chapter  9
21 Pages

THE PERSIAN WAR: GREEK STRATEGY AND THE LEADERSHIP OF SPARTA IN 480–479

The fullest description of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece is contained in the last three books of Herodotus (all source references in this chapter are to Herodotus unless otherwise stated). Although he has been criticized justifiably by modern and ancient historians for his weaknesses (see Chapter 1 for a fuller discussion), his strengths, especially when compared with later writers, are such that his account of these events should be considered reasonably trustworthy. His accuracy has often been proved by other sources, when they are available, for example, his list of the six Persian nobles who helped Darius to seize the throne of Persia in 522 compares very favourably with Darius’ own list which was included in an official inscription at Behistun in Media, recording his achievements; there is only one mistake and that an explicable one. This accuracy was due to his painstaking research and interviews with many of the eyewitnesses, both Greek and Persian, of the events that he narrated. As he was writing in the third quarter of the fifthcentury, he had access to many of the combatants and junior officers who took part in the battles. However, his accounts of the discussions in the Greek councils of war must be treated with caution, as they must be based upon gossip and rumour, since the middleaged chief commanders who left no memoirs were dead by the time of his research. It is also clear from his descriptions that he visited the sites of the battles of Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea, although his understanding of strategy is very limited. It is to Herodotus’ credit that Thucydides, although critical of him as a historian (Thucydides 1.20.3), generally accepts his history of the war, and adds very little extra information when referring to the Persian War, with the exception of his praise of Themistocles’ qualities which was intended to contradict the anti-Themistocles traditions accepted too uncritically by Herodotus.