The Rise of Persia
Transcript The Rise of Persia
The Persian Wars
Lecturer: Wu Shiyu
The Rise of Persia
Cyrus (600 BC–530 BC ): The model of a good king.
Under his own rule： expanded vastly and
eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and
much of Central Asia, parts of Europe and Caucasus.
From the Mediterranean sea and the Hellespont in
the west to the Indus River in the east, to create the
largest empire the world had yet seen.
Very successful model for centralized administration and
establishing a government working to the advantage and
profit of its subjects
The Rise of Persia
Darius (550 BC-486 BC): ascended the throne by
assassinating the alleged usurper Bardiya with the assistance
of six other Persian noble families; Darius was crowned the
following morning. Proved to be a very competent leader, and
held the empire at its peak, then including Egypt, northern
India, and parts of Greece. Darius organized the empire, by
dividing it into provinces and placing satraps to govern it.
Invaded Greece: The Battle of Marathon (490 BC)
The Rise of Persia
Xerxes (519BC-465BC): took the empire to its
height and set on its path of decline and ultimate
Invasion of the Greek mainland:
• The Battle of Thermopylae (in August or September 480
• The Battle of Salamis (September 29, 480 BC)
And the story of Pythius.
Xerxes roars out, ‘How dare you make such a
request like this? Here I am, leading the army myself,
and you are asking your son to stay behind. Alright, I
grant it. Let him stay behind.
With a great sword, the executioner splits the son
right down the middle, and one side of the body was
placed at one side of the gate, and the other side, the
other part of the gate, and through the sliced body of
the son of Pythius, the mighty army marches out.
Now again, the lesson from Herodotus: What is it
like to live under a despot? Even the highest and
richest man who the king might behold for favors,
has no security of life or property.
And Pythius is not only a symbol of what it is under
a tyrant, but also hybris.
Hellespont: has his engineers lay a bridge over boats
to cross it.. Suddenly, a storm comes up, but he still
wants to cross. Xerxes now is rolled out into the
Hellespont, and lashes the waters with his whip,
“You briny stream, how dare you stand before me?
And he beat the water over and over and over again,
and of course executed the engineers. And another
bridge is laid down. And he crosses.
The superb cavalry, men and horse wrapped in
armor, his immortals, ten thousand Persians
carrying their spears, golden and silver pomegranate
at the end, marching across, his body guards, and
then the troops of the far ranging empire. His Arabs
on horseback, Sythians with their bows and savage
spears. Ethiopians, their bodies painted half white,
half red, carrying spears all crossing in majesty. And
it seems nothing can stop this expedition.
The Beginning of the Persian War: The Ionian Revolt
When Lydia and also many other Greek cities in the
north were subjugated by Cyrus, they were however
quite unhappy about the Persians’ control.
Taxes were heavy and the Ionians resented the
The Ionian Revolt
By 499B.C. the Ionians were ready to rise up.
Aristagoras, tyrant of Miletus, having noticed the
restlessness of the Ionians, decided to unite them in
revolt. The Ionians showed their enthusiasm and did
overthrow most of the tyrants.
Aristagoras decided to go and seek support from the
Spartans (army), was rejected.
Aristagoras then went to Athens and had better luck
with the Athenians (agreed to send troops).
Aristagoras presented before the Spartan king Cleomenes a
bronze map of the world and showed him the prospect of
conquering the wealthy peoples and liberating the Ionians.
But when Cleomenes heard it would take the Spartans three
months’ time just to get to the Persian kingdom, “Cleomenes
cut short Aristagoras saying, ‘Get out of Sparta before
sundown, Milesian stranger, for you have no speech
eloquent enough to induce the Lacedemonians (Spartans)
to march for three months inland from the sea.’” (The
Histories 5:50; Blanco)
Aristagoras was not yet willing to give up and he followed Cleomenes to
his house,. As the suppliant sat in Cleomenes’ house, he noticed
Cleomenes’ young daughter, Gorgo (8 years old), standing by his father.
He asked Cleomenes to send his daughter away, but Cleomenes declined
and told him to say whatever he liked.
Aristagoras then started by promising ten talents if he Cleomenes could
send help. When this was rejected, Aristagoras kept adding up the
amount until it reached fifty talents.
At this time, the child cried out, “Father, this stranger will corrupt you
with a bribe if you don’t get up and leave!” Delighted with the child’s
advice, Cleomenes withdrew into another room and Aristagoras failed in
his attempt to gain help from the Spartans.
Foreign customs, cautious, conservative, and wary of foreign adventures,
and who allowed their women to be assertive.
In 498B.C., the ships from Athens and Eretria arrived. Aristagoras led the
Milesians and Athenians to launch a surprise attack on the Persians in
Sardis. They captured the city, burned the sanctuaries, and dashed back to
Ionia, where they found a Persian force waiting for them. In the following
fight, the Ionians were defeated; the Athenians barely escaped destruction
and had to return home.
Not surprisingly, Darius was furious. As a revenge for the destruction of
Sardis, Miletus was ruined. Its women and children were enslaved, and
the men were relocated to the mouth of the Tigris. Miletus, which had
been one of the most cultured cities as it was home of the philosophers
Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenens, and the geographer Hactaeus,
was wholly wiped out.
The First Persian War
Darius thought Athens should also be punished for
their role in aiding the Ionians in their revolt.
The Athenians was aware of the situation. They
began to worry that the mainland Greece might have
the same fate as Miletus.
Themistocles, a very capable Athenian leader, was
then elected archon. He persuaded the Athenians to
turn the Piraeus harbors into a fortified naval and
The Battle of Marathon (490BC)
In 490B.C. Darius sent an army straight across the
Aegean Sea. Along the way, many other Greek cities
offered earth and water as recognition of the king’s
supremacy. Upon the same request, however, Sparta
and Athens, among others, refused to submit to the
Persian king. Then, under guidance of Hippias, the
Persians landed on Marathon in northern Attica.
The Athenians knew what was coming and they were
now under a critical situation (betraying). The
Athenian forces were heavily outnumbered (more
than two to one ) and Plataea, the only neighbor who
sent help, had only an army numbered in the
Still, the Athenian Assembly immediately voted to
send their forces to meet the Persians.
Also a messenger was sent to Sparta to ask for help.
Greece : rugged terrain, so rocky and steep that
runners instead of horsemen were often sent to
convey message between cities.
The runner named Philippides who was sent off to
request Spartan help covered the distance of a little
over 200 kilometers between Athens and Sparta in
about thirty-six hours, which was quite remarkable.
More remarkable, the Spartan army, in full battle
gear, covered the same distance in three days.
However, the Spartans could not send their troops
immediately (celebrating a festival of Apollo, the
Carneia, and the ritual requirement forbade them to
send an army into the field until the moon was full,
which would be six days later).
The Persians had landed at Marathon, twenty-odd
miles from Athens, on the other side of Mt. Pentele,
where there was a small plain suitable for cavalry
operations, a Persian strength.
At the time when Philippides was sent to Sparta, the Athenian
army quickly marched to block the two exits from the plain of
Marathon under the guidance of Miltiades, who had the
greatest experience of fighting the Persians.
The Persians were prevented from moving inland for the time
being. Both the Athenians and the Persians seemed to have
been unwilling to take the initial risk of attacking, and for
approximately five days the two armies confronted each other
in stalemate across the plain of Marathon.
The Persian forces: cavalry, archers, and skirmishing troops.
The Athenian and also the Spartans: fought as “hoplites,” or
heavy infantry, armored in greaves, helmet, and breastplate,
and bearing a substantial “hoplon” or shield.
They deployed in closely packed lines, each hoplite bearing a
thrusting spear overhand on his right and shielding his
comrade to the left. The resulting “phalanx” was a formidable
formation, but vulnerable to the flank attack from cavalry.
And so, it could be seen that the Persian cavalry would be the
major threat to the Athenian hoplites.
Ten Athenian strategoi (generals) at Marathon, Miltiades being one of
them. Elected and each took in turn a day to command the army.
In addition, a war archon in overall charge, elected by the whole citizen
body. The war archon was Callimachus. As there was disagreement
among the ten Athenian strategoi whether to wait or attack soon, they had
a debate. Arguments went on until they learned that the Persian cavalry
was suddenly missing and probably heading for Phaleron.
The general Miltiades, who had been eager to attack, tried to persuade his
colleagues to launch the attack immediately. The ten strategoi came to a
draw of five to five, thus the decision fell upon Callimachus, the war
archon, who had a vote when the ten strategoi could not reach a majority
vote. Miltiades tried to win:
Callimachus, it is up to you, right now, to enslave
Athens or to make it free, and to leave for all future
generations of humanity a memorial to yourself such
as not even Harmodius and Aristogiton have left.
Right now, Athens is in the most perilous moment
of its history. Hippias has already shown what we
will suffer if we bow down to the Medes, but if this
city survives, it can become the foremost city in all
Now, I’ll tell you just how this is possible and how it
is up to you --- and only you --- to determine the
course of events. We ten generals are split right in
two, with half saying fight and the other half not. If
we don’t fight now, I am afraid that a storm of civil
strife will so shake the timber of the Athenian people
that they will go over to the Medes.
But if we fight now, before the cracks can show in
some of the Athenians, and provided that the gods
take no sides, why then we can survive this battle.
All this depends on you. It hangs on your decision --now. If you vote with me, your country will be free
and your city will be first in all of Hellas, but if you
choose the side of those who urge us not to fight,
then the opposite of all the good I’ve spoken of will
fall to you.
Obviously Callimachus was persuaded and voted in
favor of Miltiades, and the Athenians decided to
Miltiades ordered the two tribes forming the center to be arranged in the
depth of 4 ranks while the other tribes at the flanks in ranks of 8. Thus the
Athenian army was formed into a long line, thin in the center but thick in
the flanks. In this way the Athenian Phalanx formation would have no
worry of being outflanked. When the line was ready, Miltiades gave a
simple signal: “At them”.
The distance between the Athenian and Persian armies was about 1,500
meters. Herodotus implies that the Athenians ran to the Persian lines the
whole distance. The Persians tried to stop the Athenians with the arrows,
but in vain, as the Athenians were protected for the most part by their
heavy armour. Finally the Greek line collided with the Persian army. The
hand-to-hand battle revealed the advantage of the Athenian phalanx
formation, heavier armour and longer spear over the Persian army.
The Persians, after the initial surprise, tried to break through the center of
the Athenian line and almost succeeded. At that time Athenian flanks had
defeated the inferior Persian wings and began to envelope the Persian
The Persian army broke in panic and began to run back to their ships,
perused by the Greeks. Some of them ran towards the swamps and
drowned for ignorance of the local terrain.
The Athenians chased the Persians back to their ships and captured seven
of the ships, though the majority were able to escape. Cynaegirus, brother
of Aeschylus the tragedian, charged into the sea, grabbed one Persian
warship, and tried to tow it back to the shore.
A member of the crew cut off his hand, and Cynaegirus died in the sea.
Herodotus records that the Persians bodies counted on the battlefield were
6,400, not including those that perished in the swamps. The Athenians lost
192 men, among whom was the war archon Callimachus.
First phase of the battle
The Second Phase of the War
Herodotus reports that after the Battle of Marathon a signal
was given from Athens, urging the Persians to rush to Athens.
But when they arrived at Athens, the Persians found that the
Athenian army was also there, ready for defense. The
Persians then decided to leave and went back to Persia. The
Spartans arrived too late for the participation of the fighting,
but they were able to visit the battlefield and survey the
Persian corpses. After congratulating the great victory of the
Athenians, they went back to Sparta.
The defeat at Marathon was a minor event for the Persian
empire, yet it was an enormously significant victory for the
Greeks. It was the first time that the Greeks beat the Persians,
and showed that the Persians were not undefeatable. The
Athenians took great honor in their victory of the Battle of
Marathon. To commemorate the triumph, the Athenian dead
were cremated and buried on the site of Marathon, instead of
in the main Athenian cemetery. On the tomb of the Athenians,
the epigram composed by Simonides reads:
The Athenians, as defenders of the Hellenes, in
Destroyed the might of the golden-dressed Medes.
Very importantly, the victory of Marathon gave the Athenians
an immense burst of self confidence. Such influence was
enduring and could be seen in the next two generations, the
“golden age” of Athens, of Pericles, of Phidias, of the
Parthenon, of Herodotus and also of Greek tragedy.
The playwright Aeschylus, who also participated in the battle,
took part in the drama competition in Athens in 472 B.C. with
his play the Persian and won first prize. The play represents
the growth of Athenian political, military, and cultural power
after the victory. After his death, Aeschylus’ epitaph reads:
“The glorious grove of Marathon can tell of his valor --as can the long-haired Persian, who well remembers it.”
The Second Persian War
After the Battle of Marathon, Darius began
collecting a huge new army. He was now determined
to completely subjugate Greece, but was delayed in
486 BC when his Egyptian subjects revolted.
While still preparing to march on Egypt, Darius died
and passed the throne to his son Xerxes, who
crushed the Egyptian revolt, and very quickly restarted the preparations for the invasion of Greece.
Xerxes, Darius’ son and successor, made up his mind
in 484B.C. to attack Greece.
When everything was ready, in 480, Xerxes led his huge army
to march on road, which was believed to be the largest army
ever assembled. Though the figure was not certain, historians
estimated there were at least 500,000 Persian soldiers.
Besides, the Persian fleet amounted to 1294 warships. Before
Xerxes was marching out, he had sent heralds to the Greek
cities, asking for earth and water, a token of compliance with
the Persian army. Many cities, out of fear, submitted earth and
water to Persia. Xerxes did not send anyone to Sparta and
Athens, though, as messengers had been evilly treated there at
the time of his father’s.
All the cities on the Greek mainland, only 31 have
resisted him. All the rest have sent him the sign of
submission. He sent diplomats demanding earth and
And he sees before him spears glittering in the sun,
7000 warriors from the Peloponnese with the core of
300 Spartans. What means this, says the Persian king.
An exile from Sparta is called and Xerxes asked,
“Who are these people?”
The exile says, “Sire, these are not just the bravest
warriors in Greece, they are the bravest warriors in
Xerxes says, “Are you telling me that 300 Spartans
can resist my hundreds of thousands? Why don’t you,
you are from Sparta, fight a dozen of my men and
see who wins?
The Battle of Hot Gate
That’s not it, Sire, it is the fact that these men fight
signally brave, but fighting together, they are
invincible, for they fear only the laws of Sparta and
for that they will pay any price.
But Xerxes in his ate of moral blindness, will sweep
on, to the battle of 300 Spartans at Thermopylae.
the Oracle at Delphi had revealed the following
O ye men who dwell in the streets of broad
Either your glorious town shall be sacked by the
children of Perseus,
Or, in exchange, must all through the whole
Leonidas was fully aware of the message and was
convinced he was certainly going to die since his
forces were not adequate for a victory, and so he
deliberately selected the Spartans with living sons.
Then Xerxes against sent a messenger to Leonidas
to negotiate with him, saying he would offer the
allies freedom and the title “Friends of the Persian
People” but the terms were rejected by Leonidas.
Then the messenger asked him to lay down his
weapons, upon which Leonidas' famous response
was “Molon Labe”, meaning “Come and get it”. As
the Persian messenger returned empty-handed, battle
Then probably on August 18, 480 B.C., the war broke out. The Greeks
withstood the Persian army for three days though enormously
outnumbered. In the narrow confines of the pass, Xerxes could not make
use of his cavalry, and his overwhelming numbers could not be brought to
bear. On the third day, however, a Greek traitor betrayed a secret path over
the mountains leading to the rear of the Greek forces. On learning they
were to be facing enemies at both sides, Leonidas dismissed the forces.
Three hundred Spartans and also less than one thousand Thebans and
Thespians remained there to give a hopeless defense. Still they killed
many “Immortals”, the Xerxes’ personal guards, including two brothers of
Xerxes before being killed themselves. This was seen as the Spartans’
finest hour, and their hopeless, suicidal defense galvanized Greece.
The Battle of Salamis
Though Leonidas was able to withhold the Persians
for several days, the final victory went to the
Persians. The Persians had slain the king of the
leading Greek states, Sparta. The Persian army was
then pouring unopposed now toward Athens. With
several other city-states gone over to the Persian king,
like Thessaly, there was no armed force between the
Persian king and the borders on Athens. Athens was
at its critical moment.
Themistocles also tried to persuade the Athenians to abandon their city. In
the end, though reluctant, the Athenians made their calm decision to
evacuate their country. Both homes that had been there for generations, the
shrines (神祠) of their gods, the tombs of their ancestors were all to be
evacuated. Since, Themistocles insisted that “the wood walls” in the
words of the Oracle of Delphi “only the wooden walls would survive”
meant the ships, Athenians loaded their women, their children, some of the
older men onboard their ships and ferry them across to Salamis and also
the city of Trizin, an allied city which agreed to give them shelter.
So, as Themistocles managed to persuade the Greek fleet from
Artemesium to land at Salamis, by August 26 480 B.C. all were evacuated
from Athens with the exception of only a few die-hards and priests at the
The Persians then rushed into Attica and entered the deserted city of
Athens. The Persians gazed in wonder at what they saw in Athens and
then after robbing the houses, set fire, and burned all the most beautiful
buildings to ashes including the old temples in Acropolis for the revenge
of burning the Sardis.
220.127.116.11 War at Salamis
At the same time, the Persian fleet arrived at Phaleron on August 29,
which at the time served as the main port for Athens. With the falling of
Athens, the Peloponnesians led by Sparta were even more eager to
withdraw to the Isthmus of Corinth. Themistocles warned that the
Athenians would pack up and head off to southern Italy to start over if the
Peloponnesians left. The ally then stayed for the Greeks had no chance of
winning at sea without the Athenian fleet.
But as time passed, the disagreement remained. In the heated
debate, Themistocles skilled himself just for a moment, sent
off his most trusted servant, taking to Xerxes his secret
message. The message was that Themistocles himself was
now on the side of the Persians and was providing Xerxes
valuable information ---the Greek fleet was about to leave,
and if Xerxes would block the west wood isle, “the Greeks
would be trapped like fish in a barrel”. Xerxes took the advice
and sent off his fleet to bottle up the Greeks to the west. The
Greeks then were forced to prepare for battle in the Salamis
The Persians spent a busy night, dispatching his troops and
preparing their assault. Some of his best ships, his Phoenician
and Ionian ships, were blockading the east outlet, Egyptian
ships the west side, and the whole battle would be fought
there at the east outlet. Xerxes even sent off hoplites on a
small island near Salamis to kill any Greeks who tried to
swim the shores. The Greeks, however, were able to take a
rest before entering into battle. Themistocles demonstrated his
prowess again by trying to lure the Persians into the narrows
from the Phaleron the east for he knew that the Persian ships
were lighter and, more maneuverable. In the narrow waters of
the straits, their maneuverability would be limited and it
would also be hard to bring their superior number into play.
causes sizable waves to develop. Then, the Persian ships would set higher
in the water than the Greek triremes, and such waves would flow them off.
As the light begins to break, the Persian ships began to row in. Xerxes,
meanwhile, had set himself up on the mainland with a good view of the
whole channel, believing that his presence would encourage his sailors
and marines to perform best. The Greek did not immediately engage the
Persians, instead they rowed backward further into the bay to draw the
Persians even further. In the early morning around 7:30 or 8, the wind
really came up and waves began to rise. In mid-early morning the Greeks
moved forward to battle, shouting “as Themistocles tells us, row for your
fathers, row for your children, row for your ancestors, row for freedom!”.
The Athenians triremes fought very bravely; they rowed up to
the enemy ship, pulled the oars on one side and then slided by,
cutting off the enemy’s oars, disabling it, and making it
lurched in the water. The Persians’ superiority in numbers was
in effect a hindrance (阻碍) in the narrows, but the ships
began to run afar of one another and they are drawn ever
further in by the Greeks, and the Greeks, on the other hand,
could dart in and out, slashing, ramming, boarding, cutting off
the oars of the Persian ships, and then seeking other water.
And so it went on.
By the end of the day, the Persians had suffered a great loss—roughly 200
ships to Greek losses of forty or so. Themistocles proved right – the
narrows were the place to fight, and, in the end, “wooden walls” had
Xerxes watched from his throne, got furious and his reaction was to
execute his Phoenician captains for alleged cowardice in the battle,
without realizing it was his own fault to have caused the defeat. Soon
enough the bulk of the Persian land forces withdrew and began the slow
march back to Asia. Xerxes left his brother-in-law Mardonius, an able and
experienced Persian commander, as commander of a force of 300,000 men.
His plan was to renew the land offensive the following spring in northern
The Greeks were over joyous over their naval victory at Salamis. The
Greeks would ever honor the memory of these men who had fought the
Salamis, honoring them with simple little epitaph (墓志铭), like “we once
lived in Corinth, and now we lie dead here—at Salamis. The youth of
Greece given its life for freedom”.
A year later, in 479 B.C., the two forces, one led by Pausanias, the
successor of Leonidas, and one led by Mardonius, met in the Battle of
Plataea. Mardonius was killed and the Persian army was totally defeated.
Meanwhile, the Greek fleet led by the other Spartan king, Eurybiades,
chased the Persian navy eastward and destroyed the Persian fleet at the
Battle of Mycale near Miletus, eventually liberating the Ionians.
The victories at Plataea and Mycale marked the end of the war that had
begun with Xerxes’s invasion. Celebration broke out across the Greek
world. It is said that “no dead in history were honored more than the dead
of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis”.
Why the Greeks Won
As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, sources on the Persians Wars
are mainly from the great book Histories by Greek great historian Herodotus.
Reading his Histories, we could see that Herodotus seems to attribute largely the
loss of the Persians in the war, especially the war of Salamis to the character flaws
on the part of Xerxes, mainly his hybris. We, however, could see that there should
be more than that though Xerxes, a Persian despot, in fact committed foolish
It is beyond this book to give a thorough analysis for such an issue. But by
reading Herodotus’ Histories, we could easily draw the essential distinction
between Greeks and Persians. Such a distinction seen from the perspective of
Herodotus is that the Greeks are free and the Persians are not. The Persians,
courageous, honest, capable, filled with all sorts of virtues though, are not free. In
Herodotus’ view, “even though they were vastly outnumbered, the Greeks won the
Persian Wars, and finally deserved to win, because they were free”. That is what
sets the Greeks apart and, what is more, that is also what brings about the Greeks’
Golden Age after their victory in the Persians Wars, the flourishing of their great