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The Greco-Persian Wars



Western society, which has long held the notion that it had descended from the civilization of Greece, has romanticized the affair of the Greco-Persian war. In neglect to actual historical considerations, historians have created a mythical tale of the democratic, free, Greek, underdogs against the mighty, tyrannical, Persian barbarians. Most sources, such as Herodotus, are Greek or pro-Greek and thus the picture that has been painted is a very biased one. The goal of this article is to portray this chapter in history from a different, moderated perspective. For the tale of corruption and politics which has followed every other war, followed the Greco-Persian wars all the same.

The conflicts between Greece and Persia began in 499BC. Ionia, the culturally Greek land in western Anatolia by the Aegean sea, revolted against Darayavaush I. This general revolt was supported by the Greek city-states. Athens in particular sent warships to aid their Ionian cousins. Darayavaush supressed the rebellion and moved to stop the Hellenic incursions into his western empire. While many historians claim Darayavaush did this in a punitive measure out of rage, the major driving force was likely more political. Darayavaush knew to maintain control of the Aegean sea and stability in Anatolia he would have to negate the growing Greek influence. Greece, though nowhere on the size or scale of Persia, had grown stronger in recent years through its developing trade (Trading with one near-eastern empire had been easier than trading with multiple states), and its socio-political development. Thus the clash was not one of righteousness and tyranny, or democracy and dictatorship, but rather a grab at power and influence in the east Mediterranean.

Darayavaush's master strategy was to form a pincer around Greece that would (1)act as a base for further expansion and attack towards Greece, (2) Cut off vital trade points and the inflow of natural resources, and (3)create a buffer zone around the Greeks. In 492BC Darayavaush began implementing this plan by sending Marduniya. He was the son of Gaubaruva, the general who helped Darayavaush retake Babylon. With a moderately sized navy and army he took the island of Thasos and Macedonia. Macedonia was a useful base of operations and cut the Greeks off from trading with their northern Hellenic counterparts. The gold reserves the Greeks could have used were now in the hands of the Persians.

About 490BC Darayavaush sent in a second expedition. Herodotus claims this was a vengeful attack on mainland Greece, but this is far from the truth. The navy was far too small. Instead Darayavaush was extending the buffer zone around Greece. He also controlled the mines and natural resources on these islands, among them Naxos and Cyprus. The Persians show their political guile here by winning the backing of the oracles. Darayavaush gave donations and authorized sacrifices, in return the Oracle of Delphi, a source of inspiration for the Greeks, sided with the Persians, warning the Greeks against resistance.

The stage was set for an incursion. The so-called Battle of Marathon was less of a battle and more of a plunderous intrusion into the Greek mainland. Here Darayavaush sent in a moderate force that rummaged around the Greek countryside near Athens burning and pillaging the land. The Athenians protected their main city, but did not dare confront the Persians. It was Darayavaush's intent to weaken, not conquer the Greeks, and so after devastating the Greek infrastructure Darayavaush opted to leave. Here the Greeks harrassed the Persians as they left, but it was barely a hassel for the leaving Persians, not a loss. Certainly not 6000 Persian to 192 Greek dead that Herodotus wants us to believe. With the Greeks severely weakened and ripe for attack, Darayavaush retired to plan for a larger attack. During his preparations Darayavaush passed away and his son, Khshayarsha took the throne.

The Persian forces easily took Thessaly. At the battle of Artemisium the Greek navy was decisively defeated by the Persians who had strengthened their navy with contingents from Phoenicia. Prior to this many Persian ships had been sunk in a storm so the Greeks felt it was a good time to attack. At first Greece had some success against individual naval units, but when the Persian forces came full force the Greeks were crushed. At about the same time the Persians won the battle of Thermopylae. Herodotus tries to play up the Greek side, claiming the Spartans held their own and managed for a long time. In reality the Spartans were most likely annihilated easily. The Persians moved on to the abandoned Athens. The night before the most Greeks had fled to escape the oncoming Persian forces. The city was torched and looted. Later the Persians were defeated at Salamis. This was not as extreme and humiliating as Greeks, like Herodotus, portray. In reality the Persians would have lost only between one-sixth and one-fourth of their navy. However, the Greeks had done enough damage to leave the Persian supply lines unprotected. Thus the Persians could not reinforce their forces which led the way, later on, for the Greek victory at Plataea. However Khshayarsha rightfully took claim to having conquered most of the mainland Greeks. This ended as many Persian forces had to be pulled out to control a revolt in Babylon. Meanwhile the Greeks united. At Plataea the Persians repelled the first wave of Greek attackers. However they overcommitted on the counter-offensive and were defeated by the Greeks, forcing the Persian retreat. After this Greece was to regain some of Ionia and continue as a pestering problem for the Persians. However the Persian would eventually dominate and suppress the Greeks not through further conquest but through intelligent, political and financial tactics.

Khshyarsha was killed by Artapana. His son Artakshathra took the throne, slaying Artapana. Greece had been damaged, but not conquered the previous kings. Thus Greek forces where still causing problems in the Aegean.

To understand the Persia political strategies, it is necessary to take a look at Greece's political atmosphere. During the 6th century, Sparta and its close allies formed a alliance called the Peloponnesian League. This league acted to promote its economic and defense interests during various conflicts in Greece. After the wars with Persia, Athens and its allied states joined with the Peloponnesian league to form the Hellenic League. Athens, however, tried to gain control over the other states. Orginally each city-state sent a representative to a council meeting at the island of Delos, where the treasury was kept. Here they decided how much militarily and economically each city-state should contribute and how the league
should act. Since the league had openly anti-Persian objectives, Athens used the possibility of a Persian counter-attack to justify moving the treasury back to the Acropolis in Athens. They also used some of the wealth for their own building projects, like the Parthenon, as opposed to purely defensive measures. For these reasons, Sparta and its allied states fell out of favor with Athens and broke off to reestablish the Peloponnesian League. The states remaining loyal to Athens formed the Delian League.

The Delian League continued to pursue an anti-Persian agenda. They were responsible for the rebellion and secession of Ionia. They also unsuccesfully supported rebellion in Egypt and a failed attempt at taking Cyprus. Instead of rashly starting another invasion, around 448BC Artakhshathra signed a peace treaty. Some believe the treaty may have never been signed and was only Athenian propoganda, as some Greek writers deny or do not mention it. However, a tentative peace was reached between Persia and Greece. Here Artakhshathra resorted to political tactics to weaken Greece's control. While the Athenians were gaining influence, Artakhshathra financed rival city-states, renewing the Greek civil war. Athens had become the dominant city-state. They frustrated many of the other city-states with their aggressive policies. Athen's for example, intervened in a dispute between Corinth, a Peloponnesian city-state, and Corcyra. Athens also attempted to weaken the Peloponnesian league by placing sanctions versus some of its members. In the ensuing Peloponnesian Wars, Artakhshathra supported Sparta.

After artakhshathra passed away there was confusion over who would take the throne. Eventually Darayavaush II came out as the victor and new king of Persia. During the second Peloponnesian war Darayavaush II continued Persian support of Sparta. He even sent his son, Kuroush the Younger, with small forces, to help train the Spartans. Many in the Delian League then revolted against Athens. By 404BC Athens surrendered, dissolving the Delian League and giving up possession of Ionia, which was gladly taken back by Persia.

After Darayavaush passed away, his sons vied for power over the throne. The Spartans, helping to gain control in Persia, aided Kuroush the Younger, who had helped them against Athens, against his brother Artakhshathra II. The outcome was disasterous for Kuroush the Younger. An arrow killed. The 10,000 Spartans at the battle of Cunaxa then lost the fight very quickly. Many were captured or killed. The rest fled back to Greece. After this Sparta also attacked Asia Minor in 394BC, retaking possessions in Ionia that the Delian League had previously conquered. Artakhshathra II then funded Athens, Corinthians, and Thebes, who were all frustrated with Sparta's overrule of Greece. The Corinthian War, as it was termed lasted from 394BC to 387BC. Persia overtly supported the Corinthians and their allies against Sparta and its Peloponnesian League. At times, however, the Persian covertly supported the Spartans to prevent a total Athenian or Corinthian victory. Thus all the city-states suffered badly. In the end it wasn't any Greek state which dictated the terms of peace, but ironically the Persians. They regained all possessions in Ionia and permanently weakened Greece until the time of Alexander.

After this problems with Greece were very limited. The Egyptians rebelled under Nectanebo. Egypt then, with the aid of greece, attempted to take over Phoenicia. This was easily repelled by Artakhshathra II. Later Artakhshathra reconquered Egypt as well.
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