2nd Persian Invasion
thorn in their side. Xerxes father Darius had begun the planning of this
invasion and after he died it became Xerxes number one priority. Little
did he know that he was going to be outclassed at every move, although
the Greeks were heavily outnumbered. The exact numbers of each side
Many factors gave the Greeks an advantage. The union of the states; the
superiority of the soldiers at one-on-one combat; the strength of the
points in the Greeks favour. Afterwards they stated that they were free
could see all these advantages and put them to good use. He was once
unmistakable natural genius; ….He was particularly remarkable at
or evil. To sum him up in a few words, it may be said that through force
of genius and by rapidity of action this man was supreme at doing
precisely the right thing at precisely the right moment. (2)
Themistocles was held in high regard in Athens, enough to be
chosen archon in 493 BC. After the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.
Athens was sure that the Persian threat was over. Themistocles was not
as confident. He wanted to build more ships for the Athenian Navy with
the Persian forces would not return, did not agree with this. Themistocles
played upon their competitiveness and convinced them that the ships
were for use against a neighbouring state. They then agreed to build 200
new triremes. When it was evident that the Persians were coming
Themistocles was the only man willing to take the position as
Commander-in-Chief of Athens.
(1) Plutarch, Themistocles – 2
(2) Thucydides, 1: 138
In 481 BC, thirty-one Greek states met at Corinth. They decided
to join forces against the Persian barbarians. This union is the major
supplied the most ships they should be the leaders. Thucydides says:
Themistocles immediately saw the danger of disagreement at
this stage: he therefore surrendered his own command to Eurybiades and
soothed the Athenians pride by promising them that if they proved their
valour in the fighting, he would guarantee that the rest of the Greeks
would accept their leadership later on. For this action Themistocles is
generally regarded as the man most directly responsible for saving
The men who had been ostracised in the preceding ten years were
had happened in previous invasions. Aristedes; who was Themistocles
greatest political opposition ; was one of these men. He became an
important part of one of Themistocles plans. One of the important
advantages that Greece had was her knowledge of the terrain and the
surrounding seas and he did not want these exiled men to provide any
information that might jeopardise that advantage.
Themistocles strategy was to fight the barbarians at sea, far away
from mainland Greece. He believed that the only way to win was at sea.
This plan was opposed and his troops were sent to Tempe with the
Spartans. They found the mountains here too hard to defend and
returned to Thermopylae. Thermistocles believed that Thermopylae was
an excellent place for battle as it was restricted with mountains on one
side and sea-side cliffs on the other leaving only a narrow pass for travel.
This meant that a small number of soldiers would be facing each other
and this suited the Greeks much more than the Persians. Themistocles
and his fleet were sent to defend Artemesium while troops stayed to
defend Thermopylae. The Persians lost many soldiers at Thermopylae,
much to King Xerxes disgust. The small army at Thermopylae included
were far superior at one-on-one combat, were able to hold off the
Persians. The Persians were told about a pass over the mountains and
were able to surround the Greeks and kill them all; including King
(3) Plutarch, Themistocles – 7
The battle at Artemisium, although not a victory, damaged many
of the Persians ships and killed many Persian men. The local knowledge
once again aided the Greek fleet. They were able to avoid the storms that
caused the Persians to lose many of its ships. When Themistocles heard
of what happened at Thermopylae he decided to withdraw under the
King Xerxes and the Persian forces continued down the coast.
Themistocles ordered the evacuation of Athens to Troezen, Aegina and
the saviour of Greece. Themistocles believed that these wood walls
were the ships of the Greek fleet. The Acropolis had wooden walls and
some people barricaded themselves inside. The Acropolis was raided by
the Persians and all within were killed. Athens was destroyed.
Many Greeks wanted to get in the ships and flee but Themistocles
convinced them to stay and fight. Some wanted to fight the barbarians at
the Isthmus but Themistocles pointed out that the Greek ships would
perform better in smaller, narrow straits than in the open sea. He devised
a plan to lure the Persians to the narrow straits around Salamis. A slave
was sent to King Xerxes to tell him that the Greeks planned to flee at
night. Upon hearing this he sent guards to watch the exits from the bays
of Salamis. Themistocles appears to have chosen the time for the
battle as judiciously as he had the place. (4) He waited until the seas and
the weather was perfect for the Greek fleet but was a burden to the
Persians. The Greek ships were small and lay low in the water. The
Persian ships were difficult to manouvre in the swell and breeze that
use their skilful boatmanship and defeat the Persians.
After the Greek victory at Salamis, Themistocles and
Aristedes put their differences aside. They needed a way to get Xerxes to
go home. There was consideration to destroy a bridge at Hellespont, that
Xerxes had spent a considerable amount of time and money building.
Xerxes that it was going to be destroyed. When Xerxes heard this he
withdrew immediately. He left behind a contingent of men under the
leadership of Maridonis.
There were two more battles; at Mycale and Platea. The Greeks
won both these battles and secured many poleis and the Aegean Sea.
(4) Plutarch, Themistocles – 14
The Persians did accomplish what they had initially set out to do.
They had gained their revenge and destroyed Athens. The Greeks
however defended themselves admirably against the large Persian force
and forced the withdrawal of the barbarians. The Greeks had used all
available resources; soldiers, ships, and local knowledge. Luckily for
Greece, Themistocles used his genius for good not evil. He was the one
man who was able to effectively use all of Greeces and his own resources
to their maximum potential. So although the Persian force was many
times larger than the Greek force Themistocles was able to use the
courage and wisdom of his men to their full potential. The combination
of five things gave Greece the advantage it needed to defeat the Persians.
The union; the local knowledge of the terrain and the seas; the superior
one-on-one combat abilities of the soldiers; the psychological strength of
men fighting for their countries freedom and the tactics and strategy used
by the leaders. I have to wonder though if the outcome would have been
the same if it wasn t for Themistocles!