Persian Wars

Background

  • The Persian Wars involved a prolonged battle between Greece and Persia between 429 BC and 449 BC. The wars consisted of two large Persian invasions and a series of legendary battles.
  • The main reason for the invasions appears to be the concern of the security of the western border of the Persian Empire. Many Greeks lived in these regions including a tribe from the region of Ionia in Asia Minor. These Ionians rebelled and sparked a series of related military revolts by other Greek regions, provoked by Persian tyrant leaders who denied the Greeks their freedom.
  • The Ionians were given support from Athens and Eretria who attacked the Persian stronghold of Sardis but were eventually defeated. The Persians wanted to silence the Greeks once and for all.

Persian Wars

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Weapons

  • The Assyrian army was the first to use iron to help them protect and attack. At the time, bronze was the main material for weapons, but it did not offer the same hard protection and was easier to destroy. Iron was much harder so they used it for almost everything, including swords and blades. This new material played a key role in the Assyrian victories.
  • The Assyrians weapons were also effective in practice. Assyrian archers had a new type of bow that allowed them to fire and hit the enemy at long distances, giving them a big advantage. They also used slings and could hurl stones in a deadly manner like bullets.

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Marathon

  • Under King Darius I the Persians, after a Greek refusal to let its enemy take over, decided to invade Greece in 490 BC. At the battle of Marathon, the Persian army consisted of around 90,000 men compared to a Greek force that numbered no more than 20,000 men.
  • The Persians resorted to their tried and tested method of launching a long-range archer attack on the Greek soldiers. However, the Greeks created a massive wall of bronze with their large round shields. They stood in a strong line, holding spears and swords which were longer and heavier than that of the Persians, and were well protected as a group and as individuals.
  • The Greek, Athenian army had been put together very quickly, but its general, Miltiades, was a thoughtful and strong leader. Miltiades tricked the Persians by deliberately weakening the centre of his battle line. The Greeks then attacked the startled Persians from the wings go in behind them causing chaos among their ranks. The Persians were then easily defeated and lost around 6400 men compared to the Greek loss of 192 men.

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The start of another invasion: Thermopylae

  • After ten years the Persians, under their new King Xerxes, were thirsty for revenge. In 480 BC Xerxes assembled a massive army to lead a further attack against the Greeks. This invasion took place on the east coast of Greece at Thermopylae. The Spartan King Leonidas led the small Greek army for several days, but, sensing defeat, he sent most of his army away while he and 300 others were killed.
  • There was also a naval battle between the two sides at Artemision in which neither side could claim victory. Although not successful as such, both of these conflicts allowed the Greeks more time to prepare for more inland battles.

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Salamis

  • After their victory at Thermopylae, the Persians could now move further into the heart of Greece. The Persians started to make important gains, including Athens, which was overwhelmed. Leonidas’ brother Kleombrotos led his own army and started to build a huge wall to defend the Greeks near Corinth, but it was becoming clear that the next major battle would be at sea.
  • The Battle of Salamis took place in September 480 BC in the Saronic Gulf. This battle is regarded as one of the most important naval struggles in ancient history. Although historians do not agree on the numbers, we can be sure that the Greeks had a much smaller fleet to the Persians.
  • The Greeks won through strategy. The trireme was a very quick and easy to control Greek warship with a bronze ram at the front designed to split enemy boats in half
  • The Greeks tried and succeeded to suck the Persians into the narrow straits of Salamis where their ships would be easier to ram and destroy. Unlike the Greeks, the Persians had nowhere to retreat to and were trapped. Their fleet was picked off and many of them drowned in the chaos that followed.

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Plataea

  • Although they had experienced defeat at Salamis, the Persians still held control over large parts of mainland Greece. In August 479 BC the stage was now set for a final land battle at Plataea in August 479 BC.
  • This time, the Greek army consisted of around 110,000 men from all over the country. Despite a formidable Persian opposition, the Greeks managed toovercome their enemy.

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Aftermath

  • The Persians had been defeated and, while some minor battles followed, the so-called ‘Peace of Callias’ agreement was signed in 449 BC. The Greek victory was a vital moment in ancient history. The Greeks enjoyed a long period of development that would lay the foundations for Western civilisation.

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