( ruled 485-465 B.C. )


The Succession of Darius


 Rebellion in Egypt  


 Trouble in Babylon 


 Xerxes' Plans to conquer Greece 


  The Army of Xerxes  


 The Navy of Xerxes


Queen Artemisia  


 The Canal and

The Bridge of Xerxes  


 The Greek Forces


  The Battle of Thermopylae


  Naval Battle of Salamis  


 Battle of Plataea  


 The murder of Xerxes


Ghost of Darius appearing to Atossa ( mother of Xerxes ), scene from Aeschylus's The Persians


Xerxes, son of Darius the Great and Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great, was appointed King of Persia by his father in preference to his elder half-brothers, who were born before Darius had become king. Xerxes is known as Ahasuerus in the book of Esther.


The Succession of Darius 


The question of the succession, with its almost inevitable popular outbreaks, had at once to be dealt with. Darius had several wives, and among them, the daughter of Gobryas, who had borne him three children: Artabazanes, the eldest, had long been regarded as the heir-presumptive, and had probably filled the office of regent during the expedition in Scythia. But Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, who had already been queen under Cambyses and Gaumâta, was indignant at the thought of her sons bowing down before the child of a woman who was not of Achæmenian race, and at the moment when affairs in Egypt augured ill for the future, and when the old king, according to custom, had to appoint his successor, she entreated him to choose Khshayarsha, the eldest of her children, who had been borne to the purple, and in whose veins flowed the blood of Cyrus. Darius acceded to her request, and on his death, a few months after, Khshayarsha ascended the throne. His brothers offered no opposition, and the Persian nobles did homage to their new king. Khshayarsha, whom the Greeks called Xerxes, was at that time thirty-four years of age.


Xerxes Ren A. Hakim


Gates of Fire  

Steven Pressfield


 The Battle of Salamis

 Barry Strauss


Rebellion in Egypt  



Xerxes wished, at all events, to bring Egyptian affairs to an issue before involving himself in a serious European war. Khabbîsha had done his best to prepare a stormy reception for him. During a period of two years Khabbîsha had worked at the extension of the entrenchments along the coast and at the mouths of the Nile, in order to repulse the attack that he foresaw would take place simultaneously with that on land, but his precautions proved fruitless when the decisive moment arrived, and he was completely crushed by the superior numbers of Xerxes.


The nomes ( administrative division of Ancient Egypt ) of the Delta which had taken a foremost part in the rising were ruthlessly raided, the priests heavily fined, and the oracle of Buto deprived of its possessions as a punishment for the encouragement freely given to the rebels. Khabbîsha disappeared, and his fate is unknown. Achæmenes, one of the king's brothers, was made satrap, but, as on previous occasions, the constitution of the country underwent no modification. The temples retained their inherited domains, and the nomes continued in the hands of their hereditary princes, without a suspicion crossing the mind of Xerxes that his tolerance of the priestly institutions and the local dynasties was responsible for the maintenance of a body of chiefs ever in readiness for future insurrection


Trouble in Babylon 



Order was once more restored to the empire, but he was not yet entirely at liberty to pursue his own plan of action. Classical tradition tells us, that on the occasion of his first visit to Babylon he had offended the religious prejudices of the Babylon by a sacrilegious curiosity. He had, in spite of the entreaties of the priests, forced an entrance into the ancient burial-place of Bel-Etana ( early Babylonian king whose status was raised to that of a God ), and had beheld the body of the old hero preserved in oil in a glass sarcophagus, which, however, was not quite full of the liquid. A notice posted up beside it, threatened the king who should violate the secret of the tomb with a cruel fate, unless he filled the sarcophagus to the brim, and Xerxes had attempted to accomplish this mysterious injunction, but all his efforts had failed.


The example set by Egypt and the change of sovereign are sufficient to account for the behaviour of the Babylonians; they believed that the accession of a comparatively young monarch, and the difficulties of the campaign on the banks of the Nile, afforded them a favourable occasion for throwing off the yoke.


The Babylonians killed the Persian Satrap, Zopyrus. They elected as king a certain Shamasherib, whose antecedents are unknown; but their independence was of short duration, for Megabyzos, son of Zopyrus, who governed the province by hereditary right, forced them to disarm after a siege of a few months.


ziggurat of Marduk


It would appear that Xerxes treated them with the greatest severity: he pillaged the treasury and ziggurat of Marduk , appropriated the golden statue which decorated the great inner hall of the ziggurât, and carried away many of the people into captivity (581). Babylon never recovered this final blow: the quarters of the town that had been pillaged remained uninhabited and fell into ruins; commerce dwindled and industry flagged. The counsellors of Xerxes had, no doubt, wished to give an object-lesson to the province by their treatment of Babylon, and thus prevent the possibility of a revolution taking place in Asia while its ruler was fully engaged in a struggle with the Greeks.




Xerxes' Plans to conquer Greece 


Greek and Persian fighting, from a Greek vase


Xerxes was bent upon making one more attempt to conquer Greece, and when the time arrived for commencing his preparations, he called a grand council of the generals, the nobles, and the potentates of the realm, to lay his plans before them The historian who narrated these proceedings recorded the debate that ensued in the following manner. Xerxes himself first addressed the assembly, to announce and explain his designs while in Susa.


" It is the manifest destiny of Persia to rule the world. From the time that Cyrus first commenced the work of conquest by subduing Media, to the present day, the extent of our empire has been continually widening, until now it covers all of Asia and Africa, with the exception of the remote and barbarous tribes, that, like the wild beasts which share their forests with them, are not worth the trouble of subduing. These vast conquests have been made by the courage, the energy, and the military power of Cyrus, Darius, and Cambyses, my renowned predecessors. They, on their part, have subdued Asia and Africa; Europe remains. It devolves on me to finish what they have began .Had my father lived, he would, himself, have completed the work. He had already made great preparations for the undertaking ; but he died, leaving the task to me, and it is plain that I can not hesitate to undertake it without a manifest dereliction of duty.


You all remember the unprovoked and wanton aggressions which the Athenians committed against us in the time of the Ionian rebellion, taking part against us with rebels and enemies. They crossed the Aegean Sea on that occasion, invaded our territories, and at last captured and burned the city of Sardis, the principal capital of our Western empire. I will never rest until I have had my revenge by burning Athens. Many of you, too, who are here present, remember the fate of the expedition under Datis. Those of yon who were attached to that expedition will have no need that I should urge yon to seek revenge for your own wrong!


My plan for gaining access to the Grecian territories is not, as before, to convey the troops on a fleet of galleys over the Aegean Sea, but to build a bridge across the Hellespont, and march the army to Greece by land. This course, which I am well convinced is practicable, will be more safe than the other, and the bridging of the Hellespont will be of itself a glorious deed. The Greeks will be utterly unable to resist the enormous force which we shall be able to pour upon them.


Such was, in substance, the address of Xerxes to his council. He concluded by saying that it was not his wish to act in the affair in an arbitrary or absolute manner, and he invited all present to express, with perfect freedom, any opinions or views which they entertained in respect to the enterprise


Mardonius' views on the Greeks


While Xerxes had been speaking, the soul of Mardonius had been on fire with excitement and enthusiasm, he said " For my part, sire, I can not refrain from expressing my high admiration of the lofty spirit and purpose on your part, which leads you to propose to us an enterprise so worthy of your illustrious station and exalted personal renown. I know the Greeks, and I know that they can not stand against our arms ! I met them during the reign of Darius your father, in Macedon or Thrace or, rather, sought to meet them; for, though I marched through the country, the enemy always avoided me. They could not be found. They are not ever united among themselves. As they speak one common language, any ordinary prudence and sagacity would lead them to combine together,and make common cause against the nations that surround them. Instead of this, they are divided into a multitude of petty states and kingdoms, and all their resources and power are exhausted in fruitless contentions with each other. I am convinced that, once across the Hellespont, we can march to Athens without finding any enemy to oppose our progress ; or, if we should encounter any resisting force, it will be so small and insignificant as to be instantly overwhelmed."


Artabanus Raises Concerns


All this time Artabanus, the venerable uncle of Xerxes, sat silent like the rest, hesitating whether his years, his rank, and the relation which he sustained to the young monarch would justify his interposing, and make it prudent and safe for him to attempt to warn his nephew of the consequences which he would hazard by indulging his dangerous ambition At length he determined to speak.


I hope," said he, addressing the king, " that it will not displease you to have other views presented in addition to those which have al- ready been expressed. It is better that all opinions should be heard ; the just and the true will then appear the more just and true by comparison with others. It seems to me that the enterprise which you contemplate is full of danger, and should be well considered before it is undertaken.


" I have been reflecting," continued he, " with great care on the whole subject, and it seems to me that there are two dangers of very serious character to which your expedition will be imminently exposed."


" They both arise," said Artabanus, " from the immense magnitude of your operations. In the first place, you have so large a number of ships, galleys, and transports in your fleet, that I do not see how, when you have gone down upon the Greek coast, if a storm should arise, you are going to find shelter for them. There are no harbors there large enough to afford anchorage ground for such an immense number of vessels."


" The other is the difficulty of finding food for such a vast multitude of men as you have brought together in your armies. The quantity of food necessary to supply such countless numbers is almost incalculable. Your granaries and magazines will soon be exhausted, and then, as no country whatever that you can pass through will have resources of food adequate for such a multitude of mouths, it seems to me that your march must inevitably end in a famine. The less resistance you meet with, and the further you consequently advance, the worse it will be for you. I do not see how this result can possibly be avoided ; and so uneasy and anxious am I on the subject, that I have no rest or peace."


" Your father, in fact, very narrowly escaped precisely this fate The Scythians came to destroy his bridge across the Danube while his forces were still beyond the river, and, had it not been for the very extraordinary fidelity and zeal of Histiseus, who had been left to guard the post, they would have succeeded in doing it. It is frightful to think that the whole Persian army, with the sovereign of the empire at their head, were placed in a position where their being saved from overwhelming and total destruction depended solely on the fidelity and firmness of a single man ! Should you place your forces and your own person in the same danger, can you safely calculate upon the same fortunate escape?


" I admit," said Xerxes, in reply, " that what you say is not wholly unreasonable ; but in great undertakings it will never do to take counsel wholly of our fears. I am willing to submit to a very large portion of the evils to which I expose myself on this expedition, rather than not accomplish the end which I have in view Besides, the most prudent and cautious counsels are not always the best. He who hazards nothing gains nothing. If my predecessors had acted on the principle which you recommend, the Persian empire would never have acquired the greatness to which it has now attained. In continuing to act on the same principles which governed them, I confidently expect the same success. We shall conquer Europe, and then return in peace, I feel assured, without encountering the famine which you dread so much, or any other great calamity."

Thus, Xerxes proceeded with his war preparations .


The Preparations of Xerxes


map of the route of Xerxes army and navy


If we may trust the informants of Herodotus, it was the wish of Xerxes on his accession to discontinue the preparations against Greece, and confine his efforts to the re-conquest of Egypt. Though not devoid of ambition, he may well have been distrustful of his own powers; and, having been nurtured in luxury, he may have shrunk from the perils of a campaign in unknown regions.


But he was surrounded by advisers who had interests opposed to his inclinations, and who worked on his facile temper till they prevailed on him to take that course which seemed best calculated to promote their designs. Mardonius was anxious to retrieve his former failure, and expected, if Greece were conquered, that the rich prize would become his own satrapy.


The Persian nobles generally, who profited by the spoils of war, and who were still full of the military spirit, looked forward with pleasure to an expedition from which they anticipated victory, plunder, and thousands of valuable captives. The youthful king was soon persuaded that the example of his predecessors required him to undertake some fresh conquest, while the honor of Persia absolutely demanded that the wrongs inflicted upon her by Athens should be avenged.


Xerxes was now free after the reconquest of Babylon to bend all his efforts against Greece, and, appreciating apparently to the full the magnitude and difficulty of the task, resolved that nothing should be left undone which could possibly be done in order to render success certain. The experience of former years had taught some important lessons. The failure of Datis had proved that such an expedition as could be conveyed by sea across the Aegean would be insufficient to secure the object sought, and that the only safe road for a conqueror whose land force constituted his real strength was along the shores of the European continent.


But if a large army took this long and circuitous route, it must be supported by a powerful fleet; and this involved a new danger. The losses of Mardonius off Athos had shown the perils of Aegean navigation, and taught the lesson that the naval force must be at first far more than proportionate to the needs of the army, in order that it might still be sufficient notwithstanding some considerable disasters. At the same time they had indicated one special place of danger, which might be avoided, if proper measures were taken. Xerxes, in the four years which followed on the reduction of Egypt, continued incessantly to make the most gigantic preparations for his intended attack upon Greece, and among them included all the precautions which a wise foresight could devise in order to ward off every conceivable peril.


The Army of Xerxes


Xerxes' Army


A general order was issued to all the satraps throughout the Empire, calling on them to levy the utmost force of their province for the new war; while, as the equipment of Persian troops depends greatly on the purchase and distribution of arms by their commander, a rich reward was promised to the satrap whose contingent should appear at the appointed place and time in the most gallant array.


Forty-nine nations, according to Herodotus, served under his standard; and their contingents made up 5,283,220 men; 1,700,000 of whom were able-bodied foot-soldiers, and 80,000 of them horsemen. Modern historians estimate the size of Xerxes army to be 125,000~250,000 soldiers, and up to half a million including seamen. It was the largest invasion force seen in Europe till D Day in World War 2 .



A very full enumeration of these divisions of the army is given by the historians of the day, with minute descriptions of the kind of armor which the troops of the several nations wore. Some of them were highly civilized, others were semi-barbarous tribes ; and, of course, they presented, as marshaled in long array upon the plain, every possible variety of dress and equipment. Some were armed with brazen helmets, and coats of mail formed of plates of iron ; others wore linen tunics, or rude garments made of the skins of beasts. The troops of one nation had their heads covered with helmets, those of another with miters, and of a third with tiaras. There was one savage-looking horde that had caps made of the skin of the upper part of a horse's head, in its natural form, with the ears standing tip erect at the top, and the mane flowing down behind. These men held the skins of cranes before them instead of shields, so that they looked like horned monsters, half beast and half bird, endeavoring to assume the guise and attitude of men. There was another corps whose men were really horned, since they wore caps made from the skins of the heads of oxen, with the horns standing


In all this vast array, the corps which stood at the head, in respect to their rank and the costliness and elegance of their equipment, was a Persian squadron of ten thousand men, called the Immortals. They had received this designation from the fact that the body was kept al- ways exactly full, as, whenever any one of the number died, another soldier was instantly put into his place, whose life was considered in some respects a continuation of the existence of the man who had fallen. Thus, by a fiction somewhat analogous to that by which the king, in England, never dies, these ten thousand Persians were an immortal band. They were all carefully-selected soldiers, and they enjoyed very unusual privileges and honors. They were mounted troops, and their dress and their arm- or were richly decorated with gold. They were accompanied in their campaigns by their wives and families, for whose use carriages were pro- vided which followed the camp,


When all things were ready, Xerxes mount-ed his war chariot and rode slowly around the plain, surveying attentively, and with great interest and pleasure, the long lines of soldiers, in all their variety of equipment and costume, as they stood displayed before him. It required a progress of many miles to see them all .


Greek Spies


When the Greeks heard that Xerxes was at Sardis, they sent three messengers in disguise, to ascertain the facts in respect to the Persian army assembled there, and, so far as possible to learn the plans and designs of the king. Notwithstanding all the efforts of these men to preserve their concealment and disguise, they were discovered, seized, and tortured by the Persian officer who took them, until they confessed that they were spies. The officer was about to put them to death, when Xerxes himself received information of the circumstances. He forbade the execution, and directed, on the other hand, that the men should be conducted through all his encampments, and be allowed to view and examine every thing. He then dismissed them, with orders to return to Greece and report what they had seen. He thought, he said, that the Greeks would be more likely to surrender if they knew how immense his preparations were for effectually vanquishing them if they attempted resistance.


The Navy of Xerxes


trireme , a ancient warship with 3 banks of oars, bas-relief of the Acropolis


Orders for ships and transports of different kinds were given to the maritime states, with such effect that above 1200 triremes and 3000 vessels of an inferior description were collected together.



When this review of the land forces was concluded, the king went to the shore, and embarked on board a royal galley which had been prepared for him, and there, seated upon the deck under a gilded canopy, he was rowed by the oarsmen along the line of ships, between their prows and the land. The ships were from many nations as well as the soldiers, and exhibited the same variety of fashion and equipment. The land troops had come from the inland realms and provinces which occupied the heart of Asia, while the ships and the seamen had been furnished by the maritime regions which extended along the coasts of the Black, and the Aegcan, and the Mediterranean Seas. Thus the people of Egypt had furnished two hundred ships, the Phoenicians three hundred, Cyprus fifty, the Cilicians and the lonians one hundred each .


Treaty with Carthage


Xerxes at this time also made an alliance with Carthage . This ensured that the powerful Greek states in Sicily would be too worried about the Carthagians to aid the Greek states of mainland Greece .


Queen Artemisia


Artemisia and Xerxes from the movie The 300 Spartans


This immense fleet were manned and officered, of course, from the nations that severally furnished them, and one of them was actually commanded in person by a queen. The name of this lady admiral was Artemisia. She was the Queen of Caria, a small province in the southwestern part of Asia Minor, having Halicarnassus for its capital. Artemisia, though in history called a queen, was, in reality, more properly a regent, as she governed in the name of her son, who was yet a child. The quota of ships which Caria was to furnish five. Artemisia, being a lady of ambitious and masculine turn of mind, and fond of adventure, determined to accompany the expedition. Not only her own vessels, but also those from some neighboring islands, were placed under her charge, so that she commanded quite an important division of the fleet. She proved, also, in the course of the voyage, to be abundantly qualified for the discharge of her duties. She became, in fact, one of the ablest and most efficient commanders in the fleet, not only maneuvering and managing her own particular division in a very successful manner, but also taking a very active and important part in the general consultations .


Xerxes watches sailing match


Xerxes, desirous of knowing which of his subjects were the best sailors, he gave orders for a sailing-match, which were at once carried out. The palm was borne off by the Phoenicians of Sidon, who must have beaten not only their own countrymen of Tyre, but the Greeks of Asia and the islands.


The Canal and The Bridge of Xerxes


Roman pontoon bridge, similar to the one Xerxes

used to cross the Hellespont


Magazines of corn were formed at various points along the intended line of route. Above all, it was determined to bridge the Hellespont by a firm and compact structure, which it was thought would secure the communication of the army from interruption by the elements; and at the same time it was resolved to cut through the isthmus which joined Mount Athos to the continent, in order to preserve the fleet from disaster at that most perilous part of the proposed voyage. These remarkable works, which made a deep impression on the minds of the Greeks, have been ascribed to a mere spirit of ostentation on the part of Xerxes; the vain-glorious monarch wished, it is supposed, to parade his power, and made a useless bridge and an absurd cutting merely for the purpose of exhibiting to the world the grandeur of his ideas and the extent of his resources.


But there is no necessity for traveling beyond the line of ordinary human motive in order to discover a reason for the works in question. The bridge across the Hellespont was a mere repetition of the construction by which Darius had passed into Europe when he made his Scythian expedition, and probably seemed to a Persian not a specially dignified or very wonderful way of crossing so narrow a strait, but merely the natural mode of passage. The only respect in which the bridge of Xerxes differed from constructions with which the Persians were thoroughly familiar, was in its superior solidity and strength. The shore-cables were of unusual size and weight, and apparently of unusual materials; the formation of a double line?of two bridges, in fact, instead of one?was almost without a parallel; and the completion of the work by laying on the ordinary plank-bridge a solid causeway composed of earth and brushwood, with a high bulwark on either side, was probably, if not unprecedented, at any rate very uncommon. Boat-bridges were usually, as they are even now in the East, somewhat rickety constructions, which animals unaccustomed to them could with difficulty be induced to cross. The bridge of Xerxes was a high-road, as AEschylus calls it along, which men, horses, and vehicles might pass with as much comfort and facility as they could move on shore.


Xerxes at the Hellespont by Jean Guident


The utility of such a work is evident. Without it Xerxes must have been reduced to the necessity of embarking in ships, conveying across the strait, and disembarking, not only his entire host, but all its stores, tents, baggage, horses, camels, and other-beasts. If the numbers of his army approached even the lowest estimate that has been formed of them, it is not too much to say that many weeks must have been spent in this operation. As it was, the whole expedition marched across in seven days.


The Canal of Mt. Athos


The canal of Athos was also quite a legitimate and judicious undertaking. No portion of the Greek coast is so dangerous as that about Athos. The fleet of Mardonius had met with disaster with a storm off Mt. Athos in the Darius expedition. The work was one of very little difficulty, the breadth of the isthmus being less than a mile and a half, the material sand and marl, and the greatest height of the natural ground above the level of the sea about fifty feet. The construction of a canal in such a locality was certainly better than the formation of a ship-groove or Diolcus? the substitute for it proposed by Ferodotus, not to mention that it is doubtful whether at the time that this cutting was made ship-grooves were known even to the Greeks.


It might have been expected that the Greeks would have interfered to prevent the execution of such a work as this ; but it seems that they did not, and yet there was a considerable Greek population in that vicinity. The promontory of Athos itself was quite extensive, being about thirty miles long and four or five wide, and it had several towns upon it. The canal which Xerxes was to cut across the neck of this peninsula was to be wide enough for two triremes to pass each other. Triremes were galleys propelled by three banks of oars, and were vessels of the largest class ordinarily employed . The engineers, accordingly, laid out the ground, and, marking the boundaries by stakes and lines, as guides to the workmen, the excavation was commenced. Immense numbers of men were set at work, arranged regularly in gangs, according to the various nations which furnished them. Almost nothing is visible of the canal today .



Xerxes punishes the sea for bad weather


Xerxes, having brought his preparations into a state of forwardness, having completed his canal and his bridge?after one failure with the latter, for which the constructors and the sea were punished?the sea with three hundred lashes and heavy chains should be thrown into it, as symbols of his defiance of its power. As for the men who had built the bridge, which had been found thus inadequate to with- stand the force of a wintry tempest, he ordered every one of them to be beheaded.


The vengeance of the king being thus satisfied, a new set of engineers and workmen were designated and ordered to build another bridge Knowing, as, of course, they now did, that their lives depended upon the stability of their structure, they omitted no possible precaution which could tend to secure it. They selected the strongest ships, and arranged them in positions which would best enable them to withstand the pressure of the current. Each vessel was secured in its place by strong anchors, placed scientifically in such a manner as to resist, to the best advantage, the force of the strain to which they would be exposed. There were two ranges of these vessels, extending from shore to shore, containing over three hundred in each. In each range one or two vessels were omitted, on the Asiatic side, to allow boats and galleys to pass through, in order to keep the communication open. These omissions did not interfere with the use of the bridge, as the superstructure and the roadway above was continued over them.


Xerxes' army crosses the Hellespont


The vessels which were to serve for the foundation of the bridge being thus arranged and secured in their places, two immense cables were made and stretched from shore to shore, each being fastened, at the ends, securely to the banks, and resting in the middle on the decks of the vessels. For the fastenings of these on the shore there were immense piles driven into the ground, and huge rings attached to the piles. The cables, as they passed along the decks of the vessels over the water, were secured to them all by strong cordage, so that each vessel was firmly and indissolubly bound to all the rest. Over these cables a platform was made of trunks of trees, with branches placed upon them to fill the interstices and level the surface. The whole was then covered with a thick stratum of earth, which made a firm and substantial road like that of a public highway. A high and close fence was also erected on each side, so as to shut off the view of the water, which might otherwise alarm the horses and the beasts of burden that were to cross with the army. When the news was brought to Xerxes at Sardis that the bridge was completed, and that all things were ready for the passage, he made arrangements for commencing his march.


Xerxes starts to march


In the year B.C. 481, he advanced along the "Royal Road" from Susa to Sardis, and wintered at the Lydian capital. His army, flocking in, contingent after contingent, from the various provinces of his vast Empire.


Each nation was armed and equipped after its own fashion, and served in a body, often under a distinct commander. The army marched through Asia in a single column, which was not, however, continuous, but was broken into three portions. The first portion consisted of the baggage animals and about half of the contingents of the nations; the second was composed wholly of native Persians, who preceded and followed the emblems of religion and the king; the third was made up of the remaining national contingents. The king himself rode alternately in a chariot and in a litter. He was preceded immediately by ten sacred horses, and a sacred chariot drawn by eight milk-white steeds.


Behind these came the sacred car of Jupiter. This car was very large, and elaborately worked, and was profusely ornamented with gold. It was drawn by eight white horses. No human being was allowed to set his foot upon any part of it, and, consequently, the reins of the horses were carried back, under the oar, to the charioteer, who walked behind. Xerxes's own chariot came next, drawn by very splendid horses, selected especially for their size and beauty. His charioteer, a young Persian noble, sat by his side. Round him and about him were the choicest troops of the whole army, twelve thousand horse and the same number of foot, all Persians, and those too not taken at random, but selected carefully from the whole mass of the native soldiery. Among them seem to have been the famous "Immortals"?a picked body of 10,000 footmen, always maintained at exactly the same number, and thence deriving their appellation.


Rounding the hills which skirt the Scamander valley upon the east, the army marched past Rhoeteum, Ophrynium, and Dardanus to Abydos. Here Xerxes, seated upon a marble throne, which the people of Abydos had erected for him on the summit of a hill, was able to see at one glance his whole, armament, and to feast his eyes with the sight. It is not likely that any misgivings occurred to him at such a moment. Before him lay his vast host, covering with its dense masses the entire low ground between the hills and the sea; beyond was the strait, and to his left the open sea, white with the sails of four thousand ships; the green fields of the Chersonese smiled invitingly a little further on; while, between him and the opposite shore, the long lines of his bridges lay darkling upon the sea, like a yoke placed upon the neck of a captive. Having seen all, the king gave his special attention to the fleet, which he now perhaps beheld in all its magnitude for the first time. Desirous of knowing which of his subjects were the best sailors, he gave orders for a sailing-match, which were at once carried out. The palm was borne off by the Phoenicians of Sidon, who must have beaten not only their own countrymen of Tyre, but the Greeks of Asia and the islands.


On the next day the passage took place. It was accompanied by religious ceremonies. Waiting for the sacred hour of sunrise, the leader of the host, as the first rays appeared, poured a libation from a golden goblet into the sea, and prayed to Mithra that he might effect the conquest of Europe. As he prayed he cast into the sea the golden goblet, and with it a golden bowl and a short Persian sword. Meanwhile the multitude strewed all the bridge with myrtle boughs, and perfumed it with clouds of incense. The "Immortals" crossed first, wearing garlands on their heads. The king, with the sacred chariot and horses passed over on the second day. For seven days and seven nights the human stream flowed on without intermission across one bridge, while the attendants and the baggage-train made use of the other. The lash was employed to quicken the movements of laggards. At last the whole army was in Europe, and the march resumed its regularity.


Xerxes' army in Thrace


It is unnecessary to follow in detail the advance of the host along the coast of Thrace, across Chalcidice, and round the Thermaic Gulf into Pieria. If we except the counting of the fleet and army at Doriscus no circumstances of much interest diversified this portion of the march, which lay entirely through territories that had previously submitted to the Great King. The army spread itself over a wide tract of country, marching generally in three divisions, which proceeded by three parallel lines?one along the coast, another at some considerable distance inland, and a third, with which was Xerxes himself, midway between them. At every place where Xerxes stopped along his line of route the natives had, besides furnishing corn for his army, to entertain him and his suite at a great banquet, the cost of which was felt as a heavy burthen.


the army at length reached the point upon the coast where the canal had been cut across the isthmus of Mount Athos. The town which was nearest to this spot was Acanthus, the situation of which, together with that of the canal, will be found upon the map. The fleet arrived at this point by sea nearly at the same time with the army coming by land. Xerxes examined the canal, and was extremely well satisfied with its construction. He commended the chief engineer, whose name was Artachaees,who died a few days later and Xerxrs had him buried in a tomb by his canal .The inhabitants of the country were so completely impoverished and ruined by these exactions, that those who were not impressed into Xerxes's service and compelled to follow his army, abandoned their homes, and roamed away in the hope of finding elsewhere the means of subsistence which it was no longer possible to obtain on their own lands ; and thus, when Xerxes at last gave orders to the fleet to pass through the canal, and to his army to resume its march, he left the whole region utterly depopulated and desolate.


Contributions of troops or ships were also required from all the cities and tribes; and thus both fleet and army continually swelled as they advanced onward. In crossing the track between the Strymon and the Axius some damage was suffered by the baggage-train from lions, which came down from the mountains during the night and devoured many of the camels; but otherwise the march was effected without loss, and the fleet and army reached the borders of Thessaly intact, and in good condition. He went on to Therma, a port situated on the northwestern corner of the Aegean Sea, which was the last of his places of rendezvous before his actual advance into Greece.


 The Greek Forces


The quarrelsome Greek States faced a Persian navy four times larger than their own and an army estimated to be as large as ten times the forces the Greeks could muster .


The troops which the Greeks could bring up to oppose this huge force perhaps 10,000 were so few in number, that all hope of success seemed impossible. Xerxes once more summoned the Greeks to submit, and most of the republics appeared inclined to comply :the Perrhaebians, Thessalians, Dolopians, Magnetians, Achaeans of , Enianians, Malians, Locrians, and from most of the Boeotians  did . Xerxes did not send envoys to Athens and Sparta, remembering the treat of Darius' envoys .  Unless it were the insignificant Phocis, no hostile country seemed to intervene between the place where his army lay and the great object of the expedition, Attica. Xerxes, therefore, having first viewed the pass of Tempe, and seen with his own eyes that no enemy lay encamped beyond, passed over the Olympic range by a road cut through the woods by his army, and proceeded southwards across Thessaly and Achaea Phthiotis into Malis, the fertile plain at the mouth of the Spercheius river. Here, having heard that a Greek force was in the neighborhood, he pitched his camp not far from the small town of Trachis.




Athens knew that, after the burning of Sardis and the victory of Marathon, they could hope for no pity, and she was well aware that Persia had decreed her complete destruction; the Athenians were familiar with the idea of a struggle in which their very existence was at stake,

and they counted on the navy with which Themistocles  had expanded from 70 to 200 warships, in part from funds from a recent large silver strike. 


Sparta the first military state in Greece, and the whole of the Peloponnesus acknowledged her sway; in the event of her recognising the suzerainty of the barbarians, the latter would not fail to require of her the renunciation of her hegemony, and she would then be reduced to the same rank as her former rivals, Tegea and Argos.


Athens and Sparta therefore united to repulse the common enemy, and the advantage that this alliance afforded them was so patent that none of the other states ventured to declare openly for the great king. Argos and Crete, the boldest of them, announced that they would observe neutrality; the remainder, Thessalians, Boeotians, and people of Corcyra, gave their support to the national cause, but did so unwillingly.


The Athenian leader Themistocles pushed for a defense  farther north, arguing that the key to defeating the Persian army was destroying its fleet. The invading force was too large to live off the land, and would starve without thousands of supply ships


The Greek Fleet


In the mean time, the Greek fleet had assembled in the arm of the sea lying north of Eubcea, and between Euboea and the main land. It was an allied fleet, made up of contributions from various states that had finally agreed to come into the confederacy. As is usually the case, however, with allied or confederate forces, they were not well agreed among themselves. The Athenians had furnished far the greater number of ships, and they considered themselves, therefore, entitled to the command ; but the other allies were envious and jealous of them on account of that very superiority of wealth and power which enabled them to supply a greater portion of the naval force than the rest. They were willing that one of the Spartans should command, but they would not consent to put themselves under an Athenian. If an Athenian leader were chosen, they would disperse, they said, and the various portions of the fleet return to their respective homes.


The Athenians, though burning with resentment at this unjust declaration, were compelled to submit to the necessity of the case. They could not take the confederates at their word, and allow the fleet to be broken up, for the defense of Athens was the great object for which it was assembled. The other states might make their peace with the conqueror by sub- mission, but the Athenians could not do so. In respect to the rest of Greece, Xerxes wished only for dominion. In respect to Athens, he wished for vengeance. The Athenians had burned the Persian city of Sardis, and he had determined to give himself no rest until he had burned Athens in return. It was well understood, therefore, that the assembling of the fleet, and giving battle to the Persians where they now were, was a plan adopted mainly for the defense and benefit of the Athenians. The Athenians, accordingly, waived their claim to command, secretly resolving that, when the war was over, they would have their revenge for the insult and injury. A Spartan was accordingly appointed commander of the fleet. His name was Euryblades .


The Battle of Thermopylae




Area around the pass of  Thermopylae


pass of Thermopylae was not a ravine among mountains, but a narrow space between mountains and the sea. The mountains landward were steep and inaccessible ; the sea was shoal. The passage between them was narrow for many miles along the shore, being narrowest at the ingress and egress. In the middle the space was broader. The place was celebrated for certain warm springs which here issued from the rocks, and which had been used in former times for baths. The position had been considered, long before Xerxes's day, a very important one in a military point of view. as it was upon the frontier between two Greek states that were frequently at war. One of these states was Thessaly. The other was Phoois, which lay south of Thessaly. The Phooseans, in order to keep the Thessalians out, had, in former times, built a wall across the way, and put up gates there, which they strongly fortified. In order still further to increase the difficulty of forcing a passage, they conducted the water of the warm springs over the ground without the wall, in such a way as to make the surface continually wet and miry The old wall had now fallen to ruins, but the miry ground remained.


 Thus far had the Greeks allowed the invader to penetrate their country without offering him any resistance.


Originally there had been an intention of defending Thessaly, and an army under Evsenetus, a Spartan polemarch, and Themistocles, the great Athenian, had proceeded to Tempe, in order to cooperate with the Thessalians in guarding the pass.


But the discovery that the Olympic range could be crossed in the,place where the army of Xerxes afterwards passed it had shown that the position was untenable; and it had been then resolved that the stand should be made at the next defensible position, Thermopylae.


They immediately put a large force on board their fleet, armed and equipped for the expedition. This was at the time when Xerxes was just about crossing the Hellespont. The Greeks strengthened their position there as much as possible, and awaited the coming of the enemy.



The Greeks, when they retired from Thessaly, fell back upon Thermopylae, and established themselves there. Each of these bodies of troops had its own officers, though there was one general-in-chief, who commanded the whole. This was king Leonidas (520?~480 B.C.).He had brought with him three hundred Spartans, he had specially selected himself, one by one, from among the troops of the city, as men on whom he could rely. All 300 with male-born sons to carry on their names . Sparta refused to send its main army due to a custom of not using the army during the festival of Carneia, so King Leonidas got around this by using only his personal bodyguard  . With the Spartans were with their usual retinue of helots, 700 Lacedaemonians, other Peloponnesians to the number of 2800, 1000 Phocians, the same number of Locrians, 700 Thespians, and 400 Thebans, formed an army of 9000 men?quite as numerous a force as could be employed with any effect in the defile they were sent to guard. The defile was a long and narrow pass shut in between a high mountain, Callidromus, and the sea, and crossed at one point by a line of wall in which was a single gateway. Unless the command of the sea were gained, or another mode of crossing the mountains discovered, the pass could scarcely be forced.


The Greek states, in sending each a few hundred men only to Thermopylae, did not consider that they were making their full contribution to the army, but only sending forward for the emergency those that could be dispatched at once ; and they were making arrangements to supply more troops as soon as they could be raised and equipped for the service. In the mean time, however, Xerxes and his immense hordes came on faster than they had expected, and the news at length came to Leonidas, in the pass, that the Persians, with one or two millions of men, were at hand, while . he had only three or four thousand at Thermopylae to oppose them. The question arose, What was to be done ? Those of the Greeks who came from the Peloponnesus were in favor of abandoning Thermopylae, and falling back to the isthmus.


The isthmus, they maintained, was as strong and as favorable a position as the place where they were; and, by the time they had reached it, they would have received great reinforcements ; whereas, with so small a force as they had then at command, it was madness to attempt to resist the Persian millions. This plan, however, was strongly opposed by all those Greeks who represented countries without the Peloponneus ; for, by abandoning Thermopylae, and falling back to the isthmus, their states would be left wholly at the mercy of the enemy. After some consultation and debate, it was decided to remain at Thermopylae. The troops accordingly took up their positions in a deliberate and formal manner, and, entrenching themselves as strongly as possible, began to await the onset of the enemy. Leonidas and his three hundred were foremost in the defile, so as to be the first exposed to the attack. The rest occupied various positions along the passage, -except one corps. which was stationed on the mountains above to guard the pass in that direction. This corps was from Phocis, which, being the state nearest to the scene of conflict, had furnished a large* number of soldiers than any other. Their division numbered a thousand men. These being stationed on the declivity of the mountain, left only two or three thousand in the defile below.


bronze of Spartan warrior


From what has been said of the stern and savage character of the Spartans, one would scarcely expect in them any indications or displays of personal vanity. There was one particular, it seems, however, in regard to which they were vain, and that was in respect to their hair. They wore it very long. In fact, the length of the hair was, in their commonwealth, a mark of distinction between freemen and slaves.


They were never, moreover, more particular and careful in respect to their personal appearance than when they were going into little. The field of battle was their particular theater of display, not only of the substantial qualities of strength, fortitude, and valor, but also of such person adornments as were consistent with the plainness and severity of their attire, and could be appreciated by a taste as rude and savage as theirs. They proceeded, therefore, when established at their post in the throat of the pass, to adorn themselves for the approaching battle.


In the mean time the armies of Xerxes were approaching. Xerxes himself, though he did not think it possible that the Greeks could have a sufficient force to offer him any effectual resistance, thought it probable that they would attempt to make a stand at the pass, and, when he began to draw near to it, he sent forward a The Persian horseman to reconnoiter the ground.


The horseman rode into the pass a little way, until he came in sight of the enemy. He stopped upon an eminence to survey the scene, being all ready to turn in an instant, and fly at the top of his speed, in case he should be pursued. The Spartans looked upon him as he stood there, but seemed to consider his appearance as a circumstance of no moment, and then went on with their avocations. The horseman found, as he leisurely observed them, that there was an entrenchment thrown across the straits, and that the Spartans were in front of it. There were other forces behind, but these the horseman could not see. The Spartans were engaged, some of them in athletic sports and gymnastic exercises, and the rest in nicely arranging their dress, which was red and showy in color, though simple and plain in form, and in smoothing, adjusting, and curling their hair. In fact, they seemed to be, one and all, preparing for an entertainment. And yet these men were actually preparing themselves to be slaughtered, to be butchered, one by one, by slow degrees, and in the most horrible and cruel manner ; and they knew perfectly well that it was so. The adorning of themselves was for this express and particular end.


The horseman, when he had attentively noticed all that was to be seen, rode slowly back to Xerxes, and reported the result. The king was much amused at hearing such an account from his messenger. He sent for Demaratus, the Spartan refugee .When Demaratus came, Xerxes related to him what the messenger had reported. " The Spartans in the pass," said he, " present, in their encampment, the appearance of being out on a party of pleasure. What does it mean ? You will admit now, I suppose, that they do not intend to resist us." Demaratus shook his head. " Your majesty does not know the Greeks," said he, " and I am very much afraid that, if I state what I know respecting them, I shall offend you. These appearances which your messenger observed indicate to me that the men he saw a body of Spartans, and that they supposed themselves on the eve of a desperate conflict. Those are the men, practicing athletic feats, and smoothing and adorning their hair, that are the most to be feared of all the soldiers of Greece. If you can conquer them, you will have nothing beyond to fear."


Xerxes thought this opinion of Demaratus extremely absurd. He was convinced that the party in the pass was some small detachment that could not possibly be thinking of serious resistance They would, he was satisfied, now that they found that the Persians were at hand, immediately retire down the pass, and leave the way clear. He advanced, therefore, up to the entrance of the pass, encamped there, and waited several days for the Greeks to clear the way. The Greeks remained quietly in their places, paying apparently no attention whatever to the impending and threatening presence of their formidable foes. At length Xerxes concluded that it was time for him to act. On the morning, therefore, of the fifth day, he called out a detachment of his troops, sufficient, as he thought, for the purpose, and sent them down the pass, with orders to seize all the Greeks that were there, and bring them, alive, to him. The detachment that he sent was a body of Medes, who were considered a the best troops in the army, excepting always the Immortals, who, as has been before stated, were entirely superior to the rest. The Medes, however, Xerxes supposed, would find no difficulty in executing his orders.


The detachment marched, accordingly, into the pass. In a few hours a spent and breathless messenger came from them, asking for reinforcements. The Cissians were sent .Toward night a remnant of the whole body came, back, faint and exhausted with a long and fruit- less combat, and bringing many of their wound- ed and bleeding comrades with them. The rest they had left dead in the defile. On the first day of the siege Xerxes demanded the Greeks surrender their arms. Leonidas replied ("Come and get them" μολν λαβέ Molon labe  ).


Xerxes was both astonished and enraged at these results. He determined that this trifling should continue no longer. He ordered the Immortals themselves to be called out on the following morning, and then, placing himself at the head of them, he advanced to the vicinity of the Greek entrenchments. Here he ordered a seat or throne to be placed for him upon an eminence, and, taking his seat upon it, prepared to witness the conflict. The Greeks, in the mean time, calmly arranged themselves on the line which they had undertaken to defend, and awaited the charge. Upon the ground, on every side, were lying the mangled bodies of the Persians slain the day before, some exposed 'ally' to view, ghastly and horrid spectacles, theirs trampled down and half buried in the mire.


The Immortals advanced to the attack, but they made no impression. Their superior numbers gave them no advantage, on account of the narrowness of the defile. The Greeks stood, each corps at its own assigned station on the line, forming a mass so firm and immovable that the charge of the Persians was arrested on encountering it as by a wall. The long spears, large shields, and heavy armor of the Greeks, their skilful tactics, and steady array, were far more than a match for the inferior equipments and discipline of the Persian forces. Though the attack was made with great gallantry, both on this day and the next, it failed to produce the slightest effect. Very few of the Greeks were either slain or wounded; and it seemed as if the further advance of a million of men was to be stopped by a force less than a hundredth part of their number.


Sometimes the Greeks would retire for a space, falling back with the utmost coolness, regularity, and order ; and then, when the Persians pressed on in pursuit, supposing that they were gaining the victory, the Greeks would turn so soon as they found that the ardor of pursuit had thrown the enemies' lines somewhat into confusion, and, presenting the same firm and terrible front as before, would press again upon the offensive, and cut down their enemies with re- doubled slaughter. Xerxes, who witnessed all these things from among the group of officers around him upon the eminence, was kept continually in a state of excitement and irritation. Three times he leaped from his throne, with loud exclamations of vexation and rage. All, however, was of no avail.


When night came the Immortals were compelled to with-draw, and leave the Greeks in possession of their entrenchments. Things continued substantially in this state for one or two days longer, when one morning a Greek countryman appeared at the tent of Xerxes, and asked an audience of the king. He had something, he said, of great importance to communicate to him. The king ordered him to be admitted. The Greek said that his name was Ephialtes, and that he came to inform the king that there was a secret path leading along a wild and hidden chasm in the mountains, by which he could guide a body of Persians to the summit of the hills overhanging the pass at a point below the Greek entrenchment. This point being once attained, it would be easy, Ephialtes said, for the Persian forces to descend into the pass below the Greeks, and thus to surround them and shut them in, and that the con quest of them would then be easy. The path was a secret one, and known to very few He knew it, however, and was willing to conduct a detachment of troops through it, on condition of receiving a suitable reward.


The king was greatly surprised and delighted at this intelligence. He immediately acceded to Ephialtes's proposals, and organized a strong force to be sent up the path that very night. On the north of Thermopylae there was a small stream, which came down through a chasm in the mountains to the sea. The path which Ephialtes was to show commenced here, and following the bed of this stream up the chasm, it at length turned to the southward through a succession of wild and trackless ravines, till it came out at last on the declivities of the mountains near the lower part of the pass, at a place where it was possible to descend to the defile below. This was the point which the thousand Phocaeans had been ordered to take possession of and guard, when the plan for the defense of the pass was first organized.


They were posted here, not with the idea of repelling any attack from the mountains behind them- for the existence of the path was wholly unknown to them but only that they might command the defile below, and aid in preventing the Persians from going through, even if those who were in the defile were defeated or slain. The Persian detachment toiled all night up the steep and dangerous pathway, among rooks, chasms, and precipices, frightful by day, and now made still more frightful by the gloom of the night. They came out at last, in the dawn of the morning, into valleys and glens high up the declivity of the mountain, and in the immediate vicinity of the Phoceean encampment.


The Persians were concealed, as they advanced, by the groves and thickets of stunted oaks which grew here, but the morning air was so calm and still, that the Phocaean sentinels heard the noise made by their trampling upon the leaves as they came up the glen. The Phocaean immediately gave the alarm. Both parties were completely surprised. The Persians had not expected to find a foe at this elevation, and the Greeks who had ascended there had supposed that all beyond and above them was an impassable and trackless desolation, There was a short conflict, The Phocseans were driven off their ground. They retreated op the mountain, and toward the southward The Persians decided not to pursue them. They descended toward the defile, and took up a position on the lower declivities of the mountain, which enabled them to command the pass below : there they paused, and awaited Xerxes's orders.


The Greeks in the defile perceived at once that the were now wholly at the mercy of their enemies. They might yet retreat, it is true, for the Persian detachment had not yet descend- ed to intercept them ; but, if they remained where they were, they would, in a few hours, be hemmed in by their foes ; and even if they could resist, for a little time, the double onset which would then be made upon them, their supplies would be cut off, and there would be nothing before them but immediate starvation.


They held hurried councils to determine what to

do. There is some doubt as to what took place at these councils, though the prevailing testimony is, that Leonidas recommended that they should retire that is, that all except himself and the three hundred Spartans should do so. " You," said he, addressing the other Greeks, " are at liberty, by your laws, to consider, in such cases as this, the question of expediency, and to withdraw from a position which you have taken, I stand and maintain it, according as you judge best. But by our laws, such a question, in such a case, is not to be entertained. We have been sent here from Sparta to defend the pass of Thermopylae We have received no orders to withdraw. Here, therefore, we must remain ; and the Persians, if they go through the pass at all, must go through it over our graves. It is, therefore, your duty to retire Our duty is here, and we will remain and do it." After all that may be said of the absurdity and folly of throwing away the lives of three hundred men in a case like this, so utterly and hopelessly desperate, there is still something in the noble generosity with which Leonidas dismissed the other Greeks, and in the undaunted resolution with which he determined himself to maintain his ground, which has always strongly excited the admiration of mankind.


It was undoubtedly carrying the point of honor to a wholly unjustifiable extreme, and yet all the world, for the twenty centuries which have intervened since these transactions occurred, while they have unanimously disapproved, in theory, of the course which Leonidas pursued, have none the less unanimously admired and applauded it. In dismissing the other Greeks, Leonidas retained with him a body of Thebans. Whether he considered his decision to keep them in the pass equivalent to a sentence of death, and intended it as a punishment for their supposed treason, or only that he wished to secure their continued fidelity by keeping them closely to their duty, does not appear.


At all events, he retained them, and dismissed the other allies. Those dismissed retreated to the open country below. The Spartans and the Thebans remained in the pass. There were also, it was said, some other troops, who, not willing to leave the Spartans alone in this danger, chose to remain with them and share their fate. The Thebans remained very unwillingly. The next morning Xerxes prepared for his final effort. He began by solemn religious services, in the presence of his army, at an early hour ; and then, after breakfasting quietly, as usual, and waiting, in fact, until the business part of the day had arrived, he gave orders to advance. His troops found Leonidas and his party not at their entrenchments, as before, but far in advance of them. They had come out and forward into a more open part of the defile, as if to court and anticipate their inevitable and dreaded fate. Here was a most terrible combat ensued ,one which, for a time, seemed to have no other object than mutual destruction, until at length Leonidas himself fell, and then the contest for the possession of his body superseded the unthinking and desperate struggles of mere hatred and rage.


Four times the body, having been taken by the Persians, was retaken by the Greeks : at last the latter retreated, bearing the dead body with them past their entrenchment, until they gained a small eminence in the rear of it, at a point where the pass was wider. Here the few that were still left gathered together. The detachment which Ephialtes had guided were coming up from below. The Spartans were faint and exhausted with their desperate efforts, and were bleeding from the wounds they had received ; their swords and spears were broken to pieces, their leader and nearly all their company were slain. But the savage and tiger- like ferocity which animated them continued unabated till the last. The struggle did not cease till they were all slain, The Thebans, early in the conflict, went over in a body to the enemy.


Xerxes came after the battle to view the ground. It was covered with many thousands of dead bodies, nearly all of whom, of course, were Persians. The wall of the entrenchment was broken down, and the breaches in it choked up by the bodies. The morasses made by the water of the springs were trampled into deep mire, and were full of the mutilated forms of men and of broken weapons. When Xerxes came at last to the body of Leonidas, and was told that was the man who had been the leader of the band, he gloried over it in great exultation and triumph. At length he ordered the body to be decapitated, and the headless trunk to be nailed to a cross.

Xerxes then commanded that a great hole should be dug, and ordered all the bodies of the Persians that had been killed to be buried in it, except only about a thousand, which he left upon the ground. The object of this was to conceal the extent of the loss which his army had sustained. This having been carefully effective , he sent the message to the fleet, inviting the officers to come and view the ground.


After the battle of Thermopylae was over, Xerxes sent for Demaratus, and inquired of him how many more such soldiers there were in Greece as Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans. Demaratus replied that he could not say how many precisely there were in Greece, but that there were eight thousand such in Sparta .



Battle at the pass of Thermopylae


So terminated the first struggle on the soil of Greece, between the invaders and the invaded. It seemed to promise that, though at vast cost, Persia would be victorious. If her loss in the three days' combat was 20,000 men, as Herodotus states, yet, as that of her enemy was 4000, the proportionate advantage was on her side.


 Naval Battle of Artemisium



By referring to the map once more, it will be seen that the Euboea  (is the second largest of the Greek Aegean Islands ) was the great highway to Athens by sea, as the pass of Thermopylae was by land. Thermopylae was west of Artemisim, where the fleet was now stationed, and not many miles from it. The Greek army had made its great stand at Thermopylae, and Xerxes was fast coming down the country with all his forces to endeavor to force a passage there. The Persian fleet, in entering Artemisium, was making the same attempt by sea in respect to the narrow passage of Euripus ; and for either of the two forces, the fleet or the army, to fail of making good the defense of its position, with- out a desperate effort to do so, would justly be considered a base betrayal and abandonment of the other.




As far as the Pagasaean Gulf, opposite the northern extremity of Euboea, the Persian fleet had advanced without meeting an enemy.


The Persian fleet had encountered one terrible storm off the coast of Magnesia, and had lost 400 vessels; but this loss was scarcely felt in so vast an armament. When from Aphetse, at the mouth of the gulf, the small Greek fleet, amounting to no more than 271 vessels, was seen at anchor off Artemisium, the only fear which the Persian commanders entertained was lest it should escape them.


The Greeks were amazed at the immense magnitude of the Persian fleet, and the first opinion of the commanders was, that it was wholly useless for them to attempt to engage them. A council was convened, and, after a long and anxious debate, they decided that it was best to retire to the southward. The in habitants of Euboea, who had been already in a state of great excitement and terror at the near approach of so formidable an enemy, were thrown, by this decision of the allies, into a state of absolute dismay. It was abandoning them to irremediable and hopeless destruction. The government of the island immediately raised a very large sum of money, and went with it to Themistocles, one of the most influential of the Athenian leaders, and offered it to him if he would contrive any way to persuade the commanders of the fleet to remain and give the Persians battle where they were.


The Persians had not been unmindful of the danger that the Greeks might retreat by retiring through the Euripus, and so escape them. In order to prevent this, they secretly sent off a fleet of two hundred of their strongest and fleet- est galleys, with orders to sail round Eubcea and enter the Euripus from the south, so as to cut off the retreat of the Greeks in that quarter. They thought that by this plan the Greek fleet would be surrounded, and could have no possible mode of escape. The Greeks were warned of this plan of the Persian by great Greek diver, Scyllias, who was working for the Persians, but defected to the Greeks .


The Greeks dispatched a small squadron of ships with orders to proceed southward into the Euripus, to meet this detachment which the Persians sent round ; and, hi the mean time, they determined themselves to attack the main Persian fleet without any delay. To the utter astonishment of the latter, who believed that their enemies were insane when they thus saw them coming into the jaws, as they thought, of certain destruction. The Greeks pushed boldly on into the midst of the Persian fleet,A stormy night where they were soon surrounded. They then formed themselves into a circle ( The kyklos is a defensive tactic adopted by a fleet that is outnumbered or has slower ships.  The ships form in a circle with rams pointing outward. ) , with the prows of the vessels outward, and the sterns toward the center within, and fought in this manner with the utmost desperation all the day.


With the night a storm came on, or, rather, a series of thunder-showers and gusts of wind, so severe that both fleets were glad to retire from the scene of contest. The Persians went back toward the east, the Greeks to the westward, toward Thermopylge each party busy in repairing their wrecks, taking care of their wounded, and saving their vessels from the tempest. It was a dreadful night. The Persians, particularly, spent it in the midst of scenes of horror. The wind and the current, it seems, set outward, toward the sea, and carried the masses and fragments of the wrecked vessels, and the swollen and ghastly bodies of the dead, in among the Persian fleet, and so choked up the surface of the water that the oars became entangled and useless. The whole mass of seamen in the Persian fleet, during this terrible night, were panic-stricken and filled with horror. . The shouts and cries of officers vociferating orders, of wounded men writhing in agony, of watchmen and sentinels in fear of collisions, mingled with the howling wind and roaring seas, created a scene of indescribable terror and confusion.


The violence of the sudden gale was still greater further out at sea, and the detachment of ships which had been sent around Euboea was wholly dispersed and destroyed by it. The storm was, however, after all, only a series of summer evening showers, such as to the inhabitants of peaceful dwellings on the land have no terror, but only come to clear the sultry atmosphere in the night, and in the morning are gone. When the sun rose, accordingly, upon the Greeks and Persians on the morning after their conflict, the air was calm, the sky serene, and the sea as blue and pure as ever.


The sea battle continued, with varying success, for two more days. During all this time the inhabitants of the island of Euboea were in the greatest distress and terror. They watched these dreadful conflicts from the heights, uncertain how the struggle would end, but fearing lest their defenders should be beaten, in which case the whole force of the Persian fleet would be landed on their island, to sweep it with pillage and destruction. They soon began to anticipate the worst, and, in preparation for it, they removed their goods all that could be removed and drove their cattle down to the southern part of the island, so as to be ready to escape to the main land. The Greek commanders, finding that the fleet would probably be compelled to retreat in the end, sent to them here, recommending that they should kill their cattle and eat them, roasting the flesh at fires which they should kindle on the plain. The cattle could not be transported, they said, across the channel, and it was better that the flying population should be fed, than that the food should fall into Persian hands.


In the mean time, the Persians, irritated by the obstinate resistance of the Greeks, were, on the fourth day, preparing for some more vigorous measures, when they saw a small boat coming toward the fleet from down the channel. It proved to contain a countryman, who came to tell them that the Greeks had gone away. The whole fleet, he said, had sailed off to the southward, and abandoned those seas altogether. The Persians did not, at first, believe this intelligence. They suspected some stratagem. They advanced slowly and cautiously down the channel. When they had gone half down to Thermopylae, they stopped at a place called Histiaea, where, upon the rocks on the shore, they found an inscription addressed to the lonians who, it will be recollected, had been brought by Xerxes as auxiliaries, contrary to the advice of Artabanus entreating them not to fight against their countrymen.


This inscription was written in large and conspicuous characters on the face of the cliff, The commanders of the Persian fleet summoned to Thermopylae that it could be read by the Ionian seamen a they passed in their galleys. The fleet anchored at Histisea, the commanders being somewhat uncertain in respect to what it was best to do. Their suspense was very soon relieved by a messenger from Xerxes, who came in a galley up the channel from Thermopylae, with the news that Xerxes had arrived at Thermopylae, had fought a great battle there, defeated the Greeks, and obtained possession of the pass, and that any of the officers of the fleet who chose to do so might come and view the battleground. This intelligence and invitation produced, throughout the fleet, a scene of the wildest excitement, enthusiasm, and joy. All the boats and smaller vessels of the fleet were put into requisition to carry the officers down. When they arrived at Thermopylae the tidings all proved true and the Greek fleet was gone.



The Sack of Athens


Meanwhile, however, the balance of advantage rested with the invaders. The key of Northern Greece was won, and Phocis, Locris, Boeotia, Attica, and the Megarid lay open to the Persian army. The Greek fleet could gain nothing by any longer maintaining the position of Artemisium, and fell back towards the south, while its leaders anxiously considered where it should next take up its station.


As the Pass of Thermopylae was now hi Xerxes; possession, the way was open before e him to all that portion of the great territory which lay north of the Peloponnesus. Of course, before he could enter the peninsula itself, he must pass the Isthmus of Corinth, where he might, perhaps, encounter some concentrated resistance. North of the isthmus, however, there was no place where the Greeks could make a stand. The country was all open, or, rather, there were a thousand ways open through the various valleys and glens, and along the banks of the rivers. All that was necessary was to procure guides and proceed. The Thessalians were very ready to furnish guides. They had submitted to Xerxes before the battle of Thermopylae, and they considered themselves, accordingly, as his allies.


They had, besides, a special interest in conducting the Persian army, on account of the hostile feelings which they entertained toward the people immediately south of the pass, into whose territories Xerxes would first carry his ravages. This people were the Phocaeans. Their country, as has already been stated, was separated from Thessaly by impassable mountains, except where the Straits of Thermopylae opened a passage; and through this pass both nations had been continually making hostile incursions into the territory of the other for many years before the Persian invasion. The Thessalians had surrendered readily to the summons of Xerxes, while the Phocians had determined to resist him, and adhere to the cause of the Greeks in the struggle.


They were suspected of having been influenced, in a great measure, in their determination to resist, by the fact that the Thessalians had decided to surrender. They were resolved that they would not, on any account, be upon the same side with their ancient and inveterate foes. The hostility of the Thessalians to the Phocaeans was equally implacable. At the last incursion which they had made into the Phocean territory, they had been defeated by means of stratagems in a manner which tended greatly to vex and irritate them.


There were two of these stratagems, which were both completely successful, and both of a very extraordinary character. The first was this. The Thessalians were in the Phocaean country in great force, and the Phocaean had found themselves utterly unable to expel them. Under these circumstances, a body of the Phocaean, six hundred in number, one day whitened their faces, their arms and hands, their clothes, and all their weapons, with chalk, then, at the dead of night perhaps, how when the moon was shining made an on- set upon the camp of the enemy. The Thessalian sentinels were terrified and ran away, and the soldiers, awakened from their slumbers by these unearthly-looking troops, screamed with fright, and fled in all directions, in utter confusion and dismay.


A night attack is usually a dangerous attempt, even if the assaulting party is the strongest, as, in the darkness and confusion which then prevail, the assailants can not ordinarily distinguish friends from foes, and so are in great danger, amid the tumult and obscurity, of slaying one another. That difficulty was obviated in this case by the strange disguise which the Phocaeans had assumed. They knew that all were Thessalians who were not whitened like themselves. The Thessalians were totally discomfited and dispersed by this encounter.

The other stratagem was of a different character, and was directed against a troop of cavalry. The Thessalian cavalry were renowned throughout the world. The nation was very strong, therefore, in this species of force, and many of the states and kingdoms of Greece when planning their means of internal defense, and potentates and conquerors, when going forth on great campaigns, often considered their armies incomplete unless there was included in them a corps of Thessalian cavalry. A troop of this cavalry had invaded Phoois, and the Phocaeans, conscious of their inability to resist them in open war, contrived to entrap them in the following manner.


They dug a long trench in the ground, and then putting in baskets or casks sufficient nearly to fill the space^ they spread over the top a thin layer of soil. They then concealed all indications that the ground had been disturbed, by spreading leaves over the surface. The trap being thus prepared, they contrived to entice the Thessalians to the spot by a series of retreats, and at length led them into the pitfall thus provided for them. The substructure of casks was strong enough to sustain the Phocseans, who went over it as foot- men, but was too fragile to bear the weight of the mounted troops. The horses broke through, and the squadron was thrown into such confusion by so unexpected a disaster, that, when the Phocaeans turned and fell upon them, they were easily overcome.


These things had irritated and vexed the Thessalians very much. They were eager for revenge, and they were very ready to guide the armies of Xerxes into the country of their enemies in order to obtain it. The troops advanced accordingly, awakening every where, as they came on, the greatest consternation and terror among the inhabitants, and producing on all sides scenes of indescribable anguish and suffering. They came into the valley of the Cephisus, a beautiful river flowing through a delightful and fertile region, which contained many cities and towns, and was filled every where with an industrious rural population. Through this scene of peace, and happiness, and plenty, the vast horde of invaders swept on with the destructive force of a tornado. They plundered the towns of every thing yhat could be carried away, and destroyed what they were compelled to leave behind them. There in a catalogue of twelve cities in this valley which they burned. The inhabitants, too, were treated with the utmost cruelty. Some were seized, and compelled to follow the army as slaves ; others were slain


Xerxes received the submission of the Thebans, the Phocæans, the Locrians, the Dorians, and of all who appealed to his clemency; then, having razed to the ground Platæa and Thespisæ, the only two towns which refused to come to terms with him, he penetrated into Attica by the gorges of the Cithssron.


The population had taken refuge in Salamis, Ægina, and Troezen. The Persians pressed on both by land and sea. A rapid march through Phocis and Boeotia brought Xerxes to Athens, soon after the Athenians, knowing that resistance would be vain, had evacuated it.


The news that the Pass of Thermopylae had been carried, and that, in addition to the peril with which the Athenians were threatened by the fleet on the side of the whole Persian army was coming down upon them by land. This fresh alarm greatly increased, of course, the general consternation. All the roads leading from the city toward the south and west were soon covered with parties of wretched fugitives . The army fell back to the isthmus, intending to make a stand, if possible, there, to defend the Peloponnesus. The fugitives made the best of their way to the sea-coast, where they were received on board transport ships sent thither from the fleet, and conveyed, some to Egina, some to Salamis, and others to other points on the coasts and islands to the south, wherever the terrified exiles thought there was the best prospect of safety


The Acropolis, defended by a few fanatics, was taken and burnt. There was a part of the population who believed that the phrase " wooden walls," used by the oracle, referred, not to the ships of the fleet, but to the wooden palisade around the citadel. They accordingly repaired and strengthened the palisade, and established themselves in the fortress with a small garrison which undertook to de- fend it One object of the expedition was thus accomplished. The heart of Xerxes was filled with exultation and joy as he thus arrived at the attainment of what had been the chief and prominent object of his campaign. To plunder and destroy the city of Athens had been the great pleasure that he had promised himself in all the mighty preparations that he had made. This result was now realized, and he dispatched a special messenger immediately to Susa with the triumphant tidings.


Athens lay in ruins; and the whole of Attica was occupied by the conqueror. Xerxes destroyed the temple of Pallas by fire to avenge the burning of Sardes, and then entrenched his troops on the approaches to the isthmus, stationing his squadrons in the ports of Munychia, Phalerum, and the Piræus, and suspended all hostilities while waiting to see what policy the Greeks would pursue.


It is possible that he hoped that a certain number of them would entreat for mercy, and others being encouraged by their example to submit, no further serious battle would have to be fought. When he found that no such request was proffered, he determined to take advantage of the superiority of his numbers, and, if possible, destroy at one blow the whole of the Greek naval reserve; he therefore gave orders to his admirals to assume the offensive.


The Naval Battle of Salamis, September 480 B.C.


Battle of Salamis by Wilhelm Von Kaulbach


The Naval battle of Salamis marked a turning point in the Persian War and indeed, world history . A supreme confrontation between centralized despotic power and Greek individualism .

SALAMIS is an island of a very irregular form, lying in the Saronian Gulf, north of Egina, and to the westward of Athena. What was called the Port of Athens was on the shore opposite to Salamis, the city itself being situated on elevated land four or five miles back from the sea. From this port to the bay on the southern side of Salamis, where the Greek fleet was lying, it was only four or five miles more, so that, when Xerxes burned the city, the people on board the galleys in the fleet might easily see the smoke of the conflagration. The Isthmus of Corinth was west of Salamis, some fifteen miles, across the bay. The army, in retreating from Athens toward the isthmus, would have necessarily to pass round the bay in a course somewhat circuitous, while the fleet, in following them, would pass in a direct line across it. The Greeks placed in that island the greater part of the non-combatant population .


The geographical relations of these places, a knowledge of which is necessary to a full understanding of the operations of the Greek and Persian forces, will be distinctly seen by comparing the above description with the map placed at the commencement of the fifth chapter. It had been the policy of the Greeks to keep the fleet and army as much as possible together, and thus, during the time in which the troops were attempting a concentration at Thermopylae, the ships made their rendezvous in the Artemisian Strait or Channel, directly opposite to that point of the coast. There they fought, maintaining their position desperately, day after day, as long as Leonidas and his Spartans held their ground on the shore.


Their sudden disappearance from those waters, by which the Persians had been so much surprised, was caused by their having received intelligence that the pa had been carried and Leonidas destroyed. They knew then that Athens would be the next point of resistance by the land forces. They therefore fell back to Salamis, or, rather to the bay lying between Salamis and the Athenian shore, that being the nearest position that they could take to support the operations of the army in their attempts to defend the capital. When, the tidings came to them that Athens had fallen, and that what remained of the army had retreated to the isthmus, the question at once arose whether the fleet should retreat too, across the bay, to the isthmus shore, with a view to co-operate more fully with the army in the new position which the latter had taken, or whether it should remain where it was, and de- fend itself as it best could against the Persian squadrons which would soon be drawing near.


Map of Salamis


The commanders of the fleet held a consultation to consider this question. In this consultation the Athenian and the Corinthian leaders took different views. In fact, they were very near coming into open collision Such a difference of opinion, considering the circumstances of the case, was not at all surprising. It might, indeed, have naturally been expected to arise, from the relative situation of the two cities, in respect to the danger which threatened them. If the Greek fleet were to withdraw from Salamis to the isthmus, it might be in a better position to defend Corinth, but it would, by such a movement, be withdrawing from the Athenian territories, and abandoning what remained in Attica wholly to the conqueror. The Athenians were, the council was convened to deliberate on this subject before the news arrived of the fall of Athens, although, inasmuch as the Persians were advancing into Attica in immense numbers, and there was no Greek force left to defend the city, they considered its fall as all but inevitable.


The tidings of the capture and destruction of Athens came while the council was in session. This seemed to determine the question. The Corinthian commanders, and those from the other Peloponnesian cities, declared that it was perfectly absurd to remain any longer at Salamis, in a vain attempt to defend a country already conquered. The council was broken up in confusion, each commander retiring to his own ship, and the Peloponnesians resolving to withdraw on the following morning.


Eurybiades, who, it will be recollected, was the commander-in-chief of all the Greek fleet, finding thus that it was impossible any longer to keep the ships together at Salamis,a part of them would, at all events, withdraw, concluded to yield to the necessity of the case and to conduct the whole fleet to the isthmus He issued his orders accordingly, and the commanders repaired to their respective ships to make the preparations. It was night when the council was dismissed, and the fleet was to move in the morning. One of the most influential and distinguished of the Athenian officers was a general named Themistocles. Very soon after he had returned to his ship from this council, he was visited by another Athenian named Mnesiphilus, who, uneasy and anxious in the momentous crisis, had come in his boat, in the darkness of the night, to Themistocles's ship, to converse with him on the plans of the morrow. Mnesiphilus asked Themistocles what was the decision of the council. " To abandon Salamis," said Themistooles, " and retire to the isthmus." " Then," said Mnesiphilus, " we shall never have an opportunity to meet the enemy. I am sure that if we leave this position the fleet will be wholly broken up, and that each portion will go, under its own commander, to defend its own state or seek its own safety, independently of the lest We shall never be able to concentrate our forces again. The result will be the inevitable dissolution of the fleet as a combined and allied force, in spite of all that Euryblades or any one else can do to prevent it."


Mnesiphilus urged this danger with so much earnestness and eloquence as to make a very considerable impression on the mind of Themistocles. Themistocles said nothing, but his countenance indicated that he was very strongly inclined to adopt Mnesiphilus's views. Mnesiphilus urged him to go immediately to Eurybiades, and endeavor to induce him to obtain a reversal of the decision of the council. Themistocles, without expressing either assent or dissent, took his boat, and ordered the oarsmen to row him to the galley of Eurybiades. Mnesiphilus, having so far accomplished his object, went away. Themistocles came in his boat to the side of Eurybiades's galley. He said that he wished to speak with the general on a subject of great importance. Eurybiades, when this was reported to him, sent to invite Themistooles to come on board. Themistocles did so, and he urged upon the general the same arguments that Mnesiphilus had pressed upon him, namely, that if the fleet were once to move from their actual position, the different squadrons would inevitably separate, and could never be assembled again. He urged Eurybiades. therefore, very strenuously to call a new council, and to rebuked of reversing the decision that had been made to retire,and of resolving instead to give battle to the Persians at Salamis.


Eurybiades was persuaded, and immediately took measures for convening the council again. The summons, sent around thus at midnight, calling upon the principal officers of the fleet to repair again in haste to the commander's galley, when they had only a short time before been dismissed from it, produced great excitement. The Corinthians, who had been in favor of the plan of abandoning Saiamis, conjectured that the design might be to endeavor to reverse that decision, and they came to the council determined to resist any such attempt, if one should be made. When the officers had arrived, Themistocles began immediately to open the discussion, before, in fact, Eurybiades had stated why he had called them together. A Corinthian officer interrupted and rebuked him for presuming to speak before his time. Themistocles retorted upon the Corinthian, and continued his harangue. He urged the council to review their former decision, and to determine, after all, to remain at Salamis.


He, however, now used different arguments from those which he had employed when speaking to Eurybiades alone ; for to have directly charged the officers them, selves with the design of which he had accused them to Eurybiades, namely, that of abandoning their allies, and retiring with their respective ships, each to his own coast, in case the position at Salamis were to be given up, would only incense them, and arouse a hostility which would determine them against any thing that he might propose. He therefore urged the expediency of remaining at Salamis on other grounds. Salamis was a much more advantageous position, he said, than the coast of the isthmus, for a small fleet to occupy in awaiting an attack from a large one. At Salamis they were defended in part by the projections of the land, which protected their flanks, and prevented their being assailed, except in front, and their front they might make a very narrow one. At the isthmus, on the contrary, there was a long, unvaried, and unsheltered coast, with no salient points to give strength or protection to their position there. They could lot expect to derive serious advantage from any degree of co-operation with the army on the land which would be practicable at the isthmus, while their situation at sea there would be far more exposed and dangerous than where they then were.


 Battle of Salamis


Besides, many thousands of the people had fled to Salamis for refuge and protection, and the fleet, by leaving its present position, would be guilty of basely abandoning them all to hopeless destruction, without even making an effort to save them. This last was, in fact, the great reason why the Athenians were so unwilling to abandon Salamis. The unhappy fugitives with which the island was thronged were their wives and children, and they were extremely unwilling to go away and leave them to so cruel a fate as they knew would await them if the fleet were to be withdrawn. The Corinthians, on the other hand, considered Athens as already lost, and it seemed madness to them to linger uselessly in the vicinity of the ruin which had been made, while there were other states and cities in other quarters of Greece yet to be saved. The Corinthian speaker who had rebuked Themistooles at first, interrupted him again, angrily, before he finished his appea' " You have no right to speak," said he. " You have no longer a country. When you cease to represent a power, you have no right to take a part in our councils."


This cruel retort aroused in the mind of Themistocles a strong feeling of indignation and anger against the Corinthian. He loaded his opponent, in return, with bitter reproaches, and said, in conclusion, that as long as the Athenians had two hundred ships in the fleet, they had still a country one, too, of sufficient importance to the general defense to give them a much bettor title to be heard in the common consultations than any Corinthian could presume to claim.


Then turning to Eurybiades again, Themistocles implored him to remain at Salamis, and give battle to the Persians there, as that was, he said, the only course by which any hope remained to them of the salvation of Greece. He declared that the Athenian part of the fleet would never go to the isthmus. If the others decided on going there, they, the Athenians, would gather all the fugitives they could from the island of Salamis and from the coasts of Attica, and make the best of their way to Italy, where there was a territory to which they had some claim, and, abandoning Greece forever, they would found a new kingdom there.


Eurybiades, was alarmed at his declaration that the Athenian ships would abandon the cause of the Greeks if the fleet abandoned Salamis ; he accordingly gave his voice very decidedly for remaining where they were. The rest of the officers finally acquiesced in this decision, and the council broke up, the various members of it returning each to his own command. It was now nearly morning. The whole fleet had been, necessarily, during the night in a state of great excitement and suspense, all anxious to learn the result of these deliberations.


The awe and solemnity which would, of course, pervade the minds of men at midnight, while such momentous questions were pending, were changed to an appalling sense of terror, toward the dawn, by an earthquake which- then took place, and which, as is usually the case with such convulsions, not only shook the land, but was felt by vessels on the sea. The men considered this phenomenon as a solemn warning from heaven, and measures were immediately adopted for appeasing, by certain special sacrifices and ceremonies, the divine displeasure which the shock seemed to portend.


In the mean time ; the Persian fleet, which we left, it will be recollected, in the channels between Euboea and the main land, near to Thermopylae, had advanced when they found that the Greeks had left those waters, and, following their enemies to the southward through the channel called the Euripus, had doubled the promontory called Sunium, which is the southern promontory of Attica, and then, moving northward again along the western coast of Attica, had approached Phalerum, which was not far from Salamis.


Xerxes, having concluded his operations at Athens, advanced to the same point by land. The final and complete success of the Persian expedition seemed now almost sure. All the country north of the peninsula had fallen. The Greek army had retreated to the isthmus, having been driven from every other post, and its last forlorn hope of being able to resist the advance of its victorious enemies was depending there. And the commanders of the Persian fleet, having driven the Greek squadrons in the game manner from strait to strait and from sea to sea, saw the discomfited galleys drawn up, in apparently their last place of refuge, in the Bay of Salamis, and only waiting to be captured and destroyed. In a word, every thing seemed ready for the decisive and final blow, and Xerxes summoned a grand council of war on board one of the vessels of the fleet as soon as he arrived at Phalerum, to decide upon the time and manner of striking it. The convening of this council was arranged, and the deliberations themselves conducted, with great parade and ceremony.


The princes of the various nations represented in the army and in the fleet, and the leading Persian officers and nobles, were summoned to attend it. It was held on board one of the principal galleys, where great preparations had been made for receiving so august an assemblage. A throne was provided for the king, and seats for the various commanders according to their respective ranks, and a conspicuous place was assigned to Artemisia, the Carian queen, who, the reader will perhaps recollect, was described as one of the prominent naval commanders, in the account given of the great review at Doriscus. Mardonius appeared at the council as the king's representative and the conductor of the deliberations, there being required, according to the parliamentary etiquette of those days, in such royal councils as these, a sort of mediator, to stand between the king and his counselors, if the monarch himself was on too sublime an elevation of dignity and grandeur to be directly addressed even by princes and nobles. Accordingly, when the council was convened and the time arrived for opening the deliberations, the king directed Mardonius to call upon the commanders present, one by one, for their sentiments on the question whether it were advisable or not to attack the Greek fleet at Salami's. Mardonius did so.




They all advised that the attack should be made, urging severally various considerations to enforce their opinions, and all evincing a great deal of zeal and ardor in the cause, and an impatient desire that the great final conflict should come on. When, however, it came to Artemisia's turn to speak, it appeared that she was of a different sentiment from the rest. She commenced her speech with something like an apology for presuming to give the king her council. She said that, notwithstanding her sex, she had perform her part, with other commanders, in the battles which had already occurred, and that she was, perhaps, entitled accordingly, in the consultations which were held, to express her opinion. " Say, then, to the king," she continued, addressing Mardonius, as all the others had done that my judgment is, that we should not attack the Greek fleet at Salamis, but, on the contrary, that we should avoid a battle. It seems to me that we have nothing to gain, but should put a great deal at hazard by a general naval conflict at the present time. The truth is, that the Greeks, always terrible as combatants, are rendered desperate now by the straits to which they are reduced and the losses that they have sustained.


The seamen of our fleet are as inferior to them in strength and courage as women are to men. I am sure that it will be a very dangerous thing to encounter them in their present chafed and irritated temper. Whatever others may think, I myself should not dare to answer for the result. "Besides, situated as they are," continued Artemisia, " a battle is what they must moat desire, and, of course, it is adverse to our interest to accord it to them. I have ascertained that they have but a small supply of food, either in their fleet or upon the island of Salamis, while they have, besides their troops, a great multitude of destitute and helpless fugitives to be fed If we simply leave them to themselves under the blockade in which our position here now places them, they will soon be reduced to great distress. Or, if we withdraw from them, and proceed at once to the Peloponnesus, to co-operate with the army there, we shall avoid all the risk of a battle, and I am sure that the Greek fleet will never dare to follow or to molest us."


The several members of the council listened to this unexpected address of Artemisia with great attention and interest, but with very different feelings. She had many friends among the counselors, and they were anxious and uneasy at hearing her speak in this manner, for they knew very well that it was the king's decided intention that a battle should be fought, and they feared that, by this bold and strenuous opposition to it, Artemisia would incur the mighty monarch's displeasure. There were others who were jealous of the influence which Artemisia enjoyed, and envious of the favors with which they knew that Xerxes regarded her. These men were secretly pleased to hear her uttering sentiments by which they confidently believed that she would excite the anger of the king ; and wholly lose her advantageous position. Both the hopes and the fears, however, entertained respectively by the queen's enemies and friends, proved altogether groundless.


Xerxes was not displeased. On the contrary, he applauded Artemisia's ingenuity and eloquence in the highest terms, though he said, nevertheless, that he would follow the advice of the other counselors. He dismissed the assembly, and gave orders to prepare for battle. In the mean time a day or two had passed away, and the Greeks, who had been originally very little inclined to acquiesce in the decision which Eurybiades had made, under the influence of Themistocles, to remain at Salamis and give the Persians battle, became more and more dissatisfied and uneasy as the great crisis drew nigh. In fact, the discontent and disaffection which appeared in certain portions of the fleet became so decided and so open, that Themistocles feared that some of the commanders would actually revolt, and go away with their squadrons in a body, in defiance of the general decision to remain. To prevent such a desertion as this, he contrived the following very desperate stratagem.


He had a slave in his family named Sicinnus, who was an intelligent and educated man, though a slave. In fact, he was the teacher of Themistocles's children. Instances of this kind, in which slaves were refined and cultivated men, were not uncommon in ancient times, as slaves were, in many instances, captives taken in war, who before their captivity had occupied as high social positions as their masters. Themistocles determined to send Sicinnus to the Persian fleet with a message from him, which should induce the Persians themselves to take measures to prevent the dispersion of the Greek fleet. Having given the slave, therefore, his secret instructions, he put him into a boat when night came on, with oarsmen who were directed to row him wherever he should require them to go. The boat pushed off stealthily from Themistocles's galley, and, taking care to keep clear of the Greek ships which lay at anchor near them, went southward toward the Persian fleet.


When the boat reached the Persian galleys, Sicinnus asked to see the commander, and, on being admitted to an interview with him, he informed him that he came from Themistocles, who was the leader, he said, of the Athenian portion of the Greek fleet. " I am charged," he added, " to say to you from Themistocles that he considers the cause of the Greeks as wholly lost, and he is now, accordingly, desirous himself of coming over to the Persian side. This, however, he can not actually and openly do, on account of the situation in which he is placed in respect to the rest of the fleet. He has, however, sent me to inform you that the Greek fleet is in a very disordered and helpless condition, being distracted by the dissensions of the commanders, and the general discouragement and despair of the men ; that some divisions are secretly intending to make their escape ; and that, if you can prevent this by surrounding them, or by taking such positions as to intercept any who may attempt to withdraw, the whole squadron will inevitably fall into your hands."


Having made this communication, Sicinnus went on board his boat again, and returned to the Greek fleet as secretly and stealthily as he came. The Persians immediately determined to resort to the measures which Themistocles had recommended to prevent the escape of any part of the Greek fleet. There was a small island between Salamis and the coast of Attica, that is, on the eastern side of Salamis, called Psyttalia, which was in such a position as to command, in a great measure, the channel of water between Salamis and the main land on this side. The Persians sent forward a detachment of Egyptian galleys to take possession of this island in the night. By this means they hoped to prevent the escape. The Greeks hemmed in of any part of the Greek squadron in that direction. Besides, they foresaw that in the approaching battle the principal scene of the conflict must be in that vicinity, and that, consequently, the island would become the great  of the disabled ships and the wounded men, since they would naturally seek refuge on the nearest land. To preoccupy this ground, therefore, seemed an important step. It would enable them, when the terrible conflict should come on, to drive back any wretched refugees who might attempt to escape from destruction by seeking the shore. By taking possession of this island, and stationing galleys in the vicinity of it, all which was done secretly in the night, the Persians cut off all possibility of escape for the Greeks in that direction.


At the same time, they sent another considerable detachment of their fleet to the westward, which was the direction toward the isthmus, ordering the galleys thus sent to station themselves in such a manner as to prevent any portion of the Greek fleet from going round the island of Salamis, and making their escape through the northwestern channel. By this means the Greek fleet was environed on every side hemmed in, though they were not aware The first intelligence which the Greeks received of their being thus surrounded was from an Athenian general named Aristides, who came one night from the island of Aegina to the Greek fleet, making his way with great difficulty through the lines of Persian galleys. Aristides had been, in the political conflicts which had taken place in former years at Athens, Themistocles great rival and enemy.


He had been defeated in the contests which had taken place, and had been banished from Athens. He now, however, made his way through the enemy's lines, incurring, in doing it, extreme difficulty and danger, in order to inform his countrymen of their peril, and to assist, if possible, in saving them. When he reached the Greek fleet, the commanders were in council, agitating, in angry and incriminating debates, the perpetually recurring question whether they should retire to the isthmus, or remain where they were. Aristides called Themistocles out of the council. Themistooles was very much surprised at seeing his ancient enemy thus unexpectedly appear. Aristides introduced the conversation by saying that he thought that at such a crisis they ought to lay aside every private animosity, and only emulate each other in the efforts and sacrifices which they could respectively make to defend their country ; that he had, accordingly, come from AEgina to join the fleet, with a view of rendering any aid that it might be in his power to afford ; that it was now wholly useless to debate the question of retiring to the isthmus, for such a movement was no longer possible.


" The fleet is surrounded," said he. " The Persian galleys are stationed on every side. It was with the utmost difficulty that I could make my way through the lines. Even if the whole assembly, and Eurybiades himself, were resolved on withdrawing to the isthmus, the thing could not now be done. Return, therefore, and tell them this, and say that to defend themselves where they are is the only alternative that now remains." In reply to this communication, Themistooles aid that nothing could give him greater pleasure than to learn what Aristides had stated. "The movement which the Persians have made," he said, " was in consequence of a communication which I myself sent to them. I sent it, in order that some of our Greeks, who seem very reluctant to fight, might be compelled to do so. But you must come yourself into the assembly," he added, " and make your statement directly to the commanders. They will not believe it if they hear it from me. Come in, and state what you have seen."


Aristides accordingly entered the assembly, and informed the officers who were convened that to retire from their present position was no longer possible, since the sea to the west was fully guarded by lines of Persian ships, which had been stationed there to intercept them. He had just come in himself, he said, from AEgina, and had found great difficulty in passing through the lines, though he had only a single small boat, and was favored by the darkness of the night. He was convinced that the Greek fleet was entirely surrounded. Having said this, Aristides withdrew. Although he could come, as a witness, to give his testimony in respect to facts, he was not invited to take any part in the deliberations.


The assembly was thrown into a state of the greatest possible excitement by the intelligence which Aristides had communicated. Instead of producing harmony among them, it made new discord more violent and uncontrollable. Of those who had before wished to retire, some were now enraged that they had not been allowed to do so while the opportunity remained ; others disbelieved Aristides's statements, and were still eager to go ; while the rest, confirmed in their previous determination to remain where they were, rejoiced to find that retreat was no longer possible. The debate was confused and violent. It turned, in a great measure, on the degree of credibility to be attached to the account which Aristides had given them.

Many of the assembly wholly disbelieved it. It was a stratagem, they maintained, contrived by the Athenian party, and those who wished to remain, in order to accomplish their end of keeping the fleet from changing its position. The doubts, however, which the assembly felt in respect to the truth of Aristides's tidings were soon dispelled by new and incontestable evidence ; for, while the debate was going on, it was announced that a large galley a trireme, as it was called had come in from the Persian fleet. This galley proved to be a Greek ship from the island of Tenos, one which Xerxes, in prosecution of his plan of compelling those portions of the Grecian territories that he had conquered, or that had surrendered to him, to furnish forces to aid him in subduing the rest, had pressed into his service.


The commander of this galley, unwilling to take part against his countrymen in the conflict, had decided to desert the Persian fleet by taking advantage of the night, and to come over to the Greeks. The name of the commander of this trireme was Parsetius. He confirmed fully all that Aristidea had said. He assured the Greeks that they were completely surrounded, and that nothing remained for them but to prepare, where they were, to meet the attack which would certainly be made upon them in the morning. The a rival of this trireme was thus of very essential service to the Greeks. It put an end to their discordant debates, and united them, one and all, in the work of making resolute preparations for action. This vessel was also of very essential service in the conflict itself which ensued : and the Greeks were so grateful to Paraetius and to his comrades for the adventurous courage which they displayed in coming over under such circumstances, in such a night, to espouse the cause and to share the dangers of their country- men, that after the battle they caused all their names to be engraved upon a sacred tripod, made final preparations for battle. Friendly in the most costly manner for the purpose, and then sent the tripod to be deposited at the oracle of Delphi, where it long remained a monument of this example of Delian patriotism and fidelity .


As the morning approached, the preparation were carried forward with ardor and energy, en board both fleets, for the great struggle which was to ensue. Plans were formed ; orders were given ; arms were examined and placed on the decks of the galleys, where they would be most ready at hand. The officers and soldiers gave mutual charges and instructions to each other in respect to the care of their friends and the disposal of their effects charges and instructions which each one undertook to execute for his friend in case he should survive him. The commanders endeavored to animate and encourage their men by cheerful looks, and by words of confidence and encouragement. They who felt resolute and strong endeavored to inspirit the weak and irresolute, while those who shrank from the approaching contest, and dreaded the result of it, concealed their fears, and endeavored to appear impatient for the battle.


Xerxes' front seat view of the Battle


Xerxes caused an elevated seat or throne to be prepared for himself on an Mt. Aegaleo near the shore, upon the main land, in order that he might be a personal witness of the battle. He had a guard and other attendants around him Among these were a number of scribes or secretaries, who were prepared with writing materials to record the events which might take place, as they occurred, and especially to register the names of those whom Xerxes should see distinguishing themselves by their courage or by their achievements. He justly supposed that these arrangements, the whole fleet being rally informed in regard to them, would animate the several commanders with strong emulation, and excite them to make redoubled exertions to perform their part well.


The record which was thus to be kept, under the personal supervision of the sovereign, was with a view to punishments too, as well as to honors and rewards; and it happened in many instances during the battle that ensued, that commanders, who, after losing their ships, escaped to the shore, were brought up before Xerxes's throne, and there made up for their fault or their misfortune, whichever it might have been, by being beheaded on the spot, without mercy. Some of the officers thus executed were Greeks, brutally slaughtered for not being successful in fighting, by compulsion, against their own countrymen.


Speech of Themistocles


As the dawn approached, Themistocles called together as many of the Athenian forces as it was possible to convene, assembling them at a place upon the shore of Salamis where he could conveniently address them, and there made a speech to them, as was customary with the Greek commanders before going into battle. He told them that, in such contests as that in which they were about to engage, the result depended, not on the relative numbers of the combatants, but on the resolution and activity which they displayed. He reminded them of the in- stances in which small bodies of men, firmly banded together by a strict discipline, and animated by courage and energy, had overthrown enemies whose numbers far exceeded their own . The Persians were more numerous, he admitted, than they, but still the Greeks would conquer them. If they faithfully obeyed their orders, and acted strictly and perseveringly in concert, according to the plans formed by the commanders, and displayed the usual courage and resolution of Greeks, he was sure of victory. As soon as Themistocles had finished his speech, he ordered his men to embark, and the fleet immediately afterward formed itself in battle array.


The Battle Begins


According to Herodotus, the Greeks had 180 triremes, Ctesias claims there Greeks had 110 . Aeschylus claims the Persian force had 1,000 triremes. the Persians were exhausted from searching for the Greeks all night, but they sailed in to the straits anyway to attack the Greek fleet. The Greeks spent the night sleeping and were rested .


The Persians  placed the Phoenician fleet on the right flank, with the Ionian fleet on the left and ships from Cyprus and Cilicia in the center. In the Greek fleet on the left were the ships of the Athenians (opposite to the Phoenicians); on the right, the position of honor, were the Spartans, Megareans and Aeginians; with the rest of the fleet in the center.


At daybreak both fleets advanced from their respective shores, the Persians being rather the assailants. Their thousand vessels were drawn up in three lines, and charged their antagonists with such spirit that the general inclination on the part of the Greeks was at first to retreat. Some of their ships had almost touched the shore, when the bold example of one of the captains, or a cry of reproach from unknown lips, produced a revulsion of feeling, and the whole line advanced in good order. The battle was for a short time doubtful; but soon the superiority of Greek naval tactics began to tell. The Persian vessels became entangled one with another, and crashing together broke each other's oars. The triple line increased their difficulties. If a vessel, overmatched, sought to retreat, it necessarily came into collision with the ships stationed in its rear. These moreover pressed too eagerly forward, since their captains were anxious to distinguish themselves in order to merit the approval of Xerxes. The Greeks found themselves able to practice with good effect their favorite manoeuvre of the  periplus ( sailing around and ramming from the side ), and thus increased the confusion.


Since these early triremes were not heavily armored and did not carry a large number of marines the main tactic used by ancient navies at this time was to quickly ram enemy ships with the prow of the vessel with the intention of either sinking the enemy ship, or to sail alongside it, breaking its oars, thus immobilizing it


The Greek and Persian ships rammed each other and something similar to a land battle ensued. Both sides had marines on their ships , and arrows and javelins also flew across the narrow strait. The wave motion made the archers on the Phoenician ships miss their target, thus giving advantage to the hoplites who fought hand to hand and had heavier armor . The Greek triremes were outfitted with the "embolon", a long bronze protrusion fitted to the prow at water level, which enabled them to ram and sink enemy ships more easily than they could be sunk themselves.


The chief Persian admiral Ariamenes rammed Themistocles' ship, but in the hand-to-hand combat that followed Ariamenes was killed by a Greek marine. On his death confusion ensued because the chain of command was disrupted. The encircled Persians tried to turn back, but the strong wind trapped them; those that were able to turn around were also trapped by the rest of the Persian fleet that had jammed the strait.


It was not long before the greater part of the Persian fleet became a mere helpless mass of shattered or damaged vessels. Five hundred are said to have been sunk--the majority by the enemy, but some even by their own friends. The sea was covered with wrecks, and with wretches who clung to them, till the ruthless enemy slew them or forced them to let go their hold.


The air was calm, the sky serene, the water was smooth, and the atmosphere was as transparent and clear at the end of the battle as at the beginning. Xerxes could discern every ship, and follow it with his eye in all its motions. He could see who advanced and who retreated. Out of the hundreds of separate conflicts he could choose any one, and watch the progress of it from the commencement to the termination. He could see the combats on the decks, the falling of repulsed assailants into the water, the weapons broken, the wounded carried away, and swimmers struggling like insects on the smooth surface of the sea. He could see the wrecks, too, which were drifted upon the shores, and the captured galleys, which, after those who defended them had been vanquished some killed, others thrown overboard, and others made prisoners were slowly towed away by the victors to a place of safety.


The stratagem of Queen Artemisia


There was one incident which occurred in the scene, as Xerxes looked down upon it from the eminence where he sat, which greatly interested and excited him, though he was deceived in respect to the true nature of it. The incident was one of Artemisia's stratagems. It mast be premised, in relating the story, that Artemisia was not without enemies among the officers of the Persian fleet. Many of them were envious of the high distinction which she enjoyed, and jealous of the attention which she received from the king, and of the influence which she possessed over him. This feeling showed itself very distinctly at the grand council, when she gave her advice, in connection with that of the other commanders, to the king. Among the most decided of her enemies was a certain captain named Damasithymus. Artemisia had a special quarrel with him while the fleet was coming through the Hellespont, which, though settled for the time, left the minds of both parties in a state of great hostility toward each other.


It happened, in the course of the battle, that the ship which Artemisia personally commanded and that of Damasithymus were engaged, together with other Persian vessels, in the same part of the bay ; and at a time when the ardor and confusion of the conflict was at its height, the galley of Artemisia, and some others that were in company with hers, became separated from the rest, perhaps by the too eager pursuit of an enemy, and as other Greek ships came up suddenly to the assistance of their comrades ; the Persian vessels found themselves in great danger, and began to retreat, followed by their enemies. We speak of the retreating galleys a Persian, because they were on the Persian side were really ships from Greek nations, who Xerxes had bribed or forced into his service. The Greeks knew them to be enemies, by the Persian flag which they bore. In the retreat, and while the ships were more or less mingled together in the confusion, Artemisia perceived that the Persian galley nearest her was that of Damasithymus. She immediately caused her own Persian flag to be pulled down, and, resorting to such other artifices as might tend to make her vessel appear to be a Greek galley, she began to act as if she were one of the pursuers instead of one of the pursued. She bore down upon the ship of Damasithymus, saying to her crew that to attack and sink that ship was the only way to save their own lives.


They accordingly attacked it with the utmost fury. The Athenian ships which were near, seeing Artemisia's galley thus engaged, supposed that it was one of their own, and pressed on, leaving the vessel of Damasithymus at Artemisia's mercy. Artemisia killed Damasithymus and all of his crew, and sunk his ship, and then, the crisis of danger being past, she made good her retreat back to the Persian lines. She probably felt no special animosity against the crew of this ill-fated vessel, but she thought it most prudent to leave no man alive to tell the story. Xerxes watched this transaction from his place on the hill with extreme interest and pleasure. He saw the vessel of Artemisia bearing down upon the other, which last he supposed, of course, from Artemisia's attacking it, was a vessel of the enemy. The only subject of doubt was whether the attacking ship was really that of Artemisia. The officers who stood about Xerxes at the time that the transaction occurred assured him that it was. They knew it well by certain peculiarities in its construction. Xerxes then watched the progress of the contest with the most eager interest, and, when he saw the result of it, he praised Arteirtsia in the highest terms, saying that the men in his fleet behaved like women, while the only woman in it behaved like a man.


Both the Greeks and the Persians were deceived, and she gained an advantage by both the deceptions. She saved her life by leading the Greeks to believe that her galley was their friend, and she gained great glory and renown among the Persians by making them believe that the vessel which she sunk was that of an enemy. Though these and some of the other scenes and incidents which Xerxes witnessed as he looked down upon the battle gave him pleasure, yet the curiosity and interest with which he surveyed the opening of the contest were gradually changed to impatience, vexation, and rage as he saw in its progress that the Greeks were every where gaining the victory.


Notwithstanding the discord and animosity which had reigned among the commanders in their councils and de- bates, the men were united, resolute, and firm when the time arrived for action ; and they fought with such desperate courage and activity, and, at the same time, with so much coolness, circumspection, and discipline, that the Persian lines were, before many hours, every where compelled to give way. The reader will recollect that the Persians, on the night before the battle, had taken possession of the island of Psyttalia which was near the center of the scene of contest for the double purpose of enabling themselves to use it as a place of refuge and retreat during the battle, and of preventing their enemies from doing so. Now Aristides had no command. He had been expelled from Athens by the influence of Themistoles and his other enemies. He had come across from Aegina to the fleet at Salamis, alone, to give his countrymen information of the dispositions which the Persians had made for surrounding them.


When the battle began, he had been left, it seems, on the shore of Salamis a spectator. There was a small body of troops left there also, as a guard to the shore. In the course of the combat, when Aristides found that the services of this guard were no longer likely to be required where they were, he placed himself at the head of them, obtained possession of boats or a galley, transported the men across the channel, landed them on the island of Psyttalia, conquered the post, and killed every man that the Persians had stationed there .


When the day was spent, and the evening came on, it was found that the result of the battle was a Greek victory, and yet it was not a victory so decisive as to compel the Persians wholly to retire. Vast numbers of the Persian ships were destroyed, but still so many remained, that when at night they drew back from the scene of the conflict, toward their anchorage ground at Phalerum, the Greeks were very willing to leave them unmolested there. The Greeks, in fact, had full employment on the following day in reassembling the scattered remnants of their own fleet, repairing the damages that they had sustained, taking care of their wounded men, and, in a word, attending to the thousand urgent and pressing exigencies always arising in the service of a fleet after a battle, even when it has been victorious in the contest.


They did not know in exactly what condition the Persian fleet had been left, nor how far there might be danger of a renewal of the conflict on the following day. They devoted all their time and attention, therefore, to strengthening their defenses and reorganizing the fleet, so as to be ready in case a new assault should be made upon them. But Xerxes had no intention of any new attack. The loss of this battle gave a final blow to his expectations of being able to carry his conquests in Greece any further. He too, like the Greeks, employed his men in industrious and vigorous efforts to repair the damages which had been done, and to reassemble and reorganize that portion of the fleet which had not been destroyed. While, however, his men were doing this, he was himself revolving in his mind, moodily and despairingly, plans, not for new conflicts, but for the safest and speediest way of making his own personal escape from the dangers around him. back to his home in Susa.


In the mean time, the surface of the sea, far and wide in every direction, was covered with the wrecks, and remnants, and fragments strewed over it by the battle. Dismantled hulks, masses of entangled spars and rigging, broken oars, weapons of every description, and the swollen and ghastly bodies of the dead, floated on the rolling swell of the sea wherever the winds or the currents carried them. At length many of these mournful memorials of the strife found their way across the whole breadth of the Mediterranean, and were driven up upon the bench on the coast of Africa, at a barbarous country called Colias. The savages dragged the fragments up out of the sand to use as fuel for their fires, pleased with their unexpected acquisitions, but wholly ignorant, of course, of the nature of the dreadful tragedy to which their coming was due. The circumstance, however, explained to the Greeks an ancient prophecy which had been uttered long before in Athens, and which the interpreters of such mysteries had never been able to understand. The prophecy was this : The Colians on Africa's shore Shall roast their food with Persians .


This defeat was a death-blow to the hopes of Xerxes, and sealed the fate of the expedition. From the moment that he realized to himself the fact of the entire inability of his fleet to cope with that of the Greeks, Xerxes made up his mind to return with all haste to Asia. From over-confidence he fell into the opposite extreme of despair, and made no effort to retrieve his ill fortune. His fleet was ordered to sail straight for the Hellespont, and to guard the bridges until he reached them with his army. He himself retreated hastily along the same road by which he had advanced, his whole army accompanying him as far as Thessaly, where Marnonius was left with 260,000 picked men, to prevent pursuit, and to renew the attempt against Greece in the ensuing year. Xerxes pressed on to the Hellespont, losing vast numbers of his troops by famine and sickness on the way, and finally returned into Asia, not by his magnificent bridge, which a storm had destroyed, but on board a vessel, which, according to some, narrowly escaped shipwreck during the passage. Even in Asia disaster pursued him. Between Abydos and Sardis his army suffered almost as much from over-indulgence as it had previously suffered from want; and of the mighty host which had gone forth from the Lydian capital in the spring not very many thousands can have re-entered it in the autumn.


Mardonius, it will be recollected, was the commander-in-chief of t.ie forces of Xerxes, and thus, next to Xerxes himself, he was the officer highest in rank of all those who attended the expedition. He was, in fact, a sort of prime minister, on whom the responsibility for almost all the measures for the government and conduct of the expedition had been thrown. Men in such positions, while they may expect the highest rewards and honors from their sovereign in case of success, have al- ways reason to apprehend the worst of consequences to themselves in case of failure. The night after the battle of Salamis, accordingly, Mardonius was in great fear. He did not distrust the future success of the expedition if it were allowed to go on ; but, knowing the character of such despots as those who ruled great nations in that age of the world, he was well aware that he might reasonably expect, at any moment, the appearance of officers sent from Xerxes to cut off his head. His anxiety was increased by observing that Xerxes seemed very much depressed, and very restless and uneasy, after the battle, as if he were revolving in his mind some extraordinary design.


He presently thought that he perceived indications that the king was planning a retreat. Mardonius, after much hesitation, concluded to speak to him, and endeavor to dispel his anxieties and fears, and lead him to take a more favorable view of the prospects of the expedition. He accordingly accosted him on the subject somewhat as follows : "It is true," said he, "that we were not as successful in the combat yesterday as we desired to be ; but this reverse, as well as all the preceding disasters that we have met with, is, after all, of comparatively little moment. Your majesty has gone steadily on, accomplishing most triumphantly all the substantial objects aimed at in undertaking the expedition. Your troops have advanced successfully by land against all opposition. With them you have traversed Thrace, Macedon, and Thessaly. You have fought your way, against the most desperate resistance, through the Pass of Thermopvlse. You have overrun all Northern Greece and have burned Athens. Thus, far from there being any uncertainty or doubt in respect to the success of the expedition, we see that all the great objects which you proposed by it are already accomplished. The fleet, it is true, has now suffered extensive damage ; but we must remember that it is upon the army, not upon the fleet, that our hopes and expectations mainly depend. The army is safe ; and it can not be possible that the Greeks can hereafter bring any force into the field by which it can be seriously endangered."


By these and similar sentiments, Mardonius endeavored to revive and restore the failing courage and resolution of the king. He found, however, that he met with very partial success Xerxes was silent, thoughtful, and oppressed apparently with a sense of anxious concern. Mardonius finally proposed that, even if the king should think it best to return himself to Susa, he should not abandon the enterprise of subduing Greece, but that he should leave a portion of the army under his (Mardonius's) charge, and he would undertake, he said, to complete the work which had been so successfully begun. Three hundred thousand men, he was convinced, would be sufficient for the purpose. Xerxes was disposed, in fact, to be pleased with any plan, provided it opened the way for his own escape from the dangers in which he imagined that he was entangled. He said that he would consult some of the other commanders upon the subject. He did so, and then, before coming to a final decision, he determined to confer with Artemisia. He remembered that she had counseled him not to attack the Greeks at Salamis, and, as the result had proved that counsel to be eminently wise, he felt the greater confidence hi asking her judgment again.


He accordingly sent for Artemisia, and, directing all the officers, as well as his own attendants, to retire, he held a private consultation with her in respect to his plans. " Mardonius proposes," said he, " that the expedition should on no account be abandoned in consequence of this disaster, for he says that the fleet is a very unimportant part of our force, and that the army still remains unharmed. He proposes that, if I should decide myself to return to Persia, I should leave three hundred thousand men with him, and he undertakes, if I will do so, to complete, with them, the subjugation of Greece. Tell me what you think of this plan You evinced so much sagacity in foreseeing the result of this engagement at Salamis, that I particularly wish to know your opinion."


Artemisia, after pausing a little to reflect upon the subject, saying, as she hesitated, that it was rather difficult to decide, under the extraordinary circumstances in which they were placed, what it really was best to do, came at length to the conclusion that it would be wisest for the king to accede to Mardonius's proposal. " Since he offers, of his own accord, to remain and undertake to complete the subjugation of Greece, you can, very safely to yourself, allow him to make the experiment. The great object which was announced as the one which you had chiefly in view in the invasion of Greece, was the burning of Athens. This is already accomplished. You have done, therefore, what you undertook to do, and can, consequently, now return yourself, without dishonor. If Mardonius succeeds in his attempt, the glory of it will reflect on you. His victories will be considered as only the successful completion of what you began On the other hand, if he fails, the disgrace of failure will be his alone, and the injury will be confined to his destruction. In any event, your person and your honor are safe.


He determined to conceal, as long as possible, his own departure. Accordingly, while he was making the most efficient and rapid arrangements on the land for abandoning the whole region, he brought up his fleet by sea, and began to build, by means of the ships, a floating bridge from the main land to the island of Salamis, as if he were intent only on advancing. He continued this work all day, postponing his intended retreat until the night should come, in order to conceal his movements. In the course of the day he placed all his family and family relatives on board of Artemisia's ship, under the charge of a tried and faithful domestic. Artemisia was to convey them, as rapidly as possible, to Ephelus, a strong city in Asia Minor, where Xerxe* supposed that they would be safe. In the night the fleet, in obedience to the orders which Xerxes had given them, abandoned their bridge and all their other undertakings, B.C. 480.. 291 and set sail. They were to make the best of their way to the Hellespont, and post them- selves there to defend the bridge of boats until Xerxes should arrive. On the following morning, accordingly, when the sun rose, the Greeks found, to their utter astonishment, that their enemies were gone.


A scene of the greatest animation and excitement on board the Greek fleet at once ensued. The commanders resolved on an immediate pursuit. The seamen hoisted their sails, raised their anchors, and manned their oars, and the whole squadron was soon in rapid motion. The fleet went as far as to the island of Andros, looking eagerly all around the horizon, in every direction, as they advanced, but no signs of the fugitives were to be seen. The ships then drew up to the shore, and the commanders were convened in an assembly, summoned by Eurybiades, on the land, for consultation. A debate ensued, in which the eternal enmity and dissension between the Athenian and Peloponnesian Greeks broke out anew. There was, however, now some reason for the disagreement. The Athenian cause was already ruined. Their capital had been burned, their country ravaged, and their wives and children drive forth to exile and misery. Nothing remained now for them but hopes of revenge. They were eager, therefore, to press on, and overtake the Persian galleys in their flight, or, if this could not be done, : reach the Hellespont before Xerxes should arrive there, and intercept his passage by destroying the bridge. This was the policy which Themistoclos advocated.


Eurybiades, on the other hand, and the Peloponnesian commanders, urged the expediency of not driving the Persians to desperation by harassing them too closely on their retreat. They were formidable enemies after all, and, if they were now disposed to retire and leave the country, it was the true policy of the Greeks to allow them to do so. To destroy the bridge of boats would only be to take effectual measures for keeping the pest among them. Themistocles was outvoted. It was determined best to allow the Persian forces to retire. Themistocles, when he found that his counsels were overruled, resorted to another of the audacious stratagems that marked his career,, which was to send a second pretended message of friendship to the Persian king. He employed the same Sicinnus on this occasion that he had sent before into the Persian fleet, A galley was given to Sicinnus, with a select crew of faithful men.


They were all put under the most solemn oaths never to divulge to any person, under any circumstances, the nature and object if their commission. With this company, Sicinnus left the fleet secretly in the night, and went to the coast of Attica. Landing here, he left the galley, with the crew in charge of it, upon the shore, and, with one or two select attendants, he made his way to the Persian camp, and desired an interview with the king. On being admitted to an audience, he said to Xerxes that he had been sent to him by Themistocles, whom he represented as altogether the most prominent man among the Greek commanders, to say that the Greeks had resolved on pressing forward to the Hellespont, to intercept him on his return, but that he, Themistocles, had dissuaded them from it, under the influence of the same friendship for Xerxes which had led him to send a friendly communication to the Persian! before the late battle ; that, in consequence of the arguments and persuasions of Themistocles, the Greek squadrons would remain where they then were, on the southern coasts, leaving Xerxes to retire without molestation.


Xerxes pressed on with the utmost diligence toward the north. The country had been ravaged and exhausted by his march through it in coming down, and now, hi returning, he found infinite difficulty in obtaining supplies of food and water for his army. Forty-five days were consumed in getting back to the Hellespont Daring all this time the privations and sufferings of the troops increased every day.diers were spent with fatigue, exhausted with hunger, and harassed with incessant apprehen- sions of attacks from their enemies. Thousands ( the sick and wounded that attempted at first to follow the army, gave out by degrees as the columns moved on. Some were left at the encampments ; others lay down by the road-sides, in the midst of the day's march, wherever their waning strength finally failed them ; and every where broken chariots, dead and dying beasts of burden, and the bodies of soldiers, that lay neglected where they fell, encumbered and choked the way. In a word, all the roads leading to- ward the northern provinces exhibited in full perfection those awful scenes which usually mark the track of a great army retreating from an invasion.


Accordingly, as was to have been expected, camp fevers, choleras, and other corrupt and infectious maladies, broke out with great violence as the army advanced along the northern shores of the Aegean Sea ; and as every victim to these dreadful and hopeless disorders helped, by his own dissolution, to taint the air for all the rest, the wretched crowd was, in the end, reduced to the last extreme of misery and terror. At length Xerxes, with a miserable remnant of his troops, arrived at Abydos, on the shores of the Hellespont. He found the bridge broken down. The winds and storms had demolished what the G reeks had determined to spare. The immense structure, which it had cost so much toil and time to rear, had wholly disappeared, leaving no traces of its existence, except the wrecks which lay here and there half buried in the sand along the shore.


There were some small boats at hand, and Xerxes, embarking in one of them, with a few attendants in the others, and leaving the exhausted and wretched remnant of his army behind, was rowed across the strait, and landed at last safely again on the Asiatic shores and returned to Susa . When Xerxes reached Susa, he felt overjoyed to find himself once more safe, as he thought, in his own palaces. He looked back upon the hardships, exposures, and perils through which he had passed, and, thankful for having so narrowly escaped from them, he determined to en- counter no such hazards again. of the mighty host which had gone forth from the Lydian capital in the spring not very many thousands can have re-entered it in the autumn. He had enough of ambition and glory. He was now going to devote himself to ease and pleasure. Mardonius was a general of great military experience and skill, and, when left to himself, ha found no great difficulty in reorganizing the army, and in putting it again in an efficient condition.


Still, however, there was a possibility that the success which his own arms had failed to achieve might reward the exertions of his lieutenants. Mardonius had expressed himself confident that with 300,000 picked soldiers he could overpower all resistance, and make Greece a satrapy of Persia. Xerxes had raised his forces to that amount by sending Artabazus back from Sestos at the head of a _corps d'armee_ numbering 40,000 men. The whole army of 300,000 wintered in Thessaly; and Mardonius, when spring came, having vainly endeavored to detach the Athenians from the Grecian ranks, marched through Boeotia in Attica, and occupied Athens for the second time. Hence he proceeded to menace the Peloponnese, where he formed an alliance with the Argives, who promised him that they would openly embrace the Persian cause. At the same time the Athenians, finding that Sparta took no steps to help them, began to waver in their resistance, and to contemplate accepting the terms which Mardonius was still willing to grant them.


The fate of Greece trembled in the balance, and apparently was determined by the accident of a death and a succession, rather than by any wide-spread patriotic feeling or any settled course of policy. Cleombrotus, regent for the young son of Leonidas, died, and his brother Pausanias--a brave, clever, and ambitious man--took his place. We can scarcely be wrong in ascribing--at least in part--to this circumstance the unlooked-for change of policy, which electrified the despondent ambassadors of Athens almost as soon as Pausanias was installed in power. It was suddenly announced that Sparta would take the offensive. Ten thousand hoplites and 40,000 light-armed--the largest army that she ever levied--took the field, and, joined at the isthmus by above 25,000 Peloponnesians, and soon afterwards by almost as many Athenians and Megarians, proceeded to seek the foreigners, first in Attica, and then in the position to which they had retired in Boeoti



The effect of the Battle of Salamis on World History


The results of the Battle of Salamis had an immense impact on western history. Many of the amazing Greek cultural achievements in the 5th century B.C. were the results of the surge in Greek confidence after defeating the mighty Persian Empire .If the Persians had won and Greece had become a satrap of the Persian Empire there would have been no Halcyonic Golden Age of Athens ( 400~300 B.C. ) to serve as a foundation of Western civilization .


Battle of Plataea  479 B.C.



On the skirts of Citheeron, near Plataea, a hundred and eight thousand Greeks confronted more than thrice their number of Persians and Persian subjects; and now at length the trial was to be made whether, in fair and open fight on land, Greece or Persia would be superior. A suspicion of what the result would be might have been derived from Marathon. But there the Persians had been taken at a disadvantage, when the cavalry, their most important arm, was absent. Here the error of Datis was not likely to be repeated. Mardonius had a numerous and well-armed cavalry, which he handled with no little skill. It remained to be seen, when the general engagement came, whether, with both arms brought fully into play, the vanquished at Marathon would be the victors.


The battle of Plataea was brought on under circumstances very unfavorable to the Greeks. Want of water and a difficulty about provisions had necessitated a night movement on their part. The cowardice of all the small contingents, and the obstinacy of an individual Spartan, disconcerted the whole plan of the operation, and left the Lacedaemonians and the Athenians at daybreak separated from each other, and deserted by the whole body of their allies. Mardonius attacked at once, and prevented the junction of the two allies, so that two distinct and separate engagements went on at the same time. In both the Greeks were victorious. The Spartans repulsed the Persian horse and foot, slew Mardonius and were the first to assail the Persian camp. The Athenians defeated the Persian Greeks, and effected a breach in the defences of the camp, on which the Spartans had failed to make any impression.


A terrible carnage followed. The numerically superior Persian infantry were of the heavy (by Persian standards) sparabara formation that was still much lighter than the Greek phalanx. The Persian defensive weapon was a large wicker shield, compared to the heavy bronze shield of the phalanx. The Persians formed a shield wall and started firing volleys of arrows against the Spartans and the Tegeans. After suffering these volleys for some time, the Tegeans attacked, forcing the Spartans to follow suit. The Greek long spears gave them a tactical advantage over the Persian short spears and swords, and the battle soon turned into a slaughter. The Persians were annihilated; Mardonius himself was killed by a Spartan named Aeimnestus. The contingent of 40,000 Persian troops under Artabazus alone drew off in good order.


The remainder were seized with panic, and were either slaughtered like sheep or fled in complete disarray. Seventy thousand Greeks not only defeated but destroyed the army of 300,000 barbarians, which melted away and disappeared making no further stand anywhere. The disaster of Marathon was repeated on a larger scale, and without the resource of an embarkation. Henceforth the immense superiority of Greek troops to Persian was well known on both sides; and nothing but the distance from Greece of her vital parts, and the quarrels of the Greek states among themselves, preserved for nearly a century and a half the doomed empire of Persia.


The Battle of Plataea


The immediate result of the defeats of Salamis and Plataea was a contraction of the Persian boundary towards the west. Though a few Persian garrisons maintained themselves for some years on the further side of the straits, soothing thereby the wounded vanity of the Great King, who liked to think that he had still a hold on Europe; yet there can be no doubt that, after the double flight of Xerxes and Artabazus, Macedonia, Pseonia, and Thrace recovered their independence.


Persia lost her European provinces, and began the struggle to retain those of Asia. Terminus receded, and having once receded never advanced again in this quarter. The Greeks took the offensive. Sailing to Asia, they not only liberated from their Persian bondage the islands which lay along the coast, but landing their men on the continent, attacked and defeated an army of 60,000 Persians at Mycale, and destroyed the remnant of the ships that had escaped from Salamis. Could they have made up their minds to maintain a powerful fleet permanently on the coast of Asia, they might at once have deprived Persia of her whole sea-hoard on the Propontis and the Aegean; but neither of the two great powers of Greece was prepared for such a resolve. Sparta disliked distant expeditions; and Athens did not as yet see her way to undertaking the protection of the continental Greeks. She had much to do at home, and had not yet discovered those weak points in her adversary's harness, which subsequently enabled her to secure by treaty the freedom of the Greek cities upon the mainland. For the present, therefore, Persia only lost the bulk of her European possessions, and the islands of the Propontis and the Aegean.


The circumstances which caused a renewal of Greek aggressions upon Asia towards the close of the reign of Xerxes are not very clearly narrated by the authors who speak of them. It appears, however, that after twelve years of petty operations, during which Eion was recovered, and Doriscus frequently attacked, but without effect, the Athenians resolved, in 466 B.C. , upon a great expedition to the eastward. Collecting a fleet of 300 vessels, which was placed under the command of Cimon, the son of Miltiades, they sailed to the coast of Caria and Lycia, where they drove the Persian garrisons out of the Greek towns, and augmenting their navy by fresh contingents at every step, proceeded along the shores of Pamphylia as far as the mouth of the river Eurymedon, where they found a Phoenician fleet of 340 vessels, and a Persian army, stationed to protect the territory. Engaging first the fleet they defeated it, and drove it ashore, after which they disembarked and gained a victory over the Persian army. As many as two hundred triremes were taken or destroyed. They then sailed on towards Cyprus, where they met and destroyed a squadron of eighty ships, which was on its way to reinforce the fleet at the Eurymedon. Above a hundred vessels, 20,000 captives, and a vast amount of plunder were the prize of this war; which had, however, no further effect on the relations of the two powers.



Battle of Mycale 479 B.C.


The Battle of Mycale was on the took place the same day as the battle of Plataea in Ionia was another defeat for the Persians as well. After Mycale the leading Ionian states went over to Greece and the Persian hold on Ionia and the Hellespont was broken . The Ionian fleets now on the Greek side helped win a major victory at Eurymedon .


The Naval Battle of Eurymedon 466 B.C.


The Battle of Eurymedon was a battle in Asia Minor which the Persian navy lost roughly 2400 to around 26 for the Greek led Delian League . The Persian navy stopped being a major force in the Aegean Sea afterwards. This defeat led to unrest in the Persian empire and Xerxes was murdered soon afterward .


The murder of Xerxes


Not much is known of Xerxes after the Persian wars. According to Herodotus, After the Greek expedition, Xerxes felt that all his toils and dangers were over, and that there was nothing now before him but & life of ease, of pleasure, and of safety. The administration of his government was left wholly to his ministers, and every personal duty was neglected, that he might give himself to the most abandoned and profligate indulgence of his appetites and passions. Instead of this, he was, in fact, in the most imminent danger. Artabanus ( captain of the king's body-guard, not the advisor of the same name mentioned above . ) was already plotting his destruction. One day, in the midst of one of his carousals, he became angry with his oldest son Darius for some cause, and gave Artabanus an order to kill him. Artabanus neglected to obey this order. The king had been excited with wine when he gave it, and Artabanus supposed that all recollection of the command would pass away from his mind with the excitement that occasioned it. The king did not, however, so readily forget. The next day he demanded why his order had not been obeyed.


Artabanus now began to fear for his own safety, and he determined to proceed at once to the execution of a plan which he had long been revolving, of destroying the whole of Xerxes's family, and placing himself on the throne in their stead. He contrived to bring the king's chamberlain into his schemes, and, with the connivance and aid of this officer, he went at night into the king's bed- Chamber, and murdered the monarch in his sleep Leaving the bloody weapon with which the deed had been perpetrated by the side of the victim, Artabanus went immediately into the bed- chamber of Artaxerxes, the youngest son, and, awaking him suddenly, he told him, with tones of voice and looks expressive of great excitement and alarm, that his father had been killed, and that it was his brother Darius that had killed him. " His motive is," continued Artabanus, "to obtain the throne, and, to make the more sure of an undisturbed possession of it, he is intending to murder yon next. Rise, therefore, and defend your life."


Artaxerxes was aroused to a sudden and uncontrollable paroxysm of anger at this intelligence. He seized his weapon, and rushed into the apartment of his innocent brother, and slew him on the spot. Other summary assassinations of a similar kind followed in this complicated tragedy. Among the victims, Artabanus and all his adherents were slain, and at length Artaxerxes took quiet possession of the throne, and reigned in his father's stead.


Xerxes expedition against Greece exhausted and depopulated the Empire; and though, by abstaining from further military enterprises, he did what lay in his power to recruit its strength, still the losses which his expedition caused were certainly not repaired in his lifetime. And thus began the decline of the Persian Empire .






 Darius I


 Artaxerxes I