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CLA160H1: Lecture notes #5.docx

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Victoria Wohl

Persian Wars (490-480): Biggest Pan-Hellenic movement since the Trojan War and marks Greece’s entry onto the international stage. It’s more than just a war; it’s a moment of self-definition. They define this Greek-ness in contrast to the Persians. The histories of the Persian Wars reflect this. They’re an account of Greeks defining Greek values and virtues. They also define the different parts of Greece. Every Greek polis has a different idea of how they should respond to the Persian attack. Even though it’s a Pan-Hellenic venture, every polis is looking out for their own interests. They are strong differences between Sparta and Athens. Sparta and Athens define themselves in their difference between each other. Persia was a huge Empire, stretching from Greece to Asia to Egypt. They were vastly wealthy and multicultural. The Persians had a very ancient, vibrant and sophisticated culture. The Greeks were mostly interested in the ways that Persians were different. Some positive aspects were viewed as negative. There was a lot of gold in Persia, which the Greeks interpreted as them being soft and corrupted. They viewed the milder Asian climate as making the Persians soft. Persia was ruled by a single king and the Greeks viewed them as being slaves to their king. They especially did not like how the kings were worshipped as Gods. The fact that Persians wears trousers was outlandish and unmanly. The Persians were viewed of cowardly, effeminate slaves. Before the war, the Greeks borrowed a lot of technology from the Persians. They used Persia as a model for their development. In particular, the aristocrats in the archaic period borrow all sorts of items from the Persians. After the wars, the Persians were the enemy and the opposite. The Greeks used these foreigners to define themselves. The Persians became barbarians and ‘other’. The Eurymedon vase shows a Persian bending over for a Greek man. It’s an extreme attitude of the Greeks feelings towards the Persians after they beat them. Herodotus on the other hand, offers a rather nuanced view. He is writing at least 50 years after the war itself. He wrote 9 books about the war. The first half deals with the build up to the war and explaining the motivation and ethnography of the Persians. He believes you need to understand the cultural differences in order to understand the war itself. Things kick off in 499BCE with the Ionian revolt, just on the Western end of the Persian Empire. These were cultural Greeks, living in Asia Minor for centuries. As the Persian empire grew, these people came under the power of King Darius. These Ionians don’t like being ruled by Persians so they ask mainland Greece for help. Sparta tells them to screw off so they ask Athens and the Athenians agree. They send ships to help the Ionians rebel and they go on to burn down the Persian capital at Sardus. Sparta had politely declined and had their own issues to deal with. This establishes Sparta’s reputation of being conservative and risk-averse. The Athenians on the other hand are much more eager. The Persians don’t mind living under the rule of this all-powerful king. The Greeks view them as being slavish. The Ionians were eventually re-subdued and the revolt fails. But, Darius swears revenge. In 490, he sets out to conquer Greece (first Persian war). He sets out with a huge army and lands just outside of Athens at Marathon. The Athenians freak out and send a messenger to Sparta. The Spartans say they can’t help because they’re in the middle of a religious festival. Athens was a young polis and they had to decide what to do. They would not capitulate so they decide to face the Persians directly alone. The Athenians were vastly outnumbered. The king would sit up on a hill on a throne and watch the battle. The Greek kings, on the other hand, are there in the battle. Faced with this huge army, the Greek army charged them. The Athenians drove them back. 129 Athenians die and when it’s all over, the Spartans show up. Marathon was extremely important to the Athenians. Those who fought at Marathon had the honour of being buried there. Aeschylus wrote a huge number of plays and won many prizes for it but the only thing on his tombstone is the mention that he fought at Marathon. The Athenians did not forget that the Spartans had procrastinated. It also differentiates Greeks from Persians. Ten years later, the Persians attack again. They fight under the leadership of Xerxes. He is portrayed as a hot-headed youth who wants to avenge the wrongs done to his father. He is also portrayed as so arrogant that he cannot believe that Persia could lose, hubris. He embodies all of the qualities that the Greeks feel the Persians represent. Xerxes embodies hubris, a
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