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Persian influence on Greece (2)

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Map of the Persian empire. Design Jona Lendering.
The ancient Persian and Greek cultures did not exist in isolation. There was cross-fertilization. The present article contains a description of Persia's influence on Greece.

This is the second part of the article; the first one can be found here.


In 547 (or a few years later), the Persian king Cyrus the Great conquered the region that is now called Turkey. His son Cambyses added those parts of the Levant that had not been conquered yet, and went on to add Egypt to the Achaemenid empire (525). Under his successor Darius I the Great (522-486), the Persians for the first time invaded Europe, where Thrace was subdued.

Since the days of Cyrus, the Greek towns in western Turkey -usually called the Ionian cities- belonged to the Achaemenid empire, but in 499 they decided to revolt against those that had been their rulers for almost half a century. The men who ruled the Ionian towns on behalf of the Persian kings were expelled, and the help of the mainland Greeks was invoked. Although Athens sent a considerable force to help the Ionians, the rebels were brought to heel.

Architecture: Odeon
Architecture: Prytaneum
Architecture: Parthenon frieze
Architecture: Erechtheum
Politics: Delian League
Politics: Episcopus

According to the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus (who may have been mistaken at this point; more...), the Ionian revolt caused king Darius to punish the Greeks who had supported the rebels. In 492, general Mardonius conquered Macedonia, and in 490, Datis and Artaphernes added the islands in the Aegean Sea. At the end of the summer, they led a punitive action against Athens, which ended in disaster in the battle of Marathon.

This battle meant a boost for the Athenian self-confidence, and the city became even stronger after the discovery of silver ore near Laurion. The new affluence was used to build a large navy.

Map of the Delian League. Design Jona Lendering.
The Delian League

In 480, the Persian king Xerxes (486-465) decided to avenge his father's defeat at Marathon. With a huge army and a large navy he invaded the Greek mainland, and defeated his enemies at Thermopylae. Thessaly and Boeotia were added to the Persian possessions and Athens was captured. However, the Persian navy was badly damaged when it encountered the Greek navy in the Athenian harbor. Xerxes was forced to return. He left the war to general Mardonius, who sacked Athens but was defeated in the summer of 479 near Plataea.

Two years later, the Athenian statesman Aristides organized the Greek towns of Ionia and the mainland that wished to continue the struggle in a new alliance, the Delian League. However, during the following decades, Athens, originally only the first among equal towns, started to regard the members of the League as its subjects. Because she was economically and military very strong, and became even more powerful because she now controlled an empire, Sparta, the leader of the other Greeks, became afraid.

The Eurymedon. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Eurymedon

In 461, war broke out. In the meantime, Athens was still at war with Persia. Sometimes, the Athenians were successful (e.g., at Eurymedon in c.468), and sometimes the Persians were victorious (e.g., in Egypt in 456). For a dozen of years, the Athenians had to cope with two enemies at the same time, but in 449, the hostilities with the Persians were ended.. Three years later, Sparta and Athens concluded a treaty. This might have been the moment to dissolve the Delian League, but the Athenians refused to do so, and in spite of minor troubles, its members supported Athens in a second war with Sparta, which broke out in 431 and lasted until 421.
However, in 415, Athens attacked Sicily in the far west and supported Amorges, a rebel in the Achaemenid empire. The Sicilian expedition was a disaster, but Athens still might have survived; however, the intervention in the Persian sphere of influence led to an alliance between Sparta and king Darius II Nothus. Several member states of the Delian League now revolted, and Sparta received a powerful navy. In 404, Athens had to surrender and the League was dissolved.

Persia now regained the Ionian towns, but did not enjoy them uncontested. The Spartan king Agesilaus invaded Asia, where he remained successful until 394, when he was recalled by his government because Persia was now supporting Athens. For almost half a century, the Persians were able to retain their Asian possessions, simply by keeping the Greeks divided.

to part three
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