Xerxes’ Invasion
The Second Persian Invasion of Greece
Athens: Ascendancy of Themistocles
(ca. 528-462 BCE)
Themistocles’ father of the ancient Lycomid family at Athens;
allegedly born of non-Greek (Thracian or Carian) mother (Plutarch,
Life of Themistocles, 1-2); if so, he may have owed his Athenian
citizenship to the reforms of Cleisthenes (Aristotle, Politics, 1275b3537)
Elected eponymous archon at Athens in 493/92 BCE (Dionysius of
Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, 6.34.1); developed Piraeus
(Athenian harbor) as archon
General (stratēgos) of his tribe in 490 BCE; commanded center of
Athenian army at Marathon
Rival politicians ostracized: Miltiades, Hipparchus, Megacles the
Alcmaeonid, Xanthippus (father of Pericles), Aristides
487 BCE: Archonship opened to hippeis (“knights”), appointed by lot;
stratēgoi become most powerful officials in Athens; weakening of the
old aristocratic council of the Areopagus
Themistocles’ Foresight
(Plutarch, Life of Themistocles, 3.4)
Now the rest of his countrymen thought that the defeat
of the barbarians at Marathon was the end of the war;
but Themistocles thought it to be only the beginning of
greater contests, and for these he anointed himself, as it
were, to be the champion of all Greece, and put his polis
into training, because, while it was yet far off, he
expected the evil that was to come.
Bust of Themistocles (Roman Copy from Ostia)
Themistocles and the Athenian Navy
Laurium mines in Attica, ca. 482 BCE: new vein of silver
discovered (yields two tons of silver in first year)
Debate in Athenian Assembly
 Aristides: strengthen the Athenian hoplite army by
using wealth to enlarge hoplite class
 Themistocles: build the strongest navy among the
Greek states (warns of rivalry with Aegina)
 Aristides ostracized in 482 BCE
 New political importance of thetes as rowers
Themistocles and Athenian Naval Power
(Herodotus, 7.144)
Before this, Themistocles’ judgment had proved the best at
an important moment; it was when the commonality of
Athens had received great sums that came to them from the
mines at Laurium, and they were disposed to share them out,
with each citizen getting ten drachmas apiece. It was then
that Themistocles persuaded the Athenians to abandon this
distribution and make instead, with this money, two hundred
ships “for the war,” he said, naming the war against the
Aeginetans. It was indeed their engagement in this war, just
then, that saved Greece, for it compelled the Athenians to
become men of the sea. These ships were not used for the
purpose for which they were built, but they were there for
Greece at the moment of need.
Attica and Laurium
Athenian Trireme
About eight times as long as wide (120 ft. x 15 ft.)
170 rowers
Fast and agile
Ramming tactics
Athenian Trireme Reproduced
Xerxes (486-465/64 BCE) and
Second Persian Invasion (480-479 BCE)
King Darius dies in 486 BCE
Interim: Egyptian revolt (486/85-484 BCE)
By 484 BCE, Xerxes begins construction of armada;
“boat-bridge” spanning Hellespont; canal cut across
Autumn, 481 BCE: Defensive Alliance of 31 Greek states
headed by Sparta and Athens (Thessaly, Thebes, and
Argos medize): “Hellenic League” (Sparta leader)
Chalcidic Peninsula and Mount Athos
Battle of Thermopylae (August, 480 BCE)
Advance position at Tempe in Thessaly; Greeks fall back
to Thermopylae; Greek fleet at Artemisium
Athens: evacuation to Salamis and Troezen
June, 480 BCE: Second Persian Expedition (50,000175,000 troops); King Leonidas, 6,000-7,000 troops,
including 300 Spartans, and Thermopylae
Greeks hold position for two days; betrayed by local, who
shows Persians an alternate route; Greeks outflanked
Leonidas dismisses other Greeks, except for Thespians
and Thebans; heroic death in battle
Xerxes has corpse of Leonidas beheaded and impaled
Military defeat for Spartans; moral victory for Greeks
Xerxes’ Route
King Leonidas, the 300, and Thermopylae
“Go tell the Spartans, stranger
passing by
that here obedient to their words
we lie.”
Inscription at Thermopylae
reported by Herodotus, 7.228
Thermopylae (August, 480 BCE)
Dieneces and Spartan Bravery
(Herodotus, 7.226)
Of the Spartans and the Thespians, for all that there were
so many brave men among them, he that was said to be the
bravest was a Spartiate, Dieneces. Of him there is a saying
recorded, one that he uttered before the battle was joined.
When he heard a Malian saying that, when the barbarians
shot their arrows, the very sun was darkened by their
multitude, so great was the number of them, Dieneces was
not at all perturbed, but in his contempt for the numbers of
the Persians said, “Why, my Trachinian friend brings us
good news. For if the Persians hide the sun, we shall fight
them in the shade.”
Battle at Salamis (September, 480 BCE)
Destruction of some of Persian fleet in battle and storm at Artemisium
Abandonment of Athens; Themistocles, Delphi, and the Oracle of the “Wooden
Walls” (Herodotus, 7.143)
Peloponnesians fortify Isthmus of Corinth (Herodotus, 8.40, 71-72)
Greek fleet falls back from Artemisium to island of Salamis (Herodotus, 8.40)
Sack of Evacuated Athens (Herodotus, 8.50-54)
“Eurybiades presented the proposition that anyone who pleased should declare
where, among the territories of which the Greeks were masters, would be the most
suitable place to fight their sea battle; for Attica was at this point given up for lost;
it was about the rest that he inquired. The most of the opinions of those who spoke
agreed that they should sail to the Isthmus and fight for the Peloponnesus; the
reason they produced for this was that, if they were beaten in the sea fight and were
at Salamis, they would be beleaguered in an island where no help could show up for
their rescue; but if they fought off the Isthmus, they could put into a coastline that
was their own.” (Herodotus, 8.49)
Themistocles’ ruse (Herodotus, 8.75-76)
9/20/480 BCE: Salamis and Athenian trireme
Isthmus of Corinth
“Themistocles Decree” from Troezen
Text of Third Century BCE
May be copy of original of 480 BCE
Discovered in 1959
“Themistocles Decree” from Troezen
The Gods
Resolved by the Council and People
Themistocles, son of Neocles, of Phrearri, made the motion to entrust the
city to Athena the mistress of Athens and to all the other gods to guard and
defend from the Barbarian for the sake of the land. The Athenians
themselves and the foreigners who live in Athens are to send their children
and women to safety in Troezen, their protector being Pittheus, the
founding hero of the land. They are to send the old men and their movable
possessions to safety on Salamis. The treasurers and priestesses are to
remain on the acropolis guarding the property of the gods.
All the other Athenians and foreigners of military age are to embark on the
200 ships that are ready and defend against the Barbarian for the sake of
their own freedom and that of the rest of the Greeks, along with the
Spartans, the Corinthians, the Aeginetans, and all others who wish to share
in the danger.
Aftermath of Salamis
Persian army under Mardonius winters in Greece
Battle of Plataea, August, 479 BCE (Herodotus, 9.16-88)
 Plataea on border between Attica and Boeotia
 Spartan king, Pausanias, in high command
 Nearly two weeks of skirmishing, with Persians trying
to break Greek supply lines, water source
 Spartans (right flank) defeat Persian forces
 Athenians (left flank) defeat Persian allies, the
 Perceived as Spartan victory
Battle of Plataea (August, 479 BCE)
Greeks on the Offensive
Battle at Mycale (479 BCE)
Ionians renew rebellion against Persia
Athenians capture Persian stronghold at Sestos (end of
winter 479/78 BCE)
Persians lose control of Asia Minor coast
Expeditions of Athenian Cimon, so of the Philaid
Miltiades, against Persian Empire (470s-460s BCE)
Battle of Mycale (479 BCE), near Miletus
Athenian fleet captures Persian stronghold
at Sestos, 479 BCE
Serpent Monument
Delphi: Commemoration of Battle of Plataea
Serpent Column-Istanbul
Monument Base-Delphi

The Persian Wars: From the Ionian Revolt to Eion