The Greeks were successful in the Persian wars for one main reason – they had a brilliantly organised rule of democracy and an exceptional set of leaders throughout the process of the Persian wars and its subsequent battles. The two main leaders Miltiades and Themistocles were respectively thought of as two of the main commanders who exemplified the outcome of the wars.
Democracy was created in Athens by a rich aristocrat in 510 BC1. Like other aristocrats he wanted more power; however tyrants had gotten unpopular in Athens, so he devised a new way of making political decisions.2 Every Athenian man would have one vote, and they would all meet and vote on undecided political issues. This meeting was called the Assembly. However not all men could make it to the meetings everyday required, so there was a smaller council created of about 500 men, who were chosen at random and were changed every year3. In 490 BC after the Persians attacked many people believed that Athens should go back to the old system of government, the oligarchy, in fear that democracy would not work as efficiently as they wanted. 4Athenian democracy began to evolve into something that we would call an aristocracy: the rule of what Herodotus called “the one man, the best”. 5Though democratic ideals and processes did not survive in ancient Greece, they have been influencing politicians and governments ever since. 6
The Athenian general Miltiades ingenious strategies and his foresight in choosing the site of the battle, led to the Greeks victory at Marathon. Miltiades used his knowledge of Persian warfare to reconstruct the Greek method of warfare- the phalanx formation.7 He knew that the Persians put their stronger men in the middle and he therefore devised a strategy in which instead of the standard 8 deep formations of the phalanx, the Greeks would, as Herodotus tells us, “weaken their centre” and position their troops so as to encircle the Persians once the enemy had broken through the middle. 8This was extremely effective in the battle and certainly aided towards the Greek victory. A monument found in the agora, called the Poikile Stoa, actually depicts the 3 stages of the battle and shows us the nature of Miltiades strategies. 9
Miltiades ability to persuade the Athenians to defend their city outside their city’s walls for the battle of Marathon was proven to be a significant decision in the outcome of the battle, resulting in Greek victory.10 Herodotus tells us that ‘Miltiades convinced the Athenians by telling them that they would have the upper hand if they went out to meet the Persians instead of waiting form them in their city.11 Modern scholars like John B. Bury and Russell Mieggs believe this was one of the most momentous in the processes. The site of Marathon, or at least the hills in which the Greeks chose to initiate the battle, proved advantageous to them. It favoured their method of warfare and disadvantaged the Persians.
Themistocles was a key leader in the ultimate conquest by the Greeks over the Persians. His effective leadership and quick intelligent thinking allowed the Greeks to have an added advantage in the military engagements.12 His major contribution was the idea to increase the number of ships which made up the Athenian navy. This and the tactical plan of fighting in narrow spaces enabled the Greek contingent to overcome the Persian threat. Salamis was a key turning point to the Persian war period, and it was here that Themistocles played a pivotal role. When Themistocles first came to power in the Athenian government it was by luck as his rival Aristides was ostracised enabling Themistocles to take over and implement his plans to transform Athens. Themistocles idea was to “make Athens strong on land and at sea” as stated by Plutarch.13 By adopting this vision Themistocles went about changing the face of the Athenian navy. After their devastating result at the battle of Artemisium