TASK 2F: Source-Based Exercise
1. Read the section from the speech of Miltiades given above, Herodotus, 6.109.
Summarise Miltiades’ seech.
Explain whether you think this is what Miltiades actually said.
Explain why you think Herodotus included this account at this point in his narrative.
2. Read the excerpt from Pausanias, and note that he was writing in the second century AD.
What does this passage tell us about how the Athenians honoured those who fought at Marathon?
What does this passage tell us about how the Persian corpses were treated?
What information is given in this passage which is not in Herodotus? Why do you think Herodotus did not include it?
How reliable do you think Pausanias is as a historical source? Explain your answer.
Theme: The Battles of Artemisium, Thermopylae, Salamis, Plataea and Mycale
After Darius’ failed attempts to take Greece, he returned to Persia. He was greatly angered by news of what had happened at Marathon. He continued preparations for another attack on Greece, summoning soldiers from throughout Asia. However, in the third year after Marathon he faced a rebellion in Egypt. He therefore resolved to go to war against both Greece and Egypt.
Before he set out on these expeditions, a quarrel broke out between his sons about the succession. In Persian law, the successor to a king had to be decided before an expedition could leave. Finally, Xerxes won the argument, and was proclaimed the heir. Only Darius’ death stopped him from undertaking these two expeditions.
3.1 Reasons for Xerxes’ expedition against the Greeks
After the failure of the campaign which ended in the battle of Marathon, Darius returned to Persia to plan his next attempt. Although he made preparations to return to Greece, and attempt to subdue the Greek cities, it was left to his son Xerxes to make the next moves.
To some extent Xerxes must have felt compelled to continue the work of his father: Darius wanted to avenge the wrong done by the Athenians and others against Persia, particularly with the burning of Sardis and the defeat at Marathon. When Darius died in 485BC, Xerxes may have felt duty-bound to complete the job left unfinished by his father.
Another factor which may have motivated Xerxes was the simple desire to expand the empire. The kings before him, including Darius, increased the size of the Persian Empire. Conquering Greece would help to establish his status as King. In addition, fighting away from home was always a good way to avoid rebellion in the empire. Herodotus reports that his army was drawn from many places throughout the empire: soldiers who were fighting for their king were far less likely to fight against him.
Herodotus gives us an account of Xerxes’ motivations which requires careful consideration. He tells us that at first Xerxes was not at all interested in invading Greece. He was more interested in dealing with the Egyptians, who had rebelled in the final year of Darius’ reign.
Mardonius, Xerxes’ cousin, kept on talking to him, reminding him of the injuries which the Athenians had done to the Persians. He suggested to him, that if he led an army against Athens, his name would be honoured throughout the world, and it would deter others from attacking Persia (Herodotus, 7.5). Herodotus also states that Mardonius added to these points that Europe (i.e. Greece in Europe) was a beautiful place, and only the Persian king should really be ruling there. Herodotus notes that Mardonius was really motivated by the desire to become governor of Greece himself.
In addition to Persian court politics, Greek politics determined that the Persians were almost invited to attack. The ruling family in Thessaly offered assistance to Xerxes. The Pisistratidae, the former tyrants of Athens, were keen that he should attack, just as Hippias had supported Darius. They kept trying to persuade Xerxes to act. Part of their strategy was to use Onomacritus, a collector of oracles, who gave Xerxes prophecies which suggested that he would be successful in any attempt against Greece – those which suggested otherwise were carefully omitted. Herodotus describes how ‘Xerxes gave in and allowed himself to be persuaded to undertake the invasion of Greece’ (Herodotus, 7.6).
Once he had decided to act, Xerxes was not going to allow anything to stand in his way. He had clearly decided to leave nothing to chance, and aimed to conquer Greece. They were far larger in scale than those before: great numbers of troops from all over the empire, required to march over the newly constructed bridge over the Hellespont. These had to be given provisions, as well as co-operate with the naval forces. Xerxes had all this in mind, and must surely only have had the conquest of the whole of Greece in mind: he would not be content with merely subduing Athens, Greece as a whole must have been his idea. Herodotus agrees with this assessment stating that the purpose of Xerxes’ expedition was the conquest of the whole of Greek (Herodotus, 7.138).
1. When did King Darius die?
2. Which two countries was Xerxes considering attacking when he became king?
3. Give details of three factors which suggested to Xerxes that he should attack Greece.
4. Explain two reasons why Xerxes wanted to attack Greece in 480BC.
5. Look at the description of Xerxes’ forces given in the paragraph above. What does this tell us about the nature of his expedition and his aims?
6. Do you think Herodotus is right to suggest that Xerxes had to be persuaded to attack Greece?
Explain your answer.
TASK 3B Source-based Task: Xerxes’ Route to Greece
Read Herodotus 7.23-24.
Describe Xerxes’ actions in this passage.
Explain why you think Xerxes took this course of action.
What does this episode show about Xerxes’ determination in attacking Greece?
How reliable do you think this account by Herodotus is? Explain your reasons for your
3.2 The Hellenic League
After the battle of Salamis, the Spartans were approached by Alexander of Macedon, who brought a peace proposal from Xerxes. They rejected this, but were concerned that the Athenians might not. However, when they visited Athens, the Athenians also rejected the proposal, stating that they would not desert the Greek community: the community of blood and language, temples and ritual, and common customs. (Herodotus, 8.143). The Greeks were not politically united, but they held these things in common.
During the fifth century BC the Greeks coined the term Barbarian to describe foreigners. Literally it referred to those who did not speak Greek, because the Greeks thought that all other languages sounded like the bar-bar sound of sheep.
One of the main effects of the Persian attacks on Greece was to focus the Greeks’ minds on what they had in common, and draw out a sense of common identity which had not yet been developed in the Greek mind. This would develop further during the fifth century, with the Greeks calling non-Greek speaking people barbarians, and themselves Hellenes.
However, at the time of the Persian invasions, their sense of identity as a group was weak. They were very willing to fight one another and some states even felt that medising or joining the Persians was the best course of action. Often opinion was split even within a state – so some Thebans, for example, medised, whilst others fought at the battle of Thermopylae.
Once news of Xerxes’ expedition reached them, the Greeks or Hellenes decided to come together to discuss what action should be taken. At this stage, Sparta was still viewed as the natural leader of the Greek states, whilst Athens had also come into a position of authority because of her relatively recently success at Marathon.
The Athenians and Spartans jointly called a meeting of the Hellenic League at the Isthmus of Corinth to consult on what measures should be taken to stop the threatened invasion. The Isthmus was chosen because of its central location. Sparta took the presidency of the meeting.
Thirty one states sent representatives. They bound themselves together with a simple oath that once things were back in order, they would punish those Greeks who had given themselves to Persia, without being compelled, by giving a tenth of their wealth to the god at Delphi (Herodotus, 7.132). At the first meeting power over all the forces was granted to Spartans. They also resolved to end all wars between member states.
At a second meeting, the members considered their strategy for the war. There were to be two aspects to their strategy: land and sea. On land they would make a stand at Thermopylae. By sea they would send a fleet to Artemisium. They also felt that because these two places were close together, communication would be easy.
What decisions were made at the meetings at the Isthmus?
Look at the map of Greece given in the link above. Explain why the Athenians and Spartans might have had very different views about where to face the Persians in battle.
Why do you think the Greeks decided to fight together against the Persians at this point?
3.3 The Battle of Artemisium
The battle at Artemisium, all be it relatively small, was a significant moment in the fight against Xerxes. The poet Pindar, writing in the fifth century BC, said that the battle of Artemisium was where ‘the sons of the Athenians set down the shining corner-stone of freedom.’
Herodotus worked out the details of the Persian navy as follows: 1207 ships, with 241,400 men. Each ship also had thirty fighting men on board. He also claimed that there were 3000 penteconters, with 80 men on each. He therefore calculated that the total Persian naval force was in the region of 517610 men! A large number of these were lost in various storms on the way to Greece, with the result that by the time of the first sea battle (that at Artemisium) there were probably substantially fewer ships. Nevertheless, it was a large force.
The action in this battle was the first between the Greeks and the Persians in this phase of the conflict. The first engagement was a Greek success: fifteen Persian ships had fallen behind the others, and when they saw the Greeks at Artemisium, they thought that they were Persians, and innocently made towards them. The Greeks lost no time in capturing them.
After this, Herodotus describes how the Greek commanders met and decided to test the Persian seamanship and tactics. They sent out a few ships, which led the Persians to believe that they would have an easy victory over their enemy.
3.4 The Battle of Thermopylae
How the Spartans saw themselves:
‘A woman, after sending off her five sons to war, stood on the outskirts of the city to watch anxiously what the outcome of the battle might be. When someone appeared and she questioned him, he reported that all her sons had perished. She said: ‘Yet this isn’t what I asked you, vile slave, but rather how our country was doing.’ When he said that it was winning, she remarked: ‘Then I gladly accept the death of my sons too.’
(Plutarch, Plutarch On Sparta, p.160, n.7, trans. R. J. A. Talbert, Penguin, 1988)
Demaratus to Xerxes on the Spartans:
‘In this way the Spartans, fighting as individuals, are no worse than any others, but when fighting side by side they are the best of all men. Although they are free, they are not free in every respect: they have as a master the law, which they fear much more than your subjects fear you. They do whatever it orders, and it always orders the same thing – it does not allow them to flee from battle whatever the size of the opposing forces, but commands them to stay in formation and either conquer or be killed.’
In August 480BC whilst the Greek naval forces were attempting to stop the Persians by sea at Artemisium, the Greek land forces had to stand firm to stop the Persians entering Greece.
The spot which they had chosen was a narrow pass at Thermopylae, where it seemed that if they held the ground the Persians would be unable to make use of their superior numbers, and therefore unable to withstand the power of the Greek soldiers.
At the start of the confrontation, Leonidas, the Spartan king, had a force of some 6000-7000 Greeks. The army was small, either because many Greeks were attempting to religious observances or because the Peloponnesians did not wish to fight so far away from home.
Herodotus recounts how Xerxes sent spies to watch the Spartans. He was thoroughly convinced that they would make good their escape, but rather than seeing fleeing soldiers, the spies found themselves looking at men who had stripped for exercise, and were then combing their hair. Xerxes was baffled, but the former Spartan king, Demaratus, who was now advising Xerxes, explained that this was what the Spartans did when they were about to sacrifice their lives. Demaratus concluded his speech, saying: ‘But understand this: if you can overcome these men and those who are still in Sparta, there is no other race of men that will withstand you or raise a hand against you. You are facing the noblest kingdom in Greece and the bravest fighting men.’ (Herodotus, 7.209)
After this, Xerxes waited for four days, thinking that the Greeks would retreat. Nothing happened, and so on the fifth day, infuriated, he began the battle. The Spartans fought well on the first day, and drove back the opposition. The following day was similar. They would have been able to hold the pass, but a local Greek, Epialtes, showed the Persians an alternative route. The Persians marched through the night, following the newly suggested route. The Phocians, who had been guarding this route, tried to resist, but then withdrew. When the rest of the Greeks learned that the Persians had come through in this way, they held a council: some wanted to stay with Leonidas, others to depart. In the end, Leonidas dismissed them, and remained with the Spartans, Thespias, Thebans and some Mycenaeans.
That morning Xerxes poured a libation to the rising sun, and then began the attack. The remaining Greeks fought hard: first with their spears, then swords and then even their bare hands. Finally, though, they were overcome. Herodotus tells how there was a bitter struggle over the body of Leonidas. Finally, the Persians got the better of the Greeks, and took his body. Xerxes is then said to have beheaded him, and placed his head on a pole, such was his rage at the battle.
Numerous stories are told of the battle, which seem to characterise the Spartans. One such comes from Herodotus. Before the battle, a fellow Greek soldier told a Spartan, Dieneces, that when the Persians fired arrows, they sent so many that the sun was blocked out. Dieneces response was simple: they would be able to fight in the shade.
The Spartans greatly honoured those who died at Thermopylae. The dead were buried where they fell, and an inscription set up which read:
Stranger, tell the Spartans that here
We lie, obedient to their commands.
The battle of Thermopylae was a defeat for the Greeks. It bought the remainder of the Greeks valuable time, and the Spartans and their allies who remained to the end showed true heroism.
Read Herodotus’ account of the battle of Thermopylae, Herodotus, 7.206-228.
Explain why it was important for the Greeks to hold the Persians at Thermopylae.
How did the Greek forces differ from the Persians?
Outline the course of the battle.
Explain how treachery led to the Greek defeat.
What aspects of Herodotus’ account do you think are most likely to be reliable? Explain your answer.
Debate or Essay: ‘A glorious, but futile defeat.’ How far do you think Herodotus’ account supports this assessment of the battle of Thermopylae?
TASK 3E: The film 300
Choose a section of the film 300, and watch at least 20 minutes. When you have finished, consider which parts are historically accurate and which not. Each aspect should be explained with reference to Herodotus (or Plutarch, if appropriate).
3.5 The Battle of Salamis
After their victory at Thermopylae, the Persians advanced into mainland Greece, burning villages as they went. Thebes was spared because the Thebans had shown sympathy to the Persians. In Athens, however, the mood was very different: the Athenians abandoned the city and all the surrounding land of Attica was evacuated. Those who remained in the city found themselves under a siege, which they eventually lost. The Persians destroyed the temples on the Acropolis, and ravished the city.
The prospects for a Greece free of Persian domination had never looked bleaker: only the Peloponnese now remained free, and with Athens taken, one of the great leaders of the Greek world had been destroyed – or had she?