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Darius the Great by  Jacob Abbott


 

 

THE DEATH OF DARIUS

[264] THE city of Athens and the plain of Marathon are situated upon a peninsula. The principal port by which the city was ordinarily approached was on the southern shore of the peninsula, though the Persians had landed on the northern side. Of course, in their retreat from the field of battle, they fled to the north. When they were beyond the reach of their enemies and fairly at sea, they were at first somewhat perplexed to determine what to do. Datis was extremely unwilling to return to Darius with the news of such a defeat. On the other hand, there seemed but little hope of any other result if he were to attempt a second landing.

Hippias, their Greek guide, was killed in the battle. He expected to be killed, for his mind, on the morning of the battle, was in a state of great despondency and dejection. Until that time he had felt a strong and confident expectation of success, but his feelings had then been very suddenly changed. His confidence had [265] arisen from the influence of a dream, his dejection from a cause more frivolous still; so that he was equally irrational in his hope and in his despair.

The omen which seemed to him to portend success to the enterprise in which he had undertaken to act as guide, was merely that he dreamed one night that he saw, and spent some time in company with, his mother. In attempting to interpret this dream in the morning, it seemed to him that Athens, his native city, was represented by his mother, and that the vision denoted that he was about to be restored to Athens again. He was extremely elated at this supernatural confirmation of his hopes, and would have gone into the battle certain of victory, had it not been that another circumstance occurred at the time of the landing to blast his hopes. He had, himself, the general charge of the disembarkation. He stationed the ships at their proper places near the shore, and formed the men upon the beach as they landed. While he was thus engaged, standing on the sand, he suddenly sneezed. He was an old man, and his teeth—those that remained—were loose. One of them was thrown out in the act of sneezing, and it fell into the sand. Hippias was [266] alarmed at this occurrence, considering it a bad omen. He looked a long time for the tooth in vain, and then exclaimed that all was over. The joining of his tooth to his mother earth was the event to which his dream referred, and there was now no hope of any further fulfillment of it. He went on mechanically, after this, in marshaling his men and preparing for battle, but his mind was oppressed with gloomy forebodings. He acted, in consequence, feebly and with indecision; and when the Greeks explored the field on the morning after the battle, his body was found among the other mutilated and ghastly remains which covered the ground.

As the Persian fleet moved, therefore, along the coast of Attica, they had no longer their former guide. They were still, however, very reluctant to leave the country. They followed the shore of the peninsula until they came to the promontory of Sunium, which forms the southeastern extremity of it. They doubled this cape, and then followed the southern shore of the peninsula until they arrived at the point opposite to Athens on that side. In the mean time, however, the Spartan troops which had been sent for to aid the Athenians in the contest, but which had not arrived in time to take [267] part in the battle, reached the ground; and the indications which the Persians observed, from the decks of their galleys, that the country was thoroughly aroused, and was every where ready to receive them, deterred them from making any further attempts to land. After lingering, therefore, a short time near the shore, the fleet directed its course again toward the coasts of Asia.

The mind of Datis was necessarily very ill at ease. He dreaded the wrath of Darius; for despots are very prone to consider military failures as the worst of crimes. The expedition had not, however, been entirely a failure. Datis had conquered many of the Greek islands, and he had with him, on board his galleys, great numbers of prisoners, and a vast amount of plunder which he had obtained from them. Still, the greatest and most important of the objects which Darius had commissioned him to accomplish had been entirely defeated, and he felt, accordingly, no little anxiety in respect to the reception which he was to expect at Susa.

One night he had a dream which greatly disturbed him. He awoke in the morning with an impression upon his mind, which he had derived from the dream, that some temple had [268] been robbed by his soldiers in the course of his expedition, and that the sacrilegious booty which had been obtained was concealed somewhere in the fleet. He immediately ordered a careful search to be instituted, in which every ship was examined. At length they found, concealed in one of the galleys, a golden statue of Apollo. Datis inquired what city it had been taken from. They answered from Delium. Delium was on the coast of Attica, near the place where the Persians had landed, at the time of their advance on Marathon. Datis could not safely or conveniently go back there to restore it to its place. He determined, therefore, to deposit it at Delos for safe keeping, until it could be returned to its proper home.

Delos was a small but very celebrated island near the center of the Ęgean Sea, and but a short distance from the spot where the Persian fleet was lying when Datis made this discovery. It was a sacred island, devoted to religious rites, and all contention, and violence, and, so far as was possible, all suffering and death, were excluded from it. The sick were removed from it; the dead were not buried there; armed ships and armed men laid aside their hostility to each other when they approached it. Belligerent [269] fleets rode at anchor, side by side, in peace, upon the smooth waters of its little port, and an enchanting picture of peace, tranquility, and happiness was seen upon its shores. A large natural fountain, or spring, thirty feet in diameter, and inclosed partly by natural rocks and partly by an artificial wall, issued from the ground in the center of the island, and sent forth a beautiful and fertilizing rill into a rich and happy valley, through which it meandered, deviously, for several miles, seeking the sea. There was a large and populous city near the port, and the whole island was adorned with temples, palaces, colonnades, and other splendid architectural structures, which made it the admiration of all mankind. All this magnificence and beauty have, however, long since passed away. The island is now silent, deserted, and desolate, a dreary pasture, where cattle browse and feed, with stupid indifference, among the ancient ruins. Nothing living remains of the ancient scene of grandeur and beauty but the fountain. That still continues to pour up its clear and pellucid waters with a ceaseless and eternal flow.

It was to this Delos that Datis determined to restore the golden statue. He took it on [270] board his own galley, and proceeded with it, himself, to the sacred island. He deposited it in the great temple of Apollo, charging the priests to convey it, as soon as a convenient opportunity should occur, to its proper destination at Delium.

The Persian fleet, after this business was disposed of, set sail again, and pursued its course toward the coasts of Asia, where at length the expedition landed in safety.

The various divisions of the army were then distributed in the different provinces where they respectively belonged, and Datis commenced his march with the Persian portion of the troops, and with his prisoners and plunder, for Susa, feeling, however, very uncertain how he should be received on his arrival there. Despotic power is always capricious; and the character of Darius, which seems to have been naturally generous and kind, and was rendered cruel and tyrannical only through the influence of the position in which he had been placed, was continually presenting the most opposite and contradictory phases. The generous elements of it, fortunately for Datis, seemed to be in the ascendency when the remnant of the Persian army arrived at Susa. Darius received the returning [271] general without anger, and even treated the prisoners with humanity.

Before finally leaving the subject of this celebrated invasion, which was brought to an end in so remarkable a manner by the great battle of Marathon, it may be well to relate the extraordinary circumstances which attended the subsequent history of Miltiades, the great commander in that battle on the Greek side. Before the conflict, he seems to have had no official superiority over the other generals, but, by the resolute decision with which he urged the plan of giving the Persians battle, and the confidence and courage which he manifested in expressing his readiness to take the responsibility of the measure, he placed himself virtually at the head of the Greek command. The rest of the officers acquiesced in his pre-eminence, and, waiving their claims to an equal share of the authority, they allowed him to go forward and direct the operations of the day. If the day had been lost, Miltiades, even though he had escaped death upon the field, would have been totally and irretrievably ruined; but as it was won, the result of the transaction was that he was raised to the highest pinnacle of glory and renown.

[272] And yet in this, as in all similar cases, the question of success or of failure depended upon causes wholly beyond the reach of human foresight or control. The military commander who acts in such contingencies is compelled to stake every thing dear to him on results which are often as purely hazardous as the casting of a die.

The influence of Miltiades in Athens after the Persian troops were withdrawn was paramount and supreme. Finding himself in possession of this ascendency, he began to form plans for other military undertakings. It proved, in the end, that it would have been far better for him to have been satisfied with the fame which he had already acquired.

Some of the islands in the Ęgean Sea he considered as having taken part with the Persians in the invasion, to such an extent, at least, as to furnish him with a pretext for making war upon them. The one which he had specially in view, in the first instance, was Paros. Paros is a large and important island situated near the center of the southern portion of the Ęgean Sea. It is of an oval form, and is about twelve miles long. The surface of the land is beautifully diversified and very picturesque, while, at the same time, the soil is very [273] fertile. In the days of Miltiades, it was very wealthy and populous, and there was a large city, called also Paros, on the western coast of the island, near the sea. There is a modern town built upon the site of the former city, which presents a very extraordinary appearance, as the dwellings are formed, in a great measure, of materials obtained from the ancient ruins. Marble columns, sculptured capitals, and fragments of what were once magnificent entablatures, have been used to construct plain walls, or laid in obscure and neglected pavements—all, however, still retaining, notwithstanding their present degradation, unequivocal marks of the nobleness of their origin. The quarries where the ancient Parian marble was obtained were situated on this island, not very far from the town. They remain to the present day in the same state in which the ancient workmen left them.

In the time of Miltiades the island and the city of Paros were both very wealthy and very powerful. Miltiades conceived the design of making a descent upon the island, and levying an immense contribution upon the people, in the form of a fine, for what he considered their treason in taking part with the enemies of their [274] countrymen. In order to prevent the people of Paros from preparing for defense, Miltiades intended to keep the object of his expedition secret for a time. He therefore simply proposed to the Athenians that they should equip a fleet and put it under his command. He had an enterprise in view, he said, the nature of which he could not particularly explain, but he was very confident of its success, and, if successful, he should return, in a short time, laden with spoils which would enrich the city, and amply reimburse the people for the expenses they would have incurred. The force which he asked for was a fleet of seventy vessels.

So great was the popularity and influence which Miltiades had acquired by his victory at Marathon, that this somewhat extraordinary proposition was readily complied with. The fleet was equipped, and crews were provided, and the whole armament was placed under Miltiades's command. The men themselves who were embarked on board of the galleys did not know whither they were going. Miltiades promised them victory and an abundance of gold as their reward; for the rest, they must trust, he said, to him, as he could not explain the actual destination of the enterprise without endanger- [275] ing its success. The men were all satisfied with these conditions, and the fleet set sail.

When it arrived on the coast of Paros, the Parians were, of course, taken by surprise, but they made immediate preparations for a very vigorous resistance. Miltiades commenced a siege, and sent a herald to the city, demanding of them, as the price of their ransom, an immense sum of money, saying, at the same time, that, unless they delivered up that sum, or, at least, gave security for the payment of it, he would not leave the place until the city was captured, and, when captured, it should be wholly destroyed. The Parians rejected the demand, and engaged energetically in the work of completing and strengthening their defenses. They organized companies of workmen to labor during the night, when their operations would not be observed, in building new walls, and re-enforcing every weak or unguarded point in the line of the fortifications. It soon appeared that the Parians were making far more rapid progress in securing their position than Miltiades was in his assaults upon it. Miltiades found that an attack upon a fortified island in the Ęgean Sea was a different thing from encountering the undisciplined hordes of Persians on [276] the open plains of Marathon. There it was a contest between concentrated courage and discipline on the one hand, and a vast expansion of pomp and parade on the other; whereas now he found that the courage and discipline on his part were met by an equally indomitable resolution on the part of his opponents, guided, too, by an equally well-trained experience and skill. In a word, it was Greek against Greek at Paros, and Miltiades began at length to perceive that his prospect of success was growing very doubtful and dim.

This state of things, of course, filled the mind of Miltiades with great anxiety and distress; for, after the promises which he had made to the Athenians, and the blind confidence which he had asked of them in proposing that they should commit the fleet so unconditionally to his command, he could not return discomfited to Athens without involving himself in the most absolute disgrace. While he was in this perplexity, it happened that some of his soldiers took captive a Parian female, one day, among other prisoners. She proved to be a priestess, from one of the Parian temples. Her name was Timo. The thought occurred to Miltiades that, since all human means at his command [277] had proved inadequate to accomplish his end, he might, perhaps, through this captive priestess, obtain some superhuman aid. As she had been in the service of a Parian temple, she would naturally have an influence with the divinities of the place, or, at least, she would be acquainted with the proper means of propitiating their favor.

Miltiades, accordingly, held a private interview with Timo, and asked her what he should do to propitiate the divinities of Paros so far as to enable him to gain possession of the city. She replied that she could easily point out the way, if he would but follow her instructions. Miltiades, overjoyed, promised readily that he would do so. She then gave him her instructions secretly. What they were is not known, except so far as they were revealed by the occurrences that followed.

There was a temple consecrated to the goddess Ceres near to the city, and so connected with it, it seems, as to be in some measure included within the defenses. The approach to this temple was guarded by a palisade. There were, however, gates which afforded access, except when they were fastened from within. Miltiades, in obedience to Timo's instructions, [278] went privately, in the night, perhaps, and with very few attendants, to this temple. He attempted to enter by the gates, which he had expected, it seems, to find open. They were, however, fastened against him. He then undertook to scale the palisade. He succeeded in doing this, not, however, without difficulty, and then advanced toward the temple, in obedience to the instructions which he had received from Timo. The account states that the act, whatever it was, that Timo had directed him to perform, instead of being, as he supposed, a means of propitiating the favor of the divinity, was sacrilegious and impious; and Miltiades, as he approached the temple, was struck suddenly with a mysterious and dreadful horror of mind, which wholly overwhelmed him. Rendered almost insane by this supernatural remorse and terror, he turned to fly. He reached the palisade, and, in endeavoring to climb over it, his precipitation and haste caused him to fall. His attendants ran to take him up. He was helpless and in great pain. They found he had dislocated a joint in one of his limbs. He received, of course, every possible attention; but, instead of recovering from the injury, he found that the consequences of it became more and [279] more serious every day. In a word, the great conqueror of the Persians was now wholly overthrown, and lay moaning on his couch as helpless as a child.

He soon determined to abandon the siege of Paros and return to Athens. He had been about a month upon the island, and had laid waste the rural districts, but, as the city had made good its defense against him, he returned without any of the rich spoil which he had promised. The disappointment which the people of Athens experienced on his arrival, turned soon into a feeling of hostility against the author of the calamity. Miltiades found that the fame and honor which he had gained at Marathon were gone. They had been lost almost as suddenly as they had been acquired. The rivals and enemies who had been silenced by his former success were now brought out and made clamorous against him by his present failure. They attributed the failure to his own mismanagement of the expedition, and one orator, at length, advanced articles of impeachment against him, on a charge of having been bribed by the Persians to make his siege of Paros only a feint, Miltiades could not defend himself from these criminations, for he was lying, at [280] the time, in utter helplessness, upon his couch of pain. The dislocation of the limb had ended in an open wound, which at length, having resisted all the attempts of the physicians to stop its progress, had begun to mortify, and the life of the sufferer was fast ebbing away. His son Cimon did all in his power to save his father from both the dangers that threatened him. He defended his character in the public tribunals, and he watched over his person in the cell in the prison. These filial efforts were, however, in both cases unavailing. Miltiades was condemned by the tribunal, and he died of his wound.

The penalty exacted of him by the sentence was a very heavy fine. The sum demanded was the amount which the expedition to Paros had cost the city, and which, as it had been lost through the agency of Miltiades, it was adjudged that he should refund. This sentence, as well as the treatment in general which Miltiades received from his countrymen, has been since considered by mankind as very unjust and cruel. It was, however, only following out, somewhat rigidly, it is true, the essential terms and conditions of a military career. It results from principles inherent in the very nature of war, [281] that we are never to look for the ascendency of justice and humanity in any thing pertaining to it. It is always power, and not right, that determines possession; it is success, not merit, that gains honors and rewards; and they who assent to the genius and spirit of military rule thus far, must not complain if they find that, on the same principle, it is failure and not crime which brings condemnation and destruction.

When Miltiades was dead, Cimon found that he could not receive his father's body for honorable interment unless he paid the fine. He had no means, himself, of doing this. He succeeded, however, at length, in raising the amount, by soliciting contributions from the family friends of his father. He paid the fine into the city treasury, and then the body of the hero was deposited in its long home.

The Parians were at first greatly incensed against the priestess Timo, as it seemed to them that she had intended to betray the city to Miltiades. They wished to put her to death, but they did not dare to do it. It might be considered an impious sacrilege to punish a priestess. They accordingly sent to the oracle at Delphi to state the circumstances of the case, and to inquire if they might lawfully put the [282] priestess to death. She had been guilty, they said, of pointing out to an enemy the mode by which he might gain possession of their city; and, what was worse, she had, in doing so, attempted to admit him to those solemn scenes and mysteries in the temple which it was not lawful for any man to behold. The oracle replied that the priestess must not be punished, for she had done no wrong. It had been decreed by the gods that Miltiades should be destroyed, and Timo had been employed by them as the involuntary instrument of conducting him to his fate. The people of Paros acquiesced in this decision, and Timo was set free.

But to return to Darius. His desire to subdue the Greeks and to add their country to his dominions, and his determination to accomplish his purpose, were increased and strengthened, not diminished, by the repulse which his army had met with at the first invasion. He was greatly incensed against the Athenians, as if he considered their courage and energy in defending their country an audacious outrage against himself, and a crime. He resolved to organize a new expedition, still greater and more powerful than the other. Of this arma- [283] ment he determined to take the command himself in person, and to make the preparations for it on a scale of such magnitude as that the expedition should be worthy to be led by the great sovereign of half the world. He accordingly transmitted orders to all the peoples, nations, languages, and realms, in all his dominions, to raise their respective quotas of troops, horses, ships, and munitions of war, and prepare to assemble at such place of rendezvous as he should designate when all should be ready.

Some years elapsed before these arrangements were matured, and when at last the time seemed to have arrived for carrying his plans into effect, he deemed it necessary, before he commenced his march, to settle the succession of his kingdom; for he had several sons, who might each claim the throne, and involve the empire in disastrous civil wars in attempting to enforce their claims, in case he should never return. The historians say that there was a law of Persia forbidding the sovereign to leave the realm without previously fixing upon a successor. It is difficult to see, however, by what power or authority such a law could have been enacted, or to believe that monarchs like Darius would recognize an abstract obligation to law of any kind, in respect to their own po- [284] litical action. There is a species of law regulating the ordinary dealings between man and man, that springs up in all communities, whether savage or civilized, from custom, and from the action of judicial tribunals, which the most despotic and absolute sovereigns feel themselves bound, so far as relates to the private affairs of their subjects, to respect and uphold; but, in regard to their own personal and governmental acts and measures, they very seldom know any other authority than the impulses of their own sovereign will.

Darius had several sons, among whom there were two who claimed the right to succeed their father on the throne. One was the oldest son of a wife whom Darius had married before he became king. His name was Artobazanes. The other was the son of Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, whom Darius had married after  his accession to the throne. His name was Xerxes. Artobazanes claimed that he was entitled to be his father's heir, since he was his oldest son. Xerxes, on the other hand, maintained that, at the period of the birth of Artobazanes, Darius was not a king. He was then in a private station, and sons could properly inherit only what their fathers possessed at the time when they were born. He himself, on the other hand, was [285] the oldest son which his father had had, being a king, and he was, consequently, the true inheritor of the kingdom. Besides, being the son of Atossa, he was the grandson of Cyrus, and the hereditary rights, therefore, of that great founder of the empire had descended to him.

Darius decided the question in favor of Xerxes, and then made arrangements for commencing his march, with a mind full of the elation and pride which were awakened by the grandeur of his position and the magnificence of his schemes. These schemes, however, he did not live to execute. He suddenly fell sick and died, just as he was ready to set out upon his expedition, and Xerxes, his son, reigned in his stead.

Xerxes immediately took command of the vast preparations which his father had made, and went on with the prosecution of the enterprise. The expedition which followed deserves, probably, in respect to the numbers engaged in it, the distance which it traversed, the immenseness of the expenses involved, and the magnitude of its results, to be considered the greatest military undertaking which human ambition and power have ever attempted to effect. The narrative, however, both of its splendid adventures and of its ultimate fate, belongs to the history of Xerxes.


[286] The greatness of Darius was the greatness of position and not of character. He was the absolute sovereign of nearly half the world, and, as such, was held up very conspicuously to the attention of mankind, who gaze with a strong feeling of admiration and awe upon these vast elevations of power, as they do upon the summits of mountains, simply because they are high. Darius performed no great exploit, and he accomplished no great object while he lived; and he did not even leave behind him any strong impressions of personal character. There is in his history, and in the position which he occupies in the minds of men, greatness without dignity, success without merit, vast and long-continued power without effects accomplished or objects gained, and universal and perpetual renown without honor or applause. The world admire Cęsar, Hannibal, Alexander, Alfred, and Napoleon for the deeds which they performed. They admire Darius only on account of the elevation on which he stood. In the same lofty position, they would have admired, probably, just as much, the very horse whose neighing placed him there.


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