In 1,000 B.C., a powerful civilization was emerging east of the Tigris River in western Asia. These people were called the Persians, and they would expand dramatically under the rule of King Cyrus (559-529). Under his leadership the Persian Empire borders extended all the way to the Indus River, which included most of western Asia. Before long, Cyrus would overrun the Greek cities of Asia Minor on the western coast of Turkey. Many historians consider this to be the start of the Persian Wars.
King Cyrus had two sons named Cambyses and Darius. They continued expanding the empire by adding both Egypt and northern Greece. By 500 B.C. , the Persian Empire stretched from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to India in the east, and from the Black Sea in the north, to the Persian Sea in the south. The empire was divided into provinces or states which were called satrapies. Each satrapie was run by a governor who was called a satrap. One of the great accomplishments of this era was the construction of the Royal Road that ran from Sousa to Sardis. The Royal Road helped the Persians expand trading and communication.
Then in 499 B.C., a revolt against Persian rule was sparked by the Ionian Greek tyrant named Aristagoras. The revolt became known as the Ionian Revolt. The Ionians pleaded with the Greek mainland for help, but only Athens and Eretia agreed to help. Eventually, they sent 25 ships filled with soldiers. The aid proved to be too little. The rebellion ended with the sacking of Miletus in 494 B.C.. In the end, Ionian Greece remained under Persian control.
Then, in 492 B.C., Persian King Darius wanted to expand his empire into Europe. He decided to invade Greece. His first fleet wrecked off of the coast of northern Greece. Then, in 490 B.C., once again King Darius sent troops across the Aegean Sea. This time they were successful. There they defeated the town of Eretia. Next, they set there sights on Athens, but before they could get there the Greeks met them on the battle grounds. What followed was the first land battle of the Persian Wars. It was called the Battle of Marathon, and even though the Persians far outnumbered the Athenians, the Athenians won.
Persian King Xerxes returned with a much larger expeditionary force ten years later. This time battles were fought on both land and sea. The Greeks had formed an alliance under Spartan leadership. However, the invasion caught them off guard and the Persians were unopposed as they entered northern Greece through Thessaly. King Leonidas and a force of 300 Spartans took up position on the narrow pass at Thermopylai hoping to stop them. All 300 died. At the same time in Athens, Thermistocles listened to the Delphi Oracle which told him that Athens would be saved by “wooden walls.” Thermistocles evacuated Athens and quickly assembled the new wooden Athenian fleet in Salamis, an island close to Athens. Next, Themistocles lured the Persians into the Straits of Salamis, and when he did the tall Persian ships couldn't maneuver in the narrow passageways and Athens won.