Read this article to learn about the second and third expeditions of Darius in the Persian invasions of Greece.
Darius’ first expedition against the Greeks of the mainland had resulted in the conquest of Thrace.
Macedonia also acknowledged allegiance to the great king. The Ionian revolt served not only as an interlude but also as an additional cause for Persian expedition against the European Greeks.
Having suppressed the Ionian revolt Persia reconquered the Persian Europe, reorganised the political set up of the Asiatic Greek cities.
The most important task, namely punishment of those free Greek states of the mainland which had made war on Persia, was now undertaken. It was decided to send an expedition straight across the Aegean sea. Cities on the Persian seaboard were called upon to equip warships and provide transport for the Greek cavalry.
Heralds were sent to the Greek cities to furnish earth and water as tokens of submission. In most cases, prospect of a Persian invasion was terrifying and the required tokens were given to the heralds. Aegina, the enemy of Athens also furnished the tokens. In Sparta and Athens the Persian heralds were thrown into pits to collect water and earth for themselves, enough proof of their contempt to the proposal of the Persian king. The die was thus cast.
Darius placed his nephew Artaphernes and the Mede Datis in command of the new expedition. They were accompanied by the aged tyrant Hippias who was lured by the hope of once more ruling over his native county. The number of triremes composing the fleet is said to have been 600 strong.
The fleet, according to Herodotus avoided after their previous experience, a journey round Mount Athos, but direct to the Cyclades. It first reached Naxos, the inhabitants whereof abandoned the city and fled into the hills. The Persians took the city, enslaved the inhabitants who yet remained there and burnt the city.
The sacred island of Delos, the seat of the Sun God Apollo was scrupulously spared. The Persians then landed in Euboea and after reducing Carystus on the way, reached Eretria. According to Bury it was ‘strange to find that Athens and Eretria had made no common preparation to meet a common danger.
Eretria was severed from Attica only by a narrow water, and yet there was no joint action.’ But from A. Holm we know that there were some Athenian auxiliaries there, who, however, withdrew on the advice of the Eretrians, so as not to be implicated in the inevitable fall of the city.
Eretria held out for six days but it was delivered over to the invaders by the treachery of some leading burghers. The city was burnt down and the inhabitants reduced to slavery. ‘The flames which consumed the temples of Eretria were a small set off against the flames of Sardis’ according to Bury.
The Persians now crossed over to Attica where, by the advice of Hippias who was accompanying them, they landed near Marathon where the country being level they hoped to use their cavalry to the best advantage. Further, it was by the side of the district in which the Peisistratids had long their adherents.
Peisistratid Hippias belonging to the same house came to recover his lost dominion over Athens. But to come with a foreign host was the weakest argument of Hippias. Far from getting any help from the Athenians the bitterest enemy of the Peisistratids, namely Miltiades, son of Cimon who returned from Chersonese after the Ionian revolt and conquered the important islands of Lemnos and Imbros for Athens, stood up against the invaders.
The Athenians were led by the Strategy, one of whom was Miltiades. He was the soul of the resistance which his country offered to the Persians although the nominal commander-in-chief of the army was the Polemarch Callimachus.
Had the Athenians remained under tyranny, it would have been easier for Hippias to recover Athens. But fortunately, under democratic institutions the Athenian character had developed in such a way that Athens would not allow its liberty to succumb to the foreign invaders. Strong sentiments against tyrannies which overthrew the Peisistratids in Athens made the Athenians of Marathon.
As Herodotus tells us, the Persians landed on Attica before the Athenians had bethought themselves how they would defend the country against the invaders. A fast runner Philippides was dispatched to Lacedaemon with the news of the fall of Eretria and with request for immediate help.
The Lacedaemonians promised to send help but superstition forbad them to come at once due to new moon. But before they could come after the full moon it was too late. Plataeans, true to their friendly alliance with Athens sent help. The Athenians had thus to do without Spartan help in their struggle against the Persians. With the Plataean help the Athenian army was only ten or eleven thousand strong.
The question whether the Athenians should march to Marathon or wait till help arrived from Sparta was decided by the Assembly of the people where Miltiades’ suggestion to march at once was accepted. To have proposed and carried this decree is probably the greatest title of Miltiades to immortal fame.’
The Athenians reached the plain of Marathon by the Northern spurs of Penteclius, from which they could distinguish the Persians encamped on the shore, the ships in the bay, and the mountains of Euboea. The plain of Marathon stretches along a sickle-shaped line of coast.
The choice of the admirable position by the Athenians was more than half the victory. The Athenians were also unassailable in the lower valley, except at a great advantage; they commanded not only the mountain road by which they reached the plain of Marathon, but also the main road and the southern gate of the plain.
This would expose the Persians to flank attack by the Athenians should they attempt to reach the southern gate. The Persians encamped on the northern side of the torrent-bed and their ships were at anchor beside them. Relatively the position of the Athenians was impregnable and they might wait till help from Sparta arrived.
The Persians, however, found that their advantage lay in bringing on a pitched battle in the plain, as soon as possible. The Athenians were doubtful whether they ought really to hazard a battle against the Persians at Marathon, who were numerically superior. The commanders were divided on the issue. Miltiadei was, however, of opinion that such an attack was absolutely necessary, but the final decision lay with Callimachus who was the Polemarch.
Miltiades represented to him that welfare of all depended on a battle with the Persians who would wait no longer and were ready to move upon Athens itself by land and sea. Callimachus voted in the council of war that was held, in favour of attack, thus Miltiades’ point was carried. Callimachus took charge of the right wing and the Plataeans who came to help the Athenians, were on the left.
The Persians at last determined to move southwards upon Athens. The entire cavalry and the greater part of the infantry were embarked and the rest prepared to move in columns through the plain for the road at its southern end. The Athenians were now compelled to take the offensive.
In order to prevent their line being surrounded on one or the other wing. Miltiades drew up the centre in fewer ranks than usual and made the two wings stronger. This was done to cover the entire length of the enemy line. As the Greeks drew near the enemy they were met by a hail of arrows to escape which they charged through it by running closer to the enemy.
The Persians seeing the Athenians approach by running prepared to receive them, and as they observed Athenians to be few in number destitute both of cavalry and archers considered them as mad and rushing on sure destruction. But as soon as the Greeks mingled with the enemy they behaved with greatest gallantry.
“They were the first Greeks that we know of, who ran to attack an enemy; they were the first also who beheld without dismay the dress and armour of the Medes; for hitherto in Greece the very name of a Mede excited terror.” But as anticipated the centre of the Athenian line was broken.
The Greek wings, however, routed the Persians and finding the Persians pursuing the routed Greeks of the centre, the victorious wings of the Greeks rallied and encircled the Persians who were pursuing the Greeks through the broken centre and routed them completely. The routed Persians fled for the shore where those who could escape the sword were picked up by the ships. The Greeks could not prevent their departure and succeeded in taking only seven of the Persian ships.
Marathon was not a long battle but the Persians left 6400 of their comrades dead on the battlefield with only as small as 192 Athenians slain.
The Persiatis retired with their fleet and passed the promontory of Sunium thinking of circumventing the Athenians and reaching their city before the Athenians themselves. The Athenians impute the prosecution of this measure to one of the Athenian renegades who, according to them, held up a shield as a signal to the Persians when they were on soil.
Here again Miltiades’ skill in logistics was at test. While he saw the Persian fleet doubling the cape of Sunium he anticipated a Persian attack on Athens itself and lost no time in hastening to the defence of the city and effectually prevented the design of the enemy. The Persians now did not venture to land to make a surprise attack. The Persian fleet anchored some distance off Phalerum, an Athenian harbour, remained there for some time, and then retired to Asia.
After the full moon, as superstition would not permit leaving home after a new moon till there was full moon, the Spartans arrived with 2000 men covering 140 miles in three days a wonderful performance on bad roads, only to find that the battle was over. They saw the Persians lying dead on the field of Marathon and were full of priase for the Athenians.