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As largest empire in world at time, why couldn't Persian Empire conquer Greece, a small country with a small population?

From 500 B.C. to 449 BC The mighty Persian Empire unleashed a protracted war against city-state of Greece. But Persia did not win, on contrary, this war absorbed national power and became starting point for decline of Persian Empire. At that time, Persian Empire had an area of ​​7 million square kilometers and a population of over 20 million, making it largest country in world. However, each Greece has more than 200 "small countries and sparsely populated" city-states, and largest Sparta is only 8400 square kilometers, which is only a tiny place compared to Persia. But why did Persia fail in this war?

First, Persia is an expedition of workers, and Greece is waiting for work at its leisure.

After Persian Empire annexed Lydia, it became a neighboring nation with twelve city-states of Ionia in Greece. But Persian attack on Greece was not easy The rear of Persia is located on Iranian plateau, from Persian capital to Turkish Strait more than 2000 kilometers, which is approximately equivalent to reaching Ili from Chang'an. To attack Greek mainland, you will have to cross Aegean Sea or Turkish Strait. With such a large distance, supplying rear is very difficult.

Therefore, Persian expedition to Greece was an expedition that required a large amount of logistical supplies and a quick decision, which did not contribute to long battles. On contrary, Greece is a defensive war. As long as Greeks can persist for a certain period of time, Persia will not be able to persist in a large-scale offensive and can only withdraw into country. During Hippo-Persian War, Persian Empire moved large troops across strait several times to reach Greek mainland, however, Persia could not continue fight, facing some setbacks, as it was worried about lack of supplies, so it had to hastily withdraw its troops.

Greek countryside

In addition, terrain of Greece is very rugged, and Greeks took advantage of this feature to resist Persia. The vast expanses of Western Asia and North Africa conquered by Persian Empire were mostly areas with relatively flat terrain, which favored large-scale operations and cavalry actions. The terrain of Greece was not conducive to deployment of Persian army. In 490 BC Persian fleet landed at Marathon, south of Athens, but before formation was fully deployed, it was attacked by Athens and suffered a crushing defeat. After this, Persia conquered Macedonia and other places in northern Greece, which were relatively flat, as a stronghold to conquer Greece. But after second Western expedition, Persian cavalry did not dare to easily enter difficult terrain of Greek peninsula.

Judging by attack of Persia, large forces belonging to traditional continental civilization are advancing. However, most of countries of Greece are maritime civilizations, they are economically dependent on foreign trade and have a large number of colonies in overseas regions. The Persian occupation of mainland Greece did not eliminate Greek resistance. During second Persian expedition to Greece, Athenians were transferred in large numbers to other colonial city-states, making it impossible for Persian army to face main Greek army for a decisive battle or to find supplies. In 480 BC famous battle of Thermopylae took place, which really became a victory for Persia. But from a strategic point of view, Greece won, because this battle bought time for Athenians to cross.

Secondly, Greek city-states united in a war of resistance, while Persian army was mixed but not cleared

According to investigation, army sent by Persia to attack Greece may reach over 200,000 people. However, combat effectiveness of these armies is not very high. Firstly, Persian army is a motley army that includes armies from various countries conquered by Persia, including more than 100 ethnic groups in more than 46 countries, including Phenicia, Babylon, Egypt and Lydia. Although these countries were conquered by Persia, they have not been united for a long time, their foundations are unstable, and their warlike spirit is not uniform. In addition, most of armies of these ethnic groups have not undergone rigorous training, so their combat capability is low, and their morale will be low in case of failure.

Persian army

Due to short-term unification of Persia, rear of Persia was also unstable. After failure of first expedition to Greece, Darius I ordered country to provide more supplies and troops, but this order sparked national uprisings throughout country. After death of Darius I, Xerxes was busy suppressing resistance of various ethnic groups at an early stage, which seriously consumed power of Persia. It took Xerxes about 10 years to quell internal rebellion, and Greeks used those 10 years to forge alliances and form a powerful navy.

Although Greek city-states were divided, they quickly formed an alliance under a common threat. Whether democrats or aristocrats, they put aside their past grievances and devoted themselves to defense of country; both Dorians and Ionians repressed their past hatreds and made an alliance with Greeks. In 482 BC a meeting of Greek states was held, at which it was announced that states would end civil war and create a military alliance. For Persian peoples, there is not much difference between defeat and victory, at best, victory brings more glory to Persian nobility. However, for Greeks, defeat means destruction of country and genocide, so Greeks must unite.

In addition, training of Greek army is also more elitist, especially army of Sparta. Sparta established a system of military autocracy: male citizens were required to undergo rigorous military training from an early age and did not retire until age of 60. Therefore, fighting qualities and combat effectiveness of Spartan citizens are very striking. At Battle of Thermopylae, Greek coalition forces, with Sparta as main force, caused Persian army to lose 20,000 men. After creating a powerful fleet in Athens, Spartan army strictly guarded Isthmus of Corinth to ensure security of Peloponnese peninsula.

Thirdly, Persia is ruler of earth, Athens is a sea power.

To attack mainland Greece from Persia, you need to cross Turkish Strait. Persia's war strategy is to advance both sea and land armies. After crossing strait, army reaches northern Greece and can move directly into Greece. The fleet can cross Mediterranean and destroy Greek states. At beginning of war, Greece did not create a powerful fleet, but Persia, with help of Phoenicia, created a fleet that could dominate Mediterranean. However, Persia is, after all, a traditional continental civilization and not very familiar with ocean. In 492 BC powerful fleet sent by Darius I was mostly destroyed by a hurricane off Cape Athos, losing 300 ships and more than 20,000 soldiers, so that the first sea expedition failed.

Athens expansion

In 490 B.C. Darius I learned his lesson and instead of advancing along coastline, he ordered his fleet to go straight for Athens. However, when Persian fleet landed on narrow Marathon plain, Athenian army destroyed it using terrain. After this, Persia fell into a 10-year civil strife, and Athens took opportunity to build a fleet that could compete with Persia. Athens has a fleet of 180 warships, plus other city-states, for a total of over 300 warships. The Persians have over 600 of them. Although Greece cannot compete with Persia in terms of number of warships, Greeks are more familiar with routes and features of Aegean. In 480 BC Xerxes made a large-scale expedition to Greece and his large fleet was brought into Gulf of Salami by Athenian fleet. The space here is very narrow, and large ships of Persian fleet cannot move freely. Athens used small size of ships to continuously attack, as a result of which Persian fleet was defeated.

When Persian fleet was defeated by Greece, Persia was worried that Athens would block Turkish Strait and prevent her army from returning home unhindered, so she decided to quickly retreat. Indeed, in 478 BC. Athenian fleet controlled Turkish Straits, which made it impossible for Persian army stationed in Macedonia and elsewhere to retreat, and was eventually destroyed. In second year, Athens and countries along Aegean formed "Desian League", and its naval power reached its peak and could dominate Mediterranean. From 480 BC Persia never dared to mobilize large numbers of troops to cross Turkish Strait because its fleet was overwhelmed by Athens. In 449 BC The Delian League defeated Persian fleet east of island of Cyprus, and Persian influence in Mediterranean was completely destroyed. At this point, Persia was to sign a treaty with Athens and abandon its plan to conquer Greece.

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