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The Greco-Persian Wars

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of Ancient Greece.

The Greco-Persian wars were caused by the westward expansion of the Persian Empire towards the coasts of Ionia and Thrace. The whole of Greece was threatened.

In 499, the cities in Asia Minor rose up against Persian rule, with assistance from Athens and Eretria. Five years later, in 494, Darius I destroyed the city of Miletus, subdued the whole of Ionia, and then launched the first Persian war against the cities on the Greek mainland.

In 492 an initial sea and land campaign through the Straits and into Thrace was a failure, mainly due to the destruction of a large part of the Persian fleet during a storm close to Mount Athos.

Two years later, the Persian army crossed the Aegean Sea from the Ionian coast.  It captured Naxos, destroyed Eretria on the Island of Euboea and landed in Attica at Marathon.

Led by the strategos Miltiades, 10,000 Athenian hoplites, together with another 1,000 soldiers from Plataea, were victorious over the Persians.

The Persian army returned to their ships and took to the sea.  They attempted to land at Athens but changed their minds and sailed back across the Aegean Sea.

The victory at Marathon was of huge importance and reinforced the prestige of Athens and Greek democracy.

A second Persian war began in 480 when Darius’ son, Xerxes I, invaded Greece from the North with a huge naval and land force.

Many Greek cities decided to form an alliance against the aggressor. The Athenians, on the advice of Themistocles, prepared themselves by developing the port at Piraeus and building a fleet of 200 triremes.

Xerxes’ army crossed the Hellespont using a pontoon of ships and then moved into Thrace and Macedonia where it was joined by the Persian fleet.

The Persians massacred the Spartans, who were responsible for defending the Pass of Thermopylae, and took the city of Athens, which had been abandoned by the Greeks. They also set fire to the Acropolis.

But two days later, their navy was defeated off the Island of Salamis. The Persian army left Athens and sought winter quarters in Thessaly.

The following year, the Persians took Athens again but, defeated at Plataea, they withdrew to the Straits.


The destruction of the pontoon-bridge across the Hellespont by the Athenian navy during another campaign in 478 finally forced the Persians to retreat to Asia Minor.