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The Heroism, Divine Support, And Greek Unity Displayed In The Persian Wars

2296 words - 9 pages

In early fifth century BC Greece, the Greeks consistently suffered from the threat of being conquered by the Persian Empire. Between the years 500-479 BC, the Greeks and the Persians fought two wars. Although the Persian power vastly surpassed the Greeks, the Greeks unexpectedly triumphed. In this Goliath versus David scenario, the Greeks as the underdog, defeated the Persians due to their heroic action, divine support, and Greek unity. The threat of the Persian Empire's expansion into Greece and the imminent possibility that they would lose their freedom and become subservient to the Persians, so horrified the Greeks that they united together and risked their lives in order to preserve the one thing they all shared in common, their "Greekness".

The Persian War stemmed from the Ionian Revolt which began in 499 BC. The Ionians became a part of the Persian Empire in 546 BC, but after many years desired to break away from this forced bond. Therefore, the Ionians sought help from the mainland Greeks. The Athenians and Eretrians responded by sending ships, but eventually became more involved. "What began as a relatively minor involvement in the revolt became more serious when the Athenian and Eretrian forces aided in a surprise attack on Sardis, during which the city was set afire" (Demand 1996, 184). Although the Ionian revolt was ultimately unsuccessful, it sparked the anger of Darius, the King of Persia, that the Athenians dared to interfere with his vast empire. Herodotus writes he was so angry that he "ordered one of his servants to say to him three times every day before dinner, 'Sire, remember the Athenians" (Hdt. 5.105.2). Whether Darius really said this is questionable, but it is clear that either to exact vengeance on the Athenians, or just to expand his kingdom, Darius set his eyes on conquering mainland Greece .

The first battle of the Persian War, the Battle of Marathon, took place in 490 BC. King Darius sent troops to Greece which stopped at each Greek island along the way demanding "earth and water," which both literally and symbolically represented submission to the Persian empire. The Battle of Marathon exemplifies the heroic action of the Greeks. The Athenians, led by one of their ten generals, Miltiades, unflinchingly faced the Persians, an army over twice the size of theirs, and triumphed. The Athenians won the Battle of Marathon because they employed superior military strategy. There are some discrepancies, however, between different literary sources about how the Greeks fought the Battle of Marathon. For instance, Herodotus claims that the ten Athenian generals could not decide whether to go into battle. He writes that Miltiades talked the other generals into fighting. Herodotus writes that they waited for days for Miltiades to lead the army, and then they went into battle (Hdt. 6.110-111.2). According to Nancy Demand, however, Herodotus, unaware of the right of the polemarch to make all final decisions,...

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