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 , 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 . "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.