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THE GREATEST ARMY
ARIUS did not forgive or forget his great defeat at Marathon. He spent
three years in gathering an army larger than the first, but before he could
lead it against Greece he died. His son Xerxes became king, and during four
more years was busy in collecting soldiers and building ships. When all was
ready he set out upon the march, thinking that he would punish the Greeks
for the disgrace and shame which they had made his father suffer.
At Abydos he held a great review of his army. He had ordered a throne of
white marble to be built on a hill which was near the city and which
overlooked both land and sea. There he sat and saw his vessels covering the
narrow sea called the Hellespont, and his soldiers filling the shore and the
plains about Abydos. At first he was glad and proud, but after a while he
burst into tears.
When his uncle heard of this he went to him, and said, "0 king and lord! why
are your feelings changed? Not long ago you were smiling and happy because
your greatness lay before you. Nothing is altered, and yet your eyes are dim
and your face is wet with tears. Why this sudden change?"
The king replied, "When I saw this great company of
 men a sudden pity came upon me to think that human life is so short, and
that of all these soldiers not one will be alive in a hundred years."
But that thought did not prevent him from leading these men to war, in which
many thousands of them died in a few weeks.
The Hellespont is three miles wide at Abydos. Xerxes had a bridge of boats
built that his armies might cross. A storm arose, broke up the bridge, and
scattered the boats. The king was furious.
"Take whips," he cried out, "take whips, and lash those waves that dare to
rise against me! Throw chains into those waters and bind them to my will! I
am their master and they shall obey me."
When the storm was over two new bridges of boats were built and the army
marched safely across into Thrace. It was the largest company of soldiers
the world had ever seen. It had been gathered from every part of the Persian
empire, which included forty-six different nations of Asia and Africa. Some
were barbarians and dressed in skins; others were in shining brass armor;
others wore light, thin clothing Suited to a hot climate. Some had their
bodies painted, half red and half white. One tribe had arrows tipped with
stone instead of iron.
In the wide plain of Doriscus the Persian king commanded that his army
should be counted. It was done in this way: ten thousand men were numbered
and ordered to stand together as closely as possible. A line was drawn
around the spot on which they stood, and
 the soldiers were marched away. Then a wall was built to enclose the space
marked by the line. That space was filled one hundred and seventy times
before the whole army had been included; making a total of 1,700,000 men.
There were also 80,000 horses, a number of war chariots and many camels,
with about 20,000 men as drivers and caretakers.
There was a fleet of 1,207 triremes and 3,000 smaller vessels. The triremes
were galleys with three rows of oars on each side. Each of these vessels had
200 rowers and 30 fighting-men on board. The lesser vessels had each eight
As this great army marched from Doriscus toward Thermopylae it was joined by
soldiers from Thrace, Macedonia, and other nations. Other war galleys were
also added to the fleet; so that by land and sea the Persians brought
against the Greeks many more than two millions of fighting-men. There were
also slaves, crews of the provision vessels, and other men of various kinds,
so that Herodotus says the total number was 5,283,220.
Many writers think this cannot possibly be true, but it is certain that it
was the largest army ever brought together in the history of the world.
As they marched Xerxes sent messages to the principal cities along their
road, requiring each to furnish a day's food for the army. This cost so much
that several cities were nearly ruined. The island of Thasos, which owned
property on the mainland, was compelled to spend in this way what would
equal nearly 500,000 dollars in our money.
 While Xerxes was making preparations to conquer Greece, a congress of the
Greek states was held at Corinth. Some were afraid of the Persians and
others were jealous of Athens and Sparta; so that those two cities were left
almost alone to meet and fight the invader. Their brave citizens resolved to
resist Xerxes to the utmost of their power. At the worst they could only
die, and death, they thought, was better than slavery.
An Athenian named Themistocles was the very life of the congress. His
eloquent and fiery speeches aroused the courage and fixed the resolution of
every one who listened to him. His hearers were determined that the Persian
monarch with his army of slaves should never conquer the free men of Greece.