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THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA, 479 BC (Part II)

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Battle P

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By Periklis Deligiannis
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Read Part I:  THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA, 479 BC (Part I)

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NEW MANEUVERS AND TACTICAL PLANS

The Greek combatants were exhausted because of the continuous ‘hammering’ of the Iranian cavalry, and this situation resulted on a disruption in their units. They finally relocated again to new (third) positions but without organization and order. This confusion led to the dispersal of the forces of the Alliance and the occupation of positions that were not those which were decided in the last military council (see part I). The units of the center of the battle order (Megarians, Corinthians, Fliasians and others) were the ones who suffered most from the attacks of the Persian cavalry. Their men wandered and eventually took positions on the Heraion, near the walls of Plataea. The Athenians began to move to the north, opposite to the direction which the Lacedaemonians followed. Herodotus says that the former were annoyed by the latter because “the Spartans were talking differently from the thinks that they were thinking.”
I believe that this behavior of the latter had nothing to do with any lack of confidence or estimation of them for the Athenians: it had to do with the standard Lacedaemonian policy of secrecy and concealment of as much as possible information about the tactics that they followed, even if the ones that were annoyed by this secrecy were their Greek comrades. It was a standard policy of the Spartan army in order not to demonstrate its superior strategy and tactics to the other city-states. It was a protective measure for the Lacedaemonian hegemony in Greece.
The Athenians, feeling sick and tired of the general lack of strategic coordination, took the brave and dangerous decision to move towards Asopos River, in the lowlands of Parasopia. It seems that they wanted to fight the enemy only by themselves (an enemy that they knew well from their victory at Marathon) and thereby gain a new triumph that would give them the opportunity to question the Spartan hegemony.
The Lacedaemonians were rather wiser following the opposite course to the South, eventually establishing themselves at the foot of Cithaeron. Thus they were protected from the Iranian cavalry. Herodotus quotes that Amompharetos, the commander of the Spartan battalion of Pitane (Pitanatos lochos) initially refused to give ground to the enemy but when the rest of the Lacedaemonian army departed, he had to follow with his company to the new protected location. The “Amompharetos’ incident”, despite the fact that the Spartan senior commanders tended to undertake independent initiatives different from the decisions of the Commander in Chief, does not seem to have happened in reality. It has been hypothesized that it was rather a story made to explain the late retreat of the Pitanatos company (rather a battalion according to the modern standards).
The Pitanatos battalion was probably a rearguard which covered the Spartan relocation to the new positions. Furthermore, Amompharetos’ battalion seems to hold an even more important and risky mission: to lure Mardonios in an attack against the Spartans. The Persian commander, watching a battalion being cut off from the rest of the Spartan army, would believe that the latter was generally in a state of confusion and disorder. Additionally if he decided to attack the Pitanatos battalion, he would have the opportunity to easily destroy a part of the formidable Lacedaemonian army. It is characteristic that the Spartans used similar tactics at the Battle of Thermopylae, when they pretended retreat in front of the Asiatic warriors so that the latter would be lured in a disorderly attack. When this did happen, Leonidas’ men stopped abruptly their retreat, regrouped on the spot and attacked the unorganized Asiatics winning the day.

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THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA, 479 BC (Part I)

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Thorax1A bell-shaped hoplite thorax of the archaic period with an extended bell-type projection in the waist, for the repulse of the enemy arrows, javelins, stones etc.

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By Periklis Deligiannis
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[Actually, this paper is a  subchapter of my published book: The Spartan army, Athens 2007].
In the Greco-Persian Wars (490-479 BC) between the Achaemenid Persian Empire and the defensive Alliance of the city-states of South Greece, the victory of the latter at the sea Battle of Salamis (480 BC) on Xerxes’ fleet, secured the control of the sea for them. The Asiatic fleet (mainly East Phoenician) was neutralized and fell back to the eastern Aegean. However, the Persian army remained almost untouched. King Xerxes, fearing the possibility being trapped in Greece and eventually captured or killed after a possible defeat on land, withdrew “discreetly” in Asia officially considering that the objectives of his campaign had been achieved. Before he withdraws, he left his cousin Mardonios (Mardonius in the Western historiography) as head of the army in order to continue the military operations. Mardonios was a stubborn and brave man (his name means the “gallant” in ancient Iranian, originating from the word “mard” for the man or the warrior). On the other hand, in the winter of 479 BC a change occurred in the Spartan military leadership, which proved to be very important for the Greek defense against the invasion. Shortly after Salamis, the Spartan royal commissioner (regent) Kleombrotos died. His office was occupied by his son, Pausanias.

Mardonios initially tried to gain over the Athenians. But the victors of the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) would not be subdued to the losing side in that battle, and twice rejected the tempting terms that he offered them, assuring at the same time the Spartan envoys who were at Salamis Island (the military base of the Athenian army and fleet) that they would never betray their Greek compatriots. Till that moment, the Spartans were avoiding the confrontation with Mardonios’ army. But at that time, they were pressed even more intensely by their Athenian, Megarian, Plataean and Aeginetan allies whose countries were either occupied by the Persians or directly threatened by them. The Spartans had to satisfy the demand of their allies and finally sent their army led by the regent Pausanias, to face the invaders who had already occupied Attica (the territory of Athens) for the second time during the Second Persian campaign (480-479 BC). The women and children of the Athenians had long ago found refuge in Peloponnese and the small islands of the Saronic Gulf. The Athenian resistance was concentrated in the Island of Salamis, where they had defeated the enemy fleet almost a year ago.

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THE PRO-PERSIAN ROLE OF THEBES & BOEOTIA IN THE PERSIAN WARS: MYTH AND REALITY

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By  Periklis    Deligiannisa2

Ancient Boeotia  and  its  city-states.

Many  modern  scholars  and  historians  (with  prominent  the  Canadian  historian  Back)  believe  that  the  pro-Persian  policy  (calling  “medizing”  in  ancient  Greece) of  Thebes  and  most  cities  of  the  rest  of  Boeotia  during  the  2nd  Persian  war  (480-479  BC),  was  not  as  extensive  as  the  ancient  historian  Herodotus (the  main  source  for  the  Greek-Persian  wars)  tried  to  indicate.  It  is  evident  from  the  writings  of  Herodotus,  that  he  discriminated  in  favor  of  Athens  and  Sparta  (and  against  their  rival  city-states  of  Thebes,  Argos  etc.).  It  is  recognized  that  the  pro-Persian  policy  of  Macedonia,  Thessaly  and  Argos  (other  Greek  states  also  “blamed”  for  “medizing”  at  the  same  time)  was  not  really  extensive.  The  Boeotian  city-states  (mainly  Thebes)  bear  the  “burden”  of  the  blame  of  “medizing” , because  of  Herodotus. The  ancient  historian  probably  distorted  the  historical  truth  by  noting  inordinately   their  pro-Persian  policy,  which  was  not  more  intense  than  that  of  the  aforementioned  states.  It  is  true  that  the  Thebans  and  the  Boeotians  desired  a  Persian  victory,  only  because  of  their  hostility  to  their  neighboring  Athenians.  So  they  possibly  did  not  join  the  Greek  Alliance,  because  its  leaders  were  the  city-states  of  Athens  and  Sparta.  Argos  did  the  same  because  of  its  hostility  to  Sparta.

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A  beautiful  original  Boeotian  helmet.  This  type  was  originally  used  by  the  Boeotian  infantry  and  cavalry,  but  later  it  became  popular  to  all  the  Greek  cavalrymen  ( comitatus.net).

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CONFRONTING DESPERATELY THE INVADER: A strategic analysis of Memnon’s war plan against Alexander the Great (334 BC) (IN MEMORIAM PETER CONNOLLY)

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In  memory  of  PETER  CONNOLLY  (1935-2012),  one  of  the  foremost  modern  scholars,  archaeologists  and  illustrators  of  the  ancient  world.

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Alexander  and  his  Companions  are  crossing  the  river  Granicus.  The  greatest  adventure  of  World  History  is  just  beginning (artwork  by  Peter  Connolly).

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By  Periklis    Deligiannis

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The  main  problem  of  the  Persian  army  at  the  Battle  of  Granicus  against  Alexander  the  Great  (334  BC),  was  its  polycentric  leadership.  The  Persian  leadership  consisted  of  five  Iranian  satraps,  a  Rhodian  Greek  mercenary  officer  called  Memnon,  and  several  other  generals  and  commanders.  It  seems  that  Arsites,  the  satrap  of  Hellespontic  Phrygia,  was  the  official  general  commander,  but  the  other  Iranian  satraps  and  generals  were  generally  unruly  and  disobedient,  and  not  influenced  by  his  office. Memnon  was  probably  the  ablest  general  in  the  Persian  headquarters,  as  it  is  evidenced  by  Darius’ (the  Persian  Great  King/Emperor)  appreciation  for  him.  Moreover  he  had  lived  for  a  decade  in  Macedonia  and  probably  knew  all  about  the  Macedonian  Greek  army,  while  he  had  confronted  the  Macedonians  for  two  years  (337-335 BC)  as  a  general,  fighting  the  first  invading  army  of  Parmenio  and  Kalas  in  Asia  Minor.  Memnon  was  certainly  a  very  capable  commander,  but  his  commanding  ability  and  the  value  of  his  proposal  to  the  Persian  council  of  war  in  Zeleia  (see  below)  have  been  probably  exaggerated  by  some  ancient  Greek  authors  (Arrian,  Diodorus  etc.)  who  preferred  their  mercenary  fellow-countryman  as  a  protagonist  in  the  Persian  war  effort,  than  the  Iranian  commanders.  But  despite  Memnon’s  strategic  ability,  Darius  could  not  appoint  him  high  commander  of  the  Persian  amry  against  Alexander,  because  he  was  not  Persian  or  Median.  The  proud  and  rebellious  satraps  and  “relatives  of  the  Great  King”  (a  honorific  title  of  the  most  powerful  Iranian  nobles)  would  never  obey  a  “barbarian”  (from  the  Iranian  point  of  view).

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