Casting Through Ancient Greece

29. The Battle of Plataea

April 23, 2021 Mark Selleck Season 1 Episode 29
Casting Through Ancient Greece
29. The Battle of Plataea
Show Notes Transcript

As the sun rose over the plains of Boeotia, the battle of Plataea would now finally be decided this day. The various Greek wings had got underway and began falling back in three sections, the centre having made its way back to Plataea. The Spartan wing had finally moved off leaving a rear-guard force to protect their withdrawal or the protesting Spartan battalion under Amompharetos, depending on how we interpret events here.

Amompharetos and his battalion would start making their way back to the main Spartan line once it had halted. This occurring as the sun was beginning to rise and revealed to the Persians, the Greek line now broken into three separate formations. This would now present Mardonios with the first viable opportunity for an all-out attack of the past ten days.

First the cavalry and then the infantry were sent rushing forward to engage the Greek line. Particular focus had been on the Spartan right wing where it could be seen an isolated formation was retreating without support. The battle that erupted would be fierce and intense all long the line. Most sources give the impression the centre of the Greek line shirked their duties, but hints to this not being the case have survive.

The Spartan wing was engaged with the Persian element of Mardonios forces, while the Athenian left, attempting to come to the Spartans aide were now evenly matched against the Greeks allied to Persia. Mardonios had come forward in the Persian attack to help bolter morale but would fall in battle due to a rock thrown from the Spartan lines. This would now see the Persian forces and their allies waver and a route back to the Persian palisade would take place. This palisade after more intense fighting would also be breached and a general slaughter of the Persians would ensue. 

The Hellenic league had won the largest engagement of the Greco-Persian wars and effectively ended Xerxes second invasion.   

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Episode 29

The Battle of Plataea

“ The word been given, the Lacedaemonian battalion of foot seemed, on the sudden, like some one fierce animal, setting up his bristles, and betaking himself to the combat; and the barbarians perceived that they encountered with men who would fight to the death”.[1]

Taken from Plutarch’s life of Aristides

Hello I’m Mark Selleck and welcome back to casting through ancient Greece, Episode 28: The battle of Plataea.

Introduction:

We are finally at the battle of Plataea. As you have seen there was a lot to consider in the lead up to the battle where it seemed nothing had been happening for the part 10 days. I’m going to give a brief rehash of the past ten days just to refresh our memories going into the battle.

It had been a long ten days out in the foothills and plains stretching between Plataea and Thebes for both the Persians and Greeks. It was clear a battle would take place, but who was going to take the offensive. Both sides had been active in attempting to coheres the other side into action, but neither had taken the bait. The Persians had used their cavalry to harass the Greek line to try and force them forward, as the ground they held was still not the best for cavalry operations. The Greeks had redeployed their line and swapped contingents from the wings and back to try and gain a tactical advantage. All that was achieved was the marching of thousands of troops on both sides to match these changes. Surly all it would have achieved was increasing the frustration of the men who had been kept in the field for days on end with the threat of battle looming over them, but it never eventuating.

Supply issue had now set in for both Mardonius and Pausanias, who were both trying to keep their commands of some 100,000 troops each in the field. The Greeks knew they couldn’t rely on the lands previously occupied by the Persians, so had brought an immense supply train to keep the army fed. The supply line ran through a pass in the Cithaeron mountains in the Greeks’ rear. After they had deployed further forward, due to an increase in confidence with their victory over the Persian cavalry, a larger gap opened up between the main line and the pass. This would be taken advantage of, with the cavalry during their harassing operations focusing on the light and support troops manning the supply line. The result was disastrous for the Greeks with the lines of supply effectively cut. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Persians also targeted their only source of fresh water for the troops along the front line. The spring was fouled and the lack of water was added to Pausanias’ worries. 

Holding both sides back from action was tied up in divine matters, neither Mardonius or Pausanias could receive favourable omens for taking the offensive. Though, the situations before both commanders was one where they both held advantages in their current positions, if they attacked, they would forfeit what advantage they had and would be playing into the others. The situation on the Greek side saw the contingent commanders hold a council to decide on a plan to improve their current precarious situation. Pausanias was also made aware of Persian intensions to attack the Greek lines in the coming days, thanks to a mysterious rider visiting the Athenians during the night. What Pausanias arranged would be risky, but they couldn’t remain in their current positions. The whole Greek line would withdraw back to more defensible terrain, while also relieving and opening up their lines of supply. Falling back would also enable the army to have access to other sources of fresh water. Though, to move an army of this size would be a difficult task and almost suicide during the day. The withdrawal would take place at night, further complicating the manoeuvre. But Pausanias had no other choice, he couldn’t keep the army in its current position for much longer.     

So, the contingent commanders returned to their commands, they had to first ride out the day and the increased attacks by the Persians, but there was still no general advance. As night began to approach the attacks died off and the commanders now readied their forces for the manoeuvres at night where hopefully the enemy would be unaware of what was taking place on the Greeks side of the Asopus. The centre of the Greek line had gotten underway first, but had withdrawn too far back, only stopping just outside Plataea itself. Both the wings of the Spartans and Athenians were delayed, with disagreements breaking out with a subordinate commander in the Spartan position. The Athenians delayed their move due to the inactivity on the Spartan wing and sent messengers to gain some clarity on the situation. With the arrival of the Athenian messenger the plan with withdrawal got back on track. 

The Persians Advance:

The wings of the Greek line had finally got underway; it appears first light was appearing over the land as Pausanias had reached a point some 1800 meters back. Amompharetos, either coming to his senses or carrying out his orders as the rear guard, now began to fall back to the main body. It was at this stage that it had become apparent to Mardonious that the Greeks had or were in the process of abandoning their positions. He now ordered that the main body of the cavalry to ready themselves at once to engage the Greeks. He wanted to get to grips with the Greek line as soon as possible now that it was broken up in three separate parts. Orders also went out to the main infantry elements of the army to come to arms and array in battle formation, though they would take a little more time to organise for a general advance. The cavalry was most likely already readying for the day’s operations of harassing the Greeks once again. There were probably already small detachments of cavalry in the field scouting around the Greek positions.

Pausanias and his men, from their position would have been able to see the Persian cavalry mobilising within the Persian camp and then begin crossing the Asopos. It was clear they were moving in the direction of the right wing and towards the enticing target of the Spartan rear guard.  Amompharetos and his men were still in the process of falling back to the main line as the Persian cavalry advanced. He must have been wondering if he should order a halt to meet the cavalry attack in a defensive position or attempt to press on to the main line knowing if the cavalry caught them before reaching it, it would spell disaster for him and his men. Seeing the mass of the Persian cavalry heading towards his position, Pausanias sent off a rider to the Athenian position to get them to join his position since he was no longer able to move his force. [2]

Amompharetos pressed on, we hear that he reached the main Spartan line just in time. The cavalry had just arrived in force as the rear guard joined back up with Pausanias.[3] The Persian cavalry hoping to gain the prize of destroying about a fifth of the right-wing and a Spartan formation at that. Instead they were now met with the formed-up Phalanx of bronze, the entire right wing of the Spartans and Tegeans, with spears bristling.

The main body of the infantry by this stage had been put into motion, with it seeming they were not advancing in an organised and discipline manner.[4] Mardonios would have no doubt been trying to get the army as ready as quickly for an attack on the Greek lines. With Mardonios accompanying the main body, the subordinate commanders were attempting to fulfil these orders to the best of their abilities with the result being a confused but excitable advance onto what they thought were a retreating army. The General solider in the ranks would have been caught up in the moment with adrenaline now washing all over them.

The Battle:

The rider that Pausanias had sent out arrived at the Athenian position delivering his message. He urged that due to the betrayal of the centre, remembering we touched on the question of how intentional their retreat to Plataea was last episode, the right and left wings had to now support each other. Since the Spartans and Tegeans were now hard pressed by the cavalry, the Athenians would need to reposition to reinforce them. Though if this could not be done, the request was for the contingent of Archers the Athenians possessed to be sent.[5] After receiving this message Aristides issued new orders to his commanders, they were to begin marching in formation to the right to link up with the Spartans. Though not long after the left began enacting its new orders, it was clear they would have their own problems to contend with. Opposing their position for the past 10 days was that of the collection of Greek city states that had medized, headed by the Thebans. They had been tracking the Athenian movements and now came into clear view, Aristides was now forced to halt his command and prepare to meet the imitate attack from the medizing Greeks. Aristides probably would have sent a rider off, the original Spartan one if he was still there, to deliver the bad news. Both the wings were going have to fight their own separate battles. 

Over on the Spartan wing Pausanias now prepared to meet the main strength of the Persian army. The news meant that he could not rely on remaining on the defensive, as the sheer numbers he was up against would eventually overwhelm his force. Not to mention the Persians had three main methods in attacking him. They could manoeuvre with their cavalry, attack at range with their arches and then close in to melee with their infantry. To remain static would allow Mardonious the initiative and take advantage of these elements. Though, a large problem remained, the omen thus far revealed victory only in defensive operations. Pausanias had his priests frantically conducting sacrifices to gain a positive omen to go on the offensive. 

The Persian infantry had now made the march up to the Spartan position, it seems with the commanders gaining some control over their formation since the line was halted before reaching the phalanxes of the right wing, and setting up their wicker shields as a barricade.[6] The missile fire they had been receiving up to this point was sporadic with the cavalry harassing their position, charging then peeling off at the last moment. Now with the arrival of the infantry behind their crude wall, the arrows being directed at them became more constant and thicker. More men in the ranks were now going down as a result of this increased fire. Though, at the rear of the wing Pausanias would not order them to advance as a positive omen was not fourth coming, though he ordered the sacrifices to continue. The Spartan soldiers seeing their comrades dying from ranged fire while they stood motionless would have cause a large sense of unease in their minds. Plutarch relates a story summing up this sentiment.

“Callicrates, who, we are told was the most comely man in the army, being shot with an arrow and upon the point of expiring, said that he lamented not his death, but that he died without action”.[7]  

The Greeks’ attack:

The Spartans may have had the discipline to hold their position and ignore any personal misgivings they may have had about the situation. But the Tegeans would not wait for the order from Pausanias and now began advancing on to the Persians. We hear at this junction, Pausanias, desperate for the sign to attack, invoked the goddess Hera, looking at the temple dedicated to her outside of Plataea.[8] As coincidence would have it, the omens all of a sudden proved positive for an attack, there was no way Pausanias would allow the Tegeans to gain honour and glory over the Spartans. The Spartan line was now ordered to action and began their advance joining the Tegeans. 

It was perhaps at this stage that, that lonely survivor of Thermopylae, Aristodemus, shunned by his fellow Spartans for not having died along with his King and comrades, would seek to regain his honour. He is said to have broken Spartan ranks, charging out like a madman, slaying a great many Persians before being cut down himself. After the battle when it was being discussed who had brought great honour upon themself, it was agreed he had performed great deeds, but in a manner not aligned with Spartan values.[9] But perhaps in his comrades eyes he had redeemed his honour and shown that he was no trembler.

Seeing the Greek line advancing onto them, the Persians dispensed with their bows and prepared to meet the oncoming Greeks, it surly would have been an imposing sight seeing thousands of bronze men advancing towards them. Now the first major clash of the battle of Plataea took place, the Greek right wing meeting the Persians at their hastily built wicker barricade. Like at Thermopylae, the shorter spears, wicker shields and quilted tunics of the Persians would prove a disadvantage against the more heavily armoured hoplites with their longer spears. After a struggle here, the Spartans and Teageans with their bronze shields were able to break up the lighter armoured Persians in their positions, forcing their way through the barricade. With the defensive wall down a general melee erupted. Herodotus tells us that the Persian courage and determination matched that of the Spartans with them taking hold of the Greek’s spears and breaking them. [10] Even with this, the weaknesses of the Persians armour and training began to tell. Desperation would set in with bodies of troops arranging themselves in groups and even as individuals would throw themselves against the Greek line trying to affect a breakthrough. Perhaps sensing his army on the edge of breaking, Mardonious had come forward on his horse within the Persian ranks to re-establish the resolve amongst his men. This move by Mardonious seems to have had the desired effect with his men attacking with more vigour and determination where he had come forward. This though, was a desperate move on his part, he had now put himself in much more danger by coming so close to the fighting. Armies in ancient times were notorious for breaking into a route if their commander was known to have fallen. Especially one that was made up of many nations including their sizable Greek contingent.  

A Spartan by the name of Arimnestus seeing this tempting target towering above the infantry and probably having lost his spear in the struggle, now picked up a stone and threw it with great force towards Mardonious. With that the commander Xerxes had entrusted with the continued campaign in Greece was struck in the head and fell dead from his horse.[11] It seems Mardonious’ death in full view of his troops, and the slaying of much of his body guard saw the earlier wavering in morale return to the Persian line.  This waving was quickly turned into a full route of the forces opposing the Spartans and Tegeans and as Herodotus tells us fulfilled an earlier prophecy. Earlier in the campaign before Xerxes had returned to Persia a Spartan representative had been sent to gain an audience with the great king. The oracle of Delphi had instructed them to do this so as to gain reparation for the killing of king Leonidas and to accept whatever he should offer. After the demand was put forward “Xerxes laughed, and for a time did not answer; then pointing to Mardonius who happened to be standing by him said, they will get all the satisfaction they deserve from Mardonius here”.[12] 

Once again, the Oracle at Delphi had revealed what was to unfold, how was Xerxes to know he was effectively sacrificing one of his most trusted generals. The Greeks who have explained his response as his ignorance of the gods and his hubris. Nemesis would be there on the field of Plataea to collect Mardonius as promised by Apollo and effectively offered up by Xerxes. 

Athenian wing:

Back over on the left wing with the Athenians, a traditional hoplite battle had erupted between them and the Thebans, as well as the other Greeks allied to Xerxes. This was warfare that was much more familiar to the Greeks than the novelty of the Persian style of combat they ha been encountering over the last 2 decades. It appears this was a fairly even contest, though with the Theban cavalry providing some added pressure to the Athenians position as it moved around the field of battle. While Aristides position hung in the balance a very fortunate event would take place, though tragic for some of their allies. 

As we had seen, the centre of the Greek line had fallen back to Plataea and had not taken much of a role in the battle so far or, so our sources lead us to believe. It was now after seeing the Persians fighting against the Spartans, begining to break into a route that they began to come forward. But we hear there was no real order to their march across the plains and seem to have come across in scattered formations or in a mob as Herodotus describes it. [13] The Theban commander, Asopodorus noticed this movement in the plains in the centre. This provided too much of an attractive target to ignore, this is where cavalry excelled. So now the Theban drew off from harassing the Athenian position, relieving them of some of the pressure they were under. 

The scattered groups in the centre now paid for their ill-discipline and in short order some 600 of them would be cut down by the charging Theban cavalry. The rest now fled back to the hills where the cavalry pursued them. This action would see the Theban cavalry tied up for some time, seeing the Athenians now finally getting the upper hand on the Theban hoplites. Maybe this relieving of pressure had helped tip the balance in the Athenians’ favour. Though, perhaps it was also noticed the Persians were now in full retreat across the Asopos, seeing their enthusiasm for battle quickly evaporate. 

It is worth noting that this appearance of inaction of the centre after their retreat is the picture, we get from most of the sources, which seem to be drawing from Herodotus’ account. There is a poem that was composed by Simonodes which Plutarch recounts that refers to the Corinthians involvement during Plataea, who were stationed in the centre and gives a different picture of their conduct.

In the midst were men, in warlike feats excelling,

Who Ephyre, full of springs, inhabited,

And who in Corinth, Glaucus’ city, dwelling,

Great praise by their great valour merited;

Of which they to perpetuate the fame,

To the Gods of well-wrought gold did offerings frame. [14]

So, it could be possible that the centre would play more of a role in the victory at Plataea than what has survived in the recorded histories we have. Also, as we have seen pop up now and again, the political motivations of the periods these histories were being recounted in would see a bias be inserted into the accounts. As we saw with the battle of Salamis the Corinthians were given a bad wrap in Herodotus account. We need to keep in mind most surviving accounts can be seen as Athenian, so understanding Athenian diplomatic relations from the times these accounts were written can go along way into understanding why some events were presented the way they were. A lot of the accounts were being recounted in the lead up to, or during the Peloponnesian war, where city states were aligning themselves to either Athens or Sparta. 

Victory at Plataea:

The routed Persian troops made their way back to the palisade that had been built outside of Thebes to seek protection from the Spartans and Tegeans in pursuit. Its seems that the Theban cavalry were able to regroup after their foray into the Greek centre as Herodotus tells us that they were able to provide an effective screen against the advancing Greeks, “far from shirking their duties”[15] in the face of the Persian route. The routed Persian would find safety within their stockade across the Asopus, for now. Here with some breathing space they were able to arrange and provide an effective defence against the Spartans and Tegeans before they arrived in force. We even hear they were gaining the upper hand over their attackers. Though, with the resistance against the Athenians now in full retreat back to Thebes, it wouldn’t be long until they arrived outside the palisade and joined in the renewed struggled, perhaps also having to contend with the harassing Theban cavalry. It’s said that the Spartans lacked the knowhow of siege craft and this prevented their storming of the defences. But once the Athenians arrived and continued desperate struggles around the defences, a breach was finally made. The Greeks now poured into the Persian camp, Tegeans at the head, with a great slaughter now taking over.[16] Once the Greeks were inside the cohesion of the Persians completely disappeared with a sense panic and chaos taking over, making them easy prey for the Greeks. All but 3000 of the Persian troops that had taken up defensive positions in the palisade were slaughtered. 

Though, a sizeable formation of the Persian army was able to escape the carnage at Plataea. There remained what we are told 40,000 troops uncommitted during the battle under the command of Artabazus, who had been opposed to direct action in the field[17] Once it was clear the battle was turning against the Persians, and perhaps with the knowledge of Mardonious’ death, Artabazus, instead of attempting to take command of the army and reinforce the faltering Persian line, he took his command and began heading north. It could be argued that had he marched to Mardoninus’ aide, his additional forces could have overwhelmed the right wing which could have potentially seen Sparta’s influence in Greece disappear since just about its entire citizen body of Spartities was present in the line. Though, hindsight is a wonderful thing, on the flip side Artabazus could have also ensured that an entire Persian army was lost in the field had they not proved the deciding factor.  He would end up heading back through Thrace where he would bring back the news of the Persian defeat to Xerxes. Presumably Artabazus would have stressed how he was able to save a portion of Xerxes forces in the face of the disaster that Mardonious had allowed to unfold. For this good service Artabazus would be awarded the role of Satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, the point the second invasion had launched from was part of this region. We must also keep in mind that the region had previously been under the control of one of Artabazus’ relatives so this could have also been a factor in his appointment. One cannot help but take away a negative view of Artabazus from the ancient accounts, but he was known to have commanded the Persian reserve forces. With Plataea taking the turn it did, it could be seen he was taking pragmatic measures to ensure a complete Persian disaster did not occur. 

Casualties:

As with all of the battles we have dealt with thus far, the casualty figures given are either over or under exaggerated. Highlighting the destruction brought against the Persians while also shining a spotlight on the feats achieved by the Greeks. Herodotus would have the Persians suffering 257,000 casualties, remembering Herodotus put their strength at 300,000. He tells us that Artabazus managed to save 40,000 with another 3,000 being spared in the slaughter in the palisade. We don’t get a clear picture of the losses of the Greeks allied to the Persian but we do hear of them suffering 300 casualties in their struggle with the Athenians. On the Greek side of the field we get some astonishingly low figures. All the casualties Herodotus lists come from the Spartans, Tegeans, Athenians for a total of 159[18], but elsewhere he report the Greek centre lost 600 men in their ill-timed charge across the plains.[19] It seems likely that he is reporting on the Hoplite casualties, the light troops don’t seem like they have been accounted for. It is probably helpful to remember here that as we have brought up before, victorious hoplite phalanxes seem to have only suffered relatively light casualties while a routed enemy would suffer much more, especially after having broken. Ultimately Herodotus doesn’t provide a total number of casualties, earlier in his account he refers to actions that had also inflicted casualties such as the harassing actions by the Persian cavalry[20] and the attack on the baggage train.[21] but doesn’t provide figures that can be added to what he does provide 

We then also get a casualty figure from Diodorus, who puts the Persian losses at 100,000, out of a Persian force of 500,000.[22] He then reports the Greek losses as being 10,000, which seems it could be a little more realistic and maybe accounting for the light troops that were deployed on the Greek side. 

Plutarch gives very similar figures on the Persian and Greek casualties as Herodotus and it is clear he is working from his account. Though, he does dispute the figures on the Greek casualties, although agreeing with the Spartan, Tegean and Athenian losses. He then argues that the centre of the Greek line took more of an active role in the battle which added to the total losses which he gives at 1360.[23] Also another possibility is that Plutarch may have been attempting to calculate the figure based on the actions Herodotus refers to but doesn’t provide figures to. Modern estimates seem to range from a few thousand up to ten thousand, which seems reasonable but difficult to really know for sure. It seems likely Herodotus and Plutarch were referring to hoplites when giving their figures, while Diodours was probably taking into account all losses. One reason for the higher end being put forward could be due to accounts of many of the city states constructing burial mounds on the battlefield to bury their dead. Herodotus on this point suggests that many of the mounds were empty, in his account he says;

“… all the other funeral mounds which are to be seen at Plataea were, so far as my information goes, erected merely for show: they are empty, and were put up to impress posterity by the various states who were ashamed of having taken no active part in the battle”.[24]

Most modern estimates seem to put the Persian armies’ total losses somewhere between ten to fifty precent, remembering this was from a total of probably around 100,000. If Artabazus did in fact save a sizable portion of the Persian forces by withdrawing back to the empire. And coupled with the accounts suggesting the Greeks allied to the Persian not suffering huge casualties, it does seem plausible that perhaps this range seems reasonable based off of what can be found about the descriptions of the battle. We need to keep in mind that this battle is particularly difficult to pin a casualty figure to but this battle has been particularly difficult for historians to pin an exact figure to. Though, even this range for casualties would have been still catastrophic for any army to suffer, but not uncommon for an army that had been routed. The greater parts of the losses occur once the army has lost the will for the fight and discipline has all but vanished.  

Conclusion: 

With the destruction of the Persian camp and the escape of Artabazus’ command, the battle of Plataea had come to a close. Some 10 days of inaction developed between both sides due to the attempt to follow the advice of the omens, promising victory in defensive action. Finally, the Persians had taken the offensive, the withdrawn and isolated wings providing too tempting of a target. Within the Spartan lines, the endless sacrifices finally revealed positive omens for a switch in tact. The Greeks now went on the offensive and after a hard and bloody struggle, the Persians broke and the real slaughter began.

Once the battle had finished and the Greeks were picking through the Persian dead, a man from Aegina approached Pausanias congratulating him on his victory. He suggested to Pausanias that he should take his revenge for the ghastly treatment of Leonidas’ body after Thermopylae, giving Mardonious much the same treatment once his body was recovered. This he argued would see Sparta’s loss avenged and would also make the Persians think twice invading Greece. After hearing this proposal, Pausanias rebukes the man, pointing out that this action would bring the Greeks to the same level as the Persians and their barbarous and beastly ways. We see Herodotus compare the Greeks civilized ways to various barbarian nations throughout his work. Here he takes the opportunity to continue this theme in this exchange.[25] Though, it can perhaps be assumed Herodotus was far less xenophobic than most other Greek writers with him being labelled a barbarian lover by some of them.[26] While he also has much praise for other foreign peoples.

With the battle now over men would have now taken the chance to catch their breath and tend to their wounds. Others would have seen the opportunity for plunder and with the amount of Persian dead and what had been left behind. Pausanias, as soon as he could, arranged for an organised system to collect the valuable booty that lay in the Persian camp and along the Aospos. He deterred individual opportunistic wealth making by issuing orders that any one caught plundering would be executed. He arranged that the Helots who accompanied the Spartan army be made responsible for the collection of all the Persian treasure. Herodotus also tells us that the Helots took the opportunity to generate some of their own wealth with them concealing what they could. Though apparently they were fleeced by the Aeginetans who convinced them that the gold items they had were brass and paid them accordingly helping lead to their future prosperity.[27] As with most Greek victories, one tenth of the tressure that was rounded up and declared would be dedicated to the gods in various shrines around Greece associated to the city states that made up the Hellenic league. 

The Greeks would remain on the battlefield for the next 10 days  and establish a new camp where they could continue the job of collecting the vast riches left behind. This would also allow the appropriate arrangement to be made for all of the Greek dead. Mass graves would be dug in the plains with each contingent making their own to lay their fallen to rest. Remaining here may have also been a defensive measure, as the Theban force had fallen back to within their walls. We will look at how Thebes and the other Greek medizers were dealt with in a future episode, when looking at the fallout of the victory. Also, the sizable force Artabazus escaped with would have been an unknown factor for the coming days. In this period, it appears some Greek forces were still arriving at Plataea, a little late for the battle. A very similar scenario to Sparta 11 years earlier at the bay of Marathon after that battle had also seen many days of inaction before the engagement.  Herodotus tells us of Mantinea and Elis, both on the Peloponnese arriving in this fashion, but we are not aware of what led to their late arrival. Their commanders, we are told, were exiled for not leading them their in time for the battle.[28]     

Plataea would be the largest battle of the Greek and Persian wars, seeing the largest Greek army deployed. Though, it is interesting that it has attracted far let attention than the battle at Thermopylae or even the battle of Salamis. Thermopylae would be seen as a heroic last stand, though not deceive in the war, though it would capture the imagination of future generations for a romanticised notion of self sacrifice. While Salamis, would be argued as a turning point and key to the ultimate victory over Persia. Salamis was also seen as and is presented as an Athenian led victory by what could be considered sources with an Athenian bias. Plataea in this sense can be considered a Spartan led victory and is presented this way in the sources. They had the command of the Hellenic league; the most forces committed and faced what was considered the better part of the Persian army, the Persians themselves and Mardonius. This would probably then have led to Plataea attracting far less attention from the city that would become the centre of culture, Athens. A sentiment the historian Paul Cartledge has put forward that I think goes some way into explaining the back seat this battle has taken. [29]

The battle of Plataea would put an effective end to hostilities of the second Persian invasion, with Xerxes forces in no shape to continue operations in a hostile land. Though, Plataea wasn’t the only battle taking place in the scope of the Greek and Persian wars at this stage. A few episodes ago we left the Spartan commander Leotycades and the Greek fleet at the island of Delos, cautiously guarding against the defeated Persian fleet who had made its way back to the Anatolian coast. Tradition would have it that this fleet would fight their own decisive engagement on the same day as the victory at Plataea. Next episode we will turn to the battle of Mycale and one of the strangest naval battles of ancient times.

Before we leave this episode I just want to end with a story that Herodotus tells where he once again points out the contrast between Persia and the Greeks, perhaps more precisely the Spartans. This would take place after the victory at Plataea in the area the Persian camp had stood.

“it is said that Xerxes on his retreat from Greece left his tent with Mardonius. When Pausanias saw it, with its embroidered hangings and gorgeous decorations in silver and gold, he summoned Mardonius’ bakers and cooks and told them to prepare a meal of the same sort as they were accustomed to prepare for their former master. The order was obeyed; and when Pausanias saw gold and silver couches all beautifully draped, and gold and silver tables, and everything prepared for the feast with great magnificence, he could hardly believe his eyes for the good things set before him, and, just for a joke, ordered his own servants to get ready an ordinary Spartan dinner. The difference between the two meals was indeed remarkable, and, when both were ready, Pausanias laughed and sent for the Greek commanding officers. When they arrived, he invited them to take a look at the two tables, saying, Men of Greece, I ask you here in order to show you the folly of the Persians, who living in this style, came to rob us of our poverty”.[30]  

 

 



[1] Plutarch’s Lives, Aristides p449
[2] Herodotus 9.60
[3] Herodotus 9.57
[4] Herodotus 9.59
[5] Herodotus 9.60
[6] Herodotus 9.61
[7] Plutarch’s lives Aristides p448
[8] Herodotus 9.62
[9] Herodotus 9.71
[10] Herodotus 9.62
[11] Plutarch Life of Aristides p449
[12] Herodotus 8.114
[13] Herodotus 9.69
[14] Plutarch. Mor. MOH.42
[15] Herodotus 9.67
[16] Herodotus 9.70 / Plutarch Life of Aristides p450
[17] Herodotus 9.66
[18] Herodotus 9.70
[19] Herodotus 9.69
[20] Herodotus 9.20
[21] Herodotus 9.39
[22] Diodorus 11.30
[23] Plutarch’s Lives, Aristides p450
[24] Herodotus 9.85
[25] Herodotus 9.78 - 79
[26] Plutarch, On the Malice of Herodotus
[27] Herodotus 9.80
[28] Herodotus 9.77
[29] After Thermopylae, Paul Cartledge p88 - 89
[30] Herodotus 9.82