Sparta was a warrior society in ancient Greece
that reached the height of its power after
defeating rival city-state Athens in the
Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.). Spartan
culture was centered on loyalty to the state and
military service. At age 7, Spartan boys entered
a rigorous state-sponsored education, military
training and socialization program. Known as
the Agoge, the system emphasized duty,
discipline and endurance. Although Spartan
women were not active in the military, they
were educated and enjoyed more status and
freedom than other Greek women. Because
Spartan men were professional soldiers, all
manual labor was done by a slave class, the
Helots. Despite their military prowess, the
Spartans’ dominance was short-lived: In 371
B.C., they were defeated by Thebes at the
Battle of Leuctra, and their empire went into a
long period of decline
Unlike such Greek city-states as Athens, a center for the arts,
learning and philosophy, Sparta was centered on a warrior
culture. Male Spartan citizens were allowed only one occupation:
solider. Indoctrination into this lifestyle began early. Spartan boys
started their military training at age 7, when they left home and
entered the Agoge. The boys lived communally under austere
conditions. They were subjected to continual physical,
competitions (which could involve violence), given meager rations
and expected to become skilled at stealing food, among other
The teenage boys who demonstrated the most leadership
potential were selected for participation in the Crypteia, which
acted as a secret police force whose primary goal was to terrorize
the general Helot population and murder those who were
troublemakers. At age 20, Spartan males became full-time
soldiers, and remained on active duty until age 60.
The Spartans’ constant military drilling and discipline made them
skilled at the ancient Greek style of fighting in a phalanx
formation. In the phalanx, the army worked as a unit in a close,
deep formation, and made coordinated mass maneuvers. No one
soldier was considered superior to another. Going into battle, a
Spartan soldier, or hoplite, wore a large bronze helmet,
breastplate and ankle guards, and carried a round shield made of
bronze and wood, a long spear and sword. Spartan warriors were
also known for their long hair and red cloaks.
SPARTA WOMENS AND MARRIAGE
Spartan women had a reputation for being independent-
minded, and enjoyed more freedoms and power than their
counterparts throughout ancient Greece. While they
played no role in the military, female Spartans often
received a formal education, although separate from boys
and not at boarding schools. In part to attract mates,
females engaged in athletic competitions, including
javelin-throwing and wrestling, and also sang and danced
competitively. As adults, Spartan women were allowed to
own and manage property. Additionally, they were
typically unencumbered by domestic responsibilities such
as cooking, cleaning and making clothing, tasks which
were handled by the helots.
Marriage was important to Spartans, as the state put
pressure on people to have male children who would grow
up to become citizen-warriors, and replace those who died
in battle. Men who delayed marriage were publically
shamed, while those who fathered multiple sons could be
In preparation for marriage, Spartan women had their
heads shaved; they kept their hair short after they wed.
Married couples typically lived apart, as men under 30
were required to continue residing in communal barracks.
In order to see their wives during this time, husbands had
to sneak away at night.
FIRST MESENIAN WAR
The causes of the Messenian wars were two incidents, as Pausanias
tells us, although there is no doubt that the real reason was the rich
and fertile plains of Messenia, that Spartans wanted to conquer.
The first incident occurred in the borders of Laconia and Messene,
where there was a temple of Artemis Limnatis, in which both Spartans
and Messenians were celebrating. In the midst of the dance of Spartan
virgins, Messenians rushed and took the women. KingTeleklos of
Sparta, who tried to hinder them, was killed. It was said later that all
the Spartan women committed suicide.
But according to the Messenian version, king Teleklos had dressed up
young men as virgins, with concealed daggers. When their plot was
discovered, Messenians after a fight killed Teleklos. Anyway the war did
not start immediately after this event.
The second incident happened with the Spartan Euphaenos and the
MessenianPolychares, a distinguished citizen and an Olympic victor in
Stadium, 764 BC. Euphaenos, who had been trusted with the care of
Polychares cows, sold them and later killed his son who came to
inquire. Polychares, who was unable to find justice in Sparta, started to
kill every Lacedaemonian who passed the borders.
After these incidents, Spartans demanded from Messenians to deliver
Polychares, but in vain and so the war started.
Alkamenes, the son of the king Teleklos of Sparta, in a dark night
surprised the Messenians and entered the city of Ampheia, killing
everybody. From Ampheia, the Spartans were making constants raids,
but they did not succeed to conquer any other cities.
The king of Messenia, Euphaes, fought them with vigor, but for four
years no progress had been made, by either side. During the fifth year,
a big battle took place, which ended indecisive, but after this the
Messenians retired to the fortified mountain of Ithome. In the
meantime an epidemic fell in Messene, killing many people and
Messenians in their distress sent a citizen named Tese at Delphi, to ask
about the outcome of the war. The oracle told them to sacrifice a
maiden chosen by lot, from the house of Apetidae. The lot fell to the
daughter of Lyciskos, who refused to obey and went to Sparta. A
leading citizen then named Aristodemos, offered his own daughter, but
the youth who was in love with her, declared that she was carrying his
child. Aristodemos killed his daughter, opened her body and showed to
everyone that this was a lie. After the sacrifice Messenians took
courage and attacked the disheartened by the event Spartans, who for
six years postponed any invasion.
During the thirteen year of the war, the Spartan
king Theopompos marched against Ithome and another battle took
place, but again without a victor. When king Euphaes was killed in
action, Aristodemos took his place.
Five years later another battle took place, in which Corinth took the
side of Spartans and Arcadians and Sikyonians the side of Messenians.
King Aristodemos won a decisive victory over the Lacedaemonians, who
were driven back in their territories. Later things turned against
Messenians. Aristodemos after a dream, in which his daughter
appeared showing to him her wounds, slew himself at her tomb.
Shortly afterwards and during the twentieth year of the war,
Messenians abandoned Ithome, which was raised to the ground by the
Spartans. The defeated Messenians were punished severely and took
an oath, that they would never revolt and they would deliver to Sparta
every year half of their agricultural products. Many families fled to
Arcadia and the priestly to Eleusis. Those who stayed in the country
became helots. This was the end of the first Messenian war.
Not long after the annexation of Messenia (708 BC), Sparta founded a
colony at Tarentum in South Italy and it seems that the motive was
political. A group called themselvesPartheniai (children of unmarried
mothers), who were not recognized as citizens, attempted revolution
and Sparta deemed necessary that the best solution was to send them
SECOND MESENIAN WAR
Some years later Messenians revolted and their leader Aristomenes in a
daring move entered Sparta at night and offered a shield in the temple
of Athena. Spartans after this event went to the oracle of Delphi, which
gave them the answer "to take an Athenian adviser".
Spartans asked from the Athenians a general and they sent
them Tyrtaeos, who was poet and lame from the one leg. Tyrtaeos with
his poems encouraged Spartans and helped them to win the war.
During the war the leader of Messenians, Aristomenes, was made a
great hero and many stories talk about him.
According to the legend three times Aristomenes sacrificed to Zeus
Ithomatis, the so-called Hecatophonia, reserved only to the warrior
who had killed with his own hands one hundred enemies. Three times
he was captured by the Spartans but he managed to escape. His last
capture occurred in a battle between him and many Spartans, in which
he was wounded all over his body, but he was still fighting, until a stone
found him on the head and fell. He was captured along with fifty others
and for punishment were thrown into the deep pit Kaeadas, of the
mount Taygetos. All the others were killed, but Aristomenes fell upon
the wings of an eagle and survived. When he realized, that there was
no way to get out from this abyss, he laid down and covered himself
with his cloak, waiting to die. Three days later, during the night he
heard a soft sound and in the darkness show a fox eating the corpses.
He managed to catch the fox from the tail and he was guided by her to
a small hole, which he opened further and passed through.
Immediately he went to the city of Eira, which was besieged by
Spartans. Passing from their camp, he killed many of them in their sleep
and plundered the tents of the generals.
Some time later, in a stormy night and with the help of an informer, the
Spartans entered Eira. There was a hard battle, Messenians fought
desperately, the women too, throwing tiles to Spartan soldiers, but at
the end they were defeated.
Aristomenes with many others managed to brake the Spartan lines and
took the women and children in Arcadia. Immediately he chose five
hundred men from Messenian volunteers and with the help of three
hundred Arcadians decided to take Sparta by surprise, now that most of
its army was away. They were ready to move, when they discovered
that the king of Arcadia, Aristocrates, had sent a messenger to the
Ephors, informing them about their plan. The treacherous king was
killed in the square of the city by the Arcadian people with stones and
his corpse was thrown out of Arcadia.
The Messenians moved then to Kyllene and from there to lower Italy,
where they founded the new city of Messene. Aristomenes did not
follow them and went to his brother in Rhodes, where he died from
bitterness. The Messenians who did not leave, becameHelots and thus
ended the second Messenian war.
After the suppression of the Ionic revolt, king Darius started preparing
an army to attack Greece.
The Persian expedition that followed under Mardonios ended in
disaster, losing his fleet in a terrible storm in the promontory of mount
Athos. Darius was not disheartened and having in his court the tyrant
Hippias, keeping alive his resentment against Athens, he started
preparing a second expedition and on a larger scale. He first sent
heralds to ask earth and water from the various Greek cities. The
Athenians threw them in the barathron pit and the Spartans in a well,
to find there their "earth and water".
For the first time the Greek cities, in the face of the imminent danger
were all united, recognizing Sparta as the leader of Greece. Sparta
refused to send an army to help Athens in Marathon and only arrived
after the battle to find in their amazement that the Athenians had won
a complete victory (490 BC). Greece was fortunate that the next
invasion was led by the son of Darius, Xerxes, a much inferior man than
THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR 1
he unavoidable clash between Sparta and Athens came with an incident at the
friendly to Athens city of Plataea. Archidamos invaded Attica in the spring of 431
BC without opposition, since Athens had taken the decision not to engage to a
land battle with Sparta and thus started the Peloponnesian war, that lasted for 28
years. The firstten years of the war (431 - 421 BC) werenamed "Archidamios
war" fromthe name of the able king of Sparta Archidamos.
On the side of Lacedaemonians were all the Peloponnesian states with the
exception of Argos and Achaea which entered the war joining Sparta later. They
were also the Boeotians, Megarians, Lokrians, Phokaeans, Leukadians,
Ambrakiotes and Anaktorians. The coaststates supplied ships, the Boeotians,
Locrians and Phokians with cavarly.
On the side of Athens were the Plataeans, Chians, Lesbians, Messenians,
Corkyraeans, Zakynthians, Akarnanians as wellas the towns of the coastof Asia
and Thrace and all the isles of Aegean, except Melos and Thera. The Athenian
troops were29,000 hoplites, 1200 horsemen and 1600 archers and her navy was
300 triremes without counting those of her allies. The Chians, Corkyraeans and
Lesbians supplied shipping.
Archidamos forces which entered Attica consisted fromabout 60,000 to 100,000
men and at the beginning he tried unsuccessfulattacks upon the fortress of
Oenoe, on mount Kithairon, failing to take it. He then marched towards Eleusis,
wherehe arrived at the middle of June 431 BC. After ravaging the Thracian plain
he encamped at Acharnae, seven miles from Athens. In the meantime the
Athenians had collected the population within the walls and had sentall the
animals to Euboea. Archidamos evacuated Attica at the end of July and his army
was dismantled immediately. Upon his departurethe Athenians at the end of
September, attacked Megara which they ravaged totally.
At the spring of 430 BC, Archidamos again invaded Attica, but in the meantime
the plaguehad broken out in Athens. The Lacedaemonians with greater force
ravaged all the neighborhood of Athens marching as far as the mines of Laurium.
In their turn Athenians, with 100 triremes under the command of Knemos
devastated the island of Zakynthos.
At the third year of the war (429 BC) Archidamos marched towards thecity of
Plataea and demanded to hand him over the city and their land properties,
promising that after the war everything would be restored to them. The majority
of Plataeans were in favor of the proposal, but Athenians exhorted them to hold
out promising them assistance. After their refusal, Archidamos surrounded the
small city of Plataea and the famous siege started. For three months Spartans
tried everything to conquer the city but without success. They then decided to
blockade and starvethe population. For this they surrounded Plataea with a
double wall, but even this measurehad no success. After two years, when the
provisions of Plataea started to run short, 212 men escaped in a stormy
December night. The rest of the population surrendered in 427 BC. They were put
in trial before fiveSpartan judges and executed. The town of Plataea was
transferred to Thebes, who after a few months destroyed all the private houses to
In the fourth and fifth year of the war Spartans again invaded Attica. In the sixth
year of the war (426 BC) the Spartans did not invade Attica. A series of severe
earthquakes and floods occurred in various parts of Greece. At Athens the plaque
During the seventh year of the war the Lacedaemonian army under the command
of Agis invaded Attica, but only for the sorttime of fifteen days. Agis was recalled
and marched towards Pylos, becausethe Athenians had established a military
postat Pylos in Messenia. The Peloponnesian fleet that was in Corkyra under the
command of Thrasymelidas, was also ordered to sail to Pylos. Thrasymelidas on
arriving at Pylos with his fleet, he occupied the small but densely wooded island
of Sfacteria with four hundred and twenty hoplites and their helots. Part of these
men, two hundred and ninety-two, among them many belonging to chief families,
were later captured by the Athenian Kleon and broughtto Athens in chains, the
rest had been killed after a severeconflict on the islet. The event surprised the
Hellenic world who knew that Spartans never surrendered. Sparta was now in a
bad position. The Messenians fromPylos together with the runaway helots were
able to plunder the country, also Sparta could not invade Attica, knowing that the
captured men would put immediately to death.
The eighth year of the war (424 BC) was disastrous for Athens. They defeated at
the battle of Delium, by the Thebans. They also lost Thrace. After all these
Athenians seriously considered the proposals for peaceby Sparta.
At the same year one of the biggestcrimes, committed in ancient Greece,
occurred. Sparta pretending to give liberty to the most worthy Helots, who had
foughtbravely, selected two thousand of the bestmen and after honoring them
and crowning them with garlands at a ceremony, slain them by secretorders from
the Ephors. Thereason being, that Sparta felt threatened fromtheir increased
In the ninth year of the war (423 BC) a truce was signed for a year, on which a
permanent peace would be prepared. But the negotiations were interrupted two
days after the signing of the truce, when Athenians learned that Scione had
revolted and was under the command of Brasidas. In August, an Athenian force
by the command of Kleon was sent to Scione. At the battle that followed, both
Kleon and Brasidas werekilled and thus the obstacles for permanent peace seized
The Spartan king Pleistoanax and general Nikias of Athens, in the spring of 421 BC,
signed a peace treaty for fifty years, the so-called peace of Nikias. The Spartan
prisoners werereturned and Athens was allowed to keep the cities of
Anactorium, Sollium and Nisae. Not everybody was satisfied by the peace and the
allies of Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Megara and Eleans refused to ratify it.
During the peace between Sparta and Athens matters werefar frombeing
satisfactory. Her allies, Boeotians and Corinthians never accepted the peace and
Athens refused to evacuate Pylos. Alkibiades of Athens persuaded both Achaea
and Patrae to ally with Athens and helped Argos in the attack upon Epidauros,
which they ravaged. Spartans could not accept all these and assembling a large
army in which her allies were participating, invaded Argos and surrounded the
Argivearmy. A battle was ready to startwhen two Argive oligarch leaders came to
king Agis of Sparta and persuaded him to sign a truce for four months. A little
later Alkibiades leading a forceof one thousand hoplites and four hundred cavalry
came to assistArgives and persuaded them to attack the city of Orchomenos in
Arcadia. After they conquered Orchomenos they marched againstTegea. In the
meantime king Agis, who had being blamed for the truce with the Argives,
marched with a large forcein the territory of Mantinea and positioned himself
near the temple of Hercules. The Argives and their allies left the city of Mantinea
and in a well chosen ground offered battle. King Agis was ready to attack them at
this advantageous for the Argives ground, butwhen the Spartans came close, an
old Spartan warrior told him, that with his act was trying "to heal one mischief by
another". These words madehim to withdraw his men. After this, the Argives
took position in the plain and tried to attack them by surprise. Theright section of
the Argivearmy, which was consisted fromthe flower of aristocracy, a permanent
body of one thousand chosen soldiers drilled and maintained by the city of Argos,
were successfulto route the Lacedaemonians, but Agis with the rest of his army
which was more successful, hemanaged to win the battle (June 418 BC).
Athenians losttwo hundred hoplites included the generals Laches and
Nikostratos, the Argives and their allies lost another nine hundred men. Fromthe
Lacedaemonian army only three hundred men lost. Even after all these, the peace
of Nikias typically was still in existence.
THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR 2
In 415 BC, in the expedition of Athenians in Syracuse, theSpartan general
Gylippos with four ships came to the assistanceof Syracuse. Though his forcewas
small, he helped greatly Syracuseto win the war. He firstly captured the Athenian
fort at Labdalum, that made him master of Epipolae and build fortifications. He
then constructed a counter wall to intersect the Athenian lines at the north side.
A little later he was reinforced by the arrivalof thirty triremes. This small
participation of Sparta in the war was of the outmost importance.
After the Athenian disaster in Syracuse, thewar between Athens and Sparta
became maritime. Lacedaemonians gave a better attention on their naval power.
A new office, that of Navarchia, was risen. The Navarchos (Admiral) was even
superior to the Ephors. In thebeginning though Sparta had not much success.
In Augustof 411 BC, the Peloponnesian fleet commanded by Mindaros lost the
naval battle at Kynossema. TheAthenian fleet though smaller in force, in the
straits of Sestos and Abydos, gained a complete victory.
In 410 BC, Alkibiades managed to capture the whole Peloponnesian fleet at
Kyzicos. Mindaros was killed and the second in command Spartan sent a letter to
the Ephors in Laconic form: "Ships gone; Mindaros dead; men starving; no idea
what to do."
Spartans wereso discouraged, that they sent the Ephor Endius to Athens for a
peace agreement but the Athenians, who were influenced by the demagogue
Kleophon, rejected the offer.
Spartans now appointed a new navarchos, theable man Lysander. When his turn
of command expired, he was succeeded by Kallicratidas, who increased the
number of ships of the Spartan fleet. There was a naval battle at the harbor of
Mytelene with the Athenian fleet under Konon. The Athenians, who were
outnumbered, lost the battle and thirty ships. Another forty ships were saved by
bringing them ashore, near the walls of the town.
Kallicratidas then blockade the island. When the news arrived at Athens they sent
a fleet of one hundred and ten triremes and they were reinforced with another
forty later. The number of ships of Kallicratidas were one hundred and twenty. At
the small island ofArginusae, the Athenian fleet met the Spartan and after a hard
struggledefeated them (406 BC). The Lacedaemonians lost seventy seven ships
and the rest were retreated at Chios and Phocaea. Kallicratidas was thrown
overboard, when his ship was hit by another and perished. The Athenians lost
only twenty five ships.
Though it was illegal for an admiral to have a second term, Lysander, with the title
ofEpistoleus (bearer of letters), took the command of the Spartan fleet. He
immediately obtained large sums of money fromKyros, king of Persia, to rebuild
the fleet and made siege on Lampsacus.
The Athenians, who came to help, arrived too late to savethe city and took post
at Aegospotamoi (Goat's river) close to the city of Lampsacus. Lysander who
systematically avoided a naval battle, since his ships wereoutnumbered, he
managed to capture the enemy fleet after treachery or negligence of the
Athenians. All 4000 Athenian prisoners wereput to death. This event substantially
marked the end of Athens.
THE END OF SPARTA
After the battle of Chaeronea (338 BC) Phillip of Macedon marched through the
Peloponnese, welcomed by all the cities but when he reached Sparta they refused
him to enter. Phillip did not try to take by force the city and left. Sparta was the
only Greek city that did not take part in the League of Corinth, which was formed
in 337 BC, under Macedonian control.
In 331 BC, king Agis, the grandson of Agesilaos, raised a revolt againstMacedonia,
but he was defeated and killed.
In the end of the 4th century BC, Sparta build a wall for the first time in her
history, which was enclosing its four central villages and Acropolis.
When in 280 BC, the Celts invaded fromthe north overrunning Macedon,
king Areus of Sparta, who had tried to unite the cities of Peloponnese, led an
army into central Greece. During his reign the firstcoins of Sparta was issued,
three hundred years later fromthe rest of Greece.
In 272 BC, king Pyrros of Epeiros could easily have taken the city after defeating
the Spartans. Sparta becamea dependency of Macedon, regained independence
under the tyrants Machanidas (207 BC) and Nabis (195 - 192 BC).
In 265 BC again, having formed an alliance with Athens, Achaea and Elis and some
Arcadian cities, gave battle against Macedon but lost it and in his retreat was
killed (Chremonidean war).
The son of Areus, Akrotatos, in 260 BC leading the Spartan army against
Megalopolitans, he was defeated and himself killed.
In 244 BC, Agis IV came to the throne and starting a series of changes. He
proposed all debts to be cancelled, and to redistribute all land, in parts of 4500
citizens and 15000 Perioikoi. Healso insisted on strictLykurgian training in the
citizens for the remained 700equals (omioi) and 2000 hypomeiones and selected
perioikoi. He found in his proposals strong resistanceand Agis was put in trial and
executed in 241 BC.
The next king of Sparta Kleomenes III, began to reign in 236 BC. He married the
widow of king Agis and also tried to imposehis ideas. In 227 BC, in a revolt he
killed four ephors and exiled eighty of his opponents. That it was the first time the
ephorate was abolished in Sparta. He then redistributed the land into 4000 lots
and perioikoi as well as hypomeiones occupied them. He also started to enforce
the Lykurgos training and habits, under the guidance of his friend philosopher
Sphairos. All these changes broughtresults and Kleomenes had many military
successes. Argos and mostof Argolid and eastern Arcadia was conquered.
The Achaean league under Aratos of Sikyon, with the promiseof giving him back
Corinth, allied with king Antigonos of Macedon and recovered Argos and several
Arcadian cities. In his turn Kleomenes captured and destroyed Megalopolis (223
In 222 BC, at Sellacia, between Sparta and Tegea, a battle took place. The Spartan
army was numbering 10,000 and that of Antigonos and his allies 30,000. Atthis
long and horrid battle, Spartans foughtbravely. The whole Spartan army fell,
except 200 men. King Kleomenes fled to Egypt.
The following years, a series of revolts started at Sparta, king's ephors werekilled
In 206 BC, the tyrant Nabis, a descendant of Demaratos, who had fled in Persia in
490 BC, took the throne. An able but ruthless man, he confiscated the properties
of the wealthy and gavethem to the poor. By setting free slaves, he managed to
acquire an army of 10,000 men and he also extended his social reforms to Argos.
Itwas Nabis who foreseeing the incoming dangers fortified Sparta for the first
time in her history.
When the Roman commander Flamininus invaded Laconia and laid siege to
Sparta, after a few days of fighting a non honorabletruce was accepted by Sparta,
in which was losing all the Perioikic cities on the coasts and her fleet.
Later with the pretence of helping Sparta, the Aitolians sent a thousand soldiers
to kill Nabis and secureSparta. They managed to kill him but they all were
massacred fromthe Spartans. After Nabis assassination, Sparta was forced by
Philopoemen to become a member of the Achaean league. Her walls were razed
and the laws of Lykurgos repealed.
Under the Romans in the 2nd century AD, Laconia as a provinceof Achaea was
allowed to revert to a Lykurgian regime.
In 396 AD, the city was destroyed by Alaric.
In the 9th century AD, the Slavs invaded and the population was forced to migrate
The Byzantines refound a town and named her Lacedaemonia but her importance
had been lost by 1248 AD and disappeared fromhistory totally, by 1834 AD.
Today the city of modern Sparta occupies the very same territory of the ancient
The Persian Wars
The Greek cities in Asia Minor had not been united and often, like the cities of
mainland, they quarreled between them. Thales of Miletos perceived this
weakness of Ionia and proposed a united nation, consisting fromall the cities with
Teos, as the capital, but none listened.
At the end of the seventh century, king Gyges of Lydia conquered Colophon.
Responding to the aggression of Lydia, twelve Ionic cities formed a league, whose
center was the Panionion, a shrineof Poseidon on the promontory of Mykale. The
weak league was unable to stop the conquest of the cities, by the next king of
Lydia, king Croesos (560-546 BC). Only Miletos, which had not resisted, remained
an ally under a treaty.
After the defeat of Croesos by the king of Persia, Cyrus, the Ionic cities which had
foughtagainst him in the war, asked to be governed with the same terms as they
were before, under the kindly and benevolent king Croesos. Cyrus refused and
the league met at the Panionion and decided to ask the aid of Sparta.
Though the Lakedaemonians refused to help them, they sent a messageto Cyrus,
telling him not to harmany Greek city. Cyrus instead send the governor of
Lydia Arpagos, who had saved Cyrus in his infancy, to lay siege to the cities. The
people of Teos, unwilling to submit, abandoned their homes and went to Abdera,
in Thrace. The Phokaeans also left and sailed to Corsicaand been harassed by
Carthagenians and the people of Tyrrhe, they went to Region and later founded
the city of Massalia (Marseilles). Oneby one, the Ionic cities were conquered and
forced to pay tribute to the Persian king, contributing also ships and army.
Though the Persians did not interfere with their religion, social life and Greek
habits, the cities were unhappy.
The Ionic revolt
499 - 494 BC
The revolt of the Ionic cities was caused by the tyrant of Miletos, Aristagoras, who
tried to capturethe island of Naxos with the aid of the satrap Artafernes.When
the expedition failed, Aristagoras in order to avoid punishmentfor his promises to
the satrap, he initiated the revoltto the unhappy Ionic cities. The whole Ionia
rebelled and soon was freed fromtyranny. Immediately Aristagoras wentto
Sparta and asked for their support. King Kleomenes personally was in favor to
help the Ionians, butthe Lakedaemonians took the decision not to engage in such
a distant expedition. There is a story, that when Aristagoras offered Kleomenes
more and moremoney, his eight years old daughter, Gorgo, told her father "Go
away father, otherwisethis man is going to corruptyou".
After the Spartan refusal, Aristagoras wentto Athens and persuaded them to
supportthe revolt. The Athenians and Eretrians sent a fleet (twenty triremes the
former and five the later) and joining forces with the Ionians, marched and
attacked the city of Sardis, which was burned accidentally (498 BC). The Greeks
failed to take the citadel and in their return to the coast, they wereattacked by
the Persian army near Ephesos and defeated. After this incident, the Athenian
army returned home and did not get involve anymore, in the Ionic affairs. When
Darius learned about the burning of Sardis, in great rage, asked who did it. When
they told him, "the Athenians", he asked again, and "who are they?" Upon been
informed, he shot an arrow into the sky and said: "grand me Zeus to take revenge
upon the Athenians" and ordered one of his servants to remind him, three times
every day during the dinner:
"My lord, remember the Athenians"
After the burning of Sardis, many other cities revolted in Asia Minor, Thraceand
Cyprus. In 494 BC, the Persian and Ionic fleet foughta battle at the island of Lade,
close to the portof Miletos. The Persian fleet was numbering 600 Phoenician
ships and the Greek 353. Theships of Chios were defeating the enemy and the
naval battle would have been won from the far superior seamen of Ionic cities,
but when 50 Samian ships and another 70 fromLesbos treacherously fled, the
battle was lost. The Phoenician fleet, which was vastly superior in number, won
the battle. After a long siege from land and sea, the city of Miletos was captured
and destroyed. Mostof the inhabitants were killed and the restwere transferred
at Ampe, a town near the mouth of the Tigris river. Miletos was taken at the sixth
year, after its revolt (494BC). Thetemple of Apollo at Didyma, oneof the most
important oracle of Greece was burned, as the Branchidaepriests had
A year after the capture of Miletos, the poet Phrynichos used thestory in his
drama "Capture of Miletos", which was performed at Athens. The whole theater
came to tears and Phrynichos was sentenced to pay a fine of a thousand
drachmas and his tragedy was banned.
The battle of Marathon
In 492 BC, Darius sent his son in law Mardonios with a large army and fleet in an
expedition at Thrace, with the purposeto invade the restof Greece. The fleet,
which was following closethe land army, was destroyed by a storm, at the
promontory of mount Athos. Three hundred vessels werelost fromthe hurricane
and 20,000 men weredrowned. Soon after, Mardonios was wounded, when a
Thracian tribe, the Brygians, attacked his army during the night. With his forces
weakened, he returned to Persia.
The failure of the expedition did not sakeDarius. He immediately started to
preparea larger army. He sent heralds to all the Greek cities, asking fromthem
"earth and water", the symbolof submission. Allthe Greek Islands and many
Greek cities submitted. Athens and Sparta were so much insulted at the demand,
that the firstthrew the heralds into the Barathron, a deep pit in the walls of
Acropolis and the later into a well, to find their earth and water.
In the spring of 490 BC, Darius assembled in Cilicia a big army, he also prepared a
fleet of600 galleys. The commanders, Datis and Artafernes, had been instructed
to reduce to subjection the cities which had refused to give earth and water,
particularly Athens and Eretria. At first, they sailed to Samos and fromthere to
Naxos, the island which had repelled a large Persian fleet, ten years ago. The
people of Naxos fled fromthe cities, which they wereburned by the Persians. All
the other islands submitted and the fleet sailed to Eretria, where they found
great resistance. For six days the Eretrians fought gallantly, but on the seventh,
the gates were opened by two Eretrian traitors, both leading citizens. The city was
destroyed and the surviving inhabitants wereput in chains.
After a few days, Datis crossed to Attica, landing at the plain of Marathon, a place
which had been chosen by Hippias, the son of Peisistratos, who was
accompanying the Persians. In the meantime, the Athenians, upon learning the
news of the fall of Eretria, sent Phidippides to Sparta, to ask for assistance.
Phidippides, a postman by profession, madethe journey of 150 miles on foot, in
only 48 hours. TheSpartans promised to send a force, but asked for time, because
it was not full moon yet (one more week was needed), a Spartan superstition,
which was prohibiting them to march during these days.
The Athenians, who had decided to fight the Persian army at Marathon, had
encamped at the the valley of Aulona, near the temple of Herakles and were
watching closely their movements. When they received the news from
Phidippides, the Athenian Generals were divided, as to what was the best course.
Five generals wanted an immediate engagement with the Persian army, between
them wereMiltiades, Themistokles andAristeides, and the other five refused to
engage in battle, until the arrival of the Spartan army. The General Miltiades, who
belonged to the team of generals for immediate engagement, persuaded the
PolemarchKallimachos, to vote for battle. The Athenian army was
numbered 10,000 heavy armed soldiers (hoplites) and they had no significant
light armed men, nor had a cavalry or archers. Unexpectedly the city of Plataea
indebted for the help the Athenians had given them in their war againstthe
Thebans, sent their whole force of 1,000 hoplites, to their assistance. ThePersian
army was numbering in more than 120,000 men (according to others 50,000) and
had encamped at the plain, about one mile fromthe sea. Ithad been decided,
that if the Persians would move towards Athens or starting embarking on the
ships, they would attack them immediately.
After waiting for eight days, on the 17th day of September 490 BC, the Persians
started to embark men in the ships to sail at the defenseless city of Athens.
Miltiades immediately ordered to prepare for battle. Because they werenot
enough men to cover the length of the Persian army, Miltiades decided to
strengthen the wings and leave the center weaker, with only a few ranks. The
right wing was under the command of the polemarch Kallimachos and in the left
wing were the Plataeans. Miltiades did not immediately engage them, holding
back his men, to avoid their arrows. When Miltiades gave the order to attack, the
Athenians rushed toward the enemy, in order to avoid long exposureto their
arrows. With their war cryfell upon the Persians, who wereunused for hand to
hand fighting. After a long and hard battle, the Persians werevictorious in the
center, in which they had positioned their best men. But the Athenians, in the
right and left wing had defeated the enemy and by joining the left and right wing,
they attacked at the center. The Athenian attack had such a devastated effect
that in a shorttime the Persians retreated to their ships, with great loses,
abandoning their camp. At the sea shore, a vicious and long battle took place, in
which the Greeks tried to preventthe Persians escapeto their ships. ThePersians,
who took refuge in the swamps, wereall slaughtered.
Immediately after the battle, an Athenian hoplite, in full arms, run to Athens (the
distance of21 miles), to give the good news. Hepassed the mountain Ymetos and
then the hill of Lykavetos and through Acropolis came to Agora. Raising his shield,
he cried "We have won" (Νενικήκαμε)and then he collapsed and died.
At the battle, the Persians lost 6,400 men and seven of their ships werecaptured,
and fromthe Athenian side, 192 men were killed, among them the polemarch
Kallimachos and Stesilaos, one of the ten generals. The second day after the
battle, 2,000 Spartans cameto Athens, marching 150 miles in justthree days.
Finding the battle over, they visited Marathon and after inspecting the field of the
battle, wherethousands of enemy bodies werelying, they returned to Sparta,
having only praisefor the bravery of the Athenians.
The 192 Athenians killed, were buried at the field of the battle and a thirty nine
feet high tomb was erected over them. Their names were inscribed on ten pillars,
one for each tribe. On the white marble stone tumulus was written an inscription
by the poet Simonides:
"At Marathon for Greece the Athenians fought;
And low the Medians' gilded power they brought"
Two other tombs wereerected, one for the fallen Plataeans and one for the
slaves. Fromthe loot of the Persian camp, the Athenians offered the one tenth to
goddess Athena, Apollo and Artemis. It was fromthe Persian loot that Pheidias
constructed the chryselephantinestatue of goddess Athena. They erected
the and partof the loot was given to Plataea.
In the battle of Marathon fought the tragic poet Aeschylos and his brother
Kynegeiros, who fell in the battle showing immense bravery. Trying to hold a
Persian ship, his hand was cut off by an axe. Aeschylos, who was wounded badly,
considered his participation in the battle of Marathon, the highest honor he had
in his life, as it was inscribed in his gravestyle.
During the battle of Marathon, a strange event happened to the Athenian
hoplite Epizelos, son of Kouphagoras, who losthis vision and never regained it,
though he had not receive any wound or beating. He was telling later, that a giant
soldier appeared in frontof him, whosebeard was shedding his wholeshield and
this phantom was killing the enemies around him. He thought to be a god and the
bright shining of his armor, blinded him.
During the end of the battle, the Athenians saw that someone was flashing a
shield, fromhigh up on the mountain of Pentely and afraid that a traitor was
signaling a messageto the enemy to capture the city, they rushed to the
unprotected city of Athens leaving behind the tribes of Themistokles and
Aristeides, which had been tested in the battle. Tired fromthe battle in the hot
September day, after seven hours they arrived at the south of the city walls and
encamped in the temple of Herakles, at Kynosargaes. ThePersians, who had
entered the Phaleron bay, when they saw them they sailed for Asia.
490 - 480 BC
The disastrous expedition by the Persians in Greece, made Darius even more
eager to conquer Greece. For three years, after the battle of Marathon, he was
preparing a vastarmy, but a revolt that brokeout in Egypt postponed an early
expedition and in 485 BC, he died. His son, Xerxes, by the older daughter of
Cyrus, Attosa, succeeded him to the throne.
Within a year, he crashed the rebellion in Egypt and started preparations against
Greece, on a massivescale. For four years, provisions of allkinds and army were
assembled at the plains of Kapadokia, as well as food dumps along his routeto
the coastof Thrace. A ship canal was opened in Chalkidiki, north of mount Athos,
large enough for two triremes, in order to avoid the dangerous cape, which had
destroyed his fleet in 492 BC. He also build a bridgeon the river Strymon. In the
meantime, Egyptian and Phoenician engineers wereconstructing a bridge, over
the Hellespont, near Abydos, wherethe breadth of the sea is only seven stadia
(about one mile). The bridgewas constructed by old ships and held by enormous
ropes. Itwas later destroyed by a stormand Xerxes ordered the heads, of those
responsiblefor the construction, to be cut and three hundred lashes to be given
to the unruly Hellespont. Two new bridges wereconstructed by Greek
engineers using 674 ships, next to each other, one for the army and the other for
animals and baggage. The bridges were resting upon a row of anchored ships and
fastened by ropes.
At Greece, Athens and Aegina wereat war for some time. Aegina was one of the
strongestnavalpowers at this time and her ships were ravaging the Attic coast.
When a rich bed of silver, was discovered at Maronia, in Lavrion, the surplus
money of more than one hundred talents, was proposed to be distributed among
the Athenian citizens. Themistokles tried and persuaded the Athenians, to usethe
surplus to build a fleet, to help mainly the causeof the war withouta herald
(πόλεμος ακήρυκτος) with Aegina (498 BC), but without doubt fromfear of
another Persian invasion. In a period of two years, Athens had a fleet of more
than two hundred triremes.
When Aegina gave "earth and water", the Athenians asked the intervention of
Sparta, accusing the Aeginitians that they betrayed the cause of Greece. King
Kleomenes seized ten leading Aeginitian citizens and transferred them in Athens,
as hostages. After this episode, Aegina ended the hostilities againstAthens, which
was preparing for the forthcoming Persian invasion.
In Greece, the news for the Persian expedition had long been known. For the first
time, in Greece's history the cities were united under the leadership of Sparta and
while Xerxes was passing the winter at Sardis, a council of the Greek cities was
summoned to meet at Korinth (481 BC). In frontof the imminent danger, they
attempted to unite all the cities in one great league for the defense of the
motherland. But it was such the terror, Xerxes had inspired over many of them,
that the attempt failed. Anyway, the congress proved fruitfulin reconciling the
cities, mainly Athens and Aegina. The strategic plan of the Greeks, which was
without doubt productof Themistokles, was to defeat the Persian fleet in a naval
battle, with the hope, that their land army will withdraw, withoutsupport. The
proposition of Spartans to meet the Persians in the Isthmos of Korinth, was not
accepted, because all the northern Greece necessarily would Medize and thus
they decided, that the only place for defensewas Thermopylae. The Greek fleet
consisting from 300 ships was anchored at Artemision, north of Euboea, where
Artemis had her temple, opposite the bay of Pagasae, ready to fight the Persian
In Athens, the leaders, Aristeides and Themistokles were quarrelling, for the
coursetheir city ought to take. Aristeides, an able man but without a lot of clear-
sightedness, famous for his honesty and integrity, was in favor of keeping the
ancient Athenian habits avoiding to become his city a maritime state.
Themistokles, a man of genius, vigorously advocated that Athens ought to build a
fleet and become a naval power. Themistokles managed to expel one after the
other his opponents. Hipparchos was exiled in 487 BC, Xanthippos in 484 BC and
Aristeides in 482 BC. In order to havethe power in his hands and becausewas
prohibited to be elected archon for a second time, he persuaded the Athenians to
change the constitution, taking away the executive powers of archon eponymous.
The power was transferred to the ten generals of the tribes, who could be
reelected multiple times.
The battle of Thermopylae
At the end of the year 481 BC, all the Persian preparations for the expedition
against Greece had been completed and in the following year 480 BC, after the
spring rains, the vastarmy marched towards Hellespont. For seven days and
nights the army was crossing over to Europe. According to Herodotos, the force
including the attendants, was exceeding the five million men and the Persian fleet
numbered to 1207 ships. Thevastarmy was consisted from 1,700,000 foot
soldiers, 80,000 cavalryand 20,000Lybians and Arabians, with chariots and
camels. Thracians and Macedonians and cities of the northern Greece contributed
more than 300,000 men. They reached Thessaly in 480 BC, without any
resistance. In the meantime, a small forcesent by the Greek cities under the king
of Sparta, Leonidas, encamped at Thermopylae.
Athens and Sparta, having consulted Delphi, received terrifying responses.
Athenians, who could not accept the oracle "Flee to the ends of the earth", told
the Delphians, that they will stay until they die, waiting for a better oracle. They
were given another ambiguous one, saying that "a wooden wall will survivethe
destruction of Attica" and "divine Salamiswould destroyed the children of
women". In the Athenian assembly, Themistokles later argued that the wooden
wall was their fleet and if the god prophesized evilfor Greece, he would never use
the word, "divine" (θείη), butthe word "pernicious" (σχετλίη). To the Spartans
the oracle was equally dreadful, telling them that "either their city or a Spartan
king would perish".
On the arrivalof Xerxes at Thermopylae, he found that the place was defended by
a body of three hundred Spartans and about seven thousand hoplites fromother
states, commanded by the Spartan king Leonidas.
Xerxes learning about the small number of Greek forces and that severalSpartans
outside the walls wereexercising and combing their hairs, in his perplexity,
immediately called Demaratos to explain him the meaning of all these. Demaratos
told him that the Spartans will defend the place to the death and it was customto
wash and dress their hairs with special care when they intended to put their lives
in great danger. Xerxes who did not believe Demaratos, delayed his attack for
four days, thinking that the Greeks as soon as they would realize his great forces
will disperse. He sent also heralds asking to deliver up their arms. The answer
"comeand take them"
A Spartan, who was told about the great number of Persian soldiers, who with
their arrows will conceal the sun, he answered: "so much the better, wewill fight
in the shade".
At the fifth day Xerxes attacked but without any results and with heavy losses,
though the Medes foughtbravely. He then ordered his personalguard the
"Immortals" under Hydarnes, a body of ten thousand consisting fromthe best
Persian soldiers, to advance. They also failed and Xerxes was observed to jump
fromhis throne three times in anger and agony. The following day they attacked,
but again made no progress. Xerxes was desperatebut his luck changed when a
Malian named Ephialtes told him about a secretpath across the mountain.
Immediately a strong Persian forcewas sent under Hydarnes, guided by the
traitor. At day's break they reached the summit, wherethe Phokian army was
stationed and who upon seeing the Persians fled.
When Leonidas was informed about all these incidents, he ordered the council of
war to be summoned. Many wereof the opinion that they should retire and find a
better defendable place, but Leonidas, who was bound by the laws of Sparta and
froman oracle, which had declared that either Sparta or a Spartan king must
perish, refused. Three hundred Spartans and seven hundred Thespians took the
decision to stay and fight.
Leonidas did not wait the Persian attack, which had being delayed by Xerxes and
advancing in the path, he fell upon the Persians. Thousands of themwere slain,
the restwere driven near the sea, but when the Spartan spears broke, they
started having losses and one of the firstthat fell was king Leonidas. Around his
body one of the fiercestbattles took place. Four times the Persians attacked to
obtain it and four times they were repulsed. At the end, the Spartans exhausted
and wounded, carrying thebody of Leonidas, retired behind the wall, but they
were surrounded by theenemy, who killed them with arrows.
On the spot, a marble lion was erected by the Greeks in honor of Leonidas and his
men, together with two other monuments near by. On one of them, the
memorable words werewritten:
"Ω ξείν αγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ότιτήδε κείμεθα,
τοις κείνων ρήμασιπειθόμενοι".
"Oh stranger tell the Lacedaemonians, that we lie here,
obedient to their laws".
The battle of Salamis
The Greek fleet at Artemision, when received information about the great
numbers of the Persian fleet, left their postand sailed to Euripus, at the narrow
straits, between Euboea and Boeotia. The Persian fleet after sailing down the
Thermaic gulf, reached the island of Skiathos and anchored at Sepias, along the
coastof Magnesia. The enormous fleet was consisted from200 Egyptian triremes,
150 Cyprians, 300 fromPhoenicia and Palestine, 100 ships havecontributed the
Ionian cities, 100 the Celicians, 100 fromHellispontians and the restfrommany
other cities. Totaling 1207 and supported fromabout3000 smaller vessels. The
fighting men on the triremes were about 36,000 and with their rowers 240,000.
The Greeks along the coastof Thrace and islands werecontributing 120 ships.
When the Persian fleet anchored on the coastof Magnesia, a vicious stormlasting
for three days, destroyed 400 ships and almostall the smaller vessels. This
incident gavecourage to the Greek fleet and returned back to Artemision. As
soon as the stormended, the Persian fleet sailed around the Pagasian bay and
anchored at Aphetae. Fifteen vessels which have been left behind, thinking that
the Greek fleet at Artemision was their own, when they approached, they were
captured. But when the Persian fleet approached them, the Greeks seeing the
great number of Persian ships wanted to leave their posts. With difficulty the
Euboeans, who were removing their wives and children, persuaded them to stay
and engage the enemy there.
The Persians dispatched 200 ships, which sailed around Euboea, in order to
occupy the Euripus, justbehind the Greek fleet to cut off their retreat. The
Greeks, who wereinformed about the Persian move fromthe excellent
diver Skyllias of Skione, decided to sail during the night to Euripus and attack
them. But in the afternoon there was a change of plan and they sailed to engage
the main body of the Persian fleet. The battle lasted many hours and the Greeks
captured 30 Persians ships and the Persians justone Lemnian. At night, the
Persians had another misfortune. A big stormdestroyed mostof the 200 ships,
that were sent to Euripus and sailing in the dangerous shores of Trypes. Many
ships fromthe main navalbody werealso destroyed, butthis did not stop the
Persians fromgiving another battle two days later. A day before the battle fifty
three Athenian triremes came to join the Greek fleet. The navalbattle was
vicious, lasting the entire day. Many ships fromboth sides werelost and half of
the Athenian ships weredestroyed. When the news came, that Thermopylae fell
to the Persians, theGreek ships sailed to Salamis.
Though, the navalbattles in Artemision wereundecided, they gave courageand
hope to the Greeks, who thought, that with better conditions, they could defeat
the Persians atthe sea. The gulf of Salamis, wherethe Greek fleet sailed, was a
well chosen place to fight the enemy, becausein the narrow straits of the sea, the
advantagethat the Persians had in ships was diminished. The fleet was also
protecting the transportation of the citizens of Attica, who wereleaving their
homes for Aegina, Troezen and Salamis. In frontof the eminent danger, the exiled
Athenians, among them Aristeides and Xanthippos, were permitted to return.
In the meantime, Xerxes had reached Athens and surrounded Acropolis. A body of
his army stationed at Areiopagos, who by throwing arrows furnished with lighting
tow, burned the wooden defenses of Acropolis. The defenders of the sacred rock
did not surrender and when the Persians tried to climb the rock, they rolled big
stones crushing them. Persians captured the Acropolis, when they discovered a
undefended spot, near the temple of Aglavros. A small forceof them, ascended
the rock, entered Acropolis and opened the gates to the Persian army. The
Athenian defenders were slaughtered or threw themselves fromthe walls. All the
temples and buildings of the Acropolis wereplundered and burned. The Athenian
exiles, who went to Acropolis the next day to offer sacrifice, they discovered that
the sacred olive tree, which was burned to the ground, to have thrown a fresh
shootof one cubit long.
Fromthe ships and the island of Salamis, Athenians and the rest of Greeks were
looking the city of Athens in fire. Many disheartened fromthe sight, wanted to
withdraw to Isthmos.
The Greek fleet was consisted from180 Athenian ships, 40 Korinthian, 30
Aeginian, 20 Megarian, 20 Chalkidian, 16 Lakedaemonian, 15 Sikyonian, 10
Epidaurian, 7 Eretrian, 7 fromKeos, 5 Troezenian, 4 fromNaxos, 3 Hermionian, 2
fromStyrea, 1 fromKythnos, 1 fromKroton and some fifty-oared vessels.
(According to Herodotos, they were 366 ships, Aeschylos mentions 310 only).
The Persian fleet now was no less than 1000 ships. Theships that had been
destroyed at the stormand the naval battles in Artemision had been made up
fromthe coastof northern Greece and islands.
At the Persian council, Xerxes asked his generals, if they ought to fight. All of them
responded positively, except Artemisia, the queen of Hallicarnassus in Karia. She
told Xerxes, that if he did not attack, the Greeks would disperse. Attacking them
was an unnecessary risk notonly for the fleet, but for the land army as well. She
proposed instead of a naval battle to lead the land army and take Peloponnesos.
Though Xerxes applauded her opinion, he sided with the restand orders for an
attack were issued for the following morning.
In the first Greek war council, the Peloponnesian commanders, especially the
Korinthian admiral Adeimantos, werestrongly opposed to the propositions of
Themistokles, to stay and fight at the straits. They argued, that if the fleet sailed
to Isthmos of Korinth, they would communicate better with the land forces and
would be able to protect the unconquered cities of Peloponnesos. In vain
Themistokles tried to persuadethem and in the voting the majority choseto
retreat, but because it was night, they decided to wait until the morning.
When Themistokles returned after the council to his trireme, his
friend Mnesiphilos upon learning, about the decisions taken in the council, told
him: "Then, all is lost. They will disperseand Euribiades will be unable to hold
them. Go and try to makehim, fight here." Themistokles immediately, after these
words, wentand found Euribiades to his ship and persuaded him to summon an
emergency council. At the assembly, he did not wait for Euribiades to speak about
the reason of the urgent meeting and started speaking. It was then that the
Korinthian admiral insulted Themistokles and speaking to him loudly said:
"Themistokles, thosewho riseat the public games beforethe signal, are
whipped". Themistokles insulted, responded: "True, but the ones who are left
behind, they don't win the crown". Themistokles then proceeded to explain the
reasons why they ought to stay and fight at Salamis. Plutarch tells us, that in this
meeting Euribiades got angry with the language of Themistokles and lifted up his
stick to hit him. Themistokles then told him: "Strike, but hear me". He then
proceeded to explain the dangers involved, If they would not fight at the straits
and sailed at Isthmos. Firstly, they would loseSalamis, Aegina and Megara and
thus bring the Persians on the Peloponnesos. Secondly, that they will be forced to
fight in the open sea, without any chance, to win the battle. He reminded them
also, that many Athenian families at Salamis will be left unprotected. When he
finished, general Adeimantos said to Euribiades to stop listening to a man, who
has no country. Themistokles, in great anger then told him, that the Athenians
had two hundred triremes, which can take the Athenian families on board and
settle at Siris in Italy. Thesewords had the desired effect and Euribiades decided
to stay and fight at Salamis, without any voting. A trireme was sent to Aegina to
invokeassistance, by bringing the statues and icons, ofAeakus and the Aeakids
heros, Telamon and Ajax.
The next morning, obeying to the orders of Euribiades, the trierarchs started
preparing the ships for action. But it was such the discontent between them and
upon news and instructions fromhome, they demanded a third council. After long
deliberations, in which Themistokles tried to persuadethem, he sent his
entrusted servant, Sikinnus, thetutor of his children, who spokethe Persian
language, to Xerxes, to inform him that the Greeks werein disagreement and
ready to leave immediately with their ships fromSalamis and that he could entrap
them and obtain an easy victory. The council lasted until late night, when
Themistokles received the messagethat someonewas asking for him. Itwas
Aristeides, who was returning from Aegina. He told Themistokles that the
Persians had surrounded Salamis and it was impossiblefor the fleet to retreat.
Themistokles then told him to keep it a secret, that he was responsiblefor this
and asked him to take partand tell the news to the council. Aristeides explained
to the council, that the whole island was encircled by the Persian fleet and it was
thanks to the darkness, thathis small vesselwent undetected passing through
In the meantime the Persian fleet which had previously anchored at Phaleron,
with orders fromXerxes, had encircled Salamis. The whole Egyptian naval force of
two hundred ships sailed and blocked the straits between Salamis and Megara.
The rest of his fleet blockaded the straits between Salamis and Attica. Persians
also landed troops in the small island of Psitallia, that lies in the mouth of the
straits, oppositeKynosoura of Salamis.
A throne was prepared at the summits of mountAegaleo for Xerxes, opposite the
island of Salamis, to watch the naval battle.
At dawn, on the 29th of September 480 BC, the Persian ships, with the
Phoenicians leading the way and the Ionians behind, moved in three lines into the
straits on the sideof Attica and creating a long formation of three columns, took
position for battle. The Greek ships, which had been anchored at Salamis at night,
were also ready, boarded by the rested seamen. The Athenians wereposted in
the left wing opposing the Phoenisians. The Aeginitians and Euboeans were in the
center and the Lakedaemonians and other Peloponnesians at the right, opposing
the Ionians. Minutes beforethe beginning of the battle, the trireme, which had
been sent to Aegina, returned and took also position for battle. They weresmall
waves at the straits at that moment and the Greek seamen, who knew the
currents and had heavier ships, though equally fastwith the Persians, had a clear
When the signal fromthe trumpets was given into the still morning, the Greeks
started singing loudly their war paean "Apollo, saving lord" and moved to engage
the enemy. But after a shorttime, they stopped and started oaring backwards. At
that moment, a gigantic supernaturalfeminine figure appeared over them,
shouting with a loud voice, that was heard fromthe wholefleet: "you miserable
people, until when will you fall back?". When the Persian ships started
approaching, in a semicircular formation, the enthusiastic Greeks moved forwards
The first incident of the battle, occurred when a Greek trireme rushed in frontand
struck a Phoenician ship. That forced other Greek triremes to come quickly to its
aid and the battle started. The Aeginitians afterwards claimed, that it was their
trireme, which had been sentfor the Aeakids, that began the fight. At the narrow
straits of Salamis, the Greek ships had greater maneuverability and were faster to
attack. The Greeks were fighting with order, withoutany confusion, whilethe
Persians, though they werefighting bravely, had no tactical plan. As soon as, the
Phoenicians came close, the Athenians moved forward, assailing themin the
flank, cutting them fromthe restof the fleet and driving them towards the Attic
shore. After a hard battle, the Persian ships panicked and turned back, falling
upon their own, ramming them with their bronzebeaks.
Themistokles seizes the opportunity and orders his trireme to attack the Persian
flagship, which was under the leadership of general Aravignes, brother of Xerxes,
but other ships who were protecting the flagship, tried to encircle his ship. The
trierarch Ameinias, brother of the tragic poet Aeschylos and the hero of
Marathon, Kynaegeiros, who sees the danger of Themistokles trireme, rushes to
help and with the ramof his ship hits the sides of the Persian flagship and disables
it. Aravignes then, orders the attack on the ship of Ameinias and jumps to it first,
but he is killed by arrows. His body was taken by Artemisia and given later to
The ship of queen Artemisia, whom the Athenians had set a price for her head of
ten thousand drachmas, chased by an Athenian trireme under the command of
Ameinias, seeing no other way to escape, fell upon an ally Karian ship and shank
it. The Athenians after this, stopped the chase, thinking that the ship was helping
their own cause. Xerxes, who witnessed the event and being told, that the shank
ship was Greek, said about Artemisia: "My men had become women and the
While the Athenian triremes were chasing the Persian ships, causing great
destruction, the Aeginitians, who took firstprize for valor in the battle afterwards
(Athenians came second), got out to the open sea destroying the ones, that were
fleeing fromthe Athenians. The whole strait of Salamis was full fromthe wrecks,
when Aristeides with an able body of hoplites, passed over to Psitallia and
slaughtered all the Persian soldiers. At sunsetthe battle was over, with the
Persian fleet partly destroyed or out of action. The Greeks lost 40 triremes and
the Persians 200 and about50,000 men.
Though the Persians had been defeated, the land forces were occupying Attica
and their fleet was still formidable. The Persian monarch in rage, after the battle
beheaded some Phoenicians, thought to be responsiblefor the loss of the battle.
The Phoenician fleet after that, fearing the rageof Xerxes, left Phaleron at night
and sailed for home. Xerxes, who could not rely anymoreon the capability of his
fleet to protect his retreat to Asia, fearing that the Greeks might try to damage
the bridgein the Hellispont, ordered the best of his troops to disembark fromthe
ships and march quickly to secure the bridge. At the sametime, the fleet was
ordered to leave Phaleron for Asia. When the Greeks saw that the Persian fleet
was leaving Phaleron, they sailed after them and pursued them, as far as the
island of Andros. Themistokles, anxious to see the Persians leaving Attica, he sent
a second messagewith Sikinnus to Xerxes, telling him, that he, Themistokles, out
of personalfriendship restrained the Greeks, who wanted to destroy the bridgeat
Mardonios, in the meantime had eased the anger of Xerxes, telling him that after
all, his majesty had succeeded to conquer Greece, burned Athens and Eretria and
defeated their best army, at Thermopylae. This is whatMardonios said to Xerxes,
proposing himto let him stay with 300,000 soldiers,to complete the conquestof
Greece. Xerxes after taking the advice of Artemicia, he accepted the plan of
Mardonios and left for Hellispont, reaching Asia in forty fivedays. His army
suffering fromfamine, was greatly diminished. Mardonios passed thewinter in
Thessaly, preparing the army for a new expedition.
Battle of Plataea
The reluctance, which Sparta showed after the battle of Thermopylaeuntil a little
before the battle of Plataea, did not help the Greek cause. But when finally she
took the decision to engage seriously herself in the war, it did it in a great
Five thousand citizens, each one attended by seven Helots, together with five
thousand Lacedaemonian Perioikoi(each one attended by one light armed Helot)
marched toward the Isthmos. This was a very large army and never in the past
Sparta had sent such a big force in the field. At Isthmos, shewas joined with the
Peloponnesian allies and marched towards Megara. The army was joined there by
three thousand Megarians and finally at Plataea with eight thousand Athenian
hoplites. The city of Plataea also contributed six hundred hoplites, who came
fromSalamis, under the command of Aristeides. The number of Greek army were
now thirty eight thousand hoplites, who with light armed troops and the Helots
reached one hundred and ten thousand men. This number includes the eighteen
hundred badly armed Thespians. There was no cavalry and the bow men were
When Mardonios learned the approach of Lacedaemonians, he left Attica and by
way of Dekeleia crossed the mount Parnes and entered Boeotia. Marching two
days along the Asopos river, he encamped near the town of Plataea.
The Greeks after consulting the Gods with sacrifices at Eleusis marched over the
ridge of Kithairon mountain and descending from the northern side they saw the
encamped Persian army in the valley of Asopos. King Pausanias who was waiting
good omens fromsacrifices held his troops fromthe attacks of the Persian
cavalry, near Erythrae, wherethe ground is ragged and uneven, but even this did
not prevent the commander Masistios to attack the Greeks. When the Megarians
were in great danger suffering many losses, three hundred Athenian hoplites
succeeded in repulsing the Persians, killing the tall and brave Masistios. His body
was paraded in triumph, in a cart. This event encouraged Pausanias, who
positioned the army on the plain, in a line at the right bank of Asopos.
When Mardonios learned the change in the position of the Greeks he ordered his
army to be placed opposite to them on the other side of Asopos. Himself took the
postin the left wing, facing the Lakedaemonians. The rest of his army consisting
fromMedized Greeks, fifty thousand strong, wereopposite to Athenians. The
center of Mardonios composed fromBactrians Sacae and Indians. Thewhole
army was numbering three hundred thousand men.
For eight days the attack was delayed fromboth sides by unfavorablesacrifices.
On the eight day Mardonios by the advice of the Theban leader Timagenidas cut
off the supplies of the Greeks and captured a big supply in one of the passes of
Kithaeron. Artabazos too, advised him to continue this line of harassing and
wearing but Mardonios was impatient and ordered his cavalry to attack, which
obtained possession of the fountain of Gargapheia.
Pausanias summoned the council of war and took the decision to retreat, to a
place called the Island, which was two kilometers further and halfway between it
and the town of Plataea. When Pausanias at night gavethe order of retreat,
some Spartans refused to move. Threats did nothing to persuadethe Spartan
captain Amomferatus, who took a huge rock and threw it at the feet of Pausanias,
with the words: "with this pebble I give my vote not to fly".
Pausanias who had no time to lose since daybreak was near, he left
Amompheratus and his lochos behind and hurried to the island. Mardonios
ordered attack when he learned that the Greeks had retreated. His army passing
the waters of Asopos started to throw arrows to the Greeks, who did not engage,
even in this moment, in battle until they received a good omen fromthe
sacrifices. Mardonios at the head of his one thousand bodyguards was in thefront
line fighting bravely, until he was struck down by the Spartan Aimnestos. When
Mardonios fell the Persian army fled to their fortified camp. But this did not save
them, the Greeks managed to enter and a great massacretook place. Only three
thousand Persians who escaped, fromthe three hundred thousand, survived. The
Greeks lost only one thousand and three hundred men.