The defeat of the Persians at Marathon served only to increase the resentment of Darius. He now resolved to collect the whole forces of his empire, and to lead them in person against Athens. For three years busy preparations were made throughout his vast dominions. In the fourth year his attention was distracted by a revolt of the Egyptians; and before he could reduce them to subjection he was surprised by death, after a reign of 37 years (B.C. 485). Xerxes, the son and successor of Darius, had received the education of an eastern despot, and been surrounded with slaves from his cradle. In person he was the tallest and handsomest man amidst the vast hosts which he led against Greece; but there was nothing in his mind to correspond to this fair exterior. His character was marked by faint-hearted timidity and childish vanity. Xerxes had not inherited his father's animosity against Greece; but he was surrounded by men who urged him to continue the enterprise. Foremost among these was Mardonius, who was eager to retrieve his reputation, and to obtain the conquered country as a satrapy for himself after subduing Egypt (B.C. 484), Xerxes began to make preparations for the invasion of Greece. For four years the din of preparation sounded throughout Asia. Troops were collected from every quarter of the Persian empire, and were ordered to assemble in Cappadocia. As many as forty-six different nations composed the land-force, of various complexions, languages, dresses, and arms. Meantime Xerxes ordered a bridge to be thrown across the Hellespont, that his army might march from Asia into Europe: and he likewise gave directions that a canal should be cut through the isthmus of Mount Athos, in order to avoid the necessity of doubling this dangerous promontory, where the fleet of Mardonius had suffered shipwreck. The making of this canal, which was about a mile and a half long employed a number of men for three years.

In the spring of B.C. 480 Xerxes set out from Sardis with his vast host. Upon reaching Abydos on the Hellespont the army crossed over to Europe by the bridge of boats. Xerxes surveyed the scene from a marble throne. His heart swelled within him at the sight of such a vast assemblage of human beings; but his feelings of pride and pleasure soon gave way to sadness, and he burst into tears at the reflection that in a hundred years not one of them would be alive. Xerxes continued his march through Europe along the coast of Thrace. Upon arriving at the spacious plain of Doriscus, which is traversed by the river Hebrus, he resolved to number his forces. He found that the whole armament, both military and naval, consisted of 2,317,610 men. In his march from Doriscus to Thermopylae he received a still further accession of strength; and accordingly when he reached Thermopylae the land and sea forces amounted to 2,641,610 fighting men. The attendants are said to have been more in number than the fighting men; but if they were only equal, the number of persons who accompanied Xerxes to Thermopylae reaches the astounding figure of 5,283,220! The number is quite incredible; but though the exact number of the invading army cannot be determined, we may safely conclude, from all the circumstances of the case, that it was the largest ever assembled at any period of history.

From Doriscus Xerxes his march along the coast through Thrace and Macedonia. The principal cities through which he passed had to furnish a day's meal for the immense host, and for this purpose had made preparations many months before-hand. The cost of feeding such a multitude brought many cities to the brink of ruin. At Acanthus his fleet sailed through the isthmus of Athos and after doubling the promontories of Sithonia and Pallene joined him at the city of Therma, better known by its later name of Thessalonica. Thence he continued his march through the southern part of Macedonia and Thessaly, meeting with no opposition till he reached the celebrated pass of Thermopylae.

The mighty preparations of Xerxes had been no secret in Greece; and during the preceding winter a congress of the Grecian states had been summoned by the Spartans and Athenians to meet at the isthmus of Corinth. But so great was the terror inspired by the countless hosts of Xerxes that many of the Grecian states at once tendered their submission to him, and others refused to take any part in the congress. The only people, north of the isthmus of Corinth, who remained faithful to the cause of Grecian liberty, were the Athenians and Phocians, and the inhabitants of the small Boeotian towns of Plataea and Thespiae. The other people in northern Greece were either partisans of the Persians, like the Thebans, or were unwilling to make any great sacrifices for the preservation of their independence. In Peloponnesus, the powerful city of Argos and the Achaeans stood aloof. From the more distant members of the Hellenic race no assistance was obtained. Gelon, the ruler of Syracuse, offered to send a powerful armament, provided the command of the allied forces was intrusted to him; but the envoys did not venture to accept a proposal which would have placed both Sparta and Athens under the control of a Sicilian tyrant.

The desertion of the cause of Grecian independence by so many of the Greeks did not shake the resolution of Sparta and of Athens. The Athenians, especially, set a noble example of an enlarged patriotism. They became reconciled to the AEginetans, and thus gained for the common cause the powerful navy of their rival. They readily granted to the Spartans the supreme command of the forces by sea as well as by land, although they furnished two- thirds of the vessels of the entire fleet. Their illustrious citizen Themistocles was the soul of the congress. He sought to enkindle in the other Greeks some portion of the ardour and energy which he had succeeded in breathing into the Athenians.

The Greeks determined to make a stand at the pass of Thermopylae, which forms the entrance from northern into southern Greece. This pass lies between Mount OEta and the sea. It is about a mile in length. At each of its extremities the mountains approach so near the sea as to leave barely room for the passage of a single carriage. The northern, or, to speak more properly, the western Gate, was close to the town of Anthela, where the Amphictyonic council held its autumnal meetings; while the southern, or the eastern Gate, was near the Locrian town of Alpeni. These narrow entrances were called Pylae, or the Gates. The space between the gates was wider and more open, and was distinguished by its hot springs, from which the pass derived the name of Thermopylae, or the "Hot-Gates." The island of Euboea is here separated from the mainland by a narrow strait, which in one part is only two miles and a half in breadth; and accordingly it is easy, by defending this part of the sea with a fleet, to prevent an enemy from landing troops at the southern end of the pass.

The Grecian fleet, under the command of the Spartan Eurybiades, took up its station off that portion of the northern coast of Euboea which faces Magnesia and the entrance to the Thessalian gulf and which was called Artemisium, from a neighbouring temple of Artemis (Diana). It was, however, only a small land-force that was sent to the defence of Thermopylae. When the arrival of Xerxes at Therma became known, the Greeks were upon the point of celebrating the Olympic games, and the festival of the Carnean Apollo, which was observed with great solemnity at Sparta and in other Doric states. The Peloponnesians therefore sent forward only 300 Spartans and 3000 hoplites from other Peloponnesian states, under the command of the Spartan king Leonidas, a force which they thought would be sufficient to maintain the pass till the festivals were over. In his march northwards Leonidas received additions from the Thespians, Phocians, and Locrians, so that he had under his command at Thermopylae about 7000 men.

Meanwhile Xerxes had arrived within sight of Thermopylae. He had heard that a handful of desperate men, commanded by a Spartan, had determined to dispute his passage, but he refused to believe the news. He was still more astonished when a horseman, whom he had sent to reconnoitre, brought back word that he had seen several Spartans outside the wall in front of the pass, some amusing themselves with gymnastic exercises, and others combing their long hair. In great perplexity, he sent for the exiled Spartan king Demaratus, who had accompanied him from Persia, and asked him the meaning of such madness. Demaratus replied, that the Spartans would defend the pass to the death, and that it was their practice to dress their heads with peculiar care when they were going to battle. Later writers relate that Xerxes sent to them to deliver up their arms. Leonidas desired him "to come and take them." One of the Spartans being told that "the Persian host was so prodigious that their arrows would conceal the sun:" - "So much the better" (he replied), "we shall then fight in the shade."

At length, upon the fifth day, Xerxes ordered a chosen body of Medes to advance against the presumptuous foes and bring them into his presence. But their superior numbers were of no avail in such a narrow space, and they were kept at bay by the long spears and steady ranks of the Greeks. After the combat had lasted a long time with heavy loss to the Medes, Xerxes ordered his ten thousand "Immortals," the flower of the Persian army, to advance. But they were as unsuccessful as the Medes. Xerxes beheld the repulse of his troops from a lofty throne which had been provided for him, and was seen to leap thrice from his seat in an agony of fear or rage.

On the following day the attack was renewed, but with no better success: and Xerxes was beginning to despair of forcing his way through the pass, when a Malian, of the name of Ephialtes, betrayed to the Persian king that there was an unfrequented path across Mount OEta, ascending on the northern side of the mountain and descending on the southern side near the termination of the pass. Overjoyed at this discovery, a strong detachment of Persians was ordered to follow the traitor. Meantime Leonidas and his troops had received ample notice of the impending danger. During the night deserters from the enemy had brought him the news; and their intelligence was confirmed by his own scouts on the hills. His resolution was at once taken. As a Spartan he was bound to conquer or to die in the post assigned to him; and he was the more ready to sacrifice his life, since an oracle had declared that either Sparta itself or a Spartan king must perish by the Persian arms. His three hundred comrades were fully equal to the same heroism which actuated their King; and the seven hundred Thespians resolved to share the fate of this gallant band. He allowed the, rest of the allies to retire, with the exception of four hundred Boeotians, whom he retained as hostages. Xerxes delayed his attack till the middle of the day, when it was expected that the detachment sent across the mountain would arrive at the rear of the pass. But Leonidas and his comrades, only anxious to sell their lives as dearly as possible, did not wait to receive the attack of the Persians, but advanced into the open space in front of the pass, and charged the enemy with desperate valour. Numbers of the Persians were slain; many were driven into the neighbouring sea; and others again were trampled to death by the vast hosts behind them. As long as the Greeks could maintain their ranks they repelled every attack; but when their spears were broken, and they had only their swords left, the enemy began to press in between them. Leonidas was one of the first that fell, and around his body the battle raged fiercer than ever. The Persians made the greatest efforts to obtain possession of it; but four times they were driven back by the Greeks with great slaughter. At length, thinned in numbers, and exhausted by fatigue and wounds, this noble band retired within the pass, and seated themselves on a hillock. Meanwhile the Persian detachment, which had been sent across the mountains, began to enter the pass from the south. The Spartan heroes were now surrounded on every side, overwhelmed with a shower of missiles, and killed to a man.

On the hillock, where the Greeks made their last stand, a marble lion was set up in honour of Leonidas. Another monument, erected near the spot, contained the memorable inscription: -

"Go, tell the Spartans, thou that passest by, That here obedient to their laws we lie."

While Leonidas had been fighting at Thermopylae, the Greek fleet had also been engaged with the Persians at Artemisium. The Persian fleet set sail from the gulf of Therma, and arrived in one day at almost the southern corner of Magnesia. In this position they were overtaken by a sudden hurricane, which blew upon the shore with irresistible fury. For three days and three nights the tempest raged without intermission; and when calm at length returned, the shore was seen strewed for many miles with wrecks and corpses. At least four hundred ships of war were destroyed, together with a countless number of transports, stores, and treasures. The Greek fleet had been seized with a panic terror at the approach of the Persians, and retreated to Chalcis in the narrowest part of the Euboean straits; but upon hearing of the disaster of the Persian fleet, they took courage, and sailed back with the utmost speed to their former station at Artemisium. Being now encouraged to attack the enemy, they gained some success. On the following night another terrific storm burst upon the Persians. All night long it blew upon the Thessalian coast at Aphetae, where the Persian ships were stationed, thus causing little inconvenience to the Greeks upon the opposite shore. Notwithstanding these losses, the Persian fleet still had a vast superiority of numbers, and determined to offer battle to the Greeks. Quitting the Thessalian coast, they sailed towards Artemisium in the form of a crescent. The Greeks kept near the shore, to prevent the Persians from bringing their whole fleet into action. The battle raged furiously the whole day, and each side fought with determined valour. Both parties suffered severely; and though the Persians lost a greater number of ships and men, yet so many of the Greek vessels were disabled that they found it would be impossible to renew the combat. Under these circumstances the Greek commanders saw that it would be necessary to retreat; and their determination was hastened by the news which they now received, that Leonidas and his companions had fallen, and that Xerxes was master of the pass of Thermopylae. Having sailed through the Euboean strait, the fleet doubled the promontory of Sunium, and did not stop till it reached the island of Salamis.

Meanwhile the Peloponnesians had abandoned Attica and the adjoining states to their fate, whilst they strained every nerve to secure themselves by fortifying the isthmus of Corinth. The Athenians, relying upon the march of a Peloponnesian army into Boeotia, had taken no measures for the security of their families and property, and beheld with terror and dismay the barbarian host in full march towards their city. In six days it was calculated Xerxes would be at Athens - a short space to remove the population of a whole city: but fear and necessity work wonders. Before the six days had elapsed, all who were willing to abandon their homes had been safely transported, some to AEgina, and others to Troezen in Peloponnesus; but many could not be induced to proceed farther than Salamis. It was necessary for Themistocles to use all his art and all his eloquence on this occasion. The oracle at Delphi had told the Athenians that "the divine Salamis would make women childless," - yet, "when all was lost, a wooden wall should still shelter the Athenians." Themistocles told his countrymen that these words clearly indicated a fleet and a naval victory as the only means of safety. Some however gave to the words another meaning; and a few, especially among the aged and the poor, resolved to shut themselves up in the Acropolis, and to fortify its accessible or western front with barricades of timber.

On his march towards Athens, Xerxes sent a detachment of his army to take and plunder Delphi. But this attempt proved unsuccessful. The god of the most renowned oracle of the Grecian world vindicated at once the majesty of his sanctuary and the truth of his predictions. As the Persians climbed the rugged path at the foot of Mount Parnassus, leading up to the shrine, thunder was heard to roll, and two crags, suddenly detaching themselves from the mountain, rolled down upon the Persians, and spread dismay and destruction in their ranks, Seized with a sudden panic, they turned and fled, pursued, as they said, by two warriors of superhuman size and prowess, who had assisted the Delphians in defending their temple.

On arriving before Athens, Xerxes found the Acropolis occupied by a handful of desperate citizens, who made a brave resistance; but they were overpowered and put to the sword. The temples and houses on the Acropolis were pillaged and burnt; and Xerxes thus became undisputed master of Athens.

About the same time the Persian fleet arrived in the bay of Phalerum. Its strength is not accurately known, but it must have exceeded 1000 vessels. The combined Grecian fleet at Salamis consisted of 366 ships, of which 200 were Athenian.

At this critical juncture dissension reigned in the Grecian fleet. In the council of war which had been summoned by Eurybiades the Spartan commander, Themistocles urged the assembled chiefs to remain at Salamis, and give battle to the Persians in the narrow straits, where the superior numbers of the Persians would be of less consequence. The Peloponnesian commanders, on the other hand, were anxious that the fleet should be removed to the isthmus of Corinth, and thus be put in communication with their land-forces. The council came to a vote in favour of retreat; but Themistocles prevailed upon Eurybiades to convene another assembly upon the following day. When the council met, the Peloponnesian commanders loudly expressed their dissatisfaction at seeing a debate re-opened which they had deemed concluded. Adimantus, the Corinthian admiral broke out into open rebukes and menaces. "Themistocles," he exclaimed, "those who rise at the public games before the signal are whipped." "True," replied Themistocles; "but they who lag behind it never win a crown." Another incident in this discussion has been immortalized by Plutarch. Eurybiades, incensed by the language of Themistocles, lifted up his stick to strike him, whereupon the Athenian exclaimed, "Strike, but hear me!" Themistocles repeated his arguments and entreaties; and at length threatened that he and the Athenians would sail away to Italy and there found a new city, if the Peloponnesians still determined to retreat. Eurybiades now gave way and issued orders for the fleet to remain and fight at Salamis; but the Peloponnesians obeyed the order with reluctance. A third council was summoned and Themistocles, perceiving that the decision of the assembly would be against him, determined to effect his object by stratagem. He secretly despatched a trusty slave with a message to Xerxes, representing the dissensions which prevailed in the Grecian fleet, and how easy a matter it would be to surround and vanquish an armament both small and disunited. Xerxes readily adopted the suggestion, and ordered his captains to close up the straits of Salamis at both ends during the night. On the council assembling in the morning, Aristides arrived with the news that the Grecian fleet was completely surrounded by that of the Persians, and that retreat was no longer possible. As the veil of night rolled gradually away, the Persian fleet was discovered stretching as far as the eye could reach along the coast of Attica. The Grecian fleet, being concentrated in the harbour of Salamis, was thus surrounded by the Persians. Xerxes had caused a lofty throne to be erected upon one of the projecting declivities of Mount AEgaleos, opposite the harbour of Salamis, whence be could survey the combat, and stimulate by his presence the courage of his men.

As a battle was now inevitable the Grecian commanders lost no time in making preparations for the encounter. The Greek seamen embarked with alacrity, encouraging one another to deliver their country, their wives, and children, and the temples of their gods, from the grasp of the barbarians. History has preserved to us but few details of the engagement. The Persian fleet, with the exception of some of the Ionic contingents, fought with courage. But the very numbers on which they so confidently relied, proved one of the chief causes of their defeat. Too crowded either to advance or to retreat, their oars broken or impeded by collision with one another, their fleet lay like an inert and lifeless mass upon the water, and fell an easy prey to the Greeks. A single incident will illustrate the terror and confusion which reigned among the Persians. Artemisia, queen of Halicarnassus in Caria, distinguished herself in it by deeds of daring bravery. At length she turned and fled, pursued by an Athenian galley. Full in her course lay the vessel of a Carian prince. Instead of avoiding, she struck and sunk it, sending her countryman and all his crew to the bottom. The captain of the Athenian galley, believing from this act that she was a deserter from the Persian cause, suffered her to escape. Xerxes, who from his lofty throne beheld the feat of the Halicarnassian queen, but who imagined that the sunken ship belonged to the Greeks, was filled with admiration at her courage, and exclaimed - "My men are become women, my women men!"

Two hundred of the Persian ships were destroyed and sunk when night put an end to the engagement. But notwithstanding this loss the fleet was still formidable by its numbers. The Greeks themselves did not regard the victory as decisive, and prepared to renew the combat. But the pusillanimity of Xerxes relieved them from all further anxiety. He became alarmed for his own personal safety; and his whole care was now centred on securing his retreat by land. The best troops were disembarked from the ships, and marched towards the Hellespont, in order to secure the bridge, whilst the fleet itself was ordered to make for Asia. These dispositions of Xerxes were prompted by Mardonius. He represented to his master that the defeat, after all, was but slight; that having attained one of the great objects of the expedition by the capture of Athens, he might now retire with honour, and even with glory; and that for the rest he (Mardonius) would undertake to complete the conquest of Greece with 300,000 men. While the Persian fleet sailed towards Asia, Xerxes set out on his homeward march. In Thessaly Mardonius selected the 300,000 men with whom he proposed to conclude the war; but as autumn was now approaching, he resolved to postpone all further operations till the spring.

After forty-five days' march from Attica, Xerxes again reached the shores of the Hellespont, with a force greatly diminished by famine and pestilence. On the Hellespont he found his fleet, but the bridge had been washed away by storms. Landed on the shores of Asia, the Persian army at length obtained abundance of provisions, and contracted new maladies by the sudden change from privation to excess. Thus terminated this mighty but unsuccessful expedition.

Greece owed its salvation to one man - Themistocles, This was virtually admitted by the leaders of the other Grecian states, when they assembled to assign the prizes of wisdom and conduct. Upon the altar of Poseidon, at the isthmus of Corinth, each chief deposited a ticket inscribed with two names, of those whom he considered entitled to the first and second prizes. But in this adjudication vanity and self-love defeated their own objects. Each commander had put down his own name for the first prize; for the second, a great majority preponderated in favour of Themistocles. From the Spartans, also, Themistocles received the honours due to his merit. A crown of olive was conferred upon him, together with one of the most splendid chariots which the city could produce.

On the very same day on which the Persians were defeated at Salamis the Sicilian Greeks also obtained a victory over the Carthaginians. There is reason to believe that the invasion of Sicily by the Carthaginians was concerted with Xerxes, and that the simultaneous attach on two distinct Grecian peoples, by two immense armaments, was not merely the result of chance. Gelon, the powerful ruler of Syracuse, defeated Hamilcar, the Carthaginian general, with the loss it is said of 150,000 men.

In the spring of B.C. 479 Mardonius prepared to open the campaign. He was not without hopes of inducing the Athenians to join the Persian alliance, and he despatched Alexander, king of Macedon, to conciliate the Athenians, now partially re-established in their dilapidated city. His offers on the part of the Persians were of the most seductive kind; but the Athenians dismissed him with a positive refusal, whilst to the Lacedaemonians they protested that no temptations, however great, should ever induce them to desert the common cause of Greece and freedom. In return for this disinterested conduct all they asked was that a Peloponnesian army should be sent into Boeotia for the defence of the Attic frontier: a request which the Spartan envoys promised to fulfil. No sooner, however, had they returned into their own country than this promise was completely forgotten.

When Mardonius was informed that the Athenians had rejected his proposal, he immediately marched against Athens, accompanied by all his Grecian allies; and in May or June, B.C. 479, about ten months after the retreat of Xerxes, the Persians again occupied that city. With feelings of bitter indignation against their faithless allies, the Athenians saw themselves once more compelled to remove to Salamis. Mardonius took advantage of his situation to endeavour once more to win them to his alliance. Through a Hellespontine Greek, the same favourable conditions were again offered to them, but were again refused. One voice alone, that of the senator Lycidas, broke the unanimity of the assembly. But his opposition cost him his life. He and his family were stoned to death by the excited populace. In this desperate condition the Athenians sent ambassadors to the Spartans to remonstrate against their breach of faith, and to intimate that necessity might at length compel them to listen to the proposals of the enemy. The Spartans became alarmed. That very night 5000 citizens, each attended by seven Helots, were despatched to the frontiers; and these were shortly followed by 5000 Lacedaemonian Perioeci, each attended by one light-armed Helot. Never before had the Spartans sent so large a force into the field. Their example was followed by other Peloponnesian cities; and the Athenian envoys returned to Salamis with the joyful news that a large army was preparing to march against the enemy, under the command of Pausanias, who acted as regent for the infant son of Leonidas.

Mardonius, on learning the approach of the Lacedaemonians, abandoned Attica and crossed into Boeotia. He finally took up a position on the left bank of the Asopus, and not far from the town of Plataea. Here he caused a camp to be constructed of ten furlongs square, and fortified with barricades and towers. Meanwhile the Grecian army continued to receive reinforcements from the different states, and by the time it reached Boeotia, it formed a grand total of about 110,000 men. After several days' manoeuvring a general battle took place near Plataea. The light- armed undisciplined Persians, whose bodies were unprotected by armour, maintained a very unequal combat against the serried ranks, the long spears, and the mailed bodies of the Spartan phalanx. Mardonius, at the head of his body-guard of 1000 picked men, and conspicuous by his white charger, was among the foremost in the fight, till struck down by the hand of a Spartan. The fall of their general was the signal for flight to the Persians, already wearied and disheartened by the fruitless contest; nor did they once stop till they lad again crossed the Asopus and reached their fortified camp. The glory of having defeated the Persians at Plataea rests with the Lacedaemonians, since the Athenians were engaged in another part of the field with the Thebans. After repulsing the Thebans, the Athenians joined the Lacedaemonians, who had pursued the Persians as far as their fortified camp. Upon the arrival of the Athenians the barricades were stormed and carried, after a gallant resistance on the part of the Persians. The camp became a scene of the most horrible carnage. The Persian loss was immense, while that of the Greeks seems not to have exceeded 1300 or 1400 men.

It remained to bury the dead and divide the booty, and so great was the task that ten days were consumed in it. The booty was ample and magnificent. Gold and silver coined, as well as in plate and trinkets, rich vests and carpets, ornamented arms, horses, camels - in a word, all the magnificence of Eastern luxury. The failure of the Persian expedition was completed by the destruction of their naval armament. Laotychides, the Spartan admiral, having sailed across the AEgean, found the Persian fleet at Mycale a promontory of Asia Minor near Miletus. Their former reverses seem completely to have discouraged the Persians from hazarding another naval engagement. The ships were hauled ashore and surrounded with a rampart, whilst an army of 60,000 Persians lined the coast for their defence. The Greeks landed on the very day on which the battle of Plataea was fought. A supernatural presentiment of that decisive victory, conveyed by a herald's staff which floated over the AEgean from the shores of Greece, is said to have pervaded the Grecian ranks at Mycale as they marched to the attack. The Persians did not long resist: they turned their backs and fled to their fortifications, pursued by the Greeks, who entered them almost simultaneously. A large number of the Persians perished; and the victory was rendered still more decisive by the burning of the fleet.

The Grecian fleet now sailed towards the Hellespont with the view of destroying the bridge; but hearing that it no longer existed, Leotychides departed homewards with the Peloponnesian vessels. Xanthippus however, the Athenian commander, seized the opportunity to recover from the Persians the Thracian Chersonese, which had long been an Athenian possession; and proceeded to blockade Sestos, the key of the strait. This city surrendered in the autumn, after a protracted siege, whereupon the Athenians returned home, carrying with them the cables of the bridge across the Hellespont, which were afterwards preserved in the Acropolis as a trophy.