|The Story of Greece|
|by Mary Macgregor|
| Stories from the history of ancient Greece beginning with mythical and legendary stories of gods and heroes and ending with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Gives short accounts of battles and sieges, and of the men who made Greece a great nation. Ages 10-14 |
THE BRIDGE OF BOATS
 ALONG the western shore of Asia Minor there were many Greek
colonies. One of these was called Ionia, and the chief city
of the Ionian state was Miletus.
The Greeks who lived in these colonies owned, often
against their will, the King of Persia as their overlord.
In time of war they were forced to fight for him.
In 521 B.C. a great monarch, named Darius, became King of
Persia. He added many kingdoms to his dominions during the
first nine years of his reign. In 512 B.C. he determined to
conquer Greece and add it also to his possessions.
So he assembled a great army and crossed the Bosphorus, but
instead of going west to Thessaly which lies in the
north-east of Greece, Darius turned first toward the north,
and crossing the Balkans, he reached the river Danube.
Beyond the river lay a wild and desolate country, the home
of the Scythians, who wandered up and down the land,
settling now here, now there, as their fancy pleased.
The "great king," as the Persian monarchs were often called,
bade the Ionian Greeks, who formed part of his army, throw a
bridge of boats across the river. When this was done he
bade them stay to guard the bridge, while he marched with
the main body of his men into the wild Scythian country.
Should he not return in sixty days, Darius told the Ionians
that they might break up the bridge and go back to their
No sooner had the great king crossed the bridge and marched
into Scythia, than his difficulties began.
 The foe he had come to seek was not to be found. Knowing
that they were not strong enough to face Darius in battle,
the Scythians had driven their herds far into the desert,
while they themselves, like shadows, dogged the steps of the
Two months passed, and still the king had not been able to
make the enemy fight. Their shadowy forms were sometimes
seen, but they were never near enough to be attacked.
Darius was unwilling to own that his expedition had been
useless. Yet his men were sick from cold, and their
provisions were nearly at an end, so he had almost made up
his mind to order the retreat. But while he still
hesitated, the story tells that the Scythians sent one of
their number to the great king, carrying with him as gifts a
bird, a mouse, a frog, and five arrows.
The Persians demanded the meaning of these strange gifts,
but the messenger had no answer to give. He had been
but bidden to give them to the great king and return to his
Then Darius called together his council to consider what the
offering might betoken.
The king himself thought that the presents were to show that
the Scythians were ready to surrender their land, for on it
the mouse found its home; their water, for in it dwelt the
frog. The bird was a symbol of their war-steeds, and with
the arrows showed that they were willing to lay down their
arms. Darius was satisfied with his own explanation, but
one of his councillors thought that the gifts had quite a
"O Persians," he cried, "listen to my words and be wise.
For unless ye become as birds and fly up into heaven, or go
down like mice beneath the earth, or, becoming frogs, leap
into the lake, ye will not escape being shot by these
As he listened to these alarming words, the king thought
that after all perhaps this was the true meaning of the
gifts, so he determined to return to the Danube. But the
 men and beasts of burden were left behind when the army
set out, for they could not march as quickly as Darius
wished. The groanings of these miserable men and the cries
of the animals were heard by the Scythians, who soon
discovered what had happened and set out in pursuit of
Darius and his army.
Now the Ionians in charge of the bridge had long been tired
of waiting for the return of the great king. He had
perished, they said one to the other, and it would be well
for them to break up the bridge and return to their homes.
Those who longed most to throw off their allegiance to the
Persians muttered that even if the king had not already
perished, he would soon do so, if he reached the Danube
without provisions, to find the bridge was no longer there.
Miltiades, an Athenian, was strongly in favour of
withdrawing, but Histiaeus, tyrant of Miletus, begged the
Ionians to remain, for Darius would come back, of that he
felt certain. Then turning to the other tyrants, he cried,
"O ye tyrants, be sure of this, that if we leave the
Persians to perish, the men of our cities will rise up
against us, because it is the king who strengthens us in our
power; and if he die, neither shall I be able to rule in
Miletus, nor you in those cities of which ye are tyrants."
Then the other tyrants agreed with Histiaeus that it would
be for their own good to wait for the king.
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