Xerxes enters Greece - 481 B.C.

The Greeks who were well affected to the Grecian cause, having assembled in one place, and there consulted, and interchanged pledges, agreed that, before any other step was taken, the feuds which existed between the different nations should first of all be appeased, even between Athnens and Aegina. This now resolved, the Greeks sent spys to Asia to see how Xerxes affairs were going. It was also resolved that a request for aid should be sent to Sicily.

The Greeks sent Spartans and Athenians to Syracuse and spoke to Gelo from Sicily as they had strong bonds with the Peloponnesians, and asked for his help against the barbarians. Gelo said he would help on condition he was general of all the forces against Xerxes. The Spartans at once dismissed the idea, to which Gelo then changed his mind that he now wished only to be general of the fleet. The Athenians now stepped in and said Athens has enough commanders to command the sea. Gelo replied 'Athenian stranger, ye have, it seems, no lack of commanders; but ye are likely to lack men to receive their orders. As ye are resoved to yield nothing and claim everything, ye had best make haste back to Greece.' With these words the bargaining ceased and the envoys left.

Even here Gelo felt for the Greeks, Syracuse being founded by Sparta, he also new that Greeces downfall would no doubt put Sicily in the site of the rampaging Persians. Still, for now Syracuse had a more graver problem that of the threat from Carthage and their intention of invading Sicily.

Crete was also asked to join in the Greek cause, but declined to partake in any battle with the barbarians.

The Corcyraeans, promised to send help in the form of their fleet. (though they never actually made it to any battle, getting as far as the city of Pylos in the Peloponnies no doubt to see what the outcome would be and then decide what to do).

Mainland Greece was by themselves.

These spys were caught and were arranged to be put to death, when Xerxes himself intervined and ordered the prisoners free, and be sent around the camps to be allowed to see all the soliders, horses and anything else to their harts desire and when they were ready to be allowed to leave freely to any land they desired.(best propoganda available at the time was for the spy to return home and report what they saw).

At the Isthmus, where the allies had gathered, envoys addressed their countrymen. The embasy from Thessaly pleaded with the allies to send troops to Thessaly, for the barbarians were at their very doorstep and without any help, by themselves they had no hope of taking on the invading force and gave warning that either a strong force was to be sent or they would make terms with the invaders.

Illistration: Darius bridges the Hellespont
Xerxes enters Europe

On the second attempt to bridge the Hellespont [1] (by tieing ships together) that bridged Asia to Europe King Xerxes crossed over, confindent now that all was ready for the invasion. Eyeing his vast contingent he asked Demaratus 'If all the Greeks and all of Europe were all together in one place, wouldn't they all surcome by our onset?" [2]

To which the reply came 'Brave are all the Greeks, but the Lacedaemonians will never accept thy terms which would reduce Greece to slavery; and though the rest of Greece might be reduced to slaverly, they will surely still go to battle against you, whether we come across a thousand of them or more or less".

Xerxes laughed 'What wild words, Damaratus. A thousand men to join battle against a army as this?!' It was incomprehensable that any contingent to come across his vast army had any hope to stopping the Asian juggernaught from marching all the way through Greece. [3]

The Spartans sent an envoy to the oracle to advise what they should do {O11}. The message was simple enough to undersand. Either Sparta would fall to the Persians, or a Spartan king must die.

The allied Greeks now had sent a force by sea to The Pass of Tempe in Thessaly [4], which was to defend the pass of Olympus. Having the mountain range of Olympus on one hand and Ossa on the other. In this place the Greek force that had been collected, amounting to about 10,000 heavy-armed men, pitched their camp; and here they were joined by the Thessalian cavalry. The commanders were for the Lacedaemonians, Euaenetus, a polemarch but not belonging to the royal blood line and Themistocles for the Athenians. They did not maintain their station for more than a few days; since envoys came from Alexander the Macedonian, and told them to recamp elsewhere, as if they remained in the pass they would be trodden under foot by the invading army, whose numbers they had recounted [2], and likewise the multitude of their ships. As the council seemed to be good, and the Macedonian who sent it friendly, they would do as he advised . Fearing too that there was another way around the pass, through a town called Gonnus, the Greeks therefore went back to their ships and sailed away to the Isthmus (if they had stayed, there was no way they would have held them back).

The Thessalians now sent envoys to the barbarians, no longer wavering, but warmly espoused the side of the Medes.

A gorgeThe Coucil at Corinth near the Isthmus again took coucil considering the words of Alexander, and wondering where they should fix the war, and what places they should occupy. The opinion which prevailed was, that the best place to defend on land would be to guard the pass at Thermopylae; since it was narrower than the Thessalian defile, and at the same time nearer to them. This was now agreed to and at the same time it was resolved that the fleet should hold at Artemisium (the most northern part of the island of Euboea, next to the city of Histiaea), for as these places were near to one another, it would be easy for the fleet and army to hold communication. (plus not allow the Persians to outflank the land forces via the sea).

This the Greeks all thought would be best for the defence of Greece. The Spartans (and their Pelopennisain allies) however, added that both sea and land forces were to be in command of a Spartan. The Athenians were in a uproar, of course they would have a Spartan commander on land, but surely an Athenian was required to command the navy. To this they would not sway. More coucils and mettings continued...the Greeks seemed to be at loggerheads on this point...while the Persians continued ever closer to their goal.

Thermistocles, understanding the importance of the situation and that Sparta wouldn't capitulate on this point spoke to the Athenian coucil and swayed them. The Athenians then agreed with the allies that the land AND navy forces were to be commanded by a Spartan.

(For the reasons why Thermistocles took the initiative into letting the Spartans take over full command of the defenses of Greece, see here).

It is about at this time that it is believed that the Themistocles Decree was issued. To follow more closely the importance of this find, see here.

NEXT PAGE>>>Preparations for battle



'Histories' by Herodotus published by Wordsworth 1996


Note#1: Xerxes is reportedly to have ordered the sea to be whipped 300 times and a pair of fetters thrown in as punishment to the sea for destroying the bridge on the first occasion. It is important to note a fundimental difference here between Greeks and Persians. The Persians' main religion was Zoroastrian, their 'ideal' afterlife or Garden of Eden involved flowing streams and clear water. Persia was mostly a pastoral type of enviroment. As land bound people they disliked the sea; the bitter undrinkable water was symobic of Ahriman, a evil power of their religion. Their dislike of the sea and an inablility to cope with it resulted in the employment of the Egyptians and the Phoenicians to man their fleets.

This is in stark contrast to how the Greeks view the sea.

Note#2: For an explanation of the population of Athens at about this time go here.

Note#3: During this time there was an eclipse of the sun, not unnaturally, in view of the preparations, and the fact that Darius himself had suffered defeat on a similar expedition, this eclipse caused considerable concern in the Persian court. Primed with knowledge of the universe that had been largely acquired from the absorption of Babylon into the Persian Empire, hastened to reassure the Great King, they pointed out that the moon eclipsed the sun. The sun they said, symbolised the Greeks and the moon the Persians. The eclipse was not an ill omen therefore. It showed that the Greeks were destined to be overshadowed and conquered by the Perian moon.

Herodotus, who was born some four years after the invasion of Xerxes, and had access to all the records has always been questioned on the number of soliders and navy that he claimed were invading. Ancient Greeks used the term 'myriads', meaning tens of thousands, as we, centuries later, loosely use millions or billions; meaning no more than an almost uncountable amount. It seems that he confused the Persian term 'myriarchs', which meant the commander of 10,000 men, with the other named commanders who, in their lesser sphere, commanded no more than thousands or hundreds, Persia worked on the decimal system. If one removes a nought from all of his figures, the amount comes back to a realistic figures of about 210,000. This figure to a Greek accustomed to battles involving at the most a few thousand men would mean an almost inexhaustible flood of troops.

Note:4 A slightly different version of what happend at Tempe is given that.
"Synetus was the general of the Lacedaemonians and messengers were sent to all cities, to require them to raise soldiers for the defence of the passages at the common charge. But when they heard that the greatest part of the Thessalians, and those that inhabited the straits, had submitted to the king's delegates or commissioners, they returned home, desparing to make any effectual defence at Tempe. Diodorus Siculus 'The Historiacal Library' Book 9 Ch 1 p361

Note:5 During the 480 BCE expedition to Greece, an Achaemenid prince, who was allegedly 2.5 m (8 ft) tall with a blaring voice among the Persians named Artachaees, was the chief architect of a canal that king Xerxes I ordered to be built at Acanthus (an ancient Greek city on the Athos peninsula). Herodotus writes that during its construction, Artachaees died of an illness. Xerxes was devastated, and ordered a special burial in his honor (apparently, his burial mound may be seen in the following link http://www.losttrails.com/ media/Greece/Xerxes/ xerxes_MG_9665.jpg ). Among the inhabitants, Artachaees became the center of a hero-cult.

[pic astarte: “A view of the western extremity of Xerxes' canal showing the cutting through the coastal spur of hills … the line of reeds show the original location of the canal” -- for educational purposes only]

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