Guide Plataea 479 BC: The Most Glorious Victory Ever Seen (Campaign 239)

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In BC, Xerxes personally led the second Persian invasion of Greece with one of the largest ancient armies ever assembled. 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, defeating the Persian army at the Battle of Plataea , and ending the invasion of Greece.

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, as the so-called 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 an Egyptian revolt from — BC resulted in a disastrous defeat, and further campaigning was suspended. A 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 so-called Peace of Callias. Thucydides continued Herodotus's narrative. Almost all the primary sources for the Greco-Persian Wars are Greek; there are no surviving historical accounts from the Persian side. Some later ancient historians, starting with Thucydides , criticised Herodotus.

However, since the 19th century his reputation has been dramatically rehabilitated by archaeological finds that have repeatedly confirmed his version of events. 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 by ancient scholars, was a period of relative peace and prosperity within Greece.


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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. 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.

Further scattered details can be found in Pausanias's Description of Greece , while the Byzantine Suda 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. 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.

The cities of Ionia remained independent until they were conquered by the Lydians of western Asia Minor. The Lydian king Alyattes II 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.

Eventually a peaceable settlement was established between the Medes and the Lydians, with the Halys River set up as the border between the kingdoms.

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Cyrus was a grandson of Astyages and was supported by part of the Median aristocracy. The Oracle supposedly replied the famously ambiguous answer that "if Croesus was to cross the Halys he would destroy a great empire". The Achaemenid Empire at its greatest extent listed on the Behistun Inscription. 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. The Ionians thus prepared to defend themselves, and Cyrus sent the Median general Harpagus to conquer them.

In the years following their conquest, the Persians found the Ionians difficult to rule.

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Elsewhere in the empire, Cyrus identified elite native groups such as the priesthood of Judea — to help him rule his new subjects. Furthermore, certain tyrants might develop an independent streak and have to be replaced. Backed by the Persian military might, these tyrants did not need the support of the population, and could thus rule absolutely. 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.

The Persian military consisted of a diverse group of men drawn from across the empire. However, according to Herodotus, there was at least a general conformity in armour and style of fighting.

Battle of Plataea

They wore a leather jerkin, [43] [45] although individuals of high stature 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.

Their role was to protect the back ranks of the formation. 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 hoplite phalanx supported by missile troops. 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. It is not clear what this was, but it probably involved sailing into gaps between enemy ships and then ramming them in the side. The Persian naval forces were primarily provided by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Cilicians and Cypriots. 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.

Struggling to rule the independent-minded cities of Ionia, the Persians appointed local tyrants to rule each of them. The Persians responded in BC with a three-pronged attack aimed at recapturing the outlying areas of the rebellious territory, [59] but the spread of the revolt to Caria meant the largest army, under Darius , moved there instead. By BC the Persian army and navy had regrouped, and they made straight for the epicentre of the rebellion at Miletus. 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. After conquering Ionia, the Persians began to plan their next moves of extinguishing the threat to their empire from Greece; and punishing Athens and Eretria. The first campaign, in BC, was led by Darius's son-in-law Mardonius , [70] who re-subjugated Thrace, which had nominally been part of the Persian empire since BC.

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. The following year, having given clear warning of his plans, Darius sent ambassadors to all the cities of Greece, demanding their submission.

In BC, Datis and Artaphernes son of the satrap Artaphernes were given command of an amphibious invasion force, and set sail from Cilicia. The task force sailed on to Euboea, and to the first major target, Eretria.

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Furthermore, according to Darius's commands, the Persians enslaved all the remaining townspeople. 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. As soon as the Persian survivors had put to sea, the Athenians marched as quickly as possible to Athens. Seeing his opportunity lost, Artaphernes ended the year's campaign and returned to Asia. 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.

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. 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. The Persians had the sympathy of several Greek city-states, including Argos, which had pledged to defect when the Persians reached their borders. 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 armies from the Eastern satrapies were gathered in Kritala , Cappadocia and were led by Xerxes to Sardis where they passed the winter.

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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 2. 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.

These works generally claim that the Persians could have launched no more than around warships into the Aegean. 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. 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.

Its passage was probably due to the desire of many of the poorer Athenians for paid employment as rowers in the fleet. The Spartan king Demaratus had been stripped of his kingship in BC, and replaced with his cousin Leotychides.


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  • Sometime after BC, the humiliated Demaratus had chosen to go into exile, and had made his way to Darius's court in Susa. When the wax was removed, a message was found scratched on the wooden backing, warning the Spartans of Xerxes's plans. The veracity of this anecdote is therefore unclear. 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.