P to Peitho Pelasgians to Phaedrias Phaeo to Pitys Plataea to Polyphemos 2 Polyxena to Pyxis 2


An ancient city in Boeotia approximately 9 miles (15 kilometers) southwest of the city of Thebes; the site of the final defeat of the invading Persians in 479 BCE.

Due to Plataea’s proximity to the powerful city of Thebes, it was under threat of being subjugated by the Thebans; the Plataeans asked the Spartans for protection but Sparta, either for practical or tactical reasons, advised the Plataeans to ask the city of Athens for an alliance; the Athenians agreed to help Plataea if Thebes became too aggressive and, circa 525 BCE, the Thebans tried to extend their territory beyond the traditional boundaries of Plataea.

The Athenians sent troops to assist the Plataeans but, by good fortune, the Corinthians happened to be in Plataea and arbitrated a settlement between Thebes and Athens before an armed confrontation could erupt; boundaries were agreed upon and all seemed well until the Athenians prepared to leave; the Thebans fell on the Athenians in an ambush and, although caught off-guard, the Athenians won the battle; the Athenians returned to Plataea and renegotiated the peace agreement with a humbled Thebes; Plataea was allotted more land than the original agreement had stipulated because of the Theban treachery; for this reason, when the Athenians faced the invading army of the Persian king, Darius, in 490 BCE on the fields of Marathon, the Plataeans came to their assistance and fought victoriously with the Athenians.

Plataea was the site of the final confrontation between the invading Persian army and the defending Greeks in 479 BCE; the Persians had marched an enormous army from Asia into Greece and Plataea was one of the two cities of Boeotia which had not cowed to the threats of the Persians; the Persians demanded earth and water from each city they encountered to demonstrate that city’s surrender to the Great King; as the Persians marched south through Boeotia, the citizens of Plataea evacuated their city and took refuge at the Isthmus of Korinth (Corinth) where they intended to make a last stand with the other defiant Greek refuges.

After the Persians had sacked and burned the city of Athens, their army seemed invincible but the Persian king, Xerxes, underestimated the resiliency of the Greeks; the naval confrontation near the island of Salamis was a disaster for the Persians; the Persian king withdrew his remaining ships to protect the retreat of his army, which was poised to invade the Peloponnesian Peninsula; Xerxes decided to leave a portion of his army in Greece and he chose his cousin, Mardonius, to command the three hundred thousand troops he left behind augmented by an unrecorded number of troops from the Greek cities which had joined the Persians; by comparison, the defending Greeks assembled thirty-eight thousand seven hundred heavily armed men with an additional thirty-four thousand five hundred lightly armed men for a total of seventy-three thousand two hundred warriors.

Near Plataea, the two armies were facing one another across the Asopos river and neither side initiated an attack for ten days; the Persians were waiting for their sacrifices to show favorable omens and the Greeks were waiting for more soldiers to join their ranks; Mardonius was eager for a confrontation but his advisor, Artabazus, wanted to retreat to the nearby city of Thebes and use their accumulated wealth to simply buy-off the remaining hostile Greek cities; Mardonius chose to take the initiative and the Persian attack was scheduled for dawn on the eleventh day.

The Greeks were, as was their nature, bickering amongst themselves as to where each contingent should be placed in the battle lines; at dawn, Mardonius taunted the Spartans and challenged them to a one-on-one fight, i.e. the Persians, without their allies, would fight against only the Spartans and the fate of Greece would depend on which army won the battle; the Spartans did not respond to Mardonius and the full scale battle was soon joined; the Persian cavalry charged into the midst of the Greeks and caused considerable casualties; the cavalry attack also cut the Greeks off from their water supply so after night fell on that first day of fierce fighting, the Greeks decided to retreat a mile or so to the river Oeroe.

During the night the Greeks withdrew, but not to the Oeroe; they moved over 2 miles (3 kilometers) to the temple of Hera at Plataea; the retreat went badly for the Greeks, especially the Spartans who were not accustomed to turning away from an enemy; one Spartan commander, Amompharetus, flatly refused to withdraw from the front lines and the other Spartans were hesitant to leave him alone to be overwhelmed by the Persians; after much arguing and bitter words, most of the Spartans pulled back from the front lines but stayed close enough to come to the assistance of the stubborn commander, Amompharetus.

When Mardonius saw that the Greeks had withdrawn, he mocked the Spartans and ordered his troops to advance on the cowardly Greeks; the Persian cavalry went first followed by a disorderly onrush of foot soldiers; Mardonius focused his attention on the Spartans and let his allied Greek soldiers deal with the Athenians; the Spartans were pushed back to the temple of Hera again and the Persians did much damage from behind a wall of wicker shields with arrows and other missiles; the Spartan commander, Pausanias, prayed to Hera and, almost immediately, the tide of the battle turned in favor of the Spartans.

Mardonius was in the midst of the battle on his white charger and surrounded by a thousand of the best Persian troops; the Persians were good fighters but, compared to the Greeks, they were lightly armed and out maneuvered; Mardonius was felled and the determination of the Persian soldiers fell with him; Herodotus notes that not one Persian soldier died in the precincts of the temple of Hera because, according to his reasoning, the Persians had burned her temple at Eleusis and were therefore divinely prohibited from touching her sacred grounds at Plataea.

The various contingents of soldiers on both sides of the battle were in no way coordinated or orchestrated in their attacks or defense; the Athenians and the Spartans were the most determined of the Greeks and the Persians soldiers were by far the best of their Asian and Greek allies; some of the soldiers on both sides never entered the battle and many did not know or understand the tactics their commanders were initiating; the Spartans fought fiercely at the temple of Hera but there were other Greek soldiers there that did not fight at all.

While Mardonius was leading his fatal charge against the Spartans, his deputy, Artabazus, was leading his forty thousand troops away from the battle and his retreat assured the Persian defeat; when the Persians and their allies realized that the battle was lost, they began to make a disorganized retreat towards the walled city of Thebes and another wooden fortress they had erected in Theban territory; if the Persian cavalry had not protected their retreat their losses would have been one hundred percent; the Greeks pursued and slaughtered the majority of the fleeing Persians and their allies.

Several curious things happened after the battle was over which can give us some insight into the minds of the Greeks who defended their homeland and did not surrender their freedom to the seemingly overwhelming Persian forces:

  1. A man named Lampon encouraged the Spartan leader, Pausanias, to cut the head from Mardonius’ dead body and impale it as revenge for the four thousand Spartans who were killed at Thermopylae, especially for their leader, Leonidas whom the Persians beheaded and impaled; Pausanias told Lampon that such acts were the deeds of barbarians and that although Leonidas was his uncle, he would never dishonor his family or city with such a low and shameful display of mutilation;
  2. After the Persians had fled, the Greeks confiscated all the slaves and goods that were left behind; when Pausanias saw the wagons of food and the rich Persian dinnerware, he made the Persian cooks prepare a meal as if it was for Mardonius or Xerxes; he then had his slaves prepare a typical Spartan meal and laid the two suppers out side by side; the Persian meal was elegant compared to the simple Spartan meal; he called in his generals and said that the Persians must be stupid to dine on such fine food and then come to Greece to steal their humble fare.

The battle of Plataea was over and the Greeks had won the day with their superior military acumen and sheer bravery; the next time the Persians were fated to face a Greek army was when Alexander the Great conquered them in 331 BCE.

Approximate east longitude 23.25 and north latitude 38.22.

  • Histories, book 6, chapters 111 and 113; book 7, chapters 132, 232-3; book 8, chapters 50 and 66; book 9, chapters 28-86
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    P to Peitho Pelasgians to Phaedrias Phaeo to Pitys Plataea to Polyphemos 2 Polyxena to Pyxis 2


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