PREPARATIONS FOR DEFENSE
THE news of Xerxes' crossing of the Hellespont, and of
his approach to conquer Greece, soon reached Athens,
where it filled all hearts with fear. The people then
remembered Miltiades, and bitterly regretted his death,
and their ingratitude, which had been its real cause.
As the mighty general who had already once delivered
them was dead, they tried to think who could best
replace him, and decided to recall Aristides the Just
from his undeserved exile. Aristides generously forgave
his fellow-citizens for all the harm they had done him,
and he and Themistocles began to do all in their power
to insure the safety of Athens.
Swift runners were dispatched in every
direction with messages urging all the Greek cities to
unite for the good of the country by sending as many
 as possible to check the Persian army, and to try to
hinder it from really entering Greece.
Themistocles was the most active in this attempt to
induce the Greek cities to join forces, and it was he
who planned a great council, or meeting, at Corinth, in
481 B.C. There it soon became evident that the cities
were too jealous of each other to unite as they should.
Many of them promised help, which they never sent;
others vowed they would neither send troops nor furnish
aid of any kind, unless their generals had supreme
command; and even the oracles gave vague and
discouraging answers, when consulted as usual.
In spite of all these drawbacks, Themistocles managed
to get a few allies, and, in order to induce the
Spartans to lend their aid, he promised them the
command not only of the army, but also of the fleet.
He next persuaded them that it would be wisest to send
an armed force into Thessaly, so as to defend the
narrow pass of Thermopylæ, which was the only road by
which the Persians could enter Greece. This natural
causeway, as we have seen, lay between the mountains
and the sea; and, because there were springs of warm
water here, it was generally known as Thermopylæ,
which is the Greek for "Hot Gateway."
Under the guidance of Leonidas, one of the Spartan
kings, three hundred Lacedæmonian soldiers and six
thousand allies marched thither, and undertook to guard
the pass. This was a very small army; but it was
impossible to get more soldiers at the time, as all the
Greeks were more anxious to attend the Olympic games,
 which were just then being celebrated, than to defend
their country and homes.
Many of them said they were afraid the gods would be
angry if they did not keep the feast as usual, and
declared that it was against the law to bear arms or
make war during that time. This was perfectly true; but
Xerxes did not care at all for the Greek gods, and the
country would have been defenseless had it not been for
Leonidas and his handful of men.
While this little army traveled northwards, the rest of
the people thronged to Olympia, promising to come and
fight as soon as the games were ended, and they could
again bear arms without offending the gods.
The Persian fleet, as you have seen, had passed behind
Mount Athos, instead of rounding it as before, and
Xerxes intended landing part of his army just below
Thermopylæ. Unfortunately for him, however, the four
hundred vessels bearing his troops were wrecked by a
Another fleet was immediately prepared; but, before it
was ready, the Olympic games came to an end, and the
Greeks, flying to arms as they had promised, hastily
embarked upon their own vessels, and came and took up
their position at Artemisium, to hinder the advance
of the Persian fleet.