The Persian Wars: Greece's Finest Hours

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Part 2: The Greek Victories

It was a stunning victory, one that sent Emperor Darius home in disgrace. Darius never returned, but his son Xerxes did.

Battle of Thermopylae

Battle of Salamis

Despite the Greeks' smashing victory at Salamis, the fighting wasn't over. The very next year, the Persians and Greeks clashed again. This time, the result had a more lasting effect. For the first time in the wars, the Greeks and Persians had almost equal troop numbers. Also, Spartan and Athenian fought side by side. In the Battle of Plataea, the Greeks again proved their military superiority, and the Persians retreated for good.

How did they do it? How did the Greeks win so many tremendously important battles with so few men?

First and foremost, they had the inherent advantage of the defender: They were fighting to protect their homes and their way of life. History is full of examples like this, of a group of people willing to die to the last man to defend their homeland. The Persian soldiers, many of them mercenaries (who served only for a salary), were far from home, spoke a different language than the men who were fighting right next to them, and were afraid to admit such things as their not being able to swim (which became a big problem when, as at the Battle of Salamis, their ships suddenly started sinking).

Secondly, the Greeks proved that they were better soldiers than their Persian counterparts. They were better trained, and they were better skilled.

Thirdly, the Greeks effectively used the element of surprise. By doing the unexpected, the Greeks seized the initiative away from the Persians, who were the attackers and thought they had the initiative. By keeping the Persians guessing, the Greeks kept the upper hand.

Had Darius or Xerxes won any of these historic battles, the future of Greece and the immediate present of Western civilization might have been very different.

First page > Two Giants Collide > Page 1, 2

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David White