Build-up to Battle 2: 490BC

Ever since the Spartans and Athenians had executed his heralds, Darius had been getting ready for an invasion of Greece. He ordered the construction of hundreds of ships (called triremes - the same type the Greeks used). He also ordered horse transports to be built, as he wanted to send a cavalry too.


This time he wanted to avoid the storms off Mount Athos which had destroyed his last fleet. He also wanted a quick attack on Athens and Eretria, to catch them unprepared. So he sent only a fleet, of 600 ships, each of which carried about 170 rowers and 30 or 40 warriors. They took a quick route across the Aegean, hopping from island to island. These ships could not carry much in the way food and water so they had to keep stopping at islands to pillage. The map right shows the route the ships took, under the command of general Datis. There were a few adventures on the way.


The Route to Marathon: Lindos


First stop was Rhodes, and its capital Lindos. The citizens were terrified at the sight of the huge fleet and ran into their acropolis - a fort on top of a rocky hill with a temple to the goddess Athena. The rulers of Lindos realised they had only enough water to last 5 days, then they would have to give in or die of thirst.


But then one of the rulers had a dream. In the dream, Athena appeared to him and said she would ask her father Zeus, king of the gods, to help them. So the next day the Lindians asked Datis if he would wait five days, and if the water ran out they would give in. Datis laughed at this.


But the next day a rain cloud gathered about the acropolis and showered life-giving water on the besieged Lindians. Datis was amazed, and saying that they were protected by the gods he sent lots of fancy offerings to Athena's temple. These offerings included his cloak, his necklace, his bracelets, his tiara, his sword, and even his chariot.


Of course none of this is probably true!





Lindos today - acropolis in the background

Naxos and Paros


Eventually the fleet reached Naxos, which had also refused earth and water. The Naxians fled into the hills, and the Persians destroyed their city, enslaving anyone they captured. Paros had given in, so they took some ships and troops. Supposedly they also took a block of the famous Parian marble, in order to carve a victory memorial once they had conquered the Athenians. In fact this block of stone was eventually carved by the Athenian sculptor Pheidias into a statue of the Greek goddess of revenge, Nemesis, to commemorate the victory at Marathon. Again, this may not be a true story! Ancient writings are full of made up tales.





Temple of Apollo on Naxos



The fleet then headed for the holy island of Delos, sanctuary of the god Apollo. Here Datis very cleverly did not attack but left the fleet at another island and visited the temple on Delos with offerings. He wanted the Greeks to think he respected their gods so they would give in more easily to him. He burned 300 talents' weight of frankincense on the altar - that's a huge amount. Imagine the effect on the Greeks of seeing one big plume of white smoke rising from Delos, and another, black plume of smoke form the burning city on Naxos.


After Delos the Persians went to Andros and Tenos where they took more troops. Now they were getting close to Athens.



Karystos and Eretria

The city of Karystos (see the map) was next in the line of fire. Datis demanded Karystos supply soldiers and hostages. The Karystians refused to help against their neighbours, Athens and Eretria. They tried to protect themselves within their city walls, but the Persians devastated their lands - burning their crops, olive trees, vines, and so on. The Karystians had no choice but to give in. Now, Athens and Eretria were about the same distance away. Who would be next? Can you imagine the feelings of the people of these two cities, knowing that a huge Persian army is a day or two away from destroying their cities and killing or enslaving them?

Eretria was next. The Persian fleet landed on a plain near the city and deployed their troops and cavalry. The Eretrians had already sent heralds to Athens to ask for help. Would you have voted to help Eretria, your fellow Greeks and neighbours?

The Athenians decided to ask some Athenian settlers who already lived near Eretria (in Chalkis) to help Eretria. There were probably only a couple of thousand hoplites in Chalkis and this was not enough.

The Eretrians themselves didn't know what to do. Some wanted to surrender the city; some wanted to flee into the hills; and some wanted to fight. According to Herodotus, one of the Eretrian leaders, Aeschines, warned the Athenian settlers to save themselves, and they fled to Athens where the men joined the army. What a brave and unselfish decision by the Eretrians!

The Eretrians stayed within their city walls and the Persians besieged them for six days. Many died on both sides. On the seventh day, two Eretrian leaders betrayed their own city and let the Persians in the gates. Why? They had been promised land by the Persians. How would you feel about these two if you were an Eretrian?

The Persians entered the city, burned and plundered it, and destroyed the temples, as revenge for Sardis. (Remember that? The Eretrians and Athenians had attacked it 9 years before and burned it down.) The people were taken as slaves, and dropped off on the small island of Aigilia on the way to the next victims of the Persian war machine.





Eretria today