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Second Persian Invasion

Xerxes launches an attack on Greece by land and by sea, culminating in the Battle of Thermopylae.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In the last videos, we saw a dominant Persia have to put down a rebellion by the Ionians in the Anatolian Peninsula, and they were really, really mad that these Ionians were helped by the Athenians and the Eretrians, and so Darius, the King of Kings goes off to try to conquer and put down the Athenians and the Eretrians. The first time he sends a fleet in 492 BCE, it's destroyed by a storm. And we'll see this is not the last time that at least part of a Persian fleet is destroyed by a storm. Then in 490, he sends a fleet again, and then he is defeated by the Athenians at Marathon, and we saw that right over there. Let me do that in color you can actually see. But as I mentioned in the last video, the Persians were not done. Darius would not live to see another round with the Greeks, but his successor, Xerxes, would not only try another attempt, but he would amass a huge, huge force against the Greeks to, in his mind, finally take them over, and he wants it done so badly that he leads the forces himself. And so we are now 10 years after, 10 years after the first Persian invasion. We are now at 480 BCE, where Xerxes is going to try to invade Greece by land and by sea, but as we will see, he is also not going to be successful. But this second invasion is the stuff of legend, and once again, the historical accounts come to us primarily from Herodotus, who was Greek, and who was not a direct observer of this. So you might want to take all of this with a grain of salt, because it does make the Greeks look awfully good. But we do think that most of this happened, but obviously Herodotus probably added a little bit of bias there. We are likely to never know. So let's think about, or let's see what Xerxes attempts to do. So we see this magenta line. This is the line of attack of Xerxes in 480, and you can see, there's one magenta line that is going by sea, and one magenta line that is going by sea here, and another magenta line that is going by land. And let's zoom in a little bit more. I have another map here. So let's zoom in to this map right over here to give us a clearer picture of what's about to happen in this next Persian invasion. So just to reorient ourselves, here are the land forces, and according to Herodotus and historians of that time, they numbered this force in potentially millions of soldiers, modern historians think it was closer to 50 thousand to 300 thousand, we really don't know, but we think it's in the approximately hundred thousand, or a few hundred thousands, not millions, but by any measure, that is a huge, a huge military force. So this is hundreds of thousands right over here. So hundreds of thousands. Or let me write this. Hundreds of thousands, maybe between 50 and 300 thousand. They're coming this way, the Persian forces. And they also have a fleet of approximately 1,200 ships. Now the Persians really are not having good luck with weather whenever they try to attack Greece. They face a storm, and about a third of their fleet is destroyed. And so up here they are left with about, and these are all approximate, remember this happened over 2,000 years ago, roughly 2,500 years ago, so it's amazing that we know anything about it at all, and obviously we have to rely on Herodotus and whatever historical accounts we can find. So the Persians are invading by land and sea, and the Greeks have a strategy of let's try to stop them by land at Thermopylae, and stop them by sea at the Straight of Artemisium right over here. And there is some historical debate of was this a big, grand strategy to eventually try to defeat the Persians at Salamis, which eventually happens, or were they generally trying to stop them there, and because they couldn't, they had to retreat back to Salamis. As we'll see, that second narrative is what actually happens. Well I guess in some level, both of those narratives happen. That they are able to at least slow down the Persians at both of these places, and the Persians are eventually defeated at the Straight of Salamis. Now Thermopylae is the stuff of legends. It is, if you've ever seen the movie 300, it is about the 300 Spartan soldiers led by King Leonitus, along with roughly 7,000 other Greeks that they're able to collect to stop the Persians at Thermopylae. And Thermopylae, you're in this coastal area where there's a very limited area for this massive Persian army to be funneled through, and the Greeks are trying to stop them at the Pass of Thermopylae. And you can see that right over there. And, by Herodotus's accounts, they are actually quite successful because they are funneling that Persian army into a very narrow space, the Spartans along with the other Greeks are able to push back. And this is a massive outnumbering. Roughly 7,000 versus many tens or hundreds of thousands, but as Herodotus's accounts go, there was a traitor amongst the Greeks who would go to the Persians and show them another way around, and show them another way around. And so the Persians are essentially able to, not only get around the Greeks, but by surrounding them, are able to defeat the Greeks at Thermopylae and continue their march. And remember, they were able to get to Eretria before, 10 years before, but they really want to seek their revenge on Athens. And they are able to go to go Athens, but by the time they go there, they see that the town has been, for the most part, evacuated. That the Athenians, when they saw that the Persians were coming, they went to Salamis right over here. So even though Athens was sacked and destroyed, the Athenian people were not destroyed. Now simultaneous with Thermopylae, you had a naval battle happen in the Straight of Artemisium. And once again, even though there was about 600 Persian ships that were in this battle, there was on the order of about 200 or 300 Greek ships, so the Greeks were once again outnumbered, and they were able to slow down the Persians, but not stop them. And the Persians kept having bad luck, especially with these storms, because even we had these first ships get destroyed, they sent some 200 ships around Euboea, I'm probably not pronouncing it perfectly right here, but then they get destroyed by a storm. So now you have the ships that engaged the Greeks in the Straight of Artemisium, the Greeks pull back because they know they're outnumbered, and they essentially go in retreat, or what the Persians think are retreat, so the Persians follow the Greek fleet all the way back to the Straight of Salamis. And it's over there that the Greek fleet is able to plan a defeat of the Persian fleet. So you have the Persian fleet gets destroyed decisively at Salamis, you have the Persian army still in Athens is able to destroy Athens, but the Athenian people have not been destroyed, and so there's a question for Xerxes, what to do at this point. This is all in 480 BCE, and what Xerxes decides to do, he says hey I don't want to get stranded in Europe at the edge of my empire, and so Xerxes heads back, but he leaves some of his ground forces there, and they eventually face a decisive defeat at Plataea, right over here. And so that is the last significant threat of the Persians against the Greeks. From then there the Greco-Persian wars continue for the next several decades, for the next 20 or 30 years, but at that point it's more of the Greeks on the offensive, and this really is the beginning of the Golden Age of the Greek civilization.