Empire of Persia - History - Greco-Persian Wars

Greco-Persian Wars

By the 5th century BCE the Kings of Persia were either ruling over or had subordinated territories roughly encompassing today's Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel/ Palestine, Kuwait, Egypt, northern Libya, Turkey, Cyprus, parts of Greece, Macedonia (ancient kingdom), Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, parts of northern Arabia, and some parts of north-western India/ Pakistan.

The Ionian Revolt in 499 BCE, and associated revolts in Aeolis, Doris, Cyprus and Caria, were military rebellions by several regions of Asia Minor against Persian rule, lasting from 499 to 493 BCE At the heart of the rebellion was the dissatisfaction of the Greek cities of Asia Minor with the tyrants appointed by Persia to rule them, along with the individual actions of two Milesian tyrants, Histiaeus and Aristagoras. In 499 BCE, the then tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, launched a joint expedition with the Persian satrap Artaphernes to conquer Naxos, in an attempt to bolster his position in Miletus (both financially and in terms of prestige). The mission was a debacle, and sensing his imminent removal as tyrant, Aristagoras chose to incite the whole of Ionia into rebellion against the Persian king Darius the Great.

The Persians continued to reduce the cities along the west coast that still held out against them, before finally imposing a peace settlement in 493 BCE on Ionia that was generally considered to be both just and fair. The Ionian Revolt constituted the first major conflict between Greece and the Achaemenid Empire, and as such represents the first phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Asia Minor had been brought back into the Persian fold, but Darius had vowed to punish Athens and Eretria for their support for the revolt. Moreover, seeing that the political situation in Greece posed a continued threat to the stability of his Empire, he decided to embark on the conquest of all of Greece. However, the Persian forces were defeated at the Battle of Marathon and Darius would die before having the chance to launch an invasion of Greece.

Xerxes I (485–465 BCE, Old Persian Xšayārša "Hero Among Kings"), son of Darius I, vowed to complete the job. He organized a massive invasion aiming to conquer Greece. His army entered Greece from the north, meeting little or no resistance through Macedonia and Thessaly, but was delayed by a small Greek force for three days at Thermopylae. A simultaneous naval battle at Artemisium was tactically indecisive as large storms destroyed ships from both sides. The battle was stopped prematurely when the Greeks received news of the defeat at Thermopylae and retreated. The battle was a strategic victory for the Persians, giving them uncontested control of Artemisium and the Aegean Sea.

Following his victory at the Battle of Thermopylae, Xerxes sacked the evacuated city of Athens and prepared to meet the Greeks at the strategic Isthmus of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf. In 480 BCE the Greeks won a decisive victory over the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis and forced Xerxes to retire to Sardis. The land army which he left in Greece under Mardonius retook Athens but was eventually destroyed in 479 BCE at the Battle of Plataea. The final defeat of the Persians at Mycale encouraged the Greek cities of Asia to revolt, and marked the end of Persian expansion into Europe.

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