Reasons for the Defeat of the Persians in 490 B.C and 480 - 479 B.C

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“Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object” – Abraham Lincoln.

The Persian Wars were a series of destructive and malevolent battles which occurred in the time frame of 490B.C and 480 – 479B.C. The Greek victory over the Persians in the Persian Wars cannot be attributed to only one factor, more it was a commixture of factors. Such factors include unity, leadership, strategy, tactics and the pre-eminence of the Greek soldier. Each contributing factor was to play a distinctive and pivotal role in the various battles to come, which ultimately would lead to the subsequent demise of the Persians.

The Conflict among the Greeks and the Persians all began when Athens and Eretria made the fatal mistake of embroiling themselves in the ‘Ionian Revolt’. Consequently, the help given by the Athenians to the Ionians, according to Pamela Bradley – “drew upon them the vengeance of Darius, who now set in motion his first expedition against Greece”. This first expedition was to be known as the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. According to the Modern Historians Bengtson and Paul K. Davis, a Persian force of 20,000 led by the tyrant Hippias, landed at the Bay of Marathon, about 25.5 miles from Athens. A council was held in Athens to decide whether to march out and meet the Persians, or stay and defend the city. Miltiades, one of the ten Generals, persuaded the Athenians to ‘take food and March’. Miltiades, who had inside knowledge of Persian warfare, played a crucial role in the outcome of the Battle of Marathon in that it was his initiative that produced the success of the Greeks. “Miltiades’ words prevailed, and by the vote of Callimachus (the polemarch, or commander in chief)…the decision to fight was made” – Herodotus. In response, the Athenians marched out from Athens with a force of approximately 11,000 Greek hoplites (10,000 Athenian and 1,000 Plataean) to meet the Persians at Marathon. The Persians specifically chose the plains of Marathon for their cavalry, yet they could not use the horses in the sudden attack because the animals were in the process of embarking. According to Pamela Bradely, Miltiades seised the opportunity to strike the Persians when their cavalry was absent. The fact that the expert Persian cavalry took no part in the battle was one of the significant reasons for the Greek victory and the Persian loss at the battle of Marathon.

Although immensely powerful and colossal in size, the Persian army lacked the capacity to function as a unit and fought as individuals. On the contrary, the Greeks were a unified force who fought for a common cause (their homeland) and against a common enemy (Persia). It was the vital role and leadership of Miltiades that proved to the Persians that ‘numbers counted for nothing’. As a result of his experience with Persian military tactics in the Cyclades, Miltiades knew Athens best chance was to move in close to the main Persian force, reducing their chance to use their archers; “the Athenians advanced at a run towards the enemy, not less than a mile away” – Herodotus. He was aware that the elite soldiers in the Persian army would be positioned in the centre. Thus, to counter this formation, Miltiades came up with an excellent battle strategy by significantly weakening the centre (which was intended to give ground) and by strengthening the wings; “One result of the disposition of Athenian troops before the battle was the weakening of their centre by the effort to extend the line sufficiently to cover the whole Persian front; the two wings were strong, but the line in the centre was only a few ranks deep” –Herodotus. In this way, the Greek wings converged and surrounded the Persian soldiers, compelling them to take part in hand-to-hand combat. Many Persians were slaughtered in the engagement; others, as they retreated to their ships, or found themselves caught between the sea...
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