The Roles of Greek Heroism and the Gods in the Persian Wars

Powerful Essays
The Roles of Greek Heroism and the Gods in the Persian Wars

The Persian Wars (499-479 BC) put the Greeks in the difficult position of having to defend their country against a vast empire with an army that greatly outnumbered

their own. Many city-states united in battle, although others found ways to avoid participation in the wars. The Greeks also relied on the words of Apollo to guide them,

but the oracle did not always act encouragingly. The Greeks defeated the Persians in the Persian Wars due to heroic actions performed by Athens and Sparta and

occasional assistance from the gods, but cowardice shown by other poleis nearly ended the Greeks’ chances of success.

Unity between the Greek poleis could be seen occasionally in the battles of the Persian Wars, but not consistently. The Greeks first confronted the Persians during

the Ionian Revolt (499-494 BC). Ionian Greeks wanted to escape the oppressive system the Persians had them under, so they turned to the Athenians. They in turn offered 20 ships to the revolt, and the Eretrians offered five ships (Demand 1996: 184). Although the revolt was unsuccessful, the help offered by Athens and Eretria provided the first instance of unity among several Greek poleis.

The Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, however, did not provide such an instance. When the Persian army headed to Greece to attack, only Athens and Plataea sent soldiers to fight them. The Spartans claimed they could not send soldiers due to a festival and only appeared after the battle was won by the Athenians and Plataeans to congratulate the victors (Demand 1996: 186-187). The victory gave a boost to the confidence of the Athenians, who felt that “at Marathon we were the only ones to face up to th...

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...arta to play greater roles in battle. This produced a tension between the city-states that

nearly allowed the Persians to claim victory. The Greeks turned to Apollo, but the oracle did not encourage them. The Greek forces continued to fight, however, driven by acts of bravery performed by Athens and Sparta. Though the Greeks did not achieve complete unity or receive absolute encouragement from the gods, they had enough bravery and faith to bring them success in the Persian Wars.

Works Cited

Crane, Gregory R. (ed.) The Perseus Project,, November,


Demand, Nancy. A History of Ancient Greece. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies,

Inc., 1996.

Dillon, Matthew, and Lynda Garland. Ancient Greece: Social and Historical Documents from Archaic Times to the Death of Socrates. London: Routledge, 1994. No. 7.42, p. 209.
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