The Persian Factor
Medes and Persians burst on
the world scene to confront the
Rise of the Medes
In 700 the Assyrian Empire was at its
The Assyrians controlled both Babylonia
and northern Persia, or Media.
Deioces led the Medes in a successful
rebellion against their Assyrian overlords
and is made king.
His successor Phraortes conquers the area
south of Media known as Persia.
The Rise of Babylon
Babylonia revolted against their Assyrian
overlords, joining forces with Medes in doing so.
The combined forces of the Babylonians under
Nabopolassar and Medes defeated the Assyrian
army and Ninevah fell in 612.
The Assyrian Empire was divided between Media
Nebuchadnezzar succeeds to the Babylonian
throne and brings that Empire to its greatest
Babylon now thought to be the greatest city in the
world—its Hanging Gardens one of the world’s
The greatest polis of Ionia in western Asia
Minor was Miletus.
There lived a Greek named Thales who
had studied astronomy in Egypt.
He was the first European to successfully
predict an eclipse to occur during May of
We know him as the first Greek
philosopher who was also the first scientist:
he believed water was the common
substance that explained the variety and
unity of natural phenomena.
The Medes and Lydia
Medes now controlled eastern Asia Minor
to the banks of the Halys River—the border
To conquer Lydia was the Median objective
and they went to war for six years.
But…in the midst of battle on May 28, 585,
the eclipse occurred! Warriors of both
armies were stunned.
Both sides laid down their arms and
concluded a peace. The Lydian king
Alyattes gave his daughter in marriage to
the Median king Astyages.
Freed from Median threat, Lydia now turned to
conquest of the Greek cities of Ionia and Aeolia.
Alyattes’ son Croesus was able to subdue all the
poleis except Miletus, which had signed a peace
treaty with his father.
Croesus adopted Greek religion, language, dress,
and culture. He consulted Delphi.
He built the world famous Temple of Artemis at
His incredible wealth became proverbial. He
introduced coins of pure gold and silver.
Fall of the Medes and Lydia
Croesus brother-in-law Astyages was ousted from
the throne by the Persian Cyrus the Great.
Croesus consulted Delphi about a pre-emptive
attack. The oracle said, “if you cross the Halys
you will destroy a mighty empire.”
Cyrus turned him back and captured Sardis in
546. Croesus foolish attack had destroyed a
mighty empire—his own.
The fall of Lydia removed an important buffer
between Greek mainland and the eastern empires.
The Persians inherited Greek lands in western
Asia Minor—and would look longingly to the Greek
A Story About Croesus
According to Herodotus, Cyrus built a great pyre and
placed Croesus along with 14 Lydian youths on the top.
While awaiting burning, Croesus recalled a conversation
with the Athenian Solon about happiness.
He had been offended that Solon thought only poorer men
truly happy, but now he recognized Solon’s wisdom.
He cried aloud, moaning the name of Solon. The fire was
lit when Cyrus heard what Croesus had been crying about
and ordered him spared—too late.
Apollo heard Croesus’ prayer and sent a rain shower out
of a clear sky to quench the flames.
Croesus was carried into exile in Media. This story
became as popular to the Greeks as “The Three Bears” is
Handwriting on the Wall
The Persians conquered Babylon in 538 and killed
the king Belshazzar. “Mene Mene Tekel Peres—
Weighed in the balances and found wanting, your
kingdom will be handed over to the Medes and
Darius succeeded Cambyses, Cyrus’ son and
turned his attention to Greece, beginning with the
campaign against Scythia and the conquest of
Darius ruled from 522-486 B.C. after he killed a
usurper to the throne who claimed to be
The Persian Machinery of Rule
Darius centralized the Persian government at
Darius divided the empire into satrapies. Satraps
ruled them as a governor does a province. The
title is from old Farsi for “protector.”
Satraps were appointed by the king and were
assessed an annual tribute.
Persian king was viewed much like a demigod
whose orders to labor or perform military service
were unquestioned by his subjects.
This was a hard pill for Greeks, who were used to
more independence than Persian subjects.
Greeks were Persian subjects in western Asia
Minor, or Ionia.
Ionia and Lydia were two satrapies ruled by a
single satrap at Sardis.
Persians at first were content to allow tyrants to
rule in Ionia, one of them was Aristagoras, tyrant
With the king’s blessing, Aristagoras attempted to
annex the island of Naxos, but he was betrayed by
the admiral of the Persian navy in the Aegean.
Disillusioned with the Persians, Aristagoras led a
failed revolt in 499 that overthrew tyrants in Ionia
and enlisted the aid of Athens and Eretria.
Revenge of the Persians
In the Ionian rebellion, Athenians and Eretrians not
only helped the rebels…they accidentally burned
down Sardis, capital of the satrapy.
The mainland Greeks left the city and marched to
Ephesus. There they were met by a Persian force
that defeated them.
After the battle at Ephesus the mainland Greeks
went home, but they were now on Darius’ radar.
When told that the Athenians burned Sardis,
Darius remarked, “Athenians? Who are they?”
In 494, Miletus was defeated by the Persian navy.
Aristagoras got away; Miletus’ men were carried
off to the mouth of the Tigris; wives and kids
Athens braces for the Persians
The defeat of Miletus depressed the Athenians.
Athenians elected Themistocles archon and he
adopted a policy of building defenses and fortifying
In 492 the Persians conquered Thrace,
Macedonia, and Thasos.
In 490 the Persian navy landed a force in Greece,
first burning Eretria and carrying off her people to
The Persians then sailed to the plains of Marathon
in order to make a run at Athens.
The Battle of Marathon
How different the
world would be today
if the Athenians had
suffered the same
fate as the Eretrians!
Preparing for the battle
Marathon was a Peisistradid fortress about 26
miles northwest of Athens near the Aegean coast.
Athens decided to meet the Persians rather than
wait for them to come to Athens.
They sent a runner, Philippides, to Sparta who ran
the 140 miles in one day to ask for help. The
Spartans would come as soon as possible, at the
About 1000 Plataeans did come to Athens’ aid.
The Athenians may have had 9000 of their own to
face a Persian force of more than 20,000.
Callimachus was the elected strategos who was advised by
the brilliant Miltiades.
The Athenians were in perfect position to engage the
The Persians attempted to slip by on a southern route to
The Athenians attacked their flank from the west, thin in the
middle and strong on the sides (let me demonstrate…)
According to Herodotus (who is probably right) the Greeks
lost 192, the Persians 6400.
The surviving Persians escaped to the fleet which tried to
make a run at Piraeus.
The Athenian army left a regiment to clean up and quick
marched back to Athens and stared down the Persians.
Athenian Soul Searching
The Spartans arrived during the clean-up.
The Persians were not done by a long shot.
How best to fight the Persians in the future?
Themistocles wanted to use a windfall silver strike
from Laurium to build a navy, but Aristides
Aristides was “ostracized” and the navy built in
A Persian Comeback?
Persians soon began to prepare for another
Darius died in 485 and was succeeded by Xerxes.
After putting down rebellion in Egypt, he began to
prepare to invade Greece.
He built a canal in Chalcedon around Mt. Athos—
strange to us, but necessary for his army and
In 484 Xerxes began to rebuild the navy.
The Hellenic League
481 Thirty-one poleis met at Corinth to discuss the
Athens, Aegina, and the Peloponnesian League
cities formed an alliance.
Sparta was given military command with the
Athenian navy under their direction.
The League decided to make a stand in central
Greece at Thermopylae.
Attica’s populace was evacuated to Salamis.
The Battle of Thermopylae
Go tell the Spartans,
stranger passing by,
That here, obeying
their commands, we
A Place to Stand
The Peloponnesians were most concerned with a
defense of the Corinthian isthmus, but contributed
soldiers to a defense of Attica.
To protect eastern Greece the most feasible place
of defense was Thermopylae (hot springs), a pass
between the Malian Gulf and the Callidromus
mountains in central Greece.
Its only weakness was a mountainous bypass
south of the pass that had to be secured.
Spartan King Leonidas led the Greek army, which
numbered about 7000 from a number of areas,
including 300 Spartans.
The Battle Begins
The Greek fleet hovered nearby as did the
Persian fleet, but the Persians lost
hundreds of ships in two storms and this
emboldened the natives, mostly Athenian.
Leonidas dispatched 1000 Phocians to
guard the mountain bypass.
Xerxes arrived with his army, but waited
four days, expecting a Greek retreat, then
attacked on the fifth and sixth days.
The Greeks’ spearmen were superior to
the Persian archers and beat them back.
Betrayal and Tragedy
Xerxes decides to try the mountain bypass and a
Malian Greek named Epialtes shows the way
around the native armies to the “Immortals,”
Xerxes’ personal guard.
Phocians flee higher seeing Persian strength and
stragglers report news to Leonidas.
Leonidas dismisses all but 1400 of his forces to
take up a new position. 300 Spartans guard the
west end of the pass, 1100 Thebans and
Thespians guard the east end.
Leonidas charges oncoming Persians with his
soldiers and is killed. A battle of Homeric
proportions results to protect his body. All the
Spartans are slain, Greek total losses in the
The Battle of Salamis
A heavy blow to the
naval power of the
The Battle Begins
When the Greek fleet heard of the fall of
Thermopylae, they retreated to the shores of
People of Attica had been removed to the island of
Persians marched into Athens and burned the
Persian fleet thought they had the Greeks bottled
up in a sound called the Bay of Eleusis between
Attica and the island of Salamis.
Persian fleet decided to go through to the bay by
way of an entrance bisected by an island into two
narrow straits on morning of September 20.
The Battle Ends
The Greeks divided the Persian fleet and
drove their unwieldy ships into the shore. It
was a disaster for the Persians under the
view of Xerxes, enthroned on the Attican
The awful strategy of the Persian navy may
actually have been invited by
Themistocles, to force his Greeks to fight
and not be tempted to withdraw to Corinth.
Persian fleet retreats to the Hellespont.
Xerxes leaves with 60,000 troops for
Platea: Spring 479
The last battle with the Persians in Europe took
place near Platea, a city in extreme southeastern
A Greek force of Spartans, Athenians, and
Tegeans opposed a huge force of Persians and
their Theban allies.
Persian forces misperceived a weakness in the
Spartan forces and attacked. The Spartans saw
positive omens and attacked fiercely and crushed
the Persians against a hillside.
The battle was over before any Athenians could
get involved. Persians fled to the Hellespont, the
Greeks besieged Thebes.
Mycale, Spring 479
The Greek fleet was positioned at the island of
A message came from Greeks of the island of
Samos, asking for liberation from the Persians.
The Greek fleet under Xanthippus sailed to
Samos, then pursued the retreating Persian navy
to Cape Mycale where an army of Ionians and
some Persians was camped.
The Greeks blocked the Persians, then destroyed
the land base when Ionian troops deserted the
Persians. Ionia was free!