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The first Persian invasion was a response to Athenian involvement in the Ionian Revolt, when Athens and Eretria had sent a force to support the cities of Ionia in their attempt to overthrow Persian rule.The Athenians and Eretrians had succeeded in capturing and burning Sardis, but they were then forced to retreat with heavy losses.

The Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st century BC in his Bibliotheca Historica, also provides an account of the Greco-Persian wars, partially derived from the earlier Greek historian Ephorus.

The Persian force then sailed for Attica, landing in the bay near the town of Marathon.

The Athenians, joined by a small force from Plataea, marched to Marathon, and succeeded in blocking the two exits from the plain of Marathon.

At the time of the battle, Sparta and Athens were the two largest city-states in Greece.

Once the Ionian revolt was finally crushed by the Persian victory at the Battle of Lade in 494 BC, Darius began plans to subjugate Greece.

In 490 BC, he sent a naval task force under Datis and Artaphernes across the Aegean, to subjugate the Cyclades, and then to make punitive attacks on Athens and Eretria.

Reaching Euboea in mid-summer after a successful campaign in the Aegean, the Persians proceeded to besiege and capture Eretria.

However, it was also the result of the longer-term interaction between the Greeks and Persians.

In 500 BC the Persian Empire was still relatively young and highly expansionistic, but prone to revolts amongst its subject peoples.

As Holland has it: "For the first time, a chronicler set himself to trace the origins of a conflict not to a past so remote so as to be utterly fabulous, nor to the whims and wishes of some god, nor to a people's claim to manifest destiny, but rather explanations he could verify personally." Nevertheless, Thucydides chose to begin his history where Herodotus left off (at the Siege of Sestos), and may therefore have felt that Herodotus's history was accurate enough not to need re-writing or correcting.

Plutarch criticised Herodotus in his essay On the malice of Herodotus, describing Herodotus as "Philobarbaros" (barbarian-lover), for not being pro-Greek enough, which suggests that Herodotus might actually have done a reasonable job of being even-handed.

Darius then began raising a huge new army with which he meant to completely subjugate Greece; however, in 486 BC, his Egyptian subjects revolted, indefinitely postponing any Greek expedition.

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