Second Persian War


July 5, 2022

The Second Persian War was the second attempt at aggression, invasion and conquest of Greece by the Persians, commanded by Xerxes I of Persia: it took place between 480 and 479 BC. within the broader panorama of the Persian wars, military campaigns with the ultimate aim of submitting Greece to the Achaemenid empire. This war is the direct consequence of the unsuccessful First Persian War, which took place between 492 and 490 BC, conducted by order of Darius I of Persia and ended with the retreat of the attackers following the defeat at Marathon. After the death of Darius, his son Xerxes took several years to plan the second expedition, having in fact to gather a fleet and an army of colossal dimensions. The Athenians and the Spartans led the Hellenic resistance, overseeing a military alliance agreed between about thirty-one poleis, and said Panhellenic league; however, most cities remained neutral or spontaneously submitted to the enemy. The invasion began in the spring of 480 BC, when the Persian army crossed the Hellespont and marched towards Thessaly, crossing Thrace and Macedonia. The land advance of the Persian forces was however blocked at the Thermopylae pass, where a small army led by the Spartan king Leonidas I engaged in a failed but historic battle with the enemy. Thanks to the resistance opposed at Thermopylae, the Greeks managed to block the Persian army for two days: the latter, however, had the better when it managed to circumvent the opponent, due to the help of the Greek Ephialtes of Trachis, who through another entrance on the mountain, controlled by a few sentries, made them pass, trapping and massacring the Greek rearguard. At the same time, the Persian fleet was blocked for two days by the one allocated by Athens and its allies at Cape Artemisius: when the news of the defeat at Thermopylae arrived, the Hellenic fleet moved further south, towards the island of Salamis, where he would later engage the naval battle of the same name with that allocated by the Achaemenid empire. Meanwhile, the Persian forces had subdued Boeotia and Attica, managing to reach Athens, a city that was conquered and burned: all its inhabitants had already saved themselves. However, the Hellenic strategy managed to prevent the Persian advance as it had foreseen a second line of defense at the level of the Isthmus of Corinth, which was fortified to protect the Peloponnese. Both sides believed that the battle of Salamis could be decisive for the evolution of the battle. Themistocles convinced everyone that a naval battle had to be waged in the narrow stretch of sea that separated the island from the Attic coast. The latter managed to defeat the Persian fleet, beaten for its disorganization due to the small size of the arm of the sea that hosted the battle, between the coasts of Attica and the island of Salamis. The victory was an omen of a rapid conclusion to the battle: following the defeat, Xerxes, fearing that his soldiers could be trapped in Europe, decided to return to Asia and leave a contingent of 300,000 soldiers in Greece under the leadership of General Mardonius. . The following spring, the Athenians and their allies managed to assemble a large hoplitic array, which they then marched north against Mardonius, who was supported by the host city of Thebes. Under the leadership of Pausanias, the Hellenic army later had the opportunity to fight the battle of Plataea, during which it again proved its superiority, inflicting a serious defeat on the Persians and managing to kill Mardonius. On the same day the Greek fleet proved its superiority by destroying the Persian one during the battle of Mi