Battle of Platæa - August 479 B.C.


In true Greek fashion, no sooner had they got the Persians on the backfoot than internal conflict broke out between the independant city-states. The Athenians and the Tegeans nearly coming to blows over who should hold down the important left wing position. The Spartans naturally, in charge of the prestigious right wing. Daily now too, the Greek side who were riding high on their success so far, had their numbers swell, as more Greeks flocked to the cause from day to day.

The battlefield of PlataeaSuccessfully moving to be closer to the natural spring of Garaphia, and taking advance of a hill of no considerable height.

When the mourning period had passed, Mardonius learning that the Greeks had moved closer to them at the Asopus marshalled his troops against them. Strategically, placing his best troops the Persians against the Spartans, more deep than usual, all the way until they also partly faced the Tegeans. Next to them came the Medes, as they were the next best available to face the Peloponnesians. The Macedonians and the tribes that dwelled about Thessaly, were matched against the Athenians. The rest of the nations held the middle ground. 300,000 thousand stood against a Greek force of 110,000. There were many Greek cities that alligned with the Persians, mostly from the north, who either wanted or had to join. The Phocians for example had 1,000 with the Persians, however their were many who did not side with them and were raiding the Persian camps and food supplies when available, generally causing a headache for the Persian side, during the ordeal.

After a day of a stand-off, the next day both sides proeeded to offer sacrifice. The Grecian sacrifice was offered by Tisamenus ((for his interesting story of how he go this job, go here)). Tisamenus stated that the victims were favourable, if the Greeks stood on the defensive, but not if they began the battle or crossed the river Asopus.

By contrast, the Persian side, very eager to do battle found their victims not favorable, the Elean Hegesistratus was their soothsayer ((go here to see his past)). So no battle was to take place.

The sacrifices not being favorable for either side to begin to do battle, began to frustrat the Greeks allinged with the Persians as they were witnessing their own numbers dwindle as their men openly began to change sides and pour into the opposite camp, continually increasing their numbers.

As to why the soothsayers continually relayed the message that the side that begins the battle will loose the war. The most reasonable thought is that the defending side held too much of an advantage. For the Greeks to attack the Persians while they were still in their fort was not practical. Greek hoplites did their best warfare via the phalanx and rushing a fort nullified this, plus Spartans had little if any practice of siege warfare that would be needed, Persian arrows would shower down on them. For the Persians to attack on the other hand, their best advantage lay in the open plains where their horses could do most damage. The Greek remaining at the foothills, always held the advantage of withdrawing to the moutains, pulling the Perisans away from their base and fighting a battle that did not suit them. Both sides remembering what Leonidas and the 300 did to the Persian advance at Thermopylae less than a year before, with these thoughts still fresh in everybodies mind I think that these are the real reason the soothsayers were reluctant to issue a decree proclaiming victory.

A Theban had advised Mardonius to keep a watch on the passes of Mt Cithaeron as these were the ways that the Greeks were continually getting supplies. By the eighth day from when both sides had first encamped, that evening the Persian horse was let out and quickly moved into one of the passes that was known to be used for supplies; it was not in vain. They came across pack-animals, 500 in total bringing provisions from the Peloponnese just coming down into the plain. All were slaughtered, neither man nor best was left alive. After taking what ever they could the horse returned back.

For the next two days, neither army was wishing to begin the fight. The Persians advancing to the river Asopus, trying in vain to get the Greeks to cross; but neither side was willing to cross the stream. The Persian horse harassed and annoyed the greeks incessantly. The Thebans being zealous of the Medes cause, kept pressing for battle, but they were always held back in check by the Persians.

By the eleventh day from the time when the two hosts first took station, there was a conference held between Mardonius and Artabuzus. Artabuzus stated that the Greeks seemed to increase in size every day and that it might be better to break up from their quarters as soon as possible and withdraw the whole army to the fortified town of Thebes where they had abundant stores of corn for themselves. His idea stemmed from the belief that they needed only to sit quite. The Persians had plenty of coin, all that was needed was to buy off their leaders and towns, it wouldn't be long before the Greeks gave up their liberty without risking battle. The Thebans agreeing with Artabuzus, obviously, conserned about the Greeks growning strength.

Mardonius would have none of it, he being left in charge of the army it was his belief that their army vastly outnumbered the Greeks, and while the victims where not being favorable, they should still be prepared for the battle that was going to take place. So with Mardonius giving his sentiments, no one ventured to say no to him.

This however concerned him and so he asked for the captain of the squadrons and the leaders of the Greeks to be sent for. He then asked them. 'Did they know of any prophecy which said that the Persians were to be destroyed in Greece?' All were silent, some because they didn't know, others because they thought it not safe to speak out. He (sorry, need to research the name) proceeded to tell the oracle 'The Persians shall come into Greece, sack the temple at Delphi, and when they have so done, perish one and all'.

The Persians had not sacked Delphi nor would go to the temple, thereby proving this orcale obselete. He asked them to be ready for battle in the morning and be confinent or victory.

That night the leader of the Macedonians, Alexander ((Alexander the Greats grandfather)) sneaked out of the camp and rode up to the Greek sentry guarding the allied Greeks post. Asking to speak to the Athenian Generals, calling them by name, while many stood on guard against the intruder, others ran to awaken them. Once they had arrived he spoke about the following.

All that he was about to say was to be held in trust, except to the Spartan general Pausanias. Mardonius couldn't obtain favorable omens, had it not been for this the battle would have taken place long ago. He now seems ready to let the victims pass unheeded, and as soon as the day dawns, he intends to engage you in battle. He seems to be afraid that you daily increase in number. With these words still ringing in their ears, he left and rode back to his post.

The Athenian Generals then went to the right wing and entered the Spartan camp and told Pausanias all that they had learnt from Alexander.

Ancient Greeks get ready for battleIn the grips of realising that the battle was to take place tomorrow, he asked the Athenians if they wished to stand opposite the Persians on the right wing and the Spartans would then cover the left wing. The reason being that out of all the Greeks it was only the Athenians that had successfully faced the Persian army previously, at Marathon and were thus better acquainted with their strengths and weaknessess. While the Spartans had hundreds of years of experience fighting other Greek city-states, and Spartan precences would be enough to make many of the Greeks leave their post, many had already change sides and come over to them.

The Athenian Generals were agreeable to this and understood the reasoning behind the decision. Stating that they too amoungst themselves had played with the idea but thought, that perhaps their words might not be pleasing to the Spartans.

Very early the next morning, the Spartans and the Athenian contingent changed sizes, and by the time dawn had come about were ready to receive the Persians. The Boeotians when they were use to facing the Athenians but now seemed to be facing the Spartans immediately sent a heard to Mardonius to tell him. ((It is obvious from this part of the story that the switch that took place was not immediatly obvious to all concered. For the Boeotians to notice seems reasonable, they were a Greek city-state and so knew the Athenian and Spartan forces having battle against previously. And they would rather battle the Athenians than the Spartan forces, they would be the first to point out that they were going to have to battle the Spartan forces. But that nobody else to realise seems to indicate that there was no standard uniform worn by the Greek forces. No red cloaks worn by the Spartans, no lamda on their shields, no distinctive marks to place one solider from the other. Most of the uniforms occured much later in the second half of the Pelopponesian War.

Then again this changing and rechanging seems a bit iffy in the story, and very late considering this is all happening more than 10 days worth of lining up ready for battle))

Mardonius issued orders to change the Persian side to face the Spartans and the Greeks allined with Persia to the other side. There plans thus discovered, the Athenians and Spartans returned to their original posts, shortly after the Persians too returned to their original post sending their Greek allies back to theirs. Mardonius then sent out a hearld to pester the Spartans in saying that Spartans claim to never turn your backs in flight nor quit your ranks but either destroy their adversaries or die trying. But this morning you flee your posts and wishing to go against our slaves while leaving the Athenians to face us. He asked if the Spartans are brave enough to face only the Persians in the open field winner take all, the Persians were willing to agree to this. To this no answer was given till at last the hearld left unable to get a rise out of the Greek side.

Mardonius was overjoyed at what the heald had to say on his return, seening that the Spartans did not want to face them. Issued orders for the remaining cavlary to go out and harrass them with their arrows and javlins.

The Greeks now though not hard pressed had a problem, where they were stationed, the Spartans had easy access to the Gargaphia fountain, which by now had chocked up, so many men using it for a number of days. And where they had easy access to the stream of the Asopus, the now bothersom arrows and javlins being launched by the Persian horse made getting water a problem. Plus all the provisions they had brought with them were gone. The attendants that had been given orders to return with provsions were being harrassed by the Persian horse, which had now closed the passage.

The Greeks held a council where it was agreed to that if the Persians did not give battle that day, the Greeks would move to the tract of ground in front of Plataea, where a stream of water divides into two and would give them the water they desiered while being able to cover the pass to get their provisions. ((the two streams giving them every oppotunity to get water as the Persian horse wouldn't be able to harrass them now being able to get water from both sides of their lines)). They would need to send out a fair number of their troops ((about half of all the troops)) to go through the mountain passes to make sure no remanance of Persian forces were lying in wait.

They decided to march out on the second watch of the night, so that they might not be harassed by the Persian horse in making the manouver.

Througout that whole day, they were continually harrassed by the Persian cavalry and suffered in silence until dusk when the attacks of the horse ceased and night closed in.


NEXT PAGE>>>the Battle of Plataea; phase III



'Histories' by Herodotus published by Wordsworth 1996






Battle of Platæa
Conflict: Persian Wars
Date: 27th of Aug 479 bc
Defenders Aggressors

Greek City-States

Persian Force
110,000 300,000
Pausanias Mardonius


The Greek army (from right to left)
Heavily armed
Arcadians of Orchomenus
Mycenaeans / Tirynthians
Eretrians / Styreans
Chalcideans of Euboea
Leucadians / Anactorians
Paleans of Cephallenia
Lightly armed & ranged weapons
Various mostly ranged





























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