The Battle of Plataea, which finally ended Xerxes’ invasion, in many ways mirrored the earlier Battle of Marathon. At the outset, both sides were locked in stalemate, the Greeks let by Spartan general Pausanias (Diodorus XI) not willing to advance to meet the Persians on open terrain, the Persians unable to best the Greeks on defensive ground. A Greek retreat precipitated the battle, causing the Persians to pursue them onto high ground (Herodotus IX, pg. 58). In Herodotus’ account, the Persians were this time equipped as spear-armed, shield-bearing infantry, far heavier than those that were driven into the sea at Marathon, but still nowhere near the weight of the heavily-armed Hoplites. When the Greek phalanxes turned to meet their pursuers, the fight began to go very poorly for the Persians. They were at a severe disadvantage against Hoplite infantry, even when the Hoplites, according to Herodotus, switched to their bronze slashing swords, indicating that the phalanx had broken rank and was engaged in extremely close combat. The heavy armor and shield of the Hoplite, as well as their superior training in the art of heavy infantry warfare, carried the day. They drove the Persians back to their camp after their general Mardonius was killed, reportedly by a well-thrown rock to the noggin, and slaughtered the fugitives that sheltered within its walls (see Holland, pg. 350-355). The remaining Persians, unable to overcome the strength of Greek arms, retreated across the Hellespont into Asia, never to return to Hellas again.

Leave a Reply