Yet, despite this signal victory, Greece was still in imminent danger. Athens was undefended. The fleeing fleet might reach and capture it before the army could return. In truth, the ships had sailed in this direction, and from the top of a lofty hill Miltiades saw the polished surface of a shield flash in the sunlight, and quickly guessed what it meant. It was a signal made by some traitor to the Persian fleet. Putting his army at once under march, despite the weariness of the victors, he hastened back over the long twenty-two miles at all possible speed, and the worn-out troops reached Athens barely in time to save it from the approaching fleet.
The triumph of Miltiades was complete. Only for his quickness in guessing the meaning of the flashing shield, and the rapidity of his march, all the results of his great victory would have been lost, and Athens fallen helpless into Persian arms. But Datis, finding the city amply garrisoned, and baffled at every point, turned his ships and sailed in defeat away, leaving the Athenians masters of city and field.
And now the Spartans—to whom the full moon had come too late—appeared, two thousand strong, only in time to congratulate the victors and view the dead Persians on the field. They had marched the whole distance in less than three days. As for the Athenian dead, they were buried with great ceremony on the plain where they fell, and the great mound which covers them is visible there to this day.
XERXES AND HIS ARMY.
The defeat of the Persian army at Marathon redoubled the wrath of King Darius against the Athenians. He resolved in his autocratic mind to sweep that pestilent city and all whom it contained from the face of the earth. And he perhaps would have done so had he not met a more terrible foe even than Miltiades and his army,—the all-conqueror Death, to whose might the greatest monarchs must succumb. Burning with fury, Darius ordered the levy of a mighty army, and for three years busy preparations for war went on throughout the vast empire of Persia. But, just as the mustering was done and he was about to march, that grisly foe Death struck him down in the midst of his schemes of conquest, and Greece was saved,—the great Darius was no more.
Xerxes, son of Darius, succeeded him on the throne. This new monarch was the handsomest and stateliest man in all his army. But his fair outside covered a weak nature; timid, faint-hearted, vain, conceited, he was not the man to conquer Greece, small as it was and great as was the empire under his control; and the death of Darius was in all probability the salvation of Greece.
Xerxes succeeded not only to the throne of Persia, but also to the vast army which his father had brought together. He succeeded, moreover, to a war, for Egypt was in revolt. But this did not last long; the army was at once set in motion, Egypt was quickly subdued, and the Egyptians found themselves under a worse tyranny than before.
Greece remained to conquer, and for that enterprise the timid Persian king was not eager. Marathon could not be forgotten. Those fierce Athenians who had defeated his father's great host were not to be dealt with so easily as the unwarlike Egyptians. He held back irresolute, now persuaded to war by one councillor, now to peace by another, and finally—so we are told—driven to war by a dream, in which a tall, stately man appeared to him and with angry countenance commanded him not to abandon the enterprise which his father had designed. This dream came to him again the succeeding night, and when Artabanus, his uncle, and the advocate of peace, was made to sit on his throne and sleep in his bed, the same figure appeared to him, and threatened to burn out his eyes if he still opposed the war. Artabanus, stricken with terror, now counselled war, and Xerxes determined on the invasion of Greece.
This story we are told by Herodotus, who told many things which it is not very safe to believe. What we really know is that Xerxes began the most stupendous preparations for war that had ever been known, and added to the army left by his father until he had got together the greatest host the world had yet beheld. For four years those preparations, to which Darius had already given three years of time, were actively continued. Horsemen and foot-soldiers, ships of war, transports, provisions, and supplies of all kinds were collected far and near, the vanity of Xerxes probably inciting him to astonish the world by the greatness of his army.
In the autumn of the year 481 B.C. this vast army, marching from all parts of the mighty empire, reached Lydia and gathered in and around the city of Sardis, the old capital of Croesus. Besides the land army, a fleet of twelve hundred and seven ships of war, and numerous other vessels, were collected, and large magazines of provisions were formed at points along the whole line of march. For years flour and other food, from Asia and Egypt, had been stored in cities on the route, that the fatal enemy starvation might not attack the mighty host.
Two important questions occupied the mind of Xerxes. How was he to get his vast army on European soil, and how escape those dangers from storm which had wrecked his father's fleet? He might cross the sea in ships, as Datis had done,—and be like him defeated. Xerxes thought it safest to keep on solid land, and decided to build a bridge of boats across the Hellespont, that ocean river now known as the Dardanelles, the first of the two straits which connect the Mediterranean with the Black Sea. As for the other trouble, that of storms at sea, he remembered the great gale which had wrecked the fleet of Mardonius off the stormy cape of Mount Athos, and determined to avoid this danger. A narrow neck of land connects Mount Athos with the mainland. Xerxes ordered that a ship-canal should be cut through this isthmus, wide and deep enough to allow two triremes—war-ships with three ranks of oars—to sail abreast.
This work was done by the Phoenicians, the ablest engineers at that time in the world. A canal was made through which his whole fleet could sail, and thus the stormy winds and waves which hovered about Mount Athos be avoided.
This work was successfully done, but not so the bridge of boats. Hardly had the latter been completed, when there came so violent a storm that the cables were snapped like pack-thread and the bridge swept away. With the weakness of a man of small mind, on hearing of this disaster Xerxes burst into a fit of insane rage. He ordered that the heads of the chief engineers should be cut off, but this was far from satisfying his anger. The elements had risen against his might, and the elements themselves must be punished. The Hellespont should be scourged for its temerity, and three hundred lashes were actually given the water, while a set of fetters were cast into its depths. It is further said that the water was branded with hot irons, but it is hard to believe that even Xerxes was such a fool as this would make him.
The rebellious water thus punished, Xerxes regained his wits, and ordered that the bridge should be rebuilt more strongly than before. Huge cables were made, some of flax, some of papyrus fibre, to anchor the ships in the channel and to bind them to the shore. Two bridges were constructed, composed of large ships laid side by side in the water, while over each of them stretched six great cables, to moor them to the land and to support the wooden causeway. In one of these bridges no less than three hundred and sixty ships were employed.
And now, everything being ready, the mighty army began its march. It presented a grand spectacle as it made its way from Sardis to the sea. First of all came the baggage, borne on thousands of camels and other beasts of burden. Then came one-half the infantry. The other half marched in the rear, while between them were Xerxes and his great body-guard, which is thus described by the Greek historian:
First came a thousand Persian cavalry and as many spearmen, each of the latter having a golden pomegranate on the rear end of his spear, which was carried in the air, the point being turned downward. Then came ten sacred horses, splendidly caparisoned, and following them rolled the sacred chariot of Zeus, drawn by eight white horses. This was succeeded by the chariot of Xerxes himself, who was immediately attended by a thousand horse-guards, the choicest troops of the kingdom, of whose spears the ends glittered with golden apples. Then came detachments of one thousand horse, ten thousand foot, and ten thousand horse. These foot-soldiers, called the Immortals, because their number was always maintained, had pomegranates of silver on their spears, with the exception of one thousand, who marched in front and rear and on the sides, and bore pomegranates of gold. After these household troops followed the vast remaining host.
The army of Xerxes was, as we have said, superior in numbers to any the world had ever seen. Forty-six nations had sent their quotas to the host, each with its different costume, arms, mode of march, and system of fighting. Only those from Asia Minor bore such arms as the Greeks were used to fight with. Most of the others were armed with javelins or other light weapons, and bore slight shields or none at all. Some came armed only with daggers and a lasso like that used on the American plains. The Ethiopians from the Upper Nile had their bodies painted half red and half white, wore lion-and panther-skins, and carried javelins and bows. Few of the whole army bore the heavy weapons or displayed the solid fighting phalanx of those whom they had come to meet in war.
As to the number of men thus brought together from half the continent of Asia we cannot be sure. Xerxes, after reaching Europe, took an odd way of counting his army. Ten thousand men were counted and packed close together. Then a line was drawn around them, and a wall built about the space. The whole army was then marched in successive detachments into this walled enclosure. Herodotus tells us that there were one hundred and seventy of these divisions, which would make the whole army one million seven hundred thousand foot. In addition there were eighty thousand horse, many war-chariots, and a fleet of twelve hundred and seven triremes and three thousand smaller vessels. According to Herodotus, the whole host, soldiers and sailors, numbered two million six hundred and forty thousand men, and there were as many or more camp-followers, so that the whole number present, according to this estimate, was over five million men. It is not easy to believe that such a marching host as this could be fed, and it has probably been much exaggerated; yet there is no doubt that the host was vast enough almost to blow away all the armies of Greece with the wind of its coming.
On leaving Sardis a frightful spectacle was provided by Xerxes: the army found itself marching between two halves of a slaughtered man. Pythius, an old Phrygian of great riches, had entertained Xerxes with much hospitality, and offered him all his wealth, amounting to two thousand talents of silver and nearly four million darics of gold. This generous offer Xerxes declined, and gave Pythius enough gold to make up his darics to an even four millions. Then, when the army was about to march, the old man told Xerxes that he had five sons in the army, and begged that one of them, the eldest, might be left with him as a stay to his declining years. Instantly the despot burst into a rage. The request of exemption from military service was in Persia an unpardonable offence. The hospitality of Pythius was forgotten, and Xerxes ordered that his son should be slain, and half the body hung on each side of the army, probably as a salutary warning to all who should have the temerity to question the despot's arbitrary will.
On marched the great army. It crossed the plain of Troy, and here Xerxes offered libations in honor of the heroes of the Trojan war, the story of which was told him. Reaching the Hellespont, he had a marble throne erected, from which to view the passage of his troops. The bridges—which the scourged and branded waters had now spared—were perfumed with frankincense and strewed with myrtle boughs, and, as the march began, Xerxes offered prayers to the sun, and made libations to the sea with a golden censer, which he then flung into the water, together with a golden bowl and a Persian scimitar, perhaps to repay the Hellespont for the stripes he had inflicted upon it.
At the first moment of sunrise the passage began, the troops marching across one bridge, the baggage and attendants crossing the other. All day the march continued, and all night long, the whip being used to accelerate the troops; yet so vast was the host that for seven days and nights, without cessation, the army moved on, and a week was at its end before the last man of the great Persian host set foot on European soil.
Then down through the Grecian peninsula Xerxes marched, doubtless inflated with pride at the greatness of his host and the might of the fleet which sailed down the neighboring seas and through the canal which he had cut to baffle stormy Athos. One regret alone seemed to come into his mind, and that was that in a hundred years not one man of that vast army would be alive. It did not occur to him that in less than one year few of them might be alive, for all thought of any peril to his army and fleet from the insignificant numbers of the Greeks must have been dismissed with scorn from his mind.
Like locusts the army marched southward through Thrace, eating up the cities as it advanced, for each was required to provide a day's meals for the mighty host. For months those cities had been engaged in providing the food which this army consumed in a day. Many of the cities were brought to the verge of ruin, and all of them were glad to see the army march on. At length Xerxes saw before him Mount Olympus, on the northern boundary of the land of Hellas or Greece. This was the end of his own dominions. He was now about to enter the territory of his foes. With what fortune he did so must be left for later tales.
HOW THE SPARTANS DIED AT THERMOPYLAE.
When Xerxes, as his father had done before him, sent to the Grecian cities to demand earth and water in token of submission, no heralds were sent to Athens or Sparta. These truculent cities had flung the heralds of Darius into deep pits, bidding them to take earth and water from there and carry it to the great king. This act called for revenge, and whatever mercy he might show to the rest of Greece, Athens and Sparta were doomed in his mind to be swept from the face of the earth. How they escaped this dismal fate is what we have next to tell.
As one of the great men of Athens, Miltiades, had saved his native land in the former Persian invasion, so a second patriotic citizen, Themistocles, proved her savior in the dread peril which now threatened her. But the work of Themistocles was not done in a single great battle, as at Marathon, but in years of preparation. And a war between Athens and the neighboring island of AEgina had much to do with this escape from ruin.
To make war upon an island a land army was of no avail. A fleet was necessary. The Athenians were accustomed to a commercial, though not to a warlike, life upon the sea. Many of them were active, daring, and skilful sailors, and when Themistocles urged that they should build a powerful fleet he found approving listeners. Longer of sight than his fellow-citizens, he warned them of the coming peril from Persia. The conflict with the small island of AEgina was a small matter compared with that threatened by the great kingdom of Persia. But to prepare against one was to prepare against both. And Athens was just then rich. It possessed valuable silver-mines at Laurium, in Attica, from which much wealth came to the state. This money Themistocles urged the citizens to use in building ships, and they were wise enough to take his advice, two hundred ships of war being built. These ships, as it happened, were not used for the purpose originally intended, that of the war with AEgina. But they proved of inestimable service to Athens in the Persian war.
The vast preparations of Xerxes were not beheld without deep terror in Greece. Spies were sent into Persia to discover what was being done. They were captured and condemned to death, but Xerxes ordered that they should be shown his total army and fleet, and then sent home to report what they had seen. He hoped thus to double the terror of the Grecian states.
At home two things were done. Athens and Sparta called a congress of all the states of Greece on the Isthmus of Corinth, and urged them to lay aside all petty feuds and combine for defence against the common foe. It was the greatest and most successful congress that Greece had ever yet held. All wars came to an end. That between Athens and AEgina ceased, and the fleet which Athens had built was laid aside for a greater need. The other thing was that step always taken in Greece in times of peril, to send to the temple at Delphi and obtain from the oracle the sacred advice which was deemed so indispensable.
The reply received by Athens was terrifying. "Quit your land and city and flee afar!" cried the prophetess. "Fire and sword, in the train of the Syrian chariot, shall overwhelm you. Get ye away from the sanctuary, with your souls steeped in sorrow."
The envoys feared to carry back such a sentence to Athens. They implored the priestess for a more comforting reply, and were given the following enigma to solve: "This assurance I will give you, firm as adamant. When everything else in the land of Cecrops shall be taken, Zeus grants to Athene that the wooden wall alone shall remain unconquered, to defend you and your children. Stand not to await the assailing horse and foot from the continent, but turn your backs and retire; you shall yet live to fight another day. O divine Salamis, thou too shalt destroy the children of women, either at the seed-time or at the harvest."
Here was some hope, though small. "The wooden wall"? What could it be but the fleet? This was the general opinion of the Athenians. But should they fight? Should they not rather abandon Attica forever, take to their wooden walls, and seek a new home afar? Salamis was to destroy the children of women! Did not this portend disaster in case of a naval battle?
The fate of Athens now hung upon a thread. Had its people fled to a distant land, one of the greatest chapters in the history of the world would never have been written. But now Themistocles, to whom Athens owed its fleet, came forward as its savior. If the oracle, he declared, had meant that the Greeks should be destroyed, it would have called Salamis, where the battle was to be fought, "wretched Salamis." But it had said "divine Salamis." What did this mean but that it was not the Greeks, but the enemies of Greece, who were to be destroyed? He begged his countrymen not to desert their country, but to fight boldly for its safety. Fortunately for Athens, his solution of the riddle was accepted, and the city set itself diligently to building more ships, that they might have as powerful a fleet as possible when the Persians came.
But not only Athens was to be defended; all Greece was in peril; the invaders must be met by land as well as by sea. Greece is traversed by mountain ranges, which cross from sea to sea, leaving only difficult mountain paths and narrow seaside passes. One of these was the long and winding defile to Tempe, between Mounts Olympus and Ossa, on the northern boundary of Greece. There a few men could keep back a numerous host, and thither at first marched the small army which dared to oppose the Persian millions, a little band of ten thousand men, under the command of a Spartan general.
But they did not remain there. The Persians were still distant, and while the Greeks awaited their approach new counsels prevailed. There was another pass by which the mountains might be crossed,—which pass, in fact, the Persians took. Also the fleet might land thousands of men in their rear. On the whole it was deemed best to retreat to another pass, much farther south, the famous pass of Thermopylae. Here was a road a mile in width, where were warm springs; and at each end were narrow passes, called gates,—the name Thermopylae meaning "hot gates." Adjoining was a narrow strait, between the mainland and the island of Euboea, where the Greek fleet might keep back the Persian host of ships. There was an old wall across the pass, now in ruins. This the Greeks rebuilt, and there the devoted band, now not more than seven thousand in all, waited the coming of the mighty Persian host.
It was in late June, of the year 480 B.C., that the Grecian army, led by Leonidas, king of Sparta, marched to this defile. There were but three hundred Spartans in his force, with small bodies of men from the other states of Greece. The fleet, less than three hundred ships in all, took post beside them in the strait. And here they waited while day by day the Persian hordes marched southward over the land.
The first conflict took place between some vessels of the fleets, whereupon the Grecian admirals, filled with sudden fright, sailed southward and left the army to the mercy of the Persian ships. Fortunately for Greece, thus deserted in her need, a strong ally now came to the rescue. The gods of the winds had been implored with prayer. The answer came in the form of a frightful hurricane, which struck the great fleet while it lay at anchor, and hurled hundreds of ships on the rocky shore. For three days the storm continued, and when it ended more than four hundred ships of war, with a multitude of transports and provision craft, were wrecked, while the loss of life had been immense. The Greek fleet had escaped this disaster, and now, with renewed courage, came sailing back to the post it had abandoned, and so quickly as to capture fifteen vessels of the Persian fleet.
While this gale prevailed Xerxes and his army lay encamped before Thermopylae, the king in terror for his fleet, which he was told had been all destroyed. As for the Greeks, he laughed them to scorn. He was told that a handful of Spartans and other Greeks were posted in the pass, and sent a horseman to tell him what was to be seen. The horseman rode near the pass, and saw there the wall and outside it the small Spartan force, some of whom were engaged in gymnastic exercises, while others were combing their long hair.
The great king was astonished and puzzled at this news. He waited expecting the few Greeks to disperse and leave the pass open to his army. The fourth day came and went, and they were still there. Then Xerxes bade the Median and Kissian divisions of his army to advance, seize these insolent fellows, and bring them to him as prisoners of war. Forward went his troops, and entered the throat of the narrow pass, where their bows and arrows were of little use, and they must fight the Greeks hand to hand. And now the Spartan arms and discipline told. With their long spears, spreading shields, steady ranks, and rigid discipline, the Greeks were far more than a match for the light weapons, slight shields, and open ranks of their foes. The latter had only their numbers, and numbers there were of little avail. They fell by hundreds, while the Greeks met with little loss. For two days the combat continued, fresh defenders constantly replacing the weary ones, and a wall of Persian dead being heaped up outside the wall of stone.
Then, as a last resort, the Immortals,—the Persian guard of ten thousand,—with other choice troops, were sent; and these were driven back with the same slaughter as the rest. The fleet in the strait doubtless warmly cheered on the brave hoplites in the pass; but as for Xerxes, "Thrice," says Herodotus, "did he spring from his throne, in agony for his army."
The deed of a traitor rendered useless this noble defence. A recreant Greek, Ephialtes by name, sought Xerxes and told him of a mountain pass over which he could guide a band to attack the defenders of Thermopylae in the rear. A strong Persian detachment was ordered to cross the pass, and did so under shelter of the night. At daybreak they reached the summit, where a thousand Greeks from Phocis had been stationed as a guard. These men, surprised, and overwhelmed with a shower of arrows, fled up the mountain-side, and left the way open to the Persians, who pursued their course down the mountain, and at mid-day reached the rear of the pass of Thermopylae.
Leonidas had heard of their coming. Scouts had brought him word. The defence of the pass was at an end. They must fly or be crushed. A council was hastily called, and it was decided to retreat. But this decision was not joined in by Leonidas and his gallant three hundred. The honor of Sparta would not permit her king to yield a pass which he had been sent to defend. The laws of his country required that he should conquer or die at his post. It was too late to conquer; but he could still die. With him and his three hundred remained the Thespians and Thebans, seven hundred of the former and about four hundred of the latter. The remainder of the army withdrew.
Xerxes had arranged to wait till noon, at which hour the defenders of the pass were to be attacked in front and rear. But Leonidas did not wait. All he and his men had now to do was to sell their lives as dearly as possible, so they marched outside the pass, attacked the front of the Persian host, drove them back, and killed them in multitudes, many of them being driven to perish in the sea and the morass. The Persian officers kept their men to the deadly work by threats and the liberal use of the whip.
But one by one the Spartans fell. Their spears were broken, and they fought with their swords. Leonidas sank in death, but his men fought on more fiercely still, to keep the foe back from his body. Here many of the Persian chiefs perished, among them two brothers of Xerxes. It was like a combat of the Iliad rather than a contest in actual war. Finally the Greeks, worn out, reduced in numbers, their best weapons gone, fell back behind the wall, bearing the body of their chief. Here they still fought, with daggers, with their unarmed hands, even with their mouths, until the last man fell dead.
The Thebans alone yielded themselves as prisoners, saying that they had been kept in the pass against their will. Of the thousand Spartans and Thespians, not a man remained alive.
Meanwhile the fleets had been engaged, to the advantage of the Greeks, while another storm that suddenly rose wrecked two hundred more of the Persian ships on Euboea's rocky coast. When word came that Thermopylae had fallen the Grecian fleet withdrew, sailed round the Attic coast, and stopped not again until the island of Salamis was reached.
As for Leonidas and his Spartans, they had died, but had won imperishable fame. The same should be said for the Thespians as well, but history has largely ignored their share in the glorious deed. In after-days an inscription was set up which gave all glory to the Peloponnesian heroes without a word for the noble Thespian band. Another celebrated inscription honored the Spartans alone:
"Go, stranger, and to Lacedaemon tell That here, obeying her behests, we fell,"
or, in plain prose, "Stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians that we lie here, in obedience to their orders."
On the hillock where the last of the faithful band died was erected a monument with a marble lion in honor of Leonidas, while on it was carved the following epitaph, written by the poet Simonides:
"In dark Thermopylae they lie. Oh, death of glory, thus to die! Their tomb an altar is, their name A mighty heritage of fame. Their dirge is triumph; cankering rust, And time, that turneth all to dust, That tomb shall never waste nor hide,— The tomb of warriors true and tried. The full-voiced praise of Greece around Lies buried in this sacred mound; Where Sparta's king, Leonidas, In death eternal glory has!"
THE WOODEN WALLS OF ATHENS.
The slaughter of the defenders of Thermopylae exposed Athens to the onslaught of the vast Persian army, which would soon be on the soil of Attica. A few days' march would bring the invaders to its capital city, which they would overwhelm as a flight of locusts destroys a cultivated field. The states of the Peloponnesus, with a selfish regard for their own safety, had withdrawn all their soldiers within the peninsula, and began hastily to build a wall across the isthmus of Corinth with the hope of keeping back the invading army. Athens was left to care for itself. It was thus that Greece usually let itself be devoured piecemeal.
There was but one thing for the Athenians to do, to obey the oracle and fly from their native soil. In a few days the Persians would be in Athens, and there was not an hour to lose. The old men, the women and children, with such property as could be moved, were hastily taken on shipboard and carried to Salamis, AEgina, Troezen, and other neighboring islands. The men of fighting age took to their ships of war, to fight on the sea for what they had lost on land. A few of the old and the poverty-stricken remained, and took possession of the hill of the Acropolis, whose wooden fence they fondly fancied might be the wooden wall which the oracle had meant. Apart from these few the city was deserted, and Athens had embarked upon the seas. Not only Athens, but all Attica, was left desolate, and in the whole state Xerxes made only five hundred prisoners of war.
Onward came the great Persian host, destroying all that could be destroyed on Attic soil, and sending out detachments to ravage other parts of Greece. The towns that submitted were spared. Those that resisted, or whose inhabitants fled, were pillaged and burnt. A body of troops was sent to plunder Delphi, the reputed great wealth of whose temple promised a rich reward. The story of what happened there is a curious one, and well worth relating.
The frightened Delphians prepared to fly, but first asked the oracle of Apollo whether they should take with them the sacred treasures or bury them in secret places. The oracle bade them not to touch these treasures, saying that the god would protect his own. With this admonition the people of Delphi fled, sixty only of their number remaining to guard the holy shrine.
These faithful few were soon encouraged by a prodigy. The sacred arms, kept in the temple's inmost cell, and which no mortal hand dared touch, were seen lying before the temple door, as if Apollo was prepared himself to use them. As the Persians advanced by a rugged path under the steep cliffs of Mount Parnassus, and reached the temple of Athene Pronaea, a dreadful peal of thunder rolled above their affrighted heads, and two great crags, torn from the mountain's flank, came rushing down with deafening sound, and buried many of them beneath their weight. At the same time, from the temple of Athene, came the Greek shout of war.
In a panic the invaders turned and fled, hotly pursued by the few Delphians, and, so the story goes, by two armed men of superhuman size, whose destructive arms wrought dire havoc in the fleeing host. And thus, as we are told, did the god preserve his temple and his wealth.
But no god guarded the road to Athens, and at length Xerxes and his army reached that city,—four months after they had crossed the Hellespont. It was an empty city they found. The few defenders of the Acropolis—a craggy hill about one hundred and fifty feet high—made a vigorous defence, for a time keeping the whole Persian army at bay. But some Persians crept up a steep and unguarded part of the wall, entered the citadel, and soon all its defenders were dead, and its temples and buildings in flames.
While all this was going on, the Grecian fleet lay but a few miles away, in the narrow strait between the isle of Salamis and the Attic coast, occupying the little bay before the town of Salamis, from which narrow channels at each end led into the Bay of Eleusis to the north and the open sea to the south. In front rose the craggy heights of Mount AEgaleos, over which, only five miles away, could be seen ascending the lurid smoke of blazing Athens. It was a spectacle calculated to infuriate the Athenians, though not one to inspire them with courage and hope.
The fleet of Greece consisted of three hundred and sixty-six ships in all, of which Athens supplied two hundred, while the remainder came in small numbers from the various Grecian states. The Persian fleet, despite its losses by storm, far outnumbered that of Greece, and came sweeping down the Attic coast, confident of victory, while the great army marched southward over Attic land.
And now two councils of war were held,—one by the Persian leaders, one by the Greeks. The fleet of Xerxes, probably still a thousand ships strong, lay in the Bay of Phalerum, a few miles from Athens; and hither the king, having wrought his will on that proud and insolent city, came to the coast to inspect his ships of war and take counsel as to what should next be done.
Here, before his royal throne, were seated the kings of Tyre and Sidon, and the rulers of the many other nations represented in his army. One by one they were asked what should be done. "Fight," was the general reply; "fight without delay." Only one voice gave different advice, that of Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus. She advised Xerxes to march to the isthmus of Corinth, saying that then all the ships of the Peloponnesus would fly to defend their own homes, and the fleet of Greece would thus be dispersed. Xerxes heard her with calmness, but declined to take her prudent advice. The voice of the others and his own confidence prevailed, and orders were given for the fleet to make its attack the next day.
The almost unanimous decision of this council, over which ruled the will of an autocratic king, was very different from that which was reached by the Greeks, in whose council all who spoke had equal authority. The fleet had come to Salamis to aid the flight of the Athenians. This done, it was necessary to decide where it was best to meet the Persian fleet. Only the Athenians, under the leadership of Themistocles, favored remaining where they were. The others perceived that if they were defeated here, escape would be impossible. Most of them wished to sail to the isthmus of Corinth, to aid the land army of the Peloponnesians, while various other plans were urged.
While the chiefs thus debated news came that Athens and the Acropolis were in flames. At once some of the captains left the council in alarm, and began hastily to hoist sail for flight. Those that remained voted to remove to the isthmus, but not to start till the morning of the next day.
Themistocles, who had done his utmost to prevent this fatal decision, which he knew would end in the dispersal of the fleet and the triumph of Persia, returned to his own ship sad of heart. Many of the women and children of Athens were on the island of Salamis, and if the fleet sailed they, too, must be removed.
"What has the council decided?" asked his friend Mnesiphilus.
Themistocles gloomily told him.
"This will be ruinous!" burst out Mnesiphilus. "Soon there will be no allied fleet, nor any cause or country to fight for. You must have the council meet again; this vote must be set aside; if it be carried out the liberty of Greece is at an end."
So strongly did he insist upon this that Themistocles was inspired to make another effort. He went at once to the ship of Eurybiades, the Spartan who had been chosen admiral of the fleet, and represented the case so earnestly to him that Eurybiades was partly convinced, and consented to call the council together again.
Here Themistocles was so excitedly eager that he sought to win the chiefs over to his views even before Eurybiades had formally opened the meeting and explained its object. For this he was chided by the Corinthian Adeimantus, who said,—
"Themistocles, those who in the public festivals rise up before the proper signal are scourged."
"True," said Themistocles; "but those who lag behind the signal win no crowns."
When the debate was formally opened, Themistocles was doubly urgent in his views, and continued his arguments until Adeimantus burst out in a rage, bidding him, a man who had no city, to be silent.
This attack drew a bitter answer from the insulted Athenian. If he had no city, he said, he had around him two hundred ships, with which he could win a city and country better than Corinth. Then he turned to Eurybiades, and said,—
"If you will stay and fight bravely here, all will be well. If you refuse to stay, you will bring all Greece to ruin. If you will not stay, we Athenians will migrate with our ships and families. Then, chiefs, when you lose an ally like us, you will remember what I say, and regret what you have done."
These words convinced Eurybiades. Without the Athenian ships the fleet would indeed be powerless. He asked for no vote, but gave the word that they should stay and fight, and bade the captains to make ready for battle. Thus it was that at dawn of day the fleet, instead of being in full flight, remained drawn up in battle array in the Bay of Salamis. The Peloponnesian chiefs, however, were not content. They held a secret council, and resolved to steal secretly away. This treacherous purpose came to the ears of Themistocles, and to prevent it he took a desperate course. He sent a secret message to Xerxes, telling him that the Greek fleet was about to fly, and that if he wished to capture it he must at once close up both ends of the strait, so that flight would be impossible.
He cunningly represented himself as a secret friend of the Persian king, who lost no time in taking the advice. When the next day's dawn was at hand the discontented chiefs were about to fly, as they had secretly resolved, when a startling message came to their ears. Aristides, a noble Athenian who had been banished, but had now returned, came on the fleet from Salamis and told them that only battle was left, that the Persians had cooped them in like birds in a cage, and that there was nothing to do but to fight or surrender.
This disturbing message was not at first believed. But it was quickly confirmed. Persian ships appeared at both ends of the strait. Themistocles had won. Escape was impossible. They must do battle like heroes or live as Persian slaves. There was but one decision,—to fight. The dawn of day found the Greeks actively preparing for the most famous naval battle of ancient times.
The combat about to be fought had the largest audience of any naval battle the world has ever known. For the vast army of Persia was drawn up as spectators on the verge of the narrow strait which held the warring fleets, and Xerxes himself sat on a lofty throne erected at a point which closely overlooked the liquid plain. His presence, he felt sure, would fill his seamen with valor, while by his side stood scribes prepared to write down the names alike of the valorous and the backward combatants. On the other hand, the people of Athens and Attica looked with hope and fear on the scene from the island of Salamis. It was a unique preparation for a battle at sea, such as was never known before or since that day.
The fleet of Persia outnumbered that of Greece three to one. But the Persian seamen had been busy all night long in carrying out the plan to entrap the Greeks, and were weary with labor. The Greeks had risen fresh and vigorous from their night's rest. And different spirits animated the two hosts. The Persians were moved solely by the desire for glory; the Greeks by the stern alternatives of victory, slavery, or death. These differences in strength and motive went far to negative the difference in numbers; and the Greeks, caught like lions in a snare, dashed into the combat with the single feeling that they must now fight or die.
History tells us that the Greeks hesitated at first; but soon the ship of Ameinias, an Athenian captain, dashed against a Phoenician trireme with such fury that the two became closely entangled. While their crews fought vigorously with spear and javelin, other ships from both sides dashed to their aid, and soon numbers of the war triremes were fiercely engaged.
The battle that followed was hot and furious, the ships becoming mingled in so confused a mass that no eye could follow their evolutions. Soon the waters of the Bay of Salamis ran red with blood. Broken oars, fallen spars, shattered vessels, filled the strait. Hundreds were hurled into the waters,—the Persians, few of whom could swim, to sink; the Greeks, who were skilful swimmers, to seek the shore of Salamis or some friendly deck.
From the start the advantage lay with the Greeks. The narrowness of the strait rendered the great numbers of the Persians of no avail. The superior discipline of the Greeks gave them a further advantage. The want of concert in the Persian allies was another aid to the Greeks. They were ready to run one another down in the wild desire to escape. Soon the Persian fleet became a disorderly mass of flying ships, the Greek fleet a well-ordered array of furious pursuers. In panic the Persians fled; in exultation the Greeks pursued. One trireme of Naxos captured five Persian ships. A brother of Xerxes was slain by an Athenian spear. Great numbers of distinguished Persians and Medes shared his fate. Before the day was old the battle on the Persian side had become a frantic effort to escape, while some of the choicest troops of Persia, who had been landed before the battle on the island of Psyttaleia, were attacked by Aristides at the head of an Athenian troop, and put to death to a man.
The confident hope of victory with which Xerxes saw the battle begin changed to wrath and terror when he saw his ships in disorderly flight and the Greeks in hot pursuit. The gallant behavior of Queen Artemisia alone gave him satisfaction, and when he saw her in the flight run into and sink an opposing vessel, he cried out, "My men have become women; and my women, men." He was not aware that the ship she had sunk, with all on board, was one of his own fleet.
The mad flight of his ships utterly distracted the mind of the faint-hearted king. His army still vastly outnumbered that of Greece. With all its losses, his fleet was still much the stronger. An ounce of courage in his soul would have left Greece at his mercy. But that was wanting, and in panic fear that the Greeks would destroy the bridge over the Hellespont, he ordered his fleet to hasten there to guard it, and put his army in rapid retreat for the safe Asiatic shores.
He had some reason to fear the loss of his bridge. Themistocles and the Athenians had it in view to hasten to the Hellespont and break it down. But Eurybiades, the Spartan leader, opposed this, saying that it was dangerous to keep Xerxes in Greece. They had best give him every chance to fly.
Themistocles, who saw the wisdom of this advice, not only accepted it, but sent a message to Xerxes—as to a friend—advising him to make all haste, and saying that he would do his best to hold back the Greeks, who were eager to burn the bridge.
The frightened monarch was not slow in taking this advice. Leaving a strong force in Greece, under the command of his general Mardonius, he marched with the speed of fear for the bridge. But he had nearly exhausted the country of food in his advance, and starvation and plague attended his retreat, many of the men being obliged to eat leaves, grass, and the bark of trees, and great numbers of them dying before the Hellespont was reached.
Here he found the bridge gone. A storm had destroyed it. He was forced to have his army taken across in ships. Not till Asia Minor was reached did the starving troops obtain sufficient food,—and there gorged themselves to such an extent that many of them died from repletion. In the end Xerxes entered Sardis with a broken army and a sad heart, eight months after he had left it with the proud expectation of conquering the western world.
PLATAEA'S FAMOUS DAY.
On a certain day, destined to be thereafter famous, two strong armies faced each other on the plain north of the little Boeotian town of Plataea. Greece had gathered the greatest army it had ever yet put into the field, in all numbering one hundred and ten thousand men, of whom nearly forty thousand were hoplites, or heavy-armed troops, the remainder light-armed or unarmed. Of these Sparta supplied five thousand hoplites and thirty-five thousand light-armed Helots, the greatest army that warlike city had ever brought into action. The remainder of Laconia furnished five thousand hoplites and five thousand Helot attendants. Athens sent eight thousand hoplites, and the remainder of the army came from various states of Greece. This host was in strange contrast to the few thousand warriors with whom Greece had met the vast array of Xerxes at Thermopylae.
Opposed to this force was the army which Xerxes had left behind him on his flight from Greece, three hundred thousand of his choicest troops, under the command of his trusted general Mardonius. This host was not a mob of armed men, like that which Xerxes had led. It embraced the best of the Persian forces and Greek auxiliaries, and the hopes of Greece still seemed but slight, thus outnumbered three to one. But the Greeks fought for liberty, and were inspired with the spirit of their recent victories; the Persians were disheartened and disunited: this difference of feeling went far to equalize the hosts.
And now, before bringing the waiting armies to battle, we must tell what led to their meeting on the Plataean plain. After the battle of Salamis a vote was taken by the chiefs to decide who among them should be awarded the prize of valor on that glorious day. Each cast two ballots, and when these were counted each chief was found to have cast his first vote for—himself! But the second votes were nearly all for Themistocles, and all Greece hailed him as its preserver. The Spartans crowned him with olive, and presented him with a kingly chariot, and when he left their city they escorted him with the honors due to royalty.
Meanwhile Mardonius, who was wintering with his army in Thessaly, sent to Athens to ask if its people still proposed the madness of opposing the power of Xerxes the king. "Yes," was the answer; "while the sun lights the sky we will never join in alliance with barbarians against Greeks."
On receiving this answer Mardonius broke up his winter camp and marched again to Athens, which he found once more empty of inhabitants. Its people had withdrawn as before to Salamis, and left the shell of their nation to the foe.
The Athenians sent for aid to Sparta, but the people of that city, learning that Athens had defied Mardonius, selfishly withheld their assistance, and the completion of the wall across the isthmus was diligently pushed. Fortunately for Greece, this selfish policy came to a sudden end. "What will your wall be worth if Athens joins with Persia and gives the foe the aid of her fleet?" was asked the Spartan kings; and so abruptly did they change their opinion that during that same night five thousand Spartan hoplites, each man with seven Helot attendants, marched for the isthmus, with Pausanias, a cousin of Leonidas, the hero of Thermopylae, at their head.
On learning of this movement, Mardonius set fire to what of Athens remained, and fell back on the city of Thebes, in Boeotia, as a more favorable field for the battle which now seemed sure to come. Here his numerous cavalry could be brought into play, the country was allied with him, the friendly city of Thebes lay behind him, and food for his great army was to be had. Here, then, he awaited the coming of the Greeks, and built for his army a fortified camp, surrounded with walls and towers of wood.
Yet his men and officers alike lacked heart. At a splendid banquet given to Mardonius by the Thebans, one of the Persians said to his Theban neighbor,—
"Seest thou these Persians here feasting, and the army which we left yonder encamped near the river? Yet a little while, and out of all these thou shalt behold but a few surviving."
"If you feel thus," said the Theban, "thou art surely bound to reveal it to Mardonius."
"My friend," answered the Persian, "man cannot avert what God has decreed. No one will believe the revelation, sure though it be. Many of us Persians know this well, and are here serving only under the bond of necessity. And truly this is the most hateful of all human sufferings, to be full of knowledge, and at the same time to have no power over any result."
Not long had the lukewarm Persians to wait for their foes. Soon the army of Greece appeared, and, seeing their enemy encamped along the little river Asopus in the plain, took post on the mountain declivity above. Here they were not suffered to rest in peace. The powerful Persian cavalry, led by Masistius, the most distinguished officer in the army, broke like a thunderbolt on the Grecian ranks. The Athenians and Megarians met them, and a sharp and doubtful contest ensued. At length Masistius fell from his wounded horse and was slain as he lay on the ground. The Persians fought with fury to recover his body, but were finally driven back, leaving the corpse of their general in the hands of the Greeks.
This event had a great effect on both armies. Grief assailed the army of Mardonius at the loss of their favorite general. Loud wailings filled the camp, and the hair of men, horses, and cattle was cut in sign of mourning. The Greeks, on the contrary, were full of joy. The body of Masistius, a man of great stature, and clad in showy armor, was placed in a cart and paraded around the camp, that all might see it and rejoice. Such was their confidence at this defeat of the cavalry, which they had sorely feared, that Pausanias broke up his hill camp and marched into the plain below, where he took station in front of the Persian host, only the little stream of the Asopus dividing the two hostile armies.
And here for days they lay, both sides offering sacrifices, and both obtaining the same oracle,—that the side which attacked would lose the battle, the side which resisted would win. Under such circumstances neither side cared to attack, and for ten days the armies lay, the Greeks much annoyed by the Persian cavalry, and having their convoys of provisions cut off, yet still waiting with unyielding faith in the decision of the gods.
Mardonius at length grew impatient. He asked his officers if they knew of any prophecy saying that the Persians would be destroyed in Greece. They were all silent, though many of them knew of such prophecies.
"Since you either do not know or will not tell," he at length said, "I well know of one. There is an oracle which declares that Persian invaders shall plunder the temple of Delphi, and shall afterwards all be destroyed. Now we shall not go against that temple, so on that ground we shall not be destroyed. Doubt not, then, but rejoice, for we shall get the better of the Greeks." And he gave orders to prepare for battle on the morrow, without waiting longer on the sacrifices.
That night Alexander of Macedon, who was in the Persian army, rode up to the Greek outposts and gave warning of the coming attack. "I am of Greek descent," he said, "and ask you to free me from the Persian yoke. I cannot endure to see Greece enslaved."
During the night Pausanias withdrew his army to a new position in front of the town of Plataea, water being wanting where they were. One Spartan leader, indeed, refused to move, and when told that there had been a general vote of the officers, he picked up a huge stone and cast it at the feet of Pausanias, crying, "This is my pebble. With it I give my vote not to run away from the strangers."
Dawn was at hand, and the Spartans still held their ground, their leader disputing in vain with the obstinate captain. At length he gave the order to march, it being fatal to stay, since the rest of the army had gone. Amompharetus, the obstinate captain, seeing that his general had really gone, now lost his scruples and followed.
When day dawned the Persians saw with surprise that their foes had disappeared. The Spartans alone, detained by the obstinacy of Amompharetus, were still in sight. Filled with extravagant confidence at this seeming flight. Mardonius gave orders for hasty pursuit, crying to a Greek ally, "There go your boasted Spartans, showing, by a barefaced flight, what they are really worth."
Crossing the shallow stream, the Persians ran after the Greeks at full speed, without a thought of order or discipline. The foe seemed to them in full retreat, and shouts of victory rang from their lips as they rushed pell-mell across the plain.
The Spartans were quickly overtaken, and found themselves hotly assailed. They sent in haste to the Athenians for aid. The Athenians rushed forward, but soon found themselves confronted by the Greek allies of Persia, and with enough to do to defend themselves. The remainder of the Greek army had retreated to Plataea and took no part in the battle.
The Persians, thrusting the spiked extremities of their long shields in the ground, formed a breastwork from which they poured showers of arrows on the Spartan ranks, by which many were wounded or slain. Yet, despite their distress, Pausanias would not give the order to charge. He was at the old work again, offering sacrifices while his men fell around him. The responses were unfavorable, and he would not fight.
At length the victims showed favorable signs. "Charge!" was the word. With the fury of unchained lions the impatient hoplites sprang forward, and like an avalanche the serried Spartan line fell on the foe.
Down went the breastwork of shields. Down went hundreds of Persians before the close array and the long spears of the Spartans. Broken and disordered, the Persians fought bravely, doing their utmost to get to close quarters with their foes. Mardonius, mounted on a white horse, and attended by a body-guard of a thousand select troops, was among the foremost warriors, and his followers distinguished themselves by their courage.
At length the spear of Aeimnestus, a distinguished Spartan, brought Mardonius dead to the ground. His guards fell in multitudes around his body. The other Persians, worn out with the hopeless effort to break the Spartan phalanx, and losing heart at the death of their general, turned and fled to their fortified camp. At the same time the Theban allies of Persia, whom the Athenians had been fighting, gave ground, and began a retreat, which was not ended till they reached the walls of Thebes.
On rushed the victorious Spartans to the Persian camp, which they at once assailed. Here they had no success till the Athenians came to their aid, when the walls were stormed and the defenders slain in such hosts that, if we can believe Herodotus, only three thousand out of the three hundred thousand of the army of Mardonius remained alive. It is true that one body of forty thousand men, under Artabazus, had been too late on the field to take part in the fight. The Persians were already defeated when these troops came in sight, and they turned and marched away for the Hellespont, leaving the defeated host to shift for itself. Of the Greeks, Plutarch tells us that the total loss in the battle was thirteen hundred and sixty men.
The spoil found in the Persian camp was rich and varied. It included money and ornaments of gold and silver, carpets, splendid arms and clothing, horses, camels, and other valuable materials. This was divided among the victors, a tenth of the golden spoil being reserved for the Delphian shrine, and wrought into a golden tripod, which was placed on a column formed of three twisted bronze serpents. This defeat was the salvation of Greece. No Persian army ever again set foot on European soil. And, by a striking coincidence, on the same day that the battle of Plataea was fought, the Grecian fleet won a brilliant victory at Mycale, in Asia Minor, and freed the Ionian cities from Persian rule. In Greece, Thebes was punished for aiding the Persians. Byzantium (now Constantinople) was captured by Pausanias, and the great cables of the bridge of Xerxes were brought home in triumph by the Greeks.
We have but one more incident to tell. The war tent of Xerxes had been left to Mardonius, and on taking the Persian camp Pausanias saw it with its colored hangings and its gold and silver adornments, and gave orders to the cooks that they should prepare him such a feast as they were used to do for their lord. On seeing the splendid banquet, he ordered that a Spartan supper should be prepared. With a hearty laugh at the contrast he said to the Greek leaders, for whom he had sent, "Behold, O Greeks, the folly of this Median captain, who, when he enjoyed such fare as this, must needs come here to rob us of our penury."
FOUR FAMOUS MEN OF ATHENS.
In the days of Croesus, the wealthiest of ancient kings, a citizen of Athens, Alkmaeon by name, kindly lent his aid to the messengers sent by the Lydian monarch to consult the Delphian oracle, before his war with King Cyrus of Persia, This generous aid was richly rewarded by Croesus, who sent for Alkmaeon to visit him at Sardis, richly entertained him, and when ready to depart made him a present of as much gold as he could carry from the treasury.
This offer the visitor, who seemed to possess his fair share of the perennial thirst for gold, determined to make the most of. He went to the treasure-chamber dressed in his loosest tunic and wearing on his feet wide-legged buskins, both of which he filled bursting full with gold. Not yet satisfied, he powdered his hair thickly with gold-dust, and filled his mouth with this precious but indigestible food. Thus laden, he waddled as well as he could from the chamber, presenting so ludicrous a spectacle that the good-natured monarch burst into a loud laugh on seeing him.
Croesus not only let him keep all he had taken, but doubled its value by other presents, so that Alkmaeon returned to Athens as one of its wealthiest men. Megacles, the son of this rich Athenian, was he who won the prize of fair Agariste of Sicyon, in the contest which we have elsewhere described. The son of Megacles and Agariste was named Cleisthenes, and it is he who comes first in the list of famous men whom we have here to describe.
It was Cleisthenes who made Attica a democratic state; and thus it came about. The laws of Solon—which favored the aristocracy—were set aside by despots before Solon died. After Hippias, the last of those despots, was expelled from the state, the people rose under the leadership of Cleisthenes, and, probably for the first time in the history of mankind, a government "of the people, for the people, and by the people" was established in a civilized state. The laws of Solon were abrogated, and a new code of laws formed by Cleisthenes, which lasted till the independence of Athens came to an end.
Before that time the clan system had prevailed in Greece. The people were divided into family groups, each of which claimed to be descended from a single ancestor,—often a supposed deity. These clans held all the power of the state; not only in the early days, when they formed the whole people, but later, when Athens became a prosperous city with many merchant ships, and when numerous strangers had come from afar to settle within its walls.
None of these strangers were given the rights of citizenship. The clans remained in power, and the new people had no voice in the government. But in time the strangers grew to be so numerous, rich, and important that their claim to equal rights could no longer be set aside. They took part in the revolution by which the despots were expelled, and in the new constitution that was formed their demand to be made citizens of the state had to be granted.
Cleisthenes, the leader of the people against the aristocratic faction, made this new code of laws. By a system never before adopted he broke up the old conditions. Before that time the people were the basis on which governments were organized. He made the land the basis, and from that time to this land has continued the basis of political divisions.
Setting aside the old division of the Attic people into tribes and clans, founded on birth or descent, he separated the people into ten new tribes, founded on land. Attica was divided by him into districts or parishes, like modern townships and wards, which were called Demes, and each tribe was made up of several demes at a distance from each other. Every man became a citizen of the deme in which he lived, without regard to his clan, the new people were made citizens, and thus every freeborn inhabitant of Attica gained full rights of suffrage and citizenship, and the old clan aristocracy was at an end. The clans kept up their ancient organization and religious ceremonies, but they lost their political control. It must be said here, however, that many of the people of Attica were slaves, and that the new commonwealth of freemen was very far from including the whole population.
One of the most curious of the new laws made by Cleisthenes was that known as "ostracism," by which any citizen who showed himself dangerous to the state could be banished for ten years if six thousand votes were cast against him. This was intended as a means of preventing the rise of future despots.
The people of Athens developed wonderfully in public spirit under their new constitution. Each of them had now become the equal politically of the richest and noblest in the state, and all took a more vital interest in their country than had ever been felt before. It was this that made them so earnest and patriotic in the Persian war. The poorest citizen fought as bravely as the richest for the freedom of his beloved state.
Each tribe, under the new laws, chose its own war-leader, or general, so that there were ten generals of equal power, and in war each of these was given command of the army for a day; and one of the archons, or civil heads of the state, was made general of the state, or war archon, so that there were eleven generals in all.
The leading man in each tribe was usually chosen its general, and of these we have the stories of three to tell,—Miltiades, the hero of Marathon; Themistocles, who saved Greece at Salamis; and Aristides, known as "the Just."
We have already told how two of these men gained great glory. We have now to tell how they gained great disgrace. Ambition, the bane of the leaders of states, led them both to ruin.
Miltiades was of noble birth, and succeeded his uncle as ruler of the Chersonese country, in Thrace. Here he fell under the dominion of Persia, and here, when Darius was in Scythia, he advised that the bridge over the Danube should be destroyed. When Darius returned Miltiades had to fly for his life. He afterwards took part in the Ionic revolt, and captured from the Persians the islands of Lemnos and Imbros. But when the Ionians were once more conquered Miltiades had again to fly for his life. Darius hated him bitterly, and had given special orders for his capture. He fled with five ships, and was pursued so closely that one of them was taken. He reached Athens in safety with the rest.
Not long afterwards Miltiades revenged himself on Darius for this pursuit by his great victory at Marathon, which for the time made him the idol of the state and the most admired man in all Greece.
But the glory of Miltiades was quickly followed by disgrace, and the end of his career was near at hand. He was of the true soldierly temperament, stirring, ambitious, not content to rest and rust, and as a result his credit with the fickle Athenians quickly disappeared. His head seems to have been turned by his success, and he soon after asked for a fleet of seventy ships of war, to be placed under his command. He did not say where he proposed to go, but stated only that whoever should come with him would be rewarded plentifully with gold.
The victor at Marathon had but to ask to obtain. The people put boundless confidence in him, and gave him the fleet without a question. And the golden prize promised brought him numbers of eager volunteers, not one of whom knew where he was going or what he was expected to do. Miltiades was in command, and where Miltiades chose to lead who could hesitate to follow?
The purpose of the admiral of the fleet was soon revealed. He sailed to the island of Paros, besieged the capital, and demanded a tribute of one hundred talents. He based this claim on the pretence that the Parians had furnished a ship to the Persian fleet, but it is known that his real motive was hatred of a citizen of Paros.
As it happened, the Parians were not the sort of people to submit easily to a piratical demand. They kept their foe amused by cunning diplomacy till they had repaired the city walls, then openly defied him to do his worst. Miltiades at once began the assault, and kept it up for twenty-six days in vain. The island was ravaged, but the town stood intact. Despairing of winning by force, he next attempted to win by fraud. A woman of Paros promised to reveal to him a secret which would place the town in his power, and induced him to visit her at night in a temple to which only women were admitted. Miltiades accepted the offer, leaped over the outer fence, and approached the temple. But at that moment a panic of superstitious fear overcame him. Doubtless fancying that the deity of the temple would punish him terribly for this desecration, he ran away in the wildest terror, and sprang back over the fence in such haste that he badly sprained his thigh. In this state he was found and carried on board ship, and, the siege being raised, the fleet returned to Athens.
Here Miltiades found the late favor of the citizens changed to violent indignation, in which his recent followers took part. He was accused of deceiving the people, and of committing a crime against the state worthy of death. The dangerous condition of his wound prevented him from saying a word in his own defence. In truth, there was no defence to make; the utmost his friends could do was to recall his service at Marathon. No Athenian tribunal could adjudge to death, however great the offence, the conqueror of Lemnos and victor at Marathon. But neither could forgiveness be adjudged, and Miltiades was fined fifty talents, perhaps to repay the city the expense of fitting out the fleet.
This fine he did not live to pay. His wounded thigh mortified and he died, leaving his son Cimon to pay the penalty incurred through his ambition and personal grudge. Some writers say that he was put in prison and died there, but this is not probable, considering his disabled state.
Miltiades had belonged to the old order of things, being a born aristocrat, and for a time a despot. Themistocles and Aristides were children of the new state, democrats born, and reared to the new order of things. They were not the equals of Miltiades in birth, both being born of parents of no distinction. But, aside from this similarity, they differed essentially, alike in character and in their life records; Themistocles being aspiring and ambitious, Aristides, his political opponent, quiet and patriotic; the one considering most largely his own advancement, the other devoting his whole life to the good of his native city.
Themistocles displayed his nature strongly while still a boy. Idleness and play were not to his taste, and no occasion was lost by him to improve his mind and develop his powers in oratory. He cared nothing for accomplishments, but gave ardent attention to the philosophy and learning of his day. "It is true I cannot play on a flute, or bring music from the lute," he afterwards said; "all I can do is, if a small and obscure city were put into my hands, to make it great and glorious."
Of commanding figure, handsome face, keen eyes, proud and erect posture, sprightly and intellectual aspect, he was one to attract attention in any community, while his developed powers of oratory gave him the greatest influence over the speech-loving Athenians. In his eagerness to win distinction and gain a high place in the state, he cared not what enemies he might make so that he won a strong party to his support. So great was his thirst for distinction that the victory of Miltiades at Marathon threw him into a state of great depression, in which he said, "The glory of Miltiades will not let me sleep."
Themistocles was not alone ambitious and declamatory. He was far-sighted as well; and through his power of foreseeing the future he was enabled to serve Athens even more signally than Miltiades had done. Many there were who said that there was no need to dread the Persians further, that the victory at Marathon would end the war. "It is only the beginning of the war," said Themistocles; "new and greater conflicts will come; if Athens is to be saved, it must prepare."
We have elsewhere told how he induced the Athenians to build a fleet, and how this fleet, under his shrewd management, defeated the great flotilla of Xerxes and saved Greece from ruin and subjection. All that Themistocles did before and during this war it is not necessary to state. It will suffice here to say that he had no longer occasion to lose sleep on account of the glory of Miltiades. He had won a higher glory of his own; and in the end ambition ruined him, as it had his great predecessor.
To complete the tale of Themistocles we must take up that of another of the heroes of Greece, the Spartan Pausanias, the leader of the victorious army at Plataea. He, too, allowed ambition to destroy him. After taking the city of Byzantium, he fell in love with Oriental luxury and grew to despise the humble fare and rigid discipline of Sparta. He offered to bring all Greece under the domain of Persia if Xerxes would give him his daughter for wife, and displayed such pompous folly and extravagance that the Spartans ordered him home, where he was tried for treason, but not condemned.
He afterwards conspired with some of the states of Asia Minor, and when again brought home formed a plot with the Helots to overthrow the government. His treason was discovered, and he fled to a temple for safety, where he was kept till he starved to death.
Thus ambition ended the careers of two of the heroes of the Persian war. A third, Themistocles, ended his career in similar disgrace. In fact, he grew so arrogant and unjust that the people of Athens found him unfit to live with. They suspected him also of joining with Pausanias in his schemes. So they banished him by ostracism, and he went to Argos to live. While there it was proved that he really had taken part in the treason of Pausanias, and he was obliged to fly for his life.
The fugitive had many adventures in this flight. He was pursued by envoys from Athens, and made more than one narrow escape. While on shipboard he was driven by storm to the island of Naxos, then besieged by an Athenian fleet, and escaped only by promising a large reward to the captain if he would not land. Finally, after other adventures, he reached Susa, the capital of Persia, where he found that Xerxes was dead, and his son Artaxerxes was reigning in his stead.
He was well received by the new king, to whom he declared that he had been friendly to his father Xerxes, and that he proposed now to use his powers for the good of Persia. He formed schemes by which Persia might conquer Greece, and gained such favor with the new monarch that he gave him a Persian wife and rich presents, sent him to Magnesia, near the Ionian coast, and granted him the revenues of the surrounding district. Here Themistocles died, at the age of sixty-five, without having kept one of his alluring promises to the Persian king.
And thus, through greed and ambition, the three great leaders of Greece in the Persian war ended their careers in disgrace and death. We have now the story of a fourth great Athenian to tell, who through honor and virtue won a higher distinction than the others had gained through warlike fame.
Throughout the whole career of the brilliant Themistocles he had a persistent opponent, Aristides, a man, like him, born of undistinguished parents, but who by moral strength and innate power of intellect won the esteem and admiration of his fellow-citizens. He became the leader of the aristocratic section of the people, as Themistocles did of the democratic, and for years the city was divided between their adherents. But the brilliancy of Themistocles was replaced in Aristides by a staid and quiet disposition. He was natively austere, taciturn, and deep-revolving, winning influence by silent methods, and retaining it by the strictest honor and justice and a hatred of all forms of falsehood or political deceit.
For years these two men divided the political power of Athens between them, until in the end Aristides said that the city would have no peace until it threw the pair of them into the pit kept for condemned criminals. So just was Aristides that, on one of his enemies being condemned by the court without a hearing, he rose in his seat and begged the court not to impose sentence without giving the accused an opportunity for defence.
Aristides was one of the generals at Marathon, and was left to guard the spoils on the field of battle after the defeat of the Persians. At a later date, by dint of false reports, Themistocles succeeded in having him ostracized, obtaining the votes of the rabble against him. One of these, not knowing Aristides, asked him to write his own name on the tile used as a voting tablet. He did so, but first inquired, "Has Aristides done you an injury?" "No," was the answer; "I do not even know him, but I am tired of hearing him always called 'Aristides the Just.'" On leaving the city Aristides prayed that the people should never have any occasion to regret their action.
This occasion quickly came. In less than three years he was recalled to aid his country in the Persian invasion. Landing at Salamis, he served Athens in the manner we have already told. The command of the army which Aristides surrendered to Miltiades at the battle of Marathon fell to himself in the battle of Plataea, for on that great day he led the Athenians and played an important part in the victory that followed. He commanded the Athenian forces in a later war, and by his prudence and mildness won for Athens the supremacy in the Greek confederation that was afterwards formed.
At a later date, leader of the aristocrats as he was, to avert a revolution he proposed a change in the constitution that made Athens completely democratic, and enabled the lowliest citizen to rise to the highest office of the state. In 468 B.C. died this great and noble citizen of Athens, one of the most illustrious of ancient statesmen and patriots, and one of the most virtuous public men of any age or nation. He died so poor that it is said he did not leave enough money to pay his funeral expenses, and for several generations his descendants were kept at the charge of the state.
HOW ATHENS ROSE FROM ITS ASHES.
The torch of Xerxes and Mardonius left Athens a heap of ashes. But, like the new birth of the fabled phoenix, there rose out of these ashes a city that became the wonder of the world, and whose time-worn ruins are still worshipped by the pilgrims of art. We cannot proceed with our work without pausing awhile to contemplate this remarkable spectacle.
The old Athens bore to the new much the same relation that the chrysalis bears to the butterfly. It was little more than an ordinary country town, the capital of a district comparable in size to a modern county. Pisistratus and his sons had built some temples, and had completed a part of the Dionysiac theatre, but the city itself was simply a cluster of villages surrounded by a wall; while the citadel had for defence nothing stronger than a wooden rampart. The giving of this city to the torch was no serious loss; in reality it was a gain, since it cleared the ground for the far nobler city of later days.
It is not often that a whole nation removes from its home, and its possessions are completely swept away. But such had been the case with the Attic state. For a time all Attica was afloat, the people of city and country alike taking to their ships; while a locust flight of Persians passed over their lands, ravaging and destroying all before them, and leaving nothing but the bare soil. Such was what remained to the people of Attica on their return from Salamis and the adjacent isles.
Athens lay before them a heap of ashes and ruin, its walls flung down, its dwellings vanished, its gardens destroyed, its temples burned. The city itself, and the citadel and sacred structures of its Acropolis, were swept away, and the business of life on that ravaged soil had to be begun afresh.
Yet Attica as a state was greater than ever before. It was a victor on land and sea, the recognized savior of Greece; and the people of Athens returned to the ashes of their city not in woe and dismay, but in pride and exultation. They were victors over the greatest empire then on the face of the earth, the admired of the nations, the leading power in Greece, and their small loss weighed but lightly against their great glory.
The Athens that rose in place of the old city was a marvel of beauty and art, adorned with hall and temple, court and gymnasium, colonnade and theatre, while under the active labors of its sculptors it became so filled with marble inmates that they almost equalled in numbers its living inhabitants. Such sculptors as Phidias and such painters as Zeuxis adorned the city with the noblest products of their art. The great theatre of Dionysus was completed, and to it was added a new one, called the Odeon, for musical and poetical representations. On the Acropolis rose the Parthenon, the splendid temple to Minerva, or Athene, the patron goddess of the city, whose ruins are still the greatest marvel of architectural art. Other temples adorned the Acropolis, and the costly Propylaea, or portals, through which passed the solemn processions on festival days, were erected at the western side of the hill. The Acropolis was further adorned with three splendid statues of Minerva, all the work of Phidias, one of ivory in the Parthenon, forty-seven feet high, the others of bronze, one being of such colossal height that it could be seen from afar by mariners at sea.
The city itself was built upon a scale to correspond with this richness of architectural and artistic adornment, and such was its encouragement to the development of thought and art, that poets, artists, and philosophers flocked thither from all quarters, and for many years Athens stood before the world as the focal point of the human intellect.
Not the least remarkable feature in this great growth was the celerity with which it was achieved. The period between the Persian and the Peloponnesian war was only sixty years in duration. Yet in that brief space of time the great growth we have chronicled took place, and the architectural splendor of the city was consummated. The devastation of the unhappy Peloponnesian war put an end to this external growth, and left the Athens of old frozen into marble, a thing of beauty forever. But the intellectual growth went on, and for centuries afterwards Athens continued the centre of ancient thought.
And now the question in point is how all this came about, and what made Athens great and glorious among the cities of Greece. It all flowed naturally from her eminence in the Persian war. During that war there had been a league of the states of Greece, with Sparta as its accepted leader. After the war the need of being on the alert against Persia continued, and Greece became in great part divided into two leagues,—one composed of Sparta and most of the Peloponnesian states, the other of Athens, the islands of the archipelago, and many of the towns of Asia Minor and Thrace. This latter was called the League of Delos, since its deputies met and its treasure was kept in the temple of Apollo on that island.
This League of Delos developed in time to what has been called the Athenian Empire, and in this manner. Each city of the league pledged itself to make an annual contribution of a certain number of ships or a fixed sum of money, to be used in war against Persia or for the defence of members of the league. The amount assessed against each was fixed by Aristides, in whose justice every one trusted. In time the money payment was considered preferable to that of ships, and most of the states of the league contributed money, leaving Athens to provide the fleet.
In this way all the power fell into the hands of Athens, and the other cities of the league became virtually payers of tribute. This was shown later on when some of the island cities declined to pay. Athens sent a fleet, made conquest of the islands, and reduced them to the state of real tribute payers. Thus the league began to change into an Athenian dominion.
In 459 B.C. the treasure was removed from Delos to Athens. And in the end Chios, Samoa, and Lesbos were the only free allies of Athens. All the other members of the league had been reduced to subjection. Several of the states of Greece also became subject to Athens, and the Athenian Empire grew into a wealthy, powerful, and extended state.
The treasure laid up at Athens in time became great. The payments amounted to about six hundred talents yearly, and at one time the treasury of Athens held the great sum of nine thousand seven hundred talents, equal to over eleven million dollars,—a sum which meant far more then than the equivalent amount would now.
It was this money that made Athens great. It proved to be more than was necessary for defensive war against Persia, or even for the aggressive war which was carried on in Asia Minor and Egypt. It also more than sufficed for sending out the colonies which Athens founded in Italy and elsewhere. The remainder of the fund was used in Athens, part of it in building great structures and in producing splendid works of art, part for purposes of fortification. The Piraeus, the port of Athens, was surrounded by strong walls, and a double wall—the famous "Long Walls"—was constructed from the city to the port, a distance of four miles. These walls, some two hundred yards apart, left a grand highway between, the channel of a steady traffic which flowed from the sea to the city, and which for years enabled Athens to defy the cutting off its resources by attack from without. Through this broad avenue not only provisions and merchandise, but men in multitudes, made their way into Athens, until that city became fuller of bustle, energy, political and scholarly activity, and incessant industry than any of the other cities of the ancient world.
In a city like this, free and equal as were its citizens, and democratic as were its institutions, some men were sure to rise to the surface and gain controlling influence. In the period in question there were two such men, Cimon and Pericles, men of such eminence that we cannot pass them by unconsidered. Cimon was the son of Miltiades, the hero of Marathon, and became the leader of aristocratic Athens. Pericles was the great-grandson of Cleisthenes, the democratic law-giver, and, though of the most aristocratic descent, became the leader of the popular party of his native city.
The struggle for precedence between these two men resembled that between Themistocles and Aristides. Cimon was a strong advocate of an alliance with Sparta, which Pericles opposed. He was brilliant as a soldier, gained important victories against Persia, but was finally ostracized as a result of his friendship for Sparta. He came back to Athens afterwards, but his influence could not be regained.
It is, however, of Pericles that we desire particularly to speak,—Pericles, who found Athens poor and made her magnificent, found her weak and made her glorious. This celebrated statesman had not the dashing qualities of his rival. He was by nature quiet but deep, serene but profound, the most eloquent orator of his day, and one of the most learned and able of men. He was dignified and composed in manner, possessed of a self-possession which no interruption could destroy, and gifted with a luminous intelligence that gave him a controlling influence over the thoughtful and critical Athenians of his day.
Pericles was too wise and shrewd to keep himself constantly before the people, or to haunt the assembly. He sedulously remained in the background until he had something of importance to say, but he then delivered his message with a skill, force, and animation that carried all his hearers irresistibly away. His logic, wit, and sarcasm, his clear voice, flashing eyes, and vigorous power of declamation, used only when the occasion was important, gave him in time almost absolute control in Athens, and had he sought to make himself a despot he might have done so with a word; but happily he was honest and patriotic enough to content himself with being the First Citizen of the State.
To make the people happy, and to keep Athens in a condition of serene content, seem to have been leading aims with Pericles. He entertained them with quickly succeeding theatrical and other entertainments, solemn banquets, splendid shows and processions, and everything likely to add to their enjoyment. Every year he sent out eighty galleys on a six months' cruise, filled with citizens who were to learn the art of maritime war, and who were paid for their services. The citizens were likewise paid for attending the public assembly, and allowances were made them for the time given to theatrical representations, so that it has been said that Pericles converted the sober and thrifty Athenians into an idle, pleasure-loving, and extravagant populace. At the same time, that things might be kept quiet in Athens, the discontented overflow of the people were sent out as colonists, to build up daughter cities of Attica in many distant lands.
Thus it was that Athens developed from the quiet country town of the old regime into the wealthiest, gayest, and most progressive of Grecian cities, the capital of an empire, the centre of a great commerce, and the home of a busy and thronging populace, among whom the ablest artists, poets, and philosophers of that age of the world were included. Here gathered the great writers of tragedy, beginning with AEschylus, whose noble works were performed at the expense of the state in the great open-air theatre of Dionysus. Here the comedians, the chief of whom was Aristophanes, moved hosts of spectators to inextinguishable laughter. Here the choicest lyric poets of Greece awoke admiration with their unequalled songs, at their head the noble Pindar, the laureate of the Olympic and Pythian games. Here the sophists and philosophers argued and lectured, and Socrates walked like a king at the head of the aristocracy of thought. Here the sculptors, headed by Phidias, filled temples, porticos, colonnades, and public places with the most exquisite creations in marble, and the painters with their marvellous reproductions of nature. Here, indeed, seemed gathered all that was best and worthiest in art, entertainment, and thought, and for half a century and more Athens remained a city without a rival in the history of the world.