This article represents a marked departure for me . I am venturing into my 1st historical descriptive piece . I hope it lives up to its lofty goals .
The first linked article was published to give an intro to the incredible history of the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great and then Darius the Great .
It was IMHO an excellent introduction into this fascinating period in history . But it could only last so long before it started to lose readers due to excessive length and too many video links . My article starts where that one left off .
If you want to save time , I have summarized most of the 1st video in my commentary below . [It is the 3rd video in the youtube series which started after the above article .]
If you watch that 3rd video in this series [the above link ] you will undoubtedly be impressed with some of the engineering feats accomplished by the Persian Empire under Darius the Great .
They built an incredible road across the mountains somewhat like the Pony Express in the US . It allowed communication of private messages at a fairly fast speed for the times . Then they built a canal which connected the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea . They were actually able to move ships and cargo across this 100 plus mile long route ... an amazing feat for its day .
Here is where one of the greatest conflicts in ancient history begins . [See 4:40 in the video .] In 494 BC Darius the Great [and he really was great] put down a revolt of some rebels on the coast of Turkey . This revolt had been supported by the city-state of Athens . Darius was not pleased and decided to direct his forces against Athens .
The Bosporous Strait connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea . Darius moved an huge army [70 thousand troops] across it by making a temporary bridge of pontoon boats across this narrow Strait . He then marched these troops across this boat bridge from Asia Minor to Europe so as to attack Athens . This was yet another massive and impressive engineering feat from the amazing Darius .
By 490 BC Darius's huge army had already taken Macedonia and was marching on Athens . Little did he know of the incredible power that he was attacking ... The culmination of this conflict happened at the famous battle of Marathon and the amazing sea battle which followed it . [See the video starting at 9:40 .]The Persians greatly outnumbered the Greeks in this battle and should have defeated them soundly . But what happened ? The Greeks used a brilliant military strategy which involved flanking the attacking force between 2 defending forces . The Persians lost badly . Darius decided to withdraw and take care of some business at home . But he died enroute due to another conflict in Egypt .
He had taken the precaution of establishing his successor before his death to prevent the chaos which had plagued his taking power on the death of Cyrus . His son Xerxes took over where he left off . Xerxes had to suppress 2 rebellions before he resumed attacking the Greeks . Was he just finishing up where his father Darius had left off ? [shades of the 2 President Bushes ?] In any case Xerxes combined his enormous land forces with the Carthaginian's huge navy . That way he planned to beat the Greeks at sea .
Here we move into the next video in the series [#4] :
Begin this video at 3:00 . This was the start of the second Persian War . As the video said : "The outcome layed the foundation for the modern world. " That statement is no exaggeration . Our western civilization was based on the ancient Greeks and that was only because they prevailed over the Persians in these 2 wars . The 1st one was won at Marthon with great military strategy . But the second one involved an huge naval battle . What did the Greeks do to counter this enormous combined force [Persia and Carthaginia ] ?
Once again Persia relied on incredible feats of engineering to accomplish their goals . The built a canal to allow the ships to travel across an isthmus and they built yet another pontoon bridge across another body of water , the Hellespont .
According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes's first attempt to bridge the Hellespont ended in failure when a storm destroyed the flax and papyrus cables of the bridges; Xerxes ordered the Hellespont (the strait itself) whipped three hundred times and had fetters thrown into the water. Xerxes's second attempt to bridge the Hellespont was successful.
Well there you go . When you are an absolute monarch you actually think you can beat a strait of water into submission . And who is there to tell you that you're nuts ? No one ...In any case Xerxes' 2nd attempt to build a pontoon bridge across the Hellespont worked . Did this convince Xerxes that the gods were on his side ? Did it lead him to take a risky strategy because "he couldn't lose" ? Perhaps ... The Greeks once again used superior military strategy to win rather than superior numbers . When the Xerxes forces arrived in Athens , the Athenians had deserted the city . There was no one there to fight . All of those huge numbers of land forces were of no value in what happened next ...
In August of 480 BC the Greek general Themistocles set up the final strategies which defeated Xerxes mighty forces . At Thermopylae there was a narrow pass . That is where the Greeks set up their forces . All of the huge number of forces the Persians assembled were nearly useless because they were blocked by this narrow mountain pass and a small force of Spartan troops who would not let them through . They eventually broke through this pass and slaughtered the Spartans but the Athenian forces were long gone by that time .
Xerxes forces then marched on Athens . However , the Athenians had cleverly deserted their beautiful city to avoid being slaughtered . Some historical reports say that Xerxes burned Athens to the ground . But supposedly he immediately regretted this vengeful act and had it rebuilt .
Then came the final brilliant military strategy : Themistocles had set up a trap for the Carthginian navy at Salamis . That was a narrow strait with little room for ships to maneuver , especially the large Carthaginian transport ships . What the Persians did not know was that Themistocles had assembled a large fleet of small attack ships called triremes in this strait but hid them till the trap was sprung . These ships were very fast and maneuverable and also equipped with battering rams on their prows . These triremes were propelled rapidly by rowers , the "missing" Athenian forces . They rammed and destroyed much of the Persian/Carthaginian fleet who were unable to avoid this attack . With his supply fleet destroyed Xerxes was forced to retreat . Once again engineering and massive numbers were defeated by clever and tricky military strategy .
The last part of this epochal event is covered in the next video [part 5 of the series ]
But I'm going to leave that coverage for another time . In any case these 2 battles [Thermopylae and Salamis] spelled the end of the mighty Persian Empire . Coverage of that is in the last video in the series . Maybe I'll write another article about that . There is also the amazing biography of Themistocles . But for now I'm signing off .
Thanks and I hope you readers have found this description informative and lively . Please refrain from CoH violations . I hope to have comments from viners some of whom might very well know more about this topic than I .