Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Persian Empire invades Greece during the Olympic Games

Meanwhile, the vast army of Xerxes was lumbering forward across Boeotia. By about 25 August the lead units were in Thebes, accepting the surrender of that great city. Columns of soldiers headed by senior Persian nobles radiated out to the other cities of Boeotia. All received immediate surrender and symbolic gifts of soil and water. Some Persian nobles were no doubt surprised to find themselves being greeted not only by the local Boeotian civic dignitaries, but also by Macedonian officials whom they had last seen some weeks earlier in the entourage of King Alexander of Macedon. These Macedonians smoothly assured the Persians that the cities in which they were living were, and always had been, very friendly to the Persians – so there was no need for any unpleasantness. No doubt the wily Alexander managed to extract some reward for his helpfulness to the Boeotians.

On the journey to Thebes the Persian scouts had rounded up several stragglers from the League army that had marched away from Thermopylae on the morning of 20 August. Most likely these were wounded men who had been unable to keep up the punishing pace of an army in retreat. Several from the Peloponnese were dragged in front of Xerxes and his entourage to be interrogated. They revealed that the army that had fought at Thermopylae was simply an advance guard of the main armies of Sparta and the Peloponnese. This had been sent, they said, because everyone else was too busy to at the Olympic Games watching and competing in athletic contests in honour of the god Zeus. Xerxes was amazed that the Greeks would go to Olympia rather than try to defend their country and assumed that some fantastically valuable prizes must be on offer. Oh no, came the reply to this question, the only prize is a wreath of olive leaves and the honour of winning.

At this Tritantaechmes, son of Artabanes and a cousin of Xerxes, turned to Mardonius and exclaimed “Good heavens, Mardonius. What manner of men are these that you have brought us to fight. They compete with each other not for money but for honour.” The remark earned Tritantaechmes a stern rebuke from his king. He was probably lucky not to share the fate of his father and be promptly sent home.

from "The Battle of Thermopylae" by Rupert Matthews.

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Tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie. One of the most remarkable actions in ancient or modern military history took place at Thermopylae in 480BC. Rupert Matthews has personally examined the battlefield in order to try to explain how 300 Spartans could hold at bay the hordes of the Persian Emperor Xerxes. This was no vain sacrifice; the delay gave breathing space for the Greek states to organise their defence, and ultimately defend successfully their homelands. Among other intriguing revelations the author explains the importance of the half-ruined wall that sheltered the Spartans against the onslaught. With concise diagrams and maps of the entire campaign, the reader can begin to understand the extraordinary, apparently impossible outcome of the war.

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