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This is one of the most mythologized wars in the history of Western Civilization. The basis of the conflict was laid when Cyrus the Great founded the Persian Empire, conquering several Greek colonies in Asia Minor in the process. Under Darius, a successor of Cyrus', several of these Greek cities rebelled and enlisted the help of kinsmen across the ocean, notably Athens. Annoyed at this, Darius mounted a campaign against Athens, but was defeated on the field of Marathon.
Darius' successor Xerxes, after he had persuaded the rest of The Empire to accept him as King, launched a massive second invasion of Greece. He was delayed by the Spartans at the mountain pass of Thermopylae and by the Athenian fleet at Artemisium, however Xerxes continued to march on until he arrived at Athens. Athens had been evacuated, which deprived the Persians of the human part of their Plunder when they sacked it. The Persians mused over their "capture" a little when they received a message that the Athenian politician Themistocles intended to defect. Xerxes took the offer, but Themistocles lured the Persian fleet into an ambush, resulting in its destruction in the Battle of Salamis.
The next year the Athenian and Spartan armies fighting side by side destroyed what was left of the Persian army at Platea. This pretty much secured the independence of Greece from Persia.
Tropes exemplified by the Greco-Persian Wars:
- The Alliance: The Anti-Persian alliance
- Anti-Hero: Themistocles the Athenian politician. He was normally a Sleazy Politician but when his cunning was needed to defend Greece it was awesome.
- Badass Army: The Spartans.
- Badass Creed: Go Tell the Spartans, Stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie Thermopylae Memorial.
- Badass Navy: The Athenians.
- Batman Gambit: How Themistocles got his navy: manufacturing a crisis with Athens's local rival Aegina. Aegina was a closer, more credible threat than the Persians, so he was more successful at convincing the voting populace to fund a defense against them. Then it turns out Aegina doesn't want war with Athens? What a waste of money...Oh wait, the Persians are invading! Good thing we built all these ships...
- Battle Butler: Sicinnus the private tutor of Themostocles' children. And the private spy as well.
- The Captain: The Athenian captain Aminias racked up one of the highest scores at Salamis. Which also makes him The Ace.
- The Chessmaster: Themistocles, the leading Athenian politician at the time.
- Cool Ship: Triemes are cool ships.
- Conservation of Ninjitsu: For some reason, Persians seemed less formidable as their numbers grew.
- This was because their army became ridiculously cumbersome. It took them something like 5 months to get from the Hellespont to Greece, and at that point, the war season was nearly over and they were running out of supplies. Oops.
- Crowning Moment of Awesome: Lots of them.
- The tactic used at Marathon- the Athenians managed to close around the Persians like a pincer, encircling them and slaughtering them.
- Thermopylae, of course.
- Thermopylae is quite the opposite. I sizable Greek force of 7000 took up position in a natural fortress, with its sea flank guarded by a huge navy as well. The matter of fact is that casualty figures on the Persian side are definitely grossly exaggerated, especially when you consider ancient combat involved little hack&slash, and a lot of poking with spears at each other's shields. It was the Greeks who got surrounded, so it is actually likely they lost more men - most deaths occur on the rout. So I'd say this is more of a aversion, given that they lost in less than 72 hours.
- The Battle of Salamis, when it was up to a thousand Persian ships against 300 or so Greek ones. The Greeks backed into the narrow straits of Salamis and the Persians crashed into each other. Most of the damage to the Persians they did to themselves.
- Deus Ex Machina: The Athenian Navy was built with the proceeds from a silver strike that happened just as people were starting to worry about the Persian threat. Apparently Reality Is Unrealistic.
- The people weren't worried about the Persians, however. Only Themistocles was.
- David Versus Goliath
- The Emperor: Xerxes.
- The Empire: Persia. At least from the Greek's viewpoint. Cyrus had actually done some very impressive things in the field of human rights, such as outlawing slavery, emancipating the Jews from Babylon, and establishing freedom of religion.
- Outlawing slavery?
- Fake Defector: Sicinnus, who carried the false message to Xerxes at the instruction of Themistocles. He risked being tortured to death for it, perhaps from Undying Loyalty, perhaps from the possibility of freedom and citizenship, perhaps from both. In any case it may be that we today owe the survival of the idea of democracy to a slave. An odd paradox.
- Galley Slave: Averted; rowing a trieme was to tricky of work to trust to slaves.
- God-Emperor: Xerxes, but only in fiction. In reality he was a Zoroastrian.
- God Save Us From the Queen: Queen Artimisia of Halicarnassus personally comanding a Trieme at Salamis in Xerxes' fleet avoided an attack by ramming a nearby Persian ship that "just happened" to be commanded by her rival thus making the Athenians think she was an ally.
- Hero of Another Story: Themistocles and the Athenian Navy during the Battle of Thermopylae. In pop culture at least, the Badassery of the Spartans tends to overshadow the vital role the Athenians played in keeping the Persian fleet bottled up in the bay, so that troops had nowhere to land but in front of the Spartan meat grinder.
- History of Naval Warfare: The Battle of Salamis was, depending on how you measure such things, the largest naval battle ever fought. It also provides one of the crowning examples of Galley Combat.
- Honor Before Reason: Madness!... This Is Sparta.
- Intrepid Reporter: Herodotus, who recorded these events and may have been the first Intrepid Reporter.
- Or maybe he was just wrote compelling yarns. He is generally thought to have been born between 490 and 480 BC, which would have made him at the most ten years old in the year of the Thermopylae and Salamis, so what his "Histories" were all written long after the events described in them. And of course he was prone to exaggeration - for instance, he claimed that Xerxes' army contained 1.7 million footsoldiers.
- Just Following Orders: "Go Tell The Spartans".
- Lady of War: Queen Artimisia.
- She was also a Magnificent Bastard. Oh yeah wasn't she ever!
- Land of One City: A typical Greek state was this.
- Last Stand: Thermopylae.
- It could also count as You Shall Not Pass except for the fact that they actually did pass.
- Les Collaborateurs: It is possible that as many Greeks fought on the Persian side as on the Athenian-Spartan side.
- My Friends and Zoidberg: The Three Hundred Spartans...and the four thousand Thespians. Doesn't have quite the same ring to it...
- Off with His Head: What happened to Leonidas after he fell in battle and the rest of the Spartans were killed.
- OOC Is Serious Business: The above. Normally the Persians treated the bodies of their enemies with respect, but Leonidas pissed Xerxes off so much that he ordered the body defiled and refused to return the remains for proper burial.
- Plunder: The spoils from Salamis, and the tale of the wealth found probably did not shrink in the telling.
- Police State: Sparta bore a suspicious resemblance to a modern Police State.
- Ramming Always Works: Justified. Triremes could only ram or board, and were to a large degree built for ramming.
- The Republic: Athens invented the word "democracy". And yes they did have slaves and Feuding Families, etc. You have to start somewhere.
- The Slow Walk (Greek hoplites in a phalanx looked like ten thousand men making a slow walk. All of them Made of Iron)
- The Spartan Way
- This Is Sparta
- Unreliable Narrator: Herodotus.
- You Have Failed Me: When a pontoon was wrecked by a storm the Great King did this to the Persian engineers responsible. The engineers who built the next pontoon, were "rather more careful" in their work.
- Quite likely fictional as well. Does make for a great narrative, though. Note that there was no such thing as Persian engineers - any engineers employed by Xerxes were likely Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Anatolians or Greeks.
- We ARE Struggling Together!: Greeks were always struggling together.
- We Can Rule Together: Eight years after the battle of Salamis, Themistocles was banished from Athens by ostracism, then driven from Greece when the Spartans (who hated him) falsely accused him of partaking in a pro-Persian conspiracy. He found asylum with his former enemies, the Persians, and (instead of e.g. taking revenge) King Artaxerxes (son and successor of Xerxes) made him governor of Magnesia.
- Also, Pausanias.
- We Have Reserves: The Persian's chief asset according Greek sources.
- And as often is true with ancient sources, this is bollocks. The core of the Persian army was drawn from the Iranic citizenry of the empire, trained and well equipped for battle.
Depictions in fiction:
- 300 by Frank Miller, a Battle Epic of the Battle of Thermopylae from the Spartans' persective, based on the account given by Herodotus.
- Three Hundred, the live action movie adaptation of Frank Miller's comicbook.
- The Histories by Herodotus of Halicarnassus is the historical main source on the Greco-Persian Wars. While not "fiction" per se, it probably contains its share of legends and embellishments.
Live Action TV
- One episode of Xena: Warrior Princess.
- The Persians by ancient Greek tragic playwright Aeschylus, a contemporary of the Second Persian War, and the only extant Greek tragedy concerned with historical (as opposed to mythical) events. It is set at the Persian royal court in Susa and centers around the news from the Battle of Salamis being brought back to Xerxes' mother Atossa.