Background-In the 6th century the Greeks were foounding colonies around the Mediterranean and Asia Minor (Ionia)
in 546 Greek poleis in Ionia were annexed by Persia (Cyrus the great). A relatively easy ruler, but he demanded obedience and taxes which was offensive to the freedom loving Greeks.
In 499 the Athenaian colony of Ionia in Asia Minor rebelled against Persia (Darius) and called for assistance from Athens.
Athens, now the most significant polis of Greece sent armies and sacked the Persian city of Sardis.
- a GREAT mistake as that what enflamed Persia against Greece and especially Athens for the next 25 years, and precipitated the war that very nearly destroyed Greece (and hence Western civilisation).
The first round -Marathon
The first round -Marathon
The first round Marathon 490BCE-In 490 Darius attacked Athens expecting to destroy it easily.
The sides met at Marathon (26 miles from Athens), Athenians sought help in vane from the second greatest Greek Polis Spartasent the marathon man Pheidippides 240km to the Spartans according to HerodotusThe Athenians & allies surprisingly won, -the Persians were even more enraged.
Brilliant Athenian leader Themistocles realised that the Persians would not let it rest there and that Athens only hope would to be to develop a Naval capacity.He persuaded the Athenians into voting their silver mine proceeds to building Triremes - the most advanced war machines of the day.
Xerses marches on Greece - 480 BC
Xerses marches on Greece - 480 BC-Darius was consumed with the desire for revenge but in 5 years he died.
-his son Xerses took over the revenge and after ten years launched his invasion with between 300,000 and 1 million men by crossing ed into Europe (Bridged the Hellespont)
- The Greeks, for the first time formed a coalition to fight the common threat
- an advanced force with Leonidas of Sparta as leader of 7000 Greeks including 300 Spartans was sent to head off the Persians in the north at Thermopylae - a narrow pass that reduced the enormous numerical advantage of the Persian (reported to be 300,000 to over 1 million)
The Spartans-An exceptional people living in what they saw as an ideal society.
The Spartans-An exceptional people living in what they saw as an ideal society.-Ruled by a warrior ethic where were subject to the needs of the State.-This put then at odds with the rest of the Greeks who were seeing man as an individual as the measure of all things i.e. individual dignity and freedom paramount-Lycurgus (from the 8th century) had given them their Spartan constitution. -2 royal families and kings, subject to council of elders (gerisae).- warriors were grown from 7yr olds and barrack life more important than family which men usually only visited for procreative purposes. - didnt waste their time with art or architecture, only physical development (women as well)- children brutalised by their training (12yr rite of passage) and at 18 they joined a band of fellow warriors for life.-Their society was supported by subject Greek slaves helots who were kept intimidated by the young bands helot hunting-they despised their fellow Greeks, especially the Athenians for their softness.-So why did they join the coalition in 481?
Delphic Oracles influenceAs highly religious/superstitious people King Leonidas and the council consulted the oracle at Delphi who told them that the Greeks would prevail, but .
The Delphic Oracle was to have a profound effect on Greek and Roman history like a modern financial consultant important state decisions, and personal ones if you were important enough would not be made without it.Apollos most important shrine was at Delphi built over a small chasm emitting a sweet odour Some say it may have been ethylene vapour causing the oracles hallucinations. the oracle -an old woman whose incoherent babbling was interpreted by prieststold either Sparta will be taken or a descendent of great Heracles must die.
Spartas king Leonides IS descended from Heracles SO believes that the gods have chosen him to sacrifice himself for Sparta. (or he saw that the Persians would come for Sparta after Athens.)
- after the defeat at Thermopylae the Athenians consulted the oracle to see if they should leave Athens to the Persian advance & were told the only walls that would resist the Persians were walls of wood.
The sea was even closer to the mountains than the highway
Thermopylae the Dunkirk of ancient greece The Greeks, for the first time formed a coalition of Greek Poleis to fight the common threat under Athenian strategos (general), Themistocles.
An advanced force with Leonidas of Sparta as leader of 7000 Greeks (4300 Herodotus reports) including 300 Spartans was sent to head off the Persians in the north at Thermopylae - a bottle-neck pass that reduced the enormous numerical advantage of the Persian (reported to be 300,000 to over 2 million)
The allied Greek land forces, held the Persians for 2 days but after Ephialtes, a local, told the Persians of the mountain route to cut off the Greeks, The Spartans were joined by about 700 Thespians, who fought to the death with Leonidas and his Spartans (fulfilling the Delphic prophesy), and the Theban detachment, whom Leonidas held as hostages and who deserted to the Persians at their first opportunity.30,000 Persians had been killed in the 3 day battle.
So what was the point of the sacrifice?-Slowed the Persians giving for time for the Greeks to prepare for victory at Salamis a few weeks later, and finally at Plataea the following year after which the Persians leave Greece forever. -Heroic example for the Greeks in the future.
Themistocles and the GreeksOne of the greatest and wiliest leaders Athens would ever produced, though not of noble family
After Marathon he knew 2 things i) the Persians would be back ii) Navy would be decisive.
Succeeded in providing Athens with a naval force by talking up a local threat.
He commanded the naval forces which supported the land forces firstly at Thermopylae, then a few months later at Salamis where the Greeks had a destroyed the Persian navy after he tricked them by pretending to change sides and draw them into a trap.
Themistocles and the GreeksThe Greek armyThe Greek Phalanx 8 by 64: Platoons were 8 x 4 men
soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder shields leafed into an impenetrable wall of muscle and bronze.
Fought by shoving into the enemy the Persian light infantry couldnt launch the running open battle they were used to.
the warriors were called hoplites, named after their large shield the 9 kg hoplon with its argive grip (double support gave greater leverage - and force).
the shields of the Spartans were decorated with a lambda for Laconia their home region.
hoplites wore Corinthian helmet bronze weighing about 4.5 kg with restricted vision hearing
also lamellar armour, strong, layered with linen, thin bronze, leather, able to withstand spears and arrows.
SALAMIS (580) & PLATAEA (579)-Themistocles left the area, and consulted the Delphic Oracle which told him to trust in the walls of wood, so he persuaded the Athenians to leave Athens to be burned by the -Persians, and wait on the nearby island of Salamis. -1 month later Themistocles enticed the Persians into a trap at Salamis, by pretending to be ready to submit.-He squeezed the Persian ships into a narrow strait off Salamis, and defeated him, and destroying his naval capacity.-The battle of Plataea the following spring chased the Persians out of Greece permanently.
-Significance of Thermopylae- Thermopylae gave birth to the notion of a Greek nation and what it might achieve- brought to fruition a century and a half later by Phillip of Macedon, and his son Alexander.- a force that spread Greek culture throughout the world, and consequently, Western civilisation.-it glorified the notion which has affected our relationship to the near east till today that the Greeks the west stand for freedom, while the east Persia later Islam stand for oppression.