What were the causes of conflict between the Greeks and Persians during the Persian Wars?

The Persian wars were a series of land and naval conflicts between the Greek city-states and the Persian empire in the 4th century BCE.The conflict between the Greeks and Persians were the direct and indirect consequences of various causes. The main causes that led to the conflict between the Greeks and the Persians were: the Ionian revolt, Persian imperialism, panhellenism and a desire for retribution. However, it can be argued that the most important cause was the Ionian revolt.

The Ionian revolt was the most significant cause towards the conflict between the Greeks and Persians, it was the spark that ignited the Persian wars. The Ionian revolt begun in 499 BCE and lasted until 494 BCE, it was started by Aristagoras( the Ionian Greek tyrant of Miletus) following his unsuccessful attack on Naxos as he was afraid of the Persians reprisals that were yet to come. For the revolt, Aristagoras had received support from the Athenians and Eretrians, the support being 25 triremes from the Athenians and 5 triremes from the Eretrians. Herodotus commented on the Athenians as being easily deceived:“It was easier to deceive 30000 Athenians than one Spartan”   Initially the Ionian forces were successful as they took advantage of the lack of Persian troops, marching on towards Sardis and eventually burning the city down. Eventually, the revolt was suppressed by the large numbers of the Persian military. The Ionian revolt had angered the Persian King, Darius 1. Furthermore, the Athenian involvement in the revolt had provoked Darius into planning an invasion of Greece. According to Herodotus the Athenian involvement in the Ionian revolt had angered him to the point where he had sworn vengeance upon the Athenians and instructed a servant to remind him three times a day: “Remember the Athenians”. Therefore, it can be argued that the Ionian revolt was the most significant cause towards the conflict between the Greeks and Persians because the Athenian involvement in the revolt had provoked Darius into planning an invasion of Greece.

Persians, this is because it can be assumed that the Persian invasion of Greece was inevitable due to the continuous expansion of the Persian empire. The Persian empire was established in 550 BCE when Cyrus the Great overthrew the Medes, ending their dynasty. During his reign as king, Cyrus had extended the Persian empire from the Jaxartes river to the Caspian Sea and beyond the Indus river to India, to Asia Minor and the Egyptian border. Cyrus had begun a significant legacy of Persian imperialism in which the future kings of Persia would follow in his footsteps in expanding the horizons of the Persian empire. In 522 BC Darius had become the undisputed king of Persia and sought to expand the empires horizons. Darius set out do so by first organising his empire. According to Herodotus, Darius began organising his empire by establishing twenty satrapies as taxation districts. Following the end of the Ionian revolt in 494 BCE, Darius had set out for an invasion of Greece. Darius’ motives for an invasion of Greece were: to punish Athens and Eretria for their involvement in the Ionian Revolt, by conquering Greece the doorway to the rest of Europe would be opened and to extend the Persian influence throughout the world. Darius’ motives were made clear by the historian Dandamaev who stated: “The Persians wanted to occupy all of Greece”. Thus, the continual expansion of the Persian empire under the notion of Persian imperialism can be seen as another integral cause towards the conflict between the Greeks and Persians.

The ancient Greek notion of panhellenism is another cause towards the conflict between the Greeks and Persians. Often when conquering other nations the Persians usually did not have to use excessive military force as the enemy they were trying to conquer often medised and/or surrendered. However, during the Greco-Persian wars, only a few of the northern Greek city-states medised, the powerful city-states Athens and Sparta did not. Panhellenism was the idea of the Greek city-states fighting together against the Persians as a unified people fighting to save their country, Greece. The notion of Panhellenism was established in 481 BC during the Congress of Isthmus when delegates from all over Greece met up to plan for the Persian invasion, establishing the Hellenic league, which is reflected by J.B. Bury “In 481 BC invitations were sent out to meet patriotic Greek states to attend a conference at the Isthmus of Corinth” who mentions the panhellenic nature of the city-states . Furthermore, during the congress, it was declared that all internal conflicts amongst the city-states would be put aside for the benefit of the future of Greece. This is evident as, during the congress, Themistocles chose to submit to Spartan leadership for both land and sea in order to avoid any more internal conflicts amongst the Greeks. In 480 BC, the Hellenic League attended another meeting in Corinth to plan and prepare against the Persian invasion, where it was decided that 40000 hoplites, 70000 light armored troops, and 400 ships were to be pooled in together by all the city-states to fight against the Persians. Therefore the notion of Panhellenism was a significant cause towards the conflict between the Greeks and Persians as it meant the Persian were up against a united Greek resistance and had to use military force during their invasion.

Darius’ desire for retribution after the Persian defeat at the battle of Marathon can be seen as a final cause towards the conflict between the Greeks and Persians. The Battle of Marathon occurred in September 490 BC at the plains of Marathon when the Persians had sailed to the plains of Marathon in their first invasion of Greece. The invading Persian force was met by an Athenian force led by Miltiades. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Athenians emerged victorious over the Persians, ending the first Persian invasion of Greece. At the battle of Marathon, the Athenians had outmatched the Persians in combat and the impact of this is noted by Herodotus: “In the battle of Marathon some 6400 Persians were killed; the losses of the Athenians were 192 men”. This embarrassing defeat had further increased Darius’ hatred towards the Athenians, who had begun planning another invasion of Greece. Darius died in 486 BC, and his son Xerxes became king, continuing in his father’s footsteps in expanding the empire by planning the second invasion of Greece. As a result of the defeat at Marathon, Darius’ desire for retribution can be seen as a fundamental cause towards the conflict between the Greeks and the Persians at it provoked Darius into planning another invasion of Greece.

In conclusion, the Ionian revolt and Persian imperialism can be seen as long-term causes of the conflict between the Greeks and Persians and panhellenism and Darius’ desire for retribution can be seen as the short-term causes. Above all, it can be argued that the Ionian revolt was the most significant cause towards the conflict between the Greeks and Persians.

Map_Persian_War

 

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