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Battle of Plataea summary

The Battle of Plataea was the final land battle during the third Persian invasion of Greece. It took place in 479 BCE near the city of Plataea in Boeotia, and was fought between an alliance of the Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and Megara, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I.

  1. Under the guidance of the commanding general, Pausanias, the Greeks took up position opposite the Persian lines but remained on high ground. The Greeks did not want to fight a battle around the Persian camp since the plain gave an advantage to the Persian cavalry. Both sides remained in their positions for 11 days.
  2. Mardonius initiated hit-and-run cavalry attacks against the Greek lines, possibly trying to lure the Greeks down to the plain in pursuit.
  3. After some initial success, the Persian cavalry commander Masistius was killed. With his death, the Persian Cavalry retreated.
  4. Encouraged by their small victory, the Greeks moved forward, still remaining on higher ground, to a new position nearer Mardonius' camp. The Spartans and Tegeans were on the right, the Athenians on the left and the other contingents in between.
  5. In response to the Greek advance, Mardonius brought his men up to the Asopus and arrayed them for battle. However, neither the Persians nor the Greeks would attack.
  6. The armies stayed camped in their locations for eight days, during which new Greek troops arrived.
  7. Mardonius then sought to break the stalemate by sending his cavalry to attack the passes of Mount Cithaeron. The raid resulted in the capture of a convoy of provisions intended for the Greeks.
  8. Two more days passed, during which time the supply lines of the Greeks continued to be menaced. Mardonius also began to cut the supply of troops going to the Greeks.
  9. Mardonius then launched another cavalry raid on the Greek lines, which succeeded in blocking the Gargaphian Spring, which had been the only source of water for the Greek army.
  10. Low and food and water supplies the Greeks decided to retreat to a position in front of Plataea, from where they could guard the passes and have access to fresh water. To prevent the Persian cavalry from attacking during the retreat, it was to be performed at night.
  11. The retreat did not go well. The Allied forces in the centre missed their appointed position and ended up scattered in front of Plataea itself.
  12. The Athenians, Tegeans and Spartans, who had been guarding the rear of the retreat, had not even begun to retreat by daybreak. Spartans and Tegeans retreated to a higher position while the Athenians at first retreated directly towards Plataea.
  13. Once the Persians discovered that the Greeks had abandoned their positions and appeared to be in retreat, Mardonius decided to set off in immediate pursuit with the elite Persian infantry. The rest of the Persian army also moved forward.
  14. The Spartans and Tegeans had left a rearguard under Amompharetus which began to withdraw under pressure from Persian cavalry, to join them.
  15. Pausanias sent a messenger to the Athenians, asking them to join up with the Spartans but the Athenians had been engaged by the Theban phalanx and were unable to assist Pausanias.
  16. The Spartans and Tegeans were first assaulted by the Persian cavalry, while the Persian infantry made their way forward. They then planted their shields and began shooting arrows at the Greeks, while the cavalry withdrew.
  17. Greek soldiers began to fall under the barrage of arrows and asked their general to attack. However Pausanias refused to advance because good omens were not divined in the goat sacrifices that were performed. The very superstitious Spartans accepted this and remained in their positions as more and more Persian infantry joined in battle.
  18. At some point the Tegeans started to un at the Persian lines. Pausanias claimed he had finally received favourable omens and gave the command for the Spartans to advance.
  19. The genius of Pausanias was now rewarded. Had the Greeks attacked earlier the lighter Persian infantry would withdraw until the Greeks got tired and dispersed. Now the first Persian lines could not retreat as they were pressed by their comrades coming from behind to join them. The numerically superior Persian infantry was much lighter than the Greek phalanx. As at Marathon, dispite their great courage the Persians were no match for the heavier armed Greeks.
  20. At first the Persians stood their ground and tried to break the Greeks' spears by grabbing hold of them, but the Greeks responded by switching to swords. As long as Mardonius remained in the battle scene the Persians kept fighting. Eventually a Spartan soldier named Arimnestus saw him astride his white horse, picked up a large rock off the ground and threw it hard at Mardonius. It hit him in the head, and killed him.
  21. With Mardonius dead, the Persians began to flee, although his bodyguard remained, they were annihilated.
  22. The Persians fled in disorder mainly to their camp. However, Artabazus had disagreed with Mardonius about attacking the Greeks. As he had not fully engaged the forces under his command he led his men away from the battlefield, on the road to Thessaly, hoping to escape.
  23. Meanwhile the Athenians had triumphed in a tough battle against the Thebans. They retreated from the battle, but in a different direction from the Persians, allowing them to escape without further losses.
  24. The Allied Greeks, reinforced by the contingents who had not taken part in the main battle, then stormed the Persian camp. Although the Persians initially defended the wall vigorously, it was eventually breached and the Persians, packed tightly together in the camp, were slaughtered by the Greeks. Of the Persians who had retreated to the camp, scarcely 3,000 were left alive.