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 [50]. 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." [51]

IV. These schemes, supported by Mardonius, were opposed only by Artabanus; and the arguments of the latter, dictated by prudence and experience, made considerable impression upon the king. From that time, however, new engines of superstitious craft and imposture were brought to bear upon the weak mind, on whose decision now rested the fatal war between Asia and Europe. Visions and warnings, threats and exhortations, haunted his pillow and disturbed his sleep, all tending to one object, the invasion of Greece. As we learn from Ctesias that the eunuch Natacas was one of the parasites most influential with Xerxes, it is probable that so important a personage in the intrigues of a palace was, with the evident connivance of the magi, the instrument of Mardonius. And, indeed, from this period the politics of Persia became more and more concentrated in the dark plots of the seraglio. Thus superstition, flattery, ambition, all operating upon him, the irresolution of Xerxes vanished. Artabanus himself affected to be convinced of the expediency of the war; and the only object now remaining to the king and his counsellors was to adapt the preparations to the magnitude of the enterprise. Four additional years were not deemed an idle delay in collecting an army and fleet destined to complete the conquest of the world.

"And never," says Herodotus, "was there a military expedition comparable to this. Hard would it be to specify one nation of Asia which did not accompany the Persian king, or any waters, save the great rivers, which were not exhausted by his armament." Preparations for an expedition of three years were made, to guard against the calamities formerly sustained by the Persian fleet. Had the success of the expedition been commensurate with the grandeur of its commencement, perhaps it would have ranked among the sublimest conceptions of military genius. All its schemes were of a vast and gigantic nature. Across the isthmus, which joins the promontory of Athos to the Thracian continent, a canal was formed - a work of so enormous a labour, that it seems almost to have justified the skepticism of later writers [52], but for the concurrent testimony of Thucydides and Lysias, Plato, Herodotus, and Strabo.

Bridges were also thrown over the river Strymon; the care of provisions was intrusted to the Egyptians and Phoenicians, and stores were deposited in every station that seemed the best adapted for supplies.

V. While these preparations were carried on, the great king, at the head of his land-forces, marched to Sardis. Passing the river Halys, and the frontiers of Lydia, he halted at Celaenae. Here he was magnificently entertained by Pythius, a Lydian, esteemed, next to the king himself, the richest of mankind. This wealthy subject proffered to the young prince, in prosecution of the war, the whole of his treasure, amounting to two thousand talents of silver, and four millions, wanting only seven thousand, of golden staters of Darius [53]. "My farms and my slaves," he added, "will be sufficient to maintain me."

"My friend," said the royal guest, who possessed all the irregular generosity of princes, "you are the first person, since I left Persia (B. C. 480), who has treated my army with hospitality and voluntarily offered me assistance in the war. Accept my friendship; I receive you as my host; retain your possessions, and permit me to supply the seven thousand staters which are wanting to complete the four millions you already possess." A man who gives from the property of the public is seldom outdone in munificence.

At length Xerxes arrived at Sardis, and thence he despatched heralds into Greece (close of B. C. 481), demanding the tribute of earth and water. Athens and Sparta were the only cities not visited by his envoys.

VI. While Xerxes rested at the Lydian city, an enterprise, scarcely less magnificent in conception than that of the canal at Athos, was completed at the sacred passage of the Hellespont. Here was constructed from the coast of Asia to that of Europe a bridge of boats, for the convoy of the army. Scarce was this completed when a sudden tempest scattered the vessels, and rendered the labour vain. The unruly passion of the high-spirited despot was popularly said to have evinced itself at this intelligence, by commanding the Hellespont to receive three hundred lashes and a pair of fetters - a story recorded as a certainty by Herodotus, and more properly contemned as a fable by modern skepticism.

A new bridge was now constructed under new artificers, whose industry was sharpened by the fate of their unfortunate predecessors, whom Xerxes condemned to death. These architects completed at last two bridges of vessels, of various kinds and sizes, secured by anchors of great length, and thus protected from the influence of the winds that set in from the Euxine on the one hand, and the south and southeast winds on the other. The elaborate description of this work given by Herodotus proves it to have been no clumsy or unartist-like performance. The ships do not appear so much to have formed the bridge, as to have served for piers to support its weight. Rafters of wood, rough timber, and layers of earth were placed across extended cables, and the whole was completed by a fence on either side, that the horses and beasts of burden might not be frightened by the sight of the open sea.

VII. And now the work was finished (B. C. 480), the winter was past, and at the dawn of returning spring, Xerxes led his armament from Sardis to Abydos. As the multitude commenced their march, it is said that the sun was suddenly overcast, and an abrupt and utter darkness crept over the face of heaven. The magi were solemnly consulted at the omen; and they foretold, that by the retirement of the sun, the tutelary divinity of the Greeks, was denoted the withdrawal of the protection of Heaven from that fated nation. The answer pleased the king.

On they swept - the conveyance of the baggage, and a vast promiscuous crowd of all nations, preceding; behind, at a considerable interval, came the flower of the Persian army - a thousand horse - a thousand spearmen - the ten sacred steeds, called Nisaean - the car of the great Persian god, drawn by eight snow-white horses, and in which no mortal ever dared to seat himself. Around the person of Xerxes were spearmen and cavalry, whose arms glittered with gold - the ten thousand infantry called "The Immortals," of whom nine thousand bore pomegranates of silver at the extremity of their lances, and one thousand pomegranates of gold. Ten thousand horsemen followed these: and far in the rear, the gorgeous procession closed with the mighty multitude of the general army.

The troops marched along the banks of the Caicus - over the plains of Thebes; - and passing Mount Ida to the left, above whose hoary crest broke a storm of thunder and lightning, they arrived at the golden Scamander, whose waters failed the invading thousands. Here it is poetically told of Xerxes, that he ascended the citadel of Priam, and anxiously and carefully surveyed the place, while the magi of the barbarian monarch directed libations to the manes of the Homeric heroes.

VIII. Arrived at Abydos, the king reviewed his army. High upon an eminence, and on a seat of white marble, he surveyed the plains covered with countless thousands, and the Hellespont crowded with sails and masts. At first, as he gazed, the lord of Persia felt all the pride and exultation which the command over so many destinies was calculated to inspire. But a sad and sudden thought came over him in the midst of his triumphs, and he burst into tears. "I reflect," said he to Artabanus, "on the transitory limit of human life. I compassionate this vast multitude - a hundred years hence, which of them will still be a living man?" Artabanus replied like a philosopher, "that the shortness of life was not its greatest evil; that misfortune and disease imbittered the possession, and that death was often the happiest refuge of the living." [54]

At early daybreak, while the army yet waited the rising of the sun, they burnt perfumes on the bridge, and strewed it with branches of the triumphal myrtle. As the sun lifted himself above the east, Xerxes poured a libation into the sea, and addressing the rising orb, implored prosperity to the Persian arms, until they should have vanquished the whole of Europe, even to the remotest ends. Then casting the cup, with a Persian cimeter, into the sea, the signal was given for the army to commence the march. Seven days and seven nights were consumed in the passage of that prodigious armament.

IX. Thus entering Europe, Xerxes proceeded to Doriscus (a wide plain of Thrace, commanded by a Persian garrison), where he drew up, and regularly numbered his troops; the fleets ranged in order along the neighbouring coast. The whole amount of the land-force, according to Herodotus, was 1,700,000. Later writers have been skeptical as to this vast number, but without sufficient grounds for their disbelief. There were to be found the soldiery of many nations: - the Persians in tunics and scale breastplates, the tiara helmet of the Medes, the arrows, and the large bow which was their natural boast and weapon; there were the Medes similarly equipped; and the Assyrians, with barbarous helmets, linen cuirasses, and huge clubs tipped with iron; the Bactrians with bows of reeds, and the Scythian Sacae, with their hatchets and painted crests. There, too, were the light-clothed Indians, the Parthians, Chorasmians, Sogdians, Gandarians, and the Dadicae. There were the Caspians, clad in tough hides, with bows and cimeters; the gorgeous tunics of the Sarangae, and the loose flowing vests (or zirae) of the Arabians. There were seen the negroes of Aethiopian Nubia with palm bows four cubits long, arrows pointed with flint, and vestures won from the leopard and the lion; a barbarous horde, who, after the wont of savages, died their bodies with gypsum and vermilion when they went to war; while the straight-haired Asiatic Aethiopians wore the same armour as the Indians whom they bordered. save that their helmets were formed of the skin of the horse's head [55], on which the mane was left in the place of plumage. The Libyans were among the horde, and the buskined Paphlagonians, with helms of network; and the Cappadocian Syrians; and the Phrygians; and the Armenians; the Lydians, equipped similarly to the Greeks; the Strymonian Thracians, clad in tunics, below which were flowing robes like the Arabian zirae or tartan, but of various colours, and buskins of the skins of fawns - armed with the javelin and the dagger; the Thracians, too, of Asia, with helmets of brass wrought with the ears and horns of an ox; the people from the islands of the Red Sea, armed and people like Medes; the Mares, and the Colchians, and the Moschi, and other tribes, tedious to enumerate, swelled and diversified the force of Xerxes.

Such were the infantry of the Persian army, forgetting not the ten thousand chosen Persians, called the Immortal Band [56], whose armour shone with profuse gold, and who were distinguished even in war by luxury - carriages for their women, troops of attendants, and camels and beasts of burden.

Besides these were the Persian cavalry; the nomad Sagartii, who carried with them nooses, in which they sought to entangle their foe; the Medes and the Indian horse, which last had also chariots of war drawn by steeds or wild asses; the Bactrians and Caspians, equipped alike; the Africans, who fought from chariots; the Paricanians; and the Arabians with their swift dromedaries, completed the forces of the cavalry, which amounted to eighty thousand, exclusive even of chariots and the camels.

Nor was the naval unworthy of the land armada. The number of the triremes was one thousand two hundred and seven. Of these the Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine furnished three hundred, the serving-men with breastplates of linen, javelins, bucklers without bosses, and helmets fashioned nearly similarly to those of the Greeks; two hundred vessels were supplied by the Egyptians, armed with huge battle-axes, and casques of network; one hundred and fifty vessels came from Cyprus, and one hundred from Cilicia; those who manned the first differing in arms from the Greeks only in the adoption of the tunic, and the Median mitres worn by the chiefs - those who manned the last, with two spears, and tunics of wool. The Pamphylians, clad as the Greeks, contributed thirty vessels, and fifty also were manned by Lycians with mantles of goat-skin and unfeathered arrows of reed. In thirty vessels came the Dorians of Asia; in seventy the Carians, and in a hundred, the subjugated Ionians. The Grecian Isles between the Cyaneae, and the promontories of Triopium and Sunium [57], furnished seventeen vessels, and the Aeolians sixty. The inhabitants of the Hellespont (those of Abydos alone excepted, who remained to defend the bridges) combined with the people of Pontus to supply a hundred more. In each vessel were detachments of Medes, Persians, and Saci; the best mariners were the Phoenicians, especially those of Sidon. The commanders-in-chief of the sea-forces were Ariabignes (son of Darius), Prexaspes, Megabazus (son of Megabates), and Achaemenes (brother of Xerxes, and satrap of Egypt).

Of the infantry, the generals were Mardonius, Tritantaechmes, son of Artabanus, and Smerdones (cousin to Xerxes), Maistes (his brother), Gergis, and Megabazus, son of that celebrated Zopyrus, through whom Darius possessed himself of Babylon. [58]

Harmamithres and Tithaeus, who were Medes, commanded the cavalry; a third leader, Pharnouches, died in consequence of a fall from his horse. But the name of a heroine, more masculine than her colleagues, must not be omitted: Artemisia, widow to one of the Carian kings, furnished five ships (the best in the fleet next to those of Sidon), which she commanded in person, celebrated alike for a dauntless courage and a singular wisdom.

X. Such were the forces which the great king reviewed, passing through the land-forces in his chariot, and through the fleet in a Sidonian vessel, beneath a golden canopy. After his survey, the king summoned Demaratus to his presence.

"Think you," said he, "that the Greeks will presume to resist me?"

"Sire," answered the Spartan, "your proposition of servitude will be rejected by the Greeks; and even if the rest of them sided with you, Lacedaemon still would give you battle; question not in what numbers; had Sparta but a thousand men she would oppose you."

Marching onward, and forcibly enlisting, by the way, various tribes through which he passed, exhausting many streams, and empoverishing the population condemned to entertain his army, Xerxes arrived at Acanthus: there he dismissed the commanders of his fleet, ordering them to wait his orders at Therme, a small town which gave its name to the Thermean Gulf (to which they proceeded, pressing ships and seamen by the way), and afterward, gaining Therme himself, encamped his army on the coast, spreading far and wide its multitudinous array from Therme and Mygdonia to the rivers Lydias and Haliacmon.