However on thin passages or gorges, the Persian cavalry could not display its full power and their number superiority was blocked, since their spears were shorter than the Greek weapons. The narrow battlefield of the gorge forced them to fight almost in equal number with the Greek army, forcing them to retreat after two days of battle.
The Persian army achieved important victories: the Greek fleet was rejected on the Artemisium cape and, after the victory over Leonidas of Sparta and his 300 men on the gorge of Thermopylae, the news of the first Persian victories spread over the country and discouraged the Greek army that retreated from battle, bringing new victories for Xerxes's army. The Persians devastated Boeotia and the Attica, reaching Athens.
After the Thermopylae defeat, on August of 480 B.C., in Athens there was consternation. However, instead of surrendering, the Athenians made the decision of evacuating the city and sending the families to Egina, Salamis y Trecena. The Greek army took refuge behind the wall that crosses the Isthmus of Corinth protecting the entrance to the Peloponnesus.
The Oracle of Delphos was consulted and predicted that the great Greek victory would be achieved through a wall of wood. This wall was interpreted by Themistocles as a fleet of battle ships. Most of the Greek leaders considered that the Spartans should battle from Corinth to have space to retreat in case of defeat. However they were persuaded by Themistocles to fight from Salamis.
He fortified the port of Piraeus, turning it into a naval base. Some political heads of the Asia Minor territory believed that the Greek should defend themselves on land first. Different opinions from the many Greek cities made difficult for the Greeks to organize a proper plan of defense. The Persian troupes took this attack as a revenge for their victory over Athens.
The city had been evacuated previously by order of Themistocles, the leader of democratic Athens during that time and that opposed great resistance to the Persian invasion, using the city's resources of silver to build ships to fight the attacking army. He had managed to gather a fleet of about 200 ships to defend the city from the menace of Xerxes's enormous legion.
Athens inhabitants took refuge in the surrounding islands, so the Persian army had to face only the Acropolis troupes. They looted the city, burning and destroying the temples of the Acropolis while the Spartan and Athenian forces established their last line of resistance on the Isthmus of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf.
Themistocles tried to take the war towards Asia Minor, send his fleet there to dominate the ionic colonies and make them join his campaign against the Persian king, but Sparta objected this strategy, fearing they might leave the Peloponnesus undefended.
For this reason the war continued in Europe, offering freedom to those Greeks that signed peace with the Persian Empire, but the Athenian council refused the offer.
Xerxes was deceived by a clever message of Themistocles (against the advice of Artemisia of Halicarnassus, the ruler of Asia Minor, ally of the Persians during the war and very appreciated by Xerxes) to attack the Greek fleet under adverse conditions, instead of sending a part of his ships to the Peloponnese and simply wait for the dissolution of the Greek army after a prolonged siege.
The naval battle fought on Salamis (480 B.C.), where the Greek fleet had taken refuge in the gulf and the Salamis Island, was won by the Athenian fleet under the command of Eurybiades. This was only a small back step on a victorious campaign to the Persians at that moment.
Learning that the Spartan army, forced by Athens to lend their help, was preparing the attack against the Persian troupes, the Persians finally decided to retreat their soldiers from Greece, towards West to Plataea.
After losing communication with Asia Minor, by sea, Xerxes decided to return to Sardis, the army he left in Greece under the command of his cousin was defeated on 479 B.C. In Plataea. The later Persian defeat in Mykale, meant the freedom of the Greek cities of Asia Minor and Xerxes's giving up of those cities, refusing to involve further in Greek politics.
The Persians decided to retreat their troupes from Greece permanently, putting an end to the Median Wars and the confrontations between Greeks and Persians.
The battle of Athens, that Xerxes lead personally, is often erroneously interpreted as a battle between Greeks and Persians. Xerxes real intention was to punish the Athenians for the destruction caused by their forces on Ionic cities of Asia Minor that were under the Persian control. It must be mentioned that for this enterprise he counted with the support of other Greek cities, even Macedonia.
Xerxes took Athens and after a brief period of occupation he abandoned it, since his interest was not to conquer the city but only punish those that had taken war against other cities of Asia Minor. He did not fight against the Greeks or against Greece as a country, but against an alliance of Greek cities, with the help of other Greek cities, allies of the Persian Empire or the Greek cities in Asia Minor that suffered attacks from Athens in the Ionian revolt.
Little if known of Xerxes's last years. It is known that he sent Sataspes to attempt a circumnavigation de Africa, but the Greek victory over the second Median War caused the empire to sink in a state of apathy that would never fully disappear.
The king left many inscriptions at Van (Armenia), en el Mount Alvand (near Ecbatana), and Persepolis, where he ordered to add a new and sumptuous palace to the one his father left. In all of those texts he simply gathered his father's words. In the year 465 B.C. he was murdered by his vizier Artabanus, who promoted the ascension of Artaxerxes I to the throne of the Persian Empire.
The Persian Empire reached its end when it was defeated by the army of Alexander the Great that crossed the Hellespont with 42,000 soldiers from Macedon and various Greek city-states, and forced the Persian capital to surrender.
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