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The Story of the Greeks by  H. A. Guerber


 

 

THE GREAT ARMY

XERXES' army marched in various sections across Asia Minor, and all the forces came together at the Hellespont. Here the king had ordered the building of two great bridges,—one for the troops, and the other for the immense train of baggage which followed him.

These bridges were no sooner finished than a rising storm entirely destroyed them. When Xerxes heard of the disaster, he not only condemned the unlucky engineers to death, but also had the waves flogged with whips, and ordered chains flung across the strait, to show that he considered the sea an unruly slave, who should be taught to obey his master.

Then, undaunted by his misfortune, the King of Persia gave orders for the building of new bridges; and [122] when they were finished, he reviewed his army from the top of a neighboring mountain.

The sight must have been grand indeed, and the courtiers standing around were greatly surprised when they saw their master suddenly burst into tears. When asked the cause of his sorrow, Xerxes answered, "See that mighty host spread out as far as eye can reach! I weep at the thought that a hundred years hence there will be nothing left of it except, perhaps, a handful of dust and a few moldering bones!"


[Illustration]

Crossing the Hellespont.

The king was soon comforted, however, and crossed the bridge first, attended by his bodyguard of picked soldiers, who were called the Immortals because they had never suffered defeat. All the army followed him, and during seven days and nights the bridge resounded with the steady tramp of the armed host; but, even when the rear guard had passed over the Hellespont, there were still so many slaves and baggage wagons, that it took them a whole month to file past.

That was a procession such as has never again been seen. You can imagine what a sight it was for all the boys and girls who lived near enough to the Hellespont to see this mighty parade, which continued night and day.

They saw not only the sacred chariot drawn by eight white horses, the glittering array of the Immortals, the burnished helmets and arms of the foot soldiers, and the silken canopies and tents over the grandees, but also countless chariots drawn by four horses, and provided on either side with sharp scythes, which were intended to mow down the enemy like ripe grain.

[124] Besides these strange mowing machines, there were many other engines of war, which were all made to strike terror into the hearts of the Greeks, and to subdue completely the proud people who had so sorely defeated Darius' troops at Marathon.

To prevent his fleet from being wrecked as his father's was, Xerxes had given orders to dig a great canal across the isthmus that connected Mount Athos with the mainland; and through this the vessels sailed past the promontory safely.


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