Series of conflicts between Greece and Persia in 499–479 BC. Greek involvement with Persia began when Cyrus (II) the Great (reigned 559–530 BC) conquered the Greek cities of western Asia Minor and ended with Alexander (III) the Great's conquest of Persia, but the term ‘Persian Wars’ usually refers to the two Persian invasions of mainland Greece in 490 BC and 480–79 BC. The Greek victory marked the end of Persian domination of the ancient world and the beginning of Greek supremacy.
Probably in 499 BC many of the Greek cities of Asia Minor rebelled against Persian rule, briefly drawing support from Athens and Eretria in mainland Greece, and although the rebellion was crushed in 494 BC, Darius (I) the Great of Persia decided to avenge the part Athens and Eretria had played. Hence the seaborne expedition which came to grief at Marathon in 490 BC. Darius' death in 486 BC and a rebellion in Egypt delayed a renewal of the conflict, but in 480 BC Darius' son Xerxes I invaded Greece by both land and sea.
Aware of Persian preparations for some time, the Greeks had formed an alliance under Spartan leadership in the autumn of 481 BC, but their first attempt to halt the invasion, at the pass of Tempe between Mount Olympus and Mount Ossa, was abandoned even before Xerxes crossed the Hellespont (present-day Dardanelles), when it was realized that the pass could be turned. In August 480 BC, despite the heroism of its defenders, the Greek position at Thermopylae was turned (see Thermopylae, Battle of), while at sea an indecisive series of skirmishes was fought off Artemisium on the northeast coast of Euboea.
Eastern Greece as far south as Athens was now overrun, but the Athenians had already evacuated their city, and the Greek fleet managed to defeat the Persians in the narrow strait between the island of Salamis and Attica about 24 September. The Persian fleet, its morale shattered, withdrew to Asia Minor and was followed by Xerxes himself and part of his land forces. However, Xerxes left the bulk of his army behind him under his general Mardonius, who wintered in Thessaly, and from there first tried to win Athens over by diplomacy, and then reoccupied the city in June 479 BC. Eventually, when the Athenians threatened to make a separate peace, the Spartans and their allies mobilized and, joining the Athenians at Eleusis, advanced into Boeotia. Here, in the vicinity of Plataea, a complex three-week campaign ended in complete Greek victory in (?August) 479 BC.
The Greeks won partly because enough of them were prepared to sink their differences and unite, but mainly because the Persians allowed themselves to be drawn into battles in which their advantages were nullified. At sea their fleet, with probably a numerical advantage even at Salamis, and with faster and more manoeuvrable ships, was drawn into fighting in a narrow channel. On land, at Marathon and Plataea, the Persian army, whose strength lay in cavalry and missile-armed infantry, allowed the Greek hoplites to close and fight the hand-to-hand combat in which they excelled.
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