Posts Tagged ‘Athens’

Persian Aspersions

Posted in General on March 16th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Outraged over the portrayal of Persians in the snuff-cartoon “300“, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will sponsor a conference on whether the battle of Thermopylae actually occurred.

But the battle most certainly occurred, and the Iranians should blame their ancestors for needlessly aggravating the Spartans. Persia actually only intended to destroy Athens; that city state had exerted its maritime power to support rebellions in Asia Minor against Persian rule. True, the Persians crushed the rebellions but they did not appreciate the extra work. In 490 B.C., the Shah (yes, they did use that title back then) Darius launched a punitive expedition against those meddling Athenians.

As you know, the Persians did not get past Marathon. Twenty thousand Persians proved no match for ten thousand Athenians. The Greeks’ body armor was more than just a fashion statement. Furthermore, in hand to hand combat, metal shields are better than wicker ones.

Ten years later, to avenge that botched invasion and his father’s honor, the new Shah Xerxes amassed an army of 100,000 men to invade Greece. (However, he hadn’t improve the quality of Persian shields or body armor.) The Persians did attempt one precaution, however. Their diplomats went to the other Greek city states, warning them not to help Athens. The envoys could have tried charm or bribes to ensure Greek neutrality; they preferred to be obnoxious and overbearing. The Persians demanded the Greek principalities acknowledge the Shah as their overlord. As an expression of their fealty to Xerxes, each state should offer a sample of its soil and water, symbolically surrendering their sovereignty to Persia. Many Greek states did comply with the Persian demand, including Macedonia. (Alexander the Great was not particularly proud of those ancestors.) However, Sparta responded to the Persian demand for soil and water by throwing the envoys down a well.

Aggravating the Spartans proved a disaster for Persia, first at Thermopylae and then at the subsequent battle of Plataea, where the Shah’s army was routed and slaughtered. Yet, the Persians did not seem to hold a grudge against the Peloponnesian war machine. Perhaps Persia just hated Athens so much more.

When the Athenians and the Spartans finally had their showdown (430-404 BC), guess which country lent landbound Sparta a navy?