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Readings for Ancient Greece 1 -- Unit 10, Persian Wars

Table of Contents
1  Greco-Persian Wars -- Wikipedia
2  Persian Wars -- Britannica
3  The Persians -- Aeschylus Play (c.f., links 5 below)
4  The Persian side of the Persian Wars: 
Achaemenid_Empire (Internet Link)
5  Links for Unit 10 – Greco-Persian Wars
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1  Greco-Persian Wars
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Greco-Persian Wars
Greek-Persian duel.jpg
Greek hoplite (right) and Persian warrior (left) depicted fighting, on an ancient kylix, 5th century BC
Date 499–449 BCi[›]
Location Mainland Greece, Thrace, Aegean Islands, Asia Minor, Cyprus and Egypt
Result Greek victory[1]
Macedon, Thrace and Ionia regain independence from Persia

Greek city-states:

Delian League
Other pro-Greek forces
Achaemenid Empire of Persia
Other pro-Persian forces
Commanders and leaders
Leonidas I  
Artaphernes (son of Artaphernes)
Xerxes I
Artemisia I of Caria

The Greco-Persian Wars (also often called the Persian Wars) were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire of Persia (modern day Iran) and Greek city-states that started in 499 BCi[›] and lasted until 449 BC. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus the Great conquered the Greek-inhabited region of Ionia in 547 BC. Struggling to rule the independent-minded cities of Ionia, the Persians appointed tyrants to rule each of them. This would prove to be the source of much trouble for the Greeks and Persians alike.

In 499 BC, the tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, embarked on an expedition to conquer the island of Naxos, with Persian support;[2] however, the expedition was a debacle and, pre-empting his dismissal, Aristagoras incited all of Hellenic Asia Minor into rebellion against the Persians. This was the beginning of the Ionian Revolt, which would last until 493 BC, progressively drawing more regions of Asia Minor into the conflict. Aristagoras secured military support from Athens and Eretria, and in 498 BC these forces helped to capture and burn the Persian regional capital of Sardis. The Persian king Darius the Great vowed to have revenge on Athens and Eretria for this act. The revolt continued, with the two sides effectively stalemated throughout 497–495 BC. In 494 BC, the Persians regrouped, and attacked the epicentre of the revolt in Miletus. At the Battle of Lade, the Ionians suffered a decisive defeat, and the rebellion collapsed, with the final members being stamped out the following year.

Seeking to secure his empire from further revolts and from the interference of the mainland Greeks, Darius embarked on a scheme to conquer Greece and to punish Athens and Eretria for the burning of Sardis. The first Persian invasion of Greece began in 492 BC, with the Persian general Mardonius successfully re-subjugating Thrace and conquering Macedon before several mishaps forced an early end to the rest of the campaign.[3] In 490 BC a second force was sent to Greece, this time across the Aegean Sea, under the command of Datis and Artaphernes. This expedition subjugated the Cyclades, before besieging, capturing and razing Eretria. However, while en route to attack Athens, the Persian force was decisively defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon, ending Persian efforts for the time being.

Darius then began to plan to completely conquer Greece, but died in 486 BC and responsibility for the conquest passed to his son Xerxes. In 480 BC, Xerxes personally led the second Persian invasion of Greece with one of the largest ancient armies ever assembled. Victory over the Allied Greek states at the famous Battle of Thermopylae allowed the Persians to torch an evacuated Athens and overrun most of Greece. However, while seeking to destroy the combined Greek fleet, the Persians suffered a severe defeat at the Battle of Salamis. The following year, the confederated Greeks went on the offensive, defeating the Persian army at the Battle of Plataea, and ending the invasion of Greece.

The allied Greeks followed up their success by destroying the rest of the Persian fleet at the Battle of Mycale, before expelling Persian garrisons from Sestos (479 BC) and Byzantium (478 BC). The actions of the general Pausanias at the siege of Byzantium alienated many of the Greek states from the Spartans, and the anti-Persian alliance was therefore reconstituted around Athenian leadership, as the so-called Delian League. The Delian League continued to campaign against Persia for the next three decades, beginning with the expulsion of the remaining Persian garrisons from Europe. At the Battle of the Eurymedon in 466 BC, the League won a double victory that finally secured freedom for the cities of Ionia. However, the League's involvement in an Egyptian revolt (from 460–454 BC) resulted in a disastrous defeat, and further campaigning was suspended. A fleet was sent to Cyprus in 451 BC, but achieved little, and when it withdrew the Greco-Persian Wars drew to a quiet end. Some historical sources suggest the end of hostilities was marked by a peace treaty between Athens and Persia, the so-called Peace of Callias.


Herodotus, the main historical source for this conflict
Thucydides continued Herodotus's narrative

Almost all the primary sources for the Greco-Persian Wars are Greek; there are no surviving historical accounts from the Persian side.  By some distance, the main source for the Greco-Persian Wars is the Greek historian Herodotus. Herodotus, who has been called the "Father of History",[4] was born in 484 BC in Halicarnassus, Asia Minor (then part of the Persian empire). He wrote his 'Enquiries' (Greek Historia, English (The) Histories) around 440–430 BC, trying to trace the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars, which would still have been recent history.[5]  Herodotus's approach was novel and, at least in Western society, he invented 'history' as a discipline.[5]  As Holland has it: "For the first time, a chronicler set himself to trace the origins of a conflict not to a past so remote so as to be utterly fabulous, nor to the whims and wishes of some god, nor to a people's claim to manifest destiny, but rather explanations he could verify personally."[5]

Some later ancient historians, starting with Thucydides, criticised Herodotus and his methods.[6][7]   Nevertheless, Thucydides chose to begin his history where Herodotus left off (at the Siege of Sestos) and felt Herodotus's history was accurate enough not to need re-writing or correcting.[7]   Plutarch criticised Herodotus in his essay "On The Malignity of Herodotus", describing Herodotus as "Philobarbaros" (barbarian-lover) for not being pro-Greek enough, which suggests that Herodotus might actually have done a reasonable job of being even-handed.[8]  A negative view of Herodotus was passed on to Renaissance Europe, though he remained well read.  However, since the 19th century his reputation has been dramatically rehabilitated by archaeological finds that have repeatedly confirmed his version of events.[9]  The prevailing modern view is that Herodotus did a remarkable job in his Historia, but that some of his specific details (particularly troop numbers and dates) should be viewed with skepticism.[9]  Nevertheless, there are still some historians who believe Herodotus made up much of his story.[10]

The military history of Greece between the end of the second Persian invasion of Greece and the Peloponnesian War (479–431 BC) is not well supported by surviving ancient sources.  This period, sometimes referred to as the pentekontaetia (πεντηκονταετία, the Fifty Years) by ancient writers, was a period of relative peace and prosperity within Greece.[11][12] The richest source for the period, and also the most contemporaneous, is Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, which is generally considered by modern historians to be a reliable primary account.[13][14][15] Thucydides only mentions this period in a digression on the growth of Athenian power in the run up to the Peloponnesian War, and the account is brief, probably selective and lacks any dates.[16][17] Nevertheless, Thucydides's account can be, and is, used by historians to draw up a skeleton chronology for the period, on to which details from archaeological records and other writers can be superimposed.[16]

More detail for the whole period is provided by Plutarch, in his biographies of Themistocles, Aristides and especially Cimon. Plutarch was writing some 600 years after the events in question, and is therefore a secondary source, but he often names his sources, which allows some degree of verification of his statements.[18] In his biographies, he draws directly from many ancient histories that have not survived, and thus often preserves details of the period that are omitted in Herodotus and Thucydides's accounts. The final major existing source for the period is the universal history (Bibliotheca historica) of the 1st century BC Sicilian, Diodorus Siculus. Much of Diodorus's writing about this period is drawn from the much earlier Greek historian Ephorus, who also wrote a universal history.[19] Diodorus is also a secondary source and often derided by modern historians for his style and inaccuracies, but he preserves many details of the ancient period found nowhere else.[20]

Further scattered details can be found in Pausanias's Description of Greece, while the Byzantine Suda dictionary of the 10th century AD preserves some anecdotes found nowhere else. Minor sources for the period include the works of Pompeius Trogus (epitomized by Justinus), Cornelius Nepos and Ctesias of Cnidus (epitomized by Photius), which are not in their original textual form. These works are not considered reliable (especially Ctesias), and are not particularly useful for reconstructing the history of this period.[21][22]

Origins of the conflict

The Greeks of the classical period believed that, in the dark age that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, significant numbers of Greeks fled and had emigrated to Asia Minor and settled there.[23][24] Modern historians generally accept this migration as historic (but separate from the later colonization of the Mediterranean by the Greeks).[25][26] There are, however, those who believe the Ionian migration cannot be explained as simply as the classical Greeks claimed.[27] These settlers were from three tribal groups: the Aeolians, Dorians and Ionians.[23] The Ionians had settled about the coasts of Lydia and Caria, founding the twelve cities that made up Ionia.[23] These cities were Miletus, Myus and Priene in Caria; Ephesus, Colophon, Lebedos, Teos, Clazomenae, Phocaea and Erythrae in Lydia; and the islands of Samos and Chios.[28] Although the Ionian cities were independent of one another, they recognized their shared heritage and supposedly had a common temple and meeting place, the Panionion.ii[›] They thus formed a 'cultural league', to which they would admit no other cities, or even other tribal Ionians.[29][30]

The cities of Ionia remained independent until they were conquered by the Lydians of western Asia Minor. The Lydian king Alyattes II attacked Miletus, a conflict that ended with a treaty of alliance between Miletus and Lydia, that meant that Miletus would have internal autonomy but follow Lydia in foreign affairs.[31] At this time, the Lydians were also in conflict with the Median Empire, and the Milesians sent an army to aid the Lydians in this conflict. Eventually a peaceable settlement was established between the Medes and the Lydians, with the Halys River set up as the border between the kingdoms.[32] The famous Lydian king Croesus succeeded his father Alyattes in around 560 BC and set about conquering the other Greek city states of Asia Minor.[33]

The Persian prince Cyrus led a rebellion against the last Median king Astyages in 553 BC. Cyrus was a grandson of Astyages and was supported by part of the Median aristocracy.[34] By 550 BC, the rebellion was over, and Cyrus had emerged victorious, founding the Achaemenid Empire in place of the Median kingdom in the process.[34] Croesus saw the disruption in the Median Empire and Persia as an opportunity to extend his realm and asked the oracle of Delphi whether he should attack them. The Oracle supposedly replied the famously ambiguous answer that "if Croesus was to cross the Halys he would destroy a great empire".[35] Blind to the ambiguity of this prophecy, Croesus attacked the Persians, but was eventually defeated and Lydia fell to Cyrus.[36] By crossing the Halys, Croesus had indeed destroyed a great empire - his own.

The Achaemenid Empire at its greatest extent listed on the Behistun Inscription

While fighting the Lydians, Cyrus had sent messages to the Ionians asking them to revolt against Lydian rule, which the Ionians had refused to do.[37] After Cyrus finished the conquest of Lydia, the Ionian cities now offered to be his subjects under the same terms as they had been subjects of Croesus.[37] Cyrus refused, citing the Ionians' unwillingness to help him previously. The Ionians thus prepared to defend themselves, and Cyrus sent the Median general Harpagus to conquer them.[38] He first attacked Phocaea; the Phocaeans decided to abandon their city entirely and sail into exile in Sicily, rather than become Persian subjects (although many later returned).[39] Some Teians also chose to emigrate when Harpagus attacked Teos, but the rest of the Ionians remained, and were each in turn conquered.[40]

In the years following their conquest, the Persians found the Ionians difficult to rule. Elsewhere in the empire, Cyrus identified elite native groups such as the priesthood of Judea – to help him rule his new subjects.[41] No such group existed in Greek cities at this time; while there was usually an aristocracy, this was inevitably divided into feuding factions.[41] The Persians thus settled for sponsoring a tyrant in each Ionian city, even though this drew them into the Ionians' internal conflicts. Furthermore, certain tyrants might develop an independent streak and have to be replaced.[41] The tyrants themselves faced a difficult task; they had to deflect the worst of their fellow citizens' hatred, while staying in the favour of the Persians.[41] In the past, Greek states had often been ruled by tyrants, but that form of government was on the decline.[42] Past tyrants had also tended and needed to be strong and able leaders, whereas the rulers appointed by the Persians were simply place-men. Backed by the Persian military might, these tyrants did not need the support of the population, and could thus rule absolutely.[42] On the eve of the Greco-Persian wars, it is probable that the Ionian population had become discontent and was ready for rebellion.[43]

Warfare in the ancient Mediterranean

In the Greco-Persian wars both sides made use of spear-armed infantry and light missile troops. Greek armies placed the emphasis on heavier infantry, while Persian armies favoured lighter troop types.[44][45]


Persian (and Median) warriors

The Persian military consisted of a diverse group of men drawn across the various nations of the empire. However, according to Herodotus, there was at least a general conformity in armour and style of fighting.[44] The troops were usually armed with a bow, a 'short spear' and a sword or axe, carried a wicker shield. They wore a leather jerkin,[44][46] although individuals of high stature wore high quality metal armor. The Persians most likely used their bows to wear down the enemy, then closed in to deliver the final blow with spears and swords.[44] The first rank of Persian infantry formations, the so-called 'sparabara', had no bows, carried larger wicker shields and were sometimes armed with longer spears. Their role was to protect the back ranks of the formation.[47] The cavalry probably fought as lightly armed missile cavalry.[44][48]


The style of warfare between the Greek city-states, which dates back until at least 650 BC (as dated by the 'Chigi vase'), was based around the hoplite phalanx supported by missile troops.[45][49] The 'hoplites' were foot soldiers usually drawn from the members of the middle-classes (in Athens called the zeugites), who could afford the equipment necessary to fight in this manner.[50] The heavy armour usually included a breastplate or a linothorax, greaves, a helmet, and a large round, concave shield (the aspis or hoplon).[45] Hoplites were armed with long spears (the dory), which were significantly longer than Persian spears, and a sword (the xiphos).[45] The heavy armour and longer spears made them superior in hand-to-hand combat[45] and gave them significant protection against ranged attacks.[45] Lightly armed skirmishers, the psiloi also comprised a part of Greek armies growing in importance during the conflict; at the Battle of Plataea, for instance, they may have formed over half the Greek army.[51] Use of cavalry in Greek armies is not reported in the battles of the Greco-Persian Wars.

Naval warfare

At the beginning of the conflict, all naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean had switched to the trireme, a warship powered by three banks of oars. The most common naval tactics during the period were ramming (Greek triremes were equipped with a cast-bronze ram at the bows), or boarding by ship-borne marines.[52] More experienced naval powers had by this time also begun to use a manoeuver known as diekplous. It is not clear what this was, but it probably involved sailing into gaps between enemy ships and then ramming them in the side.[52]

The Persian naval forces were primarily provided by the seafaring people of the empire: Phoenicians, Egyptians, Cilicians and Cypriots.[53][54] Other coastal regions of the Persian Empire would contribute ships throughout the course of the wars.[53]

Ionian Revolt (499–493 BC)

Main article: Ionian Revolt

The Ionian Revolt and associated revolts in Aeolis, Doris, Cyprus, and Caria were military rebellions by several regions of Asia Minor against Persian rule, lasting from 499 to 493 BC. At the heart of the rebellion was the dissatisfaction of the Greek cities of Asia Minor with the tyrants appointed by Persia to rule them, along with opposition to the individual actions of two Milesian tyrants, Histiaeus and Aristagoras.[41][55] In 499 BC the then tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, launched a joint expedition with the Persian satrap Artaphernes to conquer Naxos, in an attempt to bolster his position in Miletus (both financially and in terms of prestige).[55][56] The mission was a debacle,[57] and sensing his imminent removal as tyrant, Aristagoras chose to incite the whole of Ionia into rebellion against the Persian king Darius the Great.[43]

Map showing main events of the Ionian Revolt.

Struggling to rule the independent-minded cities of Ionia, the Persians appointed local tyrants to rule each of them. This would prove to be the source of much trouble for the Greeks and Persians alike. In 498 BC, supported by troops from Athens and Eretria, the Ionians marched on, captured, and burnt Sardis.[58] However, on their return journey to Ionia, they were followed by Persian troops, and decisively beaten at the Battle of Ephesus.[59] This campaign was the only offensive action taken by the Ionians, who subsequently went on the defensive. The Persians responded in 497 BC with a three-pronged attack aimed at recapturing the outlying areas of the rebellious territory,[60] but the spread of the revolt to Caria meant the largest army, under Darius, moved there instead.[61] While at first campaigning successfully in Caria, this army was wiped out in an ambush at the Battle of Pedasus.[62] This resulted in a stalemate for the rest of 496 and 495 BC.[63]

By 494 BC the Persian army and navy had regrouped, and they made straight for the epicentre of the rebellion at Miletus.[64] The Ionian fleet sought to defend Miletus by sea, but was defeated decisively at the Battle of Lade, after the Samians had defected.[65] Miletus was then besieged, captured, and its population was enslaved.[66] This double defeat effectively ended the revolt, and the Carians surrendered to the Persians as a result.[67] The Persians spent 493 BC reducing the cities along the west coast that still held out against them,[68] before finally imposing a peace settlement on Ionia that was considered[by whom?] to be both just and fair.[69]

The Ionian Revolt constituted the first major conflict between Greece and the Achaemenid Empire and represents the first phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Asia Minor had been brought back into the Persian fold, but Darius had vowed to punish Athens and Eretria for their support for the revolt.[69] Moreover, seeing that the political situation in Greece posed a continued threat to the stability of his Empire, he decided to embark on the conquest of all Greece.[69]

First invasion of Greece (492–490 BC)

After having reconquered Ionia, the Persians began to plan their next moves of extinguishing the threat to their empire from Greece; and punishing Athens and Eretria.[70] The resultant first Persian invasion of Greece consisted of two main campaigns.[70]

492 BC: Mardonius's campaign

Map showing events of the first phases of the Greco-Persian Wars

The first campaign, in 492 BC, was led by Darius's son-in-law Mardonius,[71] who re-subjugated Thrace, which had nominally been part of the Persian empire since 513 BC.[72] Mardonius was also able to force Macedon to become a fully subordinate client kingdom of Persia; it had previously been allied, or otherwise said a vassal, but retained a high degree of autonomy.[73][74] However, further progress in this campaign was prevented when Mardonius's fleet was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Mount Athos. Mardonius himself was then injured in a raid on his camp by a Thracian tribe, and after this he returned with the rest of the expedition to Asia.[73][75]

The following year, having given clear warning of his plans, Darius sent ambassadors to all the cities of Greece, demanding their submission.[76] He received it from almost all of them, except Athens and Sparta, both of whom instead executed the ambassadors.[76] With Athens still defiant, and Sparta now also effectively at war with him, Darius ordered a further military campaign for the following year.[77]

490 BC: Datis and Artaphernes' campaign

In 490 BC, Datis and Artaphernes (son of the satrap Artaphernes) were given command of an amphibious invasion force, and set sail from Cilicia.[77] The Persian force sailed from Cilicia first to the island of Rhodes, where a Lindian Temple Chronicle records that Datis besieged the city of Lindos, but was unsuccessful.[78] The fleet sailed next to Naxos, to punish the Naxians for their resistance to the failed expedition the Persians had mounted there a decade earlier.[79] Many of the inhabitants fled to the mountains; those that the Persians caught were enslaved.[80] The Persians then burnt the city and temples of the Naxians.[80] The fleet then proceeded to island-hop across the rest of the Aegean on its way to Eretria, taking hostages and troops from each island.[79]

The task force sailed on to Euboea, and to the first major target, Eretria.[81] The Eretrians made no attempt to stop the Persians from landing or advancing and thus allowed themselves to be besieged.[82] For six days, the Persians attacked the walls, with losses on both sides;[82] however, on the seventh day two reputable Eretrians opened the gates and betrayed the city to the Persians.[82] The city was razed, and temples and shrines were looted and burned. Furthermore, according to Darius's commands, the Persians enslaved all the remaining townspeople.[82]

Battle of Marathon

Main article: Battle of Marathon
The Greek wings envelop the Persians

The Persian fleet next headed south down the coast of Attica, landing at the bay of Marathon, roughly 25 miles (40 km) from Athens[83] Under the guidance of Miltiades, the general with the greatest experience of fighting the Persians, the Athenian army marched to block the two exits from the plain of Marathon. Stalemate ensued for five days, before the Persians decided to continue onward to Athens, and began to load their troops back onto the ships. After the Persians had loaded their cavalry (their strongest soldiers) on the ships, the 10,000 Athenian soldiers descended from the hills around the plain. The Greeks crushed the weaker Persian foot soldiers by routing the wings before turning towards the centre of the Persian line. The remnants of the Persian army fled to their ships and left the battle.[84] Herodotus records that 6,400 Persian bodies were counted on the battlefield; the Athenians lost only 192 men.[85]

As soon as the Persian survivors had put to sea, the Athenians marched as quickly as possible to Athens.[86] They arrived in time to prevent Artaphernes from securing a landing in Athens. Seeing his opportunity lost, Artaphernes ended the year's campaign and returned to Asia.[87]

The Battle of Marathon was a watershed in the Greco-Persian wars, showing the Greeks that the Persians could be beaten. It also highlighted the superiority of the more heavily armoured Greek hoplites, and showed their potential when used wisely.[84]

Interbellum (490–480 BC)

Achaemenid Empire

After the failure of the first invasion, Darius began raising a huge new army with which he intended to subjugate Greece completely. However, in 486 BC, his Egyptian subjects revolted, and the revolt forced an indefinite postponement of any Greek expedition.[88] Darius died while preparing to march on Egypt, and the throne of Persia passed to his son Xerxes I.[89] Xerxes crushed the Egyptian revolt, and very quickly resumed the preparations for the invasion of Greece.[90] Since this was to be a full-scale invasion, it needed longterm planning, stockpiling and conscription. Xerxes decided that the Hellespont would be bridged to allow his army to cross to Europe, and that a canal should be dug across the isthmus of Mount Athos (a Persian fleet had been destroyed in 492 BC while rounding this coastline). These were both feats of exceptional ambition that would have been beyond the capabilities of any other contemporary state.[91] However, the campaign was delayed by one year because of another revolt in Egypt and Babylonia.[92]

The Persians had the sympathy of several Greek city-states, including Argos, which had pledged to defect when the Persians reached their borders.[93] The Aleuadae family, who ruled Larissa in Thessaly, saw the invasion as an opportunity to extend their power.[94] Thebes, though not explicitly 'Medising', was suspected of being willing to aid the Persians once the invasion force arrived.[95][96]

In 481 BC, after roughly four years of preparation, Xerxes began to muster the troops to invade Europe. Herodotus gives the names of 46 nations from which troops were drafted.[97] The Persian army was gathered in Asia Minor in the summer and autumn of 481 BC. The armies from the Eastern satrapies were gathered in Kritala, Cappadocia and were led by Xerxes to Sardis where they passed the winter.[98] Early in spring, it moved to Abydos where it was joined with the armies of the western satrapies.[99] Then the army that Xerxes had mustered marched towards Europe, crossing the Hellespont on two pontoon bridges.[100]

Size of the Persian forces

For further information see Size of the Persian Forces

The numbers of troops that Xerxes mustered for the second invasion of Greece have been the subject of endless dispute. Most modern scholars reject as unrealistic the figures of 2.5 million given by Herodotus and other ancient sources because the victors likely miscalculated or exaggerated. The topic has been hotly debated, but the consensus revolves around the figure of 200,000.[101]

The size of the Persian fleet is also disputed, although perhaps less so. Other ancient authors agree with Herodotus' number of 1,207. These numbers are by ancient standards consistent, and this could be interpreted that a number around 1,200 is correct. Among modern scholars, some have accepted this number, although suggesting the number must have been lower by the Battle of Salamis.[102][103][104] Other recent works on the Persian Wars reject this number, viewing 1,207 as more of a reference to the combined Greek fleet in the Iliad. These works generally claim that the Persians could have launched no more than around 600 warships into the Aegean.[104][105][106]

Greek city states


A year after Marathon, Miltiades, the hero of Marathon, was injured in a military campaign to Paros. Taking advantage of his incapacitation, the powerful Alcmaeonid family arranged for him to be prosecuted for the failure of the campaign.[107] A huge fine was imposed on Miltiades for the crime of 'deceiving the Athenian people', but he died weeks later from his wound.[107]

The politician Themistocles, with a power base firmly established amongst the poor, filled the vacuum left by Miltiades's death, and in the following decade became the most influential politician in Athens.[107] During this period, Themistocles continued to support the expansion of Athen's naval power.[107] The Athenians were aware throughout this period that the Persian interest in Greece had not ended,[90] and Themistocles's naval policies may be seen in the light of the potential threat from Persia.[107] Aristides, Themistocles's great rival, and champion of the zeugites (the 'upper hoplite-class') vigorously opposed such a policy.[108]

In 483 BC, a vast new seam of silver was found in the Athenian mines at Laurium.[109] Themistocles proposed that the silver should be used to build a new fleet of triremes, ostensibly to assist in a long running war with Aegina.[110] Plutarch suggests that Themistocles deliberately avoided mentioning Persia, believing that it was too distant a threat for the Athenians to act on, but that countering Persia was the fleet's aim.[109] Fine suggests that many Athenians must have admitted that such a fleet would be needed to resist the Persians, whose preparations for the coming campaign were known.[111] Themistocles's motion was passed easily, despite strong opposition from Aristides. Its passage was probably due to the desire of many of the poorer Athenians for paid employment as rowers in the fleet.[111] It is unclear from the ancient sources whether 100 or 200 ships were initially authorised; both Fine and Holland suggest that at first 100 ships were authorised and that a second vote increased this number to the levels seen during the second invasion.[110][111] Aristides continued to oppose Themistocles's policy, and tension between the two camps built over the winter, so the ostracism of 482 BC became a direct contest between Themistocles and Aristides.[110] In what Holland characterises as, in essence, the world's first referendum, Aristides was ostracised, and Themistocles's policies were endorsed.[110] Indeed, becoming aware of the Persian preparations for the coming invasion, the Athenians voted to build more ships than those for which Themistocles had asked.[110] Thus, during the preparations for the Persian invasion, Themistocles had become the leading politician in Athens.[112]


The Spartan king Demaratus had been stripped of his kingship in 491 BC, and replaced with his cousin Leotychides. Sometime after 490 BC, the humiliated Demaratus had chosen to go into exile, and had made his way to Darius's court in Susa.[88] Demaratus would from then on act as an advisor to Darius, and later Xerxes, on Greek affairs, and accompanied Xerxes during the second Persian invasion.[113] At the end of Herodotus's book 7, there is an anecdote relating that prior to the second invasion, Demaratus sent an apparently blank wax tablet to Sparta. When the wax was removed, a message was found scratched on the wooden backing, warning the Spartans of Xerxes's plans.[114] However, many historians believe that this chapter was inserted into the text by a later author, possibly to fill a gap between the end of book 7 and the start of book 8. The veracity of this anecdote is therefore unclear.[115]

Hellenic alliance

In 481 BC, Xerxes sent ambassadors to city states throughout Greece, asking for food, land, and water as tokens of their submission to Persia. However, Xerxes' ambassadors deliberately avoided Athens and Sparta, hoping thereby that those states would not learn of the Persians' plans.[116] States that were opposed to Persia thus began to coalesce around these two city states. A congress of states met at Corinth in late autumn of 481 BC, and a confederate alliance of Greek city-states was formed.[117] This confederation had powers both to send envoys to ask for assistance and to dispatch troops from the member states to defensive points after joint consultation. Herodotus does not formulate an abstract name for the union but simply calls them "οἱ Ἕλληνες" (the Greeks) and "the Greeks who had sworn alliance" (Godley translation) or "the Greeks who had banded themselves together" (Rawlinson translation).[118] From now on, they will be referred to as the 'Allies'. Sparta and Athens had a leading role in the congress but the interests of all the states influenced defensive strategy.[119] Little is known about the internal workings of the congress or the discussions during its meetings. Only 70 of the nearly 700 Greek city-states sent representatives. Nevertheless, this was remarkable for the disjointed Greek world, especially since many of the city-states present were still technically at war with one another.[120]

Second invasion of Greece (480–479 BC)

Early 480 BC: Thrace, Macedonia, and Thessaly

Having crossed into Europe in April 480 BC, the Persian army began its march to Greece, taking 3 months to travel unopposed from the Hellespont to Therme. It paused at Doriskos where it was joined by the fleet. Xerxes reorganized the troops into tactical units replacing the national formations used earlier for the march.[121]

Major events in the second invasion of Greece

The Allied 'congress' met again in the spring of 480 BC and agreed to defend the narrow Vale of Tempe on the borders of Thessaly and block Xerxes's advance.[122] However, once there, they were warned by Alexander I of Macedon that the vale could be bypassed and that the army of Xerxes was overwhelmingly large, thus the Greeks retreated.[123] Shortly afterwards, they received the news that Xerxes had crossed the Hellespont.[123] At this point, a second strategy was suggested by Themistocles to the allies. The route to southern Greece (Boeotia, Attica and the Peloponnesus) would require the army of Xerxes to travel through the narrow pass of Thermopylae. This could easily be blocked by the Greek hoplites, despite the overwhelming numbers of Persians. Furthermore, to prevent the Persians bypassing Thermopylae by sea, the Athenian and allied navies could block the straits of Artemisium. This dual strategy was adopted by the congress.[124] However, the Peloponnesian cities made fall-back plans to defend the Isthmus of Corinth should it come to it, while the women and children of Athens were evacuated to the Peloponnesian city of Troezen.[125]

August 480 BC: Battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium

Xerxes's estimated time of arrival at Thermopylae coincided with both the Olympic Games and the festival of Carneia. For the Spartans, warfare during these periods was considered sacrilegious.[126] Despite the uncomfortable timing, the Spartans considered the threat so grave that they dispatched their king Leonidas I with his personal bodyguard (the Hippeis) of 300 men. The customary elite young men in the Hippeis were replaced by veterans who already had children.[126] Leonidas was supported by contingents from the Allied Peloponnesian cities, and other forces that the Allies picked up on the way to Thermopylae.[126] The Allies proceeded to occupy the pass, rebuilt the wall the Phocians had built at the narrowest point of the pass, and waited for Xerxes's arrival.[127]

The pass of Thermopylae

When the Persians arrived at Thermopylae in mid-August, they initially waited for three days for the Allies to disperse. When Xerxes was eventually persuaded that the Allies intended to contest the pass, he sent his troops to attack.[128] However, the Allied position was ideally suited to hoplite warfare, the Persian contingents being forced to attack the Greek phalanx head on.[129] The Allies withstood two full days of Persian attacks, including those by the elite Persian Immortals. However, towards the end of the second day, they were betrayed by a local resident named Ephialtes who revealed to Xerxes a mountain path that led behind the Allied lines. Made aware by scouts that they were being outflanked, Leonidas dismissed most of the Allied army, remaining to guard the rear with perhaps 2,000 men. On the final day of the battle, the remaining Allies sallied forth from the wall to meet the Persians in the wider part of the pass to slaughter as many Persians as they could, but eventually they were all killed or captured.[130]

Simultaneous with the battle at Thermopylae, an Allied naval force of 271 triremes defended the Straits of Artemisium against the Persians, thus protecting the flank of the forces at Thermopylae.[131] Here the Allied fleet held off the Persians for three days; however, on the third evening the Allies received news of the fate of Leonidas and the Allied troops at Thermopylae. Since the Allied fleet was badly damaged, and since it no longer needed to defend the flank of Thermopylae, the Allies retreated from Artemisium to the island of Salamis.[132]

September 480 BC: Battle of Salamis

Main article: Battle of Salamis

Victory at Thermopylae meant that all Boeotia fell to Xerxes; Attica was then open to invasion. The remaining population of Athens was evacuated, with the aid of the Allied fleet, to Salamis.[133] The Peloponnesian Allies began to prepare a defensive line across the Isthmus of Corinth, building a wall, and demolishing the road from Megara, abandoning Athens to the Persians.[134] Athens thus fell to the Persians; the small number of Athenians who had barricaded themselves on the Acropolis were eventually defeated, and Xerxes then ordered Athens to be razed.[135]

Schematic diagram illustrating events during the Battle of Salamis

The Persians had now captured most of Greece, but Xerxes had perhaps not expected such defiance; his priority was now to complete the war as quickly as possible.[136] If Xerxes could destroy the Allied navy, he would be in a strong position to force an Allied surrender;[137] conversely by avoiding destruction, or as Themistocles hoped, by destroying the Persian fleet, the Allies could prevent conquest from being completed.[138] The Allied fleet thus remained off the coast of Salamis into September, despite the imminent arrival of the Persians. Even after Athens fell, the Allied fleet remained off the coast of Salamis, trying to lure the Persian fleet to battle.[139] Partly because of deception by Themistocles, the navies met in the cramped Straits of Salamis.[140] There, the Persian numbers became a hindrance, as ships struggled to maneuver and became disorganised.[141] Seizing the opportunity, the Allied fleet attacked, and scored a decisive victory, sinking or capturing at least 200 Persian ships, therefore ensuring the safety of the Peloponnessus.[142]

According to Herodotus, after the loss of the battle Xerxes attempted to build a causeway across the channel to attack the Athenian evacuees on Salamis, but this project was soon abandoned. With the Persians' naval superiority removed, Xerxes feared that the Allies might sail to the Hellespont and destroy the pontoon bridges.[143] His general Mardonius volunteered to remain in Greece and complete the conquest with a hand-picked group of troops, while Xerxes retreated to Asia with the bulk of the army.[144] Mardonius over-wintered in Boeotia and Thessaly; the Athenians were thus able to return to their burnt-out city for the winter.[136]

June 479 BC: Battles of Plataea and Mycale

Over the winter, there was some tension among the Allies. In particular, the Athenians, who were not protected by the Isthmus, but whose fleet was the key to the security of the Peloponnesus, felt that they had been treated unfairly, and so they refused to join the Allied navy in the spring.[145] Mardonius remained in Thessaly, knowing an attack on the Isthmus was pointless, while the Allies refused to send an army outside the Peloponessus.[145] Mardonius moved to break the stalemate, by offering peace to the Athenians, using Alexander I of Macedon as an intermediate.[146] The Athenians made sure that a Spartan delegation was on hand to hear the Athenians reject the Persians' offer.[146] Athens was thus evacuated again, and the Persians marched south and re-took possession of it. Mardonius now repeated his offer of peace to the Athenian refugees on Salamis. Athens, with Megara and Plataea, sent emissaries to Sparta demanding assistance, and threatening to accept the Persian terms if they were not aided.[147] In response, the Spartans summoned a large army from the Peloponnese cities and marched to meet the Persians.[148]

When Mardonius heard the Allied army was on the march, he retreated into Boeotia, near Plataea, trying to draw the Allies into open terrain where he could use his cavalry.[149] The Allied army, under the command of the regent Pausanias, stayed on high ground above Plataea to protect themselves against such tactics.[150] After several days of maneuver and stalemate, Pausanias ordered a night-time retreat towards the Allies' original positions.[150] This maneuver went awry, leaving the Athenians, and Spartans and Tegeans isolated on separate hills, with the other contingents scattered further away near Plataea.[150] Seeing that the Persians might never have a better opportunity to attack, Mardonius ordered his whole army forward.[151] However, the Persian infantry proved no match for the heavily armoured Greek hoplites,[152] and the Spartans broke through to Mardonius's bodyguard and killed him.[153] After this the Persian force dissolved in rout; 40,000 troops managed to escape via the road to Thessaly,[154] but the rest fled to the Persian camp where they were trapped and slaughtered by the Greeks, finalising the Greek victory.[155][156]

Herodotus recounts that, on the afternoon of the Battle of Plataea, a rumour of their victory at that battle reached the Allies' navy, at that time off the coast of Mount Mycale in Ionia.[157] Their morale boosted, the Allied marines fought and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Mycale that same day, destroying the remnants of the Persian fleet, crippling Xerxes's sea power, and marking the ascendancy of the Greek fleet.[158] Whilst many modern historians doubt that Mycale took place on the same day as Plataea, the battle may well only have occurred once the Allies received news of the events unfolding in Greece.[159]

Greek counterattack (479–478 BC)

Mycale and Ionia

Mycale was, in many ways, the beginning of a new phase in the conflict, in which the Greeks would go on the offensive against the Persians.[160] The immediate result of the victory at Mycale was a second revolt amongst the Greek cities of Asia Minor. The Samians and Milesians had actively fought against the Persians at Mycale, thus openly declaring their rebellion, and the other cities followed in their example.[161][162]


Shortly after Mycale, the Allied fleet sailed to the Hellespont to break down the pontoon bridges, but found that this had already been done.[163] The Peloponnesians sailed home, but the Athenians remained to attack the Chersonesos, still held by the Persians.[163] The Persians and their allies made for Sestos, the strongest town in the region. Amongst them was one Oeobazus of Cardia, who had with him the cables and other equipment from the pontoon bridges.[164] The Persian governor, Artayctes had not prepared for a siege, not believing that the Allies would attack.[165] The Athenians therefore were able to lay a siege around Sestos.[163] The siege dragged on for several months, causing some discontent amongst the Athenian troops,[166] but eventually, when the food ran out in the City, the Persians fled at night from the least guarded area of the city.[167] The Athenians were thus able to take possession of the city the next day.[167]

Most of the Athenian troops were sent straight away to pursue the Persians.[167] The party of Oeobazus was captured by a Thracian tribe, and Oeobazus was sacrificed to the god Plistorus.[168] The Athenians eventually caught Artayctes, killing some of the Persians with him but taking most of them, including Artayctes, captive.[168] Artayctes was crucified at the request of the people of Elaeus, a town which Artayctes had plundered while governor of the Chersonesos.[169] The Athenians, having pacified the region, then sailed back to Athens, taking the cables from the pontoon bridges with them as trophies.[170]


In 478 BC, still operating under the terms of the Hellenic alliance, the Allies sent out a fleet composed of 20 Peloponnesian and 30 Athenian ships supported by an unspecified number of allies, under the overall command of Pausanias. According to Thucydides, this fleet sailed to Cyprus and "subdued most of the island".[171] Exactly what Thucydides means by this is unclear. Sealey suggests that this was essentially a raid to gather as much booty as possible from the Persian garrisons on Cyprus.[172] There is no indication that the Allies attempted to take possession of the island, and, shortly after, they sailed to Byzantium.[171] Certainly, the fact that the Delian League repeatedly campaigned in Cyprus suggests either that the island was not garrisoned by the Allies in 478 BC, or that the garrisons were quickly expelled.


The Greek fleet then sailed to Byzantium, which they besieged and eventually captured.[171] Control of both Sestos and Byzantium gave the allies command of the straits between Europe and Asia (over which the Persians had crossed), and allowed them access to the merchant trade of the Black Sea.[173]

The aftermath of the siege was to prove troublesome for Pausanias. Exactly what happened is unclear; Thucydides gives few details, although later writers added plenty of lurid insinuations.[173] Through his arrogance and arbitrary actions (Thucydides says "violence"), Pausanias managed to alienate many of the Allied contingents, particularly those that had just been freed from Persian overlordship.[172][173][174] The Ionians and others asked the Athenians to take leadership of the campaign, to which they agreed.[174] The Spartans, hearing of his behaviour, recalled Pausanias and tried him on charges of collaborating with the enemy. Although he was acquitted, his reputation was tarnished and he was not restored to his command.[174]

Pausanias returned to Byzantium as a private citizen in 477 BC, and took command of the city until he was expelled by the Athenians. He then crossed the Bosporus and settled in Colonae in the Troad, until he was again accused of collaborating with the Persians and was recalled by the Spartans for a trial after which he starved himself to death.[175] The timescale is unclear, but Pausanias may have remained in possession of Byzantium until 470 BC.[175]

In the meantime, the Spartans had sent Dorkis to Byzantium with a small force, to take command of the Allied force. However, he found that the rest of the Allies were no longer prepared to accept Spartan leadership, and therefore returned home.[174]

Wars of the Delian League (477–449 BC)

Delian League

Main article: Delian League
Athens and her "empire" in 431 BC. The empire was the direct descendant of the Delian League

After Byzantium, the Spartans were allegedly eager to end their involvement in the war. The Spartans were supposedly of the view that, with the liberation of mainland Greece and the Greek cities of Asia Minor, the war's purpose had already been reached. There was also perhaps a feeling that securing long-term security for the Asian Greeks would prove impossible.[176] In the aftermath of Mycale, the Spartan king Leotychides had proposed transplanting all the Greeks from Asia Minor to Europe as the only method of permanently freeing them from Persian dominion. Xanthippus, the Athenian commander at Mycale, had furiously rejected this; the Ionian cities were originally Athenian colonies, and the Athenians, if no-one else, would protect the Ionians.[176] This marks the point at which the leadership of the Greek Alliance effectively passed to the Athenians.[176] With the Spartan withdrawal after Byzantium, the leadership of the Athenians became explicit.

The loose alliance of city-states that had fought against Xerxes's invasion had been dominated by Sparta and the Peloponnesian league. With the withdrawal of these states, a congress was called on the holy island of Delos to institute a new alliance to continue the fight against the Persians. This alliance, now including many of the Aegean islands, was formally constituted as the 'First Athenian Alliance', commonly known as the Delian League. According to Thucydides, the official aim of the League was to "avenge the wrongs they suffered by ravaging the territory of the king".[177] In reality, this goal was divided into three main efforts—to prepare for future invasion, to seek revenge against Persia, and to organize a means of dividing spoils of war. The members were given a choice of either supplying armed forces or paying a tax to the joint treasury; most states chose the tax.[177]

Campaigns against Persia

Map showing the locations of battles fought by the Delian League, 477–449 BC

Throughout the 470s BC, the Delian League campaigned in Thrace and the Aegean to remove the remaining Persian garrisons from the region, primarily under the command of the Athenian politician Cimon.[178] In the early part of the next decade, Cimon began campaigning in Asia Minor, seeking to strengthen the Greek position there.[179] At the Battle of the Eurymedon in Pamphylia, the Athenians and allied fleet achieved a stunning double victory, destroying a Persian fleet and then landing the ships' marines to attack and rout the Persian army. After this battle, the Persians took an essentially passive role in the conflict, anxious not to risk battle if possible.[180]

Towards the end of the 460s BC, the Athenians took the ambitious decision to support a revolt in the Egyptian satrapy of the Persian empire. Although the Greek task force achieved initial successes, they were unable to capture the Persian garrison in Memphis, despite a 3-year long siege.[181] The Persians then counterattacked, and the Athenian force was itself besieged for 18 months, before being wiped out.[182] This disaster, coupled with ongoing warfare in Greece, dissuaded the Athenians from resuming conflict with Persia.[183] In 451 BC however, a truce was agreed in Greece, and Cimon was then able to lead an expedition to Cyprus. However, while besieging Kition, Cimon died, and the Athenian force decided to withdraw, winning another double victory at the Battle of Salamis-in-Cyprus in order to extricate themselves.[184] This campaign marked the end of hostilities between the Delian League and Persia, and therefore the end of the Greco-Persian Wars.[185]

Peace with Persia

After the Battle of Salamis-in-Cyprus, Thucydides makes no further mention of conflict with the Persians, saying that the Greeks simply returned home.[184] Diodorus, on the other hand, claims that in the aftermath of Salamis, a full-blown peace treaty (the "Peace of Callias") was agreed with the Persians.[186] Diodorus was probably following the history of Ephorus at this point, who in turn was presumably influenced by his teacher Isocrates—from whom there is the earliest reference to the supposed peace, in 380 BC.[19] Even during the 4th century BC, the idea of the treaty was controversial, and two authors from that period, Callisthenes and Theopompus, appear to reject its existence.[187]

It is possible that the Athenians had attempted to negotiate with the Persians previously. Plutarch suggests that in the aftermath of the victory at the Eurymedon, Artaxerxes had agreed a peace treaty with the Greeks, even naming Callias as the Athenian ambassador involved. However, as Plutarch admits, Callisthenes denied that such a peace was made at this point (c. 466 BC).[180] Herodotus also mentions, in passing, an Athenian embassy headed by Callias, which was sent to Susa to negotiate with Artaxerxes.[188] This embassy included some Argive representatives and can probably be therefore dated to c. 461 BC (after an alliance was agreed between Athens and Argos).[19] This embassy may have been an attempt to reach some kind of peace agreement, and it has even been suggested that the failure of these hypothetical negotiations led to the Athenian decision to support the Egyptian revolt.[189] The ancient sources therefore disagree as to whether there was an official peace or not, and, if there was, when it was agreed.

Opinion amongst modern historians is also split; for instance, Fine accepts the concept of the Peace of Callias,[19] whereas Sealey effectively rejects it.[190] Holland accepts that some kind of accommodation was made between Athens and Persia, but no actual treaty.[191] Fine argues that Callisthenes's denial that a treaty was made after the Eurymedon does not preclude a peace being made at another point. Further, he suggests that Theopompus was actually referring to a treaty that had allegedly been negotiated with Persia in 423 BC.[19] If these views are correct, it would remove one major obstacle to the acceptance of the treaty's existence. A further argument for the existence of the treaty is the sudden withdrawal of the Athenians from Cyprus in 449 BC, which Fine suggests makes most sense in the light of some kind of peace agreement.[192] On the other hand, if there was indeed some kind of accommodation, Thucydides's failure to mention it is odd. In his digression on the pentekontaetia, his aim is to explain the growth of Athenian power, and such a treaty, and the fact that the Delian allies were not released from their obligations after it, would have marked a major step in the Athenian ascendancy.[193] Conversely, it has been suggested that certain passages elsewhere in Thucydides's history are best interpreted as referring to a peace agreement.[19] There is thus no clear consensus amongst modern historians as to the treaty's existence.

The ancient sources that give details of the treaty are reasonably consistent in their description of the terms:[19][186][187]

From the Persian perspective, such terms would not be so humiliating as they might at first seem. The Persians already allowed the Greek cities of Asia to be governed under their own laws (under the reorganization conducted by Artaphernes, following the Ionian Revolt). By these terms, the Ionians were still Persian subjects, as they had been. Furthermore, Athens had already demonstrated their superiority at sea at the Eurymedon and Salamis-in-Cyprus, so any legal limitations for the Persian fleet were nothing more than "de jure" recognition of military realities. In exchange for limiting the movement of Persian troops in one region of the realm, Artaxerxes secured a promise from the Athenians to stay out of his entire realm.

Aftermath and later conflicts

Towards the end of the conflict with Persia, the process by which the Delian League became the Athenian Empire reached its conclusion.[191] The allies of Athens were not released from their obligations to provide either money or ships, despite the cessation of hostilities.[193] In Greece, the First Peloponnesian War between the power-blocs of Athens and Sparta, which had continued on/off since 460 BC, finally ended in 445 BC, with the agreement of a thirty-year truce.[194] However, the growing enmity between Sparta and Athens would lead, just 14 years later, into the outbreak of the Second Peloponnesian War.[195] This disastrous conflict, which dragged on for 27 years, would eventually result in the utter destruction of Athenian power, the dismemberment of the Athenian empire, and the establishment of a Spartan hegemony over Greece.[196] However, not just Athens suffered—the conflict would significantly weaken the whole of Greece.[197]

Repeatedly defeated in battle by the Greeks, and plagued by internal rebellions that hindered their ability to fight the Greeks, after 449 BC Artaxerxes I and his successors instead adopted a policy of divide-and-rule.[197] Avoiding fighting the Greeks themselves, the Persians instead attempted to set Athens against Sparta, regularly bribing politicians to achieve their aims. In this way, they ensured that the Greeks remained distracted by internal conflicts, and were unable to turn their attentions to Persia.[197] There was no open conflict between the Greeks and Persia until 396 BC, when the Spartan king Agesilaus briefly invaded Asia Minor; as Plutarch points out, the Greeks were far too busy overseeing the destruction of their own power to fight against the "barbarians".[185]

Cartoon by Puck magazine celebrating the "resumption" of diplomatic relations between Greece and Persia in 1902, interrupted after the outbreak of the Greco-Persian Wars in 490 BC

If the wars of the Delian League shifted the balance of power between Greece and Persia in favour of the Greeks, then the subsequent half-century of internecine conflict in Greece did much to restore the balance of power to Persia. The Persians entered the Peloponnesian War in 411 BC forming a mutual-defence pact with Sparta and combining their naval resources against Athens in exchange for sole Persian control of Ionia.[198] In 404 BC when Cyrus the Younger attempted to seize the Persian throne, he recruited 13,000 Greek mercenaries from all over the Greek world, of which Sparta sent 700–800, believing they were following the terms of the defence pact and unaware of the army's true purpose.[199] After the failure of Cyrus, Persia tried to regain control of the Ionian city-states, which had rebelled during the conflict. The Ionians refused to capitulate and called upon Sparta for assistance, which she provided, in 396–395 BC.[200] Athens, however, sided with the Persians, which led in turn to another large-scale conflict in Greece, the Corinthian War. Towards the end of that conflict, in 387 BC, Sparta sought the aid of Persia to shore up her position. Under the so-called "King's Peace" that brought the war to an end, Artaxerxes II demanded and received the return of the cities of Asia Minor from the Spartans, in return for which the Persians threatened to make war on any Greek state that did not make peace.[201] This humiliating treaty, which undid all the Greek gains of the previous century, sacrificed the Greeks of Asia Minor so that the Spartans could maintain their hegemony over Greece.[202] It is in the aftermath of this treaty that Greek orators began to refer to the Peace of Callias (whether fictional or not), as a counterpoint to the shame of the King's Peace, and a glorious example of the "good old days" when the Greeks of the Aegean had been freed from Persian rule by the Delian League.[19]


i: The exact period covered by the term "Greco-Persian Wars" is open to interpretation, and usage varies between academics; the Ionian Revolt and Wars of the Delian League are sometimes excluded. This article covers the maximum extent of the wars.

ii: Achaeological evidence for the Panionion before the 6th century BC is very weak, and possibly this temple was a relatively late development.[203]

iii: Although historically inaccurate, the legend of a Greek messenger running to Athens with news of the victory and then promptly expiring, became the inspiration for this athletics event, introduced at the 1896 Athens Olympics, and originally run between Marathon and Athens.[204]



1.     ·  Encyclopaedia Britannica: Greco-Persian Wars

2.     ·  ·  Ehrenberg, Victor (2011). From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization During the 6th and 5th Centuries BC (3 ed.). Abingdon, England: Routledge. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0-41558487-6.

3.     ·  ·  Joseph Roisman,Ian Worthington. "A companion to Ancient Macedonia" John Wiley & Sons, 2011. ISBN 144435163X pp 135-138

4.     ·  ·  Cicero, On the Laws I, 5

5.     ·  ·  Holland, pp. xvixvii.

6.     ·  ·  Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, e.g. I, 22

7.     ·  ·  Finley, p. 15.

8.     ·  ·  Holland, p. xxiv.

9.     ·  ·  Holland, p. 377

10.   ·  ·  Fehling, pp. 1–277.

11.   ·  ·  Finley, p. 16.

12.   ·  ·  Kagan, p. 77.

13.   ·  ·  Sealey, p. 264.

14.   ·  ·  Fine, p. 336.

15.   ·  ·  Finley, pp. 29–30.

16.   ·  ·  Sealey, p. 248.

17.   ·  ·  Fine, p. 343

18.   ·  ·  e.g. Themistocles chapter 25 has a direct reference to Thucydides I, 137

19.   ·  ·  Fine, p. 360.

20.   ·  ·  Green, Greek History 480–431 BC, pp. 1–13.

21.   ·  ·  Roebuck, p. 2

22.   ·  ·  Traver, p. 115–116.

23.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 142–151

24.   ·  ·  Thucydides I, 12

25.   ·  ·  Snodgrass, pp. 373–376

26.   ·  ·  Thomas & Contant, pp. 72–73

27.   ·  ·  Osborne, pp. 35–37

28.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 142

29.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 143

30.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 148

31.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 22

32.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 74–75

33.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 26

34.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 9–12.

35.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 53

36.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 13–14.

37.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 141

38.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 163

39.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 164

40.   ·  ·  Herodotus I, 169

41.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 147–151.

42.   ·  ·  Fine, pp. 269–277.

43.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 155–157.

44.   ·  ·  Lazenby, pp23–29

45.   ·  ·  Lazenby, pp. 256

46.   ·  ·  Holland, p196

47.   ·  ·  Farrokh, p. 76

48.   ·  ·  Lazenby, p232

49.   ·  ·  Holland, pp69–72

50.   ·  ·  Holland, p217

51.   ·  ·  Lazenby, pp. 227–228

52.   ·  ·  Lazenby, pp34–37

53.   ·  ·  Herodotus VII, 89

54.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 9

55.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 153–154.

56.   ·  ·  Herodotus V, 31

57.   ·  ·  Herodotus V, 33

58.   ·  ·  Herodotus V, 100–101

59.   ·  ·  Herodotus V, 102

60.   ·  ·  Herodotus V, 116

61.   ·  ·  Herodotus V, 117

62.   ·  ·  Herodotus V, 121

63.   ·  ·  Boardman et al, pp. 481–490.

64.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 6

65.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 8–16

66.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 19

67.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 25

68.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 31–33

69.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 175–177.

70.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 177–178.

71.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 43

72.   ·  ·  Holland, p. 153.

73.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 44

74.   ·  ·  Joseph Roisman,Ian Worthington. "A companion to Ancient Macedonia" John Wiley & Sons, 2011. ISBN 144435163X pp 343

75.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 45

76.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI 48

77.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 181–183.

78.   ·  ·  Lind. Chron. D 1–59 in Higbie (2003)

79.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 183–186.

80.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 96

81.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 100

82.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 101

83.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 102

84.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 195–197.

85.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 117

86.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 115

87.   ·  ·  Herodotus VI, 116

88.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 202–203.

89.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 206–208.

90.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 208–211.

91.   ·  ·  Holland, pp. 213–214.

92.   ·  ·  Herodotus VII, 7

93.   ·  ·  Herodotus VII, 150

94.   ·  ·  Herodotus VII,6

95.   ·  ·  Holland, p. 225.

96.   ·  ·  Holland, p. 263.

97.   ·  ·  Herodotus VII, 62–80

98.   ·  ·  Herodotus VII, 26

99.   ·  ·  Herodotus VII, 37

100.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 35

101.·  ·  de Souza, p. 41.

102.·  ·  Köster (1934)

103.·  ·  Holland, p. 320.

104.·  ·  Lazenby, pp. 93–94.

105.·  ·  Green, p. 61.

106.·  ·  Burn, p. 331.

107.·  ·  Holland, pp. 214–217.

108.·  ·  Holland, pp. 217–219.

109.·  ·  Plutarch, Themistocles, 4

110.·  ·  Holland, pp. 219–222.

111.·  ·  Fine, p. 292

112.·  ·  Plutarch, Themistocles, 5

113.·  ·  Holland, pp. 223–224.

114.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 239

115.·  ·  How & Wells, note to Herodotus VII, 239

116.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 32

117.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 145

118.·  ·  Herodotus, VII, 148

119.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 160

120.·  ·  Holland, p. 226.

121.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 100

122.·  ·  Holland, pp. 248–249.

123.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 173

124.·  ·  Holland pp. 255–257.

125.·  ·  Herodotus VIII, 40

126.·  ·  Holland, pp. 257–259.

127.·  ·  Holland, pp. 262–264.

128.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 210

129.·  ·  Holland, p. 274.

130.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 223

131.·  ·  Herodotus VIII, 2

132.·  ·  Herodotus VIII, 21

133.·  ·  Herodotus VIII, 41

134.·  ·  Holland, p. 300.

135.·  ·  Holland, pp. 305–306

136.·  ·  Holland, pp. 327–329.

137.·  ·  Holland, pp. 308–309

138.·  ·  Holland, p. 303.

139.·  ·  Herodotus VIII, 63

140.·  ·  Holland, pp. 310–315

141.·  ·  Herodotus VIII, 89

142.·  ·  Holland, pp. 320–326.

143.·  ·  Herodotus VIII, 97

144.·  ·  Herodotus VIII, 100

145.·  ·  Holland, pp. 333–335.

146.·  ·  Holland, pp. 336–338.

147.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 7

148.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 10

149.·  ·  Holland, p. 339.

150.·  ·  Holland, pp. 342–349.

151.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 59

152.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 62

153.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 63

154.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 66

155.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 65

156.·  ·  Holland, pp. 350–355.

157.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 100

158.·  ·  Holland, pp. 357–358.

159.·  ·  Dandamaev, p. 223

160.·  ·  Lazenby, p. 247.

161.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 104

162.·  ·  Thucydides I, 89

163.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 114

164.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 115

165.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 116

166.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 117

167.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 118

168.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 119

169.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 120

170.·  ·  Herodotus IX, 121

171.·  ·  Thucydides I, 94

172.·  ·  Sealey, p242

173.·  ·  Fine, p. 331.

174.·  ·  Thucydides I, 95

175.·  ·  Fine, pp. 338–339.

176.·  ·  Holland, p. 362.

177.·  ·  Thucydides I, 96

178.·  ·  Sealey, p. 250.

179.·  ·  Plutarch, Cimon, 12

180.·  ·  Plutarch, Cimon, 13

181.·  ·  Thucydides I, 104

182.·  ·  Thucydides I, 109

183.·  ·  Sealey, pp. 271–273.

184.·  ·  Thucydides I, 112

185.·  ·  Plutarch, Cimon, 19

186.·  ·  Diodorus XII, 4

187.·  ·  Sealey, p. 280.

188.·  ·  Herodotus VII, 151

189.·  ·  Kagan, p. 84.

190.·  ·  Sealey, p. 281.

191.·  ·  Holland, p. 366.

192.·  ·  Fine, p. 363.

193.·  ·  Sealey, p. 282.

194.·  ·  Kagan, p. 128.

195.·  ·  Holland, p. 371.

196.·  ·  Xenophon, Hellenica II, 2

197.·  ·  Dandamaev, p. 256.

198.·  ·  Rung, p. 36.

199.·  ·  Xenophon, Hellenica III, 1

200.·  ·  Xenophon, Hellenica III, 2–4

201.·  ·  Xenophon, Hellenica V, I

202.·  ·  Dandamaev, p. 294

203.·  ·  Hall, p. 68

204.·  Holland, p. 198.


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2  The Persian Wars

From Encyclopedia Britannica

Between 500 and 386 bc Persia was for the policy-making classes in the largest Greek states a constant preoccupation. (It is not known, however, how far down the social scale this preoccupation extended in reality.) Persia was never less than a subject for artistic and oratorical reference, and sometimes it actually determined foreign policy decisions.

The situation for the far more numerous smaller states of mainland Greece was different inasmuch as a distinctive policy of their own toward Persia or anybody else was hardly an option for most of the time. However, Eretria, by now a third-class power, had its own unsuccessful “war” with Persia in 490, and some very small cities and islands were proud to record on the “Serpent Column” (the victory dedication to Apollo at Delphi) their participation on the Greek side in the great war of 480–479. But, even at this exalted moment, choice of sides, Greek or Persian, could be seen, as it was by Herodotus, as having been determined either by preference for local masters or by a desire to spite an equal and rival state next door. (He says this explicitly about Thessaly, which “Medized”—i.e., sided with the Persians—and its neighbour and enemy Phocis, which did not.) Nor is it obvious that for small Greek places the change to control by distant Persia would have made much day-to-day difference, judging from the experience of their kinsmen and counterparts in Anatolia or of the Jews (the other articulate Persian subject nation). Modern Western notions of religious tolerance do not apply, however.

It remains true that Persia had no policy of dismantling the social structures of its subject communities or of driving their religions underground (though it has been held that the Persian king Xerxes tried to impose orthodoxy in a way that compelled some Magi to emigrate). Persia certainly had no motive for destroying the economies of the peoples in its empire. Naturally, it expected the ruling groups or individuals to guarantee payment of tribute and generally deferential behaviour, but then the Athenian and Spartan empires expected the same of their dependents. The Athenians, at least, were strikingly realistic and undogmatic about not demanding regimes that resembled their own democracy in more than the name.

The Ionian revolt

But the experience of the Asiatic Greek cities was different again, because it was precisely here that the great confrontation between Greeks and Persians began, about 500 bc. The first phase of that confrontation was the “Ionian revolt” of the Asiatic Greeks against Persia (despite the word Ionian, other Asiatic Greeks joined in, from the Dorian cities to the south and from the so-called Aeolian cities to the north, and the Carians, not Greeks in the full sense at all, fought among the bravest). The puzzle is to explain why the revolt happened when it did, after nearly half a century of rule by the Achaemenid Persian kings (that is, since 546 when Cyrus the Great conquered them; his main successors were Cambyses [530–522], Darius I [522–486], Xerxes I [486–465], Artaxerxes I [465–424], and Darius II [423–404]). Too little is known about the details of Persian rule in Anatolia during the period 546–500 to say definitely that it was not oppressive, but, as stated above, Miletus, the centre of the revolt, was flourishing in 500.

The causes of the Ionian revolt are especially hard to determine because the revolt was a short-term failure. (Concessions were made after it, however, and its longer-term consequence, the Persian Wars proper, resulted in the establishment of a strong Athenian influence in western Anatolia alongside the Persian.) Defeats lead, especially in oral traditions, to recriminations: “Charges are brought on all sides,” Herodotus says despairingly about the difficulty of finding out the truth about the crucial naval battle of Lade (495).

Herodotus himself was contemptuously hostile, regarding the revolt as the “beginning of troubles”—a phrase with a Homeric nuance—between Greeks and Persians. This is odd, because it is inconsistent with the whole thrust of his narrative, which regards the clash as an inevitability from a much earlier date; it is part of his general view that military monarchies like the Persian expand necessarily (hence his earlier inclusion of material about, for instance, Babylonia, Egypt, and Scythia, places previously attacked by Persia). The reasons for Herodotus’ hostility have partly to do with anti-Milesian sentiment specifically in fellow-Ionian Samos, where he gathered some of his material (the Samians seem to have tried to represent the failure as due to the incompetence and ambitions of Milesian individuals), and partly with the generally Ionian character of the revolt (Herodotus’ home town of Halicarnassus was partly Dorian, partly Carian). In addition, he was influenced by defeatist mainland Greek sources, particularly by Athenian informants who resented Athens’ unsuccessful involvement on the rebel side. And he genuinely thought that the Persian-Greek conflict was a horrible thing, although mitigated, in his view, by the fact that Persians and Greeks, particularly Spartans, gradually came to know each other and respect each other’s values. There were always Greeks who were attracted to a Persian life-style.

Causes of the Persian Wars

It should now be clear that Herodotus saw the revolt in terms of the ambitions of individuals (he singles out the Milesians Aristagoras and Histiaeus), and this must be part of the truth. But this must be supplemented by deeper explanations, because the rising was a very general affair.

Economic factors

A simple economic explanation, such as used to be fashionable, is no longer acceptable. Perhaps one should look instead for military causes: Ionians disliked the military service to which they were then compelled (they did not even care much for the naval training they had to undergo, in a better cause, before Lade). Persia not only expected personal military service but punished attempts to evade it, even at high social levels. Its method of organizing defense and of raising occasional large armies (there was no large Persian standing army) was analogous to the method of later feudalism: “fiefs” of land were granted in exchange for political loyalty and for military service when occasion required.

Here perhaps is a clue, which permits the resurrection of the economic explanation in another more sophisticated form. Grants of fiefs in Anatolia are well attested in the 5th and 4th centuries; in the pages of the Greek historian Xenophon (431–350) one finds the descendants of Medizing Greek families still installed on estates granted to their ancestors after 479 (and inscriptions show the same families were still there well into the Hellenistic period). Grants by Persia of good western Anatolian land to politically amenable Greeks, or to Iranians, made good political and military sense. Such gifts, however, were necessarily made at the expense of the poleis in whose territory the land so gifted had lain. In this, surely, were the makings of a serious economic grievance.

Political factors

Politically, the Greeks did not like satrapal control. This seems clear from the proclamations of isonomia (something more or less democratic is implied by this word) made at the beginning of the revolt; these were perhaps influenced by very recent democratic developments back in Athens (see below). Political dislike of satrapal control is also implied by the concessions made after the revolt ended in 494: the Persians Artaphernes and Mardonius granted a degree of autonomy by instituting a system of intercity arbitration; they abstained from financial reprisals and from demanding indemnities and merely exacted former levels of tribute, but after a more precise survey; and above all, Herodotus says, they “put down all the despots throughout Ionia, and in lieu of them established democracies.” The meaning and even the truth of this last concession are alike disputed. Although there certainly were still tyrants in some Persian-held eastern Greek states in 480, some improvement on arbitrary one-man government is surely implied.

Perhaps the answer is to be found in the formula recorded by a later literary source, the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (f1. 1st century bc), who wrote that “they gave them back their laws.” (When in 334 Alexander similarly claimed to restore to the Ionian and Aeolian cities their laws and democracies, he was largely indulging in propaganda.) Inscriptions, above all from Persian-occupied Anatolia in the 4th century, show that the cities in question held tribal meetings, enjoyed a measure of control over their own citizen intake, levied city taxes (subject to Persia’s overriding tribute demands), and did indeed operate a system of intercity arbitration.

How different all this was from the situation before 500 is beyond retrieval, but the continuity of civic structures and cults in eastern Greek states from the Archaic period to Classical times implies that in many respects the Persian takeover of 546 was not cataclysmic. For instance, one reads at the very end of Herodotus’ history (concerning the year 479) of a temple on Asian soil to Demeter of Eleusis that had been brought over by the Ionians from Attica in the early Dark Age and was still going strong, presumably without a break. So the improvements introduced after 494 consisted in the increase, not in the outright introduction, of local self-determination within the satrapal framework.

In any case, one is left with the problem of why political unrest boiled over, if boil over it did, in precisely 500. A large part of the answer is to be found in the changes recently made at the Ionian mother city Athens by Cleisthenes. Local arrangements that may have seemed tolerable before the end of the century seemed less so in face of the new political order at Athens, an order that had moreover shown its military effectiveness. The hypothesis that the example of Cleisthenic Athens induced restlessness elsewhere is plausible not just for its kinsmen in Ionia, which can be supposed to have had good “colonial” communications with Athens, but even for the Peloponnese, where in the first half of the 5th century Sparta had to deal with persistent disaffection.

Athenian support of Ionia

Communication between Athens and Ionia in this period is, however, first firmly attested in the other direction, not to Ionia but from it. In 499 the Milesian tyrant Aristagoras arrived in Athens and Sparta (and perhaps at other places too, such as Argos) asking for help. The Athenians agreed, while the Spartans under their king Cleomenes (who ruled from 519 to shortly before 490) did not, thus showing, as Herodotus says, that “it seems indeed to be easier to deceive a multitude than one man.” This is out of line with Herodotus’ otherwise favourable assessment of Cleisthenic democracy and should be put down to particular hostility to the revolt and its consequences for Athens. The Athenians sent 20 ships. This was a major undertaking, considering Athens’ resources and commitments; in 489 (when Athens’ fleet was surely bigger than it had been a decade earlier) Athens had only 70 ships, of which 20 were borrowed from Corinth. The reason Athens had borrowed these ships from Corinth (actually it was a sale at nominal charge) was Athens’ war, or series of wars, with Aegina, which had caused it to build a fleet. Corinth and Athens, both of which had naval outlets in the Saronic Gulf, had a shared interest in containing the power of Aegina, the greatest other power in that gulf, the “star in the Dorian Sea,” as Pindar was to call Aegina. The Athenian-Aeginetan struggle, which may actually have continued after the Battle of Salamis in 480, having begun well back in the late 6th century with a shadowy precursor in the mythical period, meant that the Athenian help sent to Ionia was risky and heroic.

On a longer perspective the struggle against Aegina helped to make Athens a naval power through simple peer-polity pressure. Ancient versions of the Athenian ship-building program, however, put too much onto the Aeginetan factor, usually out of malice against the great Athenian politician Themistocles and reluctance to give him credit for anticipating the eventual arrival of the Persian armada of 480. The better tradition allows Themistocles an archonship in 493, during which he started the walls of the Piraeus, turning it into a defensible harbour, and so first “dared to say that the Athenians must make the sea their domain” (as Thucydides puts it with forgivable exaggeration). The Ionian revolt had failed disastrously, Miletus having been sacked in 494, and it was clear that the Persian finger was now pointed at Athens and that Darius wanted revenge for the assistance it had sent. The result was the Marathon campaign.

The position of Sparta

Sparta’s foreign relations

Sparta did not participate in the Battle of Marathon. Spartan policy toward Persia in particular, and its foreign policy in general in the years 546–490, is at first sight indecisive. Having expelled the pro-Persian Peisistratids, Sparta not only tried to put them back a few years later but declined to help the Ionians in 499. The reason given by Cleomenes on that occasion, after a glance at the position of the Persian capital Susa on the map, was that it was outrageous to ask a Spartan army to go three months’ journey from the sea. This is a colourful way of saying that it was a tall order to ask Sparta to go to the help of distant Greeks, with few of whom it had kinship ties. The Spartans who had made the original, admittedly ineffective, alliance with Croesus against the Persians had not been so timid. But that was when the Persian threat had scarcely appeared over the horizon.

In 490 the reason for Spartan nonappearance at Marathon was a religious scruple: the Spartans had to wait until the Moon was full, probably because this was the sacred month of a festival. There is no good reason to doubt this, though it has been argued that there were special reasons why Sparta’s leadership was halfhearted in the 490s and that it should be related to the scattered evidence for helot trouble at precisely this time.

Cleomenes’ own career ended in disgrace not long before Marathon. It has been suggested that he fell foul of the domestic authorities at Sparta (who always had the power to discipline the kings) because he made promises to the helots: he proposed freedom in exchange for military service. If so, this must have been late in his career; the reply to Aristagoras in 499 looks straightforward. In any case, the theory rests largely on the equally speculative theory that replaces the religious explanation for Spartan absence from Marathon with a political one. To say this is not to deny the permanent threat posed by the helots, still less to deny that Spartan equivocation can often be explained in terms of it.

The role of Cleomenes

Large claims have been made for the statesmanship of Cleomenes, but his vision does not seem to have gone beyond the narrow issue of “What is best for Sparta?” For instance, Cleomenes crushed the old enemy Argos, then resurgent, at the great battle of Sepeia (near Tiryns) in 494. He was too shrewd, however, to destroy it completely, realizing that dislike of Argos was one of the factors that kept Sparta’s Peloponnesian allies loyal. Argos was left to the control of a group described as “slaves” (hardly literally that, perhaps really members of surrounding subject communities), which was thoroughly traditional Spartan behaviour on Cleomenes’ part. He surely does not deserve to rank as a forward-looking “Panhellenist”—that is, as a supra-Spartan enemy of Persia. While it is true that he did act on one occasion against Medizers on Aegina, he did so only at the 11th hour, perhaps as late as 491.

Even by the criterion of Sparta’s local interests, Cleomenes, or more fairly Sparta’s treatment of Cleomenes, had bad results. Cleomenes’ offer of some kind of new deal to the Arcadians (better substantiated than his dealings with the helots) came to nothing with his spectacular death; he went insane (it was alleged), was imprisoned, and committed suicide. One form his alleged insanity took was poking other elite Spartans in the face with his staff; such violence was (as noted) characteristically Spartan, but it was evidently not acceptable to turn it against other Spartans rather than against helots or other Greeks.

Some Arcadian states were certainly disaffected in the 470s and 460s and perhaps even anticipated 4th-century developments by forming a (numismatically attested) league of their own, though the chronology of this is far from secure. It is also tempting to link the new pattern of forces in the Peloponnese, which enabled Argos to recover sufficiently to conquer Mycenae (460s) while Sparta was preoccupied elsewhere, with the activities of Cleomenes toward the end of his life and the expectations he had aroused only to disappoint. (Another plausible factor in Arcadia then, as in Ionia in 500 bc, was the unsettling effect of Cleisthenic democracy at Athens.) At least one can say that Spartan worries about Arcadia were relevant to the “Great Refusal” of leadership in 479, which made possible the Athenian empire.

The Battle of Marathon

                      Battle of [Credit: Contunico © ZDF Enterprises
                      GmbH, Mainz]

Athens was not entirely alone in its fight against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 bc. Plataea fought beside Athens, true to the alliance of 519, and the Tomb of the Plataeans, excavated in 1966, probably commemorates the place where they fell. Eretria, which had also sent help to the Ionian revolt, had already been pounced on and destroyed. The reasons for the Persian choice of Marathon, as given by Herodotus, were proximity to Eretria (that is, the Persians wanted a short line of communications) and the good cavalry terrain there. He does not add, however, that a third powerful motive was political. The deposed Peisistratid tyrant Hippias, now a bitter old man, accompanied the Persian forces. (The Peisistratids came originally from eastern Attica.) Cleisthenes, in implementing his democratic reforms after the fall of the tyrants, had perhaps tried to break up old sources of political influence in this region. For instance, Rhamnus, a little to the north of Marathon and a vital coastal garrison site in Classical and Hellenistic times, seems to have been anomalously attributed to a city trittys; and an ancient local organization known as the Marathonian “Four Cities,” or Tetrapolis, was broken up among more than one of the new tribes. Reasonably or unreasonably, Hippias was obviously hoping to establish a kind of political bridgehead here by appealing to old bonds of clientship.

The Athenians, however, marched out immediately under Miltiades, who had been recalled a year or two earlier from the Chersonese to help Athens meet the danger. Then, perhaps when the Persian cavalry was temporarily absent, they attacked the Persians “at a run.” This last detail impressed itself on the tradition, as it undoubtedly impressed the waiting Persians, and the discovery of Persian arrowheads in the Athenian burial mound makes it possible to supply the explanation that had eluded Herodotus. The Athenian advance was evidently achieved under a hail of arrows; and the quicker the dangerous ground was covered, the better.

The Athenian victory was overwhelming; there were 6,400 Persian casualties to 192 Athenian. It was an important victory for two reasons. First, it showed what lethal damage hoplites could do to Persian forces; this encouraging message was not missed by the Spartans who arrived to view the corpses and departed with patronizing congratulations to the Athenians. Second and more important, it was a propaganda victory, celebrated in all the available media. Marathon soon became an almost mythical event. The Athenian Treasury at Delphi was built out of the spoils of the battle. An ambitious conjecture seeks to equate the 192 Marathon dead with the 192 equestrian figures on the Parthenon frieze. The horses on the frieze would be a difficulty if the idea was to recall the battle in a literal way, because the battle was definitely not a cavalry affair; but it has been ingeniously suggested that the horses were intended to suggest “heroic” status in the technical sense of “hero,” or demigod. Heroic cult often involved horses (as perhaps at Lefkandi), and heroic funerals regularly included equestrian events. This interpretation, however, poses problems for two reasons: the frieze was partially destroyed in the 17th century and reconstruction depends on old drawings, and the evidence for actual heroization of the Marathonian dead is late. Other, though not necessarily incompatible, interpretations of the Parthenon frieze are available: perhaps it represents the mythical daughters of Erechtheus, who saved the city by sacrificing themselves, a favourite and familiar theme in Athenian myth.

Still, there is no doubting the symbolic significance of Marathon, or the way in which well after the Persian Wars the victory was exploited in epigram and painting. For instance, there was a famous rendition of the Battle of Marathon in the “Painted Colonnade” at Athens (now lost), which was perhaps commissioned by Miltiades’ son Cimon. This was celebratory artistic propaganda, with a far clearer message than that of the Peisitratids. The Battle of Marathon and the Persian Wars must be recognized as an artistic watershed. There was admittedly something splendid about the gesture of sending help to the Ionian revolt, and it has been suggested accordingly that early 5th-century depictions on vases of Theseus attacking the Amazons (inhabitants of Anatolia) may be a coded allusion to Athens’ Asiatic adventure of the 490s. The vindictive Athenian treatment of the playwright Phrynichus for referring in a play to the fall of Athens’ daughter city Miletus shows, however, that the Ionian revolt was a dangerous subject, not lightly to be treated by pot painters. Marathon was the beginning of an epoch that lasted for centuries, during which Athens asserted its claim to uniqueness on the basis of two things: its achievements in the Persian Wars and (in and after the 4th century) its cultural primacy.

Meanwhile the Persians retreated, and Darius died, to be succeeded in 486 by Xerxes. No Greek could have doubted that Marathon, for all its symbolic importance, was not the end of the matter and that Xerxes would return with a much larger invasion force.

The administration of democracy

The appointment of archons

The internal Athenian reaction to this latest military success of the Cleisthenic democracy was to take the development of that democracy a stage further. First, a change was made in the method of appointment to the chief magistracy, the archonship. From then on the archons were appointed by lot from a preliminary elected list instead of being directly elected, as the stratēgoi continued to be. There were nine archons and a secretary. Three of the archons had special functions: the basileus, or “king”; the polemarchos, originally a military commander (though after the institution of the Cleisthenic stratēgoi, military authority passed to this new panel of 10); and the “eponymous archon,” who gave his name to the year. Interpretation of the significance of the change varies according to the view taken of the importance of the archonship itself in the period 508–487; perhaps it was a young man’s office and of no great consequence. The period is patchily documented, however, and in any case it would be eccentric to query the distinction of some of the names preserved. The point has a bearing on the composition and authority of the ancient Council of the Areopagus, which was recruited from former archons. The role of the Areopagus was to be much reduced in the late 460s, and if the archonship was after all not especially prestigious, then the importance of that subsequent attack on the Areopagus would be correspondingly reduced. A more substantial reason for thinking that the archonship mattered less after 508 than it had, for instance, under the Peisistratids lies in the “seesaw” argument that the rise of the stratēgia must have led to a fall in the power and prestige of the archonship.

The reform of 487 was probably the first time that lot or “sortition” had been used, though it is possible that Cleisthenes, or even Solon, used it as a device for distributing posts equitably among basically elected magistrates. This would not be unthinkable in the 6th century, when the Athenian state still contained so many aristocratic features; after all, the Romans used sortition in this way, not as a consciously “democratic” procedure but as a way of resolving the competing claims of ambitious individuals. If so, sortition did not necessarily entail a downgrading of the importance of the office of archon. There is a further slight uncertainty about the system of “sortition from an elected shortlist.” The usual and probably correct view is that this system was discarded, not long after 457, for the archonship and other offices appointed to by lot in favour of unqualified sortition. But there is enough evidence for the survival of the preliminary stage of election to have encouraged a theory that the hybrid system continued in use down to the 4th century. This, if true, would have serious implications for our picture of Athenian democracy, but the best evidence for the hybrid system is in untypically conservative contexts, such as appointment to deme priesthoods.

The system of ostracism

A further novelty of the early 480s was the first ostracism. This was a way of getting rid of a man for 10 years without depriving him of his property. First, a vote was taken as to whether an ostracism should be held in principle; if the voters wanted one, a second vote was taken, and, if the total number of votes now cast exceeded 6,000, the “candidate” whose name appeared on the largest number of potsherds, or ostraca, went into this special sort of exile. An obstinate tradition associates the introduction of ostracism with Cleisthenes, but this hardly matters because the evidence is explicit that no ostracism was actually held until 487. The object of this very unusual political weapon has been much discussed; whereas some ancient writers considered it as a way of preventing a revival of the Peisistratid tyranny (hardly a real threat after 490), modern scholars see it as a device for settling policy disputes—that is, as a kind of ad hominem referendum. It is possible, however, to be too rational about ostracism; of the large numbers of ostraca that survive, not all have been completely published, but one can see that their content is sometimes abusive and sometimes obscene. One accuses Cimon of incest with his sister, another says that Pericles’ father Xanthippus “does most wrong of all the polluted leaders.” The idea of the politician-leader as polluting scapegoat is a recurrent one in Greek political invective, and it is perhaps in terms of invective, or the need for a religious safety valve, that ostracism can best be understood.

The last Persian Wars

Greek preparations for war

Evidently, the Athenian demos was growing more bold, as the Constitution of Athens puts it. This was equally true in foreign affairs. The year after Marathon, Miltiades made an attack on the Aegean island of Paros, which anticipates the more systematic imperialism of the period after 479. And it is possible that the Athenian duel with Aegina continued into the 480s. But the event with the greatest implications for foreign policy was a sudden large increase in the output of the Laurium silver mines (actually in a region called Maronea).

The evidence gives the crucial year as 483, but it is not known whether there was really a dramatic lucky strike just before that or whether this was merely the year when Athens decided how to spend the accumulated yield of several good years. One source does speak of “discovery” of mines, but the mining area had been worked since Mycenaean times, and the mines were certainly operational under the Peisistratids. It was decided to spend the windfall on building more triremes, bringing the total to 200 by 480, from the 70 attested for Miltiades’ Parian expedition of 489. The precise method somehow involved the advancing of money to individuals, an interesting partial anticipation of the Classical system of “trierarchies.”

Trierarchs, who are not specifically attested before the middle of the century, were wealthy individuals who, as a kind of prestige-conferring tax payment, paid for the equipping of a trireme (the state provided the hull). The source of the timber for this huge program is not known; perhaps local Attic or Euboean supplies supplemented Italian timber. Themistocles, who is credited with the essential decision to spend the money on ships rather than on a distribution among the citizens, had western interests that make the Italian hypothesis plausible. If this is right, the feat of transportation should be admired almost as much as the crash building program itself. One consequence of the rapidity of the program was that much of the timber must have been unseasoned; this is relevant to the eventual Greek decision at the Battle of Salamis (480) to fight in narrow waters, where the resulting loss of speed (green timber makes ships heavier and slower) would matter less.

Greek alliances

It was in Athens, then, that the most energetic action was taken. Xerxes had not lost sight of the old revenge motive, a motive that ought to have meant that Athens was the main or only target, but his aim this time was—as Herodotus correctly says—to turn Greece as a whole into another Persian province or satrapy. This called for a concerted Greek plan, and in 481 the key decisions were taken by a general Greek league formed against Persia. Quarrels like that between Athens and Aegina had to be set aside and help sought from distant or colonial Greeks such as the Cretans, Syracusans, and Corcyrans, whose extraordinarily large fleet of 60 ships (possibly developed against Adriatic piracy but also—surely—against Corinth) would be a prime asset. Corcyra, however, waited on events, and Crete stayed out altogether, while Syracuse and Sicily generally had barbarian enemies of their own to cope with, the Carthaginians. (Syracuse and other parts of Sicily were now under the tyranny of Gelon.)

Greek writers found the parallel between the simultaneous threats to eastern and western Hellenism irresistible and represented Carthage as another Persia. It has, however, been suggested that the imperialistic ambitions of Carthage have been generally exaggerated by Greek writers eager to flatter their patrons, such as Gelon. The reality of the Battle of Himera, however, in which Gelon decisively defeated the Carthaginians, is not in doubt; like the Battle of Salamis, it was fought in 480, allegedly on the same day. Gelon did indeed have his own preoccupations. The Greeks may not have been altogether sorry: the tyrant Gelon would have been an ideologically awkward ally in a struggle for Greek freedom from arbitrary one-man rule.

Even without western Greek help, the Greek fleet numbered about 350 vessels, amounting perhaps to a third of the Persian fleet. The size of the Persian land army is reckoned in millions by Herodotus, and all modern scholars can do is replace his guess by far lower ones.Greek unity, though impressive, was not complete; conspicuous among the “Medizers” was Thebes, while Argos’ neutrality amounted, in Herodotus’ view, to Medism.

An inscription found in 1959, the so-called “Decree of Themistocles,” purports to contain further detailed decisions made about this time regarding the evacuation of Attica and the mobilization of the fleet. But the writing is of the 4th century, and the whole text is probably not a re-inscribing of a genuine document but a patriotic concoction of the age in which it was written and erected.


An initial plan to defend Thessaly was soon abandoned as unrealistic. Instead the Greeks fell back on a zone at the northeastern end of Euboea, where they hoped to defend Thermopylae by land and Artemisium by sea. Herodotus, who is often accused of failing to realize the interconnectedness of these two holding operations, did in fact stress that the two were close enough for each set of defenders to know what was happening to the other.

The Spartans had sent their king Leonidas to Thermopylae with a force of 4,000 Peloponnesians, including 300 full Spartan citizens and perhaps a helot contingent as well. They were joined by some central Greeks, including Boeotians from Thespiae and Thebes. The pass at Thermopylae could not be held indefinitely, as Leonidas surely knew, but he also knew that an oracle had said that Sparta would be devastated unless one of its kings was killed. Leonidas’ exact “strategy” has been debated as if it were a puzzle, but perhaps one should not go beyond the oracle. The king must die.

Leonidas died, with his 300 Spartans (and the helots, Thespians, and Thebans, as should be remembered to the honour of all three). The other groups, Peloponnesians and central Greeks, were all dismissed. The naval action at Artemisium was inconclusive, the real damage to the Persian ships being done by a storm as they rounded Euboea.

Whether or not the Decree of Themistocles is genuine, it is a fact that Attica was evacuated and the Athenian Acropolis sacked by the Persians. This sacrifice of their city, like the victory of Marathon, is one of the cardinal elements in Athenian celebration of the Persian Wars. The Persians destroyed the temples on the Acropolis and carried off the statues of Harmodius and Aristogiton, the two men who had assassinated the tyrant Hippias’ brother Hipparchus in 514. The symbolic importance to Athens of what happened on the Acropolis in 480 is illustrated by the subsequent history of those statues: they were returned to Athens by Alexander the Great a century and a half later as part of his claim to be punishing the Persians for their 5th-century impiety.


The Persians entered the narrows of Salamis, where Themistocles had insisted the Greeks should be stationed, and they were comprehensively defeated under the appalled eyes of Xerxes himself. This defeat is a “David and Goliath” encounter only in the general sense that the Persian empire was vastly greater, in size and resources, than the realm of its Greek opponents. It is said that the Greek ships were actually heavier and less easy to maneuver than those of their opponents. Yet this Persian advantage, and that conferred by the greater experience of the Phoenician sailors on the Persian side, were canceled out by the Greek advantages of position: a fight in the narrows would enable them to board and fight hand to hand.

No doubt there was also a propaganda aspect. Themistocles had inscribed on the rocks of Euboea messages imploring the Ionians on the Persian side not to help in enslaving their Ionian kin. This looks forward to Athens’ political exploitation, in the very near future, of its original role as Ionian mother city. For the moment it surely helped sap morale in the Persian fleet. Sound strategy might have dictated a Persian withdrawal, or an attempt to bypass Salamis and press on to the Isthmus of Corinth, before the battle had even begun, but the prestige of the Persian king was visibly at stake.


Xerxes returned home, but the Persian general Mardonius remained for a final encounter with the Greeks at Plataea. The Spartans under Pausanias, regent for the underage Spartan king, advanced from the Peloponnese via the Isthmus and Eleusis; there had once been a question of making a stand at the Isthmus for the defense of the Peloponnese, but Salamis had made that unnecessary. Again the Persians were defeated, but this time the battle was primarily won, as Aeschylus was to put it in his play Persians, “under the Dorian spear”—that is, under the leadership of hoplite Sparta. (The army, however, was a truly Pan-Greek one and included a large infantry force of Athenians.)

Substantial fragments of an elegiac poem on papyrus by the great poet Simonides were published as recently as 1992; the poem describes the run-up to the battle of Plataea and more or less explicitly compares Pausanias to Achilles, the Greek leader of the mythical Trojan War. It thus equates the magnitude and importance of the Trojan and Persian wars. This remarkable find provides the missing link between epic, which had not hitherto normally treated recent historical events, and historiography proper. It is thus one of the most exciting literary discoveries in many decades.

As much glory was to attach to Plataea itself as to Sparta. A Hellenistic geographer said with some impatience of the Plataeans that they had nothing to say for themselves except that they were colonists of the Athenians (strictly false, but an illuminating exaggeration) and that the Persians were defeated on Plataean soil. A great commemorative festival was still celebrated at Plataea in Hellenistic and Roman times; a 3rd-century inscription discovered in 1971 mentions “the sacrifice in honour of Zeus the Liberator and the contest which the Greeks celebrate on the tombs of the heroes who fought against the barbarians for the liberty of the Greeks.”

After the residue of the Persian fleet had been defeated at Mycale, on the eastern side of the Aegean, the Greeks were saved—for the moment. The Persians had, after all, returned to Greece after the small-scale humiliation of Marathon in 490; thus there could be no immediate certainty that they would abandon their plans to conquer Greece after the far greater humiliations of 480 and 479. A leader was required in case the Persians returned.

The Athenian empire

Athenian empire
                    [Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.]

The eastern Greeks of the islands and mainland felt themselves particularly vulnerable and appealed to the natural leader, Sparta. The Spartans’ proposed solution was an unacceptable plan to evacuate Ionia and resettle its Greek inhabitants elsewhere; this would have been a remarkable usurpation of Athens’s colonial or pseudocolonial role as well as a traumatic upheaval for the victims. Samos, Chios, Lesbos, and other islanders were received into the Greek alliance. The status of the mainlanders was temporarily left in suspense, though not for long: in early 478 Athens on its own account captured Sestus, still under precarious Persian control hitherto. In doing so it was assisted by “allies from Ionia and the Hellespont”—that is to say, including mainlanders. The authority for this statement, which should not be doubted, is Thucydides, the main guide for most of the next 70 years.

Emerging Athenian independence

The fortification of Athens

The capture of Sestus was one manifestation of Athenian independence from Spartan leadership, which had gone unquestioned by Athens in the Persian Wars of 480–479, except for one or two uneasy moments when it had seemed that Sparta was reluctant to go north of the Isthmus. Another manifestation was the energetic building in the early 470s of a proper set of walls for the city of Athens, an episode elaborately described by Thucydides to demonstrate the guile of Themistocles, who deceived the Spartans over the affair. Whether the walls were entirely new or a replacement for an Archaic circuit is disputed; Thucydides implies that there was a pre-existing circuit, but no trace of this has been established archaeologically. The Themistoclean circuit, on the other hand, does survive, although the solidity of the socle does not quite bear out Thucydides’ dramatic picture of an impromptu “all hands to the pump” operation carried out with unprofessional materials.

Sparta’s reluctance to see Athens fortified and its anger—concealed but real—after the irreversible event show that even then, despite its cautious attitude to the mainland Ionians, Sparta was not happy to see Athens take over completely its own dominant military role. Or rather, some Spartans were unhappy, for it is a feature of this period that Sparta wobbled between isolationism and imperialism, if that is the right word for a goal pursued with such intermittent energy. This wobbling is best explained in factional terms, the details of which elude the 21st century as they did Thucydides. Thucydides disconcertingly juxtaposes the wall-building episode, with its clear implication of Spartan aggressiveness, with the bland statement that the Spartans were glad to be rid of the Persian war and considered the Athenians up to the job of leadership and well-disposed toward themselves. In fact, there is evidence in other literary sources for the first and more outward-looking policy, such as a report of an internal debate at Sparta about the general question of hegemony, as well as particular acts such as a Spartan attempt to expel Medizers from the Delphic Amphictyony—i.e., pack it with its own supporters.

The ambition of Pausanias

One easily identifiable factor in the formation of Spartan policy is a personal one: the ambitions of Pausanias, a young man flushed from his success at Plataea. Pausanias was one of those Spartans who wanted to see the impetus of the Persian Wars maintained; he conquered much of Cyprus (a temporary conquest) and laid siege to Byzantium. But his arrogance and typically Spartan violence angered the other Greeks, “not least,” Thucydides says, “the Ionians and the newly liberated populations.” Those now approached Athens in virtue of kinship, asking it to lead them.

That was a crucial moment in 5th-century history; the immediate effect was to force the Spartans to recall Pausanias and put him on trial. He was charged with “Medism,” and, though acquitted for the moment, he was replaced by Dorcis. Yet Dorcis and others like him lacked Pausanias’s charisma, and Sparta sent out two more commanders. Pausanias went out again to Byzantium “in a private capacity,” setting himself up as a tyrant to intrigue with Persia, but he was again recalled and starved to death after having taken sanctuary in the temple of Athena of the Brazen House in Sparta. (The end may not have come until late in the 470s.) The charge was again Medism, and there was some truth to it because the rewards given by Persia to Gongylus of Eretria, one of his collaborators, can be shown to have been historical. There was also a suspicion that Pausanias was organizing a rising of the helots, “and it was true,” Thucydides says.

Despite its successes in 479, Sparta, then, was as much a prisoner of the helot problem as ever, and it could not rely on the loyalty of Arcadia or the Peloponnese generally: Mantinea and Elis had sent their contingents to the Battle of Plataea suspiciously late.

The Delian League

The most important consequence of the successful Greek appeal to Athens was the beginning of the Athenian empire, or Delian League (the latter is a modern expression). The appeal to Ionian kinship set the tone for the organization and for much of its subsequent history, though one can fairly complain that this does not emerge strongly enough from Thucydides, who always tends to underreport the religious or sentimental factor in Greek politics.

[tkw note -- The text continues through the Classical Period of Greek History.]


3  The Persians -- Aeschylus' play on the hubris of Xerxes in attacking Greece

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Persians
Written by Aeschylus
Chorus Persian Elders
Characters Atossa
Ghost of Darius
Date premiered 472 BC
Place premiered Athens
Original language Ancient Greek
Setting Susa

The Persians (Ancient Greek: Πέρσαι, Persai, Latinised as Persae) is an ancient Greek tragedy written during the Classical period of Ancient Greece by the Greek tragedian Aeschylus. It is the second and only surviving part of a now otherwise lost trilogy that won the first prize at the dramatic competitions in AthensCity Dionysia festival in 472 BCE, with Pericles serving as choregos.

The first play in the trilogy was called Phineus; it presumably dealt with Jason and the Argonauts' rescue of King Phineus from the torture that the monstrous harpies inflicted at the behest of Zeus. The subject of the third play, Glaucus, was either a mythical Corinthian king who was devoured by his horses because he angered the goddess Aphrodite (see Glaucus (son of Sisyphus)) or else a Boeotian farmer who ate a magical herb that transformed him into a sea deity with the gift of prophecy (see Glaucus).[1]

In The Persians, Xerxes invites the gods' enmity for his hubristic expedition against Greece in 480/79 BCE; the focus of the drama is the defeat of Xerxes' navy at Salamis. Given Aeschylus’ propensity for writing connected trilogies, the theme of divine retribution may connect the three. Aeschylus himself had fought the Persians at Marathon (490 BC). He may even have fought at Salamis, just eight years before the play was performed.

The satyr play following the trilogy was Prometheus Pyrkaeus, translated as either Prometheus the Fire-lighter or Prometheus the Fire-kindler, which comically portrayed the titan’s theft of fire.[2] Several fragments of Prometheus Pyrkaeus are extant, and according to Plutarch, one of those fragments was a statement by Prometheus warning a satyr who wanted to kiss and embrace the fire that he would "mourn for his beard" if he did.[3][4] Another fragment from Prometheus Pyrkaeus was translated by Herbert Weir Smyth as "And do thou guard thee well lest a blast strike thy face; for it is sharp, and deadly-scorching its hot breaths.[3][4]


The Persians takes place in Susa, which at the time was one of the capitals of the Persian Empire, and opens with a chorus of old men of Susa, who are soon joined by the Queen Mother, Atossa, as they await news of her son King Xerxes' expedition against the Greeks. Expressing her anxiety and unease, Atossa narrates "what is probably the first dream sequence in European theatre."[5] This is an unusual beginning for a tragedy by Aeschylus; normally the chorus would not appear until slightly later, after a speech by a minor character. An exhausted messenger arrives, who offers a graphic description of the Battle of Salamis and its gory outcome. He tells of the Persian defeat, the names of the Persian generals who have been killed, and that Xerxes had escaped and is returning. The climax of the messenger's speech is his rendition of the battle cry of the Greeks as they charged: "On, sons of Greece! Set free / Your fatherland, your children, wives, / Homes of your ancestors and temples of your gods! / Save all, or all is lost!" (401–405).[6]

"The Ghost of Darius Appearing to Atossa", drawing by George Romney.

At the tomb of her dead husband Darius, Atossa asks the chorus to summon his ghost: "Some remedy he knows, perhaps, / Knows ruin's cure" they say.[7] On learning of the Persian defeat, Darius condemns the hubris behind his son’s decision to invade Greece. He particularly rebukes an impious Xerxes’ decision to build a bridge over the Hellespont to expedite the Persian army’s advance. Before departing, the ghost of Darius prophesies another Persian defeat at the Battle of Plataea (479 BCE): "Where the plain grows lush and green, / Where Asopus' stream plumps rich Boeotia's soil, / The mother of disasters awaits them there, / Reward for insolence, for scorning God."[8] Xerxes finally arrives, dressed in torn robes ("grief swarms," the Queen says just before his arrival, "but worst of all it stings / to hear how my son, my prince, / wears tatters, rags" (845–849)) and reeling from his crushing defeat. The rest of the drama (908–1076) consists of the king alone with the chorus engaged in a lyrical kommós that laments the enormity of Persia’s defeat.


Aeschylus was not the first to write a play about the Persians—his older contemporary Phrynichus wrote two plays about them. The first, The Sack of Miletus (written in 493 BCE, 21 years before Aeschylus' play), treated the destruction of an Ionian colony of Athens in Asia Minor by the Persians; for his portrayal of this brutal defeat, which emphasized Athens' abandonment of its colony, Phrynichus was fined and a law was passed forbidding subsequent performances of his play.[9] The second, Phoenician Women (written in 476 BCE, four years before Aeschylus' version), treated the same historical event as Aeschylus’ Persians. Neither of Phrynichus' plays have survived.

Interpretations of Persians either read the play as sympathetic toward the defeated Persians or else as a celebration of Greek victory within the context of an ongoing war.[10] The sympathetic school has the considerable weight of Aristotelian criticism behind it; indeed, every other extant Greek tragedy arguably invites an audience's sympathy for one or more characters on stage. The celebratory school argues that the play is part of a xenophobic culture that would find it difficult to sympathize with its hated barbarian enemy during a time of war.[11] During the play, Xerxes calls his pains "a joy to my enemies" (1034).

Subsequent production history

Detail from the front cover of the programme to Peter Sellars' 1993 production of the play.

According to a scholium at Aristophanes' Frogs 1028, Hiero of Syracuse at some point invited Aeschylus to reproduce The Persians in Sicily.[12]

Seventy years after the play was produced, the comic playwright Aristophanes mentions an apparent Athenian reproduction of The Persians in his Frogs (405 BCE).[13] In it, he has Aeschylus describe The Persians as "an effective sermon on the will to win. Best thing I ever wrote"; while Dionysus says that he "loved that bit where they sang about the days of the great Darius, and the chorus went like this with their hands and cried 'Wah! Wah!'" (1026–28).[14]

The Persians was popular in the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire, who also fought wars with the Persians, and its popularity has endured in modern Greece. According to Anthony Podlecki, during a production at Athens in 1965 the audience "rose to its feet en masse and interrupted the actors' dialogue with cheers."[15]

The American Peter Sellars directed an important production of The Persians at the Edinburgh Festival and Los Angeles Festival in 1993, which articulated the play as a response to the Gulf War of 1990–1991. The production performed a new translation by Robert Auletta.[16] It opened at the Royal Lyceum Theatre on 16 August 1993.[17] Hamza El Din composed and performed its music, with additional music by Ben Halley Jr. and sound design by Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger.[17] Dunya Ramicova designed the costumes and James F. Ingalls the lighting.[17] Cordelia Gonzalez played Atossa, Howie Seago the Ghost of Darius, and John Ortiz played Xerxes.[17] The Chorus was performed by Ben Halley Jr, Joseph Haj, and Martinus Miroto.[17]

Ellen McLaughlin translated Persians in 2003 for Tony Randall's National Actors Theatre in New York as a response to George Bush's invasion of Iraq.[18] The production starred Len Cariou as Darius.

In 2006, another adaptation of the play, Persae, was staged at Edinburgh, this time by the radical Australian playwright Van Badham; the text mixed elements of older translations of the play with new dialogue based on Fox News-style reports of the second Iraq war. Critic Dolan Cummings noted: "Persae is an adaptation of AeschylusThe Persians, a play about the Greeks’ vanquished foes coming to terms with defeat. The clever twist... is that, with the action updated to the war on terror, this time it is the West that is defeated." [19]

A new 2010 translation by Aaron Poochigian [20] included for the first time the detailed notes for choral odes that Aeschylus himself created, which directed lines to be spoken by specific parts of the chorus (strophe and antistrophe). Using Poochigian's edition, which includes theatrical notes and stage directions, "Persians" was presented in a staged readthrough as part of New York's WorkShop Theater Company's Spring 2011 one-act festival "They That Have Borne the Battle."[21]


T.S. Elliot in The Waste Land, The Burial of the Dead, line 63 “I had not thought Death had undone so many” echoes line 432 of the Messenger account in the Persians: “However, you can be sure that so great a multitude of men never perished in a single day'[22]'” which is also similar to Dante’s line in Canto III, line 56: ch'i' non averei creduto che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta.[23] In contemporary literature, Dimitris Lyacos in his dystopian epic[24] Z213: Exit uses quotations from the Messenger’s account[25] in The Persians, (δίψῃ πονοῦντες, οἱ δ᾽ ὑπ᾽ ἄσθματος κενοὶ: some, faint from thirst, while some of us, exhausted and panting[26]), in order to convey the failure of a military operation and the subsequent retreat of the troops in a post-apocalyptic setting[27]. The excerpts from The Persians enter a context of fragmentation whereby broken syntax is evocative of a landscape in the aftermath of war.[28]



1.     A catalogue of Aeschylean plays contains the two titles Glaucus Potnieus and Glaucus Pontius – hence the uncertainty. To add to the confusion, one title could easily be a garbled duplicate of the other. The consensus seems to favor Glaucus Potnieus (Garvie 2009, xl–xlvi). See, however Muller/Lewis 1858, 322.

2.     According to the hypothesis of The Persians found, e.g., in the Loeb and OCT editions of Aeschylus' plays.

3.     "Aeschylus Fragments 57–154". Retrieved 2011-07-24.

4.     Smyth, H.W. (1930). Aeschylus: Agamemnon, Libation-Bearers, Eumenides, Fragments. Harvard University Press. pp. 453–454. ISBN 0-674-99161-3.

5.     Taxidou (2004, 99).

6.     Raphael and McLeish (1991, 14). In the original, this reads: “ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων ἴτε, / ἐλευθεροῦτε πατρίδ', ἐλευθεροῦτε δὲ / παῖδας, γυναῖκας, θεῶν τέ πατρῴων ἕδη, / θήκας τε προγόνων: νῦν ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀγών.".

7.     Raphael and McLeish (1991, 20).

8.     Raphael and McLeish (1991, 26).

9.     See Herodotus 6.21.2 and Taxidou (2004, 96–7).

10. For the first reading, see See, for example, Segal (1993, 165) and Pelling (1997, 1–19); for the second, see Hall (1996) and Harrison (2000). While there is some disagreement, the consensus is that the Persian Wars did not come to a formal conclusion until 449 BCE with the Peace of Callias.

11. See Hall (1991).

12.  The Vita Aeschyli § 18 repeats this claim, adding that the play was well received there. For questions surrounding this Sicilian production and its bearing on the text of the Persae that survives, see Broadhead 2009, xlviii–liii; Garvie 2009, liii–lvii.

13.  Garvie 2009, lv.

14. See Barrett 1964, 194.

15.  Podlecki (1986, 78).

16. See Favorini (2003) and Banham (1998, 974).

17.  From the programme to the Edinburgh Festival production.

18. McLaughlin (2005, p. 254)

19. Cummings, Dolan (2006,

20. released by Johns Hopkins University Press

21.  They That Have Borne the Battle Veterans Festival

22.Aeschylus, Persians, line 432. Herbert Weir Smyth Ed.

23. Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia, Canto III, lines 56-57.

24.  Michael O'Sullivan. The precarious destitute. A possible commentary on the lives of unwanted immigrants.

25.  Dimitris Lyacos Z213: Exit. Translated by Shorsha Sullivan. Shoestring Press 2010.pp. 77-81.

26. Aeschylus, Persians, line 484. Herbert Weir Smyth Ed.

27.  Allison Elliott,A review of Z213: Exit by Dimitris Lyacos.

28.  Spencer Dew, A review of "Poena Damni, Z213: Exit.



  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
  • Barrett, David, trans. 1964. The Frogs. By Aristophanes. In The Wasps / The Poet and the Women / The Frogs. London: Penguin, 1986. 147–212. ISBN 0-14-044152-2.
  • Broadhead, H.D. 2009. The Persae of Aeschylus. Cambridge.
  • Favorini, Attilio. 2003. "History, Collective Memory, and Aeschylus' Persians." Theatre Journal 55:1 (March): 99–111.
  • Garvie, A.F. 2009 Aeschylus Persae. Oxford.
  • Hall, Edith. 1991. Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-definition through Tragedy. Oxford Classical Monographs ser. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 0-19-814780-5.
  • ---. 1996. Aeschylus Persians: Text and Commentary. Warminster: Aris & Phillips. ISBN 0-85668-597-6.
  • Harrison, Thomas. 2000. The Emptiness of Asia: Aeschylus' Persians and the History of the Fifth Century. London: Gerald Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-2968-9.
  • Lesky, Albin et al. 1996. A History of Greek Literature. Hackett. ISBN 0-87220-350-6.
  • McLaughlin, Ellen. 2005. The Greek Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group. ISBN 978-1-55936-240-5.
  • Muller, K.O. 1858. History of the Literature of Ancient Greece: To the Period of Isocrates. Trans. George C. Lewis. Longmans, Green & Co.
  • Munn, Mark H. 2000. The School of History: Athens in the Age of Socrates. Berkeley: U of California P. ISBN 0-520-23685-8.
  • Podlecki, A.J. 1986. "Polis and Monarchy in Early Greek Tragedy." In Greek Tragedy and Political Theory. Ed. Peter Euben. New ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1992. ISBN 0-520-05584-5.
  • Raphael, Frederic, and Kenneth McLeish, trans. 1991. Plays: One. By Aeschylus. Ed. J. Michael Walton. Methuen Classical Greek Dramatists ser. London: Methuen, 1998. ISBN 0-413-65190-8.
  • Segal, Charles. Euripides and the Poetics of Sorrow: Art, Gender and Commemoration in Alcestis, Hippolytus and Hecuba. Durham: Duke UP. ISBN 0-8223-1360-X.
  • Taxidou, Olga. 2004. Tragedy, Modernity and Mourning. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP. ISBN 0-7486-1987-9.

External links


4   The Persian side of the Persian Wars:  Achaemenid_Empire


5  Links for Unit 10 – Greco-Persian Wars

(Diary of Xerxes Campaign)

(Xerxes to Athens)

(Text of Aeschylus play – Murray translation 1939))

(Text of Aeschylus play –