The foreign wars of the Delian League would see Athenian military power stretch its talons right across the Aegean Sea, and even deep into Persian-ruled Asia Minor. However, this wouldn’t be far enough for the new Greek empire; a revolt in Egypt, now under the Persian reign of Xerxes’s son Artaxerxes, would spark an opportunity for further military campaigns in the far eastern Mediterranean, encapsulating Cyprus as well. This over-stretching campaign would take place while Pericles begun dominating Athenian politics, and while Athens and Sparta marched their armies to war.
Check out my previous Greek blog post on the poetry of Aeschylus.
Check out my previous Persian blog post on the ascension of Artaxerxes I.
EGYPT, 460 - 454 BC
With Artaxerxes's affairs and empire in his preferred order, Egypt once again fell into rebellion after learning of the death of Xerxes, using the period of instability to their advantage. The Egyptian peoples quickly mustered a large force and removed the Persian officials and tax collectors from their lands, even setting up their own Pharaoh, Inaros. Raising more forces, Inaros sent embassies to Athens to discuss an alliance, promising them a share in their own kingdom if they aided in freeing their nation from Persian rule. Athens, keen to humiliate Persia as much as possible, sent three-hundred triremes to Egypt.
[ABOVE: A map of the Egyptian and Cypriot campaigns, 460 - 454 BC, 451 - 450 BC]
Artaxerxes raised his own forces from across the empire, under the command of his uncle Achaemenes. According to Diodorus Siculus, this Persian force numbered 300,000 men, though, again, this should be considered a likely exaggeration. Pitching camp near the River Nile, Achaemenes rested his men after their long march to Egypt and prepared them for battle. The Egyptians, however, were away awaiting their Athenian reinforcements. With their ranks bolstered by strong Athenian hoplites, the Egyptians faced the Persians in battle. The battle first swung in the favour of the numerically-superior Persians, but the Athenian contingent soon went on the offensive, breaking the Persian ranks and forcing a mass retreat, chasing down the enemy off the battlefield to Memphis.
Hearing of this defeat and desperate to keep ahold of Egypt, Artaxerxes sent envoys to Sparta, asking them to declare war on Athens in order to withdraw the Athenians in Egypt back to their homes. The Spartans refused, leaving Artaxerxes no choice but to give Artabazus and Megabyzus command of a second army, which, again, was said to have numbered another 300,000 soldiers, bolstered by well-manned Phoenician and Cypriot ships. Meanwhile the Athenian siege of Memphis continued, but the Persians - holding in the city’s White Fortress - were able to put up a stout resistance, forcing the Athenians into a year-long siege. They would break said-siege when Artabazus and Megabyzus arrived from the north with their reinforcements, catching the Athenian and Egyptian soldiers by surprise.
[ABOVE: An Egyptian soldier, shown on the tomb of Xerxes, c.470 BC]
The Athenians withdrew to Prosopitis, an island which lay further north in Egypt in the Nile Delta where they had moored their ships, and the Persians pursuing them quickly set about diverting the river via canals to join the island to the mainland, joining Prosoptis to the mainland. Seeing their weak position, the Athenians burnt their beached ships and prepared to make a last stand. Noting this bravery, Artabazus and Megabyzus proposed peace talks with the Greeks, allowing them safe passage back home to Athens. The Persians recaptured Egypt following the failed expedition, except for the marsh lands down south, while Inaros was captured and crucified. An Athenian relief fleet of fifty ships sailed down the Nile to aid their comrades, unaware of the army’s destruction.
CYPRUS, 451 - 450 BC
[ABOVE: A map of the ancient cities and kingdoms in Cyprus, including Kition (Citium) and Salamis]
After their defeat at Prosoptis, the Athenians again resolved to fight the Persians once more. Assembling two-hundred triremes in 451 BC, they elected Cimon - now back from his ostracism - to lead them, this time to Cyprus. Artabazus and Megabyzus were, at this time, commanders of the Persian armaments in the region, with Artabazus as supreme commander of three-hundred triremes, and Megabyzus in Cilicia with the land army, which Diodorus Siculus numbers at 300,000 - a likely over-exaggeration. Although Cimon had ended Athenian-Spartan hostilities, at least for now, the Athenians, emboldened by their expanding empire, became restless and yearned for more. Keen not to rouse up anymore potential for rebellions in the Aegean again, Cimon outfitted his triremes and readied them for the expedition. This would unite the Delian League to fight against their natural enemy, which was the League’s original intention after all, while the expedition itself would hopefully end with them bringing back the riches from the lush Nile valley.
[ABOVE: "Cimon takes command of the Greek fleet", from "Hutchinson's History of the Nations", 1915]
Upon arriving at Cyprus, Cimon quickly besieged and captured the cities of Citium and Marium, yet he was lenient to the cities’s populations. Persia responded quickly, and warships from Cilicia and Phoenicia set sail for Cyprus. These were met by Cimon, who quickly routed both navies, capturing a hundred ships in total and chasing the remainder back to Phoenicia. Surviving Persian ships fled back to Megabyzus in Cilicia. This didn't go unnoticed by the Athenians, who set a portion of their forces north to meet them; Cimon pulled the same trick he had at the River Eurymedon, dressing his Greek soldiers in Persian dress and sending them towards the enemy aboard captured Persian ships, only for them later to, again, pounce on the enemy when they least expected it. The Athenians won decisively, killed several Persian soldiers and returned swiftly to Cyprus.
Come the next year, Cimon had subdued much of the island, however a large Persian force still held the key city of Salamis, which was well stocked with armaments and supplies to outlast a long siege. Cimon still knew that besieging the city would be his best bet, since the Athenians had just won decisively at sea against the Persian navy - help would likely not make it to Cyprus. During the siege of Citium, it is said that Cimon sent a delegation to the shrine of Ammon in Egypt. It is not known what exactly Cimon wanted his delegation to ask or say to the shrine, but as soon as the delegation arrived, they were told to leave, on the grounds that Cimon was already with the god. Confused, the delegation left, but upon returning to Cimon’s camp on Cyprus, they discovered the meaning behind the shrine’s words: Cimon was dead, either from a war wound or sickness. Before his death, he told his closest companions to keep his death a secret.
Cimon would be sorely missed by the Athenian people; he was well known to have several estates across the city. These were all left unguarded by Cimon, who was keen for anyone passing by to be allowed to enter and enjoy the riches he himself enjoyed there. Cimon would also be followed throughout his life by pages, equipped with Cimon’s own money, and they would openly hand this money out to passer-by’s in need. He was also known to organise large feasts and entertain the poorer members of his own deme who hadn’t been invited to the feasts. He even paid for people’s funerals who were low on funds. This was all done without fault every day, without the request of anyone and at his own personal expense.
[ABOVE: The ancient ruins of Salamis, Cyprus]
Running out of provisions anyway, the Athenians were forced to lift the siege of Citium, heading north-east to Salamis. (No relation to the Greek island of the same name where the famous battle took place.) There, they were confronted with another Persian army, and as the siege went on, several assaults were made, almost daily in fact, but the well supplied Salaminians were able to repel each attack. Despite their successful defences so far, Artaxerxes, upon learning on the several prior defeats suffered in and around Cyprus, became eager to sign a peace treaty with Athens. His terms, according to Diodorus Siculus, were as follows:
All the Greeks cities of Asia are to live under laws of their own making; the Satraps of the Persians are not to come nearer to the sea than a three days’ journey and no Persian warship is to sail inside of Phaselisor of Cyanean Rocks: and if these terms are observed by the king and his generals, the Athenians are not to send troops into the territory over which the king is ruler.
Once concluded, Athens immediately withdrew their forces from Cyprus, agreeing to peace with Persia. With the treaty finalised by the following year, in 449 BC, the Greco-Persian Wars - ongoing since 499 BC with the start of the Ionian Revolt - had finally come to an end.
NEXT BLOG: THE 1st PELOPONNESIAN WAR, 460 - 445 BC: The Rise of Pericles
- Thucydides, "The Peloponnesian War", Book 1.110
- Cornelius Nepos, "The Book of the Great Generals of Foreign Nations", Cimon
- Diodorus Siculus, "Library of History", Book XI.71
- Plutarch, "Greek Lives", Cimon
- Polyaenus, "Stratagems of War", Cimon
(I do NOT own this video)
"ARTAXERXES I - PERSIA RISES PART 5 - ACHAEMENID PERSIAN EMPIRE" by "Yore History"
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