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Assess the role of Themistocles in the Greek defeat of the Persians in 480 - 479 BC.

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Introduction

Ancient History Assessment Task #2 Assess the role of Themistocles in the Greek defeat of the Persians in 480 - 479 BC. At the beginning of the 5th century BC, the Persian Empire extended from modern day India to western Turkey and as far south as Egypt. The Persian ruler, Xerxes, fuelled by his father Darius' past defeats, vowed to extend the empire further west into the lands of Greece though was unsuccessful. His failure is largely attributed to the foresight and strategies of a respectable, wealthy Athenian citizen, Themistocles. Themistocles' strengthening of the Athenian navy and unification of Greek states in the Panhellenic League along with his strategies in the battles of Thermopylae, Artemisium the pivotal Greek naval triumph at Salamis, all contributed to the ultimate defeat of the Persians in 480 - 479BC. During these battles, Themistocles lured the Persian force into narrow, close range battlegrounds suited to the Greek style of hand to hand, close range combat. Themistocles was born to an Athenian aristocrat father and a non-Greek mother in the Lycamidace family without any support from the ruling class. By 493 BC, age of 35, he had secured the supreme post of the nine archons as Archon Eponymous. According to Bradley, it was as an archon that Themistocles began the fortification and improvement of the new Piraeus whose three natural harbours would be more efficient than the open bay at Phalerum. ...read more.

Middle

Thus the serpent column indicates how Themistocles was selfless in his act of allowing Sparta to control the Panhellenic League and unite the Greek forces leding to the Persian defeat in 480 - 479 BC. The combined Greek forces now defended the pass of Thermopylae which according to Esteinsen, was an "exceptionally narrow defile between a sheer mountainside and the sea" able to halt the advancing Persian army near Thessaly. Buckley states that Themistocles chose this pass to defend as the existing Phocian wall could be reinforced and defended and the Greek's 'heavier defensive armour and thrusting spears, were superior to the Persian infantry in hand to hand fighting". Buckley states that Themistocles plan was that the Greek force needed a "narrow mountain pass where the enemy could not deploy its superior numbers...thus causing major problems for the sustenance of the army and hopefully leading to its withdrawal". According to Bradley, the Greeks could have held their position indefinitely however, the Greek traitor Ephialtes, showed the Persians the Anopaean path through the Callidromous mountain around the Greek defenses enabling the 10 000 Persian immortals to slaughter the 1000 Phocians defending the narrow path and proceed to attack the Greek forces from behind. The Spartan Commander King Leonidas, dismissed all troops except the 300 man Spartan infantry who fought bravely to the last man. According to Herodotus, the Greek defeat at Thermopylae was completely unexpected and led to the retreat of the Greek naval fleet blocking ...read more.

Conclusion

This breeze was no disadvantage to the Greek ships, which were comparatively small and lay low in the water, but it caught the Persian vessels, which were difficult to maneuver with their high decks and towering sterns". Thus Themistocles chose the battle ground and battle time to suit the Greek navy, and extremely important role in the defeat of the Persians in 480BC. As the Persians could not swim, many drowned as their ships were rammed and others were slaughtered by waiting Greek soldiers on the island of Salamis. According to Buckley, Themistocles also knew the Persians would be eager to secure a victory at Salamis to avoid the fast approaching winter. It is clear then, the Greek strategist and archon Themistocles played a vital role in the defeat of the Persian army in 480-479 BC. His improvement of the Greek harbour of Piraeus, vision of the Athenian navy as the future of Athenian battles and unification of Greek states in the Panhellenic League combined with his strategies and foresight in the battles of Thermopylae, Artemisium and most importantly the Greek naval triumph at Salamis, were all part of his vital role in defeating the Persian force. His tactic of fake tyranny in the battle of Salamis also played a vital role in splitting the Persian army into two sections luring of the reduced fleet into the narrow straights where the Greek fleet was waiting. ...read more.

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