|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 |
XERXES ORDERS THE HELLESPONT TO BE SCOURGED
 IN the autumn of 481 B.C. Xerxes led his vast hosts to Sardis.
His warriors were of many different races, and each was clad
in the dress of the country from which he came. Each, too,
was armed with his own weapon, and each talked his own
language. So you can picture to yourself with what a
strange army Xerxes set out to conquer Greece.
From Sardis he sent heralds, with an interpreter, into
Greece, to demand from the people earth and water, the signs
of their subjection to the great king of Persia.
Themistocles was so angry with the interpreter, who was a
barbarian, for daring to utter the demands of Xerxes in the
Greek language, that he ordered him to be put to death.
Another messenger was then sent by Xerxes, and he brought
with him gold to bribe the Athenians to join the Persians.
Him also Themistocles punished.
Now that danger was near, the Athenians recalled Aristides
from exile. They were afraid lest he should join the
Persians, for they knew that if he did so, many of his
friends would go over to the enemy with him. But it was a
needless fear, and the citizens might well have trusted the
exile not to betray his country. Even before he knew that
his banishment was over, Aristides had begun to stir up the
Greeks that were with him to fight against the Persians.
Themistocles, too, was using all his influence to persuade
the different States to lay aside the quarrels they had with
one another and to fight together against the force that was
coming to invade their land.
 Meanwhile Xerxes, to avoid sailing across the Hellespont
with his vast army, ordered a bridge to be built across it.
But soon after the bridge was finished, a violent storm
dashed it into fragments.
When Xerxes heard of the disaster, his cruel and childish
temper was roused. He ordered the engineers who had planned
the bridge to be beheaded, and that was a cruel act. He
also commanded that the Hellespont should be scourged with
three hundred stripes and that a pair of fetters should be
cast into the sea, and these were foolish acts. "He sent
branders, too, as some say, to brand the Hellespont; and he
charged them to rebuke the water and cry unto it, 'O bitter
water, thus doth the king punish thee, because without wrong
from him thou has done him harm.' "
Before long a new bridge was built, with hedges planted on
either side, so that the horses as they passed across might
not be frightened by seeing the water.
First of the great host came a thousand gallant Persian
troops, followed by a thousand spearmen. The points of
their lances were turned downward; on the handles, which
were held aloft, shone golden pomegranates.
Ten sacred horses, with splendid trappings, stepped behind
the spearmen, while after the horses came a chariot,
dedicated to Zeus, and drawn by eight white horses. No
driver was allowed to mount the sacred chariot, he might
only walk behind, holding the reins in his hands.
Xerxes himself was in another chariot, surrounded by a
thousand guards, bearing spears, upon which glistened apples
of gold. Ten thousand of the king's own bodyguard were
named the Immortals, for, if one of their number was slain
or if one died, his place was at once filled, so that the
number of the Immortals might never become less.
As I told you, the Persian army was made up of many
"Æthiopians from beyond Egypt were there, clad in leopard
skins, and carrying bows made of the central rib of
 the palm
leaf, while their arrows were reeds tipped with sharp
fragments of stone. They carried as well spears, pointed
with gazelles' horns or knotted clubs. Half their body they
painted white and half red before going into battle." Some
had no arms but only a lasso and a long knife; others bore
staves that had had their points hardened in the fire.
From Caucasus came wild tribes that had no armour to protect
their bodies, and only wooden hats to guard their heads.
Xerxes's army was indeed vast, but with so many half-clad
and but poorly armed barbarians in his ranks, he would, had
he been wise, have feared to face the small but well-armed
and well-trained forces of the Greeks.
On the shore of the Hellespont a throne of white stone or
marble was placed, and here Xerxes took his seat to watch
his army cross the bridge which led from Asia into Europe.
But before the vast host began to move "Xerxes poured wine
from a golden cup into the sea and prayed to the Sun that no
harm might happen to him, which might prevent him from
conquering all Europe. Then he threw the cup into the
Hellespont with a golden goblet and a Persian dagger."
It is said that the king called himself a happy man as he
watched the countless numbers of his troops crossing the
bridge. But soon after Artabanus was amazed to see him
burst into tears.
"O king," he said, "thou doest strange things; even now thou
didst call thyself happy and yet thou weepest."
"Thought came upon me and sorrow for the shortness of the
life of man," answered Xerxes, "because after a hundred
years, of all this great host not one shall remain alive."
When the army had crossed the bridge, it marched on toward
the plain of Thessaly, while the fleet, sailing round the
south-east point of the same country, anchored near the
 promontory of Magnesia. Here it was as near to the army as
it was possible for it to be. Not long after the fleet had
anchored, a sudden storm arose, and for three days did much
damage to the ships.
The Greeks meanwhile had been preparing to fight the
invaders. They had sent spies to Sardis to find out, not
only the numbers of the Persian host, but its mettle.
As it chanced, the spies were captured and were on the point
of being put to death, when Xerxes ordered them to be
brought before him.
When they stood in his presence, he demanded why they had
ventured into the camp of the enemy. On hearing the reason
he bade an officer show them the strength of his army and
then send them back unharmed to their
own country. "For," said the king, "if the spies had been killed, the Greeks
could not have heard beforehand of all my great might, yet
it would do them but little hurt to slay three men. But now
will I have no trouble by marching against them, when the
spies have already told of my mighty army."
So confident was the king that he would conquer the enemy
without difficulty, that when vessels filled with corn
sailed past his fleet on the way to Athens, he would not
allow any of his ships to pursue them.
"Whither are they sailing?" asked Xerxes when the corn ships
were pointed out to him.
"To thy enemies, O king, laden with corn," answered his
"Why, we are going thither also," said the king. "What harm
do they do by taking corn for me?"
Now that the Persians were actually at hand the Spartans and
Athenians summoned the Greek states to a council of war to
be held at the Isthmus of Corinth. But some of the states
were afraid, and instead of attending the council they sent
earth and water to Xerxes.
Thessaly, in the north, would be the first to suffer from
the invading army. So a Greek force was sent to the Pass
 of Tempe, between Mount Olympus and Mount Ossa, to try to stop
the advance of the Persians.
But there were other ways by which the enemy could slip past
the Greeks, so after a time, they determined to withdraw
from Thessaly. The northern people, being thus left
defenceless, hastened to submit to Xerxes while there was
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