Persian Wars

The Persian Wars
500 B.C. – 479 B.C.
The Beginning
Darius, king of the Persians, came to power and continued to extend the
Persian Empire across Asia Minor. The Persians had already taken control
of most Greek colonies, and Darius would conquer Ionia (ī-ō'nē-ə), a
Greek sister state.
Feeling threatened, the
two strongest Greek city
states, Sparta and
Athens, encouraged the
Ionians to revolt. Darius
would eventually crush
the Ionian revolt in 495
B.C. He would then turn
his attention to the
Greek mainland to seek
revenge on Athens and
The Battle of Marathon
Darius sent a great army,
with an estimated size of
20,000 soldiers, over the
sea to the Bay of
Marathon, intending to
land there, march to
Athens and then on to
Miltiades (mil-tahy-uhdeez), the Athenian
general, marched an army
of 10,000 men out of
Athens, hoping to delay
the Persians until
reinforcements were sent
from Sparta.
Professional runner,
Pheidippides (fahy-dip-ideez), ran 250 km in two
days to Sparta and back
to ask the Spartans for
their support against the
The Spartans said they
could not help until after
the next full moon for
religious reasons
Greatly outnumbered,
the Athenians took
advantage of the Persians’
overconfidence and their
knowledge of the terrain.
The strategy: The Persians put their best troops in the centre, the
Athenians put their best troops on the side.
The battle: The Persians broke through the weak Athenian centre
but were pushed back on the wings by the superior Athenian
troops. The Persians were surrounded and defeated.
The remaining Persians returned to their ships and
attempted to reach Athens. Miltiades (mil-tahy-uh-deez),
however, marched his army overland to meet them and the
Persians dared not come ashore. The Persian invasion thus
Legend has it that
Pheidippides (fahy-dipi-deez) ran the 42 km
back to Athens to
announce their great
victory and died on the
spot. Today’s
marathon is based on
this last run by
The Battle of Thermopylae
There was fear the
Persians might return.
Under Themistocles
(thuh-mis-tuh-kleez), the
Athenians developed a
strong navy of 200
triremes (boats).
In 485 B.C., Xerxes (zurkseez) succeeded his father,
Darius, as king of the
Persians. He vowed
revenge on the Greeks.
Xerxes (zurk-seez) sent a huge army and navy to attack the Greek
mainland once again (180,000 troops).
Xerxes’ army advanced along the Greek coast until coming to
Themopylae, a fifty foot wide mountain pass.
The strategy: The Spartan king, Leonidas (lee-on-i-duhs), and 7000
men wanted to hold the Persians at the pass.
The battle: The Persians attacks were repulsed until a traitor
showed the Persians a secret path. 300 Spartan elders and
1,000 men stayed behind to allow the other Greeks time to
fall back and mount defenses. All died, but 20,000 Persians
were also killed.
The Battle of Salamis (sah-lah-mees)
As the Persians advanced after their victory at Thermopylae (ther-mopuh-lee), Athens was evacuated. The Athenians escaped to the island of
Salamis, off the coast of Athens.
The Persian army sacked and burned Athens.
Themistocles (thuh-mis-tuh-kleez) ordered all Greek men onto the
triremes and set sail into the Straits of Salamis.
The strategy: The Greeks
wanted to lure the Persians
into the narrow waters of
Straits of Salamis, which
they knew better.
Themistocles sent his
servant with false
information to Xerxes,
claiming the Greeks would
attempt to escape through
the Straits.
Xerxes, eager for victory,
believed the message.
The battle: The Persians sailed into the Straits of Salamis,
and were trapped by the Greeks. The Greeks were
outnumbered, but swift and deadly Athenian triremes
defeated the Persian navy.
The End
The remainder of the Persian army was defeated by the Spartans at
Plataea (pluh-tee-uh) and the rest of the Persian fleet was caught
beached on shores of Asia Minor and destroyed by the Greeks. This
twenty year battle had ended in an astonishing victory for the Greeks
and it filled them with pride, confidence, and patriotism, leading to
the Golden Age.
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