553 BCE Jan 1
, Anatolia

The Greeks of the classical period believed that, in the dark age that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, significant numbers of Greeks fled and had emigrated to Asia Minor and settled there. These settlers were from three tribal groups: the Aeolians, Dorians and Ionians. The Ionians had settled about the coasts of Lydia and Caria, founding the twelve cities that made up Ionia.

The cities of Ionia remained independent until they were conquered by the Lydians of western Asia Minor. The Persian prince Cyrus led a rebellion against the last Median king Astyages in 553 BC. While fighting the Lydians, Cyrus had sent messages to the Ionians asking them to revolt against Lydian rule, which the Ionians had refused to do. After Cyrus finished the conquest of Lydia, the Ionian cities now offered to be his subjects under the same terms as they had been subjects of Croesus. Cyrus refused, citing the Ionians' unwillingness to help him previously. The Ionians thus prepared to defend themselves, and Cyrus sent the Median general Harpagus to conquer them.

In the years following their conquest, the Persians found the Ionians difficult to rule. The Persians thus settled for sponsoring a tyrant in each Ionian city, even though this drew them into the Ionians' internal conflicts. On the eve of the Greco-Persian wars, it is probable that the Ionian population had become discontented and was ready for rebellion.

War begins

War begins

499 BCE Apr 1
, Naxos

The siege of Naxos (499 BCE) was a failed attempt by the Milesian tyrant Aristagoras, operating with support from, and in the name of the Persian Empire of Darius the Great, to conquer the island of Naxos. It was the opening act of the Greco-Persian Wars, which would ultimately last for 50 years.

Aristagoras had been approached by exiled Naxian aristocrats, who were seeking to return to their island. Seeing an opportunity to bolster his position in Miletus, Aristagoras sought the help of his overlord, the Persian king Darius the Great, and the local satrap, Artaphernes to conquer Naxos. Consenting to the expedition, the Persians assembled a force of 200 triremes under the command of Megabates.

The expedition quickly descended into a debacle. Aristagoras and Megabates quarreled on the journey to Naxos, and someone (possibly Megabates) informed the Naxians of the imminent arrival of the force. When they arrived, the Persians and Ionians were thus faced with a city well prepared to undergo siege. The expeditionary force duly settled down to besiege the defenders, but after four months without success, ran out of money and were forced to return to Asia Minor.

In the aftermath of this disastrous expedition, and sensing his imminent removal as tyrant, Aristagoras chose to incite the whole of Ionia into rebellion against Darius the Great. The revolt then spread to Caria and Cyprus. Three years of Persian campaigning across Asia Minor followed, with no decisive effect, before the Persians regrouped and made straight for the epicentre of the rebellion at Miletus. At the Battle of Lade, the Persians decisively defeated the Ionian fleet and effectively ended the rebellion. Although Asia Minor had been brought back into the Persian fold, Darius vowed to punish Athens and Eretria, who had supported the revolt. In 492 BC therefore the first Persian invasion of Greece would begin as a consequence of the failed attack on Naxos, and the Ionian Revolt.

Ionian Revolt

Ionian Revolt

499 BCE May 1 - 493 BCE
, Anatolia

The Ionian Revolt, and associated revolts in Aeolis, Doris, Cyprus and Caria, were military rebellions by several Greek regions of Asia Minor against Persian rule, lasting from 499 BC to 493 BC. 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. The cities of Ionia had been conquered by Persia around 540 BC, and thereafter were ruled by native tyrants, nominated by the Persian satrap in Sardis. In 499 BC, the tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, launched a joint expedition with the Persian satrap Artaphernes to conquer Naxos, in an attempt to bolster his position. 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 Ionian Revolt constituted the first major conflict between Greece and the Persian Empire, and as such represents the first phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Although Asia Minor had been brought back into the Persian fold, Darius vowed to punish Athens and Eretria for their support of the revolt. Moreover, seeing that the myriad city states of Greece posed a continued threat to the stability of his Empire, according to Herodotus, Darius decided to conquer the whole of Greece. In 492 BC, the first Persian invasion of Greece, the next phase of the Greco-Persian Wars, began as a direct consequence of the Ionian Revolt.

Sardis Campaign

Sardis Campaign

498 BCE Jan 1
, Sart

In the spring of 498 BC, an Athenian force of twenty triremes, accompanied by five from Eretria, set sail for Ionia. They joined up with the main Ionian force near Ephesus. Declining to personally lead the force, Aristagoras appointed his brother Charopinus and another Milesian, Hermophantus, as generals.

This force was then guided by the Ephesians through the mountains to Sardis, Artaphernes's satrapal capital. The Greeks caught the Persians unaware, and were able to capture the lower city. However, Artaphernes still held the citadel with a significant force of men. The lower city then caught on fire, Herodotus suggests accidentally, which quickly spread. The Persians in the citadel, being surrounded by a burning city, emerged into the market-place of Sardis, where they fought with the Greeks, forcing them back. The Greeks, demoralised, then retreated from the city, and began to make their way back to Ephesus.

Herodotus reports that when Darius heard of the burning of Sardis, he swore vengeance upon the Athenians (after asking who they indeed were), and tasked a servant with reminding him three times each day of his vow: "Master, remember the Athenians".

Battle of Ephesus

Battle of Ephesus

498 BCE Mar 1
, Selçuk

It is clear that the demoralised and tired Greeks were no match for the Persians, and were completely routed in the battle which ensued at Ephesus. Many were killed, including the Eretrian general, Eualcides. The Ionians who escaped the battle made for their own cities, while the remaining Athenians and Eretrians managed to return to their ships and sailed back to Greece.

The Athenians now ended their alliance with the Ionians, since the Persians had proved to be anything but the easy prey that Aristagoras had described. However, the Ionians remained committed to their rebellion and the Persians did not seem to follow up their victory at Ephesus. Presumably these ad hocforces were not equipped to lay siege to any of the cities. Despite the defeat at Ephesus, the revolt actually spread further. The Ionians sent men to the Hellespont and Propontis and captured Byzantium and the other nearby cities. They also persuaded the Carians to join the rebellion. Furthermore, seeing the spread of the rebellion, the kingdoms of Cyprus also revolted against Persian rule without any outside persuasion. Thus the Battle of Ephesus did not have a major effect on the revolt.

Achaemenid cavalry in Asia Minor. | ©Angus McBride

Persian Counter-offensive

497 BCE Jan 1 - 495 BCE
, Anatolia

In Cyprus, all the kingdoms had revolted except that of Amathus. The leader of the Cypriot revolt was Onesilus, brother of the king of Salamis, Gorgus. He then settled down to besiege Amathus. The following year (497 BC), Onesilus (still besieging Amathus), heard that a Persian force under Artybius had been dispatched to Cyprus. Onesilus thus sent messengers to Ionia, asking them to send reinforcements, which they did, "in great force". A Persian army eventually arrived in Cyprus, supported by a Phoenician fleet. The Ionians opted to fight at sea and defeated the Phoenicians. In the simultaneous land battle outside Salamis, the Cypriots gained an initial advantage, killing Artybius. However, the defection of two contingents to the Persians crippled their cause, they were routed and Onesilus was killed. The revolt in Cyprus was thus crushed and the Ionians sailed home.

The Persian forces in Asia Minor seem to have been reorganised in 497 BC, with three of Darius's sons-in-law, Daurises, Hymaees, and Otanes, taking charge of three armies. Herodotus suggests that these generals divided up the rebellious lands between themselves and then set out to attack their respective areas.

Daurises, who seems to have had the largest army, initially took his army to the Hellespont. There, he systematically besieged and took the cities of Dardanus, Abydos, Percote, Lampsacus, and Paesus, each in a single day according to Herodotus. However, when he heard that the Carians were revolting, he moved his army southwards to attempt to crush this new rebellion. This places the timing of the Carian revolt to early 497 BC. Hymaees went to the Propontis and took the city of Cius. After Daurises moved his forces towards Caria, Hymaees marched towards the Hellespont and captured many of the Aeolian cities as well as some of the cities in the Troad. However, he then fell ill and died, ending his campaign. Meanwhile, Otanes, together with Artaphernes, campaigned in Ionia (see below).

Carian Campaign

Carian Campaign

497 BCE Jan 1 - 496 BCE
, Çine

Hearing that the Carians had rebelled, Daurises led his army south into Caria. The Carians gathered at the "White Pillars", on the Marsyas River (the modern Çine), a tributary of the Meander. Pixodorus, a relative of the king of Cilicia, suggested that the Carians should cross the river and fight with it at their backs, so as to prevent retreat and thus make them fight more bravely. This idea was rejected and the Carians made the Persians cross the river to fight them. The ensuing battle was, according to Herodotus, a long affair, with the Carians fighting obstinately before eventually succumbing to the weight of Persian numbers. Herodotus suggests that 10,000 Carians and 2,000 Persians died in the battle.

The survivors of Marsyas fell back to a sacred grove of Zeus at Labraunda and deliberated whether to surrender to the Persians or to flee Asia altogether. However, while deliberating, they were joined by a Milesian army, and with these reinforcements resolved instead to carry on fighting. The Persians then attacked the army at Labraunda, and inflicted an even heavier defeat, with the Milesians suffering particularly bad casualties.

After the double victory over the Carians, Daurises began the task of reducing the Carian strongholds. The Carians resolved to fight on, and decided to lay an ambush for Daurises on the road through Pedasus. Herodotus implies that this occurred more or less directly after Labraunda, but it has also been suggested that Pedasus occurred the following year (496 BC), giving the Carians time to regroup. The Persians arrived at Pedasus during the night, and the ambush was sprung to great effect. The Persian army was annihilated and Daurises and the other Persian commanders were slain. The disaster at Pedasus seems to have created a stalemate in the land campaign, and there was apparently little further campaigning in 496 BC and 495 BC.

The Battle of Lade

End of Ionian Revolt

494 BCE Jan 1
, Balat

Soon after the rebellion against Dionysius, the Persian fleet moved to attack the Ionians, who sailed out to meet them. The Samian contingent hoisted their sails, as had been agreed, and fled the battlefield. However, 11 Samian ships refused to desert the other Ionians, and remained at the battle. Seeing the Samians leave, their neighbours on the western wing, the Lesbians, also fled. The whole west-wing of the Ionian battle line thus very quickly collapsed. Other Ionian contingents also fled as the situation became more desperate.

Fall of Miletus

Fall of Miletus

494 BCE Feb 1
, Balat

With the defeat of the Ionian fleet at the Battle of Lade, the revolt was effectively over. Miletus was closely invested, the Persians "mining the walls and using every device against it, until they utterly captured it". According to Herodotus, most of the men were killed, and the women and children were enslaved. Archaeological evidence partially substantiates this, showing widespread signs of destruction, and abandonment of much of the city in the aftermath of Lade. However, some Milesians did remain in (or quickly returned to) Miletus, though the city would never recapture its former greatness.

Miletus was thus notionally "left empty of Milesians"; the Persians took the city and coastal land for themselves, and gave the rest of the Milesian territory to Carians from Pedasus. The captive Milesians were brought before Darius in Susa, who settled them at "Ampé" on the coast of the Persian Gulf, near the mouth of the Tigris.

Many Samians were appalled by the actions of their generals at Lade, and resolved to emigrate before their old tyrant, Aeaces of Samos, returned to rule them. They accepted an invitation from the people of Zancle to settle on the coast of Sicily, and took with them the Milesians who had managed to escape from the Persians. Samos itself was spared from destruction by the Persians because of the Samian defection at Lade. Most of Caria now surrendered to the Persians, although some strongholds had to be captured through force.

The Greeks under Histiaeus preserve the bridge of Darius I across the Danube river.

Histiaeus's Campaign

493 BCE Jan 1
, Chios

When Histiaeus heard of the fall of Miletus, he seems to have appointed himself as leader of the resistance against Persia. Setting out from Byzantium with his force of Lesbians, he sailed to Chios. The Chians refused to receive him, so he attacked and destroyed the remnants of the Chian fleet. Crippled by the two defeats at sea, the Chians then acquiesced to Histiaeus's leadership.

Histiaeus now gathered a large force of Ionians and Aeolians and went to besiege Thasos. However, he then received the news that the Persian fleet was setting out from Miletus to attack the rest of Ionia, so he quickly returned to Lesbos. In order to feed his army, he led foraging expeditions to the mainland near Atarneus and Myus. A large Persian force under Harpagus was in the area and eventually intercepted one foraging expedition near Malene. The ensuing battle was hard fought, but was ended by a successful Persian cavalry charge, routing the Greek line. Histiaeus himself surrendered to the Persians, thinking that he would be able to talk himself into a pardon from Darius. However, he was taken to Artaphernes instead, who, fully aware of Histiaeus's past treachery, impaled him and then sent his embalmed head to Darius.

The Persian fleet and army wintered at Miletus, before setting out in 493 BC to finally stamp out the last embers of the revolt. They attacked and captured the islands of Chios, Lesbos, and Tenedos. On each, they made a 'human-net' of troops and swept across the whole island to flush out any hiding rebels. They then moved over to the mainland and captured each of the remaining cities of Ionia, similarly seeking out any remaining rebels. Although the cities of Ionia were undoubtedly harrowed in the aftermath, none seems to have suffered quite the fate of Miletus. Herodotus says that the Persians chose the most handsome boys from each city and castrated them, and chose the most beautiful girls and sent them away to the king's harem, and then burnt the temples of the cities. While this is possibly true, Herodotus also probably exaggerates the scale of devastation.In a few years, the cities had more-or-less returned to normal and they were able to equip a large fleet for the second Persian invasion of Greece, just 13 years later.

The Persian army then re-conquered the settlements on the Asian side of the Propontis, while the Persian fleet sailed up the European coast of the Hellespont, taking each settlement in turn. With all of Asia Minor now firmly returned to Persian rule, the revolt was finally over.

First Persian invasion of Greece

First Persian invasion of Greece

492 BCE Jan 1 - 490 BCE
, Greece

The first Persian invasion of Greece, during the Greco-Persian Wars, began in 492 BC, and ended with the decisive Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. The invasion, consisting of two distinct campaigns, was ordered by the Persian king Darius the Great primarily in order to punish the city-states of Athens and Eretria. These cities had supported the cities of Ionia during their revolt against Persian rule, thus incurring the wrath of Darius. Darius also saw the opportunity to extend his empire into Europe, and to secure its western frontier.

Mardonius' Campaign

Mardonius' Campaign

492 BCE Apr 1
, Dardanelles Strait

In the spring of 492 BC an expeditionary force, to be commanded by Darius's son-in-law Mardonius, was assembled, consisting of a fleet and a land army. Whilst the ultimate aim was to punish Athens and Eretria, the expedition also aimed to subdue as many of the Greek cities as possible. Departing from Cilicia, Mardonius sent the army to march to the Hellespont, whilst he travelled with the fleet. He sailed round the coast of Asia Minor to Ionia, where he spent a short time abolishing the tyrannies that ruled the cities of Ionia. Ironically, since the establishment of democracies had been a key factor in the Ionian Revolt, he replaced the tyrannies with democracies.Mardonius' establishment of democracy here can be seen as a bid to pacify Ionia, allowing his flank to be protected as he advanced towards the Hellespont and then onto Athens and Eretria.

Thence the fleet continued on to the Hellespont, and when all was ready, shipped the land forces across to Europe. The army then marched through Thrace, re-subjugating it, since these lands had already been added to the Persian Empire in 512 BC, during Darius's campaign against the Scythians. Upon reaching Macedon, the Persians forced it to become a fully subordinate part of the Persian Empire; they had been vassals of the Persians since the late 6th century BC, but retained their general autonomy.

Meanwhile, the fleet crossed to Thasos, resulting in the Thasians submitting to the Persians. The fleet then rounded the coastline as far as Acanthus in Chalcidice, before attempting to round the headland of Mount Athos. However, they were caught in a violent storm, which drove them against the coastline of Athos, wrecking (according to Herodotus) 300 ships, with the loss of 20,000 men.

Then, whilst the army was camped in Macedon, the Brygians, a local Thracian tribe, launched a night raid against the Persian camp, killing many of the Persians, and wounding Mardonius. Despite his injury, Mardonius made sure that the Brygians were defeated and subjugated, before leading his army back to the Hellespont; the remnants of the navy also retreated to Asia. Although this campaign ended ingloriously, the land approaches to Greece had been secured, and the Greeks had no doubt been made aware of Darius's intentions for them.

Datis and Artaphernes' Campaign

Datis and Artaphernes' Campaign

490 BCE Jan 1
, Euboea

In 490 BC, Datis and Artaphernes (son of the satrap Artaphernes) were given command of an amphibious invasion force, and set sail from Cilicia. The Persian force sailed first to the island of Rhodes, where a Lindian Temple Chronicle records that Datis besieged the city of Lindos, but was unsuccessful. The fleet sailed next to Naxos, to punish the Naxians for their resistance to the failed expedition the Persians had mounted there a decade earlier. Many of the inhabitants fled to the mountains; those that the Persians caught were enslaved. The Persians then burnt the city and temples of the Naxians. The fleet then proceeded to island-hop across the rest of the Aegean on its way to Eretria, taking hostages and troops from each island.

The task force sailed on to Euboea, and to the first major target, Eretria. The Eretrians made no attempt to stop the Persians from landing or advancing and thus allowed themselves to be besieged. For six days, the Persians attacked the walls, with losses on both sides; however, on the seventh day two reputable Eretrians opened the gates and betrayed the city to the Persians. The city was razed, and temples and shrines were looted and burned. Furthermore, according to Darius's commands, the Persians enslaved all the remaining townspeople.

Persian immortal | ©Joan Francesc Oliveras Pallerols

Siege of Eretria

490 BCE Jan 1
, Eretria

The siege of Eretria took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. The city of Eretria, on Euboea, was besieged by a strong Persian force under the command of Datis and Artaphernes.

Reaching Euboea in mid-summer after a successful campaign in the Aegean, the Persians proceeded to put Eretria under siege. The siege lasted six days before a fifth column of Eretrian nobles betrayed the city to the Persians. The city was plundered, and the population was deported to the village Ardericca in Susiana near the Persian capital.

After Eretria, the Persian force sailed for Athens, landing at the bay of Marathon. An Athenian army marched to meet them, and won a famous victory at the Battle of Marathon, thereby ending the first Persian invasion.

Greek troops rushing forward at the Battle of Marathon, Georges Rochegrosse, 1859.

Battle of Marathon

490 BCE Sep 10
, Marathon

The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The Greek army inflicted a crushing defeat on the more numerous Persians, marking a turning point in the Greco-Persian Wars. The first Persian invasion was a response to Athenian involvement in the Ionian Revolt, when Athens and Eretria sent a force to support the cities of Ionia in their attempt to overthrow Persian rule. The Athenians and Eretrians had succeeded in capturing and burning Sardis, but they were then forced to retreat with heavy losses. In response to this raid, Darius swore to burn down Athens and Eretria. According to Herodotus, Darius had his bow brought to him and then shot an arrow "upwards towards heaven", saying as he did so: "Zeus, that it may be granted me to take vengeance upon the Athenians!" Herodotus further writes that Darius charged one of his servants to say "Master, remember the Athenians" three times before dinner each day.At the time of the battle, Sparta and Athens were the two largest city-states in Greece. Once the Ionian revolt was finally crushed by the Persian victory at the Battle of Lade in 494 BC, Darius began plans to subjugate Greece. In 490 BC, he sent a naval task force under Datis and Artaphernes across the Aegean, to subjugate the Cyclades, and then to make punitive attacks on Athens and Eretria.

Xerxes I the Great | ©JFOliveras

Darius raises new army

490 BCE Oct 1 - 480 BCE
, Babylon

After the failure of the first invasion, Darius began raising a huge new army with which he intended to subjugate Greece completely. However, in 486 BC, his Egyptian subjects revolted, and the revolt forced an indefinite postponement of any Greek expedition. Darius died while preparing to march on Egypt, and the throne of Persia passed to his son Xerxes I. Xerxes crushed the Egyptian revolt, and very quickly resumed the preparations for the invasion of Greece. Since this was to be a full-scale invasion, it needed longterm planning, stockpiling and conscription. Xerxes decided that the Hellespont would be bridged to allow his army to cross to Europe, and that a canal should be dug across the isthmus of Mount Athos (a Persian fleet had been destroyed in 492 BC while rounding this coastline). These were both feats of exceptional ambition that would have been beyond the capabilities of any other contemporary state. However, the campaign was delayed by one year because of another revolt in Egypt and Babylonia.

The Persians had the sympathy of several Greek city-states, including Argos, which had pledged to defect when the Persians reached their borders. The Aleuadae family, who ruled Larissa in Thessaly, saw the invasion as an opportunity to extend their power. Thebes, though not explicitly 'Medising', was suspected of being willing to aid the Persians once the invasion force arrived.

In 481 BC, after roughly four years of preparation, Xerxes began to muster the troops to invade Europe. Herodotus gives the names of 46 nations from which troops were drafted. The Persian army was gathered in Asia Minor in the summer and autumn of 481 BC. The armies from the Eastern satrapies were gathered in Kritala, Cappadocia and were led by Xerxes to Sardis where they passed the winter. Early in spring, it moved to Abydos where it was joined with the armies of the western satrapies. Then the army that Xerxes had mustered marched towards Europe, crossing the Hellespont on two pontoon bridges.

The arsenal of Piraeus | ©Marc Henniquiau

Themistocles builds up Athens fleet

483 BCE Jan 1
, Athens

The politician Themistocles, with a power base firmly established amongst the poor, filled the vacuum left by Miltiades's death, and in the following decade became the most influential politician in Athens. During this period, Themistocles continued to support the expansion of Athens' naval power. The Athenians were aware throughout this period that the Persian interest in Greece had not ended, and Themistocles's naval policies may be seen in the light of the potential threat from Persia. Aristides, Themistocles's great rival, and champion of the zeugites (the 'upper hoplite-class') vigorously opposed such a policy.

In 483 BC, a vast new seam of silver was found in the Athenian mines at Laurium. Themistocles proposed that the silver should be used to build a new fleet of triremes, ostensibly to assist in a long running war with Aegina. Plutarch suggests that Themistocles deliberately avoided mentioning Persia, believing that it was too distant a threat for the Athenians to act on, but that countering Persia was the fleet's aim. Fine suggests that many Athenians must have admitted that such a fleet would be needed to resist the Persians, whose preparations for the coming campaign were known. Themistocles's motion was passed easily, despite strong opposition from Aristides. Its passage was probably due to the desire of many of the poorer Athenians for paid employment as rowers in the fleet. It is unclear from the ancient sources whether 100 or 200 ships were initially authorised; both Fine and Holland suggest that at first 100 ships were authorised and that a second vote increased this number to the levels seen during the second invasion. Aristides continued to oppose Themistocles's policy, and tension between the two camps built over the winter, so the ostracism of 482 BC became a direct contest between Themistocles and Aristides. In what Holland characterises as, in essence, the world's first referendum, Aristides was ostracised, and Themistocles's policies were endorsed. Indeed, becoming aware of the Persian preparations for the coming invasion, the Athenians voted to build more ships than those for which Themistocles had asked. Thus, during the preparations for the Persian invasion, Themistocles had become the leading politician in Athens.

Second Persian invasion of Greece

Second Persian invasion of Greece

480 BCE Jan 2 - 479 BCE
, Greece

The second Persian invasion of Greece (480–479 BC) occurred during the Greco-Persian Wars, as King Xerxes I of Persia sought to conquer all of Greece. The invasion was a direct, if delayed, response to the defeat of the first Persian invasion of Greece (492–490 BC) at the Battle of Marathon, which ended Darius I's attempts to subjugate Greece. After Darius's death, his son Xerxes spent several years planning for the second invasion, mustering an enormous army and navy. The Athenians and Spartans led the Greek resistance. About a tenth of the Greek city-states joined the 'Allied' effort; most remained neutral or submitted to Xerxes.

The invasion began in spring 480 BC, when the Persian army crossed the Hellespont and marched through Thrace and Macedon to Thessaly. The Persian advance was blocked at the pass of Thermopylae by a small Allied force under King Leonidas I of Sparta.

Leonidas at Thermopylae | ©Jacques-Louis David

Battle of Thermopylae

480 BCE Jul 21
, Thermopylae

The Battle of Thermopylae was fought in 480 BC between the Achaemenid Persian Empire under Xerxes I and an alliance of Greek city-states led by Sparta under Leonidas I. Lasting over the course of three days, it was one of the most prominent battles of both the second Persian invasion of Greece and the wider Greco-Persian Wars.

Around the start of the invasion, a Greek force of approximately 7,000 men led by Leonidas marched north to block the pass of Thermopylae. Ancient authors vastly inflated the size of the Persian army, with estimates in the millions, but modern scholars range it between 120,000 and 300,000 soldiers. They arrived at Thermopylae by late August or early September; the outnumbered Greeks held them off for seven days (including three of direct battle) before their rear-guard was annihilated in one of history's most famous last stands. During two full days of battle, the Greeks blocked the only road by which the massive Persian army could traverse the narrow pass. After the second day, a local resident named Ephialtes revealed to the Persians the existence of a path leading behind the Greek lines. Subsequently, Leonidas, aware that his force was being outflanked by the Persians, dismissed the bulk of the Greek army and remained to guard their retreat with 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians. It has been reported that others also remained, including up to 900 helots and 400 Thebans. With the exception of the Thebans, most of whom reportedly surrendered, the Greeks fought the Persians to the death.

Artemisia, Queen of Halicarnasuss, sinks a rival Calyndian ship within the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis, off the coast of Greece, 480 BC | ©Angus McBride

Battle of Artemisium

480 BCE Jul 22
, Artemisio

The Battle of Artemisium or Artemision was a series of naval engagements over three days during the second Persian invasion of Greece. The battle took place simultaneously with the land battle at Thermopylae, in August or September 480 BC, off the coast of Euboea and was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and others, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I.

Approaching Artemisium towards the end of summer, the Persian navy was caught in a gale off the coast of Magnesia and lost around a third of their 1200 ships. After arriving at Artemisium, the Persians sent a detachment of 200 ships around the coast of Euboea in an attempt to trap the Greeks, but these were caught in another storm and shipwrecked. The main action of the battle took place after two days of smaller engagements. The two sides fought all day, with roughly equal losses; however, the smaller Allied fleet could not afford the losses.

After the engagement, the Allies received news of the defeat of the Allied army at Thermopylae. Since their strategy required both Thermopylae and Artemisium to be held, and given their losses, the Allies decided to withdraw to Salamis. The Persians overran and gained control over Phocis, then Boeotia, and finally entered Attica where they captured the now-evacuated Athens. However, seeking a decisive victory over the Allied fleet, the Persians were later defeated at the Battle of Salamis in late 480 BC. Fearing being trapped in Europe, Xerxes withdrew with much of his army to Asia, leaving Mardonius to complete the conquest of Greece. The following year, however, saw an Allied army decisively defeat the Persians at the Battle of Plataea, thereby ending the Persian invasion.

Death of the Persian admiral Ariabignes (a brother of Xerxes) early in the battle; illustration from Plutarch's Lives for Boys and Girls c. 1910

Battle of Salamis

480 BCE Sep 26
, Salamis Island

The Battle of Salamis ( SAL-ə-miss) was a naval battle fought between an alliance of Greek city-states under Themistocles and the Persian Empire under King Xerxes in 480 BC. It resulted in a decisive victory for the outnumbered Greeks. The battle was fought in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens, and marked the high point of the second Persian invasion of Greece.

To block the Persian advance, a small force of Greeks blocked the pass of Thermopylae, while an Athenian-dominated Allied navy engaged the Persian fleet in the nearby straits of Artemisium. In the resulting Battle of Thermopylae, the rearguard of the Greek force was annihilated, while in the Battle of Artemisium the Greeks suffered heavy losses and retreated after the loss at Thermopylae. This allowed the Persians to conquer Phocis, Boeotia, Attica and Euboea. The Allies prepared to defend the Isthmus of Corinth while the fleet was withdrawn to nearby Salamis Island.

Although heavily outnumbered, the Greek Allies were persuaded by Athenian general Themistocles to bring the Persian fleet to battle again, in the hope that a victory would prevent naval operations against the Peloponnese. Persian king Xerxes was also eager for a decisive battle. As a result of subterfuge on the part of Themistocles (which included a message directly sent to Xerxes letting him know that much of the Greek fleet was stationed at Salamis), the Persian navy rowed into the Straits of Salamis and tried to block both entrances. In the cramped conditions of the Straits, the great Persian numbers were an active hindrance, as ships struggled to maneuver and became disorganized. Seizing the opportunity, the Greek fleet formed in line and scored a decisive victory.

Xerxes retreated to Asia with much of his army, leaving Mardonius to complete the conquest of Greece. The following year the remainder of the Persian army was decisively beaten at the Battle of Plataea and the Persian navy at the Battle of Mycale. The Persians made no further attempts to conquer the Greek mainland. These battles of Salamis and Plataea thus mark a turning point in the course of the Greco-Persian wars as a whole; from then onward, the Greek poleis would take the offensive.

Scene of the Battle of Plataea. 19th century illustration.

Battle of Plataea

479 BCE Aug 1
, Plataea

The Battle of Plataea was the final land battle during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place in 479 BC near the city of Plataea in Boeotia, and was fought between an alliance of the Greek city-states (including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and Megara), and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I (allied with Greece's Boeotians, Thessalians, and Macedonians).

The previous year the Persian invasion force, led by the Persian king in person, had scored victories at the battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium and conquered Thessaly, Phocis, Boeotia, Euboea and Attica. However, at the ensuing Battle of Salamis, the allied Greek navy had won an unlikely but decisive victory, preventing the conquest of the Peloponnesus. Xerxes then retreated with much of his army, leaving his general Mardonius to finish off the Greeks the following year.

In the summer of 479 BC the Greeks assembled a huge (by ancient standards) army and marched out of the Peloponnesus. The Persians retreated to Boeotia and built a fortified camp near Plataea. The Greeks, however, refused to be drawn into the prime cavalry terrain around the Persian camp, resulting in a stalemate that lasted 11 days. While attempting a retreat after their supply lines were disrupted, the Greek battle line fragmented. Thinking the Greeks are in full retreat, Mardonius ordered his forces to pursue them, but the Greeks (particularly the Spartans, Tegeans and Athenians) halted and gave battle, routing the lightly armed Persian infantry and killing Mardonius.

A large portion of the Persian army was trapped in its camp and slaughtered. The destruction of this army, and the remnants of the Persian navy allegedly on the same day at the Battle of Mycale, decisively ended the invasion. After Plataea and Mycale the Greek allies would take the offensive against the Persians, marking a new phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Although Plataea was in every sense a resounding victory, it does not seem to have been attributed the same significance (even at the time) as, for example, the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon or the allied Greek defeat at Thermopylae.

Battle of Mycale

Battle of Mycale

479 BCE Aug 27
, Aydın

The Battle of Mycale was one of the two major battles (the other being the Battle of Plataea) that ended the second Persian invasion of Greece during the Greco-Persian Wars. It took place on or about August 27, 479 BC on the slopes of Mount Mycale, on the coast of Ionia, opposite the island of Samos. The battle was fought between an alliance of the Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens and Corinth, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I.

The previous year, the Persian invasion force, led by Xerxes himself, had scored victories at the battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium, and conquered Thessaly, Boeotia and Attica; however, at the ensuing Battle of Salamis, the allied Greek navies had won an unlikely victory, and therefore prevented the conquest of the Peloponnese. Xerxes then retreated, leaving his general Mardonius with a substantial army to finish off the Greeks the following year.

In the summer of 479 BC, the Greeks assembled a huge army (by contemporary standards), and marched to confront Mardonius at the Battle of Plataea. At the same time, the allied fleet sailed to Samos, where the demoralised remnants of the Persian navy were based. The Persians, seeking to avoid a battle, beached their fleet below the slopes of Mycale, and, with the support of a Persian army group, built a palisaded camp. The Greek commander Leotychides decided to attack the Persians anyway, landing the fleet's complement of marines to do so.

Although the Persian forces put up stout resistance, the heavily armoured Greek hoplites again proved themselves superior in combat, and eventually routed the Persian troops, who fled to their camp. The Ionian Greek contingents in the Persian army defected, and the camp was assailed and a large number of Persians slaughtered. The Persian ships were then captured and burned. The complete destruction of the Persian navy, along with the destruction of Mardonius's army at Plataea (allegedly on the same day as the Battle of Mycale), decisively ended the invasion of Greece. After Plataea and Mycale, the allied Greeks would take the offensive against the Persians, marking a new phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Although Mycale was in every sense a decisive victory, it does not seem to have been attributed the same significance (even at the time) as, for example the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon or even the Greek defeat at Thermopylae.

Greek Hoplites | ©Angus McBride

Greek counterattack

479 BCE Sep 1
, Eceabat

Mycale was, in many ways, the beginning of a new phase in the conflict, in which the Greeks would go on the offensive against the Persians. The immediate result of the victory at Mycale was a second revolt amongst the Greek cities of Asia Minor. The Samians and Milesians had actively fought against the Persians at Mycale, thus openly declaring their rebellion, and the other cities followed in their example.

Shortly after Mycale, the Allied fleet sailed to the Hellespont to break down the pontoon bridges, but found that this had already been done. The Peloponnesians sailed home, but the Athenians remained to attack the Chersonesos, still held by the Persians. The Persians and their allies made for Sestos, the strongest town in the region. Amongst them was one Oeobazus of Cardia, who had with him the cables and other equipment from the pontoon bridges. The Persian governor, Artayctes had not prepared for a siege, not believing that the Allies would attack. The Athenians therefore were able to lay a siege around Sestos. The siege dragged on for several months, causing some discontent amongst the Athenian troops, but eventually, when the food ran out in the city, the Persians fled at night from the least guarded area of the city. The Athenians were thus able to take possession of the city the next day.

Most of the Athenian troops were sent straight away to pursue the Persians. The party of Oeobazus was captured by a Thracian tribe, and Oeobazus was sacrificed to the god Plistorus. The Athenians eventually caught Artayctes, killing some of the Persians with him but taking most of them, including Artayctes, captive. Artayctes was crucified at the request of the people of Elaeus, a town which Artayctes had plundered while governor of the Chersonesos. The Athenians, having pacified the region, then sailed back to Athens, taking the cables from the pontoon bridges with them as trophies.

Delian League

Delian League

478 BCE Jan 1
, Delos

After Byzantium, the Spartans were allegedly eager to end their involvement in the war. The Spartans were supposedly of the view that, with the liberation of mainland Greece and the Greek cities of Asia Minor, the war's purpose had already been reached. There was also perhaps a feeling that securing long-term security for the Asian Greeks would prove impossible. In the aftermath of Mycale, the Spartan king Leotychides had proposed transplanting all the Greeks from Asia Minor to Europe as the only method of permanently freeing them from Persian dominion. Xanthippus, the Athenian commander at Mycale, had furiously rejected this; the Ionian cities were originally Athenian colonies, and the Athenians, if no one else, would protect the Ionians. This marks the point at which the leadership of the Greek Alliance effectively passed to the Athenians. With the Spartan withdrawal after Byzantium, the leadership of the Athenians became explicit.

The loose alliance of city-states that had fought against Xerxes's invasion had been dominated by Sparta and the Peloponnesian league. With the withdrawal of these states, a congress was called on the holy island of Delos to institute a new alliance to continue the fight against the Persians. This alliance, now including many of the Aegean islands, was formally constituted as the 'First Athenian Alliance', commonly known as the Delian League. According to Thucydides, the official aim of the League was to "avenge the wrongs they suffered by ravaging the territory of the king". In reality, this goal was divided into three main efforts—to prepare for future invasion, to seek revenge against Persia, and to organize a means of dividing spoils of war. The members were given a choice of either supplying armed forces or paying a tax to the joint treasury; most states chose the tax.

Allies attack Cyprus

Allies attack Cyprus

478 BCE Jan 1
, Cyprus

In 478 BC, still operating under the terms of the Hellenic alliance, the Allies sent out a fleet composed of 20 Peloponnesian and 30 Athenian ships supported by an unspecified number of allies, under the overall command of Pausanias. According to Thucydides, this fleet sailed to Cyprus and "subdued most of the island". Exactly what Thucydides means by this is unclear. Sealey suggests that this was essentially a raid to gather as much treasure as possible from the Persian garrisons on Cyprus. There is no indication that the Allies attempted to take possession of the island, and, shortly after, they sailed to Byzantium. Certainly, the fact that the Delian League repeatedly campaigned in Cyprus suggests either that the island was not garrisoned by the Allies in 478 BC, or that the garrisons were quickly expelled.

Greeks take control Byzantium

Greeks take control Byzantium

478 BCE Feb 1
, İstanbul

The Greek fleet then sailed to Byzantium, which they besieged and eventually captured. Control of both Sestos and Byzantium gave the allies command of the straits between Europe and Asia (over which the Persians had crossed), and allowed them access to the merchant trade of the Black Sea.

The aftermath of the siege was to prove troublesome for Pausanias. Exactly what happened is unclear; Thucydides gives few details, although later writers added plenty of lurid insinuations. Through his arrogance and arbitrary actions (Thucydides says "violence"), Pausanias managed to alienate many of the Allied contingents, particularly those that had just been freed from Persian overlordship. The Ionians and others asked the Athenians to take leadership of the campaign, to which they agreed. The Spartans, hearing of his behaviour, recalled Pausanias and tried him on charges of collaborating with the enemy. Although he was acquitted, his reputation was tarnished and he was not restored to his command.

Wars of the Delian League

Wars of the Delian League

477 BCE Jan 2 - 449 BCE
, Greece

The Wars of the Delian League (477–449 BC) were a series of campaigns fought between the Delian League of Athens and her allies (and later subjects), and the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. These conflicts represent a continuation of the Greco-Persian Wars, after the Ionian Revolt and the first and second Persian invasions of Greece.

Throughout the 470s BC, the Delian League campaigned in Thrace and the Aegean to remove the remaining Persian garrisons from the region, primarily under the command of the Athenian politician Cimon. In the early part of the next decade, Cimon began campaigning in Asia Minor, seeking to strengthen the Greek position there. At the Battle of the Eurymedon in Pamphylia, the Athenians and allied fleet achieved a stunning double victory, destroying a Persian fleet and then landing the ships' marines to attack and rout the Persian army. After this battle, the Persians took an essentially passive role in the conflict, anxious not to risk battle where possible.

Delian League's first moves

Delian League's first moves

476 BCE Jan 1
, Ofrynio

According to Thucydides, the League's opening campaign was against the city of Eion, at the mouth of the Strymon river. Since Thucydides does not provide a detailed chronology for his history of the league, the year in which this campaign took place is uncertain. The siege seems to have lasted from autumn of one year into the summer of the next, with historians supporting either 477–476 BC or 476–475 BC.Eion seems to have been one of the Persian garrisons left in Thrace during and after the second Persian invasion, along with Doriskos. The campaign against Eion should probably be seen as part of a general campaign aimed at removing the Persian presence from Thrace.

The force which attacked Eion was under the command of Cimon. Plutarch says that Cimon first defeated the Persians in battle, whereupon they retreated to the city, and were besieged there. Cimon then expelled all Thracian collaborators from the region in order to starve the Persians into submission. Herodotus indicates that the Persian commander, Boges, was offered terms upon which he might be allowed to evacuate the city and return to Asia. However, not wanting to be thought a coward by Xerxes, he resisted to the last. When the food in Eion ran out, Boges threw his treasure into the Strymon, killed his entire household and then immolated them, and himself, on a giant pyre. The Athenians thus captured the city and enslaved the remaining population.

After the fall of Eion, other coastal cities of the area surrendered to the Delian League, with the notable exception of Doriscus, which was "never taken". The Achaemenids probably recalled the Governor of Doriscus Mascames with his garrison around 465 BC, and finally abandoned this last Achaemenid stronghold in Europe.

Military Expansion of the League

Military Expansion of the League

470 BCE Jan 1
, Karystos

Thucydides provides just one example of the use of force to extend membership of the League, but since his account seems to be selective, there were presumably more; certainly, Plutarch provides details of one such instance. Karystos, which had collaborated with the Persians during the second Persian invasion, was attacked by the League at some point in the 470s BC, and eventually agreed to become a member. Plutarch mentions the fate of Phaselis, which Cimon compelled to join the league during his Eurymedon campaign.

Battle of the Eurymedon

Battle of the Eurymedon

469 BCE Jan 1
, Köprüçay

The Battle of the Eurymedon was a double battle, taking place both on water and land, between the Delian League of Athens and her Allies, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I. It took place in either 469 or 466 BCE, in the vicinity of the mouth of the Eurymedon River (now the Köprüçay) in Pamphylia, Asia Minor. It forms part of the Wars of the Delian League, itself part of the larger Greco-Persian Wars.

In either 469 or 466 BCE, the Persians began assembling a large army and navy for a major offensive against the Greeks. Gathering near the Eurymedon, it is possible that the expedition aimed to move up the coast of Asia Minor, capturing each city in turn. This would bring the Asiatic Greek regions back under Persian control, and give the Persians naval bases from which to launch further expeditions into the Aegean. Hearing of the Persian preparations, the Athenian general Cimon took 200 triremes and sailed to Phaselis in Pamphylia, which eventually agreed to join the Delian League. This effectively blocked the Persian strategy at its first objective.

Cimon then moved to pre-emptively attack the Persian forces near the Eurymedon. Sailing into the mouth of the river, Cimon quickly routed the Persian fleet gathered there. Most of the Persian fleet made landfall, and the sailors fled to the shelter of the Persian army. Cimon then landed the Greek marines and proceeded to attack the Persian army, which was also routed. The Greeks captured the Persian camp, taking many prisoners, and were able to destroy 200 beached Persian triremes. This stunning double victory seems to have greatly demoralised the Persians, and prevented any further Persian campaigning in the Aegean until at least 451 BCE. However, the Delian League do not appear to have pressed home their advantage, probably because of other events in the Greek world that required their attention.

Delian League supports an Egyptian rebellion

Delian League supports an Egyptian rebellion

464 BCE Jan 1
, Egypt

The Egyptian satrapy of the Persian Empire was particularly prone to revolts, one of which had occurred as recently as 486 BC. In 461 or 460 BC, a new rebellion began under the command of Inaros, a Libyan king living on the border of Egypt. This rebellion quickly swept the country, which was soon largely in the hands of Inaros. Inaros now appealed to the Delian League for assistance in their fight against the Persians.

There was a League fleet of 200 ships under Admiral Charitimides already campaigning in Cyprus at this time, which the Athenians then diverted Egypt to support the revolt. Indeed, it is possible that the fleet had been dispatched to Cyprus in the first place because, with Persian attention focused on the Egyptian revolt, it seemed a favourable time to campaign in Cyprus. This would go some way towards explaining the apparently reckless decision of the Athenians to fight wars on two fronts. Thucydides seems to imply that the whole fleet was diverted to Egypt, although it has also been suggested that such a large fleet was unnecessary, and some portion of it remained of the coast of Asia Minor during this period. Ctesias suggests that the Athenians sent 40 ships, whereas Diodorus says 200, in apparent agreement with Thucydides. Fine suggests a number of reasons that the Athenians may have been willing to engage themselves in Egypt, despite the ongoing war elsewhere; the opportunity to weaken Persia, the desire for a naval base in Egypt, the access to the Nile's huge grain supply, and from the viewpoint of the Ionian allies, the chance to restore profitable trading links with Egypt.

At any rate, the Athenians arrived in Egypt, and sailed up the Nile to join up with Inaros's forces. Charitimides led his fleet against the Achaemenids in the Nile river, and defeated a fleet consisting of 50 Phoenician ships. It was the last great naval encounter between the Greeks and the Achaemenids. Of the 50 Phoenician ships, he managed to destroy 30 ships, and capture the remaining 20 that faced him in that battle.

Battle of Papremis

Battle of Papremis

460 BCE Jan 1
, Nile

According to Diodorus, the only detailed source for this campaign, the Persian relief force had pitched camp near the Nile. Although Herodotus does not cover this period in his history, he mentions as an aside that he "saw too the skulls of those Persians at Papremis who were killed with Darius' son Achaemenes by Inaros the Libyan". This provides some confirmation that this battle was factual, and provides a name for it, which Diodorus does not. Papremis (or Pampremis) seems to have been a city on the Nile delta, and a cult centre for the Egyptian equivalent of Ares/Mars. Diodorus tells us that once the Athenians had arrived, they and the Egyptians accepted battle from the Persians. At first the Persians' superior numbers gave them the advantage, but eventually the Athenians broke through the Persian line, whereupon the Persian army routed and fled. Some portion of the Persian army found refuge in the citadel of Memphis (called the 'White Castle'), however, and could not be dislodged. Thucydides's rather compressed version of these events is: "and making themselves masters of the river and two-thirds of Memphis, addressed themselves to the attack of the remaining third, which is called White Castle".

First Peloponnesian War

First Peloponnesian War

460 BCE Jan 1 - 445 BCE
, Greece

The First Peloponnesian War (460–445 BC) was fought between Sparta as the leaders of the Peloponnesian League and Sparta's other allies, most notably Thebes, and the Delian League led by Athens with support from Argos. This war consisted of a series of conflicts and minor wars, such as the Second Sacred War. There were several causes for the war including the building of the Athenian long walls, Megara's defection and the envy and concern felt by Sparta at the growth of the Athenian Empire.

The First Peloponnesian War began in 460 BC with the Battle of Oenoe, where Spartan forces were defeated by those of Athenian-Argive alliance. At first the Athenians had the better of the fighting, winning the naval engagements using their superior fleet. They also had the better of the fighting on land, until 457 BC when the Spartans and their allies defeated the Athenian army at Tanagra. The Athenians, however, counterattacked and scored a crushing victory over the Boeotians at the Battle of Oenophyta and followed this victory up by conquering all of Boeotia except for Thebes.

Athens further consolidated their position by making Aegina a member of the Delian League and by ravaging the Peloponnese. The Athenians were defeated in 454 BC by the Persians in Egypt which caused them to enter into a five years' truce with Sparta. However, the war flared up again in 448 BC with the start of the Second Sacred War. In 446 BC, Boeotia revolted and defeated the Athenians at Coronea and regained their independence.

Siege of Memphis

Siege of Memphis

459 BCE Jan 1 - 455 BCE
, Memphis

The Athenians and Egyptians thus settled down to besiege the White Castle. The siege evidently did not progress well, and probably lasted for at least four years, since Thucydides says that their whole expedition lasted 6 years,and of this time the final 18 months was occupied with the Siege of Prosoptis.

According to Thucydides, at first Artaxerxes sent Megabazus to try and bribe the Spartans into invading Attica, to draw off the Athenian forces from Egypt. When this failed, he instead assembled a large army under (confusingly) Megabyzus, and dispatched it to Egypt. Diodorus has more or less the same story, with more detail; after the attempt at bribery failed, Artaxerxes put Megabyzus and Artabazus in charge of 300,000 men, with instructions to quell the revolt. They went first from Persia to Cilicia and gathered a fleet of 300 triremes from the Cilicians, Phoenicians and Cypriots, and spent a year training their men. Then they finally headed to Egypt. Modern estimates, however, place the number of Persian troops at the considerably lower figure of 25,000 men given that it would have been highly impractical to deprive the already strained satrapies of any more man power than that. Thucydides does not mention Artabazus, who is reported by Herodotus to have taken part in the Second Persian invasion of Greece; Diodorus may be mistaken about his presence in this campaign. It is clearly possible that the Persian forces did spend some prolonged time in training, since it took four years for them to respond to the Egyptian victory at Papremis. Although neither author gives many details, it is clear that when Megabyzus finally arrived in Egypt, he was able to quickly lift the siege of Memphis, defeating the Egyptians in battle, and driving the Athenians from Memphis.

Siege of Prosopitis

Siege of Prosopitis

455 BCE Jan 1
, Cairo

The Athenians now fell back to the island of Prosopitis in the Nile delta, where their ships were moored. There, Megabyzus laid siege to them for 18 months, until finally he was able to drain the river from around the island by digging canals, thus "joining the island to the mainland". In Thucydides's account the Persians then crossed over to the former island, and captured it. Only a few of the Athenian force, marching through Libya to Cyrene survived to return to Athens. In Diodorus's version, however, the draining of the river prompted the Egyptians (whom Thucydides does not mention) to defect and surrender to the Persians. The Persians, not wanting to sustain heavy casualties in attacking the Athenians, instead allowed them to depart freely to Cyrene, whence they returned to Athens. Since the defeat of the Egyptian expedition caused a genuine panic in Athens, including the relocation of the Delian treasury to Athens, Thucydides's version is probably more likely to be correct.

Siege of Kition

Siege of Kition

451 BCE Jan 1
, Larnaca

Cimon sailed for Cyprus with a fleet of 200 ships provided by the Athenians and their allies. However, 60 of these ships were sent to Egypt at the request of Amyrtaeus, the so-called "King of the Marshes" (who still remained independent of, and opposed to Persian rule). The rest of the force besieged Kition in Cyprus, but during the siege, Cimon died either of sickness or a wound. The Athenians lacked provisions, and apparently under the death-bed instructions of Cimon, the Athenians retreated towards Salamis-in-Cyprus.

Battles of Salamis-in-Cyprus

Battles of Salamis-in-Cyprus

450 BCE Jan 1
, Salamis

Cimon's death was kept a secret from the Athenian army. 30 days after leaving Kition, the Athenians and their allies were attacked by a Persian force composed of Cilicians, Phoenicians, and Cyprians, whilst sailing off Salamis-in-Cyprus. Under the 'command' of the deceased Cimon, they defeated this force at sea, and also in a land battle. Having thus successfully extricated themselves, the Athenians sailed back to Greece, joined by the detachment which had been sent to Egypt.

Peace of Callias

Peace of Callias

449 BCE Jan 1
, Greece

The Peace of Callias is a purported peace treaty established around 449 BC between the Delian League (led by Athens) and Persia, ending the Greco-Persian Wars. The peace was agreed as the first compromise treaty between Achaemenid Persia and a Greek city.

The peace was negotiated by Callias, an Athenian politician. Persia had continually lost territory to the Greeks after the end of Xerxes I's invasion in 479 BC. The exact date of the treaty is debated, although it is usually placed after the Battle of the Eurymedon in 469 or 466 or the Battle of Cypriot Salamis in 450. The Peace of Callias gave autonomy to the Ionian states in Asia Minor, prohibited the encroachment of Persian satrapies within three days march of the Aegean coast, and prohibited Persian ships from the Aegean. Athens also agreed not to interfere with Persia's possessions in Asia Minor, Cyprus, Libya or Egypt (Athens at that time lost a fleet aiding an Egyptian revolt against Persia).


448 BCE Jan 1
, Greece

As already noted, towards the end of the conflict with Persia, the process by which the Delian League became the Athenian Empire reached its conclusion. The allies of Athens were not released from their obligations to provide either money or ships, despite the cessation of hostilities. In Greece, the First Peloponnesian War between the power-blocs of Athens and Sparta, which had continued on and off since 460 BC, finally ended in 445 BC, with the agreement of a thirty-year truce. However, the growing enmity between Sparta and Athens would lead, just 14 years later, to the outbreak of the Second Peloponnesian War. This disastrous conflict, which dragged on for 27 years, would eventually result in the utter destruction of Athenian power, the dismemberment of the Athenian empire, and the establishment of a Spartan hegemony over Greece. However, not just Athens suffered. The conflict would significantly weaken the whole of Greece.

Repeatedly defeated in battle by the Greeks, and plagued by internal rebellions which hindered their ability to fight the Greeks, after 450 BC Artaxerxes and his successors adopted a policy of divide-and-rule. Avoiding fighting the Greeks themselves, the Persians instead attempted to set Athens against Sparta, regularly bribing politicians to achieve their aims. In this way, they ensured that the Greeks remained distracted by internal conflicts, and were unable to turn their attentions to Persia. There was no open conflict between the Greeks and Persia until 396 BC, when the Spartan king Agesilaus briefly invaded Asia Minor; as Plutarch points out, the Greeks were far too busy overseeing the destruction of their own power to fight against the "barbarians".

If the wars of the Delian League shifted the balance of power between Greece and Persia in favour of the Greeks, then the subsequent half-century of internecine conflict in Greece did much to restore the balance of power to Persia. In 387 BC, Sparta, confronted by an alliance of Corinth, Thebes and Athens during the Corinthian War, sought the aid of Persia to shore up her position. Under the so-called "King's Peace" which brought the war to an end, Artaxerxes II demanded and received the return of the cities of Asia Minor from the Spartans, in return for which the Persians threatened to make war on any Greek state which did not make peace. This humiliating treaty, which undid all the Greek gains of the previous century, sacrificed the Greeks of Asia Minor so that the Spartans could maintain their hegemony over Greece. It is in the aftermath of this treaty that Greek orators began to refer to the Peace of Callias (whether fictional or not), as a counterpoint to the shame of the King's Peace, and a glorious example of the "good old days" when the Greeks of the Aegean had been freed from Persian rule by the Delian League.


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