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Chapter 2

Ahuramazdas Plan

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I m p i ety f o r I m p i ety

The tribes of northern Greece had surrendered in 480 b.c.e. without a

ght. The Thebans and the Boeotians had offered earth and waterthe
ancient tokens of submission. The Spartan king Leonidas and 300 of his
citys bravest lay dead in the pass at Thermopylae. Now, as the enormous
host of the Persian king Xerxes neared Athens, the Athenians abandoned
their city.
Only a few temple stewards and poor old men remained on the
Acropolis, huddled together in the temple of Athena Polias. They had
barricaded the gates to the Acropolis with some planks and timbers,
trusting in the oracle from Delphi, which had promised that the
wooden wall would not be taken.
But some Persians discovered a way up the steep cliffs of the Acropolis by the shrine of Kekrops daughter Aglauros. They ung open the
gates to their fellow soldiers. All those who had taken refuge inside the
sanctuary were slaughtered. The Persians looted Athenas temple and
then burned the entire Acropolis to the ground.
By the will of the wise god Ahuramazda, Xerxes had punished the Athenians for giving aid to the Ionian rebels almost twenty years before. Truth
had triumphed over falsehood. The world had been put back in order.

Ahuramazdas Plan


The Athenians and their Greek allies saw the destruction of the temples rather differently. The Persians had committed perhaps the gravest
impiety in history. Such sacrilege required revenge; and the Greeks
swore a solemn oath to the gods not to rebuild the sanctuaries, but to
leave them as a reminder to coming generations of the impiety of the
barbarians. True to their oath, the Athenians did not begin to rebuild
the temple of Athena until 447, by which point they had been ghting
Persia for nearly half a century. Even then, many considered that the
Persians still had not paid for what they had done. Almost exactly 150
years after Xerxes destroyed the temples on the Athenian Acropolis, a
young Macedonian king burned down the palaces of Ahuramazdas divinely selected rulers, returning impiety for impiety. His name was

A h u r a m a z da s P l a n

From a Persian perspective the destruction of the Greek temples was a

part of the remarkable imperial expansion that they had accomplished
with Ahuramazdas help. The empires founder, Cyrus II, the Great
(559530), had brought rst the Medes (550), then Lydia and the Greek
cities of Asia Minor (540s), next Babylonia (539), and nally Bactria and
Sogdiana, under Persian rule.
After Cyrus death and burial in the new royal center of Pasargadae
(in central Fars) his son Cambyses II (530522) added Egypt to the Persian empire. A constitutional crisis followed Cambyses death; it ended
in the elevation of the usurper Darius I (522/21486) to the throne.
Now northwest India, several Greek islands including Samos, and the
western part of Thrace (c. 513) came under Persian rule, as Darius attempted to consolidate the empires frontiers.
By the end of the sixth century Persia had become the largest and
most successful empire in the long history of the ancient Near East, a
success its kings attributed to the will and power of their great god. On
a trilingual inscription carved into a cliff at Behistun in the Zagros
Mountains, along the main road from ancient Babylon to Ecbatana,
Darius, for instance, claimed to have fought nineteen battles and captured nine kings in one year under the protection of Ahuramazda.


Alexander, Son of Philip, and the Greeks

The Persians believed that Ahuramazda had made the Persian kings
lords over the lands and peoples of the earth to carry out his plan for
human happiness and perfect order. It was the duty of the Persian king
to help maintain that order for the sake of all humanity. Those who disturbed the order or caused commotion were rebels against Ahuramazdas divine plan and had to be put down.
In 499, though, Ionian Greeks living on the coast of Asia Minor
strayed from Ahuramazdas plan by revolting against Persian rule. Led
by the city of Miletos, and with limited naval support from Eretria and
Athens, on the Greek mainland, the rebels managed to burn down Sardis,
the local center of Persian control, and its temple of the native goddess
Cybele. By 494, however, the Persians had subdued both the islands and
the cities on the coast of Asia. Miletos was captured, its men were killed,
its women and children were enslaved, and the sanctuary of Didyma,
which housed the oracle of Apollo, was plundered and burned. Apollo
had paid the price for the destruction of Cybeles sanctuary.
Darius then sent a punitive expedition against Eretria and Athens for
the help their crews had given to the Ionians. Although outnumbered,
the Athenians and the Plataeans defeated that Persian force at Marathon
in late September 490.
Ten years later, however, Darius son and successor, Xerxes, led a
much larger force back to Greece, and this was the occasion when the
Athenian Acropolis was burned. Yet, it was not Ahuramazdas will that
Xerxes should make the mainland Greeks part of the divine plan for
order: in September 480, the Greek eet decisively defeated the Persians and their allies in the Straits of Salamis. Soon Xerxes himself retreated to the Hellespont, leaving his general Mardonius to engage the
Greek army on land. But Mardonius army succumbed to a Spartan-led
force at Plataea in 479.

P e rs i a a n d G r e e c e , 4 79 3 4 6

Despite these Greek victories, the Persians remained in control of many

of the islands in the Aegean as well as of Thrace and the coast of Asia
Minor. The Athenians, at the head of the Delian League (a naval league
of city-states), then fought for almost three decades to drive the Persians

Ahuramazdas Plan


back across the Aegean and out of Asia Minor. In 450 hostilities were
brought to an end by the Peace of Kallias, by whose terms the Greek
cities of Asia were left to live under their own laws. But while the Persian kings temporarily may have given up on bringing the Greeks into
obedience, over the course of the next century the Greeks themselves
provided Xerxes successors with plenty of opportunities to inuence
Greek affairs, as the city-states exhausted themselves ghting inconclusively for supremacy in Greece.
Thus, when the Peloponnesians (led by the Spartans) nally triumphed over the Athenians at the end of the so-called Peloponnesian
War of 431404, it was largely as a result of the nancial subsidies provided to them by Cyrus, the son of the Persian king Darius II. In that
wars aftermath, pro-Spartan oligarchies were set up to control the former members of the Athenian alliance. While many Greek cities were
left to govern themselves, rule over the Ionians of Asia Minor reverted
to the Persians. After 387, this situation was formally recognized in the
so-called Kings Peace of the Persian ruler Artaxerxes II (405359).
During the early fourth century, even the autonomy of the major
Greek cities thus was authorized by the Persian king. That guarantee,
however, turned out to be a license for Spartan intervention into the
affairs of other Greek city-states, particularly the great old city-state of
The Spartan seizure of Thebes, and then the attempted seizure of
Athens port of Piraeus by a Spartan governor, led to the formation of an
Athenian-Theban alliance against Sparta. The Athenians then organized another naval league, called the Second Athenian Confederacy.
Hostilities continued after a peace conference held in 371 failed to satisfy the Thebans.
In that year, a Theban army of 6,000 heavily armed hoplite infantry and
1,000 cavalrymen, led by Epaminondas and Pelopidas, defeated a Spartan
army of about 9,000 hoplites, plus cavalry, at Leuctra. The keys to the
Theban victory were the massing of their hoplites on the left side of their
battle formation to a depth of fty shields, their advance at an oblique
angle of attack, and the shock provided by the so-called Sacred Band, an
elite unit of 150 pairs of select hoplites, who camped out, lived together as
lovers, and fought together as a unit to the point of death. In the battle, a
thousand Spartan citizens were killed, including 400 of the ofcer class.


Alexander, Son of Philip, and the Greeks

It was a devastating defeat, and Spartas Peloponnesian alliesor

subjectssought their freedom. In 362, on the plain of Mantinea,
Epaminondas met another anti-Theban army, led by the Spartans but
including soldiers from Achaea, Elis, and Athens. Using the same tactics
he had deployed at Leuctra, Epaminondas once again defeated the Spartans, but he was killed in the battle. Although his victories had broken
Sparta forever as a military power, his death left a leadership vacuum in
Thebes, and in Greece generally.
Unrest also arose within the second Athenian naval alliance. The
strategically vital city of Byzantium had been detached from the alliance
by Epaminondas before he died; and the important islands of Rhodes,
Cos, and Chios revolted in 357.
By 355 or early in 354, with the new Persian king, Artaxerxes III
Ochus (359338), threatening Athens, the Athenians made peace, with
the independence of Byzantium, Chios, Rhodes, and Cos recognized.
Soon Lesbos and other important member states broke away from the
alliance as well.

T h e T h r e at f ro m t h e N o rt h

By the middle of the fourth century, the most important city-states of

GreeceSparta, Thebes, and Athenswere all crippled by their attempts to gain the upper hand against one another, and Persia remained
the arbiter of Greek affairs, particularly with respect to the Greek cities
of Asia Minor. There was no need for the Persian king to put down the
Greeks; they had managed that for themselves. In 346 Persias imperial
prospects in the West were brighter than they had been at any time since
before the battle of Salamis.
A single threat to Ahuramazdas divine plan for human happiness
loomed. After decades of political instability, the kingdom of Macedon,
on Greeces northern border, was showing ominous signs of vitality and
aggressiveness under the leadership of its charismatic king, Philip II.
Should he manage somehow to unite his own divided kingdom, while
dividing the Greeks, a very great disturbance to the perfect order might
arise. For Macedon was a land like no other.