THE PERSIAN WAR (490-479 B.C.)
In the first stage of the war between Persia and Greece the Persian armies were led by king Darius I (550-486 B. C.). The Persians lost to the Athenians and their Greek allies. In the famous land battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. the Persians were defeated by the Athenians and the Plataeans. News of the victory was delivered by a messenger who ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, and who died afterwards. This is the origin of the modern Olympic event of the marathon.
The second stage of the war saw the Persians arrive on the Greek shore with perhaps as many as 2,000,000 men, between their army and navy, under the command of king Xeres I (519-465 B.C.), son of the deceased Darius I. An advance party of only 5,000 Greeks, including Spartans, Phocians and Locrians, under the command of one of the Spartan kings, Leonidas (a descendent of Hercules), held off the advancing Persian forces at the narrow pass between the cliffs and the sea at Thermopylae (the famous "Pass of Thermopylae"). They were eventually defeated after the Persian soldiers were shown a secret mountain way around the pass, although every last Spartan fought until he was killed. However, the in naval battle at Salamis in 480 B.C., which was masterminded by the Athenian general Themistocles, the Athenian navy defeated the Persian navy. Then, in the land battle at Plataea in 479 B.C., the Spartan-led army defeated the Persian army. The Persians were driven from Greece. Insofar as Athens had masterminded the naval victory of Salamis, which was the decisive victory in the war, the Athenians could rightly be said to have saved all Greece from Persian domination.