Greco-Persian Wars

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Greco-Persian Wars


(500–449 B.C.), wars between Persia and the ancient Greek city-states (poleis) that were defending their independence.

The immediate cause of the war was the aid. in the form of warships, given in 500 by Athens and Eretria (on the island of Euboea) to the Greek cities in Asia Minor that were rebelling against Persian rule. After quashing the uprising in 493, the Persian army, commanded by General Mardonius. crossed the Hellespont in the spring of 492 with the purpose of conquering Greece. But after the destruction of their fleet (approximately 300 ships) in a storm off the promontory of Mount Athos, they were forced to turn back, settling for occupying Thrace. In the spring of 490 the Persian army, commanded by the generals Datis and Artaphernes. set out to sea, and going by way of the islands of Rhodes, Naxos. and Delos, reached Euboea and seized it. They then landed on the plain of Marathon, where the famous battle of Marathon took place (490 B.C.). In this battle the Athenians and Plataeans, commanded by Miltiades, won a major victory over the Persians.

During the ten-year respite that followed, the Athenians built a large fleet on the initiative of the democratic leader Themistocles. A new Persian campaign in 480 was headed by King Xerxes. After breaking through the Greek defenses at the mountain pass of Thermopylae (the Spartan king Leonidas was in command), the Persian troops devastated Boeotia and Attica and razed Athens. In the same year, however, the Persian fleet was badly defeated near the island of Salamis. In 479 the Persian ground force was defeated at Plataea. while the Persian fleet lost a battle off the promontory of Mycale. These victories essentially decided the outcome of the Greco-Persian Wars. The Persians were forced to vacate Greek territory, and the Greeks transferred their campaign to the Aegean Sea area and Asia Minor. In the 470’s an allied Greek army, commanded by the Athenian General Cimon, won several victories there, seized the Thra-cian coast, several islands in the Aegean Sea, and Byzantium, and in 469 dealt a major defeat to the Persians at the mouth of the Eurymedon River. Fighting repeatedly died down and started again until 449, when the Greeks won a major victory in a battle near the city of Salamis (on Cyprus). Then the so-called Peace of Callias (named after the Athenian plenipotentiary) was concluded; it deprived Persia of its holdings in the Aegean Sea. the Hellespont, and the Bosporus and recognized the political independence of the cities in Asia Minor.

The Greek victory in the Greco-Persian Wars is attributed to the greater socioeconomic development of the Greeks as compared to the Persians, the advantage the Greek volunteer fighting force had over the Persian army, which consisted mainly of soldiers recruited from tribes conquered by the Persians, and, above all, the fact that the Greeks were fighting a war of liberation. After the Greco-Persian Wars came a period of the flourishing of Greek slaveholding society and the strengthening of Athens, which, through a series of wars, created the Delian League under its hegemony. In the eyes of contemporaries, the Greco-Persian Wars were a great patriotic struggle on the part of the free Greek cities against Eastern despotism.


Herodotus. Istoriia ν deviali knigakh, vols. 1–2. Russian translation by F. G. Mishchenko. Moscow. 1888.


“Greko-persidskie voiny.” In Drevniaia Grelsiia. Moscow, 1956. Razin. E. A. Istoriia voennogo iskusstva, vol. 1. Moscow. 1955. Grundy, G. B. The Great Persian War and Its Preliminaries. London. 1901.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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