The Second Persian War
Darius had died in 485 B.C. before he could lauch another assault on Greece , so it was his son Xerxes that set out to complete his fathers ambition of conquering Greece.
** The image above shows "Leonidas at Thermopylae" by Jacques-Louis David
Jacques-Louis David [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Instead of sending his fleet out to sea he instructed his men to dig a canal through Athos, which took three years to complete. This was because he feared his fleet sustaining damage should another storm arise. Xerxes plan was to go through Thracy to get to Northern Greece, with his fleet providing protection. Siciliy was invaded at the same time by Xerxes to stop them from providing them providing the Greeks with any help.
Most of the Greek city states met in Corinth to work out a common defence. It was agreed that there would be a combined army and navy which would be under Spartan command, but with Themistocles, the Athenian leader, providing the strategy.
Though all of the men were fine soldiers, they were hugely outnumbered by the Persians. This time though, they numbers were even more against them. It was this fact that Themistocles based his strategy on.
Leonidas, the Spartan King, led the army to a pass at Thermopylae, which is known today as Lamia. This pass was the main passage into central Greece from the north. The plan was to trap the Persian army in this bottle-neck, where the fact they were vastly outnumbered would have little influence on the outcome.
This went according to plan, until a traitor showed the Persian army a way over the mountains. Inevitability, the Greeks were forced to retreat along with their fleet with was stationed just of Euboea (the island of Evia) but Leonides, along with about 300 troops remained and fought for two days until before they were killed.
Perisia now controlled northern Greece, and were able to march down into Athens and take control over the whole of Greece . Themistocles had predicted that Athens would soon be taken over by the Persians so he ordered the women and children of Athens to evacuate to the island of Salamis, whilst the men were sent to sea to join with the Athenian fleet.
When the Persians did reach Athens, they destroyed it and burnt it down to the ground. Had Themistocles not evacuated the city, it would have been disastrous. The only hope of defeating the Persians was by the Athenian fleet. Themistocles however decided against a battle in the open sea. By sending out a fake message, the Persian fleet was enticed into the small strait of Salamis.
The Persian fleet fell for the plan and many of the larger ships were trapped in the narrow waters surrounding Salamis.The smaller and more mobile Greek ships were able to surround the Persian ships and destroy them.
Xerxes watched this destruction from the shore, and returned back to Persia in disgust at what he had witnessed. Xerxes left most of his army behind, under the command of Mardonius, with the specific orders of conquering the rest of Greece.
In 479 B.C. the battle at Plataea took place where, under the Spartan general Pausanias, the Spartans forced their way through the Persians and left the Greeks victorious. During the land battle, the Greek fleet simultaneously sailed over the Aegean and obliterated the remains of the Persian fleet.
Ironically, the Ionic Greeks, who started the revolt which lead to the Persian wars, choose to join the Greeks instead of the Persian army which they were forced to do, and fought in the final battles of the Persian war.
Athens becomes the Leader of Greece
With the Persian Empire defeated, mainly due to the Spartan army, many believed that Sparta would continue to act as leader for Greece . However, the Spartans were more interested in the Peloponesse. Sparta attempted to create a fleet as large as the Athenians and also to prevent the rebuilding of the city walls around Athens. However, when they failed on both of these objectives, it was accepted by all that Athens should become the main city of Greece.
In order for Athens to start rebuilding Greece and also to protect it from future invasion, an alliance was formed. This was the Delian League, named due to the fact that the treasury was keep on Delos, a very sacred island. As well as the alliance consisting of the main city-states in Greece , many islands in the Aegean and the Ionic and Aeolian colonies in Asia Minor were involved. It was agreed that if and when an attack arises, all the cities had to help and support one and other.
When time arose for the Eygptians to revolt against the Perisans, Athens decided to help and sent over a fleet of about 200 ships. A large portion of he Athenian fleet was destroyed as well as the Persians suppressing the revolt. After another battle between the Greeks and Persians in Cyprus, in which the Greeks were victorious, a formal agreement between the two took place in which the Persians would not attack Greece or its colonies in Asia Minor, and that Greece would never again attack Persia.
The Delian League in effect turned Athens into a great empire. The annual contribution of ships, and then later money, allowed Athens to enter into a new age. This was the age of Percles ...