THE PERSIAN WARS
HOW THE GREEKS DEFENDED EUROPE AGAINST ASIATIC INVASION AND DROVE THE PERSIANS BACK ACROSS THE AEGEAN SEA
 THE Greeks had learned the art of trading from the
AEgeans who had been the pupils of the Phoenicians. They
had founded colonies after the Phoenician pattern. They had
even improved upon the Phoenician methods by a more general
use of money in dealing with foreign customers. In the sixth
century before our era they had established themselves firmly
along the coast of Asia Minor and they were taking away
trade from the Phoenicians at a fast rate. This the Phoenicians
of course did not like but they were not strong enough to
risk a war with their Greek competitors. They sat and waited
nor did they wait in vain.
In a former chapter, I have told you how a humble tribe
of Persian shepherds had suddenly gone upon the warpath and
had conquered the greater part of western Asia. The Persians
were too civilised to plunder their new subjects. They
contented themselves with a yearly tribute. When they
reached the coast of Asia Minor they insisted that the Greek
colonies of Lydia recognize the Persian Kings as their
over-Lords and pay them a stipulated tax. The Greek colonies
objected. The Persians insisted. Then the Greek colonies
 appealed to the home-country and the stage was set for a
For if the truth be told, the Persian Kings regarded the
Greek city-states as very dangerous political institutions and
bad examples for all other people who were supposed to be the
patient slaves of the mighty Persian Kings.
Of course, the Greeks enjoyed a certain degree of safety because
their country lay hidden beyond the deep waters of the
AEgean. But here their old enemies, the Phoenicians, stepped
forward with offers of help and advice to the Persians. If the
Persian King would provide the soldiers, the Phoenicians would
guarantee to deliver the necessary ships to carry them to
Europe. It was the year 492 before the birth of Christ, and
Asia made ready to destroy the rising power of Europe.
As a final warning the King of Persia sent messengers
to the Greeks asking for "earth and water" as a token of their
submission. The Greeks promptly threw the messengers into
the nearest well where they would find both "earth and water"
in large abundance and thereafter of course peace was impossible.
 But the Gods of High Olympus watched over their children
and when the Phoenician fleet carrying the Persian troops
was near Mount Athos, the Storm-God blew his cheeks until
he almost burst the veins of his brow, and the fleet was destroyed
by a terrible hurricane and the Persians were all
THE PERSIAN FLEET IS DESTROYED NEAR MOUNT ATHOS
Two years later more Persians came. This time they sailed
straight across the AEgean Sea and landed near the village of
Marathon. As soon as the Athenians heard this they sent
their army of ten thousand men to guard the hills that
surrounded the Marathonian plain. At the same time they
despatched a fast runner to Sparta to ask for help. But Sparta
was envious of the fame of Athens and refused to come to her
assistance. The other Greek cities followed her example with
the exception of tiny Plataea which sent a thousand men. On
the twelfth of September of the year 490, Miltiades, the Athenian
commander, threw this little army against the hordes of the
 Persians. The Greeks broke through the Persian barrage of
arrows and their spears caused terrible havoc among the disorganised
Asiatic troops who had never been called upon to resist
such an enemy.
That night the people of Athens watched the sky grow
red with the flames of burning ships. Anxiously they waited
for news. At last a little cloud of dust appeared upon the
road that led to the North. It was Pheidippides, the runner.
He stumbled and gasped for his end was near. Only a few
days before had he returned from his errand to Sparta. He
had hastened to join Miltiades. That morning he had taken
part in the attack and later he had volunteered to carry the
news of victory to his beloved city. The people saw him fall
and they rushed forward to support him. "We have won,"
he whispered and then he died, a glorious death which made him
envied of all men.
THE BATTLE OF MARATHON
As for the Persians, they tried, after this defeat, to land
near Athens but they found the coast guarded and disappeared,
and once more the land of Hellas was at peace.
Eight years they waited and during this time the Greeks
were not idle. They knew that a final attack was to be expected
but they did not agree upon the best way to avert the danger.
Some people wanted to increase the army. Others said that
a strong fleet was necessary for success. The two parties led by
Aristides (for the army) and Themistocles (the leader of the
bigger-navy men) fought each other bitterly and nothing was
done until Aristides was exiled. Then Themistocles had his
chance and he built all the ships he could and turned the Piraeus
into a strong naval base.
In the year 481 B.C. a tremendous Persian army appeared
in Thessaly, a province of northern Greece. In this hour of
danger, Sparta, the great military city of Greece, was elected
commander-in-chief. But the Spartans cared little what happened
to northern Greece provided their own country was not
invaded. They neglected to fortify the passes that led into
 A small detachment of Spartans under Leonidas had been
told to guard the narrow road between the high mountains and
the sea which connected Thessaly with the southern provinces.
Leonidas obeyed his orders. He fought and held the pass with
unequalled bravery. But a traitor by the name of Ephialtes
who knew the little byways of Malis guided a regiment of Persians
through the hills and made it possible for them to attack
Leonidas in the rear. Near the Warm Wells—the Thermopylae
—a terrible battle was fought.
When night came Leonidas and his faithful soldiers lay dead
under the corpses of their enemies.
THE BATTLE OF THERMOPYLAE
But the pass had been lost and the greater part of Greece
fell into the hands of the Persians. They marched upon
Athens, threw the garrison from the rocks of the Acropolis and
 burned the city. The people fled to the Island of Salamis. All
seemed lost. But on the 20th of September of the year 480
Themistocles forced the Persian fleet to give battle within the
narrow straits which separated the Island of Salamis from the
mainland and within a few hours he destroyed three quarters
of the Persian ships.
THE PERSIANS BURN ATHENS
In this way the victory of Thermopylae came to naught.
Xerxes was forced to retire. The next year, so he decreed,
would bring a final decision. He took his troops to Thessaly
and there he waited for spring.
But this time the Spartans understood the seriousness of
the hour. They left the safe shelter of the wall which they had
built across the isthmus of Corinth and under the leadership
of Pausanias they marched against Mardonius the Persian
general. The united Greeks (some one hundred thousand men
from a dozen different cities) attacked the three hundred
thou-  sand men of the enemy near Plataea. Once more the heavy
Greek infantry broke through the Persian barrage of arrows.
The Persians were defeated, as they had been at Marathon, and
this time they left for good. By a strange coincidence, the
same day that the Greek armies won their victory near Plataea,
the Athenian ships destroyed the enemy's fleet near Cape Mycale
in Asia Minor.
Thus did the first encounter between Asia and Europe end.
Athens had covered herself with glory and Sparta had fought
bravely and well. If these two cities had been able to come to
an agreement, if they had been willing to forget their little
jealousies, they might have become the leaders of a strong and
But alas, they allowed the hour of victory and enthusiasm
to slip by, and the same opportunity never returned.