At the end of the 5th century BC, Greece entered the period of the Persian Wars, as recorded in Herodotus' great narrative history of the ancient world. The Persian Empire's far-flung lands included a number of Greek settlements on the coast of what is now Turkey. When the Greek towns attempted a revolt in 499 BC, Athens sent an expedition to aid their uprising. The revolt failed, but the Persian king, Darius, could not let such impudence go unpunished, and in 490 BC he confidently launched an invasion of Attica. Although the Persians' forces and resources were vastly superior, Darius hadn't anticipated the amazing courage and battlefield skill of the Greeks.
A fleet of
around 600 Persian vessels landed

troops at Marathon beach. Led by General Miltiades, the Athenians inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Persians. According to legend, the soldier who ran from Marathon to Athens, a distance of 42 km, to report the victory then died of exhaustion. His effort is still commemorated today in the Olympic race known as the marathon.The Persians still held a grudge and when Darius' son, Xerxes, reinva- ded Greece by land and sea in far greater strength 10 years later, the Greeks' defeat seemed inevitable. A few hundred heroic troops under Leonidas of Sparta delayed the enormous Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae long enough for the Athenians to be evacuated to the island of

Salamis. When he finally arrived, Xerxes plundered the city, burning down all the wooden structures on the Acropolis. The fleet of 700 Persian ships then engaged the much smaller Athenian naval force under the command of Themistocles in the Strait of Salamis, but Xerxes was in for a surprise. With the aid of brilliant and newer ships, the Greek fleet trounced the Persians, turning the tide in favour of Athens. The final, decisive battle of the Persian Wars took place in 480 BC at Platae, where Xerxes' troops were soundly beaten. Greek independence had been preserved again, and with it the foundations on which Western civilisation has been built.
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