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Gcse ancient History

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Key Dates

508/7BC Cleisthenes and the Establishment of Democracy in Athens

499BC The Outbreak of the Ionian Revolt

498BC The Burning of Sardis

494BC Siege of Miletus and the Battle of Lade

490BC Battle of Marathon

484BC Birth of Herodotus

480BC Battles of Thermopylae, Artemisium and Salamis

479BC Battles of Plataea and Mycale

449BC Peace between Greece and Persia

444/3BC Herodotus moves to Thurii
Theme: The Battle of Marathon

The battle of Marathon was one of the most significant moments in Greek history. It was the first time that the full might of the Persian Empire was brought to bear on the mainland Greeks. The Athenians with some help from the Plataeans managed to force the Persians to abandon their efforts to conquer the Greeks in Europe. Prior to this, Darius had sent messengers to various Greek cities to see whether they would accept his authority. The Persians used the term ‘to give earth and water’ to mean this, so the heralds went to each city asking for earth and water. A number of Greek cities, including the island of Aegina near Athens, offered the necessary earth and water to Darius. Darius was clearly interested in extending his territory into the Greek mainland, but he was not fully prepared for the response of the Athenians.


Some Greek states decided that the option of coming under Persian rule was more sensible than trying to oppose it. Submission to Persia was known by the Greeks as medising. This was because the Persians were known as Medes. Many states, most notably Thebes, medised. They probably preferred a quiet life paying taxes rather than the threat of military action.

2.1 Connections between the Ionian Revolt and the campaign at Marathon
Herodotus makes a close connection between the Ionian revolt and Darius’ attempts to invade Greece. He called the twenty ships which the Athenians sent in support of Aristagoras’ request the beginning of trouble between the Greeks and non-Greeks.
When Darius heard that Sardis had been taken and burned by the Athenians and Ionians, he asked who the Athenians were. When told, he took a bow and fired an arrow into the air, calling upon God to grant him vengeance on the Athenians. He then ordered one of his slaves to remind him daily of the Athenians, telling him to repeat to him three times the words, ‘Master, remember the Athenians’ (Herodotus, 5.105-6).
Caution is needed, however, in considering Herodotus’ account at this point. It is clear that Darius’ already had plans to expand his empire: he had made successful moves against Scythia in the north, and Greece was the next natural step, not least because the Ionians whom he already controlled were racially related to the Athenians. He had already sent envoys to discover whether Greek states would submit – and many did. It was not just the Athenians and Eretrians whom he wanted to crush. Herodotus may well have given Athens centre stage to make her seem greater and more important than she actually was.


1. Explain the connection between the Ionian Revolt and the Battle of Marathon.

2. Explain one reason why Herodotus may have given the Ionian Revolt too much emphasis.
2.2 Persian preparations for an expedition against Greece in 492 and 490

Demaratus was King of Sparta from 515BC until 491BC. He lost his position on the throne when his fellow king, Cleomenes, manipulated the Delphic oracle to claim that he was illegitimate. He then went to the Persian court, and helped both Darius and Xerxes.

Darius had clearly been interested in attacking Greece for some time, and he had close connections with mainland Greece. Hippias, the ex-tyrant of Athens, had come to his court. After the failure of the Marathon expedition, Demaratus, ex-king of Sparta, would also come to join him, and give both Darius and his son valuable advice and information on the Greeks. In the 490s, he had also sent a Greek doctor who was resident at the Persian court and some officials to mainland Greece and south Italy (also part of the Greek world at this time) to gain further information.
Darius appointed Datis as his commander in the field and Artaphernes, his nephew, as his personal representative. According to Herodotus (Herodotus, 6.95.2) he assembled a force of some 600 triremes, a considerable force. His decision to attack Greece by sea was a bold one: the Ionians may have been used to his sailing up the coast and attacking them, but to send such a large force across the Aegean was another matter. He also brought with him horses and cavalrymen, in addition some 25,000 infantry in his force. According to Simonides, a contemporary poet, there were 90,000 people taken on this expedition.
On the way towards mainland Greece, Datis and Artaphernes landed at Naxos, and destroyed the temples and town there, before moving on to Delos, where Datis sacrificed to the god Apollo, in an attempt to gain the trust of the Greeks.
2.3 The Battle of Marathon: the role of Hippias, the role of the Plataeans and the Spartans, the progress of the battle, reasons for the Persian defeat, the roles of Miltiades and Callimachus.

Once the Persians had crossed the sea, they faced the challenge of landing their forces on Greek soil. In September 490BC the Persians found themselves off the coast of Attica, and ready to make their final move against the Athenians.
The Persians needed a place where their cavalry could be most effective. Hippias, the former tyrant of Athens, directed them to Marathon, some 26 miles from Athens. It provided a relatively flat plan, on which the cavalry could be easily disembarked and used to the Persians’ advantage.
Doubtless Hippias was hoping that he might regain a position of power within Athens, perhaps as a tyrant entrusted to rule by Darius. Herodotus tells us that the night before they landed Hippias dreamt that he was sleeping with his mother, and he thought that his dream meant that he would return to Athens and take power. However, as he was directing the troops ashore, he began to cough violently, and coughed one of his teeth out. It fell in the sand, but he could not find it. He turned to his companions and commented that they would never conquer this land, and that the only part of it which he would possess was the part which his tooth now held.

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