After Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian Wars (Emblems of Antiquity)
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The Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE is one of world history's unjustly neglected events. It decisively ended the threat of a Persian conquest of Greece. It involved tens of thousands of combatants, including the largest number of Greeks ever brought together in a common cause. For the Spartans, the driving force behind the Greek victory, the battle was sweet vengeance for their defeat at Thermopylae the year before. Why has this pivotal battle been so overlooked?
In After Thermopylae, Paul Cartledge masterfully reopens one of the great puzzles of ancient Greece to discover, as much as possible, what happened on the field of battle and, just as important, what happened to its memory. Part of the answer to these questions, Cartledge argues, can be found in a little-known oath reputedly sworn by the leaders of Athens, Sparta, and several other Greek city-states prior to the battle-the Oath of Plataea. Through an analysis of this oath, Cartledge provides a wealth of insight into ancient Greek culture. He shows, for example, that when the Athenians and Spartans were not fighting the Persians they were fighting themselves, including a propaganda war for control of the memory of Greece's defeat of the Persians. This helps explain why today we readily remember the Athenian-led victories at Marathon and Salamis but not Sparta's victory at Plataea. Indeed, the Oath illuminates Greek anxieties over historical memory and over the Athens-Sparta rivalry, which would erupt fifty years after Plataea in the Peloponnesian War. In addition, because the Oath was ultimately a religious document, Cartledge also uses it to highlight the profound role of religion and myth in ancient Greek life. With compelling and eye-opening detective work, After Thermopylae provides a long-overdue history of the Battle of Plataea and a rich portrait of the Greek ethos during one of the most critical periods in ancient history.
mire of civil bloodshed and internecine hatred was by imposing upon themselves a great oath, an oath of forgetting—or, as they put it the other way round, “notremembering.” That is, in the sight of the gods as witnesses, they publicly and collectively threw a veil over the black deeds of especially those Athenians who in a frenzy of ideological madness had embraced the most extreme form of anti-democracy. Strict observance of this oath of Amnesty was put under great strain in the coming decades,
expedition was commanded jointly by a brother of Darius, representing royal-family pride and honor, and by a Mede called Datis, who seems to have been something of a naval specialist. At any rate, the expedition was launched by sea ultimately from Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) and directly across the Aegean; this meant that the land troops and the cavalrymen and horses and all the materiel of battle had to be conveyed in special large transports, leaving little or no room for specialist men-of-war
had remained by and large loyal to the anti-Persian Greek cause (not altogether surprisingly, in view of the destruction wreaked on Euboean Eretria in 490). If that dating and interpretation are correct, the opprobrium subsequently heaped on the Thebans by their enemies from the Athenians to Alexander the Great need excite little wonder. What is truly wonderful—as Herodotus amply recognized—is that for at least a couple of campaigning seasons suﬃcient numbers of key Greek cities did pull
engaged at the front, as hoplites leaned into their hollowed shields, placing them on the backs of the soldiers in front both to encourage them forward psychologically and to propel them forward physically. The Greeks’ eventual victory was at any rate due to ordinary soldiers rather than to the genius of their commanders, and to their decisively superior arms, discipline and—when it came to the crunch—morale. However, Pausanias, young and inexperienced as he was, does also deserve a PAU L
into practice. On the other hand, it is hard to ﬁnd historical justiﬁcation, in the supposed pre-Plataea context, for singling out just Thebes as the one city to be “tithed.” Herodotus, who does not mention a pre-Plataea oath, does mention an earlier oath (7.132), supposedly sworn the previous year before Thermopylae, and this more believably contains a general threat to tithe all cities that voluntarily took the Persians’ side. Thebes, somewhat ironically, turned out to be a Greek city-destroyer