By Susan Sorek
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Extra resources for Ancient Historians: A Student Handbook
The Persians, however, still controlled almost the entire ancient world – Asia Minor, Lydia, Judah, Mesopotamia and Egypt – so in their eyes Marathon was seemingly of little significance in the scheme of things. It was not until the reign of Darius’ son, Xerxes (486–465 bce) that the Athenians once more came to the attention of the Persians. In 481 bce Xerxes gathered together an army of approximately 50,000 men and a navy of 600 ships determined that the whole of Greece would be conquered. However, the Athenians were not unprepared, for the politician Themistocles had been convinced that the Persians would return at some point to exact revenge.
At the start of the war Athens had put some money aside and also 100 ships that were to be used as a last resort. These ships were released and served as the core of the Athenian fleet for the rest of the war. An oligarchical revolution occurred in Athens in which a group of 400 seized power. In 411 bce an Athenian fleet which refused to accept a possible peace with Sparta attacked the Spartans at the Battle of the Syme. The fleet appointed Alcibiades as commander and continued the war in Athens’ name.
Naturally they chose to return home and the Anabasis is Xenophon’s account of how he took charge of this expedition, not because he held any superior rank but because he was a man of reason. For the Greek ‘political animal’ reason surpassed hierarchy. Their journey led them over mountains and across rivers, through an appalling winter, constantly facing hostile barbarian tribes, arriving, with some loss of life, at the Hellespont in the summer of 400 bce. For the modern historian this account offers not only a unique glimpse into the barbarian world, especially the tribes that inhabited the shores of the Black Sea and Thrace, but also affords a better picture of the Greek colonies, which can be found especially in the fifth and sixth books.
Ancient Historians: A Student Handbook by Susan Sorek