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Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Complete by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

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of Minerva. The contest is now shared by gods; Apollo and the Furies
are the pleaders--Pallas is the umpire, the Areopagites are the
judges. Pallas casts in her vote in favour of Orestes--the lots are
equal--he is absolved; the Furies, at first enraged, are soothed by
Minerva, and, invited to dwell in Athens, pour blessings on the land.
A sacred but joyous procession crowns the whole. Thus the
consummation of the trilogy is cheerful, though each of the two former
pieces is tragic; and the poet artfully conduces the poem to the
honour of his native Athens and the venerable Areopagus. Regarding
the three as one harmonious and united performance, altogether not so
long as one play of Shakspeare's, they are certainly not surpassed in
greatness of thought, in loftiness of conception, and in sustained
vigour of execution, by any poem in the compass of literature; nor,
observing their simple but compact symmetry as a whole, shall we do
right to subscribe to those who deny to Aeschylus the skill of the
artist, while they grant him the faculty of the poet.

The ingenious Schlegel attributes to these tragedies symbolical
interpretations, but to my judgment with signal ill-success. These
four tragedies--the Prometheus, the Agamemnon, the Choephori, and the
Eumenides--are in grandeur immeasurably superior to the remaining

XII. Of these last, the Seven against Thebes is the best. The
subject was one peculiarly interesting to Greece; the War of the Seven
was the earliest record of a league among the Grecian princes, and of
an enterprise carried on with a regular and systematic design. The
catastrophe of two brothers falling by each other's hand is terrible
and tragic, and among the most national of the Grecian legends. The
fierce and martial spirit of the warrior poet runs throughout the
play; his descriptions are animated as with the zeal and passion of
battle; the chorus of Theban virgins paint in the most glowing colours
the rush of the adverse hosts--the prancing of the chargers--the sound
of their hoofs, "rumbling as a torrent lashing the side of cliffs;" we
hear the creak of the heavy cars--the shrill whiz of the javelins,
"maddening the very air"--the showers of stones crashing over the
battlements--the battering at the mighty gates--the uproar of the
city--the yells of rapine--the shrieks of infants "strangled by the
bubbling blood." Homer himself never accumulated more striking images
of horror. The description of Tydeus is peculiarly Homeric--

"Three shadowy crests, the honours of his helm,
Wave wild, and shrilly from his buckler broad
The brazen bell rings terror. On the shield
He bears his haughty ensign--typed by stars
Gleaming athwart the sky, and in the midst
Glitters the royal Moon--the Eye of Night.
Fierce in the glory of his arms, his voice
Roars by the river banks; and drunk with war
He pants, as some wild charger, when the trump
Clangs ringing, as he rushes on the foe."

The proud, dauntless, and warlike spirit of Eteocles which is designed
and drawn with inconceivable power, is beautifully characterized in
his reply to the above description:

"Man hath no armour, war hath no array,
At which this heart can tremble; no device
Nor blazonry of battle can inflict
The wounds they menace; crests and clashing bells
Without the spear are toothless, and the night,
Wrought on yon buckler with the stars of heaven,
Prophet, perchance, his doom; and if dark Death
Close round his eyes, are but the ominous signs
Of the black night that waits him."

The description of each warrior stationed at each gate is all in the
genius of Homer, closing as it does with that of Polynices, the
brother of the besieged hero, whom, when he hears his name, Eteocles
himself resolves to confront. At first, indeed, the latter breaks out
into exclamations which denote the awe and struggle of the abhorrent
nature; forebodings of his own doom flit before him, he feels the
curses of his sire are ripening to their fruit, and that the last
storm is yet to break upon the house of Oedipus. Suddenly he checks
the impulse, sensible of the presence of the chorus. He passes on to
reason with himself, through a process of thought which Shakspeare
could not have surpassed. He conjures up the image of that brother,
hateful and unjust from infancy to boyhood, from boyhood up to youth--
he assures himself that justice would be forsworn if this foe should
triumph--and rushes on to his dread resolve.

"'Tis I will face this warrior; who can boast
A right to equal mine? Chief against chief--
Foe against foe!--and brother against brother.
What, ho! my greaves, my spear, my armour proof
Against this storm of stones! My stand is chosen."

Eteocles and his brother both perish in the unnatural strife, and the
tragedy ends with the decree of the senators to bury Eteocles with due
honours, and the bold resolution of Antigone (the sister of the dead)
to defy the ordinance which forbids a burial to Polynices--

"For mighty is the memory of the womb
From which alike we sprung--a wretched mother!"

The same spirit which glows through the "Seven against Thebes" is also
visible in the "Persians," which, rather picturesque than dramatic, is
tragedy brought back to the dithyrambic ode. It portrays the defeat
of Xerxes, and contains one of the most valuable of historical
descriptions, in the lines devoted to the battle of Salamis. The
speech of Atossa (the mother of Xerxes), in which she enumerates the
offerings to the shade of Darius, is exquisitely beautiful.

"The charms that sooth the dead:
White milk, and lucid honey, pure-distill'd
By the wild bee--that craftsman of the flowers;
The limpid droppings of the virgin fount,
And this bright liquid from its mountain mother
Born fresh--the joy of the time--hallowed vine;
The pale-green olive's odorous fruit, whose leaves
Live everlastingly--and these wreathed flowers,
The smiling infants o' the prodigal earth."

Nor is there less poetry in the invocation of the chorus to the shade
of Darius, which slowly rises as they conclude. But the purpose for
which the monarch returns to earth is scarcely sufficient to justify
his appearance, and does not seem to be in accordance with the power
over our awe and terror which the poet usually commands. Darius hears
the tale of his son's defeat--warns the Persians against interfering
with the Athenians--tells the mother to comfort and console her son--
bids the chorus (who disregard his advice) give themselves to mirth,
even though in affliction, "for to the dead riches are no advantage"--
and so returns to his repose, which seems very unnecessarily

"The Suppliants," which Schlegel plausibly conjectures to have been
the intermediate piece of a trilogy, is chiefly remarkable as a proof
of the versatility of the poet. All horror has vanished from the
scene; the language is soft when compared with the usual diction of
Aeschylus; the action is peaceful, and the plot extremely simple,
being merely the protection which the daughters of Danaus obtain at
the court of Pelasgus from the pursuit of the sons of Aegyptus. The
heroines of the play, the Danaides, make the chorus, and this serves
to render the whole, yet more than the Persians, a lyric rather than a
tragedy. The moral of the play is homely and primitive, and seems
confined to the inculcation of hospitality to strangers, and the
inviolable sanctity of the shrine. I do not know any passages in "The
Suppliants" that equal in poetry the more striking verses of "The
Persians," or "The Seven against Thebes."

XIII. Attempts have been made to convey to modern readers a more
familiar notion of Aeschylus by comparisons with modern poets. One
critic likens him to Dante, another to Milton--but he resembles
neither. No modern language can convey a notion of the wonderful
strength of his diction--no modern poet, of the stern sublimity of his
conceptions. The French tragedians may give some weak reflection of
Euripides or even of Sophocles, but none have ventured upon the sacred
territory of the father of the tragic drama. He defies all imitation.
His genius is so near the verge of bombast, that to approach his
sublime is to rush into the ridiculous. [28]

Aeschylus never once, in the plays that have come down to us,
delineates love, except by an expression or two as regards the passion
of Clytemnestra for Aegisthus [29]. It was emblematic of a new state
of society when Euripides created the Phaedra and the Medea. His
plots are worked out by the simplest and the fewest positions. But he
had evidently his own theory of art, and studied with care such stage
effects as appeared to him most striking and impressive. Thus, in the
burlesque contest between Aeschylus and Euripides, in the comedy of
"The Frogs," the former is censured, not for too rude a neglect, but
for too elaborate a cultivation, of theatrical craft--such as
introducing his principal characters, his Niobe and Achilles [30],
with their faces hid, and preserving long and obstinate silence, in
order by that suspense to sharpen the expectation of the audience.
Aeschylus, in fact, contrary to the general criticism, was as earnest
and thoughtful an artist as Sophocles himself. There was this
difference, it is true; one invented the art and the other perfected.

But the first requires as intense a study as the last; and they who
talk of the savage and untutored genius of Aeschylus, are no wiser
than the critics who applied the phrase of "native wood-notes wild" to
the consummate philosophy of "Hamlet," the anatomical correctness of
"Othello," the delicate symmetry of "The Tempest." With respect to
the language of Aeschylus, ancient critics unite with the modern in
condemning the straining of his metaphors, and the exaggeration of his
images; yet they appear to me a necessary part of his genius, and of
the effect it produces. But nothing can be more unsatisfactory and
inconclusive than the theory of Schlegel, that such metaphors and
images, such rugged boldness and irregular fire, are the
characteristics of a literature in its infancy. On the contrary, as
we have already seen, Phrynichus, the predecessor of Aeschylus, was as
much characterized by sweetness and harmony, as Aeschylus by grandeur
and headlong animation. In our own time, we have seen the cold
classic school succeeded by one full of the faults which the German,
eloquent but superficial, would ascribe to the infancy of literature.
The diction of Aeschylus was the distinction of himself, and not of
his age; if it require an apology, let us not seek it in false
pretences; if he had written after Euripides, his diction would have
been equally startling, and his metaphors equally lofty. His genius
was one of those which, in any age, can form an era, and not that
which an era necessarily forms. He might have enriched his music from
the strains of the Dorian lyres, but he required only one poet to have
lived before him. The rest of the Greek dramatists required
Aeschylus--Aeschylus required only Homer.

The POET is, indeed, the creator, not of images solely, but of men--
not of one race of ideas and characters, but of a vast and
interminable posterity scattered over the earth. The origin of what
wonderful works, in what distant regions, in what various time, may be
traced, step by step, from influence to influence, till we arrive at
Homer! Such is the vitality of genius. The true spiritual
transmigrator--it passes through all shapes--losing identity, but not
life--and kindred to the GREAT INTELLIGENCE, which is the soul of
matter--departing from one form only to animate another.


Aristides.--His Character and Position.--The Rise of Themistocles.--
Aristides is Ostracised.--The Ostracism examined.--The Influence of
Themistocles increases.--The Silver-mines of Laurion.--Their Product
applied by Themistocles to the Increase of the Navy.--New Direction
given to the National Character.

I. While the progress of the drama and the genius of Aeschylus
contributed to the rising renown of Athens, there appeared on the
surface of her external affairs two rival and principal actors, of
talents and designs so opposite, that it soon became evident that the
triumph of one could be only in the defeat of the other. Before the
battle of Marathon, Aristides had attained a very considerable
influence in Athens. His birth was noble--his connexions wealthy--his
own fortune moderate. He had been an early follower and admirer of
Clisthenes, the establisher of popular institutions in Athens after
the expulsion of the Pisistratidae, but he shared the predilection of
many popular chieftains, and while opposing the encroachments of a
tyranny, supported the power of an aristocracy. The system of
Lycurgus was agreeable to his stern and inflexible temper. His
integrity was republican--his loftiness of spirit was patrician. He
had all the purity, the disinterestedness, and the fervour of a
patriot--he had none of the suppleness or the passion of a demagogue;
on the contrary, he seems to have felt much of that high-spirited
disdain of managing a people which is common to great minds conscious
that they are serving a people. His manners were austere, and he
rather advised than persuaded men to his purposes. He pursued no
tortuous policy, but marched direct to his object, fronting, and not
undermining, the obstacles in his path. His reputation for truth and
uprightness was proverbial, and when some lines in Aeschylus were
recited on the stage, implying that "to be, and not to seem, his
wisdom was," the eyes of the spectators were fixed at once upon
Aristides. His sternness was only for principles--he had no harshness
for men. Priding himself on impartiality between friends and foes, he
pleaded for the very person whom the laws obliged him to prosecute;
and when once, in his capacity of arbiter between two private persons,
one of the parties said that his opponent had committed many injuries
against Aristides, he rebuked him nobly: "Tell me not," he said, "of
injuries against myself, but against thee. It is thy cause I am
adjudging, and not my own." It may be presumed, that with these
singular and exalted virtues, he did not seek to prevent the wounds
they inflicted upon the self-love of others, and that the qualities of
a superior mind were displayed with the bearing of a haughty spirit.
He became the champion of the aristocratic party, and before the
battle of Marathon he held the office of public treasurer. In this
capacity Plutarch asserts that he was subjected to an accusation by
Themistocles, and even intimates that Themistocles himself had been
his predecessor in that honourable office [31]. But the youth of
Themistocles contradicts this statement; and though his restless and
ambitious temper had led him already into active life, and he might
have combined with others more influential against Aristides, it can
scarcely be supposed that, possessing no advantages of birth, he rose
into much power or distinction, till he won sudden and popular
applause by his gallantry at Marathon.

II. Themistocles was of illegitimate birth, according to the Athenian
prejudice, since his mother was a foreigner. His father, though
connected with the priestly and high-born house of the Lycomedae, was
not himself a Eupatrid. The young Themistocles had many of the
qualities which the equivocal condition of illegitimacy often educes
from active and stirring minds--insolence, ostentation, the desire to
shine, and the invincible ambition to rise. He appears, by a popular
tale, to have early associated with his superiors, and to have evinced
betimes the art and address which afterward distinguished him. At a
meeting of all the illegitimate youths assembled at the wrestling-ring
at Cynosarges, dedicated to Hercules, he persuaded some of the young
nobles to accompany him, so as to confound as it were the distinction
between the legitimate and the baseborn. His early disposition was
bold, restless, and impetuous. He paid little attention to the
subtleties of schoolmen, or the refinements of the arts; but even in
boyhood devoted himself to the study of politics and the arts of
government. He would avoid the sports and occupations of his
schoolfellows, and compose declamations, of which the subject was the
impeachment or defence of some of his young friends. His dispositions
prophesied of his future career, and his master was wont to say, "that
he was born to be a blessing or a curse to the commonwealth." His
strange and precocious boyhood was followed by a wild and licentious
youth. He lived in extremes, and alternated between the loosest
pleasures [32] and the most daring ambition. Entering prematurely
into public life, either his restless disposition or his political
principles embroiled him with men of the highest rank. Fearless and
sanguine, he cared not whom he attacked, or what he adventured; and,
whatever his conduct before the battle of Marathon, the popular
opinions he embraced could not but bring him, after that event, in
constant opposition to Aristides, the champion of the Areopagus.

That splendid victory which gave an opening to his career sharpened
his ambition. The loud fame of Miltiades, yet unconscious of reverse,
inspired him with a lofty envy. He seems from that period to have
forsaken his more youthful excesses. He abstained from his wonted
pursuits and pleasures--he indulged much in solitary and abstracted
thought--he watched whole nights. His friends wondered at the change,
and inquired the cause. "The trophies of Miltiades," said he, "will
not suffer me to sleep." From these meditations, which are common to
most men in the interval between an irregular youth and an aspiring
manhood, he soon seems to have awakened with fixed objects and
expanded views. Once emerged from the obscurity of his birth, his
success was rapid, for he possessed all the qualities which the people
demanded in a leader--not only the talents and the courage, but the
affability and the address. He was an agreeable and boon companion--
he committed to memory the names of the humblest citizens--his
versatility enabled him to be all things to all men. Without the
lofty spirit and beautiful mind of Pericles, without the prodigal but
effeminate graces of Alcibiades--without, indeed, any of their
Athenian poetry in his intellectual composition, he yet possessed much
of their powers of persuasion, their ready talent for business, and
their genius of intrigue. But his mind, if coarser than that of
either of his successors, was yet perhaps more masculine and
determined; nothing diverted him from his purpose--nothing arrested
his ambition. His ends were great, and he associated the rise of his
country with his more selfish objects, but he was unscrupulous as to
his means. Avid of glory, he was not keenly susceptible to honour.
He seems rather not to have comprehended, than comprehending, to have
disdained the limits which principle sets to action. Remarkably far-
sighted, he possessed, more than any of his contemporaries, the
prophetic science of affairs: patient, vigilant, and profound, he was
always energetic, because always prepared.

Such was the rival of Aristides, and such the rising leader of the
popular party at Athens.

III. History is silent as to the part taken by Aristides in the
impeachment of Miltiades, but there is no reason to believe that he
opposed the measure of the Alcmaeonid party with which he acted, and
which seems to have obtained the ascendency after the death of
Miltiades. In the year following the battle of Marathon, we find
Aristides in the eminent dignity of archon. In this office he became
generally known by the title of the Just. His influence, his official
rank, the power of the party that supported him, soon rendered him the
principal authority of Athens. The courts of the judges were
deserted, every litigant repaired to his arbitration--his
administration of power obtained him almost the monopoly of it.
Still, however, he was vigorously opposed by Themistocles and the
popular faction led by that aspiring rival.

By degrees; various reasons, the chief of which was his own high
position, concurred to diminish the authority of Aristides; even among
his own partisans he lost ground, partly by the jealousy of the
magistrates, whose authority he had superseded--and partly, doubtless,
from a maxim more dangerous to a leader than any he can adopt, viz.,
impartiality between friends and foes in the appointment to offices.
Aristides regarded, not the political opinions, but the abstract
character or talents, of the candidates. With Themistocles, on the
contrary, it was a favourite saying, "The gods forbid that I should be
in power, and my friends no partakers of my success." The tendency of
the first policy is to discontent friends, while it rarely, if ever,
conciliates foes; neither is it so elevated as it may appear to the
superficial; for if we contend for the superiority of one set of
principles over another, we weaken the public virtue when we give
equal rewards to the principles we condemn as to the principles we
approve. We make it appear as if the contest had been but a war of
names, and we disregard the harmony which ought imperishably to exist
between the opinions which the state should approve and the honours
which the state can confer. He who is impartial as to persons must
submit to seem lukewarm as to principles. Thus the more towering and
eminent the seeming power of Aristides, the more really hollow and
insecure were its foundations. To his own party it was unproductive--
to the multitude it appeared unconstitutional. The extraordinary
honours he had acquired--his monopoly of the magistrature--his anti-
popular opinions, could not but be regarded with fear by a people so
jealous of their liberties. He seemed to their apprehensions to be
approaching gradually to the sovereignty of the state--not, indeed, by
guards and military force, but the more dangerous encroachments of
civil authority. The moment for the attack arrived. Themistocles
could count at last upon the chances of a critical experiment, and
Aristides was subjected to the ordeal of the ostracism.

IV. The method of the ostracism was this:--each citizen wrote upon a
shell, or a piece of broken earthenware, the name of the person he
desired to banish. The magistrates counted the shells, and if they
amounted to six thousand (a very considerable proportion of the free
population, and less than which rendered the ostracism invalid), they
were sorted, and the man whose name was found on the greater number of
shells was exiled for ten years, with full permission to enjoy his
estates. The sentence was one that honoured while it afflicted, nor
did it involve any other accusation than that of being too powerful or
too ambitious for the citizen of a free state. It is a well-known
story, that, during the process of voting, an ignorant burgher came to
Aristides, whose person he did not know, and requested him to write
down the name of Aristides.

"Has he ever injured you?" asked the great man.

"No," answered the clown, "nor do I know him even by sight; but it
vexes me to hear him everywhere called the 'Just.'"

Aristides replied not--he wrote his own name on the shell, and
returned it to the enlightened voter. Such is a tale to which more
importance than is its due has been attached. Yet perhaps we can give
a new reading to the honest burgher's reply, and believe that it was
not so expressive of envy at the virtue, as of fear at the reputation.
Aristides received the sentence of exile (B. C. 483) with his
accustomed dignity. His last words on leaving his native city were
characteristic of his generous and lofty nature. "May the Athenian
people," he said, "never know the day which shall force them to
remember Aristides!"--A wish, fortunately alike for the exile and the
people, not realized. That day, so patriotically deprecated, soon
came, glorious equally to Athens and Aristides, and the reparation of
wrong and the triumph of liberty found a common date.

The singular institution of the ostracism is often cited in proof of
the ingratitude of a republic, and the fickleness of a people; but it
owed its origin not to republican disorders, but to despotic
encroachment--not to a people, but to a tyrant. If we look throughout
all the Grecian states, we find that a tyranny was usually established
by some able and artful citizen, who, attaching himself either to the
aristocratic, or more frequently to the popular party, was suddenly
elevated into supreme power, with the rise of the faction he had
espoused. Establishing his fame by popular virtues, he was enabled
often to support his throne by a moral authority--more dangerous than
the odious defence of military hirelings: hence necessarily arose
among the free states a jealousy of individuals, whose eminence became
such as to justify an undue ambition; and hence, for a long period,
while liberty was yet tender and insecure, the (almost) necessity of
the ostracism.

Aristotle, who laments and condemns the practice, yet allows that in
certain states it was absolutely requisite; he thinks the evil it is
intended to prevent "might have been provided for in the earlier
epochs of a commonwealth, by guarding against the rise of one man to a
dangerous degree of power; but where the habits and laws of a nation
are so formed as to render it impossible to prevent the rise, you must
then guard against its consequences:" and in another part of his
Politics he observes, "that even in republics, where men are regarded,
not according to their wealth, but worth--where the citizens love
liberty and have arms and valour to defend it; yet, should the pre-
eminent virtues of one man, or of one family, totally eclipse the
merit of the community at large, you have but two choices--the
ostracism or the throne."

If we lament the precaution, we ought then to acknowledge the cause.
The ostracism was the creature of the excesses of the tyrannical, and
not of the popular principle. The bland and specious hypocrisy of
Pisistratus continued to work injury long after his death--and the
ostracism of Aristides was the necessary consequence of the seizure of
the citadel. Such evil hath arbitrary power, that it produces
injustice in the contrary principles as a counterpart to the injustice
of its own; thus the oppression of our Catholic countrymen for
centuries resulted from the cruelties and persecutions of a papal
ascendency. We remembered the danger, and we resorted to the rigid
precaution. To guard against a second tyranny of opinion, we
condemned, nor perhaps without adequate cause, not one individual, but
a whole sect, to a moral ostracism. Ancient times are not then so
opposite to the present--and the safety of the state may excuse, in a
republic as in a monarchy, a thousand acts of abstract injustice. But
the banishment of Aristides has peculiar excuses in the critical
circumstances of the time. The remembrance of Pisistratus was still
fresh--his son had but just perished in an attempt on his country--the
family still lived, and still menaced: the republic was yet in its
infancy--a hostile aristocracy within its walls--a powerful enemy
still formidable without. It is a remarkable fact, that as the
republic strengthened, and as the popular power increased, the custom
of ostracism was superseded. The democratic party was never so strong
as at the time in which it was finally abolished. It is the
insecurity of power, whether in a people or a king, that generates
suspicion. Habituated to liberty, a people become less rigid and more
enlightened as to its precautions.

V. It had been a saying of Aristides, "that if the Athenians desired
their affairs to prosper, they ought to fling Themistocles and himself
into the barathrum." But fortune was satisfied at this time with a
single victim, and reserved the other for a later sacrifice. Relieved
from the presence of a rival who had constantly crossed and obstructed
his career, Themistocles found ample scope for his genius. He was not
one of those who are unequal to the situation it costs them so much to
obtain. On his entrance into public life he is said by Theophrastus
to have possessed only three talents; but the account is inconsistent
with the extravagance of his earlier career, and still more with the
expenses to which a man who attempts to lead a party is, in all
popular states, unavoidably subjected. More probably, therefore, it
is said of him by others, that he inherited a competent patrimony, and
he did not scruple to seize upon every occasion to increase it,
whether through the open emolument or the indirect perquisites of
public office. But, desiring wealth as a means, not an end, he
grasped with one hand to lavish with the other. His generosity
dazzled and his manners seduced the people, yet he exercised the power
he acquired with a considerate and patriotic foresight. From the
first retreat of the Persian armament he saw that the danger was
suspended, and not removed. But the Athenians, who shared a common
Grecian fault, and ever thought too much of immediate, too little of
distant peril, imagined that Marathon had terminated the great contest
between Asia and Europe. They forgot the fleets of Persia, but they
still dreaded the galleys of Aegina. The oligarchy of that rival
state was the political enemy of the Athenian demos; the ally of the
Persian was feared by the conqueror, and every interest, military and
commercial, contributed to feed the passionate and jealous hate that
existed against a neighbour, too near to forget, too warlike to
despise. The thoughtful and profound policy of Themistocles resolved
to work this popular sentiment to ulterior objects; and urging upon a
willing audience the necessity of making suitable preparations against
Aegina, then the mistress of the seas, he proposed to construct a
navy, fitted equally to resist the Persian and to open a new dominion
to the Athenians.

To effect this purpose he called into aid one of the most valuable
sources of her power which nature had bestowed upon Athens.

VI. Around the country by the ancient Thoricus, on the road from the
modern Kerratia to the Cape of Sunium, heaps of scoriae indicate to
the traveller that he is in the neighbourhood of the once celebrated
silver-mines of Laurion; he passes through pines and woodlands--he
notices the indented tracks of wheels which two thousand years have
not effaced from the soil--he discovers the ancient shafts of the
mines, and pauses before the foundations of a large circular tower and
the extensive remains of the castles which fortified the neighbouring
town [33]. A little farther, and still passing among mine-banks and
hillocks of scoriae, he beholds upon Cape Colonna the fourteen
existent columns of the temple of Minerva Sunias. In this country, to
which the old name is still attached [34], is to be found a principal
cause of the renown and the reverses of Athens--of the victory of
Salamis--of the expedition to Sicily.

It appears that the silver-mines of Laurion had been worked from a
very remote period--beyond even any traditional date. But as it is
well and unanswerably remarked, "the scarcity of silver in the time of
Solon proves that no systematic or artificial process of mining could
at that time have been established." [35] It was, probably, during
the energetic and politic rule of the dynasty of Pisistratus that
efficient means were adopted to derive adequate advantage from so
fertile a source of national wealth. And when, subsequently, Athens,
profiting from the lessons of her tyrants, allowed the genius of her
free people to administer the state, fresh necessity was created for
wealth against the hostility of Sparta--fresh impetus given to general
industry and public enterprise. Accordingly, we find that shortly
after the battle of Marathon, the yearly profits of the mines were
immense. We learn from the researches of one of those eminent Germans
[36] who have applied so laborious a learning with so subtle an
acuteness to the elucidation of ancient history, that these mines were
always considered the property of the state; shares in them were sold
to individuals as tenants in fee farms, and these proprietors paid,
besides, an annual sum into the public treasury, amounting to the
twenty-fourth part of the produce. The state, therefore, received a
regular revenue from the mines, derived from the purchase--moneys and
the reserved rents. This revenue had been hitherto divided among all
the free citizens, and the sum allotted to each was by no means
inconsiderable, when Themistocles, at an early period of his career
(before even the ostracism of Aristides), had the courage to propose
that a fund thus lucrative to every individual should be appropriated
to the national purpose of enlarging the navy. The feud still carried
on with the Aeginetans was his pretext and excuse. But we cannot
refuse our admiration to the fervent and generous order of public
spirit existent at that time, when we find that it was a popular
leader who proposed to, and carried through, a popular assembly the
motion, that went to empoverish the men who supported his party and
adjudged his proposition. Privileged and sectarian bodies never
willingly consent to a surrender of pecuniary benefits for a mere
public end. But among the vices of a popular assembly, it possesses
the redeeming virtue to be generous. Upon a grand and unconscious
principle of selfishness, a democracy rarely grudges a sacrifice
endured for the service of the state.

The money thus obtained was devoted to the augmentation of the
maritime force to two hundred triremes--an achievement that probably
exhausted the mine revenue for some years; and the custom once broken,
the produce of Laurion does not seem again to have been wasted upon
individuals. To maintain and increase the new navy, a decree was
passed, either at that time [37], or somewhat later, which ordained
twenty triremes to be built yearly.

VII. The construction of these vessels, the very sacrifice of the
citizens, the general interest that must have attached to an
undertaking that was at once novel in itself, and yet congenial not
more to the passions of a people, who daily saw from their own heights
the hostile rock of Aegina, "the eyesore of the Piraeus," than to the
habits of men placed in a steril land that on three sides tempted to
the sea--all combined to assist Themistocles in his master policy--a
policy which had for its design gradually to convert the Athenians
from an agricultural into a maritime people. What was imputed to him
as a reproach became his proudest distinction, viz., that "he first
took his countrymen from the spear and shield, and sent them to the
bench and oar."


The Preparations of Darius.--Revolt of Egypt.--Dispute for the
Succession to the Persian Throne.--Death of Darius.--Brief Review of
the leading Events and Characteristics of his Reign.

I. While, under the presiding genius of Themistocles, Athens was
silently laying the foundation of her naval greatness, and gradually
increasing in influence and renown, the Persian monarch was not
forgetful of the burning of Sardis and the defeat of Marathon. The
armies of a despotic power are often slow to collect, and unwieldy to
unite, and Darius wasted three years in despatching emissaries to
various cities, and providing transports, horses, and forage for a new

The vastness of his preparations, though congenial to oriental
warfare, was probably proportioned to objects more great than those
which appear in the Greek historians. There is no reason, indeed, to
suppose that he cherished the gigantic project afterward entertained
by his son--a project no less than that of adding Europe as a province
to the empire of the East. But symptoms of that revolt in Egypt which
shortly occurred, may have rendered it advisable to collect an
imposing force upon other pretences; and without being carried away by
any frantic revenge against the remote and petty territory of Athens,
Darius could not but be sensible that the security of his Ionian,
Macedonian, and Thracian conquests, with the homage already rendered
to his sceptre by the isles of Greece, made it necessary to redeem the
disgrace of the Persian arms, and that the more insignificant the foe,
the more fatal, if unpunished, the example of resistance. The Ionian
coasts--the entrance into Europe--were worth no inconsiderable effort,
and the more distant the provinces to be awed, the more stupendous,
according to all rules of Asiatic despotism, should appear the
resources of the sovereign. He required an immense armament, not so
much for the sake of crushing the Athenian foe, as of exhibiting in
all its might the angry majesty of the Persian empire.

II. But while Asia was yet astir with the martial preparations of the
great king, Egypt revolted from his sway, and, at the same time, the
peace of Darius was imbittered, and his mind engaged, by a contest
among his sons for the succession to the crown (B. C. 486).
Artabazanes, the eldest of his family, born to him by his first wife,
previous to his own elevation to the throne, founded his claim upon
the acknowledged rights of primogeniture; but Xerxes, the eldest of a
second family by Atossa, daughter of the great Cyrus, advanced, on the
other hand, a direct descent from the blood of the founder of the
Persian empire. Atossa, who appears to have inherited something of
her father's genius, and who, at all events, exercised unbounded
influence over Darius, gave to the claim of her son a stronger support
than that which he could derive from argument or custom. The intrigue
probably extended from the palace throughout the pure Persian race,
who could not but have looked with veneration upon a descendant of
Cyrus, nor could there have seemed a more popular method of
strengthening whatever was defective in the title of Darius to the
crown, than the transmission of his sceptre to a son, in whose person
were united the rights of the new dynasty and the sanctity of the old.
These reasonings prevailed with Darius, whose duty it was to nominate
his own successor, and Xerxes was declared his heir. While the
contest was yet undecided, there arrived at the Persian court
Demaratus, the deposed and self-exiled king of Sparta. He attached
himself to the cause and person of Xerxes, and is even said to have
furnished the young prince with new arguments, founded on the usages
of Sparta--an assertion not to be wholly disregarded, since Demaratus
appeared before the court in the character of a monarch, if in the
destitution of an exile, and his suggestions fell upon the ear of an
arbiter willing to seize every excuse to justify the resolution to
which he had already arrived.

This dispute terminated, Darius in person prepared to march against
the Egyptian rebels, when his death (B. C. 485) consigned to the
inexperienced hands of his heir the command of his armies and the
execution of his designs.

The long reign of Darius, extending over thirty-six years, was
memorable for vast improvements in the administrations of the empire,
nor will it, in this place, be an irrelevant digression to glance
briefly and rapidly back over some of the events and the innovations
by which it was distinguished.

III. The conquest of Cyrus had transplanted, as the ruling people, to
the Median empire, a race of brave and hardy, but simple and
uncivilized warriors. Cambyses, of whose character no unequivocal
evidence remains, since the ferocious and frantic crimes ascribed to
him [38] are conveyed to us through the channel of the Egyptian
priests, whom he persecuted, most probably, rather as a political
nobility than a religious caste, could but slightly have improved the
condition of the people, or the administration of the empire, since
his reign lasted but seven years and five months, during which he was
occupied with the invasion of Africa and the subjugation of Egypt. At
the conclusion of his reign he was menaced by a singular conspiracy.
The Median magi conspired in his absence from the seat of empire to
elevate a Mede to the throne. Cambyses, under the impulse of jealous
and superstitious fears, had lately put to death Smerdis, his brother.
The secret was kept from the multitude, and known only to a few--among
others, to the magian whom Cambyses had intrusted with the charge of
his palace at Susa, an office as important as confidential. This man
conceived a scheme of amazing but not unparalleled boldness. His
brother, a namesake of the murdered prince, resembled the latter also
in age and person. This brother, the chief of the household, with the
general connivance of his sacerdotal caste, who were naturally anxious
to restore the Median dynasty, suddenly declared to be the true
Smerdis, and the impostor, admitted to possession of the palace,
asserted his claim to the sovereign power. The consent of the magi--
the indifference of the people--the absence, not only of the king, but
of the flower of the Persian race--and, above all, the tranquil
possession of the imperial palace, conspired to favour the deceit.
[39] Placed on the Persian throne, but concealing his person from the
eyes of the multitude in the impenetrable pomp of an Oriental
seraglio, the pseudo Smerdis had the audacity to despatch, among the
heralds that proclaimed his accession, a messenger to the Egyptian
army, demanding their allegiance. The envoy found Cambyses at
Ecbatana in Syria. Neither cowardice nor sloth was the fault of that
monarch; he sprang upon his horse, determined to march at once to
Susa, when the sheath fell from his sword, and he received a mortal
wound from the naked blade. Cambyses left no offspring, and the
impostor, believed by the people to be the true son of Cyrus, issued,
from the protecting and august obscurity of his palace, popular
proclamations and beneficent edicts. Whatever his present fraud,
whatever his previous career, this daring Mede was enabled to make his
reign beloved and respected. After his death he was regretted by all
but the Persians, who would not have received the virtues of a god as
an excuse for the usurpation of a Mede. Known to the vast empire only
by his munificence of spirit--by his repeal of tribute and service,
the impostor permitted none to his presence who could have detected
the secret. He never quitted his palace--the nobles were not invited
to his banquets--the women in his seraglio were separated each from
each--and it was only in profound darkness that the partners of his
pleasures were admitted to his bed. The imposture is said by
Herodotus to have been first discovered in the following manner:--the
magian, according to the royal custom, had appropriated to himself the
wives of Cambyses; one of these was the daughter of Otanes, a Persian
noble whom the secluded habits of the pretended king filled with
suspicion. For some offence, the magian had been formerly deprived of
his ears by the order of Cyrus. Otanes communicated this fact, with
his suspicions, to his daughter, and the next time she was a partaker
of the royal couch, she took the occasion of his sleep to convince
herself that the sovereign of the East was a branded and criminal
impostor. The suspicions of Otanes verified, he entered, with six
other nobles, into a conspiracy, which mainly owed its success to the
resolution and energy of one among them, named Darius, who appears to
have held a station of but moderate importance among the royal guard,
though son of Hystaspes, governor of the province of Persis, and of
the purest and loftiest blood of Persia. The conspirators penetrated
the palace unsuspected--put the eunuchs who encountered them to death
--and reached the chamber in which the usurper himself was seated with
his brother. The impostors, though but imperfectly armed, defended
themselves with valour; two of the conspirators were wounded, but the
swords of the rest sufficed to consummate the work, and Darius himself
gave the death-blow to one of the brothers.

This revolution was accompanied and stained by an indiscriminate
massacre of the magi. Nor did the Persians, who bore to that Median
tribe the usual hatred which conquerors feel to the wisest and noblest
part of the conquered race, content themselves with a short-lived and
single revenge. The memory of the imposture and the massacre was long
perpetuated by a solemn festival, called "the slaughter of the Magi,"
or Magophonia, during which no magian was permitted to be seen abroad.

The result of this conspiracy threw into the hands of the seven nobles
the succession to the Persian throne: the election fell upon Darius,
the soul of the enterprise, and who was of that ancient and princely
house of the Achaemenids, in which the Persians recognised the family
of their ancestral kings. But the other conspirators had not
struggled solely to exchange one despot for another. With a new
monarchy arose a new oligarchy. Otanes was even exempted from
allegiance to the monarch, and his posterity were distinguished by
such exclusive honours and immunities, that Herodotus calls them the
only Persian family which retained its liberty. The other
conspirators probably made a kind of privileged council, since they
claimed the right of access at all hours, unannounced, to the presence
of the king--a privilege of the utmost value in Eastern forms of
government--and their power was rendered permanent and solid by
certain restrictions on marriage [40], which went to maintain a
constant alliance between the royal family and their own. While the
six conspirators rose to an oligarchy, the tribe of the Pasargadae--
the noblest of those sections into which the pure Persian family was
divided--became an aristocracy to officer the army and adorn the
court. But though the great body of the conquered Medes were kept in
subject inferiority, yet the more sternly enforced from the Persian
resentment at the late Median usurpation, Darius prudently conciliated
the most powerful of that great class of his subjects by offices of
dignity and command, and of all the tributary nations, the Medes
ranked next to the Persians.

IV. With Darius, the Persian monarchy progressed to that great crisis
in the civilization of those states founded by conquering Nomades,
when, after rich possessions are seized, cities built, and settlements
established, the unwieldy and enormous empire is divided into
provinces, and satrap government reflects in every district the
mingled despotism and subservience, pomp and insecurity, of the
imperial court. Darius undoubtedly took the most efficient means in
his power to cement his sway and organize his resources. For the
better collection of tribute, twenty provinces were created, governed
by twenty satraps. Hitherto no specific and regular tax had been
levied, but the Persian kings had been contented with reluctant
presents, or arbitrary extortions. Darius now imposed a limited and
annual impost, amounting, according to the computation of Herodotus,
to fourteen thousand five hundred and sixty talents, collected
partially from Africa, principally from Asia [41]. The Persians, as
the conquering and privileged race, were excluded from the general
imposition, but paid their moderate contribution under the softer
title of gratuity. The Colchians fixed their own burdens--the
Ethiopians that bordered Egypt, with the inhabitants of the sacred
town of Nyssa, rendered also tributary gratuities--while Arabia
offered the homage of her frankincense, and India [42] of her gold.
The empire of Darius was the more secure, in that it was contrary to
its constitutional spirit to innovate on the interior organization of
the distant provinces--they enjoyed their own national laws and
institutions--they even retained their monarchs--they resigned nothing
but their independence and their tribute. The duty of the satraps was
as yet but civil and financial: they were responsible for the imposts,
they executed the royal decrees. Their institution was outwardly
designed but for the better collection of the revenue; but when from
the ranks of the nobles Darius rose to the throne, he felt the
advantage of creating subject principalities, calculated at once to
remove and to content the more powerful and ambitious of his former
equals. Save Darius himself, no monarch in the known world possessed
the dominion or enjoyed the splendour accorded to these imperial
viceroys. Babylon and Assyria fell to one--Media was not sufficient
for another--nation was added to nation, and race to race, to form a
province worthy the nomination of a representative of the great king.
His pomp and state were such as befitted the viceroy over monarchs. A
measure of silver, exceeding the Attic medimnus, was presented every
day to the satrap of Babylon [43]. Eight hundred stallions and
sixteen thousand mares were apportioned to his stables, and the tax of
four Assyrian towns was to provide for the maintenance of his Indian

But under Darius, at least, these mighty officers were curbed and kept
in awe by the periodical visits of the king himself, or his
commissioners; while a broad road, from the western coast to the
Persian capital--inns, that received the messengers, and couriers,
that transmitted the commands of the king, brought the more distant
provinces within the reach of ready intelligence and vigilant control.
These latter improvements were well calculated to quicken the stagnant
languor habitual to the overgrowth of eastern empire. Nor was the
reign of Darius undistinguished by the cultivation of the more elegant
arts--since to that period may be referred, if not the foundation, at
least the embellishment and increase of Persepolis. The remains of
the palace of Chil-Menar, ascribed by modern superstition to the
architecture of genii, its graceful columns, its mighty masonry, its
terrace-flights, its marble basins, its sculptured designs stamped
with the unmistakeable emblems of the magian faith, sufficiently
evince that the shepherd-soldiery of Cyrus had already learned to
appreciate and employ the most elaborate arts of the subjugated Medes.

During this epoch, too, was founded a more regular military system, by
the institution of conscriptions--while the subjection of the skilful
sailors of Phoenicia, and of the great maritime cities of Asiatic
Greece, brought to the Persian warfare the new arm of a numerous and
experienced navy.

V. The reign of Darius is also remarkable for the influence which
Grecian strangers began to assume in the Persian court--and the fatal
and promiscuous admission of Grecian mercenaries into the Persian
service. The manners of the Persians were naturally hospitable, and
Darius possessed not only an affable temper, but an inquisitive mind.
A Greek physician of Crotona, who succeeded in relieving the king from
the effects of a painful accident which had baffled the Egyptian
practitioners, esteemed the most skilful the court possessed,
naturally rose into an important personage. His reputation was
increased by a more difficult cure upon the person of Atossa, the
daughter of Cyrus, who, from the arms of her brother Cambyses, and
those of the magian impostor, passed to the royal marriage-bed. And
the physician, though desirous only of returning through some pretext
to his own country, perhaps first inflamed the Persian king with the
ill-starred wish of annexing Greece to his dominions. He despatched a
commission with the physician himself, to report on the affairs of
Greece. Many Hellenic adventurers were at that time scattered over
the empire, some who had served with Cambyses, others who had sided
with the Egyptians. Their valour recommended them to a valiant
people, and their singular genius for intrigue took root in every
soil. Syloson, a Greek of Samos, brother to Polycrates, the tyrant of
that state, who, after a career of unexampled felicity and renown,
fell a victim to the hostile treachery of Oretes, the satrap of
Sardis, induced Darius to send over Otanes at the head of a Persian
force to restore him to the principality of his murdered brother; and
when, subsequently, in his Scythian expedition, Darius was an
eyewitness of the brilliant civilization of Ionia, not only did Greece
become to him more an object of ambition, but the Greeks of his
respect. He sought, by a munificent and wise clemency, to attach them
to his throne, and to colonize his territories with subjects valuable
alike for their constitutional courage and national intelligence. Nor
can we wonder at the esteem which a Hippias or a Demaratus found in
the Persian councils, when, in addition to the general reputation of
Greeks, they were invested with the dignity of princely rank--for,
above all nations [44], the Persians most venerated the name and the
attributes of a king; nor could their Oriental notions have accurately
distinguished between a legitimate monarch and a Greek tyrant.

VI. In this reign, too, as the empire was concentrated, and a
splendid court arose from the warrior camp of Cyrus and Cambyses, the
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.

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