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Greco-Persian Wars

B.C. 499 to 479

Persian Empire — versus — Greek City-States

Introduction : 

The Persian War is one of the most famous, and most fascinating wars in human history. It was fought in the fifth century BC between Persian Empire, far and away the largest and wealthiest kingdom on earth, and a collection of independent Greek cities who lived in relative poverty and obscurity. The Greeks had not a fraction of the wealth or population of the Persians, and were themselves disunited and engaged in perpetual conflicts, yet they soundly defeated the Persians and retained their independence and freedoms. The Persian war was remarkable not only for its ferocious battles, which showcased the superiority of Greek military methods, but also for the striking personalities involved, the democratic character of the military command, and the ability of the fractious Greeks to drop their strong divisions and unite behind a single cause. It is a popular war to study, not only because of its striking military engagements and historical significance but also for the great human dramas that were played out behind the scenes.

Ionian Revolt : 499-449 B.C.

 Crossing the Hellespont

The most famous battles of the Persian war were fought on mainland Greece, but the conflict began in Asia minor, when the Greek colonies of Ionia, revolted against their Persian overlords. This rebellion was called the Ionian revolt, and lasted from BC 499, to 494. It began when rebels, under the leadership of a Aristagoras of Miletus, sacked and burned the local capital city of Sardis, and ended when the Persians retook Miletus and crushed the rebel stronghold, after the naval battle of Lade.

Darius I., the Persian king was very incensed that Athens had lent ships and military support to the rebellion, and determined to raise an army to invade Athens to punish it for its interference. During his campaigns to put down the rebellion, he had conquered much of Thrace and Macedonia, and so he already controlled much of the territory he would need to launch an invasion from the north. The first expedition he prepared was led by his son-in-law Mardonius, in 492. It crossed the Hellespont into Thrace, but the entire fleet was destroyed by a sudden storm off the Chalcidice Peninsula, and he returned to Persia.

Battle / Outcome
Battle of Sardis
Ionian Greeks defeat Persians
In 498 the Greek cities of Asia minor revolted from Persia, and burned Sardis, the regional capital, to the ground.
Battle of Ephesus
Persians defeat Ionian Greeks
Fought 499 B.C., between the Athenians and Ionians, under Aristagorus, and the Persians, under Artaphernes. The Greeks who were retreating to the coast after burning Sardis, were overtaken by the pursuing Persians, under the walls of Ephesus, and signally defeated. The Athenians thereupon withdrew their fleet, and took no further part in the war.
Battle of Lade
Persians defeat Ionian Greeks
Fought B.C. 494, between a Persian fleet of 600 sail, which was blockading Miletus under Artaphernes, and 353 Lesbian, Chian and Samian ships, which attempted to raise the siege. The Samians, bribed by the Persians, deserted at the beginning of the action, with the exception of 11 vessels, and the Greeks were totally defeated, with heavy loss. The Chians made a specially gallant fight.

Short Biography
Artaphernes Brother of Darius, Satrap of Lydia during Ionian Rebellion. Lead Persian forces at Marathon.
Aristagoras Son-in-law of Histiaeus. Led Rebellion of Greek Colonies in Asia Minor.
Histiaeus Very close advisor to Darius, rescued him from disaster in Scythia, later rebelled. Father in law of Aristagoras.
Miltiades Athenian General who led Greece to great victory at the Battle of Marathon.

Story LinksBook Links
Story of Histaeus  in  Darius the Great  by  Jacob Abbott
Of the Revolt of Miletus  in  Story of the Persian War  by  A. J. Church
Story of the Persians in  Stories from the Greek Tragedians  by  A. J. Church
Sardis Is Destroyed  in  Story of Greece  by  Mary  Macgregor

Book Links
Story of the Persian War  by  Alfred J. Church

Second Persian Invasion (under Darius) : 490 B.C.

 The Battle of Marathon

Darius launched his second expedition in 490. This time, the entire invading force, including cavalry, was sent by ship across the Aegean Sea. The expedition was led by Artaphernes and Datis, two Persian commanders who had put down the Ionian rebellion, and Hippias, an exiled Athenian tyrant. The Persians first besieged and captured the main city on the Island of Euboea before landing in Attica on the shore of Marathon. The Athenians, ten thousand strong, were awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from Sparta, but under the influence of Miltiades, a general who had previously been one of the leaders of the Ionian rebellion, they attacked immediately, just as the Persians were breaking camp. Although the Persian forces were much larger, they were surprised and routed with great loss.

Battle / Outcome
Siege of Eretria
Persians defeat Eretria
This town was besieged 490 B.C. when a large Persian force landed on the Island of Euboea and besieged its largest town. The Eretrians appealed to the Athenians for help, but before they could respond, traitors inside the town aided the invaders, and it fell after a short resistance.
Battle of Marathon
Athenians defeat Persians
Fought September 490 B.C., between the Athenians and Plataeans, 10,000 and 1,000 strong respectively, under Miltiades, and the army of Darius Hystaspes, about 100,000 in number, under Datis. Being greatly outnumbered, Miltiades altered the usual arrangement of the Greek line, so as to extend his wings across the whole width of the valley in which the battle was fought, and thus escape being outflanked. To effect this he was forced to weaken his centre, which was repulsed, but both his wings drove back the invaders, and then fell upon and routed the victorious Persian centre. The Persians fled in confusion to their ships, which they succeeded in launching, and escaped with a loss of 6,400. The Athenians lost 192 only.

Short Biography
Miltiades Athenian General who led Greece to great victory at the Battle of Marathon.
Callimachus Polemarch of the Athens army at Marathon. Made the decision to attack.
Aeschylus First of the three great Greek Tragedians. Wrote plays including the tragedies of Oedipus and Antigone.
Datis Persian general under Darius, who led the expedition against Athens at Marathon.
Artaphernes Brother of Darius, Satrap of Lydia during Ionian Rebellion. Lead Persian forces at Marathon.
Hippias Exiled son of Pisistratus; helped lead Persian forces against Athens at Marathon.

Story LinksBook Links
Invasion of Greece  in  Darius the Great  by  Jacob Abbott
In the Days of Athelney  in  Child's Book of Warriors  by  William  Canton
Battle-field of Freedom  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  A. J. Church
Men of Marathon  in  Helmet and Spear  by  A. J. Church
Of the Battle of Marathon  in  Story of the Persian War  by  A. J. Church
Advance of the Second Host  in  Story of the Greeks  by  H. A.  Guerber
Battle of Marathon  in  Story of the Greeks  by  H. A.  Guerber
Miltiades the Hero of Marathon  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  J. H.  Haaren
How the Athenians Fought the Persians  in  Greek Gods - Heroes - and Men  by  S. B.  Harding
Battle of Marathon  in  Story of Greece  by  Mary  Macgregor
Athenians at Marathon  in  Historical Tales: 10—Greek  by  Charles  Morris
Battle of Marathon  in  On the Shores of the Great Sea  by  M. B.  Synge
First and Second Persian Expeditions  in  Story of the Greek People  by  E. M.  Tappan
Darius of Persia is Repulsed at Marathon  in  Old World Hero Stories  by  E. M.  Tappan
Marathon  in  Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric  Wood

Third Persian Invasion Under Xerxes : 481-479 B.C.

 The victors of Salamis

The Persians did not attack Greece again for ten years, but after Dariusís son Xerxes became king, the Persians launched another expedition against Athens. This time they were determined to use overwhelming force so in 481 BC, Xerxes gathered together an army of several hundred thousand infantry and a navy of six hundred ships. He demanded that the Greek city-states submit to him without resistance, and many did, including Thebes. The Athenians and Spartans however, insulted the Persian ambassadors and vowed resistance to the end. Fortunately for all of Greece, the Athenian politician, Themistocles, had foreseen trouble years ahead of time, and had convinced the Athenians to begin a navy-building project so by 481 BC, Athens had a navy of over two hundred ships.

While Xerxes gathered his army at the Hellespont, the 31 Greek city states that had decided to resist the Persians, were fielding a united Greek army, under the leadership of Sparta. Themistocles led Athens' fleet, and although a Spartan admiral was in chief command, Themistocles was very influential in all naval operations. The first great battle of the united Greeks against Xerxes army was at Thermopylae, a narrow pass in the north of Thessaly. It was there that the Spartan King Leonidas, with 300 Spartans held out for three days against the entire Persian army. After a lopsided battle in which thousands of Persians were slaughtered by Spartan's tiny force, the resolute defenders were eventually surrounded and killed to a man, and Xerxes army passed unopposed to Athens, which it burned to the ground.

As soon as the pass of Thermopylae was lost, the Greek fleet worked full time to evacuate Athens and its surrounding communities to local islands. They were stationed on the island of Salamis, in sight of the ruins of Athens, when after a fit of contentious infighting, the decision was made to give battle to the Persians at once. The famous naval Battle of Salamis ensued, during which the Greek fleet won a dramatic and decisive victory over the much larger Persian navy. The Persian fleet was destroyed, and Xerxes returned to Persia, leaving Mardonius in charge of the conquered region. It was not until the following year, however, that the Spartans realized that the Persians had no intention of meeting them at their fortified isthmus, and emerged from their Peloponnesian stronghold. Then, at the hard-fought Battle of Plataea, they drove the all the Persians from the Greek mainland.

Soon after the Battle of Salamis destroyed the Persian navy, the Ionian Greeks in Asia minor started a new rebellion. At the Battle of Mycale, fought at the same time as Plataea, the Greeks won a major victory in Ionia, which freed the Island of Samos from Persian control, and Athens agreed to protect it. This was the beginning of the Delian league, and the foundation of the Athenian Empire.

Battle / Outcome
Battle of Thermopylae
Persians defeat Spartans
Fought 480 B.C., when 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians, under Leonidas, defended the pass of Thermopylae, leading southwards out of Thessaly, against the Persian host, under Xerxes. They kept the Persians at bay until a considerable force having passed the mountains by another part, they were attacked in the rear. They then retired to a hillock, and fought till the last man fell.
Battle of Salamis
Greeks defeat Persians
Fought 480 B.C. between the Greek fleet of 370 sail, under Themistocles, and the Persian fleet, of over 1,000 galleys. The Greeks at first hesitated to attack in face of the overwhelming numbers of the Persian ships, but an Athenian trireme, commanded by Aminias, dashed in, and being followed by the rest of the Athenians and the Aeginetans in good order, the Persians were, after a hard struggle, totally defeated, with the loss of more than half their fleet. Xerxes and his army witnessed the rout from the shores of Salamis.
Battle of Plataea
Greeks defeat Persians
Fought B.C. 479, between the Greeks, about 100,000 strong, under Pausanias the Spartan, and 300,000 Persians, with 50,000 Greek auxiliaries, under Mardonius. The Persians fought bravely, but were overborne by the superior discipline and heavier armour of the Greeks, and Mardonius falling, a panic ensued, and they fled to their entrenched camp. This was stormed by the Athenians, and no quarter was given, with the result, it is said, that with the exception of a body of 40,000 which left the field early in the battle, only 3,000 Persians escaped.
Battle of Mycale
Greeks defeat Persians
Fought August, 479 B.C., between the Greeks, under Leotychides the Spartan, and a large Persian army. The Greeks effected a landing near Cape Mycale, and drove the Persians back upon their entrenchments, which they then carried by storm, whereupon the Persian auxiliaries fled. The fugitives were slaughtered in detail by the revolted Ionians, and the whole army destroyed.

Short Biography
Mardonius Brother-in-law of Xerxes and commander-in-chief of Xerxes's Army.
Artemisia Queen of Halicarnassas and Cos. One of Xerxes most trusted advisors and Generals.
Xerxes Raised an enormous army for Persian invasion of Greece. Defeated at Battle of Salamis.
Leonidas Spartan King whose whole army died defending the pass of Thermopylae.
Eurybiades Head of Spartan Fleet during the Persian War.
Themistocles Athenian hero of the Battle of Salamis. He masterminded Athenian naval supremacy.
Aristides Athenian General and Statesman. Fought at Marathon, Salamis; created Delian League.
Leotychides Spartan commander of the Greek fleet at the battle of Mycale in Asia Minor.
Pausanias Spartan General who led Greece against Mardonius at the Battle of Plataea.

Story LinksBook Links
Battle of Thermopylae  in  Xerxes  by  Jacob Abbott
Burning of Athens  in  Xerxes  by  Jacob Abbott
Battle of Salamis  in  Xerxes  by  Jacob Abbott
Brave Three Hundred  in  Fifty Famous Stories Retold  by  James  Baldwin
Three Hundred  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  A. J. Church
Wooden Walls  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  A. J. Church
Bow against Spear  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  A. J. Church
Lion King  in  Helmet and Spear  by  A. J. Church
In the Straits  in  Helmet and Spear  by  A. J. Church
Wooden Walls  in  Helmet and Spear  by  A. J. Church
Battles on Plain and Shore  in  Helmet and Spear  by  A. J. Church
Of the Battle of Thermopylae  in  Story of the Persian War  by  A. J. Church
Of the Greeks at Salamis and of the City of Athens  in  Story of the Persian War  by  A. J. Church
Of the Battle of Plataea  in  Story of the Persian War  by  A. J. Church
Of the Battle at Mycale  in  Story of the Persian War  by  A. J. Church
Savior of Athens  in  Children's Plutarch: Tales of the Greeks  by  F. J.  Gould
Great Army  in  Story of the Greeks  by  H. A.  Guerber
Leonidas at Thermopylae  in  Story of the Greeks  by  H. A.  Guerber
Battles of Salamis and Plataea  in  Story of the Greeks  by  H. A.  Guerber
Leonidas at Thermopylae  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  J. H.  Haaren
Themistocles  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  J. H.  Haaren
How King Xerxes Marched against the Greeks  in  Greek Gods - Heroes - and Men  by  S. B.  Harding
How the Spartans Fought at Thermopylae  in  Greek Gods - Heroes - and Men  by  S. B.  Harding
How Themistocles Saved Greece  in  Greek Gods - Heroes - and Men  by  S. B.  Harding
Themistocles  in  Statesmen and Sages  by  C. F.  Horne
Themistocles  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie  Kaufman
Themistocles  in  Stories from Greek History  by  E.  Lemon
The Bravest Men of All Hellas  in  Story of Greece  by  Mary  Macgregor
Battle of Thermopylae  in  Story of Greece  by  Mary  Macgregor
Battle of Artemisium  in  Story of Greece  by  Mary  Macgregor
Themistocles Urges Eurybiades to Stay at Salamis in  Story of Greece  by  Mary  Macgregor
Battle of Salamis  in  Story of Greece  by  Mary  Macgregor
Battle of Plataea  in  Story of Greece  by  Mary  Macgregor
Xerxes and His Army  in  Historical Tales: 10—Greek  by  Charles  Morris
How the Spartans Died at Thermopylae  in  Historical Tales: 10—Greek  by  Charles  Morris
Wooden Walls of Athens  in  Historical Tales: 10—Greek  by  Charles  Morris
Plataea's Famous Day  in  Historical Tales: 10—Greek  by  Charles  Morris
King Ahasuerus  in  On the Shores of the Great Sea  by  M. B.  Synge
How Leonidas Kept the Pass  in  On the Shores of the Great Sea  by  M. B.  Synge
Victory for the Greeks  in  On the Shores of the Great Sea  by  M. B.  Synge
Great Persian Invasion  in  Story of the Greek People  by  E. M.  Tappan
Great Persian Invasion (cont.)  in  Story of the Greek People  by  E. M.  Tappan
Xerxes of Persia tries to Conquer Greece  in  Old World Hero Stories  by  E. M.  Tappan

Book Links
Xerxes  by  Jacob Abbott

Persian War Aftermath : 479-450

 The return of Xerxes to Persia

Over the following thirty years, Athens continued to fight battles with Persia for control of the dozens of Greek colonies in the Aegean Sea. It was not until 448 BC that a treaty finally ended hostilities between Athens and Persia, and by that time Athens was the dominant power in the Aegean Sea.

Battle / Outcome
Battle of the Eurymedon
Athenians defeat Persians
Fought B.C. 470, between the Persian fleet and army, and the Athenians and Delians, under Cimon. The Greeks were victorious both by land and sea, defeating the Persian fleet with a loss of 200 ships, and routing the land army with great slaughter. This victory secured the adhesion of the south of Asia Minor to the Athenian Confederacy.
Siege of Memphis
Persians defeat Athenians
This city was captured B.C. 459 by an Athenian fleet of 200 ships, which sailed up the Nile to the assistance of Inaros, who had raised the standard of revolt against Persia. The citadel, however, held out until B.C. 456, when a Persian army, under Megabyzus defeated the Athenians and drove them out of Memphis.
Battle of Salamis (Cyprus)
Athenians defeat Persians
Cimon led an Athenian force against the Persians to Cyprus to fight the Persians. The Athenians defeated the Persians in the Battle of Salamis (the city in Cyprus, not the island off Attica). The Athenians besieged the Persians at Citium, but Cimon died of disease (449). Lack of supplies forced the Athenians to return home.

Short Biography
Cimon Athenian statesman and general. Fought Persians in Ionia after the war. Friend of Sparta.
Megabyzus Persian General. Son of Zopyrus of Babylon. Grandson of Megabyzus, one of the seven conspirators.

Story LinksBook Links
Admiral of the Fleet  in  Children's Plutarch: Tales of the Greeks  by  F. J.  Gould
Cimon  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  J. H.  Haaren
Cimon  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie  Kaufman
After the Persian War  in  Story of the Greek People  by  E. M.  Tappan

Image Links
The Invasion of Greece  in Darius the Great Xerxes crossing the Hellespont  in Xerxes The Return of Xerxes to Persia  in Xerxes
Marathon  in Story of the Persian War Plataea  in Story of the Persian War Crossing the Hellespont in Story of the Greeks
Return of the victorious Greeks in Story of the Greeks The capture of the Acropolis, Zick  in Famous Men of Greece The Pythia on the Tripod, Motte  in Famous Men of Greece
Xerxes watching the Battle of Salamis, Zick  in Famous Men of Greece The victors of Salamis, Cormon  in Famous Men of Greece Return of the victors from Salamis  in Greek Gods - Heroes - and Men
The Battle of Salamis  in Greatest Nations: Greece The Battle of Marathon  in Greatest Nations: Greece The Plain of Marathon  in Greatest Nations: Greece
The Defence of Thermopylae  in Greatest Nations: Greece The Triumph of Themistocles after Salamis  in Greatest Nations: Greece The Battle of Plataea  in Greatest Nations: Greece
The Victors of Salamis  in Statesmen and Sages Thermopylae in Stories from Greek History Themistocles and the Greek Captain in Stories from Greek History
They crashed into the Persian army with tremendous force.  in Story of Greece Ship dashed against ship, till the Persian dead strewed the deep like flowers.  in Story of Greece The Victors at Salamis  in Historical Tales: 10—Greek
Battle of Marathon.  in Story of the Greek People Greek Warriors in Story of the Greek People Leonidas at Thermopylae in Story of the Greek People
Battle of Salamis in Story of the Greek People Victors of Salamis in Story of the Greek People A naval battle in Story of the Greek People
Battle of Marathon.  in Old World Hero Stories The Victors of Salamis.  in Old World Hero Stories Death of the Persian Admiral at Salamis in Plutarch's Lives