History of the Greco-Persian Conflicts – Part 1

Now with an understanding of the possitions in which the nations of this time were in, we can move on to the first section of history we are covering.

For this we will be focusing on the area of Greece and Anotolia (Asia minor) around the 500’s BC.

The before mentioned Athenians of ancient Greece were as previously stated democratic, however they were not the only ones. In fact many Greek city states had gone through a similar proccess one way or another, overthrowing their Tyrants and installing such democratic systems of their own. Meanwhile in the Greek city states of Ionia in Asia minor this proccess was happening in complete reverse.  After Cyrus the Greats’ campaign against the Lydian Empire in 547-546 BC, all Greek cities in Asia minor were added to the Perssian Empire with the areas they resided in becoming  satrapies, which is essencially an imperial province. Tyrants were installed by the Persians in most of these cities in order to keep them in check.

In September of the year 522 BC a new Persian Emperor had come to the throne. His name was Darius and would later become known as Darius the Great. Darius continued the empires’ conquests, taking and mostly destroying the city of Byzantium in 513 BC, thereby opening the door for future invasions of Europe. It was not long before these invasions came to be, as by the year 500 BC, Thrace had been conqured and Macedonia vasselised. Another part of the Persian plan for domination was to strangulate the thriving prosparity of the Greek city states, this was done by the offering of privileges to Phoenician traders thus allowing them to gain an advantage against their Greek rivals in trading disputes.

Extreme discontempt was quickly spreading among the Greeks within the Persian empire. The great and wealthy city of Miletus was deeply affected by the Persian manipulation of economic trade, as most of it’s wealth came from sea trade. In response to this unfair treatment Miletus, along with neibouring Greek allies feeling the same discontempt and economic strain, requested the help of several Greek city states to the west. Ultimately few responded positively to this distress call, however the major City of Athens was among those that did.

Ionian Revolt & Lade

The friction between the subjugated Greeks and Persians came to a boiling point in 499 BC when a number of Greek cities in the empire rose against Persian rule, declaring themselves democracies. Athens agreed to aid these cities, likely due to a desire to spread it’s governmental system and made themselves a permanent enemy of the Persians in the proccess. The city of Eretria also joined in aiding their fellow Greeks. From the perspective of Darius the situation in Asia minor had become entirely too unstable as the leader of Miletus (Aristagoras) had started a full fledged revolt against the empire. Athens had sent an entire half of it’s naval fleet to assist in this conflict.

After gathering their armies, this alliance of Greeks marched against the Persian Empires’ regional headquarters, the city of Sardis. This attack was initially successful, Sardis was pillaged and burned to the ground. After the cities destruction however, the Greeks were pushed back by the Persians and defeated in the battle of Ephesus in 498 BC. Despite this setback, revolt spread to many other cities, thereby swelling the numbers of the rebeling Greeks. In response to this, Darius ordered the construction of a major army. This army also included a large fleet of 600 war vessels of which set sail for Melitus as the city was the epicenter of the rebelion. 

The city of Miletus was protected by the fleet of this Greek alliance, numbering around 350 war vessels which were located in the waters of the near by island of Lade.

In the year of 494 BC these 2 great fleets clashed at Lade with 350 war vessels on the Greek side and over 600 on the Persians’. The valiant Greeks launched a daring attack agasinst their numerically superior enemy in a well plotted engagment, planning to make the absolute most out of every vessel in their fleet. They were however not prepared for the devistating and ultimately catastrophic betrayal that followed. Just as this clash had started 60 Greek ships suddenly began to turn away from the battle. These ships belonged to the Island of Samos and had already established an agreemnt with the Persian Empire, being bought out with promises of forgiveness and trading privalages. This betrayal caused much panic and many Greeks fled, fearing a massacre. The ratio between the vessels was now 3-1. The Greek stratagy completly collapsed and their vessels became easy prey for the Persians. The rebel fleet was disolved after this massive defeat and those Greeks who had survived reterned to their homes.

After the destruction of the allied fleet, defeat on land was only a matter of time. Though they still faught on, the revolt was doomed. In the very next year 493 BC, Darius ordained an exemplary punishment for the city of Miletus as a message to all who might rise against him. The city was utterly shattered, with it’s citizens being either murdered or enslaved. All remaining Greek cities in Ionia were retaken by the Persians, however Darius was not done yet. Darius vowed to punish all those who had dared to defy him and his empire and so he looked to the west, where Athens stood.

The cities which revolted did so with the support of Athens. Darius was absolutely determined to punish the Athenians for what they had done, in fact he was so full of hatred towards the nation that he had ordered his servant to constantly remind him to ‘Not forget about the Athenians’ whenever he served the Emperor food or drink.


The Persians had managed to quel the rebelion of the Greek cities in Asia minor after their attempt at defying Persian rule and driving the empire out, with the assistance of Athens. However Darius’ determination to punish the city of Athens still raged within him.

At this point, the former Athanian tyrant Hippias resided within the Persian empire after fleeing there from Athens back in 510 BC. He came to be in the service of Darius.

In 490 BC Hippias, still in the service of the Persians, encouraged Darius to invade Greece and attack Athens. They came to the agreement that Athens would be taken and it’s democracy reverted back to Hippias’ tyranical rule, under the condition that he swore alegance and paid tribute to the Persian empire. So, the former Atheninan tyrant agreed to leed the Persian forces to the beeches of the plain of Marathon, located next to Athens, as it was here Hippias had suggested to Darius that the Persian invasion should begin. The Persians mobalized a large army and departed to Greece on their vessels.

Realizing that the Persians were drawing closer, the Athenians sent their courier Pheidippides to Sparta in order to ask for their assistance in the upcoming battle. However the Spartans responded saying they could not partisipate, at least not just yet. You see the Spartans were celebrating a religous festival known as Carnea. The Spartans thus refused to anger the Gods by marching to war before their 10 day feast was complete.

Even so the Greek army still numbered an impressive 10,000 men and was led by the general Miltiades, whom of which strategically possitioned his troops on top of a hill. It was from up there that the massive Persian army could be spotted, numbering around 50,000 men. Despite the obvious numerical advantage on the Persians side the clash still took a long time to actually happen due to the favoured defencive possitioning of the Greeks.

The Persians seemed to be under the belief that the reapearace of Hippias would cause some divide within the Athenian forces, assuming that troops still loyal to him would fight on his behalf. This did not happen at all.

Seeing the lack of divide in the Athenians, the Persians decided to act. The forces of the Persian army were split into 2, with one force of 30,000 tasked with holding the Greek army at Marathon whilst the other 20,000 men would use the vessels to strike at Athens itself. Athens was essencially unprotected, having just women and children. If the Greek army was to fail, the women of Athens were to commit scuicide as to not face the wrath of the Persians, avoid torture and the disgrace of rape.

Though the forces of the Persians were split in 2, they still had the Greeks outnumbered 3-1. However the Greek general Miltiades noticed that the Persian cavalry was no longer present, meaning that it must have been taken to Athens with the other forces. He decided that this could be an opportunity, which he did not hesitate to act on. Militiades relinquished his strong defensive possition and launched an attack!

In order to match the enemy line, he decided to stretch the phalanxes in the center. A phalanx at this time was a type of ancient Greek military formation being tightly packed and shoulder to shoulder. The soilders in a phalanx were called hoplites and would typically carry around 35kg of equipment which included a large metal round sheild and spear. Though this would mean the line was thin, it also prevented the Persians from flanking the Greeks. Miltiades also instructed the best of his troops to bulk up on the sides of the line, further weakening the center but meaning they could, if the oportinity arose, push in from either side of the Persians. Though very inventive this plan also carried great risk.

Still yet another obstical was in the way of the unlikely Greek victory and this was the Persian archers. These archers were amazingly acurate and deadly from 200 meters. The Greek phalanxes would typically move quite slowly as to keep in formation, meaning they would be exposed to arrows raining on them for a long time before they could engage the enemy. To counteract this Miltiades ordered something no one on either side would ever have expected, for his soldiers to run the last 100 meteres.

The idea of a Greek phalanx running was absolutly unheared of and unthinkable. So when the Persians saw this they were stunned. The rainfall of arrows had seemingly no effect of the charging Greeks. Even so after the 2 armys finally clashed the thicker lines of the numerically superior Persians weighed on the Greek center, pushing them gradually back. But just as the Greek center was showing signs of collaps, the flanks had completely defeated their Persian oppersition and began to close in on the Persian center. The Persian troops now had to face enemies in 3 directions. Panic spread quickly as they witnessed hundreds of fellow soldiers from all around dropping like flies, cohesion began to waver and the battle turned into an absolute massacre. As the Persians began to fall by the thousands, hordes of them started to retreat, running desperatly to the remaining vessels still on the beeches.

Though the victory at Marathon had been total, there was no time for the Greeks to celebrate as the army of 20,000 still drew ever closer to Athens. Keeping in mind what the women of Athens would do if the saw a Persian army heading towards them, Miltiades ordered pheidippides to head to Athens as quickly as possible in order to tell of the Greek victory. Pheidippides ran none stop, all the way back to the city covering a distance of 42 kilometers. He ran into the centeral square of the city and using every bit of air he had left he shouted ‘Victory!’ at the top of his lungs before collapsing to the ground and imediatly dying. Pheidippides’ great acheivment is still remembered today with Marathon events.

Miltiades and his Greek army returned to Athens and awaited the remaining Persian invaders. When the Persians finally reached the city they found, to their shock and dissbeliefe, the Greek army was mostly untouched. They had only lost 192 men in comparison to over 6000 Persian losses. Upon seeing this, the Persian vessels turned around and headed home.

A few days after the battle, the Spartan army finally arived. They visited the field of Marathon and were met with piles of Persian corpses. They were left amazed and impressed at the Athenian victory.

The invaders had, against all odds, been stopped and the Greek city states were at least for the time being, saved from the vast and seemingly unending beast of the Achaemenid Empire.

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