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Greco-Persian Wars Research Paper

The Greco-Persian Wars was a series of conflicts between several Greek city-states and the Persian Empire that lasted roughly half a decade from 500 B. C. until 448 B. C. Some of the most distinguished conflicts know to this day are Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Platea. Although despite the superior number and imperial resources the Persians were defeated resulting in a Greek triumph. In this essay I will be discussing the key factors which contributed to the defeat of the Persian Empire such as the weaponry used, their strengths and weaknesses and the outcome of these famous battles.

Weaponry was one of the major causes that lead to the Persian being defeated. This is because Greek soldiers started training at a very early age and were all very skilled fighters once it came to defending their homeland. If an assemblage of Greek hoplites adopted a close-order formation, in which each man occupied a space 45-50cm in size both front-to-back and side-to-side, the shields of the men in each rank would overlap to create a strong, interlocking shield wall, also known as the phalanx formation.

This technique forms an impenetrable barrier, which was one of the Persians major weakness in which lead the Greeks to defeat them. The equipment carried by an Athenian hoplite was designed for hand to hand combat. To fight as a hoplite only two pieces of equipment was necessary, a heavy 9-foot spear and a solid shield, everything else was an optional extra. In comparison, the Persian army wore little more than robes and carried a shorter sword and a cane or wicker shield.

The development of the hoplites and phalanx gave the Greeks a great advantage over the light infantry of the Persians. There is still an ongoing debate about the actual size of the Persian force. Herodotus one of the few ancient sources we have from the time, makes the dubious claim that the army consisted of 1,800,000 troops levied in Asia, plus a further 300,000 from parts of Europe. In addition, Herodotus claims there were over 2,600,000 servants, attendant as another camp follower, giving a combined force of 4,700,000 without including the personnel of the fleet. 1954, 443-447).

Yet this figure has been rejected by modern historians Herodotus does not estimate the size of the Persian army, only saying that they formed a “large infantry that was well packed” “Among other ancient sources, the poet Simonides, a near-contemporary, says the campaign force numbered 200,000, while a later writer, the Roman Cornelius Nepos estimates 200,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalries. ” (Wikipedia, 2016).

Although J. M. Roberts, a highly respectable source claims that “the Greeks said, and no doubt believed that the Persians came again in 480 B. C, through Thrace in millions; if, as now seems more likely, there were in fact well under a hundred thousand of them” (2004, 186). On the other hand, the Greeks army is still unknown although is estimated to be roughly around 100,000 -150,000. To this day there is still numerous amounts of speculations regarding the size of both armed forces.

When these two forces met, it was a massacre. The Persians did not have the weight in their charge that Greek forces did, their spears were too short and their shields too weak and no armour to protect themselves. And all this while not being able to break the Greek shields or armour, and being stabbed before their spears could engage them. Clever military leadership on the Greek part and poor strategic decisions made by the Persian leaders of the time greatly contributed to the Greece’s victory.

According to a respectable authoritative source, Philip De Souza who was a Research Scholar in Ancient History claims that another major influence to the Persians being defeated is that “when the Greeks found out the Persians were planning an invasion, many of the Greek city states banned together into a league also known as Hellenic League” (2002, 48). In the initial meeting in 481 B. C. each city state signed an agreement to end all conflicts with each other and swore an oath to be allies permanently.

Because the Greeks found out about this upbringing they had extremely high morals and motivation because they were fighting to keep their city states independent from the Persians and defending their homeland. The Greeks superior knowledge of the areas they were fighting in meant that they had the upper hand throughout many of the battles that took place. However, the Persians lacked this knowledge and so left them extremely disadvantaged and many of their ships were destroyed because of this. Another significant strength the Greeks had was that they all spoke the same language and had the same religions and beliefs.

Antonio Santosuosso claims that one of Persia’s strengths was their tactics. As they would use their cavalry in a number of different ways to cut enemy supply lines. Cutting the supply lines, poisoning water sources, preventing enemy access to water or harassing the soldiers deployed for battle to jeopardize their physical and emotional integrity are all tactics the Persian’s would undertake. This source is reliable and trustworthy as he was a Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Western Ontario in London.

Another significant motive is that the Persian empire had 50 million people living under its control. This huge amount was roughly 44 % of the world’s population at the time, making it the largest empire ever in terms by population percentage. This huge quantity brought vast amounts of wealth and an enormous military. One of the Greek’s weaknesses against the Persians was the fact that they were severely outnumbered in both manpower and cavalry, which could mean that the Persian cavalry could attack the Greek hoplite from the rear or the side.

Another significant weakness was the Greeks’ internal divisions. As a result of internal rivalries, some Greek states were not willing to fight against the Persians. The Persian Empire was greatly disadvantaged as many of soldiers weren’t Persian. They were drawn from all corners of the gigantic territory. Meaning in such a huge empire there were several different languages and religions, resulting in poor communication skills. As well as the lack of unity this empire had, the government was in chaos, there was a weak ruler and they had a disorganised army.

Not to mention that they were extremely wealthy but recent revolts throughout the empire meant the Persian economy was suffering. One reason that the Greeks defeated the Persians in the numerous invasions is that “the Persian army under Xerxes took so long to transport their armies to Greece that the Greeks had sufficient time to prepare a defence. In addition, Greece had the advantage because it was defending its own territory, and it was difficult for the Persians to transport all their troops and ships to Greece” (Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2015)

Despite the lack of official unity throughout Greece, many brilliant leaders from individual cities combined their skills and abilities to defeat the Persians. Greek leadership developed from weak and conflicting to united and strong, directly contributing to a Greek victory over the Persians as they promoted unity, strategy and a determination to defend their homeland. Without this firm leadership, the other reasons for Greek success would not exist as strongly. After this prolonged war from 500 B. C. to 448 B. C. Persia suffered politically and economically from its defeat.

Homa Katouzian makes an incisive statement that states that the Greek victory had led to a series of revolts in areas such as Asia Minor and surrounding areas (2009, 34). This authoritative source is accurate as he has a bachelor’s degree in economics, masters and PhD and is currently based at the University of Oxford. Additionally, they lost their respect and were embarrassed of their loss. A respectable source names James Pudsey, claims that, In Greece there was a massive expansion in the trading wealth of Greece, with Athens being the largest receiver (1993, 62-64).

Another aftermath for the Greeks is that the slave market in Greece was flooded with a large increase of prisoners from the war from the Persian empire. This then made slaves cheaper and were employed in dangerous areas of production, such as mines. In conclusion, this essay has outlined several topics regarding why the Persian’s lost in the Greco-Persian wars despite their superior numbers and imperial resources. These include, the weaponry and tactics used, their strengths and weaknesses and the outcome that happened after these famous battles.

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