What were the medical wars?

We explain what were the medical wars between Greeks and Persians, their causes, consequences and events of each.

  1. What were the medical wars?

It is known as the medical wars to a set of military conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and the Ancient Greek Civilization , represented by the different city-states of the Hellenic world. These wars meant the end of the expansion of the Persian Empire into the Mediterranean Sea, being defeated by Greece.

These two powers of the time were very different from each other: while the Persian Empire of Cyrus II the Great was an expanding monarchist state, the different Greek cities formed an archipelago, linked together by cultural affinity but politically and militarily independent.

The medical wars began in 490 a. C. and culminated in 478 a. C . On the other hand, they were just a chapter in his prolonged enmity, which culminated in the following century when Alexander the Great conquered and dissolved the Achaemenid Empire.

The name of medical wars, contrary to what at first glance seems to imply, has nothing to do with medicine. On the contrary, they were named after the name that the ancient Greeks gave to a region adjacent to Persia, the Media or the Medo Empire, whose borders were between Mesopotamia and the Caspian Sea.

The Greeks knew that their enemy was the Persian Empire, but even so they named these conflicts as medical wars, that is, wars against the Medes.

  1. Background of medical wars

The antecedents of the Medical Wars point to the Ionian Revolt, which was a rebellion of the ancient Greek cities that made up the Ionia , that is, the central western coast of Anatolia, nowadays divided between Greece (the insular part) and Turkey ( the continental part).

These cities had previously been conquered by the Persians , and ruled with strategic caution, since the Persians at the same time supported the Phoenicians, traditional rivals of the Greeks.

In 499 a. C., these cities began a separatist revolution that had little support from the Greek Helade : only about 20 Athenian ships and some troops from Eretria. Consequently, it was defeated by Emperor Darius I, not without losing the city of Sardes, which was reduced to ashes by the Greeks.

After conquering the cities of the Ionia one by one, it is said that the Persians swore enmity to the Athenians , and their expansion to the Mediterranean borders gave them just the opportunity to execute a revenge.

  1. Causes of medical wars

The Persian Empire was an expansive power of Asia , whose dominance over the Ionia and other formerly Greek territories was a source of conflict and roughness. In addition, it caused a sense of imminent danger in the cities of the Hélade.

It is said that Themistocles, Greek archon elected in 493 a. C., considered it necessary to fortify the Greek coastal positions and develop a great naval force. However, political rivals had other plans and opted for defense on the mainland.

On the other hand, the Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the antipathy towards the Athenians of the Persian emperor was legendary , constantly agitated by his servants at the time of sitting at the table. That is why he assigned his nephew Artafernes and a Persian nobleman named Datis to plan the conquest of the Greek coasts.

This seems to be confirmed: shortly after, the Persians conquered the Cyclades and Euboea , Greek regions that supported the Ionian revolt.

  1. First Medical War (492-490 BC)

medical wars battle of marathon greece persians
In the Tumulus the 192 Greeks fallen in the battle of Marathon learned.

The First Medical War began with the conquest of Eretria, capital of Euboea, by the Persians , in retaliation for their participation in the Ionian revolt. From there the Persian troops marched to the plains of Marathon, following the advice of the Athenian tyrant Hipias, who helped the Persians from their exile. The idea was to invade Athens, making the most of the Persian cavalry.

Thus it was produced in 490 a. C. the famous battle of Marathon , in which the Athenians, instead of playing defensively, attacked the newly disembarked Persian troops. They inspired dread among the Persians and persecuted them to their own ships, eight of which were captured.

In total, the Persians suffered the disastrous amount of 6,000 casualties, compared to the 192 fallen Greeks , and had to withdraw. The experience also served for Athenians and Spartans to sign an agreement of mutual protection against the obvious threat of the Persian Empire in 481 a. C.

  1. Second Medical War (480-479 BC)

After the death of Emperor Darius I, his son Xerxes ascended to the Persian throne , and from the beginning he prepared for a new invasion of Greece. His first gesture was to send emissaries to the cities of the Hélade requesting a tribute in water and land, as a gesture of submission that would then be taken into account.

It is said that the Athenians and Spartans preferred to throw Persian emissaries into a well, assuring them that “you will have all the water and all the land you want.” The army of Xerxes, composed of between 250,000 and 500,000 men, left for Greece in 480 BC. C. and crossed the sea, reaching the peninsula.

There, in a narrow passage between the mountains known as the Thermopylae (“Hot Gates” in Greek), a detachment of 300 Spartan soldiers and 1000 from other nearby regions awaited . Commanded by King Leonidas I, they were willing to contain the army as much as possible.

Thus, they allowed their own Greek defense to be established in the Isthmus of Corinth. This episode is known as the famous Battle of Thermopylae . which began with Xerxes request that the Greeks drop their weapons and surrender in exchange for mercy. The answer he got was “Come and take them.”

After five days of waiting, he opted for the numerical superiority of his army, composed mostly of light infantry, cavalry of archers and cars, and a few elite soldiers known as the “immortals”, personal guard of the king himself.

However, in that narrow gorge the troops were reduced to close combat, at the mercy of the long spears of the Greeks, having to fight one by one and suffering numerous casualties in each wave.

So they were until a traitorous Greek, Efialtes, led the troops of Xerxes through a road that led to the rear of the Greeks . The road was defended by 1000 focidia that, despite their excellent defensive positions, cowered and allowed the Persians to pass.

Located in front and behind, Leonidas I and his 300, along with 700 Hoplites from Tespias, remained in place until they died . However, they took around 10,000 Persian soldiers with them: a terrible blow to the morale of the invading army.

Thermopylae continued the battle of Salamis, in which the Greeks ambushed the Persian army . They evacuated Athens and allowed their looting by the invading troops.

In addition, they leaked to the Persian troops the supposed secret that the Greek fleet would flee that night. Thus they forced Xerxes to divide their fleet to close possible escapes and engage in a naval battle for which the Athenians turned out to be much better prepared, despite their lower number.

The Persian casualties were innumerable and were repeated on the mainland shortly after, in the battle of Platea where they were again defeated. Thus, the Persians were forced to leave Greece in 479 a. C.

  1. Third Medical War (479-449 BC)

The last chapter in the war between Greeks and Persians was commanded by the new Persian sovereign Artaxerxes , allied with the ancient Greek leader Themistocles, who was currently in exile. However, his plans were thwarted by Cimon , who led the Greek army to present-day Turkey.

The Greeks defeated the Persian army in the battle of the Eurimedonte River (467 BC). This great victory weakened the invading army and, after a few more years of war, forced him to accept the Peace of Calias , an agreement that ended the conflict forever.

  1. End of the Medical Wars and consequences

The Medical Wars culminated with the signing of the Peace of Calias, in which the Persians committed themselves to give up their plans of conquest and not to sail the Aegean Sea again. In return, they obtained permission to trade with the Greek colonies of Asia Minor.

With this treaty, the expansionist plans of Persia in the Mediterranean were ended forever. The Attic-Délica League was organized and unified under the command of Athens to the cities of the helade , organized against the common enemy.

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