Casting Through Ancient Greece

27 The Road to Plataea

March 26, 2021 Mark Selleck Season 1 Episode 27
Casting Through Ancient Greece
27 The Road to Plataea
Show Notes Transcript

Athens refusal of Mardonius offer to join the Persian side had seen the Persian army march back into Attica and take control of Athens for a second time in a year. The Athenians had once again evacuated the city back across to Salamis, while the Peloponnesians remained behind the wall being constructed across the Isthmus. 

Mardonious would repeat his offer to the Athenians, now back in control of their city. But once again the Athenians would refuse. The Peloponnesians had previously in the campaign agreed to march north to meet the Persians in battle. They were now dragging their feet, with talks between the various city states seeming to get nowhere.

Finally, Athens had had enough and used the Persian offer to try and force the Spartans to act. They would make it known that they were considering the offer since the Hellenic league would not unite and no other choice available to them. This appeared to see a change in tune from the Spartans, surprising everyone that their army was in fact already on the march north. Though, other hazy political considerations may well have been at play also.

The various city states that made up the Hellenic league were now beginning to also march north after hearing that the Spartans were on the march. The further the Spartans marched the more the numbers of the army swelled. Eventually the Athenian force sailed from Salamis and would join the Spartans. With the news of the Greeks marching north Mardonious pulled out of Athens and deployed his army in country more suited to cavalry. The Hellenic league now more united than even, emerged out of the Citheron Mountains near the small polis of Plataea, where across the plains and Asopus river was the Persian army.    

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Episode 27

The road to Plataea


“I will not hold life dearer than liberty, nor will I desert the leaders, whether they be living or dead, but I will bury all the allies who have perished in the battle; and if I overcome the barbarians in the war, I will not destroy any one of the cities which have participated in the struggle; nor will I rebuild any one of the sanctuaries which have been burnt or demolished, but I will let them be and leave them be and leave them as a reminder to coming generations of the impiety of the barbarians”.[1]

An extract of the Oath of Plataea


Hello, Im Mark Selleck and welcome back to Casting Through Ancient Greece, episode 27 The road to Plataea.



It was now August of 479BC, and the Persians had been occupying Greek territory for over a year now. The hostilities leading to this point had stretched back twenty years to the Ionian Revolt, where many of the men serving in the various polies armies were but children. Though, they had grown up in a generation where the Persians were presented as enemies of Hellas. Well perhaps more so for the thirty odd city states that would come together to form the Hellenic league committed to the defence of Greece. In this time a number of battles has already taken place; outside of Ephesus in 498 BC one of the first recorded battles of Greeks against Persians took place, where the Greeks were routed. Again, the Greeks were defeated in 494 BC, this time at sea at the battle of Lade which saw the Ionians bid for freedom fail. The Persians then mounted their campaigns west against the Greek mainland seeing the battle of Marathon taking place in 490, with the Athenians and Plataeans defeating the first invasion. Ten years later the Persians were back and had defeated a defensive stand at the pass of Thermopylae and watched the Greek fleet fall back from Artemesium after 3 days of fighting. The Greeks appeared to be on the back foot, Xerxes had control of Greece all the way down into Attica, while the Greek allies were at odds with one another and the best way forward. Eventually the naval battle of Salamis was forced due to some cunning on the part of Themistocles. This was the breakthrough the Greeks needed and they inflicted a crushing defeat on Xerxes fleet. This would see the Persian fleet essentially become combat ineffective for the near future. After the defeat, Xerxes took a large portion of the army back into the empire. There are hints that another revolt had broken out in Babylonia, providing another line of reasoning for Xerxes withdrawal from Greece, or at least added to his decision to leave. One of Xerxes generals, Mardonious was left with a sizable army still occupying Greek lands. He had resorted to diplomacy to try and break the already fractious Hellenic league. 

We saw his attempt to try and break the Athenians from the league through the use of Alexander of Macedon. Though the Athenians publicly refused the terms in front of the Spartans, hoping to kick them into action. Mardonious then went on the offensive once again and occupied Athens for a second time in 12 months. He would now give one last attempt at convincing the Athenians, who had evacuated again to Salamis, to submit to the Persian Empire. Though no one knew it yet, the Greeks were on the eve of the largest battle that would see them become more united than any other point during the Persian wars. But nothing less would be needed to finally defeat the second Persian invasion.      

Mardonius offers Athens term again:

We closed last episode with Mardonious’ reoccupation of Athens, though most of the Athenians had fled from the villages in Attica and Athens itself back to the Island of Salamis. Now back in control of Athens, Mardonious thought it was well worth offering the same terms he had sent with Alexander of Macedon again. He could feel the league at breaking point, perhaps now the added pressure of the loss of their territory would help them come around. If he could manage to get the Athenians on the side of the empire his prospects of defeating the Greeks were much better. As things stood the Persian army wasn’t in the best position to force a decision, they lacked their navy which would be essential if they wanted to attack Salamis and if a campaign against the Peloponnese was to be attempted.

Mardonious sent a messenger to offer the terms again to the Athenians on Salamis.[2] It appears that for some Athenians they were at breaking point. We hear from Herodotus, that when the terms were once again offered before the council, a man named Lykidas argued that they should accept what was on offer. Though, it appears that the majority were still in favour of resistance or keeping their opinions to themselves, especially following Lykidas fate. Herodotus continues, “The Athenians, both those in attendance at the council and other outside, at once grew indignant when they found out about this proposal that they surrounded Lykidas and stoned him until he died”. Herodotus then goes on to tell us that as word spread the Athenian women gathered and marched onto Lykidas house and proceeded to stone his wife and children.[3] It would seem that tensions amongst the Athenian community on Salamis were resting on a razors edge. The messenger that Mardonious had sent, who was a Greek from the Hellespont region, must have been very nervous of his fate after witnessing the events unfold. Plus, the Athenians had been known to toss Persian messengers in a pit previously.[4] Though, he was sent on his way to report back the rejection of Mardonious offer, though their actions would have made this very clear.

With the Athenians resolute in their decision to defend against the Persian invasion, Mardonious really only had option left open to him. He needed to entice the Greeks to come out from behind the wall on the Isthmus and draw them into terrain suited for his most formidable arm, the cavalry. If the Athenians weren’t going to take his offer, hopefully his heavy focus on trying to tempt the Athenians would cause doubts regarding their course of action amongst their allies.     

Athens gives Sparta an ultimatum:

The Athenians had much the same objective as Mardonious, they wanted to get the Spartans and the other Peloponnesians out from behind their wall so that the league as a whole could engage with the Persians still occupying their territory. They were steadfast in their loyalty towards the defence of Hellas but left enough doubt to try and convince the Peloponnesians into action. Throughout the period, messengers and delegates would have been making their way between Athens and Sparta to try and gain a commitment from the Spartans to come and fight north of the Isthmus. Eventually though, after this final offer by Mardonious, the Athenians arranged for a delegation to give a last-ditch effort in securing this commitment from the Spartans. The men sent on this diplomatic mission were told to “Proclaim that if the Spartans did not help defend the Athenians, then the Athenians would find some way to save themselves without such assistance”.[5] This was to make it clear to the Spartans that the offer extended to Athens by Mardonious would be seriously considered, as if no help was forth coming there would be no other option open to the Athenians. 

This Athenian delegation arrived in Sparta to where the pious Spartans were in the middle of celebrating yet another religious festival. This had affected Spartan commitment before Marathon in 490[6] and Thermopylae in 480[7], the Athenians arriving in Sparta were probably guessing that little would eventuate from their appeals. Also, it would have been noticed that the wall across the Isthmus at Corinth was nearing completion, providing yet more physiological security to the Peloponnesians behind it. The Athenians had been joined by delegations from Plataea and Megara who were also affected by the Persian occupation. An audience was gained before the ephors where Athens once again outlined the generous offer Mardonious had made to them, which if followed through on would see them becoming the most powerful city in Greece, though answerable to Xerxes. The Athenians though, reinforced their commitment to Hellas and had proclaimed they had refused the offer. But now taking a jab at the Spartans, they said they remained committed to the defence of Greece even though the rest of the Hellenic league had not shown the same commitment which saw all of Attica being overrun for a second time. The delegation refrained from reproaching the Spartans to harshly in this first meeting but had put across their displeasure in the past promises which had amounted to nothing. Though they were focused on the present and urged for action now. The ephors after listening to the Athenians pleas now continued to delay, their response they assured would come the next day. Once the next day arrive though, a meeting with the delegations was put off for another day. This response was delivered to the increasingly frustrated Athenians for the next 10 days.[8]

Finally, the different delegations had had enough of these delaying tactics and saw there was no hope on achieving a decision. The Athenians now finally able to gain a meeting with the ephors once again were much blunter in their address. Herodotus reports on what was delivered:

“Lacedaemonians, you may remain here, celebrating the Hyakinthia and assuming yourselves while betraying your allies. The Athenians, since they have been wronged by you and are destitute of allies, will give up and make peace with the Persian in what ever way they can. And once we have done that, it is quite clear that we shall become the King’s allies, and we shall join him in marching against any land to which the Persians direct us”.[9]  


The Spartans Act:

After listening to the threats of the Athenians, they now revealed to the astonishment of the delegations that in fact the Lacedaemonians were already on the march towards the Isthmus. They were now already approaching the boarder with Arcadia, with more of the Peloponnesians on route to join them. The various delegations would have now rushed back to their polis to inform them of these sudden developments. 

This whole episode has been difficult to explain, this sudden turnaround from the seamlessly unending delaying by the Spartans has been hard to provide clear answer to. We need to keep in mind everything we know about these talks appear to be from Athenian sources with very little insight into the behind the scenes dealings in Sparta. Herodotus relates a story that supposedly goes someway into explaining this change of policy. Chileos, a man from Tegea supposedly was in Sparta during this period and had heard the Athenians pleas. He is presented as a trusteed outsider who is able to make the Spartans aware of the dangers that they had failed to see for themselves. He told the ephors, presumably during this ten-day period, that if Athens allied with Persia, then it wouldn’t matter how strong the wall across the Isthmus were, “there will be gates flung wide open for the Persians to enter the Peloponnese.”[10] A reference to the navy Persia would be able to make use of to avoid the Isthmus. Though it would seem the Spartans would have been well aware of the ramifications of Athens falling in with the Persians, plus its ramifications were implied on every occasion of the Athenians making them aware of Mardonious’ offer.   

Another possibility going some way to explain the appearance of this sudden turn around revolves around the Spartans wanting to play their cards close to their chest so as to their regional enemies not being aware of their intensions. It has been reported that Argos, Sparta’s long time bitter rival on the Peloponnese had been in contact with Mardonious. They had assured him that they would block the Spartans march should they attempt to head north. We are told by Herodotus that the Spartans had departed at night time. This coupled with the Spartans keeping their intensions under wraps would prevent Argos of learning of the Spartan march until it was too late for them to act, which is precisely what Herodotus has a running from Argos presenting to Mardonious in Attica.[11]  This has also led some to think, (which Peter Green puts forward in his book, the Greco Persian wars),  that there were two distinct delegations sent from Athens, not one waiting around in Sparta for two weeks. So much of the activity around getting the armies ready to march would have been taking place while the delegations were absent and unable to learn of the intensions of Sparta and the other Peloponnesians.[12]

Finally, something else to consider, the sources as we said are predominantly Athenian so show Sparta as delaying and failing to fulfill on their previous word. The Athenian navy had failed to meet with the rest of the Hellenic fleet and Athens had a policy focused on the land forces now. Perhaps the failure to commit a land force north of Corinth on Sparta’s behalf was in response to Athens failure to commit to the naval force. These continuous streams of delegations may have been attempting to negotiate on the commitment of both arms. Athens may have been unwilling to deploy the navy as this would reduce the committed forces on land. Though after seeing the Peloponnesians unwavering in their stance, a compromise had to be come to. Athens found a way to still provide a naval contingent without affecting the army too much. This then was able to satisfy the Spartans and a campaign north now began to materialise. If this was the case it would seem the developments were unfolding over a longer period of time of what is presented in Herodotus’ work. The mobilisation of many polis armies and the Athenian fleet would have needed more than a couple of days after a snap decision to finally act. It seems the mobilisation and march of the Peloponnesians was taking place around the same time that The Athenian navy would sailed to join Leotychides at Delos. Though, we will look more closely at the fleet’s movements when looking at the battle of Mycale in a few episodes time. 

The account from Herodotus does seem to slant very suspiciously on the side of the Athenians taking the roll of the defenders of Hellas, while everyone else looked on. A position easily taken when it is your lands that are occupied but your citizen body is still intact. Perhaps if they were still in their lands behind a defensive wall the position they took may have been different. Though, we can’t discount the fact that there were factors the Spartans had to think about before sending the best part of their forces out of Lacaedimonia. As we have said, Argos was the main rival of Sparta. The Spartans would have been very wary of sending their entire army out of the Peloponnese knowing Argos had open lines of communication with the Persians. Its not known how they dealt with this threat but maybe a large enough Spartan hoplite force remained behind that would deter any action from the Argives. Also, a large portion of the Peloponnese was part of the Hellenic league further deterring any action from Argos. Another consideration was the Territory of Arcadia, seen not as a direct threat to Sparta but they always had one suspicious eye on their neighbours to the north. As you may remember from our Spartan episodes the two had a history. The Spartans being defeated and humiliated when they attempted to subjugate Tegea a couple of generations earlier. They were chained in the fetters that they had brought with them that they had intended to use on the Tegeans.[13] Perhaps the visit that we get in Herodotus’ account by Chileos from Tegea was a diplomatic mission where an understanding by the two was come to.[14] The Tegeans would also march north with the other Peloponnesians and would end up being stationed with the Spartans on the line of battle. Though, probably one of the largest complications was that of the Helot populations. If the majority of the Spartans were away fighting who would ensure revolt amongst the slave population wouldn’t break out. As we will see the Spartans would end up addressing this issue by something unprecedented, though was seen at a lesser extent a year earlier at Thermopylae. They would press into service the fighting age males who would pose the greatest risk back home. These men who accompanied the Spartan army on their march would be utilised as light infantry once deployed at Plataea.

So, as we have seen there are many considerations to look at to try and unravel the true intensions and decisions behind what would lead to the Peloponnesians finally marching north. At this point we are left to our best educated guess to try and understand what was really going on. Thought, what ever the road to a decision being reach was, the various contingents of the Hellenic league were now on the march.

Greeks on the March:

The lead elements of the Peloponnesians army, the part the Athenian delegation was surprised to learn of after their dressing down of the Ephors, was made up of five thousand Spartan Hoplites and thirty-five thousand Helots. Quite a considerable force, the Spartan hoplites were Spartities, full Spartan citizens and would have been the most part of the citizen body. In Laconia, another force of five thousand hoplites were being assembled and would march the same day the delegations left Sparta. This group were made up of the Perioikoi of Spartan society, not citizens but free men non the less, though they were accompanied by another five thousand Helots. On the march other Peloponnesian contingents would fall in with the Spartans as they headed north to the Isthmus, while others would meet them there at the pre-arranged rendezvous point.[15]

Once at the Isthmus camp was established so that all the forces marching out of the Peloponnese could meet up. Many contingents would have marched once word had been received that the Spartans had moved. Though it seems there was also an effort in gaining those polies who had yet to make known their commitment, with a number of them being encouraged into action by the large numbers of Greeks assembling. 

Once all of the committed Peloponnesian continents had assembled at the camp the pious Spartans before continuing now performed their sacrifices. Once favourable omens were received the entire Peloponnesian force now continued the march along the Isthmus towards Eleusis, on the same road heading towards Athens only some 20km away.[16] The Spartans had employed a professional seer by the name of Tisamenus who would perform all of the army’s official sacrifices. Tisamenus was from the polis of Elis but had been made a full citizen of Sparta, an extremely rare act to be extended to an outsider. Tisamenus had come to the attention of the Spartans after he had received a prophesy telling him he would win five competitions. After trying to work out what these competitions were supposed to be, the Spartans had gotten wind of his oracle and concluded this referred to battles. With the coming threat of the Persian invasions to a price for his services was sought which ultimately included Spartan citizenship.[17] 

When Pausanias and his Peloponnesian force arrived at Eleusis, the Athenian army crossed from Salamis and join with the Peloponnesians, swelling the numbers of the Hellenic league force even further. The Athenians were able to ferry over eight thousand hoplites to join the Peloponnesians,[18] with another eight thousand lighter troops. Also accompanying the Athenians and Peloponnesians was the small exiled Hoplite force of the Plataeans, who had assembled a force of six hundred.[19] They would now get ready to march to very familiar territory, just outside their home polis, which most would not have laid eyes on for at least 12 months. Something also took place between the members of the Hellenic league at Eleusis which is not recorded in Herodotus account but appears in some later source, with Diodorus Sicilus being one. This is where they supposedly swore an oath, known as the Oath of Plataea.[20] This Oath is what we began the episode with. It has been thought by a number of Historians that the Oath was a later creation over a hundred years after the battle when the Greeks were facing another crisis, Phillip II of Macedon. Though some still also believe it to be an authentic oath swore before the battle of Plataea between all of the Hellenic league members.[21] 

Following the Greek march north was a large baggage train and camp followers carrying the supplies to keep the Greeks fed. This long slow line of pack animals and troops would also provide a weak spot for the Persians to aim for as the battle unfolded, as well shall see. They were effectively marching into enemy territory with all the regions having submitted. Also, the scorched earth policy saw that living from the land was not going to be possible, everything the Greeks needed to stay in the field had to be brought with them.[22] It is also interesting to note that this is one of the first times where other elements of the army are spoken about in the historical record, not just the Hoplites. We have seen the light troops and even the Helots brought up as being employed for use with the army and contributing to its effective strength. And now we are given a picture that for this campaigning season supplies were to play a major part in achieving success. I think that seeing these elements brought up for this campaign shows that this effort was larger than any other land campaign the Greeks had undertaken in their memory of that time so at the time this support roles were seen as instrumental if victory was to be achieved.  


Persians reaction to Sparta’s movements:

Mardonious and his Persian force were still occupying Athens and Attica while the various diplomatic missions were taking place between the members of the Hellenic league. It’s unclear if Mardonious thought the Athenians would seriously accept his offer, though if he did in fact send 2 delegations offering the same terms on different occasions then he must have seen at least a chance. But if anything this was going to cause suspicion in the Greek camp, by just extending the offer to one of them, the most powerful in terms of a navy, then he could quite conceivably destroy cohesion amongst the Greek allice before engaging them in battle and defeating the Greek city states piece meal. As we have seen over the Greek and Persian wars this was the favourite strategy of the Persian army. They would undermine the alliances of the opposing army then attack the weakened result of their diplomatic endeavours. 

Though, once word from the Agrives arrived. “…the fighting force of Lacedaemon is on the march, and that the Argives have been powerless to stop it”.[23] Mardonious’ hope of gaining a powerful naval ally or destroying the alliances of the Hellenic league evaporated. He had been keeping a watchful eye on the Peloponnese as to their intentions. The news of their march north indicated that the Greeks were far from disunited and the Hellenic league in fact held firm. The time for diplomacy had now past and it was time to mobilise his forces into action. Before the Spartans had reached the Isthmus the army had already began departing Athens. But before doing so they razed to the ground all they could in Athens and destroyed the country side in Attica, completing a scored earth policy before departing. The land in Attica was of no use to Mardonious, now that the Greeks were determined to meet him in battle. The Attic country side was ill suited for his best arm, the cavalry to take advantage of.[24] He would pull back hoping to draw the Greeks into territory of his own choosing. Though just as he had got the army on the march word had arrived that an advance guard of one thousand Spartans had reached Megara, a little close for comfort from his withdrawing army. Herodotus tells us that he halted the army and prepared to march on Megara and had sent a force of cavalry ahead.[25] It seems unlikely that Mardonious would want to give battle even closer to the Isthmus, perhaps the cavalry were sent to screen the army and delay the Spartan advance so as to buy him more time for the army to fall back.  The withdrawal would take them just outside of Thebes in Boeotia where the region had larger open plains which would allow better use of the Persian forces. The path chosen was not the most direct route, which would have taken the army through mountainous areas of Attica and Boeotia. Instead he took a path east around the Parnes allowing the army to march in more open country, less susceptible to ambushes.  Once outside of Thebes, who had remained loyal to the Persians throughout the campaign, a large palisade was constructed. Herodotus tells us that much of the wooded areas in the region were striped to construct this defensive work, though not with the intension of striping the Thebans of their source of wood but out of necessity. Once camped in Boeotia, many more troops would have been making their way to the Persian camp.[26] The medizing city states who weren’t with the main Parisian army already would have now received word where to march, so as they could full fill their duty to the Persian empire. Supposedly, the Greek troops that would assemble at the Persian camp to fight on their side would number around fifty thousand, hoplites and lighter troops. 

Herodotus also gives us a picture of the mood amongst the Persian commanders when a banquet had been arranged by the Thebans for Mardonious and fifty other distinguished Persians. Fifty Thebans also attended with them seated intermixed with the Persians where conversation could freely flow between the men. Also helping with this free flowing conversation was a healthy supply of wine served throughout the night. One of the Persian officers sharing the couch with his Greek companion said to him “You see these Persians at their dinner, and the army we left in camp over there by the river? In a short time from now you will see but a few of all these men left alive”. He then continued to say that “Many of us know that what I have said is true”. Herodotus reports that a man named Thersander from Orchomenus told him that this is what the Persian officer had said to him as he had received an invitation to the banquet.[27]

The Battlefield:

The Greeks had taken a more direct route towards Plataea than that of the Persians. From Eleusis they had moved off north and then weaved their way through the passes through the Cithaeron Mountains. As they began descending from the passes they would have been able to see in the distance before them the Persian camp and the forces stretching along the opposite bank of the Asopus River. Pausanias would have been aware the Persians were deployed for battle, but now the ordinary Greek soldier was sure this would become the site of the showdown between the two sides.   

What lay before them looking down from the Cithaeron Mountains was a vast plain, perfect cavalry country. The Greeks though, would not descend into the plains but would begin to establish a defensive line in the foothills so as to provide them some protection from the formidable Persian cavalry.[28] Between the two armies was the Asopus river and a couple of ridges that over looked the river which would prove to be good defensive positions once advancing from the foothills. Also, all along the line were various tributaries and gullies that would provide some protection to the formations in the immediate area. I have provided some maps on the episodes web page which gives a general feel of the battle field and the positions the armies occupied. It is thought that the rivers and tributaries may have had a different course in ancient times but the main lay of the land remains fairly unchanged. 

It would appear that as the Greeks came out of the mountains Pausanias was deploying the contingents as they arrived centred on Hysiae. In both Herodotus’ Histories and Plutarch’s life of Aristides it would appear disagreements on who was to take what position was being argued. This mainly being between the Athenians and Tegeatans over who would take the left wing.[29] The Athenians would win out in the argument but it seems probable that the deployment Herodotus gives of the Greek army wouldn’t take place until the Greeks advanced from their initial positions in the foothills.  It seems Pausianias was more interested in building a defensive line as he may have been expecting to be attacked on his arrival. But we will cover the dispositions once they make their advance forward.  


Athenian reluctance to fight:

As we have travelled through the series so far we have had a picture of the Spartans being highly religious in all matters of their lives, especially that of warfare. Though, most city states took religious affairs quite seriously and the prophesies delivered to them as we have seen previously. It would now be Athens that that would err on the side of caution. At this stage, with the army deploying out of the Cithaeron Mountains, the leader of the Athenians, Aristides would become very nervous of the situation that lay before them. The words of the Pyithia from Delphi that had been revealed to him were playing on his mind, as the armies situation did not appear to be compatible with the Prophesy, from what he could see. Plutarch tells us that Aristides had sought to gain advice from the Oracle, which had probably been delivered when it seemed that a battle would be fought in Attica. It had outlined that the Greeks would overcome their enemy if sacrifices were given to the appropriate gods and heroes, and if they risked giving battle in their own territory within the plains of the Eleusian goddesses. But looking around the shrines of the gods and heroes outlined were not to be seen, also the Hellenic army had marched out of Attic territory. We are then told that the commander of the Plataeans, Arimnestus took action to put Aristides mind at ease. He wasn’t going to risk seeing the Greek army fall back from their position because the Athenians, a large portion of the army got nervous at a prophecy they couldn’t reconcile. Though, with some carful manipulation of the oracles words perhaps the Athenians would be convinced to stay and give battle in the Plataeans home territory. [30]

He claimed he had a dream where it had been revealed to him that the meaning Aristides took from his prophesy had been misinterpreted. He then proceed to take Aristides on a whirlwind tour around the region they were to fight it. Making connections to all the gods and heroes no matter how vague, and also pointed out the natural defences of the areas associated with them. Though to satisfy the last stipulation, the offer of victory if the Athenians fought in their own territories, this was going to be hard to explain away, so in this time of crisis the Plataeans had the boundary stones removed from their boarder with Attica so as to satisfy the final condition and Aristides mind.[31]    

This whole episode has also been seen as more of a reconnaissance of the battlefield, seeking out the best positions for defence. Perhaps what we get in the sources comes from some commanders being hesitant with giving battle below the foothills. The commanders touring the battle field may have convinced those unsure of committing their contingents out from the foothills


The major part of the Greek force had now assembled on the Cithaeron line across from the Persians. Still more Greek contingents would have been arriving through the passes in the mountains along with the followers and baggage train. Looking around one would see the largest combined Greek force ever assembled. This time around it seemed that all of the city states that were apart of the league had committed all of their available fighting strength to hopefully defeat the Persians in a decisive battle that would once and for all see the invaders forced from Greek lands. The Hellenic league at this moment probably stood at its most united since coming together nearly two years earlier. The Peloponnesians had, from the beginning sought to make the Isthmus at Corinth the main defensive line against the Persian threat. This though would leave everything north vulnerable. One major factor that had created problems for them following this strategy was the fact that Athens one of the post powerful polies of the league lay north of this intended defence line.

Compromise needed to take place for a successful coalition to come together for a chance at halting and ultimately defeating Xerxes invasion. This coalition almost fell apart on a number of occasions, but now, finally it seems a full commitment from all those involved had been made and it wouldn’t be until the wars of Alexander the Great’s generals some 150 years later, that a Greek force this size would be once again assembled. The size of the Greek force would also see for once the disparity between the Greeks and Persians much closer, a luxerary the Greeks had not yet enjoyed.   

What now occurred in the Greek position was that of a defensive posture. Pausanias’ seer, Tisamenus had advised him that the omens had proved favourable if they fought a defensive battle.[32] The Greek position was well protected by the Cithaeron Mountains and the light troops positioned throughout the Greek hoplite contingents. In front of the Greeks was a plain that had many gullies and potholes that provided obstacles any Persian advance of the Greek positions. Pausanias would have been well aware that advancing the Greek force further out into the plains would see them become much more vulnerable to the Persian cavalry, seeing them having to contend with the Persians strongest arm. Like wise the Persians understood the position the Greeks held and were looking for them to advance so that they could make better use of their forces. So what was now developing was similar to the situation at the bay of Marathon just over 10 years earlier, when the Athenians and Plataeans opposed the Persian force landing there. If the battle of Platea was going to develop one side would need to take the initiative. Eventually Mardonious would take measures to try and force some action in the plains between the two, seeing the largest battle of the Greek and Persian wars develop.   


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[1] Diodorus XI.29
[2] Herodotus 9.4
[3] Herodotus 9.5
[4] Herodotus 7.133
[5] Herodotus 9.6
[6] Herodotus 6.106-107
[7] Herodotus 7.206
[8] Herodotus 9.7-8
[9] Herodotus 9.11
[10] Herodotus 9.9
[11] Herodotus 9.12
[12] Peter Green, The Greco-Persian Wars p230-231
[13] Herodotus 1.66-68
[14] Herodotus 9.9-10
[15] Herodotus 9.10-11 / Plutarch’s Lives, Aristides p443
[16] Herodotus 9.19
[17] Herodotus 9.33
[18] Plutarch’s Lives, Aristides p443
[19] Herodotus 9.28-29
[20] Diodorus XI.29
[21] Paul Cartledge, After Thermopylae p26-29
[22] Herodotus 9.13
[23] Herodotus 9.12
[24] Herodotus 9.13
[25] Herodotus 9.14
[26] Herodotus 9.15
[27] Herodotus 9.16
[28] Herodotus 9.19
[29] Herodotus 9.26 / Plutarch’s Lives, Aristides p444
[30] Plutarch’s Lives, Aristides p443
[31] Plutarch’s Lives Aristides p444
[32] Plutarch’s Lives, Aristides p443