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2nd Period: The Persian Wars, and Struggles. Among the Greek States for Supremacy (500-338 B.C.).

Ancient history, from the beginning of historical information to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire (? B.C. - 476 A.D.). The Western Nations: Greece.
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We have alrady stated the provocation given by the Greeks, in 499 b.c., to the mighty Persian potentate Darius I., by the part which Athenian troops had in the burning of his western capital Sardis. For several years his forces were employed, as we have seen, in the reconquest of the revolted Ionian cities on the west coast of Asia Minor, and in 492 b.c. he dispatched a naval and military expedition against Greece, seeking vengeance for the insolent outrage perpetrated by this petty western people. The fleet of his commander, Mardonius, was shattered by a storm off Mount Athos, and the land-forces were so severely handled by the Thracians that a speedy retreat to Asia was made. Darius, before a new invasion, sent envoys in 491 to the Greek islands in the AEgean and to the mainland states, claiming "earth and water" in token of submission. Nearly all the islands and most of the states yielded to his demand. At Sparta and Athens the heralds were not only defied but slain. An armament of 1,200 galleys and transports conveying 100,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, under Darius' nephew Artaphernes, and an older general, Datis the Mede, with the guidance of the expelled tyrant Hippias, left the Ionian coast in the summer of 490. The isle of Naxos was occupied, and the chief city was utterly destroyed. The gates of Eretria, in Euboea, were opened by traitors on the sixth day of siege, and the city was levelled with the ground, most of the people being sent in chains to Asia. Flushed with success, the Persians then, by the advice of Hippias, bore southwards for Attica, and about the last week of September their forces landed on the coast near Marathon, 22 miles north-east of Athens. They found themselves in a little crescent-shaped plain about six miles long from north-east to south-west, and two miles broad, in the centre, between the hills and the sea. On the heights was gathered a Greek force composed of about 10,000 heavy-armed Athenian infantry, in helmet, breast-plate, and greaves, carrying a shield, a long spear, and short sword. With them stood in array a gallant band of 1,000 Plataeans, also heavy-armed, the whole regular force of the little Boeotian city which alone came to the help of the men of Athens. They were there unasked, impelled by feelings of friendship strong, as Platsea's later history proved, even unto death, in gratitude for Athenian protection which, a few years before, had rescued their birthplace from Theban aggression. In all the Greek annals there is no more touching incident than the march of this little column of heroes to Marathon.

The lists for battle were set, the combatants were on the ground, the level spot embraced by the rugged arms of Mount Pentelicus, on the shore of the silver strip of sea between Attica and Euboea. The beach was lined with the thousand ships which had brought, in varied attire, armed with bows and arrows, scimitars and daggers, the flower of the six-and-forty nations that obeyed Darius, from the Indus to the Sahara, from the Red Sea to the Euxine, and beyond the Caspian. There is no battle, in the whole history of the world, which should possess for the modern reader the thrilling and transcendent interest of Marathon. The battles usually styled "great," as having decided the fate of dynasties or empires, or having crowned with success a revolt against tyranny, are not to be compared with this world-historical event, the salvation of culture and spiritual vigour, rendering the Asiatic principle powerless. Here we not only witness and admire valour, genius, and spirit, contending against enormous superiority of dominion and numbers, backed by the renown of almost uniform victory for generations over every foe, but we have to note the purport of the contest, the unique effect and result. The noblest of causes was at stake. The interest of the world's history hung trembling in the balance. Oriental despotism was on the one side, a world united under one sovereign-lord, the world of Asiatics whose prayer and ideal is "A good master!" On the other was the Greek, the Athenian, whose instinct bade him cry, "No master! Liberty at any price is in itself the highest good!" All the best interests of the human race, civil and religious, for all coming time, were bound up, all unknown to the combatants, in the issue of that unequalled struggle. Never in the records of mankind has the superiority of spiritual over material power, and that of no contemptible amount, been made so gloriously manifest. From this great conflict Europe, and all the world that has become European in civilisation, dates its intellectual and political supremacy. On this birthday of Athenian greatness the Greek won victory for his own time and his own race, and for future races and times, and posterity has not failed to recognise, in the amplest way, the merit of his matchless achievement. There are, indeed, three other battles, hereafter to be noticed, which stand in the same class as Marathon, as having vastly influenced the history of Europe, and therefore of the whole civilised world. The contests at the Metaurus, at Chalons, and at Tours are, in this view, worthy of comparison with that which we are now witnessing. Of these, one took place in Italy near the western shore of the Adriatic; the other two on the plains of the country which was to become France. But Marathon, as it was the first of this class, was by far the greatest, fought out on the very forefront of the Western world, on the eastern edge of Europe, in the gateway of freedom's citadel, at the bright dawn of the highest form, apart from Christianity, of Aryan civilisation.

The incidents preceding, attending, and following the battle are also of great interest. The ten Athenian generals in command, along with the Polemarch Archon, included the two young leaders of the rising generation of Athens, the illustrious Aristides and Themistocles. In the ranks was AEschylus, one of the greatest poets of all time. The great moving spirit was the former excellent "tyrant" of the Greek colony on the Thracian Chersonesus, Miltiades, justly styled by Byron, a champion of modern Greece, "freedom's best and bravest friend." When the Athenians reached the heights overlooking the field, and saw the Persians encamped on the shore, a council of the chief officers was held. Miltiades was for immediate attack. He knew that Athens contained traitors eager to make terms with the Persians. He well knew, from his former career, the organisation of the Persian armies, and he believed in the possibility of victory for his countrymen, aided by the Plateean contingent. On the other hand, there were those who shrank from beginning a pitched battle against an enemy so superior in numbers and so formidable in military fame. They counselled defence in the strong position now held, and urged the policy of awaiting the succour promised from Sparta, but delayed by religious scruples which forbade Dorians to march before the moon was at the full, and of being aided by the best troops in Greece before they met the dreaded Mede. The voting showed five generals on each side. The casting-vote lay with Callimachus the Polemarch, and on that vote depended, as we have shown, the destiny of mankind. After a stirring adjuration from Miltiades, Callimachus voted for attack, and the generals gave up their days of command to Miltiades, and cheerfully acted under his orders. In fear of creating jealousy, that general, as politic as he was brave and skilful in war, waited for the proper day of his command. The Persians, meanwhile, shrank from assailing their enemy in the strong higher and were also, under the advice of Hippias, calculating the chances of a cheap conquest through the treacherous work of his partisans in Athens.

It was in the hot afternoon of a day at the close of September, 490 b.c., that Miltiades gave the order to his men to prepare for action. The right wing was led by Callimachus. The Plataeans formed the extreme left. The centre was commanded by Thetnistocles and Aristides. The usual formation of an uniform phalanx of about eight spears in depth, with a long front, was so far modified that the centre was weakened for the strengthening of the wings. The whole width of the level ground had to be covered by the Greek array in order to prevent outflanking by the superior numbers of the Persians. The trumpet sounded, the hymn of battle rose from the Greek ranks, and the little army bore down from the hilly ground, not at the usual slow pace of the phalanx, but at a run. The Athenians, as well trained as the Spartans in gymnastic exercises, did not fear to lose breath in passing quickly over about a mile of level ground. The object of Miltiades was to close with the enemy before the Asiatic cavalry, which he could see was unprepared, could be unhobbled, saddled, bridled, mounted, formed, and manoeuvred, or the archers keep his men long under fire. The Persians were amazed at this advance of spearmen without horse or bowmen, and scanty in numbers, and thought them lunatics rushing upon certain death. They prepared for the onset, but the infantry alone had time to form. When the shock came, the Persians, unarmoured, provided only with light targets, short lances, and curved sabres, went down by hundreds before the long Athenian spears. The Greek centre was, however, broken by the superior numbers of the Persian royal guard, and the men led by Themistocles and Aristides were, after an obstinate fight, driven back over the plain and chased up the valley towards the inner country. The supreme advantage of discipline and mutual confidence was now shown among the Greeks. Their wings routed the Asiatics in their front, and the Athenian and Platsean officers, keeping their men in hand instead of pursuing, wheeled round, formed the wings together, and rushed against the victorious Persian centre. They were quickly aided by the troops of Aristides and Themistocles, rallied and reformed on the higher ground, and a long and desperate struggle came with the veterans of Datis. In personal courage and activity these men were the equals of the Greeks; their inferiority of equipment has been already noticed. The rear-ranks sent incessant showers of arrows over their comrades' heads, but the Greek armour came here into play, and the utmost bravery of the Persians in rushing upon the Greek spears only increased the carnage. At last the lords of Asia turned their backs and fled to the shore, and another fierce contest arose when the Greeks, dashing after them to the water's edge, assailed the invaders as they were hastily launching the galleys. The enemy, fighting now for their very lives, made even harder battle than before. Callimachus the Polemarch was killed, with another general, and it was in this final struggle that the brother of AEschylus, as he grasped the ornamental work on a galley-stern, had his hand struck off by an axe. Seven galleys only were taken, and the skilful Datis, saving the rest, pushed off and started for the western coast of Attica, in hope of taking the city unawares and unprotected, before the victors should return. Then came one of the remarkable incidents of this great day. The Persians and Athenians had scarcely parted, after the conflict on the beach, when men of both armies saw a flash of light on the summit of Mount Pentelicus, now glowing red in the sunset rays. The flash was the reflection of the setting sun on the burnished surface of an uplifted shield. It was rightly interpreted by Miltiades as a signal from traitors at Athens for the Persian fleet to hurry round to the western coast. He started with most of the men for Athens, and, marching by the light of the autumnal moon, now at the full, had his troops arrayed on the heights above the city when Datis and the fleet sailed up in the morning to the harbour. Thus foiled in its purpose, the Persian armada started back for the Asiatic coast.

The Spartan reinforcement reached the ground after the battle was over, while the Persian dead yet lay there. 2,000 spearmen, starting immediately after the moon was full, had covered the 150 miles between Sparta and Athens in the space of three days. Too late to share the glory of the action, they were allowed, at their own request, to visit the field. After gazing on the corpses of the enemy, and praising the Athenians for their deeds, they returned to Lacedaemon. The number of the Persian slain exceeded 6,000; the Athenians had to mourn the loss of 192. The number of Persians who fell is not stated, but it cannot have been large, as they fought on the left wing, which was not broken during the contest. The disproportion of slain on both sides, which is familiar to Englishmen from the instances of Crecy, Poictiers, and Agincourt, was mainly due to the protection afforded by the Greek armour and to the difficulty experienced by the Persians in getting at men standing firm in their ranks, with spears projecting several feet from the line. When Miltiades hurried with most of the victorious Greeks back to Athens, Aristides was left with his brigade to bury the dead, and to guard the prisoners and the spoil. The Athenian custom was to deposit the bones of all who fell fighting for their country in each year in a public sepulchre situated in the suburb of Athens called the Cerameicus. A special exception was made, for the first and last time in Athenian history, in favour of the men who died at Marathon. The slain were buried on the battle-field, and a lofty mound was raised over them on the plain. Ten columns were erected on the spot, one for each of the Athenian tribes, and on the monumental column of each tribe were graven the names of those of its members who had fought and fallen in freedom's cause. 600 years later, the antiquary Pausanias read those names. The columns have perished, but the mound remains, a testimony for all the ages of the world. A separate mound was raised over the bodies of the slain Plataeans, and another over those of the light-armed slaves who had fallen. It is needless to say that Marathon remained a name of magical power for the Athenians. An enduring effect was left on the Greek mind, an effect greater than that of any outward monument or celebration. An Athenian army had looked in the face of the great king's hosts, had fought and conquered. The charm of the Persian name was broken, and henceforth the turban, the trousers, and the caftan were regarded as signs of cowardice and effeminacy. Through all the prosperous days of Athens, through her period of decay, and for centuries after her political fall, the day of Marathon was regarded as the brightest of the national existence. Nothing was omitted that could keep alive the remembrance of a deed which had first taught the Athenian people to know their own strength by measuring it with the power which had subdued most of the known world. The consciousness thus awakened fixed their character, station, and destiny. Superstition, ennobled in this case as a natural blending of patriotic pride with the piety of gratitude towards the fallen, caused their countrymen to deify the spirits of these dead Athenians Religious rites were paid to them by the inhabitants of the district. Six centuries later Pausanias states, with full belief, that the battlefield was haunted at night by supernatural beings, with the snorting of unearthly chargers, and the clash of invisible combatants. The belief has survived by many centuries the change of creeds, and the shepherds of the neighbourhood still hold that spectral warriors meet at midnight on the plain, and declare that they have heard their shouts and the neighing of the steeds. Art was called in to commemorate the day whose achievement had broken for ever the spell of Persian invincibility that had paralysed the minds of men, the unequalled victory which had secured for mankind the intellectual treasures of Athens, the growth of free institutions, the enlightenment of the Western world, and the gradual ascendency of the great principles of European civilisation. In the age of Phidias and Pericles the rock of the Acropolis, the citadel of Athens, was crowned at the eastern extremity by a temple of "Wingless Victory," now supposed to have taken up her abode for ever in the city. In that shrine there may still be traced on the frieze the figures of the Persian combatants with their lunar shields, bows and quivers, curved scimitars, loose trousers, and Phrygian tiaras. The walls of the Stoa Poikile ("Painted Colonnade") at Athens were adorned by Polygnotus of Thasos, an Athenian citizen, with fresco-paintings of the battle, and centuries afterwards the figures of Miltiades and Callimachus at the head of the Athenians were conspicuous there. In the background the Phoenician galleys were seen, and nearer to the spectator, the Athenians and the Plataeans, the latter distinguished by their leathern helmets, were chasing routed Asiatics into the marshes and the sea. In concluding this narrative of one of the greatest events of history, we must not fail to record the gratitude of Athens towards the Plataeans. They were made the fellow-countrymen of the Athenians, citizens of Athens, except as regards certain political functions, and from that time forth, in the solemn sacrifices at Athens, the public prayers were offered for a joint blessing from the gods upon the Athenians and the Plataeans also. 63 years later, during the Peloponnesian war, in 427 b.c., Plataea paid a dire penalty for the crime of being the friend of Athens in that struggle. Attacked by Thebes, an ally of Sparta, and forced to surrender, all the male population was slain, and the women were sold as slaves.

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