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Greco Persian Wars

What were the Greco Persian wars and how did they start? Sal explains.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] This right here is a map of the Persian empire in 490 BCE, before the Common Era. And you see that it is an extensive empire. It was established by Cyrus the Great and then this successors. We talked about it in previous videos how they were able to conquer the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 BCE and then go on to conquer much of the middle east. They were able to conquer the long-lived Egyptian empire. They seemed somewhat unstoppable at this point in 490 BCE. At this point, we have Darius is ruler of the Persian Empire, the Achaemenic Empire, as it's often referred to. And they're able to keep expanding until they come across some unexpected, unexpectedly resistant people, and that's the Greeks. This is probably one of the most famous and legendary stories in history, the rivalry, the conflicts between the Persians and the Greeks. You should maybe take it with a little bit of grain of salt, because what we know of it, the history that I'm about to give you, comes to us from Herodotus. And Herodotus who's often known as the father of history, he was Greek. And he also lived after a lot of these conflicts happened and he wrote about these conflicts, his adult life was well after these happened, so he had to talk to people who were around that time and obviously, he is getting the Greek side of the story. There are no surviving Persian accounts for it, so you might want to take it with a grain of salt because the accounts of Herodotus do tend to make the Greeks look pretty good. But let's just talk about what happened, because taking it with a grain of salt, it is a fascinating series of stories. So you have Darius as king, you can see the extent of the Persian Empire in 490 BC or really at the turn of the century if we were to go back 10 years to 500 BCE, but they are in control of some folks who are are a little bit more rebellious than most of the people that are within the Persian Empire. And they are in this region right over here, known as Ionia, where you had Greek settlements that are now under Persian control. From 500 BCE to about 494 BCE, so kind of the first 10 years of the fifth century BCE, you have a series of revolts in Ionia. Let me zoom in on that a little bit, so we can see that, you can see our timeline, right over here. So this area, we're now zoomed in, this area is referred to as Ionia. This would be modern-day, the coast of modern-day Turkey. We're out here on the Anatolian Peninsula. And these rebellions in 498 BCE, the rebels are able to take over and burn down Sardis which is under Persian control. The Persians under Darius are not happy about this. So they send a force to, to take back control and also to get a little bit of revenge, because when the rebels were able to take over Sardis, they had help from some of their Greek brethren. It's important to note that the the Greeks weren't some type of a unified state. They weren't a unified Empire like the Persians were. They were a fragmented group of city-states. You have the famous Athens, Corinth, Sparta, all of these city-states, they shared a common language. They shared similar religion, but they were not one unified Empire. But when their brethren, the Greek rebels, these Ionic rebels, I guess you could say, rose up against the their Persian rulers, they had assistance from Athenians and from folks in Eritrea. So when Darius finds out about this, not only does he want to take back what the rebels had, he wants to suppress them, he wants to put down that rebellion. He also wants to have revenge on the Athenians and the Eritreans. So the first thing he does is he sends out a fleet in 492 BCE. You see his fleet here in green. This fleet that I am tracing. He sends it out in order to in order to, in order to seek revenge on the Athenians and the Eritreans. But he is unlucky and once again, these are the accounts of Herodotus. His fleet, his large fleet, runs into a storm and is mostly destroyed, and is mostly destroyed. And so in 492 BCE, the Persians are unsuccessful. But they are not satisfied. Darius is not happy with that idea that we are the largest empire known, we should be able to take on these fragmented Greeks, with a much smaller population, much less wealth than the mighty Persians do. So in 490 BCE, he sends out another attempt to take over, to seek revenge and to subjugate the Eritreans and the Athenians. This time he is a little bit more successful. His fleet is not destroyed. So this is in this brown color, I'll try to color it in. This brown color right over here, you can see the path of the fleet this time. And he is eventually, he is able to subjugate and take over Eritrea, but as he's going to Athens, which you can see right here, they decide to stop at Marathon. That word might be familiar to you and we'll talk about in a second why it is. That is where they're engaged by the Athenians. The Athenians are able to defeat the Persians. This is a very big deal in history. Once again, this is Herodotus' account, but up to that point, the Persians seemed invincible. But now the Athenians were able to actually destroy them in a battle. And the Persian fleet, they go back to their boats, they run back to their boats according to Herodotus and many of them are killed as they as they retreat. They're going to go back around the peninsula, potentially to go attack Athens. but they decide not to and they retreat. Now the word Marathon, this is a very big deal in history first of all, is that this mighty empire is put back in this battle. It oftentimes, historians will mark it as the beginning of a kind of Greek ascendancy, the ascendancy of Greek civilization, at the end of these Greco-Persian Wars. We're really just in the beginning periods of right now that's really the beginning of the Greek golden age. But as we'll see, the Greco-Persian wars are not over with the battle at Marathon. That was just the first major interaction over the next few decades. Now one thing that you might be saying is, hey, that word marathon, that seems familiar. Maybe some of you have run a marathon or you want to run a marathon going 26.2 miles. You might say, is there any relation to this battle, to this location in Greece called, Marathon. The simple answer is, yes. So there's an apocryphal story, and when people say apocryphal, they're like, "Well, we're not sure if it really happened, "or maybe it didn't happen." And this one, people are pretty sure it didn't happen. The story goes something like, when they had the battle, a messenger was sent from Marathon to Athens and the distance from Marathon to Athens is roughly the distance of a modern marathon, around 25 or 26 miles. The apocryphal story goes, they went to deliver the message of the Persian attack and the success of the Athenians, and then when the messenger gave that message, he just passed out and died. So when the modern Olympics that we've set up now, over the last hundred and something years, they said, "Hey, let's have an event "that celebrates that run from Marathon to Athens." That's where our modern marathon actually comes from. Now the actual story as best, as I can figure out, and I encourage you to look up primary documents to figure this out for yourself, is it's mixing up a few stories. After the victory at Marathon, the Athenian army did quickly mobilize and go back to Athens and cover that distance in order to defend Athens. Because remember it looks like the Persian fleet were coming around this peninsula right over here to get to Athens. The story of that runner is there was runner named, Filipides, who was sent from Athens to Sparta to convey a message. That's actually a much further distance. In a lot ways it's much more impressive, but those two stories were mixed up together into the story of Marathon, which is where we get our modern-day distance of the marathon. Hey, let's all run roughly the distance from Marathon to Athens. In the next video, we'll see that the Persians are not done. Darius will not be able to seek the revenge that he wants in his lifetime, but his son Xerxes is going to keep going at it.