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Ancient Greece

Persian Wars

History >> Ancient Greece

The Persian Wars were a series of wars fought between the Persians and the Greeks from BC to BC.

Who were the Persians?

The Persian Empire was the largest and most powerful empire in the world at the time of the Persian Wars. They controlled land that stretched from Egypt all the way to India.

Map of the Persian Empireby Unknown
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Who were the Greeks?

The Greeks were made up of a number of city-states such as Sparta and Athens. Typically these city-states fought each other, but they united to fight against the Persians.


The Ionians were Greeks that lived along the coast of Turkey. They were conquered by the Persians. When the Ionians decided to revolt they asked Athens and other Greek cities for help. The other Greek cities sent ships and weapons, but were quickly defeated. The Persians didn't like this and decided to conquer the rest of the Greek cities in order to keep them under control.

First Invasion of Greece

Darius I, King of Persia, decided he wanted to conquer the Greeks in BC. He gathered a vast army of soldiers that outnumbered any army the Greeks could muster. They boarded the Persian fleet and headed to Greece.

Battle of Marathon

The Persian fleet landed at the Bay of Marathon, about 25 miles from the city of Athens. The Persians had a lot more soldiers, but they underestimated the fighting capability of the Greeks. The army of Athens routed the Persian army killing around 6, Persians and only losing Greeks.

After the battle, the Athenian army ran the 25 miles back to Athens in order to prevent the Persians from attacking the city. This is the origin of the Marathon running race.

Second Invasion of Greece

Ten years later, in BC, the son of Darius I, King Xerxes, decided to get his revenge on the Greeks. He amassed a huge army of over , soldiers and 1, warships.

Battle of Thermopylae

The Greeks put together a small force, led by the Spartan King Leonidas I and Spartans. They decided to meet the Persians at a narrow pass in the mountains called Thermopylae. The Greeks held off the Persians killing thousands, until the Persians found a way around the mountains and got behind the Greeks. King Leonidas told most of his troops to flee, but stayed behind with a small force including his Spartans in order to allow the rest of the Greek army to escape. The Spartans fought to the death, killing as many Persians as they could.

Battle of Salamis

The Persian army continued to march on Greece. When they arrived at the city of Athens, they found it deserted. The people of Athens had fled. The Athenian fleet, however, was waiting off the coast by the island of Salamis.

The much larger Persian fleet attacked the small Athenian ships. They were sure of victory. However, the Athenian ships, called triremes, were fast and maneuverable. They rammed into the sides of the large Persian ships and sunk them. They soundly defeated the Persians causing Xerxes to retreat back to Persia.

Battle of Salamis Map
Map of the Battle of Salamis
from the US Military Academy
Click map to see larger version

Interesting Facts about the Persian Wars
  • After the first invasion, the Athenians built up a mighty fleet of ships called triremes.
  • The Persian Empire would eventually be conquered by the Greeks under the leadership of Alexander the Great.
  • The movie is about the Spartans who fought at Thermopylae.
  • The Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield is a famous book about the Battle of Thermopylae.
  • Xerxes, king of Persia, had his golden throne carried along so he could watch the Greeks be defeated by his army from a nearby hillside. He must have been pretty disappointed!
  • Take a ten question quiz about this page.

  • Listen to a recorded reading of this page:

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Works Cited

History >> Ancient Greece

YearEventc. BCE

Cyrus annexes the Greek territory of Ionia as part of his empire, giving Persia a presence on the Aegean

Go to Cyrus in Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World (1 ed.)

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The Greek cities of Ionia rebel against Persian rule, with the partial support of Athens

Go to Greek-Persian wars in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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After six years the Persians recover control of Ionia, but Athens is now identified as a target for invasion

Go to Greek-Persian wars in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Darius sends a fleet across the Aegean, carrying a large army of infantry and cavalry for an attack on Athens

Go to Greek-Persian wars in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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The Persian fleet secures the Greek island of Euboea before making the short crossing to Marathon on the mainland – where they await the Greeks

Go to Greek-Persian wars in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Pheidippides, given the task of running from Athens to Sparta to request help against the Persians, completes the journey in two days

Go to Pheidippides in The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (2 ed.)

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At Marathon the Athenian hoplites, heavily outnumbered, win a spectacular victory against the Persians – of whom the survivors escape in their ships

Go to Marathon, battle of in Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World (1 ed.)

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The Persian fleet moves south towards Athens, but then heads home across the Aegean without attempting an assault on the city

Go to Greek-Persian wars in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Themistocles persuades the Athenians to build up their fleet against the expected renewal of the threat from Persia


Xerxes I, renewing the campaign of his father Darius against the Greeks, leads a large army round the Aegean and through Thrace

Go to Xerxes I in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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The Greek city-states meet in Corinth to devise a joint strategy against the Persians

Go to Greek-Persian wars in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Spartans, led by Leonidas, die attempting to hold the pass of Thermopylae against the advancing Persian army

Go to Leonidas ( bc) in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Athens, abandoned to the advancing Persians, is looted and destroyed

Go to Greek-Persian wars in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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The Athenian fleet defeats a considerably larger Persian force in the narrow strait between Salamis and the mainland


A Spartan army, led by Pausanias, wins a victory at Plataea, completing the rout of the Persians on the Greek mainland

An Athenian force destroys at Mykale the remainder of the Persian fleet, ending the threat from them at sea

Go to My'calē in The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (3 ed.)

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In the last joint campaign by Sparta and Athens the strategically important city of Byzantium is liberated from Persian rule

Go to Byzantium in Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World (1 ed.)

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Representatives of Athens and other Aegean city-states meet in Delos to form a coalition, later known as the Delian League

Go to Delian League in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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The Delian League is formed for mutual defence, but also to liberate the Greek cities of Ionia from Persian rule

Go to Delian League in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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c. BCE

The Athenian general Cimon wins a spectacular victory over the Persians at the mouth of the Eurymedon River, in southwest Turkey

Go to Cīmon (c–c bc) in The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (3 ed.)

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c. BCE

Herodotus, the 'father of history', writes his account of the Greco-Persian Wars from a vantage point in Asia Minor

Forces of the Delian League assist the Egyptians in a successful revolt against their Persian rulers

Go to Delian League in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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The Greeks suffer a major reverse when their fleet is trapped on the Nile and destroyed by the Persians

Go to Greek-Persian wars in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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The Athenians mount successful attacks on the Persian forces occupying the Greek island of Cyprus

Go to Greek-Persian wars in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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In the Peace of Kallias the Persians acknowledge the independence of Greek Ionia, and agree not to bring their fleet into the Aegean

Go to Callias, Peace of in The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3 rev ed.)

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  1. The Cause of the Battle of Marathon
  2. What Happened at the Battle of Marathon?
  3. Significance
  4. The First Marathon

The Battle of Marathon in B.C. was part of the first Persian invasion of Greece. The battle was fought on the Marathon plain of northeastern Attica and marked the first blows of the Greco-Persian War. 

With the Persians closing in on the Greek capitol, Athenian general Miltiades took command of the hastily assembled army. Miltiades weakened the center of his outnumbered force to strengthen its wings, causing confusion among the invading Persians. 

His strategy was victorious over the Persians&#x; strength, and the victory of the Marathon men captured the collective imagination of the Greeks. The tale of the messenger Pheidippides running 25 miles to Athens to deliver the news of the Persian defeat inspired the creation of the modern marathon.

The Cause of the Battle of Marathon

The Battle of Marathon was fought because the Persian Army wanted to defeat the Greek city-states that supported the uprisings in Ionia, part of modern-day Turkey, against the Persian Empire.

The first encounter on the Greek mainland between East (Persia) and West (Greece) took place in August or September of B.C., on the small seaside plain of Marathon, 26 miles northeast of Athens. The Persian expeditionary force of Darius I was not large, perhaps numbering under 30, 

Lead by generals Hippias, Datis and Artaphernes, the Persian Army arrived confident after storming the nearby Greek city-state of Eretria. No allies except the Plataeans joined the Athenian resistance of less than 10, troops, and some autocratic regimes in Attica supported the invaders in the hope of toppling the fledgling democracy.

What Happened at the Battle of Marathon?

To meet the larger invading force, the Athenian army commander Miltiades thinned out his army's center and reinforced the wings, hoping that his hoplites&#x;heavily armed foot soldiers&#x;could hold the middle while his flanks broke through the lighter-clad Persian infantry. In fact, the Athenian center broke, but it held long enough for the Athenians to rout the Persian wings and meet in the rear, causing a general panic among the invaders.

The Persians would invade Greece again in B.C. under Xerxes I, son of Darius, who planned to succeed in conquering Greece where his father had failed. The allied Greek city-states under King Leonidas of Sparta held off the Persian invasion for seven days in the Battle of Thermopylae, earning them a place in history for their last stand in defense of their native soil. But it was the initial victory of the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon that is most remembered today.


Almost immediately, the victory of the Marathon men captured the collective imagination of the Greeks. Ceremonial funeral mounds of the legendary Athenian dead and the loyal Plataeans were erected on the battlefield. Epigrams were composed and panoramic murals were put on display.

Most of what we know about the Battle of Marathon comes from the account of the historian Herodotus, who wrote about it around 50 years after the battle took place in his Histories. Another famous author to immortalize the Battle was Robert Browning, who wrote the poem Pheidippides in to commemorate the soldier&#x;s run from Marathon to Athens.

The First Marathon

The first organized marathon was part of the first modern Olympics in The ancient games, held from approximately B.C. to A.D., did not include the race.

Michael Bréal, a friend of modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin, was inspired by the legend of the Battle of Marathon to create an endurance race. The first marathon was 40 kilometers, or under 25 miles (as opposed to today&#x;s miles), and almost half of the competitors had to quit from exhaustion. The winner of the first marathon was Spiridon Louis, a Greek shepherd who never ran another competitive race again.

The journey of Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens also inspired the first Boston Marathon on April 19, The Boston Marathon is the world&#x;s oldest annual marathon and is also notable for allowing women to compete in when the first Olympic marathon for women wasn&#x;t held until

The Russo - Persian Wars: Every Month

Timeline of the Persian Wars

The Persian Wars (sometimes known as the Greco-Persian Wars) were a series of conflicts between Greek city-states and the Persian Empire, beginning in BCE and running some 50 years, until BCE. The seeds for the wars was planted in BCE when the Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great, conquered Greek Ionia. Before this, the Greek city-states and the Persian Empire, centered in what is now modern-day Iran, had maintained an uneasy coexistence, but this expansion by the Persians would eventually lead to war. 

Timeline and Summary of the Persian Wars

  • BCE, Naxos: An unsuccessful attack by the Persians on the large island of Naxos, midway between Crete and the current Greek mainland, paved the way to revolts by Ionian settlements occupied by the Persians in Asia Minor. The Persian Empire had gradually expanded to occupy Greek settlements in Asia Minor, and the success of Naxos at repelling the Persians encouraged the Greek settlements to consider rebellion. 
  • c. BCE, Asia Minor: The first revolts by Green Ionian regions of Asia Minor began, in reaction to oppressive tyrants appointed by the Persians to oversee the territories. 
  • BCE,Sardis:  Persians, led by Aristagoras with Athenian and Eritrean allies, occupied Sardis, located along what is now the western coast of Turkey. The city was burned, and the Greeks met and were defeated by a Persian force. This was the end of the Athenian involvement in the Ionian revolts.
  • BCE, Naxos: When the Persians invaded, the inhabitants of the island fled. The Persians burned settlements, but the nearby island of Delos was spared. This marked the first invasion of Greece by the Persians, led by Mardonius.
  • BCE, Marathon: The first Persian invasion of Greece ended with Athens decisive victory over the Persians at Marathon, in the Attica region, north of Athens. 
  • BCE, Thermopylae, Salamis: Led by Xerxes, the Persians in their second invasion of Greece defeated the combined Greek forces at the Battle of Thermopylae. Athens soon falls, and the Persians overrun most of Greece. However, at the Battle of Salamis, a large island west of Athens, the combined Greek navy decisively beat the Persians. Xerxes retreated to Asia. 
  • BCE, Plataea: Persians retreating from their loss at Salamis encamped at Plataea, a small town northwest of Athens, where combined Greek forces badly defeated the Persian army, led by Mardonius. This defeat effectively ended the second Persian invasion. Later that year, combined Greek forces went on the offensive to expel Persian forces from Ionian settlements in Sestos and Byzantium. 
  • BCE, Delian League: A joint effort of Greek city-states, the Delian League formed to combine efforts against the Persians. When Sparta's actions alienated many of the Greek city-states, they united under the leadership of Athens, thereby beginning what many historians view as the start of the Athenian Empire. Systematic expulsion of the Persians from settlements in Asia now began, continuing for 20 years. 
  • to BCE, Eion: Athenian general Cimon captured this important Persian stronghold, where Persian armies stored huge stores of supplies. Eion was located west of the island of Thasos and south of what is now the border of Bulgaria, at the mouth of the Strymon River. 
  • BCE, Caria: General Cimon freed the coastal towns of Caria from the Persians in a series of land and sea battles. Southern Aisa Minor from Cari to Pamphylia (the region of what is now Turkey between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean) soon became part of the Athenian Federation. 
  • BCE, Prosopitis: To support a local Egyptian rebellion in the Nile River Delta, Greek forces were besieged by remaining Persian forces and were badly defeated. This marked the beginning of the end of Delian League expansionism under Athenian leadership 
  • BCE, Peace of Callias: Persia and Athens signed a peace treaty, although, to all intents and purposes, hostilities had ended several years earlier. Soon, Athens would find itself in the middle of the Peloponnesian Wars as Sparta, and other city-states rebelled against Athenian supremacy. 

Wars date persian

Herodotus and the Persian Wars

Herodotus is the "Father of History" and&#;according to some&#;also the "Father of Lies." As a discipline, history begins with Herodotus' Histories, the first known systematic investigation of the past. Explicitly, The Histories deal with the Persian Wars, the Greeks' double defeat of the formidable forces led against them by the Persian kings Darius and Xerxes, but Herodotus' work includes much more than just the narration of that conflict. It encompasses geography, gossip, gods and even a bit of arithmetic. A master storyteller, Herodotus won an audience for history not only in his day but for all time. Since he invented history, no century has passed without a historian to record it.

People, Places, Events and Terms To Know:

Classical Age
The Histories
Persian Wars
Oral History
"The Father of History and Lies"
Cyrus the Great (II)
Cambyses (II)
Satrapy (Satrapies)
Royal Road
The Ionian Revolution
Ionian Philosophers
Democracy (Democratia)
Aristagoras of Miletus
Ionian League
The First Persian War
Aegean Sea
Battle of Marathon
The Second Persian War
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea

I. Introduction: Herodotus and the Birth of History

A. Who was Herodotus?

Herodotus (click to see larger image)Our understanding of the cultural and political forces which gave rise to the Classical Age of Greece ( BCE), a watershed in Western Civilization, rests largely on the work of one remarkable individual, an ancient Greek merchant named Herodotus. Unfortunately, very little is known today about his life. He was born, we are told, in Halicarnassus, a coastal city in southwestern Asia Minor (modern Turkey), probably around BCE and, to judge from the fact that he doesn't appear to know about events in Greek history after the early 's, his death probably occurred no later than BCE. Besides that, we know little about the man himself, other than that he most likely spent a significant amount of his life in Athens where his Histories proved quite popular.

So far as we know, he also wrote only one work, The Histories, a lengthy investigation of the Persian Wars ( BCE), the epic struggle between the much smaller Greek city-states of the West and their foe to the East, the enormous Persian Empire. Herodotus not only documented this pivotal moment in Greek history&#;the course of all subsequent European civilization would have been far different if this war had gone in Persia's favor&#;but The Histories also stand as the earliest known example of historical investigation in this part of the world, the West's premiere attempt to research its past. With that, Herodotus has been dubbed "the Father of History."

The Histories reveal a few other things about the man who wrote them. For instance, if his date of birth is even roughly correct, Herodotus was a child during the Persian Wars and could not have been an eyewitness to most of the events recorded in The Histories, which means his testimony cannot constitute primary evidence. Rather, he must have traveled around the Mediterranean world asking people questions, a type of historical investigation called oral history. From that, he attempted to formulate a coherent story of the events which had occurred before his lifetime and led up to the Persian Wars. Indeed, the very name he chose to give his work attests to this method of research, in that the Greek word historia comes from a base which means "to question, make an inquiry, investigate." The plural of historia in Greek is historiai and that is the Greek name of Herodotus' masterpiece, literally "The Questions."

Moreover, this work also suggests its author's social standing. That Herodotus more than once mentions prices and numerical information is a strong indication that he had a middle-class upbringing and probably traveled across the ancient world as a merchant of some sort, conducting business while he collected the data that constitute his Histories. This stands in stark contrast to almost all other ancient historians, who tend to come from or be attached to aristocratic families and usually do not mention information about economics or practical details of daily life&#;common sense dictates that people who don't work for a living aren't likely to consider matters of basic subsistence as interesting as those who do&#;instead, they dwell on issues of philosophy, character and tradition.

Conversely, Herodotus does address the practicalities of life, which makes his work stand out from the rest of ancient history because of its bourgeois, working-class approach to the past. Thus, The Histories are not only the first known work of its type but also embrace a rare and special approach to studying the past. Herodotus' work is, without doubt, one of the most valuable documents in all of human history.

B. The Invention of History

It's reasonable to suppose, then, that as he went around doing business in various places, Herodotus asked people about their recollections of times gone by, the traditional tales they'd heard from their parents, grandparents and elders, and using those data, he attempted to formulate a coherent picture of the past. This methodology is well evidenced in The Histories where Herodotus often includes expressions like "The priests in Egypt told me . . .," an overt declaration that his histories are, at least in part, the product of oral research.

Such pronouncements are followed more than once with sensational stories of some sort&#;like the tale about the Egyptian king who prostituted his daughter for stones he then used to build his funeral monument&#;which does little to bolster confidence in their historical validity. More likely, these fabrications originated as propaganda concocted after the fact to discredit a former regime. This demonstrates well the peril of attempting this kind of historical investigation in which the researcher must depend on dubious and unverifiable sources. But if Herodotus were going to write any record of the past, he had little choice but to work from oral histories since in his day the written records of antiquity were fragmentary and often inaccessible to him. The problem with being the first historian in the world is that there aren't any other histories to rely on. All in all, Herodotus' account of the past seems burdened with much invented history.

Fortunately, these second-hand fictions, like all invented histories, are not completely without value. Even if they do not leave us with a definitive version of what-really-happened in early antiquity, the fabrications that freckle The Histories record at least the ancient Egyptians' or Babylonians' sense of what someone thought should have happened at some point in history. And if it doesn't even have that much historical basis, it sheds light on their sense of humor, how they had fun making up tales to tell gullible traveling Greek salesmen who pestered them with historical historiai.

Unfortunately, that's not the only problem for historians trying to use Herodotus' Histories to figure out what-really-happened around the time of the Persian Wars. More than once, Herodotus encountered sources which conflicted with one another, but then rather than analyzing them and trying to sift fact from fiction, he just dismisses the contradiction with something like "Some people say this and others say that," hardly the methodology of a scientific historian. To the contrary, he appears to revel in relating whatever shocking story has come his way and looks for ways to thread such material into his work, even if a tale is utterly outlandish&#;indeed, the more lurid and sensational the tale, the more he seems apt to include it&#;but especially if it plays into one of his particular fancies, that is, anything that proves the Delphic oracle is never wrong or involves women who are tall and beautiful or exposes the sexual perversity of foreigners. To many historians of our age, such themes and tone do not betoken a serious and professional approach to the study of the past; they are, rather, the casual ramblings of a raconteur.

Thus, the maddening blend of fable and fact, the mess of chatter and moralizing found in Herodotus' Histories, has earned its author the dubious honor of being dubbed "The Father of History and Lies." Especially in the nineteenth century when historians sought to cloak their discipline in the trappings of science, Herodotus' reputation suffered. But if some scholars have deplored his vulgar tactics&#;and there are those who still do&#;there are at least as many others, especially folklorists and those working in fields which look at culture more broadly than most historians, who have found in The Histories a trove of cultural wealth. In particular, with the recognition today that the study of history encompasses things which may not fall easily under the rubric of "science," that paradox and prevarication are endemic to the human condition, and that history as its product must make room for lies, bias and innuendo, many today would agree that "scientific history" is not the only valid way to approach the past and may well be an unattainable and unnecessary dream. To them, Herodotus is a true father.

But for historians of every ilk and disposition, Herodotus did something far more important, something all of them depend on and should be grateful for: he enabled history itself. By making excursions into the past a fun thing to read and listen to, he built an audience interested in the subject. We must never forget that before him there were no historians, no histories, no History Channel! So even if he ranges sometimes into the incredible, his ebullient and captivating style of narrating the past was a crucial element in creating a demand for the discipline itself.

And there was no better place in antiquity to do this than in the markets, bars and hotspots of ancient Athens where intellectually restless and boisterous crowds&#;the same inquisitive folk who lobbied for advances in philosophy, art and drama&#;demanded new thinking presented in novel ways, the very sort of "show" The Histories delivered. Indeed, to read Herodotus aloud is essentially to have the world's best "grandfather" at your bedside weaving you a gripping tale, full of intrigue, exploration and lessons about life. Listening to his work seems designed to make you laugh out loud at the foibles of fools, to weep at the deaths of noble patriots, to swell with pride at human courage and wisdom, to witness the awesome power of the gods, and even to take you on magical trips to faraway lands like Babylon, the grandest city in the ancient world. In sum, Herodotus' Histories are a comedy, a tragedy, an action movie, a Cecil B. DeMille epic and a tour book, all in one.

It follows then, that, to be all these things, Herodotus' work is somewhat discursive in its organization, and indeed more than once he wanders off the subject. Although the main thrust of The Histories is to tell the story of the wars between Greece and Persia that took place in the early fifth century, being the natural storyteller he is, Herodotus does not leap to the climax, or even start with the main story. Instead, he backs up in time, all the way to the early days of the Lydian Empire (ca. BCE), well before the Persians conquered Asia Minor and came into contact with Greek speakers and the Persian Wars took place, on the tenuous pretext that he must fill his listeners in on the backstory underlying the conflict he promises to narrate.

While not entirely unjustified, his real reason for doing this becomes apparent, as The Histories unfold. Clearly, Herodotus wanted to relate the many entertaining anecdotes he'd heard which are set in the remote past. By widening his sights to a greater swath of history than just the decade or so of the Persian Wars, he can speculate, for instance, about how the Egyptians built the Pyramids, and report on a debate about what's the oldest language, and even record the first people known to smoke marijuana. While little of what he says about these things is likely to be exactly correct&#;for example, he's dead wrong about the Pyramids&#;more to the point, all of it is interesting. Nevertheless, starting a history of the Persian Wars with an account of the early Lydian Empire is a little like beginning a history of the American Civil War with a biography of King George III! Yet composing sensible history is not the only goal at hand here, perhaps not even Herodotus' primary objective. His point is also to make the study of the past enjoyable for his listeners, and the entertainment value of The Histories is amply evident throughout.

C. Gyges and Candaules: The Story of the Lydian Succession

Map: Lydia (click to see larger image)Indeed, the first narrative in The Histories, the primordial piece of Western history if you will, focuses on a palace scandal that took place more than a century before the Persian Wars. Set in Lydia (an ancient state in western Asia Minor), it tells the tale of how the Lydian monarchy changed from the family of the reigning king Candaules&#;whose roots, according to Herodotus, could be traced all the way back to the mythological hero Hercules&#;and came into the hands of his servant Gyges. A cocktail of fact and fancy, with ample helpings of sex and violence, this story is just the type of tale to catch the eyes and ears of Herodotus' public (Histories ).

The old king Candaules of Lydia was deeply in love with his wife and believed her the most beautiful woman in the world. He even talked about it openly with his servant, a man named Gyges in whom he confided all his secrets, especially about how pretty he thought his wife was. While it took some time to happen, that was the beginning of his troubles.

One day, he said to Gyges, "Gyges, I don't think you believe me when I say how beautiful my wife is. Men don't trust their ears as much as their eyes. What you need is to see her naked!"

Gyges gasped out loud and said, "O Master, what do you mean by saying something perverted like that? Telling me to see my mistress naked? You know, you take a woman's clothes off and you take off her decency, too! There's an old saying, a lesson for us all, and something worth thinking about: Mind your own business! Believe me, I believe you. She's the prettiest woman on earth. But don't make me do something illegal!" That was his reply. He didn't want anything to happen he might regret.

But Candaules answered him, "Don't worry, Gyges. I wasn't testing you by saying that. And my wife isn't trying to do you any harm, either. It's a plan I have, really I do. She won't even know you've seen her. Listen to this! I'll put you in our bedroom, the one we share, behind an open door. You see, after I go to bed, she comes in and joins me. Near the doorway there's a chair, where she sets her clothes down as she's undressing. That'll give you plenty of opportunity to see her. Then she walks from the chair to the bed. You'll be behind her, get it? Just don't let her see you as you find your way out."

But for Gyges there was no way out, so he got ready. When it was bedtime for the king, Candaules led Gyges into his room, and very soon the queen appeared there, too. She came in and took her clothing off, and Gyges saw her. The woman turned her back and headed for the bed, and he sneaked out quietly&#;and the woman saw him going out! She knew, too, that it was her husband's doing, so she didn't scream or look ashamed or even act like she knew. You see, she, too, had a plan, to pay Candaules back&#;among the Lydians, it's true, as well as other barbarians, you hardly ever see a man who's naked; to them it's a big disgrace&#;instead, she didn't let on at all, just went to sleep.

But first thing the next morning, she called her servants, the ones she trusted best to protect her, and summoned Gyges to her. He had no idea she knew what had happened, so he came when she summoned him. After all, that's what he always did, when the queen summoned him, came.

Upon Gyges' arrival, the queen said, "Now there are two ways for you to go here, Gyges. I grant you your choice. Take whichever path you want. One, kill Candaules and take me and the Kingdom of the Lydians. Two, you yourself die right here on the spot, yes, as a lesson not to always heed Candaules or in the future see things you shouldn't see. Someone has to die, you see: the one who planned this thing, or you, the one who saw me naked and that's illegal."

Gyges just stood there amazed for a moment, and after a while began begging her not to make him make a choice like that. It didn't work. And finally it dawned on him, the fact that he would either have to kill his master or be killed by others. He chose to stick around but asked her first, "Since you're forcing me to murder my master, something I don't want, let me hear from you the way we'll handle it."

She answered, saying, "From the same spot the attack came, the very place he displayed me naked. When he's asleep, that's the way we'll handle it." And so they put their plan together.

After night had fallen&#;now you understand Gyges had no way out of this but someone had to die, he or Candaules, one of them!&#;he followed the woman to the bed-chamber. And she gave him a dagger and hid him behind the very same door. And later when Candaules had retired, he sneaked up and killed him, taking both his woman and the kingdom, that's what Gyges did&#;in fact, it's mentioned by Archilochus of Paros, who lived at the same time, in a poem he wrote&#;Gyges took the kingdom of Lydia and ruled, and the reason is the Delphic Oracle confirmed him.

The Lydians, you see, took it very badly&#;Candaules' death, that is&#;and began raising troops. But an agreement was made between the supporters of Gyges and the rest of Lydians: if the oracle confirmed him as the King of the Lydians, he'd rule; but if not, he'd give his command back to the family of Hercules (Candaules' line). And the oracle did, in fact, confirm him, and so Gyges ruled. However, the priestess of Apollo also said that pay-back would come for the children of Hercules in the fifth generation from Gyges. Of this word, the Lydians and their kings took no note, until, of course, it came to pass.

Clearly, this is not "scientific" history. After all, how could Herodotus realistically know about what happened behind closed doors&#;particularly the bedroom doors of Lydian royalty!&#;more than a century before he lived? To be blunt, he&#;or someone else&#;made up the story above. It's an invented history whose basis in truth, if there is any, is buried deep beneath layers of gossip and propaganda.

What is clear is not what-really-happened-in-the-past, but what-Herodotus-and-his-audience-really-liked. Their collective fascination with stories of this sort is, in fact, all too clear, as well as their fixation on foreigners and nobility and especially the erotic excesses of thrill-seeking aristocrats. It's a situation directly analogous to the modern interest in the escapades of European royals whose purported debaucheries and globe-trotting, wife-swapping ways are the staple of tabloids today.

And so it is from Herodotus, a master of both history and story&#;not necessarily in that order&#;in his uniquely provocative, ear-catching way, that we hear of the Persian Wars, a conflict which he casts as a sort of David-and-Goliath encounter in which the Greeks, greatly outnumbered, defeated the Persians against all odds. And there is no better type of history for a story-teller to tell!

II. The Background of the Persian Wars

To follow the course of the Persian Wars and understand their full significance, it's necessary first to review the history of both Persia and Greece as well as the political and cultural climate leading up to the conflict. After all, to begin things this way is exactly the way Herodotus does in his Histories.

A. The Persians

The Persians lived on the great Iranian plateau, east of Mesopotamia. This immense plain, about a million square miles in size, is bounded by the Indus River on the east and the Zagros Mountains on the west. The Indian Ocean lies to the south and the Caspian Sea and Armenian mountains to the north. A land of contrasts, Persia contains both deserts and fertile river valleys, hot summers and cold winters, mountain highlands and low-lying coastal swamps. It's rich in minerals and agricultural resources, but through most of early antiquity the people who inhabited it remained impoverished because the land was subject to frequent invasion and conquest due to its abundance of natural wealth.

1. Cyrus the Great

Thus, compared to the ancient civilizations around them like the Babylonians and Egyptians, it took a long time for the Persians to establish their political independence and to rise to prominence. Indeed, the first Persian king of note in ancient history is Cyrus the Great (II) who ascended to the throne sometime before BCE. By then, the Egyptian royal line could be traced back at least two thousand years.

Tomb of Cyrus (click to see larger image)Cyrus began his reign by organizing the Persian Empire and, only after consolidating his realm, did he begin to expand its domain. His first major conquest was that of the Medes, a people who lived immediately to the north of the Persians. Because Media (the land of the Medes) is closer to Greece than Persia, the Greeks confused the Medes and the Persians&#;Herodotus and most Greeks in his day referred to the Persian Wars as "the Median affair"&#;which only goes to show how little the Greeks prior to the Classical Age understood of the world around them. Surely, this is part of the impetus that lies behind Herodotus' Histories, the need to find out more about who's out there and why they attack.

After securing Media, Cyrus moved to the northwest and subdued Lydia in Asia Minor ( BCE)&#;Herodotus uses this conquest as an excuse to begin his Histories with the salacious tale of Gyges and Candaules, cited above&#;in Lydia, Cyrus' campaign was famous for its siege of Sardis, the capital of the land. In fact, the mound he built there to take down the city was so large it can still be seen among the archaeological remains of Sardis.

Turning south, he next conquered Babylon, bringing all of Mesopotamia under Persian rule. There, he freed the ancient Hebrews who by then had endured the "Babylonian Captivity" for half a century. In gratitude for the Persian conqueror's mercy, the Old Testament recalls Cyrus with some fondness but, unfortunately for both, Cyrus died soon thereafter ( BCE), still in the prime of his life.

His son and successor, Cambyses (II), started off his reign well but, as time passed, turned out to be a mere shadow of the man his father had been. In BCE Cambyses did what very few generals in antiquity were ever able to do: he conquered and occupied Egypt, a land well protected by natural boundaries. But then, smitten with the success of this tremendous prize, Cambyses planned military exploits beyond the capacity of the burgeoning Persian Empire and, in doing so, made the fatal error of failing to consolidate his power base.

The inevitable happened. Rebellion broke out back in Persia and, as the young king was returning to quell it, his own courtiers assassinated him. Thus, like his father, Cambyses died relatively young, but unlike Cyrus, left behind no adult male heir.

2. Darius

Darius (click to see larger image)A successional crisis ensued, out of which arose a strong and formidable leader, Darius, who ultimately restored order to the Persian Empire. Because he was a distant relative of Cambyses by blood&#;and his brother-in-law, to boot&#;Darius was able to stake a claim to the throne, the real merit of which was his strong drive to rule. Nevertheless, he had to spend his first years in power suppressing rebellions all across the Near East and was only acknowledged as king by all Persian subjects in BCE.

Wisely, then, Darius set about not attempting to conquer new territory but instead reorganized his empire into satrapies, administrative districts run by provincial governors called satraps who answered to the king directly. This system would last for nearly two centuries and withstand several political and military crises. The later Romans&#;and many other conquerors since&#;have used Darius' division of his empire into provinces as a model for how to govern an extensive domain.

In another attempt to consolidate his state and government, Darius also sponsored a new religion, Zoroastrianism, which had already begun to rise in popularity before he came to power. At the heart of this belief-system lay a core of myths which feature a cosmic battle between the forces of light and dark. The religion, then, called on worshipers to assist the principal god of light, Ahura-Mazda, in his struggle to defeat the forces of dark. Such "dualism" was attractive to many at the time, among them the Hebrews who during much of the sixth century were enslaved in Babylon. Some scholars suggest that the character called the "Devil" finds its earliest roots here.

Map: Persian Empire (click to see larger image)Darius also perfected a road system running across the majority of his kingdom, all the way from Sardis in western Asia Minor across two mountain ranges to Susa, a city northwest of Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire in southern Iran. Along this highway, known as the Royal Road, were posted elite riders who carried messages back and forth from station to station on horseback, much like the pony express in the early American West. Of them, Herodotus notes "neither snow nor rain nor heat nor dark of night will keep these swift messengers from the accomplishment of their appointed rounds." In modern times, these words have been used to describe the U.S. Postal Service.

Despite all these successes, not least of which was bringing peace, prosperity and stability to the Persian Empire, Darius failed as king in one crucial regard: conquest. After two decades on the throne, he had subjugated almost no new territory. Herodotus snidely sums up the early rulers of Persia this way: Cyrus was "a father," Cambyses "a master" and Darius "a shopkeeper." The heat was on to expand.

B. The Ionian Revolution

The Persians were not, however, the only people growing and trying to stretch the boundaries of their influence. In the wake of the Assyrians' devastating conquest of Phoenicia in the eighth century BCE&#;up till then, the Phoenicians had controlled the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea&#;the Greeks also were beginning to expand their commercial interests and trading network across this region. They had colonized, in particular, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which brought them into direct contact with the Persians, a confrontation which would ultimately turn violent.

Inhabiting as they did the frontier between the new rising European powers in the West and the huge ancient empires of the East, the Greeks who lived in the southwestern part of Asia Minor, a land at that time called Ionia&#;hence the people there were called Ionians&#;were by nature and habit a restless, curious and energetic people at the hub of much intercultural exchange. Besides making improvements in navigation and measurement, they also entertained new and challenging ways of thinking. Principally, out of Ionia in the second half of the sixth century BCE (ca. ) emerged innovative modes of thought which for the first time in Western history was not expressed in theological terms. This movement was called the Ionian Revolution.

Thus, the Ionians became the first people in Western Civilization to approach the study of nature the way scientists do and began asking questions about the world which still dominate philosophy and science, such as "Where does everything come from?" and "Why does it work the way it does?" To wit, our very word element is a vestige of the debate among Ionian philosophers of this day who argued over which "element"&#;earth, air, fire or water&#;preceded and underlay all others. Substitute quark, squark, graviton and Higgs boson, and modern physicists are still deliberating the same basic issue.

Herodotus who came from Ionia can be seen in one way as just another product of the intellectual restlessness infecting this corner of the world. Like his compatriots in the sciences, he sought the underlying nature and causes of things, in this case, what caused the Persian Wars. To him, the real reasons this conflict happened lay in its origins, its "elements," that is, the background and nature of the peoples who were drawn into the wars. Thus, his Histories, in effect, reproduce the science of his day by applying its principles not to matter but to human beings&#;how ironic, then, that it is the "scientific" historians of the our age who have as a rule resisted Herodotus' brand of history&#;he clearly thought he was making "science" and, by the standards of the day, he was! Yet his was not the only arena to be affected by the new "Ionian" thinking.

C. The Ionian Revolt and the Birth of Democracy

Once established, the new philosophies coming out of Ionia began turning traditional Greek belief structures and social systems upside down, presenting the entire Greek-speaking world with challenges of all sorts. First, formal religion came under devastating fire from the Ionian philosophers. This gave rise to innovative cults like the Pythagoreans, a sect based on the reverence of mathematical principles and dedicated to the exploration of numerical harmonies in nature. The famous "Pythagorean theorem"&#;the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides&#;is still an important element in the study of geometry today. In antiquity, however, the discovery of this relationship was a secret long kept hidden by the Pythagorean cult, which regrettably along with aristocratic snobbery about economics helped to stifle the growth of mathematics in the ancient world.

As it so often does, politics soon followed religion. Amidst the inquisition of all things standard and accepted, traditional governments in Ionia and other Greek-speaking city-states started to falter and collapse, their potentates and senior councils unable to meet the challenges posed when free thought is unleashed in a society. Indeed, nothing less than Athenian democracy, the paradigm of all subsequent participatory governments in the West, was born from the conflagration of entrenched regimes as the fire of the Ionian Revolution spread out of its homeland and through much of the Greek world toward the end of the sixth century ( BCE).

All this stood in stark contrast to what was happening in Persia. Now organized under Darius into an efficient bureaucracy of satraps and slaves, the Persian Empire was not at all in tune with the sorts of changes rolling over and out of Ionia. To the contrary, the Persians dealt best with conventional, authoritarian states like their own, where potentates and gods&#;or, better, potentates as gods&#;held sway, not elected councils of philosophers who sat around debating the nature of nature and made decisions amidst a storm of elemental particles. The collision of these particular strong forces was an inevitable product of their colliding worlds and world views.

And so it happened. BCE turned into one of those moments in history, like 44 BCE in Rome or, more recently, in Europe, a year when everything simply exploded. All the turbulent currents that churned beneath calm-looking waters suddenly surfaced and threw society and government into chaos. The maelstrom of social and political unrest became so intense that still today it isn't clear exactly what precipitated the chaos which erupted in Ionia around BCE. Indeed, even in the city of Athens, our best source for history in this age, it's impossible to say precisely what occurred at the end of the century ( BCE). The Athenian records have been lost or were intentionally destroyed&#;if they ever existed at all&#;of those tumultuous years.

This much we do know: the Athenians were somehow at the heart of it all. Infected like many Greek city-states by the Ionian revolutionary bug, they had ousted their ruler, a tyrant named Hippias, the decade before ( BCE). Within a year or two of that, power was handed over to the popular assemblies&#;before then, these assemblies served largely in an advisory capacity&#;and from that mayhem, the Athenians somehow forged a democracy. Then, as if to return the favor to their Ionian brethren, the Athenians sparked a political upheaval back in the homeland of the revolution itself. Ionia, too, fell victim to the virus of "mob rule"&#;that's the literal meaning of "democracy" (demokratia) in ancient Greek&#;and what had begun as a new way of looking at physics was now a global plague of anti-tyrannical flu.

In BCE a political movement to oust all tyrants from the city-states of Ionia began to grow, but from a very unexpected source. One of the reigning tyrants himself, Aristagoras of Miletus&#;Miletus is a city on the western coast of Asia Minor&#;ousted himself from power by abdicating his throne. Then he began preaching democratic ideals. The newly converted are always the loudest protesters, aren't they?

The enlightenment of this reformed former dictator induced a general expulsion of tyrants in and around Ionia and, to protect themselves from any attempt to reimpose tyranny, the newly freed cities formed an alliance called the Ionian League. This alliance subsequently launched a campaign to oust all tyrants anywhere nearby who would not step down of their own accord, even if the local populace did not necessarily want to be democratized. Having provoked this revolution to some extent, the Athenians joined in the crusade for involuntary independence, not bringing the Ionian League any massive support&#;Herodotus says they supplied only a few ships&#;but they had clearly made it known where they stood ideologically, on the side of freedom and demokratia.

Gathering its forces, the Ionian League marched north in BCE and, against all odds, captured Sardis, now the capital of Darius' Lydian satrapy, which brought them into direct conflict with the Persian Empire. Although hailed as liberators at first, amidst their victory celebrations following the defeat of the "tyrant," they burned Sardis to the ground&#;accidents do happen!&#;and that turned popular opinion against them. Indeed, furious at such wanton vandalism perpetrated in the course of their "liberation," the Lydians summoned the Persians back, and Darius who knew a good excuse for war when he heard one bore down hard on the Ionians.

Soon thereafter in a battle near the Ionian city of Ephesus, the Persian army defeated the Ionian League and forced it to disband. Aristagoras left the rebellion in disgust and fled to northern Greece where he was assassinated. With typical efficiency, the Persians finished off their struggling foe by besieging Aristagoras' hometown Miletus. When the city finally fell in BCE, the Persian army sacked it with savage vengeance in return for the burning of Sardis. The Ionian revolt was now officially history.

And suddenly liberty didn't look so good. Many of the free-thinkers and their professors and colleagues who had sparked the Ionian Revolution by introducing this new-fangled physics and philosophical questioning were compelled to leave town by sundown. More than one went to Athens&#;their natural ties of kinship and ideological sympathies with the Athenians led them there&#;and that, in turn, drew westward the jaundiced eye of the Persian king. War between Persia and Greece was all but inevitable at this point.

III. The First Persian War ( BCE)

But despite all that and all his political excuses and official declarations of war, the real reason Darius attacked Greece is far from clear. It can't be to seize the riches of Athens. There weren't any. It's true Darius needed to conquer something, since he'd overseen little expansion of Persian domain after by now more than two decades on the throne. It was indeed a Persian king's right&#;his obligation, in fact&#;to enslave some populace as a demonstration of Persian might. But why Greece? It offered little per se. Perhaps, Darius saw the Athenians as standing in the way of his westward progress to the far richer lands of Sicily and Italy. Whatever his reason, the Ionian Revolt gave him all the pretext he needed to move his forces against Greece. Those democracy-loving Athenians had been most disobedient and disrespectful, and they needed to be punished.

Early in the spring of BCE, as soon as travel by sea was possible&#;sudden and intense winter storms arise so often in the eastern Mediterranean that in antiquity it wasn't safe to cross open water from October to March&#;Darius led a naval expedition westward through the islands of the Aegean Sea (between Asia Minor and Greece). While not a large naval force, it was significantly greater than any the Greeks could outfit at that time. Thus, the king's forces met little resistance crossing the sea, as they aimed for a landing at Marathon, a small community northeast of Athens. The Greeks knew the Persian navy was coming, but because most feared the size and scope of the Persian forces bearing down on them&#;even the consummate warrior-state of Greece, the Spartans, found an excuse not to join the battle&#;the Athenians were left virtually all on their own to face the onslaught of Darius and his naval fury.

Map: Persian Wars (click to see larger image)The Greeks had one advantage, however, that the Persians did not: Greece itself, and especially the topography of Marathon which was not conducive for mounting the sort of overwhelming attack the king had planned. Nevertheless, the Persian navy landed and began debarking its forces in spite of fierce Athenian resistance. The ensuing Battle of Marathon was long and hard-fought&#;many Athenians died that day and their immense communal tomb still stands where they were buried near the battlefield&#;but, all in all, it turned out much as the Athenians had planned and hoped. The bulky Persian forces, accustomed to fighting on the flat, sweeping plains of the Near East, were never able to gain a real foothold and create effective military formations on the choppy turf of Marathon. In sum, Greece, as much as anything, saved the Greeks.

As the battle progressed, the Athenians ultimately gained the advantage, chasing the invaders down to the beach, and even inflicted damage on some of the Persians' ships as they headed back out to sea. A famous Athenian courier Phidippides&#;or Philippides, his exact name is unclear&#;raced home from the site of the battle at record speed. So excited at the Greeks' victory, when he reached Athens, he was able to say only "We won!" and died. Phidippides' run is commemorated today in the race named for the site of the battle. The distance from Marathon to Athens is, of course, just over twenty-six miles.

The spirits of the Greeks, particularly the Athenians, soared. They had beaten not only the Persians but the odds. And a glorious day it was, but only a moment's thrill, for they knew that Darius had hardly brought the full weight of the Persian Empire to bear on them. If he had, it's not likely they could have withstood the assault. Besides, Greece itself had really saved them and that lay at the heart of the imperious god-king's miscalculation, the tyrant's conviction that the stiff-backed, free-thinking Athenians would surely retreat in the face of such an overwhelming force. When all a person knows is slaves and satraps, he comes to expect that a beating will break, not stiffen, a person's back.

From almost the moment the battle was over, the Greeks also knew that the rebuff at Marathon, a fleeting insult at best, would in the long run serve only to make the king all the angrier and more resolved to crush them and, when he came back as he was bound to do, he would not make the same mistake twice. Next time he'd bring everything he had against them to ensure their defeat, destruction and eternal humiliation. At that moment, only the gods knew he never would, that in his stead would come upon the Greeks a foe who was even more determined and bitterer than the old king, Darius' son and heir Xerxes.

IV. The Second Persian War ( BCE)

A. BCE: The Decade Between the Wars

Though inevitable and clearly a direct consequence of the First Persian War, the next collision between Greek and Persian forces was forestalled for almost a decade by events which unfolded in both Greece and Persia.

In Athens, an important new leader arose named Themistocles. Nursed on Athens' burgeoning democracy, Themistocles was part of a new generation of Athenians skilled at using its new types of law to his personal benefit. For instance, among the reforms introduced with the institution of democracy two decades earlier was a provision known as "ostracism," a procedure for removing individuals unfriendly to the new Athenian government without having to execute them or instigate family feuds or internecine bloodshed. In an ostracism an assembly of citizens was called and, if more than six thousand votes were cast against one man in a secret ballot taken on ostraca&#;ostraca means in Greek "broken pieces of clay pottery"; these functioned as the ancient equivalent of waste paper&#;that man was exiled from Athens for ten years, but peaceably and without retribution to his relatives, friends or estate. Themistocles used this procedure to remove several of his political foes from power and, thus, rose to prominence in the city.

Meanwhile, back in Persia Darius was determined to get revenge on those wretched Greeks who had stood in the way of his divine imperative to rule the world. In the years following the First Persian War, he began gathering a stronger force than before but, before he could march on Greece a second time, the satrapy of Egypt revolted ( BCE). Forced to turn his attention to the Egyptians, he was about to march his great force against them when he unexpectedly died.

Trireme (click to see larger image)His son Xerxes (r. BCE) succeeded in ascending to the throne but then could not march against the Greeks immediately, because he had to spend the first two years of his reign suppressing the revolt in Egypt. Worse yet, while the new king was off in Egypt, the Babylonians revolted ( BCE). It proved a serious and fatal mistake on their part, for Xerxes put an end to both uprisings with typical Persian dispatch and carnage. By early BCE, with his kingdom and kingship secure, the young Persian king could at last turn his attention to the Greeks and the requittal of his father's sullied honor. Assembling his forces, he marched to Asia Minor in the spring of that year and began making preparations to invade the Greek mainland.

In the meantime back in Greece, the 's produced yet another surprise. In BCE workers in the Laurian mines of Attica (the area around Athens) opened up one of the richest veins of silver ever found there. Money poured into the city, at least one hundred talents, several fortunes by the standard of the day. Conservative, aristocratic elements in the Athenian government proposed distributing the money equally among the people, but Themistocles, now the head of the more liberal and forward-thinking faction, suggested building a new navy of ships called triremes, fast battle-cruisers of innovative design. Ultimately, Themistocles won the day&#;in large part by ostracizing his main political foe&#;and a new Athenian fleet was constructed, just in time for Xerxes' arrival.

B. The Second Persian War

In May of the next year ( BCE), Xerxes and his immense army left Sardis and headed north to the Hellespont (the straits between Europe and Asia). There, the Persian navy joined the King and, in order to facilitate the crossing, Xerxes' engineers had huge ropes constructed which they used to tie old ships together in a straight line across the narrow waters. Then they built a road over the top of these ships, in Herodotus' words, "paving the sea." But before Xerxes could lead his land forces over this "boat-bridge," strong winds and currents swept it downstream. The king was furious and, like the despot he was&#;and the god he believed he was!&#;he ordered his official whippers to flog the winds and chain the waters of the Hellespont for flouting his royal will. That is, after all, what any self-respecting king does when confronted with a rebellious slave: get out the whips, fire the brands and start reciting curses.

Xerxes' boat bridge (click to see larger image)Relishing the absurdity of the king's inflated ego, Herodotus dramatizes the scene, purporting to quote the very words which Xerxes ordered his whipsmen to pronounce as they punished the dire strait:

Sour water, the lord inflicts this justice here, for you have done him wrong without his ever having hurt you once. Indeed King Xerxes will go over you. Your feelings do not matter. It's right for no one on the earth to sacrifice to you. You are a muddy, salty stream.

Xerxes rebuilt his boat-bridge, and to this second effort the forces of nature were indeed more compliant&#;perhaps the punishment actually worked!&#;and so the Persians "marched" across the Hellespont. Xerxes' army was so large it took a full seven days and nights to move all of his forces to the other side. In fact, according to Herodotus, there were over five million people&#;this accounting shows his merchant mind at work&#;but he adds drily that this figure includes "prostitutes and bakers."

1. Xerxes' Passage Through Greece

Hugging the coast so the navy could stay close by for protection, the Persian army passed easily through northern Greece. Indeed, the majority of cities in the area capitulated to the Great King&#;the ancient Greeks had a verb for "capitulating to the Persians," "to medize" (that is, "go Persian") which recalls their confusion of Medes and Persians&#;especially when the northern Greeks saw the size and scope of his forces. But like his father, Xerxes' passage was made complicated and perilous, not by the Greeks, but Greece itself. Northern Greece consists mostly of rough terrain, rocky and mountainous, and there were many Persian lives lost and ships sunk as Xerxes' forces wound their way south.

Given the dual nature of this expedition moving both by sea and land, the Persian army at one point along their journey south had no choice but to follow an inlet which led them to a narrow pass called Thermopylae&#;literally "the Hot Gates" because there were hot springs in the surrounding cliffs&#;it was an area the Greeks knew well. Seeing that the Persians would have to march through this cramped passage which allowed no more than a few men to walk abreast, the Greek commanders decided to try to make a stand there. If they stood any chance against the mighty army of the king, it would be in a place like this where he would not be able to marshal all his forces at once against them. They decided at the same time to confront the Persian navy near there along the coast, where hazardous waters might lessen the advantage the king's great number of ships provided him. And so it did. A great storm blew up and destroyed a third of Xerxes' navy as it was stationed in the straits that lead to Athens.

Thus, the stage was set for the famous Battle of Thermopylae ( BCE). Because the Persians' land forces were prevented from advancing by their Greek counterpart which had stationed itself in the narrows, it meant their navy&#;even after all the disasters it had encountered, it still outnumbered the Greek naval forces by two to one&#;could not proceed to Athens either. Having no other option, the Persians tried for three days in succession to push their way through, but the stubborn Greeks resisted and repulsed them over and over. The tactic of using Mother Nature as an ally had worked brilliantly for the Greeks ten years before at Marathon and so it did again, and would, no doubt, have continued to do so indefinitely, if it had not been for Human Nature.

When the Persians saw that force was not going to prevail, they resorted to deceit. From a traitorous native who knew the terrain, they learned about a trail that wound around the pass. Xerxes' elite guard&#;they were called "The Immortals" because, whenever one died, another immediately replaced him&#;followed this turncoat to the other end of the pass and led a surprise attack on the Greeks' rear guard. After Leonidas, the Spartan king in charge of the Greek forces at Thermopylae, saw that he and his men had been caught in a trap, he dismissed everyone except for three hundred of his best fighters, all Spartan volunteers who chose to stay with their king and forestall the Persian advance as long as they could, while the rest of the Greek army withdrew to Athens.

With nothing to lose at this point, knowing full well they were going to die, Leonidas and his three-hundred Spartans advanced out of the protection of the narrow pass and, because they were superb warriors&#;Spartans like Leonidas spent most of their lives training for combat&#;they inflicted heavy losses on the Persians. When at last they retreated, exhausted from continuous fighting, the Persian army closed in on them, and the Spartans died fighting to a man. The Greek poet Simonides composed an epitaph of unparalleled simplicity and beauty to honor these valiant warriors:

Stranger, tell the Spartans: here we stayed.
When they gave the order, we obeyed.

Thermopylae was, in the end, hardly a victory for the Greeks, but it showed Xerxes&#;just as Marathon had shown Darius&#;that conquering Greece was not going to be easy. Besides bolstering patriotism, the courageous self-sacrifice of Leonidas and his men won the Greeks two significant advantages. First, it bought them the time necessary to reorganize and assemble their forces for the great and decisive and inevitable sea-battle to come, what had to happen when such great navies were brought into such close proximity. Second and more important, it gave them a chance to prepare for Xerxes' invasion of Attica which by now was inevitable, too.

2. The Battle of Salamis

With Thermopylae behind him, nothing much stood between the king and the city he so hated, in fact, nothing at all after Thebes "medized," the only remaining Greek city-state of any significance blocking his passage south. Xerxes could now fulfill his father's mission to capture Athens and, with that, avenge the Ionians' destruction of Sardis, Darius' humiliation at Marathon and the many insults his dignity and divinity had suffered at the hands of these insufferable Greeks who resisted reason and the fate everyone knew was theirs.

And so he did, with vicious anger&#;he seized Athens, which the Greeks had evacuated, and torched most of the city, including the old wooden Temple of Athena on the Acropolis (an upcropping of rock at the center of the city). Watching Athens burn must have given him a great sense of satisfaction. But sequestered and crowded on an island nearby, the Athenians saw it, too, and now had their own reason for revenge.

In many ways, what happens next, what might be called "Xerxes' folly," plays out like a Greek tragedy, in which the central character rises to his greatest glory only to fall precipitously to doom and despair. While this perception of the situation is surely due, at least in part, to the sensibilities of the ancient Greeks who constitute our primary sources for the Persian Wars and who were weaned on tragic drama&#;no doubt, they couldn't help but see this moment in history as a piece of theatre&#;there's no doubt, either, that the king's momentary triumph in Greece was short-lived and his peripeteia (a term for a sudden "change of fortune" in a play) comes as abruptly as that of any character in tragedy. And like the great figures of the Greek stage who often move from joy to utter despair within the space of a single scene, Herodotus' narrative gives the impression Xerxes should have seen the imminent disaster lurking in the wings, awaiting its cue to enter, his fate.

Sitting in a smoldering Athens, the king faced several major problems. First, Attica offered him little more than personal satisfaction. Greece, in general, is not a rich land agriculturally, and Xerxes had five million or so mouths to feed. Furthermore, the delay at Thermopylae had given the Athenians the time to take what stores of food they had with them in flight. So, in ensuring he didn't repeat his father's mistake and underestimate the resistance which the Greeks might put up, he had brought with him an immense expedition, unprecedented in its size, according to Herodotus at least. But that created a different problem for Xerxes from his father's woes, how to feed and house so many soldiers&#;and prostitutes and bakers.

Worse yet, it was getting late in the year&#;those costly delays, again!&#;and the storms of winter would soon make the seas around Greece impassable. If that happened, the Persian navy, possibly even the king's own person, would be forced to winter in Greece, far too primitive and dangerous a land to harbor his royal presence. If he wanted a warm bath, no doubt, he'd have to go all the way back to Thermopylae.

The Battle of Salamis (click to see larger image)All this meant that the Greeks, though exiled from their homes, held one high card: since Xerxes was eager to resolve this conflict quickly, they could pick the time and place of the final confrontation. They decided to assemble the full complement of their sea forces near the island of Salamis close to Athens and face the Persian navy in the straits between the island and the mainland. Either entrance to the Bay of Salamis is narrow, which would force the Persian ships to break formation as they entered. That would give the Greeks' nimble but outnumbered triremes a better chance of defeating the Persian fleet since they didn't have to meet it all at once.

Believing that, after the Greeks saw for themselves his superior forces which were greater in both size and strength, they would buckle under and retreat, Xerxes had a throne set up on the cliffs overlooking the bay where he could sit and watch the conflict to come. From that commanding view, he ordered his navy to advance into the narrows and the Battle of Salamis began. As ship after ship from the king's armada passed through the straits into the bay, entering only a few at a time because that's all that could fit, the Greeks picked them off. Still worse for the Persians, those ships which saw the trap and tried to turned around and escape ran headlong into their fellow galleys entering the bay. More than one Persian cruiser was rammed and sunk by one of its own comrades that day. So many of Xerxes' men drowned in the waters around Salamis that for weeks, even months after the battle, Persian bodies were washing up on the shores near Athens. And the king watched it all unfold sitting in his front-row seat above the bay and, no doubt, cursed these "sour" waters, too.

3. The Battle of Plataea

Persepolis (click to see larger image)But even after suffering such a massacre, the Persians' forces still outnumbered those of the Greeks, by as much as three to one. Xerxes, however, had had enough of these western upstarts and, afraid that they might take the offensive and try to prevent his return to Persia, he ordered the Persian navy to retreat to Asia Minor. The lesson of Cambyses' over-appetite for conquest, the grim prelude to his assassination, surely preyed on Xerxes' mind. After all, for a conqueror whose reach exceeds his grasp, more danger lies at home than abroad. So, leaving behind a good part of his land force, not a negligible army by any means but nothing like that with which he had launched himself into Greece, Xerxes retreated quickly eastward, returning to Sardis and eventually the safety of Persepolis.

In the king's stead, one of his generals Mardonius stayed behind in Greece to command the remaining Persian army. He and his forces withdrew from Athens and wintered in Thebes, the safer, "medized" city of the north. When the fighting season opened in the spring of the next year ( BCE), the Persians prepared to mount yet another assault on Athens. As Mardonius advanced, once again the Athenians were forced to withdraw from Attica. But the Persian general had learned an important lesson from Marathon and Salamis, not to fight Greeks in constricted areas. So he countered by withdrawing and waiting near the wider plains of Thebes, forcing the Greeks to meet him on land, on open terrain, on Persian terms for once.

They did and the result was the Battle of Plataea&#;Plataea was a small town between Thebes and Athens&#;but in this confrontation the Persians miscalculated yet once more. Misconstruing one of the Greek army's movements as a cowardly retreat, Mardonius ordered his troops to attack, believing he had an advantage, which he did not. After a hard fight, the Persian line eventually collapsed, and Mardonius died bravely leading his forces himself. What remained of Xerxes' army fled home to Persia by any means it could. The Greeks rejoiced and celebrated their victory by besieging Thebes, capturing it and killing everyone who'd "medized," for now they were free to do whatever democracy demanded.

V. Conclusion: Herodotus and the Persian Wars

The Persian Wars mark an important turning point not only in Greek history but, indeed, in the course of all European civilization. First and foremost, because of its victory Greece was saved from the threat of external rule and could develop on its own. Handed this independence, the Greeks chose to follow a path which forever changed the course of modern life. Without their success in this conflict, they would, no doubt, never have had the liberty, means or conviction to invent, discover or create all they did: not just history but philosophy, science, drama, art, architecture, indeed most of the cornerstones of modern civilization.

Another consequence of this victory, less immediate but equally important, was that it prevented the Persians from dominating the lands to the west of Greece&#;as noted above, it's likely the fertile fields of Italy and Sicily, not the rough dust of Greece, were the real target of Xerxes' imperial designs&#;and there a tiny settlement called Rome had just begun to sprout, at that moment hardly a dot on the map, but it would later develop into a crucial player in the history of the West. Rome won freedom, too, in the Persian Wars, without ever fielding a single fighter. It's impossible to imagine how vastly different our world would be if Persia had conquered or exterminated the Romans before they'd ever had a chance to grow.

Thus, the Greeks laid the groundwork for later Western culture, and Herodotus the foundation for understanding it. If so many of his facts look suspect or even prove incorrect, if he sometimes seems to set speculation and scandal over sober criticism and science, before condemning him we should recall that he founded this entire enterprise called history, a discipline which still bears the name he gave it. His critics should also bear in mind it's only because Herodotus set us on this path that we can even scorn his methods in the first place. To this most uncommon "common man," we owe an enormous collective debt. He is the Father of History&#;period!

The Greco-Persian Wars Explained

Greco-Persian Wars

"Persian Wars" redirects here. For other uses, see Persian Wars (disambiguation).

5th-century BCE series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Persian Empire and Greek city-states

The Greco-Persian Wars (also often called the Persian Wars) were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire and Greek city-states that started in BC[i] and lasted until BC. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus the Great conquered the Greek-inhabited region of Ionia in BC. Struggling to control the independent-minded cities of Ionia, the Persians appointed tyrants to rule each of them. This would prove to be the source of much trouble for the Greeks and Persians alike.

In BC, the tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, embarked on an expedition to conquer the island of Naxos, with Persian support;[4] however, the expedition was a debacle and, preempting his dismissal, Aristagoras incited all of Hellenic Asia Minor into rebellion against the Persians. This was the beginning of the Ionian Revolt, which would last until BC, progressively drawing more regions of Asia Minor into the conflict. Aristagoras secured military support from Athens and Eretria, and in BC these forces helped to capture and burn the Persian regional capital of Sardis. The Persian king Darius the Great vowed to have revenge on Athens and Eretria for this act. The revolt continued, with the two sides effectively stalemated throughout – BC. In BC, the Persians regrouped and attacked the epicenter of the revolt in Miletus. At the Battle of Lade, the Ionians suffered a decisive defeat, and the rebellion collapsed, with the final members being stamped out the following year.

Seeking to secure his empire from further revolts and from the interference of the mainland Greeks, Darius embarked on a scheme to conquer Greece and to punish Athens and Eretria for the burning of Sardis. The first Persian invasion of Greece began in BC, with the Persian general Mardonius successfully re-subjugating Thrace and Macedon before several mishaps forced an early end to the rest of the campaign. In BC a second force was sent to Greece, this time across the Aegean Sea, under the command of Datis and Artaphernes. This expedition subjugated the Cyclades, before besieging, capturing and razing Eretria. However, while en route to attack Athens, the Persian force was decisively defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon, ending Persian efforts for the time being.

Darius then began to plan to completely conquer Greece but died in BC and responsibility for the conquest passed to his son Xerxes. In BC, Xerxes personally led the second Persian invasion of Greece with one of the largest ancient armies ever assembled. Victory over the allied Greek states at the famous Battle of Thermopylae allowed the Persians to torch an evacuated Athens and overrun most of Greece. However, while seeking to destroy the combined Greek fleet, the Persians suffered a severe defeat at the Battle of Salamis. The following year, the confederated Greeks went on the offensive, decisively defeating the Persian army at the Battle of Plataea, and ending the invasion of Greece by the Achaemenid Empire.

The allied Greeks followed up their success by destroying the rest of the Persian fleet at the Battle of Mycale, before expelling Persian garrisons from Sestos ( BC) and Byzantium ( BC). Following the Persian withdrawal from Europe and the Greek victory at Mycale, Macedon and the city-states of Ionia regained their independence. The actions of the general Pausanias at the siege of Byzantium alienated many of the Greek states from the Spartans, and the anti-Persian alliance was therefore reconstituted around Athenian leadership, called the Delian League. The Delian League continued to campaign against Persia for the next three decades, beginning with the expulsion of the remaining Persian garrisons from Europe. At the Battle of the Eurymedon in BC, the League won a double victory that finally secured freedom for the cities of Ionia. However, the League's involvement in the Egyptian revolt by Inaros II against Artaxerxes I (from – BC) resulted in a disastrous Greek defeat, and further campaigning was suspended. A Greek fleet was sent to Cyprus in BC, but achieved little, and, when it withdrew, the Greco-Persian Wars drew to a quiet end. Some historical sources suggest the end of hostilities was marked by a peace treaty between Athens and Persia, the Peace of Callias.


Herodotus, the main historical source for this conflict

All the surviving primary sources for the Greco-Persian Wars are Greek; no contemporary accounts survive in other languages. By far the most important source is the fifth-century Greek historian Herodotus. Herodotus, who has been called the "Father of History",[6] was born in BC in Halicarnassus, Asia Minor (then part of the Persian empire). He wrote his 'Enquiries' (Greek Historia, English (The) Histories) around – BC, trying to trace the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars, which would still have been recent history.[7] Herodotus's approach was novel and, at least in Western society, he invented 'history' as a discipline.[7] As historian Tom Holland has it, "For the first time, a chronicler set himself to trace the origins of a conflict not to a past so remote so as to be utterly fabulous, nor to the whims and wishes of some god, nor to a people's claim to manifest destiny, but rather explanations he could verify personally."[7]

Some later ancient historians, starting with Thucydides, criticized Herodotus and his methods.[8][9] Nevertheless, Thucydides chose to begin his history where Herodotus left off (at the siege of Sestos) and felt Herodotus's history was accurate enough not to need re-writing or correcting.[9]Plutarch criticised Herodotus in his essay "On The Malignity of Herodotus", describing Herodotus as "Philobarbaros" (barbarian-lover) for not being pro-Greek enough, which suggests that Herodotus might actually have done a reasonable job of being even-handed.[10] A negative view of Herodotus was passed on to Renaissance Europe, though he remained well read. However, since the 19th century, his reputation has been dramatically rehabilitated by archaeological finds that have repeatedly confirmed his version of events.[11] The prevailing modern view is that Herodotus did a remarkable job in his Historia, but that some of his specific details (particularly troop numbers and dates) should be viewed with skepticism.[11] Nevertheless, there are still some historians who believe Herodotus made up much of his story.[12]

The military history of Greece between the end of the second Persian invasion of Greece and the Peloponnesian War (– BC) is not well supported by surviving ancient sources. This period, sometimes referred to as the pentekontaetia (πεντηκονταετία, the Fifty Years) by ancient writers, was a period of relative peace and prosperity within Greece.[13][14] The richest source for the period, and also the most contemporaneous, is Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, which is generally considered by modern historians to be a reliable primary account.[15][16][17] Thucydides only mentions this period in a digression on the growth of Athenian power in the run up to the Peloponnesian War, and the account is brief, probably selective and lacks any dates.[18][19] Nevertheless, Thucydides's account can be, and is, used by historians to draw up a skeleton chronology for the period, on to which details from archaeological records and other writers can be superimposed.[18]

More detail for the whole period is provided by Plutarch, in his biographies of Themistocles, Aristides and especially Cimon. Plutarch was writing some years after the events in question, and is therefore a secondary source, but he often names his sources, which allows some degree of verification of his statements.[20] In his biographies, he draws directly from many ancient histories that have not survived, and thus often preserves details of the period that are omitted in Herodotus and Thucydides's accounts. The final major existing source for the period is the universal history (Bibliotheca historica) of the 1st century BC Sicilian, Diodorus Siculus. Much of Diodorus's writing about this period is drawn from the much earlier Greek historian Ephorus, who also wrote a universal history.[21] Diodorus is also a secondary source and often derided by modern historians for his style and inaccuracies, but he preserves many details of the ancient period found nowhere else.[22]

Further scattered details can be found in Pausanias's Description of Greece, while the ByzantineSuda dictionary of the 10th century AD preserves some anecdotes found nowhere else. Minor sources for the period include the works of Pompeius Trogus (epitomized by Justinus), Cornelius Nepos and Ctesias of Cnidus (epitomized by Photius), which are not in their original textual form. These works are not considered reliable (especially Ctesias), and are not particularly useful for reconstructing the history of this period.[23][24]

A few physical remnants of the conflict have been found by archaeologists. The most famous is the Serpent Column in Istanbul, which was originally placed at Delphi to commemorate the Greek victory at Plataea. In , Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos found the remains of numerous Persian arrowheads at the Kolonos Hill on the field of Thermopylae, which is now generally identified as the site of the defender's last stand.[25]

Origins of the conflict

The Greeks of the classical period believed that, in the dark age that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, significant numbers of Greeks fled and had emigrated to Asia Minor and settled there.[26][27] Modern historians generally accept this migration as historic (but separate from the later colonization of the Mediterranean by the Greeks).[28][29] There are, however, those who believe the Ionian migration cannot be explained as simply as the classical Greeks claimed.[30] These settlers were from three tribal groups: the Aeolians, Dorians and Ionians. The Ionians had settled about the coasts of Lydia and Caria, founding the twelve cities that made up Ionia.[26] These cities were Miletus, Myus and Priene in Caria; Ephesus, Colophon, Lebedos, Teos, Clazomenae, Phocaea and Erythrae in Lydia; and the islands of Samos and Chios.[31] Although the Ionian cities were independent of one another, they recognized their shared heritage and supposedly had a common temple and meeting place, the Panionion.[ii] They thus formed a 'cultural league', to which they would admit no other cities, or even other tribal Ionians.[32][33]

The cities of Ionia remained independent until they were conquered by the Lydians of western Asia Minor. The Lydian king Alyattes attacked Miletus, a conflict that ended with a treaty of alliance between Miletus and Lydia, that meant that Miletus would have internal autonomy but follow Lydia in foreign affairs.[34] At this time, the Lydians were also in conflict with the Median Empire, and the Milesians sent an army to aid the Lydians in this conflict. Eventually a peaceable settlement was established between the Medes and the Lydians, with the Halys River set up as the border between the kingdoms.[35] The famous Lydian king Croesus succeeded his father Alyattes in around BC and set about conquering the other Greek city states of Asia Minor.[36]

The Persian prince Cyrus led a rebellion against the last Median king Astyages in BC. Cyrus was a grandson of Astyages and was supported by part of the Median aristocracy.[37] By BC, the rebellion was over, and Cyrus had emerged victorious, founding the Achaemenid Empire in place of the Median kingdom in the process.[37] Croesus saw the disruption in the Median Empire and Persia as an opportunity to extend his realm and asked the oracle of Delphi whether he should attack them. The Oracle supposedly replied the famously ambiguous answer that "if Croesus was to cross the Halys he would destroy a great empire".[38] Blind to the ambiguity of this prophecy, Croesus attacked the Persians, but was eventually defeated and Lydia fell to Cyrus.[39] By crossing the Halys, Croesus had indeed destroyed a great empire – his own.

While fighting the Lydians, Cyrus had sent messages to the Ionians asking them to revolt against Lydian rule, which the Ionians had refused to do. After Cyrus finished the conquest of Lydia, the Ionian cities now offered to be his subjects under the same terms as they had been subjects of Croesus.[40] Cyrus refused, citing the Ionians' unwillingness to help him previously. The Ionians thus prepared to defend themselves, and Cyrus sent the Median general Harpagus to conquer them.[41] He first attacked Phocaea; the Phocaeans decided to abandon their city entirely and sail into exile in Sicily, rather than become Persian subjects (although many later returned).[42] Some Teians also chose to emigrate when Harpagus attacked Teos, but the rest of the Ionians remained, and were each in turn conquered.[43]

In the years following their conquest, the Persians found the Ionians difficult to rule. Elsewhere in the empire, Cyrus identified elite native groups such as the priesthood of Judea – to help him rule his new subjects. No such group existed in Greek cities at this time; while there was usually an aristocracy, this was inevitably divided into feuding factions. The Persians thus settled for sponsoring a tyrant in each Ionian city, even though this drew them into the Ionians' internal conflicts. Furthermore, certain tyrants might develop an independent streak and have to be replaced. The tyrants themselves faced a difficult task; they had to deflect the worst of their fellow citizens' hatred, while staying in the favour of the Persians.[44] In the past, Greek states had often been ruled by tyrants, but that form of government was on the decline. Past tyrants had also tended and needed to be strong and able leaders, whereas the rulers appointed by the Persians were simply place-men. Backed by Persian military might, these tyrants did not need the support of the population, and could thus rule absolutely.[45] On the eve of the Greco-Persian wars, it is probable that the Ionian population had become discontented and was ready for rebellion.[46]

Warfare in the ancient Mediterranean

In the Greco-Persian wars both sides made use of spear-armed infantry and light missile troops. Greek armies placed the emphasis on heavier infantry, while Persian armies favoured lighter troop types.[47][48]


The Persian military consisted of a diverse group of men drawn across the various nations of the empire.[49] However, according to Herodotus, there was at least a general conformity in armor and style of fighting.[47] The troops were usually armed with a bow, a 'short spear' and a sword or axe, and carried a wicker shield. They wore a leather jerkin,[47][50] although individuals of high status wore high-quality metal armor. The Persians most likely used their bows to wear down the enemy, then closed in to deliver the final blow with spears and swords.[47] The first rank of Persian infantry formations, the so-called 'sparabara', had no bows, carried larger wicker shields and were sometimes armed with longer spears. Their role was to protect the back ranks of the formation.[51] The cavalry probably fought as lightly armed missile cavalry.[47][52]


The style of warfare between the Greek city-states, which dates back until at least BC (as dated by the 'Chigi vase'), was based around the hoplitephalanx supported by missile troops.[48][53] The 'hoplites' were foot soldiers usually drawn from the members of the middle-classes (in Athens called the zeugites), who could afford the equipment necessary to fight in this manner.[49][54] The heavy armour usually included a breastplate or a linothorax, greaves, a helmet, and a large round, concave shield (the aspis or hoplon).[48] Hoplites were armed with long spears (the dory), which were significantly longer than Persian spears, and a sword (the xiphos). The heavy armour and longer spears made them superior in hand-to-hand combat and gave them significant protection against ranged attacks.[48] Lightly armed skirmishers, the psiloi also comprised a part of Greek armies growing in importance during the conflict; at the Battle of Plataea, for instance, they may have formed over half the Greek army.[55] Use of cavalry in Greek armies is not reported in the battles of the Greco-Persian Wars.

Naval warfare

At the beginning of the conflict, all naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean had switched to the trireme, a warship powered by three banks of oars. The most common naval tactics during the period were ramming (Greek triremes were equipped with a cast-bronze ram at the bows), or boarding by ship-borne marines.[49] More experienced naval powers had by this time also begun to use a manoeuver known as diekplous. It is not clear what this was, but it probably involved sailing into gaps between enemy ships and then ramming them in the side.[56]

The Persian naval forces were primarily provided by the seafaring people of the empire: Phoenicians, Egyptians, Cilicians and Cypriots.[57][58] Other coastal regions of the Persian Empire would contribute ships throughout the course of the wars.[57]

Preliminary contacts between Persia and mainland Greece ( BC)

In BC, Artaphernes, as brother of Darius I and Satrap of Asia Minor in his capital Sardis, received an embassy from newly democratic Athens, probably sent by Cleisthenes, which was looking for Persian assistance in order to resist the threats from Sparta.[60][61]Herodotus reports that Artaphernes had no previous knowledge of the Athenians, and his initial reaction was "Who are these people?".[60] Artaphernes asked the Athenians for "Water and Earth", a symbol of submission, if they wanted help from the Achaemenid king.[61] The Athenians ambassadors apparently accepted to comply, and to give "Earth and Water".[60] Artaphernes also advised the Athenians that they should receive back the Athenian tyrantHippias. The Persians threatened to attack Athens if they did not accept Hippias. Nevertheless, the Athenians preferred to remain democratic despite the danger from Persia, and the ambassadors were disavowed and censured upon their return to Athens.[60]

The Athenians dispatched envoys to Sardis, desiring to make an alliance with the Persians; for they knew that they had provoked the Lacedaemonians and Cleomenes to war. When the envoys came to Sardis and spoke as they had been bidden, Artaphrenes son of Hystaspes, viceroy of Sardis, asked them, "What men are you, and where dwell you, who desire alliance with the Persians?" Being informed by the envoys, he gave them an answer whereof the substance was, that if the Athenians gave king Dariusearth and water, then he would make alliance with them; but if not, his command was that they should begone. The envoys consulted together and consented to give what was asked, in their desire to make the alliance. So they returned to their own country, and were then greatly blamed for what they had done.

—&#;Herodotus [59]

There is a possibility that the Achaemenid ruler now saw the Athenians as subjects who had solemnly promised submission through the gift of "Earth and Water", and that subsequent actions by the Athenians, such as their intervention in the Ionian revolt, were perceived as a break of oath, and a rebellion to the central authority of the Achaemenid ruler.[60]

Ionian Revolt (– BC)

Main article: Ionian Revolt

The burning of Sardis by the Greeks and the Ionians during the Ionian Revolt in BC.

The Ionian Revolt and associated revolts in Aeolis, Doris, Cyprus, and Caria were military rebellions by several regions of Asia Minor against Persian rule, lasting from to BC. At the heart of the rebellion was the dissatisfaction of the Greek cities of Asia Minor with the tyrants appointed by Persia to rule them, along with opposition to the individual actions of two Milesian tyrants, Histiaeus and Aristagoras.[44][62] In BC the then tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, launched a joint expedition with the Persian satrap Artaphernes to conquer Naxos, in an attempt to bolster his position in Miletus (both financially and in terms of prestige).[62][63] The mission was a debacle,[64] and sensing his imminent removal as tyrant, Aristagoras chose to incite the whole of Ionia into rebellion against the Persian king Darius the Great.[46]

Map showing main events of the Ionian Revolt.

Struggling to rule the independent-minded cities of Ionia, the Persians appointed local tyrants to rule each of them. This would prove to be the source of much trouble for the Greeks and Persians alike. In BC, supported by troops from Athens and Eretria, the Ionians marched on, captured, and burnt Sardis.[65] However, on their return journey to Ionia, they were followed by Persian troops, and decisively beaten at the Battle of Ephesus.[66] This campaign was the only offensive action taken by the Ionians, who subsequently went on the defensive. The Persians responded in BC with a three-pronged attack aimed at recapturing the outlying areas of the rebellious territory,[67] but the spread of the revolt to Caria meant the largest army, under Darius, moved there instead.[68] While at first campaigning successfully in Caria, this army was wiped out in an ambush at the Battle of Pedasus.[69] This resulted in a stalemate for the rest of and BC.[70]

By BC the Persian army and navy had regrouped, and they made straight for the epicentre of the rebellion at Miletus.[71] The Ionian fleet sought to defend Miletus by sea, but was defeated decisively at the Battle of Lade, after the Samians had defected.[72] Miletus was then besieged, captured, and its population was enslaved.[73] This double defeat effectively ended the revolt, and the Carians surrendered to the Persians as a result.[74] The Persians spent BC reducing the cities along the west coast that still held out against them,[75] before finally imposing a peace settlement on Ionia that was considered[by whom?] to be both just and fair.[76]

The Ionian Revolt constituted the first major conflict between Greece and the Achaemenid Empire and 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.[76]

First invasion of Greece (– BC)

Main article: First Persian invasion of Greece

After having reconquered Ionia, the Persians began to plan their next moves of extinguishing the threat to their empire from Greece; and punishing Athens and Eretria. The resultant first Persian invasion of Greece consisted of two main campaigns.[77]

BC: Mardonius' campaign

Map showing events of the first phases of the Greco-Persian Wars

The first campaign, in BC, was led by Darius's son-in-law Mardonius,[78] who re-subjugated Thrace, which had nominally been part of the Persian empire since BC.[79] Mardonius was also able to force Macedon to become a fully subordinate client kingdom of Persia; it had previously been a vassal, but retained a broad degree of autonomy.[80] However, further progress in this campaign was prevented when Mardonius's fleet was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Mount Athos. Mardonius himself was then injured in a raid on his camp by a Thracian tribe, and after this he returned with the rest of the expedition to Asia.[80][82]

The following year, having given clear warning of his plans, Darius sent ambassadors to all the cities of Greece, demanding their submission. He received it from almost all of them, except Athens and Sparta, both of whom instead executed the ambassadors.[83] With Athens still defiant, and Sparta now also effectively at war with him, Darius ordered a further military campaign for the following year.[84]

BC: Datis and Artaphernes' campaign

In BC, Datis and Artaphernes (son of the satrap Artaphernes) were given command of an amphibious invasion force, and set sail from Cilicia.[84] The Persian force sailed first to the island of Rhodes, where a Lindian Temple Chronicle records that Datis besieged the city of Lindos, but was unsuccessful.[85] The fleet sailed next to Naxos, to punish the Naxians for their resistance to the failed expedition the Persians had mounted there a decade earlier.[86] Many of the inhabitants fled to the mountains; those that the Persians caught were enslaved. The Persians then burnt the city and temples of the Naxians.[87] The fleet then proceeded to island-hop across the rest of the Aegean on its way to Eretria, taking hostages and troops from each island.[86]

The task force sailed on to Euboea, and to the first major target, Eretria.[88] The Eretrians made no attempt to stop the Persians from landing or advancing and thus allowed themselves to be besieged. For six days, the Persians attacked the walls, with losses on both sides; however, on the seventh day two reputable Eretrians opened the gates and betrayed the city to the Persians. The city was razed, and temples and shrines were looted and burned. Furthermore, according to Darius's commands, the Persians enslaved all the remaining townspeople.[89]

Battle of Marathon

Main article: Battle of Marathon

The Greek wings envelop the Persians

The Persian fleet next headed south down the coast of Attica, landing at the bay of Marathon, roughly 40 kilometres (25&#;mi) from Athens.[90] Under the guidance of Miltiades, the general with the greatest experience of fighting the Persians, the Athenian army marched to block the two exits from the plain of Marathon. Stalemate ensued for five days, before the Persians decided to continue onward to Athens, and began to load their troops back onto the ships. After the Persians had loaded their cavalry (their strongest soldiers) on the ships, the 10, Athenian soldiers descended from the hills around the plain. The Greeks crushed the weaker Persian foot soldiers by routing the wings before turning towards the centre of the Persian line. The remnants of the Persian army fled to their ships and left the battle.[91] Herodotus records that 6, Persian bodies were counted on the battlefield; the Athenians lost only men.[92]

As soon as the Persian survivors had put to sea, the Athenians marched as quickly as possible to Athens.[93] They arrived in time to prevent Artaphernes from securing a landing in Athens. Seeing his opportunity lost, Artaphernes ended the year's campaign and returned to Asia.[94]

The Battle of Marathon was a watershed in the Greco-Persian wars, showing the Greeks that the Persians could be beaten. It also highlighted the superiority of the more heavily armoured Greek hoplites, and showed their potential when used wisely.[91]

Interbellum (– BC)

Achaemenid Empire

After the failure of the first invasion, Darius began raising a huge new army with which he intended to subjugate Greece completely. However, in BC, his Egyptian subjects revolted, and the revolt forced an indefinite postponement of any Greek expedition.[95] Darius died while preparing to march on Egypt, and the throne of Persia passed to his son Xerxes I.[96] Xerxes crushed the Egyptian revolt, and very quickly resumed the preparations for the invasion of Greece.[97] Since this was to be a full-scale invasion, it needed longterm planning, stockpiling and conscription. Xerxes decided that the Hellespont would be bridged to allow his army to cross to Europe, and that a canal should be dug across the isthmus of Mount Athos (a Persian fleet had been destroyed in BC while rounding this coastline). These were both feats of exceptional ambition that would have been beyond the capabilities of any other contemporary state.[98] However, the campaign was delayed by one year because of another revolt in Egypt and Babylonia.[99]

The Persians had the sympathy of several Greek city-states, including Argos, which had pledged to defect when the Persians reached their borders.[] The Aleuadae family, who ruled Larissa in Thessaly, saw the invasion as an opportunity to extend their power.[]Thebes, though not explicitly 'Medising', was suspected of being willing to aid the Persians once the invasion force arrived.[][]

In BC, after roughly four years of preparation, Xerxes began to muster the troops to invade Europe. Herodotus gives the names of 46 nations from which troops were drafted.[] The Persian army was gathered in Asia Minor in the summer and autumn of BC. The armies from the Eastern satrapies were gathered in Kritala, Cappadocia and were led by Xerxes to Sardis where they passed the winter.[] Early in spring, it moved to Abydos where it was joined with the armies of the western satrapies.[] Then the army that Xerxes had mustered marched towards Europe, crossing the Hellespont on two pontoon bridges.[]

Size of the Persian forces

Further information: Second Persian invasion of Greece §&#;Size of the Persian forces

The numbers of troops that Xerxes mustered for the second invasion of Greece have been the subject of endless dispute. Most modern scholars reject as unrealistic the figures of million given by Herodotus and other ancient sources because the victors likely miscalculated or exaggerated. The topic has been hotly debated, but the consensus revolves around the figure of ,[]

The size of the Persian fleet is also disputed, although perhaps less so. Other ancient authors agree with Herodotus' number of 1, These numbers are by ancient standards consistent, and this could be interpreted that a number around 1, is correct. Among modern scholars, some have accepted this number, although suggesting the number must have been lower by the Battle of Salamis.[][][] Other recent works on the Persian Wars reject this number, viewing 1, as more of a reference to the combined Greek fleet in the Iliad. These works generally claim that the Persians could have launched no more than around warships into the Aegean.[][][]

Greek city states


A year after Marathon, Miltiades, the hero of Marathon, was injured in a military campaign to Paros. Taking advantage of his incapacitation, the powerful Alcmaeonid family arranged for him to be prosecuted for the failure of the campaign. A huge fine was imposed on Miltiades for the crime of 'deceiving the Athenian people', but he died weeks later from his wound.[]

The politician Themistocles, with a power base firmly established amongst the poor, filled the vacuum left by Miltiades's death, and in the following decade became the most influential politician in Athens. During this period, Themistocles continued to support the expansion of Athens' naval power.[] The Athenians were aware throughout this period that the Persian interest in Greece had not ended,[97] and Themistocles's naval policies may be seen in the light of the potential threat from Persia.[] Aristides, Themistocles's great rival, and champion of the zeugites (the 'upper hoplite-class') vigorously opposed such a policy.[]

In &#;BC, a vast new seam of silver was found in the Athenian mines at Laurium.[] Themistocles proposed that the silver should be used to build a new fleet of triremes, ostensibly to assist in a long running war with Aegina.[] Plutarch suggests that Themistocles deliberately avoided mentioning Persia, believing that it was too distant a threat for the Athenians to act on, but that countering Persia was the fleet's aim.[] Fine suggests that many Athenians must have admitted that such a fleet would be needed to resist the Persians, whose preparations for the coming campaign were known. Themistocles's motion was passed easily, despite strong opposition from Aristides. Its passage was probably due to the desire of many of the poorer Athenians for paid employment as rowers in the fleet.[] It is unclear from the ancient sources whether or ships were initially authorised; both Fine and Holland suggest that at first ships were authorised and that a second vote increased this number to the levels seen during the second invasion.[][] Aristides continued to oppose Themistocles's policy, and tension between the two camps built over the winter, so the ostracism of &#;BC became a direct contest between Themistocles and Aristides. In what Holland characterises as, in essence, the world's first referendum, Aristides was ostracised, and Themistocles's policies were endorsed. Indeed, becoming aware of the Persian preparations for the coming invasion, the Athenians voted to build more ships than those for which Themistocles had asked.[] Thus, during the preparations for the Persian invasion, Themistocles had become the leading politician in Athens.[]


The Spartan king Demaratus had been stripped of his kingship in BC, and replaced with his cousin Leotychides. Sometime after BC, the humiliated Demaratus had chosen to go into exile, and had made his way to Darius's court in Susa.[95] Demaratus would from then on act as an advisor to Darius, and later Xerxes, on Greek affairs, and accompanied Xerxes during the second Persian invasion.[] At the end of Herodotus's book 7, there is an anecdote relating that prior to the second invasion, Demaratus sent an apparently blank wax tablet to Sparta. When the wax was removed, a message was found scratched on the wooden backing, warning the Spartans of Xerxes's plans.[] However, many historians believe that this chapter was inserted into the text by a later author, possibly to fill a gap between the end of book 7 and the start of book 8. The veracity of this anecdote is therefore unclear.[]

Hellenic alliance

In BC, Xerxes sent ambassadors to city states throughout Greece, asking for food, land, and water as tokens of their submission to Persia. However, Xerxes' ambassadors deliberately avoided Athens and Sparta, hoping thereby that those states would not learn of the Persians' plans.[] States that were opposed to Persia thus began to coalesce around these two city states. A congress of states met at Corinth in late autumn of BC, and a confederate alliance of Greek city-states was formed.[] This confederation had powers both to send envoys to ask for assistance and to dispatch troops from the member states to defensive points after joint consultation. Herodotus does not formulate an abstract name for the union but simply calls them "οἱ Ἕλληνες" (the Greeks) and "the Greeks who had sworn alliance" (Godley translation) or "the Greeks who had banded themselves together" (Rawlinson translation).[] From now on, they will be referred to as the 'Allies'. Sparta and Athens had a leading role in the congress but the interests of all the states influenced defensive strategy.[] Little is known about the internal workings of the congress or the discussions during its meetings. Only 70 of the nearly Greek city-states sent representatives. Nevertheless, this was remarkable for the disjointed Greek world, especially since many of the city-states present were still technically at war with one another.[]

Second invasion of Greece (– BC)

Main article: Second Persian invasion of Greece

Early BC: Thrace, Macedonia, and Thessaly

Having crossed into Europe in April BC, the Persian army began its march to Greece, taking 3 months to travel unopposed from the Hellespont to Therme. It paused at Doriskos where it was joined by the fleet. Xerxes reorganized the troops into tactical units replacing the national formations used earlier for the march.[]

Major events in the second invasion of Greece

The Allied 'congress' met again in the spring of BC and agreed to defend the narrow Vale of Tempe on the borders of Thessaly and block Xerxes's advance.[] However, once there, they were warned by Alexander I of Macedon that the vale could be bypassed and that the army of Xerxes was overwhelmingly large, thus the Greeks retreated. Shortly afterwards, they received the news that Xerxes had crossed the Hellespont.[] At this point, a second strategy was suggested by Themistocles to the allies. The route to southern Greece (Boeotia, Attica and the Peloponnesus) would require the army of Xerxes to travel through the narrow pass of Thermopylae. This could easily be blocked by the Greek hoplites, despite the overwhelming numbers of Persians. Furthermore, to prevent the Persians bypassing Thermopylae by sea, the Athenian and allied navies could block the straits of Artemisium. This dual strategy was adopted by the congress.[] However, the Peloponnesian cities made fall-back plans to defend the Isthmus of Corinth should it come to it, while the women and children of Athens were evacuated to the Peloponnesian city of Troezen.[]

August BC: Battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium

Main articles: Battle of Thermopylae and Battle of Artemisium

Xerxes's estimated time of arrival at Thermopylae coincided with both the Olympic Games and the festival of Carneia. For the Spartans, warfare during these periods was considered sacrilegious. Despite the uncomfortable timing, the Spartans considered the threat so grave that they dispatched their king Leonidas I with his personal bodyguard (the Hippeis) of men. The customary elite young men in the Hippeis were replaced by veterans who already had children. Leonidas was supported by contingents from the Allied Peloponnesian cities, and other forces that the Allies picked up on the way to Thermopylae.[] The Allies proceeded to occupy the pass, rebuilt the wall the Phocians had built at the narrowest point of the pass, and waited for Xerxes's arrival.[]

When the Persians arrived at Thermopylae in mid-August, they initially waited for three days for the Allies to disperse. When Xerxes was eventually persuaded that the Allies intended to contest the pass, he sent his troops to attack.[] However, the Allied position was ideally suited to hoplite warfare, the Persian contingents being forced to attack the Greek phalanx head on.[] The Allies withstood two full days of Persian attacks, including those by the elite Persian Immortals. However, towards the end of the second day, they were betrayed by a local resident named Ephialtes who revealed to Xerxes a mountain path that led behind the Allied lines, according to Herodotus. Herodotus has often been dismissed as a 'story teller', by Aristotle himself amongst others, and this may be a piece of folklore to create a more engaging narrative. In any case, it is impossible to determine with absolute certainty the legitimacy of Ephialtes' involvement in the battle. The Anopoea path was defended by roughly Phocians, according to Herodotus, who reportedly fled when confronted by the Persians. Made aware by scouts that they were being outflanked, Leonidas dismissed most of the Allied army, remaining to guard the rear with perhaps 2, men. On the final day of the battle, the remaining Allies sallied forth from the wall to meet the Persians in the wider part of the pass to slaughter as many Persians as they could, but eventually they were all killed or captured.[]

Simultaneous with the battle at Thermopylae, an Allied naval force of triremes defended the Straits of Artemisium against the Persians, thus protecting the flank of the forces at Thermopylae.[] Here the Allied fleet held off the Persians for three days; however, on the third evening the Allies received news of the fate of Leonidas and the Allied troops at Thermopylae. Since the Allied fleet was badly damaged, and since it no longer needed to defend the flank of Thermopylae, the Allies retreated from Artemisium to the island of Salamis.[]

September BC: Battle of Salamis

Main articles: Destruction of Athens and Battle of Salamis

Victory at Thermopylae meant that all Boeotia fell to Xerxes; Attica was then open to invasion. The remaining population of Athens was evacuated, with the aid of the Allied fleet, to Salamis.[] The Peloponnesian Allies began to prepare a defensive line across the Isthmus of Corinth, building a wall, and demolishing the road from Megara, abandoning Athens to the Persians.[] Athens thus fell to the Persians; the small number of Athenians who had barricaded themselves on the Acropolis were eventually defeated, and Xerxes then ordered the destruction of Athens.[]

Schematic diagram illustrating events during 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.[] If Xerxes could destroy the Allied navy, he would be in a strong position to force an Allied surrender;[] conversely by avoiding destruction, or as Themistocles hoped, by destroying the Persian fleet, the Allies could prevent conquest from being completed.[] The Allied fleet thus remained off the coast of Salamis into September, despite the imminent arrival of the Persians. Even after Athens fell, the Allied fleet remained off the coast of Salamis, trying to lure the Persian fleet to battle.[] Partly because of deception by Themistocles, the navies met in the cramped Straits of Salamis.[] There, the Persian numbers became a hindrance, as ships struggled to maneuver and became disorganised.[] Seizing the opportunity, the Allied fleet attacked, and scored a decisive victory, sinking or capturing at least Persian ships, therefore ensuring the safety of the Peloponnessus.[]

According to Herodotus, after the loss of the battle Xerxes attempted to build a causeway across the channel to attack the Athenian evacuees on Salamis, but this project was soon abandoned. With the Persians' naval superiority removed, Xerxes feared that the Allies might sail to the Hellespont and destroy the pontoon bridges.[] His general Mardonius volunteered to remain in Greece and complete the conquest with a hand-picked group of troops, while Xerxes retreated to Asia with the bulk of the army.[] Mardonius over-wintered in Boeotia and Thessaly; the Athenians were thus able to return to their burnt-out city for the winter.[]

June BC: Battles of Plataea and Mycale

Main articles: Battle of Plataea and Battle of Mycale

Spartans fighting against Persian forces at the Battle of Plataea. 19th century illustration.

Over the winter, there was some tension among the Allies. In particular, the Athenians, who were not protected by the Isthmus, but whose fleet was the key to the security of the Peloponnesus, felt that they had been treated unfairly, and so they refused to join the Allied navy in the spring.[]Mardonius remained in Thessaly, knowing an attack on the Isthmus was pointless, while the Allies refused to send an army outside the Peloponessus.[] Mardonius moved to break the stalemate, by offering peace to the Athenians, using Alexander I of Macedon as an intermediate. The Athenians made sure that a Spartan delegation was on hand to hear the Athenians reject the Persians' offer.[] Athens was thus evacuated again, and the Persians marched south and re-took possession of it. Mardonius now repeated his offer of peace to the Athenian refugees on Salamis. Athens, with Megara and Plataea, sent emissaries to Sparta demanding assistance, and threatening to accept the Persian terms if they were not aided.[] In response, the Spartans summoned a large army from the Peloponnese cities and marched to meet the Persians.[]

When Mardonius heard the Allied army was on the march, he retreated into Boeotia, near Plataea, trying to draw the Allies into open terrain where he could use his cavalry.[] The Allied army, under the command of the regent Pausanias, stayed on high ground above Plataea to protect themselves against such tactics. After several days of maneuver and stalemate, Pausanias ordered a night-time retreat towards the Allies' original positions. This maneuver went awry, leaving the Athenians, and Spartans and Tegeans isolated on separate hills, with the other contingents scattered further away near Plataea.[] Seeing that the Persians might never have a better opportunity to attack, Mardonius ordered his whole army forward.[] However, the Persian infantry proved no match for the heavily armoured Greek hoplites,[] and the Spartans broke through to Mardonius's bodyguard and killed him.[] After this the Persian force dissolved in rout; 40, troops managed to escape via the road to Thessaly,[] but the rest fled to the Persian camp where they were trapped and slaughtered by the Greeks, finalising the Greek victory.[][]

Herodotus recounts that, on the afternoon of the Battle of Plataea, a rumour of their victory at that battle reached the Allies' navy, at that time off the coast of Mount Mycale in Ionia.[] Their morale boosted, the Allied marines fought and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Mycale that same day, destroying the remnants of the Persian fleet, crippling Xerxes's sea power, and marking the ascendancy of the Greek fleet.[] Whilst many modern historians doubt that Mycale took place on the same day as Plataea, the battle may well only have occurred once the Allies received news of the events unfolding in Greece.[]

Greek counterattack (– BC)

Mycale and Ionia

Mycale was, in many ways, the beginning of a new phase in the conflict, in which the Greeks would go on the offensive against the Persians.[] The immediate result of the victory at Mycale was a second revolt amongst the Greek cities of Asia Minor. The Samians and Milesians had actively fought against the Persians at Mycale, thus openly declaring their rebellion, and the other cities followed in their example.[][]


Shortly after Mycale, the Allied fleet sailed to the Hellespont to break down the pontoon bridges, but found that this had already been done.[] The Peloponnesians sailed home, but the Athenians remained to attack the Chersonesos, still held by the Persians.[] The Persians and their allies made for Sestos, the strongest town in the region. Amongst them was one Oeobazus of Cardia, who had with him the cables and other equipment from the pontoon bridges.[] The Persian governor, Artayctes had not prepared for a siege, not believing that the Allies would attack.[] The Athenians therefore were able to lay a siege around Sestos.[] The siege dragged on for several months, causing some discontent amongst the Athenian troops,[] but eventually, when the food ran out in the city, the Persians fled at night from the least guarded area of the city. The Athenians were thus able to take possession of the city the next day.[]

Most of the Athenian troops were sent straight away to pursue the Persians.[] The party of Oeobazus was captured by a Thracian tribe, and Oeobazus was sacrificed to the god Plistorus. The Athenians eventually caught Artayctes, killing some of the Persians with him but taking most of them, including Artayctes, captive.[] Artayctes was crucified at the request of the people of Elaeus, a town which Artayctes had plundered while governor of the Chersonesos.[] The Athenians, having pacified the region, then sailed back to Athens, taking the cables from the pontoon bridges with them as trophies.[]


In BC, still operating under the terms of the Hellenic alliance, the Allies sent out a fleet composed of 20 Peloponnesian and 30 Athenian ships supported by an unspecified number of allies, under the overall command of Pausanias. According to Thucydides, this fleet sailed to Cyprus and "subdued most of the island".[] Exactly what Thucydides means by this is unclear. Sealey suggests that this was essentially a raid to gather as much treasure as possible from the Persian garrisons on Cyprus.[] There is no indication that the Allies attempted to take possession of the island, and, shortly after, they sailed to Byzantium.[] Certainly, the fact that the Delian League repeatedly campaigned in Cyprus suggests either that the island was not garrisoned by the Allies in BC, or that the garrisons were quickly expelled.


The Greek fleet then sailed to Byzantium, which they besieged and eventually captured.[] Control of both Sestos and Byzantium gave the allies command of the straits between Europe and Asia (over which the Persians had crossed), and allowed them access to the merchant trade of the Black Sea.[]

The aftermath of the siege was to prove troublesome for Pausanias. Exactly what happened is unclear; Thucydides gives few details, although later writers added plenty of lurid insinuations.[] Through his arrogance and arbitrary actions (Thucydides says "violence"), Pausanias managed to alienate many of the Allied contingents, particularly those that had just been freed from Persian overlordship.[][][] The Ionians and others asked the Athenians to take leadership of the campaign, to which they agreed.[] The Spartans, hearing of his behaviour, recalled Pausanias and tried him on charges of collaborating with the enemy. Although he was acquitted, his reputation was tarnished and he was not restored to his command.[]

Pausanias returned to Byzantium as a private citizen in BC, and took command of the city until he was expelled by the Athenians. He then crossed the Bosporus and settled in Kolonai in the Troad, until he was again accused of collaborating with the Persians and was recalled by the Spartans for a trial after which he starved himself to death.[] The timescale is unclear, but Pausanias may have remained in possession of Byzantium until BC.[]

In the meantime, the Spartans had sent Dorkis to Byzantium with a small force, to take command of the Allied force. However, he found that the rest of the Allies were no longer prepared to accept Spartan leadership, and therefore returned home.[]

Wars of the Delian League (– BC)

Delian League

Main article: Delian League

Athens and her "empire" in BC. The empire was the direct descendant of the Delian League

After Byzantium, the Spartans were allegedly eager to end their involvement in the war. The Spartans were supposedly of the view that, with the liberation of mainland Greece and the Greek cities of Asia Minor, the war's purpose had already been reached. There was also perhaps a feeling that securing long-term security for the Asian Greeks would prove impossible.[] In the aftermath of Mycale, the Spartan king Leotychides had proposed transplanting all the Greeks from Asia Minor to Europe as the only method of permanently freeing them from Persian dominion. Xanthippus, the Athenian commander at Mycale, had furiously rejected this; the Ionian cities were originally Athenian colonies, and the Athenians, if no one else, would protect the Ionians.[] This marks the point at which the leadership of the Greek Alliance effectively passed to the Athenians.[] With the Spartan withdrawal after Byzantium, the leadership of the Athenians became explicit.

The loose alliance of city-states that had fought against Xerxes's invasion had been dominated by Sparta and the Peloponnesian league. With the withdrawal of these states, a congress was called on the holy island of Delos to institute a new alliance to continue the fight against the Persians. This alliance, now including many of the Aegean islands, was formally constituted as the 'First Athenian Alliance', commonly known as the Delian League. According to Thucydides, the official aim of the League was to "avenge the wrongs they suffered by ravaging the territory of the king".[] In reality, this goal was divided into three main efforts—to prepare for future invasion, to seek revenge against Persia, and to organize a means of dividing spoils of war. The members were given a choice of either supplying armed forces or paying a tax to the joint treasury; most states chose the tax.[]

Campaigns against Persia

Main article: Wars of the Delian League

Map showing the locations of battles fought by the Delian League, – BC

Throughout the s BC, the Delian League campaigned in Thrace and the Aegean to remove the remaining Persian garrisons from the region, primarily under the command of the Athenian politician Cimon.[] In the early part of the next decade, Cimon began campaigning in Asia Minor, seeking to strengthen the Greek position there.[] At the Battle of the Eurymedon in Pamphylia, the Athenians and allied fleet achieved a stunning double victory, destroying a Persian fleet and then landing the ships' marines to attack and rout the Persian army. After this battle, the Persians took an essentially passive role in the conflict, anxious not to risk battle if possible.[]

Towards the end of the s BC, the Athenians took the ambitious decision to support a revolt in the Egyptiansatrapy of the Persian empire. Although the Greek task force achieved initial successes, they were unable to capture the Persian garrison in Memphis, despite a three-year long siege.[] The Persians then counterattacked, and the Athenian force was itself besieged for 18 months, before being wiped out.[] This disaster, coupled with ongoing warfare in Greece, dissuaded the Athenians from resuming conflict with Persia.[] In BC however, a truce was agreed in Greece, and Cimon was then able to lead an expedition to Cyprus. However, while besieging Kition, Cimon died, and the Athenian force decided to withdraw, winning another double victory at the Battle of Salamis-in-Cyprus in order to extricate themselves.[] This campaign marked the end of hostilities between the Delian League and Persia, and therefore the end of the Greco-Persian Wars.[]

Peace with Persia

After the Battle of Salamis-in-Cyprus, Thucydides makes no further mention of conflict with the Persians, saying that the Greeks simply returned home.[] Diodorus, on the other hand, claims that in the aftermath of Salamis, a full-blown peace treaty (the "Peace of Callias") was agreed with the Persians.[] Diodorus was probably following the history of Ephorus at this point, who in turn was presumably influenced by his teacher Isocrates—from whom there is the earliest reference to the supposed peace, in BC.[21] Even during the 4th century BC, the idea of the treaty was controversial, and two authors from that period, Callisthenes and Theopompus, appear to reject its existence.[]

It is possible that the Athenians had attempted to negotiate with the Persians previously. Plutarch suggests that in the aftermath of the victory at the Eurymedon, Artaxerxes had agreed to a peace treaty with the Greeks, even naming Callias as the Athenian ambassador involved. However, as Plutarch admits, Callisthenes denied that such a peace was made at this point (c. BC).[] Herodotus also mentions, in passing, an Athenian embassy headed by Callias, which was sent to Susa to negotiate with Artaxerxes.[] This embassy included some Argive representatives and can probably be therefore dated to c. BC (after an alliance was agreed between Athens and Argos).[21] This embassy may have been an attempt to reach some kind of peace agreement, and it has even been suggested that the failure of these hypothetical negotiations led to the Athenian decision to support the Egyptian revolt.[] The ancient sources therefore disagree as to whether there was an official peace or not, and, if there was, when it was agreed.

Opinion amongst modern historians is also split; for instance, Fine accepts the concept of the Peace of Callias,[21] whereas Sealey effectively rejects it.[] Holland accepts that some kind of accommodation was made between Athens and Persia, but no actual treaty.[] Fine argues that Callisthenes's denial that a treaty was made after the Eurymedon does not preclude a peace being made at another point. Further, he suggests that Theopompus was actually referring to a treaty that had allegedly been negotiated with Persia in BC.[21] If these views are correct, it would remove one major obstacle to the acceptance of the treaty's existence. A further argument for the existence of the treaty is the sudden withdrawal of the Athenians from Cyprus in BC, which Fine suggests makes most sense in the light of some kind of peace agreement.[] On the other hand, if there was indeed some kind of accommodation, Thucydides's failure to mention it is odd. In his digression on the pentekontaetia, his aim is to explain the growth of Athenian power, and such a treaty, and the fact that the Delian allies were not released from their obligations after it, would have marked a major step in the Athenian ascendancy.[] Conversely, it has been suggested that certain passages elsewhere in Thucydides's history are best interpreted as referring to a peace agreement.[21] There is thus no clear consensus amongst modern historians as to the treaty's existence.

The ancient sources that give details of the treaty are reasonably consistent in their description of the terms:[21][][]

  • All Greek cities of Asia were to 'live by their own laws' or 'be autonomous' (depending on translation).
  • Persian satraps (and presumably their armies) were not to travel west of the Halys River (Isocrates) or closer than a day's journey on horseback to the Aegean Sea (Callisthenes) or closer than three days' journey on foot to the Aegean Sea (Ephorus and Diodorus).
  • No Persian warship was to sail west of Phaselis (on the southern coast of Asia Minor), nor west of the Cyanaean rocks (probably at the eastern end of the Bosporus, on the north coast).
  • If the terms were observed by the king and his generals, then the Athenians were not to send troops to lands ruled by Persia.

From the Persian perspective, such terms would not be so humiliating as they might at first seem. The Persians already allowed the Greek cities of Asia to be governed under their own laws (under the reorganization conducted by Artaphernes, following the Ionian Revolt). By these terms, the Ionians were still Persian subjects, as they had been. Furthermore, Athens had already demonstrated their superiority at sea at the Eurymedon and Salamis-in-Cyprus, so any legal limitations for the Persian fleet were nothing more than "de jure" recognition of military realities. In exchange for limiting the movement of Persian troops in one region of the realm, Artaxerxes secured a promise from the Athenians to stay out of his entire realm.

Aftermath and later conflicts

Dynast of Lycia, Kherei, with Athenaon the obverse, and himself wearing the Persian cap on the reverse. Circa /30– BC.

Towards the end of the conflict with Persia, the process by which the Delian League became the Athenian Empire reached its conclusion.[] The allies of Athens were not released from their obligations to provide either money or ships, despite the cessation of hostilities.[] In Greece, the First Peloponnesian War between the power-blocs of Athens and Sparta, which had continued on/off since BC, finally ended in BC, with the agreement of a thirty-year truce.[] However, the growing enmity between Sparta and Athens would lead, just 14 years later, into the outbreak of the Second Peloponnesian War.[] This disastrous conflict, which dragged on for 27 years, would eventually result in the utter destruction of Athenian power, the dismemberment of the Athenian empire, and the establishment of a Spartan hegemony over Greece.[] However, not just Athens suffered—the conflict would significantly weaken the whole of Greece.[]

Repeatedly defeated in battle by the Greeks, and plagued by internal rebellions that hindered their ability to fight the Greeks, after BC, Artaxerxes I and his successors instead adopted a policy of divide-and-rule.[] Avoiding fighting the Greeks themselves, the Persians instead attempted to set Athens against Sparta, regularly bribing politicians to achieve their aims. In this way, they ensured that the Greeks remained distracted by internal conflicts, and were unable to turn their attentions to Persia.[] There was no open conflict between the Greeks and Persia until BC, when the Spartan king Agesilaus briefly invaded Asia Minor; as Plutarch points out, the Greeks were far too busy overseeing the destruction of their own power to fight against the "barbarians".[]

If the wars of the Delian League shifted the balance of power between Greece and Persia in favour of the Greeks, then the subsequent half-century of internecine conflict in Greece did much to restore the balance of power to Persia. The Persians entered the Peloponnesian War in BC forming a mutual-defence pact with Sparta and combining their naval resources against Athens in exchange for sole Persian control of Ionia.[] In BC when Cyrus the Younger attempted to seize the Persian throne, he recruited 13, Greek mercenaries from all over the Greek world, of which Sparta sent –, believing they were following the terms of the defence pact and unaware of the army's true purpose.[] After the failure of Cyrus, Persia tried to regain control of the Ionian city-states, which had rebelled during the conflict. The Ionians refused to capitulate and called upon Sparta for assistance, which she provided, in – BC.[] Athens, however, sided with the Persians, which led in turn to another large-scale conflict in Greece, the Corinthian War. Towards the end of that conflict, in BC, Sparta sought the aid of Persia to shore up her position. Under the so-called "King's Peace" that brought the war to an end, Artaxerxes II demanded and received the return of the cities of Asia Minor from the Spartans, in return for which the Persians threatened to make war on any Greek state that did not make peace.[] This humiliating treaty, which undid all the Greek gains of the previous century, sacrificed the Greeks of Asia Minor so that the Spartans could maintain their hegemony over Greece.[] It is in the aftermath of this treaty that Greek orators began to refer to the Peace of Callias (whether fictional or not), as a counterpoint to the shame of the King's Peace, and a glorious example of the "good old days" when the Greeks of the Aegean had been freed from Persian rule by the Delian League.[21]

See also


^&#;i:&#;The exact period covered by the term "Greco-Persian Wars" is open to interpretation, and usage varies between academics; the Ionian Revolt and Wars of the Delian League are sometimes excluded. This article covers the maximum extent of the wars.
^&#;ii:&#;Archaeological evidence for the Panionion before the 6th century BC is very weak, and possibly this temple was a relatively late development.[]
^&#;iii:&#;Although historically inaccurate, the legend of a Greek messenger running to Athens with news of the victory and then promptly expiring, became the inspiration for this athletics event, introduced at the Athens Olympics, and originally run between Marathon and Athens.[]


  1. ^"Introduction to the Persian Wars".
  2. ^"Greco-Persian Wars &#; Definition, Summary, Facts, Effects, & History". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  3. ^Matthew White, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things (Norton, )
  4. ^Ehrenberg, Victor (). From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization During the 6th and 5th Centuries BC (3&#;ed.). Abingdon, England: Routledge. pp.&#;99– ISBN&#;.
  5. ^Cicero, On the Laws, I, 5
  6. ^ abcHolland, pp. xvixvii.
  7. ^Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, e.g. I, 22
  8. ^ abFinley, p.
  9. ^Holland, p. xxiv.
  10. ^ abHolland, p.
  11. ^Fehling, pp. 1–
  12. ^Finley, p.
  13. ^Kagan, p.
  14. ^Sealey, p.
  15. ^Fine, p.
  16. ^Finley, pp. 29–
  17. ^ abSealey, p.
  18. ^Fine, p.
  19. ^e.g. Themistocles chapter 25 has a direct reference to Thucydides I,
  20. ^ abcdefghFine, p.
  21. ^Green, Greek History – BC, pp. 1–
  22. ^Roebuck, p. 2
  23. ^Traver, p. –
  24. ^Fields, p. 93
  25. ^ abHerodotus I, –
  26. ^Thucydides I, 12
  27. ^Snodgrass, pp. –
  28. ^Thomas & Contant, pp. 72–73
  29. ^Osborne, pp. 35–37
  30. ^Herodotus I,
  31. ^Herodotus I,
  32. ^Herodotus I,
  33. ^Herodotus I, 22
  34. ^Herodotus I, 74–75
  35. ^Herodotus I, 26
  36. ^ abHolland, pp. 9–
  37. ^Herodotus I, 53
  38. ^Holland, pp. 13–
  39. ^Herodotus I,
  40. ^Herodotus I,
  41. ^Herodotus I,
  42. ^Herodotus I,
  43. ^ abHolland, pp. –
  44. ^Fine, pp. –
  45. ^ abHolland, pp. –
  46. ^ abcdeLazenby, pp23–29
  47. ^ abcdLazenby, pp.
  48. ^ abcHanson, Victor Davis (). Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN&#;.
  49. ^Holland, p
  50. ^Farrokh, p. 76
  51. ^Lazenby, p
  52. ^Holland, pp69–72
  53. ^Holland, p
  54. ^Lazenby, pp. –
  55. ^Lazenby, pp. 34–37
  56. ^ abHerodotus VII, 89
  57. ^Herodotus VI, 9
  58. ^ ab"LacusCurtius • Herodotus — Book V: Chapters 55‑96".
  59. ^ abcdeWaters, Matt (). Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, – BCE. Cambridge University Press. pp.&#;84– ISBN&#;.
  60. ^ abWaters, Matt (). Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, – BCE. Cambridge University Press. ISBN&#;.
  61. ^ abHolland, pp. –
  62. ^Herodotus V, 31
  63. ^Herodotus V, 33
  64. ^Herodotus V, –
  65. ^Herodotus V,
  66. ^Herodotus V,
  67. ^Herodotus V,
  68. ^Herodotus V,
  69. ^Boardman et al, pp. –
  70. ^Herodotus VI, 6
  71. ^Herodotus VI, 8–16
  72. ^Herodotus VI, 19
  73. ^

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