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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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))
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.
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
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.