Story of the Persian War - Alfred J. Church

How Xerxes Crossed Over into Europe, and of His Army

All things being now ready, the host of Xerxes crossed over from Asia into Europe, the foot soldiers and the horsemen going over the bridge that was toward the Black Sea, and the servants of the army and the beasts of burden the bridge that was toward the Ægean. First came the Ten Thousand, all of them wearing crowns; and after them came a mixed host of all nations. These passed over on the first day; and on the next day passed over the horsemen, and they that carried their spears turned toward the ground. These also had crowns on their heads. After these came the sacred horses and the sacred chariot; and next to these Xerxes and the spearmen and the thousand horsemen, and after these the rest of the army. And all the ships sailed to the shore over against Abydos.

When Xerxes had crossed over, he watched his army crossing over under the lash, and this they did without pause or rest for seven days and seven nights. It is reported that when Xerxes had passed over a man that dwelt in these parts cried out, "O Zeus, why art thou come in the likeness of a Persian, and calling thyself Xerxes and not Zeus, with the whole race of men following thee, to destroy the Greeks, when thou couldst have destroyed them without so doing?"

When they had all crossed over there happened a great marvel, of which Xerxes took no account, though indeed it was easy to understand. The marvel was this, that a mare brought forth a hare. And what was to be understood from it was this—that Xerxes was leading against the Greeks a great host and splendidly equipped, and yet before many days he would come again to the same place as one that fled for life.

Then Xerxes went on his way, the fleet sailing along by the coast. And when he came to Doriscus he had a desire to know the number of his army. What indeed were the numbers of the several nations can not be said; but the number of the whole host was found to be a thousand thousand and seven hundred thousands. These were numbered in a way that shall now be told. They brought ten thousand men into one place; these they placed together as closely as they could, and having done this, they drew a circle about them; and when they had done this circle and let the ten thousand go, they made a heap about the circle, so high as the middle of a man. When they had so done they brought others into the place that was thus hedged about till they had filled it. When they had numbered the host they set it in order nation by nation.

These nations were many in number. First of all were the Persians, wearing turbans on their heads and about their bodies tunics with sleeves of divers colors, having iron scales like to the scales of a fish. On their legs they had trews, and their shields were of wicker. For arms they had short spears and long bows and arrows of reed; also they had daggers hanging from their girdles by the right thigh. The Medes were accoutered in the same way; and indeed this fashion of armor is Median rather than Persian.

The Assyrians had helmets of brass, wrought in a strange fashion. These had shields and spears and daggers like to the Egyptians; and besides they had clubs of wood with knots of iron and linen corslets.

The Scythians had trews. These carried bows and daggers, and battle-axes also. The Indians were clad in cotton, with bows of cane, and arrows also of cane pointed with iron. As for the Arabians they had long cloaks bound about the waist with girdles, and at their right side they carried bows bending backward. They that came from Ethiopia were clad in skins of panthers and lions. Their bows were of the stems of palm leaves, four cubits and more in length; their arrows were small and of reed, having heads of stone for iron. (This same stone is used for engraving of seals.) They had spears also, with the horns of antelopes made sharp for spear-heads, and knotted clubs also. When they were about to go into battle they would paint the one half of their bodies with chalk and the other with vermilion. There were also Eastern Ethiopians (these had straight hair, while they of the West had hair more woolly than the hair of other men) equipped like to the others, but having the scalps of horses on their heads. These they flay off with the ears and mane. The ears stand upright and the mane is for a crest. For shields they have bucklers made of the skins of cranes.

Many nations came from the Lower Asia, as Phrygians and Paphlagonians, and Lydians, these last being clad and armed very much in Greek fashion. There were also Mysians (who in old time came forth from Lydia, but then dwelt in the Mysian Olympus). These had helmets and bucklers and staves of wood with one end hardened in the fire. Also the Bithynians came from this land, having before dwelt about the Strymon, in Thrace. These had skins of foxes on their heads, and tunics with long cloaks of many colors about their bodies, and buskins of fawn skins about their legs and feet; and for arms javelins and light shields and short daggers.

From these and many other nations of Asia and Africa came the footmen of the host. They had captains of tens and of hundreds and of thousands and of ten thousands; and over all six generals, Mardonius, Tritantæchmes, son of Artabanus, Megabyzus, son of Zopyrus, the same that took the city of Babylon for King Darius, and three others.

These six commanded all the footmen save only the Ten Thousand. These Ten Thousand were Persians all of them, chosen men. These Hydarnes led, and they were called the Immortals, because if any man among them die or fall sick, straightway another is chosen into his place, so that they are ten thousand always, neither more nor less. Of all the host the Persians were the bravest and most splendidly equipped.

The horsemen came from many nations. Among these were the Sagartians, a wandering people. These are wont to have no arms either of iron or bronze, save only a dirk. But they have lassoes of leathern thongs and trust to these. They fight in this fashion. When they go into battle, they cast their lassoes having nooses at the end; and that which is entangled in the noose they draw toward them, be it man or horse, and slay it.

Of the Indians some rode in chariots drawn by wild asses. The Arabians rode on camels that were not less swift than horses. These were set last in order because the horses could not endure the sight of the camels. Of horsemen there were in all eighty thousand.

The number of the ships of war was one thousand and two hundred and seven. Of these the Phœnicians furnished three hundred and the Egyptians two hundred, and the men of Cyprus one hundred and fifty, and the men of Cilicia one hundred. The Ionians and the Æolians and the Greeks that dwelt about the Hellespont and the Black Sea furnished two hundred and sixty and seven. And on all the ships there were fighting men, Persians and Medes and Sacæ. The best of all the ships were the Phœnician, and of the Phœnician ships the best they that came from Sidon.

As to the names of them that commanded the ships, there is no need to tell them. For indeed they were not commanders but slaves, even as the others. But the Persians that commanded were Ariabignes son of Darius, and Megabazus, with two others. Of smaller ships and transports and the like there were three thousand in all.

One of the generals must needs be mentioned, namely Artemisia, the daughter of Lygdamis. She, her husband being dead and her son but a lad, had the lordship of her city, even Halicarnassus; and she went with Xerxes against Greece, not of necessity, but of her own free will, so valiant was she and of so manlike a spirit. She furnished five ships to the King, and in all the fleet there were none better, save only those of the Sidonians; nor was there one of the allies that gave better counsel to the King than did this Artemisia.

When Xerxes had numbered the host and the fleet, and had set them in order, it seemed good to him to go through them and see them for himself. This therefore he did. First he rode on a chariot, driving from nation to nation, and inquiring about each many things; and there followed scribes, who wrote down that which was answered. This he did till he came to the very end of the footmen and of the horsemen. After this he left his chariot and embarked on a ship of Sidon, and sitting under a tent of gold sailed along by the prows of the ships, these all having been launched and being drawn up about four hundred feet from the shore, and the fighting men upon them, some ready armed as for battle. The King sailed between the ships and the shore; and the scribes followed him and wrote as before.

When he had ended these things he sent for Demaratus, the son of Ariston, that had been King in Sparta, and had been banished thence, and asked him, saying, "Demaratus, it is my pleasure to ask thee a certain question. Thou art a Greek; and as I hear from thee and from other of thy people, thou comest of a city that is by no means the least or weakest in the land of Greece. Tell me, then, will the Greeks abide our coming, and lift a hand against us? For, as it seems to me, not all the Greeks, nor all the barbarians of the west, if they were gathered together, could stand up against me when I come against them, if they were not of one mind. But tell me, what thinkest thou?"

Then said Demaratus, "Shall I answer thee that which is true or that which is pleasant?"

The King said, "Speak that which is true. It shall not be the worse for thee."

When Demaratus heard this, he said, "O King, thou biddest me speak the truth, so that I may not be found hereafter to have lied unto thee. With us Greeks poverty is born and bred; and we have gotten for ourselves valor by help of wisdom and law, and by valor we keep ourselves both from poverty and from servitude. Now that which I am about to say regards the Spartans only, though indeed I honor all the Greeks that dwell in the Dorian country. Know then, in the first place, that the Spartans will receive no conditions from thee that shall bring slavery upon Greece; and in the second, that they will surely come forth to meet thee in battle, yea, though all the Greeks besides be on thy side. But as to their number there is no need to inquire; for if there be a thousand that shall march out to battle, or if there be more or less these will surely fight."

When Xerxes heard this he laughed, and said, "What is this that thou hast said, Demaratus? Shall a thousand men fight with a whole army? Tell me now. Thou hast been, thou sayest, King of these Spartans. Wilt thou then forthwith fight singly with ten men? Yet if all thy nation be such as thou sayest, thou being their King shouldst, according to your custom, contend against as many again; so that if a common man be a match for ten men of my army thou shouldst be a match for twenty. But if they that so boast themselves are no bigger or stronger than the Greeks that I have seen, thyself, to wit, and others, then is this talk but empty words. Consider now the likelihood of the thing. How could a thousand, or ten thousand, or even fifty thousand, stand up against such an army, the more so if they be free and not under the rule of one man? For say that there be five thousand of them, yet shall we have more than a thousand to one. If, indeed, they were under the rule of one man after our fashion, then might they for fear of him be valiant even beyond their nature, and fight few against many, being driven thereto by the lash. But being free, and left to choose, they will do neither the one nor the other. I verily believe that Greeks could scarce stand up in battle against Persians, the number being equal. But as to this, that one man can fight against many, we have indeed a few such in our army, but a few only, for some of my spearmen would not refuse to fight one man against three Greeks. But about this thou knowest nothing, and so talkest idly."

To this Demaratus made answer, "O King, I knew at the beginning that if I should speak the truth I should not please thee. But the truth thou wouldst have me speak; therefore I told thee the things that concerned the Spartans. And yet I love them not, as thou knowest very well, seeing that they took from me the place and dignity that came to me from my father, and drave me out into banishment, whereas thy father Darius received me and gave me sustenance and a home to dwell in; and it is not to be believed that a wise man would scorn such kindness, but rather that he would cherish it in his heart. For myself I engage not to fight with ten men, nor yet with two, nor indeed would I willingly fight with one; yet if there should be any necessity or great cause, I would gladly fight with any of the men who say they are a match for three Greeks. And as for the Spartans, when they fight singly they are as good as any men in the world; and when they fight together they are better than any. For though they be free, yet are they not wholly free. For they have a master over them, even Law, whom they fear more than thy people fear thee. Whatsoever this master commands, that they do. And he commands them that they turn not their backs in battle, how many soever be their enemies, but abide in their place, and conquer or die. If thou thinkest that these things that I say are naught, then will I hold my peace hereafter. Howbeit, I pray that all things may be as thou wouldst have them, O King."

This was the answer of Demaratus. And the King laughed, and sent him away in peace.