The Persian Wars Lecturer: Wu Shiyu
The Rise of Persia • Cyrus (600 BC–530 BC ): The model of a good king. • Under his own rule： expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much of Central Asia, parts of Europe and Caucasus. • From the Mediterranean sea and the Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, to create the largest empire the world had yet seen.
Very successful model for centralized administration and establishing a government working to the advantage and profit of its subjects
The Rise of Persia • Darius (550 BC-486 BC): ascended the throne by assassinating the alleged usurper Bardiya with the assistance of six other Persian noble families; Darius was crowned the following morning. Proved to be a very competent leader, and quelled rebellions. • held the empire at its peak, then including Egypt, northern India, and parts of Greece. Darius organized the empire, by dividing it into provinces and placing satraps to govern it. • Invaded Greece: The Battle of Marathon (490 BC)
The Rise of Persia • Xerxes (519BC-465BC): took the empire to its height and set on its path of decline and ultimate demise. • Invasion of the Greek mainland: • The Battle of Thermopylae (in August or September 480 BC ) • The Battle of Salamis (September 29, 480 BC)
And the story of Pythius. • Xerxes roars out, ‘How dare you make such a request like this? Here I am, leading the army myself, and you are asking your son to stay behind. Alright, I grant it. Let him stay behind. • With a great sword, the executioner splits the son right down the middle, and one side of the body was placed at one side of the gate, and the other side, the other part of the gate, and through the sliced body of the son of Pythius, the mighty army marches out.
Now again, the lesson from Herodotus: What is it like to live under a despot? Even the highest and richest man who the king might behold for favors, has no security of life or property. • And Pythius is not only a symbol of what it is under a tyrant, but also hybris.
Hellespont: has his engineers lay a bridge over boats to cross it.. Suddenly, a storm comes up, but he still wants to cross. Xerxes now is rolled out into the Hellespont, and lashes the waters with his whip, “You briny stream, how dare you stand before me? And he beat the water over and over and over again, and of course executed the engineers. And another bridge is laid down. And he crosses.
The superb cavalry, men and horse wrapped in armor, his immortals, ten thousand Persians carrying their spears, golden and silver pomegranate at the end, marching across, his body guards, and then the troops of the far ranging empire. His Arabs on horseback, Sythians with their bows and savage spears. Ethiopians, their bodies painted half white, half red, carrying spears all crossing in majesty. And it seems nothing can stop this expedition.
The Beginning of the Persian War: The Ionian Revolt • When Lydia and also many other Greek cities in the north were subjugated by Cyrus, they were however quite unhappy about the Persians’ control. • Taxes were heavy and the Ionians resented the puppet tyrants.
By 499B.C. the Ionians were ready to rise up. Aristagoras, tyrant of Miletus, having noticed the restlessness of the Ionians, decided to unite them in revolt. The Ionians showed their enthusiasm and did overthrow most of the tyrants. • Aristagoras decided to go and seek support from the Spartans (army), was rejected. • Aristagoras then went to Athens and had better luck with the Athenians (agreed to send troops).
Aristagoras presented before the Spartan king Cleomenes a bronze map of the world and showed him the prospect of conquering the wealthy peoples and liberating the Ionians. • But when Cleomenes heard it would take the Spartans three months’ time just to get to the Persian kingdom, “Cleomenes cut short Aristagoras saying, ‘Get out of Sparta before sundown, Milesian stranger, for you have no speech eloquent enough to induce the Lacedemonians (Spartans) to march for three months inland from the sea.’” (The Histories 5:50; Blanco)
Aristagoras was not yet willing to give up and he followed Cleomenes to his house,. As the suppliant sat in Cleomenes’ house, he noticed Cleomenes’ young daughter, Gorgo (8 years old), standing by his father. He asked Cleomenes to send his daughter away, but Cleomenes declined and told him to say whatever he liked. • Aristagoras then started by promising ten talents if he Cleomenes could send help. When this was rejected, Aristagoras kept adding up the amount until it reached fifty talents. • At this time, the child cried out, “Father, this stranger will corrupt you with a bribe if you don’t get up and leave!” Delighted with the child’s advice, Cleomenes withdrew into another room and Aristagoras failed in his attempt to gain help from the Spartans. • Foreign customs, cautious, conservative, and wary of foreign adventures, and who allowed their women to be assertive.
In 498B.C., the ships from Athens and Eretria arrived. Aristagoras led the Milesians and Athenians to launch a surprise attack on the Persians in Sardis. They captured the city, burned the sanctuaries, and dashed back to Ionia, where they found a Persian force waiting for them. In the following fight, the Ionians were defeated; the Athenians barely escaped destruction and had to return home. • Not surprisingly, Darius was furious. As a revenge for the destruction of Sardis, Miletus was ruined. Its women and children were enslaved, and the men were relocated to the mouth of the Tigris. Miletus, which had been one of the most cultured cities as it was home of the philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenens, and the geographer Hactaeus, was wholly wiped out.
The First Persian War • Darius thought Athens should also be punished for their role in aiding the Ionians in their revolt. • The Athenians was aware of the situation. They began to worry that the mainland Greece might have the same fate as Miletus. • Themistocles, a very capable Athenian leader, was then elected archon. He persuaded the Athenians to turn the Piraeus harbors into a fortified naval and commercial base.
The Battle of Marathon (490BC) • In 490B.C. Darius sent an army straight across the Aegean Sea. Along the way, many other Greek cities offered earth and water as recognition of the king’s supremacy. Upon the same request, however, Sparta and Athens, among others, refused to submit to the Persian king. Then, under guidance of Hippias, the Persians landed on Marathon in northern Attica.
The Athenians knew what was coming and they were now under a critical situation (betraying). The Athenian forces were heavily outnumbered (more than two to one ) and Plataea, the only neighbor who sent help, had only an army numbered in the hundreds. • Still, the Athenian Assembly immediately voted to send their forces to meet the Persians. • Also a messenger was sent to Sparta to ask for help.
Greece : rugged terrain, so rocky and steep that runners instead of horsemen were often sent to convey message between cities. • The runner named Philippides who was sent off to request Spartan help covered the distance of a little over 200 kilometers between Athens and Sparta in about thirty-six hours, which was quite remarkable. More remarkable, the Spartan army, in full battle gear, covered the same distance in three days.
However, the Spartans could not send their troops immediately (celebrating a festival of Apollo, the Carneia, and the ritual requirement forbade them to send an army into the field until the moon was full, which would be six days later).
The Persians had landed at Marathon, twenty-odd miles from Athens, on the other side of Mt. Pentele, where there was a small plain suitable for cavalry operations, a Persian strength.
At the time when Philippides was sent to Sparta, the Athenian army quickly marched to block the two exits from the plain of Marathon under the guidance of Miltiades, who had the greatest experience of fighting the Persians. • The Persians were prevented from moving inland for the time being. Both the Athenians and the Persians seemed to have been unwilling to take the initial risk of attacking, and for approximately five days the two armies confronted each other in stalemate across the plain of Marathon.
The Persian forces: cavalry, archers, and skirmishing troops. • The Athenian and also the Spartans: fought as “hoplites,” or heavy infantry, armored in greaves, helmet, and breastplate, and bearing a substantial “hoplon” or shield. • They deployed in closely packed lines, each hoplite bearing a thrusting spear overhand on his right and shielding his comrade to the left. The resulting “phalanx” was a formidable formation, but vulnerable to the flank attack from cavalry. • And so, it could be seen that the Persian cavalry would be the major threat to the Athenian hoplites.
Ten Athenian strategoi (generals) at Marathon, Miltiades being one of them. Elected and each took in turn a day to command the army. • In addition, a war archon in overall charge, elected by the whole citizen body. The war archon was Callimachus. As there was disagreement among the ten Athenian strategoi whether to wait or attack soon, they had a debate. Arguments went on until they learned that the Persian cavalry was suddenly missing and probably heading for Phaleron. • The general Miltiades, who had been eager to attack, tried to persuade his colleagues to launch the attack immediately. The ten strategoi came to a draw of five to five, thus the decision fell upon Callimachus, the war archon, who had a vote when the ten strategoi could not reach a majority vote. Miltiades tried to win:
Callimachus, it is up to you, right now, to enslave Athens or to make it free, and to leave for all future generations of humanity a memorial to yourself such as not even Harmodius and Aristogiton have left. Right now, Athens is in the most perilous moment of its history. Hippias has already shown what we will suffer if we bow down to the Medes, but if this city survives, it can become the foremost city in all Greece.
Now, I’ll tell you just how this is possible and how it is up to you --- and only you --- to determine the course of events. We ten generals are split right in two, with half saying fight and the other half not. If we don’t fight now, I am afraid that a storm of civil strife will so shake the timber of the Athenian people that they will go over to the Medes.
But if we fight now, before the cracks can show in some of the Athenians, and provided that the gods take no sides, why then we can survive this battle. All this depends on you. It hangs on your decision --- now. If you vote with me, your country will be free and your city will be first in all of Hellas, but if you choose the side of those who urge us not to fight, then the opposite of all the good I’ve spoken of will fall to you.
Obviously Callimachus was persuaded and voted in favor of Miltiades, and the Athenians decided to attack.
Miltiades ordered the two tribes forming the center to be arranged in the depth of 4 ranks while the other tribes at the flanks in ranks of 8. Thus the Athenian army was formed into a long line, thin in the center but thick in the flanks. In this way the Athenian Phalanx formation would have no worry of being outflanked. When the line was ready, Miltiades gave a simple signal: “At them”. • The distance between the Athenian and Persian armies was about 1,500 meters. Herodotus implies that the Athenians ran to the Persian lines the whole distance. The Persians tried to stop the Athenians with the arrows, but in vain, as the Athenians were protected for the most part by their heavy armour. Finally the Greek line collided with the Persian army. The hand-to-hand battle revealed the advantage of the Athenian phalanx formation, heavier armour and longer spear over the Persian army.
The Persians, after the initial surprise, tried to break through the center of the Athenian line and almost succeeded. At that time Athenian flanks had defeated the inferior Persian wings and began to envelope the Persian center. • The Persian army broke in panic and began to run back to their ships, perused by the Greeks. Some of them ran towards the swamps and drowned for ignorance of the local terrain. • The Athenians chased the Persians back to their ships and captured seven of the ships, though the majority were able to escape. Cynaegirus, brother of Aeschylus the tragedian, charged into the sea, grabbed one Persian warship, and tried to tow it back to the shore. • A member of the crew cut off his hand, and Cynaegirus died in the sea. Herodotus records that the Persians bodies counted on the battlefield were 6,400, not including those that perished in the swamps. The Athenians lost 192 men, among whom was the war archon Callimachus.
Herodotus reports that after the Battle of Marathon a signal was given from Athens, urging the Persians to rush to Athens. But when they arrived at Athens, the Persians found that the Athenian army was also there, ready for defense. The Persians then decided to leave and went back to Persia. The Spartans arrived too late for the participation of the fighting, but they were able to visit the battlefield and survey the Persian corpses. After congratulating the great victory of the Athenians, they went back to Sparta.
The defeat at Marathon was a minor event for the Persian empire, yet it was an enormously significant victory for the Greeks. It was the first time that the Greeks beat the Persians, and showed that the Persians were not undefeatable. The Athenians took great honor in their victory of the Battle of Marathon. To commemorate the triumph, the Athenian dead were cremated and buried on the site of Marathon, instead of in the main Athenian cemetery. On the tomb of the Athenians, the epigram composed by Simonides reads:
The Athenians, as defenders of the Hellenes, in Marathon • Destroyed the might of the golden-dressed Medes.
Very importantly, the victory of Marathon gave the Athenians an immense burst of self confidence. Such influence was enduring and could be seen in the next two generations, the “golden age” of Athens, of Pericles, of Phidias, of the Parthenon, of Herodotus and also of Greek tragedy. • The playwright Aeschylus, who also participated in the battle, took part in the drama competition in Athens in 472 B.C. with his play the Persian and won first prize. The play represents the growth of Athenian political, military, and cultural power after the victory. After his death, Aeschylus’ epitaph reads: “The glorious grove of Marathon can tell of his valor --- as can the long-haired Persian, who well remembers it.”
The Second Persian War • After the Battle of Marathon, Darius began collecting a huge new army. He was now determined to completely subjugate Greece, but was delayed in 486 BC when his Egyptian subjects revolted. • While still preparing to march on Egypt, Darius died and passed the throne to his son Xerxes, who crushed the Egyptian revolt, and very quickly re-started the preparations for the invasion of Greece. • Xerxes, Darius’ son and successor, made up his mind in 484B.C. to attack Greece.
When everything was ready, in 480, Xerxes led his huge army to march on road, which was believed to be the largest army ever assembled. Though the figure was not certain, historians estimated there were at least 500,000 Persian soldiers. • Besides, the Persian fleet amounted to 1294 warships. Before Xerxes was marching out, he had sent heralds to the Greek cities, asking for earth and water, a token of compliance with the Persian army. Many cities, out of fear, submitted earth and water to Persia. Xerxes did not send anyone to Sparta and Athens, though, as messengers had been evilly treated there at the time of his father’s.
All the cities on the Greek mainland, only 31 have resisted him. All the rest have sent him the sign of submission. He sent diplomats demanding earth and water.
And he sees before him spears glittering in the sun, 7000 warriors from the Peloponnese with the core of 300 Spartans. What means this, says the Persian king. An exile from Sparta is called and Xerxes asked, “Who are these people?”
The exile says, “Sire, these are not just the bravest warriors in Greece, they are the bravest warriors in the world.” • Xerxes says, “Are you telling me that 300 Spartans can resist my hundreds of thousands? Why don’t you, you are from Sparta, fight a dozen of my men and see who wins?