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Useful Notes / Greco-Persian Wars

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Red-figure pottery depicting a Greek warrior and a Persian warrior.

"This is the display of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that things done by man not be forgotten in time, and that great and marvelous deeds, some displayed by the Hellenes, some by the barbarians, not lose their glory, including among others what was the cause of their waging war on each other."
— The beginning of Herodotus' Histories

This is one the most mythologized wars in the history of Western Civilization. The basis of the conflict was laid when Cyrus the Great founded the Persian Empire, in the process conquering several Greek colonies in Asia Minor. Under Darius, a successor of Cyrus', several of these Greek cities mounted the Ionian Revolt in 499 BC and enlisted the help of kinsmen across the sea, notably Athens. After crushing the rebellion Darius dispatched an invasion force against Athens in 492 BC, but this was defeated two years later on the field of Marathon.

In 480 BC Darius' successor, Xerxes, after he had persuaded the rest of The Empire to accept him as King, launched a massive second invasion of Greece. He was delayed by the Spartans at the mountain pass of Thermopylae and by the Athenian fleet at Artemisium, however Xerxes continued to march on until he arrived at Athens. Athens had been evacuated, which deprived the Persians of the human part of their Plunder when they sacked it. The Persians mused over their "capture" a little when they received a message that the Athenian politician Themistocles intended to defect. Xerxes took the offer, but Themistocles lured the Persian fleet into an ambush, resulting in its destruction in the Battle of Salamis.

The next year a combined army drawn from several city-states (including Athens and Sparta) destroyed what was left of the Persian invasion force at Plataea. A final victory of allied Greek forces at Mycale drove the Persians from the Aegean and pretty much secured the independence of Greece from Persia.

See Alexander the Great's campaign against Persia for the sequel, and The Peloponnesian War for the depressing spin-off featuring the most popular factions from the original turning on one another.

Depictions in fiction:

Comic Books

  • 300 by Frank Miller, a Battle Epic at the Thermopylae from the Spartans' persective, based on the account given by Herodotus.
  • Democracy by Alecos Papadatos, Annie Di Donna and Abraham Kawa opens with Athens at war against Persia. While the central story has to do with the birth of Democracy, it ends with the Athenians charging into the Persian army.
  • The Rat-Man series includes 299+1, a Spin-Off and Affectionate Parody of 300 by Frank Miller.



  • The Histories by Herodotus of Halicarnassus is the historical main source on the Greco-Persian Wars. While not "fiction" per se, it probably contains its share of legends and embellishments.
  • Gates of Fire by Steven Pressman is a historical novel about the Battle of Thermopylae.
  • Creation by Gore Vidal presents a rare Persian perspective of these events.
  • Spartan is an historical fiction novel set during the Second Greco-Persian War with King Leonidas appearing as a character (along with Themistokles and other Historical Domain Characters). The protagonist is a Spartan boy abandoned by his family for being born a cripple and raised by Helots, the Slave Race of Spartans.
  • The Long War hexalogy by Christian Cameron covers the period through the first-person narrative of Arimnestos of Plataea, who participates in key events of the war from its beginning with the Ionian Revolt to its finish at the Battle of Mycale.

Live Action TV


  • Dan Carlin makes frequent reference to this conflict in his Hardcore History series, being the focus of his Shield of the West and King of Kings episodes.


  • The Persians by ancient Greek tragic playwright Aeschylus, a contemporary of the Second Persian War, and the only extant Greek tragedy concerned with historical (as opposed to mythical) events. It is set at the Persian royal court in Susa and centers around the news from the Battle of Salamis being brought back to Xerxes' mother Atossa.

Video Games

  • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey begins with a depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae between Leonidas' 300 Spartans and the Persian army led by Xerxes. The rest of the game deals with the following Peloponnesian War, but with a few indications that scars from this war are still being felt. Additionally, Leonidas is also the grandfather of Alexios and Kassandra.
  • Part of the Athenian campaign in Zeus: Master of Olympus has you fighting the Persians. The game having a less-than rigorous approach to history, the campaign ends once you conquer Persia and also features an episode where you fight centaurs over a bridal kidnapping.