Casting Through Ancient Greece

35: The Greco-Persian Wars

July 30, 2021 Mark Selleck Season 1 Episode 35
Casting Through Ancient Greece
35: The Greco-Persian Wars
Show Notes Transcript

The Greco-Persian Wars:

The Greek and Persian wars would be a defining moment in the Greek world helping shape the trajectory of development in Greece and around the Aegean for time to come. Even today a detailed ancient account survives describing the events of 2500 years in what is one of the oldest works of history. Herodotus who has been labelled the father of history would be born during the wars and would travel the Greek world later in life collecting all he could, so as to understand what brought the Greeks and Persian to make war.

In this episode we will be looking back at the last 18 episodes that looked at the Greco-Persian Wars and try and tie everything together, so as to refresh ourselves on all that has taken place over the 21 years since the Ionian revolt. This will then put us in a good position to then move on with the narrative of the series.

The Greek and Persian Wars are often seen as beginning with the decision by Athens and Eretria to send ships to aide the Ionian revolt. Herodotus would say; “These ships were the beginnings of evil for both Hellenes and Barbarians”. The revolt would ultimately fail and Persian attention would now be focused on Greece.

Two main invasions would be launched that would directly attack Greece, these coming in 490 BC and 48 BC. In these two invasions we see some of the most well know battles take place such as Marathon, Thermopylae and Salamis. Though some lesser known would also be fought, but just as, if not more important battles, Plataea, Mycale and Artemisium.

The Greeks would end up defeating the Persian invasions but this wouldn’t see the end of operations. The Persian threat still loomed large in their minds and measures were taken to strengthen themselves against any further invasions. This as we move forward in the series would have consequences shaping politics and relations as the years past.

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Episode 35

The Greco-Persian Wars

“After the Athenians had been won over, they voted to dispatch twenty ships to help the Ionians and appointed Melanthion, a man of the city who was distinguished in every respect, as commander over them. These ships turned out to be the beginning of evils for both Hellenes and barbarians.”[1]

From Herodotus’ Histories 

Hello, Im Mark Selleck and welcome back to Casting Through Ancient Greece, Episode 35, the Greco-Persian Wars 


Well, we have now finished the main narrative covering the Greek and Persian wars, covering some 21 years. We looked at this period over some 18 episodes encompassing over twelve hours of narrative. So, I thought before we moved on, I would take the opportunity to look back over the period where we can sum up and tie the past 18 episodes together, serving as a sort of summary to what we have covered. There was a lot of information that we went over during these episodes, but I will attempt to just sum up the various stages putting across the main themes and ideas helping refresh with what has taken place.

This I think will provide a good end cap to this phase of the narrative in Greek history before continuing on. Though, we will be taking a slight digression in the series before returning to the next phase as we look at the Greek periphery and take some time to look at Herodotus as a Historian 

But, lets now turn to looking at and summing up the last 18 episodes focused on the Greco-Persian wars.

Breakout of the War:

The Greek and Persian wars was a defining period in world history that is the main topic of one of the oldest surviving histories. It would be at the centre of the work titled the Histories, written by Herodotus during the late 5th century BC. It would be one of the first times we are aware of that a writer had the intension of trying to understand why events unfolded as they did, not to just simply record events. This Herodotus would clearly state in the opening of his work;

“Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time. May the great and wonderful deeds – some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians – not go unsung; as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other.”[2]

What would then follow was a memory as old as the mythical past telling of the constant state of conflict that seemed to exist between the Greeks and the Near East.[3] Though it wouldn’t be until nearly 50 years before the Greco-Persian wars, where Herodotus would begin his history and reasons for a historical quarrel between east and west, beginning with Croesus of Lydia.[4] Croesus was the king of the Lydian Empire which had conquered and incorporated much of the Anatolian Coast line along the Aegean into the Empire. Along this coast line were the various Greek Ionian cities that had begun as colonies sent out from different Greek city states over the past century. Now, though, they were answerable to an empire and no longer free. Croesus would end up being defeated by the rising power of Persia, who in the life time of its founder Cyrus, the great, would cave out one of the largest Empires yet seen. The Cities of Ionia had traded their subjugation from one Empire to another.[5]

Both Sparta and Athens would have interactions with the Near East as the Persian Empire had spread westward. Sparta had agreed to assist Croesus with a military alliance with the growing threat of Persia. But, before they could provide any real support Croesus and his Empire would be defeated.[6] Athens, with troubles with Sparta as the 5th century was coming to a close, had sought an alliance with Persia to help protect themselves from Spartan aggression.[7]

This would see that interactions and relations between the Greek city states and the Persian Empire had been taking place before the breakout of the wars. Also showing that they were well aware of each other’s existence and even interests. Now, as the 4th century dawned the once free city states along the Ionian coast had had enough of being ruled by an Empire, this, along with economic reasons would see revolt in the region become a very real prospect. 

The Ionian Revolt:

What would turn out to develop as the Ionian revolt has all been credited to 2 men, Aristagoras, the current Tyrant of Miletus and his father-in-law, Histiaios. Aristagoras, is presented as deciding on revolt against Persia as it would be his best course of action after a failed campaign against the Island of Naxos who he had convinced the Persians to support. He saw revolt as being his best option at avoiding punishment for his failings. We also hear that Histiaios who was being kept as a hostage in the Persian court at Susa had sent a secret message to Aristagoras in Miletus urging him to rise up in revolt.[8] Though, for a revolt to take place more than just the whims of a couple of men would need to take place. The conditions in the general population would need to exist for there to be motivation to rise up against the established order. Aristagoras was most likely the leader of the Ionians during the revolt but would hardly be the catalyst, had he not existed someone else would have taken leadership of the movement that was larger than anyone man.

With a revolt in Ionia now developing Aristagoras sought to gain support from his cousins west across the Aegean from the city states of Greece. His first port of call would be at Sparta where one of the kings, Cleomenes would reject his proposal after learning that Susa, the objective was a 3-month march away.[9] Next Aristagoras travelled to Athens where he was able to gain support for the revolt along with the polis of Eretria.[10] 

In 499 BC Athens with their 20 triremes and Eretria with their 5 arrived on the coast of Anatolia to assist in a campaign directed at capturing Susa. Herodotus sees this point as being “the beginning of evils for both Hellenes and barbarians.”[11] The combined Greek army then march onto Sardis, the administrative centre of Ionia, as its first objective. This would be as far as the Greeks campaign would go. The Greeks were unable to capture the acropolis in Sardis and decided to pull out of Sardis after a fire broke out engulfing much of the lower city. Though, as the Greeks retreated back to the Anatolian coast a Persian force had caught up to them just outside of Ephesus, where they were forced to turn and fight. The Greeks were soundly beaten and the survivors scattered to their cities, while the Athenians and Eritreans sailed back to Greece, not to take anymore part in the revolt. 

The Ionians though, would continue the revolt with most regions of western Anatolia very much invested. The Persians over the next few years would begin campaigning on multiple fronts, systematically stamping it out. In 494 BC the revolt would be finally stamped out with the decisive naval battle of Lade, just off of the coast of Miletus. A large portion of the allied Greek fleet defected and others fled, with those remaining crushed by the Persian fleet.[12] After this last major battle of the revolt the city of Miletus, where the revolt had begun, was finally brought back under control. The cities that had fought to the end were to pay a bitter price, with many of their inhabitants if they survived, enslaved and resettled in other areas of the Empire.

The First Persian Invasion:

With Ionia, firmly back under the control of the Persian Empire, thoughts had now turned to those who had assisted the Ionians or had resisted earlier Persian subjugation attempts. The Island of Naxos would be one of those that would be on the Persian radar, while Athens and Eretria across the Aegean would also gain attention at the Persian court. We are told that when Darius would sit down to a meal, one of his servants would whisper into his ear, “master, remember the Athenians”.[13] 

The first expedition that would be directed at Greek lands would cross the Hellespont and move into Thracian lands, north of Greece. Perhaps this was an extension of the operations that had taken place around the Hellespont during the revolt. Mardonius would lead Persian land forces while the Persian fleet shadowed it off of the coast line. The Greeks believed that the intended target of the force was that of Athens, but they may well have had more limited objectives in mind at this stage. Whatever their intensions, the Persians would encounter difficulties that would see this campaign fizzle out. Mardonios would be wounded in fighting as the Persians attempted subjugating the various Thracian tribes. The fleet however suffered a disaster off of the coast of mount Athos, with it being wrecked in a great storm that had whipped up. With the army still in hostile lands and now unsupported by a navy, the force would not advance any further.[14]   

Though, another campaign had been in the stages of planning and would be launched in 490 BC, two years after the disaster off Mount Athos. This time it would sail from the Anatolian coast across the Aegean in an island hopping campaign. Darius would not lead the forces but send his general Datis to command. The campaign would see them sail, through the Aegean islands, submitting a number as they advanced. Naxos would also be made an example of for resisting Persian subjugation at the start of the Ionian revolt. [15]  

Just before reaching the Greek mainland, the Persians would land their forces on Euboea to be directed at Eretria for their involvement in the revolt. Their lands were ravaged and the city besieged, where eventually it was betrayed to the Persians. Eretria now paid for daring to stand against the Empire, with its buildings and temples raised to the ground and the population that had been captured were enslaved. [16]



There was now one more polis that needed to be reined in for daring to act against the Persian Empire during the revolt. The Persian fleet would now sail from Euboea to the Attic coast to a place called Marathon Bay. Here the Persian forces would disembark, they would also be accompanied by a previous tyrant of Athens, Hippias. He was much more advanced in age but had found favour with the Persian court and would be installed as tyrant once again if Athens was capture, though acting in Persia’s interests. As the Persians disembarked they were not alone, an Athenian force had been able to assemble at Marathon and would also be joined by a contingent of Plataeans.[17] 

With the threat of the Persian fleet off the Attic coast, the Athenians had also sought aide from one of the most powerful military forces in all of Greece, the Spartans. An all day runner, often sighted as Phidipades would set out from Athens and run all the way to Sparta to request them to march to meet the Athenians at Marathon. The Spartans though, were in the midst of a religious festival that forbade any military action until the next full moon. The Athenians would have to wait until then before they would be joined by the Spartans.[18]  

Back at Marathon a stalemate ensured with neither side taking the initiative, until one of the Athenian Generals stepped forward and put up a case for action. Miltiades was one of the 10 Stratgoi and would win over his fellow generals that action must be taken. We are told when the day came for his turn to command the army, he would finally give the order for the Greek line to engage the Persians. The Greek line would advance onto the Persians at a run where a great struggle in the centre of the line would take place. Here the Greeks would be forced back, their thinned out Phalanxes proving too weak. This was a measure taken so as to extend the Greek line so that the Persians could not envelop the Greeks. Though, the Greek wings would prove too strong for their Persian counterparts. This would now see the initially victorious Persians in the centre now in a dangerous position, as they were now being enveloped.

The Persian forces now began to break and a full route developed, with the forces making their way back to the ships where the killing would continue. The Greeks were able to capture a number of Persian vessels but the majority were able to put back out to sea. The Persian hadn’t finished with their attempt on Athens just yet though. The entire Athenian force was at Marathon, some 40 km away from Athens. The Persian fleet would now make their way around the Attic coast and try and take Athens by a direct assault. 

tradition would have it that Phidippides would be sent to Athens announcing the victory at Marathon where he would die from exhaustion after delivering his message.[19] Though, the Athenians understood the threat the still intact fleet posed, so the majority of the force would march back to Athens. As the Persian fleet came insight of the Acropolis they could see that Athens was no longer undefended, the Athenians had beaten them to the city. With no other options open to them the commanders cut their losses and sailed back to Persia having to be content with what had been achieved.  



The Second Persian Invasion:

With the defeat of the Persian forces at Marathon we are told that Darius was furious at the failure to capture Athens. He now put in place arrangements to launch another campaign against the Greeks. Though, other matters within the Empire would arise that would need to be dealt with first. Egypt, a vital region in the Persian empire had revolted, so Darius made plans to march with an army to bring the region back under control. During these preparations, Darius would die after 36 years on the throne.[20] His son Xerxes would succeed him and would see through the Egyptian campaign, crushing the revolt. [21] With Egypt back under control yet another important region would revolt, this time Babylon, this uprising Xerxes would also quickly bring under control. Now the path was clear to focus on heading west once again.[22]

One of the largest forces to be assembled to ever march west by this stage was in the works. Regions from throughout the empire were called upon to supply men and resources for the campaign. While these demands on the regions were being met, two great engineering feats were under way to assist the armies march towards Greece. At the Hellespont two great bridges would be constructed which would connect Europe to Asia and allow Xerxes forces to march over the Hellespont. As part of the preparations, supply dumps would also be dotted all along the expected route of advance through the northern regions.[23] To further assist the invading force a canal had also been ordered to be constructed across the peninsular that Mount Athos rose from. This was to prevent a repeat of the disaster that occurred during the first invasion, allowing his fleet to avoid rounding treacherous spot once again.[24] After four years of planning and organisation, Xerxes campaign to invade Greece was ready to be launched in 480 BC.

The ten years that would elapse between the first and second Persian invasions, the Greeks would not be sitting by idle. A new public figure in Athens would rise to prominence named Themistocles who would sway Athens to invest in a fleet. In a stroke of good timing, a new seam of silver was struck in the Athenian mines at Lauirum. Themistocles insistence that the funds be for the creation of a fleet would in no small way prove to be fortuitous for the coming invasion. As the year 480 neared the Greeks now had taken steps to form a coalition to defend all of Greece, history would later name this the Hellenic league. Only some 31 city States would come to form the Hellenic league under the overall command of the Spartans. Most others polies decided to remain neutral for the time being, waiting to see how the campaign would develop. Though, a number of other city states would bow down to Persia’s request for earth and water in an act of submission. They would now be expected to provide whatever the marching army needed as the invasion developed. 

As Xerxes invasion began to get underway the Greeks had decided on attempting to defend Greece as far north as possible. A force 10, 000 strong was sent to the Tempe pass near Mount Olympia to attempt the block the Persian advance. It quickly became apparent that the position was untenable and a new plan needed. After more discussions back at the Corinthian Isthmus a workable plan seems to have emerged. A force of just over 7000 Greeks would head for the pass at Thermopylae, a natural choke point for access to central Greece. The force would be headed by 300 Spartans and their king Leonidas. Just over 40 miles away up the coast, the Greek navy would sail to block the straits of Artemisium and protect the flank of the Thermopylae position from the Persian fleet landing in their rear. With the Greek forces in place they now awaited the Persians as they descended by land and sea towards their positions. Tradition would have it that both the battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium would take place over the same days.[25]


On land at the pass of Thermopylae the Persians, after their descent into Greek lands had arrived outside the Greeks position. Camp had been setup while the Persian forces were reorganised, it had been reported that it took a week for the rear of the army to cross where the head of it had marched.[26] Xerxes had anticipated that when the Greeks saw the vast numbers of his forces they would surrender or at least withdraw from their position. The Greeks though, judged that the position they held would nullify the advantage the Persians had in numbers, since only a small fraction of their forces could engage their position in the narrow pass at one time. Eventually after 4 days of the Greeks remaining defiant, Xerxes decided it was now time to attack.[27] 

The first day it would seem the Spartan contingent had taken most of the responsibility for defending the pass. The Medes would be sent in first to brush aside the small defensive force, but they would suffer heavy losses as they engaged. They would be reinforced throughout the day but these reinforcements would also suffer a similar fate. Xerxes would eventually pull the battle-weary troops back and would now send in his Persian forces or the elite of his army known to the Greeks as the immortals. Even with their superior skill and equipment we are told that is was still no match for the Spartan force who held the pass. By the end of the day the Greeks still held the pass and had suffered very little casualties, while the Medes and Persians sent in had been mauled.[28] 

The second day would unfold in a very similar manner, with the various contingents from the Persian army sent in crashing up on the front line of the Greek defender’s bronze shields. This time around the Greeks would share the burden of the front line seeing that this was going to be a prolonged engagement. This would allow the Greeks to have fresh men on the front line as each wave of attack came in. As night approach, Xerxes had his forces recalled from the pass to lick their wounds. The Persians would have had scouts and men probing the country side and the local populations for other means for attacking the position, as Xerxes battering ram approach was not having the desired effect. Eventually we hear of a man, local to the area, named Ephialtes, who would come forward with information on a path that led through the hills and would exit out behind the Greek position. Xerxes would act on this information and send his immortals to navigate the pass during the night to be ready for operations the next day.[29]   

The third day would see Xerxes send in his troops once again, though this time with a renewed confidence. During the night the immortals had traversed the mountain path, out manoeuvred the Greeks defending the path in the hills and were now making their descent into the Greeks rear. Leonidas, learning of the outflanking move now sent away most of the 7000 Greeks at the pass, just his Spartans, the Thespians and a group of Thebans would remain. With the onset of battle for the third day, the Greeks advanced out of the pass this time and engaged the Persians in scenes remenisant of the Iliad. Leonidas would be killed during this phase of the fighting, with his men protecting his body. Eventually the Greeks would fall back to within the pass and prepare for their final stand. The Persians now advanced onto the Greeks position from the front and rear, but would finally put an end to the resistance under a hail of arrows that would supposedly blot out the sun.[30]   


When the Persian forces had been advancing onto the Greek position at Thermopylae, the Persian fleet had set out sailing down the coast of Thessaly where some scouting action would result in confusion on the Greek side, seeing them fall back temporarily.[31] The bulk of the Persian fleet would reassemble off the Thessalian coast where a storm would be whipped up and batter the fleet. This storm would rage for 3 days, with the Persians suffering serve losses in men and ships, especially those caught out at sea.[32]  

As the weather cleared the Greeks had begun reoccupying the shore at Artemisium, while the Persian fleet was now starting to arrive in the straits where they would beach on the opposite shore. The vast numbers of the Persian ships had unnerved the Greeks when they saw what faced them and their fleet of 271 triremes. The various contingent commanders now began talking of withdrawing from their position. Eurybiades, the Spartan commander in charge of the Greek fleet seems to have been in agreeance with this idea. Though, some crafty use of brides by Themistocles would see that the Greek fleet would stay intact at Artemisium.[33] 

The Persians had been afraid that the Greeks would attempt to slip away and avoid battle with them. To try and prevent this from taking place a force of 200 ships was detached and sent around the east of Euboea in an attempt to outflank them. The Greeks would learn of this plan from a Persian defector and would help them to take the initiative in engaging the Persian fleet. The Persians would have wanted to wait until their outflanking force was in place but the Greeks now saw they needed to act. They decided on avoiding a protracted engagement and sailed out in the afternoon forming up in a circular formation. The Persians saw this as too much of an attractive target and rowed out to surround them. On the sound of a signal, the Greeks shot out from their formation and lined up the weaker side of a Persian ship causing much confusion and destruction among their ranks. Before the Persian fleet could reassemble to engage the Greeks they made back for their shore as day light was fading fast. The Greeks had won themselves a moral boosting victory and had their first taste of the Persians in battle.[34] 

The second day in the straits facing the Persians would also bring more good news for the Greeks. A storm had blown up during the previous night and had wrecked most of the Persians sent to outflank the Greek position, while another 53 ships would arrive and join the Greek fleet at Artemisium. Confidence in the Greek camp was now at its height and they took measures to engage the Persians again. Though, they would once again avoid a general engagement and sent out small teams of triremes to pick off individual or small groups of Persian ships. The Persian command most probably attempting to draw up new plans after news of the loss of their flanking force, would take no active measures in engaging the Greeks this second day.[35]  

The third day though, would see the Persians taking the initaltive, tired of the Greeks piecemeal hit and run tactics. They would now try and bring about a decisive engagement where their numbers would prove to their advantage. The Persian fleet set out and surrounded the Greeks in a crescent formation, with them pinned up against the coast at Artemisium. The Greeks, though would row towards the Persian line and engage with them. They were now fighting on the Persians terms and the days fighting was evenly matched. Neither side was able to get the upper hand over the other, both suffering significant losses. The battle would break off without a decisive result, but the Greeks could ill afford to continue to take the losses they had suffered. Talk in the Greek camp now turned to retiring from their position before the Persians could engage them in another prolong day of fighting. That night, news of the fall of the pass at Thermopylae arrived by scout ship to the fleet at Artemisium and they now wasted no time in pulling back.[36] 


With the Greeks defeated at the pass of Thermopylae and withdrawing from Artemisium, the path was now open to the Persians to march into central Greece. Xerxes forces would split, fanning out through Doris and Phocis, and added more city states to those who submitted and ravaged the rest that resisted. Though, Delphi would supposedly be spared due to divine intervention, Apollo protecting this most holy of sites.[37] The Persian army would then reorganise in Boeotia before then marching on their ultimate prize, Athens. When the Persian forces arrived in Athens, it was virtually a ghost town, with only a small committed few remaining to defend the Acropolis. They were convinced that their protection lay in the wooden palisade there and their interpretation of the wooden wall as prophesised at Delphi. Though, the Persians would make short work of the defenders and Athens would be burnt to the ground.[38]

The rest of the population of Athens had fled the city and crossed over to the island of Salamis to take refuge before the Persians had arrived in Attica. The other interpretation of the wooden wall, the Athenian fleet along with the rest of the Hellenic league were also now located at Salamis, they had answered the plea of their fellow Athenians and sailed back to assist the evacuation.[39] Now with the evacuation complete disagreements amongst the various contingent commanders broke out over the next course of action. Obviously, the Athenians and those north of the Peloponnese wanted to remain at Salamis and challenge the Persians. While the Peloponnesians headed by the Spartans wanted to sail for the Peloponnese and set up a defence across the Isthmus at Corinth. Debate would rage with it finally seeming the Hellenic leagues fleets commander, Eurybiades had been convinced to remain.[40]

Though, this position would quickly evaporate. The Persian fleet had also sailed around the Attic coast and landed at Pherlon bay to link back up with the army. Xerxes had decided on mounting a naval engagement against the Greeks at Salamis, though the day before he deployed the fleet outside the striates of Salamis in a show of force. This would prove to be too much for many of the Peloponnesians, with some abandoning right away, while the rest were able to convince Eurybiades to change his mind. It looked as though the Hellenic league would soon depart Salamis and leave Attica to it fate. Themistocles, though would not stand by idle, he now hatched a plan to try and force the Greeks to fight at Salamis.[41] 

In what would verge on a traitorous action, Themistocles would send one of his most trusted servants with a message across the straits for Xerxes. He wanted Xerxes to know that the Greeks were planning to withdraw, banking on the fact he would act to block their departure. The Persians had been seeking a decisive engagement and didn’t want to see the Greeks slip away again. Xerxes, took the bait and ordered his fleet back out onto the waters, the Persians deployed hastily and would receive no rest this night.[42] While the Greeks were still in talks on Salamis the Persians began moving into position to prevent the Hellenic leagues escape. The Greeks would learn of this development when Aristides, returning from exile managed to slip through the blockade. Themistocles and his Athenians now would have their fight at Salamis and their chance of seeing their city once again. [43] 

As dawn approached on a September morning in 480 BC the league had no other choice but to now meet the Persians in battle and they prepared to man their triremes. It would be the Greeks who would draw first blood in the Battle of Salamis, with conflicting accounts on where along the line this would occur. After initially backing water, the Greeks would advance onto the Persian line which had infiltrated the straits and arrayed before the Greek position. After the initial clash, chaos quickly ensured. What would be recounted of the battle would be isolated actions that would be later retold but with it very difficult to place context of the overall action. Both sides would suffer heavy casualties but it would be the Persian lines that would begin to waver. Their numbers in the straits now became their weakness as the retreating contingents would mix with and foul on the advancing triremes yet to prove themselves to Xerxes as he overlooked the battle from his position. This would see the panic spread with entire contingents now making their way back to the shore and eventually the majority of the fleet making for the exit of the striates. More carnage would follow with Greek contingents stationed here ambushing the fleeing Persians, while more Persian reinforcements would become entangled as they moved to enter, adding to the chaos.[44]  

With what should have been an overwhelming victory, had now turned into a disaster for Xerxes and the Persian fleet. He had been tricked into action without proper preparation and the Persians loured into the striates where their numbers were now a hindrance. The badly mauled fleet would now be sent east, back to the Anatolian coast for the winter, the Persians now without an operational navy, surly essential for the conquest of all of Hellas. In the Persian camp, Xerxes held talks where he then decided his best course of action was to return to his empire, though he would leave behind one of his most trusted commanders, Mardonios with a picked force to remain in Greece and continue operations into the new campaigning season.[45]

Lull in the War:

The Greek fleet would attempt to give chase to the Persians heading home but would not be able to catch them as they crossed the Aegean. Mardonios and his force would abandon Athens and head north with Xerxes as he departed. They would remain in Thessaly for the winter where they could stay better supplied for the colder months. The Athenians, crossing back from Salamis and the fleet returning form the Aegean would now turn to rebuilding their destroyed city. Although operations for the season were now over, the Greeks knew that they would still need to deal with Mardonious’ forces when the warmer months returned. The Spartans and other Peloponnesians had returned back to their cities behind the wall that was being constructed across the Corinthian isthmus. A state of disagreement returned to the various Hellenic league members on the best path forward. The Peloponnesians headed by the Spartans had reorganised the fleet and wanted to conduct naval operations.[46] While the Athenians were at pains to try and get the Peloponnesian to march north and meet them to engage the Persians in battle. Delegations from the member city states were kept busy in trying to secure an understanding on the path forward.   

While wintering in Thessaly, Mardonious was well aware the position he had been left in was a weakened one. He now sought to attack the Greek league indirectly in an attempt to break up its strength, and also to perhaps gain a new fleet. Attempts were made to turn the Athenians to the Persian side with all of the other leagues members fully aware of what was being offered. Athens had rejected these advances in front of a Spartan delegation in an attempt to show their devotion to the Greek cause and in hope they would finally march north. Though, the Spartans would continue to baulk.[47] It was now 479 BC and the season for campaigning had returned, with the Athenian refusal of the terms Mardonious now prepared his army to advance onto Athens. So, for the second time in 12 months Athens was evacuated and its population fled to Salamis.[48] 

Mardonious would make one more final offer to the Athenians, where this time Athens would allow the Spartans to think they were considering the offer. The Spartans had made no commitment to head north, hopefully this would persuade them to finally act. After some very hazy diplomatic dealings in the sources, Sparta and the other Peloponnesians would finally assemble and march towards the isthmus in what would be one of the largest collection of Greek forces to unite. It seems under what is present in the histories a compromise may have been reached since Athens would also sail out to join the Hellenic league fleet which they had been absent from.[49] 


With the Greek forces on the march, Mardonious now sought to abandon Athens once again for ground more favourable to his cavalry. The Persians would end up falling back into Boeotia just outside of the polis of Thebes, one of the largest city states to have aided the Persian invasion. The Greeks would continue to march north to meet the Persians with the Athenians having also now joined the forces after crossing from Salamis. They would converge on and deploy in the foothills of the Citheron Mountains near the small polis of Plataea. while the Persians forces were deployed across the plains and the Asopus River with a large constructed palisade in their rear. Battle would not develop though, both sides were looking at taking advantage of their strengths and we are told the omens revealed that victory would only come in a defensive action. This would see the two side face one another for some 10 days without the battle developing. Though, probing actions and skirmishes would take place in an attempt to force the other side into action.

In the early stages of the days at Plataea the Greeks would have success over the Persian cavalry who had been causing part of their line some problems. They managed to fight back at the skirmishing cavalry with a contingent of Athenian archers which saw the Persian commander leading the charges killed. This would see Pausanias become more confident and he would deploy the Greek line further forward out of the foothills. Both sides would still avoid initiating a general engagement but would be taking measures to coax the other to act.[50] The Persians would still continue to use their cavalry all around the Greek lines, harassing the stationary formations of hoplites. Efforts would also be made against the Greek’s supplies. With the supply train in the rear coming through the Cithaeron mountains being a target, along with the fresh water spring near the Greeks forward position. With the Persians successes on both of these, the Greeks position would begin to become more vulnerable each day. Pausanias would also try to entice the Persians into action by redeploying contingents along the line, but the Persian would only mirror the Greeks deployments. [51] 

By the 10th day in the field Pausanias decided his line would need to fall back towards the foothills so as to re-establish a connection with the supply lines and to gain access to fresh water. The plan was for the withdrawal to take place at night when they would not be vulnerable to cavalry charges. Things would not go to plan though; the Greek centre would fall back to far all the way to Plataea while within the Spartan command the retreat would be delayed due to a disagreement over the retreat or who would command the rear guard. Just before the sun was to rise, the withdrawal would continue but with the first light hitting the plains, the Persians could see the Greek line disorganised. This now presented Mardonious with a target too tempting and orders now when out to advance.[52]

The cavalry was first directed at the Spartan wing as the rear guard was still isolated from the main body while the Persian infantry would follow. By the time the cavalry reached the Spartan wing the rear guard had just made it back to the main line and the Persian cavalry were now met with a bronze wall with spears bristling. The Infantry would arrive soon after and set up their line with a wicker wall of shields before then directing arrow fire into the Spartans right wing. Being hard pressed and still seeking a positive omen to attack, Pausanias sent off a rider to seek assistance from the Athenians over on the left. The Athenians would begin to move to help the Spartans but soon after getting underway the Greeks allied to the Persians would advance forcing an engagement on the left wing. The battle of Plataea had now developed but the Spartans remained inactive in the face of the Persian missile fire. The Tegeans who were stationed with them would refuse to continue taking fire unanswered and now advanced on the Persian line. As coincidence would have it a positive omen was finally received and Pausanias ordered the Spartans forward also. [53] 

The fighting all along the line would be evenly match for some time before the Greek right was able to penetrate the Persians wicker wall. The Persians would continue to fight with a renewed vigour as Mardonious now came forward. Though, now exposed he would be killed, struck in the head from a rock thrown from the Spartan ranks. This would now see moral in the Persian line waver and they began falling back to the palisade. The Athenians would also now start to get the upper hand over the Greek medizers and would make their way to the Persian camp. When they arrived the Spartans had been in a struggle attempting to breach the palisade, with their arrival the breach was finally made and the Greeks now poured into the camp. A general slaughter now began as the Persian resistance all but evaporated. [54]

The Greeks had now won the battle of Plataea and had beaten the Persian army. A large number of Persian troops were killed on the field or in the palisade, while the Persian reserve under the command of Artabazos left the battle in an attempt to save part of the Persian army, taking them back to the empire. The Thebans who had been engaged with the Athenians had headed back to the safety behind the walls of Thebes, but their leaders would end up answering for their role in assisting the Persian invasion in the coming days. [55] 


Tradition would have it that on the same day the victory at Plataea took place another decisive battle would be fought, but across the Aegean in Persian territory.[56] The Hellenic league fleet had begun making their way to Samos once the Athenians had joined them. Whispers of revolt were at hand with Ionia seeking support, the fleet having been visited on a number of occasions from rebel leaders.[57] The Persian fleet based at Samos would get wind of the Greek advance and made their way to the Anatolian coast setting up camp at the base of Mount Mycale. The Greeks pursued them and now saw that the naval battle they were planning for would now turn into a land battle instead.[58]

Now deployed on land the Greeks advanced onto the Prepared Persian positions. The right wing headed by the Spartans would become delayed in the rough ground while the left with the Athenians would engage. Once again, the fighting would be evenly matched in the early stages but once the wicker wall the Persians set up was breached, they would retreat back to the defences around the camp. The Athenians were hot on their heels while the Spartans finally arrived overwhelming the defence inside the camp. To further add to the Persians woes, the Greeks within Persian service in the camp now broke out in revolt and turned on their former masters, proving to be their worst enemies this day. Only small isolated pockets of Persians forces would escape through the hills.[59]

The spark had now been lit to see the Ionians and the Greek islands off the coast to revolt from Persians rule again. Mycale can be seen as a point where the Greek and Persians wars would shift into a new phase. The Greeks would now focus on building a defensive buffer between their lands and the Persian Empire. Immediately following the victory at Mycale the Greeks would meet with the Greeks of Anatolia and the islands, bringing more members in the defensive league.[60] The Hellenic league wasn’t done just yet, they would continue on to the Hellespont to reduce Persian garrisons. The Athenians were particularly interested in clearing the route of their major trade route heading to the black sea. With the campaigning season coming to a close the fleet would end up sailing for home, the Spartans having departed earlier than the other members. Though, the Greeks would be back across the Aegean again with the motivations circling around preventing another Persian invasion. Their actions and inactions in this next phase would see developments that would have unintended consequences.[61] Within the next 50 years one of the most violent and bloody wars would erupt, but not against the Persians. This time it would be Greek against Greek within their home lands and the Greek world at large.    

This next phase that would take place in the Aegean is also the next phase of our narrative in the history of Ancient Greece. Though, first as I have been talking about, we will make a slight digression in the spirit of Herodotus. We are going to now spend a few episodes having a more detailed look at Herodotus as a historian before then looking at lands on the Greek periphery. Then after having an intro duction to Thucydides, we will get back into the next phase of the narrative and the road towards the Peloponnesian war. 

[1] Herodotus 5.97
[2] Herodotus, Proem
[3] Herodotus 1.2 -1.5
[4] Herodotus 1.6
[5] Herodotus 1.26 - 92
[6] Herodotus 1.69
[7] Herodotus 5.73
[8] Herodotus 5.30 - 35
[9] Herodotus 4.39-54
[10] Herodotus 5.97
[11] Herodotus 5.97
[12] Herodotus 6.13 - 15
[13] Herodotus 5.105
[14] Herodotus 6.42 - 45
[15] Herodotus 6.96
[16] Herodotus 6.100-101
[17] Herodotus 6.102-104
[18] Herodotus 6.105 - 106
[19] Plutarch’s Lives, …
[20] Herodotus 7.1 - 4
[21] Herodotus 7.7
[22] Daiva Inscription
[23] Herodotus 7.25
[24] Herodotus 7.22
[25] Herodotus 8.15
[26] Herodotus 7.56
[27] Herodotus 7.210
[28] Herodotus 7.210 - 211
[29] Herodotus 7.212 - 215
[30] Herodotus 7.222 - 226
[31] Herodotus 7.179 - 183
[32] Herodotus 7.190 - 191
[33] Herodotus 8.4 - 5
[34] Herodotus 8.9 - 11
[35] Herodotus 8.14
[36] Herodotus 8.15 - 18
[37] Herodotus 8.32-33 / 8.37-38
[38] Herodotus 8.51-53
[39] Herodotus 8.40
[40] Herodotus 8.49-50 / 58
[41] Herodotus 8.70
[42] Herodotus 8.75
[43] Herodotus 8.79
[44] Herodotus 8.84 - 92
[45] Herodotus 8.97 - 107
[46] Herodotus 8.131
[47] Herodotus 8.133 - 144
[48] Herodotus 9.3
[49] Herodotus 9.4 - 12
[50] Plutarch’s Lives. Aristides. P445-447 / Herodotus IX.21-24
[51] Herodotus 9.39 - 50
[52] Herodotus 9.51 - 59
[53] Herodotus 9.60 - 65
[54] Herodotus 9.66 - 75
[55] Herodotus 9.86 - 88
[56] Herodotus 9.100
[57] Herodotus 9.91
[58] Herodotus 9.96-98
[59] Herodotus 9.102 - 103
[60] Herodotus 9.106
[61] Herodotus 9.114 - 121