Xerxes and the Greeks Essay

Published: 2020-02-23 22:11:25
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The aim of Herodotus in writing his history is to display his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time¦ [and] not be without their glory (Book 1, 1). Herodotus objective is to outline the causes of the conflict between Xerxes and the Greeks, thus he attempts to explain the reason behind the Persian Wars.

His account aims to preserve human achievements (ta genomena ex anthropon) and the role of individuals so that they will not fade through time and that their great and marvelous deeds (erga megala te kai thomasta) both by Greeks and barbarians will not be without their glory (kleos), having their share in history. Thus, in his aim to praise the achievements of individuals, he often overemphasizes them, providing superficial analysis of events.

Though his account contains inaccuracies, bias and error, it is unique as he was the first to attempt writing a universal history and we have no other major source, apart from archaeological findings, to compare it with. This evidence limitation means that no specific Persian source exists; therefore, we mainly rely on Herodotus. On the other hand, his analysis of causes and events is superficial as he does not deeply analyze them; rather, he only takes into account the motives of individuals. Sometimes he correctly describes them to be the main protagonists, as it was individuals indeed that shaped situations.

Besides, this is what history is for the Greeks, not merely the story telling of events but the praising of their heroes, also. Therefore, Herodotus concentrates more on the Greek point of view of Persian Wars, providing us with more Greek personalities and he enjoys describing stories of conflicting forces and the struggle of heroes to oppress the villains. Additionally, since Herodotus was no military expert, he lacks understanding of military strategies and tactics (contrary to Thucydides) and he cant perceive numbers correctly, often being sidetracked and focusing on individuals instead on the battles.

Another of his weaknesses is that he relies heavily on oral tradition and he does not sift through his evidence, though the fact that he did interview people of various ranks and races and travelled a lot might imply that he had more rounded opinions. On the other hand, he could have been as accurate as his informants were and he has been largely criticized about his open pro-Athenian bias and admiration. He does include various and sometimes conflicting stories, even stories which contain the supernatural, but as he himself explains: I ought to repeat what I am told, but I am not always bound to believe it.

Xerxes is emphasized by Herodotus since he was the leader of the Persian force, though he is treated differently from Darius and presented in a more negative light. Even though Darius had another elder son from a different wife, he became king since he was the son of Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, who won the Persians their freedom, thus she had immense power, power which her son inherited. Herodotus presents Xerxes as being easily influenced to undertake an invasion against the Greek states, pressured by the Pisistratids and the Aleuadae and persuaded by Mardonius who saw himself as the future governor of Greece.

Herodotus gives the impression that if it was Darius instead of him that led the expedition it would have been successful and due to his Hellenic bias he cannot see that Xerxes is meticulous and plans well ahead prior to invading Greece. However, he gives him credit for his outstanding preparations (e. g. bridging Hellespont and cutting a canal) as the Persians were technologically more advanced. By this Xerxes wanted to show his power and leave something to be remembered by.

Xerxes also, appears arrogant and vindictive in Herodotus account. However, Xerxes justifiable receives attention from Herodotus, as if it wasnt for him trying to subjugate the Greeks, the 2nd Persian invasion of Greece would had never happened. He did this to punish Athens for assisting in the Ionian Revolt and to avenge the burning of Sardis, finishing what Darius had started. Additionally, his expansion policy can be clearly seen, being greater and more obvious than the expansion aims of his father.

Though Herodotus emphasizes him largely in his Histories, he himself did not fight in any of the battles he fought, rather appointed generals and observed the battles, relying strongly to Persians numerical advantage and Herodotus does not analyze if it was Xerxes or his armys fault that they lost. He left Greece after the battle of Salamis going home with the object of [his] campaign accomplished for [he] had burned Athens, leaving Mardonius once again in charge of the war. One of the personalities Herodotus treats in a Homeric way in Book 7 is Leonidas, the king of Sparta.

Being the leader of the whole Greek force, he does play an important role to the resistance of the Persians. Herodotus emphasizes his achievements since he is a hero to him, consequently deserving the greatest praise. It was due to Herodotus account emphasizing on his achievements that Leonidas became a Greek legend. He came to represent all of the Spartans that fought at Thermopylae against Persian subjection. Leonidas was important as he was the one choosing Thermopylae to be where the battle against Xerxes would take place.

Being a narrow passage would not give an advantage to the numerically greater Persian army and there Leonidas could defend central Greece, making also a stand to encourage unity. He was respected and in command of the whole army, with the 300 men whom he brought to Thermopylae being chosen by himself, consequently he was responsible for choosing the most capable! He was such an important figure in the struggle against Xerxes that he was sent in advance of the main army to discourage the medizing of other states.

In this occasion, Herodotus leaves aside his pro Athenian bias and experiences the Hellenic proudness of a memorable fight even if it was a loss. Leonidas army was so successful at first that made Xerxes leapt from his seat 3 times, in terror for his army, however when Ephialtes betrayed a secret passage to the Persians, Leonidas had no choice but to stay and fight in order to give his army time to retreat. Honor forbade that he himself should go as some of the Greeks that accompanied him did.

Herodotus here indeed concentrates on individuals as he is focusing only on the Spartan sacrifice, accusing the Thebans that assisted them of strongly being suspected of Persian sympathies and the legend failing to reproduce the Thespian contribution at Thermopylae. Leonidas, though, by not leaving left a great glory behind him and by him doing so Sparta did not lose her prosperity, as might have otherwise have happened; for right at the outset of the war, the Spartans had been told by the Delphic oracle that either their city must be laid in waste by the foreigner or a Spartan king to be killed.

It is this oracle that excuses Herodotus emphasis on Leonidas. He knew that death was inevitable and he fell, having fought most gallantly, scoring a moral victory, saving his city-state. He was such an important individual that there was a bitter struggle over his dead body and when Xerxes got hold of it, he treated it with outrage. Therefore, Herodotus does concentrate on Leonidas but he is justified doing so for a man that fought obedient to the laws.

Despite that, Herodotus fails to sufficiently explain the meaning and the actual contribution of this battle in providing time for the rest of the Greek army to retreat and re-organize. Herodotus did not think necessary to mention Xerxes officers but there was one name [he] could not omit that of Artemisia, thus by deeming her worth mentioning, he immediately shows the emphasis he is going to put on her, even if she fought on the Persian side. She was the ruler of Herodotus Halicarnassus; therefore stories about her must had been frequent in the city where he grew up as everyone admired her.

This is not unreasonable as she was a wise adviser and loyal ally of Xerxes as not one of the commanders gave Xerxes sounder advice than she did; having so much of his respect that he even sent her presents. For him is a marvel that she a woman -should have taken part in a campaign against Greece, furnishing five ships of war, with her only incentives being her spirit of adventure and manly courage (Book 7, 99). The role Artemisia played during the battle of Salamis increased her reputation with Xerxes. An Athenian vessel was chasing her ship and was close in sinking it, so she devised a plan.

She rammed and sank one of the Persian ships, leading to the Athenian general believing that either her ship was a Greek one, or else a deserter fighting on the Greek side; so he abandoned the chase and turned to attack elsewhere such cunning mind she was (Book 8, 87). Athenians resented the fact that a woman should appear in arms against them and her importance is obvious since there was a reward of 10,000 drachmae for anyone who captured her alive (Book 8, 93). Xerxes trusted Artemisia enough to send her to Ephesus with his sons.

He also employed her advice to leave Greece and leave Mardonius behind with a force to continue the wars. On the other hand, this might be one of the cases Herodotus overemphasizes the role of an individual since he does not think [Xerxes] would have stayed in Greece, had all his counselors, men and women alike, urged him to do so he was much too badly frightened (Book 8, 103). One of the most valuable figures in the struggle against Xerxes was Themistocles as he was the mastermind behind the Hellenic defence. All our sources, including Herodotus, treat him unfairly and do not give him the proper respect, though his importance prevails.

Themistocles was the only man, along with Miltiades, that believed that Persians would come back after Marathon. He fought at Marathon and realized that in order to meet the Persian threat Athens needed a navy. Aristocrats opposed the idea of sacrificing the army to the navy, subsequently when he succeeded he created a lot of enemies (Aristides, Pisistradits, Alcmaeonids), though it was his foresight that saved Greek from the invasion of Xerxes and made Athens a maritime power. Herodotus shows him as a trickster, diminishing him in every Hellenic League meeting as he presents him quarreling.

Despite his anti-Themistoclean bias, Thucydides must had been held in high respect, as he received a prize after the end of the wars and was the only foreigner invited to visit Sparta, thus he deserved more emphasis than the one he receives from Herodotus. Apart from Artemisium where he used bribery, pro-Hellenic propaganda on the rocks and outstanding maneuvering, his crowning achievement was Salamis. He was among those that believed that the Delphic oracle meant ships when it said that the wooden wall shall not fail, but help you, therefore he advised his countrymen to prepare to meet the invader at divine Salamis (Book 7, 141-143).

He even managed to persuade the Spartan commander Eurybiades that there was the most appropriate place to fight. Herodotus, also describes an incident that Themistocles sent a slave to Xerxes, urging them to attack them at Salamis since at the time they were divided on opinion as to where to fight but modern historians believe that this was just part of the plan another brilliant idea of Themistocles that contributed to eliminating the Persian fleet.

Salamis was the battle that destroyed the Persian fleet of Xerxes so much that made a future naval advance impossible all because of Themistocles, despite the fact that Herodotus presents his as supposedly receiving advice from Mnesiphilus on how to act. Themistocles capability stroked a terrible blow, leaving Persians unwilling to encounter Athens again at sea, though Herodotus hardly attributes him any credit.

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