The medical wars were a series of battles that took place in ancient Greece. Their main protagonists were the Persian Empire and the various polis (city-states) that made up the Hellenic region at the beginning of 500 BC.
The war is considered to have had two main periods. In those moments the confrontation was much more intense. These periods were the course of the two invasions that the Persians carried out in Greek territory, in the years 490 and 479 BC. C.
Despite the strength of the Persians, the Greek city-states displayed incredibly strong military mastery. This, accompanied by psychological tactics such as the joining of troops belonging to the same region, gave an unexpected advantage to the Greeks, who ended the Persian oppression and kept the culture of their civilization alive.
Why are they called medical wars?
The main reason why they are called medical wars is related to the origins of the Achaemenid Empire. This empire was controlled by the Persians, who had a particular methodology to conquer territory.
Usually, the Persians invaded cities and countries by force, expelled their rulers (in many cases assassinated them) and established certain freedoms in society so that the residents of the newly conquered territory did not rise up against them.
In many cases, the Persians allowed the local language and religious beliefs to be maintained in the conquered city.
During their advances the Persians conquered the territory of the Medes. The region became an important part of the Achaemenid Empire; his forces became a portion of the Persian army.
When the Persians began the invasion of Greece (which began the medical wars), the Greeks used the term “Medes” to refer to the invaders.
However, the name went down in history and gave rise to the term used to refer to this conflict.
First Medical Wars
Conquest of Lydia
In ancient times, the Ionian cities (belonging to Asiatic Greece) were dominated by the Lydian region. However, the Persians took control of this region in 546 BC. C., when the Persian king Ciro ended the Lydian dominion over the Ionian polis in a series of battles where the Persians were victorious.
Persian control of this region was never welcomed by the Greeks, but the Persian governor assigned to control the area ruled first with prudence and tolerance. Shortly afterwards, the economy of the Ionian region began to be neglected, which caused greater discontent among the population.
In the year 499 a. C., 9 years after the start of the First Medical War, the Ionians rose up against the Persian invasion, receiving help from Athens and Eritrea.
The revolts were not successful at all; rather, the Persians reconquered the region, massacring a large part of its population and expelling the rest into the Mesopotamian area.
With the Ionian region under absolute Persian control again, the Persian monarch set out to destroy Athens, the city-state that had collaborated with the Ionian uprising. This led to the subsequent Persian invasion of the Hellenic territory and started an armed conflict that lasted for almost half a century.
Greek submission and Athenian-Spartan opposition
Originally, Darius – the Persian emperor – ordered a campaign to begin expanding the Persian Empire into Greek territory.
This campaign was commanded by his stepson, Mardonio. The campaign was relatively successful and the Persians imposed an important territorial dominion in Macedonia and Thrace.
However, after a series of climatic difficulties that hit the Persian fleet, Mardonio returned to Asia. Following this, Darius sent an ambassador to each Greek city-state to demand that they surrender to Persia. The city-states surrendered almost entirely, except for two: Athens and Sparta.
The Athenians and Spartans executed the ambassadors sent by the king. As a consequence, the king sent an army to invade the region and subjugate the Greeks as a whole. Some other Greek cities opposed the invasion and supported the resistance of the Athenians and Spartans.
Conquest of Eritrea
The Persian army first went to the Naxos region, which was devastated in its entirety for opposing the Persians 10 years earlier. The people of the region were enslaved and the temples burned.
The Persians then went to Euboea, a region where the ancient city-state of Eritrea was located. This city had aided the Ionians during the uprising against the Achaemenid Empire, and the Persians had every intention of taking revenge for that fact.
Originally, Eritrea did not oppose the sea invasion of the Persians; instead, they waited for them to besiege the city to put up resistance from the walls. The fighting lasted several days, but finally a couple of Eritrean traitors opened the gates of the city to the Persians.
The invaders wiped out everything in their path; they wiped out most of the city’s inhabitants. Those who survived the attack were enslaved by the Persians.
After the conquest of Eritrea and with the Cyclades islands also under their control, the Persians decided to invade the Athenian bay of Marathon.
This resulted in the development of one of the most important battles in the history of Greece and the eventual defeat of the Persians in the First Medical War.
Marathon was only 40 kilometers from the Athenian city and they were well prepared to receive the invaders. The general in charge, Militiades, had combat experience against the Persians and was in charge of leading the defense of the bay.
The Athenians blocked both exits from the bay to the plain. This caused the battle to come to a standstill that lasted for five days. The Persians, tired of waiting, decided to embark their fleet again to attack Athens directly.
However, the Athenians took advantage of the moment when the Persians embarked their cavalry (their strongest troops) to attack the remaining army. The Greeks massacred the Persian soldiers; those who were left alive returned to the ships to invade Athens. However, the Greeks arrived in time to stop the invasion.
In turn, the Battle of Marathon had a highly important consequence that affected the development of the battles that took place after this invasion. The massacre of the Persians raised the morale of the Greek polis by showing them that the Persians could be defeated.
In addition to the moral effect of the Athenian victory, the Battle of Marathon also demonstrated that the Greeks had tactical superiority in the conduct of battles thanks to the presence of the famous infantry troops called “hoplites.”
Hoplites were heavily armed specialized soldiers. If used effectively, they were capable of taking down a large number of enemies before being defeated in battle.
Second Medical War
Thirst for revenge
After the defeat suffered in the battle of Marathon and the failure of the Persian troops in the capture of Athens, Darío began to amass a giant army to establish definitive dominion over all the Greek territory.
During the preparations for Persia, the Egyptian territory of the Achaemenid Empire rebelled against the leaders and Emperor Darius had to redirect his military efforts to once again control the region. However, Darío died and the empire came under the control of his son, Xerxes.
He quickly crushed the Egyptian rebels and concentrated all his military forces on the domain of Greece. The invasion took several years to carry out, requiring a great deal of provisions and planning as a result of the scale of such an attack.
Support from some Greek cops
The invasion of the Persians was seen with good eyes by several Greek city-states that at the time had signed their submission, when the ambassadors visited their region sent by Darius.
Among these cities is the powerful Argos, whose inhabitants promised not to resist when the Persians landed in Greece.
Based on this support, the Persians managed to carry out the assault after having gathered troops from more than 46 different nations, which came to make up the Persian army.
The Achaemenids had a much larger number of troops than the Greek polis who opposed the invasion, so the war went down in history as one of the most important events in the military history of antiquity.
The Greek polis that were against the Persian invasion began to coordinate with Athens and Sparta, main exponents of the Greek resistance. From this gave rise to an alliance between all the polis of the time with military influence. This alliance did not originally have a specific name, but it went down in history as a Hellenic alliance.
The presence of this resistance was already known to the Persians, but the invasion was carried out despite the formation of the alliance. The Persians knew that all the Greek polis had fewer troops than they did and, therefore, the invasion should have a practically assured success
The Persians originally invaded the entire territory of Thrace and Macedonia. The Greeks had planned to halt the Persian advance into the Tempe Valley but, realizing the size of the invading army, they had to retreat.
As a consequence of this, the alliance proposed to wait for the Persians at Thermopylae, where their hoplites had the terrain to their advantage.
In turn, a Greek fleet defended the maritime domain of Artemisia from a Persian invasion. Both battles had the Greeks as defeated, but the number of troops that managed to remove the Persians was much greater than the losses of their own armies.
The first great defeat of the Persians occurred in the Strait of Salamis. The maritime forces of the Greeks dealt a forceful blow to the army of Xerxes, who thought they could conquer Greece quickly after the victory at Thermopylae.
Despite the numerical superiority of the Persians, the Greeks managed to defend the territory of the Peloponnese and Xerxes was forced to return to Asia, the territory of the Achaemenid Empire. General Mardonius of the Persians was left in charge of the remaining troops in Greece, but was defeated by local forces.
The Greeks, having ensured the survival of their nation, prepared an attack to take several areas dominated by the Persians. The Greek attacks, commanded by the Hellenic alliance, took the Byzantine territory, Cyprus, Sesto and the region of Ionia.
Delos League formation
After the expulsion of the Persians from Greek territory, the Spartans did not want to continue the fight, as they considered that the war was over.
However, they were the ones in charge of keeping the alliance together. This made the city-states who wanted to continue the battle to form a new alliance, which was called the Delian League.
This new alliance was largely commanded by the Athenians, but all its members had different objectives for the end of the war. The common goal was to finish off the Persians.
In addition to the Greek conquests, a series of laws were established between Greeks and Persians to end the war.
Among these was the establishment of autonomy for the Greek cities that were in Asia, the permanent expulsion of the Persian troops from all Greek territory (as well as their fleets) and the permanence of the Greek troops in Greek territories while the agreements in full.
- Greco-Persian War, Encyclopaedia Britannica, (nd). Taken from britannica.com
- Greco-Persian Wars, New World Encyclopedia, 2017. Taken from newworldencyclopedia.org
- Persian Wars, Medieval History Encyclopedia, 2016. Taken from ancient.eu
- Greco-Persian Wars, Wikipedia in English, 2018. Taken from wikipedia.org
- Greco-Persian Wars Video, Khan Academy, (nd). Taken from khanacademy.org