When the Persian and Greek armies clashed for the very first time, the strengths of each side pushed the enemy forward while the weaknesses pulled them back. Each individual strength and weakness would become very important in determining the outcome of each battle.
The strength of the Persian army could be found in their training ability to use various forms of combat. The Persian army was a better trained and disciplined army compared to the Greeks. These were professional soldiers. They knew how to fight, and they knew how to win. In their training, many of the soldiers learned how to ride horses and became experienced cavalry riders. As not many others cultures were doing this at that time, the advantage is perfectly clear. Archers were also trained along with many other troops into hand-to-hand combat. This gave the Persians the advantage of “versatility” with the various war units. Take all of this and add to the fact that the Persian army had many years of experience expanding a very impressive empire that had conquered Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, and many other cultures and the scales tip in Persia’s favor. Greece was coming out of the Dark Ages and just developing into an empire that would be talked about for centuries. It would be like a high school baseball player going up against a major league all-star player.
As with anything, weaknesses can also be found even in a major league veteran. The Persians did not have heavy and protective armor. Instead, they wore thick clothing to protect themselves. This was not very effective against spears and swords. Another weakness could be found in the actual weapons that they used. Their spears were much shorter compared to the Greeks’. This put them at a disadvantage when it came to hand-to-hand combat with the Greeks’ longer spears. Weakness also showed up in the leadership of the Persian army. The soldiers could be trained, but leadership could sometimes be lax. Though there were huge strengths, it only takes a small vital weakness to bring a nation down.
The Greeks, who were fighting for their freedom, were not as well trained as compared to the Persians. Of all the Greek armies, only the Spartans had extensive training. This gave the Persians an advantage. The leadership of the Greek army was also not very clear. The style of government from Athens actually put the leadership under the strategoi back in Greece and not on the front lines. With the lack of disciplined training, it could be said that the Greek army was unruly and was not as prepared for battle as they should have been.
On the other hand, the Greeks had a few things up their sleeves that helped them defeat the Persians. Unlike the Persians, the Greeks wore heavy armor. Despite the weight, it allowed the experienced soldier to move about freely in the midst of the fighting. In addition to this, the spears of the Greek soldiers were much longer. Therefore, death could be met a lot quicker at the end of the Greek spear than that of the much shorter Persian spear or sword. Another advantage that the Greeks had was the phalanx. It was this form of fighting that gave the Greeks a tactical advantage. The development of this style of fighting gave the Greeks a psychological piece of warfare. Through the phalanx, soldiers and their full armor and shields would pull together into tight units and advanced onto the enemy. Though there could be only a hundred soldiers, enemy saw them a much larger force in the tight, compact formation of the phalanx. It was intimidating and hard to kill. Add to that the hoplon and the phalanx ran over the enemy. This shield was developed specifically for use in the phalanx and created the image of one massive force driving forward instead of many individual men.
In many ways, the Persians and the Greeks were equal when weighing their weaknesses versus their strengths. Yet, in the end, strategy and luck was what helped in each and every battle within the Persian and Greek wars.
- Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Andrea L. Purvis (New York: Pantheon, 2007).
- Sarah B. Pomeroy et al., Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).