Story of the Greek People - E. M. Tappan

The First and Second Persian Expeditions

In the course of time most of the Greek states overthrew their tyrants. This was fortunate, for in the trouble that was coming upon them the people of a state needed to stand together, and not to be ruled by some person who cared little for them or the country if only he could keep his position as tyrant.

This trouble was coming from the east. Just across the Ĉgean Sea was the country of Lydia. Here and in the neighboring territories the Greeks had founded colonies, and as so many of the colonists had come from Athens and other Ionian cities and were, therefore, of Ionian blood, the whole group of settlements became known as Ionia. These settlements had become prosperous and rich. It was easy to get rich in Lydia. That was the country in which King Midas was said to have lived when he received the power to turn into gold whatever he touched, the power which became abhorrent to him when his daughter was turned into a lifeless golden image. People said that the bottom of a river had been changed to gold because the "golden touch" had disappeared when Midas bathed in its waters. However that may be, the stream certainly did "roll down golden sand." At first the Lydians had not cared especially about their seacoast, and had made no objection to the settlements of the Greeks; but as the time passed they began to realize that a kingdom ought not to be shut away from the sea by people of another nation. "Ionia must at least admit that I am its king," declared the ruler of the Lydians; and he attacked Miletus, the largest and richest of the colonial cities. The attack ended peacefully; the city and the kingdom agreed to be good friends

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


The next Lydian king was Crœsus. He laid siege to one colony—but rather gently, so as to do it no real harm, —and soon not only that one but all the Ionian colonies agreed to acknowledge him as their king. Crœsus was the richest ruler in Asia, and he was as generous as he was rich. He admired the Greeks and liked them and was always ready to do them favors. The Spartans once sent to buy gold of him to adorn the statue of a god, he gave them freely all that they needed. An Athenian had been kind to his envoys, and the grateful king led him into the royal treasure-chamber and told him to take as much gold as he could carry. He was so good to the Delphians that they made him a citizen of the sacred place. The colonies were not pleased at losing their independence, but they had nothing to fear from so kindly a ruler.

The time soon came, however, when they did have reason to be alarmed. Cyrus, king of the Persians, had overthrown Media, the land lying to the eastward of his kingdom, and was to Cyrus ready to attack Lydia. He invited the colonies to join him. Miletus did so, but the others refused. Crœsus was defeated; and then Ionia had to yield.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


So it was that Greece lost the rich colonies of the Lydian coast; and before many years had passed, the Greeks began to fear for their own homeland. The Persian empire, vast as it was, was not vast enough to satisfy Cyrus's son Cambyses, and when he conquests of became ruler he set to work to make it larger. He conquered Phœnicia, and then swept along the African coast, conquering Egypt and the Greek colonies lying to the west of it. The next king, Darius, was even more ambitious than Cyrus and Cambyses, and as soon as he had quieted some revolts, made a few fine buildings, and laid out some good roads, he, too, set out to enlarge his kingdom. First, he turned to the east, and soon India had become a part of the Persian empire. He had not forgotten the country that lay to the west, and before long he determined to try his hand in Europe. He had an old grudge against the Scythians, who lived in what is now southern Russia, so he started to conquer them. He crossed the Bosphorus and marched through Thrace and toward the north. He knew the Danube would be in him way, so he had sent his fleet to its mouth with orders to make a bridge of boats across it. Then over the Danube he went in pursuit of the Scythians. He might as well have chased the wind, for they had no towns to be destroyed, and they almost lived on their horses. They had a most exasperating fashion of keeping just in sight of the Persians, but never allowing them to catch up.

The Scythians were enjoying themselves, but Darius was at his wits' end. Then the provoking Scythians sent him a present,—a mouse, a frog, a bird, and five arrows. "If the Persians are wise," said the envoy, "they can find out the meaning for themselves." "The mouse is of the earth, the frog of the water, the bird of the air, and the arrows signify warfare," mused Darius. "This means that they are about to surrender." But one of his men did not agree. "This is its meaning," he said: "Unless, Persians, ye can turn into birds and fly up into the sky, or become mice and burrow under the ground, or make yourselves frogs and take refuge in the fens, ye will never make escape from this land, but die pierced by our arrows." Darius scorned this interpretation; but one day it came to pass that the Scythians and the Persians were really drawn up in line for battle, when a hare started up, and the Scythians all rushed off in pursuit of the hare. Then said Darius to the interpreter, "You were right. These Scythians despise us, and we will return to Persia."

They set out on the return, but the Scythians went faster and came first to the bridge of boats. It was guarded by some of the Ionians who had surrendered to Darius. "Break down the bridge," urged the Scythians, "and then you may go home in peace. We will see to it that King Darius never makes war again." The Ionian leaders had been put by Darius in charge of some cities that he had conquered. One of them, Miltiades, said, "Let us destroy the bridge, and then Greece will be forever free from the fear of Darius." "No," objected Histiĉus, the ruler of Miletus, "if Darius is slain, we shall no longer be in command of his cities." The bridge was not destroyed, and Darius went home in safety. He had not subdued the Scythians, but he had forced many towns in Thrace and Macedonia to submit to him. Indeed, to the north, east, and south of Greece all was in his hands; and to make matters even worse for the little country, the kingdom of Carthage, in Africa, was trying to get possession of the island of Sicily.

The Greeks of the mother country were alarmed, and the Greeks in Ionia were unhappy. Still, nothing might have been done if Histiĉus, whom Darius insisted upon keeping at his court, had not longed to return to Miletus. He said to himself, "If the Ionian colonies would only revolt, perhaps Darius would send me back to quell them." He contrived to send a message to his son-in-law, saying, "Set a revolt on foot in Ionia." The son-in-law obeyed. Then he crossed the Ĉgean Sea Ionia to learn whether Greece would help on the revolt. Sparta did not care to help Ionian colonies and so strengthen Athens, but Athens could hardly refuse to aid her own colonists. Moreover, she had a little grudge of her own against the Persians because they had received Hippias and done all that they could to make him again tyrant of Athens. The Athenians concluded to send twenty ships. The Eretrians of Eubœa, a large island just off the shores of Attica agreed to help, and so they and the Athenians sailed across the Ĉgean Sea. The colonists and their allies took Sardis, Darius's capital; then so many Persians came to oppose them that they began to be afraid. They hurried on board their ships and went home. They had done enough to make Darius hate them, but not enough to be of much service to the colonists. Swift couriers hastened to Darius. "O king, they cried, "Sardis is taken and burned by the Ionians and the Athenians!" "The Athenians, who are they?" demanded Darius. His counselors told him. He shot an arrow into the air and called, "O Zeus, suffer me to avenge myself on the Athenians!" Then he turned to a slave and gave him this command: "Whenever I seat myself to eat, do you cry aloud thrice, 'O king, remember the Athenians.'"

Darius was not the man to forget his anger, and it was not long before a Persian army was marching through Thrace and a Persian fleet sailing swiftly toward Attica and Eubœa. Mardonius, son-in-law of Darius, was in command. The fleet had to pass a long rocky promontory, at whose end is Mount Athos with its jagged rocks and precipitous cliffs. When the ships were northeast of this point, a furious storm arose from the northeast and dashed the helpless vessels upon the rocks. So many ships were lost and so many men were drowned that there was nothing for the Persians to do but to turn about and go home.

The first attempt to invade Greece had come to an end, but the slave still cried thrice at every meal, "O king, remember the Athenians!" and Darius soon began to make ready a second time to invade Greece. He did not care to fight just for the sake of fighting, and before making an attack, he sent envoys to the different Grecian states to say, "Darius, the great king, demands that you send him earth and water." All nations knew that to give earth and water was a token of submission. Some of the states yielded, but others, especially Athens and Sparta, were so angry that they forgot to be honorable. The Athenians threw the king's envoys into a chasm where criminals were often flung; the Spartans dropped those who came to them into a deep well and told them to take their fill of earth and water.

Then followed the second Persian expedition. The Persians had no idea of being wrecked on Mount Athos again, and so they sailed straight across the sea to Eubœa. "Help us!" the Eretrians begged of Attica, and the Athenians sent them troops. They would probably have sent many more had they not learned that the Eretrians were not united. Some were ready to fight to the death; but others only waited for a good chance to betray the city to the Persians, and so win a reward from King Darius. It was not of much use to help such people, and therefore the Athenians went home. The Eretrians fought for a while, then one of them betrayed the city; and now that was in the hands of the Persians.

There would be no trouble in conquering Attica, the Persians thought; so they put chains on their captives, who were to be sold as slaves, loaded them into the vessels, and sailed across the straits to Attica. They had on board a man who knew the country well, for it was Hippias himself. "The plain of Marathon is the best place to land," he had said. "It is wide and level and gives good space to use the cavalry." So on Marathon the Persians landed. The mountains looked down calmly upon the thousands of soldiers and Hippias dreamed of being again tyrant of Athens.

But all this while the Athenians were not idle. From each one of the tribes that Clisthenes had formed, one thousand men had come, armed and ready for battle. Just beyond the borders of Attica was Platĉa. Athens had defended Platĉa from Thebes, and Platĉa was eager to return the favor; therefore through one of the narrow mountain passes there came marching one thousand Platĉan soldiers to help their good friends, the Athenians. The Spartans, too, wished to help drive away the Persians; but they believed it unlucky to start for war during the five or six days before the full of the moon; and before the full of the moon had come, the battle of Marathon had been fought.

The most we know of the battle is that the Greeks were drawn up in line in front of the hills; the Persians were between them and the sea; off the shore were the ships and the chains in which the Greeks were to be carried away as slaves if they lost the battle. There were ten times as many Persians as Greeks; but the Greeks were united, and they were fighting for their homes and their freedom. Miltiades, who had urged destroying the Danube bridge,was general. He gave the command. The Greeks rushed forward at full speed and charged the Persian lines. It is no wonder that the invaders stared and for a moment almost forgot to fight. "They are madmen," the Persians cried; "see them charge with no bowmen and no cavalry to protect them!" Then the two lines met in deadly combat. The Greeks were strongest in the wings, the Persians at the centre. Near the end of the battle the Greek wings routed the Persian wings, but the Persian centre broke through the Greek centre. Then the Greek wings faced about and burst upon the Persians, and the Persians ran, across the plain and down the slope of the shore. They splashed through the shallow water and clambered into their vessels as if fiends were after them. They might almost as well have been chased by fiends as by those angry Greeks, who rushed on in mad pursuit through the water and even up to the very gunwales of the Persian ships. "Fire, fire!" they shouted; "bring us fire to burn the galleys!" And before the Persians could get away, the Greeks had captured seven of their vessels.



The invaders had gone, but there was not a minute for rest or rejoicing, for the fleet was sailing directly south. "Athens, Athens, they will attack Athens!" was the cry. The weary troops marched straight to Athens and encamped on the banks of the Ilissus; and when the Persians found that the city could not be taken by surprise, they turned about and went home.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


Then was the time for rejoicing. In one way Marathon was only a little battle; that is, no large numbers of men were engaged in it. In another way it was one of the greatest battles of the world; for if the Greeks had not conquered, the brave, proud, liberty-loving people would have become the slaves of the Persians. Miltiades was the great man of the hour, and the Athenians could not do enough for him. The Spartans had come at a forced march, hoping to be in time for the battle. Now they could only go to the plain of Marathon, gaze upon the prisoners and the tents full of treasures, and praise the valor of the Athenians. But how should honor be shown to the valiant warriors who had saved their country? It was the custom of the Greeks to bring home for burial the bodies of those who had fallen in battle, but of the heroes of Marathon they declared, "Let them lie where they fell. Their bodies shall never leave the place of their deeds of valor." So on the plain of Marathon they buried the Greeks who had been slain. They raised over them a mighty mound of earth, and on the mound they planted ten stately marble pillars, whereon was written the name of every Athenian who had fallen in resisting the barbarians. Another great mound was raised in honor of the Platĉans. Here, too, pillars were raised, inscribed with the names of the heroes, even of the slaves, who had died for the salvation of Greece. Marble columns pass away, they fall and are broken, they are shattered by earthquakes, they are carried to other countries; but a mound of earth remains, and the mounds on the plain of Marathon may be seen to this day. There is, too, another memorial; for in the little villages thereabout the people sometimes waken in the night and fancy that through the stillness they can hear the neighing of horses, the groans of wounded men, and the mighty shouts of victory; and as they stand and peer into the darkness, they imagine that they can see the shadowy forms of the men who fought at Marathon.


The Asiatic colonies to the east of Greece were called Ionia. They were conquered by the Lydian king, Crœsus, then fell into the hands of Cyrus, king of Persia.

Cambyses, and after him, Darius, wished to enlarge the Persian empire. Darius tried to conquer the Scythians and failed, but made many other conquests in Thrace and Macedonia.

Ionia revolted against Darius, and was aided by the Athenians. Darius sought revenge on the Athenians, but his fleet was wrecked on Mount Athos. So ended the first Persian expedition.

In the second Persian expedition Darius's ships sailed straight to Eubœa, and then aimed at Attica. He was defeated in the battle of Marathon. The heroes of Marathon were honored by mounds of earth and pillars raised on the battlefield.

Suggestions For Written Work

An Ionian writes a friend of the conquest by Crœsus.

A Scythian describes the attack of Darius.

Miltiades writes a letter to his wife describing the battle a Marathon.