Saturday, November 2, 2013

Lacedaemonians and Athenians: Battling Persians at Thermopylae and Salamis

My other blogs are:
Lacedaemonians and Athenians
Battling Persians at Thermopylae
and Salamis
A great story then would be the events of the Persians vs. the Greeks up north, which primarily consisted of the Athenians along with a few others. Anyone who has ever had even a passing interest with Sparta probably knows what story I am speaking of: The Battle of Thermopylae. This story has been so watered-down by low-budget movies and that "The 300" movie that most people have no idea what really happened. There's a tremendous story involved, one that would take pages to fill in fair detail, but the background can be summarized mostly since the two most important battles of Greek history occurred simultaneously with the Athenians and the Spartans at Artemisium and Thermopylae.
The Persians couldn't help but notice that the Greeks all over Anatolia and the lonely people in the Peloponnese were getting rather numerous. In fact, of particular note would be Athens, which rivaled Sparta when on the sea, however Sparta had the most legendary army on land. Stories of Athens and Sparta clashing later on in history were often nick-named the Elephant vs the Whale, where both beasts are only mighty in their elements- water or land, but could never meet on even terms since they were overspecialized in one particular area. However, prior to this clashing, the Persians were seeing the Greeks steadily turn into world-superpowers, and remembering how the Persians first attempted to conquer the Greeks at Marathon had failed, King Xerxes, the son of the defeated Darius I at Marathon, decided to move in on the Greeks and scared the Athenians a little too much just a little too soon, since they immediately went to Sparta for aid for land-based troops. As I briefly mentioned, the Athenians were unrivaled in their Navy, however, since Persia had both a gigantic army as well as an impressive navy that was close to Athens' equal, the Athenians realized that by themselves they would surely fail, and so Athens and the other Greeks were doomed unless they united in a massive resistance. (Please make note that all of the Greek politics and political discussions prior to the decision to unite by the Greeks are totally left out. Greek politics are just too boring.)
------Athenian helmet below                                                                Persians below

The Spartans only gave 300 warriors to help the Greeks against the Persians, and so the legendary, albeit brief story begins of this legendary two-part simultaneous battle. Μάχη τῶν Θερμοπυλῶν & Ἀρτεμίσιον: The Battle of Thermopylae and Artemisium, was fought between an alliance of Greeks led by King Leonidas of Sparta over the course of three long days at Thermopylae and 7 days at Artemisium. Of particular note is that both battles took place simultaneously in August or September 480 BC. The Persian invasion was a delayed response to the defeat of the first Persian invasion of Greece at Marathon. In typical Persian fashion, Xerxes I amassed a gargantuan army and navy to smite the arrogant Greeks who defeated his father Darius the Great (Darius I), but this time he figured he would be more prepared for Greek unification, and so he set out to conquer all of Greece in brute force, but with little strategy, and obviously did not remember his father's mistake well enough. Knowing full well that the Persians' land troops would need to walk the pass at Thermopylae and also that there was dire need to block the Persian navy at the strategic point Artemisium, it was with this logic that the Athenian general Themistocles proposed to fight both battles at the same time, snubbing the Persian army in both areas before they all mass together again in brute force.
Following this plan, the army of Greeks consisting of about 7,000 men from around the Mediterranean all marched northward to block the pass at Thermopylae in the summer of 480 BC. The Persian army, whose exact numbers are far from known, are alleged by ancient sources to have numbered over one million but today considered to be between 100-300,000 by scholars, and arrived at the pass in late August or early September. Regardless of whether or not the Persian army numbered 1,000,000 or 100,000 or 300,000, no matter how anyone shakes the dice it was plain obvious that the Greeks were out numbered at least 10:1, which are horrific odds. However the Greeks held off the Persians for seven days in total at Thermoplyae (including three of battle), before the rear-guard was annihilated in one of history's most famous fight-to-the-death battles.
Of note as well was that during two full days of battle, the small force led by King Leonidas I of Sparta had been tasked to block the only road by which the massive Persian army could pass. After the second day of battle, a cowardly local name Ephialtes betrayed all of the Greeks by revealing a small path that led behind the Greek lines at Thermopylae. Leonidas was fully aware, however, of the impending doom of being flanked by the Persian army. And so ends the battle where most movies begin, for as the legendary Spartans make a last stand at Thermopylae with only 300 of them against 100-300,000 or even 1,000,000 Persians, most movies obviously just want the heroic stand in their films. However, contrary to some very famous movies, there were a little more than just 300 Spartans, as historical records show that probably 1,100 or more additional Greek of various origins also stayed behind in this last stand fight to the death battle at Thermopylae. Few survived to truly tell the tale, of their heroic deaths.
The Greek navy that was under the command of the Athenian politician Themistocles heard of the defeat of his Greek brothers and chose to regroup at Salamis for a last stand attack against the arrogant Persians. The Persians acted predictably, using brute force as usual and immediately overran Boeotia and then captured Athens, however knowing that such elementary tactics of strength would be used by Xerxes, Athens was already evacuated. The Greek fleet defeated the invaders at the Battle of Salamis in late 480 BC, and Xerxes withdrew with much of his army to Asia Minor. It was the following year that the Greek army crushed the remaining Persians at the Battle of Plataea, thereby ending the Persian invasion once and for all.
But was that the end to wars in Greece? No way! In typical Greek fashion, once the need for unity was gone the bonds between the Greeks of the various city-states totally dissolved, and instead of the Greeks fighting the Persians, they fought each other....up next is the Elephant vs the Whale!

1 comment:

  1. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.