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Battle of the Eurymedon River

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

There have been many important battles in Western history, not all of which are well known. In this lesson, we'll examine the Battle of the Eurymedon, and see what impact it had on the civilizations of ancient Greece.

The Battle of the Eurymedon

Ancient Greek stories are pretty exciting. They're full of magic and adventure, brave heroes and dramatic battles. What makes it really exciting, however, is that some of it really happened.

The Battle of the Eurymedon was an important event in ancient Greek history, as many Greecian cities came together and defeated a major naval force of the Persians under between 469 and 466 BCE. It was a battle that helped shape the future of Western civilization, and that is pretty exciting.

Background

Before we can talk about this specific battle, we need some background. The Battle of the Eurymedon was part of a larger series of wars between the Greeks and Persians for control of the northeastern Mediterranean.

At the time, the Achaemenid Empire was among the largest and most powerful in the world, and based in what is now roughly Iraq, Iran, and Syria. As they spread along the Mediterranean coast, the Persians began to set their sights on the prosperous cities of ancient Greece.

The Persians first attempted to invade Greece between 492 and 490 BCE, but were repelled. They tried again from 480-479 BCE, and again failed to conquer the region. Greece at the time was not a unified nation but instead a collection of independent city-states. Still, the Persian invasions forced them to start working together.

One city, Athens, led a movement to organize the Greek cities under a single coalition called the Delian League. The Delian League was formally devoted to a concept of equal membership, but in reality came to be almost entirely controlled by Athens. While this would cause problems later, for the time it served to unite the Greeks in mutual protection.

As the Delian League grew in size and membership, Athens began to change tactics, going on the offensive and attacking the Persians in Asia Minor, today called Turkey.

The Battle: By Water

The Eurymedon River today
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We don't know exactly when the Battle of the Eurymedon occurred, but at some point between 469 and 466 BCE, the Persians responded to the growing power of the Delian League by planning another assault on Greece. Their plan was to attack by sea, and so they started gathering a major navy at the mouth of the Eurymedon River in Asia Minor. From there, they could start attacking the cities controlled by the Delian League in Asia Minor, and eventually work their way towards Athens.

The Persians amassed a sizeable navy, consisting of dozens of Phoenician ships. The Phoenicians were among the greatest sailors of the Mediterranean, and their ships were built to handle the rocky coastlines of Mediterranean islands. This fighting force represented a genuine threat, and the Athenian general Cimon decided the Delian League couldn't afford to wait for an attack.

Cimon
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Taking around 200 Greek ships, Cimon sailed for Asia Minor. In Asia Minor, his first stop was in the city of Phaselis, which he convinced to join the Delian League and donate troops to the upcoming battle.

Cimon then sailed towards the Persian fleet at the Eurymedon River and attacked. The Persians, who were not used to naval warfare and were unprepared for the Greek attack, panicked and abandoned their ships, rejoining the main Persian army inland.

The Battle: By Land

This alone would have been a huge blow to the Persian Empire, but Cimon wasn't finished. He decided to land his own troops and launched an immediate attack on the Persian army camp at Eurymedon. The rapid attack proved to be effective, and the Greeks managed to capture the Persian camp and destroy it.

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