As noted above, Western popular opinion and academic historiography portrays the Greco-Persian wars as being an epic contest between liberty, as represented by Greece, and “Persian Tyranny”. Professor Richard Nelson Frye, however cautions us that such historical narratives are “… an example of imposing modern concepts on the past…distorting our understanding …”
Yes, indeed it is true that the Ionian revolt on the west Anatolian coast and the support of the Athenians for their Hellenic ethnic kin against the Persian Empire was a major factor that led Darius the Great (549-486 BC), the father of Xerxes, to invade Greece in 490 BC. But this is only a part of the story. Very few western historians have discussed the role of economic rivalry as a factor in the Greco-Persian wars.
By this time, the Greeks had established a powerful maritime economic empire in the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks established colonies in southern Italy as well as contemporary southern France; an example of this legacy is seen in the name of the city of “Nice” (pronounced /nees/) in southern, France – “Nice” is derived from the Greek Nicea (modern Nice). Greek trading posts had also been established in the Caucasus, in the Modern Republic of Georgia.
The Achaemenid Empire became a marine empire as soon as it reached the Aegean Sea. Darius the Great built the world’s first formal “Imperial Navy”, many of its ships manned by Phoenician, Egyptian and (Hellenic) Ionians. More importantly, the Persian Empire began to “muscle in” on the economic sphere of the Greeks in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea (see Cook, The Greeks in Ionia and the East, 1962, 98-120; 132-133; Farrokh, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, 2007, Chapter 4). Italian researchers such as Nik Spatari have confirmed that Darius had sent naval scouts as far as Southern Italy to gain information on possible trade contacts with the western Mediterranean (Farrokh,Shadows in the Desert, 2007, Chapter 4).
Reconstruction of Achaemenid ships in 1971.
Persia’s growing economic strength in the Mediterranean was certainly of great concern to the Greeks and their prosperity. The Greco-Persian wars were as much about economics, as they were about systems of government. For further references consult the bibliography.
- The Notion of Democracy and Human Rights
- What really led to War
- The Military Conflict: Separating Fact from Fiction
- The Error of Xerxes: The Burning of Athens
- The “West” battling against the “Mysticism” of “the East”
- The Portrayal of Iranians and Greeks
- A Note on the Iranian Women in Antiquity
- “Good” versus “Evil”