The Greeks – Crucible of Civilization: The Golden Age
Greece 490 BC
Athens vs. the Persian Empire: The Birth of Democracy
• Democratic Athens was gaining power – a threat to the Persians. The Persians
lived under the tyrannical rule of Darius.
• For the Athenians, to be conquered by Darius would mean a life of enslavement.
• Athens had no standing army – every male would be forced to fight. The entire
population came together to fight the Persians. However, they were outnumbered
by the Persians, 2:1.
• Athenians slaughtered over 6 000 Persians in a single day. The world’s first
democracy survived its first test.
• Themistocles was among the Athens, and had risen to power through democracy.
He was one of the founding figures of the new generation of democracy. He was
not born into the upper class, and made it known. He realized that the Persians
would probably come again, and stronger than before. He created the triremes –
a boat stronger and larger than any kind before it.
• He convinced the Athenians to build the strongest naval force in Greece.
• Darius died in 486 B.C. His son Xerces assumed the throne. His son’s first
action was to get revenge on the Athenians. His army was rumored to number
nearly 2 million men – the greatest force ever seen.
• Feeling hopeless, Athenians turned to their gods: What could they do to save
themselves? The Oracles answered their questions with nothing but desertion.
Democracy began to crumble…except for Themistocles, who perseveres. He
claimed that his ships would be the key to success.
• Ordered that his fleet of triremes gather. His strategy required extraordinary self
sacrifice on behalf of the people, every citizen going into exile.
• Persians march into Athens and burn the Acropolis – the temples – to the ground.
The Athenians watched from their island. By now the Persians’ forces were 4x
the size of the Greek forces.
• Themistocles wants to fight the Persians in the Straits of Salamis – in the water.
Xerces falls for Themistocles’ baiting, and sails up the Straits. They discover the
Greeks in a battle line before them. The Persian fleet had advanced so far that
they couldn’t maneuver, and the Greeks (Athenians) came down on them without
• The Persians lost a total of 200 ships, and the Greeks were victorious. The
Persians can no longer feed their army or protect their King, and retreat to Asian
Athens: PostPersian Defeat
• Democracy began to grow.
• Athenians are growing into a superpower, and were able to keep the Persians in
check, By 450 BC, this Delian League had over 200 member states. • The Athenian empire had achieved a quality of life that was unprecedented.
Democracy decided every aspect of the city’s government.
• Themistocles was eventually ostracized by this democratic system, when he
began reminding the citizens what they “owed” him – something that they didn’t
like, He never recovered, and spent the rest of his life in exile in Persia.
• Born into Athens’ most elite family (father a general and mother a political
family), Pericles replaced Themistocles.
• Being born into privilege, his goal was to create a city of greateness that would be
admired by the people of its time and those long after – very diffe