Casting Through Ancient Greece

31. The Battle of Mycale

May 21, 2021 Mark Selleck Season 1 Episode 31
Casting Through Ancient Greece
31. The Battle of Mycale
Show Notes Transcript

The battle of Plataea had been fought and won on the plains of Boeotia, seeing the Persian land forces finally defeated. Though, this wasn’t the end of the campaign, there was still yet another battle to be fought. Tradition would have it that it took place on the very same day as the victory at Plataea. This would see a transition in operations, now seeing the war arrive in Persian territory.

The Greek fleet had also been preparing for operations as the campaigning season of 479 BC approached. The navy commanded by the Spartan king Leotychidas had set up base at the island of Delos after being approached by some Ionian exiles to support a revolt in Anatolia. Leotychidas was reluctant, he commanded a much smaller fleet than what had sailed the previous year. The Athenians yet to join the rest of the fleet.

Diplomatic manoeuvrings with Sparta may explain the Athenian absence, but perhaps compromise between the two would finally see the Hellenic fleet more than double in size with the Athenians arrival. We are told a Samian delegation to the Greek fleet would finally see it sail, but this influx of ships would have seen Leotychidas become more confident in sailing east. The Hellenic league now made its way to the Persians based at Samos.

The Persians would be alerted to the Greeks presence and fell back to the Anatolian coast, beached their ships and prepared defences at Mount Mycale. The Greeks pursued and what had begun as a naval operation would now be decided on land. The Greek victory here at Mycale would see Ionia once again break out in revolt while further operations from the Hellenic league would continue in the Aegean and Hellespont.

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Episode 31

The Battle of Mycale


“Men of Ionia, all of you who can hear my voice, heed what I am about to say, for the Persians, in any case, will understand nothing of my commands to you. When we join battle, each of you should remember freedom first and foremost, and after that, recall the password Hera, and make sure that those of you within the sound of my voice inform all the others that cannot hear me”. [1]

Leotychides to the Ionians from Herodotus’ Histories 


Hello I’m Mark Selleck and welcome back to Casting Through Ancient Greece, episode 29 The battle of Mycale.


We have in the last few episodes dealt with the largest battle fought during the Greek and Persian wars. Though, it also happens to be one of least known, apart from the battle we are about to focus on today. We talked about how this had probably come about due to the Athenian sources deciding to focus on a battle where they had had the greatest influence on. Herodotus in his Histories also elevates the importance of the Athenian navy and therefore the victory at Salamis when he says:

“If the Athenians, through fear of the approaching danger, had abandoned their country, or if they had stayed there and submitted to Xerxes, there would have been no attempt to resist the Persians by sea; and, in the absence of a Greek fleet, it is easy to see what would have been the course of events on land.” [2]

Though perhaps, it was in times after Herodotus recorded his Histories that this view came about, as he also states that this opinion of his was unpopular. It could in fact be that the generations of the Greek and Persian wars saw Plataea as being the decisive battle, it was, after all the largest force the Greeks had yet assembled and would ultimately put an end to the Persian invasion. Herodotus also records when talking of Plataea, perhaps the popular sentiment of the day,

“Pausanias, son of Cleombrotus and grandson of Anaxandrides, won the most splendid victory of all those we know.” [3]

Though, all of this doesn’t change the fact that Plataea had seen the largest combined Greek force assemble to give battle. It was also probably the strongest the co operation between the Hellenic league members had been for the entire Greek and Persian wars period. As we have seen, the unity had been on the verge of collapsing on many occasions throughout the period.  The victory at Plataea effectively put an end to the second Persian invasion with the surviving elements of the Persians withdrawing north and back into the Empire. Though there was still one more battle that was to be fought, tradition would have it that it took place on the same day as the victory on the plains outside Plataea. This battle though, wouldn’t be fought on the Greek mainland; it would be the first battle of the Persian invasions that would be fought in lands controlled by the Persians. 

The Persians still had a sizable fleet which had withdrawn from Greek waters after the defeat at Salamis. The Greek fleet which had been at Delos during the lead up to Plataea would end up coming to meet the Persian fleet and fight one of the strangest naval battles of the period. 

The Persian Fleet:

The Persian fleet having sailed back across the Aegean after their defeat at Salamis had assisted in the ferrying of Xerxes and his forces across the Hellespont back into the Persian Empire. With these duties complete the fleet then wintered on the Anatolian coast, centred on the city of Cyme. As we have spoken about previously, the winter months were a very hazardous period for a navy to be conducting operations, so they would tend to disband until warmer months returned with calmer weather. Once spring had come, the fleet then mobilized for active duties once again. The new base of operations would be on the island of Samos, were Herodotus tells us they were on guard for another Ionian revolt developing.[4]. This could have been a very real possibility, as the Ionians had been apart of the Persian forces throughout the war and witnessed their masters suffer defeat at the hands of their cousins across the Aegean. Revolts were generally more likely to develop after military defeats took place as it was a sign of weakness. The Persian fleet by this stage numbered some 300 ships, so still an effective fighting force, though it appears they were not anticipating an attack by the Greeks into their territory. After all, Mardonius still had a sizable force in Greece to tie up the Greek efforts. The primary focus of the fleet was the Ionian coast with little enthusiasm to sail west again, though harassing operations against the Greeks were being considered.    

The Greek fleet at Delos:

As we had seen some episodes ago, the beginning of the campaigning season for 479 BC saw the Greek fleet mobilize before the armies. A fleet of 110 triremes has set out and established a base at Aegina under the command of the Spartan king Leotychides. Missing from the fleet though was one very noticeable contingent, the Athenians. They were attempting to make a combined army of the Hellenic league a reality. In their view all effort should be put into the army so Mardonius could be challenged north of the isthmus. At Aegina pressure had been applied to Leotychides to sail east and support a revolt by the Ionians. This was coming from a group of men from Chios who, after a failed conspiracy found themselves exiled and residing in Sparta. Herodotus gives us here a similar reluctance from Leotychides as was had with Clemones some 20 years previously before the start of the first Ionian revolt.[5] Supposedly they were able to convince him to sail as far as Delos, but he would not continue any further east from there. It is unclear why the fleet relocated to Delos but it seems it would have been for more strategic reasons not to simply appease some Ionian exiles. It also seems very reasonable that Leotychides would remain well in Greek territory for now, not attempting to seek out the Persian fleet, or support an Ionian revolt. He had only 110 ships, the lowest the fleet had numbered in the war so far. Also to sail east before the Athenians joined them at Delos would be asking for disaster, once the Athenians arrived the fleet would practically double in size, not to mention they would be one of the most capable contingents.   

There is no clear account of when the Athenians joined the rest of the fleet at Delos, though it seems likely this would have happened during the councils that were taking place in Sparta when Athens was trying to get Sparta to commit its land forces north of the isthmus.[6] We also looked at this playing out in our episode, the road to Plataea. Once the Spartans had committed it seems the Athenians were willing to also commit their navy, perhaps showing a compromise had been reached, not that we hear about any.  

Herodotus only ever tells us that Leotychides commanded 110 triremes but it isn’t clear if he places the Athenian fleet in this figure or if the Athenians were with the fleet or not at this stage. Diodorus places the fleet that would sail to Samos as 250,[7] which has led some modern historians such as Peter Green and Tom Holland to suggest this later arrival by the Athenians.[8] The thought is that while Leotychides and his fleet were at Delos the Athenians had employed their fleet in assisting the evacuation of Athens once again to Salamis. Athens had refused a final ultimatum from Mardonius which saw him invade Attica once again 10 months after Xerxes initial sacking of Athens.[9] So there appears to be motivation in holding the fleet back due to Sparta’s unwillingness to commit to land operations, while also it being pointed out the Athenian fleet was busy evacuating and not at Delos.  

Then, like I said earlier once Sparta came to the party Athens released their fleet to sail for Delos. The difference in numbers from Herodotus and Diodorus is then thought to be the size of the Athenian fleet, 140 triremes. This is also 40 fewer ships than Athens had committed at Salamis and has also gone someway into explaining how they were able to find the man power to field both an army and navy at the same time.[10] The Athenian navy had a new commander now that the wily and cunning Themistocles had faded into the back ground. Leading the fleet towards Delos to join with the rest of the Greek fleet was Xanthippus, whose son Pericles would go on to be one of the most recognisable leaders of Classical Greece. The arrival of the Athenian fleet at Delos also seems to coincide with another plea in support for a revolt in Ionia, this time from a group of Samians whose home island was being used as a base for the Persian fleet.

Samians Plea:  

A small delegation of Samians arrived on the island of Delos, no doubt hearing of the Greek fleets presence in the Aegean. Samos had been incorporated into the Persian Empire and was ruled by a Samain tyrant placed by the Persians to ensure their interests were being met. As we have seen the Persians liked to give submitted populations the impression they had some level of self governing. This delegation from Samos had arrived without the knowledge of the Persians or their tyrant as they were looking to undermine both of their holds on the island. The Samians sought a council with Leotychides where they could hopefully persuade where the exiles from Chios had failed.  The argument put forward seems somewhat familiar if you can remember back to our episode on the Ionian Revolt where Aristagoras put his case forward to the Spartan King Cleomenes. [11] They would point to the same blood they shared with their cousins across the Aegean and to free them from their slavery. The Persians, they would say, were no match for the Greeks now, with their ships as being described and “unhandy”[12] This could perhaps be a reference to the Persians ships remaining in service constantly without the appropriate measures taken for maintenance and repairs. Triremes required constant attention, such as time to dry out on land; if this didn’t happen the ships wooden structure would become water logged making it more cumbersome in the water and contribute to further damage. 

Even though the Samains had put forward their case, supposedly according to Herodotus these are what not convinced Leotychides to assist in the Ionian cause. Like in a number of instances in Herodotus’ account of the wars it was a favourable omen that would finally see a decision reached. Herodotus says,

“Leotychides, either by chance, or because he really hoped the answer might prove an omen of success, asked what his name was. Hegesistratus, the man replied; whereupon Leotychides cut short anything else he might have had in mind to say, and cried: My Samian friend I accept the Omen.”  [13]

The mans name means leader of the army and we are led to believe that this omen revealed to Leotychides would seal the decision to sail to Samos and challenge the Persians fleet. To make sure the Greek fleet would benefit from the omen Leotychides made sure he accompanied the fleet. Though the samians had also offered themselves as hostages to convince the Greeks the were not undertaking any sort of treachery.[14] Before the fleet had set out though, the appropriate sacrifices had to be made, the Spartans were in command after all.   

On the face of it, it seems that Leotychides was reluctant to commit his small fleet against the Persians early on when the initial request for help came. He had was hoping the Athenians would end up joining him at Delos, which would then allow him to more confidently conduct operations towards Persian held territory. Leotychides, may have had the intention all along of sailing east, the Samians being more the Greeks local contacts and the leadership group that would take control once liberated. Their knowledge and intelligence of the Persian fleet would have been extremely valuable. I feel the most likely factor in Leotychides finally ordering the fleet to set out for Samos when it did was because of the timing of the Athenian fleet’s arrival. This would have seen the Greek fleet increase from 110 ships to 250, with the additional numbers coming from one of the most capable continents in Greece. 

The Persian fleet reacts:

News of the Greek fleets advance would have made its way back to the Persians at Samos fairly quickly with all of their interests in the Aegean. Once the Greeks had arrived at Samos they prepared the fleet so that it was ready to offer battle. But the Persians meanwhile had other intentions and were not looking for a fight. We hear that the Phoenician contingent was dismissed from the main fleet but no explanation is given by Herodotus of why.[15] Though, there are a couple of explanations that could explain their dismissal which the historian Peter Green has put forward.[16] Firstly, when the first Ionian revolt broke out the Persians, when bringing Anatolia under control, had initially focused on subduing the cities along the Hellespont. These cities would have been vital to trade for the empire since they overlooked one of the major trade networks. The Phoenicians then may have been sent closer to this region to assist in putting down any outbreak of revolt up there. Though there is another line of thinking to look at. Perhaps the Persian navy wasn’t holding up so well, it had been out on campaign for nearly 2 years. The allegiances from various contingents may have started be tested. They had not had any successes in battle against the Greeks but had suffered badly in their encounters. As we have said before with a string of continued defeats the commanders of different contingents may have now started to see Persia as becoming weak. The Phoenicians were considered one of the best contingents in Xerxes fleet and one of the largest. They had suffered terribly at Salamis and Xerxes had even executed some the Phoenician commanders[17], which may have seen resentment towards the Persians building. Perhaps given the right circumstances they would turn on their masters, so better they be sent home where they could not betray the Persian navy in the next battle. The Persians were use to winning battles in this manner when their enemies betrayed one another, but not having happen to themselves. If this was the case then the question could be asked, why the Ionians weren’t dismissed since it seemed the region was on the verge of revolt. I think here it comes down to the fact that turning the Ionian fleet lose was more of a threat to the Persians than keeping them in the fleet. Sent back to their cities, they could easily join with the Greek navy, but in the Persian fleet they could be held as hostages where they could be kept from interfering in affaires. The Phoenicians were a far larger contingent, so harder to control and also their cities were farther away which would see them unable to interfere in operations.    

The dismissal of the Phoenicians also raises another question in regards to the Persians numbers. As we have seen Herodotus puts the Persian fleet at 300 triremes when they had returned to Asia Minor. But with the Phoenicians departing did this reduce their numbers further or was Herodotus giving a general figure that represented the Persian fleet the Greeks would meet. If it had seen their numbers dwindle then it could explain the actions the Persians now undertook, aware of the Greek fleets presence. 

With the Greeks now in the area, Mardontes who had been trusted with the command of the Persian fleet held discussions with his subordinate commanders. Perhaps it had been decided here that the Phoenicians be dismissed and sent back to their home cities, with this potentially seeing the Greek fleet now outnumber them. This is providing we accept that the Greeks numbered 250 triremes and the 300 of the Perisans was reduced due to the Phoenicians departure. It was decided that their fleet was in no shape to give battle to the Greeks. During the invasion, even when they outnumbered the Greeks that had come off second best. Now a year after their failed battles at Artemisium and Salamis the fleets moral was probably at the lowest it had been since forming, while many of the triremes were in need of repairs due to their continued use. 

Orders went out for the Persian fleet to set sail from Samos to the Anitolian coast, to a place called Mycale. According to Herodotus, Xerxes had sent 60,000 troops into Ionian due to the threat of revolt[18] . Mardontes would have reasoned that by withdrawing to Mycale he could call upon reinforcements before having to engage the Greeks.

Mycale and the Persians preparations: 

Mount Mycale was situated on a peninsular on the Anatolian coast north of Miletus and was only separated by a strait just over 1km wide from Samos. The actual location of the battle is today inland, as like at Thermopylae with the passage of time a large area south of the mountain has been silted up. So although the battle took place between the coast and the mountain, today one must travel inland to where the battle took place.

The Persian fleet now sailed along the southern end of the Peninsular until reaching a stream coming from the mountains and out to see. Here the ships were beached on the shore line, with the men set to work cutting down tress and collecting stones. With the materials collected a wall of wood and stone was constructed as well as stakes being fixed in place protecting their position. It seems Mardontes had the intension of offensive manoeuvres against the Greeks when they landed, but probably only once the army had joined him at his position. Herodotus dose say “They were ready to stand a siege or win a victory, and had considered both possibilities in their preparations.”[19] In the mean time defensive works were required to protect the ships and men just landed. The Persian fleet would have no doubt been in contact with Sardis, the city that governed Ionia, while stationed at Samos. This is where Tigrannes the commander Xerxes put in charge of the army in Ionia would have set up his command. Once it was known the fleet was going to beach at Mycale, a force would have been on the march. Tigrannes at the head of his troops arrived at Mycale before the Greeks had arrived at their position, which would have now seen Mardontes more confident in engaging with the Greek forces. 

The Greeks respond: 

As the Persians were departing Samos, the locals wanting to break the Persian yoke, would have ensured the new of their departure made it to the Greek camp. The news came as a disappointment as the Fleet was prepared for a fight at sea with the knowledge that they now potentially outnumbered the Persians for the first time. Leotychides now held a council with the other commanders to discus what further action should be taken. It seems that 2 main proposals were put forward according to Herodotus.[20] Discussion centred around packing up the fleet and setting a course back home, while others argued that the fleet should now make its way to the Hellespont. In the end neither of these two would be undertaken, but a decision was finally reached to follow the Persian fleet to where they sailed to on the Ionian coast. We don’t hear what caused Leotychides to run with this option, but surly the Samians would have been pushing for this option. If the Persian fleet was left they would have most likely returned and taken vengeance on the Samians, as they had become aware of their rebellious attitudes. It had even been discovered that they had turned lose 5,000 Greek prisoners captured during Xerxes invasion.[21] Leotychides would probably have also been tempted to finally wipe out the Persian fleet and putting an end to the threat it posed in the Aegean.  What ever the motivation the Greeks were now committed to locating and engaging the Persian fleet.

By this stage, Leotychides seems to not be aware that the Persians had made defensive preparations on land, as the fleet had set out with the intension of a battle at sea.[22] As the Greek fleet rounded the Mycale peninsular, the Persisan ships didn’t come out to challenge. It would then have been seen that all of the Persians ships had been beached and a large defensive structure protected their position. It could also be seen that a great number of Persian troops lined the coast. Leotychides now had to improvise, it was clear a naval battle wasn’t going to develop but a land one. Leotychides being a Spartan would probably have felt more confident at this prospect. He would have been well aware though that the Persian force waiting him would now see his command outnumbered. Leotychides now took a page right out of Themistocles’ play book at Artemisium to attempt to improve the odds.[23] As the fleet sailed past the Persians position, he took the trireme he commanded up close along the coastline and had his herald call out a message for the Ionians there in Persian service. The message urged the Ionians to remember freedom and called for them to rise up and switch sides. What was heard would then be passed on, if Ionia was ripe for revolt this might just be the trigger to see it break out now that a Greek force had arrived or at the least see them disarmed with their loyalty questionable.

Once the message had been called out all along the coast Leotychides’ now ordered the fleet to make it’s way further east up the coast. They then beached their ships with enough distance between themselves and the Persians so as able to disembark unhindered.

Persians React: 

Back in the Persian camp Leotychides’ tactic had much better success that what Themistocles had at Artemisium. The Persian commanders when seeing the Greeks disembark to prepare for battle now took steps to disarming the Samians as they had suspected them of harbouring anti Persian views. Now with the Greeks preparing for battle, leaving them armed within their ranks was too great of a risk. Also, the Milesians were given the task of guarding the passes leading up into mount Mycale. Though, Herodotus tells us the real motivation was to remove them from the front lines where they couldn’t cause any trouble.[24] Miletus was only just south of Mycale and if the Persians were defeated it would have been one of the first cities liberated. The rest of the Persian force was now ordered outside the palisade and to form a shield wall. By this stage the army that Tigranes commanded had arrived at Mycale and had been encamped at the Persians position. This would have probably seen an increase in the more reliable troops that made up the force to face the Greeks. Now that they had an idea of the Greek force they were up against the commanders were confident in an offensive posture, not to wait behind their walls. Also, for extra measure the Persian commanders had informed the troops before deploying outside the Palisade that Xerxes was on the march with an army to their position. [25]  

When it comes to the numbers of troops involved on both sides at the battle of Mycale, we are a little in the dark, as the numbers reported seem way too high for the space the battle was to take place in. Herodotus places the forces under Tigranes command at 60, 000 though its unclear if this included the entire force once at Mycale or just his force send from Sardis.[26] Diodorus puts the Persians at 100, 000 [27], so if reconciling his figures with Herodotus’ the fleet may have had 40, 000 troops with it. Though these figures seem huge for a battle that was going to take place on a frontage of probably only 1500 meteres. Though, perhaps the numbers given were accounting everyone present not just the troops that would form the line of battle. As for the Greeks no actual troops figures are given but we have looked at the ships that the Greek fleet sailed with. From this, modern historians have made estimations on likely figures that fought in the battle. We have seen, the triremes operating throughout the Persian wars period could accommodate up to 40 marines aboard in addition to the rowers, though this is at the higher end with half this compliment being standard. So, depending on what we accept the figures of the opposing fleets as bring which we looked at earlier, it would seem the fighting strength would have been somewhat on par, if not the Greeks with a slight advantage in numbers. Though, added to the Persian figures would have been Tigranes force. Modern estimations suggest that Tigranes command was that of 10,000 strong, with his actual strength being more like 6,000 due to loses throughout the campaign.[28] If you remember the Persian army was set up upon a command system of 1000’s, 10,000’s and 100,000’s and earlier when looking at the figures around Thermopylae it was suggested that Herodotus may have confused the command titles for the 10,000 and 100,000 strong formations. So, we are left with figures of actual fighting men of around 20,000 to 30,000 on each side. This includes some of the rowers filling the ranks as well, but it is unclear how many would have. Peter Green dose put forward the idea that a number of the Greek rowers were hoplites that were forced to take a seat at an oar due to manpower shortage.[29] They would have most certainly been used in the battle as it developed on land, the Greek commanders putting every available man familiar with fighting in a phalanx into the line. I think when it comes down to it the opposing sides were fairly well on par, with perhaps the Persians after being reinforced slightly more numerous. Though, as we will see coming events would see this advantage mitigated and perhaps completely lost. 


The Greeks arrange for battle:

As the Greeks now prepared their line of battle a rumour now began to make its way around the contingents. Leotychides would have allowed its spread and even encouraged it, if not having being the source of it himself. What was circulating was that a great victory had just taken place this very same day back in Greece at Boeotia. This was the battle of Plataea that finally saw the defeat of land forces left in their homeland. Messenger ships would have been travelling back and forward from the fleet to Greece, so Leotychides would have been well aware of events taking place. Though, to learn of a victory on the same day has come into question seeing many explanations put forward. Had the battle in fact taken place on separate days, allowing more time for the news to travel. Had the earlier victory over the Persian cavalry been what was reported. Had Leotychides just made up the rumour to encourage the men, later learning of the happy coincidence. Or was this story an invention of hindsight. Though, there is always the possibility that there was truth in this story as Peter Green points out when describing how it could be possible that fire signals may have alerted the Greek fleet as they began lighting up from the main land and then across the island, that some great event must have occurred. [30] Since the battle of Plataea was fought early in the day and it was now the afternoon on the beach at Mycale, it is thought this would be enough time for the signal fires to travel across the Aegean. Again, the news of the victory is only reported as a rumour, the Greeks were most likely aware of a battle developing at home, so any out of the ordinary signal would have seen conclusions being drawn. Whether the news was confirmed or not, Leotychides would have been fanning it for all it was worth. 

If is a little difficult to know exactly where the Greeks opposed the Persian position at Mycale but we do hear that the Spartans were further inland and had to contend with the rough ground on the advance. [31]This has led to 2 main interpretations of the battlefield. One, where the Greeks are west of the Persians position which would see the Athenians with the shore line to their right, while the Spartans advanced on the far left and the other contingents in-between. Though, I have gone with what seems to be presented in most modern histories these days, which sees the Greeks having landed further east of the Persians. The Athenians having the shore to their left while the Spartans were on the right wing. Two things suggest to me that this was the most likely position on the day. Firstly, Herodotus’ description of the Greeks sailing past the Persians position when Leotychides had a message called out, as if would have been difficult and time consuming to sail the whole fleet back around again to get west of the Persians. Secondly, Leotychides was in command of the navy, I find it hard to believe that he would have given up the place of honour on the battlefield to the Athenians and if he had, I feel this would be something that would have been reported.

The Battle of Mycale:

The Greek line now advanced onto the Persian position, the Athenians, Corinthians, Sicyonians and Troizenians marched over the flat ground by the coast. While the others posted with the Spartans went through ravines and the hills which would see then lose touch with the left wing. The Athenians engaged with the Persian line, this seeing only half of the Greek force in combat at this stage. It may have also been possible that the Athenians were not looking to engage while out of contact with half of their force, but were forcing into engaging early. Diodorus says that, the Persians seeing the relatively small numbers of the Greeks were encouraged and bore down on them with great shouting. Supposedly the Greeks hesitated now as the Ionians had arranged themselves into a force and thinking if they advanced into sight it would encourage the Greeks. This, Diodorus tells us had to opposite effect, as Leotychides thought this was a reinforcing Persian force sent by Xerxes from Sardis.[32] As we will see though, Herodotus places the various Ionians at different locations and has them engaging in different actions towards the end of the engagement. Diodous’ account also implies that Leotychides wing and Xanthippus’ wings remained together. Again we need to remember Diodorus was writing some 600 years later and his account appears a bit more vague. So, whoever attacked first it seems the Persian infantry employed the same measure as what their comrades had done earlier that day on the plains of Plataea. The Persians protecting themselves with an improvised line of wicker shields. Herodotus tells us that as long as these shields remained standing the fighting saw both sides evenly matched. Xanphipus and the other commanders would have been urging on their men with all their determination, they knew once the Persian line was broken, victory would be in sight and the real slaughter would begin which would see this force being of now threat to Greece anymore. Perhaps Xanphipus also saw the opportunity to make this an Athenian victory, if he could have his men defeat the Persians before them before the Spartans arrive, he would have his own Marathon. [33] Like at Plataea the wicker wall was finally breached by the determined Greek forces which saw the Persians for a time now desperately attempted to contain the breach in the line.  

Being unable to push the Greeks back out of their lines and suffering mounting casualties, the Persians began to now fall back to the palisade they had constructed when first landing. There was no screening force to allow the Persian to fall back in order to take up defensive positions like at Plataea. The Greeks were hot on their heels and poured inside the walls along with the retreating troops. We hear by this stage most of the Persian forces had lost the will to fight, with only the ethnic Persians still providing resistance inside the walls.[34] More and more Greeks continued to force their way inside the palisade and the casualties mounted on both sides. Eventually the Spartans and the other Greeks with them had traversed the hilly terrain and had arrived at the walls, where they too now entered into the fray. With the other half of the Greek force now having arrived on the scene the resistance from the Persians now quickly started evaporating, they were now being overwhelmed. The Spartans had arrived just in time to perhaps have tipped the balance of what appears to have been an action that could have gone either way, as Herodotus says.[35] While also arriving in time to see that Mycale would not just remembered as an Athenian victory, they would have to share the glory.

The first proactive steps to what would be the second Ionian revolt also took place during the fighting at Mycale. The Samians, who had been disarmed were held up in the camp but with the fighting now within the palisade, they now, to saw that the battle could go either way. They wanting to ensure the Greeks would get the upper hand now turned on the Persians at the camp. The other peoples of Ionia seeing the Samians revolt now in turn began their uprising turning on their former masters. The Persians, now being overwhelmed by the Greeks in numbers and now being attacked from within their camp by their former subjects now began fleeing up mount Mycale. 

Stationed up on Mount Mycale were the Milesians, being able to see their city of Miletus from their position they were quite familiar with the Terrain. They would have also see what was happening below or had messages coming back to them informing of what was taking place in the camp. When the fleeing Persians came onto the paths in the hills the Milesians acted as guides for them, though they lead them back out to where they would once again encounter the enemy. Once the Persians saw that they had turned against them, they attempted to make their way back into the mountains. Though, the Milesians now turned on their former masters and as Herodotus says “they proved themselves to be the Persians worst enemies”. [36] 



The battle of Mycale, although had held in the balance for some time, ended up in a blood bath for the Persians. Once their resolve to fight disappeared the real slaughter began, not only that they were cut down from within their own ranks by the Ionians now seeing the time ripe for a second attempt at freedom. The Persians lost 2 of their top commanders at Mycale, Tigranes who had brought the land forces to meet the Persian naval contingent at Mycale. Mardontes who was with the fleet also fell, while 2 of his fellow commanders were able to escape through the hills to safety with any troops lucky enough to have avoided the carnage. It is unclear of the losses both sides sustained after the battle, Herodotus just telling us “many Hellenes also fell” [37] and also saying “… the Hellenes had destroyed the majority of the barbarians, both those fighting and those fleeing”. [38] Diodorus gives a figure of over 40,000 casualties for the Persians,[39] but he also says that the Persians had numbered 100,000 troops at the start of the battle. What ever the figures were, the accounts do indicate that the losses taken were quite heavy, especially for the Persians. As we have seen throughout the conflict, once a side was routed, after an initially even contest, the casualties they sustained would blow right out. 

With the Greeks having won the battle of Mycale, just small mopping up operations were taking place, such as combing the hills for any Persians trying to hide. They would have also been collecting their fallen and tending to the injured. No doubt there would have also been councils with the various Ionian leaders, Leotychides and Xanphippus. The Greeks also took stock of the Persian camp, collecting all the tressure found within the camp and ships. The Persians would have collected much from the various subjected Islands in the 12 months after Salamis on their return home and time at Samos. Once everything of value had been founded up, the palisade and ships within it were set fire to, seeing them reduced to ash. 

So, on the same day Xerxes army and then his fleet were finally destroyed bring a close to his second invasion of Greece. Even though it had been a year since the battle of Salamis the Persian fleet had still posed a threat to the Greeks. Now though they had killed most of the troops that had manned the triremes while also destroying the ships, seeing that fresh crews would no be able to re-crew them. They had destroyed all of the men and material that had made up the fleet, which had reportedly numbered some 1200 ships, according to Herodotus anyway. Even if this figure is too high the fleet had far outnumbered the Greeks but the ruminates of it now lay smouldering on the shore line of Mycale. 

With these two victories the Greeks didn’t just head back home and live happily ever after, history is a series of unfolding evens with no clear start and end. Hindsight allows us to slot in the convenient book ends. Next episode we will look at how the Greeks reacted and what they were doing in response to the victories at Plataea and Mycale, and the defeat of the second Persian invasion.   


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I hope you can join me next time for episode 32: Victory in Greece.




[1] Herodotus 9. 98
[2] Herodotus 7.139
[3] Herodotus 9.64
[4] Herodotus 8. 130
[5] Herodotus 5. 50
[6] Herodotus 9. 7-11 / Plutarch’s Lives, Aristides p442-443
[7] Diodorus 11. 34
[8] Tom Holland, Persian Fire p357 / Peter Green, The Greco Persian wars p228
[9] Herodotus 9. 3
[10] Peter Green, The Greco Persian wars p229
[11] Herodotus 5. 49
[12] Herodotus 9. 90
[13] Herodotus 9. 91
[14] Herodotus 9. 90
[15] Herodotus 9. 96
[16] Peter Green, The Greco-Persian Wars p277
[17] Herodotus 8. 90
[18] Herodotus 9.96
[19] Herodotus 9. 97
[20] Herodotus 9. 98
[21] Herodotus 9. 99
[22] Herodotus 9. 98
[23] Herodotus 8.22
[24] Herodotus 9. 99
[25] Diodorus 11. 35
[26] Herodotus 9. 96
[27] Diodorus 11. 34
[28] Peter Green, The Greco-Persian Wars p278
[29] Peter Green, The Greco-Persian Wars p280
[30] Peter Green, The Greco-Persian Wars p281
[31] Herodotus 9.102
[32] Diodorus 11. 36
[33] Herodotus 9. 102
[34] Herodotus 9. 102
[35] Herodotus 9. 103
[36] Herodotus 9. 104
[37] Herodotus 9. 103
[38] Herodotus 9. 106
[39] Diodorus 11. 36