Persian Wars Essay, Research Paper
Persian Wars In 519 BC Darius I ascended the throne of the expanding empire ofPersia. A group of people called the Ionians, lived along the coast of AsiaMinor. They were under Persian rule, having been conquered by EmperorCyrus (ruled 550-530 BC), and at this time were unhappy about theirconditions. In 499 BC Aristagoras, the leader Miletus, one of the city-states,organized a revolt of all the rest of the city-states along the coast. Dariusmanaged however, to subdue things in a five-year campaign. After thislong sought victory, Darius became bent on revenge against Athens, one ofthe few states outside the area that had helped the rebles. He appealed toSparta to attack Athens from behind, but the Spartans saw straightthrough his planned conquest of Greece and threw his envoy in a well. The Persian army then landed at Marathon in 490 BC. The 10,000Athenian infantry were supported only by a small group of soldiers fromPlataea (Sparta procrastinated because it was in the middle of a festival),but nevertheless the Athenians defeated the Persian archers and cavalrythrough a series of ingenious maneuvers. Darius died in 485 BC before his plans for another attempt reachedfruition, so it was left to his son Xerxes to fulfill his father’s ambition ofconquering Greece. In 480 BC Xerxes gathered men from every nation ofhis far-flung empire and launched a coordinated invasion by army andnavy, the size of which the world had never seen. The historian Herodotusgave five million as the number of Persian soldiers. No doubt this was agross exaggeration, but it was obvious Xerxes intended to give the Greeksmore than a bloody nose. The Persians dug a canal near present-day Ierissos so that theirnavy could bypass the rough seas around the base of the Mt. Athos
peninsula (where they had been caught before). They also spanned theHellespont with pontoon bridges for their army to march over. Some 30city-states of central and southern Greece met in Corinth to devise acommon defense (others, including the oracle at Delphi, sided with thePersians). They agreed on a combined army and navy under Spartancommand, with the Athenian leader Themistokles providing the strategy.The Spartan king Leonidas led the army to the pass at Thermopylae, nearpresent-day Lamia, the main passage from northern into central Greece. This bottleneck was easy to defend, and although the Greeks were greatlyoutnumbered they held the pass until a traitor showed the Persians a wayover the mountains. The Greeks were forced to retreat, but Leonidas, alongwith 300 of his Spartan elite troops, fought to the death. The fleet, whichheld off the Persian navy north of Euboea (Evia), had no choice but toretreat as well. The Spartans and their Peloponnesian allies fell back on their secondline of defense (an earthen wall across the Isthmus of Corinth), while thePersians advanced upon Athens. Themistokles ordered his people to flee thecity: the women and children to Salamis, the men to sea on the Athenianfleet. The Persians razed Attica and burned Athens to the ground. By skillful maneuvering, however, the Greek then ensnared the largePersian Ships in the narrow waters off Salamis, where they became easypickings for the agile Greek vessels. Xerxes, who watched the defeat of hismighty fleet from the shore, returned to Persia in disgust, leaving hisgeneral Mardonius to subdue Greece with the army. A year later, theGreeks under the Spartan general Pausanias obliterated the Persian armyat the Battle of Plataea. The Athenian navy sailed to Asia Minor anddestroyed what was left of the Persian fleet at Mykale, freeing the Ioniancity-states there from Persian rule.