Reconsidering the Greco-Persian wars

Nov 2017
789
Commune
#1
Rather than derail my other thread on China to an unrelated event, better to make a separate thread about the Greco-Persian wars. This post is what inspired it:


Obviously it was not undefeatable, no formation/fight style is undefeatable, but you should consider the numbers. Despite a massive numeric superiority of the persians, the greeks using the hoplitic phalanx were able to preserve their independence. Not all the cities, but the bulk of the Greece remained independent and after some time they were able to take revenge.
For the Seleucidd, consider that they fought devasting wars versus Tolemaic Egypt, another Hellenistic kingdom. They were really weakened by these wars.

Apart this, as already said, the concept is not that Roman were superior because they used or fought the phalanx (or better, several types of phalanxes), the concept is that Romans had to fight versus a massive range of threats and different fight styles. And they were able to defeat all of them introducing a new fight style, able to engage all of them.
To start, it's not fully true that Greek cities retained their independence the fifth century. Ionia remained fully annexed to the Persian Empire until Alexander liberated it over 150 years later. Macedon became a Persian vassal, and Sparta also at least fell under Persian influence during the Peloponnesian war. Also, the Persians razed Athens and during the 5th century, it wasn't the Greeks who were invading the main Persian cities in Asia but the other way around.

Secondly, notice how when Persians defeat and/or conquer Greeks, as in the case of the Parthians repelling the Seleucids, it's because of internal economic or political problems like wars among the Greeks, but the same is not true when it comes to when Persians are defeated and/or conquered, even though the Persians had to deal with several internal problems by the time they reached Asia Minor and were severely overstretched. By the time of Alexander's invasion, the Persian Empire had been existing for about 250 years and was declining. The fact that Alexander's empire quickly crumbled after his death further supports this.

Basically, what I'm saying is that the Greeks didn't really defeat the Persians in the Greco-Persian war of the 5th century BCE but stalemated them instead, and this stalemate wasn't because of any Greek tactical superiority but because the Persians were overstretched, while Alexander's conquest was due mainly to Persian decay.
 

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
4,985
Canary Islands-Spain
#2
I think this analysis is mostly true, but not on its main point:

-Greek defeated Persiaby mid 5th century because Persian objective was conquering "free" Greece, which wasn't achieved. In fact, the Greeks reconquered areas in Asia Minor. However, it is true that by 400 they had dominion over Greek affairs on one way or another, including reconquering Greek Anatolia

-It is true as well Greece was on the limit of Persian logistic capabilities. But this point, which has been overstreeched by many historians, don't stand the fact that the Achaemenids subjected Macedonia (at some point directly ruled) and Balkan areas to the Danube, which are even farther and more difficult to sustain in terms of logistics than southern Greece
 
Nov 2017
789
Commune
#3
I think this analysis is mostly true, but not on its main point:

-Greek defeated Persiaby mid 5th century because Persian objective was conquering "free" Greece, which wasn't achieved. In fact, the Greeks reconquered areas in Asia Minor. However, it is true that by 400 they had dominion over Greek affairs on one way or another, including reconquering Greek Anatolia

-It is true as well Greece was on the limit of Persian logistic capabilities. But this point, which has been overstreeched by many historians, don't stand the fact that the Achaemenids subjected Macedonia (at some point directly ruled) and Balkan areas to the Danube, which are even farther and more difficult to sustain in terms of logistics than southern Greece
How is the argument of being overstretched overstated? Between Ricardo Duchesne, Tom Holland, James Lacey, Barri Strauss, Anthony Pagden, Victor Davis Hanson, and pretty sure Niall Ferguson as well, not to mention in my own personal experience with college professors, it's the opposite that is overstated, that the Persians were defeated not because they were overstretched but because the Greeks developed superior tactics (which is something I of course disagree with).

Southern Greece is rough terrain, it's a set of peninsular territories and islands, protected by mountains and of course, protected by the Mediterranean. Logistically it's easier to rule than Thrace, which is pretty much the only Balkan area the Persians ruled directly. Macedon may have been a vassal, but wasn't ruled directly, and in any case, Athens and Sparta can be argued to have been reduced to vassal state anyway.
 
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Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
4,985
Canary Islands-Spain
#4
One of the main factors usually considered for the Greco-persian wars is the fact that Greece was at the end of the supposed logistical capabilities of Persia, this is pretty common. However, southern Greece was well linked by sea routes, which made logistics easier in ancient times (and modern ones as well). Also southern Greece was closer to rich Persian areas such as Lidya and Phoenicia than other areas of the Empire. So the cause of Persian defeat in the first phase of the Persian Wars is human, and not geographical
 
Aug 2010
15,663
Welsh Marches
#5
Persia tried to conquer the heartland of Greece, and failed against all expectation; that counts as a defeat. Nor is it true that the invasion just staggered to a halt, the actions of the Greeks played a crucial part in its failure; their tactics were effective on the occasion (or rather, occasions). One could argue on similar grounds that the Russians didn't defeat Napoleon when he tried to invade their country.
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,112
#6
Persia tried to conquer the heartland of Greece, and failed against all expectation; that counts as a defeat. Nor is it true that the invasion just staggered to a halt, the actions of the Greeks played a crucial part in its failure; their tactics were effective on the occasion (or rather, occasions). One could argue on similar grounds that the Russians didn't defeat Napoleon when he tried to invade their country.
Well the difference is that the Russians did pursue Napoleon and made it to Paris relatively quickly (within 18 months of the surviving French leaving Russia) whereupon the concept of "Bistrot" was born according to legend

whereas it was some 150 years after Platea that Alexander's troops made it to the persian capital
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,112
#7
One of the main factors usually considered for the Greco-persian wars is the fact that Greece was at the end of the supposed logistical capabilities of Persia, this is pretty common. However, southern Greece was well linked by sea routes, which made logistics easier in ancient times (and modern ones as well). Also southern Greece was closer to rich Persian areas such as Lidya and Phoenicia than other areas of the Empire. So the cause of Persian defeat in the first phase of the Persian Wars is human, and not geographical
What do you mean by "human" ?
 
Aug 2010
15,663
Welsh Marches
#8
Well the difference is that the Russians did pursue Napoleon and made it to Paris relatively quickly (within 18 months of the surviving French leaving Russia) whereupon the concept of "Bistrot" was born according to legend

whereas it was some 150 years after Platea that Alexander's troops made it to the persian capital
Indeed, there is that difference; but I was talking specifically about the repelling of an invasion. To mount an invasion and be repelled is to meet with a defeat, even if the invaders may stretching their own luck by mounting the invasion in the first place. I don't think that at the time. though, anyone would that the Persians were stretching their luck by doing so.
 
Nov 2017
789
Commune
#9
Persia tried to conquer the heartland of Greece, and failed against all expectation; that counts as a defeat. Nor is it true that the invasion just staggered to a halt, the actions of the Greeks played a crucial part in its failure; their tactics were effective on the occasion (or rather, occasions). One could argue on similar grounds that the Russians didn't defeat Napoleon when he tried to invade their country.
I would agree on that. The Russians just lucked out with their remoteness, allowing them to use tactics to stall Napoleon, and their now legendary harsh winter. It was something of a Pyrrhic victory really given how much the Russians destroyed themselves just to prevent Napoleon from conquering them.
 

Solidaire

Ad Honorem
Aug 2009
5,423
Athens, Greece
#10
Well the difference is that the Russians did pursue Napoleon and made it to Paris relatively quickly (within 18 months of the surviving French leaving Russia) whereupon the concept of "Bistrot" was born according to legend

whereas it was some 150 years after Platea that Alexander's troops made it to the persian capital
In fact, after their victory in the Greco-Persian wars, the Greeks did counter-attack, see the Wars of the Delian league. From 477 to 449, there were campaigns in Thrace, the Aegean, Asia minor, Cyprus, even Egypt. The end result was the liberation of the Greek poleis of Asia Minor (for which the initial fuss was all about, therefore concluding a definite victory for the Greeks), as well as of Thrace and the Aegean. Meanwhile, these offensive actions against the Persians consolidated the Athenian control of the Delian league, transforming it to a sort of Athenian Empire and setting the stage for the Peloponnesian wars. Persia never took offensive military action against the Greeks again, instead adopting a diplomatic approach, which, during the decades of Greek infighting that followed (Peloponnesian and Corinthian Wars) did bear fruit.



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wars_of_the_Delian_League
 

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