Introduction to the Greco-Persian Wars Pt.3

Alright is everyone ready for the finale? Right after this we will begin the first stage of the wars that would shape the world. But first we have to go back to Lydia. After its defeat its territory was divided into satrapies, Lydia becoming one as well but far smaller than the former reach it had once enjoyed. After Croesus died/was recruited/who knows a Lydian called Pactyes was trusted by Cyrus to protect the treasury of Croesus on its way to the capital. He instead hired mercenaries and lead a revolt against the new satrap which forced Cyrus to send his general Mazeres to subdue it. This lead Pactyes to flee to the Ionians territory but that was on Cyrus’s list too so Mazeres chased him further. After conquering Priene and Magnesia, two important cities north of Miletus, Mazeres finally caught Pactyes, who had fled across several cities, and sent him to Cyrus. Afterwards he was supposedly tasked with finishing the conquest of Anatolia but died from an unknown cause in Ionia.

With the unfortunate timing, Cyrus had to send Harpagus, a man of extreme historical importance. During the battle between Astyages and Cyrus for the Iranian crown, Harpagus betrayed the king and effectively gave the victory to Cyrus due to a grudge he had with Astyages. More to come in a future article. When he restarted the conquest, he easily swept through Ionia, Caria, Lycia, Cilicia and Phoenicia. These regions lay on the southern shores of Anatolia making them essential for controlling trade routes and population centers. Phoenicia is the exception; they were part of the eastern Mediterranean shoreline and a significant cultural and economic center of the Levant. He utilized a unique technique of building earthworks outside the walls of cities under siege to breach the walls. With the conquest over, he headed back to Persia in 542 BCE. Now there is some dispute here as I’ve seen some places cite Cyrus as the conqueror or Harpagus as the conqueror but however it occurred the Phoenicians were drawn into the empire. With this the Persian leader established all of his seafront property and setup a new power struggle. But why all the discussion about the Persians? Cyrus would extend his influence far beyond his death for what he did and he needs to be recognized thoroughly for it.

To explain Cyrus quickly, he has a very difficult past to research but essentially he was the King of Anshan within the Median Empire, think the central southern region of modern Iran . The empire itself had a king but allowed regions within it to have kings in order to govern more effectively. Cyrus came to rule the Persian part of the empire and through some event (lots of debate on that) he waged a war for the throne, taking it and then rapidly expanding his country, the Achaemenid Empire, to heights that had never been seen before. He conquered the Lydian Kingdom, the Neo-Babylonian Empire and heavily expanded into Asia while his successors pushed into Cyrene, Egypt, Thrace, Macedon and the Pontus region. It was truly a massive and unheard of expansion of a state at that time in history.

This would be the legacy of Cyrus, to found a great nation no one could contend with as well as uniting the Iranian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Levantine and Anatolian peoples into one nation. These conquests laid the foundation for the Achaemenid Empire which now should be fully apparent, was a monster of the ancient world. It was quite literally these little Greeks with some metal against a great rolling Persian machine, only too ready to devour whatever decided to get in its path.

Now remember how the Ionians refused to help the Persians? That was about to come back on them. Cyrus usually used the political elite of a region as a basis for turning the area into a satrapy (province) and this would give the satrap (governor) at times near autonomy so long as the king was focused on other issues. Unfortunately the Greeks had no unified government since these were all independent cities, each with their own government. Additionally, he wanted to crack open the Greek political unity against a foreign occupier and, remembering their defiance, wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be a problem in the future. Thus, decided to appoint a tyrant in each major city to rule them so that he could ensure each one would be kept in check. Unfortunately this would come back to bite the Persians collectively. Right now, we need to talk about tyrannies.

There were three forms of government prominent among the Greek cities: Oligarchy, Democracy & Tyranny. Tyrannies were a government with a strongman essentially ruling through popular or military support not dissimilar to modern dictatorships that control their militaries. Tyrannies didn’t always establish dynasties since support was usually for the tyrant, not the son. The difference in the name is that there was no negative association with the word in ancient Greece; it was really just a title. Democracies were less popular then but implemented to varying degrees with Athens version of direct democracy being the most popular. Oligarchies were by far the most common with just the rich or powerful ruling in a group. Which form of government was installed was generally up to the people and this would bear heavily upon the Ionians.

Since the public could oust unpopular tyrants and form oligarchies or democracies in their wake the actions of politics was mainly confined to a city. Unfortunately, no matter how unpopular an Ionian tyrant was, he was essentially unmovable. This easily clashed with the Greek mindset; that they would be forced to accept outsider domination over their ideals. With the tyrannies established and the tension rising it would have been obvious that problems were arising that, unless something was done, would boil into open conflict. This is where we begin our story. See wasn’t all the intro so much fun?

The war covers several phases. The initial Greek uprising within Persia, the Persian counter-attacks against mainland Greeks and their heroic battles, finishing with the Greek counter-attack against Persia and the liberation of Greeks across the Aegean. Its official end is a few years after their failures in Egypt and Cyprus, ending in the cessation of hostilities with Persia. Now to get started we focus on the Greeks in Anatolia, specifically Ionia, and how their actions pull Greece into a new era.

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