help restore the aristocrats in Naxos failed, the Ionians rebelled against the Persians. Token aid was sent from the Greek mainland which did not change the final outcome of Persian victory. Mardonius campaigned in 492 B.C.E. in Thrace to consolidate Persian power but was stopped by a storm. An amphibious force under Datis and Artaphernes razed Eretria but was defeated in Marathon a few days later by general Miltiades of Athens. Ten years later, in 480 B.C.E., after massive preparation king Xerxes led a huge force to subjugate Greece. A small force under King Leonidas of Sparta caused disproportionate casualties at the Battle of Thermopylae but was defeated on the third day. Athens was sacked and razed by the orders of Xerxes but the Persian fleet was defeated in the battle of Salamis. Xerxes left Mardonius with part of the original force to finish the job and fled to Asia Minor. The next year Mardonius was defeated and killed in the battle of Plataea and the Persian fleet remnant in the battle of Mycale. The Greek fleet sailed to the Hellespont where the Athenians and the newly rebelled Ionians besieged Sestus.
In the next year the Spartans under Pausanias campaigned for the last time in Byzantium which fell after a siege. Pausanias was recalled and the Athenians continued alone. They set up the Delian League to continue the fight. The Persians were first driven from Thrace and then, after the battle of Eurymedon from Ionia. The war moved to Cyprus and then Egypt after it revolted against the Persians. Sparta became alarmed with the power of Athens and declared war. Athens was eventually defeated in Egypt, came to peace with Sparta and signed the Peace of Callias with Persia. With that peace Cyprus returned to Persia which was forced out of the Aegean Sea. The war ended but the Greeks and the Persians continued to meddle in each other's affairs until Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great. European sources tend to depict the conflict as one between civilization and barbarity but the Persian Empire was a highly sophisticated culture no more nor less civilized than the Hellenic world. The non-European would often be seen as a chaotic and threatening reality that needed to be kept in check. These attitudes continue to influence political and social discourse in the modern world.. It has even been suggested that Orientalism dates from the Greco-Persian wars.
What is known of this conflict today comes almost exclusively from Greek sources. The historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus, after his exile from his hometown in the middle of the fifth century B.C.E., travelled all over the Mediterranean and beyond, from Scythia to Egypt collecting information of the Persian Wars and other events that he compiled in his book Ιστοριης Απόδειξη (known in English as The Histories). He begins with Croesus's conquest of Ionia and ends with the fall of Sestus in 479 B.C.E. He is believed to repeat what was told to him by his hosts and sponsors without subjecting it to critical control, thus giving us at times the truth, at times exaggerations and political propaganda. However ancient writers consider his work much better in quality than that of any of his predecessors, which is why Cicero called him "father of history".
Thucydides the Athenian intended to write a book from where Herodotus ends until the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404 B.C.E. Unlike Herodotus, whom he mocks, he cross-checked his sources and gives rather accurate information on his book Ξυγγραφη (known in English as The Peloponnesian War). Unfortunately his work is incomplete, he is believed to have died before he could complete his work, and only gives a full account of the first 20 years of the Peloponnesian War and little information on what happened before. The events that interest us here are given at Book I, paragraphs 89 to 118.
Among later writers Ephorus wrote in the fourth century B.C.E. a universal history book which includes the events of these wars. Diodorus Siculus wrote in the first century C.E. a set of 40 books of history since the beginning of time, which also includes the history of this war. The closest thing to a Persian source in Greek literature is Ctesias of Cnedus who was Artaxerxes Mnemon's personal physician wrote a history of Persia according to Persian sources in the fourth century B.C.E. In his work he also mocks Herodotus and claims that his information is accurate since he heard from the Persians. Unfortunately the works of these last writers have not survived complete. Since fragments of them are given in the Myriobiblon which was compiled by Photius that later became Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in the ninth century C.E., in the book Eklogai by the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos (913-919 C.E.) and the Suda a Byzantine dictionary from the tenth century C.E. it is believed that they were lost with the destruction of the imperial library of the Holy Palace of Constantinople by the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 C.E.
Thus historians are forced to supplement Herodotus' and Thucydides' information with works of later writers intended for other uses, like second century C.E. Plutarch's biographies and the tour guide of southern Greece compiled at the same time by the geographer and traveller Pausanias, who is not to be confused with the Spartan general of the same name mentioned later. Some Roman historians in their works give account of this conflict. Justinus who epitomized Pompeius includes information, as are in Cornelius Nepos's Biographies. However since they are most probably based on Greek sources they cannot be considered a "third party" view.
The Lydians of Western Asia Minor were the first foreign nation to conquer Greeks. King Alyattes II (619 - 560 B.C.E.), first made war on Miletus, a coastal city named after the Cretans who had settled there. This war ended with a treaty of alliance between Miletus and Lydia, which meant that Miletus would have internal autonomy but follow Lydia in foreign affairs. Thus they sent an army to aid him in his war against the Medes. During a battle between the Lydians and the Medes a total solar eclipse took place, believed to be that of May 28, 585 B.C.E., which had been predicted by Thales the Milesian. The battle was suspended out of alarm; peace was signed that was strengthened by a royal marriage, and the river Halys was set up as the frontier between the Lydians and the Medes. Croesus succeeded his father in 560 B.C.E. and made war on the other Greek city states of Asia Minor. He conquered them and force them to pay tribute but did not extend his realm to the islands of the Aegean Sea.
Cyrus the Great rebelled against the Medes in 554/553 B.C.E. and after four years conquered the Medes and founded the Persian Empire. Croesus saw this as an opportunity to extend his realm and asked the oracle of Delphi whether he should make war. The Oracle replied with one of its more famous answers, that "if Croesus was to cross the river Halys he would destroy a great empire." Croesus did not realize the ambiguity of the statement and marched to war but was defeated and his capital fell to Cyrus. The Greek city-states then sent messenger to Cyrus asking to have the same terms as under Croesus but, with the exception of Miletus, Cyrus refused, saying they should have asked while the outcome of the war was undecided, as had Miletus. Cyrus then conquered Assyria before he died. His successor Cambyses II
regarded the Ionians and Aiolians as slaves inherited from his father; and he proceeded to march an army against Egypt, taking with him as helpers not only the other nations of which he was the ruler, but also those of the Hellenes over whom he had power besides (Herodotus II,1, translated by G. C. Macaulay)
Persian satraps of Asia Minor installed tyrants in most of Ionian cities and forced Greeks to pay taxes for the "King of Kings." The campaign against Egypt in 525 B.C.E. was successful when the Cypriot cities, Polycrates of Samos (both of whom had a fleet) and the leader of the Greek mercenaries of Egypt Phanes of Halicarnassus came to his side. This conquest increased discontent with the Persians due to a reduction in trade because Phoenicians, who had willingly joined the Persian empire earlier took part of the market. Furthermore the fall of the Greek colony Sybaris in Southern Italy in 510 B.C.E. closed the western markets for the Ionian city states. In the mean time Darius the Great, Cambyses' successor conquered Libya and part of India, thus creating a massive empire.
In 513 B.C.E. Darius the Great ordered a campaign into the Balkans. He conquered Thrace and Macedon. Macedonian king Amyntas I became a tributary ally. However at that time his state was very small, composed of Pieria and Bottaia (see map below). Darius forces also crossed the Danube into Scythia as a show of force. In this campaign Miltiades, commander of the Athenian forces in the Thracian peninsula was forced to follow the Persians. While Darius was across the Weston Kapp suggested to the other Greeks to burn the bridges and trap Darius across, thus earning Persian ire. This plan was not followed.
In 499 B.C.E., instigated by Aristagoras in Miletus, the Ionian Revolt broke out when a force of 200 triremes manned by Ionian crew that Artaphernes, satrap of Sardis, had sent to Naxos under Aristagoras's command failed to overturn the democrats and restore the oligarchs. The Ionian cities threw out the "tyrants" that the Persians had set over them, formed a league, and applied for help from the other Greeks. Athens sent 20 ships because the Persian had asked them earlier to restore Hippias, former tyrant of Athens who had been recently been removed from power. Eretria sent five because Miletus had helped her in the Lelantine War (eighth century B.C.E.). These ships joined the Ionian fleet and helped spread rebellion all along the coast and to Cyprus. They managed to defeat the Phoenician fleet in Pamphylia. The revolt did not have greater political aims, lacked unified leadership and, save for the Carians, non-Greeks did not rebel. In 498 B.C.E. the Greeks captured and burnt Sardis with ease, thereby provoking the Persian response.
The Persians raised three armies and mobilized their fleet. One army was sent to Cyprus. The fleet supporting it was defeated by the Ionian fleet but the army succeeded in subjugating Cyprus. The other army was sent to the Propontis and forced the revolted cities into submission. The third army first went to Caria, and after a series of battles negotiated Caria's submission. After that Ionia was isolated. All three armies converged in Ionia and so did the new fleet. Initially unable to defeat the Ionian fleet at sea, the Persian land forces worked towards denying the Ionian fleet any safe harbors, leaving the fleet unable to repair, refit, or restock its supplies. The Greek fleet was finally crushed at the Battle of Lade in 494 B.C.E., and the Ionian cities were sacked.
By 493 B.C.E., the last holdouts of the rebellion were subjugated by the Persian fleet, containing ships from Ancient Egypt and Phoenicia. The revolt was used as an opportunity to extend the empire's border to the islands of the East Aegean, many of which had not been under the Persians before, and the Propontis. While the Ionian city of Miletus was sacked, its temples stripped and population enslaved or resettled, the other Ionian city-states found the Persians surprisingly conciliatory in the wake of the rebellion. Darius took direct control of the resettlement of the region through his son-in-law Mardonius. The flat-tribute system was replaced with a progressive tax based on the land-holdings of each city, democracies were established in some, if not all, of the Ionian city-states, prisoners were re-integrated into their home cities, and Darius actively encouraged the Persian nobility of the area to participate in Greek religious practices, especially those dealing with Apollo. Records from the period indicate that the Persian and Greek nobility began to intermarry, and the children of Persian nobles were given Greek instead of Persian names. Darius's conciliatory policies were used as a type of propaganda campaign against the mainland Greeks, so that in 491 B.C.E., when Darius sent heralds throughout Greece demanding submission (earth and water), initially most city-states accepted the offer, Athens and Sparta being the most prominent exceptions.
In the spring of 492 B.C.E., an expeditionary force commanded by Darius' son-in-law Mardonius assembled in Cilicia. The fleet went up the Aegean coast, removed the tyrants, conquered Thassos and reached Acanthus (in the isthmus of the Athos peninsula). The army crossed the Hellespont, crossed Thrace and Macedon subjugating all the people on his path. Thrace was reorganized as a satrapy, and Macedonia was reduced from an ally to a client state. The fleet however fell in a storm off Mt. Athos, losing 300 ships and 20,000 men (according to Herodotus). Mardonius thus ordered the remnants of his troop to return. The Vrygians, a local Thracian tribe, offered the strongest resistance, even managing in a daring night raid to wound Mardonius, but were eventually subjugated by the retreating troops.
Whether or not this campaign should be included as an attempted invasion of Greece is a matter of debate. Some modern historians have argued that Mardonius's original intention of the campaign was to subdue Athens, and this was Herodotus's opinion as well. However, as both Thrace and Macedonia had been completely cut off by the Ionian rebellion, a reconquest of the area was necessary with or without a further campaign into Greece. Whatever the true intention of the campaign will most likely never be known for certain, however the end result of the campaign was the reassertion of Persian power within the Balkan region. In any case, because in this campaign the borders of the modern-day Hellenic Republic were crossed it is included in all Greek history books.
In 490 B.C.E. the admiral Datis and Artaphernes gathered another Persian expeditionary force in Cilicia with the intention to go to Attica and Eretria to punish them for their earlier assistance to the Ionians. Herodotus gives only their fleet numbered 600 triremes but gives no numbers for transports. He also does not give numbers for the Persian or the Greek land forces. Among other ancient sources the poet Simonides who, like Herodotus, was a near-contemporary says the campaign force numbered 200,000. Later writers gave different values, Cornelius Nepos estimating 200,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, and Plutarch and Pausanias independently giving a total of 300,000. Plato and Lysias claims 500,000, while Justinus, 600,000.
The Persian force sailed from Samos to Naxos, where the inhabitants fled to the mountains, spread across the Cyclades, which submitted to the Great King, and then to Eretria. Eretria was besieged and surrendered after only six days; the city was razed, temples and shrines were looted. While Herodotus claims that most of the population taken prisoner and held in Euboea off the coast of Attica, Eretria sent seven ships in the battle of Salamis ten years later, thus a significant part of the population must have survived and rebuilt the city.
The Persian fleet had brought Hippias, son of the former tyrant of Athens Peisistratus, perhaps in the hope of establishing a pro-Persian tyranny within Athens. Most ancient authors agree that it was upon the advice of Hippias that the army landed in Attica near Marathon. Pheidippides, a professional messenger was sent to Sparta for aid, but a religious festival (the Karneia) prevented the Spartans from leaving the city, or alternatively due to the helot revolt mentioned by Plato. In the end, the only ally the Athenians had in the Battle of Marathon were the Plataeans, with whom Athens had formed an alliance since the late sixth century B.C.E.
Pausanias claims the Athenian force did not surpass 9000 while Cornelius Nepos and Justinus claim that the Athenians numbered 10,000 hoplites and the Plateans 1000, and most modern historians accept numbers in that range. Two of the ten Athenian tribes were in the centre in four ranks (thus showing a front of 2 x 250 = 500 people) and the rest on the flanks in eight ranks (9 x 125 = 1,125), meaning the total front had about 1,625 men. They were probably facing takabara light archers. If the Persians had a 2000-man front and fought in 30 ranks as mentioned by Xenophon in the Cyropaedia (though they fought even on 110 men ranks) they numbered 60,000 troops. Most modern Greek historians accept numbers in the 50-60,000 range while some Western historians, like Bengtson prefer numbers in the 20,000 range. After a period of waiting the Greeks attacked the Persian army at dawn, running towards the enemy who in their minds they charged the Athenians with madness which must be fatal, seeing that they were few and yet were pressing forwards at a run, having neither cavalry nor archers. Yet due to their run the few Persian archers had time to take position and kill them from afar. Miltiades knew that in hand to hand combat the hoplite was superior. While the centre of the Greek formation retreated in order, the Greek wings defeated their opposites and then joined behind the Persian centre thus encircling it. The Persians broke ranks and a great slaughter followed. 6,400 dead Persian bodies were counted on the battlefield and buried (though Pausanias in the second century C.E. could not find their graves) against 192 Athenian and 11 Plataean dead. Legend has it that a runner, after the battle, was sent as a messenger back to the city to tell them the Athenians had been victorious and to resist the Persians. He probably ran the 32 km from the northern route rather than the 40.8 kilometres of the southern, from Marathon the Athens, cried "Νενικήκαμεν!" (We have been victorious!), and collapsed and died on the spot. Herodotus records no such event, and the story itself does not appear until the writings of Plutarch (46-127 C.E.) who gives him the name Thersipus or Eucles. Lucian gives his the name of Philippides (not Pheidippides). It should be noted that in some medieval codices of Herodotus the name of the runner between Athens and Sparta before the battle is given as Philippides and in a few modern editions this name is preferred. Regardless, his legend was the inspiration for the modern day Olympic event, the marathon.
After the battle the Persian commanders had been given a signal of a raised shield and, hoping to catch Athens undefended, sailed with their fleet around Cape Sounion and tried to land at Phaleron. Athenian leaders had also seen the signal and, after leaving two tribes to guard the battlefield quickly moved the remaining forces into Athens. When the Persian came to Phaleron they found the Athenian army waiting for them. After this, the Persian fleet picked up the Eretrian prisoners and sailed back to Asia in defeat.
The effects of the battle of Marathon were dramatic for both sides of the conflict. The Athenians had proven their ability to fight and win against the Persian forces, which was indeed no small feat if Herodotus's words are to be accepted. As Cornelius Nepos said:
Than this battle there has hitherto been none more glorious; for never did so small a band overthrow so numerous a host (Miltiades chapter IV, Translated by the Rev. John Selby Watson, MA)
The Greeks saw that they had the option to stand and fight, and soon after Marathon a number of city-states renounced their submission to Persia and joined with the Athenians and Spartans.
Perhaps more important was the impact Marathon had upon the Persians. Marathon was the first defeat of regular (Iranian) Persian infantry forces since before the reign of Cyrus, over two generations before. While the Ionian rebellion, the Persian inadequacy at sea, and the burning of Sardis all constituted a threat to Persian holdings in the region, Marathon signaled a threat to the whole of the Western part of the empire. While the Persians had been unable to beat the Ionians at sea, the conflict had been settled by the superior Persian ground forces. Now, with the defeat of the regular Persian infantry, the Persians had found themselves bested on land and sea by the relatively small city-state of Athens.
In the ten years that followed the political situation in Greece did not change significantly. Alexander I of Macedon, son of Amyntas, is believed to have declared independence from Persia and participated in the Olympic games. There he ran the stadion, the main event of the games. When his fellow runners questioned that he was Greek (the ancient Olympics then were open only to pure blooded Greeks) he proved it and in the race he was tied for first place. With this very public declaration he showed what his later loyalty was to be. Leonidas I took one of the two thrones of Sparta.
In Athens Miltiades convinced the Athenians to campaign in the Cyclades Islands in order to secure their frontier. He failed and was brought back wounded. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death that was commuted to a fine (thus following an old tradition of punishment for Greeks that did good to their country, see Themistocles or, for that matter Kolokotronis), but died of his wound before his sentenced was carried out and buried with honor. Ostracism was first exercised in 488 B.C.E. leading to the exile of politicians who advocated submission to Persia and some of their enemies. Thus a new political leadership formed in Athens with Themistocles leading the democratic party and Aristides the aristocratic party. In that time Athens went to war with Aegina. The ability of the Aeginian fleet to land unopposed at will anywhere in Attica and raid led to public frustration. Themistocles used this frustration to convince his fellow citizens to use the profits from the Lavrion silver mines to build a fleet, which he intended to use against the Persians. Alarm came to Greece after the Persian preparations (see below) had seriously advanced, with the construction of the bridges at Hellespontus and the channel at Athos.
The Persians had the sympathy of a number of Greek city-states, including Argos, which had pledged to defect when the Persians reached their borders. The Alevades family that ruled Larissa in Thessaly saw the invasion as an opportunity to extend their power. Thebes was willing to pass to the Persian side when the Xerxes's army reached their borders, and did so immediately following Thermopylae, though Herodotus hints that at Thermopylae it was already well known that Thebes had capitulated.
In autumn of 481 B.C.E. Sparta, in co-operation with Athens, called a congress in the temple of Poseidon on the Isthmus of Corinth. Every Greek city-state that had not then fallen to the Persians was called except Massalia and her colonies, and Cyrene. General reconciliation was preached. Athens and Aegina were publicly reconciled. Messengers were sent to the cities that had not sent emissaries. The colonies of Sicily and Southern Italy were called, but reportedly refused unless the Syracusan king, Gelon, was given command, a right the Spartans refused to part with. Additionally, Diodorus reports that the Persians and Carthaginians had signed a treaty to co-ordinate invasions, keeping the sizeable Sicilian and Italian reinforcements in check. The only help received one ship from Crotone, which fought in the battle of Salamis. Argos and Crete refused to send emissaries, and the oracle of Delphi did not take part. It continued, as it had since the beginning of the century, to issue oracles that the flood of the Persian Army would drown Greece. Corcyra promised assistance, but then rescinded the offer. They sent a fleet off the Peloponnese that simply monitored the situation. For the most part, the alliance was made up of the Peloponnesian city-states, Euboea island and Attica.
Immediately following the return of Datis's expedition, Darius began preparations for a second, full-scale invasion of Greece. On the fourth year after the battle Babylonia and Egypt both revolted against Persian rule, delaying the preparations. In 486 B.C.E., Darius passed away, leaving the empire and the war against the Greeks to his son and successor, Xerxes I. In 480, after roughly four years of preparation, Xerxes I mounted a massive expedition against Greece. Herodotus gives the names of 46 nations from which troops were drafted. The campaign was delayed one year because of another revolt in ancient Egypt and Babylonia. The Persian army was gathered in Asia Minor in the summer and autumn of 481 B.C.E. The army of the Eastern satrapies was gathered in Kritala of Cappadocia and was led by Xerxes to Sardis where it passed the winter. Early on spring it moved to Abydos where it was joined with the army of the western satrapies. The numbers regarding the force he mustered for the invasion against Greece, given by Herodotus, have been a subject of endless dispute. Herodotus gives the following numbers for the invasion forces:
|Arabs and Libyans:||20,000|
This number needs to be at least doubled in order to account for support troops and thus Herodotus reports that the whole troop numbered 5,283,220 men, an estimate that has been rejected by modern historians. Other ancient sources give other numbers. The poet Simonides, who was a near-contemporary, talks of four million. Ctesias of Cnedus who, as mentioned earlier, was Artaxerxes Mnemon's personal physician wrote a history of Persia according to Persian sources that unfortunately has not survived, and gives 800,000 as the total number of the original army that met in Doriskos. Modern scholars have proposed different numbers for the invasion force, estimations based on knowledge of the Persian military systems, their logistical capabilities, the Greek countryside, and supplies available along the army's route, especially drinking water.
One school of thought rejects the figures given in ancient texts as exaggerations on the part of the victors. Based on analysis of the resources available to armies of the ancient era, the Persian force was between 60,000 and 120,000 combatants, plus a retinue of non-combatants made larger because of the presence of the Persian king and high-ranking nobility. The upper limit was 250,000 total land forces. The main reason most often given for these values is a lack of water; Sir Frederick Maurice, a British general in World War I, was among the first to claim that the army could not have surpassed 175,000 due to lack of water.
A second school contends that ancient sources do give realistic numbers. According to the texts the Greeks at the end of the battle of Plataea mustered 110,000 (Herodotus) or 100,000 (Pompeius) troops: 38,700 hoplites and 71,300 or 61,300 peltasts respectively, the difference probably being 10,000 helots. In that battle, according to Herodotus, they faced 300,000 Persians and 50,000 Greek allies. This gives a 3-to-1 ratio for the two armies, which proponents of the school consider a realistic proportion.
Furthermore, Munro and Macan argue for realism based on Herodotus giving the names of six major commanders and 29 μυρίαρχοι (muriarxoi)—leaders of the baivabaram, the basic unit of the Persian infantry, which numbered about 10,000 strong.  As troops were lost through attrition, the Persians preferred to dissolve crippled baivabarams to replenish the ranks of others.Adding casualties of the battles and attrition due to the need to guard cities and strategic obtains a force of 400,000 minimum.
According to that view lack of water is not the determining force. The available surface water in Greece today satisfies the needs of a much larger population than the number Xerxes' troops, though the majority of that water is used for irrigation.
Nicholas Hammond accepts 300,000 Persians at the battle of Plataea, though he claims that the numbers at Doriskos were smaller, without explaining how the change in numbers happened. The metrologist Livio Catullo Stecchini (who was a controversial figure) argues that Ctesias' figure of 800,000 battle troops for the Persian army was accurate and that Herodotus figure of 1,700,000 includes both battle and support troops. Dr. Manousos Kampouris argues that Herodotus' 1,700,000 for the infantry plus 80,000 cavalry (including support) is very realistic for various reasons including the size of the area from which the army was drafted (from modern-day Libya to Pakistan), the lack of security against spies, the ratios of land troops to fleet troops, of infantry to cavalry and Persian troops to Greek troops. On the other hand Christos Romas believes that the Persian troops accompanying Xerxes were a little over 400,000.
Xerxes had ordered the construction of two bridges made of boats in the Hellespont made of Egyptian and Phoenician ships, but they were destroyed by storm. Thus two new bridges were constructed, one made of 314 triremes, the other of 360. The army took seven days and seven nights to cross them. One of the bridges was used by foot soldiers and the other by cavalry. Five major food depots had been set up along the path: at Lefki Akti on the Thracian side of the Hellespont, at Tyrozis on lake Bistonis, at Doriskos at the Evros river estuary where the Asian army was linked up with the Balkan allies, at Eion on the Strymon river and at Therme, modern-day Thessaloniki. There, food had been sent from Asia for several years in preparation for the campaign. Animals had been bought and fattened, while the local populations had been ordered for several months to grind the grains into flour.
The Persian army took three and a half months to travel unopposed from the Hellespont to Therme, a journey of about 600 kilometres or 360 miles. The largest delay was due to the reorganization of the troops at Doriskos, when tactical units replaced the national formations used earlier for the march.
The size of the Persian fleet is also disputed. According to Herodotus, the Persian fleet numbered 1,207 triremes and 3,000 pentekontorous, ships with 50 rowers. He gives a detailed description of numbers and origins:
|Phoenicians and Syrians from Palestine:||300|
|Dorians of Asia Minor:||30|
|Hellespontians (except Abydos):||30|
Herodotus also claims that this was the number at Salamis, despite the losses earlier in storms off Sepias and Euboea, and at the battle off Artemisium. Herodotus claims that the losses where replenished with reinforcements, though he only records 120 triremes from the Greeks of Thrace and an unspecified number of ships from the Greek islands. Aeschylus who fought at Salamis also claims that he faced there 1,207 warships, of which 1000 were triremes and 207 fast ships. Lysias, also claims there were 1200 at Doriskos. The 1,207 trireme number (for the outset only) is also given by Ephorus while his teacher Isocrates claims there were 1300 at Doriskos and 1,200 at Salamis. Ctesias gives another number, 1000 ships, (in a fragment given in Photius's book) while Plato, speaking in general terms refers of 1000 ships and more. Ephorus claims there were also 800 cavalry-carrying ships and 3000 triantakontorous, ships rowed by 30 rowers. Diodorus concurs there were 1200 ships at Doriskos but gives fleet numbers as such:
|Dorians of Asia Minor:||40|
|Hellespontians and Pontians:||80|
These numbers are close but not exactly what Herodotus claims and this have been interpreted as a confirmation of the 1200 number. Among modern scholars Köster Olmstead, and Green have accepted this number. Commodore Simpsas interprets the 207 fast ship comment as that only these 207 were fully manned and the rest were not. Christos Romas believes that there were 1200 ships gathered in Doriskos but the reinforcements that later came did not cover the losses from the storms and battles. Other recent works on the Persian Wars (Peter Green's recent revision, works by A. R. Burn, and Pierre Briant's recent work) reject this accounting, 1,207 being seen as more of a reference to the combined Greek fleet in the Illiad than an actual accounting, and generally claim that the Persians could have launched no more than around 600 warships into the Aegean.
At Doriskos the fleet first met the army, and Xerxes set up the chain of command. A channel had been dug over the isthmus of the Athos peninsula, large enough to fit through two ships at a time with which the fleet avoided the perilous journey across Cape Athos. The fleet then rejoined the army again at Therme. From there, the Persian fleet traveled down the coast, capturing a few Greek ships that were sent to monitor its movements. It fell into a storm off Mt. Pelion, between Casthanaia and Cape Sepias, which caused the loss of one third of the fleet. This was seen as divine retribution by the Greeks, reportedly lifting the morale of the allied force. Battered from the storm, the Persian fleet rested at Aphetes.
In later Greek literature the raising of a massive army and fleet, the construction of the bridges over the Hellespont and the digging of the channel in Athos was seen as a sign of hubris, of great arrogance that was to be punished by the gods.
A force of 10,000 Athenians and Spartans led by Euenetus and Themistocles was dispatched to the vale of Tempe between Thessaly and Macedon after a call by Thessalian cities that disliked the Alevades. It arrived there traveling by ship to Phthiotis and from there by land. There they blocked the pass, but were joined by few Thessalian horsemen. Alexander I of Macedon warned the allied force that Xerxes intended to pass through another pass, so they left the way they came. This happened at the time Xerxes was still at Abydos. All of Thessaly then defected to the Persians, as did many cities north of Thermopylae when they saw that help was not to come. It took Xerxes 13 days to reach from Therme to Thermopylae.
At Thermopylae, a force was assembled led by King Leonidas of Sparta who was only accompanied by the 300 hippeis, literally horsemen though they fought on foot and served as the royal bodyguard. The Greek army included according to Herodotus the following forces
|Phocians and Opuntan Locrians:||1,000|
Diodorus Siculus mentions 1000 other Lacedemonian troops sent along with the royal bodyguard, while more auxiliary troops were probably sent from other Greek cities. Diodorus gives 4000 as the total Greek troops, and Pausanias 11,200. Modern historians, which usually consider Herodotus more reliable, prefer between 4000 and 7000. According to Ctesias:
On the third day, a local man named Ephialtes betrayed the existence of a mountain path that led behind Greek positions. Leonidas and the 300 Spartans, as well as Demophilus and his contingent of 700 Thespians, proved their bravery by staying back to allow the rest of the army to escape.
In the mean time a Greek naval force of 271 triremes attacked the Persian fleet off battle of Artemisium, with a fleet of 75 triremes guarding against a Persian encirclement at Chalkis. The Persians had indeed sent out a strong contingent to encircle the Greek fleet, but it fell in a storm off Euboea and was damaged. Herodotus makes a direct parallel between the battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium, even placing them on the same day. While not a "fight to the death" as Thermopylae had become, Herodotus records that roughly half of the Athenian fleet had been destroyed or damaged beyond repair, in addition to other losses to the allied fleet overall, while at the same time the small Greek fleet had done immense damage to the larger, bulkier Persian fleet, which, as would be seen again at Salamis, became trapped in the narrow strait and unable to manoeuvre. Furthermore fifteen Persian ships had been captured when they sailed in error to the Greek lines earlier. When news of the withdrawal from Thermopylae arrived, the Greek fleet secretly abandoned its position.
Soon afterwards Athens was evacuated, and the Greek fleet withdrew to Salamis to aid in the transfer of the population of Attica to the island. The Peloponnesians proposed a defensive line at the Isthmus of Corinth, relying on the ground forces and using the fleet to keep the Isthmus supplied. Themistocles instead forced a confrontation with the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis and routed the Persian fleet, forcing it to withdraw to the Ionian coast. According to a story related by Herodotus, before the battle, Xerxes had set up a throne on Mt. Aegaleo, so he could watch his great victory over the smaller Greek fleet. However, once gain the narrow gulf provided little room for his heavy triremes to maneuver, allowing the lighter Greek ships to flank and destroy them. Herodotus claims there were 378 ships on the Greek fleet and gives the following numbers:
As can be seen his numbers add only to 366. It has been argued that the 12 missing ships were from Aegina guarding there against invasion. To those forces two more have to be added that defected from the Persians to the Greeks, one before Artemisium and one before Salamis. According to Aeschylus the Greek fleet numbered 310 triremes, while Ctesias claims there the Athenian fleet numbered only 110 triremes and not 180 as Herodotus claims.
After Salamis Xerxes, according to Herodotus, at first attempted to build a causeway across the channel to attack the Athenian evacuees on Salamis. Strabo, who had access to works by other authors disagrees. Describing the coast between Eleusis and Piraeus notes:
Ctesias also places this attempt before the battle. In any case this project was soon abandoned. The Greek cities of Halkidiki rebelled against the Persians. Xerxes, fearing being trapped in Greece, halted his armies advance, withdrew with his family, retainers, the remaining fleet, and a large part of his army to Sardis. Artabazus who was following Xerxes besieged Potidaia and Olynthus. The siege lasted five months, at the end of which he rejoined Mardonius. Mardonius with a handful of junior officers and the rest of the army had accompanied Xerxes until Thessaly. Then he returned south, wintering in Attica and Boeotia.
The following spring (479 B.C.E.), Mardonius twice offered Athens through Alexander of Macedon a separate peace, but was rebuffed. The Peloponnesians decided to send their army out in Boeotia to take advantage of the situation, before Athenians could change their mind. Cavalry harassment of the Greek forces eventually led to the Battle of Plataea. The Greeks were warned on eve of the attack by Alexander of Macedon. The Spartans and the Tegeans attacked the main body of the Persians while most of their Greek allies feigned cowardice and abandoned the battle, the notable exception being the Thebans who were attacking the Athenians. Mardonius was killed, and his army routed. The remnants of the Persian army left Greece, but the largest part of them did not make it to Asia, being ambushed by the forces of Alexander of Macedon in the estuary of the Strymon river. According to Herodotus, the Greek city-states fielded this many hoplites in Plataea:
|Mycene and Tiryns:||400|
|Eretria and Styra:||600|
|Lefkas and Anactorium:||800|
Also 71,300 light troops were sent. Of these 35,000 were helots of Sparta, 1800 were Thespians and the other 34,500 are simply said to be from the other cities, about one per hoplite. This is a very large number for a Greek army. The Byzantine Empire rarely fielded armies larger than 100,000 while the modern Greek state raised an army of this size in the Greek-Turkish War of 1897 and the First Balkan War in 1912. Unlike the last two mentioned conflicts when only soldiers from seven or eight years were drafted what was fielded in Plataea was probably every able bodied man between the ages of 20 and 50 who owned weapons.
Among modern scholars others have accepted these numbers and have used them as a population census of Greece at the time, others have claimed the light troop numbers bloated especially since they imply seven helots for every Spartiat; and others have claimed there were no light troops in Plataea, only hoplites, the light troops being nothing more than support troops.
Reportedly, on the same day as the battle of Plataea a 110-ship Greek fleet commanded by the Spartan king Leotychides routed a repaired and refitted 300 ship Persian fleet guarded by 60,000 troops in the Battle of Mycale. Then they advanced towards the Hellespont intending to break the bridges. They found the bridges destroyed. The Spartans left after that. When Ionians had asked for more assistance, the Spartans suggested that they migrate to the cities in the Greek peninsula that supported the Persians. The Athenians under Xanthippus continued the campaign and besieged Sestus. The Athenians continued the siege alone until the city fell a few months later. This is where Herodotus ends his book.
Alexander of Macedon, encouraged by the Greek success at Plataea and his victory over the Persians in the Strymon river, expanded his realm to include the other Greek tribes living east of Mount Pindus. He also conquered the land east until the banks of the Strymon river, conquering several non-Greek tribes living there. He founded three cities to expand Greek influence into his newly conquered land, and managed to expand his realm east of the Strymon river, gaining part of Mount Paggaion and its famous gold mines. Thus he created the largest individual Greek state in terms of area, population, and income. However, despite its potential, the kingdom of Macedon retained a splintered and feudal style of government, with the king holding little central authority and subservient to the combined force of the aristocracy. Only in the fourth century B.C.E., when the city-states in its south were in general decline, would Phillip II of Macedon, a king with great political genius, firmly unite the Macedonian aristocracy into a strong, centralized monarchy and expand the kingdom beyond these borders and raise it to prominence.
Encouraged by Xerxes' failures, the Greeks of Asia Minor and the Cyclades revolted again. In 478 B.C.E., a fleet composed of 20 Peloponnesian ships, 30 Athenian ships under Aristides, and other allied forces, with the general command given to Pausanias, sailed to Cyprus. There they succeeded in liberating the Greek cities, but did not succeed in their sieges against the Phoenician cities. Thus Cyprus remained a base of the Persian fleet. The Greek fleet then sailed to Byzantium. Control of the Hellespont and Bosporus was of vital importance to Athens, since throughout the classical age Athens produced only 40 percent of the food required to feed her population, the rest being imported from the Greek colonies of the Black Sea.
The city of Byzantium fell after a siege. Many Persians including nobility fell prisoners to the Greek forces. Pausanias, who was of the royal house of Agis, was greatly impressed by the new way of life; he witnessed it and adopted it. He started wearing Persian dress and offering Persian-style banquets. He also mistreated the Ionian delegates. His Persian-style behavior scandalized both the Ionians and the Peloponnesians and Pausanias was recalled to Sparta. There he faced charges that he was plotting with the Persian king to become tyrant of Greece, that he was in secret communication with him and that he had asked his daughter as his wife. He was acquitted of those charges, found guilty only of mistreating individuals in their private affairs and sentenced not to lead another campaign outside Sparta. Being impatient he took a warship from Hermion and travelled back to Byzantium. No longer welcome there, he crossed the Propontis to the Troas region where he stayed for some time. What he did there is completely unknown. He was recalled to Sparta by special envoy where he was to be brought against charges that he was again plotting with the King of Kings and that he was planning a helot revolution. On his way back, while he was inside the Spartan state limits, he saw the ephoroi, the elected council of five that ruled Sparta, approaching and one of them signalled to him that he was doomed. He took refuge in a nearby temple, where he died of starvation several days later. Some modern historians, based on that he was never condemned and that had he been in league with the Persians he would have sought refuge there and not return, claim this was all a fabrication by his political enemies in Sparta.
In the meantime, in 477 B.C.E. the Spartans had sent Dorkis as general in Byzantium with a small force. The Ionians, with the memories of Pausanias' mistreatment of them fresh, asked them to leave. Relieved, the Spartans who no longer wished to continue fighting the Persians withdrew. Athens gladly filled the vacuum, forming the First Athenian Alliance, better known as the Delian League.
Aristides, as leader of the Athenians, had made a very good impression on the Ionians with his character. Also, since Athenians were also Ionians, they were more trusted than the Dorian Spartans. A congress was called in the holy island of Delos where the alliance was formed. The members were given a choice of either offering armed forces or paying a tax on the joint treasury. Most cities chose the tax. Aristides spent the rest of his life occupied in the affairs of the alliance, dying (according to Plutarch) a few years later in Pontus determining what the tax of new members was to be.
Themistocles was marginalized politically when the leadership of the aristocratic party passed from Aristides to Kimon, son of Miltiades. Themistocles was later exiled and eventually charged of conspiring with Pausanias against Greece. After a long journey he eventually presented himself to the Persians and, following an old Persian tradition of giving sanctuary to prominent Greek politicians, he was given three cities in Asia Minor to rule. He died there a few years later.
Kimon, in 476 B.C.E., began a campaign against Eion, which still had a Persian guard. The city fell after he diverted the flow of the Strymon river and the walls collapsed. The campaign continued towards Doriskos, however the city refused to capitulate. With Persians out of Heion, many Greek colonies of the Thracian coast joined the Delian League. Doriskos apparently fell at a later date, though precisely when is not recorded. Finally, in 465 B.C.E., with four triremes Kimon removed the last Persians from the Thracian peninsula; thus ended Persian presence in Europe. In the intervening years, Kimon had forced Karystos in Euboea to join the league, conquered Skyros and sent Athenian colonists there, and suppressed Naxos's desertion in 468 B.C.E.
In 468 B.C.E. Kimon had gathered a force of 200 improved Athenian triremes in Knidos and 100 allied triremes with 5000 Athenian hoplites and campaigned in Phaselis in Pamphylia. With mediation from Chios (a League member), Phasilis joined the league. The Persian forces that had been gathered at the mouth of the Eurymedon river were defeated and the cities of Ionia officially joined the alliance.
In 465 B.C.E. Athens founded the colony of Amphipolis in the Strymon river. Thassos, a member of the League, saw her interests in the mines of Mount Paggaion threatened and defected from the League. She called to Sparta for assistance but was denied, as Sparta was facing the largest helot revolution in its history (see Third Messenian War). An aftermath of the war was that Kimon was ostracized and the relations between Athens and Sparta turned into hostility. After a three-year siege, Thassos was recaptured and forced back into the League. The siege of Thassos marks the transformation of the Delian league from an alliance into, in the words of Thucydides, a hegemony.
Ever since the battle of Eurymedon in 466 B.C.E. Athens was engaged in operations against the Persian forces in Cyprus. In 462 B.C.E. Egypt rose again against Persia. Their king Inaros asked in 460 B.C.E. Athens for assistance which was gladly rendered because Athens wished to colonize Egypt. The Persians had gathered a force of 400,000 (according to Ctesias and Diodorus) to suppress the revolution. A force of 200 Athenian triremes that was campaigning in Cyprus was immediately ordered for assistance. A battle took place, according to Herodotus, on Papremis in the west bank of the Nile river. According to Diodorus who is our only source about Athenian engagement in this battle, the Athenian phalanx again defeated the numerically superior but individually inferior Persian archer. The Egyptians and Libyans that were previously retreating on the rest of the front followed the breach in the Persian ranks the Athenians caused and won the battle. The Persian army retreated to Memphis. A sea battle took place near there, where 40 Athenian ships under Charitimedes and 15 Samian ships (of the 200 that had arrived) sunk 30 and captured 20 Persian ships, according to Ctesias.
In the mean time Athens was engaged in war in the Greek peninsula. While the helot revolution was in its final stages and Kimon in Athens, Argos rose against Sparta. The small force that was sent to quell this was defeated by a joint Athenian and Argos force in Oenoe in 460 B.C.E. The war was generalized, and the allies of Plataea found themselves 19 years later at each other's throat. Several battles followed, the most important of which was in Tanagra. Using the insecurity of the Aegean as a pretext Athens moved the Joint Treasury and the seat of the alliance to Athens in 454/453 B.C.E. The war in Greece was halted in 453 B.C.E. when Kimon was recalled from exile and negotiated a five year peace with the Spartans.
Between 459 and 456 B.C.E. the Egyptians and their Athenian allies were still engaged in the siege of the Persian force in Memphis. A large part of the Athenian fleet had been recalled to the Aegean to help with operations there. The Persians organized another force that, according to Ctesias, numbered 200,000 soldiers and 300 ships, though according to Diodorus had over 300,000 infantry and cavalry. It was led by Megabyzus. A new battle took place near Memphis. Charitimedes was killed, king Inaros escaped to the naval base that had been set up in Prosopitis island on the Nile Delta. There, assisted by 6000 Athenians and their fleet he was besieged for 18 months. The Persian generals did not dare land. They drained the land between the river bank and the island and surprised the Egyptians. The Egyptians quickly surrendered except king Inaros. The Athenians were left alone. Megabyzos negotiated with the Athenians their surrender and were allowed through Cyrene to return to their home. A number of them though was kept prisoner according to Ctesias. A fleet that was being sent to relieve the force at Prosoptis unaware they had surrendered was defeated by the Persians near Cape Mendesium. The result of this loss was that Cyprus fell again to the Persians. Athenians and their allies lost some 20,000 men in this campaign if Isocrates's numbers are accepted. However these dead were very well remembered and Plato puts them along the dead of Euremedon and Cyprus.
Kimon after his recall and the five year peace was sent in Cyprus and Cilicia to fight the Persians. The Persians had helped several cities in Ionia that had tried to defect from the league. With Kimon in Cyprus was sent a force of 200 triremes. They were facing a force of 300 Persian ships in Cyprus led by Artabazus and 300,000 soldiers in Cilicia led by Megabyzus. Kimon conquered Marion and seized in Cyprus. He sent 60 ships to Egypt. During that siege of Kition he died of a wound or disease. On his deathbed he ordered his army to lift the siege and retreat towards Salamis. His death was kept a secret from the Athenian army and their allies, until 30 days later the Athenians defeated both at land and sea the Persians. According to Thucydides both battles took place in Salamis. According to Diodorus though the land battle took place in Cilicia where the defeated fleet had fled. Thus Kimon, even after his death, defeated the Persians.
After this battle both enemies were exhausted. None of the sides were in full control of the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean. The king of Persia sent emissaries to Athens. Pericles responded favorable and, in the autumn of 449 B.C.E. according to Diodorus, sent Callias son of Ipponicus in Susa to negotiate. The exact nature of the agreement that became known as the peace of Callias remains unclear (formal treaty or non-aggression pact). According to Diodorus it was an important treaty, Thucydides doesn't even mention it. The terms, according to Diodorus were:
After the peace was agreed Athenians recalled the 60 triremes from Egypt and their forces from Cyprus (apparently this was part of the agreement though it is not mentioned) and ceased operations in this front. The situation in Greece though had flared up and war continued there until the Thirty Year Peace of 445 B.C.E.
The Persians and Greeks continued to meddle in each other's affairs. The Persians entered the Peloponnesian War in 411 B.C.E. forming a mutual-defense pact with Sparta and combining their naval resources against Athens (see Tissaphernes) in exchange for sole Persian control of Ionia. In 404 B.C.E. when Cyrus the Younger attempted to seize the Persian throne, he recruited 13,000 Greek mercenaries from all over the Greek world, of which Sparta sent 700-800, believing they were following the terms of the treaty and unaware of the army's true purpose. After the failure of Cyrus, Persia tried to regain control of the Ionian city-states. The Ionians refused to capitulate and called upon Sparta for assistance, which she provided. Athens sided with the Persians, setting off the Corinthian War (see Artaxerxes II). Sparta was eventually forced to abandon Ionia and Persian authority was restored with the peace of Antalcidas. No other Greek force challenged Persia for nearly 60 years until Phillip II of Macedon, who, in 338 B.C.E. formed an alliance called οι Ελληνες (the Greeks), modelled after the alliance of 481 B.C.E., and set in motion an invasion of the western part of Asia Minor. He was murdered before he could carry out his plan. His son, Alexander III of Macedon, known as Alexander the Great, set out in 334 B.C.E. with 38,000 soldiers, 30 days provisions, 70 talents of gold, and a debt of 200 talents. Within three years his army had conquered the Persian Empire, brought the Achaemenid Dynasty to an end, and brought Greek culture up to the banks of the Indus River.
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