Imágenes de páginas

bridges, formed of boats, were covered over with boards and earth, having rails on each side, that the horses might not be frightened at the sea. Seven days and nights were expended on this passage, though they marched without intermission. Xerxes encamped on the plains of Doriscus, and reviewing his troops, found them to consist of 1,700,000 foot, 80,000 horse, and 20,000 men, who had the care of the camels and baggage. His fleet consisted of 1,207 large ships, and 3,000 galleys-on board of these were 517,600 men. After he reached the shores of Europe, the people that immediately submitted to him added to his army 300,000 more-so that his forces on arriving at Thermopylæ are said to have amounted to 2,641,600 men—to these were joined an equal number of servants, eunuchs, sutlers, women, and other persons of the sort, to the amount altogether of nearly six millions. This appears almost incredible; but the histories of this period are written by persons living at the time; therefore though some exaggeration may still be supposed, we must receive them as generally authentic.

Lacedæmon and Athens, the two most powerful cities of Greece, having intelligence of the enemy's approach, sent ambassadors to the chief governments of Greece to invite them to enter into a league against the invaders. Withheld, some by jealousy and some by fear, all refused their aid. Argos and Sicily would not assist, unless they would concede to them the command of all their forces. Corcyra put to sea a fleet of sixty ships, but would not adrance till they saw on which side success was likely to fall, that they might join the victor. Crete, under pretext of being forbidden by the oracle, refused to join them altogether. Thus abandoned by all but the Thespians and Platæans, who had but few troops to send, Athens and Lacedæmon were left to maintain alone the unequal contest. Themistocles commanded for Athens and Leonidas for Sparta, and at the pass of Thermopylæ, a narrow passage beside the mountains that divide Thes

saly from Greece, not more than twenty-five feet broad, the only path by which the Persians could enter Attica by land, the battle was to be given, that decided the precedence not of Greece over Persia only, but of Europe over Asia; for the latter were never permanently successful against the former.

Xerxes advanced towards these straits, and was much surprised to find an opposition from an enemy he supposed would fly at his approach. Their whole collected forces were not more than 11,000-at this place were assembled only 4,000. He sent scouts to observe their position and how they were employed—these brought him word that the Lacedæmonians were putting their hair in order--for it was their custom to comb and arrange their hair whenever they were going to expose themselves to extraordinary danger. Xerxes waited four days in expectation of their retreat-he then summoned them to give up their arms—Leonidas bade him come and take them—he tried to corrupt them with bribes, but this too failed. Enraged, he commanded the Medes to attack this contemptible band and bring them to him in fetters. The Medes could not stand the first shock and betook themselves to flight. Hydarnes was next ordered to advance with 10,000 chosen men, the band termed Immortal. They succeeded no better, and returned with great loss. The Persians, considering how small their numbers were at first, and supposing many must be disabled, the next day advanced again; but were resisted and put to disgraceful flight, Xerxes three times leaping from his throne, in terror, as it is said, lest his whole army should be destroyed. He was now in extreme perplexity, and doubtful what measure next to try with this extraordinary foe, when a Greek came to him, and in expectation of reward, offered to conduct him by a secret passage to the summit of the bill that overlooked the Spartan forces. The Phocians who defended that pass were soon overpowered. Leonidas, perceiving that the enemy could be no more resisted,

[ocr errors]


persuaded his allies to retire, except the Thebans, whom he kept against their will, suspecting their fidelity, and the Thespians, who refused to leave him, and with his three hundred Lacedæmonians prepared to die at their post. Xerxes poured a libation to the rising sun and advanced, while others of his troops descended from the mountain to attack them in the other direction: the Persian officers being obliged to stand behind the divisions they commanded, to prevent their men from flying. Numbers were killed by the Greeks, some fell into the sea and were drowned, others were trampled to death by the crowding of their own troops. Four times Xerxes was repulsed, his two brothers and many of his commanders killed—but so surrounded, the Greeks could not escape. Leonidas fell, and all his band, excepting one individual, who escaped to tell the story. Of the Lacedæmonians in this battle, we shall have occasion to speak more particularly in their own history. Xerxes lost 20,000 men: sensible of the alarm and discourage ment the first loss would occasion among his allies, he left about a thousand bodies on the field, and privately buried the remainder: thence proceeding on his march, arrived in Attica four months after he had crossed the Hellespont.

An engagement had taken place between the fleets at sea, on the same day that the battle of Thermopylæ was fought. Here the forces were less unequal, and the victory of the Athenian fleet less decisive; but it was sufficient to encourage them against the overwhelming forces of Asia.

The Persians marched towards Athens unopposed, wasting the country with fire and sword. A detachment was sent to plunder the temple of Apollo at Delphos, of the immense wealth accumulated there from the offerings of the pious. If the Greek authors are to be credited, as these invaders approached the temple of Minerva, a violent storm arose, with thunder and lightning and tremendous winds, by which two enormous


rolled from the summit of Parnassas, and crushed be. neath their weight that whole detachment. On the arrival of the main body at Athens, they found the city deserted and without inhabitants, excepting a small body, who were cut to pieces in an impotent attempt to defend it: the whole body of inhabitants having embarked on board the feet for safety. Xerxes burned the city to the ground, and dispatched the news of his success to his unole Artabanus, left to govern Asia in his absence.

Meantime the Grecian fleet under command of Themistocles had been reinforced, and was stationed in the straits of Salamis, waiting to give battle to the Persian fleet. A council of war was held on the part of the Persians to consider if it was prudent to engage. All the officers gave the advice they knew to be acceptable to the king, excepting Artemisia, queen of Halicarnassus, a heroine who had accompanied Xerxes to the war with five ships, the best of his fleet. This female warrior was distinguished on all occasions by courage and prudence. In this council she alone endeavoured to dissuade the king from risking a naval engagement against a more experienced enemy. Her advice was not followed, and a battle was determined on. Xerxes, the better to encourage

his men, caused a throne to be erected on an eminence whence he could see the engagement, and had scribes about him to write down the names of those who should distinguish themselves. Themistocles, finding his allies determined to fly at the approach of the enemy, sent private notice of the intention to the Persian commander, that he might surround them and prevent their escape. The allies thus prevented from forsaking the Athenians, and inclosed by the fleet of Xerxes, were compelled to fight. The Greeks had 380 vessels, the Persians 2000-but in narrow seas, with a wind favourable to the enemy, their numbers but embarrassed them the more-they were quickly disordered and defeated by the superior skill of Themistocles. Artemisia dis


tinguished herself above the rest; her ships were the last that fled: but all were at length dispersed or destroyed. This defeat was fatal. The allies of Persia, little interested in the war themselves, betook themselves to their respective countries. Xerxes, in alarm lest the conquerors should sail to the Hellespont, and intercept his passage, left his general, Mardonius, in Greece, with 200,000 men, and marched with all haste towards Thrace, intending to cross by the way


No provisions being provided, great hardships were suffered by his men during a march of five and forty days, in which they were compelled to live on herbs and the bark and leaves of trees—great numbers consequeạtly perished by disease. When he reached the Hellespont, he found his bridges destroyed by the violence of the waves, and was compelled to cross the straits in a small fishing-boat, with a few attendants, whence he fled to his own city of Sardis. A return strikingly indeed contrasted with the manner in which he had left the shores of Asia.

Meantime his Carthaginian allies had been entirely defeated in Sicily-and the battle of Platæa, which took place shortly afterwards between the Greek forces and the Persian army remaining with Mardonius, of which we shall speak more particularly in the history of Greece, with forces scarce less unequal than before, decided the contest for ever-the Persians fled, as many as could escape, and never again appeared as enemies in Europe. A second defeat by sea had been suffered on the same day at Mycale; and of the millions that had crossed the Hellespont with Xerxes, a very small number returned. That king, upon the news of these last battles, retired in haste from Sardis towards Persia, to be beyond the reach of the triumphant enemy; giving orders by the way that all the Greek cities and temples in Asia Minor, of which there were many, should be destroyed

not one was left standing but the temple of Diana at Ephesus. The consequence of this defeat was the loss of the Islands, and of the Ionian cities previously possessed by

« AnteriorContinuar »