The Battle of Plataea

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 and Megara, and the Persian 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, Euboea and Attica. However, at the ensuing Battle of Salamis, the Allied Greek navy had won an unlikely but decisive victory, preventing the conquest of the Peloponnesus. 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 (by ancient standards) army and marched out of the Peloponnesus. 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 that lasted 11 days. While 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 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 its 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 Greek allies would take the offensive against the Persians, marking a new phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Although Plataea was in every sense a resounding 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 the Spartan defeat at Thermopylae..

The Greek city-states of Athens and Eretria had supported the unsuccessful Ionian Revolt against the Persian Empire of Darius I in 499–494 BC. The Persian Empire was still relatively young and prone to revolts by its subject peoples. Moreover, Darius was an usurper and had spent considerable time extinguishing revolts against his rule. The Ionian Revolt threatened the integrity of his empire, and he thus vowed to punish those involved (especially those not already part of the empire). Darius also saw the opportunity to expand his empire into the fractious world of Ancient Greece. A preliminary expedition under Mardonius, in 492 BC, to secure the land approaches to Greece ended with the re-conquest of Thrace and forced Macedon to become a fully subordinate client kingdom of Persia, the latter which had been a Persian vassal as early as the late 6th century BC. An amphibious task force was then sent out under Datis and Artaphernes in 490 BC, using Delos as an intermediate base at, successfully sacking Karystos and Eretria, before moving to attack Athens. However, at the ensuing Battle of Marathon, the Athenians won a remarkable victory, resulting in the withdrawal of the Persian army to Asia..
According to Herodotus, the Spartans sent 45,000 men—5,000 Spartiates (full citizen soldiers), 5,000 other Lacodaemonian 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, as shown in the table. Diodorus Siculus claims in his Bibliotheca historica that the number of the Greek troops approached one hundred thousand. According to Herodotus, there were a total of 69,500 lightly armed troops—35,000 helots[41] and 34,500 troops from the rest of Greece; roughly one per hoplite. The number of 34,500 has been suggested to represent one light skirmisher supporting each non-Spartan hoplite (33,700), together with 800 Athenian archers, whose presence in the battle Herodotus later notes. Herodotus tells us that there were also 1,800 Thespians (but does not say how they were equipped), giving a total strength of 108,200 men. The number of hoplites is accepted as reasonable (and possible); the Athenians alone had fielded 10,000 hoplites at the Battle of Marathon. Some historians have accepted the number of light troops and used them as a population census of Greece at the time. Certainly these numbers are theoretically possible. Athens, for instance, allegedly fielded a fleet of 180 triremes at Salamis, manned by approximately 36,000 rowers and fighters. Thus 69,500 light troops could easily have been sent to Plataea. Nevertheless, the number of light troops is often rejected as exaggerated, especially in view of the ratio of seven helots to one Spartiate. For instance, Lazenby accepts that hoplites from other Greek cities might have been accompanied by one lightly armoured retainer each, but rejects the number of seven helots per Spartiate. He further speculates that each Spartiate was accompanied by one armed helot, and that the remaining helots were employed in the logistical effort, transporting food for the army. Both Lazenby and Holland deem the lightly armed troops, whatever their number, as essentially irrelevant to the outcome of battle. A further complication is that a certain proportion of the Allied manpower was needed to man the fleet, which amounted to at least 110 triremes, and thus approximately 22,000 men. Since the Battle of Mycale was fought at least near-simultaneously with the Battle of Plataea, then this was a pool of manpower which could not have contributed to Plataea, and further reduces the likelihood that 110,000 Greeks assembled before Plataea. The Greek forces were, as agreed by the Allied congress, under the overall command of Spartan royalty in the person of Pausanias, who was the regent for Leonidas' young son, Pleistarchus, his cousin. Diodorus tells us that the Athenian contingent was under the command of Aristides; it is probable that the other contingents also had their leaders. Herodotus tells us in several places that the Greeks held council during the prelude to the battle, implying that decisions were consensual and that Pausanias did not have the authority to issue direct orders to the other contingents. This style of leadership contributed to the way events unfolded during the battle itself. For instance, in the period immediately before the battle, Pausanias was unable to order the Athenians to join up with his forces, and thus the Greeks fought the battle completely separated from each other.
According to Herodotus, the Persians numbered 300,000 and were accompanied by troops from Greek city states that supported the Persian cause (including Thebes). Herodotus admits that no one counted the latter, but he guesses that there were about 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, he also says there were only 300 Spartans, 1000 perioeci and 6000 from the other cities at Plataea, perhaps confusing it with Thermopylae). άνδρες.
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, 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 were unable to assist Pausanias. The Spartans and Tegeans were first assaulted by the Persian cavalry, while the Persian infantry made their way forward. They then planted their shields and began shooting arrows at the Greeks, while the cavalry withdrew. The main phase of the battle at Plataea. The Greek retreat becomes disorganised, and the Persians cross the Asopus to attack. According to Herodotus, Pausanias refused to advance because good omens were not divined in the goat sacrifices that were performed. At this point, as Greek soldiers 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 in front of the Temple of Hera, Pausanias finally received favourable omens and gave the command for the Spartans to advance, whereupon they also 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 (Spartans and Tegeans) continued to push into the Persian lines. The Persians tried to break the Greeks' spears by grabbing hold of them, but the Greeks responded by switching to swords. Mardonius was present at the scene, riding a white horse, and surrounded by a bodyguard of 1,000 men; while he remained, the Persians stood their ground. However, the Spartans closed in on Mardonius; a Spartan soldier named Arimnestus saw him astride his horse, picked up a large rock off the ground and threw it hard at Mardonius; it hit him squarely in the head, killing him. With Mardonius dead, the Persians began to flee; although his bodyguard remained, they were annihilated. Herodotus claims that the reason for their discomfort was a lack of armour. 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 battlefield, on the road to Thessaly, hoping to escape eventually to the Hellespont. On the opposite side of the battlefield 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; 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' 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. Plutarch, 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.

Distance 112 km (Google map instructions)
estimated time: 1,5 hrs