After the Persian Wars Athens and Sparta became "superpowers" of the Hellenistic world. While Athens was transformed into an extravagant center of culture and intellectualism, Sparta remained focused on their military. The video excerpt above is from a documentary on the rise of ancient Athens under Pericles.
Pericles rebuilt the Athenian acropolis, which included the Parthenon with Pheidias' Athene Parthenos still intact, and the Erechtheion. However, it was because of these expenditures that the Athenians found themselves underfunded when the war with Sparta began. While the wars came and went, at least some of the beautiful architecture of the Acropolis can still be seen.
A thorough analysis of a conflict involves an examination of, not only the actors and actions, but also an understanding the underlying causes. Although the ancient historian Herodotus is the "authoritative" source for the Persian Wars, he still provides insight as to the origins of the conflict.
Persian forces had pretty much overwhelmed Greek communities throughout Hellas and on the coast of Asia Minor. The onslaught of the Great Persian King (whomever held that position at the time) seemed to be unstoppable. Oddly, it was a misinterpretation of the Delphic oracle that sparked the initial dispute between Croesus and Cyrus, and a correct interpretation of the oracle, by Themistocles (Histories, Book VII, 141), which led to an Aeginian/Athenian victory at Salamis and the end of the wars (Histories, Book VIII, 40 -112).
The Lydian King, Croesus (pictured above), ruled from about 560 to 547 BCE according to Herodotus. He originally sought advice from the oracle of Apollo at Delphi regarding the outcome of a battle, should he decide to attack the Persian King Cyrus (pictured left). The oracle declared that "if he attacked the Persians he would bring down a mighty empire" (Histories, Book I, 91). Assuming that it would be the mighty Persian empire that was brought down, Croesus felt confident and began to attack the Persians. But after a few victories in the area that separated Lydia from Persia, Croesus' luck took a turn for the worse. At the Lydian city of Sardis, Croesus was defeated by Cyrus. (Histories, Book I, 84)
It has been noted by "Sergei Andropov" that the Persian Wars were more than just a conquest by successive Persian kings, power hungry for world domination. In fact, the wars were a series of reciprocal conflicts between the Persians and various Greek nations. It would be inaccurate to group all of these nations together and describe them as "Greece," because the Athenian led "Delian League" and the "Peloponnesian League," had not even been established at the time. Most of the Hellenic city-states considered themselves independent, and took pride in their own culture, customs and traditions. Andropov complains that:
"People tend to forget that Xerxes' purpose in invading Greece was not to conquer it (that being more of a side benefit), but to punish the Athenians for torching Sardis and thereby royally pissing off his dad, [Darius]"
But, what Andropov seems to forget is that Sardis was not originally under Persian control.
Here is a link to a map of Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean, click "Area 7" to see the location of Sardis in Asia Minor.
The Ionian Revolt was not successful at that time, however, but the spirit of Freedom left a lasting impression on Darius' twisted soul. Herodotus explains that:
[N]ews was brought to Darius that Sardis had been taken and burnt by the Athenians and Ionians, and that the prime mover in the joint enterprise was Aristagoras of Miletus. The story goes that when Darius learnt of the disaster, he did not give a thought to the Ionians, knowing perfectly well that the punishment for their revolt would come; but he asked who the Athenians were, and then, on being told [no doubt of the Freedoms that they (the Athenians) enjoyed], called for his bow. He took it, set an arrow on the string, shot it up into the air and cried: 'Grant, O God, that I may punish the Athenians.' Then he commanded one of his servants to repeat to him the words, 'Master, remember the Athenians', three times, whenever he sat down to dinner. (Book V, 105)
This fanaticism is the mark of an unhealthy ideology, and although the Ionian revolt failed, the Athenians (with Freedom on their side) would wind up driving the barbarians back into the desert.
It was Xerxes' navy that the Athenians defeated, and it could be argued that he was simply attempting to take revenge for the burning of Sardis. However, was revenge the only reason the Persians invaded Attica?
Plutarch provides a clue in his Life of Aristides,
When Datis was sent out by king Darius, on the pretext of punishing the Athenians for the burning of Sardis, but really to subdue the whole of Greece, he landed all his forces at Marathon and proceeded to ravage the countryside. (Life of Aristides, 5.1)
This means that Darius was 'upset' about the burning of Sardis, but according to Plutarch, the Great King used the incident as a pretext for conquest.
The Histories, written by Herodotus of Halicarnassus in the 5th century BCE, is a collection of stories, tall-tales and straight up lies all woven together. Herodotus is known as “The Father of History,” and even though much of the information found in his writing is false, it is still one of the earliest works of non-fiction. In English we assume that “history” will be, for the most part factual, and that historians verify the claims made in their work. However the ancient Greek word for “history,” historia, originally meant “inquiry/investigation,” and The Histories is precisely that, an inquiry. Herodotus seems to have traveled throughout the Mediterranean, from Asia Minor to the Peloponnese, maybe even to Egypt, asking locals to tell him about any particular events that seemed noteworthy. Apparently, Herodotus recorded the exciting, disgusting, and fantastic stories at the expense of some of the more mundane (but most likely more accurate) renditions of the events.
Because of this, we read about a king who tricks a herdsman into eating his
adopted son’s flesh for dinner, then after the meal asking him: Do you know
“what animal it was whose flesh [you have] eaten?” as a servant handed him a
“doggy-bag” with the herdsman’s son’s head, hands, and feet inside (Book I, 119).
Readers are also informed about the different customs of various peoples at the time. For instance, we learn that: “After a burial the Scythians go through a process of cleaning themselves; they wash their heads with soap, and their bodies in a vapor-bath” (Book IV, 73). But is no ordinary steam-room, as Herodotus explains: “On a framework of three sticks, meeting at the top, they (the Scythians) stretch pieces of woolen cloth, taking care to get the joins as perfect as they can, and inside this little tent they put a dish with red-hot stones in it. Now, hemp grows in Scythia, a plant resembling flax, but much coarser and taller. It grows wild as well as under cultivation, and the Thracians make clothes from it very like linen ones… They take some hemp seed, creep into the tent, and throw the seed on to the hot stones. At once it begins to smoke, giving off a vapor unsurpassed by any vapor-bath one could find in Greece. The Scythians enjoy it so much that they howl with pleasure. This is their substitute for an ordinary bath in water, which they never use” (Book IV, 74 -75).
However, the main purpose of The Histories is to record the events about and leading up to the Persian Wars which had just ended at the time Herodotus went about his writing.
I have used the Aubrey de Selincourt translation for my quotations.
Here is a sort documentary about the Battle of Salamis, which is arguably the most important battle in the history of Western Civilization. It was there that the Greek forces defeated the Persians, and reclaimed Europe for it's rightful owners. -
According to Plutarch, Solon was ashamed of his fellow Athenians for they had failed to conquer the Megarians controlling the island of Salamis. The Athenians had tried to take the island but were unsuccessful and soon the violence started to take it's toll. Eventually they decided to make a law which prohibited anyone from advocating, or making an attempt to, continue the fight for Salamis. This law, by the way, was punishable by death. Solon and many other Patriotic Athenians soon grew weary of the feelings of failure and shame, in those days a man was proud of his family and his city and to give up a fight before it was over would be a disgrace.
But Solon had a plan!
"... by his own family it was spread about the city that he was mad. He then secretly composed some elegiac verses, and getting them by heart, that it might seem extempore, ran out into the market-place with a cap upon his head, and, the people gathering about him, got upon the herald's stand, and sang that elegy which begins thus-
The poem is called Salamis; it contains an hundred verses very elegantly written; when it had been sung, his friends commended it, and especially Pisistratus exhorted the citizens to obey his directions; insomuch that they recalled the law, and renewed the war under Solon's conduct. The popular tale is, that with Pisistratus he sailed to Colias, and, finding the women, according to the custom of the country there, sacrificing to Ceres, he sent a trusty friend to Salamis, who should pretend himself a renegade, and advise them, if they desired to seize the chief Athenian women, to come with him at once to Colias; the Megarians presently sent off men in the vessel with him; and Solon, seeing it put off from the island, commanded the women to be gone, and some beardless youths, dressed in their clothes, their shoes and caps, and privately armed with daggers, to dance and play near the shore till the enemies had landed and the vessel was in their power. Things being thus ordered, the Megarians were lured with the appearance, and, coming to the shore, jumped out, eager who should first seize a prize, so that not one of them escaped; and the Athenians set sail for the island and took it."
- Plutarch, Life of Solon
Even though there was a law forbidding a rally to fight the Megarians, Solon used his political genius to succeed anyway! This was all before he became archon, by the way, because as we all know...
If the archon does it, that means it's not illegal.
So says Plutarch.
Most history books explain that Democracy began in ancient Greece, in the days of the so-called Seven Wise Men or "Seven Sages." These men were the intellectual giants of their time, and enjoyed reputations as prophets who had an understanding of nature and the gods. Ancient doxographical writings contain fantastic, semi-mythic, and often times humorous, anecdotes about the Sages, who had been idealized in the minds of men over the centuries. Of the accounts, that found in Plutarch's Life of Solon, and those scattered throughout The Histories of Herodotus, seem to be the most substantial.
While much of Solon's political thought is compatible with modern day democratic ideas, at that time Athens was in no way what we would call a Democracy. Solon, however, made important contributions to politics and is a major figure in the history of Western civilization.
Solon was elected ruler, or “archon,” of Athens in the year 594 – 593 BCE. One of the Solon’s first official actions was to limit how much land a single owner could obtain. Solon’s law had a two-fold effect:
1) The wealthy would have a more difficult time sustaining power in government, (for representation was based on land-ownership)
2) There would have been more land available for the rising low and middle class citizens and thus greater opportunities were within their reach.
Solon also enacted his most famous legislation, the “shaking-off of burdens” or in Greek the seisachtheia. As the name implies, this was an act which nullified all debts that had not been paid, also, more importantly, Solon liberated people who had been forced into slavery in order to pay off a debt. At first, this might seem like an abuse of power, and one would expect the nobility to be upset, however the amount that the wealthy had to forego with the enactment of the seisachtheia was comparatively little considering the state of the polis as a whole.
Solon’s plan did not stop there though, the invention of coined money was an advancement which Solon used to help stabilize the economy. He standardized the weights and measures of coinage in order to to regulate costs, and the new agora constructed under Solon’s guidance facilitated sales. Solon’s reforms were a vast improvement over the previous system (which was instated by the infamous Dracon); finally, there were a set of reasonable laws founded on the ideals of justice and freedom. But Athens was not the picture perfect democracy which the 4th century politicians and philosophers painted it to be, for economic and social class still dictated politics. Despite this tradition, Solon utilized the concept of Justice to promote a healthy sense of unity amongst the Athenians.