Herodotus – The Histories, Book 9, “Calliopé” [1-89] – Battle of Plataea

  1. Once Alexander told Mardonius the Athenians’ reply, he started moving his army from Thessaly to Athens. He forced those cities between to supply him with troops. The Thessalians encouraged the Persians to attack more & more.
  2. When the Persians reached Boetia, the Thebans’ invited Mardonius to park the army in their territory as a base of operations against his enemies. They also advised to divide the enemy by setting them against one another.
  3. Mardonius didn’t follow this advice. He really wanted to retake Athens mostly out of stubbornness & desire to send Xerxes good news. But once he arrived in Attic, he found no Athenians – they’d all left for Salamis. So, Mardonius just gained an empty city.
  4. Mardonius sent a messenger to Salamis & offered the same terms to them that he sent with Alexander. He did it this time because he knew they knew he had occupied all of their territory. They might give in when dispossessed.
  5. The messenger, Murychides from the Hellespont, gave his message to a councilor. Lycidas who decided to put the offer to a vote of the people. Maybe he’d been bribed by Mardonius. Maybe it was just a good idea that occurred to him. Either way, the council put him to death for the suggestion. They sent Murychides back. The women were so upset that they killed Lycidas’s wife & children.
  6. These were the circumstances of the Athenians going to Salamis. As long as the Peloponnesian army was on it way, they’d stay Attica. But when things were slow–moving & the Persians were breathing down their necks, they would move their people to Salamis. The Athenians sent a messenger to Sparta telling them the Persians were back in Attic, & making the same alliance offer.
  7. The Spartans were having a feast of Hyacinthia. Also, they were occupied with building a wall across the Isthmus. When the Athenian envoys arrived in Sparta, they spoke to the Ephors: “We’ve been sent here to tell you that the Persians have renewed their offer. Although we don’t want to dive in we have been abandoned by the rest of Greece. It may be in our best interest to consider the offer. You are more concerned with your wall than fulfilling your promise to come to our aid. You have made false promises & now that Boetia is under Persian control. The best place for a battle would be the plain of Thria.”
  8. The Ephors delayed responding day after day while the Peloponnesians were building the wall. Perhaps they only made the promise because they were convinced the Athenians would accept the Persians’ offer. Now that they’d been convinced they wouldn’t accept, they could ignore any action in Attica, so they could build their wall.
  9. Finally, the ambassadors got an answer. A Tegean, who had had a lot of influence in Sparta spoke to the Ephors: “Even if the Athenians do join the Persian, the wall across the Isthmus won’t be strong enough to keep them out. You have to honor your promise to Athens.”
  10. The Ephors agreed & sent out 5000 troops to the Isthmus. Each one of these had 7 Helots under command of Pausanias. While the power belonged to Pleistarchus, he was still a child & Pausanias was regent. His father Cleombrotus died in returning from the Isthmus leaving Pausanias in change.
  11. The Spartan army had already left when the Ephors told the ambassadors they had already sent them up. Before telling them, the Ephors got an earful for help. Threats came their way that they’d march with Persians. But the Ephors told them their troops were on their way. The messengers were surprised & left.
  12. The troops marched to the Isthmus. The Argives had promised to fight the Spartans if they passed through the area. But as soon as they heard about the arrival of the troops. They sent a message to Athens, telling Mardonius they were too weak to stop the Spartans.
  13. When he’d heard the Spartans were on their way, Mardonius wanted to leave Attica. He’d been waiting for a response from the Athenians on his offer & withheld from destroying their lands. He would now withdraw from Attica before the Spartans arrived. Attica was not an area for fighting on horseback & there’d be no escape route if they lost a battle. He’d go to Thebes, a friendly city to him.
  14. When he’d left Attica, he learned another Spartan force of 1000 arrived in the Megarid. He wanted to fight this force first. He would move towards Megara with the foot soldiers while the cavalry ravaged the land. This was farthest into Europe he’d gone.
  15. He then learned the forces of the Greeks gathered at the Isthmus, causing him to move back to Deceleia. The rulers of Boetia gave the Persians guides who led them to Sphendale to Tanagria to Scolus into Theban territory. Here Mardonius cut down all tree in the area to prevent the Greeks from having hiding places. His army was seated along the Asopus River in the area of the Plataean 2.5 miles in each direction. The Thebans held a banquet for Mardonius & 50 noble Persians.
  16. I heard the following from a local nobleman, Thersander. He’d been invited to the banquet. The Persians & Thebans were seated together. At the end of the banquet, a Persian who’d been drinking let it slip that the Persian army was planning to murder all the Thebans & most of the Persians at the banquet. But he said this because he liked Thersander & wanted to warn him. The Persian started crying & Thersander told him he should tell Mardonius & the others. The Persian replied that you can’t escape what God has decreed should happen. We all know it’s coming but we are powerless to do anything about it.
  17. Mardonius, when he had his troops in Boetia, had a lot of support from the locals, especially in his attack on Athens. The Phocians wanted no part of it. While they spoke well of the Persian cause, they only did so under duress. After the Persians showed up in Thebes, 1000 Phocian troops set up on the plain. They thought they would be bombarded by the Persians & they resolved to defend themselves instead of running away.
  18. The Persian horsemen surrounded the Phocians & charged at them to scare them, some even fired at them. But the Phocians kept close together & the Persians wheeled around & took off. Perhaps the Persians were afraid. Perhaps they only meant to scare the Phocians. But Mardonius sent them a message that he had misheard that the Phocian were cowards but they couldn’t challenge the king’s army.
  19. The Spartans arrived at the Isthmus & set up camp. The troops formed one single body & marched up to Eleusis. Omens were encouraging. There, they joined up with the Athenians who’d arrived from Salamis, joining as one single force.
  20. Mardonius saw the Greeks wouldn’t go into the plain. So, he sent his cavalry under Masistius to attack them where they were. The cavalry did some decent damage to them.
  21. The Megarians were most open to attack by the Persian cavalry. They sent a message to the other Greeks that they couldn’t continue to be attacked. If they didn’t get relief, they’d be forced to withdraw. Pausanians asked his men if there were any volunteers – 300 Athenians answered the call.
  22. The men went with some archers to relieve the Megarians. The struggle continued but eventually ended when the horse of Masistius took an arrow & threw him off. The Athenians rushed to him, killing him. They couldn’t get through his armor, so they stabbed him in the eye. The other horsemen didn’t see this but didn’t see Masistius anywhere & understood he must have fallen & made a dash for his body.
  23. The Athenians saw this & asked others for help. Before it could come, the 300 Athenians got roughed up in the scramble over the body, & had to retreat & allow the enemy to recover the body. But the Persian cavalry couldn’t make off with it & ran off ¼ mile to talk about what to do. It seemed best to go back to Mardonius.
  24. Mardonius & his men were upset by the loss of Masistius. They shaved their hair & cut off the horses’ mane & vented their grief with war cries.
  25. The Greeks were charged up by this. Not only did they resist the Persian cavalry & they forced them to retreat. They paraded Masistius’s body around their troops to get their spirits up. The Greeks wanted to move from the high ground to Plataea, a place better suited to them – plus it had water.
  26. The Athenians & Tegeans got in a shouting match over which ones would be appointed a wing. The Tegeans claimed they had the right to one because way in the past they had proven themselves during the invasion of the Heraclidae. They reserved the right of holding a wing in combat while the Spartans would hold the other.
  27. The Athenians replied that they weren’t here to make speeches but to fight the enemy. Since the Tegean are talking about their exploits, we should say that we’ve had a long history of bravery. We showed it in the Theban civil war, against the Amazon invasion & in many other instances. But all of that is ancient history. We’ve just shown ourselves brave against these Persians at Marathon & we deserve this privilege.
  28. The Spartans agreed that the Athenians were more worthy of the post than the Tegeans. Lining up for battle – 5000 Spartans held the right wing (including 35000 Helots, lightly armed), 1500 Tegeans, 5000 Corinthians, 300 Potidaeans, 600 Arcadians, 3000 Sicyonians, 800 Epidaurians, 1000 Troezenians, 200 Lepreats, 400 Mycenaeans & Tirynthians, 1000 Phliasians, 300 Hermionians, 600 Eretrians & Styreans, 400 Chalcideans, 500 Ambraciots, 800 Leucadians & Anactorians, 200 Paleans, 500 Eginetans, 3000 Megarians, 600 Plataeans & 8000 Athenians.
  29. Everyone except the Helots was heavily armed, making 38700. Lightly-armed troops added up to 69500.
  30. The Greeks got together at Plataea, adding up to 108200, the Thespians were without arms & had 1800 present.
  31. After mourning the death Masistius, the Persians learned the Greeks were nearby & moved toward the River Asopus. Mardonius matched his troops up to the Greeks: Persians v. Spartans & Tegeans; Medes v. Corinthians, Potidaeans, Orchomenians & Sicyonians; Bactrians v. Epidaurians, Troezenians, Lepreats, Tirynthians, Mycenians & Phlisians; Indians v. Hermionians, Enetrians, Styreans & Chalcidians; Sacans v. Ambraciats, Anactorians, Leucadians, Plaens & Eginetans; Boetians, Locrians, Malians, Thessalians & Phocians v. Athenians, Plataeans & Megarians. Some Phocians did not join the Persians & they joined the Greeks,
  32. Mardonius’s army was mostly Persian but also was mixed up Phrygians, Thracians, Mysians, Paeonians, Ethiopians & Calasirians. Many of these had been aboard ships before the Persian fleet left. The Persian army totaled 300000 & about 50000 Greeks who volunteered or were compelled to serve.
  33. Both sacrificed to the gods. The Greek soothsayer Tisamenus from Elis did the honors for his side. He had become a Spartan in this way… Tisamenus went to Delphi to consult with the Oracle because he had no offspring. She told him he would 5 glorious combats – which he mistook for wins at the Olympics. The Spartans caught on to the Oracle that they were military combats. So they tried to hire Tisamenus. Seeing as they really wanted his victories, he wanted full Spartan citizenship which they did not like the sound of. But once the specter of war with the Persians rose, so they agreed. Then he demanded the same for his brother, Hagias.
  34. So in this, he followed the example of Melampus. Melampus was hired by the Argives to heal their women from a plague but he wanted half of the kingdom as his payment. They rejected this but when more women caught the plague, they agreed. But then he increased his price to giving his brother 1/3 of the kingdom, which they agreed to.
  35. The Spartans gave into Tisamenus’s demands, giving him citizenship. He helped them to 5 combat victories. He & his brother were the only ones ever to gain Spartan citizenship. The 1st victory was at Plataea. The 2nd was at Tegea against the Tegeans & Argives. The 3rd was at Dipaeais against the Arcadians. The 4th was at the Isthmus against the Messenians. The 5th was at Tanagra against the Athenians & Argives.
  36. The Spartans brought him to Plataea to act as soothsayer. He found the omens favorable for the Greeks on the defensive but not if they started the battle or crossed the river.
  37. Mardonius was eager for battle but the omens weren’t good for him. They said if he stayed defensive, he’d be fine. His soothsayer was Elean, Hegesistratus. Hegesistratus had been imprisoned by the Spartans – he was slated to be executed. He cut off part of his hand & foot to slip out of custody. The Spartans looked everywhere for him but he got free to Tegea. They found out he’d cut off parts of himself & were stunned. He got himself a wooden fact & openly hated Sparta. The Spartans eventually captured him when he was at Zacynthus. All of this happened after Plataea. Now he was working for Mardonius.
  38. Greek, Hippomachus was also a soothsayer for those Greeks on the side of Mardonius told him that he ought to black mountain/hill passes to prevent supplies coming in for the Greek alliance.
  39. The armies sat on each side of the river for 8 days. After the advice was received, Mardonius sent the cavalry to Mount Cithaeron which had a pass that opens to Plataea. They ran into 500 supply animals bringing supplies to the Greeks. The Persians killed them & went back to camp.
  40. The armies waited 2 more days. Neither side wanted to move. The Persians were trying to entice the Greeks to cross the river. But no one actually wanted to cross the river but both sides harassed each other.
  41. After 10 days, Mardonius conferred with his captains. Artabazus thought they ought to go back to Thebes. Where they could sit & wait in security. Mardonius was eager to prove himself on the battlefield. He said the Persian army was vastly superior to the Greeks’ army. He wanted to ignore the omens.
  42. Once Mardonius let his thoughts be known, no one dared contradict him & the course of action was determined. He gathered his captains & the leaders of the Greek squads he had in his army. He asked if the Greeks knew of a prophecy the Persians would be destroyed in Greece or not. Maybe some knew of one. Maybe no one knew any. But no one was going to tell him out of fear of what he might do. Seeing that everyone was silent made Mardonius speak up: “I have heard one that Persians will go into Greece, sack the Temple of Delphi & then die. So now we’re aware of this, let’s just avoid the temple. Let’s get our troops ready.”
  43. The Oracle he was talking about was actually about the Illyrians & Encheleans.
  44. He spoke positive words so they could sleep well before the battle on the next day. While everyone was sleeping, Alexander rode over to the Athenians, asking to speak to the generals.
  45. Once they arrived, he spoke to them: “Keep this secret quiet… I’m Greek too & I don’t want to see Greece become enslaved. Mardonius can’t get favorable omens but now he’s willing to ignore that to start the battle tomorrow morning. If he balks at attacking, don’t start the battle yourselves. His provisions won’t hold out forever. If you win, just remember that I helped you out.” Then he left.
  46. The Athenians jumped to their positions on the right wing. When Pausanias heard the news, he spoke to the generals: “Since we will fight tomorrow, it’s fitting that the Athenians face the Persians & the Spartans face the Boetians & other Greeks. The Athenians have already faced the Persians in battle & know how they operate. But the Spartans know the Greeks very well.” The Athenians replied they were about to say the same thing.
  47. The Spartans & Athenians changed locations. The Boetians saw this & told Mardonius & moved the Persians to face the Spartans. Pausanias saw this & moved the Spartans back. Mardonius saw this & moved the Persians again.
  48. Once the troop were lined up, Mardonius sent a messenger to the Spartans who spoke: “Spartans, people say you’re brave because you never turn your back on battle but we’ve just seen that’s not true. You’ve been putting the Athenians to face us instead of you. Come on, tough guys. Face us & be as brave as you are said to be.”
  49. Nobody answered him & so he went back to Mardonius, who was pumped up & sent out the cavalry to the Greek line. The horsemen were equipped with bows & arrows, & javelins. The fountain of Gargaphia where the Greeks go their water from dried up. The Greeks wanted to move nearer to the Asopus to have access to water but the Persian horsemen blocked them from approaching.
  50. When the fountain dried up & the Persians stopped the Greeks from using the river, the captains held a meeting. Their provisions were running out & attendants heading home were also blocked by the Persians in the mountain pass.
  51. They decided if the Persians didn’t fight that day, they’d move to the “Island”, an area in front of Plataea, 2.5 miles from the Asopus where they’d been camped out. The area was surrounded by rivers, effectively making it an island. They chose it because they needed water & the Persian cavalry wouldn’t be so effective there. They’d go in the middle of the night so as not to be noticed moving they would also help protect those seeking the provisions.
  52. They put up with the enemy’s attacks during the days. At the end of the day, the cavalry attacks stopped. When they pulled up their tents, they were not headed in the same direction. Some of them wanted to go to Plataea to retreat from the Persians by setting up 2.5 miles from the fountain by the Temple of Juno.
  53. Pausanias gave orders to his men to follow the first to leave thinking they were all going to the same place. All of his captains, except Amompharetus, were ready to go along with the orders. He didn’t want to disgrace Sparta by running away. But he hadn’t been at the meeting discussing it was just a tactical move. Pausanias was outraged that he wouldn’t follow orders & not supporting those relying with him. The Spartans did their best to convince him to follow.
  54. He was the only man in the Spartans refusing to move. The Athenians knew the Spartans were likely to say one thing & do something different. But after waiting a while, they sent a horseman to see if the Spartans were planning on moving. The horseman also asked Pausanias what the Athenians ought to do in the meantime.
  55. The herald found the Spartans fighting with one another. Pausanias & Euryanax were urging Amompharetus not to endanger his men’s lives. The herald arrived just at the moment the dispute rose to the most heated point. The herald asked what they ought to do in the meantime & got no answer.
  56. The herald went back & the dispute carried on all night. Pausanias gave the order to move, expecting those reluctant to move to move. The Athenians moved but in a different direction than the Spartans, who stuck to a hill by Mt. Cithaeron while the Athenians took to the plain.
  57. Amompharetus didn’t think he’d be left behind & remained. But once he saw the entire Greek army move, he relented & followed the rest of the army. After 2.5 miles, the army stopped at the River Moloeis to see if Amompharetus was staying or moving along. Once he moved along, with the army, the whole Persian cavalry showed up & pressed the Greeks, & found out where they were stationed.
  58. Mardonius heard the Greeks had moved in the middle of the night. When they got to the Greeks were the night before, he spoke to Thorax of Larissa & others: “What do you think when you see this empty space? I though Spartans never ran from battle. But they ran off in the middle of the night. & these are supposed to be the bravest of the Greeks. I can’t believe that Artabazus was ever afraid of the Greeks or the Spartans – telling us to go to Thebes.
  59. He crossed the Asopus & moved the Persians on the Greeks’ trail. From where they were, they couldn’t see the Athenians on the plain & so they moved their troops against the Spartans & Tegeans. When the other barbarian commanders saw the Persians pushing the Greeks so boldly & ran off to join them chaotically.
  60. Pausanias sent a messenger to the Athenians who said to them: “This is the battle that will determine Greek freedom. The Spartans & Athenians have been abandoned by their allies. We’ll need to stay in contact to be able to relieve one another in combat when needed.
  61. The Athenians were about to come to the Spartans’ aid when they came across Greeks fighting for Mardonius. So, the Spartans & Tegeans were left to their own devices against the Persians. The Spartans with unfavorable omens were attacked with large losses & wounded. The Persians made a wall of wicker shields & shot arrows from behind it to do damage to the Spartans. The omens were still bad, so Pausanias cried out to the god of Plataea for help, Hera.
  62. As he prayed, the Tegeans rushed on the enemy while the Persians came to meet them. They fought at the wicker shield wall & soon the shield were brushed away. The fighting got heavy near Ceres’s temple. Persians were able to grab the Greek spears but since they had no shields, many of them died.
  63. Mardonius, on his white horse, had his best men around him at all times & so wherever he went, the Persians fought best against the Greeks, & killed many Spartans. But after Mardonius fell, the Persians quickly began to lose to the Spartans. Light clothes & no shields left them defenseless.
  64. This was a fulfillment of the Oracle, repaying the Persians for the death of Leonidas. Mardonius was killed by Aeimnestus who proved himself brave against the Medes in the Messenian War.
  65. The Persians ran off chaotically to their own camp within the wooden walls they’d built in Theban territory. It’s interesting that no Persians died near the Temple of Ceres, they didn’t even set foot near it.
  66. Artabazus warned the king not to listen to Mardonius who wanted to invade Greece. Mardonius had a massive army, kept them in order but ultimately he was rash to attack & didn’t maintain battle discipline.
  67. The Greeks who fought for Xerxes ran off in a cowardly war, except the Boetians who fought hard against the Athenians. The Thebans fought well but were ultimately routed & ran back to Thebes.
  68. The entire Barbarian army depended on the Persians. Most ran off without even fighting. Only the Boetians & Persians were of much use.
  69. The winners stayed on & continued killing an enemies they came across. The Barbarians ran off & the various Greek division pursued those running off after the defeat.
  70. Many of the Persians were able to reach their wooden fort before the Spartans could get to them. They tried to bolster the walls but the Spartans began a fight at the wall, with little success. The Athenians showed up & showed them how to attack walls. The Tegeans were the first to enter & they went straight to Mardonius’s tent to plunder it of all its goodies. Now that the wall was down, the barbarians panicked. By the end of the battle, only 3000 of the Persian army was still alive. 91 Spartans, 16 Tegeans & 52 Athenians died.
  71. The Persian army’s stars were the Persian infantry, the Sacae horsemen. The Spartans were the best of the Greeks. Aristodemus, who escaped the Battle of Thermopylae was the best soldier, followed by Posidonius, Philocyon & Amompharetus. Aristodemus was a madman on the battlefield & so didn’t fight despite the fear, because he had none. But Posidonius did have fear & fought just as well. Aristodemus, because of Thermopylae, was not given honors.
  72. Callicrates was not killed in battle but was struck by an arrow as Pausanias was consulting his omens. He felt bad because he died without fighting for his country.
  73. Sophanes was the best Athenian from the neighborhood of the Deceleians. The Deceleians who had helped Castor & Pollux when they invaded Attica looking for Helen. Sparta has always been kind to people from there.
  74. Sophanes had 2 stories told about him. One said he wore an iron anchor tied to his belt so he couldn’t be driven out of position. The other story said he had the anchor tied to his shield so he couldn’t rest.
  75. It’s also said that Sophanes took up a challenge to fight. Argive, Eurybates during the Athenian siege of Egina. He was an Athenian commander who died in a battle over goldmines with the Edonians near Datum.
  76. After the Greeks won at Plataea, the concubine of a Persian, Pharandates, offered herself & her maids to the Greeks. She was a Coan & had been taken by force by the Persians. Pausanias place her in the care of the Ephors & was sent to Egina.
  77. Around this time, the Mantineans showed up to the battlefield – but it was all over. They were upset by that, they wanted to chase what was left of Mardonius’s army. The Spartans wouldn’t allow it, so they went home & banished their leaders. The same thing happened to the Eleans.
  78. A man, Lampon, an Eginetan, went to Pausanias to advise him to do something wicked. He asked him to have the body of Mardonius crucified in the same way Mardonius had done to Leonidas after Thermopylae.
  79. Pausanias rejected the idea because to treat the dead badly was something barbarians did, not the Greeks. Leonidas had been avenged by the countless Persians dead here.
  80. Pausanias’s proclamation was not to touch the dead or the booty. The Helots were sent to bring all the goodies to one place. While wagons upon wagons of valuables were gathered, the Helots pocketed a lot & sold it to the Eginetans which was the lead-up to Egina becoming rich.
  81. 1/10 of the booty was offered to the Delphian god. Portions went to the goods of the Isthmus & Olympia. The rest of the spoils was split up among the soldiers according to each one’s merit. Pausanias got a pretty good haul.
  82. Xerxes had left Greece & left Mardonius with his war tent. Pausanias saw the tent containing a treasure trove. He ordered a banquet to be prepared in the style of the Spartans & in the style of the Persians. He wanted to show the difference between the 2. He wanted to show how decadent the Persians were.
  83. Many years after the battle, Plataeans would find some of these treasures buried in the ground. A lot of the dead were buried in the same place. Later they found a skull fused together in one bone, jaw & all. They also found a skeleton 7’6” tall.
  84. The body of Marodnius disappeared. I’ve heard someone got paid lots of money to bury him.
  85. Then the Greeks buried their own dead. The Spartans made 3 graves one for the young, one for the regular Spartans & one for the Helots. The Tegeans & Athenians each buried their dead in a single grave. The Eginetans had a grave done up 10 years later.
  86. After the burials, the Greeks held a council, thinking about going to war with Thebes, who’d joined the Persians. They wanted at least leaders, Timagenidas & Attaginus. If the Thebans gave them up, the Greeks would not lay siege to the city. They marched to Thebes & set up the siege, & started destroying the lands & assaulting the walls.
  87. After 20 days of siege, Timagenidas addressed Thebes: “I don’t want Boetia to suffer anymore. If the Athenians want money, let’s use the public treasury to pay them off. If they really want me & Attaginus, we are ready to go to them. The Thebans sent a messenger to Pausanias, agreeing to hand them over.
  88. When the Thebans made terms, Attaginus escaped the city. But his sons were given in his place. Pausanias refused to hold them responsible for their father’s guilt. Many others got away through bribery. Pausanias took these men & took them to Corinth & killed them there.
  89. Artabazus escaped from Plataea to Thessaly, where he was well-received. They had had no news of the Persians’ military campaign. But he felt that if he told them the truth, they might kill him. He lied & said he was heading into Thrace, & that Mardonius & the army were following just behind him. He sped off to Thrace using the inland route to Byzantium. Most of his army died on the way. He went back to Asia.

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