Battle of Platæa - 27th of August 479 B.C.


As soon as he saw a portion of his troops in motion, the Spartan General Pausanias issued orders to the Lacedaemonians to strike their tents and follow those who had been the first to depart, he was supposing that they were on their march to the place agreed upon.

All the captains but one was willing to obey his orders; Amompharetus, refused to move, saying "I for one will not fly from the strangers, or will I bring disgrace upon Sparta!". It happened that he was absent from the former conference of the captains and so what was now taking place astonished him. Pausanias was horrified at this turn of events, but he still refused to leave without the captain and his men. This made the Spartan force lag behind the rest in evacuating the position and being at the new camp by daybreak.

The Athenians on the other hand, once the troops started to move back toward Plataea, sent a herald to the Spartans to see what they were doing. They knew that it was the attitude of the Spartans to say one thing and do another.

The heard on his arrival found the Spartans still in battle formation and their leaders quarrelling with one another. Pausanias still trying to convince him that a vote had been taken and the decision had been agreed upon to move closer to Plataea. By this stage the Spartan captain had picked up a rock and set it at the feet of Pausanias saying "With this pebble I give my vote not to run away from the strangers." Pausanias called him a 'fool and a 'madman' then turning to the heard he told him to tell the Athenians what was going on and that they should not be withholding their movement according to what the Spartans were doing.[1]

The heard returned with the message back to the Athenian camp. All efforts for packing up camp and marching back to the new site were becoming fruitless. Until Pausanias came to the decision that if they saw the rest of the Spartans marching out, they would have no option but to move too. So after a long while or arguing, Pausanias gave the order for the rest of the Spartans to move out. No sooner was the signal given than the part willing to march went on their way (including the Teagans, who would not move without the Spartans) while Amompharetus and his men stayed put. The Athenians likewise set off at the same time, but as the middle part of the army was now at their destination and they were separated from the Spartans of some distance, they took a different route to the ones the Spartans took. The Athenians stayed on the low country and marched though the plain, the Spartans on the other hand took a longer route but a safer one by heading to the hilly ground and the skirts of Mount Cithaeron. Both of them loosing bearings of one another during the maneuver.

As for Amompharetus, at first he did not believe that Pausanias would really dare to leave him behind; he therefore remained firm in his resolve to keep his men at their post; when, however, Pausanias and his troops were now some way of, Amompharetus, thinking himself abandoned, ordered his band to take their arms, and led them at a walk toward the main army.

The main army was waiting for them at some distance up ahead waiting to see if they would come to them and they could march as one or if need be to return to their aid if they were being pressed by the Persian horse. Finally, Amompharetus and his men joined the main body.

The Persian cavalry had followed their usual practice and riding up to the Greek camp as the day dawned, when they discovered that the place where the Greeks had been posted was deserted. They then pushed forward without stopping, and, as soon as they overtook the enemy, pressed heavily on them. Causing the Spartan march to a crawl as they had to protect themselves from the arrows.

Mardonius, when he head that the Greeks had retired under cover of the night, and behind the place where they had been stationed, said to the Thessaians accompanying him.Persian warriorsHoplite armour

"You told me the Spartans never fled from battle! You said they were brave and beyond all the rest of mankind. But you yourselves saw them change their place in the line, and here, you can see for yourselves they have run away during the night. When it came time for them to fight the bravest warriors in all the world, they proved no worth at all. I can excuse you, knowing nothing of the Persians, praising these men as great warriors, but Artabazus!? That he had given me council to remove to Thebes and be allowed to be besieged by the Greeks; advice I shall take care to tell the King. But for now we must not allow them to escape, but must pursue after them till we overtake them, and then we must exact vengeance for all the wrongs which have been suffered at their hands by the Persians."

Mardonius then lead his men at full pace to run directly upon the track of the Greeks he believed to be in actual flight. They crossed the Asopus and led the Persians forward at a run. He could not see the Athenians; for as they had taken the way of the plain, they were hidden from his sight by the hills; he therefore led on his troops against the Lacedaemonians and the Tegeans only. When the other divisions of the barbarians saw the Persians pursuing the Greeks so hastily, they all seized their standards, and hurried after at their best speed in great disorder and disarray. On they went with loud shouts and in a wild rout, thinking to swallow up the runaways.

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The Spartans sent a heard to the Athenians for assistance, they really needed their archers, as soon as they received the message the Athenians proceeded to organise themselves to help. They drew up in order and put to the march, the Greeks on the kings side however, drew up against them. The Athenians quickly sent a herald to the opposition to say that Greeks should not be fighting Greeks and that they should allow them to help the Spartans. The hearld came back saying that they would not allow this. The Athenians then sent the Spartan hearld back with the message saying that they could not offer assistance while they were about to do battle.

Pausanias would have to make do with what he had at his disposal, 50,000 Spartan and Helots and the 3,000 (ever reliable) Tegeans. The Persians had made a rampart of their wicker shields, and shot from behind them with such clouds of arrows, that the Spartans were being sorely distressed. The Spartans, hiding behind their shields for protection, were waiting for the order to advance. The signs from the sacrifices were not favorable so the Spartans waited on the defensive, while a hail of arrows rained in around them. Many fell on the Spartan side [3] and still more were wounded. Still they waited with their dogged discipline of superb soldiers for their commander to give the signal.

Again and again the signs were not favorable, consternation for Pausanias, with no Athenian help to come and the signs being continually unfavorable for an advance, he could only stand and watch as a stream of advancing Persians were running to back up their archers raining down arrows around him.

At the next offering a frustrated Pausanias turned to the Plataean temple and offered a pray. Not being able to wait any longer and continually frustrated with the Spartans lack of a good omen, the Teagan general gave the order to attack, hoping to stem the increasing amount of archers volleying against them. Rushing forward they were going head long into the thick of the Persian forces. The Spartan soothsayer then gave the augury, the omens were good, the Gods gave their blessing on an attack. After such a long delay, the order to attack would have come to the Spartan contingent with a sigh of relief.


While the Persians on their side were still shooting they too prepared to meet them. At first the combat was at the wicker shields. Afterwards, when these were swept away, a fierce contest took place by the side of the temple of Demeter, which lasted long, and ended in a hand to hand struggle. The barbarians many times seized hold of the Greek spears and broke them; for in boldness, and warlike spirit the Persians were not inferior to the Greeks; but they fought without superior armour, fighting undisciplined and with less skill in arms. Sometimes they would fight singly, sometimes in bodies of ten, now fewer, now more in number, they dashed forward upon the Spartan ranks and thus perished. The carnage continued for a long while.

Artabazus had disapproved about risking a fight and had made great endeavors in the past to avoid battle but all in vain. Now he had his 40,000 men march forward in a orderly way and did not let them brake rank and charge the Greeks as the others had done. Marching at the same pace toward the battle lines.

On the Athenian side, many of the Greeks that faced them played the coward and backed off, not withstanding the Boeotians, on the contrary had a long struggle. Those of the Thebans who were attached to the Medes, displayed especially no little zeal; far from playing the coward, they fought with such fury that three hundred of the best and bravest among them were slain by the Athenians in this passage of arms.The Athenians engage

After all the maneuvering and planning by the opposing generals, this was now a soldier's battle.

Looking down from his position on the ridge, Artabazus could see the two battles taking place below him and, while no doubt he was debating whether to cut down through the middle of them, he would have seen the large body of Greeks from Plataea, who should have formed the Greek centre, coming hard and fast to help their comrades. They divided into two main columns, one going to the aid of the Athenians and the other cutting round behind to led strength to the left wing of the Spartans.

As the Greeks that ran to help out the Athenians were running at full speed, they were sighted by the Theban cavalry. About 7,000 Megarians, and other small contingents both from within and outside the Peloponnese ran across open plains to the aid of the Athenians. Even if their discipline had been better than it probably was, their action, thought brave, was somewhat foolhardy in open country. The Theban horse fell upon them and cut them to pieces, killing some six hundred and driving the rest back.

However, though in their actions they they were slaughtered, it did allow relief to the Athenians from the horsemen. The Athenians now could proceed with a straightforward hoplite battle against the Boeotian infantry, whose lines were continually hemorrhaging retreating soliders.

Continually, through the fight the Persians were constantly being reinforced by others running into the battle from the Persian camp. The fight went most against the Greeks where Mardonius, mounted on his white horse, and surrounded by the bravest of all the Persians, of a thousand picked men, fought in person. So long as Mardonius was alive, this body resisted all attacks, and, while they defended their own lives, struck down no small number of Spartans; but after Mardonius fell, and the troops with him, which were the main strength of their army. ((see note #2)).The forces break The remainder yielded to the Lacedaemonians, and took to flight. Their light clothing, and want of armour, were of the greatest hurt to them; for they had to continue against men heavily armed, while they themselves were without any such defense.

Artabazus before he and his force had even entered the battle, he could see the Persians already in flight, instead of keeping the same order, he wheeled his troops round, and beat a retreat; nor did he even head towards the camp, or even Thebes but headed straight for the Hellespont with all possible speed.

The remainder of the Persian forces took flight, heading back towards their encampment, without preserving any order, and took refuge in their own camp within the wooden defense, which they had raised in the Theban territory.

As for the Athenians, they too began to rout the enemy, who without enough aid from the calvary and loss of their ranks through abandonment, left mostly the Boeotians undermanned and skilled versus the Athenians. They also fled away not however towards the Persian camp, but directly to their city of Thebes.

The victors now pressed on, pursuing and slaying the remnant of the king's army.

The Persians, and the multitude with them, who fled to the wooden fortress, were able to ascend into the towers before the Lacedaemonians came up. Thus placed, they proceeded to strengthen the defenses as well as they could; and when the Lacedaemonians arrived, a sharp fight took place at the rampart. The Greek penertrate the fortressSo long as the Athenians were away, the barbarians kept off their assailants, and had much the best of the combat, since the Lacedaemonians were unskilled in the attack of walled places. But on the arrival of the Athenians, a more violent attack was made, and the walls were attacked with fury. In the end the valor of the Athenians and their perseverance prevailed, they gained the top of the wall, and, breaking a breach through it, enabled the Greeks to pour in. The first to beak into the camp were the Tegeans, and as soon as the wall was broken down, the barbarians no longer kept together in any array, nor was there any among them who thought of making further resistance. Most by now were half dead with fright, thousands huddled in narrow confined spaces. With such tameness did they submit to be slaughtered by the Greeks.

The Greek did not think of pursuing Artabazus or the Thebans for the moment. For on this day they were content in taking the Persian camp.

Afterwards a golden tripod was made for the victory at Plataea, dedicated at Delphi from the one tenth of the spoils of the battle. In the body is three bronze snakes which include engravement of the names of the cities which took part. The memorial was moved to Constantinople (i.e. Istanbul) where the snakes heads have long since vanished. Only the snakes intertwining bodies still remains to this day.

Drawing of Plataea tripodLooking down at monumentLooking up at monument

NEXT PAGE>>>After the Battle of Plataea


'Histories' by Herodotus published by Wordsworth 1996

Map of PlataeaDelphic monument









Battle of Platæa
Conflict: Persian Wars
Date: 27th of Aug 479 bc
Defenders Aggressors
Greek Alliance Persian Force
110,000 300,000
Pausanias Mardonius

Note #1. The part of the story that mentions Amompharetus not obeying Pausanias' orders seems a bit far fetched for modern historians to believe. For a Spartan captain not to obey the regent would have been considered very gravely by the Ephors in Sparta but more importantly Spartans were raised to obey wholeheartedly their elders, this is what their structure was based on. The alternate view is that this story was fabricated at a later date to explain the awkward positioning of the armies before engagement. Herodotus wrote the story about 50(?) years after the event. As the Greek centre did go astray, and ended up by a temple of Hera outside the walls of Plataea. Rather than risk any further mistakes in the dark they gathered together there and waited for the dawn. At first light Pausanias, seeing what had happened, ordered the Athenians, who were on Pyrgos Hill, to march down towards the Spartans. At the same time, he moved his own troops southward, leaving behind one battalion under the supposedly almost mutinous battalion commander to serve as rearguard. No sooner had the latter rejoined the main body under Pausanias - marching in disciplined and regular order - than the first of the Persian cavalry attacks began. It seems more probably that the late withdrawal of Spartan and Athenian troops compared to the other Greek movements was a ploy probably orchestrated but defiantly would have to have been agreed to by Pausanias to draw the Persians away from their fort and over the river. Evidence of this can be found at the Battle of Thermopylae as this was a movement employed by Leonidas there, and seems to be a standard Spartan maneuver; also proof in that after the battle the Spartans did not steal any of spoils or war as the others no doubt would have done if left in charge, this show their obedience to the laws at that time. The fact that they ended up so far apart can be explained by the fact that the moment took place at night with no fires allowable. This meant that while there was a good deal of confusion, there certainly wasn't panic in the ranks


Note #2: Mardonius was killed by a distinguished Spartinite, named Arimnestus, not with a spear or sword according to Plutarch, but by a stone which broke his skull. He in a group of 300 Spartans would later all die in a battle versus the entire Messenian force(H9:64)


Note #3. A Spartan named Callicrates was wounded at this stage by an arrow in the side, as he sat in his proper place in the line. While his comrades advance to the fight he was taken out of the ranks to be attended to, uttered "I grieve, not because I have to die for my country, but because I have not lifted my arm against the enemy, nor done any deed worthy of me, much as I have desired to achieve something." He survived long enough to know of the outcome of the battle, but died shortly afterwards.

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