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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 14 - Persian Wars

What will we be learning in this unit?
  • Who was involved in the Persian War?
  • What impact did the Persian Wars have on Greece?


 The Persian Wars
  • By 500 b.c., Athens had emerged as the wealthiest Greek city-state. But Athens and the entire Greek world soon faced a fearsome threat from outside. The Persians, you will recall, conquered a huge empire stretching from Asia Minor to the border of India. Their subjects included the Greek city-states of Ionia in Asia Minor.
  • Though under Persian rule, these Ionian city-states were largely self-governing. Still, they resented their situation. In 499 b.c., Ionian Greeks rebelled against Persian rule. Athens sent ships to help them. As Herodotus wrote some years later, "These ships were the beginning of mischief both to the Greeks and to the barbarians."


The Persian Wars
  • The Persians soon crushed the rebel cities. However, Darius I was furious at Athens' role in the uprising. To keep his anger hot, reported Herodotus, he had a servant whisper to him at every meal, "Master, remember the Athenians."
  • In time, Darius I sent a huge force across the Aegean to punish Athens for its interference. The mighty Persian army landed near Marathon, a plain north of Athens, in 490 b.c. The Athenians asked for help from neighboring city-states, but received little support.


The Persian Wars
  • The Persians greatly outnumbered Athenian forces. Yet the invaders were amazed to see "a mere handful of men coming on at a run without either horsemen or archers." The Persians responded with a rain of arrows, but the Greeks rushed onward. They broke through the Persian line and engaged the enemy in fierce hand-to-hand combat. Overwhelmed by the fury of the Athenian assault, the Persians hastily retreated to their ships. 
  • The Athenians celebrated their triumph. Still, the Athenian leader, Themistocles, knew the victory at Marathon had bought only a temporary lull in the fighting. He urged Athenians to build a fleet of warships and prepare other defenses.


The Persian Wars
  • Darius died before he could mass his troops for another attack. But in 480 b.c., his son Xerxes sent a much larger force to conquer Greece. By this time, Athens had persuaded Sparta and other city-states to join in the fight against Persia.
  • Once again, the Persians landed an army in northern Greece. A small Spartan force guarded the narrow mountain pass at Thermopylae. Led by the great warrior-king Leonidas, the Spartans held out heroically against the enormous Persian force.


The Persian Wars
  • After defeating the Spartans, the Persians marched south and burned Athens. The city was empty, however. The Athenians had withdrawn to safety.
  • The Greeks now put their faith in the fleet of ships that Themistocles had urged them to build. The Athenians lured the Persian navy into the narrow strait of Salamis. Athenian warships, powered by rowers, drove into the Persian boats with underwater battering rams. On the shore, Xerxes watched helplessly as his mighty fleet sank.
  • The following year, the Greeks defeated the Persians on land in Asia Minor. This victory marked the end of the Persian invasions. Although fighting continued for years, Greek raiders were on the offensive from this time on. In a brief moment of unity, the Greek city-states had saved themselves from the Persian threat


The Persian Wars

  • Victory in the Persian Wars increased the Greeks' sense of their own uniqueness. The gods, they felt, had protected their superior form of government - the city-state - against invaders from Asia. 
  • Athens emerged from the war as the most powerful city-state in Greece. To continue the struggle against Persia, it organized the Delian League, an alliance with other Greek city-states. An alliance is a formal agreement between two or more nations or powers to cooperate and come to one another's defense. 
  • From the start, Athens dominated the Delian League. It slowly used its position of leadership to create an Athenian empire. It moved the league treasury from the island of Delos to Athens, using money contributed by other city-states to rebuild its own city. When its allies protested and tried to withdraw from the league, Athens used force to make them remain. Yet, while Athens was enforcing its will abroad, Athenian leaders were championing political freedom at home