A time for diplomacy - 479 B.C., Sept

The Greek fleet advanced to Delos, but would go no further. Now during the winter months Mardonius sent Alexander I to be the envoy to Athens. On his arrival, they made him wait a few days to be able to tell the Lacedaemonians of his arrival. Hastilly, they too send envoys to Athens.

After they heard Alexander I, telling them the terms of surrender that Mardonius had ask him to offer. The Spartan ambassadors then counter replied. Telling them not to take up the terms of surrender offered by the Persians, after all it was Athens' fault for the war taking place to begin with, they, not Sparta took up the offer to sail away to Asia Minor and freed the Greek cities their, incurring the wraith of King Darius, just so you could extend your empire, now the fate of Greece is involved in it. It was also Athens that was built on as a city of free men, only to now bring all other Greeks into slavery. We can offer you sustenance for your women and for the unwarlike portion of your households, so long as the war endures, we feel for your loss of your city and crops. Be not seduced by Alexander I, who softens down the rough words of Mardonius, which is only natural to do. For with barbarians there is neight faith nor truth.

The answer was always pre-ordained, the Athenians sat patiently and heard all that spoke, when it was time for them to reply, they spoke.

We know the power of the Medes is many times greater than our own; nevertheless we cling to freedom that we shall offer resistance where we may. Seek not to persuade us into making terms with the barbarian. Return at once and tell Mardonius that our answer to him is this; so long as the sun keeps its present course, we will never join alliance with Xerxes. We shall oppose him, trusting our aid to those gods and heroes whom he has burnt with fire. With that, Alexander I made his way back to deliver the message.

To the Spartans the Athenians replied; It was natural that you should be afraid we might make terms with the barbarian; not for the all the gold in the world or the most fertile of all lands would bribe us to take part with the Medes and help enslave our countrymen. There are powerful motives to make such a thing impossible, first the burning of our temples and images of our gods, our common language, the altars and the sacrifices of which we all partake, the Athenians will not betray all these. Know it now if you have not known it before, that while one Athenian remains alive, we will never join alliance with Xerxes. We thank you for your forethought on behalf of our families. Now if you let it be to lead your army out with all speed, for if we surmise alright; the barbarian will not wait long to invade our territory again. As soon as he learns our answer he will again enter Attica. Let us go forth ourselves and give battle in Boeotia. With this the Spartan ambassadors departed, and returned back to their own country.

As predicted, when Mardonius heard Alexander I, he broke up his army from Thessaly and Macedonia and marched on through to Boeotia. Spurred on by the men of Thessaly, far from repenting of the part which they had taken in the war, they now urged on the Persians to the attack, more earnestly than ever. The Thebans sought to induce Mardonius to make a halt and camp in Boeotia and to send gifts to the influencial men in the surrounding cities to win them over and so make a division amoungst them. Mardonius did not follow this advice, a strong desire to take Athens a second time possessed him, in part due to his stubbornness, in part to also to inform the King. However, he did not find the Athenians in the country, they had again withdrawn to their ships, most returning to Salamis, he only gained a deserted town. The Athenians this time, much more quicker in evacuating their city. It was now ten months from the previous time Athens was sacked.

Mardonius, again sent a envoy to Salamis, to once more offer the same terms of surrender to the Athenians. When the Athenian council heard what the envoy had to say, one of the councilmen, Lycidas gave his opionon that the best course would be, to admit the proposals to the people. It is not clear if he said these words because he had been brided by Mardonius or because he really truely throught this idea was for the best, but it would not matter. For the Athenians, both in the council and outside when they had heard of his feelings subsoquently, full of wrath surrounded him and stoned him to death, they then sent the envoy away unharmed. Later on the Athenian women surrounded Lycidas' house and stoned his wife and children.

Again, Athenian ambassadors were sent to the Lacedaemonians to remind them that the barbarian had entered Attica and they should have joined the Athenians in meeting him in Boeotia. They likewise reminded them of the offer the Persians had given them, and that if no help came they would have to look after their own safety. The Ephors on hearing this gave no answer; for days. They were stalling for time for the wall across the Isthmus to be completed, battlements and all. In the meantime arrivals from Megara and Platea arrived, with Athenian blessing to put forward their case. They stated that their country had been overrun by Persians but they had been offered their own country back, plus any other country they wish if only they would surrender. But as they rever the Hellenic Zeus and thought it shamefull to betray Greece, they refused. Even though they had been wronged and betrayed by other Greeks and that it would be to their advantge to agree to their terms. At this time, therefore, the Athenians are angered with you, and justly, for you have not done what was right. We bid you to make haste to send forth your army, that we may yet meet Mardonius in Attica, now that Boeotia is lost to us.

The Ephors on hearing this delayed their answer for a day, then another, and another further day, meanwhile the Pelopennisians worked on the wall with great zeal. The Ephors were fully aware that if the Athenians were to join with the Persians, there would be no wall high enough to stop the Persians crossing the Isthmus.

The following day when the ambassadors again met with the Ephors, again they said that if they did not stir from their homes and kept amusing themselves by the deserting of the cause of the confederates, they would have no other allies, and will make terms with the Persians as they shall find possible. The Ephors now replied that their troops must be nearly half way there by now. At this the ambassadors questioned them what that meant. There were now told the truth, during the night the order had gone out and the army was marching towards the Isthmus, on their way to meet the barbarians[1]. The ambassadors forthwith set off, at their best speed, to overtake the Spartan army. At the same time a body of five thousand Lacedaemonians Perioeci, all picked men and fully armed, set forth from Sparta, in the company of the ambassadors.

The troops were lead by the regent Pausanias, as King Pleistarchus was still but a child. Meanwhile the Argives, who had promised Mardonius that they would stop the Spartans from crossing their borders, as as soon as they learnt that Pausanias with his army had started from Sparta, took the swifest courier they could find, and sent him off to Attica. The message which he delivered to Athens was said "the Lacedaemonians youth are gone forth from their city, and that the Argives are too weak to hinder them. Take good heed therefore to thyself at this time" and with that the messanger returned home.

Mardonius had kept quite in Athens, neither ravaging their territory or doing it any harm, for he wished to see what the Athenians were going to do. Now that their intentions were now clear and with the threat of the Spartans coming down on them from the north, cutting off any retreat they might need. The Persians couldn't afford to do battle in a city while they held superiour cavalry numbers. Orders went out to burn anything that was still standing and destroy anything left of their walls. With this done the Persians left Athens, before the Spartan army had even made it to the Isthmus.

After quitting Attica and now ready for his march, Mardonius now got word that seperate from the Spartan army making its way to the Isthmus, an advance guard of 1,000 Spartans were at Megara [2]. Being eager to win any easy battles, Mardonius divered his army towards to city to take on these Spartans before any reinforcements arrived. The cavalry pushed ahead and began to ravage the Megara countryside. Mardonius received a message that the Greeks were collected together at the Isthmus and were ready to march. On hearing this and not wanting to do battle there, Mardonius gave orders for all to retreat back towards Theban territory. The Megara countryside would be the furthest the Persian army would ever get in Europe.

The Lacedaemonians, when they reached the Isthmus, pitched there camp there; and the other Peloponnesians who had embraced the good side, hearing or else seeing that they were upon the march, thought it not right to remain behind when the Spartans were going forth to war. So the Peloponnesians went out in one body from the Isthmus, where they were soon joined up with the Athenians who had come over from Salamis. They soon got word that the Persian army were encamped at Asopus, after considering how they should dispose their forces opposite to the enemy upon the slopes of Mount Citheron.

NEXT PAGE>>>the Battle of Plataea




'Histories' by Herodotus published by Wordsworth 1996



Note#1: The Athenians were irate and believed that the Spartans were making fun of them organising the Spartan army to move out overnight and not telling the Athenians anything about it, even though they had been pleading with them for many days asking for some kind of action from the Spartan army to aid the Athenians. There is no clearer indication of superiour military strategy than what they have done here. By stalling and not informing anyone about the armies advance to the isthmus. Besides the Athenians being put out by not knowing the Spartans allowed their army time to reach the doorstep of Argos before anybody knew what was going on, thus muting any chance of Argos organising themselves to battle the Spartans, and most importantly of all the Persians were stuck in Athens when the shock news came to them. They had to act and act quickly or they would be caught in the city of Athens with the chance that the Athenians would arrive at the same time as the Spartans. The bait of 1,000 Spartans at Magara is another Spartan manouvour to chance the Persians into coming closer towards the Isthmus and giving the Spartans better ground to battle on.

Note#2: The 1,000 Spartans at Megara, seems to be another one of the Spartans ploys rather than how it sounds by Herodotus as an advance guard. The 1,000 Spartans would not have made much of a dent in hurting a army that would have been at least 70,000 strong if not more. Why should the 1,000 Spartans advance on so mighty a foe, when they would have known by then that the main body of Spartans was advancing to their station, with the rest of the Pelopennesian army in tow? The only real advantage that can be drawn from this was that Pausanius had devised this plan to draw the retreating army out of Athens to meet them much closer to the Ishthmus than Plataea. Plataea suited the Persians much more than the allied Greek forces. The Persian cavalry could do much damage on the open plains of Plataea, but near the rugged terrain near Megara the hoplites could do much more damage. It seems there never was an advance guard, just a rumour to draw the Persian army closer to the terrain that the Spartans wanted. It very nearly worked, and just goes to show how clever Pausanias was leading up to the Battle of Plataea.

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