The Battle of Plataea

The Battle of Plataea Battle scene, from The Greeks documentary Battle scene, from The Greeks documentary

The defeat of the Persian navy at Salamis in 480 was by no means the end of the war, but it was the decisive battle that made ultimate victory likely, if not inevitable. The final land battle between the Persians and the Greeks took place a year later in the region of Boeotia, near the town of Plataeae.

During the intervening year the Persian force, now led by the satrap Mardonius, had attempted to forge an alliance with Athens against Sparta. When his terms were rudely rejected the satrap briefly occupied Athens for a second time, completely destroying an already ruined city. Then news reached him of an advancing Spartan army, forcing him to take to the field.

Both sides had amassed huge armies. Almost every city in Greece had sent a contingent to support the effort, and in total they numbered approximately 60,000 hoplites and 40,000 light infantry. Herodotus claims their Persian opponents numbered 1.7 million, which is undoubtedly one of his wilder exaggerations: in reality they probably numbered about the same size.

The battle itself was actually a series of battles. Aided by a contingent of Boeotian collaborators the Persians were initially very successful, but when Mardonius himself was killed leading a cavalry charge, the tide changed and most of the force was annihilated.

Herodotus described the battle as 'the finest victory in all history known to me.' (Herod. Book 9)