Xerxes Conducts an Expedition into Egypt. - He finally resolves on the Invasion of Greece. - Vast Preparations for the Conquest of Europe. - Xerxes Arrives at Sardis. - Despatches Envoys to the Greek States, demanding Tribute. - The Bridge of the Hellespont. - Review of the Persian Armament at Abydos. - Xerxes Encamps at Therme.
I. On succeeding to the throne of the East (B. C. 485), Xerxes found the mighty army collected by his father prepared to execute his designs of conquest or revenge. In the greatness of that army, in the youth of that prince, various parties beheld the instrument of interest or ambition. Mardonius, warlike and enterprising, desired the subjugation of Greece, and the command of the Persian forces. And to the nobles of the Pasargadae an expedition into Europe could not but present a dazzling prospect of spoil and power - of satrapies as yet unexhausted of treasure - of garrisons and troops remote from the eye of the monarch, and the domination of the capital.
The persons who had most influence over Xerxes were his uncle Artabanus, his cousin Mardonius, and a eunuch named Natacas . The intrigues of the party favourable to the invasion of Europe were backed by the representations of the Grecian exiles. The family and partisans of the Pisistratidae had fixed themselves in Susa, and the Greek subtlety and spirit of enterprise maintained and confirmed, for that unprincipled and able faction, the credit they had already established at the Persian court. Onomacritus, an Athenian priest, formerly banished by Hipparchus for forging oracular predictions, was now reconciled to the Pisistratidae, and resident at Susa. Presented to the king as a soothsayer and prophet, he inflamed the ambition of Xerxes by garbled oracles of conquest and fortune, which, this time, it was not the interest of the Pisistratidae to expose.
About the same period the Aleuadae, those princes of Thessaly whose policy seems ever to have been that of deadly hostility to the Grecian republics, despatched ambassadors to Xerxes, inviting him to Greece, and promising assistance to his arms, and allegiance to his sceptre.
II. From these intrigues Xerxes aroused himself in the second year of his reign, and, as the necessary commencement of more extended designs, conducted in person an expedition against the rebellious Egyptians. That people had neither military skill nor constitutional hardihood, but they were inspired with the most devoted affection for their faith and their institutions. This affection was to them what the love of liberty is in others - it might be easy to conquer them, it was almost impossible to subdue. By a kind of fatality their history, for centuries, was interwoven with that of Greece: their perils and their enemies the same. The ancient connexion which apocryphal tradition recorded between races so opposite, seemed a typical prophecy of that which actually existed in the historical times. And if formerly Greece had derived something of civilization from Egypt, she now paid back the gift by the swords of her adventurers; and the bravest and most loyal part of the Egyptian army was composed of Grecian mercenaries. At the same time Egypt shared the fate of all nations that intrust too great a power to auxiliaries. Greeks defended her, but Greeks conspired against her. The adventurers from whom she derived a fatal strength were of a vain, wily, and irritable temperament. A Greek removed from the influence of Greece usually lost all that was honest, all that was noble in the national character; and with the most refining intellect, he united a policy like that of the Italian in the middle ages, fierce, faithless, and depraved. Thus, while the Greek auxiliaries under Amasis, or rather Psammenitus, resisted to the last the arms of Cambyses, it was by a Greek (Phanes) that Egypt had been betrayed. Perhaps, could we thoroughly learn all the secret springs of the revolt of Egypt, and the expedition of Xerxes, we might find a coincidence not of dates alone between Grecian and Egyptian affairs. Whether in Memphis or in Susa, it is wonderful to see the amazing influence and ascendency which the Hellenic intellect obtained. It was in reality the desperate refuse of Europe that swayed the councils, moved the armies, and decided the fate of the mighty dynasties of the East.
III. The arms of Xerxes were triumphant in Egypt (B. C. 484), and he more rigorously enforced upon that ill-fated land the iron despotism commenced by Cambyses. Intrusting the Egyptian government to his brother Achaemenes, the Persian king returned to Susa, and flushed with his victory, and more and more influenced by the ambitious counsels of Mardonius, he now fairly opened, in the full divan of his counsellors, the vast project he had conceived. The vanity of the Greeks led them too credulously to suppose that the invasion of Greece was the principal object of the great king; on the contrary, it was the least. He regarded Greece but as the threshold of a new quarter of the globe. Ignorant of the nature of the lands he designed to subject, and credulous of all the fables which impart proverbial magnificence to the unknown, Xerxes saw in Europe "regions not inferior to Asia in extent, and far surpassing it in fertility." After the conquest of Greece on either continent, the young monarch unfolded to his counsellors his intention of overrunning the whole of Europe, "until heaven itself should be the only limit to the Persian realm, and the sun should shine on no country contiguous to his own."