The Persian War

We come now to the most important and interesting of Grecian history--the

great contest with Persia--the age of heroes and of battle-fields, when

military glory was the master passion of a noble race. What inspiration

have all ages gained from that noble contest in behalf of liberty!

We have seen how Asiatic cities were colonized by Greeks, among

whom the Ionians were pre-eminent. The cities were governed by tyrants,

who were sustained in their usurpation by the power of Persia, then the

great power of the world. Darius, then king, had absurdly invaded Scythia,

with an immense army of six hundred thousand men, to punish the people for

their inroad upon Western Asia, subject to his sway, about a century

before. He was followed by his allies, the tyrants of the Ionian cities,

to whom he intrusted the guardianship of the bridge of boats by which he

had crossed the Danube, B.C. 510. As he did not return within the time

specified--sixty days--the Greeks were left at liberty to return. A body of

Scythians then appeared, who urged the Greeks to destroy the bridge, as

Darius was in full retreat, and thus secure the destruction of the Persian

army and the recovery of their own liberty. Miltiades, who ruled the

Chersonese--the future hero of Marathon, seconded the wise proposal of the

Scythians, but Histiaeus, tyrant of Miletus, feared that such an act would

recoil upon themselves, and favor another inroad of Scythians--a fierce

nation of barbarians. The result was that the bridge was not destroyed,

but the further end of it was severed from the shore. Night arrived, and

the Persian hosts appeared upon the banks of the river, but finding no

trace of it, Darius ordered an Egyptian who had a trumpet-voice to summon

to his aid Histiaeus, the Milesian. He came forward with a fleet and

restored the bridge, and Darius and his army were saved, and the

opportunity was lost to the Ionians for emancipating themselves from the

Persians. The bridge was preserved, not from honorable fidelity to fulfill

a trust, but selfish regard in the despot of Miletus to maintain his

power. For this service he was rewarded with a principality on the

Strymon. Exciting, however, the suspicion of Darius, by his intrigues, he

was carried captive to the Persian court, but with every mark of honor.

Darius left his brother Artaphernes as governor of all the cities in

Western Asia Minor.

A few years after this unsuccessful invasion of Scythia by Darius,

a political conflict broke out in Naxos, an island of the Cyclades, B.C.

502, which had not submitted to the Persian yoke, and the oligarchy, which

ruled the island, were expelled. They applied for aid to Aristagoras, the

tyrant of Miletus, the largest of the Ionian cities, who persuaded the

Persian satrap to send an expedition against the island. The expedition

failed, which ruined the credit of Aristagoras, son-in-law to Histiaeus,

who was himself incensed at his detention in Susa, and who sent a trusty

slave with a message urging the Ionians to revolt. Aristagoras, as a means

of success, conciliated popular favor throughout Asiatic Greece, by

putting down the various tyrants--the instruments of Persian ascendency.

The flames of revolt were kindled, the despots were expelled, the revolted

towns were put in a state of defense, and Aristagoras visited Sparta to

invoke its aid, inflaming the mind of the king with the untold wealth of

Asia, which would become his spoil. Sparta was then at war with her

neighbors, and unwilling to become involved in so uncertain a contest.

Rejected at Sparta, Aristagoras proceeded to Athens, then the second power

in Greece, and was favorably received, for the Athenians had a powerful

sympathy with the revolted Ionians; they agreed to send a fleet of twenty

ships. When Aristagoras returned, the Persians had commenced the siege of

Miletus. The twenty ships soon crossed the AEgean, and were joined by five

Eretrian ships coming to the succor of Miletus. An unsuccessful attempt of

Aristagoras on Sardis disgusted the Athenians, who abandoned the alliance.

But the accidental burning of the city, including the temple of the

goddess Cybele, encouraged the revolters, and incensed the Persians. Other

Greek cities on the coast took part in the revolt, including the island of

Cyprus. The revolt now assumed a serious character. The Persians rallied

their allies, among whom were the Phoenicians. An armament of Persians and

Phoenicians sailed against Cyprus, and a victory on the land gave the

Persians the control of the island. A large army of Persians and their

allies collected at Sardis, and, under different divisions reconquered all

their principal Ionian cities, except Miletus; but the Ionian fleet kept

its ascendency at sea. Aristagoras as the Persians advanced, lost courage

and fled to Myrkinus, where he shortly afterward perished.

Meanwhile Histiaeus presented himself at the gates of Miletus,

having procured the consent of Darius to proceed thither to quell the

revolt. He was, however, suspected by the satrap, Artaphernes, and fled to

Chios, whose people he gained over, and who carried him back to Miletus.

On his arrival, he found the citizens averse to his reception, and was

obliged to return to Chios, and then to Lesbos, where he abandoned himself

to piracy.

A vast Persian host, however, had been concentrated near Miletus,

and with the assistance of the Phoenicians, invested the city by sea and

land. The entire force of the confederated cities abandoned the Milesians

to their fate, and took to their ships, three hundred and fifty-three in

number, with a view of fighting the Phoenicians, who had six hundred ships.

But there was a want of union among the Ionian commanders, and the sailors

abandoned themselves to disorder and carelessness; upon which Dionysius,

of Phocaea, which furnished but three ships, rebuked the Ionians for their

neglect of discipline. His rebuke was not thrown away, and the Ionians

having their comfortable tents on shore, submitted themselves to the

nautical labors imposed by Dionysius. At last, after seven days of work,

the Ionian sailors broke out in open mutiny, and refused longer to be

under the discipline of a man whose State furnished the smallest number of

ships. They left their ships, and resumed their pleasures on the shore,

unwilling to endure the discipline so necessary in so great a crisis.

Their camp became a scene of disunion and mistrust. The Samians, in

particular, were discontented, and on the day of battle, which was to

decide the fortunes of Ionia, they deserted with sixty ships, and other

Ionians followed their example. The ships of Chios, one hundred in number,

fought with great fidelity and resolution, and Dionysius captured, with

his three ships, three of the Phoenicians'. But these exceptional examples

of bravery did not compensate the treachery and cowardice of the rest, and

the consequence was a complete defeat of the Ionians at Lade. Dionysius,

seeing the ruin of the Ionian camp, did not return to his own city, and

set sail for the Phoenician coast, doing all he could as a pirate.

This victory of Lade enabled the Persians to attack Miletus by sea

as well as land; the siege was prosecuted with vigor, and the city shortly

fell. The adult male population was slain, while the women and children

were sent as slaves to Susa. The Milesian territory was devastated and

stripped of its inhabitants. The other States hastened to make their

submission, and the revolt was crushed, B.C. 496, five years after its

commencement. The Persian forces reconquered all the Asiatic Greeks,

insular and continental, and the Athenian Miltiades escaped with

difficulty from his command in the Chersonese, to his native city. All the

threats which were made by the Persians were realized. The most beautiful

virgins were distributed among the Persian nobles; the cities were

destroyed; and Samos alone remained, as a reward for desertion at the

battle of Lade.

The reconquest of Ionia being completed, the satrap proceeded to

organize the future government, the inhabitants now being composed of a

great number of Persians. Meanwhile, Darius made preparations for the

complete conquest of Greece. The wisdom of the advice of Miltiades, to

destroy the bridge over the Danube, when Darius and his army would have

been annihilated by the Scythians, was now apparent. Mardonius was sent

with a large army into Ionia, who deposed the despots in the various

cities, whom Artaphernes had reinstated, and left the people to govern

themselves, subject to the Persian dominion and tribute. He did not remain

long in Ionia, but passed with his fleet to the Hellespont, and joined his

land forces. He transported his army to Europe, and began his march

through Thrace. Thence marched into Macedonia, and subdued a part of its

inhabitants. He then sent his fleet around Mount Athos, with a view of

joining it with his army at the Gulf of Therma. But a storm overtook his

fleet near Athos, and destroyed three hundred ships, and drowned twenty

thousand men. This disaster compelled a retreat, and he recrossed the

Hellespont with the shame of failure. He was employed no more by the

Persian king.

Darius, incited by the traitor Hippias, made new preparation for

the invasion of Greece. He sent his heralds in every direction, demanding

the customary token of submission--earth and water. Many of the continental

cities sent in their submission, including the Thebans, Thessalians, and

the island of AEgina, which was on bad terms with Athens. The heralds of

Darius were put to death at Athens and Sparta, which can only be explained

from the fiercest resentment and rage. These two powers made common cause,

and armed all the other States over which they had influence, to resist

the Persian domination. Hellas, headed by Sparta, now resolved to put

forth all its energies, and embarked, in desperate hostility. A war which

Sparta had been waging for several years against Argos crippled that

ancient State, and she was no longer the leading power. The only rival

which Sparta feared was weakened, and full scope was given, for the

prosecution of the Persian war. AEgina, which had submitted to Darius, was

visited by Cleomenes, king of Sparta, and hostages were sent to Athens for

the neutrality of that island. Athens and Sparta suspended their political

jealousies, and acted in concert to resist the common danger.

By the spring of 490 B.C. the preparations of Darius were

completed, and a vast army collected on a plain upon the Cilician shore. A

fleet of six hundred ships convoyed it to the rendezvous at Samos. The

exiled tyrant Hippias was present to guide the forces to the attack of

Attica. The Mede Datis, and Artaphernes, son of the satrap of Sardis,

nephew to Darius, were the Persian generals. They had orders from Darius

to bring the inhabitants of Athens as slaves to his presence.

The Persian fleet, fearing a similar disaster as happened near

Mount Athos, struck directly across the AEgean, from Samos to Euboea,

attacking on the way the intermediate islands. Naxos thus was invaded and

easily subdued. From Naxos, Datis sent his fleet round the other Cyclades

Islands, demanding reinforcements and hostages from all he visited, and

reached the southern extremity of Euboea in safety. Etruria was first

subdued, unable to resist. After halting a few days at this city, he

crossed to Attica, and landed in the bay of Marathon, on the eastern

coast. The despot Hippias, son of Pisistratus, twenty years after his

expulsion from Athens, pointed out the way.

But a great change had taken place at Athens since his expulsion.

The city was now under democratic rule, in its best estate. The ten tribes

had become identified with the government and institutions of the city.

The senate of the areopagus, renovated by the annual archons, was in

sympathy with the people. Great men had arisen under the amazing stimulus

of liberty, among whom Miltiades, Themistocles, and Aristides were the

most distinguished. Miltiades, after an absence of six years in the

Chersonesus of Thrace, returned to the city full of patriotic ardor. He

was brought to trial before the popular assembly on the charge of having

misgoverned the Chersonese; but he was honorably acquitted, and was chosen

one of the ten generals of the republic annually elected. He was not,

however, a politician of the democratic stamp, like Themistocles and

Aristides, being a descendant of an illustrious race, which traced their

lineage to the gods; but he was patriotic, brave, and decided. His advice

to burn the bridge over the Danube illustrates his character--bold and

far-seeing. Moreover, he was peculiarly hostile to Darius, whom he had so

grievously offended.

Themistocles was a man of great native genius and sagacity. He

comprehended all the embarrassments and dangers of the political crisis in

which his city was placed, and saw at a glance the true course to be

pursued. He was also bold and daring. He was not favored by the accidents

of birth, and owed very little to education. He had an unbounded passion

for glory and for display. He had great tact in the management of party,

and was intent on the aggrandizement of his country. His morality was

reckless, but his intelligence was great--a sort of Mirabeau: with his

passion, his eloquence, and his talents. His unfortunate end--a traitor and

an exile--shows how little intellectual pre-eminence will avail, in the

long run, without virtue, although such talents as he exhibited will be

found useful in a crisis.

Aristides was inferior to both Alcibiades and Themistocles in

genius, in resource, in boldness, and in energy; but superior in virtue,

in public fidelity, and moral elevation. He pursued a consistent course,

was no demagogue, unflinching in the discharge of trusts, just, upright,

unspotted. Such a man, of course, in a corrupt society, would be exposed

to many enmities and jealousies. But he was, on the whole, appreciated,

and died, in a period of war and revolution, a poor man, with unbounded

means of becoming rich--one of the few examples which our world affords of

a man who believed in virtue, in God, and a judgment to come, and who

preferred the future and spiritual to the present and material--a fool in

the eyes of the sordid and bad--a wise man according to the eternal


Aristides, Miltiades, and perhaps Themistocles, were elected among

the ten generals, by the ten tribes, in the year that Datis led his

expedition to Marathon. Each of the ten generals had the supreme command

of the army for a day. Great alarm was felt at Athens as tidings reached

the city of the advancing and conquering Persians. Couriers were sent in

hot haste to the other cities, especially Sparta, and one was found to

make the journey to Sparta on foot--one hundred and fifty miles--in

forty-eight hours. The Spartans agreed to march, without delay, after the

last quarter of the moon, which custom and superstition dictated. This

delay was fraught with danger, but was insisted upon by the Spartans.

Meanwhile the dangers multiplied and thickened, that not a moment

should be lost in bringing the Persians into action. Five of the generals

counseled delay. The polemarch, Calimachus, who then had the casting vote,

decided for immediate action. Themistocles and Aristides had seconded the

advice of Miltiades, to whom the other generals surrendered their days of

command--a rare example of patriotic disinterestedness. The Athenians

marched at once to Marathon to meet their foes, and were joined by the

Plataeans, one thousand warriors, from a little city--the whole armed

population, which had a great moral effect.

The Athenians had only ten thousand hoplites, including the one

thousand from Plataea. The Persian army is variously estimated at from one

hundred and ten thousand to six hundred thousand. The Greeks were encamped

upon the higher ground overlooking the plain which their enemies occupied.

The fleet was ranged along the beach. The Greeks advanced to the combat in

rapid movement, urged on by the war-cry, which ever animated their

charges. The wings of the Persian army were put to flight by the audacity

of the charge, but the centre, where the best troops were posted, resisted

the attack until Miltiades returned from the pursuit of the retreating

soldiers on the wings. The defeat of the Persians was the result. They

fled to their ships, and became involved in the marshes. Six thousand four

hundred men fell on the Persian side, and only one hundred and ninety-two

on the Athenian. The Persians, though defeated, still retained their

ships, and sailed toward Cape Sunium, with a view of another descent upon

Attica. Miltiades, the victor in the most glorious battle ever till then

fought in Greece, penetrated the designs of the Persians, and rapidly

retreated to Athens on the very day of battle. Datis arrived at the port

of Phalerum to discover that his plans were baffled, and that the

Athenians were still ready to oppose him. The energy and promptness of

Miltiades had saved the city. Datis, discouraged, set sail, without

landing, to the Cyclades.

The battle of Marathon, B.C. 490, must be regarded as one of the

great decisive battles of the world, and the first which raised the

political importance of the Greeks in the eyes of foreign powers. It was

fought by Athens twenty years after the expulsion of the tyrants, and as a

democratic State. On the Athenians rest the glory forever. It was not

important for the number of men who fell on either side, but for giving

the first great check to the Persian domination, and preventing their

conquest of Europe. And its moral effect was greater than its political.

It freed the Greeks from that fear of the Persians which was so fatal and

universal, for the tide of Persian conquest had been hitherto

uninterrupted. It animated the Greeks with fresh courage, for the bravery

of the Athenians had been unexampled, as had been the generalship of

Miltiades. Athens was delivered by the almost supernatural bravery of its

warriors, and was then prepared to make those sacrifices which were

necessary in the more desperate struggles which were to come. And it

inspired the people with patriotic ardor, and upheld the new civil

constitution. It gave force and dignity to the democracy, and prepared it

for future and exalted triumphs. It also gave force to the religious

sentiments of the people, for such a victory was regarded as owing to the

special favor of the gods.

The Spartans did not arrive until after the battle had been fought, and

Datis had returned with his Etrurian prisoners to Asia.

The victory of Marathon raised the military fame of Miltiades to

the most exalted height, and there were no bounds to the enthusiasm of the

Athenians. But the victory turned his head, and he lost both prudence and

patriotism. He persuaded his countrymen, in the full tide of his

popularity, to intrust him with seventy ships, with an adequate force,

with powers to direct an expedition according to his pleasure. The

armament was cheerfully granted. But he disgracefully failed in an attack

on the island of Paros, to gratify a private vindictive animosity. He lost

all his eclat and was impeached. He appealed, wounded and disabled from

a fall he had received, to his previous services. He was found guilty, but

escaped the penalty of death, but not of a fine of fifty talents. He did

not live to pay it, or redeem his fame, but died of the injury he had

received. Thus this great man fell from a pinnacle of glory to the deepest

disgrace and ruin--a fate deserved, for he was not true to himself or

country. The Athenians were not to blame, but judged him rightly. It was

not fickleness, but a change in their opinions, founded on sufficient

grounds, from the deep disappointment in finding that their hero was

unworthy of their regards. No man who had rendered a favor has a claim to

pursue a course of selfishness and unlawful ambition. No services can

offset crimes. The Athenians, in their unbounded admiration, had given

unbounded trust, and that trust was abused. And as the greatest despots

who had mounted to power had earned their success by early services, so

had they abused their power by imposing fetters, and the Athenians, just

escaped from the tyranny of these despots, felt a natural jealousy and a

deep repugnance, in spite of their previous admiration. The Athenians, in

their treatment of Miltiades, were neither ungrateful nor fickle, but

acted from a high sense of public morality, and in a stern regard to

justice, without which the new constitution would soon have been

subverted. On the death of Miltiades Themistocles and Aristides became the

two leading men of Athens, and their rivalries composed the domestic

history of the city, until the renewed and vast preparations of the

Persians caused all dissensions to be suspended for the public good.

But the jealousies and rivalries of these great men were not

altogether personal. They were both patriotic, but each had different

views respecting the course which Athens should adopt in the greatness of

the dangers which impended. The policy of Aristides was to strengthen the

army--that of Themistocles, the navy. Both foresaw the national dangers,

but Themistocles felt that the hopes of Greece rested on ships rather than

armies to resist the Persians. And his policy was adopted. As the world

can not have two suns, so Athens could not be prospered by the presence of

two such great men, each advocating different views. One or the other must

succumb to the general good, and Aristides was banished by the power of


The wrath of Darius--a man of great force of character, but haughty

and self-sufficient, was tremendous when he learned the defeat of Datis,

and his retreat into Asia. He resolved to bring the whole force of the

Persian empire together to subdue the Athenians, from whom he had suffered

so great a disgrace. Three years were spent in active preparations for a

new expedition which should be overwhelming. All the allies of Persia were

called upon for men and supplies. Nor was he deterred by a revolt of

Egypt, which broke out about this time, and he was on the point of

carrying two gigantic enterprises--one for the reconquest of Egypt, and the

other for the conquest of Greece--when he died, after a reign of thirty-six

years, B.C. 485.

He was succeeded by his son Xerxes, who was animated by the

animosities, but not the genius of his father. Though beautiful and tall,

he was faint-hearted, vain, blinded by a sense of power, and enslaved by

women. Yet he continued the preparations which Darius projected. Egypt was

first subdued by his generals, and he then turned his undivided attention

to Greece. He convoked the dignitaries of his empire--the princes and

governors of provinces, and announced his resolution to bridge over the

Hellespont and march to the conquest of Europe. Artabanus, his uncle,

dissuaded him from the enterprise, setting forth especially the

probability that the Greeks, if victorious at sea, would destroy the

bridge, and thus prevent his safe return. Mardonius advised differently,

urging ambition and revenge, motives not lost on the Persian monarch. For

four years the preparations went forward from all parts of the empire,

including even the islands in the AEgean. In the autumn of 481 B.C., the

largest army this world has ever seen assembled at Sardis. Besides this, a

powerful fleet of one thousand two hundred and seven ships of war, besides

transports, was collected at the Hellespont. Large magazines of provisions

were formed along the coast of Asia Minor. A double bridge of boats,

extending from Abydos to Sestos--a mile in length across the Hellespont,

was constructed by Phoenicians and Egyptians; but this was destroyed by a

storm. Xerxes, in a transport of fury, caused the heads of the engineers

to be cut off, and the sea itself scourged with three hundred lashes. This

insane wrath being expended, the monarch caused the work to be at once

reconstructed, this time by the aid of Greek engineers. Two bridges were

built side by side upon more than six hundred large ships, moored with

strong anchors, with their heads toward the AEgean. Over each bridge were

sketched six vast cables, which held the ships together, and over these

were laid planks of wood, upon which a causeway was formed of wood and

earth, with a high palisade on each side. To facilitate his march, Xerxes

also constructed a canal across the isthmus which connects Mount Athos

with the main land, on which were employed Phoenician engineers. The men

employed in digging the canal worked under the whip. Bridges were also

thrown across the river Strymon.

These works were completed while Xerxes wintered at Sardis. From

that city he dispatched heralds to all the cities of Greece, except Sparta

and Athens, to demand the usual tokens of submission--earth and water. He

also sent orders to the maritime cities of Thrace and Macedonia to prepare

dinner for himself and hosts, as they passed through. Greece was struck

with consternation as the news reached the various cities of the vast

forces which were on the march to subdue them. The army proceeded from

Sardis, in the spring, in two grand columns, between which was the king

and guards and select troops--all native Persians, ten thousand foot and

ten thousand horse. From Sardis the hosts of Xerxes proceeded to Abydos,

through Ilium, where his two bridges across the Hellespont awaited him.

From a marble throne the proud and vainglorious monarch saw his vast army

defile over the bridges, perfumed with frankincense and strewed with

myrtle boughs. One bridge was devoted to the troops, the other to the

beasts and baggage. The first to cross were the ten thousand household

troops, called Immortals, wearing garlands on their heads; then followed

Xerxes himself in his gilded chariot, and then the rest of the army. It

occupied seven days for the vast hosts to cross the bridge. Xerxes then

directed his march to Doriscus, in Thrace, near the mouth of the Hebrus,

where he joined his fleet. There he took a general review, and never,

probably, was so great an army marshaled before or since, and composed of

so many various nations. There were assembled nations from the Indus, from

the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Levant, the AEgean and the

Euxine--Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Lybian. Forty-six nations were

represented--all that were tributary to Persia. From the estimates made by

Herodotus, there were one million seven hundred thousand foot, eighty

thousand horse, besides a large number of chariots. With the men who

manned the fleet and those he pressed into his service on the march, the

aggregate of his forces was two million six hundred and forty thousand.

Scarcely an inferior number attended the soldiers as slaves, sutlers, and

other persons, swelling the amount of the males to five million two

hundred and eighty-three thousand two hundred and twenty--the whole

available force of the Eastern world--Asia against Europe: as in mediaeval

times it was Europe against Asia. It is, however, impossible for us to

believe in so large a force, since it could not have been supplied with

provisions. But with every deduction, it was still the largest army the

world ever saw.

After the grand enumeration of forces, Xerxes passed in his chariot

to survey separately each body of contingents, to which he put questions.

He then embarked in a gilded galley, and sailed past the prows of the

twelve hundred ships moored four hundred feet from the shore. That such a

vast force could be resisted was not even supposed to be conceivable by

the blinded monarch. But Demaratus, the exiled king of Sparta, told him he

would be resisted unto death, a statement which was received with


After the review, the grand army pursued its course westward in

three divisions and roads along Thrace, levying enormous contributions on

all the Grecian towns, which submitted as the Persian monarch marched

along, for how could they resist? The mere provisioning this great host

for a single day impoverished the country. But there was no help, for to

mortal eyes the success of Xerxes was certain. At Acanthus, Xerxes

separated from his fleet, which was directed to sail round Mount Athos,

while he pursued his march through Paeonia and Crestonia, and rejoin him at

Therma, on the Thermaic Gulf, in Macedonia, within sight of Mount Olympus.

Meanwhile, the Athenians, fully alive to their danger, strained

every nerve to make preparations to resist the enemy; fortunately, there

was in the treasury a large sum derived from the Lamian mines, and this

they applied, on the urgent representations of Themistocles, to building

ships and refitting their navy. A Panhellenic congress, under the

presidency of Athens and Sparta, assembled at the Isthmus of Corinth.--the

first great league since the Trojan war. The representatives of the

various States buried their dissensions, the most prominent of which were

between Athens and AEgina. In reconciling these feuds, Themistocles took a

pre-eminent part. Indeed, there was need, for the political existence of

Hellas was threatened, and despair was seen in most every city. Even the

Delphic oracle gave out replies discouraging and terrible; intimating,

however, that the safety of Athens lay in the wooden wall, which, with

extraordinary tact, was interpreted by Themistocles to mean that the true

defense lay in the navy. Salamis was the place designated by the oracle

for the retreat, which was now imperative, and thither the Athenians fled,

with their wives and children, guarded by their fleet. It was decided by

the congress that Sparta should command the land forces, and Athens the

united navy of the Greeks; but many States, in deadly fear of the

Persians, persisted in neutrality, among which were Argos, Cretes,

Corcyra. The chief glory of the defense lay with Sparta and Athens. The

united army was sent into Thessaly to defend the defile of Tempe, but

discovering that they were unable to do this, since another pass over

Mount Olympus was open in the summer, they retreated to the isthmus of

Corinth, and left all Greece north of Mount Citheron and the Megarid

territory without defense. Had the Greeks been able to maintain the passes

of Olympus and Ossa, all the northern States would probably have joined in

the confederation against Persia; but, as they were left defenseless, we

can not wonder that they submitted, including even the Achaeans, Borotians,

and Dorians.

The Pass of Thermopylae was now fixed upon as the most convenient

place of resistance, next to the vale of Tempe. Here the main land was

separated from the island of Euboea by a narrow strait two miles wide. On

the northern part of the island, near the town of Histiaea, the coast was

called Artemisium, and here the fleet was mustered, to co-operate with the

land forces, and oppose, in a narrow strait, the progress of the Persian

fleet. The defile of Thermopylae itself, at the south of Thessaly, was

between Mount OEta and an impassable morass on the Maliac Gulf. Nature had

thus provided a double position of defense--a narrow defile on the land,

and a narrow strait on the water, through which the army and the fleet

must need pass if they would co-operate.

While the congress resolved to avail themselves of the double

position, by sea and land, the Olympic games, and the great Dorian, of the

Carneia, were at hand. These could not be dispensed with, even in the most

extraordinary crisis to which the nation could be exposed. While,

therefore, the Greeks assembled to keep the national festivals, probably

from religious and superstitious motives, auguring no good if they were

disregarded, Leonidas, king of Sparta, with three hundred Spartans, two

thousand one hundred and twenty Arcadians, four hundred Corinthians, two

hundred men from Philius, and eighty from Mycenae--in all three thousand one

hundred hoplites, besides Helots and light troops, was sent to defend the

pass against the Persian hosts. On the march through Boeotia one thousand

men from Thebes and Thespiae joined them, though on the point of submission

to Xerxes. The Athenians sent their whole force on board their ships,

joined by the Plataeans.

It was in the summer of 480 B.C. when Xerxes reached Therma, about

which time the Greeks arrived at their allotted posts. Leonidas took his

position in the middle of the Pass--a mile in length, with two narrow

openings. He then repaired the old wall built across the Pass by the

Phocians, and awaited the coming of the enemy, for it was supposed his

force was sufficient to hold it till the games were over. It was also

thought that this narrow pass was the only means of access possible to the

invading army; but it was soon discovered that there was also a narrow

mountain path from the Phocian territory to Thermopylae. The Phocians

agreed to guard this path, and leave the defense of the main pass to the

Peloponnesian troops. But Leonidas painfully felt that his men were

insufficient in number, and found it necessary to send envoys to the

different States for immediate re-enforcements.

The Greek fleet, assembled at Artemisium, was composed of two

hundred and seventy-one triremes and nine penteconters, commanded by

Themistocles, but furnished by the different States. A disaster happened

to the Greeks very early; three triremes were captured by the Persians,

which caused great discouragement, and in a panic the Greeks abandoned

their strong naval position, and sailed up the Euboean Strait to Chalcis.

This was a great misfortune, since the rear of the army of Leonidas was no

longer protected by the fleet. But a destructive storm dispersed the fleet

of the Persians at this imminent crisis, so that it was impossible to lend

aid to their army now arrived at Thermopylae. Four hundred ships of war,

together with a vast number of transports, were thus destroyed. The storm

lasted three days. After this disaster to the Persians, the Greek fleet

returned to Artemisium. Xerxes encamped within sight of Thermopylae four

days, without making an attack, on account of the dangers to which his

fleet were exposed. On the fifth day he became wroth at the impudence and

boldness of the petty force which quietly remained to dispute his passage,

for the Spartans amused themselves with athletic sports and combing their

hair. Nor was it altogether presumption on the part of the Greeks, for

there were four or five thousand heavily-armed men, the bravest in the

land, to defend a passage scarcely wider than a carriage-road--with a wall

and other defenses in front.

The first attack on the Greeks was made by the Medea--the bravest of

the Persian army, but their arrows and short spears were of little avail

against the phalanx which opposed, armed with long spears, and protected

by shields. For two days the attack continued, and was constantly

repulsed, for only a small detachment of Greeks fought at a time. Even the

"Immortals"--the chosen band of Xerxes--were repulsed with a great loss, to

the agony and shame of Xerxes.

On the third day, a Malian revealed to the Persian king the fact

that a narrow path, leading over the mountains, was defended only by

Phocians, and that this path led to the rear of the Spartans. A strong

detachment of Persians was sent in the night to secure this path, and the

Phocian guardians fled. The Persians descended the path, and attacked the

Greeks in their rear. Leonidas soon became apprised of his danger, but in

time to send away his army. It was now clear that Thermopylae could no

longer be defended, but the heroic and self-sacrificing general resolved

to remain, and sell his life as dearly as possible, and retard, if he

could not resist, the march of the enemy. Three hundred Spartans, with

seven hundred Thespians and four hundred Thebans joined him, while the

rest retired to fight another day. It required all the efforts of the

Persian generals, assisted by the whip, to force the men to attack this

devoted band. The Greeks fought with the most desperate bravery, till

their spears were broken, and no weapons remained but their swords and

daggers. At last, exhausted, they died, surrounded by vast forces, after

having made the most heroic defence in the history of the war. Only one

man, Aristodemus, returned to his home of all the three hundred Spartans,

but only to receive scorn and infamy. The Theban band alone yielded to the

Persians, but only at the last hour.

Nothing could exceed the blended anger and admiration of Xerxes as

he beheld this memorable resistance. He now saw, for the first time, the

difficulty of subduing such a people as the Greeks, resolved to resist

unto death. His mind was perplexed, and he did not know what course to

adopt. Had he accepted the advice of Demaratus, to make war on the

southern coast of Laconia, and thus distract the Spartans and prevent

their co-operation with Athens, he would have probably succeeded.

But he followed other councils. Meanwhile, the Persian fleet

rallied after the storm, and was still formidable, in spite of losses. The

Greeks were disposed to retire and leave the strait open to the enemy. The

Euboeans, seeing the evil which would happen to them if their island was

unprotected, sent to Themistocles a present of thirty talents, if he would

keep his position. This money he spent in bribing the different commanders

who wished to retire, and it was resolved to remain. The Persians,

confident of an easy victory, sent round the island of Euboea a detachment

of two hundred ships, to cut off all hopes of escape to the ships which

they expected to capture. A deserter revealed the intelligence to

Themistocles, and it was resolved to fight the Persians, thus weakened, at

once, but at the close of the day, so that the battle would not be

decisive. The battle of Artemisium was a sort of skirmish, to accustom the

Greeks to the Phoenician mode of fighting. It was, however, successful, and

thirty ships of the Persians were taken or disabled.

But the Greeks derived a greater succor than ships and men. Another

storm overtook the Persians, damaged their fleet, and destroyed the

squadron sent round the island of Euboea. Another sea-fight was the result,

since the Greeks were not only aided by the storm, but new

re-enforcements; but this second fight was indecisive. Themistocles now

felt he could not hold the strait against superior numbers, and the

disaster of Thermopylae being also now known, he resolved to retreat

farther into Greece, and sailed for Salamis.

At this period the Greeks generally were filled with consternation

and disappointment. Neither the Pass of Thermopylae, nor the strait which

connected the Malicas Gulf with the AEgean, had been successfully defended.

The army of Xerxes was advancing through Phocis and Boeotia to the Isthmus

of Corinth, while the navy sailed unobstructed through the Euboean Sea. On

the part of the Greeks there had been no preparations commensurate with

the greatness of the crisis, while, had they rallied to Thermopylae,

instead of wasting time at the festivals, they would have saved the pass,

and the army of Xerxes, strained for provisions, would have been compelled

to retreat. The, Lacedaemonians, aroused by the death of their king, at

last made vigorous efforts to fortify the Isthmus of Corinth, too late,

however, to defend Boeotia and Attica. The situation of Athens was now

hopeless, and it was seen what a fatal mistake had been made not to

defend, with the whole force of Greece, the Pass of Thermopylae. There was

no help from the Spartans, for they had all flocked to the Isthmus of

Corinth, as the last chance of protecting the Peloponnesus. In despair,

the Athenians resolved to abandon Athens, with their families, and take

shelter at Salamis. Themistocles alone was undismayed, and sought to

encourage his countrymen that the "wooden wall" would still be their

salvation. The Athenians, if dismayed, did not lose their energies. The

recall of the exiles was decreed by Themistocles' suggestion. With

incredible efforts the whole population of Attica was removed to Salamis,

and the hopes of all were centered in the ships. Xerxes took possession of

the deserted city, but found but five hundred captives. He ravaged the

country, and a detachment of Persians even penetrated to Delphi, to rob

the shrine, but were defeated. Athens was, however, sacked.

The combined fleet of the Greeks now numbered three hundred and

sixty-six ships, more than half of which were Athenian. Many wished to

retreat to the Isthmus of Corinth, and co-operate with the Spartans.

Dissensions came near wrecking the last hopes of Greece, and Themistocles

only prevailed by threatening to withdraw the Athenian ships unless a

battle were at once fought. He resorted to stratagem to compel the fleet

to remain together, with no outlet of escape if conquered. Aristides came

in the night from AEgina, and informed the Greeks that their whole fleet

was surrounded by the Persians--just what Themistocles desired. There was

nothing then left but to fight with desperation, for on the issue of the

battle depended the fortunes of Greece. Both fleets were stationed in the

strait between the bay of Eleusis and the Saronic Gulf, on the west of the

island of Salamis.

Xerxes, seated upon a throne upon one of the declivities of Mount

AEgaleos, surveyed the armaments and the coming battle. Both parties fought

with bravery; but the space was too narrow for the Persians to engage

their whole fleet, and they had not the discipline of the Greeks, schooled

by severe experience. The Persian fleet became unmanageable, and the

victory was gained by the Greeks. Two hundred ships fell into the hands of

the victors. But a sufficient number remained to the Persians to renew the

battle with better hopes. Xerxes, however, was intimidated, and in a

transport of rage, disappointment, and fear, gave the order to retreat. He

distrusted the fidelity of the allies, and feared for his own personal

safety; he feared that the victors would sail to the Hellespont, and

destroy the bridges. Themistocles, on the retreat of the Persians,

employed his fleet in levying fines and contributions upon the islands

which had supported the Persians, while Xerxes made his way back to the

Hellespont, and crossed to Asia, leaving Mardonius in Thessaly, with a

large army, to pursue the conquest on land.

Thus Greece was saved by the battle of Salamis, and the

distinguished services of Themistocles, which can not be too highly

estimated. The terrific cloud was dispersed, the Greeks abandoned

themselves to joy. Unparalleled honors were bestowed upon the victor,

especially in Sparta, and his influence, like that of Alcibiades, after

the battle of Marathon, was unbounded. No man ever merited greater reward.

Though the Persians now abandoned all hopes of any farther maritime

attack, yet still great success was anticipated from the immense army

which Mardonius commanded. The Greeks in the northern parts still adhered

to him, and Thessaly was prostrate at his feet. He sent Alexander, of

Macedon, to Athens to offer honorable terms of peace, which were nobly

rejected, and he was sent back with this message: "Tell Mardonius that as

long as the sun shall continue in his present path we will never contract

alliance with a foe who has shown no reverence to our gods and heroes, and

who has burned their statues and houses." The league was renewed with

Sparta for mutual defense and offense, in spite of seductive offers from

Mardonius; but the Spartans displayed both indifference and selfishness to

any interests outside the Peloponnesus. They fortified the Isthmus of

Corinth, but left Attica undefended. Mardonius accordingly marched to

Athens, and again the city was the spoil of the Persians. The Athenians

again retreated to Salamis, with bitter feelings against Sparta for her

selfishness and ingratitude. Again Mardonius sought to conciliate the

Athenians, and again his overtures were rejected with wrath and defiance.

The Athenians, distressed, sent envoys to Sparta to remonstrate against

her slackness and selfishness, not without effect, for, at last, a large

Spartan force was collected under Pausanias. Meanwhile Mardonius ravaged

Attica and Boeotia, and then fortified his camp near Plataea, ten furlongs

square. Plataea was a plain favorable to the action of the cavalry, not far

from Thebes; but his army was discouraged after so many disasters--in

modern military language, demoralized--while Artabazus, the second in

command, was filled with jealousy. Nor could much be hoped from the

Grecian allies, who secretly were hostile to the invaders. The Thebans and

Boeotians appeared to be zealous, but were governed by fear merely of a

superior power, and hence were unreliable. It can not be supposed that the

Thebans, who sided with the Persians, by compulsion, preferred their cause

to that of their countrymen, great as may have been national jealousy and


The total number of Lacedaemonians, Corinthians, Athenians, and

other Greeks, assembled to meet the Persian army, B.C. 479, was

thirty-eight thousand seven hundred men, heavily armed, and seventy-one

thousand three hundred light armed, without defensive armor; but most of

these were simply in attendance on the hoplites. The Persians, about three

hundred thousand in number, occupied the line of the river Asopus, on a

plain; the Greeks stationed themselves on the mountain declivity near

Erythae. The Persian cavalry charged, to dislodge the Greeks, unwilling to

contend on the plain; but the ground was unfavorable for cavalry

operations, and after a brief success, was driven back, while the general,

Masistias, who commanded it, was slain. His death, and the repulse of the

cavalry, so much encouraged Pausanias, the Spartan general, that he

quitted his ground on the mountain declivity, and took position on the

plain beneath. The Lacedaemonians composed the right wing; the Athenians,

the left; and various other allies, the centre. Mardonius then slightly

changed his position, crossing the Asopus, nearer his own camp, and took

post on the left wing, opposite the right wing of the Greeks, commanded by

Pausanias. Both armies then offered sacrifices to the gods, but Mardonius

was able to give constant annoyance to the Greeks by his cavalry, and the

Thebans gave great assistance. Ten days were thus spent by the two armies,

without coming into general action, until Mardonius, on becoming

impatient, against the advice of Artabazus, second in command, resolved to

commence the attack. The Greeks were forewarned of his intention, by

Alexander of Macedon, who came secretly to the Greek camp at night--a proof

that he, as well as others, were impatient of the Persian yoke. The

Lacedaemonians, posted in the right wing, against the Persians, changed

places with the Athenians, who were more accustomed to Persian warfare;

but this manoeuvre being detected, Mardonius made a corresponding change in

his own army--upon which Pausanias led back again his troops to the right

wing, and a second movement of Mardonius placed the armies in the original


A vigorous attack of the Persian cavalry now followed, which so

annoyed the Greeks, that Pausanias in the night resolved to change once

again his position, and retreated to the hilly ground, north of Plataea,

about twenty furlongs distant, not without confusion and mistrust on the

part of the Athenians. Mardonias, astonished at this movement, pursued,

and a general engagement followed. Both armies fought with desperate

courage, but discipline was on the side of the Greeks, and Mardonius was

slain, fighting gallantly with his guard. Artabazus, with the forty

thousand Persians under his immediate command, had not taken part, and now

gave orders to retreat, and retired from Greece. The main body, however,

of the defeated Persians retired to their fortified camp. This was

attacked by the Lacedaemonians, and carried with immense slaughter, so that

only three thousand men survived out of the army of Mardonius, save the

forty thousand which Artabazus--a more able captain--had led away. The

defeat of the Persians was complete, and the spoils which fell to the

victors was immense--gold and silver, arms, carpets, clothing, horses,

camels, and even the rich tent of Xerxes himself, left with Mardonius. The

booty was distributed among the different contingents of the army. The

real victors were the Lacedaemonians, Athenians, and Tegeans; the

Corinthians did not reach the field till the battle was ended, and thus

missed their share of the spoil.

There was one ally of the Persians which Pausanias resolved to

punish--the city of Thebes when a merited chastisement was inflicted, and

the customary solemnities were observed, and honors decreed for the

greatest and most decisive victory which the Greeks had ever gained. A

confederacy was held at Plataea, in which a permanent league was made

between the leading Grecian States, not to separate until the common foe

was driven back to Asia.

While these great events were transpiring in Boeotia, the fleet of

the Greeks, after the battle of Salamis, undertook to rescue Samos from

the Persians, and secure the independence of the Ionian cities in Asia.

The Persian fleet, now disheartened, abandoned Samos and retired to

Mycale, in Ionia. The Greek fleet followed, but the Persians abandoned or

dismissed their fleet, and joined their forces with those of Tigranes,

who, with an army of sixty thousand men, guarded Ionia. The Greeks

disembarked, and prepared to attack the enemy just as the news reached

them of the battle of Plataea. This attack was successful, partly in

consequence of the revolt of the Ionians in the Persian camp, although the

Persians fought with great bravery. The battle of Mycale was as complete

as that of Plataea and Marathon, and the remnants of the Persian army

retired to Sardis. The Ionian cities were thus, for the time, delivered of

the Persians, as well as Greece itself chiefly by means of the Athenians

and Corinthians. The Spartans, with inconceivable narrowness, were

reluctant to receive the continental Ionians as allies, and proposed to

transport them across the AEgean into Western Greece, which proposal was

most honorably rejected by the Athenians. In every thing, except the

defense of Greece Proper, and especially the Peloponnesus, the Spartans

showed themselves inferior to the Athenians in magnanimity and enlarged

views. After the capture of Sestos, B.C. 478, which relieved the Thracian

Chersonese from the Persians, the fleet of Athens returned home. The

capture of this city concludes the narration of Herodotus, which ended

virtually the Persian war, although hostilities were continued in Asia.

The battle of Marathon had given the first effective resistance to Persian

conquests, and created confidence among the Greeks. The battle of Salamis

had destroyed the power of Persia on the sea, and prevented any

co-operation of land and naval forces. The battle of Plataea freed Greece

altogether of the invaders. The battle of Mycale rescued the Ionian


Athens had, on the whole, most distinguished herself in this great

and glorious contest, and now stood forth as the guardian of Hellenic

interests on the sea and the leader of the Ionian race. Sparta continued

to take the lead of the military States, to which Athens had generously

submitted. But a serious rivalry now was seen between these leading

States, chiefly through the jealousy of Sparta, which ultimately proved

fatal to that supremacy which the Greeks might have maintained overall the

powers of the world. Sparta wished that Athens might remain unfortified,

in common with all the cities of Northern Greece, while the isthmus should

be the centre of all the works of defense. But Athens, under the sagacious

and crafty management of Themistocles, amused the Spartans by delays,

while the whole population were employed upon restoring its


Although the war against the Persians was virtually concluded by

the capture of Sestos, an expedition was fitted out by Sparta, under

Pausanias, the hero of Plataea, to prosecute hostilities on the shores of

Asia. After liberating most of the cities of Cyprus, and wresting

Byzantium from the Persians, which thus left the Euxine free to Athenian

ships, from which the Greeks derived their chief supplies of foreign corn,

Pausanias, giddy with his victories, unaccountably began a treasonably

correspondence with Xerxes, whose daughter he wished to marry, promising

to bring all Greece again under his sway. He was recalled to Sparta,

before this correspondence was known, having given offense by adopting the

Persian dress, and surrounding himself with Persian and Median guards.

When his treason was at last detected, he attempted to raise a rebellion

among the Helots, but failed, and died miserably by hunger in the temple

in which he had taken sanctuary.

A fall scarcely less melancholy came to the illustrious

Themistocles. In spite of his great services, his popularity began to

decline. He was hated by the Spartans for the part he took in the

fortification of the city, who brought all their influence against him. He

gave umbrage to the citizens by his personal vanity, continually boasting

of his services. He erected a private chapel in honor of Artemis. He

prostituted his great influence for arbitrary and corrupt purposes. He

accepted bribes without scruple, to the detriment of the State, and in

violation of justice and right. And as the Persians could offer the

highest bribes, he was suspected of secretly favoring their interests. The

old rivalries between him and Aristides were renewed; and as Aristides was

no longer opposed to the policy which Athens adopted, of giving its

supreme attention to naval defenses, and, moreover, constantly had gained

the respect of the city by his integrity and patriotism, especially by his

admirable management at Delos, where he cemented the confederacy of the

maritime States, his influence was perhaps greater than that of

Themistocles, stained with the imputation of Medism. Cimon, the son of

Miltiades, also became a strong opponent. Though acquitted of accepting

bribes from Persia, Themistocles was banished by a vote of ostracism, as

Aristides had been before--a kind of exile which was not dishonorable, but

resorted to from regard to public interests, and to which men who became

unpopular were often subjected, whatever may have been their services or

merits. He retired to Argos, and while there the treason of Pausanias was

discovered. Themistocles was involved in it, since the designs of

Pausanias were known by him. Joint envoys from Sparta and Athens were sent

to arrest him, which, when known, he fled to Corcyra, and thence to

Admetus, king of the Molossians. The Epirotic prince shielded him in spite

of his former hostility, and furnished him with guides to Pydna, across

the mountains, from which he succeeded in reaching Ephesus, and then

repaired to the Persian court. At Athens he was proclaimed a traitor, and

his property, amounting to one hundred talents, accumulated by the war,

was confiscated. In Persia, he represented himself as a deserter, and

subsequently acquired influence with Artaxerxes, and devoted his talents

to laying out schemes for the subjugation of Greece. He received the large

sum of fifty talents yearly, and died at sixty-five years of age, with a

blighted reputation, such as no previous services could redeem from


Aristides died four years after the ostracism of Themistocles,

universally respected, and he died so poor as not to have enough for his

funeral expenses. Nor did any of his descendants ever become rich.

Xerxes himself, the Ahasuerus of the Scriptures, who commanded the

largest expedition ever recorded in human annals, reached Sardis, eight

months after he had left it, disgusted with active enterprise, and buried

himself amid the intrigues of his court and seraglio, in Susa, as recorded

in the book of Esther. He was not deficient in generous impulses, but

deficient in all those qualities which make men victorious in war. He died

fifteen years after, the victim of a conspiracy, in his palace, B.C.

465--six years after Themistocles had sought his protection.

The Peloponnesian War The Reform Movement Of The Gracchi facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail