Epic Ancient Greek Battles
Many historians cite the Greco-Persian Wars as the most important battles in Western Civilization's history.
Classical Greece was influential in the cultural contributions of Western society, therefore, the Greco-Persian Wars are seen as defining moments in history.
If Persia had won, Athens would have been burned to the ground.
Greek triumph ensured the survival of Ancient Greek intellectual and artistic culture, democracy, the Olympic Games and the ultimate foundation of Western Civilization that followed.
Athens and Sparta were the two most powerful city-states of ancient Greece.
Athens for its culture, wisdom and beauty.
Sparta for its military strength and valiant soldiers.
Marathon, Thermopylae and Salamis mark a special time in history.
The Greco-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire (First Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great) and Greek city-states.
The Greeks were victors against the massive, invading Persian force both on land and at sea.
Biblical Asia Minor was the birthplace of many famous Saints which included Saint Paul (a Jew born in Tarsus, Asia Minor), Saint Nicholas, Saint George, Saint Luke the Evangelist, Saint Timothy and Saint Basil to name just a few.
Anatolian Asia Minor had historic cities like Ephesus, Miletus, Harlicarnassus, Priene, Pergamon, Phocaea, Nicaea, Smyrni, and Byzantium (later to become famous as Constantinople) were centers of Greek and Christian cultures as well as important commercial centers.
Constantinople was the capital of the first Christian Byzantine Empire.
Ionia was an ancient region on the western coast of Anatolia that was settled by Greeks during the 11th century-BC.
The Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great conquered the region in 547-BC.
The Greek regions of Aeolis, Doris, Cyprus and Caria, rebelled against the tyrannical Persian rule from 499 to 493-BC. Athens and Eretria, supported by the Ionians captured and burnt Sardis in 498-BC which had now become a province of the Persian Empire.
Darius I sent a naval task force to subjugate the cities of Ionia and to punish Athens and Eretria for supporting the uprisings.
The Ionian Revolt represents the first phase of the Greco-Persian Wars.
With the Persians heading for a confrontation on Greek soil, the Athenians sent a message to the Spartans asking for support.
The Spartans however, were involved in religious festivities and, although they promised to send military aid to the Athenians, their laws stated they could only do so after the full moon had passed.
The Battle of Marathon was the first attempt by Persia to conquer Greece on September 9, 490-BC.
Athens, allied with Plataea confronted the Persian invaders at the seaside plain of Marathon, 26 miles northeast of Athens.
A Persian armada of 600 ships under the command of Admiral Datis and about 30,000 infantry and calvary lead by generals Hippias and Artaphernes reached Euboea in mid-summer and besieged Eretria, then sailed for Attica (surrounding Athens), landing in the bay near the town of Marathon.
Led by Miltiades (550 - 489-BC), the Athenians mobilized 10,000 hoplite soldiers and a force of 1,000 Plataians to defend their territory.
The Greek battle weapons were the long spear and heavy armaments included helmets, shields, and breastplates.
Because they lacked both cavalry and bows, they favored close combat battle formations.
Miltiades ordered the Greek hoplites to form a line equal in length to that of the Persians then ordered his soldiers to attack the Persians at a dead run.
In the midst of the battle, the middle of the outnumbered Greek line gave way to lure the Persians into the center so the flanks could surround the trapped Persians. The strategy was victorious causing the Persians to break in panic as the Greek army inflicted a crushing defeat.
The tale of the messenger, Pheidippides running 26 miles (42 km) to Athens to deliver the news of the Persian defeat inspired the creation of the modern marathon.
The Persians lost 6,400, the Greeks only 192.
Battle of Thermopylae
After Darius I died in 486-BC his son Xerxes I started preparations for a second invasion of Greece.
The Battle of Thermopylae in 480-BC during the Persian Wars, has resonated throughout history as a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.
Xerxes I led a massive army and navy in the second Persian invasion to conquer all of Greece.
Before invading, Xerxes sent a message to the Spartan king Leonidas to surrender his arms. Leonidas famously replied, "Come and take them" ("Molon labe").
Vastly outnumbered, Themistocles, the Athenian general, proposed that the allied Greeks block the advance of the Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae.
An alliance of Greek city-states led by King Leonidas and his elite unit of 300 Spartans, vastly outnumbered, fought in the second Persian invasion of Greece in August or September of 480-BC.
The Greeks fought valiantly to hold the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae for three days against the vast Persian cavalry and infantry force.
Ephialtes of Trachis, betrayed the Greeks by revealing a hidden goat path which allowed the Persians to outflank them.
Leonidas sent the main army into retreat while a small contingent remained behind to resist the invading Persians.
This heroic last stand at Thermopylae has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds of a patriotic army defending its native soil that has inspired the legend of the 300 Spartans.
While the Greeks lost this battle, the fierce resistance offered Athens valuable time to prepare for the decisive naval battle of Salamis.
From these iron-hearted warriors has come the adjective - Spartan.
The Battle of Salamis was a naval battle fought between an alliance of Greek city-states in September, 480-BC.
The oracle at Delphi on Mt. Parnassus, near the Gulf of Corinth, (ancient Greek religious sanctuary to the god Apollo), prophesied that the Greeks would be saved by a "wooden wall" at Salamis.
The "wooden wall" was the Greek naval victory at Salamis.
Themistocles (524 - 460-BC), the Athenian general and naval strategist who had fought during the first Persian invasion of Greece at the Battle of Marathon (490-BC)
advocated a strong Athenian Navy as the cornerstone of an Athenian Empire in 483-BC.
He persuaded the Athenians to build a fleet of 200 triremes which proved crucial in the forthcoming conflict with Persia.
The battle was fought in the straits between the Athenian port-city of Piraeus and the island of Salamis in the Saronic Gulf near Athens.
The Greek navy had 371 triremes and pentekonters (smaller, fifty-oared ships).
The Persians had 1207 ships.
The huge size of Xerxes fleet gave him confidence of victory that he set up a golden throne on the slopes of Mount Aegaleus, to watch the battle.
The Greek strategy was to lure the Persian fleet into the narrow waters around Salamis to negate their numerical advantage.
The larger and heavier Persian triremes became cramped into the gulf and struggled to maneuver quickly whereas the smaller and lighter Greek triremes were more manoeuverable.
The Greek triremes attacked first by ramming, sinking and boarding by Greeks on many Persian ships.
In twelve hours, the Greek fleet scored a decisive victory and forced the Persian naval forces to flee.
The Greeks lost around 40 ships.
The Persians lost around 300.
With the naval battle won, Aristides (530 - 468 BC) and an elite Athenian infantry, landed at Psyttaleia. an island in the Saronic Gulf and annihilated the Persians stationed there.
Xerxes retreated to Asia leaving Mardonius to complete the conquest of Greece.
However, the following year, the remainder of the Persian army was decisively beaten on land in the Battle of Plataea and in the sea at the Battle of Mycale.
The Greek victories liberated the cities of Ionia from Persian control.
Significance of the Greco-Persian Wars
The Greco-Persian Wars were three of the greatest military victories in antiquity.
Had the Persians won, they would have invaded the rest of the Greek city-states and the European continent which almost certainly have had serious effects on the course of Western civilization's history.
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