|Author||Charles River Editors|
|Publisher||CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform|
|Publication Date||March 7, 2017|
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*Includes ancient accounts of the battles
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
The Ancient Greeks have long been considered the forefathers of modern Western civilization, but the Golden Age of Athens and the spread of Greek influence across much of the known world only occurred due to one of the most crucial battles of antiquity: the Battle of Marathon. In 490 B.C., after the revolt in Ionia had been crushed, Darius sent his general Mardonius, at the head of a massive fleet and invading force, to destroy the meddlesome Greeks, starting with Athens. The Persian army, numbering anywhere between 30,000 and 300,000 men, landed on the plain at Marathon, a few dozen miles from Athens, where an Athenian army of 10,000 hoplite heavy infantry supported by 1,000 Plataeans prepared to contest their passage. The Athenians appealed to the Spartans for help, but the Spartans dithered; according to the Laws of Lycurgus, they were forbidden to march until the waxing moon was full. Accordingly, their army arrived too late. Thus, it fell upon the Athenians to shoulder the burden. With their army led by the great generals Miltiades and Themistocles, the Athenians charged the outnumbering Persians. Outmatched by the might of the heavy, bronze-armored Greek phalanx, the inferior Persian infantry was enveloped and destroyed, causing them to flee for their ships in panic. The Athenians had won a colossal victory against an overwhelming and seemingly invincible enemy.
There are few battles in history in which the vanquished are better remembered and celebrated than the victors, and even fewer where a defeat is considered a victory. But that has become the enduring legacy of the Battle of Thermopylae, a battle as unique as it is famous. The story of the battle and the willing sacrifice of the Greek defenders to buy the rest of the retreating Greeks time is well known across the world and still resonates with audiences to this day. Last stands are the stuff of martial legends, and Thermopylae is the greatest of them all.
When the Spartans’ famous and sacrificial stand at the Battle of Thermopylae ended, the Athenian fleet was forced to fall back, and Xerxes’ massive Persian army marched unopposed into Greece before advancing on Athens. The Greek armies were scattered and unable to face the might of Persia, so Athens was forced to do the unthinkable: evacuate the entire population of the city to Salamis, from where the Athenians watched in horror as Xerxes’ troops plundered the defenseless city, set it aflame, and razed the Acropolis. However, the Athenians remained belligerent, in part because according to the oracle at Delphi, “only the wooden wall shall save you.” Indeed, this would prove true when Themistocles managed to lure the Persian fleet into the straits of Salamis. There, on a warm day in September 480 BCE, hundreds of Greek and Persian ships faced each other in a narrow strait between the Attic peninsula of Greece and the island of Salamis.
Although the Romans gained the upper hand over Carthage in the wake of the First Punic War, the legendary Carthaginian general Hannibal brought the Romans to their knees for over a decade during the Second Punic War. Cannae is still considered one of the greatest tactical victories in the history of warfare, and the fact the battle was a complete victory resulting in the wholesale annihilation of the enemy army made it the textbook example for military commanders to try to duplicate. Of course, others usually were unsuccessful. Cannae was the kind of complete victory that every commander from Caesar to Frederick the Great to Napoleon to Robert E. Lee sought, and that few generals save Caesar and Napoleon bagged whole armies is a testament to the near impossibility of achieving a victory like Cannae.