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5.2.1 - The Persian Wars

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Detail about the Persian Wars.

Text of 5.2.1 - The Persian Wars

  • 1.The Persian Wars


  • First the Persians.
  • The Persian empire dominated the middle east and was extremely powerful.It was composed of various different ethnicities and nationalities that had been conquered by the empire and then incorporated into it.
  • It was an extremely well-run and well-administered bureaucracy.
    • Each province, or satrap, was allowed to keep its own language, religion, some of its laws, practices, administration, etc.
    • They all owed allegiance to the Persian king, however, and were bound by his laws.

3. The extent of the Persian Empire at the time of Xerxes. 4.

    • Its armies were also similarly varied, each nationality with its own talents.
    • They also werent as well equipped as the Greeks.The typical Persian soldier had either no armor or light scaled armor (think fish scales).Most lacked helmets and had only linen caps.Their weaponry was bow and arrows, daggers, and 5-6 foot spears.
    • There were, though, a lot of Persian soldiers.The army was massive and easily outnumbered the Greeks.
    • The main Persian tactic was for the archers to do most of the work and break the enemys lines.Then the infantry and cavalry would sweep in and clean up.

5. Persian Infantry Persian Cavalry 6. 7.

  • The Persians had conquered the Greek city-states along the Ionian coast (in modern-day Turkey).The Greeks, however, being the stubborn independent sort, didnt take to Persian rule and rebelled.
  • The Ionian colonies allied and threw off Persian rule.But they couldnt last for long.The Spartans refused to help.The Athenians sent some ships and an expeditionary force and they accidentally burned down Sardis.


  • The Persian king Darius was a little put out by the revolt, the Athenians assistance, and that they torched Sardis
    • He even had a servant say three times during dinner everyday, My lord, remember the Athenians.
  • So Darius decided to conquer Greece.
    • He first gave Athens and Sparta the option of surrendering by sending envoys who demanded samples of earth and water (symbols of vassalage).The Athenians responded by tossing them into a crack in the acropolis and the Spartans by throwing them in a well.Thus, the envoys had to find their earth and water themselves.
    • First Darius reconquered Asia Minor (and was surprisingly magnanimous) and then sent a fleet to Attica (the region surrounding Athens).

9. Darius I 10. 11.

  • The Persians arrived at the plain of Marathon.They were guided and assisted by none other than the former tyrant Hippias, son of Pisastratus, who had been exiled from Athens.
  • The Athenians sent a messenger to Sparta asking for help (he made the 150 mile journey on foot in just 48 hours).
    • The Spartans sent their regrets that they couldnt come immediately because they were in the middle of a religious festival.Kindly wait.The Athenians didnt.
  • The Athenians with some small help from another city-state (the Plataens) confronted the Persians at Marathon.
  • There were 10,000 Athenian hoplites and 1,000 Plataen hoplites


  • The Persian army numbered 50,000 200,000 (ancient sources are notoriously unreliable when it comes to numbers of men engaged in battles).
  • On September 12, 490 BC, the Persians try reboarding their ships in order to beat the Athenians back to Athens and attack it.The Athenians attack them instead.

13. The initial set up of the forces.Note that the Persians have their backs to the water and that the Athenians have stronger flanks and a weaker center. 14.

  • The Athenians closed with the Persians quickly, trotting the last 200 yards in order to minimize the damage the Persian archers could inflict on the phalanx lines.
  • Because the Greek center was weak and the flanks strong, the center was pushed back while the flanks pushed in.After the center retreated a certain distance, it suddenly held firm.This resulted in a double envelopment of the Persians.Being double enveloped is NOT a good position to be in during a battle.
  • The Persians panicked and made a run for their ships.Others ran for a nearby swamp (not knowing it was a swamp) and were slaughtered there.

15. The double envelopment. 16. Animated(!) first phase. 17. Second phase. 18.

  • 192 Athenians and 11 Plataens fell.6,400 Persians were killed.
  • A messenger was sent to Athens.He ran the 21 miles, arrived at the agora, yelled out, , and then dropped dead (hence the modern marathon race).
  • This was actually important because it warned the Athenians that the Persians were coming and to put up a defense and man the walls.The Persians that made it out of Marathon sailed to Athens, but the Athenians from Marathon beat them there.The Persians gave up and sailed home.
  • The Spartans finally showed up the second day after the battle, making the 150 mile march in three days.They toured the battlefield and agreed the Athenians had kicked some Persian keister.

19. The actual helmet worn by the Athenian general Miltiades at the battle of Marathon. 20.

  • The Persians defeat caused them problems because their aura of invincibility was tarnished.Other people rebelled, but were generally suppressed.
  • As for the Greeks, victory significantly boosted morale as well as the prominence of the Athenians.
  • All the same, the Greek city-states knew the Persians would be back.Many of the city-states that had vowed submission to Persia renounced it.Others made secret deals with the Persians to defect when they invaded again.


  • The second Persian invasion.
  • Darius dies in 486 BC and is succeeded by his son Xerxes.
  • In 480, Xerxes invades Greece with a force numbering between 100,000 to 500,000 depending on the scholar (Herodotus said 2.6 million, which is way too large).
  • This was a land force that crossed over the Hellespont by bridges they built.
    • The first bridges were destroyed in a storm.As punishment, Xerxes ordered that the sea receive 300 lashes for having the temerity to oppose him.
  • They were also supported by a large naval force.

22. 23. 24. 25. 26.

  • The Greeks had not been idle.While there was the usual squabbling and fighting, they came together when invasion was apparent and imminent.
  • Athens had built a superb navy.About that the warship of the time was the trireme.It was a narrow ship, about 35 meters long.It had a crew of 170 rowers (at three different levels), 20 crew, and 10 marines.Its main weapon was a bronze plated ram at the front.You built up speed and rammed another ship, sinking it, or, if you got close enough and werent in ramming position, your marines would cross over to the other ship and wreak havoc.
    • This was the main naval battle tactic until the battle of Lepanto in AD 1571 when naval cannon came into its own.Thats right, naval warfare didnt change much for almost 2,000 years.

27. 28. Modern recreation of a trireme, the Olympias. 29. 30. Check out that ram!And look at how close those lower oar ports are to the waterline (yikes!). 31. Recovered trireme ram. 32.

  • On their way down to Attica, the Persian army went by land while being shadowed by the navy for support.
  • The Greeks needed some time to organize their forces, so a stand was made at the pass at Thermopylae.


  • At the time, the pass was rather narrow, with a sheer mountain cliff to one side and the sea to the other.Using a defensive wall there, 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas and about 6,700 other soldiers (Spartan periokoi and hoplites from other city-states) made their stand.
  • Leonidas knew it was a suicide mission.Only soldiers who had fathered sons old enough to take over the family were picked to fight there.His last words to his wife were Marry a good man, and have good children.
  • Before the battle, Xerxes offered Leonidas to be king of all Greece if he surrendered.Leonidas answered, If you knew what is good in life, you would abstain from wishing for foreign things. For me it is better to die for Greece than to be monarch over my compatriots.

34. 35. 36.

  • When Xerxes again demanded Leonidas surrender his arms, Leonidas replied simply, l .Come get them.
  • Xerxes ordered his men into the pass thinking theyd make short work of the Spartans since there were 100,000 Persians and 7,000 Greeks.
  • The lightly armed and armored Persian troops were no match for Greek hoplites in a phalanx, though, and because of the narrow pass, the superior Persian were useless.
  • They fought in the shade.
  • Wave after wave of thousands of Persians was sent against the Spartans (some of the whipped into it) only to fail and/or die.

37. 38.

  • Finally, a Greek shepherd named Ephialtes defects to the Persians and leads them through a pass around Thermopylae so they can attack the Spartans from both sides.For this, Ephialtes became synon

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