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PLATAEA BATTLE 479 BC
Herodotus History Plataea Battle 479 bc
Date: September 479 BC Location: In borders of Attica and the Boeotia (Thebes), Greece
Plataea was an ancient city, located in Greece in southeastern Boeotia, south of Thebes. It was the location of the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC, in which an alliance of Greek city-states defeated the Persians and ended the Persian Wars. Plataea was destroyed in the Peloponnese War by Thebes and Sparta in 427 BC and rebuilt in 386 BC.
Herodotus tells that in order to avoid coming under Theban hegemony Plataea offered to "put themselves into Spartan hands". However, the Spartans refused this offer and, wishing to cause mischief between the Boeotian's and Athens, recommended that the Plataea's ally themselves with Athens instead. This advice was accepted and a delegation sent to Athens, where the Athenians were agreeable to such a proposal. On learning that Athens had accepted the alliance, the Thebans sent an army against Plataea, but were met by an Athenian one. Corinth attempted to mediate the dispute, and achieved an agreement that set the borders between Thebes and Plataea. In addition to this, Thebes made a commitment not to interfere with cities that did not want to be a part of a Boeotian state. However, after the Corinthians had left and Athenians were starting their journey home, they were set upon by the Boeotian's. In the subsequent battle, the Athenians prevailed and set the river Asopus as the border between Thebes and Plataea. With Athens as their allies, the Plataeans were able to avoid subjugation by their neighbors and maintain their freedom. In honor of this debt, at the Battle of Marathon, Plataea alone would fight at the Athenians' side. Sending "every available man" in support, when it was Athens's time to face invasion and conquest. In acknowledgement and gratitude of her ally's fidelity, the Athenians gave the Plataeans the honor of the left flank during the battle. After the battle the Plataeans were allowed to share Athenian memorials and in the (normally exclusively Athenian) religious rites, sacrifices and games asking for the blessing of Athens's patron Gods.
Herodotus History - Plataea the Final Battle
The Battle of Plataea was the final land battle during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place in 479 BC near the city of Plataea in Boeotia, and was fought between an alliance of the Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth, Megara and others, and the Persians Empire of Xerxes I.
The previous year, the Persian invasion force, led by the Persian king in person, had scored victories at the Battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium, and conquered Thessaly, Boeotia and Attica. However, at the ensuing Battle of Salamis, the Allied Greek navy had won an unlikely victory, and therefore prevented the conquest of the Peloponnese. Xerxes then retreated with much of his army, leaving his general Mardonius to finish off the Greeks the following year.
In the Summer of 479 BC, the Greeks assembled a huge army (by contemporary standards), and marched out of the Peloponnese. The Persians retreated to Boeotia, and built a fortified camp near Plataea. The Greeks, however, refused to be drawn into the prime cavalry terrain around the Persian camp, resulting in a stalemate for 11 days. However, whilst attempting a retreat after their supply lines were disrupted, the Greek battle-line fragmented. Thinking the Greeks in full retreat, Mardonius ordered his forces to pursue them, but instead the Greeks (particularly the Spartans, Tegeans and Athenians) halted and gave battle, routing the lightly-armed Persian infantry and killing Mardonius.
A large portion of the Persian army was trapped in their camp, and slaughtered. The destruction of this army, and the remnants of the Persian navy, allegedly on the same day at the Battle of Mycale, decisively ended the invasion. After Plataea and Mycale, the Allies would take the offensive against the Persians, marking a new phase of the Greece-Persian Wars. Although Plataea was in every sense a decisive victory, it does not seem to have been attributed the same significance (even at the time) as, for example the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon or even the Allied defeat at Thermopylae.
When Mardonius learned of the Spartan force, he completed the destruction of Athens, tearing down whatever was standing. He then retreated towards Thebes, hoping to lure the Greek army into territory which would be suitable for the Persian cavalry. Mardonius created a fortified encampment on the north bank of the Asopus river in Boeotia, and waited for the Greeks.
The Athenians sent 8,000 hoplites, led by Aristides, along with 600 Plataean exiles, to join the Allied army. The army then marched in Boeotia across the passes of Mount Kithaeron, arriving near Plataea, and above the Persian position on the Asopus. Under the guidance of the commanding general, Pausanias, the Greeks took up position opposite the Persian lines, but remained on high ground. Knowing that he had little hope of successfully attacking the Greek positions, Mardonius sought to either sow dissension among the Allies, or lure them down into the plain. Plutarch reports that a conspiracy was discovered among some prominent Athenians, who were planning to betray the Allied cause; although this account is not universally accepted, it may indicate Mardonius's attempts to intrigue with the Greeks.
Their morale boosted by this small victory, the Greeks moved forward, still remaining on higher ground, to a new position nearer Mardonius's camp. The Spartans and Tegeans were on a ridge to the right of the line, the Athenians on a hillock on the left, and the other contingents on the slightly lower ground between. In response Mardonius brought his men up to the Asopus, and arrayed them for battle. However, both sides refused to attack; Herodotus claims this is because both sides received bad omens during sacrificial rituals. The armies thus stayed camped in their present locations for 8 days, and all the while new Greek troops arrived. Mardonius then sought to break the stalemate by sending his cavalry to attack the passes of Mount Cithaeron; this raid resulted in the capture of a convoy of provisions intended for the Greeks. Two further days passed, during which time the supply lines of the Greeks continued to be menaced. Mardonius then launched a further cavalry raid on the Greek lines, which succeeded in blocking the Gargaphian Spring, which had been the only source of water for the Greek army (they could not use the Asopus due to the threat posed by the Persian archers). Coupled with the lack of food, the restriction of the water supply made the Greek position untenable, so they decided to retreat to a position in front of Plataea, from where they could guard the passes and have access to fresh water. To prevent the Persian cavalry attacking the retreat, it was to be performed that night.
However, the retreat went badly awry. The Allied contingents in the centre missed their appointed position, and ended up scattered in front of Plataea itself. The Athenians, Tegeans and Spartans, who had been guarding the rear of the retreat, had not even begun to retreat by daybreak. A single Spartan division was thus left on the ridge to guard the rear, whilst the Spartans and Tegeans retreated uphill; Pausanias also instructed the Athenians to begin the retreat and if possible to join up with the Spartans. However, the Athenians at first retreated directly towards Plataea, and thus the Allied battle line remained fragmented as the Persian camp began to stir.
According to Herodotus, the Spartans sent 45,000 men; 5,000 Spartiates (full citizen soldiers), 5,000 other Lacedaemonian hoplites (perioeci) and 35,000 helots (seven per Spartiate). This was probably the largest Spartan force ever assembled. The Greek army had been reinforced by contingents of hoplites from the other Allied city-states. The Athenians sent 8,000 hoplites, led by Aristides, along with 600 Plataean exiles, to join the Allied army.
According to Herodotus, the Persians numbered 300,000 and were accompanied by troops from Greek city states which supported the Persian cause (including Thebes). Herodotus admits that no-one counted the latter, so he guesses that there were 50,000 of them. Ctesias, who wrote a history of Persia based on Persian archives, claimed there were 120,000 Persian and 7,000 Greek soldiers, but his account is generally garbled (for instance, placing this battle before Salamis). Nevertheless, his figure is remarkably close to that generated by modern consensus.
The figure of 300,000 has been doubted, along with many of Herodotus's numbers, by many historians; modern consensus estimates the total number of troops for the Persian invasion at around 250,000. According to this consensus, Herodotus's 300,000 Persians at Plataea would self-evidently be impossible. One approach to estimating the size of the Persian army has been to estimate how many men might feasibly have been accommodated within the Persian camp; this approach gives figures of between 70,000 and 120,000 men. Lazenby, for instance, by comparison with later Roman military camps calculates a number of 70,000 troops, including 10,000 cavalry. Meanwhile, Connolly derives a number of 120,000 from the same sized camp. Indeed, most estimates for the total Persian force are generally in this range. For instance, Delbrück, based on the distance the Persians marched in a day when Athens was attacked, concluded that 75,000 was the upper limit for the size of the army.
Strategic and tactical considerations
In some ways, the run-up to Plataea resembled that at the Battle of Marathon; there was a prolonged stalemate in which neither side risked attacking the other. The reasons for this stalemate were primarily tactical, and similar to the situation at Marathon; the Greek hoplites did not want to risk being outflanked by the Persian cavalry, and the lightly armed Persian infantry could not hope to assault well defended positions.
According to Herodotus, both sides wished for a decisive battle which would tip the war in their favor. However, Lazenby believed that Mardonius's actions during the Plataea campaign were not consistent with an aggressive policy. He interprets the Persian operations during the prelude not as attempts to force the Allies into battle, but as attempts to force the Allies into retreat (which indeed became the case). Mardonius may have felt he had little to gain in battle, and that he could simply wait for the Greek alliance to fall apart (as it had nearly done over the winter). The can be little doubt from Herodotus's account that Mardonius was prepared to accept battle on his own terms however. Regardless of the exact motives, the initial strategic situation allowed both sides to procrastinate, since food supplies were in ample supply for both armies. Under these conditions, the tactical considerations outweighed the strategic need for action. When Mardonius's raids disrupted the Allied supply chain, it forced a strategic rethink on the part of the Allies. Rather than now moving to attack, however, they instead looked to retreat and secure their lines of communication. Despite this defensive move from the Greeks, it was in fact the chaos resulting from this retreat which finally ended the stalemate. Mardonius perceived this as a full-on retreat, in effect thinking that the battle was already over, and sought to pursue the Greeks. Since he did not expect the Greeks to fight, the tactical problems were no longer an issue, and he tried to take advantage of the altered strategic situation he thought he had produced. Conversely, the Greeks had, inadvertently, lured Mardonius into attacking them on the higher ground and, despite being outnumbered, were thus at a tactical advantage.
Once the Persians discovered that the Greeks had abandoned their positions, and appeared to be in retreat, Mardonius decided to set off in immediate pursuit with the elite Persian infantry. As he did so, the rest of the Persian army, unbidden, also began to move forward. The Spartans and Tegeans had by now reached the Temple of Demeter. The rearguard under Amompharetus began to withdraw from the ridge, under pressure from Persian cavalry, to join them. Pausanias sent a messenger to the Athenians, asking them to join up with the Spartans. However, the Athenians had been engaged by the Theban phalanx, and unable to assist Pausanias. The Spartans and Tegeans were first assaulted by the Persian cavalry, whilst the Persian infantry made their way forward. The Persian infantry then planted their shields and began firing arrows at the Greeks, whilst the cavalry withdrew.
According to Herodotus, Pausanias refused to advance, because good omens were not divined in the goat-sacrifices that were performed. At this point, as men began to fall under the barrage of arrows, the Tegeans started to run at the Persian lines. Offering one last sacrifice and a prayer to the heavens, Pausanias finally received favorable omens, and gave the command for the Spartans to advance, whereupon they too charged the Persian lines.
The numerically superior Persian infantry were of the heavy (by Persian standards) sparabara formation, but this was still much lighter than the Greek phalanx. The Persian defensive weapon was a large wicker shield, and they used short spears; by contrast the hoplites were armored in bronze, with a bronze shield and a long spear. As at Marathon, it was a severe mismatch. The fight was fierce and long, but the Greeks continued to push into the Persian lines. The Persians tried to break the Greeks' spears by grabbing hold of them, but the Greeks were able to use their swords instead. Mardonius was present at the scene, riding a white horse, and surrounded by a bodyguard of 1,000 men, and whilst he remained, the Persians stood their ground. However, the Spartans closed in on Mardonius, and a stone thrown by the Spartan Aeimnestus hit him in the head, killing him. With Mardonius dead, the Persians began to flee, although his bodyguard remained and were annihilated. Quickly the rout became general, with many Persians fleeing in disorder to their camp. However, Artabazus (who had earlier commanded the Sieges of Olynthus and Potidea), had disagreed with Mardonius about attacking the Greeks, and he had not fully engaged the forces under his command. As the rout commenced, he led these men (40,000 according to Herodotus) away from the battle field, on the road to Thessaly, hoping to escape eventually to the Hellespont.
On the opposite side of the battle field, the Athenians had triumphed in a tough battle against the Thebans. The other Greeks fighting for the Persians had deliberately fought badly, according to Herodotus. The Thebans retreated from the battle, but in a different direction from the Persians, allowing them to escape without further losses. The Allied Greeks, reinforced by the contingents who had not taken part in the main battle, then stormed the Persian camp. Although the Persians initially defended the wall vigorously, it was eventually breached; and the Persians, packed tightly together in the camp, were slaughtered by the Greeks. Of the Persians who had retreated to the camp, scarcely 3,000 were left alive.
According to Herodotus, only 43,000 Persians survived the battle. The number who died of course depends on how many there were in the first place; there would be 257,000 dead by Herodotus's reckoning. Herodotus claims that the Greeks as a whole lost only 159 men. Furthermore, he claims that only Spartans, Tegeans and Athenians died, since they were the only ones who fought, who had access to other sources, gives 1,360 Greek casualties, while both Ephorus and Diodorus Siculus tally the Greek casualties to over 10,000.
Accounts of individuals
Herodotus recounts several anecdotes about the conduct of specific Spartans during the battle.
Amompharetus - The leader of a battalion of Spartans, he refused to undertake the night-time retreat towards Plataea before the battle, since doing so would be shameful for a Spartan. Herodotus has a angry debate continuing between Pausanias and Amompharetus until dawn, whereupon the rest of the Spartan army finally began to retreat, leaving Amompharetus's division behind. Not expecting this, Amompharetus eventually led his men after the retreating Spartans. However, another tradition remembers Amompharetus as winning great renown at Plataea, and it has thus been suggested that Amompharetus, far from being insubordinate, had instead volunteered to guard the rear.
Aristodemus - the lone Spartan survivor of the slaughter of the 300 at the Battle of Thermopylae, he had, with a fellow Spartiate, been dismissed from the army by Leonidas I because of an eye infection. However, his colleague had insisted on being led into battle, partially blind, by a helot. Preferring to return to Sparta, Aristodemus was branded a coward, and suffered a year of reproach before Plataea. Anxious to redeem his name, he charged the Persian lines by himself, killing in a savage fury before being killed. Although the Spartans agreed that he had redeemed himself, they awarded him no special honour, because he failed to fight in the disciplined manner expected of a Spartan.
Callicrates - Considered the "most beautiful man, not among the Spartans only, but in the whole Greek camp" Callicrates was eager to distinguish himself that day as a warrior but was deprived of the chance by a stray arrow that pierced his side while standing in formation. When the battle commenced he insisted on making the charge with the rest but collapsed within a short distance. His last words, according to Herodotus, were "I grieve not because I have to die for my country, but because I have not lifted my arm against the enemy."