Against All Odds: Greece’s Enduring Battle to Preserve Culture and Way of Life. Greek culture has blessed mankind with a number of technological and cultural developments which are still considered marvels to this day. It seems strange however, that such a seemingly advanced civilization had encountered many stumbling blocks when it came to unity between the Greek states and defending their homeland/integrity. The Greeks faced a number of military and moral dilemmas during the Persian War of 480 B. C.
Multiple factors plagued the Battle of Thermopylae from the beginning like: religious obligations, unity between Greek states, and a distinct lack of Spartan presence. Ultimately, the Greek defeat would come at the hands of one of their own countryman, Ephialtes. If the Persian king, Xerxes had not learned of a small path that led behind the Greek lines, the outcome may have been very different. Learning from their mistakes and defeat at the ‘hot gates’ of Thermopylae, the Greeks employed similar military tactics in the Battle of Salamis later that year.
Being careful not to repeat the same oversights, the Greeks employed their knowledge from previous defeat to become successful in the Battle of Salamis. In both battles, the Greeks used their superior knowledge of land and sea to help turn the tide against a sea of oppression and immeasurable numbers of Persians. The Battle of Thermopylae took was an ostensibly impossible undertaking from the beginning. The sheer numbers of the Persian Army had already scared a number of Greek states into compliance.
There were those however, who chose to oppose tyranny and took up arms. Led by a force of 300 warriors from Sparta, the Greeks hatched a plan to eliminate vast numbers of Persian forces. Their idea was to draw the Persian army into an area known as the ‘hot gates’. Here the hoplite army would be at a distinct advantage. The ‘hot gates’ acted as a funnel. It drew Persian forces into an increasingly narrow gap. It was at this gap where the superior numbers of the Persian army meant very little.
Using their traditional phalanx formation, the Greeks slaughtered wave after wave of Persian assaults. The phalanx formation was designed to be an impenetrable force on almost any battlefront. Using a tightly packed formation “the fighting men were grouped in regular units arranged in straight rows or ranks… soldiers lined up shoulder to shoulder and the main weapon was a long, heavy spear which was used for thrusting. ” To defend the brethren, each soldier was equipped a hoplon; a three-foot, round, shield made of wood and covered with bronze.
Additional armour consisted of “helmets, upper-body armour (breast plates), and shin and knee protectors (greaves), all of which used in earlier warfare had been re-designed to be thicker and stronger. ” A secondary weapon called a slashing sword was used for close quarters combat. Facing a hoplite army, one would have difficulty discerning where or what to target when looking at “a wall of shields, helmeted heads, and spears. ” The Persian army suffered heavy casualties and appeared to be losing the battle. Xerxes even lost his precious, personal bodyguards, the Immortals at the hands of the Spartan spear.
In a desperate situation, the odds turned in Xerxes favour when a Greek traitor by the name of Ephialtes unveiled a hidden pathway that would allow the Persian army to encompass the Greek forces. Without this intimate knowledge of the land, Xerxes may never have gained the victory he sought. An additional factor that helped prevent Greece from winning at Thermopylae was the religious obligation of the Spartan army. History would almost repeat itself when the Spartans would be late for yet another crucial battle. “As seen in the Battle of Marathon, Sparta was prevented from accompanying the Athenians for religious reasons.
It would be yet another celebration of festivals that interfered with the mustering of the Greeks. ” Perhaps if Greece had have been able to present a united front history texts of today may read much differently. As in the Battles of Marathon and Thermopylae, inferior military numbers would similarly be the theme for the Battle of Salamis. Feeling invigorated from his recent victory at Thermopylae, Xerxes once again set his sights on Athens. The Battle of Marathon in 490 BC displayed Persia’s naval might with a fleet of over 600 vessels.
Greece, although heavily outnumbered had been steadily fortifying its naval fleet “allocating a large sum of money from their treasury originally intended for adult citizens for the production of 200 ships. ” These ships called triremes were “a long slender vessel which was about nine times as long as it was wide, about 120 feet by 15 feet, and powered by 170 rowers. ” The triremes utilized a new tactic of ramming their adversaries to damage ships and submerge their adversaries. The Persian ships were smaller and more agile and greater in number. The Greeks devised a plan to turn the Persians numbers against themselves.
Mirroring the Battle of Thermopylae at the ‘hot gates’, Persian naval forces would be drawn into the straits of Salamis. Once inside the straits, Greek ships took full advantage. Greeks blocked the path of escape and with too many Persian ships in the narrows, they had nowhere to run. Even the most skilled captain would not be able to manoeuvre his way through such a thick maze of ships. The Greek naval commander, Themistocles “maximized his chances that the heavier and less manoeuvrable Greek ships could worst the more numerous Persian vessels with their more experienced crews. Themistocles employed ramming tactics which punctured the hulls of Persian ships, leaving Persian seamen (who were unfamiliar with water and unable to swim) awash and drowned in the strait. Furthermore, the Greeks “had the additional advantage that, as nearly all of them had grown up near water, they could swim” thus minimizing casualties on the Greek side. It was a quick fought battle and “by sundown Xerxes had lost 200 ships and numerous sailors. ” Realizing indefinite defeat “retreated with his navy to Persia to secure Hellespont. Drawing knowledge from the Battle of Thermopylae the Greeks ensured a victory through intimate knowledge of the sea, recognizing and monopolizing on opportunity by trapping and sinking great portions of the Persian naval fleet in the straits of Salamis. Greek culture has left its undeniable imprint for generations of the past, present and future to marvel, take joy and learn from. Tourist attractions such as the Parthenon have drawn countless millions each and every year and will continue to do so for centuries to come.
The technological advancements of the day are still awe inspiring, yet Greece still strangely enough, encountered numerous difficulties with regards to unification of Greek states and defence. In particular, the Persian War of 480 BC showed difficulties such as: religious obligations, frailty between Greek states, and at times a void of Spartan initiative. However, through resilience, perseverance and an intricate knowledge of geographical topography the Greek army and navy managed to preserve and overcome oppressive tyranny of king Xerxes and his infinite military forces.
Although it appeared that the Persians would lose the Battle of Thermopylae, in the end betrayal would seal the fate of the Greek nation. The Battle Salamis however adversely would see the tides turn in the Greeks favour when they employed the same military tactics and devastated the Persian naval fleet. Being careful not to repeat the same oversights the Greeks enjoyed a hard earned victory and enshrined their culture within history.
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