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The Failure Of Xerxes’ Invasion Of Greece

2157 words - 9 pages

Xerxes was a man of power. The Great King of Persia, his empire encompassed the majority of the known world. On his invasion of Greece in the spring of 480BCE, he reportedly commanded a horde of over two million men. Even the Greek oracle at Delphi encouraged prudence in face of such an overwhelming force (7.140). Thus the question arises of why such an army failed to compel Greece into submission. I will explore this with focus on the key battles and the important factors, most notably the timing of the attack, the quality of his expeditionary force and Xerxes’ personal faults.
Overall, Xerxes’ initial strategy was sound. Before he had even bridged and crossed the Hellespont , Xerxes ...view middle of the document...

His force further had innumerable archers. It was with this in mind that the Athenians made the “fateful” decision to train 40,000 men for 200 ships in 481BCE. This force was relatively inexperienced compared to the Persian contingent, which included skilled Phoenician sailors (D.S 11.18.1). The Persians had light, fast boarding ships compared to the Greeks who had stout, strongly built ramming ships (8.10,60). This would prove critical later at the crowded straits of Salamis in 480BCE. If it were not for this fleet, the “Persian conquest of Greece would have been assured.” (7.139). If Persia had control of the sea, defeat by land would quickly have followed due to the inability of the city-states to hold a united front. The halt in city-state squabbles and the creation of the Hellenic League was “no small achievement” and was to the great disadvantage of Xerxes. This clearly was a factor in the overall demise of the campaign. The construction of the Athenian fleet, advocated by Themistocles, was a precursor to this.
While the battle at Artemisium is considered indecisive (8.18), and the corresponding battle at Thermopylae a Pyrrhic victory for Xerxes, it was a huge victory of propaganda for the Greek side. A small force held off the best of the Persians for many days – showcasing the superiority of the Greek hoplite in close quarters. The devastating phalanx would come into force later at Plataea. The morale affect of the Spartans’ bravery evidently inspired the Greeks and demoralized the Persian forces, many who were far away from home and were fighting only under the coercion of Xerxes. Many Greeks were “all too ready to accept Persian domination” (7.139) – the example of the Spartans, who fought to the man, set a standard for the other city-states to live up to.
Furthermore, the delay caused by the Spartan’s stand (7.210) gave time to the Athenians to evacuate the populace of Athens off mainland Greece. Xerxes may have gone on to raze Athens, but the people and spirit survived to continue to resist his invasion. At this time we must consider Xerxes’ purpose of his assault on Greece. Officially, it was a war of revenge . Xerxes wished to repay the defeat of his father at Marathon and the burning of Sardis in the Ionian Revolt. This may have been partly true; Xerxes apparently accepted earth and water, tokens of submission, from all but Athens and Sparta (7.32). In this sense his invasion did not necessarily ‘fail’; he succeeded in burning Athens, the “main objective of the war” (8.68a). He also killed Sparta’s king, Leonidas. However, Herodotus (7.138) infers the purpose of his expedition as being the “conquest of the whole of Greece”. In this respect, Xerxes failed, mainly on the account of the outcome of the Battle of Salamis and the subsequent Battle of Plataea. I will explore these two battles in detail.
Just as on land, the Greek navy was greatly outnumbered by the Persian fleet. Herodotus states the number of Persian...

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