The Greco-Persian Wars

The Greco-Persian Wars
Dr. John Lewis
OCon Conference, July, 2006

In 490 BC some 30,000 Persians landed on the beach at Marathon, and the Greeks drove them back. The Persians returned ten years later, and “drank the rivers dry” with the largest army ever seen. Against all odds, the Greeks united, ruined the ambitions of the Persian king along with his army, and then pushed onto his soil, permanently ending the threat. The course will consider why the king attacked, how the Greeks destroyed his ambitions, and the lessons this holds for today. We will pay homage to the Greek heroes—the “greatest generation” of their day—who defended their freedom with their lives.

Primary Sources
Herodotus Histories (esp. books 5-8)
Aeschylus Persians
Plutarch Life of Aristides; Life of Themistokles
Diodorus of Sicily (Diodorus Sikulus) Histories books 11-12
Aristotle Constitution of the Athenians

Secondary Sources
P. Green The Greco-Persian Wars (Berkeley: University of California, 1996).
B. Strauss The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece—and Western Civilization (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004).
J. Lazenby The Defense of Greece 490-479 B.C. (Warminster, England: Aris & Philips, 1993).
C. Hignett Xerxes’ Invasion of Greece (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963).
H. T. Wallinga Xerxes’ Greek Adventure: The Naval Perspective (Leiden, 2005)
J. S. Morrison and R. T. Williams, Greek Oared Ships 900-322 BC (Cambridge, 1968).
J. B. Pritchett, The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, Vol 1 (Princeton, 1958), esp. plates 121 (Esarhaddon), 195-197 (Darius and Xerxes).

Basic Chronology of the Persian Background:

612 BC:  Sack of Ninevah by Babylonians and Medes ends the Assyrian Empire
Babylonians control Mesopotamia (middle and southern Iraq)
Medes control northern Iraq and Anatolia (Turkey)
Minor kingdom of Lydia in Western Anatolia (stops expansion of Medes: May 25, 585 BC)
559-30  Rise of Cyrus I “The Great” and the Persians
550       Defeat of the Medes by Cyrus, who controls Asia Minor
547       Croesus of Lydia defeated by Cyrus. Persians in contact with Greeks
539       Cyrus captures Babylon
530-22  Cambyses rules Persia
525       Cambyses conquers Egypt
522       Revolt of the Medes
521      Darius I rules Persia (521-486)
520       Invasion of the Scythians (Black Sea area)
518       Ionian Greek subjugated
512       Invasion of Thrace (northern Aegean Sea area)
499       Invasion of island of Naxos; Ionian Greeks Revolt; Sardis burned by Greeks
494       Miletus subjugated; Sea Battle of Lade (Ionian Greeks defeated)
492       Sea Invasion of Northern Aegean
490      1st invasion of Greece: Battle of Marathon
486      Xerxes rules Persia (486-465)
480      2nd Invasion of Greece
465      Artaxerxes I rules Persia (465-425)
c. 450   Sues Greeks for Peace

Basic Chronology of the Greco-Persian Wars:
546 f.   Revolt of the Lydians put down by Cyrus’ commander (Hdt 1.154-76)
520      Persian Expedition by King Darius against Scythia (Black Sea area)
Miltiades controls Chersonese (northern Aegean); submits to Persia
512      Persian Expedition against Thrace (northern Aegean area)

499      Revolt of the Ionian Greeks against the Persians (Hdt 5.28-38)
494      Sack of Miletus ends the revolt                                                                      (Hdt 6.6-22)
492      Persian invasion into northern Greece wrecked.                                                 (Hdt 6.44-45)
491      Darius demands the submission of the Greeks

490      First Persian Invasion of Greece: Battle of Marathon (Hdt 6.94-124)
488-6   Ostracisms in Athens
486/4   Egyptian revolt against Persia                                                                         (Hdt 7.7)
483      Babylonian revolt against Persia
483/2   Athens builds navy                                                                                       (Hdt 7.144)
482      Babylon revolts against Persia
481      Xerxes prepares invasion; demands submission; Greek League formed               (Hdt Book 7)
Spartans and allies begin fortifying the Isthmus of Corinth

480      Second Persian Invasion: Battles of Thermopylae, Artemisium (Hdt 7.210 f.)
Sep. 480: First sack of Athens
Naval Battle of Salamis
479      Athens refuses separate peace;
June 479: Second sack of Athens                      (Hdt 9.1-15)
Pausanias marches Spartan troops north
Battle of Plataea destroys Persian army on Greece (Hdt 9.39 f.)
Battle of Mycale; Persians retreat to Sardis (Hdt 9.90-107)
Athens sieges Sestos (Xanthippus commands); Spartans leave                       (Hdt 9.114-18)
Andros, Carystos, Paros taken by Athens
478/7   Athens fortified under Themistokles; builds walls, harbor                                    (DS 11.39-40)
Pausanias appointed by Spartans to liberate Greek cities; falls into disfavor
First battle at Cyprus                                                                                        (DS 11.44)
476-63  Cimon commands Athenians in Aegean Sea
474      Themistokles ostracized
470      Cimon sent to liberate Asian coastal cities                                                          (DS 11.60)
Eion, Scyros; cities in Caria and Lycia taken
462/1   Failed Athenian expedition to Egypt
Exile of Cimon
450      Cimon battles in Cyprus; takes Citium and Marium by siege                               (DS 12.1-4)
Artaxerxes sues for peace during siege of Salamis: Peace of Callias
Death of Cimon
Hdt = Herodotus Histories
DS = Diodorus of Sicily Universal History

Additional notes:
1.  Xerxes’ forces gathered from across the Empire, pouring down the Royal Road from Susa (in the east) to Sardis. They crossed the bridges on the Hellespont, and then met up at Doriscos. The navy went through the canal at Athos, and then around the peninsulae on the Chalcidice. They met the army and regrouped at Therme.

2. After the loss at Salamis, Xerxes forces split. An army stayed on Greece under Mardonius; it was routed next year at Plataea. Naval forces under the Queen Artemisia went back to Ephesus; Phoenician allies went home (off the map), while others went to the Samos area to prevent revolts. Xerxes went back overland, to protect his bridges at Abydos, and then went on to Sardis.

Map 2:  The Greek World in Detail

Map 3: The Persian Empire

The Lenormant Relief and Reconstruction

From the Erechtheion, the Acropolis, Athens

Photo by John Lewis

Discussed in: Morrison and Williams, Greek Oared Ships 900-322 BC p. 170 f.