2Nd Persian Invasion


2Nd Persian Invasion Essay, Research Paper

2nd Persian Invasion

Persia, under the rule of King Xerxes, was preparing for revenge

on Athens. The defeat they had suffered in 490BC at Marathon was a

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

are unknown; as Herodotus, our major source, is prone to exaggeration.

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

naval fleet and the fact that the battles took place on Greek soil were all

points in the Greeks favour. Afterwards they stated that they were free

men; not forced to fight and this was the reason for victory. one man

could see all these advantages and put them to good use. He was once

told you are going to be a great man one way or the other, either for

good or evil. (1) Themistocles was a man who showed an

unmistakable natural genius; ….He was particularly remarkable at

looking into the future and seeing there the hidden possibilities for good

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 profits from the silver mines at Laurion. The Athenians, believing that

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

reason why Greece was able to defeat the Persians. Sparta was chosen as

leader of this union as they had the most military experience and had the

highest reputation as soldiers. The Athenians thought that since they

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

Greece,…. (3)

The men who had been ostracised in the preceding ten years were

told to return. Themistocles did not want these men to help the enemy as

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

King Leonardis of Sparta and his 300 bodyguards. The Spartans, who

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

cover of darkness. On the way home they left graffiti behind to warn the

Greek men that were being forced to fight for Persia to fight


King Xerxes and the Persian forces continued down the coast.

Themistocles ordered the evacuation of Athens to Troezen, Aegina and

Salamis. The Delphic oracles had said that the wood walls would be

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

occurred at the time chosen for the battle. Thus the Greeks were able to

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.

Themistocles decided to leave the bridge intact, but sent a warning to

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!

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