Plataea Battle 479 BC - Herodotus History

Plataea Battle tour, visit the battle fields, Acropolis, Mount Kythaeron..

Plataea Battle  479 BC. Herodotus History. Visit the Battle fields, the Acropolis of Plataea...drive via Mount Kythaeron to Elefsina, continue to Perama/ Salamis... Greece Private Tour

PLATAEA BATTLE 479BC

We visit Plataea fields as travelers, not as tourists

Herodotus History Plataea Battle 479 BC

Date: September 479 BC  Location: In borders of Attica and the Boeotia (Thebes), GreecePlataea 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.

Thebes Archaeological Museum / Greece Private Tours

Archaeological Museum of Thebes

The Archaeological Museum of Thebes is one of the most important museums of Greece since some of its collections are rare or unique. The exhibits originate from excavations all around Boeotia and cover a long chronological period spanning from the Palaeolithic to the Post Classical, Byzantine & Ottoman periods... We have included in our Herodotus Tour...

The Persian Army at Plataea Fields...

The vast Persian Empire stretched from the Danube to Egypt and from Ionia to Bactria, and Xerxes was able to draw on a huge reserve of resources to amass his huge invasion force. Overall command was now taken by Mardonius, the son-in-law and nephew of Darius and cousin of Xerxes. By his side was Artabazus (a cousin of Darius) who led the Parthian and Chorasmian contingents. 

Our numbers for the soldiers involved in the battle come principally from Herodotus who wrote an account of Plataea in his Histories; however, the absolute accuracy of Herodotus’ estimates are disputed amongst scholars. According to Herodotus, the Persians fielded 350,000 troops against the Greek forces of 108,200. The figures for the Persians may have been exaggerated in order to make the Persians into a more formidable opponent, and perhaps in reality they fielded a very similar number of combatants to the Greeks. However, even with a more conservative estimate, the battle involved some 200,000

armed men, the largest such battle Greece had seen and a figure comparable with the battles of Waterloo and Gettysburg. The Persian force was divided into units of the various nationalities involved but, unfortunately, Herodotus does not specify the strength of each. However, approximate estimates are:

  • Persians (the best troops)   40,000

  • Medes   20,000

  • Bactrians, Indians & Sacae   20,000

  • Pro-Persian Greeks   50,000

  • Total:  110,000

All of these groups supplied cavalry, creating a combined force of perhaps 5,000 horsemen.   

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The Greek Army at Plataea Fields...

The Greek army was led by Pausanias, the nephew of King Leonidas who fell at Thermopylae, and regent for the young king, Leonidas’ son Pleistarchus. Secondary commanders included the two Athenian generals Aristides and Xanthippus, the father of Pericles. According to Herodotus the Greek hoplite forces were divided as follows:

  • Athenians    8,000    

  • Corinthians    5,000 

  • Lacedaemonians    5,000 

  • Spartans    5,000  

  • Megarians    3,000 

  • Sicyonians    3,000   

  • Tegeans    1,500 

  • Phleiasians    1,000 

  • Troezenians    1,000 

  • Anactorians/Leucadians    800 

  • Epidaurians    800 

  • Orchomenus    600

  • Plataeans    600

  • Aeginetans    500

  • Ambraciots    500

  • Eretrians/Styrians    600

  • Chalcidians    400

  • Mycenae/Tiryns    400

  • Hermionians     300 

  • Potidaeans    300

  • Lepreans    200

  • Paleans    200

  • Thespians    unspecified

  • Total:    38,700

The Greeks had no cavalry at Plataea and only the Athenians had a contingent of archers. Herodotus also numbers the non-hoplite forces which are (conveniently) exactly the same as the number of hoplites each city provided. The exception is Sparta which supplied some 35,000 helots in addition to their 5,000 hoplites.

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.

Plataea Battle - Phase 1

In July the Spartan army moved towards Plataea and met up with the other Greek contingents at Eleusis before all moved into position, forming a 7 km long front just 3-4 km opposite the Persians, below the low hills of Mount Cithaeron.

Persian General Mardonius, son of Gobryas, nephew of Darius I, and general of the Achaemenid force in Greece, drew up his force on the opposite bank of the river Asopus. Against the Lacedaemonians he placed the Persians, against the Corinthians he placed the Medes. Against the Athenians Mardonius placed the Boetians, Locrians, Malians, Thessalians, Phocians; all of which were Greek city states that were either conquered by Xerses on his passage through to Attica, or who otherwise decided for themselves to join the Persian host. Cavalry forces sat slightly back, one group on each flank. 

Along the Greek front, the Spartans, Tegeans, and Thespians held the right flank and the Athenians, Megarians, and Plataeans the left flank, with everyone else in the center. All troops now in position, the two sides proceeded on the following day to give sacrifice to the gods before the battle begin... After two days of stand-off when each side clung to the terrain best suited to their fighting tactics - the Persians on the plain and the Greeks in the broken terrain near the hills - Mardonius finally sent in his cavalry and in particular attacked the Megarians and Athenians. In the skirmish, only the presence of Athenian archers seems to have allowed the Greeks to hold their lines and the Persian cavalry commander Masistius was killed, a great morale booster for the Greeks. 

Plataea Battle - Phase 2

The Greeks then advanced to the northwest, just south of the river on the Pyrgos ridge, to obtain a better water supply, but this movement brought no response from Mardonius. Both sides then held position for another week or so, once again reluctant to abandon their advantageous terrain. This is also a possible hint that the two forces were evenly matched in size and no commander wanted to risk outright battle. Mardonius did send his cavalry on a mission around the right flank of the Greek forces, and there they met a large supply column. The Persians slaughtered the poorly-armed Greeks and burnt the supplies - a serious blow to the enemy’s logistics, as with so many men in the field, they were struggling to provide sufficient quantities of food and water, especially as Persian archers meant the river was out of bounds.

Two more days passed before Mardonius finally unleashed his cavalry in a full frontal attack on the Greek lines. Causing great havoc amongst the Greeks, the invaders even managed to spoil and block the Gargaphia spring which was the Greeks’ main source of water. It is quite probable that the Persian cavalry was also now harrying the enemy rear, cutting off their supply lines.

Plataea Battle - Phase 3

Pausanias, in order to protect his flanks and rear and in an effort to reach a water supply, now, under the cover of darkness, moved the Greek center back to the base of the Cithaeron hill, just in front of Plataea. After some delay, caused either by confusion or disagreement with the decision to withdraw, the Greek right followed suit, while the left flank held position and, therefore, became isolated. When the left flank also retreated they were attacked from all sides by the pro-Persian hoplites, and the left Persian flank crossed the river in pursuit.

At this point the cavalry had withdrawn, probably to re-arm themselves with fresh arrows. Just as the Persians looked like they were getting the upper-hand, though, the Greek right flank of Spartans and Tegeans counter-attacked. When the Greek left flank joined them, the Persian forces, boxed in by their own centre coming in behind them, lacking a disciplined formation and finally, inadequately defending themselves behind a barricade of wicker shields, were routed. Even more significantly, Mardonius was felled by a rock thrown by the Spartan Arimnestus and killed. The superior weapons and armor of the hoplites in the end proved decisive. The remnants of the Persians were forced back across the river in some disarray, their retreat only prevented from turning into a disaster by the cover offered by the Theban cavalry which allowed them to re-occupy their fortified camp. The pro-Persian Greek hoplites on the right flank were also forced to retreat under pressure from the Athenians, taking position behind the walls of nearby Thebes.

The Greek center, no doubt inspired by the Spartan success, also entered the fray but did so without strict discipline of formation and so was outflanked by the pro-Persian cavalry and suffered heavy losses. Meanwhile, the Athenians, Spartans, and Tegeans were now at the Persian camp which they eventually stormed, causing more heavy casualties amongst the invaders. A large portion of the Persian army was trapped in their camp, and slaughtered.

Herodotus

Becoming impatient  Mardonius, disregarding both the sacrifices to the gods, and the counsel of his second in command, Artabazus, intended to bring the war to the Greeks the next day. That evening Alexander of Macedon (son of Amyntas I) snuck out from the Persian camp to warn the Greeks of Mardonius' plan. On hearing the news, Pausanias was filled with fear and bade the Athenians switch wings stating that since Athens had met the Persians in the field at Marathon they were best equipped to battle them now, and Sparta would fight on the left against Persia's slave nations.

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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.

The Aftermath

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