For the Athenians command the rest of Greece, I command the Athenians ...


What has been gained and steadied by my hand can be guided by no other, lest the state and people be enslaved as they had been before.


The 5th century B.C. is dominated by the wars between Greece and Lydia, which matched east against west for the first time and ended in triumphant victory for the Greeks. The victory established Greek dominance over the Mediterranean and the ability to spread their culture from one end to another, enabling a golden age for Greece. However, such prosperity did not last, and the many city-states that made up Greece frequently battled each other in hopes of establishing dominance. In Asia Buddhism became a major religion in northern India while China entered a period of expansion and prosperity under the Kǎi dynasty.



Lydian forces invaded Attica in 499 B.C. to put an end to Athenian meddling in Lydian affairs, namely Athenian support for Ionian rebellion. At the battle of Marathon, the Lydians are beaten and forced to withdraw by the Athenians, who continue their efforts to free the Ionians without success. Sadyattes II gave up trying to expand east. However, his son Croesus II did not. 

Angered at the failure of his father, Croesus II prepared a large force which he then divided in two. One force was sent overland, across the Dardanelles and into Macedon to strike the Greeks from the north, while another force was sent by sea to ravage the southern Greek cities. The invasion commenced in 480 B.C., nearly twenty years after the first battle at Marathon.

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The Spartan victory at Thermopylae. The victory was a great moment for the Greeks who viewed it as a rejection of foreign tyranny.

The southern Greek cities were concerned with this invasion and the way the Lydians seemed to progress through northern Greece and the Aegean unopposed. Sparta under its king Leonidas sent a force northwards to drive out the Lydians while the Athenians rallied their allies and fleets to take back the Aegean. In the battle of Thermopolyae, the Spartans were successful in defeating the Lydians and pushed north into Macedon. The Lydian assault by sea was more successful, defeating the Greeks at Artimisium before pulling back from lack of supplies. 

With their homeland secured, the Athenians pushed forth in order to liberate other lands. The Spartans, although successful in freeing Macedon from Lydian control, declined to march farther, needing to remain in Greece so as to keep its slave population in check. Athens sent several forces to liberate Ionia, and Ionia and the Bosporus were free by 477 B.C. 

Clash of the City-States

Athenian Hegemony 460 BC (Guardian)

The Athenian Hegemony at its height in 460 BC. Athens in blue and allies in lavender.

In Greece, Athens rapidly ascended as the primary Greek city-state under the leadership of Themistocles, with considerable prestige from defeating the Lydians both in Greece and liberating other Greeks living under Lydian oppression. Themistocles gained power by ostracizing rival politicians and began consolidating power. Athens began to flex its muscle across the Eastern Mediterranean, its power fueled by a mighty navy and a vast network of tributaries and trade. Athens began pushing its influence into Sicily, Southern Italy, and the Black Sea. Athens even tempted the wrath of the Persian Empire, striking at Cyprus and Egypt in 460 B.C. 

However, this Athenian Hegemony was not popular in either the east or Greece, and many resented the seemingly imperialistic agenda of the democratic state. In particular, the rivalry between Athens and the militaristic society of Sparta worsened, and many states soon began supporting Sparta in hopes of breaking Athenian power. Themistocles was himself ostracized around this time, depriving Athens of an experienced political leadership for some time that could have otherwise delayed the coming conflict. War first broke out in 460 B.C., although the first years were mainly quiet, as Athens was concerned with securing Egypt from Persian domination while Sparta, for reasons unknown, did not take advantage of this fact and kept their armies in their barracks. 

Other Greek cities joined in this war, with Argos, traditional rival of Sparta, siding with Athens and Thebes aligning with Sparta. However, the war was largely inconclusive, as neither side could really strike each other effectively enough to deal a killing blow. With that in mind, the two powers signed a thirty year truce, during which both sides expanded their military potential and network of alliances. 

The truce was ineffective in reducing tensions, and warfare exploded as soon as the treaty ended. As before, the beginning of the war saw little conflict between the two sides. Athens knew that it couldn't combat the superior Spartan armies in the field, so Athens instead attempted to isolate and conquer Sparta's allies, depriving Sparta the resources to continue the war. This strategy worked with smaller cities. However, some of Sparta's larger allies, such as Macedonia or Thebes, could not effectively be defeated before Spartan reinforcements arrived. Athenian attempts to get Egyptian aid in attacking Cyrene, one of Sparta's allies, did not bear fruit. 


A depiction of an Athenian ship. The Athenian navy was crucial for the war effort as a source of mobility and food.

Sparta's armies were able to effectively cut off Athens from the rest of Attica, forcing Athens to rely on its navy to supply it with food and weapons. However, this resulted in a plague, killing a large portion of the city's inhabitants and manpower. That being said, neither side could effectively starve each other, as Sparta could grow its own food or import from Cyrene while Athens could import grain from Egypt. 

The worst strategic blunder came with the Athenian invasion of Sicily. Eager to use the island as a base and to acquire further resources and allies, Athens sent a large force to attack Syracuse, the largest of the western Greek colonies. Sparta soon sent reinforcements to Syracuse, and a series of strategic errors devastated the Athenian force. The loss ended Athenian hopes of expansion in the Western Mediterranean and severely limited its ability to project force outside of Attica. 

Despite this crushing defeat, Athens hoped that it could bide its time and recover, as it still had the largest fleet in Greece. Plague had subsided and grain and wealth continued to pour in from Egypt and Ionia. However, Sparta created an alliance specifically to counter this strategy. Figuring that dominance over mainland Greece was more important, Sparta promised the cities of Ionia to Lydia in exchange for a fleet to crush the Athenian navy and cut off their supplies. Lydia, weak from fending off Persian attempts of conquest, agreed, and sent a large fleet to blockade the ports of Athens. The Athenian fleet was decidedly defeated, and Athens was forced to surrender by 404 B.C. 

Spartan Hegemony, 400 BC (Guardian)

The Spartan Hegemony at its height in 400 BC. Sparta in red and allies in salmon.

The war had major repercussions in Greece, as the Athenian Hegemony had ended and the Spartan Hegemony had risen to take its place. The democracy of Athens was temporarily suspended while Sparta established a link of alliances from Sicily to Africa. Lydia regained control over Ionia, a needed reinforcement for a kingdom long battered by Persian aggression. To the north, Thebes and Macedonia emerged from the war with strong armies and leaders, poised to challenge Sparta as Hegemon of the Greeks. 

Greek Philosophy

Despite the Lydian invasion and the climatic struggles between the major Greek states, this period was the apex of Greek intellectual advancement. Greek thought, theory, architecture, and culture had reached what is considered to be its classical apex. 

Greek philosophy in particular reached levels not seen elsewhere in the western world. Prominent Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato emerged at this time and revolutionized much in terms of rational thought and the role of government. Greek philosophy would go on and have a major impact in Roman political culture and from there dominate a significant portion of Western political and social theory for generations to come. 


Rise of Rome

Rome, following the removal of the Etruscan monarch and the establishment of an aristocratic republic, started off on a path of territorial expansion and political reform. Rome battled many different nearby factions of Italic tribes and Latin confederacies and over time annexed city after city. By the end of the century, the Roman Republic was not the dominate power in Italy, but commanded considerable influence within Latium and neighboring areas. Central Italy was hemmed in by the Greeks and Samnites to the south and the Etruscans to the north. The famous dictator Cincinnatus rose to fame during this time, defending Rome against its enemies on more than one occasion. 

It was also during this time that the political rivalry that dominated much of the early republic came into being. The republic was established as an aristocratic one, with clear focus and power towards the noble class, the patricians. The patricians effectively ruled over the plebeians, who made up the majority of the free population. Laws were created that limited the interactions between the two classes. As time went on, tensions rose between the two classes, and each tried different tactics to consolidate and enhance their political power. This rivalry would persist in Roman politics for many generations. 


Apart from the catastrophic Athenian invasion of Syracuse, the Greek cities of Sicily and Italy played little part in the constant struggles taking place in Greece. Syracuse and Taras were part-time allies of the Spartan Hegemony but otherwise remained concerned with their own affairs, mainly the encroachment of the Carthaginians and Samnites, respectively. 

In Sicily, Carthage made another attempt to conquer the island and drive the Greeks out. The conflict between the two powers had been off and on since around 600 B.C. Neither side was completely able to drive the other from the island, leading to a perpetual state of war interrupted only by times of ceasefire and attempted peace. 


The Carthaginian defeat at the Battle of Himera. Carthaginian King Hamilcar himself would die in the battle.

This struggle led to a climax at the Battle of Himera in 480, where Hamilcar I of Carthage led an army of 50,000 men to defeat the armies of Syracuse and establish a loyal tyrant in the city. The battle was a complete disaster for the Carthaginians and saw the loss of over nine thousand men as well as the king himself. Carthage was forced to withdraw from eastern Sicily and pay an indemnity as it recovered under Hamilcar's son Hanno II. 

Carthage, although militarily devastated by the loss, would recover by the end of the century and launch successful raids into Greek territory in 409 and 406 B.C. The Carthaginians were also successful in occupying the island of Malta, further solidifying their control over the Western Mediterranean. 


Lydia was decisively defeated by the Greeks at Marathon and Thermopylae, forcing the Lydians out of mainland Greece. While the Lydians were victorious at Artemisium under the esteemed Admiral Artemesia of Caria, they were later defeated again, forcing the Lydians out of Greek affairs for many years. The Athenians were not content to maintain their independence and invaded Ionia, defeating Croesus II at the Battle of Mycale in 479 B.C. Ionia was freed of Lydian rule shortly after, earning Athens the continuous hatred of the Lydian Empire. 

Lydia paid a mostly passive role for the next few decades, working to regenerate its military and treasury after expending both against the Greeks. Fortunately, the states of Greece paid little attention to the workings of Lydia, as Athens and Sparta began to turn against each other, although Athens justified its Hegemony as the only thing standing in the way of another Lydian invasion. 

In 465, Persian forces under Xerxes I invaded Lydia, eager to conquer the only kingdom that was able to resist Persian domination in the past. Croesus II fought back, but his military was not entirely recovered from the war against the Greeks. As a result, Lydia lost some of its eastern provinces like Cappadocia and Lycaonia. 

Greek-Persian duel

A depiction of a Lydian Hoplite fighting against a Persian Immortal.

However, Xerxes grew overconfident, and the Persians were decisively defeated in the Battle of Thymbra in 461 B.C. Xerxes died in the battle, weakening the Persian Empire and forcing them to withdraw from Anatolia in disarray. Croesus II was able to able to reclaim his lost provinces as well as take Cilicia. The death of Xerxes started a period of decay within the Persian Empire and allowed for some of its more western provinces to break away. Lydia had recovered from the war and dealt a critical blow to its Persian adversary, one that would cripple Persia for a while. 

Back in the west, the squabbling of the Greeks had reached a boiling point, and open war between Athens and Sparta erupted. Lydia remained neutral for the first war, deciding instead to observe the two sides and stay out of the violence. During the second phase of the war, Athens suffered a series of critical errors and began to decline. Lydia, sensing that now was the time for the kill, joined the war on the side of Sparta, hoping to avenge its defeats suffered by Athens and the Ionians. The Lydian navy played a crucial role in strangling Athens' trade and their eventual capitulation. 

As a result of the war, Lydia reacquired the Ionian cities that Athens had freed, as well as the island of Cyprus. Small revolts sometimes erupted, but without Athens they had no hope of breaking the power of the Anatolian state. By the end of the century Lydia was still weak, but it was stronger than before the Athenian Hegemony and well on its way to recovery. 


The death of Xerxes at the crushing defeat of Thymbra in 461 cause numerous problems for the mighty Persian Empire and its Achaemenid dynasty. Xerxes, at the time of his death, had no suitable heirs of age. The same year as his death, the Greek state of Cyrene broke off from the Empire. A serious rebellion pulled Egypt out of the Empire as well the following year. Discontent and rumors of revolt also simmered in Phoenicia, Judea, and even Mesopotamia as well. 

Normally, the throne would go to Xerxes' eldest son Darius. However, Darius was murdered by the Persian general Artabanus, who usurped the young adult and seized most of the power for himself. Xerxes' next oldest and Darius' brother, Artaxerxes, was now the rightful ruler. Neither side backed down, knowing that to do so would mean certain death, and the Empire seemed set to fragment during the inevitable civil war. 

The Achaemenid faction was saved by the timely switch of loyalty by Megabyzus, who was married to the daughter of Xerxes. Because of this switch, Artaxerxes had a new army full of loyal and rested soldiers at his command. In a matter of days, Artaxerxes and Megabyzus defeated Artabanus and his army, restoring the Empire to the Achaemenids. Artabanus was executed for treason shortly after. 

While the dynastic struggle was concluded, the stability of the Empire was not yet restored. In the 650s and late 640s, revolts in the western parts of the Empire broke out, seriously threatening the reach of the Empire past Mesopotamia. Artaxerxes and his military put these revolts down eventually, but, weakened from a disastrous campaign in Lydia and civil war, the wars were long and arduous. By the end of the century, the Empire was whole, yet considerably weakened from its wars on native soil.



Egypt began as a satrapy of the Persian Empire, with a royal governor ruling in the absence of the Persian kings. While the Achaemenids were accepted as the Twenty-Seventh Dynasty of Egypt by its populace, the Persians were widely loathed by the native Egyptians. 

Following the death of Xerxes I in 461, news spread fast throughout the Persian Empire. The Greek city-state of Cyrene moved quickly, seceding the same year. By the next year, an Egyptian noble of Libyan descent named Inaros launched a revolt against the ruling Persian satrap Achaemenes. Xerxes' successor, Artaxerxes, was forced to focus his efforts at maintaining his newfound authority and putting down revolts in Syria and Phoenicia.

Inaros turned to Athens, the rising power in the region, for assistance, promising an alliance and exclusive trade rights. Themistocles approved, with the secret objective of colonizing Egypt and establishing new Greek cities there. An expedition of two hundred triremes sent to conquer Cyprus, following a swift victory over a meager Persian force, were ordered to sail south to assist.

With confusion ravaging the Persian government and a force of hardened Greeks lending assistance, Inaros raised a popular army and marched against Achaemenes, killing him later that year in the Battle of Papremis. With the help of his Athenian allies, Inaros soon forced the remaining Persian forces from Egypt.

The Three Pharaohs

However, Inaros soon faced new challenges to his aim of becoming pharaoh. His Athenian allies were soon recalled to help with the war against Sparta back in Greece, while other Egyptian noblemen soon rose up, equally unhappy at the prospect of a Libyan pharaoh compared to a Persian one. Two other noblemen, Amenirdisu of Sais and Psammuthes of Memphis, soon rose up in revolt. As a prominent member of Memphis, Psammuthes commanded a considerable authority amongst the religious classes and the populace.

Egyptian Battles1

A (likely anachronistic) depiction of Egyptian soldiers during the Battle of the Three Pharaohs.

Egypt was soon divided between these three claimants to the throne, but neither the Greeks, neither the Persians, nor the Libyans could take advantage of the chaos. The three forces raised armies and marched on each other. In 459, in the Battle of the Three Pharaohs, Psammuthes decisively crushed the forces of Inaros and Amenirdisu. Amenirdisu was killed in the battle while Inaros fled to Ammonium, hoping to enhance his claim through the holy oracle there and gain support amongst the Libyans.

Following his victory, Psammuthes established the Twenty-Eighth Dynasty of Egypt, with its capital at Memphis. Egypt began to revive itself in the face of the other great powers surrounding it, although Psammuthes and his successors yearned to restore its power in the Middle East. Psammuthes himself knew that he himself would not be able to accomplish this task, as Persia had consolidated itself and Egypt needed to survive before it could expand. As such Psammuthes built many new fortifications and other public works to consolidate his power from both internal and external foes.

The Twenty-Eighth Dynasty

Psammuthes, although desiring to expand his political power through military might, knew that his new Egypt was too weak to take on the might of the Persian Empire. He also knew that he had to defend against Persian revenge as well as Greek ambition, and he was aware of Athenian intentions to colonize Egypt. 

To bring new life to his military, weakened by years of Persian domination and civil conflict, Psammuthes used Egypt's considerable wealth to hire mercenary Greeks from the Lydian Empire and the city-state of Cyrene to both train his native soldiers in the art of phalanx warfare as well as augment his meager forces. Psammuthes knew in the long run that such mercenaries could not be trusted, but figured he had little choice in the matter between mercenaries or a return to slavery under the vengeful Persian immortals.

Psammuthes also revived trade in Memphis, Thebes, and Sais and many other cities during his reign, and expanded already present trade routes with Sa'aba and Axum to the south. Such trade greatly invigorated the Egyptian economy and allowed for the extensive construction projects Psammuthes sponsored as well as the many mercenaries he hired. However, such wealth also made Egypt a tempting target for other nations as well, namely Nubia to the south and the Libyans under Inaros to the west. 

Wars of Survival

Inaros of the Libyans was the first to act. Hoping that he had obtained enough prestige by holding the sacred oracle at Ammonium, Inaros gathered together an army of Libyans and marched on Egypt in 457. Believing that he, as the liberator of the Persians and a descendant of the 26th Dynasty, would retain considerable popularity with the Egyptian populace, Inaros grew overconfident and headed straight for the Nile, expecting many cities to surrender to him once they saw his army. To his surprise, none did, and he was forced to fight Psammuthes in several pitched battles. Annoyed and frustrated with their commander, his Libyan troops, also expecting a swift victory, mutinied and turned Inaros over to Psammuthes as a peace offering. Inaros was executed and the Libyans were allowed to return to their homes in the western desert. 

Relations were also tense with the Nubians to the south, as Psammuthes feared that the Nubians would invade Egypt in order to restore Nubian control, which was last in power as the 25th Dynasty. With potential aggression from the Nubians and Persian attempts of reconquest being only a matter of time, Psammuthes restored relations with the Athenians, hoping that the Athenians would be able to keep the Persians at bay. However, he also suspected the Athenian intentions, and merely wanted the Athenians to buy him more time until his country was ready to resist any attempted foreign domination.

Fortunately, Egypt remained at peace for the rest of his reign, and Psammuthes ruled until 436, when he died and passed the throne to his son Teos. Teos continued the work of his father, preparing for invasions that the entire government was convinced would come in the near future. Teos himself ruled until 419 and was succeeded by his son Hakor. Hoping for weakness, Nubia decided to strike at this time, initiating a war against Egypt. Hakor managed to fight off the invasion and battle the Nubians to a draw within a few years. When Athens and Sparta resumed hostilities, Athens demanded that Hakor fulfill the debts of his father and grandfather and strike at the Spartan ally of Cyrene. Hakor declined to do so, viewing the Persians as a greater potential threat. It is possible that Hakor arranged to align itself with Sparta should Athens attack, but in truth he only cared about expanding his military power. By the end of the century, Egypt had regained its footing and was poised to strike out into Asia to restore its national honor and its ancient empire. 


India experienced little political development at this time, with much of the northern Indian plains being held in the hand of various Vedic princes and lords, the most prominent being the Kingdom of Magadha, the origin of the Buddha and his religion. This religion continued to develop across the northern plains, overtaking its rival Jainism from farther west. The First Buddhist Council took place in 486 B.C., establishing an oral tradition for the transmission of the faith and the establishment of its rules. The Buddha died shortly after in 483 B.C. 

Buddhism remained in competition with other religions in the area, most notably Hinduism, but over time the faith would grow and escape the bounds of India, becoming a major religion in its own right. India also experienced some other important cultural growth at this time with the Nirukta, one of the oldest literary works and the oldest grammatical work known in the world. 


Officer Terrakottaarmén

One of the terracotta soldiers buried to protect Sun Shi Huangdi and his tomb. Soldiers were used to enhance his image as a military tactician.

China had recently been unified under the Kǎi Dynasty as established by Sun Shi Huangdi in 501 and soon entered a period of prosperity. Under Sun Shi Huangdi's five year reign, the Chinese state was centralized with a sophisticated bureaucracy and arts and literature flourished. The Chinese state also began to expand to the west, incorporating the area that is now Sichuan under the reign of the Sun family.

Sun Shi Huangdi did not rule forever, and he died in 496 B.C., leaving the Chinese realm to his son Sun Yang Huangdi. Sun Shi was buried in a lavish mausoleum complete with a replica of the world and an army forged of terracotta to serve him in the afterlife. Following the sealing of the tomb, Sun Yang killed all the laborers who constructed the tomb to ensure the site's perpetual secrecy.

Sun Yang was not as popular as his father and tightened his grip over the country, yet the economy and culture of China still continued to expand. Under the Kǎi Dynasty, eastern Asia derived many of its cultural influences. Sun Yang continued this and ordered the construction of the Great Canal of China, which began in 486 B.C. Also under his rule, an invasion from the southern state of Yue was defeated in 473 B.C.


A depiction of the Imperial Palace in Tianjing from the Kǎi Dynasty. Such depictions often invoked the capital's seemingly "Heavenly" qualities.

The capital chosen by Sun Shi Huangdi was the same as the Zhou dynasty, the city of Louyang, soon flourished under Kǎi Dynasty rule. Renamed as Tianjing, or heavenly capital, the city soon became the center of Imperial rule and the spiritual anchor of the Mandate of Heaven. Sun Shi began the expansion of the royal Zhou palace and his descendants continued his work, creating the capital city of Imperial China for perpetuity.

Technology rapidly increased over the Kǎi Dynasty's lifespan, and iron casting technology soon became widespread in the nation, allowing for better weapons and more sophisticated tools, although the process did remain relatively expensive and limited to the ruling classes. Other technologies like crossbows and better irrigation techniques were developed at this time.

However, this prosperity would not last. While the majority of the Kǎi emperors were competent military commanders who solidified their control over China and expanded the state to the southwest, some were less than able administrators. Several crop shortages as well as internal rumblings of discontent did not help maintain order, and several emperors began taking harsher and harsher measures to ensure stability. In 316, Emperor Sun Bin defeated several armed rebellions against his rule but was assassinated by his general Pang Juan. With no heirs, the country soon fragmented for a short period of time until a new dynasty would arise and restore order to China.


Olmec Head (The Great Lakes)

An example of an Olmec head, a common motif of early period Olmec sculpture.

The region of Anahuac remained a center of developing civilization with the Olmecs at its core, although the Olmecs were no longer at the pinnacle of their power. The Olmecs are the first civilization to emerge in the region of southern Mexico. Responsible for setting many of the cultural norms of the region, the Olmecs introduced blood sacrifice and ball courts as well as the first writing system of the New World. The first major city of the Olmecs, Tuxtla, rose to prominence on the banks of the river of the same name and was the head of the Olmec civilization for three hundred years, from 1200 BC to 900 B.C. Following Tuxtla's decline, the city of Mezcalapa became the center of Olmec control for the next five hundred years. From Mezcalapa, Olmec rulers ruled over a sophisticated state.

However, this early prominence would not last. New civilizations like the Zapotec and Mixtec began to rise on the Olmec state's western borders. In addition, vulcanism and other environmental changes weakened Olmec power significantly. The Olmecs were broken by the Zapotec in the Battle of Manatl in about 403 B.C. and became vassals of the Zapotec state of Danibaan, never again to regain their prominence.


The Chavin societies in Peru continued to effectively dominate the land, gradually spreading their influence farther south and farther into the interior valleys. Compared to the Olmecs farther north, the Chavin had different advancements. They built canals that demonstrated a knowledge of acoustics yet they had no known writing system. While it appears as though the political authorities were dispersed and not centralized, there does not appear to be any instance of violence or any archaeological record thereof. Whether the Chavin expanded their culture through force or through more peaceful methods is unknown. 


Guardians World Map 400 BC


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