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Analyze the causes, course, and consequences of the Persian Wars, including the origins of marathons.

Focus Question: What were the causes of the Persian Wars and how did they affect the Greeks’ concept of themselves?

This page examines the Persian Wars (also known as the Greco-Persian Wars) between Greece and Persia in various multimedia formats.

Topics on the Page
Greek and Persian warriors fighting each other
Greek and Persian warriors fighting each other

Overview of the Persian Wars (492 to 449/48 BCE)
Causes of the Persian Wars
  • Battle of Marathon
  • Battle of Thermopylae
The History of Marathons
  • Festival of Hera
  • The Boston Marathon .
    • Native American Runners and the Boston Marathon
      • The Boston Marathon and Women Runners

Overview of the Persian Wars , from a website maintained by Professor Skip Knox at Boise State University.
  • PDF of quick overview of the causes, course, and consequences of the Persian War.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngTimeline:
Persian Wars—492-479 BCE
Battle of Marathon—490 BCE
Xerxes in Power—486-465 BCE
Xerxis attacked Greece—481 BCE
Mardonius killed/Greek victory—479 BCE

Greek Soldiers
Greek Soldiers

Map icon.png
Click here for an interactive map of the Persian War.

Multimedia.pngJohn Green's Crash Course video on the Persians and Greeks provides an overview of life in Persia in comparison to the Greeks as well as a look at both the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars.

The Persian Wars were fought between Greece and Persia from 492-479 BC. Greece, up until this point, was merely a collection of city states without a strong, collective identity. This means that they did not really see themselves as “Greece,” rather, they saw themselves as Athens, Sparta, and so on. But the Persian wars helped to bring them together, helped them form a Greek identity, and defined Greek culture. Here are a few important concepts:
  • The Persian Wars brought different city states together (because they had to work together to fight, which in turn helped them see what they had in common with each other).
    • For the Greeks, the experience of coming into contact with people who were different from them helped them to form their own identity.
      • The Greeks felt great pride in their victories against such a great empire. The Persian Wars helped to perpetuate and inspire the growth of Greek culture. They influenced scholarship and theater. For example, the wars were the subject of what is considered the first written history by Herodotus and themes of morality and war also appeared in theater.

Multimedia.pngWeb-based activities about the Persian Wars, including an interactive map of the battlefield of Plataia, maintained by the British Museum.

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Causes of the Persian Wars

external image Battle_of_Marathon_Greek_Double_Envelopment.png
At the end of the 6th century B.C.E., Athens and Sparta had some minor conflicts with Lydia and Sardis, which were under the control of the Persian empire.

As often happens, Persia wanted revenge and attacked Athens.

This attack happened at Marathon in 490 B.C.E under King Darius, and it is considered the most famous battle of the Persian Wars. Greece won, but if it hadn’t it could have been colonized by Persia.

Battle of Marathon

primary_sources.PNGThe Battle of Marathon was hugely significant for Greece. But Persia, because it was such an enormous empire, considered it a small loss. Persia did seek revenge 9 years later under the new leadership of Xerxes in 481 B.C.E.

  • Athens was prepared for the attack because they spent many years building up their navy, and they were again victorious against Persia.

Battle of Thermopylae

  • The Battle of Thermoplyae was another important moment in the course of the Persian Wars. In this battle, King Leonidas of Sparta faced off against the Persian Army of several hundred thousand with his original Royal Bodyguard of 300, and was supplemented along the way with anywhere from 4-8,000 additional troops before facing the Persians, though estimates usually sit at about 7,000.

Iron arrowheads and spearheads from Thermopyle
Iron arrowheads and spearheads from Thermopyle

Multimedia.pngHistory Channel's "Decisive Battles": A video simulation and professional explanation of the Battle at Thermopylae
  • The last battle of the Persian Wars was in 479 BC. In this battle, the Spartan king Pausanias led Greece against remaining Persians in the area. Most significant in this battle was the killing of Mardonius, a leader of the Persian army.

primary_sources.PNGAncient Greek plays, oral histories, and texts by ancient Greek and Roman historians are important primary sources for Greek history. An archive of some texts pertaining to the Persian Wars can be found here.

Click here for The History of Herodotus (440 BCE).
Watch a video on Herodotus and his involvement in the Persian War.

external image Red_apple.jpg300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae: Herodotus' Real History is a lesson plan on the ways the battle has been reported from different perspectives.

The History of Marathons

Statue of Pheidippides along the Marathon Road
Statue of Pheidippides along the Marathon Road

The marathons that we know today have their origins in the Battle of Marathon.
  • Marathons are based on the famous run of a messenger named Pheidippides.
    • It is said that he ran from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens, supposedly running into the god Pan on his way back to announce Greek victory.
    • He then ran to Sparta to ask for help and ran all the way back. There is also a story that he collapsed and died after the conclusion of his journey, though this is not supported by any ancient source.

  • This long journey inspired the marathon in 1896 in the first Olympics in Athens. Marathons as we know them have been around since.

  • Marathon is a Greek word that means fennel and the city of Marathon is place that had an excess of fennel plants. The actual distance from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, that Pheidippides ran, is around 24.85 miles.

Figure of Heraia
Figure of Heraia

womens history.jpgFestival of Hera

Women were allowed to participate in their own athletic events during the Festival of Hera .

Only unmarried women were allowed to participate.

For more see Games for Girls

The Boston Marathon

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masscities.pngFUN MASSACHUSETTS FACT: The success of the marathon event at the Olympics sparked Boston to hold its first marathon on April 19, 1897.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon in the world.

Native American Runners and the Boston Marathon
external image Powalawu_sand_mosaic.jpgNative American runner Ellison Tarzan Brown won the Boston Marathon in 1936 and 1939

Thomas Longboat won the Boston Marathon in 1907.

Tradition of Champion Native Runners in Boston Continues, Indian Country Today (March 8, 2017)

Female_Rose.pngIn 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first women to run the Boston Marathon, and the whole drama of the event with the race director chasing after her was caught on camera!

Multimedia.pngSee Kathrine Switzer, first woman to enter the Boston Marathon


Hooker, Richard (1996). The Persian Wars. Retrieved March 24, 2007, from Washington State University Web site: http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/PERSIAN.HTM

Martin, Thomas R. (Date Unknown). Clash Between Greeks and Persians: The Beginning of the Persain Wars. Retrieved March 24, 2007, from The Perseus Digital Library Web site: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin//ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0009&query=head%3D%23116

Apostolos Greek Tours, (Updated March 26th 2007). Athens Marathon. Retrieved March 26, 2007, from Athens Marathon Web site: http://www.athensmarathon.com/marathon/history.html

Papaktriakou, Ellen, (Updated October 15th 2011). "Ancient Greek Cities." Retrieved February 5th, 2011 from web site:

Schrader, Helena, (Updated May 2011). "The Wife of Leonidas" Retrieved February 6th, 2011 from web site:

Seigel, Janice. "Dr. J's illustrated Persian Wars". Retrieved February 9th 2013 from web site:

Spartan Combat Arts Page, "The Persian War and the Battle of Marathon". Retreived February 9th 2013 from web site: