On the very same day on which the Persians were defeated at Salamis the Sicilian Greeks also obtained a victory over the Carthaginians. There is reason to believe that the invasion of Sicily by the Carthaginians was concerted with Xerxes, and that the simultaneous attach on two distinct Grecian peoples, by two immense armaments, was not merely the result of chance. Gelon, the powerful ruler of Syracuse, defeated Hamilcar, the Carthaginian general, with the loss it is said of 150,000 men.
In the spring of B.C. 479 Mardonius prepared to open the campaign. He was not without hopes of inducing the Athenians to join the Persian alliance, and he despatched Alexander, king of Macedon, to conciliate the Athenians, now partially re-established in their dilapidated city. His offers on the part of the Persians were of the most seductive kind; but the Athenians dismissed him with a positive refusal, whilst to the Lacedaemonians they protested that no temptations, however great, should ever induce them to desert the common cause of Greece and freedom. In return for this disinterested conduct all they asked was that a Peloponnesian army should be sent into Boeotia for the defence of the Attic frontier: a request which the Spartan envoys promised to fulfil. No sooner, however, had they returned into their own country than this promise was completely forgotten.
When Mardonius was informed that the Athenians had rejected his proposal, he immediately marched against Athens, accompanied by all his Grecian allies; and in May or June, B.C. 479, about ten months after the retreat of Xerxes, the Persians again occupied that city. With feelings of bitter indignation against their faithless allies, the Athenians saw themselves once more compelled to remove to Salamis. Mardonius took advantage of his situation to endeavour once more to win them to his alliance. Through a Hellespontine Greek, the same favourable conditions were again offered to them, but were again refused. One voice alone, that of the senator Lycidas, broke the unanimity of the assembly. But his opposition cost him his life. He and his family were stoned to death by the excited populace. In this desperate condition the Athenians sent ambassadors to the Spartans to remonstrate against their breach of faith, and to intimate that necessity might at length compel them to listen to the proposals of the enemy. The Spartans became alarmed. That very night 5000 citizens, each attended by seven Helots, were despatched to the frontiers; and these were shortly followed by 5000 Lacedaemonian Perioeci, each attended by one light-armed Helot. Never before had the Spartans sent so large a force into the field. Their example was followed by other Peloponnesian cities; and the Athenian envoys returned to Salamis with the joyful news that a large army was preparing to march against the enemy, under the command of Pausanias, who acted as regent for the infant son of Leonidas.
Mardonius, on learning the approach of the Lacedaemonians, abandoned Attica and crossed into Boeotia. He finally took up a position on the left bank of the Asopus, and not far from the town of Plataea. Here he caused a camp to be constructed of ten furlongs square, and fortified with barricades and towers. Meanwhile the Grecian army continued to receive reinforcements from the different states, and by the time it reached Boeotia, it formed a grand total of about 110,000 men. After several days' manoeuvring a general battle took place near Plataea. The light- armed undisciplined Persians, whose bodies were unprotected by armour, maintained a very unequal combat against the serried ranks, the long spears, and the mailed bodies of the Spartan phalanx. Mardonius, at the head of his body-guard of 1000 picked men, and conspicuous by his white charger, was among the foremost in the fight, till struck down by the hand of a Spartan. The fall of their general was the signal for flight to the Persians, already wearied and disheartened by the fruitless contest; nor did they once stop till they lad again crossed the Asopus and reached their fortified camp. The glory of having defeated the Persians at Plataea rests with the Lacedaemonians, since the Athenians were engaged in another part of the field with the Thebans. After repulsing the Thebans, the Athenians joined the Lacedaemonians, who had pursued the Persians as far as their fortified camp. Upon the arrival of the Athenians the barricades were stormed and carried, after a gallant resistance on the part of the Persians. The camp became a scene of the most horrible carnage. The Persian loss was immense, while that of the Greeks seems not to have exceeded 1300 or 1400 men.
It remained to bury the dead and divide the booty, and so great was the task that ten days were consumed in it. The booty was ample and magnificent. Gold and silver coined, as well as in plate and trinkets, rich vests and carpets, ornamented arms, horses, camels--in a word, all the magnificence of Eastern luxury. The failure of the Persian expedition was completed by the destruction of their naval armament. Laotychides, the Spartan admiral, having sailed across the AEgean, found the Persian fleet at Mycale a promontory of Asia Minor near Miletus. Their former reverses seem completely to have discouraged the Persians from hazarding another naval engagement. The ships were hauled ashore and surrounded with a rampart, whilst an army of 60,000 Persians lined the coast for their defence. The Greeks landed on the very day on which the battle of Plataea was fought. A supernatural presentiment of that decisive victory, conveyed by a herald's staff which floated over the AEgean from the shores of Greece, is said to have pervaded the Grecian ranks at Mycale as they marched to the attack. The Persians did not long resist: they turned their backs and fled to their fortifications, pursued by the Greeks, who entered them almost simultaneously. A large number of the Persians perished; and the victory was rendered still more decisive by the burning of the fleet.
The Grecian fleet now sailed towards the Hellespont with the view of destroying the bridge; but hearing that it no longer existed, Leotychides departed homewards with the Peloponnesian vessels. Xanthippus however, the Athenian commander, seized the opportunity to recover from the Persians the Thracian Chersonese, which had long been an Athenian possession; and proceeded to blockade Sestos, the key of the strait. This city surrendered in the autumn, after a protracted siege, whereupon the Athenians returned home, carrying with them the cables of the bridge across the Hellespont, which were afterwards preserved in the Acropolis as a trophy.
FROM THE END OF THE PERSIAN WARS TO THE BEGINNING OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR, B.C. 479-431.
The Athenians, on their return to Attica, after the defeat of the Persians, found their city ruined and their country desolate. They began to rebuild their city on a larger scale than before, and to fortify it with a wall. Those allies to whom the increasing maritime power of Athens was an object of suspicion, and especially the AEginetans, to whom it was more particularly formidable, beheld her rising fortifications with dismay. They endeavoured to inspire the Lacedaemonians with their fears, and urged them to arrest the work. But though Sparta shared the jealousy of the allies, she could not with any decency interfere by force to prevent a friendly city from exercising a right inherent in all independent states. She assumed therefore the hypocritical garb of an adviser and counsellor. Concealing her jealousy under the pretence of zeal for the common interests of Greece, she represented to the Athenians that, in the event of another Persian invasion, fortified towns would serve the enemy for camps and strongholds, as Thebes had done in the last war; and proposed that the Athenians should not only desist from completing their own fortifications, but help to demolish those which already existed in other towns.