Persian and Peloponnesian Wars

The Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Persian Empire, the most powerful and organized empire of the time, and the Greek city-states. It all began when Cyrus the Great conquered the independent Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor. The Persian error was that they established tyrants to rule these somewhat free people.

Eventually, this drove to a rebellion later supported by Eretria and Athens,whom rendered 20 naval ships. In 494 BC, the Persians defeated the Ionians and brought the revolt to a hault. Nevertheless, the Persians were not satisfied with this victory. King Darius sought revenge against the Greeks and planned to conquer them and utterly stop any future uprisings. In 492 BC, the Persian general, Mardonius, conquered Thrace and Macedon, but his campaign was early ended by some contretemps.

Two years later, in 490 BC, a second army was assembled to attack Greece. This force traveled across the Aegean Sea, captured Eretria and then arrived on Marathon. Here the Geeks absolutely crushed the more numerous Persian army. This Greek victory conveyed them that the “almighty” Persians had their weaknesses and could be defeated. The Spartans witnessed this victory in showing up the day after the battle with 2,000 men and seeing dead Persian bodies all over the place.

After his loss in Marathon, King Darius began to formulate a plan and train an ever large army to completely conquer the Greeks, but he never lived to fulfill his desires. Darius died in 486 BC and his son, Xerxes, assumed the Persian empire and restarted his father’s preparation of a Persian invasion in Greece, which began in 480 BC.

Ten years after the Battle of Marathon, Xerxes traveled to Greece with a quarter million men and more than 500 ships. Many Greek city-states united to repel the invasion, but the Persians were just too strong and advanced with might. The route of the Persian land forces to Athens was through the narrow pass of Thermopylae, which was protected by 300 Spartan soldiers. These Spartan men fought, gave their lives, and bought the Athenians time to flee from Athens into the island of Salamis. Hence, when the Persians reached Athens, it was basically a ghost town and they burned it all down.

Now, just as the Persians took advantage of the ten years, the Athenians also did, and under the influence of Themistocles they built a substantial navy. Athenians at Salamis were waiting for the Persians with this strengthened navy and defeated the Persians by burning down their huge ships with fast and small Athenian ships; a strategy proposed by Themistocles. Seeing his defeated army, Xerxes fled to Persia, but left a military in Greece. However, the Greeks overcame this army in 479 BC through land and naval battles at Plataea and Mycale, which culminated all Persian threats over Greece.

With their winnnings, the Greeks formed the Delian League under Athenian direction to eliminate all Persian invasions in the Aegean islands and Asia Minor. However, the League’s aid in an anti-Persian revolt in Eypt resulted in a catastrophic defeat that suspended all further campaigning.

The Delian League required resources, thus the Athenians demanded the supply of ships and money. Years went by and some Greek-city states began to wonder if there really was such a Persian threat to keep funding the Delian League and prevail with its membership. Those Greek city-states began to ask themselves where the money was being catered to. They started to notice that Athens suddenly was undergoing a remodeling process. To create even greater suspicion, the Delian League moved its treasury from Delos to Athens itself.

With this impudent move, some cities withdrawed from the Delian League and seized contributing money to it, but the League obliged them back in. This ultimately led the Athenians to grow in “significant” power and as Greek historian Thucydides said, “The growth of the power of Athens and the alarm which this inspired in (Sparta), made war inevitable.” Sparta began growing concerned that Athenian Imperialism was a threat to all Greeks and it committed itself into fighting for the sake of Greek liberty.Therefore, in 431 BC, the Peloponnesian League (constituted by Sparta and its allies) invaded Athens, giving shape to what would be known as the Peloponnesian Wars.

Athens would not fight by land, but by sea, their specialty. In the midst of a probable Spartan invasion, Pericles advised the Athenians to hide behind long walls that they had built with public funds to transport food safely from the harbor to Athens. Yet, inside the walls, the space was very narrow and people were congested. This provoked them to not resist a plague that broke out in the year of 430 BC, which killed one third or maybe even two thirds of the Athenian population, including Pericles himself.

Even so, with this devastating massacre Sparta still could not seem to be capable of inflicting a definite blow on land and, as mentioned, Athens just dominated the sea. So, from the years 421 to 415 BC there was a stalemate and truce. But this temporal peace was then interrupted by the Athenian expedition to Sicily.

During the expedition, the Syracusans fought the Athenians with determination, causing Greek commander, Nicias, to call for reinforcements. Athens sent the reinforcements, but this second expedition was also proved to be worthless.

As the athenians were on the verge of heading out of the land, they saw a lunar eclipse. Comander Nicias interpreted this as an omen and was told by seers to stay and put off the evacuation for nearly four weeks. That was sufficient time for the Syracusans to block the mouth of the harbor and prevent the Athenians from escaping. The Greeks realized this and they desperately attempted to escape by land, but they were crippled. About 50,000 men from the forces of Athens and its allies perished.

Sparta had now risen arms against Athens due to its expeditions to Sicily, Spartans were fearful of it growing too powerful. Athens was routed, but this yielded no satisfactory victory for the Spartans, so the Peloponnisian War continued. The decisive impact was in 404 BC, a Spartan victory finally dissolved the Delian League.

Sparta was able to this by allying with the Persians to receive the help of becoming a mighty naval power. The conditions of this alleigance were that Persia would supply the necessary resources to Sparta for it to build ships and when Sparta won, they would have to give Persia back their dominance over the Ionian cities. So much for committing to the liberty of Greeks.

Anyway, Sparta defeated Athens and became an empire for a short period of time; Athens had to submit to it. This directed to the rule of the thirty Tyrants and now several city-states thought that Sparta was becoming too powerful. For that matter, they repeated the whole process of war once more and overthrew the Spartan Empire in 371 BC. By the mid-fourth Century, no one city-state was dominant. The whole Peloponnesian War had left the Greek city-states exhausted and vulnerable to the conquering of an ambitious leader, this would be Phillip II of Macedonia.

For all this, if Greece would have not survived these wars, Calssical Greek Civilization would have never developed to become a foundation of Western Civilzation. Their influence has endured throughout history and for this reason, their wars were vital moments in European history.

 

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