The Persians conquered the Greek city states of Ionia in the Asia Minor. The Greek city states resented their situations. In 499 B.C., Ionian Greeks rebelled against Persian rule. Athens sent ships to help them
The mighty Persian army landed near Marathon to crush Athens for uprising. The Persians greatly outnumbered the Athenian forces, but the Greeks rushed onward. They broke through the Persian line and fought in a fierce hand to hand combat. The Persians hastily retreated to their ships. The Athenians celebrated their triumph.
The Persians sent a much larger force to conquer Greece. By this time, Athens persuaded the other city states to join in the fight.The Persians landed in northern Greece. A small Spartan force guarded the narrow mountain pass at Thermopylae. Led by the great warrior- king Leonidas, the Spartans held out against the enormous Persian force, but was defeated. The Persians burned Athens, but the city was empty. The Athenians lured the Persian navy into a narrow strait called Salamis. Then the Athenian warships drove into the Persian boats with underwater battering rams sinking the Persian ships. The next year, the Greeks defeated the Persians on land in Asia Minor. The victory marked the end of the Persian invasions.
Athens emerged from the war as the most powerful city- state in Greece. To continue to defend against Persia, Athens organized with other Greek city- states an alliance. From the start, Athens dominated the Delian League. It slowly used its position of leadership to create an Athenian empire. When allies tried to withdraw from the league, Athens used force to make them remain.
Athens prospered during the Age of Pericles. Pericles directed the rebuilding of the Acropolis, which the Persians destroyed. With the help of a foreign- born woman named Aspasia, Pericles turned Athens into the cultural center of Greece.
The years after the Persian Wars were a golden age for Athens under the able statesman Pericles. Because of his wise and skillful leadership, the economy thrived and the government became more democratic.
By the time of Pericles, the Athenian assembly met several times a month. A council of 500 conducted daily government business. Pericles believed everyone should take part in government. Athenians also served on juries. An Athenian jury might include hundreds or even thousand of jurors. Athenian citizens could also vote to banish a public figure who was seen as a threat to their democracy.
Many Greeks outside Athens resented Athenian domination. Before long, the Greek world split into rival camps. To counter the Delian League, Sparta and other enemies of Athens formed the Peloponnesian League. Warfare broke out between Athens and Sparta. This soon engulfed all of Greece. The fighting lasted for 27 years.
Despite its riches and powerful navy, Athens faced a serious geographic disadvantage. Because Sparta was inland Athens could not use the navy. When the Spartan troops came near, Pericles allowed people to move into the walls. Overcrowded conditions led to a plague that killed many Athenians. The war carried on until finally, with the help of the Persian navy, Sparta captured Athens.
The Peloponnesian War ended Athenian domination of Greece. The Athenian economy eventually revived and Athens remained the cultural center of Greece. However spirit and vitality declined. Meanwhile the Greeks battled among themselves, a new power rose from a kingdom north of Greece. Its ambitious ruler stood poised to conquer the quarrelsome Greek city- states.