Greece was not alone in the ancient world. Egypt was flourishing. Other civilizations were developing around the Mediterranean. One of the largest and most powerful was the Persian Empire.
The Greek world was tiny. It covered a small area at the southern tip of the Greek peninsula. The Persian Empire was huge. It stretched from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the Indus River Valley.
Remember all those towns the ancient Greeks built in early times? Some were still flourishing. The Greek towns located along the Turkish coast had fallen under Persian rule. The Greek colonists were unhappy about it.
Athens sent supplies to help them out. Those supplies included weapons. Persia would have noticed the Greeks sooner or later, but this activity most definitely caught their eye.
The Persian army had no doubt that the Greeks would be easy to conquer. The Greeks were outnumbered - what chance would they have? The Persians laughed at the thought of the battle ahead.
What the Persians forgot, or perhaps they just did not know, was that the Greeks were incredible warriors. Athens had a highly capable navy, with ships that were tiny and easy to maneuver. The Spartan army was terrifying.
The Persians came three times, and fought three huge battles - Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis. Each time the Persians were convinced they could easily conquer the Greeks. Each time, the Greeks drove them away.
Xerxes, the Persian King, was furious at the result of the first two battles with the now hated Greeks. For the third major battle, the Battle of Salamis, he sent an incredible number of Persian ships to wage war on Greece. He didn't want just to win. He wanted Greece to be totally destroyed.
Xerxes (nicknamed "Xerx the Jerk" by some of our students) was so confident of success that he had his slaves carry a golden throne from Persia, and set it up on a hillside overlooking the Greek harbor, so he could be comfortable while he watched the Greeks die.
But the Greeks did not die. Their small ships could maneuver better. The Greeks were able to toss burning wood aboard the Persian ships and get safely away. The Persians had to abandon their burning ships. Those Persian sailors who made it to land were greeted by the Spartan army. The Spartans killed them all.
When Xerxes saw how the battle was going, he ran away and left his army behind. While Athens burned the Persian ships, Sparta left some men on the beach to handle any Persians who made it to shore. The rest of the Sparta army marched north and defeated the Persian army coming in from that direction.
The Greeks took the day. The few Persians who survived fled. But there was always the threat that the Persians might come back. In preparation, the Greeks created the Delian League - a treasury that would allow them to quickly prepare for war, should the need arise.
By the year 800 BC the Greek city-states had too many people. Many people were out of work. The Greeks moved along the Mediterranean Sea to the east and west looking for new places to set up city-states. One place they built city-states was along the eastern side of the Aegean Sea. The Greeks living along the Aegean Sea did not like Persian rule. Persian dictators were trying to tax the city-states.
War broke out over this. The first invasion took place in 490 BC. Darius I was the Persian King at this time. Darius I decided to conquer all of Greece. At first the Persians conquered everyone they met. Darius I sent advisers to Greece. Sparta and Athens refused his control and killed the Persian advisers. Darius I became very upset about this. He took his army to fight the Greeks at Marathon. Marathon was a beach 26 miles east of Athens. The Persians lost this battle. A runner was sent to Athens to tell Athenians the good news of the victory. (This is how the Marathon Race got its name.)
The Persians were short on supplies so they had to return home after their defeat at Marathon.
The second invasion of Greece by the Persians happened in the year 480 BC. Xerxes was the Persian King at this time. He gathered a huge army. This army attacked the Greeks at Thermopylae, a town just north of Athens. Three hundred Spartans under the leadership of Leonidas I fought in this battle until the last Greek fell. The Persians then headed to Athens. The Athenians received news of the approaching army. The people left Athens before the Persians reached the city. The Persians sacked then burned Athens.
The Persians were finally defeated by the Greek navy in a bloody sea battle. Fewer than 400 Greek ships under the Athenian general Themistocles beat 1200 Persian ships. Xerxes went home after the defeat. However, he left a large army in Greece. The Spartans and Athenians fought the Persian army. The combined forces were able to beat the Persians.
The Persian Wars lasted for twenty years. The Persians never fought the Greeks again.