The Persian Wars were a series of wars fought between the Persians and the Greeks from 492 BC to 449 BC.
Who were the Persians?
The Persian Empire was the largest and most powerful empire in the world at the time of the Persian Wars. They controlled land that stretched from Egypt all the way to India.
Map of the Persian Empire by Unknown
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Who were the Greeks?
The Greeks were made up of a number of city-states such as Sparta and Athens. Typically these city-states fought each other, but they united to fight against the Persians.
The Ionians were Greeks that lived along the coast of Turkey. They were conquered by the Persians. When the Ionians decided to revolt they asked Athens and other Greek cities for help. The other Greek cities sent ships and weapons, but were quickly defeated. The Persians didn't like this and decided to conquer the rest of the Greek cities in order to keep them under control.
First Invasion of Greece
Darius I, King of Persia, decided he wanted to conquer the Greeks in 490 BC. He gathered a vast army of soldiers that outnumbered any army the Greeks could muster. They boarded the Persian fleet and headed to Greece.
Battle of Marathon
The Persian fleet landed at the Bay of Marathon, about 25 miles from the city of Athens. The Persians had a lot more soldiers, but they underestimated the fighting capability of the Greeks. The army of Athens routed the Persian army killing around 6,000 Persians and only losing 192 Greeks.
After the battle, the Athenian army ran the 25 miles back to Athens in order to prevent the Persians from attacking the city. This is the origin of the Marathon running race.
Second Invasion of Greece
Ten years later, in 480 BC, the son of Darius I, King Xerxes, decided to get his revenge on the Greeks. He amassed a huge army of over 200,000 soldiers and 1,000 warships.
Battle of Thermopylae
The Greeks put together a small force, led by the Spartan King Leonidas I and 300 Spartans. They decided to meet the Persians at a narrow pass in the mountains called Thermopylae. The Greeks held off the Persians killing thousands, until the Persians found a way around the mountains and got behind the Greeks. King Leonidas told most of his troops to flee, but stayed behind with a small force including his 300 Spartans in order to allow the rest of the Greek army to escape. The Spartans fought to the death, killing as many Persians as they could.
Battle of Salamis
The Persian army continued to march on Greece. When they arrived at the city of Athens, they found it deserted. The people of Athens had fled. The Athenian fleet, however, was waiting off the coast by the island of Salamis.
The much larger Persian fleet attacked the small Athenian ships. They were sure of victory. However, the Athenian ships, called triremes, were fast and maneuverable. They rammed into the sides of the large Persian ships and sunk them. They soundly defeated the Persians causing Xerxes to retreat back to Persia.
Map of the Battle of Salamis from the US Military Academy
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Interesting Facts about the Persian Wars
After the first invasion, the Athenians built up a mighty fleet of ships called triremes.
The Persian Empire would eventually be conquered by the Greeks under the leadership of Alexander the Great.
The movie 300 is about the Spartans who fought at Thermopylae.
The Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield is a famous book about the Battle of Thermopylae.
Xerxes, king of Persia, had his golden throne carried along so he could watch the Greeks be defeated by his army from a nearby hillside. He must have been pretty disappointed!