Ancient Greek History the Persian Wars Term Paper

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Athenian Greeks vs. The Persian Empire Army

At the beginning at the fifth century B.C., the city states of peninsular Greece allowed themselves to embrace their own selfish separatist ideas, confident that no outside enemy threatened them. The northern Illyrian tribes, from where the Achaeans and Dorians once came, ceased their attacks on Greece. In the south, the power of Egypt continued to decline. In the west, Rome and Carthage were only on the eve of their existence. But danger lay in the east. The Persian Empire, now at the height of its power, was advancing west. Already the Greek cities of Asia Minor had been conquered. The Persian army crossed the Bosphorus straits into Thrace and conquered Macedonia and the islands of Lemnos, Chios, Imbros, Samos, and Lesbos.

Answering a call for help from rebel city of Miletus, Athens is brought into direct conflict with the Persian power. In the summer of 490 B.C. The Persian king Darius invades Greece. A coalition of the city states formed, headed by Athens and Sparta, but at the ensuing battle of Marathon only the Athenians fought the Persians, aided only by the small city of Plateea. The Greek forces, led by Miltiades, obtained a great victory, despite being severely outnumbered. The heavy armored hoplite proved no match for the Eastern light infantry and cavalry.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Ancient Greek History the Persian Wars Assignment

Ten years later, the preparations made by Darius' son, Xerxes, to avenge the defeat at Marathon and establish the Persian control over the Mediterranean are complete. Preceded by awe inspiring preparations, like the construction of a bridge of boats over the Hellespont and the cutting of a channel over the isthmus at Mount Athos, the Persian Army again invades Greece, marching through Thrace, Thessaly and Locris. The Greek historian Herodotus states that the total number of Xerxes' land and naval forces was about 2,640,000 warriors. He said that when they were marching, they drank many a river dry. Modern historians agree that the actual numbers were actually probably between 200,000 and 300,000 warriors, and more than 1,000 ships. Herodotus describes in Book VII of his Histories the composition of Xerxes' army (chapters LXI - XCIX), which was highly heterogeneous, being composed from nations all over Asia as far as India and also some European nations.

The battle of Thermopile followed, where an army of Spartan, Thespians and Thebans and other allied Creeks lead by king Leonidas of Sparta succeeded in delaying for three days the vastly superior Persian army. Only after they were surrounded king Leonidas ordered for the bulk of his forces to withdraw, making a final stand with only 300 Spartans and a few hundred other allies.

To protect the Greek allies from a possible Persian naval attack, the Greek fleet positioned itself off Artemision, commanding the straits between the island of Sciathos and the mainland. For three days a battle raged, ending in a stalemate and permitting the Greek fleet to evacuate Athens, which was captured and burned by the Persians.

Both Greek and Persian supplies were running low, and there was disagreement among the Greeks as to what their next move should be. Some advocated withdrawal to Corinth. However, the Athenian general Themistocles argued that it would be more effective to pursue an aggressive naval policy and hold their position. When he threatened to leave with the Athenian navy, the rest of the Greek force agreed to his plan. By some accounts, Themistocles then sent a secret message to Xerxes, saying that his Athenian navy was prepared to turn against the rest of the Greeks and that the Persians had only to attack to secure a victory. Xerxes, perhaps fooled by this ploy, attacked with his fleet of about 600 ships. When the Persian navy advanced, the fleet of about 270 Greek ships backed further into the bay, a tactical maneuver designed to draw in the Persians. "Crowded in the narrow strait of Salam's, the Persian ships were rammed, sunk, or boarded by the Greeks for hand-to-hand combat. The battle was a decisive victory for the outnumbered Greeks, who lost only about 40 ships, compared to the more than 200 lost by the Persians." The main result of the battle was that with his fleet destroyed Xerxes could no longer supply and maintain his army on the enemy territory.

After these, king Xerxes withdrew, leaving behind his commander Mardonius with a force of around 150,000 men. These forces were finally defeated at the land battle of Plateea and the combined land - naval battle of cape Mycale. The second part of a conflict which lasted for more than one hundred years and would end only with the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great ended.

But how did the Greeks succeed against all odds in defeating an army that was far more superior in numbers? Of course, they had on their side a few military advantages. They enjoyed the superiority of the heavy infantrymen, the hoplites, over the eastern infantry, and of the phalanx military formation, the most advanced form of military organization at that time. Also, in spite of being vast and awe inspiring, the Persian army, consisting of different nations, was led by commanders who quarreled between themselves, had no will to fight and "had to be led into battle with the whips" (Herodotus, VII, VIII). Aside from the elite Persian units like the Immortals, the bulk of the Persian army consisted of light infantry and cavalry from the vassal countries in the Persian Empire. Also, the Persian army had a very long supply line, and was highly dependant on resources brought from within the empire.

The Greek Navy, whose core was made up of the Athenian fleet, although less numerous, was made up of newer and superior ships, the triremes, which were manned by experienced crews, trained in naval warfare. By comparison, the Persians were poor seamen, and only the Greek cities under Persian control had supplied ships that were crewed by experienced sailor. But these were also inferior to Athenian ships. There should be noted here the crucial role that Themistocles had in convincing the Ecclesia (the gathering of the Athenian People) to build these ships in time, before the breaking out of the war.

But the greatest merit of the Greeks was that, although not united all under a flag, they were able nevertheless to present a relatively united front to the invading armies. Historically, the Greek cities evolved as independent political entities. Of course, due to favorable conditions, some of the city-states (Athens, Sparta, Thebe) gained an obvious importance in the internal and external problems of other less developed cities and imposing their will, but overall the political organizations of the cities evolved undisturbed, uncharacterized by centralization tendencies of a monarchic power. The only possibility of cooperation between these independent city-states was the confederation or league. The first Persian campaign had led to a momentary approach between eternal rivals Sparta and Athens. The second campaign forces a gathering of all Greek cities in 481 B.C. The different interests of the Greek city-states, independent politic and economic entities, surfaced again. Athens and Sparta, united by the critical situation, decide to defend themselves and their decision prevailed over the ones that chose an unconditional surrender. The Corinth congress decided also that, on the duration of the wars with the Persians, all internal hostilities among Greeks would cease.

Although Herodotus' books let transpire the Spartan and Athenian tradition for glory, it is nevertheless true that in all the actions of the Greeks we can see the courage that animates the free citizens of the Greek states. In chapter CII of Book VII Herodotus, through the character Demaratos, an exiled king of Sparta, now an adviser of king Xerxes, gives one of the reasons why the Greeks, however small their army would be, would nevertheless resist the enslavement by the Persians, as they value their freedom above all. Interesting is the fact that in the next chapter (CIII), king Xerxes says that he perceives that the Greeks' love of liberty will be their downfall, as they would not be capable to unite under one leadership. These predictions were revealed later to be partially correct as only Athens' acceptance of the Spartan leadership of the Hellenic League prevented the breaking of the league.

Consideration must be given to the fact that every one of these cities had within its walls a pro- Persian party that advocated peace and surrender. Even the two greatest enemies of the Persians, Athens and Sparta had those parties. In Athens, they were the supporters of Hippias, a son of Athens' tyrant Pisistrates, who fled to the Persians after being exiled by his countrymen. Also, one of the advisers of king Xerxes was the exiled king Demaratos of Sparta, and it is easily imaginable that he had many supporters among his relatives and friends, who were hoping that he would return if the Persians were victorious. The existence and strength of these parties was a crucial factor… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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