Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book III.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Part 2 out of 3

noble elements of the pure Persian character grew confounded with the
Median and Assyrian. As the Persians retreated from the manners of a
nomad, they lost the distinction of a conquering people. Warriors
became courtiers--the palace shrunk into the seraglio--eunuchs and
favourites, queens [45], and above all queen-mothers, rose into
pernicious and invisible influence. And while the Greeks, in their
small states, and under their free governments, progressed to a
civilization, in which luxury only sharpened new energies and created
new arts, the gorgeous enervation of a despotism destructive to
competition, and an empire too vast for patriotism, rapidly debased
and ruined the old hardy race of Cyrus [46], perhaps equal originally
to the Greeks in mental, and in many important points far superior to
them in moral qualities. With a religion less animated and
picturesque, but more simple and exalted, rejecting the belief that
the gods partook of a mortal nature, worshipping their GREAT ONE not
in statues or in temples, but upon the sublime altar of lofty
mountain-tops--or through those elementary agents which are the
unidolatrous representatives of his beneficence and power [47];
accustomed, in their primitive and uncorrupted state, to mild laws and
limited authority; inured from childhood to physical discipline and
moral honesty, "to draw the bow and to speak the truth," this gallant
and splendid tribe were fated to make one of the most signal proofs in
history, that neither the talents of a despot nor the original virtues
of a people can long resist the inevitable effect of vicious political
constitutions. It was not at Marathon, nor at Salamis, nor at
Plataea, that the Persian glory fell. It fell when the Persians
imitated the manners of the slaves they conquered. "Most imitative of
all men," says Herodotus, "they are ever ready to adopt the manners of
the foreigners. They take from the Medes their robe, from the
Egyptians their breastplate." Happy, if to the robe and the
breastplate they had confined their appropriations from the nations
they despised! Happy, if they had not imparted to their august
religion the gross adulterations of the Median magi; if they had not
exchanged their mild laws and restricted government, for the most
callous contempt of the value of life [48] and the dignity of freedom.
The whole of the pure Persian race, but especially the nobler tribe of
the Pasargadae, became raised by conquest over so vast a population,
to the natural aristocracy of the land. But the valuable principle of
aristocratic pride, which is the safest curb to monarchic
encroachment, crumbled away in the atmosphere of a despotism, which
received its capricious checks or awful chastisement only in the dark
recesses of a harem. Retaining to the last their disdain of all
without the Persian pale; deeming themselves still "the most excellent
of mankind;" [49] this people, the nobility of the East, with the
arrogance of the Spartan, contracting the vices of the Helot, rapidly
decayed from all their national and ancient virtues beneath that
seraglio-rule of janizaries and harlots, in which, from first to last,
have merged the melancholy destinies of Oriental despotism.

VII. Although Darius seems rather to have possessed the ardour for
conquest than the genius for war, his reign was memorable for many
military triumphs, some cementing, others extending, the foundations
of the empire. A formidable insurrection of Babylon, which resisted a
siege of twenty-one months, was effectually extinguished, and the new
satrap government, aided by the yearly visits of the king, appears to
have kept from all subsequent reanimation the vast remains of that
ancient empire of the Chaldaean kings. Subsequently an expedition
along the banks of the Indus, first navigated for discovery by one of
the Greeks whom Darius took into his employ, subjected the highlands
north of the Indus, and gave that distant river as a new boundary to
the Persian realm. More important, had the fortunes of his son been
equal to his designs, was the alarming settlement which the monarch of
Asia effected on the European continent, by establishing his
sovereignty in Thrace and Macedonia--by exacting homage from the isles
and many of the cities of Greece--by breaking up, with the crowning
fall of Miletus, the independence and rising power of those Ionian
colonies, which ought to have established on the Asiatic coasts the
permanent barrier to the irruptions of eastern conquest. Against
these successes the loss of six thousand four hundred men at the
battle of Marathon, a less number than Darius deliberately sacrificed
in a stratagem at the siege of Babylon, would have seemed but a petty
counterbalance in the despatches of his generals, set off, as it was,
by the spoils and the captives of Euboea. Nor were the settlements in
Thrace and Macedon, with the awe that his vast armament excited
throughout that portion of his dominions, an insufficient recompense
for the disasters of the expedition, conducted by Darius in person,
against the wandering, fierce, and barbarous Mongolian race, that,
known to us by the name of Scythians, worshipped their war-god under
the symbol of a cimeter, with libations of human blood--hideous
inhabitants of the inhospitable and barren tracts that interpose
between the Danube and the Don.

VIII. Thus the heritage that passed from Darius to Xerxes was the
fruit of a long and, upon the whole, a wise and glorious reign. The
new sovereign of the East did not, like his father, find a disjointed
and uncemented empire of countries rather conquered than subdued,
destitute alike of regular revenues and local governments; a wandering
camp, shifted to and fro in a wilderness of unconnected nations--
Xerxes ascended the throne amid a splendid court, with Babylon,
Ecbatana, Persepolis, and Susa for his palaces. Submissive satraps
united the most distant provinces with the seat of empire. The wealth
of Asia was borne in regular currents to his treasury. Save the
revolt of the enfeebled Egyptians, and the despised victory of a
handful of men upon a petty foreland of the remote Aegaean, no cloud
rested upon the dawn of his reign. As yet unfelt and unforeseen were
the dangers that might ultimately result from the very wisdom of
Darius in the institution of satraps, who, if not sufficiently
supported by military force, would be unable to control the motley
nations over which they presided, and, if so supported, might
themselves become, in any hour, the most formidable rebels. To
whatever prestige he inherited from the fame of his father, the young
king added, also, a more venerable and sacred dignity in the eyes of
the Persian aristocracy, and, perhaps, throughout the whole empire,
derived, on his mother's side, from the blood of Cyrus. Never, to all
external appearance, and, to ordinary foresight, under fairer
auspices, did a prince of the East pass from the luxury of a seraglio
to the majesty of a throne.


Xerxes Conducts an Expedition into Egypt.--He finally resolves on the
Invasion of Greece.--Vast Preparations for the Conquest of Europe.--
Xerxes Arrives at Sardis.--Despatches Envoys to the Greek States,
demanding Tribute.--The Bridge of the Hellespont.--Review of the
Persian Armament at Abydos.--Xerxes Encamps at Therme.

I. On succeeding to the throne of the East (B. C. 485), Xerxes found
the mighty army collected by his father prepared to execute his
designs of conquest or revenge. In the greatness of that army, in the
youth of that prince, various parties beheld the instrument of
interest or ambition. Mardonius, warlike and enterprising, desired
the subjugation of Greece, and the command of the Persian forces. And
to the nobles of the Pasargadae an expedition into Europe could not
but present a dazzling prospect of spoil and power--of satrapies as
yet unexhausted of treasure--of garrisons and troops remote from the
eye of the monarch, and the domination of the capital.

The persons who had most influence over Xerxes were his uncle
Artabanus, his cousin Mardonius, and a eunuch named Natacas [50]. The
intrigues of the party favourable to the invasion of Europe were
backed by the representations of the Grecian exiles. The family and
partisans of the Pisistratidae had fixed themselves in Susa, and the
Greek subtlety and spirit of enterprise maintained and confirmed, for
that unprincipled and able faction, the credit they had already
established at the Persian court. Onomacritus, an Athenian priest,
formerly banished by Hipparchus for forging oracular predictions, was
now reconciled to the Pisistratidae, and resident at Susa. Presented
to the king as a soothsayer and prophet, he inflamed the ambition of
Xerxes by garbled oracles of conquest and fortune, which, this time,
it was not the interest of the Pisistratidae to expose.

About the same period the Aleuadae, those princes of Thessaly whose
policy seems ever to have been that of deadly hostility to the Grecian
republics, despatched ambassadors to Xerxes, inviting him to Greece,
and promising assistance to his arms, and allegiance to his sceptre.

II. From these intrigues Xerxes aroused himself in the second year of
his reign, and, as the necessary commencement of more extended
designs, conducted in person an expedition against the rebellious
Egyptians. That people had neither military skill nor constitutional
hardihood, but they were inspired with the most devoted affection for
their faith and their institutions. This affection was to them what
the love of liberty is in others--it might be easy to conquer them, it
was almost impossible to subdue. By a kind of fatality their history,
for centuries, was interwoven with that of Greece: their perils and
their enemies the same. The ancient connexion which apocryphal
tradition recorded between races so opposite, seemed a typical
prophecy of that which actually existed in the historical times. And
if formerly Greece had derived something of civilization from Egypt,
she now paid back the gift by the swords of her adventurers; and the
bravest and most loyal part of the Egyptian army was composed of
Grecian mercenaries. At the same time Egypt shared the fate of all
nations that intrust too great a power to auxiliaries. Greeks
defended her, but Greeks conspired against her. The adventurers from
whom she derived a fatal strength were of a vain, wily, and irritable
temperament. A Greek removed from the influence of Greece usually
lost all that was honest, all that was noble in the national
character; and with the most refining intellect, he united a policy
like that of the Italian in the middle ages, fierce, faithless, and
depraved. Thus, while the Greek auxiliaries under Amasis, or rather
Psammenitus, resisted to the last the arms of Cambyses, it was by a
Greek (Phanes) that Egypt had been betrayed. Perhaps, could we
thoroughly learn all the secret springs of the revolt of Egypt, and
the expedition of Xerxes, we might find a coincidence not of dates
alone between Grecian and Egyptian affairs. Whether in Memphis or in
Susa, it is wonderful to see the amazing influence and ascendency
which the Hellenic intellect obtained. It was in reality the
desperate refuse of Europe that swayed the councils, moved the armies,
and decided the fate of the mighty dynasties of the East.

III. The arms of Xerxes were triumphant in Egypt (B. C. 484), and he
more rigorously enforced upon that ill-fated land the iron despotism
commenced by Cambyses. Intrusting the Egyptian government to his
brother Achaemenes, the Persian king returned to Susa, and flushed
with his victory, and more and more influenced by the ambitious
counsels of Mardonius, he now fairly opened, in the full divan of his
counsellors, the vast project he had conceived. The vanity of the
Greeks led them too credulously to suppose that the invasion of Greece
was the principal object of the great king; on the contrary, it was
the least. He regarded Greece but as the threshold of a new quarter
of the globe. Ignorant of the nature of the lands he designed to
subject, and credulous of all the fables which impart proverbial
magnificence to the unknown, Xerxes saw in Europe "regions not
inferior to Asia in extent, and far surpassing it in fertility."
After the conquest of Greece on either continent, the young monarch
unfolded to his counsellors his intention of overrunning the whole of
Europe, "until heaven itself should be the only limit to the Persian
realm, and the sun should shine on no country contiguous to his own."

IV. These schemes, supported by Mardonius, were opposed only by
Artabanus; and the arguments of the latter, dictated by prudence and
experience, made considerable impression upon the king. From that
time, however, new engines of superstitious craft and imposture were
brought to bear upon the weak mind, on whose decision now rested the
fatal war between Asia and Europe. Visions and warnings, threats and
exhortations, haunted his pillow and disturbed his sleep, all tending
to one object, the invasion of Greece. As we learn from Ctesias that
the eunuch Natacas was one of the parasites most influential with
Xerxes, it is probable that so important a personage in the intrigues
of a palace was, with the evident connivance of the magi, the
instrument of Mardonius. And, indeed, from this period the politics
of Persia became more and more concentrated in the dark plots of the
seraglio. Thus superstition, flattery, ambition, all operating upon
him, the irresolution of Xerxes vanished. Artabanus himself affected
to be convinced of the expediency of the war; and the only object now
remaining to the king and his counsellors was to adapt the
preparations to the magnitude of the enterprise. Four additional
years were not deemed an idle delay in collecting an army and fleet
destined to complete the conquest of the world.

"And never," says Herodotus, "was there a military expedition
comparable to this. Hard would it be to specify one nation of Asia
which did not accompany the Persian king, or any waters, save the
great rivers, which were not exhausted by his armament." Preparations
for an expedition of three years were made, to guard against the
calamities formerly sustained by the Persian fleet. Had the success
of the expedition been commensurate with the grandeur of its
commencement, perhaps it would have ranked among the sublimest
conceptions of military genius. All its schemes were of a vast and
gigantic nature. Across the isthmus, which joins the promontory of
Athos to the Thracian continent, a canal was formed--a work of so
enormous a labour, that it seems almost to have justified the
skepticism of later writers [52], but for the concurrent testimony of
Thucydides and Lysias, Plato, Herodotus, and Strabo.

Bridges were also thrown over the river Strymon; the care of
provisions was intrusted to the Egyptians and Phoenicians, and stores
were deposited in every station that seemed the best adapted for

V. While these preparations were carried on, the great king, at the
head of his land-forces, marched to Sardis. Passing the river Halys,
and the frontiers of Lydia, he halted at Celaenae. Here he was
magnificently entertained by Pythius, a Lydian, esteemed, next to the
king himself, the richest of mankind. This wealthy subject proffered
to the young prince, in prosecution of the war, the whole of his
treasure, amounting to two thousand talents of silver, and four
millions, wanting only seven thousand, of golden staters of Darius
[53]. "My farms and my slaves," he added, "will be sufficient to
maintain me."

"My friend," said the royal guest, who possessed all the irregular
generosity of princes, "you are the first person, since I left Persia
(B. C. 480), who has treated my army with hospitality and voluntarily
offered me assistance in the war. Accept my friendship; I receive you
as my host; retain your possessions, and permit me to supply the seven
thousand staters which are wanting to complete the four millions you
already possess." A man who gives from the property of the public is
seldom outdone in munificence.

At length Xerxes arrived at Sardis, and thence he despatched heralds
into Greece (close of B. C. 481), demanding the tribute of earth and
water. Athens and Sparta were the only cities not visited by his

VI. While Xerxes rested at the Lydian city, an enterprise, scarcely
less magnificent in conception than that of the canal at Athos, was
completed at the sacred passage of the Hellespont. Here was
constructed from the coast of Asia to that of Europe a bridge of
boats, for the convoy of the army. Scarce was this completed when a
sudden tempest scattered the vessels, and rendered the labour vain.
The unruly passion of the high-spirited despot was popularly said to
have evinced itself at this intelligence, by commanding the Hellespont
to receive three hundred lashes and a pair of fetters--a story
recorded as a certainty by Herodotus, and more properly contemned as a
fable by modern skepticism.

A new bridge was now constructed under new artificers, whose industry
was sharpened by the fate of their unfortunate predecessors, whom
Xerxes condemned to death. These architects completed at last two
bridges of vessels, of various kinds and sizes, secured by anchors of
great length, and thus protected from the influence of the winds that
set in from the Euxine on the one hand, and the south and southeast
winds on the other. The elaborate description of this work given by
Herodotus proves it to have been no clumsy or unartist-like
performance. The ships do not appear so much to have formed the
bridge, as to have served for piers to support its weight. Rafters of
wood, rough timber, and layers of earth were placed across extended
cables, and the whole was completed by a fence on either side, that
the horses and beasts of burden might not be frightened by the sight
of the open sea.

VII. And now the work was finished (B. C. 480), the winter was past,
and at the dawn of returning spring, Xerxes led his armament from
Sardis to Abydos. As the multitude commenced their march, it is said
that the sun was suddenly overcast, and an abrupt and utter darkness
crept over the face of heaven. The magi were solemnly consulted at
the omen; and they foretold, that by the retirement of the sun, the
tutelary divinity of the Greeks, was denoted the withdrawal of the
protection of Heaven from that fated nation. The answer pleased the

On they swept--the conveyance of the baggage, and a vast promiscuous
crowd of all nations, preceding; behind, at a considerable interval,
came the flower of the Persian army--a thousand horse--a thousand
spearmen--the ten sacred steeds, called Nisaean--the car of the great
Persian god, drawn by eight snow-white horses, and in which no mortal
ever dared to seat himself. Around the person of Xerxes were spearmen
and cavalry, whose arms glittered with gold--the ten thousand infantry
called "The Immortals," of whom nine thousand bore pomegranates of
silver at the extremity of their lances, and one thousand pomegranates
of gold. Ten thousand horsemen followed these: and far in the rear,
the gorgeous procession closed with the mighty multitude of the
general army.

The troops marched along the banks of the Caicus--over the plains of
Thebes;--and passing Mount Ida to the left, above whose hoary crest
broke a storm of thunder and lightning, they arrived at the golden
Scamander, whose waters failed the invading thousands. Here it is
poetically told of Xerxes, that he ascended the citadel of Priam, and
anxiously and carefully surveyed the place, while the magi of the
barbarian monarch directed libations to the manes of the Homeric

VIII. Arrived at Abydos, the king reviewed his army. High upon an
eminence, and on a seat of white marble, he surveyed the plains
covered with countless thousands, and the Hellespont crowded with
sails and masts. At first, as he gazed, the lord of Persia felt all
the pride and exultation which the command over so many destinies was
calculated to inspire. But a sad and sudden thought came over him in
the midst of his triumphs, and he burst into tears. "I reflect," said
he to Artabanus, "on the transitory limit of human life. I
compassionate this vast multitude--a hundred years hence, which of
them will still be a living man?" Artabanus replied like a
philosopher, "that the shortness of life was not its greatest evil;
that misfortune and disease imbittered the possession, and that death
was often the happiest refuge of the living." [54]

At early daybreak, while the army yet waited the rising of the sun,
they burnt perfumes on the bridge, and strewed it with branches of the
triumphal myrtle. As the sun lifted himself above the east, Xerxes
poured a libation into the sea, and addressing the rising orb,
implored prosperity to the Persian arms, until they should have
vanquished the whole of Europe, even to the remotest ends. Then
casting the cup, with a Persian cimeter, into the sea, the signal was
given for the army to commence the march. Seven days and seven nights
were consumed in the passage of that prodigious armament.

IX. Thus entering Europe, Xerxes proceeded to Doriscus (a wide plain
of Thrace, commanded by a Persian garrison), where he drew up, and
regularly numbered his troops; the fleets ranged in order along the
neighbouring coast. The whole amount of the land-force, according to
Herodotus, was 1,700,000. Later writers have been skeptical as to
this vast number, but without sufficient grounds for their disbelief.
There were to be found the soldiery of many nations:--the Persians in
tunics and scale breastplates, the tiara helmet of the Medes, the
arrows, and the large bow which was their natural boast and weapon;
there were the Medes similarly equipped; and the Assyrians, with
barbarous helmets, linen cuirasses, and huge clubs tipped with iron;
the Bactrians with bows of reeds, and the Scythian Sacae, with their
hatchets and painted crests. There, too, were the light-clothed
Indians, the Parthians, Chorasmians, Sogdians, Gandarians, and the
Dadicae. There were the Caspians, clad in tough hides, with bows and
cimeters; the gorgeous tunics of the Sarangae, and the loose flowing
vests (or zirae) of the Arabians. There were seen the negroes of
Aethiopian Nubia with palm bows four cubits long, arrows pointed with
flint, and vestures won from the leopard and the lion; a barbarous
horde, who, after the wont of savages, died their bodies with gypsum
and vermilion when they went to war; while the straight-haired Asiatic
Aethiopians wore the same armour as the Indians whom they bordered.
save that their helmets were formed of the skin of the horse's head
[55], on which the mane was left in the place of plumage. The Libyans
were among the horde, and the buskined Paphlagonians, with helms of
network; and the Cappadocian Syrians; and the Phrygians; and the
Armenians; the Lydians, equipped similarly to the Greeks; the
Strymonian Thracians, clad in tunics, below which were flowing robes
like the Arabian zirae or tartan, but of various colours, and buskins
of the skins of fawns--armed with the javelin and the dagger; the
Thracians, too, of Asia, with helmets of brass wrought with the ears
and horns of an ox; the people from the islands of the Red Sea, armed
and people like Medes; the Mares, and the Colchians, and the Moschi,
and other tribes, tedious to enumerate, swelled and diversified the
force of Xerxes.

Such were the infantry of the Persian army, forgetting not the ten
thousand chosen Persians, called the Immortal Band [56], whose armour
shone with profuse gold, and who were distinguished even in war by
luxury--carriages for their women, troops of attendants, and camels
and beasts of burden.

Besides these were the Persian cavalry; the nomad Sagartii, who
carried with them nooses, in which they sought to entangle their foe;
the Medes and the Indian horse, which last had also chariots of war
drawn by steeds or wild asses; the Bactrians and Caspians, equipped
alike; the Africans, who fought from chariots; the Paricanians; and
the Arabians with their swift dromedaries, completed the forces of the
cavalry, which amounted to eighty thousand, exclusive even of chariots
and the camels.

Nor was the naval unworthy of the land armada. The number of the
triremes was one thousand two hundred and seven. Of these the
Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine furnished three hundred, the
serving-men with breastplates of linen, javelins, bucklers without
bosses, and helmets fashioned nearly similarly to those of the Greeks;
two hundred vessels were supplied by the Egyptians, armed with huge
battle-axes, and casques of network; one hundred and fifty vessels
came from Cyprus, and one hundred from Cilicia; those who manned the
first differing in arms from the Greeks only in the adoption of the
tunic, and the Median mitres worn by the chiefs--those who manned the
last, with two spears, and tunics of wool. The Pamphylians, clad as
the Greeks, contributed thirty vessels, and fifty also were manned by
Lycians with mantles of goat-skin and unfeathered arrows of reed. In
thirty vessels came the Dorians of Asia; in seventy the Carians, and
in a hundred, the subjugated Ionians. The Grecian Isles between the
Cyaneae, and the promontories of Triopium and Sunium [57], furnished
seventeen vessels, and the Aeolians sixty. The inhabitants of the
Hellespont (those of Abydos alone excepted, who remained to defend the
bridges) combined with the people of Pontus to supply a hundred more.
In each vessel were detachments of Medes, Persians, and Saci; the best
mariners were the Phoenicians, especially those of Sidon. The
commanders-in-chief of the sea-forces were Ariabignes (son of Darius),
Prexaspes, Megabazus (son of Megabates), and Achaemenes (brother of
Xerxes, and satrap of Egypt).

Of the infantry, the generals were Mardonius, Tritantaechmes, son of
Artabanus, and Smerdones (cousin to Xerxes), Maistes (his brother),
Gergis, and Megabazus, son of that celebrated Zopyrus, through whom
Darius possessed himself of Babylon. [58]

Harmamithres and Tithaeus, who were Medes, commanded the cavalry; a
third leader, Pharnouches, died in consequence of a fall from his
horse. But the name of a heroine, more masculine than her colleagues,
must not be omitted: Artemisia, widow to one of the Carian kings,
furnished five ships (the best in the fleet next to those of Sidon),
which she commanded in person, celebrated alike for a dauntless
courage and a singular wisdom.

X. Such were the forces which the great king reviewed, passing
through the land-forces in his chariot, and through the fleet in a
Sidonian vessel, beneath a golden canopy. After his survey, the king
summoned Demaratus to his presence.

"Think you," said he, "that the Greeks will presume to resist me?"

"Sire," answered the Spartan, "your proposition of servitude will be
rejected by the Greeks; and even if the rest of them sided with you,
Lacedaemon still would give you battle; question not in what numbers;
had Sparta but a thousand men she would oppose you."

Marching onward, and forcibly enlisting, by the way, various tribes
through which he passed, exhausting many streams, and empoverishing
the population condemned to entertain his army, Xerxes arrived at
Acanthus: there he dismissed the commanders of his fleet, ordering
them to wait his orders at Therme, a small town which gave its name to
the Thermean Gulf (to which they proceeded, pressing ships and seamen
by the way), and afterward, gaining Therme himself, encamped his army
on the coast, spreading far and wide its multitudinous array from
Therme and Mygdonia to the rivers Lydias and Haliacmon.


The Conduct of the Greeks.--The Oracle relating to Salamis.--Art of
Themistocles.--The Isthmian Congress.--Embassies to Argos, Crete,
Corcyra, and Syracuse.--Their ill Success.--The Thessalians send
Envoys to the Isthmus.--The Greeks advance to Tempe, but retreat.--The
Fleet despatched to Artemisium, and the Pass of Thermopylae occupied.
--Numbers of the Grecian Fleet.--Battle of Thermopylae.

I. The first preparations of the Persians did not produce the effect
which might have been anticipated in the Grecian states. Far from
uniting against the common foe, they still cherished a frivolous and
unreasonable jealousy of each other. Several readily sent the symbols
of their allegiance to the Persian, including the whole of Boeotia,
except only the Thespians and Plataeans. The more timorous states
imagined themselves safe from the vengeance of the barbarian; the more
resolute were overwhelmed with dismay. The renown of the Median arms
was universally acknowledged for in spite of Marathon, Greece had not
yet learned to despise the foreigner; and the enormous force of the
impending armament was accurately known from the spies and deserters
of the Grecian states, who abounded in the barbarian camp. Even
united, the whole navy of Greece seemed insufficient to contend
against such a foe; and, divided among themselves, several of the
states were disposed rather to succumb than to resist [59]. "And
here," says the father of history, "I feel compelled to assert an
opinion, however invidious it may be to many. If the Athenians,
terrified by the danger, had forsaken their country, or submitted to
the Persian, Xerxes would have met with no resistance by sea. The
Lacedaemonians, deserted by their allies, would have died with honour
or yielded from necessity, and all Greece have been reduced to the
Persian yoke. The Athenians were thus the deliverers of Greece. They
animated the ardour of those states yet faithful to themselves; and,
next to the gods, they were the true repellers of the invader. Even
the Delphic oracles, dark and ominous as they were, did not shake
their purpose, nor induce them to abandon Greece." When even the
deities themselves seemed doubtful, Athens was unshaken. The
messengers despatched by the Athenians to the Delphic oracle received
indeed an answer well calculated to appal them.

"Unhappy men," cried the priestess, "leave your houses and the
ramparts of the city, and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Fire and keen Mars, compelling the Syrian chariot, shall destroy,
towers shall be overthrown, and temples destroyed by fire. Lo! now,
even now, they stand dropping sweat, and their house-tops black with
blood, and shaking with prophetic awe. Depart and prepare for ill!"

II. Cast into the deepest affliction by this response, the Athenians
yet, with the garb and symbols of suppliants, renewed their
application. "Answer us," they said, "oh supreme God, answer us more
propitiously, or we will not depart from your sanctuary, but remain
here even until death."

The second answer seemed less severe than the first: "Minerva is
unable to appease the Olympian Jupiter. Again, therefore, I speak,
and my words are as adamant. All else within the bounds of Cecropia
and the bosom of the divine Cithaeron shall fall and fail you. The
wooden wall alone Jupiter grants to Pallas, a refuge to your children
and yourselves. Wait not for horse and foot--tarry not the march of
the mighty army--retreat, even though they close upon you. Oh Salamis
the divine, thou shalt lose the sons of women, whether Ceres scatter
or hoard her harvest!"

III. Writing down this reply, the messengers returned to Athens.
Many and contradictory were the attempts made to interpret the
response; some believed that by a wooden wall was meant the citadel,
formerly surrounded by a palisade of wood. Others affirmed that the
enigmatical expression signified the fleet. But then the concluding
words perplexed them. For the apostrophe to Salamis appeared to
denote destruction and defeat. At this juncture Themistocles approved
himself worthy of the position he had attained. It is probable that
he had purchased the oracle to which he found a ready and bold
solution. He upheld the resort to the ships, but denied that in the
apostrophe to Salamis any evil to Athens was denounced. "Had," said
he, "the prediction of loss and slaughter referred to the Athenians,
would Salamis have been called 'divine?' would it not have been rather
called the 'wretched' if the Greeks were doomed to perish near that
isle? The oracle threatens not the Athenians, but the enemy. Let us
prepare then to engage the barbarian by sea. Our ships are our wooden

This interpretation, as it was the more encouraging, so it was the
more approved. The vessels already built from the revenues of the
mines of Laurion were now destined to the safety of Greece.

IV. It was, however, before the arrival of the Persian envoys [60],
and when the Greeks first woke to the certainty, that the vast
preparations of Xerxes menaced Greece as the earliest victim, that a
congress, perhaps at the onset confined to the Peloponnesian states,
met at Corinth. At the head of this confederate council necessarily
ranked Sparta, which was the master state of the Peloponnesus. But in
policy and debate, if not in arms, she appears always to have met with
a powerful rival in Corinth, the diplomacy of whose wealthy and
liberal commonwealth often counteracted the propositions of the
Spartan delegates. To this congress subsequently came the envoys of
all the states that refused tribute and homage to the Persian king.
The institution of this Hellenic council, which was one cause of the
salvation of Greece, is a proof of the political impotence of the old
Amphictyonic league. The Synedrion of Corinth (or rather of that
Corinthian village that had grown up round the temple of Neptune, and
is styled the ISTHMUS by the Greek writers) was the true historical
Amphictyony of Hellas.

In the Isthmian congress the genius of Themistocles found an ampler
sphere than it had hitherto done among the noisy cabals of Athens. Of
all the Greek delegates, that sagacious statesman was most successful
in accomplishing the primary object of the confederacy, viz., in
removing the jealousies and the dissensions that hitherto existed
among the states which composed it. In this, perhaps the most
difficult, as the most essential, task, Themistocles was aided by a
Tegean, named Chileus, who, though he rarely appears upon the external
stage of action, seems to have been eminently skilled in the intricate
and entangled politics of the time. Themistocles, into whose hands
the Athenian republic, at this period, confided the trust not more of
its interests than its resentments, set the example of concord; and
Athens, for a while, consented to reconciliation and amity with the
hated Aegina. All the proceedings of this illustrious congress were
characterized by vigilant prudence and decisive energy. As soon as
Xerxes arrived in Sardis, emissaries were despatched to watch the
movements of the Persian army, and at the same period, or rather some
time before [61], ambassadors were sent to Corcyra, Crete, Argos, and
to Syracuse, then under the dominion of Gelo. This man, from the
station of a high-born and powerful citizen of Gela, in Sicily, had
raised himself, partly by military talents, principally by a profound
and dissimulating policy, to the tyranny of Gela and of Syracuse. His
abilities were remarkable, his power great; nor on the Grecian
continent was there one state that could command the force and the
resources that were at the disposal of the Syracusan prince.

The spies despatched to Sardis were discovered, seized, and would have
been put to death, but for the interference of Xerxes, who dismissed
them, after directing them to be led round his army, in the hope that
their return from the terror of such a spectacle would, more than
their death, intimidate and appal their countrymen.

The mission to Argos, which, as a Peloponnesian city, was one of the
earliest applied to, was unsuccessful. That state still suffered the
exhaustion which followed the horrible massacre perpetrated by
Cleomenes, the Spartan king, who had burnt six thousand Argives in the
precincts of the sanctuary to which they had fled. New changes of
government had followed this fatal loss, and the servile population
had been enabled to seize the privileges of the free. Thus, hatred to
Sparta, a weakened soldiery, an unsettled internal government, all
conspired to render Argos lukewarm to the general cause. Yet that
state did not openly refuse the aid which it secretly resolved to
withhold. It consented to join the common league upon two conditions;
an equal share with the Spartans in the command, and a truce of thirty
years with those crafty and merciless neighbours. The Spartans
proposed to compromise the former condition, by allowing to the Argive
king not indeed half the command, but a voice equal to that of each of
their own kings. To the latter condition they offered no objection.
Glad of an excuse to retaliate on the Spartans their own haughty
insolence, the Argives at once rejected the proposition, and ordered
the Spartan ambassador to quit their territories before sunset. But
Argos, though the chief city of Argolis, had not her customary
influence over the other towns of that district, in which the
attachment to Greece was stronger than the jealous apprehensions of

The embassy to Sicily was not more successful than that to Argos.
Gelo agreed indeed to furnish the allies with a considerable force,
but only on the condition of obtaining for Sicily the supreme command,
either of the land-force claimed by Sparta, or of the naval force to
which Athens already ventured to pretend; an offer to which it was
impossible that the Greeks should accede, unless they were disposed to
surrender to the craft of an auxiliary the liberties they asserted
against the violence of a foe. The Spartan and the Athenian
ambassadors alike, and with equal indignation, rejected the proposals
of Gelo, who, in fact, had obtained the tyranny of his native city by
first securing the command of the Gelan cavalry. The prince of
Syracuse was little affected by the vehement scorn of the ambassadors.
"I see you are in more want of troops than commanders," said he,
wittily. "Return, then; tell the Greeks this year will be without its
spring." For, as the spring to the year did Gelo consider his
assistance to Greece. From Sicily the ambassadors repaired to
Corcyra. Here they were amused with flattering promises, but the
governors of that intriguing and factious state fitted out a fleet of
sixty vessels, stationed near Pylos, off the coast of Sparta, to wait
the issue of events assuring Xerxes, on the one hand, of their
indisposition to oppose him, and pretending afterward to the Greeks,
on the other, that the adverse winds alone prevented their taking
share in the engagement at Salamis. The Cretans were not more
disposed to the cause than the Corcyraeans; they found an excuse in an
oracle of Delphi, and indeed that venerable shrine appears to have
been equally dissuasive of resistance to all the states that consulted
it; although the daring of the Athenians had construed the ambiguous
menace into a favourable omen. The threats of superstition become but
incitements to courage when interpreted by the brave.

V. And now the hostile army had crossed the Hellespont, and the
Thessalians, perceiving that they were the next objects of attack,
despatched ambassadors to the congress at the Isthmus.

Those Thessalian chiefs called the Aleuadae had, it is true, invited
Xerxes to the invasion of Greece. But precisely because acceptable to
the chiefs, the arrival of the great king was dreaded by the people.
By the aid of the Persians, the Aleuadae trusted to extend their power
over their own country--an ambition with which it is not to be
supposed that the people they assisted to subject would sympathize.
Accordingly, while Xerxes was to the chiefs an ally, to the people he
remained a foe.

These Thessalian envoys proclaimed their willingness to assist the
confederates in the defence of their fatherland, but represented the
imminence of the danger to Thessaly, and demanded an immediate supply
of forces. "Without this," they said, "we cannot exert ourselves for
you, and our inability to assist you will be our excuse, if we provide
for our own safety."

Aroused by these exhortations, the confederates commenced their
military movements. A body of infantry passed the Euripus, entered
Thessaly, and encamped amid the delights of the vale of Tempe. Here
their numbers, in all ten thousand heavy-armed troops, were joined by
the Thessalian horse. The Spartans were led by Euaenetus.
Themistocles commanded the Athenians. The army did not long, however,
remain in the encampment. Alexander, the king of Macedon, sent
confidentially advising their retreat, and explaining accurately the
force of the enemy. This advice concurred with the discovery that
there was another passage into Thessaly through the higher regions of
Macedonia, which exposed them to be taken in the rear. And, in truth,
it was through this passage that the Persian army ultimately marched.
The Greeks, therefore, broke up the camp and returned to the Isthmus.
The Thessalians, thus abandoned, instantly treated with the invader,
and became among the stanchest allies of Xerxes.

It was now finally agreed in the Isthmian congress, that the most
advisable plan would be to defend the pass of Thermopylae, as being
both nearer and narrower than that of Thessaly. The fleet they
resolved to send to Artemisium, on the coast of Histiaeotis, a place
sufficiently neighbouring Thermopylae to allow of easy communication.
Never, perhaps, have the Greeks shown more military skill than in the
choice of these stations. But one pass in those mountainous districts
permitted the descent of the Persian army from Thessaly, bounded to
the west by steep and inaccessible cliffs, extending as far as Mount
Oeta; to the east by shoals and the neighbouring sea. This defile
received its name Thermopylae, or Hot Gates, from the hot-springs
which rose near the base of the mountain. In remote times the
pastoral Phocians had fortified the place against the incursions of
the Thessalians, and the decayed remains of the wall and gates of
their ancient garrison were still existent in the middle of the pass;
while, by marsh and morass, to render the place yet more impassable,
they had suffered the hot-springs to empty themselves along the plain,
on the Thessalian side, and the quagmire was still sodden and
unsteady. The country on either side the Thermopylae was so
contracted, that before, near the river Phoenix, and behind, near the
village of Alpeni, was at that time space only for a single chariot.
In such a pass the numbers and the cavalry of the Mede were rendered
unavailable; while at the distance of about fifteen miles from
Thermopylae the ships of the Grecian navy rode in the narrow sea, off
the projecting shores of Euboea, equally fortunate in a station which
weakened the force of numbers and allowed the facility of retreat.

The sea-station was possessed by the allied ships. Corinth sent
forty; Megara twenty; Aegina eighteen; Sicyon twelve; Sparta ten; the
Epidaurians contributed eight; the Eretrians seven; the Troezenians
five; the Ityraeans and the people of Ceos each two, and the Opuntian
Locrians seven vessels of fifty oars. The total of these ships
(without reckoning those of fifty oars, supplied by the Locrians, and
two barks of the same description, which added to the quota sent by
the people of Ceos) amount to one hundred and twenty-four. The
Athenian force alone numbered more vessels than all the other
confederates, and contributed one hundred and twenty-seven triremes,
partly manned by Plataeans, besides twenty vessels lent to the
Chalcidians, who equipped and manned them. The Athenian fleet was
commanded by Themistocles. The land-force at Thermopylae consisted
chiefly of Peloponnesians; its numbers were as follows:--three hundred
heavy-armed Spartans; five hundred Tegeans; five hundred Mantinaeans;
one hundred and twenty Orchomenians; one thousand from the other
states of Arcady; two hundred from Phlius; eighty from Mycenae.
Boeotia contributed seven hundred Thespians, and four hundred Thebans;
the last had been specially selected by Leonidas, the Spartan chief,
because of the general suspicion that the Thebans were attached to the
Medes, and he desired, therefore, to approve them as friends, or know
them as foes. Although the sentiments of the Thebans were hostile,
says Herodotus, they sent the assistance required. In addition to
these, were one thousand Phocians, and a band of the Opuntian
Locrians, unnumbered by Herodotus, but variously estimated, by
Diodorus at one thousand, and, more probably, by Pausanias at no less
than seven thousand.

The chief command was intrusted, according to the claims of Sparta, to
Leonidas, the younger brother of the frantic Cleomenes [62], by a
different mother, and his successor to the Spartan throne.

There are men whose whole life is in a single action. Of these,
Leonidas is the most eminent. We know little of him, until the last
few days of his career. He seems, as it were, born but to show how
much glory belongs to a brave death. Of his character or genius, his
general virtues and vices, his sorrows and his joys, biography can
scarcely gather even the materials for conjecture. He passed from an
obscure existence into an everlasting name. And history dedicates her
proudest pages to one of whom she has nothing but the epitaph to

As if to contrast the little band under the command of Leonidas,
Herodotus again enumerates the Persian force, swelled as it now was by
many contributions, forced and voluntary, since its departure from
Doriscus. He estimates the total by sea and land, thus augmented, at
two millions six hundred and forty-one thousand six hundred and ten
fighting men, and computes the number of the menial attendants, the
motley multitude that followed the armament, at an equal number; so
that the son of Darius conducted, hitherto without disaster, to Sepias
and Thermopylae, a body of five millions two hundred and eighty-three
thousand two hundred and twenty human beings [63]. And out of this
wondrous concourse, none in majesty and grace of person, says
Herodotus, surpassed the royal leader. But such advantages as belong
to superior stature, the kings of Persia obtained by artificial means;
and we learn from Xenophon that they wore a peculiar kind of shoe so
constructed as to increase their height.

VI. The fleet of Xerxes, moving from Therme, obtained some partial
success at sea: ten of their vessels despatched to Sciathos, captured
a guard-ship of Troezene, and sacrificed upon the prow a Greek named
Leon; the beauty of his person obtained him that disagreeable
preference. A vessel of Aegina fell also into their hands, the crew
of which they treated as slaves, save only one hero, Pytheas, endeared
even to the enemy by his valour; a third vessel, belonging to the
Athenians, was taken at the mouth of the Peneus; the seamen, however,
had previously debarked, and consequently escaped. Beacons apprized
the Greek station at Artemisium of these disasters, and the fleet
retreated for a while to Chalcis, with a view of guarding the Euripus.
But a violent storm off the coast of Magnesia suddenly destroying no
less than four hundred of the barbarian vessels, with a considerable
number of men and great treasure, the Grecian navy returned to

Here they soon made a capture of fifteen of the Persian vessels,
which, taking them for friends, sailed right into the midst of them.
With this exception, the rest of the barbarian fleet arrived safely at

VII. Meanwhile the mighty land-force of the great king, passing
through Thessaly and Achaia, arrived at last at the wide Trachinian
plains, which, stretching along the shores of Thessaly, forty miles in
circumference, and adjacent to the straits of Thermopylae, allowed
space for the encampment of his army.

The Greeks at Thermopylae beheld the approach of Xerxes with dismay;
they had anticipated considerable re-enforcements from the confederate
states, especially Sparta, which last had determined to commit all her
strength to the campaign, leaving merely a small detachment for the
defence of the capital. But the Carneian festival in honour of the
great Dorian Apollo, at Sparta, detained the Lacedaemonians, and the
Olympic games diverted the rest of the allies, not yet expecting an
immediate battle.

The vicinity of Xerxes, the absence of the re-enforcements they
expected, produced an alarmed and anxious council; Leonidas dissuaded
the confederates from retreat, and despatched messengers to the
various states, urging the necessity of supplies, and stating the
hopelessness of opposing the Mede effectually with the present forces.

Xerxes, in the meanwhile, who had heard that an insignificant band
were assembled under a Spartan descendant of Hercules, to resist his
progress, despatched a spy to reconnoitre their number and their
movements. The emissary was able only to inspect those without the
intrenchment, who, at that time, happened to be the Spartans; he found
that singular race engaged in gymnastic exercises, and dressing their
long hair for the festival of battle. Although they perceived the
spy, they suffered him to gaze at his leisure, and he returned in
safety to the king.

Much astonished at the account he received, Xerxes sent for Demaratus,
and detailing to him what the messenger had seen, inquired what it
might portend, and whether this handful of men amusing themselves in
the defile could seriously mean to resist his arms.

"Sire," answered the Spartan, "it is their intention to dispute the
pass, and what your messenger has seen proves that they are preparing
accordingly. It is the custom of the Spartans to adorn their hair on
the eve of any enterprise of danger. You are advancing to attack the
flower of the Grecian valour." Xerxes, still incredulous that
opposition could be seriously intended, had the courtesy to wait four
days to give the enemy leisure to retreat; in the interim he
despatched a messenger to Leonidas, demanding his arms. "Come and
take them!" replied the Spartan.

VIII. On the fifth day the patience of Xerxes was exhausted, and he
sent a detachment of Medes and Cissians [64] into the pass, with
orders to bring its rash and obstinate defenders alive into his
presence. The Medes and Cissians were repulsed with considerable
loss. "The Immortal Band" were now ordered to advance, under the
command of Hydarnes. But even the skill and courage of that warlike
troop were equally unsuccessful; their numbers were crippled by the
narrowness of the pass, and their short weapons coped to great
disadvantage with the long spears of the Greeks. The engagement was
renewed a second day with the like fortune; the loss of the Persians
was great, although the scanty numbers of the Spartans were also
somewhat diminished.

In the midst of the perplexity which pervaded the king's councils
after this defeat, there arrived at the Persian camp one Ephialtes, a
Malian. Influenced by the hope of a great reward, this traitor
demanded and obtained an audience, in which he offered to conduct the
Medes through a secret path across the mountains, into the pass. The
offer was joyfully accepted, and Hydarnes, with the forces under his
command, was despatched under the guidance of the Malian. At the dusk
of evening the detachment left the camp, and marching all night, from
the river Asopus, between the mountains of Oeta on the right hand, and
the Trachinian ridges on the left, they found themselves at the early
dawn at the summit of the hill, on which a thousand Phocians had been
stationed to defend the pass, for it was not unknown to the Spartans.
In the silence of dawn they wound through the thick groves of oak that
clad the ascent, and concealed the glitter of their arms; but the
exceeding stillness of the air occasioned the noise they made in
trampling on the leaves [65] to reach the ears of the Phocians. That
band sprang up from the earth on which they had slept, to the
consternation and surprise of the invaders, and precipitately betook
themselves to arms. The Persians, though unprepared for an enemy at
this spot, drew up in battle array, and the heavy onslaught of their
arrows drove the Phocians to seek a better shelter up the mountains,
not imagining that the passage into the defile, but their own
destruction, was the object of the enterprise. The Persians prudently
forbore pursuit, but availing themselves of the path now open to their
progress, rapidly descended the opposite side of the mountain.

IX. Meanwhile, dark and superstitious terrors were at work in the
Grecian camp. The preceding eve the soothsayer (Megistias) had
inspected the entrails, and foretold that death awaited the defenders
of Thermopylae in the morning; and on that fatal night a Cumaean
deserted from the Persian camp had joined Leonidas, and informed him
of the treachery of Ephialtes. At early day their fears were
confirmed by the sentinels posted on the mountains, who fled into the
defile at the approach of the barbarians.

A hasty council was assembled; some were for remaining, some for
flight. The council ended with the resolution of a general retreat,
probably with the assent, possibly by the instances, of Leonidas, who
was contented to possess the monopoly of glory and of death. The laws
of the Spartans forbade them to fly from any enemy, however numerous,
and Leonidas did not venture to disobey them. Perhaps his resolution
was strengthened by an oracle of that Delphi so peculiarly venerated
by the Dorian race, and which foretold either the fall of Sparta, or
the sacrifice of a Spartan king of the blood of Hercules. To men
whose whole happiness was renown, life had no temptation equal to such
a death!

X. Leonidas and his countrymen determined to keep the field. The
Thespians alone voluntarily remained to partake his fate; but he
detained also the suspected Thebans, rather as a hostage than an
auxiliary. The rest of the confederates precipitately departed across
the mountains to their native cities. Leonidas would have dismissed
the prophetic soothsayer, but Megistias insisted on his right to
remain; he contented himself with sending away his only son, who had
accompanied the expedition. Even the stern spirit of Leonidas is said
to have yielded to the voice of nature; and he ordered two of his
relations to return to Sparta to report the state of affairs. "You
prescribe to us the duties of messengers, not of soldiers," was the
reply, as the warriors buckled on their shields, and took their posts
with the rest.

If history could penetrate from events into the hearts of the agents,
it would be interesting even to conjecture the feelings of this
devoted band, awaiting the approach of a certain death, in that
solitary defile. Their enthusiasm, and that rigid and Spartan spirit
which had made all ties subservient to obedience to the law--all
excitement tame to that of battle--all pleasure dull to the
anticipation of glory--probably rendered the hours preceding death the
most enviable of their lives. They might have exulted in the same
elevating fanaticism which distinguished afterward the followers of
Mahomet; and seen that opening paradise in immortality below, which
the Moslemin beheld in anticipation above.

XI. Early on that awful morning, Xerxes offered a solemn libation to
his gods, and at the middle of the noon, when Hydarnes might be
supposed to be close upon the rear of the enemy, the barbarian troops
commenced their march. Leonidas and his band advanced beyond their
intrenchment, into the broader part of the defile. Before the fury of
their despair, the Persians fell in great numbers; many of them were
hurled into the sea, others trodden down and crushed by the press of
their own numbers.

When the spears of the Greeks were shivered in pieces they had
recourse to their swords, and the battle was fought hand to hand: thus
fighting, fell Leonidas, surrounded in death by many of his band, of
various distinction and renown. Two half-brothers of Xerxes, mingling
in the foremost of the fray, contended for the body of the Spartan
king, and perished by the Grecian sword.

For a short time the Spartans repelled the Persian crowd, who, where
valour failed to urge them on, were scourged to the charge by the lash
of their leaders, and drew the body of Leonidas from the press; and
now, winding down the pass, Hydarnes and his detachment descended to
the battle. The scene then became changed, the Spartans retired,
still undaunted, or rather made yet more desperate as death drew near,
into the narrowest of the pass, and, ranged upon an eminence of the
strait, they died--fighting, even after their weapons were broken,
with their hands and teeth--rather crushed beneath the number than
slain by the swords of the foe--"non victi sed vincendo fatigati."

XII. Two Spartans of the three hundred, Eurytus and Aristodemus, had,
in consequence of a severe disorder in the eyes, been permitted to
sojourn at Alpeni; but Eurytus, hearing of the contest, was led by his
helot into the field, and died with his countrymen. Aristodemus alone
remained, branded with disgrace on his return to Sparta; but
subsequently redeeming his name at the battle of Plataea. [68]

The Thebans, beholding the victory of the Persians, yielded their
arms; and, excepting a few, slain as they approached, not as foes, but
as suppliants, were pardoned by Xerxes.

The king himself came to view the dead, and especially the corpse of
Leonidas. He ordered the head of that hero to be cut off, and his
body suspended on a cross [69], an instance of sudden passion, rather
than customary barbarity. For of all nations the Persians most
honoured valour, even in their foes.

XIII. The moral sense of mankind, which places the example of self-
sacrifice among the noblest lessons by which our nature can be
corrected, has justly immortalized the memory of Leonidas. It is
impossible to question the virtue of the man, but we may fairly
dispute the wisdom of the system he adorned. We may doubt whether, in
fact, his death served his country so much as his life would have
done. It was the distinction of Thermopylae, that its heroes died in
obedience to the laws; it was the distinction of Marathon, that its
heroes lived to defeat the invader and preserve their country. And in
proof of this distinction, we find afterward, at Plataea, that of all
the allied Greeks the Spartans the most feared the conquerors of
Thermopylae; the Athenians the least feared the fugitives of Marathon.

XIV. Subsequently, on the hill to which the Spartans and Thespians
had finally retired, a lion of stone was erected by the Amphictyons,
in honour of Leonidas; and many years afterward the bones of that hero
were removed to Sparta, and yearly games, at which Spartans only were
allowed to contend, were celebrated round his tomb. Separate
monuments to the Greeks generally, and to the three hundred who had
refused to retreat, were built also, by the Amphictyons, at
Thermopylae. Long extant, posterity admired the inscriptions which
they bore; that of the Spartans became proverbial for its sublime

"Go, stranger," it said, "and tell the Spartans that we obeyed the
law--and lie here!"

The private friendship of Simonides the poet erected also a monument
to Megistias, the soothsayer, in which it was said truly to his

"That the fate he foresaw he remained to brave;"

Such is the history of the battle of Thermopylae (B. C. 480). [70]


The Advice of Demaratus to Xerxes.--Themistocles.--Actions off
Artemisium.--The Greeks retreat.--The Persians invade Delphi, and are
repulsed with great Loss.--The Athenians, unaided by their Allies,
abandon Athens, and embark for Salamis.--The irresolute and selfish
Policy of the Peloponnesians.--Dexterity and Firmness of
Themistocles.--Battle of Salamis.--Andros and Carystus besieged by the
Greeks.--Anecdotes of Themistocles.--Honours awarded to him in
Sparta.--Xerxes returns to Asia.--Olynthus and Potidaea besieged by
Artabazus.--The Athenians return Home.--The Ostracism of Aristides is

I. After the victory of Thermopylae, Demaratus advised the Persian
monarch to despatch a detachment of three hundred vessels to the
Laconian coast, and seize the Island of Cythera, of which a Spartan
once (foreseeing how easily hereafter that post might be made to
command and overawe the Laconian capital) had said, "It were better
for Sparta if it were sunk into the sea." The profound experience of
Demaratus in the selfish and exclusive policy of his countrymen made
him argue that, if this were done, the fears of Sparta for herself
would prevent her joining the forces of the rest of Greece, and leave
the latter a more easy prey to the invader.

The advice, fortunately for the Greeks, was overruled by Achaemenes.

Meanwhile the Grecian navy, assembled off Artemisium, was agitated by
divers councils. Beholding the vast number of barbarian ships now
collected at Aphetae, and the whole shores around swarming with
hostile troops, the Greeks debated the necessity of retreat.

The fleet was under the command of Eurybiades, the Spartan. For
although Athens furnished a force equal to all the rest of the allies
together, and might justly, therefore, have pretended to the command,
yet the jealousy of the confederates, long accustomed to yield to the
claims of Sparta, and unwilling to acknowledge a new superiority in
another state, had induced the Athenians readily to forego their
claim. And this especially at the instance of Themistocles. "To
him," says Plutarch, "Greece not only owes her preservation, but the
Athenians in particular the glory of surpassing their enemies in
valour and their allies in moderation." But if fortune gave
Eurybiades the nominal command, genius forced Themistocles into the
actual pre-eminence. That extraordinary man was, above all, adapted
to his time; and, suited to its necessities, he commanded its fates.
His very fault in the callousness of the moral sentiment, and his
unscrupulous regard to expediency, peculiarly aided him in his
management of men. He could appeal to the noblest passions--he could
wind himself into the most base. Where he could not exalt he
corrupted, where he could not persuade he intimidated, where he could
not intimidate he bribed. [71]

When the intention to retreat became generally circulated, the
inhabitants of the northern coast of Euboea (off which the Athenian
navy rode) entreated Eurybiades at least to give them time to remove
their slaves and children from the vengeance of the barbarian.
Unsuccessful with him, they next sought Themistocles. For the
consideration of thirty talents, the Athenian promised to remain at
Artemisium, and risk the event of battle. Possessed of this sum, he
won over the sturdy Spartan by the gift of five talents, and to
Adimantus the Corinthian, the most obstinate in retreat, he privately
sent three [72]. The remainder he kept for his own uses;--
distinguished from his compeers in this--that he obtained a much
larger share of the gift than they; that they were bribed to be brave,
and that he was rewarded for bribing them. The pure-minded statesman
of the closet cannot but feel some disdain and some regret to find,
blended together, the noblest actions and the paltriest motives. But
whether in ancient times or in modern, the web of human affairs is
woven from a mingled yarn, and the individuals who save nations are
not always those most acceptable to the moralist. The share of
Themistocles in this business is not, however, so much to his
discredit as to that of the Spartan Eurybiades. We cannot but observe
that no system contrary to human nature is strong against actual
temptation. The Spartan law interdicted the desire of riches, and the
Spartans themselves yielded far more easily to the lust of avarice
than the luxurious Athenians. Thus a native of Zelea, a city in Asia
Minor, had sought to corrupt the Peloponnesian cities by Persian gold:
it was not the Spartans, it was the Athenians, who declared this man
infamous, and placed his life out of the pale of the Grecian law.
With a noble pride Demosthenes speaks of this decree. "The gold," he,
says, "was brought into Peloponnesus, not to Athens. But our
ancestors extended their care beyond their own city to the whole of
Greece." [73] An Aristides is formed by the respect paid to
integrity, which society tries in vain--a Demaratus, an Eurybiades,
and, as we shall see, a Pausanias, by the laws which, affecting to
exclude the influence of the passions, render their temptations novel,
and their effects irresistible.

II. The Greeks continued at Euboea; and the Persians, eager to engage
so inconsiderable an enemy, despatched two hundred chosen vessels,
with orders to make a circuitous route beyond Sciathos, and thus,
unperceived, to attack the Grecian rear, while on a concerted signal
the rest would advance upon the front.

A deserter of Scios escaped, however, from Aphetae, and informed the
Greeks of the Persian plan. Upon this it was resolved at midnight to
advance against that part of the fleet which had been sent around
Euboea. But as twilight approached, they appeared to have changed or
delayed this design, and proceeded at once towards the main body of
the fleet, less perhaps with the intention of giving regular battle,
than of attempting such detached skirmishes as would make experiment
of their hardihood and skill. The Persians, amazed at the infatuation
of their opponents, drew out their fleet in order, and succeeded in
surrounding the Greek ships.

The night, however, separated the hostile forces, but not until the
Greeks had captured thirty of the barbarian vessels; the first ship
was taken by an Athenian. The victory, however, despite this
advantage, was undecided, when the Greeks returned to Artemisium, the
Persians to Aphetae.

III. But during the night one of those sudden and vehement storms not
unfrequent to the summers of Greece broke over the seas. The Persians
at Aphetae heard, with a panic dismay, the continued thunder that
burst above the summit of Mount Pelion; and the bodies of the dead and
the wrecks of ships, floating round the prows, entangled their oars
amid a tempestuous and heavy sea. But the destruction which the
Persians at Aphetae anticipated to themselves, actually came upon that
part of the barbarian fleet which had made the circuit round Euboea.
Remote from land, exposed to all the fury of the tempest, ignorant of
their course, and amid the darkness of night, they were dashed to
pieces against those fearful rocks termed "The Hollows," and not a
single galley escaped the general destruction.

Thus the fleet of the barbarians was rendered more equal to that of
the Greeks. Re-enforced by fifty-three ships from Athens the next
day, the Greeks proceeded at evening against that part of the hostile
navy possessed by the Cilicians. These they utterly defeated, and
returned joyfully to Artemisium.

Hitherto these skirmishes, made on the summer evenings, in order
probably to take advantage of the darkening night to break off before
any irremediable loss was sustained, seem rather to have been for the
sake of practice in the war--chivalric sorties as it were--than actual
and deliberate engagements. But the third day, the Persians,
impatient of conquest, advanced to Artemisium. These sea encounters
were made precisely on the same days as the conflicts at Thermopylae;
the object on each was the same--the gaining in one of the sea defile,
in the other of the land entrance into Greece. The Euripus was the
Thermopylae of the ocean.

IV. The Greeks remained in their station, and there met the shock;
the battle was severe and equal; the Persians fought with great valour
and firmness, and although the loss upon their side was far the
greatest, many of the Greek vessels also perished. They separated as
by mutual consent, neither force the victor. Of the Persian fleet the
Egyptians were the most distinguished--of the Grecian the Athenians;
and of the last none equalled in valour Clinias; his ship was manned
at his own expense. He was the father of that Alcibiades, afterward
so famous.

While the Greeks rested at Artemisium, counting the number of their
slain, and amid the wrecks of their vessels, they learned the fate of
Leonidas. [74] This determined their previous consultations on the
policy of retreat, and they abandoned the Euripus in steady and
marshalled order, the Corinthians first, the Athenians closing the
rear. Thus the Persians were left masters of the sea and land
entrance into Greece.

But even in retreat, the active spirit of Themistocles was intent upon
expedients. It was more than suspected that a considerable portion of
the Ionians now in the service of Xerxes were secretly friendly to the
Greeks. In the swiftest of the Athenian vessels Themistocles
therefore repaired to a watering-place on the coast, and engraved upon
the rocks these words, which were read by the Ionians the next day.

"Men of Ionia, in fighting against your ancestors, and assisting to
enslave Greece, you act unworthily. Come over to us; or if that may
not be, at least retire from the contest, and prevail on the Carians
to do the same. If yet neither secession nor revolt be practicable,
at least when we come to action exert not yourselves against us.
Remember that we are descended from one common race, and that it was
on your behalf that we first incurred the enmity of the Persian."

A subtler intention than that which was the more obvious, was couched
beneath this exhortation. For if it failed to seduce the Ionians, it
might yet induce Xerxes to mistrust their alliance.

When the Persians learned that the Greeks had abandoned their station,
their whole fleet took possession of the pass, possessed themselves of
the neighbouring town of Histiaea, and overrunning a part of the Isle
of Euboea, received the submission of the inhabitants.

Xerxes now had recourse to a somewhat clumsy, though a very commonly
practised artifice. Twenty thousand of his men had fallen at
Thermopylae: of these he buried nineteen thousand, and leaving the
remainder uninterred, he invited all who desired it, by public
proclamation, to examine the scene of contest. As a considerable
number of helots had joined their Spartan lords and perished with
them, the bodies of the slain amounted to four thousand [75], while
those of the Persians were only one thousand. This was a practical
despotic bulletin.

V. Of all the neighbouring district, the Phocians had alone remained
faithful to the Grecian cause: their territory was now overrun by the
Persians, at the instance of their hereditary enemies, the
Thessalians, destroying city and temple, and committing all the
horrors of violence and rapine by the way. Arrived at Panopeae, the
bulk of the barbarian army marched through Boeotia towards Athens,
the great object of revenge, while a separate detachment was sent
to Delphi, with a view of plundering the prodigious riches
accumulated in that celebrated temple, and of which, not perhaps
uncharacteristically, Xerxes was said to be better informed than of
the treasures he had left behind in his own palace.

But the wise and crafty priesthood of Delphi had been too long
accustomed successfully to deceive mankind to lose hope or self-
possession at the approach even of so formidable a foe. When the
dismayed citizens of Delphi ran to the oracle, demanding advice and
wishing to know what should be done with the sacred treasures, the
priestess gravely replied that "the god could take care of his own
possessions, and that the only business of the citizens was to provide
for themselves;" a priestly answer, importing that the god considered
his possessions, and not the flock, were the treasure. The one was
sure to be defended by a divinity, the other might shift for

The citizens were not slow in adopting the advice; they immediately
removed their wives and children into Achaia--while the males and
adults fled--some to Amphissa, some amid the craggy recesses of
Parnassus, or into that vast and spacious cavern at the base of Mount
Corycus, dedicated to the Muses, and imparting to those lovely deities
the poetical epithet of Corycides. Sixty men, with the chief priest,
were alone left to protect the sacred city.

VI. But superstition can dispense with numbers in its agency. Just
as the barbarians were in sight of the temple, the sacred arms,
hitherto preserved inviolable in the sanctuary, were seen by the
soothsayer to advance to the front of the temple. And this prodigy
but heralded others more active. As the enemy now advanced in the
stillness of the deserted city, and impressed doubtless by their own
awe (for not to a Persian army could there have seemed no veneration
due to the Temple of the Sun!) just by the shrine of Minerva Pronaea,
built out in front of the great temple, a loud peal of thunder burst
suddenly over their heads, and two enormous fragments of rock
(separated from the heights of that Parnassus amid whose recesses
mortals as well as gods lay hid) rolled down the mountain-side with a
mighty crash, and destroyed many of the Persian multitude. At the
same time, from the temple of the warlike goddess broke forth a loud
and martial shout, as if to arms. Confused--appalled--panic-stricken
by these supernatural prodigies--the barbarians turned to fly; while
the Delphians, already prepared and armed, rushed from cave and
mountain, and, charging in the midst of the invaders, scattered them
with great slaughter. Those who escaped fled to the army in Boeotia.
Thus the treasures of Delphi were miraculously preserved, not only
from the plunder of the Persian, but also from the clutch of the
Delphian citizens themselves, who had been especially anxious, in the
first instance, to be permitted to deposite the treasures in a place
of safety. Nobody knew better than the priests that treasures always
diminish when transferred from one hand to another.

VII. The Grecian fleet anchored at Salamis by the request of the
Athenians, who were the more anxious immediately to deliberate on the
state of affairs, as the Persian army was now approaching their
borders, and they learned that the selfish warriors of the
Peloponnesus, according to their customary policy, instead of
assisting the Athenians and Greece generally, by marching towards
Boeotia, were engaged only in fortifying the isthmus or providing for
their own safety.

Unable to engage the confederates to assist them in protecting Attica,
the Athenians entreated, at least, the rest of the maritime allies to
remain at Salamis, while they themselves hastened back to Athens.

Returned home, their situation was one which their generous valour had
but little merited. Although they had sent to Artemisium the
principal defence of the common cause, now, when the storm rolled
towards themselves, none appeared on their behalf. They were at once
incensed and discouraged by the universal desertion. [76] How was it
possible that, alone and unaided, they could withstand the Persian
multitude? Could they reasonably expect the fortunes of Marathon to
be perpetually renewed? To remain at Athens was destruction--to leave
it seemed to them a species of impiety. Nor could they anticipate
victory with a sanguine hope, in abandoning the monuments of their
ancestors and the temples of their gods. [77]

Themistocles alone was enabled to determine the conduct of his
countrymen in this dilemma. Inexhaustible were the resources of a
genius which ranged from the most lofty daring to the most intricate
craft. Perceiving that the only chance of safety was in the desertion
of the city, and that the strongest obstacle to this alternative was
in the superstitious attachment to HOME ever so keenly felt by the
ancients, he had recourse, in the failure of reason, to a counter-
superstition. In the temple of the citadel was a serpent, dedicated
to Minerva, and considered the tutelary defender of the place. The
food appropriated to the serpent was suddenly found unconsumed--the
serpent itself vanished; and, at the suggestion of Themistocles, the
priests proclaimed that the goddess had deserted the city and offered
herself to conduct them to the seas. Then, amid the general
excitement, Themistocles reiterated his version of the Delphic oracle.
Then were the ships reinterpreted to be the wooden walls, and Salamis
once more proclaimed "the Divine." The fervour of the people was
awakened--the persuasions of Themistocles prevailed--even the women
loudly declared their willingness to abandon Athens for the sake of
the Athenians; and it was formally decreed that the city should be
left to the guardianship of Minerva, and the citizens should save
themselves, their women, children, and slaves, as their own discretion
might suggest. Most of them took refuge in Troezene, where they were
generously supported at the public expense--some at Aegina--others
repaired to Salamis.

A moving and pathetic spectacle was that of the embarcation of the
Athenians for the Isle of Salamis. Separated from their children,
their wives (who were sent to remoter places of safety)--abandoning
their homes and altars--the citadel of Minerva--the monuments of
Marathon--they set out for a scene of contest (B. C. 480), perilous
and precarious, and no longer on the site of their beloved and father-
land. Their grief was heightened by the necessity of leaving many
behind, whose extreme age rendered them yet more venerable, while it
incapacitated their removal. Even the dumb animals excited all the
fond domestic associations, running to the strand, and expressing by
their cries their regret for the hands that fed them: one of them, a
dog, that belonged to Xanthippus, father of Pericles, is said to have
followed the ships, and swam to Salamis, to die, spent with toil, upon
the sands.

VIII. The fleet now assembled at Salamis; the Spartans contributed
only sixteen vessels, the people of Aegina thirty--swift galleys and
well equipped; the Athenians one hundred and eighty; the whole navy,
according to Herodotus, consisted of three hundred and seventy-eight
[78] ships, besides an inconsiderable number of vessels of fifty oars.

Eurybiades still retained the chief command. A council of war was
held. The greater number of the more influential allies were composed
of Peloponnesians, and, with the countenance of the Spartan chief, it
was proposed to retire from Salamis and fix the station in the isthmus
near the land-forces of Peloponnesus. This was highly consonant to
the interested policy of the Peloponnesian states, and especially to
that of Sparta; Attica was considered already lost, and the fate of
that territory they were therefore indisposed to consider. While the
debate was yet pending, a messenger arrived from Athens with the
intelligence that the barbarian, having reduced to ashes the allied
cities of Thespiae and Plataea in Boeotia, had entered Attica; and
shortly afterward they learned that (despite a desperate resistance
from the handful of Athenians who, some from poverty, some from a
superstitious prejudice in favour of the wooden wall of the citadel,
had long held out, though literally girt by fire from the burning of
their barricades) the citadel had been taken, plundered, and burnt,
and the remnant of its defenders put to the sword.

IX. Consternation seized the council; many of the leaders broke away
hastily, went on board, hoisted their sails, and prepared to fly.
Those who remained in the council determined that an engagement at sea
could only be risked near the isthmus. With this resolve the leaders
at night returned to their ships.

It is singular how often, in the most memorable events, the fate and
the glory of nations is decided by the soul of a single man. When
Themistocles had retired to his vessel, he was sought by Mnesiphilus,
who is said to have exercised an early and deep influence over the
mind of Themistocles, and to have been one of those practical yet
thoughtful statesmen called into existence by the sober philosophy of
Solon [79], whose lessons on the science of government made a
groundwork for the rhetorical corruptions of the later sophists. On
learning the determination of the council, Mnesiphilus forcibly
represented its consequences. "If the allies," said he, "once abandon
Salamis, you have lost for ever the occasion of fighting for your
country. The fleet will certainly separate, the various confederates
return home, and Greece will perish. Hasten, therefore, ere yet it be
too late, and endeavour to persuade Eurybiades to change his
resolution and remain."

This advice, entirely agreeable to the views of Themistocles, excited
that chief to new exertions. He repaired at once to Eurybiades; and,
by dint of that extraordinary mastery over the minds of others which
he possessed, he finally won over the Spartan, and, late as the hour
was, persuaded him to reassemble the different leaders.

X. In that nocturnal council debate grew loud and warm. When
Eurybiades had explained his change of opinion and his motives for
calling the chiefs together; Themistocles addressed the leaders at
some length and with great excitement. It was so evidently the
interest of the Corinthians to make the scene of defence in the
vicinity of Corinth, that we cannot be surprised to find the
Corinthian leader, Adimantus, eager to interrupt the Athenian.
"Themistocles," said he, "they who at the public games rise before
their time are beaten."

"True," replied Themistocles, with admirable gentleness and temper;
"but they who are left behind are never crowned."

Pursuing the advantage which a skilful use of interruption always
gives to an orator, the Athenian turned to Eurybiades. Artfully
suppressing his secret motive in the fear of the dispersion of the
allies, which he rightly judged would offend without convincing, he
had recourse to more popular arguments. "Fight at the isthmus," he
said, "and you fight in the open sea, where, on account of our heavier
vessels and inferior number, you contend with every disadvantage.
Grant even success, you will yet lose, by your retreat, Salamis,
Megara, and Aegina. You would preserve the Peloponnesus, but
remember, that by attracting thither the war, you attract not only the
naval, but also the land forces of the enemy. Fight here, and we have
the inestimable advantage of a narrow sea--we shall preserve Salamis,
the refuge of our wives and children--we shall as effectually protect
the Peloponnesus as by repairing to the isthmus and drawing the
barbarian thither. If we obtain the victory, the enemy will neither
advance to the isthmus nor penetrate beyond Attica. Their retreat is

The orator was again interrupted by Adimantus with equal rudeness.
And Themistocles, who well knew how to alternate force with
moderation, and menace with persuasion, retorted with an equal
asperity, but with a singular dignity and happiness of expression.

"It becomes you," said Adimantus, scornfully, alluding to the capture
of Athens, "it becomes you to be silent, and not to advise us to
desert our country; you, who no longer have a country to defend!
Eurybiades can only be influenced by Themistocles when Themistocles
has once more a city to represent."

"Wretch!" replied Themistocles, sternly, "we have indeed left our
walls and houses--preferring freedom to those inanimate possessions--
but know that the Athenians still possess a country and a city,
greater and more formidable than yours, well provided with stores and
men, which none of the Greeks will be able to resist: our ships are
our country and our city."

"If," he added, once more addressing the Spartan chief, "if you
continue here you will demand our eternal gratitude: fly, and you are
the destroyers of Greece. In this war the last and sole resource of
the Athenians is their fleet: reject my remonstrances, and I warn you
that at once we will take our families on board, and sail to that
Siris, on the Italian shores, which of old is said to have belonged to
us, and in which, if the oracle be trusted, we ought to found a city.
Deprived of us, you will remember my words."

XI. The menace of Themistocles--the fear of so powerful a race,
unhoused, exasperated, and in search of a new settlement--and the yet
more immediate dread of the desertion of the flower of the navy--
finally prevailed. Eurybiades announced his concurrence with the
views of Themistocles, and the confederates, wearied with altercation,
consented to risk the issue of events at Salamis.

XII. Possessed of Athens, the Persian king held also his council of
war. His fleet, sailing up the Euripus, anchored in the Attic bay of
Phalerum; his army encamped along the plains around, or within the
walls of Athens. The losses his armament had sustained were already
repaired by new re-enforcements of Malians, Dorians, Locrians,
Bactrians, Carystians, Andrians, Tenedians, and the people of the
various isles. "The farther," says Herodotus, "the Persians
penetrated into Greece, the greater the numbers by which they were
followed." It may be supposed, however, that the motley contributions
of an idle and predatory multitude, or of Greeks compelled, not by
affection, but fear, ill supplied to Xerxes the devoted thousands,
many of them his own gallant Persians, who fell at Thermopylae or
perished in the Euboean seas.

XIII. Mardonius and the leaders generally were for immediate battle.
The heroine Artemisia alone gave a more prudent counsel. She
represented to them, that if they delayed a naval engagement or sailed
to the Peloponnesus [80], the Greeks, failing of provisions and
overruled by their fears, would be certain to disperse, to retire to
their several homes, and, thus detached, fall an easy prey to his

Although Xerxes, contrary to expectation, received the adverse opinion
of the Carian princess with compliments and praise, he yet adopted the
counsel of the majority; and, attributing the ill success at
Artemisium to his absence, resolved in person to witness the triumph
of his arms at Salamis.

The navy proceeded, in order, to that island: the land-forces on the
same night advanced to the Peloponnesus: there, under Cleombrotus,
brother to Leonidas, all the strength of the Peloponnesian
confederates was already assembled. They had fortified the pass of
Sciron, another Thermopylae in its local character, and protected the
isthmus by a wall, at the erection of which the whole army worked
night and day; no materials sufficing for the object of defence were
disdained--wood, stones, bricks, and sand--all were pressed into
service. Here encamped, they hoped nothing from Salamis--they
believed the last hope of Greece rested solely with themselves. [81]

XIV. Again new agitation, fear, and dissension broke out in the
Grecian navy. All those who were interested in the safety of the
Peloponnesus complained anew of the resolution of Eurybiades--urged
the absurdity of remaining at Salamis to contend for a territory
already conquered--and the leaders of Aegina, Megara, and Athens were
left in a minority in the council.

Thus overpowered by the Peloponnesian allies, Themistocles is said to
have bethought himself of a stratagem, not inconsonant with his
scheming and wily character. Retiring privately from the debate, yet
unconcluded, and summoning the most confidential messenger in his
service [82], he despatched him secretly to the enemy's fleet with
this message--"The Athenian leader, really attached to the king, and
willing to see the Greeks subjugated to his power, sends me privately
to you. Consternation has seized the Grecian navy; they are preparing
to fly; lose not the opportunity of a splendid victory. Divided among
themselves, the Greeks are unable to resist you; and you will see, as
you advance upon them, those who favour and those who would oppose you
in hostility with each other."

The Persian admiral was sufficiently experienced in the treachery and
defection of many of the Greeks to confide in the message thus
delivered to him; but he scarcely required such intelligence to
confirm a resolution already formed. At midnight the barbarians
passed over a large detachment to the small isle of Psyttaleia,
between Salamis and the continent, and occupying the whole narrow sea
as far as the Attic port of Munychia, under cover of the darkness
disposed their ships, so as to surround the Greeks and cut off the
possibility of retreat.

XV. Unconscious of the motions of the enemy, disputes still prevailed
among the chiefs at Salamis, when Themistocles was summoned at night
from the council, to which he had returned after despatching his
messenger to the barbarian. The person who thus summoned him was
Aristides. It was the third year of his exile--which sentence was
evidently yet unrepealed--or not in that manner, at night and as a
thief, would the eminent and high-born Aristides have joined his
countrymen. He came from Aegina in an open boat, under cover of the
night passed through the midst of the Persian ships, and arrived at
Salamis to inform the Greeks that they were already surrounded.

"At any time," said Aristides, "it would become us to forget our
private dissensions, and at this time especially; contending only who
should most serve his country. In vain now would the Peloponnesians
advise retreat; we are encompassed, and retreat is impossible."

Themistocles welcomed the new-comer with joy, and persuaded him to
enter the council and acquaint the leaders with what he knew. His
intelligence, received with doubt, was presently confirmed by a
trireme of Tenians, which deserted to them; and they now seriously
contemplated the inevitable resort of battle.

XVI. At dawn all was prepared. Assembled on the strand, Themistocles
harangued the troops; and when he had concluded, orders were given to

It was in the autumn of 480 B. C., two thousand three hundred and
sixteen years ago, that the battle of Salamis was fought.

High on a throne of precious metals, placed on one of the eminences of
Mount Aegaleos, sat, to survey the contest, the royal Xerxes. The
rising sun beheld the shores of the Eleusinian gulf lined with his
troops to intercept the fugitives, and with a miscellaneous and motley
crowd of such as were rather spectators than sharers of the conflict.

But not as the Persian leaders had expected was the aspect of the foe;
nor did the Greeks betray the confusion or the terror ascribed to them
by the emissary of Themistocles. As the daylight made them manifest
to the Persian, they set up the loud and martial chorus of the paean--
"the rocks of Salamis echoed back the shout"--and, to use the
expression of a soldier of that day [84], "the trumpet inflamed them
with its clangour."

As soon as the Greeks began to move, the barbarian vessels advanced
swiftly. But Themistocles detained the ardour of the Greeks until the
time when a sharp wind usually arose in that sea, occasioning a heavy
swell in the channel, which was peculiarly prejudicial to the unwieldy
ships of the Persians; but not so to the light, low, and compact
vessels of the Greeks. The manner of attack with the ancient navies
was to bring the prow of the vessel, which was fortified by long
projecting beaks of brass, to bear upon the sides of its antagonist,
and this, the swell of the sea causing the Persian galleys to veer
about unwieldily, the agile ships of the Greeks were well enabled to

By the time the expected wind arose, the engagement was begun. The
Persian admiral [85] directed his manoeuvres chiefly against
Themistocles, for on him, as the most experienced and renowned of the
Grecian leaders, the eyes of the enemy were turned. From his ship,
which was unusually lofty, as from a castle [86], he sent forth darts
and arrows, until one of the Athenian triremes, commanded by Aminias,
shot from the rest, and bore down upon him with the prow. The ships
met, and, fastened together by their brazen beaks, which served as
grappling-irons, Ariabignes gallantly boarded the Grecian vessel, and
was instantly slain by the hostile pikes and hurled into the sea [87].
The first who took a ship was an Athenian named Lycomedes. The
Grecians keeping to the straits, the Persians were unable to bring
their whole armament to bear at once, and could only enter the narrow
pass by detachments; the heaviness of the sea and the cumbrous size of
their tall vessels frequently occasioned more embarrassment to
themselves than the foe--driven and hustling the one against the
other. The Athenians maintaining the right wing were opposed by the
Phoenicians; the Spartans on the left by the Ionians. The first were
gallantly supported by the Aeginetans, who, long skilled in maritime
warfare, eclipsed even their new rivals the Athenians. The Phoenician
line was broken. The Greeks pursued their victory, still preserving
the steadiest discipline and the most perfect order. The sea became
strewn and covered with the wrecks of vessels and the bodies of the
dead; while, to the left, the Ionians gave way before that part of the
allied force commanded by the Spartans, some fighting with great
valour, some favouring the Greek confederates. Meanwhile, as the
Persians gave way, and the sea became more clear, Aristides, who had
hitherto remained on shore, landed a body of Athenians on the Isle of
Psyttaleia, and put the Persian guard there stationed to the sword.

Xerxes from the mountain, his countless thousands from the shore,
beheld, afar and impotent, the confusion, the slaughter, the defeat of
the forces on the sea. Anxious now only for retreat, the barbarians
retreated to Phalerum; and there, intercepted by the Aeginetans, were
pressed by them in the rear; by the Athenians, led by Themistocles, in
front. At this time the heroine Artemisia, pursued by that Aminias
whose vessel had first grappled with the Persians, and who of all the
Athenian captains was that day the most eminently distinguished, found
herself in the extremest danger. Against that remarkable woman the
efforts of the Athenians had been especially directed: deeming it a
disgrace to them to have an enemy in a woman, they had solemnly set a
reward of great amount upon her capture. Thus pursued, Artemisia had
recourse to a sudden and extraordinary artifice. Falling in with a
vessel of the Persians, commanded by a Calyndian prince, with whom she
had once been embroiled, she bore down against the ship and sunk it--a
truly feminine stratagem--deceiving at once a public enemy and
gratifying a private hatred. The Athenian, seeing the vessel he had
pursued thus attack a barbarian, conceived he had mistaken a friendly
vessel, probably a deserter from the Persians, for a foe, and
immediately sought new objects of assault. Xerxes beheld and admired
the prowess of Artemisia, deeming, in the confusion, that it was a
hostile vessel she had sunken. [88]

XVII. The battle lasted till the dusk of evening, when at length the
remnant of the barbarian fleet gained the port of Phalerum; and the
Greeks beheld along the Straits of Salamis no other vestige of the
enemy than the wrecks and corpses which were the evidence of his

XVIII. When morning came, the Greeks awaited a renewal of the
engagement; for the Persian fleet were still numerous, the Persian
army yet covered the neighbouring shores, and, by a feint to conceal
his real purpose, Xerxes had ordered the Phoenician transports to be
joined together, as if to connect Salamis to the continent. But a
mandate was already issued for the instant departure of the navy for
the Hellespont, and a few days afterward the army itself retired into

The victory of Salamis was celebrated by solemn rejoicings, in which,
principally remarkable for the beauty of his person, and his
accomplishments on the lyre and in the dance, was a youth named
Sophocles, destined afterward to share the glory of Aeschylus, who, no
less a warrior than a poet, distinguished himself in the battle, and
has bequeathed to us the most detailed and animated account we possess
of its events.

The Grecian conquerors beheld the retreat of the enemy with
indignation; they were unwilling that any of that armament which had
burnt their hearths and altars should escape their revenge; they
pursued the Persian ships as far as Andros, where, not reaching them,
they cast anchor and held a consultation. Themistocles is said to
have proposed, but not sincerely, to sail at once to the Hellespont
and destroy the bridge of boats. This counsel was overruled, and it
was decided not to reduce so terrible an enemy to despair:--"Rather,"
said one of the chiefs (whether Aristides or Eurybiades is differently
related), "build another bridge, that Xerxes may escape the sooner out
of Europe."

Themistocles affected to be converted to a policy which he desired
only an excuse to effect; and, in pursuance of the hint already
furnished him, is said to have sent secretly to Xerxes, informing him
that it was the intention of the allies to sail to the Hellespont and
destroy the bridge, so that, if the king consulted his safety, he
would return immediately into Asia, while Themistocles would find
pretexts to delay the pursuit of the confederates.

This artifice appears natural to the scheming character of
Themistocles; and, from concurrent testimony [89], it seems to me
undoubted that Themistocles maintained a secret correspondence with
Xerxes, and even persuaded that monarch that he was disposed to favour
him. But it is impossible to believe, with Herodotus, that he had at
that time any real desire to conciliate the Persian, foreseeing that
he might hereafter need a refuge at the Eastern court. Then in the
zenith of his popularity, so acute a foresight is not in man. He was
one of those to whom the spirit of intrigue is delight in itself, and
in the present instance it was exerted for the common cause of the
Athenians, which, with all his faults, he never neglected for, but
rather incorporated with, his own.

XIX. Diverted from the notion of pursuing the Persians, the Grecian
allies, flushed with conquest, were yet eager for enterprise. The
isles which had leagued with the Mede were strongly obnoxious to the
confederates, and it was proposed to exact from them a fine; in
defrayal of the expenses of the war. Siege was laid to Andros, and
those islanders were the first who resisted the demand. Then was it
that they made that memorable answer, which may serve as a warning in
all times to the strong when pressing on the desperate.

"I bring with me," said Themistocles, "two powerful divinities--
Persuasion and Force."

"And we," answered the Andrians, "have two gods equally powerful on
our side--Poverty and Despair."

The Andrian deities eventually triumphed, and the siege was raised
without effect. But from the Parians and Carystians, and some other
islanders, Themistocles obtained enormous sums of money unknown to his
colleagues, which, however unjustly extorted, it does not
satisfactorily appear that he applied largely to his own personal
profit, but, as is more probable, to the rebuilding of Athens.
Perhaps he thought, nor without reason, that as the Athenians had been
the principal sufferers in the war, and contributed the most largely
to its resources, so whatever fines were levied on the seceders were
due, not to the confederates generally, but the Athenians alone. The
previous conduct of the allies, with so much difficulty preserved from
deserting Athens, merited no particular generosity, and excused
perhaps the retaliation of a selfish policy. The payment of the fine
did not, however, preserve Carystus from attack. After wasting its
lands, the Greeks returned to Salamis and divided the Persian spoils.
The first fruits were dedicated to the gods, and the choicest of the
booty sent to Delphi. And here we may notice one anecdote of
Themistocles, which proves, that whatever, at times and in great
crises, was the grasping unscrupulousness of his mind, he had at least
no petty and vulgar avarice. Seeing a number of bracelets and chains
of gold upon the bodies of the dead, he passed them by, and turning to
one of his friends, "Take these for yourself," said he, "for you are
not Themistocles." [90]

Meanness or avarice was indeed no part of the character of
Themistocles, although he has been accused of those vices, because
guilty, at times, of extortion. He was profuse, ostentatious, and
magnificent above his contemporaries and beyond his means. His very
vices were on a large and splendid scale; and if he had something of
the pirate in his nature, he had nothing of the miser. When he had to
choose between two suiters for his daughter, he preferred the worthy
to the wealthy candidate--willing that she should rather marry a man
without money than money without a man. [91]

XX. The booty divided, the allies repaired to the isthmus, according
to that beautiful ancient custom of apportioning rewards to such as
had been most distinguished. It was in the temple of Neptune that the
leaders met. The right of voting was confined to the several chiefs,
who were to declare whom they thought the first in merit and whom the
second. Each leader wrote his own name a candidate for the first
rank; but a great majority of suffrages awarded the second to
Themistocles. While, therefore, each leader had only a single
suffrage in favour of the first rank, the second rank was
unequivocally due to the Athenian.

XXI. But even conquest had not sufficed to remove the jealousies of
the confederate leaders--they evaded the decision of a question which
could not but be propitious to the Athenians, and returned home
without having determined the point which had assembled them at the
isthmus. But Themistocles was not of a temper to brook patiently this
fraud upon his honours. Far from sharing the petty and miserable
envies of their chiefs, the Greeks generally were loud in praise of
his wisdom and services; and, taking advantage of their enthusiasm,
Themistocles repaired to Sparta, trusting to the generosity of the
principal rival to compensate the injustice of many. His expectations
were not ill-founded--the customs of Sparta allowed no slight to a
Spartan, and they adjudged therefore the prize of valour to their own
Eurybiades, while they awarded that of wisdom or science to
Themistocles. Each was equally honoured with a crown of olive.
Forgetful of all their prejudices, their envy, and their inhospitable
treatment of strangers, that nation of warriors were dazzled by the
hero whose courage assimilated to their own. They presented him with
the stateliest chariot to be found in Sparta, and solemnly conducted
him homeward as far as Tegea, by an escort of three hundred chosen
Spartans called "The Knights"--the sole example of the Spartans
conducting any man from their city. It is said that on his return to
Athens, Themistocles was reproached by Timodemus of Aphidna, a
Belbinite by origin [92], and an implacable public enemy, with his
visit to Sparta: "The honours awarded you," said Timodemus, "are
bestowed from respect, not to you, but to Athens."

"My friend," retorted the witty chief, "the matter stands thus. Had I
been a Belbinite, I had not been thus distinguished at Sparta, nor
would you, although you had been born an Athenian!"

While the Greeks were thus occupied, the Persian army had retreated
with Mardonius into Thessaly. Here that general selected and
marshalled the forces with which he intended to renew the war,
retaining in his service the celebrated Immortals. The total,
including the cavalry, Herodotus estimates at three hundred thousand

Thus occupied, and ere Xerxes departed from Thessaly, the Spartans,
impelled by an oracle, sent a messenger to Xerxes to demand atonement
for the death of Leonidas.

"Ay," replied the king, laughing, "this man (pointing to Mardonius)
shall make you fitting retribution."

Leaving Mardonius in Thessaly, where he proposed to winter, Xerxes now
hastened home. Sixty thousand Persians under Artabazus accompanied
the king only as far as the passage into Asia; and it was with an
inconsiderable force, which, pressed by famine, devastated the very
herbage on their way, and which a pestilence and the dysentery
diminished as it passed, that the great king crossed the Hellespont,
on which the bridge of boats had already been broken by wind and
storm. A more abundant supply of provisions than they had yet
experienced tempted the army to excesses, to which many fell victims.
The rest arrived at Sardis with Xerxes, whence he afterward returned
to his more distant capital.

XXII. The people of Potidaea, on the Isthmus of Pallene, and
Olynthus, inhabited by the Bottiaeans, a dubious and mongrel race,
that boasted their origin from those Athenians who, in the traditional
ages, had been sent as tributary captives to the Cretan Minos, no
sooner learned the dispersion of the fleet at Salamis, and the retreat
of the king, than they openly revolted from the barbarian. Artabazus,
returning from the Hellespont, laid siege to Olynthus, massacred the
inhabitants, and colonized the town with Chalcidians. He then sat
down before Potidaea; but a terrible inundation of the sea, with the
sallies of the besieged, destroyed the greater number of the
unfortunate invaders. The remnant were conducted by Artabazus into
Thessaly, to join the army of Mardonius. The Persian fleet,
retreating from Salamis, after passing over the king and his forces
from the Chersonese to Abydos, wintered at Cuma; and at the
commencement of the spring assembled at Samos.

Meanwhile the Athenians returned to their dismantled city, and
directed their attention to its repair and reconstruction. It was
then, too, that in all probability the people hastened, by a formal
and solemn reversal of the sentence of ostracism, to reward the
services of Aristides, and to restore to the commonwealth the most
spotless of its citizens. [93]


Embassy of Alexander of Macedon to Athens.--The Result of his
Proposals.--Athenians retreat to Salamis.--Mardonius occupies Athens.
--The Athenians send Envoys to Sparta.--Pausanias succeeds Cleombrotus
as Regent of Sparta.--Battle of Plataea.--Thebes besieged by the
Athenians.--Battle of Mycale.--Siege of Sestos.--Conclusion of the
Persian War.

I. The dawning spring and the formidable appearance of Mardonius,
who, with his Persian forces, diminished indeed, but still mighty,
lowered on their confines, aroused the Greeks to a sense of their
danger. Their army was not as yet assembled, but their fleet,
consisting of one hundred and ten vessels, under the command of
Leotychides, king of Sparta, and Xanthippus of Athens, lay off Aegina.
Thus anchored, there came to the naval commanders certain Chians, who,
having been discovered in a plot against the life of Strattis, a
tyrant imposed upon Chios by the Persians, fled to Aegina. They
declared that all Ionia was ripe for revolt, and their representations
induced the Greeks to advance as far as the sacred Delos.

Beyond they dared not venture, ignorant alike of the localities of the
country and the forces of the enemy. Samos seemed to them no less
remote than the Pillars of Hercules, and mutual fear thus kept the
space between the Persian and the Greek fleet free from the advance of
either. But Mardonius began slowly to stir from his winter lethargy.
Influenced, thought the Greeks, perhaps too fondly, by a Theban
oracle, the Persian general despatched to Athens no less distinguished
an ambassador than Alexander, the king of Macedon. That prince,
connected with the Persians by alliance (for his sister had married
the Persian Bubares, son of Megabazus), was considered an envoy
calculated to conciliate the Athenians while he served their enemy.
And it was now the object of Mardonius to reconcile the foe whom he
had failed to conquer. Aware of the Athenian valour, Mardonius
trusted that if he could detach that state from the confederacy, and
prevail on the Athenians to unite their arms to his own, the rest of
Greece would become an easy conquest. By land he already deemed
himself secure of fortune, by sea what Grecian navy, if deprived of
the flower of its forces, could resist him?

II. The King of Macedon arrived at Athens; but conscious of the
jealous and anxious fear which the news of an embassy from Persia
would excite among the confederates, the Athenians delayed to grant
him the demanded audience until they had time to send for and obtain
deputies from Sparta to be present at the assembly.

Alexander of Macedon then addressed the Athenians.

"Men of Athens!" said he, "Mardonius informs you, through me, of this
mandate from the king: 'Whatever injuries,' saith he, 'the Athenians
have done me, I forgive. Restore them their country--let them even
annex to it any other territories they covet--permit them the free
enjoyment of their laws. If they will ally with me, rebuild the
temples I have burnt.'"

Alexander then proceeded to dilate on the consequences of this
favourable mission, to represent the power of the Persian, and urge
the necessity of an alliance. "Let my offers prevail with you," he
concluded, "for to you alone, of all the Greeks, the king extends his
forgiveness, desiring your alliance."

When Alexander had concluded, the Spartan envoys thus spoke through
their chief, addressing, not the Macedonian, but the Athenians:--"We
have been deputed by the Spartans to entreat you to adopt no measures
prejudicial to Greece, and to receive no conditions from the
barbarians. This, most iniquitous in itself, would be, above all,
unworthy and ungraceful in you; with you rests the origin of the war
now appertaining to all Greece. Insufferable, indeed, if the
Athenians, once the authors of liberty to many, were now the authors
of the servitude of Greece. We commiserate your melancholy condition
--your privation for two years of the fruits of your soil, your homes
destroyed, and your fortunes ruined. We, the Spartans, and the other
allies, will receive your women and all who may be helpless in the war
while the war shall last. Let not the Macedonian, smoothing down the
messages of Mardonius, move you. This becomes him; tyrant himself, he
would assist in a tyrant's work. But you will not heed him if you are
wise, knowing that faith and truth are not in the barbarians."

III. The answer of the Athenians to both Spartan and Persian, the
substance of which is, no doubt, faithfully preserved to us by
Herodotus, may rank among the most imperishable records of that high-
souled and generous people.

"We are not ignorant," ran the answer, dictated, and, probably,
uttered by Aristides [94], "that the power of the Mede is many times
greater than our own. We required not that ostentatious admonition.
Yet, for the preservation of liberty, we will resist that power as we
can. Cease to persuade us to contract alliance with the barbarian.
Bear back to Mardonius this answer from the Athenians--So long as
yonder sun," and the orator pointed to the orb [95], "holds the
courses which now it holds--so long will we abjure all amity with
Xerxes--so long, confiding in the aid of our gods and heroes, whose
shrines and altars he hath burnt, will we struggle against him in
battle and for revenge. And thou, beware how again thou bearest such
proffers to the Athenians; nor, on the plea of benefit to us, urge us
to dishonour; for we would not--ungrateful to thee, our guest and our
friend--have any evil befall to thee from the anger of the Athenians."

"For you, Spartans! it may be consonant with human nature that you
should fear our alliance with the barbarians--yet shamefully you fear
it, knowing with what spirit we are animated and act. Gold hath no
amount--earth hath no territory, how beautiful soever--that can tempt
the Athenians to accept conditions from the Mede for the servitude of
Greece. Were we so inclined, many and mighty are our prohibitions;
first and chiefly, our temples burnt and overthrown, urging us not to
alliance, but to revenge. Next, the whole race of Greece has one
consanguinity and one tongue, and common are its manners, its altars,
and its gods base indeed, if Athenians were of these the betrayers.
Lastly, learn now, if ye knew it not before, that, while one Athenian
shall survive, Athens allies herself not with Xerxes."

"We thank you for your providence of us--your offers to protect our
families--afflicted and impoverished as we are. We will bear,
however, our misfortunes as we may--becoming no burden upon you. Be
it your care to send your forces to the field. Let there be no delay.
The barbarian will be on us when he learns that we have rejected his
proposals. Before he proceed to Attica let us meet him in Boeotia."

IV. On receiving this answer from the Athenians the Spartan
ambassadors returned home; and, shortly afterward, Mardonius, by rapid
marches, conducted his army towards Attica; fresh supplies of troops
recruiting his forces wheresoever he passed. The Thessalian princes,
far from repenting their alliance with Mardonius, animated his ardour.

Arrived in Boeotia, the Thebans endeavoured to persuade the Persian
general to encamp in that territory, and to hazard no battle, but
rather to seek by bribes to the most powerful men in each city, to
detach the confederates from the existent alliance. Pride, ambition,
and the desire of avenging Xerxes once more upon Athens, deterred
Mardonius from yielding to this counsel. He marched on to Attica--he
found the territory utterly deserted. He was informed that the
inhabitants were either at Salamis or with the fleet. He proceeded to
Athens (B. C. 479), equally deserted, and, ten months after the first
capture by Xerxes, that city a second time was occupied by the Mede.

From Athens Mardonius despatched a Greek messenger to Salamis,
repeating the propositions of Alexander. On hearing these offers in
council, the Athenians were animated by a species of fury. A
counsellor named Lycidas having expressed himself in favour of the
terms, he was immediately stoned to death. The Athenian women, roused
by a similar passion with the men, inflicted the same fate upon his
wife and children--one of those excesses of virtue which become
crimes, but for which exigency makes no despicable excuse. [96] The
ambassador returned uninjured.

V. The flight of the Athenians to Salamis had not been a willing
resort. That gallant people had remained in Attica so long as they
could entertain any expectation of assistance from the Peloponnesus;
nor was it until compelled by despair at the inertness of their
allies, and the appearance of the Persians in Boeotia, that they had
removed to Salamis.

The singular and isolated policy of Sparta, which had curbed and
crippled, to an exclusive regard for Spartans, all the more generous
and daring principles of action, was never, perhaps, so odiously
displayed as in the present indifference to an ally that had so nobly
preferred the Grecian liberties to its own security. The whole of the
Peloponnesus viewed with apathy the occupation of Attica, and the
Spartans were employed in completing the fortifications of the

The Athenians despatched messengers to Sparta, as did also Megara and
Plataea. These ambassadors assumed a high and reproachful tone of

They represented the conduct of the Athenians in rejecting the
overtures of the barbarians--they upbraided the Spartans with perfidy
for breaking the agreement to meet the enemy in Boeotia--they declared
the resentment of the Athenians at the violation of this compact,
demanded immediate supplies, and indicated the plains near Thria, a
village in Attica, as a fitting field of battle.

The ephors heard the remonstrance, but from day to day delayed an
answer. The Spartans, according to Herodotus, were engaged in
celebrating the solemnities in honour of Hyacinthus and Apollo; and
this ceremonial might have sufficed as a plausible cause for
procrastination, according to all the usages and formalities of


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