First Persian invasion of Greece

The first Persian invasion of Greece, during the Persian Wars, began in 492 BC, and ended with the decisive Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. The invasion, consisting of two distinct campaigns, was ordered by the Persian king Darius the Great primarily in order to punish the city-states of Athens and Eretria. These cities had supported the cities of Ionia during their revolt against Persian rule, thus incurring the wrath of Darius. Darius also saw the opportunity to extend his empire into Europe, and to secure its western frontier.

First Persian invasion of Greece
Part of the Greco-Persian Wars

Map showing key sites during the Persian invasions of Greece
Date492 – 490 BC.
  • Persian victory in Thrace and Macedon
  • Persian failure to capture Athens
Persia conquers Macedon and the Cycladic Islands, re-subjugates Thrace, and establishes supremacy over the Aegean Sea[1]
Other Greek city states
 Achaemenid Empire
Commanders and leaders
Miltiades the Younger
Darius I
8,000-9,000 Athenians
1,000 Plataeans
10,000 Immortals
10,000 light infantry
5,000 archers
1,000-3,000 cavalry
600 triremes
100,000 oarsmen
(Non combatant)
Casualties and losses
Invasion of Athens:
192 Athenians killed
11 Plataeans killed
Eretria enslaved
Naxos looted
Unknown losses for other states
Invasion of Athens:
6,400 Persians killed
7 ships sunk
Other estimates:
4,000-5,000 killed[2]
Unknown losses during entire campaign

The first campaign in 492 BC, led by Mardonius, re-subjugated Thrace and forced Macedon to become a fully subordinate client kingdom part of Persia, after being a vassal to Persia as early as the late 6th century BC, probably in 512 BC.[3] However, further progress was prevented when Mardonius's fleet was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Mount Athos. The following year, having demonstrated his intentions, Darius sent ambassadors to all parts of Greece, demanding their submission. He received it from almost all of them, except Athens and Sparta, both of whom executed the ambassadors. With Athens still defiant, and Sparta now effectively at war with him, Darius ordered a further military campaign for the following year.

The second Persian campaign, in 490 BC, was under the command of Datis and Artaphernes. The expedition headed first to the island Naxos, which it captured and burned. It then island-hopped between the rest of the Cycladic Islands, annexing each into the Persian empire. Reaching Greece, the expedition landed at Eretria, which it besieged, and after a brief time, captured. Eretria was razed and its citizens enslaved. Finally, the task force headed to Attica, landing at Marathon, en route for Athens. There, it was met by a smaller Athenian army, which nevertheless proceeded to win a remarkable victory at the Battle of Marathon.

This defeat prevented the successful conclusion of the campaign, and the task force returned to Asia. Nevertheless, the expedition had fulfilled most of its aims, punishing Naxos and Eretria, and bringing much of the Aegean under Persian rule, as well as the full inclusion of Macedon. The unfinished business from this campaign led Darius to prepare for a much larger invasion of Greece, to firmly subjugate it, and to punish Athens and Sparta. However, internal strife within the empire delayed this expedition, and Darius then died of old age. It was thus left to his son Xerxes I to lead the second Persian invasion of Greece, beginning in 480 BC.

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