The Persian Empire was built on the Persian practice of conquer and enslave. The big war machine moved across Asia and Southern Europe conquering peoples and stripping them of any form of self-determination or independent thought. This was the principle that set the scene for the Battle of Platea in 479 AD
The success of the Persian army was built on the principle of taking the best from every culture that it conquered. When the Persians conquered, they pursued the best artists, scholars and military personnel for their own. The Persian army was a very multi-cultural group. The Persian army was known for overwhelming numbers in their ranks, However, some sources contest that all were not soldiers, but the totals consisted of wives, concubines and camp followers. Some of these camp followers were archers. The size of the Persian army made it a force to encounter. However, it was also this size that was a factor in its final defeat in the Battle of Platea. An army of this size was difficult to move and difficult to supply. Research will show that the Greeks were able to defeat the Persians through superior battle tactics.
The Two Opposing Forces
After the defeat of Athens, the Persian General Pausanias moved his troops to the Baeotian Plains. Historians estimate the size of his army at that time to be 120,000 soldiers, as well as, e 30,000 men for supply services and for guarding the lines of communication. It was a large army and could not move far from the Asopus river that divides the Boeotian plain (Barron, 1996)
There were two chief divisions in the Persian forces at Platea. Mardonius' had a smaller force than his counterpart, Xerxes. The force of Mardonias was small and maneuverable. Whereas the force of Xerxes was a large force to encounter, it was also difficult to move and supply. The battle was staged in August and neither side could travel far from their water source (Barron, 1996)
The Greek army numbered 10,000 soldiers; almost every Greek able to carry weapons had come Boeotia. They began the defense of their beloved city greatly outnumbered (Barron, 1996). The Greek troops were smaller in number, but they had battle experience and superior training on their side.
A note must be made as to the numbers of troops for this battle. Herodotus is the primary source for the documentation of this battle. He wrote about the battle after the fact. His works did not give accurate accounts of numbers. According to McGoodwin (2002), the numbers of the Greeks numbered 110,000 and the numbers of the Persians, 750,000. There are many discrepancies in secondary sources as to the number of actual troops on both sides. All of the numbers do however, reflect that the Greeks were heavily outnumbered by the Persians. The lower numbers would seem to be more consistent with other battles of the time.
The battle began with the two sides facing off on the great plain. The Greeks had developed the battle tactic of the phalanx, where the men fought shoulder to shoulder in ranks and files. It was considered an honor to fight on the left wing of this formation and the Greek leaders bickered as to who would get this honored position (Barron, 1996).
Neither side would attack, as they both knew that the key lied in forcing the other side to attack and abandon their water source. Mardonius' supplies begin running out and he attacks a supply chain in an attempt to provoke the Greeks to attack. Meanwhile, the Greek army brought in more troops and its numbers grew. This continued for one day with each side antagonizing the other in an attempt to get the other side to attack (Barron, 1996). Pausanius poisoned the Greek's water supply and The Greeks sent the least experienced troops to find another supply. When this group split off, The Mardonius thought that the Greek troops had split for political reasons. He felt that they were divided and would now be an easy target (Burn, 1962).
At dawn, after the first day, Mardonius hears that the Greeks have fled. He pursues and attacks the well-trained Spartan troops. Pausanias sent a messenger to the Athenians, who are in the process of moving from the plains to help the Spartans, who are now under tremendous pressure. The Spartans, somehow manage to regroup and reform their ranks. They are able to stand their ground. The turning point of the battle was when the Persian leader Mardonius is killed. This causes his troops to lose faith. The reserve troops were commanded by Artabazus, who has been accused of immediately fleeing the battlefield (Barron, 1996).
The turning point of the battle was the death of Mardonius. Previous to this battle the Persians had relied on sheer numbers to give them advantage in battle. They often arrived with massive troops and sometimes the other side simply gave up without a fight. Prior to the Greek invention of the phalanx tactic, battle took place as disorganized one on one combat. Each side would match its best soldiers. The advent of the phalanx tactics gave the Greeks an advantage, even with smaller numbers. The phalanx was difficult to penetrate and easy to move on the battlefield. However, once penetrated, it broke into disorganized mayhem (Burn, 1962).
The key to the Battle of Platea was the ability of the Spartans to regain their phalanx formation. The key to the defeat of an army many times their size was the ability to regain the phalanx formation and continue with efficient battle tactics. Often the key to the battle is the ability to have a mental advantage. To this point, the Persians had the mental advantage, both in their numbers and past reputation. The Greeks knew they were fighting a formidable opponent. Many times battles have been won or lost on the fall of a favored leader. In this case the fall of Mardonius gave the Spartans courage, while it made the Persians lose confidence. This was the key to the Battle of Platea.
One of the key reasons why the Spartan troops may have been able to regroup under these circumstances is their lifestyle. In most Mediterranean countries at the time, troops showed up to battle with little or no formal training. It was up to the individual to train themselves. The Spartans had a different view and lived a very regimented life from an early age, beginning their training as soon as possible. The troops were selected from only free Spartan citizens. This produced an army of highly trained professionals with a high degree of loyalty to their city. This degree of training was key in the ability of the Spartans to regroup and reform rank despite pressure from the Persians (Burn, 1962).
The Battle of Platea contrasts the style of warfare between east and west (Ferrill, 1979). The Persian style of warfare consisted of generally unorganized troops under the leadership of leaders who had shown particular bravery in battle. Promotions were granted in accordance to heroic feats on the battlefield. Often, in the quest for recognition from the King, Persian ranks would break formation to attack by themselves in an attempt to gain recognition from the King. This lack of discipline often led to confusion and chaos. Set against the ordered discipline characterized by the Spartan troops, even though they had the tactical advantage in numbers, they could not present a united front. The Persian army consisted of many factions, many of whom may not have been loyal to the cause of Persian conquest. When the battle turned to favor the other side, these troops may have fought with less heart, or maybe not even fought at all. They may…