By G. B. GRUNDY, M.A.,





The publication of a version of an old old story which has been retold in modern times by famous writers, demands an apology even at this day of the making of many books. It can only be justified in case the writer has become possessed of new evidence on the history of the period with which the story is concerned, or has cause to think that the treatment of pre-existing evidence is not altogether satisfactory from a historical point of view.

I think I can justify my work on the first of these grounds; and I hope I shall be able to do so on the second.

Within the last half-century modern criticism of great ability has been brought to bear on the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. Much of it has been of a destructive nature, and has tended to raise serious doubts as to the credibility of large and important parts of the narratives of those authors. I venture to think that, while some of this criticism must be accepted as sound by every careful student, much of it demands reconsideration.

A large part of it has been based upon topographical evidence. Of the nature of that evidence I should like to say a few words.

Until ten years ago the only military site of first-rate importance in Greek history which had been surveyed was the Strait of Salamis, which the Hydrographic Department of the English Admiralty had included in the field of its world-wide activity. A chart of Pylos made by the same [vi]department was also available, but was quite inadequate for the historical purpose.

Since that time Marathon has been included in the survey of Attica made by the German Staff Officers for the German Archæological Institute.

The surveys of Thermopylæ, Platæa, and Pylos, I have myself made at different times between 1892 and 1899. Pylos does not come within the scope of the present volume.

In the absence of these surveys, this side of Herodotean criticism was founded upon such sketches as Leake and other travellers had made of important historical sites, and upon the verbal description of them contained in their works.

It is superfluous to praise the labours of such inquirers. No amount of later investigation in Greek topography can ever supplant much that they have done. But I am quite certain that Leake would have been the last to claim any scientific accuracy for the sketch-maps which he made; and I think it will be agreed that maps without accuracy cannot be used for the historical criticism of highly elaborate narratives.

The present volume, deals exclusively with the Græco-Persian wars up to the end of 479 B.C. I propose to deal with the Hellenic warfare of the remainder of the fifth century in a separate volume.

Some of my conclusions are not in accord with the commonly accepted versions of the history of this period. But, when the circumstances of the work are considered, it will, I think, be conceded that such a result was almost inevitable.

I have supported my conclusions, especially in such cases as I believe them to be in disagreement with accepted views, by arguments taken from the evidence. Where those arguments are in my opinion likely to be of interest to the general reader, I have inserted them in the actual text; where they are of a very specialist character, I have put them in the form of notes.

I have but little more to say with regard to my own work in general. In the form in which I have presented [vii]it in this volume I have tried to make it constructive rather than destructive. I have, I believe, confined my destructive criticism to passages in which I found myself in conflict with accepted authorities on the subject who had presumably enjoyed equal opportunities with myself of becoming acquainted with the facts. I have purposely avoided criticism of those who, not having had the opportunity of visiting the scenes of action, but yet having made the best use of the evidence available at the time at which they wrote, have, in my opinion, been led into error by the defectiveness of the evidence they were obliged to use.

Early in the course of my inquiries, the results of investigation suggested to me that Herodotus’ evidence as an historian differs greatly in value, according as he is relating facts, or seeking to give the motives or causes lying behind them. Further investigation has tended to confirm this view. My conclusions on these two points will be made sufficiently clear in the course of this work.

In his purely military history Herodotus is dealing with a subject about which he seems to have possessed little, if any, special knowledge, and hardly any official information. The plan or design which lay behind the events which he relates can, therefore, only be arrived at, in the majority of instances, by means of an induction from the facts he mentions. This will, I think, adequately define and account for the method I have adopted in treating his evidence.

The necessity of employing various words indicating probability rather than certainty does not add adornment to style, but is inevitable under circumstances where the evidence is of the nature of that which is presented to any one who attempts to write the history of any part of the fifth century before Christ.

The spelling of Greek names is a difficulty at the present day. Many of the conventional forms are absolutely wrong. I do not, however, think that the time has yet come when it is convenient to write Sikelia, Athenai, Kerkura, etc. I have therefore used the conventional forms for well-known names, but have adopted the more correct forms for names less known, with one or two literal changes, such as “y” for upsilon, where the change [viii]is calculated to make the English pronunciation of the name approximate more closely to that of the original Greek.

As one who is from force of present circumstances laying aside, not without regret, a department of work which has been of infinite interest to him, and whose necessary discontinuance causes him the greatest regret, I may perhaps be allowed to speak briefly of my own experience to those Englishmen who contemplate work in Greece.

Firstly, as to motive: If you wish to take up such work because you have an enthusiasm for it, and because you feel that you possess certain knowledge and qualifications, take it up by all means; you will never regret having done so. It will give you that invaluable blessing,—a keen intellectual interest, lasting all your life.

But if your motive be to acquire thereby a commercial asset which may forward your future prospects, leave the work alone. You will, in the present state of feeling in England, forward those prospects much more effectively by other means.

In all work in Greece malaria is a factor which has to be very seriously reckoned with. There has been much both of exaggeration and of understatement current upon the subject. It so happens that many of the most interesting sites in Greece are in localities notoriously unhealthy —Pylos and Thermopylæ are examples in point. Of the rare visitors to Pylos, two have died there since I was at the place in August, 1895; and of the population of about two hundred fisher-folk living near the lagoon in that year, not one was over the age of forty. The malaria fiend claims them in the end, and the end comes soon. At Thermopylæ, in this last summer, I escaped the fever, but caught ophthalmia in the marshes. An Englishman who was with me, and also our Greek servant, had bad attacks of fever.

On the whole, I prefer the spring as the season for work. The summer may be very hot. During the four weeks I was at Navarino the thermometer never fell below 93° Fahrenheit, night or day, and rose to 110° or 112° in the absolute darkness of a closed house at midday. What [ix]it was in the sun at this time, I do not know. I tried it with my thermometer, forgetting that it only registered to 140°, with disastrous results to the thermometer.

At Thermopylæ in 1899 the nights were, in July and August, invariably cool, though the heat at midday was very great; so much so that you could not, without using a glove, handle metal which had been exposed to it.

The winter is, I think, a bad time for exploration,—in Northern Greece at any rate. Rain and snow may make work impossible, and the mud on the tracks in the plain must be experienced in order to be appreciated. Snow, moreover, may render the passes untraversable.

To one who undertakes survey work in circumstances similar to those in which I have been placed, the expense of travelling in Greece is considerable. Survey instruments are cumbrous, if not heavy paraphernalia. Moreover, as I have been obliged to do the work within the limits of Oxford vacations, and as the journey to Greece absorbs much time, it has been necessary for me to labour at somewhat high pressure while in the country. Twelve hours’ work a day under a Greek sun, with four hours’ work besides, demands that the doer should be in the best of condition. One is therefore obliged to engage a servant to act as cook and purveyor, since the native food and cooking are not of a kind to support a Western European in a healthy bodily state for any length of time. In case of survey, moreover, it is just as well to choose a servant who knows personally some of the people of the district in which the work is carried on, as suspicions are much more easy to arouse than to allay, and original research may connect itself in the native mind with an increase of the land-tax.

There are very few parts of Greece where it is dangerous to travel without an escort. Since the recent war with Turkey, the North has been a little disturbed, and brigandage has never been quite stamped out in the Œta and Othrys region. But it is not the organized brigandage of old times; nor, I believe, in the vast majority of cases, are the crimes committed by the resident population. The Vlach shepherds, who come over from Turkish Epirus in [x]the summer with their flocks, are usually the offenders. Throughout nine-tenths of the area of the country an Englishman may travel with just as much personal security as in his own land.

The Greeks are a kindly, hospitable race. The Greek peasant is a gentleman; and, if you treat him as such, he will go far out of his way to help you. If you do not, there may be disagreeables.

I cannot acknowledge all the written sources of assistance to which I have had recourse in compiling this volume, because I cannot recall the whole of a course of reading which has extended over a period of ten years.

Of Greek histories I have used especially those of Curtius, Busolt, Grote and Holm; of editions of Herodotus those of Stein and Macan. Of special books, I have largely used the French edition of Maspero’s “Passing of the Empires,” and Rawlinson’s “Herodotus.” I have read Hauvette’s exhaustive work on “Hérodote, Historien des Guerres Médiques.” I have not, however, been able to use it largely, as I find that my method of dealing with the evidence differs very considerably from his.

Where I have consciously used special papers taken from learned serials, I have acknowledged them in the text.

Many of my conclusions on minor as well as major questions are founded on a fairly intimate knowledge of the theatre of war.1

I have dealt with the war as a whole, as well as with the major incidents of it, because it is a subject of great interest to one who, like myself, has, in the course of professional teaching, had to deal with the campaigns of modern times.

I cannot close this Preface without expressing my gratitude for the help which has been given me at various stages of my work.

Mr. Douglas Freshfield, himself a worker in historical research, and Mr. Scott Keltie gave me invaluable assistance at the time of my first visit to Greece, when I was holding the Oxford Travelling Studentship of the Royal Geographical Society.

[xi]My own college of Brasenose generously aided me with a grant in 1895, which was renewed last year.

In reckoning up the debt of gratitude, large items in it are due to my friends Mr. Pelham and Mr. Macan. As Professor of Ancient History, Mr. Pelham is ever ready to aid and encourage those who are willing to work in his department, and I am only one of many whom he has thus assisted. Such grants as I have obtained from the Craven Fund have been obtained by his advocacy, and he has often by his kindly encouragement cheered the despondency of a worker whose work can only be rewarded by the satisfaction of having done it,—a reward of which he is at times, when malarial fever is upon him, inclined to under-estimate the value.

I owe much to that personal help which Mr. Macan so kindly gives to younger workers in the same field as his own. He has also been kind enough to read through the first three chapters of this book. Though he has suggested certain amendments which I have adopted, he is in no way responsible for the conclusions at which I have arrived.

To Canon Church, of Wells, I am deeply indebted for those illustrations which have been made from the beautiful collection of Edward Lear’s water-colour sketches of Greece which he possesses.

My father, George Frederick Grundy, Vicar of Aspull, Lancashire, has read through all my proofs, and has done his best to make the rough places smooth. I have every reason to be grateful for this labour undertaken with fatherly love, and, I may add, with parental candour.

The chapters in this volume which deal with the warfare of 480–479 were awarded the Conington Prize at Oxford, given in the year 1900.


Brasenose College, Oxford,
October, 1901.



Note.—After nearly a year spent in learning the principles and practice of surveying, I went to Greece in the winter of 1892–93, and made

  1. A survey of the field of Platæa;
  2. A survey of the town of Platæa;
  3. A survey of the field of Leuctra.

I also examined

  1. The western passes of the Kithæron range;
  2. The roads leading to them from Attica by way of Eleusis and Phyle respectively;
  3. The great route from Thebes northward, west of Kopais, as far as Lebadeia and Orchomenos.

In the summer of 1895 I revisited Greece.

During that visit I did the following work:⁠—

  1. A survey of Pylos and Sphakteria;
  2. An examination of the great military route from Corinth to Argos, and from Argos, by way of Hysiæ, to Tegea;
  3. An examination of the military ways from the Arcadian plain into the Eurotas valley;
  4. I also followed and examined the great route from the Arcadian plain to Megalopolis, and thence to the Messenian plain;
  5. An examination of the site of Ithome.

In the recent summer of 1899 I did further work abroad in reference to Greek as well as Roman history. The Greek portion consisted of:⁠—

  1. A visit to the site of and museums of Carthage, with a view to ascertaining the traceable effects of Greek trade and Greek influence in the Phœnician city;
  2. A detailed examination, lasting ten days, of the region and site of Syracuse;
  3. An examination of the field of Marathon, which I had previously visited, though under adverse circumstances of weather, in January, 1893;
  4. A very careful examination of Salamis strait;
  5. A voyage up the Euripus, and such examination of the strait at Artemisium as was necessary;
  6. A survey of the pass of Thermopylæ;
  7. A detailed examination of the path of the Anopæa;
  8. An examination of the Asopos ravine and the site and neighbourhood of Heraklea Trachinia;
  9. An examination of the route southward from Thermopylæ, through the Dorian plain, past Kytinion and Amphissa to Delphi;
  10. A second examination of Platæa and the passes of Kithæron.

Other parts of Greece known to me, though not visited with the intention of, or, it may be, under circumstances permitting, historical inquiry are:⁠—

  1. Thessaly, going
    • (a) From Volo to Thaumaki, viâ Pharsalos;
    • (b) From Volo to Kalabaka (Æginion) and the pass of Lakmon;
    • (c) From Volo to Tempe, viâ Larissa;
  2. The great route from Delphi to Lebadeia by the Schiste;
  3. The route up the west coast of Peloponnese from Pylos, through Triphylia and Elis to Patras;
  4. The neighbourhood of Missolonghi;
  5. Corfu and Thera (Santorin).


I. Greek and Persian 1
II. Persian and Greek in Asia. The Scythian Expedition 29
III. The Ionian Revolt 79
IV. Persian Operations in Europe: b.c. 493–490. Marathon 145
V. The Entr’acte: b.c. 490–480 195
VI. The March of the Persian Army. Preparations in Greece 213
VII. Thermopylæ 257
VIII. Artemisium 318
IX. Salamis 344
X. From Salamis to Platæa 408
XI. The Campaign of Platæa 436
XII. Mykale and Sestos 522
XIII. The War as a Whole 534
XIV. Herodotus as the Historian of the Great War 556


Marathon: from the “Soros,” looking towards Little Marsh 163
The “Soros” at Marathon 165
Marathon from the “Soros” 187
The Vale of Tempe 231
The Harbour of Corcyra 241
Mountains of Thermopylæ, from Phalara 257
Mount Œta and Plain of Malis 259
Asopos Ravine 261
The Gorge of the Asopos 261
Thermopylæ, from Bridge of Alamana 263
View from Thermopylæ, looking towards Artemisium 264
Channel of Artemisium, from 1600 Feet above Thermopylæ 264
On Thermopylæ-Elatæa Road (viâ Modern Boudenitza) 265
Thermopylæ between Middle and East Gate 290
The East Gate of Thermopylæ 291
Summit of Anopæa, looking East 301
Coast at Middle Gate of Thermopylæ in 480 310
Thermopylæ 311
Thermopylæ: the Middle Gate 311
First and Second Mounds, Middle Gate, Thermopylæ 312
Plain of Eubœa 321
The Narrows at Chalkis 323
Salamis, looking South from Mount Ægaleos, with the Island of Psyttaleia in the Centre 392
Plain of Thebes and Mount Kithæron 436
Plain of Kopais, from Thebes 452
Plain of Platæa and Kithæron 454
The First Position at Platæa 460
Platæa: “Island,” from Side of Kithæron 480
Bœotian Plain, from Platæa-Megara Pass 482
Platæa—West Side of Νῆσος 482
Platæa: Panorama from Scene of Last Fight 502


Battle of Marathon 166
Region of Thermopylæ and Malian Gulf 266
Isthmus of Corinth and West Attica 368
Salamis 384
Thermopylæ At end
Platæa At end



The sharp, fierce struggle between Greek and Persian which was fought out on land and sea in the years 480–479, was regarded by those who were contemporary with it, and has ever since been looked upon as the great crisis in the history of the two races. It was a struggle whose results were decisive in the history of the world. From a purely military point of view, it is true, the fighting in those two years was not final. The loser did not issue from it in a condition so crippled that he could not continue the contest. So far from this being the case, Persia, for more than a century after Salamis was fought, continued not merely to show a bold front to Greece, but to maintain the preponderance of her power in the lands east of the Ægean, and to be a cause of dread to the Hellene of Europe. Athens did, in the period succeeding these great years of the war, wrest from Persia most of the Hellenic or semi-Hellenic Islands and coast towns in the Eastern Ægean; but her tenure of many of them was brief, and of all, precarious. The city States on the mainland slip rapidly from her grasp, and the measure of the independence from Persia in the case of some of those who remain on the tribute lists is at least open to discussion. It was long before the Greek world discovered that decay of the great Empire which is so apparent to the student of history who has the story of the fifth and [2]fourth centuries before him. It set in soon after 479; but how far it was caused by the festering of the wounds inflicted in that year cannot now be said. The mischief was internal: it was situate far away in the depths of Asia, beyond the ken of the Greek of the fifth century, and it is not strange that he never appreciated the full extent of the malady.

And yet there is even a military point of view, from which the warfare of these years was, in a sense, decisive. From that time forward Persia was the assailed and not the assailant. The Great King either was not, or did not feel himself in a position to assume the offensive beyond the waters which separated Asia from Europe.

In reckoning up the results of a great war it is instructive to appreciate what was: it is impossible to ignore what might have been. Of the issues, military, political, and social, of this Græco-Persian war, the military issue is perhaps the least important from the point of view of world-history. It did, indeed, teach a great lesson, in that it brought into prominence for the first time the strength and weakness of the East and West when brought into contact with one another; but the most extraordinary feature about this special aspect of the matter is that those who had tried the tremendous experiment were all but utterly unconscious of the true bearing of its results; and it was left to the fourth generation from them to appreciate a truth which their forefathers had proved but never realized.

The possible results from a political and social point of view which might have ensued, had the war ended otherwise than it did, have formed the subject of many a surmise for those who have written the history of these years. If Herodotus can be taken as representative of the views and sentiments of men of his time,—the men, that is to say, of the half century which succeeded the critical phase of the long warfare with Persia,—it is evident that those who regarded the great series of events from a near perspective were supremely conscious of the political, and but little, if at all, conscious of the social issue. THE ISSUES AT STAKE IN THE WAR. It was perhaps the very intensity of the love of [3]freedom with the Greek that blinded him to all save the fact of the preservation of that freedom. Doubtless that feeling was largely bound up with the social question of the preservation of Hellenic civilization, and with the consciousness of the peril to which any social system must be exposed under a political system alien to it. It is nevertheless strange that, if the peril had been regarded in this instance as a very real one, a historian like Herodotus, whose wide experience of other social systems seems to have had the effect of making him a peculiarly ardent Hellenist, should have failed to notice it. It is perhaps possible to suggest a reason for an omission so remarkable. Herodotus himself had been brought up in one of the Dorian cities of Asia, at a time when it was in a state of vassalage to Persia. He had personal experience of the position of the Greeks under Persian rule. He must furthermore have been intimately acquainted with the life in the great Ionian cities which were subject to the Empire. From the Greek point of view, their political position was the reverse of ideal; but even a Greek could hardly have denied that their position might have been much worse than it actually was. The most objectionable feature,—the Greek tyrant governing in the Persian interest,—had been to a great extent removed before his time; and after the deposition of tyranny the cities seem to have enjoyed a large measure of local independence under Persian suzerainty. Whatever the extent or nature of the tie which bound them to the sovereign government, it certainly does not seem to have been such as to crush social and intellectual development on Hellenic lines; in fact, with regard to intellectual development, these very cities seem to have been first in the field, and to have been infinitely more prominent under Persian than under Athenian rule. Whatever the cause, whether fear or policy, or both, it is plain, on the evidence of the Greeks themselves, that the Persian Government was extraordinarily lenient and liberal in its treatment of subject Greeks. The Hellenism of the fifth century, social and intellectual, was, moreover, no tender plant requiring careful political nurture. It had struck its [4]roots deep into the very being of the race; and it may be doubted whether Persia could, even if she would, have eradicated so strong a growth.

It is therefore possible to exaggerate the consequences which might have resulted to Greek civilization had the issue of the great war been favourable to the Persian. The inherent probabilities of the case do not warrant the assertion that such a victory would have brought about the substitution of an Eastern for a Western civilization in South European lands. It is, moreover, extremely doubtful whether the Great King could have maintained his hold upon European Greece for any prolonged period after the initial conquest; and any attempt to crush the Hellenism of the land would certainly have led to insurrection in a country designed by nature to be the home of communal and individual freedom.

Speculation upon what “might have been” is ever open to the charge of idleness. It is, indeed, futile to attempt it in detail, by reason of the infinity of the factors which modify human action. But, inasmuch as what has been already said with regard to the possible results of the war might leave a wrong impression as to the legitimate deductions to be drawn from the main factors of a possible though imaginary situation, it is necessary to carry the speculation one step farther.

That a Persian victory, even if only temporary, would have immensely modified the political development of Greece in the last three quarters of the fifth century, goes without saying; and such a modification could not but have seriously affected the genius of Hellenism. The splendour of the life and literature of the last half of the century was largely due to the elaboration at Athens of a political and social system, the counterpart of which the world has never seen. Never before, and never since, has existed a community so large in which so great a proportion of its members has had time to think out their own salvation, and to work it out upon their own lines of thought. EASTERN AND WESTERN CIVILIZATION. Salvation may seem a strange word to use of a system which produced the pitiful record of the fourth century; and yet, from amid all the evil, failure, and folly of the [5]time there emerged a social order which was infinitely better than anything of the kind which had preceded it, and which was destined to form the foundation of the edifice of civilization in the western world at the present day. A Persian victory at Salamis, or even at Platæa, must have postponed the realization of those ideals which are the glory of the Greek people, and on which rests the claim of their race to the highest place in the history of the nations; and postponement might have made the full realization impossible.

The catastrophe of 480 had been long in maturing. The march of events in South-eastern Europe and Western Asia had been slow. Still, the two paths of development tended in opposite directions; and it was inevitable that those who followed them should meet in a collision, the shock of which would be proportionate to the forces of propulsion. The moral strength of those forces was enormous. The ancient civilization of the East, ages old, strong in development, the one ideal of the millions of Western Asia, came into contact through its most western off-shoot with a civilization which, whatever its origin, and whatever the influences to which it had been exposed, was in striking contrast to it. On the eastern shores of the Ægean the two first met.

It is impossible to say on the one hand what was the level of the civilization attained by the Greeks at the time they first settled on these coasts, more than 1000 years before Christ; and it is still less possible to say what was the state of the peoples they found there at the time of their settlement. Whether Lydia at this early age of its development had as yet come into contact with, and been influenced by, the civilization of the lands east and south of Taurus must also be matter of doubt. It is, on the whole, probable that it had; for the number and rapid development of the Greek trading towns on the East Ægean coast point to a considerable and valuable overland trade, whose roots would, in all probability, be in the lands of Mesopotamia, if not still farther east. The caravans from that rich plain would be sure to carry the infection of its civilization to the lands they traversed.

[6]But, in any case, neither the Greek nor this most westerly off-shoot of the Asiatic civilization can have passed beyond an early stage of development, nor, in so far as is known, did the representatives of either seek to inflict their own form of life upon the representatives of the other. Neither side seems to have been strong enough to conquer the other, even if either had been disposed to try. The Greek was content to trade; the various native races were without union, and cannot have been equal to the conquest of a people whose original settlements they had apparently been unable to prevent.

The great Phrygian kingdom which flourished in Asia Minor for several centuries had probably passed the zenith of its greatness when the Greeks first established themselves on the coast; and the Lydian monarchy, still in its infancy, had not developed into the greatness it attained in after-time. In the obscure and uncertain traditions of the Asian Greeks which Herodotus has preserved, this monarchy is represented as having had an existence extending far into the past, under various dynasties; but of its earliest history nothing is really known, and the little that can be conjectured rests on the uncertain foundation of mythical story. The Atyadæ or Herakleidæ of the earlier dynasties are mere shadow-kings in history. A recurrent theme in Phrygian and Lydian story alike is the fabulous wealth of certain of those rulers. They seem to have afforded the Greek his first glimpse of the splendour of the East.

Though, doubtless, the Greek trader traversed the Western Asian peninsula through and through in his trading journeys, the populations with whom he came in contact remained uninfluenced by a civilization they did not appreciate, and probably could not understand. The Lydians alone afforded an exception to this rule, because their position was exceptional. They were brought into close contact with the Greek, and seem to have implanted on a civilization of an Oriental type certain characteristics derived from Greek social life. RISE OF THE LYDIAN KINGDOM. It is doubtful whether such features of this civilization as are known to the modern world were characteristic of the Lydian race as [7]a whole in early days; it is more probable that the mass of the people remained in a comparatively low state of social development, and that the quasi-feudal ruling families of the land evolved for themselves a civilization copied from foreign lands, and were influenced especially by the reports which reached them of the life and glories of the great cities of the Euphrates plain.

The rise of Lydia to greatness seems to date from the early years of the eighth century before Christ. A feudal family established a precarious supremacy over the other feudal families of the land. Nevertheless, the kingdom seems to have acquired a stable unity which it hitherto had lacked; and the westernmost region of the West Asian peninsula gradually developed into a dominion more splendid, if not more powerful, than any which had hitherto existed among the strangely diverse populations of that part of the world.

Geographical convention has assigned this peninsula to Asia; and, under the influence of name-association, it has come to be regarded as being in every sense an integral portion of that great continent. In point of fact, however, it was at this time a borderland between Orient and Occident, approximating ethnographically rather to West than to East; though, in so far as it was influenced by the outside world, affected rather by the preponderant power and splendour of the East than by the comparative weakness and insignificance of the West. The true historical western frontier of Asia has varied at different periods of history between the Hellespont and the Taurus, according as this debateable land has been in possession of an eastern or a western power. But in the earlier days of the Lydian kingdom the region was politically centred within itself, or, rather, was an aggregation of political circles, and not, as in later times, a mere segment of a great circle, whose centre lay far beyond its borders. Those who know by experience the character of the barrier which, in the shape of Mount Taurus, separates this region from the adjacent East, are most emphatic in insisting upon the formidable nature of that wall of separation. It is not difficult to demonstrate that Taurus [8]has been in the past one of the most decisive physical features in the history of the world.

The great systems of civilization have had one of two origins. Either they have sprung up in those great plains of the world whose climate is favourable to ease of existence; or they have been developed by nations whose circumstances have been favourable to wide intercourse with, and experience of, the peoples around them. Egypt, the Euphrates plain, India, and China, are examples of the first; Greece and Great Britain are the most prominent examples of the latter class. As, however, the “civilizations of intercourse” must be largely dependent on navigation, which can itself be alone developed by long experience, it is plain that they must be of later development than the “civilizations of ease of existence.” Thus it is that, many centuries before any system of civilization of high development existed in Europe, the plains of the Euphrates basin had given birth to one which, had nature allowed it unimpeded expansion, must have spread to a great distance from its centre. The all but blank, impassable wall of Taurus prevented the West Asian peninsula from being thoroughly orientalized. Thus that civilization which was springing up beyond the Ægean was allowed to develop on its own lines, hardly affected by those pale rays of the glowing life of the East which the narrow passes of Taurus allowed to penetrate to the lands of the West. It was the Taurus, too, which protected the earlier stages of the growth of the Lydian kingdom.

East of the chain the Assyrian empire was living out a life of stormy magnificence. The records of its kings,—a wearisome tale of murder, conquest, tribute, and torture,—give, it may be, only one side of its history, and that not the best. Their exploits have as little perspective as their presentment of them. The immediate object is all that is sought; the past is dead; the present alone is living; the future is of no account. A land is conquered; its population is either decimated, wiped out, or removed elsewhere. Its wealth is plundered; and, if there is anything left on which tribute can be laid, tribute is laid upon it. Such is the record of one year. ASSYRIA. A few years later, even [9]in the case of lands previously reported as left desolate, the same process is repeated. There is no rest for the ruling race. For some inscrutable reason, its kings seem not to have had foresight enough to establish a strong system of administration for the conquered provinces. These are merely treated as sources of revenue, doomed to tribute,—a heavy burden indeed, but, at least in the case of regions not bordering immediately on Assyria proper, the only burden laid upon them.

Of the great empires which arose at different periods in this part of the world, Assyria seems to have been the least enlightened. Its real field of operation was bounded by the great mountain-systems on the north and east, by the Great Sea on the west and the desert on the south. Any operations undertaken outside these well-defined limits seem to have been of the nature of punitive expeditions directed against mountain tribes who had raided within these boundaries. Their lands were too poor to excite the cupidity of this brigand empire. If they remained quiet, Assyria left them alone, and devoted its energies to the exaction of tribute from the richer lands of the plain or of the Syrian coast. There are few records of expeditions west of the Taurus; and, though some lands are asserted to have paid tribute, there is no evidence whatever of anything like permanent conquest. The great mountain chain acted as a groyne which diverted the flood of invasion from the Euphrates region southward along the Syrian coast Thus it was that the growing kingdom of Lydia never came into hostile contact with the great empire. Yet the commercial intercourse between them must have been carried on upon a large scale; and, indeed, the prosperity of Lydia and of the Greek colonies on the Asian coast was due to their acting as middlemen in the commerce between East and West which passed along that route which formed in later Persian times the line of the royal road to Susa. It was an interruption of this intercourse, and a threatened diversion of this route, which brought about the opening of diplomatic relations between the two realms.

In the latter half of the eighth century before Christ, [10]the plains of Asia and East Europe were disturbed by one of those movements of thrust which are ever recurrent in their history; and a tide of migration was set up which was destined to have many more remarkable counterparts in later story. Under pressure of a race which may with a certain amount of probability be identified with the Massagetæ of after times, those mysterious peoples, the Cimmerians and Scythians, were driven from their homes in the northern plains and invaded in whole or in part the West Asian peninsula. Of the two, the Cimmerians settled in the region of the North bordering on the Euxine, and by continual raids made life a burden to the Phrygians and White Syrians of those parts. Some thirty unhappy years seem to have passed thus. The Phrygian kingdom was gradually broken up, and by 670 B.C. the Cimmerians found themselves on the north borders of Lydia, which had just taken a new lease of life under Gyges, one of the ablest and most energetic of its successive rulers. The possibility of invasion was only part of the danger which threatened Lydia. That Gyges could and did ward off in a fierce struggle with the northern hordes; but his resources were, unaided, not equal to the task of reopening the great trade route to the East which passed through the lands of which these hordes were in possession. He began negotiations with the mighty Empire of the East which, under the energetic rule of Assur-bani-pal, was at the height of its power. He sought to get aid in the heavy task which lay before him. There were difficulties about the interpretation of the message which his envoys carried to Nineveh; but these were overcome, and he received fair words in answer to his request. More than this he did not get. Assur-bani-pal had his hands full nearer home. He and his line seem to have been past-masters of the art of creating difficulties to be overcome; but the king seems to have had no desire to interfere in the affairs of a land whose geographical position was vaguely known to him as being near the “crossing of the sea.” He had enough self-created troubles at his very gates without going abroad to find them.


So Gyges got no help from Nineveh, and was obliged [11]to content himself with having successfully warded off the invasion of his own territories. For some years at any rate the great route eastward must have been difficult, if not actually impassable. This interruption of commercial relations by land with the East may well have led to that development of Lydian intercourse with Egypt of which the Assyrian records afford evidence.

The history of the Lydian kingdom, except in so far as it affects the fortunes of the Greeks in Asia and Europe, forms no part of the design of the present volume.

In the reign of Gyges, however, the relations between Lydian and Greek entered upon a new stage. The Lydian rulers had hitherto lived on friendly terms with most of the Hellenic towns on the adjacent coasts. Gyges went still further, and by assiduous cultivation of the Delphic oracle attracted the attention and regard of the Greeks of Europe, who thus for the first time became intimate with one of the great monarchies of the East.

For the new relations with Egypt, the Greek trader formed the connecting link. It was almost inevitable that an energetic ruler like Gyges should seek to get direct control of the main, if not the only, means of communication with an ally whose alliance flattered his vanity, and with a country whose wealth could not fail to benefit Lydian trade. It is evident, however, that he did not feel himself strong enough to attempt an overt attack on the Greek cities. That could only have resulted in a formidable resistance on the part of those centres of liberty and wealth. He devised a better plan, slow working but terribly effective, and destined in later days to lead to the undoing of the liberties of Greece.

Gyges has the distinction of being the first barbarian in history who saw his way to profit by the fierce political dissensions common to all Greek communities. By allying himself with factions in the various cities he acquired in many of them a preponderating influence, while he reduced others to subjection. Kolophon shared this latter fate; so did the smaller Magnesia near Sardes. With others he entered into close relations of friendship favourable to himself, since the continuance of the pressure from [12]the side of the Cimmerians made persistence in the policy of absorption impossible. The pressure increased instead of diminishing; and it was from this quarter that the final catastrophe came. A combination between the Cimmerians and other tribes of Asia Minor proved too strong for Gyges. He perished in a great battle. Lydia was overrun and devastated; and during the stormy days of the commencement of the reign of his successor, Ardys, the Asian Greeks found it necessary to join the Lydians in their death struggle. The Greek towns, though none save Magnesia appear to have been actually captured, suffered severe losses, which were but partially compensated for by successes won by Greek hoplites. Ardys, like his father, appealed to Assyria; and this time the Lydian appeal did not remain without effect, for the Cimmerians had turned east and were threatening the Assyrian border. Assailed by the Assyrians in the passes of Taurus, they were so terribly defeated that they ceased thereafter to be the formidable power they had been in West Asia during the previous half century. In the years which followed Lydia gradually acquired all that northern part of the peninsula which had been in Cimmerian hands.

Lydia was now a considerable power, extending to the Halys on the east; and as such it presented itself to the European Greek of the later years of the seventh century. To Lydia accordingly turned the thoughts of Aristomenes, the hero of the Messenian wars of independence against Sparta, when as a refugee he sought safety across the Ægean. Paus. iv. 24. 2, 3. Death overtook him before he had time to carry out his intention of appealing to Ardys for help.

Having attained a frontier on the east beyond which further attempts at expansion were dangerous, Ardys’ attention was naturally directed westward, where the thickly dotted line of Greek colonies practically cut Lydia off from communication with the Ægean littoral. They held the natural exits of that overland trade to which the prosperity of Ardys’ kingdom must have been largely due, and must have absorbed a large proportion of those trade profits which the Lydian might not unreasonably regard as his own. STRATEGIC POSITIONS OF ASIATIC GREEKS. Moreover, the relations of Lydia with [13]the great trading towns of Smyrna, Kolophon, Klazomenæ, Miletus, and Priene, were no longer of the friendly character of former days. The policy of Ardys consequently aimed specially at the reduction or absorption of these towns.

The inevitable was about to happen. The very nature of the peninsula made it all but certain that whenever a great State acquired command of the upper part of the great valleys of the Hermus, Mæander, and other streams, the towns which stood on their western exits must succumb to that State.

A glance at the map of Western Asia will show this.

The main physical characteristics of the country from the Halys to the Ægean are, (1) a great interior plateau; (2) a series of parallel mountain chains running from east to west, between which rivers, following the same direction, run down towards the Ægean, so that their valleys form a series of natural lines of communication between the plateau and the coast. There is no cross-chain running north and south, at the head of these valleys, to form a natural barrier towards the east. Access to them is unimpeded from that direction.

This physical conformation of the land was alike a curse and a blessing to the Greek trading towns of the coast. The valleys formed, on the one hand, natural routes for commerce of immense value to those who held their exits; but they also afforded natural highways for attack to any power coming from the interior which assailed the holders of those exits.

The disadvantage had not been so apparent while Lydia was still a comparatively weak State; but it was sure to come into prominence so soon as she attained to any degree of power. The weakness of the strategic position of those Greek cities is not less striking than the advantages of their positions from a commercial point of view. Their territories, besides being this void of any line of defence towards the east, were separated from one another by the ranges which divided the river valleys; and intercommunication by sea was rendered difficult by the long projecting promontories which separate the deep gulfs at [14]the head of which most of the cities were situated. From the point of view of joint action this was a very serious drawback. Nature had been doubly unkind to them in this respect. Not content with having made a base of combination on land impossible, she had made combination on sea difficult. Prosperity without liberty was the natural birthright of these Asian towns. Even when backed up by all the naval strength of the Athenian empire, their independence of the power on the mainland seems to have been in most cases partial, and in all precarious; and even independence gave them little more or better than a change of masters.

H. i. 15.

Priene was taken by Ardys somewhere about the year 620. Miletus was next attacked; but this greatest of the cities proved no easy prey. The war dragged on after Ardys’ death, through the short reign of his successor, Sadyattes; H. i. 17. and under Alyattes took the form of annual raids, designed to wear out the patience of the citizens. At last, mainly on the advice of the oracle at Delphi, a compromise was effected about B.C. 604, by which each side granted commercial concessions to the other, though matters remained politically in statu quo.

The comparative failure at Miletus did not discourage Alyattes in his enterprises against the towns. Kolophon, which had regained or reassumed its independence at the time of the Cimmerian trouble, was brought into subjection once more; H. i. 16. Smyrna, as a town, was destroyed, and its inhabitants forced to take up their abode in unwalled settlements. Klazomenæ well-nigh experienced the same fate. Alliances were made with other cities, such as Ephesus and Kyme. Alyattes would doubtless have prosecuted further his designs against the Greek cities, had not his attention been at this moment called away to the eastern frontier of his kingdom.

It was not from Assyria that the trouble threatened. That great empire had come to an end some years before, under circumstances of which the details do not directly affect the Greeks. A Scythian incursion, so prolonged that it seemed likely to terminate in permanent settlement, had broken it. MEDO-LYDIAN WAR. The final death-blow had been inflicted by [15]two peoples—the Medes, who inhabited the mountainous uplands beyond the Zagros chain which bounds the plain of the Tigris on the east and north-east, and the Babylonians, who had ever chafed under Assyrian rule.

Within a short period the Medes had pushed their frontier westward beyond the Taurus, and had reduced to subjection the country between that range and the Halys, a region which at times came within the sphere of Assyrian influence, but cannot be said to have formed part of that empire.

With all the vigour inspired by recent success, the Mede sought to push his way westward; and a fierce frontier war seems to have been waged for several years upon the Halys between Alyattes and Cyaxares, the Median king.

Pteria, a town whose position renders it the chief strategic point in the Halys region, commanding, as it does, the middle portion of the cleft-like valley through which the river flows, formed the point d’appui of the Lydian defence, and was the immediate object of the Median attack.

Of the war itself but little is known, except the important fact that it came to an end in a remarkable way. The opposing armies were drawn up for a battle, when an eclipse of the sun took place, which caused both sides to shrink from the engagement. It is calculated that such eclipses took place in Asia Minor in the years 610 and 585, of which the latter seems to be the more probable date of this unfought fight. H. i. 74. A peace was concluded through the mediation of a Babylonian whose name Herodotus gives as Labynetos; but in what capacity he acted as mediator is not known. The celebrated Nebuchadrezzar was ruling in Babylon at the time. Lydia apparently sacrificed Pteria and the region east of Halys, and that river became the definite frontier between the two States.

The story of this Median kingdom has come down to posterity in a form so imperfect that it is difficult to extract the small historical from the large mythical element contained in it. Its chief importance in history is that its [16]kings are the first of that series of Iranian dynasties which, whether Median, Persian, or Parthian, were paramount in the eastern world for many centuries. From this time forward the Iranian took the place of the Semite as the suzerain of the East; for the Babylonian realm of Nebuchadrezzar was but of comparatively brief splendour, and was soon absorbed by the less civilized but more virile power which became heir to its partner in the destruction of Assyria.

The Median king Cyaxares, who had warred with the Lydians on the Halys, lived but one year after the close of the campaign, and was succeeded by his son Astyages, whose chief claim to fame is that he was the last of the brief line of Median kings. Little is known of him. For the Greek the truth concerning him and his was lost in that mirage of legends which accumulated round the personality of the man who overthrew him, Cyrus the Great.

The myths, fables, and legends which the ever lively imagination of the East invented with regard to the founder of the Persian dynasty, have crowded the greater part of the real story of his life out of the pages of history. Their adoption by Greek historians was all but complete; though some, like Herodotus, sought to rationalize a few of the incidents reported. Did there exist no other records of his life than those which have survived in the Greek historians, it would be difficult to assert with confidence which of the reported details are true. Comparatively recent discoveries in the East have brought to light, however, certain annals of a Babylonian king, Nabonidus, a successor of Nebuchadrezzar, and a contemporary of Cyrus. From these records it is possible to reconstruct the story of some of the main events of what must have been a very stirring time in that part of the world.

Astyages the Mede had reigned a quarter of a century, when Cambyses, the prince of one of the vassal principalities of the Median empire, died, and was succeeded by his son Kurush, the Cyrus of the Greeks. This was about the year 559. The name of the principality appears in the records as Anshan. Its inhabitants were the Persians of history.



This people, which was destined to play so great a part in the two following centuries, were of the same race as the Medes. The only possible deduction to be drawn from subsequent events is that the connection between the two nations was very close. Its exact nature can only be guessed at. Any difference between the two must have been rather nominal than real; for the supremacy of the one race does not appear to imply the subjection of the other; and when, somewhere about 552, Cyrus revolted, and defeated Astyages, the Median army came over immediately to his side. It is hardly credible that such a thing should have taken place, had not the Medes regarded Cyrus and his family as being in some very real sense a part of themselves, and as possessed of some title to be their rulers. Both races were certainly Iranian. They were alike in religion and very near akin in language. It may even have been that the Persian was a tribesman of the nation to which the name Mede was given. Their nearest neighbours, the Babylonians, recorded the change of ruler, but not in language which could lead to the supposition that they regarded it as an event of great magnitude. They seem to have looked upon it as more or less of a domestic matter, an internal revolution.

The Persian empire was indeed the empire of the Mede under a new name; stronger and more vigorous than its forerunner, because the helm of government passed into abler hands. The Greeks themselves hardly recognized the distinction between the two, and used the names Mede and Persian in a general sense as synonymous terms. Nor has the perspective of centuries sensibly altered the nature of the picture as it presented itself to those who regarded it from a nearer point of view. The two nations, one in religion, one in civilization, one in social system, appear as one in the making of the history of the three centuries during which they played the foremost part in Western Asia.

During the thirty years of Astyages’ rule in Media, the Lydian kingdom enjoyed a continuous career of expansion. Whether owing to troubles at home, or to the severity of the check administered in the campaign on the [18]Halys before 585, Astyages made no attempt to extend the Median frontier towards the West. It is probable that he had his hands full with the work of consolidating the wide dominion which his race had so recently won, and the revolt of Cyrus may have been but the last of a series of insurrections on the part of his subordinate rulers. Be that as it may, Lydia was given a breathing space from attack, which, under the energetic rule of Alyattes, she used to the full.

The renewal of the assault on the liberties of the Greek towns of the Ægean coast followed immediately upon the close of the fighting with the Medes. Before five years had elapsed, the Troad and Mysia, with the Æolian Greek cities of the Hellespontine region, had been reduced. Even Bithynia seems to have been invaded about this time, and part of it secured by strongholds built at important strategical points. In the south-west Caria proved a harder conquest. Its population, from which the earliest professional soldiery in the Levant had been drawn, did not give up the struggle until about the year 566, well-nigh at the close of Alyattes’ reign. The Dorian cities on the coast seem to have shared its fate. On this occasion, at any rate, they were partners in its adversity.

It was in this campaign that Crœsus, that figure of pathetic magnificence, destined later to cast both light and shadow on the historical records of the Greek, first came into prominence. The mingled admiration and commiseration of after-time exaggerated his personality into the very type of human fortune and misfortune; and the picture of his life as drawn by Herodotus is probably no more than a truthful reproduction of the impression of him which prevailed a century after his death. Nevertheless the thread of fact runs unbroken through the maze of fiction, and it is possible to reconstruct his history with more reliability than can be claimed for the records of his predecessors.


As a youth he had incurred the displeasure of his father Alyattes by his extravagance, and had imperilled his chances of succession by the distrust which his conduct excited among an influential section of the population, [19]composed probably of staid merchants, who would be unlikely to sympathize with irresponsible and expensive frivolity. The danger brought him to his senses; and he apparently made up his mind that the Carian war afforded him an opportunity of winning a good opinion he had never tried to earn. How he succeeded is not known. He did succeed; for the fortunate issue of the war was largely attributed to his exertions and ability. He was just in time to save the situation for himself, since the years of his father’s life were numbered. About B.C. 561,2 Alyattes died, not before he had raised the Lydian kingdom to a greatness beyond what it hitherto had known.

It stood, indeed, on the same level as the great contemporary monarchies of the East, while as yet the Mede had not succeeded to the full heritage of that Assyria which he had helped to destroy. It absorbed for the time the attention of the Greek, when he gave his attention to anything beyond his home affairs. Its very splendour became a barrier of light which the Greek eye could not pierce so far as to see clearly what was going on in the region beyond, so that even the great Cyrus came not within the field of Hellenic vision until he had emerged from the comparative darkness of the lands beyond the Halys.

Archæological discovery within Lydia itself has done far more than the meagre records of contemporary history towards disclosing the characteristics of the civilization which was thus brought into strong contrast with that of the Hellenic lands and cities. It would be out of place in a work of this kind to enter into details with regard to it; yet the possibilities of the future were at the moment of Crœsus’ accession so significant, and of such world-wide importance, that it is impossible to pass over in silence the main features of a social system whose influence upon the [20]Hellenic world must have been very great, and might have been much greater.

The Lydians, a people of undeniable genius, seem to have built upon an indigenous foundation a composite civilization, made up largely of elements drawn from foreign lands. Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt all contributed to its formation; and the influence of the Greek of the Asian coast and of Europe is unmistakable, especially in the last years of its independent existence. It was, indeed, in the main a “civilization of intercourse,” due to the important trading relations of the kingdom with the various nations which lay within its reach. Its main characteristics in the sixth century are Oriental, though the tendency towards its hellenization, fostered greatly by its rulers, is strikingly apparent. It must, indeed, on the other hand, have influenced the social life of the Greek cities within the borders of the kingdom; and it is difficult to say how far this influence might have affected the civilization of the West, had not the process of infiltration been brought to a sudden standstill.

It was, as might be expected from the variety of its origin, a strange compound of good and evil. From his very vocation the Lydian trader evolved a system of cosmopolitan humanity, rare in those ages, rare, indeed, in any age in eastern lands. Living at ease himself, he was naturally inclined to live and let live. The width of his trade connections, and the necessity of securing safe passage through foreign countries, would tend to make him cultivate friendly relations with the people around him. One thing that he evolved from the necessities of his mode of life has had as much influence upon the history of the world as any single invention of man before or since. The awkwardness of exchange and barter to a merchant whose trade had distant roots, and who had to make long overland journeys in the course of his business, led him to invent and gradually adopt one medium of exchange, which all peoples, however various their home products, would appreciate. LYDIAN INFLUENCE ON THE GREEKS. It required but little education in taste to make even the rudest of races set value on the most beautiful of all the metals; and the gold and silver [21]which Lydia produced so freely was stamped into the first currency of which there is record in history. Greek and Persian alike lost but little time in adopting so magnificent an invention.

The Lydian works of art which have survived show that the nation had attained to considerable skill in that respect.

But if the virtues of this civilization were great, its vices were equally so. The grossest form of immorality, that pest which the East seems to inherit like a moral leprosy, was prevalent. Certain tales in Herodotus show this to have been the case. The Greek did not escape the disease, and it may be that it was from the Lydian that he first caught it. Wholesale immorality of another kind was not merely prevalent, but received a religious sanction in the guise of that Aphrodite worship which in various forms sapped the vigour of the East. The town populations of Greece, especially those which, like the Corinthians, had closest intercourse with the Asian coast, caught this infection also.

It would have been contrary to the very nature of things had the Greeks,—a race peculiarly apt to learn both evil and good,—escaped altogether the influence of this Oriental social system at their doors. It is fortunate for posterity that its influence was short-lived. The very excellence of the general relations between the Lydia of Crœsus and the Greeks as a body made the Lydian influence the more dangerous. It was the bitter hostility which sprang up in after times between the Greeks and the representatives of that new Orientalism which was superimposed upon the Lydian form, which saved the Greek civilization from becoming itself orientalized. The danger which Greece ran in the great war of 480–479 was as nothing compared with the danger Hellenism would have run had the war never taken place. The bitter, lasting hostility which it roused was far less dangerous than friendly intercourse with a great empire, the heir of all the ages of a world-old civilization, which might have made a moral conquest of the Hellene, had it refrained from attempting a physical one. It was the war itself, rather than its issue, which proved the salvation of Greece.

[22]Crœsus’ succession to the great dominion which Alyattes had left was not undisputed. But the son had inherited the vigour of his father. He anticipated the plans of his rival. The pretender disappeared,—how or whither is not known; and his supporters, who were largely drawn from the feudal nobility of the land, met death in many grievous forms. Some of the Greek cities had more than sympathized with his antagonist, so to these he now turned his attention. All of them, Æolian, Ionian, and Dorian alike, were reduced to the position of Lydian dependencies, though in matters purely local they remained autonomous, if the name of autonomy can be given to a form of government in which a local tyrant played the part of administrator and political agent. Yet unpromising as was their position from the point of view of theoretical politics, they were in actual fact treated with marked consideration by Crœsus.

It is impossible at the present day to sound the motives which underlay the attitude which this extraordinary man adopted to the Greeks alike of Asia and of Europe. It may have been from pure self-interest; it may have been because Hellenism had cast over him the glamour which it cast over other barbarian monarchs. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that, when once he had reduced the Greek cities to that position of dependence which was necessary for the political homogeneity of his empire, he seems to have lost no opportunity of ingratiating himself in the eyes of his Greek subjects and of their kinsmen beyond the seas. At Branchidæ and at Ephesus he enriched the Greek temples with splendid offerings; and the wealth of the gifts he gave to Delphi excited the admiration of centuries. If contemporary report be not exaggerated, the value of his dedications to the great Hellenic shrine amounted to considerably more than a million pounds sterling of the money of the present day. Gifts of great value were also sent to the lesser Greek oracles.


The authorities at Delphi would have been exceptional among similar societies in all ages of the world, had they not shown appreciation of a devotee so wealthy and so [23]willing. He was made a citizen; to his embassies were given a precedence over all others.

It is difficult to imagine that Crœsus should have expended such enormous sums on the cultivation of friendly relations with the Greeks of Europe for purely sentimental reasons. The oracles were not the only recipients of his gifts. The friendship of prominent and powerful families in various States, such as the Alkmæonidæ of Athens, was bought with a price.

Perhaps the explanation maybe sought and found in the previous and later policy of the king. He had subjugated the Greek cities of the coast, and by so doing had advanced his kingdom to its extreme limits on the west. Unless he converted Lydia into a naval power, further expansion on this side was impossible. So he turned his eyes towards the East, where nature and the circumstances of the time offered what must have seemed a favourable opportunity for the extension of his empire.

It must, however, have been quite evident to him that any policy of expansion eastward could only be carried out with safety in case his rear was secured from attack, where danger lay, not merely in the recently subdued Greek cities, but also in the possibility of any movement on their part being supported by help from their kinsmen in Europe.

Considerations such as these must have had a large influence upon his policy.

The story of his operations in the East has survived in history in what is manifestly a very mutilated form. It is fortunate that Strabo has preserved some reliable details which Herodotus does not mention in his somewhat legendary account of the last days of the rule of Crœsus. The Lydian frontier had been extended to the Halys; but the motley collection of races and states included within the dominion was in some cases bound to the ruler of Sardes by comparatively loose ties. These ties Crœsus strengthened.

Affairs in Asia beyond the Halys were at the moment, when Crœsus brought his plans to maturity, about the year 548, in a condition which made all certain calculation as [24]to their issue impossible. The Median dynasty had come to an end some four years before, and with it the treaty concluded by Lydia with the Mede in 585 had come to an end also. Cyrus must have been an unknown factor to the Lydian, though doubtless the merchant travellers had brought back from the East many a tale of his energy and success. He was certainly a danger: and the question probably suggested itself to Crœsus whether he were not a danger which it would be wise to forestall, by pushing forward the Lydian frontier to that mass of mountains formed by the meeting of Taurus with the Armenian chains. Such a precautionary measure would be rendered the more attractive to the Lydian trader by the fact that it would lead to the inclusion within the empire of that rich mineral district on the south shore of the Euxine wherein the famed Chalybes dwelt.

Crœsus was wise enough not to enter upon this venture single-handed.

It is evident that the comparative indifference with which Nabonidus and the Babylonians had originally regarded the change of rulers in Median empire, had by this time given place to a feeling of uneasiness, if not of actual alarm. The easy-going, peace-loving antiquarian of Babylon might well be apprehensive as to what might be the next object of the uncomfortable enterprise of his energetic neighbour. Even then the faint outlines of the writing on the wall were well-nigh decipherable.

Amasis of Egypt had far less grounds for alarm; but even he seems to have caught the infection of fear.

H. i. 77.

With these two states Crœsus entered into negotiations, which resulted in the formation of a grand alliance, having for its object the suppression of the power which was so rapidly developing in the East.

The negotiations of Crœsus were not confined to the great powers. He sought and obtained allies in European Greece. The Lydian kings had had a long experience of the value of the Greek heavy-armed infantryman. Greek hoplites had fought many a time both with and against them. LYDIA AND SPARTA. The addition of a contingent of them to the grand army which the king was now gathering together would be [25]of inestimable value. There was evidently a difficulty about his obtaining such a force from the Greek cities of Asia; nor can there be any reasonable doubt as to where that difficulty lay. These cities had within the last few years been robbed of much of that measure of autonomy which they had up to that time enjoyed, and upon which they had set a value out of proportion, doubtless, to its real worth. The vivid discontent which such a loss must have aroused in Greek minds, a discontent the depth of which the experience of ages would enable the Lydian to gauge, would inevitably render them dangerous elements in a Lydian army. The cities did, indeed, with one exception, remain proof against Cyrus’ attempts to tamper with their loyalty; but their attitude at the time was probably as much due to caution as to fidelity. Their geographical position would not allow them to accept risks against Lydia.

It was, therefore, to Greece itself that Crœsus turned. The relations which he had so assiduously cultivated with Delphi enabled him to obtain its assistance in the negotiations. H. i. 69. The outcome was, so Herodotus says, that Sparta, partly persuaded by the oracle, partly flattered by the Lydian embassy, consented to give aid in the war. Moreover, the way to this alliance had been previously paved with Lydian gold.

It is true that this contingent never reached Lydia. Ere it had actually started, Sardes had fallen and Crœsus was either dead or a prisoner. Whether the delay in despatching it was intentional or not, the satisfactorily attested fact of such an alliance having been made is evidence that the Lydia of that day exercised a very real influence in Greece. Of the danger to which Hellenic civilization was exposed by Lydian friendship, enough has been already said.

That friendship was genuine and unaffected on the side, at any rate, of the Greeks. The relations of Crœsus with Delphi must have been largely instrumental in forming it; but what happened in relation to this very war showed clearly that the feeling of Greece towards Crœsus was built upon wider foundations. The Greeks had come to [26]regard him as a distinguished convert to that Hellenism they so much loved. The impression may have been false, but it was powerful. “He loveth our nation” is an article in a national creed whose possibilities can be hardly exaggerated. That the feeling had become independent of the relations with Delphi is conspicuously shown in the present instance by the fact that it was Delphi which administered to it a shock which the Greek world took long to forget. The remembrance of it was evidently vivid a hundred years later in the time of Herodotus.

It came about as follows. Anxious as to the issue of the great venture upon which he was entering, Crœsus sought to fortify or defeat his own resolution by inquiring of the oracles as to what the future had in store for him.

H. i. 53.

Two of the oracles consulted, of which Delphi was one, answered that “if he warred with the Persians he would overthrow a mighty empire.” The response was capable of two interpretations, of which Crœsus seized upon the most obvious; and was thus, so the Greeks thought, led to his undoing. Despite the pious faith with which Herodotus regards the utterances of the Delphic oracle, he is unable to conceal the tremendous shock which this apparent deception caused to Hellenic sentiment all the world over. To the Greek it appeared as though the oracle had betrayed its best friend and his also. Even in the cities of Asia, chafing though they were under recent subjugation, this feeling must have found some echo, whose resonance lasted till Herodotus’ own time. It is unlikely that he would ever have disclosed its existence had not the feeling been very widespread in the Hellenic world he loved. H. i. 90. The legendary story which he relates of the conversation between Crœsus and Cyrus, expresses evidently a feeling entertained by many besides Crœsus himself; and in the chapter which follows upon this tale, he shows that the Delphic oracle was forced by public opinion to attempt to explain away the apparent deception it had practised. FALL OF THE LYDIAN KINGDOM. The true explanation, which would have relieved it of a large part of the burden of the moral guilt, was one it dare not give in view of the prophetic character which it had to maintain before [27]the eyes of the world. Prophecy founded upon intimate knowledge of Greek affairs was very far from being the mere guesswork, wrapped in enigma, of its utterances relative to matters deep in Asia, of which it can have had no real ken.

The account of the campaign given by Herodotus is full of inconsistencies; but by comparison of his story with other incidental references to it in various sources, it is possible to arrive at an understanding of the main outlines of what took place.

The great coalition might have taken Cyrus by surprise, had not the plans of Crœsus been divulged to him by an Ephesian traitor, if a tale preserved by Diodorus is to be believed. The mere fact that he was able to anticipate the designs of Crœsus renders it probable that some disclosure of the kind did take place.

Forewarned and forearmed, Cyrus executed a rapid and adventurous march through the northern territories of the Babylonian kingdom, and must have been already near the Taurus before Crœsus received from his ally Nabonidus news of the coming attack. He was but half-prepared; but the danger was so imminent that he had to take the field with the force he had with him, while he sent urgent messages to his allies to come with all speed to help him. H. i. 75. He crossed the Halys into the district of Pteria, which he laid waste as a defensive measure. The historians, Herodotus and Polyænus, are hopelessly at variance as to what happened in the actual fighting that ensued. A great battle did take place: that is certain. It is also certain that after the battle Crœsus retired through Phrygia to Sardes; but whether he did so because he had been defeated, or because he had inflicted a severe check on Cyrus, and expected that a diversion on the part of the Babylonians would make it impossible for him to advance towards Sardes in the winter, is unknown. In any case, Nabonidus did not move, and Cyrus surprised Crœsus in Lydia. Crœsus, caught unprepared, made a desperate defence with such forces as he could collect; but he was shut up in Sardes. Of the real history of the siege the Greeks seem to have known little or nothing; [28]their chroniclers give the most contradictory accounts of it. But the town fell within a short time—taken, it would seem, by escalade. What became of Crœsus is not known. Bakchylides III. 23 ff. It is probable that he immolated himself upon a burning pyre. The tale was too shocking for Greek ears, and was softened down by a legendary addition to the effect that he was saved from the flames by divine intervention.

The sudden collapse of Lydia is one of the most remarkable incidents in history.

It fell in a moment, as it were, never to rise again; and it fell, not in the decadence of age, but at the very height of its young and vigorous life. To the Greek the spectacle was bewildering: nor is it strange that a catastrophe so sudden and complete, unparalleled, indeed, in the history of the world, should have so dazed the senses of those who were spectators of it, that they were never able to give a rational account of how it came to pass.



Despite the great catastrophe which had just taken place before their eyes, the Greek cities had no mind to make an unconditional surrender to the power which had vanquished their old master. It was unfortunate that, after coming to such a decision, they did not combine in a common resistance. The inherent weakness of their strategical position, together with the incompleteness of the sympathy between Æolian, Ionian, and Dorian Greek, made such united action difficult. There is a terrible sameness in the drama of history as played upon this coast of the Ægean. The scenery admitted of but one plot, of which the leading motive was disunion. In the present, as in other instances, the Dorian states of the Carian coast went their own way. They threw in their lot with their Carian neighbours. The Æolians and Ionians were not altogether blameless in the matter. They did not at first show a bold front to the Persian, but offered to submit to him on the terms on which they had submitted to Crœsus.

Save in the case of Miletus, the largest and most formidable of the towns, Cyrus would not hear of terms; and so the cities prepared to fight for their liberty.

It was the beginning of the winter; and, as the Persians did not possess the means for assaulting the cities from the side of the sea, the latter had a few months’ respite wherein to make preparations. They appealed to Sparta for help. That cautious government, which was probably congratulating itself on having escaped from involving its citizens in the Lydian débâcle, refused active assistance, but sent [30]an embassy to Cyrus to warn him against interference. Cyrus, whose notions as to the geography of this part of the world may well have been vague, asked who the ambassadors were, and whence they came. H. i. 153. On being told, he warned them that, all well, he would give them cause to talk about their own woes and not those of the Ionians. This rough humour must have seemed in great contrast to the politeness with which Crœsus had addressed the foremost race in Greece.

Cyrus was obliged to entrust the completion of the conquest of the Lydian kingdom to one of his lieutenants. The news of the fall of Sardes had scared Babylon into inactivity; but the Baktrians and Sakæ on the extreme eastern borders of his dominion had seized the opportunity afforded by the western campaign to rise in revolt.

He had not proceeded far on his homeward march before news reached him of a rising in Lydia. Paktyas, a renegade Lydian who had embraced his cause, and to whom the conqueror had entrusted the care of the transport of the spoils, had intrigued with the Ionian Greeks; and, having ample funds at his disposal, had hired mercenaries from them. Tabalos, the Persian lieutenant whom Cyrus had left behind him, was besieged in the citadel of Sardes; and there was every prospect that, if the place fell, all the work of the late campaign would have to be done again. There was no time to be lost: nor was Cyrus the man to lose time. He despatched an army under Mazares the Mede to rescue the besieged, and Sardes was saved. Paktyas fled to Kyme, and thence to the islands. He neither deserved nor received sympathy, and, after various adventures, was handed over by the Chians to the Median commander.

With the flight of Paktyas the insurrection in Lydia came to an end; in fact, in so far as extant records go, the Lydians themselves played but little part in it. The passive and entire submission of this people, their acceptance, once and for all, of the yoke laid upon them, is one of the most extraordinary features of this extraordinary time. CONQUEST OF IONIA BY PERSIA. It might well have been expected that a nation with a past so recent and so glorious would have seized [31]the first and every opportunity of attempting to regain the freedom, if not the dominion they had lost. But nothing of the kind took place; and even the great effort of the Ionian revolt failed to rouse them from the apathy of defeat.

The circumstances of Paktyas’ rebellion showed Mazares that the Greek cities of the coast could no longer be left in a position to be the instruments of trouble in the newly-won territory. To them, accordingly, he immediately turned his attention. He first attacked Priene and sacked it; but, before he had completed the reduction of Magnesia on the Mæander, he died, and Harpagos, who succeeded him as governor, took up the task of reduction. Phokæa and Teos were besieged. Ere they fell, the mass of their inhabitants went into voluntary exile—the Phokæans to Corsica in the farthest west, the Teans to the near coast of Thrace.

There can be little doubt that the departure of these peoples was a disaster of the first magnitude to the Greek towns of Asia. It is hardly possible to realize at the present day the strength of resolution which prompted the Phokæans to undertake their long and perilous journey. They are the New Englanders of the sixth century before Christ. Their presence fifty years later, at the time of the revolt, might have given the Ionian resistance that “stiffening” which it seems to have lacked; indeed, a member of the remnant they left behind them, that dare-devil old pirate Dionysius, is the one prominent person on the Greek side in that distressful time whom later historians consented to praise. One by one the other Ionian and Æolian cities fell into Persian power. There does not appear to have been any real combined resistance. Nature had made them units without unity. The islanders of Samos alone escaped subjection.

Caria was next attacked. It yielded practically without a blow, and the Dorian colonies fell with it into Persian hands—a fate in their case not wholly undeserved. Lycia fought for its liberty, but in vain; and with its subjection the establishment of Persian rule on the continent of West Asia was complete.

The rest of the career of Cyrus, important though [32]it is, has little influence on Greek history. His campaign in the East was a prolonged one. He seems to have extended the borders of his empire to the Thian-Shan and Suleiman ranges, if not into the plains of India itself. His aim can hardly have been the mere acquisition of these enormous areas of comparatively unproductive territory. The reason lying behind his policy was, in all probability, the fact that the races of this region were near akin to his own, and that he wished to advance against the Semitic peoples at the head of a forced coalition of the Iranian races.

The turn of Babylon for attack was soon to come. Nabonidus’ antiquarian researches absorbed more and more of his time, and the real conduct of the government seems to have passed into the hands of his son Bel-sharuzar, the Belshazzar of the Book of Daniel. In the final struggle, indeed, Nabonidus seems to have come to the front again.

By 538 Cyrus was ready. He made great preparations for the invasion, probably in anticipation of a much harder task than it actually proved. The collapse seems to have been rapid, so that within a short time Babylon was taken, Nabonidus a prisoner, and the brief revival of the Chaldæan empire at an end. The whole of the Babylonian dominions submitted to the conqueror, and the empire of Cyrus now stretched unbroken from the Ægean and Mediterranean on the west to the borders of India on the east.

Of the three rival kingdoms, Egypt alone survived. Doubtless Cyrus had designs upon it; but after the fall of Babylon in 538, he seems to have wisely devoted himself to the task of consolidating the empire he had won so rapidly in the previous fourteen years. Before his plans were ripe for an expedition beyond the Isthmus of Suez, disturbances in the far east called him thither. There he died, probably in a great battle about the year 529. The halo of legend which rapidly formed about his great personality concealed not merely the real man, but even his real history. THE PERSIAN CIVILIZATION. Four versions of the story of his death, each differing wholly from the other, were known [33]to the Greeks. But whatever fate he met, his body was brought to his home-land, where the remains of his tomb may be seen at the present day. “I am Cyrus, the king, the Achæmenian,” is the only part of his epitaph which survives. It would be too little for a lesser man. It is sufficient for him even now that he has been twenty-five centuries dead.

The new Orientalism with which the Asian Greek was brought into contact by the conquest of Lydia was, in many respects, of a different character to that which had preceded it in Western Asia. As years rolled on, and the specially Persian characteristics of it became more and more merged in the general Oriental type, the difference tended to disappear; but even until quite late times the hardy races from the mountains of Iran had many national customs which were in strong contrast to the typical civilization of the Euphrates plain. Though far from ideal, there were certain grand elements in it which struck the imagination of some of the finer minds of Greece, and which, through them, must have influenced Greek life, though in ways which it is not possible now to trace. Had the Greek come much under its influence, that influence, though it would have been disastrous in many respects, would not have tended wholly for evil.

The civilization was indeed essentially of an Eastern type. It is unnecessary to point out the significance of such a general characteristic. The Mede and Persian had been for centuries next-door neighbours of the population of the great plains, and it was inevitable that they should have borrowed from their brilliant life. Yet, despite their nearness, there was a triple gulf between the two, which the intercourse even of centuries could not bridge. Difference of race, difference of habitat, and, above all, difference of religion sundered them. The Iranian and Semite regarded the world and life in it from different points of view. The struggle for existence presented itself in wholly different aspects to the mountaineer and the man of the plain. The monotheist could have but little sympathy with a polytheistic creed.

The Medo-Persian was a strange product for an Asiatic [34]soil. He was an Asian apart. His religious belief was alone calculated to make him remarkable among his contemporaries. The Asiatic of this time had a natural tendency towards polytheism. The monotheism of even the Israelites was spasmodic. But with the Persian monotheism was the set religion of the race. It had a legendary origin in the teachings of Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, as he appears in Western history. Ahura-mazda was the one god. There were, indeed, other objects of worship,—the stars, the sun, the moon, and fire, beautiful and incomprehensible works of Ahura-mazda; but he was god alone. Other spiritual beings there were too, represented as deified virtues and blessings—Good Thought, Perfect Holiness, Good Government, Meek Piety, Health, and Immortality; and these stood nearest to Ahura-mazda’s throne.

The national religion had not, indeed, wholly escaped the contamination of the less spiritual cults of the neighbouring peoples. The animalism of the worship of the Babylonian goddess Mylitta had been introduced into the land under the guise of the adoration of the nymph Anahita.

Nevertheless, with the Persian the deification of the various forms of nature took a special form. The deities themselves were treated as demi-gods, rather than gods; creations of the great spirit of Ahura-mazda. One power alone, the power of evil, seemed to contest his supremacy. In opposition, therefore, to the god of that light which he looked upon as the visible embodiment of the Good, the Persian conceived the existence of a god of darkness, a god of evil, a god of the under-world, a god of death. This god, Angro-mainyus, possessed, indeed, the attributes both of Satan and of Pluto. There was no hope for the complete triumph of good over evil in this life. “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve,”—in that lay the whole alternative, the ultimate possibility for good or evil, in so far as the world of the present was concerned. Only in an after-life could the final triumph of the good be looked for,—in a life after that resurrection of the dead which the prophets, the sons of Zoroaster, awaking from their long sleep, should bring to pass.



It seems at first strange that the Persian creed never captured the imagination of the Greek. It may, indeed, be doubted whether it was ever presented to him in its highest and purest form. The ideal was, perhaps, too elevated for the ordinary devotee, and its full appreciation confined to the initiated few. The Greek learnt indeed in after times to admire certain of the virtues which the Persian displayed; but never grasped, apparently, the spiritual and intellectual basis which underlay them. It was long, too, ere the bitter hostility to the barbarian allowed the Greek to view him and his ways with unprejudiced eyes; and in that lapse of time the barbarian had deteriorated, and his life had become more and more tainted with the baser side of Oriental civilization, which could only excite contempt in the Hellenic mind.

Of the history of the Asiatic Greeks during the later years of Cyrus and the brief reign of his successor, Cambyses, but little is known. Samos alone, as has been said, retained its independence. During the last years of Cyrus, somewhere about 533, a certain Polykrates made himself tyrant of the island, and under his rule the Samians enjoyed a short period of prosperity, so great that it remained proverbial in after-history. Polykrates used to the full the opportunity afforded him by Cyrus’ detention in the East. Separated as he was by only a few miles of sea from the great empire, he could not but recognize the danger of his position, a danger which was rendered far greater by the fact that the acquisition of Phœnicia had given the Persians that arm they had up to that time lacked, a fleet. The great prosperity of the island, due, no doubt, in a great measure to its being the only Greek trading community on the Asiatic side which was not under the Persian dominion, enabled him to raise and maintain a large body of mercenaries as well as a fleet of a hundred fifty-oared war-ships. He furthermore entered into negotiations with Egypt, with a view to mutual defence.

At home in the Ægean, he played a many-sided part. Piracy, trade, engineering, and territorial acquisition were all included in the field of his manifold activity. The [36]piracy was probably carried on at the expense of those traders who did not use Samos as an entrepôt between East and West. It involved him in many a quarrel with the Asiatic Greek towns, whose anomalous position at the time is shown by the recorded fact that Polykrates actually took possession of parts of their territory on the mainland, although they were under the Persian dominion. This somewhat wild career was interrupted, if not positively checked, by events which were preparing on the far side of the Levant.

Cambyses had made up his mind to complete by the conquest of Egypt the work which his father had done. With a view to so doing, he was collecting a great armament, in which a powerful fleet was to play a part. This method of invasion, thus adopted for the first time, served as a precedent for all the great Persian expeditions of after years. The fact that it was Cambyses who conceived the design is sufficient to stamp the picture which Herodotus draws of him as a copy of a somewhat clumsy Egyptian caricature, even if other evidence did not tend the same way.

Ships were levied from Phœnicia, and the Greeks of Cyprus had also to contribute to the fleet. H. iii. 19. The latter, after the fall of Assyria, to which they had been in a position of nominal subordination, had enjoyed a short period of absolute liberty. Amasis of Egypt had reduced them to subjection; but, on the establishment of the Persian power in the Syrian region, they had thrown off their allegiance to Egypt and tendered their submission to the new empire.

Polykrates began to reconsider his position. A Greek legend, which Herodotus has preserved, represents him as having been thrown over by Amasis out of superstitious apprehension. His hitherto unvarying success, so thought the Egyptian king, must end in some terrible disaster proportionate in greatness. Herodotus could not resist a tale which so entirely harmonized with his views of life.

In actual fact, the reverse seems to have been the case. SAMOS ANNEXED BY PERSIA. Polykrates broke off the alliance with Amasis; and not merely did so, but actually despatched forty ships to aid [37]the Persian expedition. He tried, indeed, to kill two birds with one stone, and missed both; for he manned these vessels with Samian suspects, who had no mind to lend their bodies for this experiment in diplomacy, and forthwith turned Polykrates’ own weapons against himself by sailing back with the fleet and making an attack on Samos. Failing in that, they sailed away to Laconia, with a view to getting help of Sparta. Polykrates’ great bid for Persian favour had miscarried.

What followed is peculiarly interesting as being the first example of the way in which Corinth could, and did, force the hand of the Lacedæmonians in matters of policy.

The Lacedæmonians had indeed grievances against the Samians; but it is unlikely that they would have undertaken the expedition, had they not been urged thereto by Corinth. The grievance on the side of Corinth was of a kind that was fated to reappear on many momentous occasions in the course of the next century. Corinthian trade had been interfered with by the Samians. The piratical enterprise of Polykrates was sure to be directed against the trade of a state which had broken off its old commercial relations with Samos and transferred its connection to Miletus.

The expedition took place about 524. It failed. After a fruitless siege of forty days the Lacedæmonians returned to Peloponnese.

Soon afterwards Polykrates met his end. He was enticed to Magnesia on the Mæander by Orœtes, Satrap of Sardes, and there put to death.

His secretary, Mæandrios, carried on the tyranny for some years; but about the year 516 a Persian force invaded the island, H. iii. 139–149. and established Syloson, a brother of Polykrates who had won the favour of Darius, as tyrant in the Persian interest. A brother of Mæandrios made one vigorous but vain attempt to win the island back. The acquisition of Samos completed the Persian conquest of the Asian coast.

It is significant that Sparta, when appealed to by Mæandrios for help, not merely refused it, but dismissed [38]him from the Peloponnese, lest he should bring about political complications. Sparta’s policy on this occasion, and her attitude at the time of the Ionian revolt, show that the fear of experience had taken the place with her of that courage of ignorance which she had shown in her alliance with Lydia.

Cambyses’ short reign came to an end in 522. He had added to his dominions Egypt and the Libyan coast as far as the Greater Syrtis, and had even made an expedition up the Nile into Ethiopia. The Greeks in Egypt had been involved in the disaster which fell upon their adopted home.

On the other hand, Persian enterprise in the West was for the time being at a standstill; and the Asiatic Greeks, with the exception of the Samians, seem to have passed seven uneventful years of submission to their new ruler.

The last few months of Cambyses’ life had been troubled by the plots of a Magian named Gaumata, who is said to have borne a remarkable resemblance to Smerdis, a brother whom Cambyses had caused to be murdered. The rising was no doubt encouraged by the state of Cambyses’ health. He had certainly suffered from serious illness in Egypt; there is, indeed, reason to suspect that he was an epileptic.

The story of this false Smerdis is one of the unsolved mysteries of the period. But few reliable details of it survive, and these are for the most part contained in the great inscription of Darius on the rocks at Behistun.

The usurpation was certainly popular in the home provinces of the empire, if the rapid spread of the insurrection be any criterion. On his way home from Egypt to suppress it, Cambyses died,—a violent death, it seems certain, though historians are not in agreement as to its exact form.

For some years the pseudo-Smerdis concealed his identity, and maintained his power; but at last the suspected deception was discovered by some of the great Persian nobles, among whom was Darius, who claimed descent from the Achæmenid family. DARIUS. Of the events that followed, nothing is known for certain, save that these [39]nobles assassinated the pretender, and Darius succeeded to the supreme power.

He seems to have been at first a king without a kingdom; for the great satraps of the provinces, whose position placed at their disposal large resources of men and money, revolted with well-nigh one consent. The province in Asia Minor was one of the few which did not join in the rising. H. iii. 126, 128. If a tale preserved in Herodotus be true, its governor Orœtes meditated insurrection; but before he could carry his plans into action, he was assassinated by his own bodyguard, in obedience to written orders sent by Darius.

The whole of the work of Cyrus seemed undone. The conquest of the great Empire had to be carried out again, as it were, from the beginning. How Darius carried it out is no real part of the present story. Suffice it to say that he did the work, and that he seems to have done it thoroughly.

This formidable upheaval showed Darius the necessity of giving the empire a new organization, under which its recurrence would be difficult or impossible. The time of Cyrus had been fully taken up with the military acquisition and maintenance of the great realm. Cambyses had been similarly occupied during his short reign; though it may also be doubted whether he possessed the capacity required for carrying out so huge a scheme. Under these two rulers the old Assyrian method, or want of method, of administration had largely prevailed, a system which seems to have been admirably designed for goading the subject populations into rebellion, but which provided no machinery by which insurrection could be rendered difficult or be nipped in the bud. The central power was ever kept on the strain by repeated revolts in the provinces, if the term “province” can be applied to regions which were not in any real sense “areas of administration,” but were merely regarded as lands to be exploited for the benefit of the conquerors.

There are two important reasons why, in dealing with the history of the relations between Greek and Persian, prominence should be given to this organization of the [40]empire under Darius. It was, in the first place, destined to be the permanent political system of the Persian dominion for all the ages during which that empire continued to be the neighbour of the Greek of Europe and of Asia. In the second place, it is impossible to realize the ability of the Persian race at its highest point of development, and the enlightened character of some, at least, of its rulers, without fully appreciating the main details of the great scheme of imperial and provincial government which Darius promulgated. In certain respects, indeed, its methods may seem rude when compared with those of later ages; but in judging of them it must be borne in mind that it was designed for the government of peoples most of whom recognized no law save that of the strong hand, and furthermore, that its creators were creators in a very literal sense of the term, in that their work was so far in advance of anything on the same scale which had preceded it, that its originality is beyond question. The decay of the empire for whose government it was formed was not due to faults in the scheme itself, but to the rapid deterioration of those who administered it. It erred perhaps on the side of centralization; but then the East does not understand, and never has understood, anything but centralization in government. Still, this feature was, owing to special circumstances, destined to prove fatal to it; for it was at the centre of the empire, in the reigning family itself, that the decay set in which corrupted the whole.

The first danger to be provided against by the new scheme was caused by the isolation and comparative independence of the provincial governors, especially in the remoter provinces of the empire. It is a form of danger common to all great empires at all ages of the world, one against which the central government must ever make provision. Darius’ solution of the difficulty was conceived on much the same lines as were followed in later days by the Cæsars in dealing with the Cæsarean provinces of the Roman empire. ORGANIZATION OF THE PERSIAN EMPIRE. Not merely was the area of administration of the governor limited within the province, but also his actions were placed under immediate observation by the appointment of high officials, with special [41]departments of their own, who were not under his control, but were directly responsible to the head of the empire. The plan had its disadvantages from the point of view of the governed; and there were doubtless many instances in which the subjects of the Great King, like the Roman provincial of later days, complained that Tac Agric. 15. “discord and harmony between those set over them were alike disastrous to those they ruled.” For the end for which it was devised, however, the method seems to have been effective.

The empire was divided into satrapies, whose number varied from twenty to twenty-eight at different periods of Darius’ reign.3 Persia proper was alone excluded, receiving special treatment as the home of the ruling race.

The civil and military powers in these satrapies or provinces were divided. Three independent officials, with separate departments of administration, were appointed to each. In the case of important provinces the satraps were generally drawn from great families connected with the Achæmenids; but in the case of the others the field of choice seems to have been practically unlimited, and governors were selected from among the comparatively poor as well as from the wealthy, from the subject races as well as from the Persians. The instances in which persons not of Persian or Medic extraction were appointed to these important posts seem, however, to have been rare and exceptional. There was no set period for the tenure of the office. The duration of the governor’s administration depended on the pleasure of the Great King.

In all civil matters the governor had absolute authority. He controlled the administration of the taxes and the dispensation of justice; he possessed the power of life and death. As viceroy, representing the king, he was allowed to maintain a court and bodyguard, with other minor attributes of regal power. Under ordinary circumstances he neither commanded nor even controlled the military forces in his province; in fact, a common policy of the central government seems to have been to place a personal enemy of [42]the governor in command of the troops, whose relations with the king were, of course, direct. It may be that under exceptional circumstances,—as, for instance, when Artaphernes was satrap of Sardes at the time of the Ionian revolt,—the supreme direction of military operations was entrusted to a governor of peculiarly high distinction.

The secretary of state within the province was a third official who had immediate relations to the king. Though nominally the chief assistant of the governor, he was in reality appointed to watch his conduct, and to report irregularities or suspicious circumstances to the central government at Susa.

In his general relations with the subject populations and vassal kingdoms, the Persian seems to have followed a policy of forbearance and liberality which is extraordinary at that period. The language, customs, religion, and local laws of the various peoples were respected; even their rulers were in many cases allowed to remain in power, provided always that their rule was in conformity with Persian interests. The Greek cities of Asia are an instance in point. They were allowed to retain such local self-government as they had possessed under their Lydian suzerain, with the exception that, for any democracies which had existed in them, either an aristocracy, or a Greek tyrant ruling in the Persian interest, was substituted. Such was the case, at any rate, before the Ionian revolt Motives of self-interest obviously contributed to this policy. The maintenance of local institutions in the empire, and the avoidance of complete unification, were eminently calculated to keep the various populations separate, and to prevent the spread of any rebellion over a wide area. To use a modern simile, the provinces were converted, in so far as possible, into compartments fireproof against the flame of insurrection.

There can be no question that, throughout the vast area of the empire as a whole, the condition of the population generally was greatly ameliorated in comparison with its life in the past. Precautions were taken to safeguard the subject from oppression by high officials. [43]Apart from the check which the triple division of direct responsibility placed on the arbitrary exercise of power, a special body of officers, known to the Greeks as the king’s “eyes” or “ears,” went on annual circuits through the empire, and reported any case of abuse in the administration. The intention, at any rate, was good; though it may be doubted whether the system could guarantee the provincial from acts of oppression on the part of officials who had a mind to act in arbitrary fashion.

But there was another most important side to the policy of the government. The ordinary conditions of daily life within the empire were certainly made much better than they had been before its establishment. It was to the interest of the government to preserve peace, an inestimable blessing to a continent which only knew the peace of exhaustion. Petty states were no longer allowed to wage war on one another. Life became more secure. The highways of the land and sea were rendered safe by the suppression of brigandage and piracy. The great roads were improved in character, to the benefit of internal trade. Moreover, to facilitate trade, and for the convenience of the revenue, Darius instituted a system of currency, whose coins were notorious for the purity of their metal. The gold Daric became, indeed, the sovereign of the ancient trading world; for the Greeks had not command of a sufficient supply of the precious metal to introduce a gold standard into their coinage system. The encouragement of agriculture, and the bringing of waste lands into cultivation, was not merely a part of the policy of the government; it was actually inculcated by the Persian religion.

The revenue and taxation of the empire was conducted on business-like principles during the days of Darius; and though the burdens imposed on the subject populations were not light, yet, on the whole, they received a fair return for their contributions in the shape of that prosperity which followed upon the greater security they enjoyed. The financial levy was either in money or in kind, or in both, according to the nature and products of a province. The great defect of the system was, however, that the satraps, [44]after handing over the provincial quota to the imperial treasury, had thereafter to raise from the province the expenses of themselves and their following. Given a strong central government and a good satrap, the system was probably as free from abuse as such a system could be; but if, as must too often have been the case, either of these circumstances were unfavourable, much evil must have resulted to the subject populations, and many of the outbreaks which took place must be assigned to such a cause.

In all probability, however, the heaviest burden laid upon the provincial population was the obligation to furnish contingents for the army of the empire. Considering the nature of the monarchy, the actual standing army seems to have been curiously small, little more, in fact, than what was necessary for the maintenance of peace within the frontiers. In case, therefore, of external war, unsparing levies of the subject population were inevitable. The burden seems also to have been unevenly distributed: it would naturally fall most heavily on those peoples who made the most effective soldiers. From a military point of view, this feature of the imperial system was a mistake. An army formed of heterogeneous elements deficient in military training cannot under such a system have been welded into one harmonious whole. Only its multitude could be strikingly formidable.

But in every other respect the new empire with which the Greeks had been brought into contact was not a mere aggregation of barbarism, but a highly organized piece of machinery, controlled by a people who, in certain sides of their civilization, compared not unfavourably with the Greeks themselves.

This great scheme of organization was in all probability not carried out in one piece, though the greater part of it must be attributed to the years which followed the completion of the re-conquest.

After securing the empire from disturbance from within, the next step was to secure it against disturbance from without; and it was in carrying out this policy that Darius came into conflict with the Greek in Europe.



An examination of the map will show that the weakest part of the whole frontier, with the exception, perhaps, of that portion immediately east of the Caspian, lay along the shores of the Ægean and the Propontis. But whereas on the eastern frontier the races on either side of the boundary were probably alien and hostile to one another, on the western border the peoples on either side of the narrow seas were akin, and in close sympathy. The Thracian races of North-west Asia Minor were within sight of the lands of their free brethren in Europe; the Greek of the Ionian coast was within an easy and safe voyage of twenty-four hours of his mother country. Blood was thicker than water even towards the close of the sixth century before Christ; and the sympathy of kindred races so near at hand must have seemed to Darius and the Persians a standing menace to this extremity of the empire. The possibility of its taking an active form in case of a revolt was also an obvious danger.

Had the Greeks of Asia been different from what they were, had, indeed, they not been Greeks, it is possible that Darius would not have considered it necessary to take action.

The character of this branch of the Hellenic race at this period of its history is difficult to realize. The extant evidence on the question, with the exception of a few fragments of the writings of historians most of whose works have perished, is demonstrably hostile to the Ionian Greek, and not merely that, but demonstrably unfair. Herodotus, as will be shown in dealing with his account of the Ionian revolt, is largely responsible for the mistaken impression of the nature of this people which has been handed down to after-time. His whole view of the Ionian Greek was coloured by the belief that he was originally responsible for all the trouble which fell upon European Hellas in the years succeeding the revolt; that he imperilled the very existence of that Hellenic liberty which was destined to produce the greatness of that after-time under whose influence he wrote. He looked upon the revolt as having been from beginning to end a colossal mistake. Begun in culpable ignorance, it [46]was carried out with contemptible pusillanimity,—so he thought. Its authors were a people of whom the Hellenic race was ashamed. Even their nearest relations among the Greeks were loth to claim relationship with them.

Apart from the facts which Herodotus himself gives tending to an opposite conclusion, the previous history of this branch of the Greek race, and especially of the Ionian section of it, tends in every way to deductions which are irreconcilable with the views of the historian. These Ionians were the descendants of men who had been conspicuous for ages as the boldest navigators of their time; who had planted colonies in almost every part of the Mediterranean, making voyages to lands previously unknown to the Greek, undeterred by the partly fabulous, partly real, perils of such enterprises. The Ionian Greek had been accustomed for centuries to take his life in his hands, facing all the manifold dangers incident to early navigation, to intercourse with barbarous tribes and life among them. And though by the end of the sixth century custom and experience must have diminished the perils attached to such adventurous existence, yet even then the Ionian had only one rival, the Phœnician, in the boldness of his seamanship. The dangerous trade route with Egypt across the expanse of the Levant was in his hands; the corn trade with the stormy Euxine was still for the most part under his control.

Such a mode of life, in which a large portion of the population of the Asiatic Greek towns must have shared, was not calculated to produce a people lacking in courage or, indeed, in perseverance. It is true that by the time that Darius’ organization of the empire had been brought to something like completion, the race had been for more than half a century under a foreign yoke. Judged by the standard of those days, the yoke had been a light one; it could hardly have been accounted heavy at any period of history. It might easily have been much heavier. It would have been to the advantage of the conqueror to have made it so, had the subject cities displayed the temper of passive submission.



Little is known of the history of these cities during the half century which intervened between the fall of Crœsus and the outbreak of the revolt. If they tamely submitted to their fate during this period, the revolt itself becomes incomprehensible. There is absolutely no adequate immediate cause for it; and Herodotus’ own account of its beginning shows by certain significant phrases which he uses that, though the actual outbreak was premature, the design had existed before ever Aristagoras made his failure at Naxos. There is no record of an actual change of attitude on the part of Persia towards the towns during the years which immediately preceded it, which could lead to the supposition that the relations between them had become suddenly embittered.

The cause which lay behind the whole of the history of Darius’ dealings with the West is the feeling with which the Greek regarded the very idea of subjection. He must have been at the period the most restless subject that ever empire had. Darius seems to have recognized from the very first that the presence of this wayward, bold, intriguing race on the western fringe of his dominions constituted an ever-present danger. The intensity of the political feeling within the cities themselves with regard to their internal affairs, which is known to have existed within them at this time, indicates the intensity of the feeling with which they regarded the foreign yoke. Democrat, aristocrat, and tyrant did not fight their fierce battles with one another to win the prize of pre-eminence in servitude. The opponents would seek, too, for external support; and the satraps of the West must have been continually worried by appeals for assistance from whatever side assumed for the time being the philo-Persian rôle; and must have known, too, that the opposite side would seek for help elsewhere. And what was “elsewhere” likely to mean, save beyond the narrow seas, in European Greece? Nor can the intense desire for freedom in the mass of the populations of the Greek cities have remained in any way a secret from the Persian governors. There were plenty of people in every city whose interest it would be to tell tales of their neighbours, and it is[48] perhaps the blackest blot on the character of the Greek that he was but too ready to betray his fellow-countrymen.

The problem which presented itself to Darius in the sixth century before Christ on the west coast of Asia must have been very similar to that which presented itself to Cæsar five and a half centuries later in North-west Gaul. Just as the Gaul of that period was likely to remain a restless subject of Rome so long as kinsmen beyond the Channel remained free, and so long as he might look to them for support in case of revolt, so was the Greek of Asia likely to be restive, even under the lightest yoke, so long as his kin beyond the Ægean remained unsubdued, and so long as their aid might be hoped for whenever he made up his mind to strike a blow for freedom.

The policy thus, in a way, forced upon Darius, was carried out in three steps, of which the second came near to being a retrograde one, and formed no part of the original programme, while the third was certainly not one of advance.

These are:⁠—
(1) The Scythian Expedition;
(2) The Suppression of the Ionian Revolt;
(3) The Expeditions of 492 and 490.

It may seem strange to include the so-called Scythian Expedition in any design for the settlement of affairs in Western Asia. The name commonly attributed to it, for which Herodotus is mainly responsible, is, however, misleading. Neither he nor, in all probability, those Greeks who were contemporary with it, or even took part in it, were likely to understand its object. The Persian Government had the most overwhelming interest in concealing that object from the Greeks.

Greek imagination, however, could not resist the attractions of a subject so unknown and so vast and absolutely ran riot in dealing with it. Herodotus reproduces in detail the fantastic legend. It is not necessary to reproduce it here. The first aim must be to try and discover any solid facts in the story of the expedition. THE PERSIAN ARMY. The next, in view of the mass of modern literature which has sprung up with regard to it, must be to show what [49]the expedition was not. Lastly, it will be necessary to point out the most reasonable hypothesis as to what it was, and to show its connection with such designs as Darius had upon Greece.

The very date of the expedition is a matter of extreme uncertainty. Dates ranging from 515 to 508 before Christ have been suggested by various authorities.4 On the whole, it is most probable that it took place in 512.

A twofold tête-du-pont had already been acquired in Europe by the reduction of Byzantion and of the Thracian Chersonese, over the latter of which Miltiades, son of Kimon, who was destined to become famous at Marathon, bore rule.

The standing army of the Empire seems to have been singularly small, little more, indeed, than what was requisite for police duties at home and in the provinces. It was therefore necessary, when any great expedition was contemplated, to call for levies from the subject races. There were several reasons for this peculiar policy in military matters. It was manifestly an economy in time of peace. It made it unnecessary to entrust large bodies of troops, save under exceptional circumstances, to commanders in the remote provinces. The levy system was also an effective one when dealing with such enemies, within and without, as the Empire would have to meet in Asia, and this had been satisfactorily proved in many years of campaigning. It never really failed until brought face to face with an infinitely better armed foe, the Greek of Europe.

In the present instance, the force collected is reported by tradition to have amounted to seven hundred thousand men.5 Here let it be said, as will frequently have to be [50]said in the course of the history of these wars, that the numbers which the Greeks attributed to the Persian armies in various campaigns are, without doubt, invariably exaggerated. There is no fixed ratio in the exaggeration. Sometimes it is manifold; sometimes it is not. The real meaning of the Greek estimate of numbers is that the forces which Persia could put into the field when occasion demanded were of infinitely greater magnitude than any of which the Greek had experience. Even the myriad stood with him for a countless number.

In the present instance the force must indeed have been a large one, for the undertaking was great; and the Persian, unless he is much misrepresented in history, preferred on all occasions to have a large numerical margin of safety. Possibly he thought Ahura-mazda was “on the side of the big battalions.”

H. iv. 87.

The crossing into Europe was affected by throwing a bridge over the Bosphorus in the neighbourhood of Kalchedon.6


H. iv. 89.

After crossing into Europe, Darius commanded the Ionians, Æolians, and Hellospontines, who conducted the fleet, to sail to the Ister, and while waiting for him there, to build a bridge over the river. They went two days’ sail up the stream, and constructed one at or near the head of the Delta.7 The first point indicated in the route taken by the army is the source or sources of the Tearos. This was a subtributary of the Agrianes (the modern Ergene), which was itself a tributary of the Hebrus.8 The Arteskos river, which is the next point mentioned, is not capable of certain identification at the present day.

H. iv. 93.

The tribes of the coast of the modern East Rumelia or South Bulgaria yielded without a blow. The Getæ, between the Hæmus (Balkans) and the Ister, were the first to offer any resistance; but they were subdued. So far the tale is comprehensible. The army must have passed near to the Greek colonies, Salmydessos, Apollonia, and Mesembria, which are indeed mentioned in relation to the tribes south of the Hæmus. From these, probably, vague tales of this part of the expedition arrived in Greece.

From this point onwards the story is full of inconsistencies and improbabilities.

Arrived at the Ister, Darius, a commander of great and manifold experience, is represented as having ordered the Ionian Greeks to break down the bridge over the river after he had passed it, and to follow him into the unknown [52]north. No reason is either given or is conceivable for such a suicidal plan. The ships, moreover, are to remain in the Ister. He was dissuaded from this by the advice of Koës, the Greek tyrant of Mytilene. He then gave orders that the Greeks should remain at the river sixty days, and if he did not return in that time, should loose the bridge and sail away.

No advantage can possibly be gained by treating this as serious history. It is inconceivable that any general of experience should either propose to deliberately cut his own line of communications when about to enter an unknown region, or even that he should have appointed a set limit of time, and that not very long, after which it might be cut.

The story is in all probability merely a peg whereon to hang an indictment of the Greek tyrants of the Asian coast, and is designed for the glorification of the part played by Miltiades in the subsequent debate on the advisability of leaving Darius to his fate.

The truth it contains may amount to no more than that the fleet did not go farther than the Ister, and that Darius did not intend to remain north of the river for any length of time.

The tale of the actual campaigning in Scythia is more extraordinary still. The Persians are represented as having penetrated beyond the river Tanais (Don) to the Oarus, (probably the Volga), on which they built a series of forts. They then returned to the Ister by a circuitous route, and, as might indeed be expected, the sixty days had elapsed before their arrival. Such is Herodotus’ story.

Strabo vii. 305.

A reference to this campaign in the works of the geographer Strabo shows that Herodotus’ version of its history was not the only one current among the Greeks. He says that the king and his army, when between the Ister and the Tyras (Dniester), were compelled to turn back under stress of thirst.

Ktesias, a Greek who spent a large part of his life at the Persian Court, and who, though unreliable, is not likely to understate Persian exploits, Ktes. Pers. 17. says that the king only penetrated fifteen days’ march beyond the Ister.



The impossibilities of Herodotus’ story are so manifest that it is hardly necessary to point them out. How could the commissariat of a large force have been provided for on a march of that length through a hostile country where the natives, according to the historian’s own account, destroyed all local food supplies in advance of the army? How could the army and the transport required for it have been carried across such rivers as would have to be passed ere the Volga was reached,—the Sereth, the Pruth, the Dniester, Dnieper, Boug, and Don, not to mention numerous minor unfordable streams? If this long march was undertaken, why did not Darius employ the fleet for commissariat purposes, as was the custom in Persian campaigns of this age, where the fleet could possibly be employed?

If the fleet did remain at the Ister, which seems to be one of the few absolutely reliable statements in the story, the fact itself is strong presumptive evidence that Darius did not intend to go far beyond that river. Ktesias says he only proceeded fifteen days’ march. Strabo implies that he never reached the Dniester.

Inasmuch as the reliability of Herodotus as an historian is in question, it is important to make an attempt to surmise, in so far as possible, what was the source or sources of this extraordinary tale which he has preserved.

It must be remembered, in the first place, that at the time at which he wrote, anything of the nature of reliable information with regard to events before the war of 480 must have been very difficult to obtain. The palpable gaps in the story of the Ionian Revolt, the confusion in the account of the relations between Athens and Ægina, the meagreness of the story of Marathon, are striking proofs that such was the case; and if he experienced such manifest difficulty in arriving at a detailed knowledge of the great events of the beginning of the fifth century, in which Greeks played a foremost part, how much greater difficulty must he have experienced in gaining information as to the events of the later years of the sixth century, in which the part played by the Greeks was but secondary?

It seems probable that his sources of information in the present instance were two in number:⁠—

[54](1) A tale current in the Athens of his own day, which had come thither by way of the principality of Miltiades in the Thracian Chersonese.

(2) Reports collected by the historian himself, either in the course of a journey to the Greek colonies on the north coast of the Euxine, or from persons who were natives of those parts, or had visited them.

To the first of these must be attributed the account which he gives of the events on the Danube, and especially the celebrated tale of the proposal of Miltiades to break down the bridge and leave Darius to his fate.

The story is one of the most famous in Greek History. Twice, it is said, did the Scythians, while Darius with his army was still far north of the river, ride down to the Ister and call upon the Greeks to break down the bridge. H. iv. 133, 136. On the first occasion the Ionians promised to do so. The tale seems to imply that the promise was merely made with a view to getting rid of the Scythians. On the second occasion the Scythians made much the same appeal, calling on the Ionians to strike one grand, effective blow for their freedom.

It is unnecessary to dwell on the minor difficulties of the tale, how, for instance, it came about that the Scythians knew of Darius’ orders that the bridge should be loosed after the expiration of sixty days.

H. iv. 137.

After this second appeal the Ionians held a consultation.

“It was the opinion of Miltiades—the Athenian who commanded, and was tyrant of the Hellespontine Chersonesites—that they should listen to the advice of the Scythians and give liberty to Ionia. His views were opposed by Histiæus the Milesian. The argument of the latter was that the tyrants individually owed their position to Darius, and that, if Darius’ power were destroyed, neither would he himself be able to rule in Miletus, nor any of the rest to rule elsewhere, for all the states would prefer a democracy to a tyranny. After this statement of opinion by Histiæus, all of them forthwith went over to it, though they had previously assented to that of Miltiades.”

A list, intended doubtless as a black list, of these tyrants is given.



To prevent the Scythians seizing the bridge, and to give them the impression that they were going to follow their advice, the northern end of the bridge was removed for the space of a bow shot. The Scythians accordingly withdrew. Some time afterwards Darius and his army returned, and were alarmed to find the bridge apparently removed. They soon discovered their mistake. H. iv. 141, 142. The bridge was restored by Histiæus. “Thus the Persians escaped.” The Scythians’ judgment of the Ionians, as reported by Herodotus, is not without its significance in the story: H. iv. 142. “Their cowardice as free men was only equalled by their fidelity as slaves.”

Herodotus himself would be naturally inclined to seize upon a tale which so strikingly confirmed his own estimate of the Ionians.

But is the story true?

The historian Thirlwall suggested that, in its existing form, it is an excerpt from the defence made by Miltiades in answering the charge of “tyranny” brought against him at Athens about the year 493. Such stories are, however, very rarely pure fabrications from beginning to end; and, in accordance with general probability, it is more likely than unlikely that it contains a considerable element of truth. There are, furthermore, certain considerations deducible from evidence outside the story itself which tend to support the view.

Herodotus regards the expedition as the one great disaster of Darius’ career. Regarded as evidence, this is not of itself very important. The story as he told it was intended to point the great moral which runs throughout his history,—that special phase of the great Hellenic idea of the “tragedy” of life in which he most firmly believed. The career of Darius, without this great disaster, would have formed too startling an exception to that divine and natural law of the incontinuity of human fortune which he had so consciously and conspicuously illustrated in his account of the lives of Cambyses, Crœsus, and Polykrates of Samos.

But there are other reasons for supposing that the expedition was not without disaster, rumours of which,—probably, [56]too, emanating from the Greeks at the Ister,—reached the cities of the Propontis.

Ktes. Pers. 16 (Justin, ii. 5). Ktesias states Darius’ losses to have been 80,000 men. Even if the actual number stated be untrustworthy, it shows that this historian, who would be naturally inclined to minimize them, had reason to regard them as serious.

But, furthermore, it is evident that during Darius’ absence north of the Danube, Cf. H. v. 26. a large number of the Hellespontine cities had seized the opportunity for revolt. Byzantion, Kalchedon, Antandros, and Lamponion were among the number. This caused Darius to return to Asia by way of Sestos. It is inconceivable that these towns should have chosen this time of all others, when a large portion of the levy of the Empire was actually under arms, for insurrection, had they not some reason to believe that it had gone whence it could never return their way. They must have received, either from the Greek colonies on the North Euxine, or, more probably, from the Greeks on the Ister, some tidings of a great disaster.

Even if the Greeks on the Ister were not the authors of such tidings, it is unlikely that reports which came to the towns of the Propontis failed to reach them.

May it not then be that the fictitious element in the report of the discussion on the desertion of Darius, in so far as the general details of the lines which the discussion itself followed are concerned, is confined to the part which Miltiades is alleged to have played in it? It is not necessary on this assumption to further assume the veracity of the tale of the orders given by Darius to the guardians of the bridge. That tale simply served to heighten the colouring of the picture of the treason of those Asiatic Hellenes to Hellenic freedom, in that it robbed them of the excuse of fidelity to a trust imposed upon them.

It is quite possible, then, that some report of disaster did lead to the formation of a plot in which all the tyrants were more or less implicated, but which for some unknown reason never came to a head. If it had been a one-man plot, in which Miltiades had played a solo part, surely his design must have become known to Darius. ORIGIN OF THE LEGEND. And yet on return to Asia Darius passed through Miltiades’ [57]dominions, the only part, apparently, of the Hellespontine region to which the infection of rebellion had not spread. If Miltiades had taken part in the plot, and if any judgment can be formed from the general practice of Persian kings, it can hardly be supposed that he would have lived to fight at Marathon.

It now remains to consider briefly how the extraordinary story of the march beyond the Ister can possibly have originated.

Doubtless the Greeks in the cities on the north coast had many a tale brought to them by the native traders from the interior of the commotion caused by the sudden appearance of this strange army within the Scythian borders.

These tales, probably wild exaggerations even in their original form, would not, it may be certain, lose aught in the course of their evolution. An element common to all of them would be that somewhere in the Hinterland this army had appeared; and it may well be that within a comparatively short period the most easterly of the Greek cities came to regard their own Hinterland as the scene of its operations. This would bring the imaginary march of the army to the neighbourhood of the Don and the Volga.

In actual fact, however, it is impossible to suppose that the most extreme point ever reached by Darius was far north of the Ister. It is in the highest degree improbable that he ever passed the well-defined boundaries set by the Carpathians and the Pruth.

With regard to the motives of the expedition, Herodotus declares that it was intended as a retaliation for the Scythian invasion of Western Asia, which spread desolation through part of the continent, and was about synchronous with, and largely the cause of, the fall of the Assyrian Empire. Apart from the improbability of Darius cherishing resentment for occurrences of such ancient date, or for injuries of which he was in no real sense heir, he was probably aware, though Herodotus was not, that the people who lived to the north of the Euxine were wholly distinct from the Sakæ, whom Herodotus calls Scyths, who [58]had troubled the continent more than a century before this time.

The unreliability and vagueness of the story of the campaign have led to the formation in modern times of many conjectures as to the object with which it was undertaken.

It has been represented as an attempt to make the Euxine a Persian lake. Such a theory must assume that Darius carried his operations far beyond the Ister. On this point sufficient has been said. But apart from this the theory is met by two other difficulties. What object could be gained by success in so bald a design? And if such a design existed, why was the fleet left at the Ister?

Again, it has been ascribed to mere lust of conquest. That is, indeed, not an uncommon characteristic with Eastern rulers. But Darius was not an Eastern ruler of the ordinary type. His wars, in so far as their history is known, are not waged from mere irrational land-hunger, but in obedience to rational policy, whose main lines are even now distinguishable. That he intended in this campaign to conquer something is obvious. But did he intend to make conquests in Scythia? Had he, too, no other conceivable motive than mere land-hunger behind the intention of conquest?

A more attractive theory which has been put forward in explanation of the object of the expedition is that, in accordance with his commercial policy, he attempted to open up, possibly to acquire, the rich region north of the Euxine. In that case it would certainly have been expected that he would have made one of the Greek harbours on the north coast of that sea the base of his operations, and have transferred his fleet thither. He could have got plenty of information on the subject from his Asiatic Greek vassals.

A theory which has been recently put forward is that his real object was to get hold of that gold region in the land of the Agathyrsi, a tribe mentioned in Herodotus’ account of the campaign. THE INTENT OF THE CAMPAIGN. This gold-bearing region must be identified with that on the western border of the modern province of Transylvania, which was included in [59]the Roman province of Dacia. It is, however, impossible to say that there is even presumptive evidence of such an intention on Darius’ part.

It must be confessed that the evidence is not of such a nature that any theory as to the object of the campaign can be put forward with confidence. There are, however, two questions which must be taken into account in any theory on the subject which is to have the merit of plausibility:⁠—

(1) What were the net results of the campaign?

(2) Did the acts of Darius in any way declare his intentions?

The net results of the campaign were the submission of the Thracian tribes on the Euxine coast south of Hæmus, and the conquest and apparent submission of the Getæ between Hæmus and the Ister.

The intention of Darius to cross the Ister existed apparently from the beginning of the campaign. He sent the fleet thither with orders to prepare a bridge; but the intention not to proceed far beyond that river is almost equally clearly shown by his leaving his fleet at the point of crossing. Whether this second intention was part of the original design is another question. The tale of the countermanding of the orders given to the Greeks at the river, absurd though it is, may rest on a remote foundation of fact; and the fact may have been that Darius did actually modify his original plans on his arrival at the Ister.

The expedition north of that point seems to have been either of the nature of a reconnaissance in force, on the results of which the king decided against further advance and attempt at conquest, or a display intended to strike awe into the tribes beyond the newly won territory. Whether any attempt at conquest in these northern regions formed part of the original programme may be doubted: one thing is certain, that the expedition in the form it was made was not anything of the kind.

It is noticeable that at this period the great river formed a very marked and striking ethnographical boundary between the tribes of Thracian stock and the Scyths of [60]Europe. It has already been pointed out that Darius had within his dominions in Asia Minor—mainly in the region of Bithynia—people of Thracian origin. May he not have undertaken the expedition with intent to minimize the chances of disturbance on the weak imperial frontier formed by the Propontis and its two straits by subduing the free kinsmen of his Thracian subjects? It is a precaution such as the rulers of empires at every time in history and in every part of the world have frequently had to take. It may be, then, that Darius was in search of an ethnic frontier, and when he had found it on the Ister he sought not for further conquest, but confined himself to measures intended to secure what he had won.

The Ethnic Frontier.

It is perhaps unnecessary to insist on the importance of an ethnic frontier. It is, of course, frequently coincident with a physical frontier. Where such a coincidence exists, a “scientific” frontier is attained. But in cases where the two are not coincident, history has shown again and again that the ethnic is the more “scientific” of the two.

Regarding the question from another point of view,—it is infinitely more dangerous for a state to have on its borders a race who have kin immediately beyond the border in the enjoyment of a form of government which assures them their independence, or in which they are paramount, than to have on its frontier a race alien to their neighbours beyond the border.

The first of these alternatives is an almost inevitable source of trouble and danger to the state in which the circumstances exist. The danger is twofold. It may arise from the desire of those within the frontier to attain to the position enjoyed by their kinsmen outside it, or from the sympathy of the latter with those of their race who are in subjection to aliens.

Such considerations are not the mere abstractions of political philosophy, but are plain, practical questions which have called for practical solution from men to whom the very idea of political philosophy may never have been presented. They appear in actual history in a concrete form, and are therefore hard to recognize amid the numerous factors which are involved in the complicity of human action. ETHNIC FRONTIERS. The very use of such modern terms as [61]“scientific” or “ethnic” frontier in reference to policies of ancient date has a tendency to create the idea that the person using them is mistakenly attributing to the past conceptions which are essentially of modern date. But are such conceptions of modern date? Is it not rather the form in which they are expressed which is of recent creation? The very creation of such a form of expression indicates, indeed, that the conception itself has become clearer in course of time; it rarely, if ever, indicates the actual birth of the conception. It is quite possible to grossly exaggerate the difference between the nature of the problems presented to the rulers of empire in the sixth century before Christ, and those which call for solution at the present time.

It is not difficult to illustrate from both ancient and modern history:⁠—

(1) The dangers of a frontier which is not ethnic;

(2) The appreciation of this practical fact by those who have had to face the circumstances.

The circumstances present themselves in a complex form, consequently the traceable motive which induces those in power to deal with them is never simple. It is necessary therefore for the student of history to abstract from the complex motive that part with which he wishes specially to deal; and that must be done in the present as in every other instance in which human motive is in question.

The problem of the ethnic frontier was one which presented itself at every stage of the making of the Roman Empire. It was perhaps most strikingly illustrated in the relations with the Gauls and Germans.

The original Gallic province had indeed a marked physical frontier in that elevated region of Auvergne and the Cevennes, together with those ranges which come from the Alps to meet the Gallic mountain system on the middle Rhone. It was, however, bordered on two sides by the lands of the free Gauls. So long as this continued its history was a stormy one. The Gauls of the province were ever restive under the Roman yoke. Every commotion outside the province was echoed within it. The haphazard provincial policy of the last century of the Republic ignored, in so far as possible, discomforts which it had not the energy to remedy. It was not until Cæsar became governor that the work was undertaken by the conquest of the Gauls who remained free.

But while solving one ethnic problem, Cæsar found [62]himself face to face with another. Germans had made their way into Gaul, and showed every disposition to go farther. He invented a new solution. He converted the German settlements along the river into a military frontier, allowing the immigrants to retain their lands on condition that they prevented their kinsmen from crossing the Rhine. He sought to create an antipathy of interests where there existed no antipathy of race. The plan was but partially successful, and in the end the Roman legionary had to do the work that the German provincial was intended to do. Cæsar evidently aimed in his Gallic wars at the establishment of a physical frontier in the shape of the Rhine. The same policy has been tried again and again since his day. It has invariably been unsuccessful in modern times, simply because the Rhine is not an ethnic boundary. Cæsar left the problem unsolved, and his successors had to take it up where he left it. Under Augustus the policy of advance was first tried. Its failure was due to various causes,—some of them, perhaps, preventible; but one, and perhaps the major, reason for failure was the impossibility of reaching the far borders of the Germanic races. The problem presented itself on the Elbe in a still more difficult form even than on the Rhine, in that the new-sought frontier was farther from the Roman base.

After the disaster to Varus in A.D. 9, the policy of advance was given up. The apparently natural, but really artificial, frontier of the Rhine was definitely decided upon. The maintenance of it, owing to its artificiality, absorbed for well nigh a century a large part of the military resources of the empire. But the denationalization and romanization of the Germans within the border created in course of time an ethnic boundary where none had previously existed, and with its creation the problem was for the time being solved. Here, as elsewhere, Roman Imperial policy created an ethnic boundary where it found none.

Britain furnishes at least two prominent examples of the problem. Reference has been already made to the motive underlying the expedition of Julius Cæsar. Agricola, the greatest and the most humane of the governors of the province in the early years of its existence, found himself dragged ever farther northwards by sheer necessity of conquest. By his time, moreover, the problem had taken a more or less definite shape in men’s mind. Tac. Germ. 1. Tacitus, his biographer, recognized at least one side of it. “Germania,” he says, “a Sarmatis Dacisque mutuo metu aut montibus [63]separatur”—an ethnic or physical frontier. He reports, too, a significant remark of Agricola in reference to the possibility of the conquest of Ireland: “Idque etiam adversus Britanniam profuturum, si Romana ubique arma et velut e conspectu libertas tolleretur.” The practical ethnic question was evidently in Tacitus’ time in process of becoming crystallized into a political theory.

It would require too much space to recount in detail all the examples of the ethnic problem which have been conspicuous in mediæval and modern history. It has cropped up again and again within the memory of the living generation.

Austria had to face it in Italy in 1859–60. She has to face it now in the Sclav provinces of the North.

Denmark’s attempted solution of the problem in Schleswig-Holstein cost her those provinces in 1864.

The demand for the cession of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 would hardly have been made by Germany had not the problem in these regions presented itself to her in a seemingly favourable form.

The Turkish Empire presents, and has presented, numerous examples of the problem—Servia in 1876; Bulgaria in 1878; the Greek populations of the Ægean coast at the present day.

In South Africa Great Britain has been within the last year forced to solve the problem in the special phase in which it presented itself to her there.

To sum up, the circumstances which give rise to the ethnic problem are, stated briefly, of the following nature⁠—

(1) The existence within but on the borders of a state of a race alien to the ruling race, but akin to the race beyond the frontier.

(2) The real or fancied inferiority in respect to liberty of the aliens within the state to their kinsmen outside it.

(3) The consequent setting up of two currents of feeling, one from the outside to the inside, and another from the inside to the outside of the state. These are usually coexistent, though in exceptional cases one may exist without the other.

(4) The dangers to the state arising from the existence of circumstance (3).

The various solutions which have been tried by different states at different periods of history have taken one of two main forms of policy⁠—

Either (1) the pushing forward of the borders by conquest to the ethnic frontier;

[64]Or (2) the denationalization of the alien race within the border.

Of these the second requires time. Any attempts to bring it about rapidly must end in failure, and may end in disaster; witness the case of Denmark in 1864.

Rome under the early Principate adopted, by the precept of Augustus, the policy of denationalization as against that of conquest. Augustus had tried both policies, but had deliberately laid aside the latter in A.D. 9.

But there was a vast difference between the Rome of Augustus and the Persia of Darius. Two centuries of past existence as the greatest power in the world made the Roman regard the future with a confidence with which Darius, heir to the maker of a new empire, and himself its re-maker, can never have regarded it. The Roman speculated in eternity, the Persian in time; hence the latter was naturally led to adopt methods which promised to bear fruit in the immediate future.

The question whether this is the sole motive which can be suggested for the expedition remains for consideration.

The evidence as to the real drift of the policy of Darius during the last fifteen years of the sixth century is so obscure and uncertain, that there has been much debate among historians as to whether this expedition was the first deliberate step in a large scheme of conquest in Europe. In order to form a judgment on this question it is necessary to take into consideration not only the immediate sequel of the expedition, but also the history, in so far as it is known, of the years which intervened between it and the outbreak of the Ionian revolt.

H. iv. 143; H. v. 1.

Darius took back with him to Asia the greater part of the great army which he had employed in the Scythian expedition; but he left his general Megabazos in Europe with a considerable force to complete the work of conquest which he had begun in Thrace, and, presumably, to suppress the revolt of the Greek cities in the neighbourhood of the Propontis. This force is reported by Herodotus to have amounted to 80,000 men.

H. iv. 144.

Megabazos proceeded, says the historian, to reduce “the Hellespontians who had not medized.” Who are these Hellespontians? They are certainly in Europe. [65]CAMPAIGN OF MEGABAZOS. They are also not the populations of the revolted cities,9 for he expressly states that these were subsequently reduced by Otanes. They must be some small places in the neighbourhood of Miltiades’ principality in the Thracian Chersonese.

H. v. 1, 2.

Of the history of this campaign Herodotus gives no detail, save that he says that Perinthos was taken; and this incident is obviously mentioned in order to introduce a story which has but a very remote connection with the circumstances of the time.

After the capture of this town “Megabazos marched his army through Thrace, reducing every state and race of those parts to subjection to the king; for Darius had ordered the reduction of Thrace.”

This is a very remarkable statement. The coast districts of the Euxine had submitted to Darius on his advance to the Danube. It may be doubted whether this submission was very real or permanent.

H. v. 10.

But now Megabazos appears to be represented as having reduced the whole of Thrace, of which region Herodotus takes the opportunity of giving a comprehensive description. Bearing in mind the language of the sentence which suggested the description, it is somewhat startling to read in the closing sentence of it the words, “Megabazos then reduced the coast regions (of Thrace) to subjection to the Persians.”

These two apparently conflicting statements form one of the many examples of the highly composite character of the sources from which Herodotus drew his history of these obscure years. It is impossible to say that the one is true and the other false. It is probably the case that here, as in some other similar instances in Herodotus’ history where two irreconcilable accounts of the same thing are either deliberately or inadvertently given, that either both are true in a sense, or that both [66]contain elements of the truth. May it not be that this is an instance of the first of these two alternatives, and that the assertion with regard to the whole of Thrace refers to a position of weak dependence, whereas that with regard to the coast region refers to actual subjection?

It will be seen later that this matter is not unimportant in its bearing upon the conclusions which must be drawn as to the history of the years which follow.

The hypothesis is supported by the fact that though in those thirty years the coast region does appear to be, save during the interval of the Ionian revolt, under Persian rule, there is no evidence of the real subjection of the hinterland.

Herodotus next recounts two incidents, the first of which is connected indirectly, the second directly with this campaign.

These are (1) the grant of Myrkinos to Histiæus;

(2) The removal of the Pæonians to Asia.

Of the prominent Greeks who had accompanied the king to the Danube, Koës the Mytilenian, and Histiæus the Milesian were singled out for special rewards. To Koës was given the tyranny of Mytilene. H. v. 11. Histiæus was already tyrant of Miletus, and he asked not for further tyranny, but requested the grant of Myrkinos on the Strymon. This Darius gave him.

There can be no question that he knew for what he was asking. This place, which stood within a short distance of the site of Amphipolis of later days, was the key of the North Ægean lands. It commanded not merely the great coast route from east to west, but the trade route which ran up the Strymon valley towards mid-Europe. It may well be that it was the latter circumstance, together with its nearness to the Thracian gold region, which made its value known to the tyrant of the great trading city.

H. v. 12, 13.

The sequel to this story is in all probability not unconnected with the policy which led to the removal of the Pæonians to Asia. THE LOWER STRYMON. It is evident that Herodotus had no idea of the reasons which induced Darius to adopt a measure which, though not uncommon in the previous history of the Eastern empires, was an unusual one with [67]him. The tale which he tells in order to account for it was doubtless a commonplace among the stories of his time, and one which was told in relation to more than one event in the history of the past. It is unnecessary to reproduce it here, and still more unnecessary to point out the inadequacy of the motive which it suggests.

The strategic importance of the country occupied by this people is amply sufficient to account for the policy which Darius adopted with regard to them. They commanded the short stretch of the Strymon river between Lake Prasias10 and the sea, and were thus in a position whose natural strength was again and again demonstrated in later history, and whose importance lay in the fact, already pointed out in the case of Myrkinos, that it commanded not merely the trade-route north, but also the great route westward from Eastern Thrace and the Hellespont region.

The substantial details in the account of the incident indicate that it must have taken place during, not after, that conquest of the coast districts of Thrace of which Herodotus has already spoken.

The story is told as follows:⁠—

H. v. 14.

“Then Darius wrote letters to Megabazos, whom he had left in command in Thrace, ordering him to remove the Pæonians from their homes, and to bring them, their children and wives, to him. A horseman immediately hurried off to the Hellespont bearing the message, and, having crossed over, handed the despatch to Megabazos. After reading it, Megabazos took guides from Thrace and marched against Pæonia.”

From the last detail it must be presumed that he had not as yet been campaigning in the Pæonian region.

“The Pæonians, on hearing that the Persians were coming against them, collected their forces on the side towards the sea; thinking that the Persians would attempt the invasion at that point”

The Persians, however, turned the position by taking the inland road.

[68]H. v. 16.

The Pæonians between Lake Praslas and the sea immediately surrendered and were removed to Asia. Herodotus then adds that those about Mount Pangæus were “not substantially” subdued by Megabazos.11

If this were indeed the case, it is evident that the assertion which he has previously made to the effect that Megabazos reduced the “coast districts” of Thrace must be understood in a restricted sense in so far as this part of the country is concerned.

The net result of this part of the campaign seems to have been that Megabazos got possession of the most critical point of the coast road.

H. v. 17.

In accordance, it may be presumed, with his instructions, Megabazos next sent seven Persians of high rank to the neighbouring kingdom of Macedonia to demand the earth and water of submission from Amyntas, its then ruler. The extraordinary tale of this embassy,12—how it came to Amyntas; how he agreed to give earth and water; how the envoys were murdered at a banquet at the instigation of his son Alexander; how the murder was hushed up:⁠—contains what are evidently elements of fact combined with a large amount of fiction whose intent is to glorify Alexander in the sight of the Greeks.13 That such a murder could, if it ever took place, be hushed up, is incredible. H. v. 21, ad fin. The parts of the story which appear to be true, are (1) that Macedonia did in some way tender submission to Persia; (2) that a Persian, Bubares, probably the son of the general Megabazos, did marry a Macedonian princess. It is, however, a doubtful question whether the submission was very real.

After the negotiations with Macedon, Megabazos went to the Hellespont and thence to Sardes, taking the Pæonians with him.

H. v. 23.

On arriving there he heard, says Herodotus, of the grant of Myrkinos to Histiæus; and that the latter was [69]fortifying the place. If this be true, it must be presumed that he had not marched direct from Pæonia to the Hellespont and Sardes, otherwise he would have known all about the proceedings of Histiæus at Myrkinos. It is, however, much more probable that Darius first heard from him the measures which Histiæus was taking to secure his new possession. Megabazos was evidently alarmed at the idea of this Greek tyrant holding a position which commanded the North Ægean route; and, if the matter of his representations to the king be truly reported, he pointed out to Darius the possibility of Histiæus establishing Myrkinos as a rallying centre for the Thracians, which might become the nucleus of a powerful state.

The subsequent history of Histiæus shows conclusively that the great Persian officials had the deepest distrust of this scheming Greek.

Megabazos’ representations had their effect. Histiæus was recalled to Sardes, and when, later, Darius went up to Susa, he took him with him, an honoured but unwilling guest.

H. v. 25, 26.

Before departing for Susa, Xerxes appointed Artaphernes satrap of Sardes, and Otanes to succeed Megabazos in the command in Thrace.

H. v. 26.

Otanes proceeded to take Byzantion and Kalchedon. He also took Antandros in the Troad, and Lamponion. Then, by means of ships obtained from Lesbos, he reduced the islands of Lemnos and Imbros. That, according to Herodotus, was the sum of his exploits.

There follow words, one at least of which has got corrupted in the text; but there seems little cause to doubt that Herodotus wrote either: “After this there was a respite from troubles, though not a long one:” or, “After no long time there was a renewal of troubles.”14

He then enters upon the description of that affair at Naxos which immediately preceded the Ionian revolt.

The story of these operations in Thrace which are subsequent to and the direct outcome of the so-called Scythian expedition, is one of the most obscure chapters [70]in Herodotus’ history. He had manifestly the greatest difficulty in obtaining information with regard to the events of the time. That which he did get he got from various sources, whose discrepancies he only partially succeeded in reconciling.

The modern writer is obliged to face the historical situation with the courage alike of necessity and despair; of necessity, inasmuch as the history of these years is of the utmost importance in the story of the Persian relations with Europe, and, consequently, with Greece; of despair, in that he must feel that detailed criticism of such material must border on mere eclecticism. On the main outlines the question it is, however, possible to arrive at conclusions which have some sound foundation in evidence.

It seems quite clear that these campaigns of Megabazos and Otanes aimed at the reduction of the Thracian races in Europe. In ordering them Darius was probably pursuing the policy which had underlain the so-called Scythian expedition. His stay at Sardes, for what cannot have been less than the better part of a year after his return from that expedition, indicates certainly that he considered that the affairs of the westernmost extremity of his empire demanded his personal attention more imperatively than affairs elsewhere, and may well imply that they were of a nature to cause him some anxiety. There had certainly been some disaster in the Scythian expedition. It had been followed by the revolt, not merely of the towns on the European side of the Propontis, but of places like Antandros in the Troad, which Otanes had subsequently to reduce.

The strategic policy observed in the campaign of Megabazos is striking in that the revolted cities are practically ignored. Its results are in many respects uncertain. Herodotus describes them in a descending scale;—first, as having consisted of the subjugation of all the Thracians; secondly, as being confined to the conquest of the coast regions; thirdly, as leaving even the conquest of these regions incomplete in the neighbourhood of Mount Pangæus. DESIGNS OF DARIUS IN EUROPE. It has been pointed out that the first two statements may be reconciled as implying subjugation in two [71]different degrees; but the third constitutes, in whatever way it be regarded, a significant exception.

As far as the revolted cities are concerned, it is possible that Darius thought he could bide his time for dealing with them, and that the larger Thracian policy first demanded his attention. The cities were not powerful enough to do any active damage meanwhile.

How far was Megabazos successful in carrying out this larger policy? If any conclusion is to be drawn from the fact that Darius before leaving Sardes put Otanes in command in place of him, it is that the king was not satisfied with what he had achieved. Nevertheless, the success of his operations seems to have been sufficient to convince the Macedonian king Amyntas of the advisability of submitting to Persian suzerainty. What Megabazos certainly did was to open up the coast road to the West; and this, if the tale of the Pæonians is to be regarded as significant, he seems to have done by the express orders of the king. In any case the advance along this line is certainly a significant fact.

The objects, then, of Megabazos’ campaign appear to have been⁠—

(1) To complete the reduction of Thrace;

(2) To open up the route westwards.

Of these the first seems to have been but half accomplished; and though more success had been attained with the second, the failure to fully accomplish the first made it impossible for Darius to avail himself for the time being of the advantages won along that western route. He had found the Thracians, as others found them in later days, a much more difficult conquest than he had in all probability anticipated.

It is now possible to consider whether the attempt to arrive at an ethnic frontier is the only object which may be suggested as guiding the policy with regard to Thrace. Despite the obscurity of the evidence, it seems clear that Darius intended the conquest of Thrace to be a prelude to further conquest westwards, and that, in pursuance of this design, European Greece was to be the next object of attack. Whether the conquest of Greece was to be merely [72]a second stage in a great scheme of conquest along the northern shores of the Mediterranean, or whether it was merely designed for the purpose of securing the western borders of the empire by subjugating the free kinsmen of the most western subjects of the empire, cannot now be said, inasmuch as there is no evidence which throws light upon the question.

It now remains to consider the evidence,⁠—

(1) As to Darius’ design of conquest westward;

(2) As to the reasons why the attempts to carry it out was postponed for many years.

The operations of Megabazos on the Strymon, followed by the demand for the submission of Macedonia, are certainly strong indications, if not conclusive evidence of, the design to get hold of the coast route to Northern Greece.

For the carrying out of operations on the scale requisite for an expedition aiming at the reduction of Greece as a whole, the command of a land route was necessary. The carrying capacity of a ship of those days was so small that it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to transport a force of the magnitude required across the Ægean. The expedition of 490 represents in all probability the utmost that Persia could accomplish by sea transport, and that was merely directed against Athens and Eretria, and had as its declared object the punishment of the only two states of European Greece which had interfered in the Ionian revolt.

But the results of Megabazos’ campaign, if unsupported by other facts, would afford very inadequate evidence of a design on Greece.

H. iii. 138.

There is, however, a tale in Herodotus, the very telling of which by that historian argues strongly for its general truth. It is the story of Demokedes, the famous physician of Kroton, who, having been in the service of Polykrates of Samos, was captured by the Persians at the time of his murder, and after a series of adventures became court physician at Susa. PERSIANS EXPLORE THE GREEK COAST. About the time when Darius was starting for the Scythian expedition, this Demokedes had rendered a great service to Atossa, the wife of Darius, who, [73]instructed by him, persuaded Darius to send him with an expedition to explore the coasts of Greece, with a view to the subsequent invasion of the country. H. iii. 136. Accompanied by some prominent Persians, Demokedes went down to Sidon in Phœnicia, where the expedition embarked on two triremes and set sail for Greece. They circumnavigated the land, keeping close to the shore, surveying the coasts, and making notes thereof in writing. “At length, having examined the greatest part of it, they proceeded to Tarentum in Italy.” What happened thereafter is not so important. Suffice it to say that, with the aid of the tyrant of Tarentum, Demokedes made his escape, and went to Kroton, whither the Persians followed. The Krotonians refused to surrender him. The Persians accordingly sailed back to Asia, but, “not having their guide, they did not attempt to explore Greece any further.” It is not necessary to recount the rest of their adventures. H. iii. 129–138. Herodotus closes the tale by remarking that they were the first Persians who came from Asia to Greece, and that they were spies.

This tale, like other tales of the time, did not lose in the telling. It manifestly contains fanciful elements. But there do not, on the other hand, exist any grounds whatever for disbelieving its main details,—namely, that such an expedition was actually sent with a view to explore the lands of Greece, and in accordance with an intention to invade the country when the necessary steps for such an invasion had been taken.

Megabazos’ campaign in Thrace was such a step. But when this is said, it must not be supposed that the remark is intended to convey the impression that this was the sole or even the main motive of that campaign. Sole motives are, as it has been said, rare in the history of policies. The design on Greece was the corollary to the problem to be solved in Thrace. It was not necessarily regarded as either superior or inferior in importance to the Thracian problem.

It is possible that the designs on both Thrace and Greece were parts of a larger design which aimed at a simultaneous advance of the Persian frontier along both [74]sides of the Mediterranean. It is, at any rate, noticeable that at the time of these operations in Europe, if Herodotus’ rough chronology is to be accepted, Aryandes, the Persian satrap in Egypt, was engaged in a campaign in Cyrene. H. iii. 13; iv. 165. Cyrene had been tributary to Persia for some time past; but troubles had arisen there which called for Persian interference; and this resulted in the Persian frontier being advanced as far as Euesperides.

There still remains what is, owing to the lack of evidence, the very difficult question as to the reasons which prevented or dissuaded Darius from carrying out his designs on Greece in the years which intervened between the campaign of Megabazos and the outbreak of the Ionian revolt. That may be calculated to have actually broken out in 499. But what is the date of the end of Megabazos’ campaign?

H. v. 23.

It certainly took place some time before Darius left Sardes. Megabazos finds him there on his return; and Histiæus is subsequently recalled to Sardes before Darius leaves the place.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to fix the date of Darius’ departure from Sardes.

H. v. 73.

He had certainly gone to Susa before the arrival of the Athenian embassy which appealed to Persia for aid against Spartan aggression, because it is to Artaphernes that the appeal is addressed. But even if the date of Hippias’ expulsion be taken as fixed, who is to say what time elapsed between that and the sending of this embassy? H. v. 66, 70, 72, 73. Much happened at Athens during the interval—the political struggle between Kleisthenes and Isagoras; the demand of Kleomenes of Sparta for the expulsion of Kleisthenes; the retirement of Kleisthenes; the disastrous expedition of Kleomenes, ending in his own defeat, and in disaster to the party of Isagoras; the return of Kleisthenes, and the carrying out of the reforms which bear his name.

All these things must have taken a considerable time; but in so far as the history of Persian affairs in Asia is concerned, the conclusion to be drawn from them is but vague. POSTPONEMENT OF DESIGNS ON GREECE. It comes to no more than this,—that Artaphernes was acting alone in Sardes some years after the expulsion [75]of Hippias, at a date which can hardly be later than B.C. 507, and that therefore Darius had gone up to Susa before that time; but, on the other hand, it is quite impossible to say how long before that time his departure had taken place.

Darius’ departure seems to indicate clearly that he had for the time being given up all idea of the immediate prosecution of large designs in the West.

There are several reasons which may be suggested for the temporary abandonment of his plans.

There can, in the first place, be little doubt that the campaign in Thrace had not ended in anything resembling the complete subjugation of that difficult country. Disaster in the Scythian expedition had seriously shaken Persian prestige, not merely on the European, but also on the Asiatic side of the Propontis; and though Megabazos’ campaign may have staved off actual danger, its positive results appear to have been but partial, and not such as to warrant further advance.

By the time that campaign came to an end Darius must have been absent from Susa for a space of well-nigh two years; and so prolonged an absence in one remote corner of the empire, far away from the real centre of government, must have had its inconveniences, if not its dangers, in a dominion so wide and so recently reduced to obedience.

The postponement of success in Thrace was the first cause of the postponement of the designs on Greece.

During the years between the departure of Darius from Sardes and the occurrence of those incidents which led to the outbreak of the Ionian revolt Persian history is almost a blank. Darius, the central figure of the whole drama, vanishes from the stage for a long interval of years. Had he, like the Nebuchadnezzar of the Book of Daniel, been driven forth among the beasts of the field, his effacement from written record could hardly have been more complete. H. ii. 110. There is an incidental tale in Herodotus’ Egyptian history which refers to a visit of Darius to Egypt, made possibly during this time. If the tale be true, the incident certainly occurred after the Scythian expedition; and the campaign [76]in Cyrene, or the settlement of affairs after it, may have called for his presence in that part of the empire.

Otherwise, in so far as is known, he spent these years at Susa, where he appears to have been at the time of the outbreak of the Ionian revolt.

Otanes, Megabazos’ successor, is engaged in a campaign against the revolted Greek cities of the Hellespontine region, which are once more brought into subjection; but there is no means of judging how long the campaign lasted.

Did he carry on the operations in Thrace? Probable though the conjecture may be, there is no evidence that he did so, H. v. 116. save the very indecisive fact that he is still in Asia Minor at the time of the revolt.

Artaphernes is satrap at Sardes throughout the interval, and during his tenure of office there is a distinct and striking development of the relations between Persia and European Greece. It is remarkable that it is from the side of Greece,—from Athens, above all,—that the first advances are made.

That state had been for some years past in the throes of a revolution, in which the Spartan king, Kleomenes, had played various parts. After being instrumental in expelling Hippias in 511 B.C., he had discovered that by so doing he had placed the power in the hands of the democratic party at Athens. He sought to remedy the mistake by espousing the cause of Isagoras and the oligarchs. His interference was disastrous to himself and fatal to them. In spite of his failure, his action caused great alarm at Athens, and an idea sprang up there that he aimed at making the country subservient to Sparta. There was no power in Greece itself to which Athens could turn for protection against Sparta, H. v. 73. and in her perplexity she cast her eyes over sea to the great empire on the eastern side of the Ægean, and sent an embassy to Artaphernes asking for his assistance.


It is on the face of it a very remarkable fact that Artaphernes abstained from making full use of the opportunity thus offered him for interference in the affairs of Greece; but the fact, remarkable as it is, is in accord with such other indications as exist of the position of affairs at [77]this time in the West Asian satrapies. It is probable that Artaphernes had his hands full with the maintenance of the dominion which Persia had won in that region, and that he had at the time neither the will nor the power to spare such resources as he had at his disposal on the direct acquisition of further territory. He made a pretence,—his ignorance can hardly have been real,—of not knowing who the Athenians were. On being informed, he offered them alliance on condition they gave earth and water, an offer which the Athenian ambassadors took upon themselves to accept. When, however, they returned to Athens their conduct in so doing was strongly condemned, and the terms were repudiated.

Shortly after this the storm which the Athenians had foreseen broke upon them. H. v. 74. Kleomenes collected a formidable army from Peloponnesus and invaded Attica, while the Bœotians and the Chalkidians of Eubœa prepared to attack from the north. The main danger was averted by the disruption of Kleomenes’ army. The defection not merely of the Corinthians, but also of Demaratos, Kleomenes’ partner in the dual kingship of Sparta, brought the expedition to a premature close after it had actually entered upon Attic territory. This was disastrous for the northern allies. The Bœotians and the Chalkidians were both defeated. In the case of the latter the disaster was irreparable. Their great city, foremost in early Greek trade and colonization, lost its independence, and its lands were occupied by Athenian settlers. Athens had acquired one of the great strategic positions of Greece; and Corinth had made the first of those fatal mistakes of policy which were to have such momentous consequences in the next century.

The Bœotians did not accept defeat. Left in the lurch by their Peloponnesian allies, H. v. 89. they sought and obtained aid from Ægina, which great trading state seized the opportunity of inflicting damage on an old enemy and growing rival in commerce, and harried the Attic coast with piratical raids.

Meanwhile events were preparing for a second interference of Persia in Athenian affairs. H. v. 90. The Lacedæmonians had discovered the fact that they had been tricked by [78]the Delphic Oracle, which, bribed by the Alkmæonidæ, had urged them to aid in the expulsion of Hippias from Athens. Seeking to amend this mistake, they recalled Hippias from Sigeon in the Troad, to which principality he had retired after his expulsion, and where he must have been living for some years as a vassal prince of Persia. Their intention was to reinstate him in the tyranny at Athens. It was again the Corinthians who wrecked the plan. At a conference of the Peloponnesian League called to consider the question, they bitterly opposed the proposal, and carried the other allies with them. Hippias, having had his journey for nothing, returned to Asia more than ever embittered in feeling against Athens and Greece alike; and he seems to have moved heaven and earth to induce Artaphernes to reinstate him in his tyranny. In the end he prevailed so far that Artaphernes called upon the Athenians to receive him back. Whether he intended to take action in case of their refusal will never be known, but events were imminent in Asia, even if they had not already occurred, which rendered all idea of his active interference out of the question; for, if Herodotus’ chronology be correct, this demand was made by him either immediately before or after the first actual step had been taken in the great revolt. H. v. 96, 97. The demand, says Herodotus, convinced the Athenians that thereafter there could only be open enmity with Persia; and while they were in this mind Aristagoras came to Athens.



The mist which hangs over the history of the last decade of the sixth century lifts somewhat when the historian enters upon the narrative of the first ten years of the fifth; but it does not wholly vanish. Striking incidents occur indeed within the range of vision; but it is evident that beyond that range many events took place which had much influence on the history of the time; and the causes of the known lie largely in the region of the unknown.

It is impossible to accept the accounts which Herodotus gives of the Ionian revolt or of the Marathonian campaign as a full history of either of those events. There are wide gaps in both narratives; and much that is recorded is wholly unaccounted for by anything in the rest of the story, or is, in some cases, wholly inconsistent with other facts which are mentioned. In tracing the course of events the modern inquirer is in the position of an astronomer who, having observed aberrations in the course of a far-off planet which cannot be accounted for by any known causes, seeks in the dim distance beyond for the disturbing influence. There, alas! the parallel between the two inquirers ceases, inasmuch as mathematical formulæ have not yet been made applicable to human action.

The imperfect character of the information which Herodotus furnishes with regard to the story of the great Revolt is so evident that the historian himself must have been conscious of it. The peculiarity of his narrative was therefore due in all probability to some simple reason; either, it may be, to the difficulties which met him in his search for reliable information, and to his disinclination to insert in [80]his history anything which he personally regarded as unreliable; or to a determination to deal with only the most prominent and striking incidents of a part of history which was, after all, merely a preface to the great tale which he had set himself to tell—the story of the war in Europe in the years 480 B.C. and 479 B.C.

It is possible that both causes had their effect on his narrative. But if any judgment can be formed from data furnished by the general characteristics of the history as a whole, the first of these two suggested causes is the more credible. If, as is manifestly the case, he experienced the greatest difficulty in arriving at the truth concerning events which were comparatively recent at the time at which he wrote, and which had been of a nature such as to attract the attention of the whole world of his day, it is by no means surprising if he experienced much greater difficulty in getting at the facts concerning what occurred at an earlier date, and about events which, though striking, were infinitely less remarkable than those of the period which immediately followed them.

The defects in the story of the Ionian revolt,15 to whatever cause they be due, are in the main of three kinds:⁠—

(1) Omissions;

(2) Lack of chronological data;

(3) Anti-Ionian bias.

The main chronological difficulty is to attribute the events recorded to the years in which they actually took place. H. vi. 18. The only fact obtainable from Herodotus is that the outbreak took place in the sixth year before the capture of Miletus. It is possible to calculate with satisfactory certainty that the latter event took place in 494 B.C.; and therefore the revolt must have broken out in 499.



The actual outbreak of the rising was brought about in a somewhat indirect way by an event or series of events which appear in Herodotus’ narrative as wholly independent of what had happened in the previous years. It may, however, be seen that these events could hardly have taken place had they not promised an issue such as would have been in accord with the tentative policy which Artaphernes had been following for some time past in his relations with European Greece.

He had already on two occasions shown a wish to interfere in the internal affairs of Athens. On both occasions he had made demands which aimed at the establishment of an area of Persian influence west of the Ægean; but on both occasions also he had omitted to back up those demands by even the display of force, unless,—which is, indeed, possible,—the demand for the reinstatement of Hippias was made at the time that the Persian expedition was preparing to start for Naxos, if not on its way thither.16

The affair at Naxos, which afforded Artaphernes the prospect of being able to forward his policy towards Greece, arose from circumstances which were but too common in Greek communities. The island was at the time the most opulent in the Ægean. When Samos lost its position as the easternmost land of the free Greeks on the great trade route which followed the line of islands which all but bridge the middle of that sea, H. v. 28. much of its trade must have passed to the most important of the islands which now became the outworks of Greek liberty. Prosperity did not bring peace in its train. Political dissension was rife; and certain of the wealthier inhabitants were driven out from the island, and sought refuge at Miletus.

There ruled at this time in Miletus Aristagoras, a cousin and son-in-law of that Histiæus whom Darius had taken up to Susa. To him the exiles applied for assistance. He told them that he could not unaided supply them with a force powerful enough to cope with the eight thousand [82]hoplites which Naxos could put into the field, but that he would get help from Artaphernes. H. v. 31. To Artaphernes at Sardes he accordingly went. The great satrap required but little persuasion to induce him to enter upon an undertaking so promising for the fulfilment of his designs upon Greece; for Aristagoras held out the prospect of the acquisition not merely of Naxos, but of the other Cyclades and of the great island of Eubœa.

The circumstances seemed favourable for the establishment of a base which would immediately threaten the European shore.

Aristagoras had asked for one hundred ships; and, for some reason which is not satisfactorily accounted for in the story, had offered to defray the expenses of the expedition.

So thoroughly did Artaphernes approve of the plan that, in order to ensure its success, he offered to furnish double the number of ships for which Aristagoras had asked, provided Darius assented to the proposed expedition. It is evident that the custom, if not the constitution, of the empire under Darius did not permit even a great satrap like Artaphernes, who was the king’s own brother, to call out a force of considerable magnitude without leave from the king himself. H. v. 31. Artaphernes further promised that the ships should be ready in the coming spring, which shows that Aristagoras’ visit to Sardes must have been made in the first year of the fifth century, probably in the winter of 500 B.C.

Aristagoras returned to Miletus elated at his diplomatic success.

A few months must have elapsed ere Artaphernes received a despatch from Susa approving of his proposal. The assent of Darius is important, as showing that the king was quite willing to resume his designs on Greece when fair opportunity offered.

The true tale of what followed is one of the many unsolved riddles of this period. As told by Herodotus, it runs as follows:⁠—


Artaphernes prepared a fleet of two hundred triremes, together with a considerable force of Persians and other allies, [83]and appointed Megabates, a member of the Achæmenid family, and cousin of Darius, to the command. This armament he despatched to Miletus to pick up Aristagoras together with the Ionian contingent and the Naxian exiles. Thence the expedition sailed to Kaukasa in Chios, with the pretended object of operating in the Hellespontine district,—a pretence which would not have been very effective had the operations of Otanes left it in a wholly satisfactory state of subjection. It was at Kaukasa that the design of the expedition was fated to be wrecked. Megabates, going his rounds, found a Myndian vessel without any guards set, and punished the Greek captain by causing him to be tied with his head through one of the oar-holes. On this being reported to Aristagoras, he made protest to Megabates; but as this had no effect, he himself released the man. A quarrel ensued between the two commanders, the result of which was that Megabates sent a ship and gave warning to the Naxians of the coming expedition. The latter prepared in all haste to meet the danger, and successfully resisted a four months’ siege. The attempt turned out a complete failure, and Aristagoras found himself in the position of guarantor of the expenses, without the means of meeting the guarantee. Such is the tale in Herodotus.

It is necessary to pursue the story somewhat further before any attempt can be made to hazard a conjecture as to the true explanation of some of the incidents in this narrative.

Aristagoras had brought his affairs into a very critical position. He had quarrelled with Megabates, and had made himself surety for a debt to Artaphernes which he had no prospect of being able to pay. He had, indeed, reason to fear that he would lose his tyranny of Miletus.

H. v. 35.

“Fearing these two things, he proceeded to plan a revolt. For it so fell out that the man with the tattooed head17 arrived at this time from Histiæus at Susa, suggesting to Aristagoras that he [84]should revolt from the king. For Histiæus when wishing to suggest this revolt to Aristagoras, had, in consequence of the roads being watched, no other way of so doing except by shaving the head of the most faithful of his slaves and tattooing the message upon it. As soon as the hair had grown again he sent him off to Miletus, merely bidding him when he came to Miletus to ask Aristagoras to cut off his hair and look at his head. The tattoo marks, as I have already said, indicated revolt. Histiæus did this because he looked on his retention at Susa as a great misfortune. If a revolt took place he had every hope that he would be sent down to the sea, but he reckoned that if no disturbance took place at Miletus he would never get there. Such was the intent of Histiæus in sending the message. H. v. 36. But for Aristagoras it came about that all these things befel at the same time. He therefore proceeded to consult the conspirators, laying before them his own views and the message which had come from Histiæus.”

There are certain strange inconsistencies in this tale.

Megabates, though in command of the expedition, though responsible to Darius and Artaphernes for its success, is represented as wrecking what appears to have been a well-devised plan by giving information to the unsuspecting objects of attack. Yet he is neither disgraced nor discredited. His alleged treachery might have been concealed; his failure was, however, patent.

Again, it is quite clear that it is the intention of Herodotus to ascribe the outbreak of the revolt to this failure at Naxos; the insurrection is set on foot by Aristagoras merely for the sake of rescuing himself from a position of great embarrassment. And yet, when he proceeds in all haste to plan revolt, he finds fellow conspirators already in existence. It is impossible to suppose that any long interval can have elapsed between the return from Naxos and the first act of the revolt, for that took place on the fleet which had just returned from the attack on the island. The conspiracy cannot have been of recent origin.

There can be little doubt that Herodotus’ incidental reference to the “conspirators” or “insurgents” indicates that the plan of revolt had been made before,—it may be, long before,—the expedition to Naxos.



It is evident from the account of the Scythian expedition, and of the campaigns which followed it, that something had taken place in it which had for the time being seriously shaken the Persian position in West Asia; in other words, that Herodotus is not wrong in his general view of it as a disaster to the Persian arms.

The Greek cities of the coast would watch with the closest interest the development of events. It would be a hostile vigilance; and with such a race as the Greeks the step from hostile vigilance to conspiracy is a short one. For the successful accomplishment of any design, however, against a power so great as Persia, combination was necessary, and any attempt at practical combination between the cities, except under unusually favourable circumstances, must wreck the design by disclosing it prematurely to the satrap at Sardes. It was the gathering of the Ionian fleet for the attack on Naxos which offered the opportunity, the favourable circumstances, for which they had waited. The affair at Naxos was rightly regarded by Herodotus as the immediate efficient cause of the revolt.

It now remains to consider the part which Aristagoras played in the matter. In so doing it is necessary to draw a strong distinction between the facts which Herodotus states and his interpretation of them. It is also necessary to compare the facts which he records in one connection with those which he records in another.

Taking his account as it stands, it seems clear that Aristagoras was in the conspiracy before he entered upon the Naxian expedition. It is inconceivable that the astute Greek conspirator would have admitted into his confidence a man who held the position of tyrant in the Persian interest in one of the Greek cities, and who had just been engaged in an attack on the liberty of the free Greeks, unless that man had been beforehand thoroughly involved in the conspiracy.

It is also difficult to imagine that Aristagoras would have ventured on a journey to European Greece with a view to getting help thence in the same year in which the expedition to Naxos had taken place, had he not had some valid defence to offer for the part he had played in an [86]affair which cannot but have caused the most serious alarm in Greece.

It is possible to explain away either of those difficulties taken separately; but taken together they constitute a very serious question, which the student of history must face if he is to arrive at an understanding of the story of these years. The evidence on which the account of Herodotus is to be tested is that which he himself supplies.

The critical question is whether Aristagoras in urging upon Artaphernes the expedition against Naxos did not merely aim at bringing about the mobilization and concentration of the Ionian fleet,—to provide, in other words, the only possible means for that combination between the Greek cities which was absolutely necessary for the success of the revolt.

What had Aristagoras to hope for from success at Naxos?

The fate of his predecessor, Histiæus, must have shown him clearly that the Persian authorities had no intention whatever of allowing even the most faithful and most favoured Greek tyrant to acquire a position of real power on the coast. He could, then, hardly hope for further extension of rule. Had he one particle of interest in the expedition except in so far as it afforded the opportunity for the gathering of the Ionian fleet?

Did Megabates send the message to Naxos? He had every motive for not doing so. Why should motive be disregarded in the court of history when it is regarded as an essential factor in a court of law? The problem,—the human problem,—is the same in both cases. Again, in a court of law the credibility of a witness is not regarded by those expert in the testing of evidence as being dependent solely on the assertions made by that witness with respect to the case before the court. Inquiry is made into the origin of his assertions, and into the possibility of personal prejudice on his part.

Was a man like Herodotus, a Greek to the very backbone, likely to be free from the bitter, hostile prejudice which the Greek entertained against a tyrant and all his works?


The tale of the affair at Naxos was not, maybe, of his [87]own making; but it was one which he was not likely to subject to severe criticism. The very idea of tyranny stunk in the nostrils of the free Greek. He refused to recognize the part played by a Sicilian tyrant in the great war of liberation. With what feelings must he have regarded those tyrants of the Asiatic coast who inflicted on their fellow-countrymen the twofold tyranny of servitude to themselves and to the barbarian? It would have been a strange thing if Herodotus had been able to obtain in after times a true, unprejudiced account of the part played by a man in the position of Aristagoras.

Even prejudice could not, however, deny that he had been the chief instigator of the Ionian revolt. It contented itself with placing the worst complexion on his motives. Having failed to enslave the free, he tried to free the slave.

There is one further question which demands consideration. If this hypothesis as to the designs of Aristagoras be correct, why did he not take the first steps in the revolt before the expedition actually started from the Asian coast?

There are two facts stated in Herodotus which may possibly account for this delay. Artaphernes had, perhaps, been only too eager in taking up the proposed design. Aristagoras had asked for one hundred ships; Artaphernes had given two hundred. This accession of numbers may have been actually embarrassing to Aristagoras, as rendering the expedition of such magnitude as to demand the presence of a larger percentage of the non-Greek element on board the fleet than he had either hoped for or reckoned upon. The ships and crews seem to have been Greek; H. v. 32. ad fin. but it must be concluded from Herodotus’ account of the gathering of the expedition that a considerable Persian force was embarked. So long as this force was with the fleet such a measure as that with which the revolt was opened could hardly have been adopted with success, and would, indeed, hardly have been attempted. The conspirators would have to wait until the non-Greek element had disembarked and gone up country, and then would have to strike quickly before the fleet was dispersed by official orders.

Another possible reason for this delay is that Aristagoras [88]wished to defer the outbreak until the close of the campaigning season, when he would have time to make preparations to meet the coming storm. The four months’ duration of the fruitless siege of Naxos would be in that case all in his favour. He had to waste time at Naxos in order to gain it on the Asiatic coast. A sturdy defence on the part of the Naxians was the very thing from which he had most to hope.

Did Megabates or Aristagoras send the fatal message?

The tale of “the man with the tattooed head” was evidently a celebrated tale of the time. There is no reason whatever to suspect the truth of it. In the plot as given in Herodotus it plays the part of a second motive. All that Herodotus knows of the message is that it “signified revolt,” and that Aristagoras imparted it to his fellow-conspirators. The method of communication implies that the message cannot indeed have been a long one.

It must, however, be regarded as an extraordinary coincidence that it should have arrived in the very brief period which must have intervened between the return from Naxos and the first act of insurrection. It must, in order to be effective, have suggested some powerful motive for revolt. It cannot possibly be imagined that Aristagoras wanted Histiæus back on the coast. The Greek conspirators were very unlikely to desire the return of the favoured friend of the great king, except on one assumption, namely, that Histiæus had been in the plot before ever he made the involuntary journey to Susa.

But whatever the full contents of the message, whatever the reasons which made it contribute to the determination of the conspirators, there are, as has been already said, no grounds whatever for doubting that the message did come. The question is as to the time at which it came.

Before proceeding with the narrative of the revolt it may be well to point out clearly the exact status, if it may be so called, of the hypothesis which has been here suggested as to the circumstances of its outbreak.

It is an hypothesis, and cannot pretend to be more than that. MEETING OF CONSPIRATORS. The evidence in the version of Herodotus, while it justifies destructive criticism of the story as told by him, [89]is not sufficient to afford anything that can be claimed as a sure basis for constructive history. Herodotus was naturally disposed to accept a version which brought into relief the haphazard want of method in the first act of those who were responsible for a design which, however laudable its aims, was, as seemed to him, carried out from beginning to end with a strange mixture of pusillanimity and criminal folly.

H. v. 36. Cf. v. 36, ad fin.

The meeting of the conspirators took place immediately after the return from Naxos. The place of meeting was presumably Miletus. It certainly was not held on board the fleet.

On the question of revolt the conspirators were unanimous, with one prominent exception. Hecatæus the historian spoke words of serious warning. He pointed out the magnitude of the resources of the great king when compared with their own. Failing to dissuade them, he advised that, as they were bent on revolt, they should secure the command of the sea. This, he considered, offered the sole chance of success. For its successful maintenance capital was necessary; and this, he suggested, might be obtained from the great treasures of the temple of the Branchidæ, a shrine which had been enriched by the offerings of Crœsus. This plan was also rejected by the meeting.

The express mention of Hecatæus’ name in connection with two proposals, of one of which Herodotus must have cordially approved, is noticeable as an indication of the origin of much of the “prejudice” which is discoverable in Herodotus’ work. Cf. H. ii. 16; iv. 36; iv. 95, 96; ii. 123. Either from jealousy or from conviction, he had no very high opinion of the Ionian historio-geographers, and of the Ionian intellect generally. H. iv. 36. One of his most depreciatory remarks about them is in all probability directed against Hecatæus personally.

Yet though he entertained so poor an opinion of one side of Hecatæus’ work, though he was probably jealous of his reputation as a historian, he does not hesitate to reproduce from his sources emphatic testimony to the practical wisdom and judgment of the man.

The statement of the absolute rejection of the second [90]proposal of Hecatæus must be understood in a modified sense. The Ionians did in the subsequent campaign allot a very prominent part to their fleet. The meaning of the proposal was that the offensive should be taken on sea; and, above all, that the sea should be regarded as the real base.

But Aristagoras, as his subsequent language at Sparta makes clear, was convinced that the Greek hoplite was infinitely more than a match for any soldiery which Persia could put into the field; and others apparently shared his opinion. The events of twenty years later proved the truth of his general judgment on this point. He and his fellow conspirators may have made a mistake, when they took the offensive on land, in expecting too much from the land forces which the insurgents could put into the field. But in great ventures great risks have to be taken; and the attack on the Persian base made at the beginning of the year 498, had it been successful, must have brilliantly justified the plan.

It is easy now, in the light of knowledge after the event, to see that, if the revolt was to be successful, it must succeed on both elements:⁠—on sea, because only by means of the fleet could the concentration of a large land force be brought about: on land, because only on that element could an effective blow be struck against the Persian dominion in Western Asia.

Aristagoras’ estimate of the strategic position of the insurgents was singularly justified by the history of the subsequent warfare of the century. The sea was, indeed, and must be, the Ionian base. The strategic weakness of the position of the cities rendered any other alternative impossible. But ages of fighting were destined to prove that no mortal blow could be inflicted on Persia by sea alone. The Ægean might be made a Hellenic lake. The islands on the Asian coast might be liberated. But so long as Persia maintained her hold upon the continent, the cities of the mainland must be ultimately at the mercy of a great land power holding the central position in Western Asia. If the revolt was to be successful, it was at this central position that the blow must be struck. Sardes must be the objective of the insurgents.



It was evident that nothing could be done with the fleet until the tyrants who were in command of its contingents were removed. H. v. 37. A certain Iatragoras was accordingly sent to seize them. He did so “by a trick,” whose nature is not specified. He seized four who are mentioned by name, and “many others.” It is a remarkable fact that not one of the four is Ionian. Two are Æolan, and two are Helleno-Carian18 Aristagoras, of his own accord, “nominally” laid aside the tyranny of Miletus. He then proceeded to depose other tyrants in Ionia, besides those whom he had caught upon the fleet, and handed over the whole number to their various cities. The Mytilenians slew their tyrant Koës; the others were allowed to depart. Inasmuch as those tyrants had all been acting in the interests of Persia, their deposition was necessarily the first step in the revolt.

This measure must have been taken later in the autumn of 499, just at the close of the campaigning season; for Aristagoras could not otherwise have ventured on the journey to Greece which he immediately undertook with a view to getting assistance.

It was to Sparta that he first turned for help.

The tale of his visit to Kleomenes, the Spartan king, is told at considerable length. As told, it contained at least one incident which was likely to render it famous in Greek story. The version of it which Herodotus has preserved is of Lacedæmonian origin.19

Aristagoras brought with him a map of the world engraved on a bronze tablet, the work of one of the Ionian geographers,—possibly of the famous Hecatæus. The strong appeal which he addressed to Kleomenes as leader of the foremost state in Greece to save the Ionians from their slavery comes strangely from the mouth of one who has just been represented as doing all in his power to bring one of the European islands into that state from which he now begged Kleomenes to save the Asiatic Greeks. It is still more strange that in this story, whose origin is manifestly different from that of the affair at Naxos, there is no mention whatever of any suspicion [92]having been excited by Aristagoras’ conduct; and no explanation of it was demanded from him.

Coming to the practical question of the possibilities offered by a campaign in Asia, Aristagoras emphasizes in a very remarkable way the superiority of the Greek military equipment over that of the Persian. H. v. 49. His proposal does not confine itself to the liberation of Ionia: he even holds out the prospect of the conquest of the rich lands of Western Asia. To the men of the time at which Herodotus wrote, this part of the story must have seemed a striking example of the wild exaggeration of the Ionian imagination. As an estimate of possibilities it was, however, far more near the truth than they can have supposed—nearer, perhaps, than Aristagoras supposed himself. “When it is in your power,” said he, “to rule all Asia with ease, will you choose aught else?”

Kleomenes took three days for consideration, and then, at a second conference, asked Aristagoras how far the king was from the Ionian sea. When informed that it was a journey of three months up country to Susa, he broke off negotiations and dismissed Aristagoras at once.

Aristagoras would not accept dismissal, but returned once more, and, so the story goes, in the presence of the king’s little daughter Gorgo, tempted him with ever-increasing bribes. The child, with more than childish wisdom, brought the interview to a conclusion by saying, “Father, the stranger will corrupt you, unless you go away.”

Whether the story itself be truth or fiction the fact remains that Sparta abided by that policy which she had followed for some years past, and refused to become embroiled with the great empire of the East.

H. v. 55.

From Sparta Aristagoras went to Athens. His arrival was, in a sense, opportune. The demand of Artaphernes for the reinstatement of Hippias had created an intensely bitter feeling of hostility towards the Persian. Introduced before the public assembly, he used the same arguments as he had employed at Sparta, and further claimed that the Milesians were Athenian colonists. “There is nothing that he did not promise, so urgent was his request, until he persuaded them.”



Herodotus is at considerable pains to show the depth of the folly, as he conceived it to be, with which Athens entered upon a fatal venture.

In the end the Athenians voted an aid of twenty ships; not a small number, when it is remembered that their navy at this time was but a fraction of what it was twenty years later. H. v. 97. “These ships were a source of woes to the Greeks and the barbarians,” says Herodotus. There can be no doubt as to his meaning. He regarded this as the decisive moment in the relations between Persia and European Greece.

The tale of the revolt is that part of his history in which he allows his own personal views to be most clearly seen. To him it seemed the great mistake of the century; that is clear from his story of it; but it is not so easy to say why he so utterly condemned it, unless he regarded it as leading to the renewal of those designs on Greece which Darius had been obliged for ten years past to lay aside.

But that cannot have been all. It is necessary to examine the whole story as told by him. That alone can afford some clear clue to the causes which brought about what was undoubtedly a strange perversion of his judgment.

H. v. 98.

Aristagoras, he says, returned from Athens to Miletus, “having devised a plan from which no advantage was fated to come to the Ionians.”

It must have been in the winter of 499 B.C. or early spring of the year 498 that Aristagoras returned.

His first act was to send a message to those Pæonians whom Darius had removed from the Strymon to Asia, telling them that they were free to return, as all Ionia had revolted from the king. Unless his object in so doing were to create an impression in the Persian sphere of influence in Europe, it is impossible to attribute a motive to any otherwise apparently causeless act. Herodotus looks upon it as simply designed to give annoyance to Darius, an end which, it may be presumed, Aristagoras had sufficiently attained by raising the standard of revolt. It is quite possible that he sought to carry out the policy attributed to his father-in-law, Histiæus, some ten years before, and to enlist the aid of the Thracians in a struggle with the [94]Persian power in Western Asia. If this was the intent, the design did not meet with success. The Thracians did not take any active part in the revolt, though they took advantage of the events on the Asian side to throw off whatever allegiance they had hitherto owed to the king.

In the spring of 498 the twenty Athenian ships, accompanied by five triremes from Eretria, arrived on the Asiatic coast. The Eubœan city had apparently sent her aid unasked, influenced by those trade relations of which so little is heard from the two great historians of the fifth century, but which must have played so decisive a part in the shaping of events. The academic atmosphere of the Athens of the latter part of the century excluded such banausic details from a cultured narrative of events.

Hitherto the offensive operations of the insurgents had been confined to the deposition of the tyrants of the Greek cities.

Herodotus is absolutely silent as to the measures which Artaphernes took in consequence of this bloodless act of war. He can hardly have entertained any illusions as to its significance; yet, if Herodotus’ account is to be taken as a complete narrative of events, the Ionians took the offensive in the spring of 498, some months at least after this act of unmistakable hostility, without meeting at first with any opposition.

H. v. 99.

After the arrival of the ships from European Greece Aristagoras sent an expedition against Sardes. He did not accompany it himself, but placed his brother Charopinos and another Milesian in command. The expedition went by sea to Ephesus, and, leaving the ships at Koresos in the Ephesian territory, went up country under the guidance of the Ephesians.20

Following first the river Kaÿster, they afterwards crossed Mount Tmolos, and took Sardes, except the Acropolis, without opposition. That was saved by Artaphernes “with no inconsiderable force.”


The town was composed of houses either thatched with reeds or wholly constructed of them. One of these was [95]kindled by a Greek soldier, either by accident or design, and the whole place was burnt to the ground. A statement is then made which seems inconsistent with the assertion that the town had been taken without opposition, to the effect that, in consequence of the conflagration, the Lydians and Persians were compelled to defend themselves in the market-place, and that the Ionians, by reason of their numbers, found it advisable to retreat under cover of night to their ships.

The most remarkable feature of this story, as it stands in Herodotus, is its lack of consequence. Cause and effect are as little apparent in it as in the narrative of a dream. Artaphernes, after months of warning, is caught unprepared. Sardes is taken without opposition; yet, when the conflagration takes place, a host, not merely of Lydians, but of Persians also, springs from its very ashes, and in such formidable numbers that the Ionians are obliged to withdraw under cover of night.

If Greek history is to bear the guise of history, this story requires examination. No useful end can be served by accepting as fact that which is incapable of rational interpretation. Human motive springs from human thought; and if thought has its formal laws, it is reasonable to suppose that there is a formality in motive also.

It happens that in the present instance there exists evidence which puts a complexion on these events very different to that which is given by Herodotus.

Plut. de Herod. Malignitate, 24.

Plutarch has preserved a tradition that at the time at which the expedition against Sardes took place the Persians were engaged in the siege of Miletus, and that one object of the expedition was to force the Persians to raise the siege. The bitter animus of the treatise in which this assertion is made makes it impossible to accept statements in it without consideration. In the present instance, however, the statement is so manifestly in accord with the situation at the time that it is impossible to reject it as untrue.

Miletus had been, through Aristagoras, the author of the revolt. Artaphernes had had a whole winter’s warning. It is inconceivable that he should have allowed months to [96]elapse without taking measures to crush the rising before it became formidable; and this end could best be attained by an attack on that centre at which the conflagration had had its origin, and from which it was, if left unchecked, but too likely to spread far and wide. Artaphernes was no child playing at empire, but a practised administrator, who had governed a great outlying province for nearly ten years of a critical period of its history.

There can be little question that the bold design of a direct attack on Sardes completely upset his plans. It forced him not merely to raise the siege of Miletus, but also to hurry with all speed to save the Persian capital in the west, which must, from its very position, be his base of operations in the coming struggle. An examination of the map will show that the loss of Sardes would have necessitated the withdrawal of that base far to the east. It is doubtful indeed whether another could have been found west of Halys. The attack was a brilliant venture on the part of the Greeks. It was a brilliant idea on the part of the one man to whom it can be attributed,—Aristagoras.

Aristagoras has come down in history with the ill reputation of one who dared to lead brave men to their death, but dared not die with them. This feature of his life’s story has tended to obscure the true picture of the man. The added selfishness of motive is not calculated to present him in a more favourable light.

Such is the general impression created by the picture which Herodotus draws of him.

Yet the details do not altogether bear out the impression which is created by the picture as a whole.

It is doubtless the case that he acted from selfish motives. It may be that his highest aim was to become the first man among the Greeks of the Asiatic coast; but he must at least be credited with a spirit that ventured much to gain more. He miscalculated the means to the end he sought. But was the miscalculation more discreditable to him than to those European Greeks on whose aid he had calculated? They had, no doubt, their excuse; but he had his.



Even in the hostile pages of Herodotus there is clear evidence that the measures he took with the means at his disposal showed high ability, if not genius. He all but checkmated the Persians at Sardes; and the period during which the revolt was formidable was coincident with the time at which he played the foremost part in it.

The incidental light which Herodotus’ narrative throws on the events at Sardes is, in some respects, of more historical importance than his direct story of events.

The attitude of the Lydians towards the revolt is clearly marked from the very first. This people, for some reason which it is not possible to conjecture with anything approaching certainty, not merely stood apart and remained neutral, but actually fought on the Persian side, in Sardes at any rate. H. v. 102. This deed of active hostility may have been exceptional, and both it and the absence on the part of the Lydians of all sympathy with the revolt may be due to the destruction of their chief city, and especially of their national sanctuary of the goddess Kybebe, which perished in the conflagration. This, so Herodotus says, served as an excuse for the subsequent destruction of the Greek temples; but if it also served to alienate the sympathies of the Lydians from the struggle for freedom, it can only be regarded as a disaster of the first magnitude to the cause of the Asiatic Greeks.21

H. v. 102.

The Greek occupation of the town of Sardes does not seem to have been a matter of a few days. Not merely had the news of its seizure time to spread to the region west of Halys, but the Persian commanders22 in that wide[98] stretch of country had time to assemble a large levy for the rescue of the capital; and though when they arrived there the Greeks had departed, their departure had been so recent that the relieving force actually overtook and fought an action with them before they reached their ships.

The spreading of the news and the gathering of this force must have been at least an affair of some weeks; and the summer of 498 must have been at its height ere the Greek retreat began.

It was near Ephesus that the Persian reinforcements overtook the Greeks. In the battle which followed the Ionians were, so Herodotus says, badly defeated, and a great many prominent men were slain, while the survivors dispersed to their various cities. Evalkides, the Eretrian general, was one of those who perished; and the record of his death has all the appearance of truth. There are several very serious reasons, however, for believing that the result of the battle has been greatly exaggerated.

After the battle the Athenian contingent sailed off home. This was probably in the autumn of 498. It is the last event recorded by Herodotus which can be attributed with certainty to that year.

It is possible that the Athenians had a valid excuse for this apparent desertion, in that they had just become engaged in a war with Ægina; but the date of the outbreak of that war is quite uncertain, and the real cause of withdrawal may have been that the Athenians took too pessimistic a view of the prospects of the revolt.23 The non-participation of the Lydians was calculated to set them thinking. If the latter of these alternatives were the case, it is conceivable that the tale of the results of the battle of Ephesus is of Athenian origin, put forward in part justification of the withdrawal.

Herodotus24 evidently attributed it to the results of the battle of Ephesus, and this may be taken to indicate, at any rate, that the Athenians thought badly of the prospects of the revolt. BYZANTION AND CARIA JOIN THE REVOLT. Aristagoras sent message after message [99]during the winter of 498–97, imploring them to return; but they refused to come back.

It seems certain that the Athenians greatly miscalculated the possibilities of the moment; yet it may be doubted whether the actual facts were not such as to justify their decision. Save for the assistance given by their own small contingent and by the five ships from Eretria, the Ionians had gone through the first season of the war single-handed. The revolt had merely excited opposition in Lydia; and its remarkable extension in the next year could hardly have been foreseen. Even the Greek cities of the coast were not unanimous in supporting it. Herodotus, himself a Dorian of Asia, is so significantly silent as to any part which the Dorian cities played in it, that it must be concluded that they played no part at all.

The winter of 498–97 was passed by the Ionians in preparation for the continuance of the struggle. The withdrawal of the Athenians was not a great loss to the actual fighting power of the insurgents. It seems, moreover, to have had but little moral effect upon them, and none whatever upon their relations and friends in Asia.

The Ionian fleet opened the year’s campaign by sailing to Byzantion, and bringing about the revolt of the whole region of the Propontis.25 From the Propontis the fleet returned to Caria, which also joined the insurgents. The Carian district of Kaunos had apparently been invited to join at the time of the burning of Sardes, but had deferred doing so until the arrival of the fleet.

The action of the fleet, and the sudden spread of the revolt at this time, tend to throw light on certain obscurities in the history of the campaign of the previous year.

Inasmuch as the Ionian fleet must, in spite of Aristagoras’ refusal to recognize the fact, have formed the real base of the insurgent operations, it is inconceivable that the [100]Persians should have omitted to bring up the Phœnician fleet to cope with it. This would be the first measure which would suggest itself to them. Yet at the beginning of the second campaigning season, at least a year and a half after the first act of revolt had placed the Ionian fleet in the power of the insurgents, that fleet is free to leave the Ægean coast undefended, and to go to the Propontis to stir the Hellespontine region into activity! Where was the Phœnician fleet meanwhile? The artifice of Aristagoras in bringing about the mobilization of the Ionian fleet had indeed given the Asiatic Greeks a long start in naval operations; but at least eighteen months had elapsed since he had shown his hand.

Had the revolt of Cyprus already taken place, and had the Phœnician fleet been obliged to make the reduction of that island its first objective? There are at least three reasons which render this assumption unlikely:⁠—

H. v 104, ad init.

(1) Herodotus is certainly under the impression that the Cypriote revolt took place about the same time as that of Caria.26

(2) Cyprus was so important to the revolt that, had the Phœnician fleet been in a position to threaten it at this time, the Ionians could hardly have ventured on an expedition to the Hellespontine region.

(3) The revolt in Cyprus had been in progress for many months before the Ionian fleet went thither.

Plut. de Herod. Malign. 24.

It seems probable that Plutarch has preserved the record of an important incident in the history of this time, which Herodotus had either forgotten, or of which he had never heard. He refers to a victory gained by the Ionian fleet off the Pamphylian coast. This would account for the non-appearance of the Phœnician fleet in the Ægean in the campaign of 498.


It may be conjectured that the victory took place early in that year—that is, in the spring or early summer,—and that it was won over a fleet which was coming up to assist [101]Artaphernes in the siege of Miletus. It would account also for the spirit shown by the Ionians in the bold venture of the attack on Sardes.

H. v. 103.

The rapid spread of the revolt in 497 makes it almost impossible to accept Herodotus’ version of the battle at Ephesus. If he is to be believed, the reverse there sustained more than compensated for any success won at Sardes. If that be so, the impetus given to the revolt by the burning of Sardes becomes inexplicable. It must be concluded that Ephesus was not the disaster which Herodotus represents it to have been.

The news of the revolt of the Ionians had thrown the Cypriote Greeks into a state of ferment. The island had been for many ages past divided between the Greek and Phœnician interests. The Greek section of the population seems to have hitherto adopted an attitude of passive or secretly active resistance to the Persian, while the Phœnician formed the Medic party. Persian and Phœnician interests in the island were mutual. The Persian communications were dependent on the Phœnician fleet, while the Phœnicians could only hold their ground against the preponderating numbers of the Greeks by means of Persian support. Salamis and Amathus (Hamath) were respectively the foremost towns of the Greek and Phœnician regions.

H. v. 104.

The leader of the movement in the island was Onesilos, the younger brother of Gorgos, the Greek king of Salamis. “He had frequently before this time advised his brother Gorgos to revolt from the king; but now, when he heard that even the Ionians had revolted, he was very urgent in his endeavours to induce him to do so.” Failing to persuade Gorgos, he seized the city during his temporary absence, and Gorgos fled to the Persians. The revolt spread to all the towns of the island except Amathus. Onesilos proceeded accordingly to besiege this place.

It is very difficult to assign a certain date to these events. One thing may, however, be confidently assumed, namely, that when Onesilos made his urgent representations to his brother, and, still more, when the revolt broke out, the Phœnician fleet was for the time being hors de combat. The absolutely indeterminate element in the [102]matter is the length of time which intervened between the first urgent representation of Onesilos and the deposition of Gorgos. Certain facts stated in the subsequent story of the campaign render it probable that Onesilos’ representations were made after the battle off the Pamphylian coast, if not after the burning of Sardes, and that they must therefore be attributed to the autumn of 498; while the first step in revolt, the deposition of Gorgos, took place in the following winter, and the siege of Amathus began in the spring of 497.

The customs or necessities of campaigning in the fifth century rendered the winter the natural time for planning insurrection, and the summer the time for carrying it out.

This chronology of the prelude to the revolt in Cyprus is not merely in accord with calculations which may be made from Herodotus’ statements, but is also in agreement with his general assumption that the outbreak concurred with the similar outbreaks in the Hellespontine region and in Caria.

After mentioning the beginning of the siege of Amathus, Herodotus transfers the scene of his narrative to Susa, where he describes the reception by Darius of the news of the burning of Sardes by the Athenians and Ionians. The details of the story cannot be cited as serious history, but it contains the record of what are undeniably historical events. As is so often the case with famous stories, the historical matter has become involved in a mass of graphic detail which cannot be supposed to rest on anything but the slenderest foundation of fact.

There are two features of Herodotus’ version which, though not, it may be, historical, are of both interest and importance to the student of Herodotus’ history; they are (1) the prominence given to the Athenian participation in the opening campaign of the revolt; (2) an incidental reference to the Ionians.

H. v. 105.

“When the news was brought to King Darius that Sardes had been captured and burnt by the Athenians and Ionians, and that Aristagoras the Milesian had been leader of the coalition, so that he had devised those things, he is said in the first instance, on hearing this, to have recked nothing of the Ionians, knowing well [103]that they would not come off unpunished for their revolt, but to have asked who the Athenians were; and afterwards, when he had been informed on this point, he is said to have asked for his bow, and to have taken an arrow, and, placing it in the bow, to have shot it towards heaven, exclaiming in so doing: ‘Zeus, grant that I be avenged on the Athenians.’ Having thus said, he ordered one of his attendants that whenever his dinner was laid before him, he should say three times, ‘Master, forget not the Athenians.’”

The tale then passes on to a reported conversation with Histiæus.

The historical fact underlying this story amounts in all probability to no more than that Darius was both exasperated and alarmed at this first instance of an active interference of the European Greeks in his West Asian dominions. It was, indeed, the realization of a trouble which he seems to have foreseen.

The references to the Athenians and Ionians, though they cannot be regarded as historical, are undoubtedly made with intent to give a certain colouring to the history of the time. It is therefore important to try and form some judgment as to their significance. Whatever their origin, there can be no doubt that they give that colouring to events which Herodotus himself believed to be the true one.

His judgment as to the part played by Athens in the great events of the first twenty years of the century is a very striking one, and bears the impress of genuine conviction.

Of the attitude of that state in the great war of 480–479 he has nothing but good to say; but he is evidently convinced that Athens, and Athens alone, was really responsible for that war having taken place at all. This judgment of his must have been a purely personal one, formed upon his reading of the events of the period of which he wrote the history. It can be seen now that he was not wholly mistaken. His mistake consisted in assuming that what was only a contributory cause was the whole efficient cause of what occurred subsequent to the revolt. His attitude towards the Ionians cannot, on the [104]other hand, be attributed to purely personal judgment. His sources for the history of the revolt, which had their origin largely, it may be, in those Dorian cities of Asia which had not taken part in it, were evidently of a nature to prejudice his mind against the Ionian Greek.27

The second part of the story which relates to Histiæus is probably a piece of Greek invention, describing what might well be supposed to have happened at Susa in consequence of the part which his near relative Aristagoras had played in the revolt. It served also to bring into relief the duplicity of this Ionian tyrant towards a master and a friend who trusted him but too implicitly.

But in the case of this story, as in the case of other similar stories in Herodotus, it is necessary to bear in mind that, though the story itself may be fiction, it is extremely likely to contain historical matter in the shape of chance disclosures of the views which its framers or their contemporaries held as to the events of the time. There is in this very story a remark which indicates that some contemporary opinion was not disposed to regard the revolt as the hurried creation of Aristagoras. “The Ionians seem,” Histiæus is represented to have said, “after losing sight of me, to have done what they long desired to do.”

Whatever persuasion Histiæus used, he succeeded in inducing Darius to let him go down to the coast.

It would be vain to attempt to deduce from the juxtaposition of these two imaginative tales any conclusion as to the time at which Histiæus started from Susa.

Cf. H. vi. 1.

The only real indication of the date of his return is given in a subsequent chapter, where it is clearly implied that it was subsequent to the departure of Aristagoras from Miletus, if not to his death at Myrkinos.

Cf. H. v. 108.

From Susa the story shifts back to Cyprus. STRATEGIC VALUE OF CYPRUS. The siege of Amathus is still proceeding, and Onesilos has just received word of the coming of a Phœnician fleet with a large Persian [105]force aboard of it, under the command of Artybios. He accordingly despatched messengers to Ionia to ask for help. Herodotus emphasizes the promptness with which the Ionian fleet was despatched to aid the Cypriotes.

It is plain that both sides recognized the crucial importance of the part which Cyprus had to play in the great struggle. The peculiar configuration of the neighbouring continent, which brings the only really practicable military line of communication between Asia Minor and the Euphrates valley into immediate contact with the shore of the Levant at that corner of the sea which is commanded by Cyprus, renders this island a strategical position of inestimable value either to a power assailing Asia Minor from the east, or to one defending it from the west. The Cypriote Greeks, backed by the Ionian fleet, would have been in a position to threaten at its weakest point the Persian line of communication with the Western satrapies. From it as a base also, the Ionian fleet might have made it impossible for the Phœnicians to sail to the Ægean. Cyprus was then, as it is now, the key of the Levant.

Of its value as a strategic position the Greek was, moreover, fully aware. The alacrity with which the Ionians accepted the invitation in the present instance was equalled by the eagerness with which, twenty years later, the Greeks on the fleet under Pausanias sought to seize it, even when the liberation of the Ægean coast was as yet in its initial stage. They knew that its possession would inevitably facilitate their task nearer home. Had not Kimon died so inopportunely, Athens might have realized the dream of its permanent acquisition.

But it was not merely its strategic position that rendered it so attractive in the eyes of the trading cities of Ionia. From a commercial point of view it would have supplied an ideal base for trade with the wealthy East, and would have placed the Greek trader in possession of a sea route of his own, instead of, on the one hand, a sea route on which he had to face the fierce Phœnician competition, and, on the other, a land route through Asia Minor, inconvenient alike from the expense of traffic along it, and from its passing through many alien peoples.

[106]When it is considered that the Ionian fleet had already in this campaigning season brought about the revolt both of the Hellespontine region and of Caria, it cannot be supposed that the expedition to Cyprus was undertaken earlier than the late summer of this year 497.

Apart from the time spent in the actual operations at these two comparatively distant points, the ships of those days were not able to keep the sea for any prolonged period without a refit.

H. v. 108.

The Ionian fleet seems to have arrived at Cyprus at about the same time as the Persian expedition. The Phœnician fleet transhipped the Persian army from the Cilician coast to the north shore of the island, whence it marched overland towards Salamis. The fleet then rounded the islands called “the Keys,”28 and so sailed towards the same destination.

Herodotus describes an interview between the Cypriote tyrants and the Greek commanders, in which the former offer to embark their men on board the fleet and let the Ionians fight on land. The latter, however, replied that the Common Council of the Ionians had sent them to fight on board the fleet, and on board the fleet they intended to fight.

Of the battle by sea which ensued, Herodotus says but little, save that the Ionians fought well and beat the Phœnicians; and that, of the Ionians, the Samians fought best.

Whatever the measure of success attained, it was more than compensated for by the loss of the battle on land. There was grievous treachery in the Cypriote army. Stesenor, tyrant of Kourion, with a large band, deserted during the battle; and part, at least, of the Salaminian contingent followed his example. Onesilos and one of the Greek tyrants perished in the battle.

The Ionian fleet seems to have remained some time longer upon the coast, until, at any rate, the Persians began the siege of the various Greek cities. Then, finding itself powerless to effect anything, it sailed away home. CHRONOLOGICAL DISCREPANCY. One of the towns, Soli, held out for five months, but with its [107]capture the revolt of Cyprus came to an end; and “thus,” says Herodotus “the Cyprians, after a year of freedom, were enslaved anew.”

Five months of siege would protract the revolt far into the winter of 497–96. It is noteworthy that the chronological details deducible from the account of the revolt in Cyprus are in reasonable agreement with the general statements as to its duration. This chapter of the history of the revolt as a whole is, indeed, conspicuous as being the only one in which chronological data can be said to be existent.

From the end of the revolt in Cyprus in the winter of 497–96 until the siege of Miletus in 494, the course of recorded events does not admit of any certain chronological arrangement, and, apart from this, the record is manifestly of a most fragmentary character.

It is now necessary to carry back the story to the Ægean coast. Earlier in the year the Ionian fleet had brought about the revolt of Caria and the district of the Propontis. These events can be attributed with some assurance to the spring and early summer of 497. But the chronology of the measures taken by the Persians to reduce these revolted regions to submission is so hopelessly involved that it is impossible to accept it.29

H. v. 116, ff.

The greatness of the chronological discrepancy will be best appreciated when it is pointed out that Herodotus in one chapter ascribes the reduction of the revolt on the Hellespont and in Caria to a period which, H. v. 103. if the data of a previous chapter be correct, must have been from four to six months before the outbreak of the insurrection in those regions. Of the two series of chronological data the earlier one is by far the more trustworthy. It is connected with [108]the outbreak of the revolt by a continuous chain of events whose dates can be fixed with reasonable probability. The later chronological series is not merely in disaccord with the previous one, but, if adhered to, renders the whole story of the revolt incomprehensible. The reader wanders amid a maze of circumstances without cause and without effect.

The main incidents attendant on the suppression of the revolt on the continent of Asia Minor seem, in so far as they are told, to be correctly told by Herodotus, in all save their chronological setting. The modern world has, at any rate, no other evidence on the subject. On the question of fact the position must be accepted. On the question of chronology, Herodotus must be corrected by his own chronological statements, and by the strong presumptive evidence of his own statements of fact. The direct evidence makes it quite clear that the measures undertaken by the Persians for the suppression of the widespread revolt were not undertaken at the time to which he attributes them. His statements of fact render it possible to form some conclusion as to when they were undertaken.

It is not possible to assign an earlier date than the summer of 497 to the despatch of the Ionian fleet to Cyprus. Herodotus himself says that the General Council of the Ionians were prompt in their decision to send it. It may reasonably be concluded that the circumstances of the insurrection on Asia Minor were at the time in a favourable condition. The lack of hesitation would be otherwise incomprehensible, inasmuch as the combination of the cities against attack was, from the vary nature of things, dependent upon the fleet.

It is not a mere assumption to say that the circumstances must have been favourable. The formidable character of the rising had been well-nigh quadrupled by the accession of the Hellespont, Caria, and Cyprus to the insurrection in the earlier half of the year 497. The forces which Artaphernes had at his disposal were sufficient to save the citadel of Sardes in 498, and to inflict some sort of reverse on the retreating Ionians at Ephesus; but were they sufficient to cope with the infinitely more dangerous situation in the early months of the following year?



The Persian Empire appears in history as a great military power because it only appears in extant records when engaged in warfare with the Greek. But it was not a military monarchy in any real sense of the word. It did not, relatively to the size of the empire, keep a large standing army on foot. It met military necessities by the calling forth of levies, the gathering of which must have demanded time. The Persian king, like the Roman emperor of later days, did not entrust the governors of distant provinces with the disposal of large bodies of troops, unless circumstances rendered such a step absolutely necessary.

The reverse suffered by the Greeks at Ephesus cannot have been serious; but it had clearly demonstrated the fact that, on land, Artaphernes was able to hold his own against the insurrection, so long as it was confined to Ionia. At sea the circumstances were not so promising. The defeat off Pamphylia had placed the Phœnician fleet hors de combat for the time being, and it is not difficult to imagine that at least a year would have to pass before the cities of the Syrian coast could turn out a fleet sufficiently powerful to cope with that of the Ionian Greeks. This second fleet would be that one which was defeated off Cyprus in 497. But in the course of that year the whole balance of military power on land had been completely changed by the spread of the revolt to Hellespont and Caria. This would necessitate the despatch of reinforcements from Susa to the Western satrapies, reinforcements which would, doubtless, have reached Sardes by the latter part of the summer of 497, had not the state of affairs in Cyprus rendered it necessary to divert them, as well as the new Phœnician fleet, to the suppression of the revolt in that island. That was an affair of some months; and these reinforcements cannot have reached Sardes until early in the year 496.

There is, and there must be, a certain arbitrariness in any scheme for the rearrangement of the confused chronology of those years. All that can be urged in favour of the one here set forth is that it is of a piece with Herodotus’ own chronology of the opening year of the revolt, and is [110]in accord with the facts, other than chronological, stated by him.30

The arrival of these troops at Sardes in the late winter or early spring of 496 made it possible for the Persian generals to devise a scheme for the simultaneous suppression of the revolt in Hellespont and Cana. The events of 498 had shown that the Ionians were not formidable on land unless the Persians were taken by surprise.

H. v. 116.

The three chief commanders were Daurises, Hymeës, and Otanes, the last of whom had been the successor of Megabazos, nigh ten years before, in the command in Thrace.

H. v. 117.

Daurises began operations in the district of the Hellespont, and took Dardanos, Abydos, Perkote, Lampsakos and Paisos. These places he is reported to have taken with incredible rapidity.31 From these successes he was called away, so Herodotus says, by the revolt of Caria. Why Caria should have revolted at a time when the structure of revolt in the Hellespont was falling like a house of cards, and why, above all, the Common Council of the Ionians, after bringing about the revolt of both the Hellespont and Caria by means of its fleet, should have unhesitatingly despatched the fleet to Cyprus at a time when a large part of the one district had been resubjugated, and the other was on the point of being attacked, Herodotus does not explain. The chronological combination of events in these chapters is intended to heighten the impression of the hopelessness of the revolt which has been conveyed by the story of the disaster at Ephesus, and with that intent these events are brought into close juxtaposition with it. CAMPAIGN IN CARIA. When it is remembered that the defection of Thrace and Macedonia must have been closely linked with that of the Hellespontine region, it is impossible to suppose that the revolt in these parts was of so feeble a nature that it could be suppressed within what, if Herodotus’ second chronological series is to be accepted, cannot have amounted to more than a few weeks from its outbreak—so feeble, too, [111]that a large number of the most prominent cities were captured with the utmost ease.

The campaign of Daurises in the Hellespont seems to have taken place in the spring of 496. It seems, moreover, to have been successful. The European shore was, indeed, left alone for the time being, but the revolt on the Asiatic side of the Hellespont must have been practically stamped out.

H. v. 117.

Herodotus represents Daurises as having been called away to Caria before his work in the Hellespontine region was done. It may be that he was called away from the north; but, even on Herodotus’ own evidence, he had done his work thoroughly on the Asiatic side of the Propontis.

The reconquest of Caria was a much more difficult matter. The Carians were not mere amateurs in the art of war, but numbered among them men who had seen fighting in many lands, the soldiers of fortune of their time. The race was infected with that strange fever which has at different periods driven members of some of the world’s most virile peoples to seek a livelihood in quarrels not their own.

Herodotus makes no attempt to place the striking events of this war in Caria in a chronological setting. Three great battles take place, of which the first two are great Persian victories, while the last is a tremendous disaster to their arms. There is no means of judging of the interval between the victories and the disaster; though, from the way in which the narrative is told, it might be supposed that the Carians recovered almost instantaneously from two serious and successive defeats.

On the general question of the campaign it may be said that it seems to have been part of a great design planned at Sardes in the winter of 497–96, to be carried out so soon as reinforcements came up from the east.

The Carians were not caught unprepared. The insurgents of the Ægean coast must have spent a winter of anxious expectation as to what would happen when the Persian reinforcements arrived. The Ionian fleet had in the autumn brought back news of the disastrous failure [112]of the revolt in Cyprus; and from that time it was a question where the next blow would fall, and how it could best be parried. The danger of the situation arose from the fact that by the end of the year 497 the opportunity for a vigorous offensive on land in the west had, for the time being, vanished. The absence of the Ionian fleet in Cyprus in the late summer of that year would prevent any combined movement of the insurgents at a time when the available fighting strength of Persia in the satrapy of Sardes can hardly have been sufficient to cope with the force which might have been collected had the fleet been there. The Ionian towns, the moral and geographical centre of the revolt, had for the moment staked their all on success in Cyprus, and had despatched thither their fleet, the sole means by which the concentration necessary for a formidable combined movement could be brought about. So the revolted were reduced to a passive state of expectancy, confined to a defensive, which, inasmuch as Persia held the inner line in Western Asia Minor, was most disadvantageous to them from a strategical point of view. The Persian council of war saw this weakness. The revolted regions could be taken in detail.

The plan adopted seems to have been to deal with the Hellespont, the Ionian towns, and Caria, as three areas of operations, and to take a vigorous offensive in one region at a time, while threatening the other two with a number of troops sufficient to prevent their sending any substantial help to the region attacked. With the reduction of one region, the troops which had been employed in it would be largely available for the second attack.

The Hellespont, certainly the weakest of the three, was first invaded and reduced, while Ionia and Caria were merely threatened. This accomplished, a twofold force was directed against Caria, while Ionia was watched; and, finally, the combined armies fell upon the land which formed the heart, the life-centre of the revolt.

The first step in this design seems to have succeeded. The second proved a harder task.

H. v. 118.

Forewarned, and therefore forearmed, the Carians [113]collected their forces at a place called “the White Pillars,” near a river named Marsyas,32 a tributary of the Mæander, with the intention of meeting the Persian invasion at that point. Arrived there, a discussion arose among the commanders as to whether it would be better to fight with the river at their backs, and so animate their men with the courage of despair, or to retire somewhat from the river and make the Persians, as the assailants, take up a position which, in case of their defeat, would be infinitely disastrous to them.33

The second of these alternatives was wisely chosen. There must have been many experienced soldiers in the Carian army who would be well aware of the error which the first proposal involved. The fact that it was made, and the stated reason for its being made, suggests, however, the difficulty under which the insurgents laboured, in that they had to meet the Persian levies with armies which must have been composed for the most part of untrained men. The period of subjection to Persia was now half a century old, and, during that time, the subject population must have been afforded the minimum of opportunity for anything resembling military training. Persia did not call out levies except under stress of necessity; and it is quite certain that she would never have allowed any subject race to practise its people in arms.

H. v. 119.

The battle on the Marsyas was fiercely contested. No details of it are given, except that the Carians were finally overpowered by numbers, and sustained a loss of 10,000 men, whereas the Persian loss was only 2000.

The fugitives took refuge in the temple and sacred precinct of Zeus Stratios at Labraunda, Strabo, 659. a village on the mountain pass between Alabanda and Mylassa, about [114]seven miles from the latter. They seem to have regarded their position as a desperate one; for they are reported to have debated the question of leaving Asia altogether.

This place was, however, near Miletus, and the Milesians and their allies, presumably Greeks from the smaller towns near Miletus,34 H. v. 120. sent help to the Carians. This put new heart into them. Instead of capitulating or deserting their post, they resisted the Persian attack, only, however, to sustain a defeat worse than that at the Marsyas river, a disaster in which their Milesian allies suffered severely.

H. v. 121.

“But after this disaster the Carians recovered and fought once more,” says Herodotus. When it is remembered that their first defeat had reduced these Carians to a state bordering on despair, and that their second defeat is expressly said to have been still more serious than their first, this statement is difficult to understand. It may reasonably be suggested that, if the account of the previous operations be the whole truth, it is incomprehensible that the Carians should have had time to recover from such disasters before the Persians followed up their successes. The question may even arise whether Herodotus is relating the events of the same campaign as that in which the two defeats took place. It is impossible to pretend that the available evidence is in any way conclusive on this point. The only detail which tends to throw light upon the question is a geographical one. By the time that the events next recorded took place, the Persians had certainly advanced beyond Labraunda; and this fact would tend to the conclusion that they did actually occur in the same campaign. Herodotus recounts them as follows:⁠—

H. v. 121.

“The Carians, on hearing that the Persians were about to march against their cities, laid an ambush on the road in Pedasos, into which the Persians fell by night and were destroyed, both [115]they and their generals, Daurises, Amorges, and Sisimakes. With them perished also Myrsos the son of Gyges. The commander of this ambush was Herakleides, the son of Ibanollis, a Mylassian.”

The scene of this terrible defeat is on the road which would be taken by an army advancing from Labraunda southward into Caria.

What had really happened can only be a subject for conjecture. The Persians must have suffered so severely in the battles on the Marsyas and at Labraunda, that further advance was delayed until reinforcements could come up. During this delay the Carians rallied, and then inflicted on the invaders the most crushing defeat of the whole war.

H. v. 122.

In this campaigning season of the year 496, the operations in the Hellespont region which Daurises had left in an all but complete stage, were continued by Hymeës, who had been campaigning in the Mysian district. But little can have remained for him to do. His army accomplished the task, though he himself died before it was actually completed.

H. v. 123.

A little light is also thrown upon the doings of the army which, under the command of Artaphernes and Otanes, had occupied the attention of the Ionians during the campaign in Caria. It captured the towns of Klazomenæ and Kyme.

The outlook towards the close of the summer, before the great Persian defeat in Caria took place, must have been a gloomy one for the insurgents. Cyprus was lost. The prospects of the revolt in Caria seemed desperate. The Hellespont region had been reduced, though that of the Bosphorus was as yet untouched; and even two of the Greek coast towns of the Ægean had fallen.

H. v. 124.

It is not strange if Aristagoras began to despair of the future. Herodotus is consistent in placing his conduct in the very worst light: he was a coward at heart: he had thrown Ionia into confusion: he had stirred up a mighty business; and now he planned flight.

As a preface to a story of a selfish attempt on the [116]part of Aristagoras to provide for his own safety, regardless of the fate of his fellow-conspirators, such bitter condemnation of the man would have been justified. But the tale which follows is singularly inconsistent with the preface. So far from stealing away from Miletus, and seeking to save his own life alone, he called the conspirators together, and, in view of the desperate position of the revolt, he pointed out to them that it would be well to secure some place of retreat, in case they were driven forth from Miletus, by establishing a colony either in Sardinia or at Myrkinos, “which Histiæus had proceeded to fortify after receiving it as a gift from Darius.” Hecatæus is reported to have opposed the plan, and to have suggested the futile alternative of fortifying the small island of Leros, off Miletus, and of using it as a base for the recovery of that town.35 The majority of the meeting voted in favour of Aristagoras’ design. Accordingly, leaving Miletus in charge of a prominent citizen named Pythagoras, Aristagoras sailed for Myrkinos, presumably late in the year 496, taking with him all who volunteered to go. They all perished in an attack on a Thracian town, whose name Herodotus does not mention, but which seems, Th. iv. 102. from what Thucydides says, to have been on the site of the later Amphipolis.

Herodotus’ story of this last scene in Aristagoras’ life cannot be said to support the bitter language of the judgment passed on him. He went out to secure a refuge for his fellow citizens, and died in so doing. He never returned, because he could not return. Had he remained indefinitely at Myrkinos; had he looked on while his native city and the men who had joined him in the great venture were destroyed, without making one effort to return and take part in the last struggle for life and liberty, he might with justice have been branded with the cowardice of desertion. Herodotus’ account of the man and all that he did, fails, when examined, to support the picture of his character which the historian has drawn.

H. vi. 1.

It was about the time of Aristagoras’ death that Histiæus, [117]having come down from Susa, arrived at Sardes. There he met the satrap Artaphernes. The brief account of their meeting given by Herodotus is a dramatic scene.

“On his arrival from Susa, Artaphernes, the satrap of Sardes, asked him what he supposed to be the reason for the Ionian revolt. He said he did not know, and that he was surprised at what had happened, pretending that he was wholly ignorant of the causes36 of what was taking place. Artaphernes, however, seeing through his dissimulation, and knowing the truth about the revolt, said, ‘Histiæus, the truth about these matters is this: You stitched this sandal, and Aristagoras put it on.’ Thus Artaphernes spoke about the revolt.”

It has been assumed by modern historians of Greece that Artaphernes’ language is a direct reference to the man with the tattooed head. The assumption involves, however, certain difficulties.

Unless Artaphernes’ information with regard to the part played by Histiæus was a recent acquisition at the time at which the latter arrived at Sardes, it is incomprehensible that Histiæus should ever have been allowed to leave Susa. The great Persian officials would certainly not conceal such information from Darius. They loathed Histiæus, and would have been but too glad to do him a bad turn. Furthermore, Darius himself had taken the precaution of removing Histiæus to Susa for reasons which would have seemed as nothing compared with an allegation that he had been a prime mover in the great revolt.

The “truth about the revolt” which Artaphernes knew in so far as Histiæus was concerned, can have amounted to little more than the suspicion that, at the time when he was fortifying Myrkinos, he had had designs against the peace of the empire. The remarkable persistence with which Histiæus and Aristagoras pursued their designs upon Myrkinos suggests that behind the direct design lay a larger one, which is only incidentally mentioned by Herodotus.37

[118]Whatever may have been the grounds for Artaphernes’ suspicions, Histiæus saw clearly that it would be dangerous to remain at Sardes, and so fled by night to the sea, H. vi. 2. “having deceived King Darius: for he, having undertaken to subdue Sardinia, the greatest of islands, sought to assume the leadership of the Ionians in the war with Darius.” He went to Chios first, where he was imprisoned upon suspicion of being engaged in evil designs at Darius’ instigation. “But the Chians, learning the whole story, that he was an enemy to the king, released him.”

It is a strange tale this tale of Histiæus. He had certainly been playing a double game for years past, but it is very difficult to say what the two sides of the game actually were. His reception by the Chians shows that some of the insurgents, at any rate, were unaware that he had played any part in bringing about the revolt. He had, moreover, been able to persuade Darius of his honesty of purpose. Probably his purpose was dishonest to both sides, and what he aimed at was the leadership of the Asiatic Greeks, which should, if he could make it so, be independent of Persia. Failing that, he was prepared to serve the king as an Ionian satrap, but not as an underling of Artaphernes, or any other Persian governor. The great Persian officials were, accordingly, his irreconcilable opponents.

H. v. 23, ad fin.

The words reported in the tale of his conversation with Darius at Susa show that the author of that story had some reason for suggesting that Histiæus had long been privy to a conspiracy of revolt. H. v. 106. His action at Myrkinos had been interpreted by Megabazos as aiming at the setting up of a great power hostile to Persian interests. May not all this mean that this man, a schemer to his very fingers’ ends, had, before he was taken up to Susa, planned the conspiracy which ended in the revolt, and that his original design had been to overturn the Persian power in Asia with the aid of the Thracian tribes, who were at the time of his settlement in Myrkinos smarting under the recent attempt of Darius to subjugate them,—an attempt which had certainly not turned out a success? THE SITUATION IN B.C. 495 Is it not this which Megabazos hinted at but could not prove to [119]Darius? Is it not of these plans of twelve years before that Histiæus spoke to the Chians, and so persuaded them to release him? Had not Aristagoras been, in a sense, an heir to these designs in virtue of that strange testament tattooed on the head of the slave? But was that testament of so late a date as Herodotus supposed?

It was either late in 496 or early in 495 that Histiæus came down to the coast. The revolt had not, indeed, prospered, but it was far from crushed. Aristagoras had gone to Myrkinos, if not to Hades. He had left Miletus, in all probability, before the great Persian disaster on the Pedasos road. That disaster, in which the greatest of the armies, if not the major part of the whole Persian force in Western Asia, had been wiped out of existence, now put a wholly different complexion upon affairs; and the satraps seem to have found themselves once more, in 495, in the position in which they had been in 497,—able to maintain the existing status, but without the means necessary for taking further offensive, for the time being. Hence the gap in this part of Herodotus’ story of the war. There is nothing recorded, because there was nothing remarkable to record. The side which had suffered most severely in the last round of the great fight had managed at the last moment to get in a smashing blow; and during the next round both sides were too weak to attempt a vigorous attack.

In one respect the circumstances were favourable to Histiæus. They afforded him time for intrigue. If Herodotus’ story is to be believed, he had to face the bitter reproaches of the Ionians at Chios for having brought about the revolt. It is doubtless the case that the Ionians were dispirited at the way in which matters had gone in the last campaign; but, apart from the inconsistency of this attitude of the Chians with their previous treatment of Histiæus, the story serves to point the moral of the hopelessness of the revolt, and, so doing, is not above suspicion. Histiæus is related to have defended himself by saying that he sent the message because he had discovered that Darius entertained a design of removing the Ionians to Phœnicia and the Phœnicians to [120]Ionia. The intense rivalry between these two great commercial peoples may well have rendered such an allegation a commonplace with agitators on the Asiatic side of the Ægean; but there is no reason for supposing that it had any foundation in fact.

Histiæus now proceeded with his schemes. He was evidently convinced that the revolt could not succeed without external support of some kind. Upon Thrace he could not now reckon, since the news that Aristagoras had embroiled himself with the Thracians on the Strymon must have reached him by that time. H. vi. 4. He had, however, discovered that there was at Sardes a Persian party hostile to Artaphernes, with which he had previously conferred “about revolt.” With it he now sought to establish communications. He was unfortunate in his messenger—a certain Hermippos of Atarneus,—who carried the letters straight to Artaphernes. The latter directed him to take them to those to whom they were sent, and to bring back the answers. As might be expected, the recipients were executed.

So the plan miscarried.

Histiæus now persuaded the Chians to convey him to his old seat of tyranny, Miletus. Its citizens, who, says Herodotus, had been glad to get rid of Aristagoras, were not in a mood to receive him. He made an ineffectual attempt to force an entrance into the town, and was wounded in so doing. He accordingly returned to Chios and tried to persuade the Chians to give him ships,—on what excuse or for what purpose is not stated. As they refused, he went across to Mytilene and persuaded the Lesbians to give him eight triremes. With these he went to Byzantion, and, “settling there, they proceeded to seize vessels sailing out of the Pontus, except such as professed to be ready to obey Histiæus.”

Before making any attempt to explain the policy pursued by Histiæus and the Mytilenians at Byzantion, it is necessary to arrive at some conclusion as to when he and his allies went thither. Except for the narrative of the adventures of Histiæus, the history of the fourth year of the revolt (495) appears to be a blank. HISTIÆUS AT BYZANTION. No event seems to [121]have occurred of a sufficiently striking nature to find a place in a record such as Herodotus set himself to write. For the time matters seem to have been at a standstill in so far as large operations are concerned. Either side had sufficient strength to keep the other in check, but neither was strong enough to inflict a serious blow. The war continued; but it was, doubtless, of a desultory character, unmarked by decisive success or failure. The Persians were waiting for reinforcements; the insurgents were too exhausted to do aught but wait for the renewal of the real struggle.

The great defeat in Caria seems, indeed, to have taken place in the autumn of 496; and it may therefore appear strange that a power like Persia should not have been able to supply the losses in time, at any rate, to strike a decisive blow before the next campaigning season ended. Had the losses been of an ordinary character, such would, no doubt, have been the case; but the reparation of a great defeat in those days of slow communications, and in a monarchy which did not keep a large standing army, was essentially a work of time. It was necessary to communicate with Susa. Susa had to communicate with the provinces from which the new levies had to be drawn. The levies had to be collected and drilled, and then had to be despatched on their long, long march to the Western satrapies. It is not strange, if more than a year elapsed before Persia was ready, after the campaign in Caria, to resume a real offensive in the west.

If this be so, the exploits of Histiæus constitute the sole record of events for the year 495, and his departure to Byzantion may be attributed to the late summer or to the autumn of that year.

What was his design in going to Byzantion? It has been assumed that he went there to commit the acts of piracy to which Herodotus is supposed to refer. But is it certain that this is the only interpretation which can be put upon Herodotus’ language? Even if it is, is it possible to credit such a story?

Were the Mytilenians in the slightest degree likely to allow their ships to be used for the mere purpose of [122]plundering their allies, for to them a large number of the vessels engaged in the Pontus trade must have belonged? Was it for this that Histiæus had come down to the coast?

But Herodotus’ language is inconsistent with this interpretation of Histiæus’ acts. He is described as treating the passing vessels in different ways, according as they did or did not “obey” him. No explanation is given of what this means, but it does not seem possible to interpret it as a reference to piracy.

Was he bringing pressure to bear on the Greek cities of the Asian coast,—such as, for instance, Ephesus,—which were beginning to waver in their determination, by interfering with their trade at an important point? The Mytilenians might have supported him in this. They might, too, have supported him in a design to make the revolt more active in these parts, for it is a noteworthy fact that Byzantion is not recorded to have taken any active part in it. Was Byzantion wavering? Did it require watching? Its loss would have been a serious blow, for it would have meant the loss of the command of that route on which the insurgents must have been peculiarly dependent for food supplies, amid the destruction, stress, and turmoil of the war.

H. vi. 6.

At the time of Histiæus’ departure, the Ionians were living in expectation of the renewal of the attack upon them. By the autumn of 495, reinforcements from the east must have begun to arrive at Sardes. But the attack does not seem to follow in that year, in so far as any calculation can be made from the known date of the subsequent fall of Miletus.38 It appears to have been in the early spring of 494 that the Persians collected all their available troops for an attack on Miletus, “considering the other cities to be of less account.” So much for the Greek cities. But what of Caria? THE FATE OF CARIA? That land practically disappears from the story of the revolt, after dealing [123]Persia the severest blow she suffered during all the years of it.

H. vi. 25.

Herodotus does not tell the tale of its reduction. All that he says is that, “after the fall of Miletus [in 494], the Persians immediately got possession of Caria, some of the cities surrendering voluntarily, others being brought to submission by force.”

But the absence of any record of Carian participation in the revolt during the long period intervening between the Persian defeat near Pedasos and the fall of Miletus, suggests the suspicion that these “voluntary surrenders” are not in all cases attributable to the time following the fall of that city.

H. vi. 20.

The people of that very town Pedasos are, in the settlement of affairs made after the capture of Miletus, granted by the Persians a portion of the late Milesian territory. It would seem as if Caria, partially, at any rate, made terms with her old masters; as if Artaphernes made a successful trial of diplomacy in the critical time which succeeded the great defeat, and detached Caria from the cause of the insurgents by offering her a share in the spoils of her allies. This hypothesis explains, at any rate, two features in the history of this time which would otherwise be inexplicable, namely, the apparent non-participation of Caria in the years following the Persian defeat, and the unexpected grant made by the Persians to a Carian city.

Whatever may be the truth with regard to Caria, it is plain that she was a negligible quantity at the time when the great attack on Miletus was planned.

The attack was to be of a twofold character, by sea as well as land. The naval forces of Persia had already suffered two severe defeats in the course of the war. On these two occasions the Phœnicians had proved inferior to the Ionians on the sea. H. vi. 6. But the fleet in the present instance was drawn not merely from Phœnicia, but also from Cilicia and Egypt, and even from that Cyprus which, but two short years before, had fought as an ally of the Ionians. Both sides regarded this great effort as the crisis of the struggle.

[124]Delegates from the Ionian towns met at the pan-Ionian sanctuary of Poseidon near Mykale, to concert measures to meet the great attack. Their decision was a somewhat remarkable one. They determined to confine the operations on land to the defence of the actual walls of Miletus, which should be conducted by the Milesians themselves; but to mobilize the whole of their available navy and to station it at Ladé, a small island off the town of Miletus.

It was a great misfortune to the Ionian cause at this time that the war operations of the League were not directed by one man of ability. There may have been able men in the pan-Ionian Council; but in war such a Council is apt to err on the side of caution, and to adopt a purely defensive attitude, when the offensive would be the best defence. The main features of the situation are sufficiently clear.

The real Ionian base was on the sea; the Persian on the land. Each side, in order to strike a decisive blow at the other, must strike on that element on which the other was strong. This Persia did; and this the Ionian Greeks failed to do in this campaign. The simple result was that the Persian stood to win, the Ionian to lose.

The story of Ladé is one of the very few sections of the history of the revolt in which Herodotus attempts anything of the nature of a detailed narrative. It bears all the traces of a compilation from various sources. It opens with a list of the fleet, giving not merely the numbers of the contingents, but also the battle array. Chronologically this latter feature is manifestly out of place, inasmuch as the battle was fought some time after the gathering of the fleet.

The story of the events in Ladé itself prior to the battle is noticeable for two elements which can hardly be attributed to the same source. The despicable Ionian tyrant is made to appear more despicable; and the Ionian insurgents are presented in a most unfavourable light.



The list of ships contributed by the various States is as follows:⁠—

Miletus 80
Priene 12
Myus 3
Teos 17
Chios 100
Erythræ 8
Phokæa 3
Lesbos 70
Samos 60

The Persian fleet is said to have numbered 600.

The absence of Ephesus from the Greek list is noticeable. There are other absentees of less note. If the contingent of Miletus, the object of attack, be omitted, the number of ships supplied by the states on the mainland amounts to only 43.

The smallness of this number is so remarkable that it cannot be passed over without comment. One of two things must have occurred. Either some of the Ionian towns had been reduced since 496, and the story of their reduction is part of the lost records of 495; or the resistance was weakening, and the Greek cities were withdrawing one by one from the struggle, after making their own terms with the Persian. Of the two conjectures, the latter is, perhaps, the more probable, as it would in a way justify the impression of pusillanimity which Herodotus gives to the revolt, an impression which, though on the whole unjustifiable, must have rested on some partial basis. The tradition of the last act in the great tragedy, as preserved in these renegade cities, was sure to be sinister; and from them, or some one of them, Herodotus may have drawn information which contributed to the formation of his own opinions.

The magnitude of the Ionian fleet which gathered at Ladé is in itself sufficient evidence of the determination of the insurgents to concentrate their effort on the sea. The Persian fleet was more than half again as numerous; but it had already suffered two severe defeats off Pamphylia and off Cyprus, and it showed a manifest inclination to avoid a conflict. Herodotus does not mention the station which it took up; but it was presumably somewhere near Miletus, because some of the ex-tyrants of the Greek cities who were aboard entered, at the instigation of the Persians, into [126]communication with their late subjects, with intent to detach some of the contingents from the formidable armada. For the moment these intrigues met with no success.

H. vi. 10.

Herodotus is evidently of opinion that even this resistance to a proposal of treachery was an instance of the wrong-headedness39 which the Ionians displayed throughout the revolt.

It is very difficult to form a judgment as to the amount of historical truth which is contained in the tale of the events which intervened between this time and the actual battle. It is manifestly told with the intention of presenting the Ionians in the worst possible light. This people, which had already in the course of the revolt inflicted two defeats by sea upon the Persians, is now represented as having neither the power nor the will to practise the tactics of a sea-fight.

H. vi. 11.

After the fleet had gathered at Ladé the Ionians held meetings on land, at which the situation was discussed. Among others who spoke was Dionysios, who commanded the small Phokæan contingent.

“Our affairs,” he said, “are balanced on a razor’s edge, Ionians, as to whether we are to be free men or slaves—more than that, runaway slaves. Therefore, if you will now have the will to bear hardships, toil for the moment will be yours, but you will be able to overcome the foe and enjoy freedom. If, however, you continue to display a lack of fortitude and of discipline, I have no hope for you that you will not pay to the king the penalty of revolt. Give ear to my advice, and place yourselves in my hands. I promise you, if the gods deal fairly by us, either that the enemy will not give us battle, or that, if they do, will be badly beaten.”

To this advice the Ionians listened, and placed themselves for the time being at his disposal. He accordingly practised them in manœuvres every day, and especially in the manœuvre of cutting the line, and kept them busy from morning to night. This they endured for seven days. After that they refused to carry out the orders of this “vagabond Phokæan, who provided only three ships.” [127]CONDEMNATION OF THE IONIANS. The language attributed to them is that of men who, accustomed to lead a life of luxury, find themselves in a situation of self-imposed hardship, which they have not the courage to face. After five years of resistance to the greatest power of their time, they are damned as mere “boulevardiers” on the battle-field, “men who had no experience of such hardships,” lacking the very elements of courageous perseverance. The condemnation does not fall on the population of those cities which are not represented in this last great struggle for Ionian freedom, but on those who fought to the bitter end. The extraordinary feature of the whole matter is that Herodotus should have allowed such a tale to stand side by side with his narrative of the battle, in which it appears that part of the Ionian fleet fought with the most desperate courage.

The “Dionysios” story throws considerable light on the nature of the sources for Herodotus’ history of the revolt. The personal references to Dionysios may, like the subsequent reference to him,40 be suggested by information as to his exploits obtained by the author in some Greek city of Italy. But the intent of the whole story is manifest. It provides an excuse for the conduct of those Samians who deserted in the battle, to the tale of which it serves as a preface. It is not merely a story of Samian origin, but a version to which currency was given by certain persons in Samos, who found it necessary to invent some defence for an act of cowardice for which the facts themselves provided no excuse.41

The introduction into the story of what is almost certainly an anachronism, the manœuvre of “cutting the line,” is, however, a graphic touch of the historian’s own, suggested to him, like the reference to Kythera in the [128]Persian debate after Thermopylæ, by the incidents of the Peloponnesian war.

It is a strange tendency this, which the father of history now and again displays, to introduce into his narrative a page or two of matter which is conspicuously refuted by his general history. He is far too honest to distort the story of events in accordance with his own views; but he again and again, especially in the case of the revolt, yields to the temptation of introducing evidence from manifestly partial and contaminated sources, simply because it happens to agree with his own judgment on the general course of events.

Of the origin of the story of the actual battle there can be but little question. It is also a Samian version. But, even so, it is not simple in its elements. The behaviour of the two sections of the Samian contingent in the battle rendered it certain that two very different versions of the fight would survive in Samos,—one of them the creation of those who were faithless, and the other that of those who were faithful to the Ionian cause. Herodotus’ account contains features borrowed from them both. This oft-repeated characteristic of his history is in no sense deplorable. It is essentially the characteristic of his work which renders that work most valuable at the present day, in that, by reason of it, the contemporary evidence is preserved in the form in which he found it.

The truth with regard to the state of affairs in the Ionian fleet before Ladé is, in all probability, that counsels were greatly divided on the details of the course to be pursued in the battle which was imminent. On this occasion, as on previous occasions, the lack of a single directing mind made itself felt. There was no one in supreme command. Even a Eurybiades, not gifted with the ability to devise a great design, but possessed of a common-sense judgment which would have enabled him to decide between the plans suggested by others, might have saved the situation.

This lack of leadership, and consequent lack of unanimity is the only excuse which can be brought forward for the doubly treacherous conduct of the Samians. BATTLE OF LADÉ. Herodotus admits all the evidence for their defence; but [129]he does not exclude the damning evidence against them. This is present not merely in the matter but in the form of the history of the battle. Despite the fact that the grounds of their apology were in accord with his own general views, he is not wholly convinced that they constituted a valid excuse for their conduct on the present occasion.

H. vi. 13.

“The Samian commanders,” he says, “seeing what was taking place among the Ionians, and their lack of discipline, proceeded to accept the proposal which Æakes, the son of Syloson, had kept sending them at the bidding of the Persians, calling on them to desert the Ionian league. It appeared to them also that it was impossible to overcome the resources of the king, because they knew well that if the present fleet were defeated another would come, five times as large.

“Seizing, then, upon this excuse, so soon as they saw that the Ionians were unwilling to make a fight of it, they thought it to their advantage to save their temples and their property.”

The Æakes mentioned was one of the hated Ionian tyrants whom Aristagoras had deposed at the beginning of the revolt. Herodotus does not comment on his connection with the matter; but it is certain that the part which he played in it would weigh heavily against the Samian traitors in the balance of the historian’s judgment on their act.

H. vi. 14.

In giving his account of the battle he suffers, as he himself says, from a lack of reliable information.42 Matter is, however, introduced which shows plainly that he had heard at Samos a version of the story told from a point of view directly opposed to that of the tale of events in the previous chapters, and that this version was supported by inscriptional evidence existent in his own day.

“When, therefore, the Phœnicians advanced to the attack, the Ionians proceeded to put out against them with their ships in column,43 But when they approached one another, and joined battle, I am not able to say with certainty which of the [130]Ionians were cowardly or brave in the sea-fight, for they cast the blame on one another. The Samians are said to have set sail at this moment and to have left the line of battle, with the exception of eleven ships, and to have gone off to Samos, in accordance with their agreement with Æakes. The captains of these eleven vessels remained and fought, disregarding the orders of the commanders. The Samian commonwealth, in consequence of this act of theirs, voted that a pillar should be set up in their honour, with their personal and family names inscribed upon it, in that they had been brave men: and this pillar is in the market-place.44

“The Lesbians, seeing those next to them in the line in flight, followed their example; and in like manner most of the Ionians did the same. Of those who remained in the battle, the Chians suffered most severely, for they made a brilliant fight of it, and showed no cowardice. They provided, as has been already said, 100 vessels, and forty picked citizens on board each, serving as marines. Though they saw the majority of the allies deserting, they thought it not right to imitate their cowardice, but, left alone with a few allies, they went on fighting, using the manœuvre of cutting the line, until, after capturing many of the enemy’s vessels, they had lost most of their own.”

Such of their vessels as were in a condition to do so, made off to Chios; those which were seriously damaged were run ashore at Mykale, whence their crews proceeded to make their way homeward by land. On entering Ephesian territory at night, however, they chanced upon the women celebrating the Thesmophoria, and, being mistaken for robbers, were attacked by the Ephesians, and some of them, at least, were killed.

This last incident may admit of various explanations; and it may be doubted whether the action of the Ephesians was wholly due to error. The attitude of this city at this time excites suspicion.


But the rest of the account of the battle bears the [131]impress of truth. Anti-Ionian or not, Herodotus cannot withhold his admiration from those who fought to the bitter end.

One detail may be inferred from its general incidents. The ease with which both the Samians and the other allies got away, and with which the Chians retreated after the fight, suggests that the Greek fleet at the beginning of the battle was north of the Persian.

Dionysius of Phokæa is the only hero of it whose name has come down in story. That old sea-dog, the very prototype of the seamen of the days of Elizabeth, had no mind to return to Phokæa and share the slavery of whatever small remnant of its inhabitants had either remained in their old home, or had returned thither from Corsica. With his three ships he had, in the course of the fight, taken three of the enemy’s vessels; and now he sailed off, not in any cowardly flight, but with the determination to “singe the King of Persia’s beard” by an unexpected raid into his home waters. To Phœnicia he went, and there fell in with certain merchant ships, which he disabled and plundered; and then, laden with spoil, set sail for Sicily, where he set up as a pirate at the expense of the Carthaginian and Tyrrhenian traders of those seas. Doubtless the Greek cities of Italy appreciated to the full so valuable an ally in trade competition, and from them Herodotus learnt the history of the last days of the fierce old adventurer. The world is poorer in that further details of his life have not survived. Would that some Sicilian writer had taken down his story from his own lips! It might have been one of the greatest tales of adventure in literature.

There must have been many another who fought a good fight for liberty. They had the misfortune to have their deeds recorded by men less brave than they. But even amid the intense partiality of the history of the time the truth shines forth that, owing to the courage which they displayed, the story of the revolt is one of the glorious pages in the history of the Hellenic race. The fault of those men who persevered to the bitter end was not lack of courage, but lack of the perception that nature [132]had so placed them in the world that their struggle against the great empire was from its very outset a desperate, a hopeless venture. It is not possible to suppose that, without the energetic help of the European Greek, the revolt could have ended otherwise than as it did; it may even be doubted whether, even with help from beyond the Ægean, the struggle could have been maintained against the enormous resources of Persia, as yet unimpaired by the disasters of the great war of 480 and 479. Even after that war, the energy and strength of Athens could not maintain more than an uncertain hold on the cities of the continent.

But the revolt had saved Greece.

The great blow levelled against her must have fallen in the first decade of the fifth century; and, had it done so, it would have fallen upon a Greece but ill-prepared to meet it. The struggle would doubtless have been a fierce one, but it would have been waged on the part of the Greeks without the aid of that factor which was decisive in the great struggle of ten years later—the great Athenian fleet.

The revolt had severely taxed the resources of the Empire. It took Persia six years to suppress it, and in this time she lost two fleets and one great army with its generals, besides the losses incurred in successful operations. It resulted that, though she did make two efforts in the years immediately following the revolt to gain a footing beyond the Ægean, those efforts were not of a nature which, judged in the light of knowledge after the event, could have attained any measure of success. She was unable at this time to set on foot an expedition adequate to the greatness of the undertaking.

It is impossible, on the evidence, to say that the struggle was carried on with a unanimity of courage on the part of all the Ionian towns; but it is plain that this aspect of the history of the time has had undue weight in the judgment formed by Herodotus.

H. vi. 18.

The end was near. Miletus, the heart and soul of the revolt, was besieged by sea and land. The walls were undermined, and all sorts of siege engines were employed. FALL OF MILETUS. Finally, [133]some time in the late summer or autumn of 494, the city fell. The fate of the population was a piteous one. The great majority of the male inhabitants were massacred. The women and children were enslaved, and carried captives to Susa. They and the remnant of the male population were placed in a settlement on the Persian Gulf, near the mouth of the river Tigris.

It is very difficult to estimate the loss which civilization has suffered by the destruction of this great city, which had been, up to the very time of its destruction, the foremost in the Hellenic world. It was not merely in the front rank in Greek commerce; it was also an intellectual centre unrivalled among the cities of the age. Whether it could ever have developed a period of literary brilliance equal to that of the Athens of the later part of this century, must remain a matter of speculation. It had a long start in the intellectual race. The wide interest of its material relations called forth a corresponding breadth of interest in literary speculation of various kinds; and the world would certainly have been enriched, had it possessed an Asiatic Greek literature parallel to that of European Greece. Difference of environment and difference of political circumstances would have produced a literary development on different lines; and the literature itself could not have failed to display one side of the many-sidedness of the Greeks, which is lost to the present world, save for a few fragments, which point to a promise of future greatness.

H. vi. 21.

At Athens the fall of the great city created more than a momentary impression. Phrynichos composed a drama on the subject which aroused so bitter a sense of loss in the mind of the Athenians that they punished the dramatist by a fine of a thousand drachmas. It is possible that self-reproach was mingled with regret. The desertion of 498 was so sudden, and is, in certain respects, so unaccountable, that it may well have provoked considerable feeling even in Athens itself.

Herodotus draws a contrast between the emotion of Athens and the apathy of the Sybarites. When Sybaris was destroyed by Kroton about the year 510, the whole [134]Milesian population had mourned the loss of their old commercial friend.

The last twenty years had been fateful in the history of Greek trade. Sybaris, Chalkis, and Miletus—three of the greatest names in the history of Greek commerce—had successively fallen; and their disappearance from the stage of the commercial world must have greatly modified that obscure but powerful factor in Greek history. It will be a matter for later consideration whether the disappearance of these competitors, especially from the western trade route, had not a powerful influence in shaping the events of the later half of the century.

Of the individual fortunes of the rest of the Asiatic Greek cities, Herodotus says but little. Among the Samians, the divided counsels in their contingent at Ladé seem to have given birth to such bitter dissensions that a section of the population which had remained loyal to the revolt left the island and set sail for Sicily, whence an invitation had come from the people of Zanklé, calling such Ionians as would to settle at Kale Akte on the north coast of the island. Their adventures are related by Herodotus.45 It is not necessary to follow them thither. Suffice it to say that the gross treachery of their conduct to their would-be hosts upon their arrival there affords one of those painful and striking examples of the co-existence in the Greek race of great virtues and great defects.

H. vi. 25.

Æakes, the tyrant who had negotiated the treachery at Ladé, as a reward for his services on that occasion, was reinstated in Samos by the Phœnician fleet. The city and its temples were left untouched.

“Immediately after the capture of Miletus,” says Herodotus, “the Persians got possession of Caria, some of the cities submitting voluntarily, and others being reduced by force.”

The part played by Caria, as described in the narrative of the revolt, is quite incomprehensible. What had she been doing during the time that had intervened since the great defeat of the Persians on the Pedasos road? SUBJUGATION OF CARIA. The interval cannot, upon any calculation from the facts mentioned by [135]Herodotus, have amounted to less than two years. Were the Carians during all this time inactive, sullenly awaiting their fate? Their story during these years is a lost chapter in history.

It would seem unlikely that Herodotus could not have obtained any information with regard to the course of events in the land immediately bordering on the territory of his own native town. The only possible conjecture is that his reference to the reduction of Caria as having taken place after that of Miletus, applies to its complete subjugation, and that the process had been going on for some time. It has already been suggested that the inactivity of Caria was due partly to its resistance having been undermined by Persian diplomacy in the period following the great defeat; and it may be that those towns which submitted voluntarily had been gradually detached from the insurrection by offers of favourable terms from Artaphernes.

H. vi. 26.

Histiæus plays the chief part in the last scene of the drama of the revolt. Whenever this mysterious man appears upon the stage he brings mystery with him. He is still at Byzantion when the scene opens. He has been there for at least a year. But the strange feature of the matter is that, though he has been there so long, and though during all that time he has been committing acts of piracy (sic) against the Ionian traders, those simple-minded folk continue to send their vessels into the inevitable trap.

H. vi. 26.

His Lesbians are still with him, presumably the crews of the eight ships the Mytilenians had granted him. And yet while all these strange proceedings are going on at Byzantion, and while their own people are taking part in them, these very Mytilenians send seventy vessels to Ladé! Byzantion was less than two days’ sail from them, and with half that number of vessels they could have put a stop to what was going on there, had they had the will to do so. They must have been satisfied that Histiæus was acting in their interest; and had that consisted in the perpetration of piratical acts against their allies, it is strange that they should have thought it their interest [136]to join those allies at Ladé. They played, indeed, a coward’s part there, but not without excuse.

The evidence, though anything but conclusive, suggests the suspicion that Histiæus was acting in the interest of those cities who persevered in the revolt against those other Greek cities who had made, or had sought to make, terms with the Persian.

His proceedings after he had received the news of the fall of Miletus are less obscure in motive than his doings at Byzantion. His position in the Hellespontine region had certainly developed in the course of the year during which he had been there.

He left his affairs in charge of a certain Bisaltes of Abydos. His first objective was Chios. Thither accordingly these “beggars of the sea,” commanded by this broken adventurer, made their way. Driven to desperation, he and they had made up their minds to one great final effort to save whatever could be saved. It would seem, too, that Histiæus had a plan by which he thought this might be accomplished. The only possible explanation of his conduct, on the extant evidence, is that he once more turned his thoughts to Thrace, and sought to establish on the Strymon a rallying-point for the irreconcilables among the insurgents. He sought to resume in a modified form a design he had been forced to lay aside nearly twenty years before.

But it may be urged: If this was so, why did he direct his first efforts against Chios?

Did he go to Chios with any hostile intent at all? Were the hostilities there forced upon him by the deep distrust of him which the Chians entertained? The evident and well-founded contempt of Histiæus, which Herodotus felt on general grounds, has influenced his tale of what happened at Chios. He deplores alike the fate and folly of these Chians—their fate, in that suffering was added to their sufferings; their folly, in that they had brought these sufferings upon themselves by joining in the revolt, and by persevering in it to the bitter end.


Yet even so, his story shows that Histiæus’ action with regard to them was capable of at least two interpretations:

[137]H. vi. 26.

“Affairs in the Hellespont he committed to the charge of Bisaltes, the son of Apollophanes, of Abydos, while he himself, accompanied by the Lesbians, sailed to Chios,46 and engaged with a Chian garrison which would not admit him, at a place in the Chian territory called the Hollows.”

This seems to imply that he had expected the Chian garrison to receive him.

“Of these he killed many, and, from a base at Polichne, in Chian territory, he with the Lesbians, got the mastery of the rest of the Chians, who were in evil plight after the naval battle.”

Apart from the fact, already noticed, that Histiæus seems to have expected a peaceable occupation of Chios, it is remarkable that there is no mention of any bloodshed, save in the case of attack of the one garrison.

The colouring which is given to events by the tale of the organized attack on Chios from a base at Polichne, is evident. The whole intent of it is to represent the expedition of Histiæus as hostile to the Chians, and to emphasize the despicable behaviour of the various sections of the insurgents to one another when their fortunes had become desperate. Æolian attacks Ionian, and Ionian resists Æolian. And yet, in spite of this, Ionian joins Æolian in that attack on Thasos which immediately succeeds this period of alleged hostility.

But the story is not merely inconsistent with itself; it is hopelessly inconsistent with such circumstances of the time as may be gathered from Herodotus’ own evidence.

[138]What conceivable object had Histiæus and these Lesbians in attacking Chios at a time when its reconquest by the Phœnician fleet could not be long deferred? Histiæus may or may not have been a scheming knave, but there is no reason to suppose that he was a witless man, unable to gauge the impossibility of maintaining Chios, or any of the islands on the Asian coast, after the disaster at Ladé.

Then why did he go to Chios? The answer to this question is dependent on the answer to a further question: Why, after occupying Chios, did he immediately attack Thasos?

Only one explanation of his conduct seems consistent with the circumstances of the time. The days of the revolt were numbered. A terrible retribution was to be apprehended. There must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of refugees on the Ionian coast of Asia, seeking for some shelter from the coming storm; and whither would they turn? To the islands first, as being safer than the mainland, with intent to secure time for escape over seas. Chios was the refuge to which these refugees would look in the first instance. Samos was anxious only for itself. Lesbos was farther from the centre of things. Chios was the natural rallying-point.

It was under these circumstances that Histiæus turned to Chios first after leaving the Hellespontine district. His action need not be attributed to philanthropic motives. It was at Chios that he would find any number of desperate recruits, ready for any venture on which he might propose to lead them; and he had such a venture planned in his mind.

His past experiences with the Chians had been unfortunate. But he had in the past managed to persuade them of his good faith towards the revolt; and why should he not be able to do so now?

The Chians were unprepared for his coming, and his landing was resisted. He accordingly withdrew to Polichne. This place lay near Klazomenæ,47 and commanded from the land side the peninsula off which Chios lies. [139]HISTIÆUS AT THASOS. Herodotus says that he used the place as a base of operations against the Chians. The improbability of his having, at this juncture of affairs adopted an attitude of hostility towards the Chians, and, above all, of his having deliberately entered upon operations against them at a time when the arrival of the Phœnician fleet might be expected, is so great, that it is impossible to accept the statement as a reliable record of events. Later tradition may well have interpreted his proceedings at Polichne in the light of the unfortunate incident with the Chian garrison. Whether depressed or not by the defeat at Ladé, it is beyond imagination that this powerful island-state should have succumbed to an attack from such a force as Histiæus could have brought with him. It is infinitely more probable that he withdrew to Polichne in order to be able to explain his attitude to the Chians before further collision took place, and that he did persuade them of the bona fides of his intentions.

His next proceedings throw considerable light upon those intentions. H. vi. 28. Having got the Chians to his side, he proceeded to attack the Island of Thasos, taking with him “many of the Ionians and Æolians.”

There can be no doubt as to the general reasons which prompted this attack. Thasos had considerable possessions on the lower Strymon.

The particular reasons may be matter for conjecture. It is, at least, conceivable that the Thasians had the strongest objection to the establishment of a new power in a region in which they had so much at stake, in the shape of those gold-mines which brought them such enormous wealth; and that Histiæus found it necessary to subdue them, before he tried to carry out his plans on the continent.

Had the Thasians participated directly or indirectly in the disaster which befell Aristagoras?

Be this as it may, Histiæus was only carrying out in a new form, and under conditions more favourable to himself, a policy he had attempted to initiate years before, the initiation of which had caused his removal to Susa. He was now backed up by a number of desperate men, ready for any venture which might save them from the hands of [140]the Persian. But time was all-important. The Phœnician fleet was at the moment engaged in the reduction of such Carian towns as still resisted; but its arrival in the North Ægean could not be long deferred.

It was, no doubt, owing to the resistance of Thasos that the plan miscarried. While he was besieging the place, news arrived that the Phœnician fleet was moving northward. This being so, it was quite certain that the Æolians in his force would insist on an attempt being made to rescue the Lesbians, if not Lesbos. So to Lesbos Histiæus went.

H. vi. 28.

He arrived there only to find that the food supplies of the island, exhausted probably by the influx of refugees, were insufficient to support his army. So he crossed over with it to the mainland, making Atarneus his base, and intending to operate from it and seize the harvest-produce of its neighbourhood, and of the valley of the Kaïkos river.

Here he was attacked by a large Persian army under Harpagos. A large part of his force was destroyed, and Histiæus himself was captured.

H. vi. 29.

“In the battle between the Greeks and Persians at Malene in the country at Atarneus, the Greeks resisted for a long time, but the cavalry being afterwards launched against them fell upon the Greeks. From that moment the attack became simply a cavalry affair. On the Greeks being put to flight, Histiæus, hoping that he would not perish at the hands of the king owing to his present transgression, conceived such a desire for life, that when in his flight he was overtaken by a Persian, and being overtaken was about to be stabbed to death by him, using the Persian language, he declared himself to be Histiæus the Milesian. If he had, when he was captured, been taken forthwith to King Darius, my belief is that he would have suffered no harm, but that the king would have freely forgiven him.”

But so it was not to be. The great Persian officials had no intention of giving their old enemy a chance of his life. When Harpagos brought him to Sardes, Artaphernes had him executed and sent his head up to Susa. HISTIÆUS. Greek tradition represented Darius to have treated the poor remains [141]with honour, as being those of a man who had been a great benefactor to the Persians and their king.

Histiæus has come down in story as the arch-villain of his time. He was the most contemptible member of a hated class, as the men thought who created the story of his life, and as Herodotus, who implicitly copied the picture which they drew of him, thought also.

He cannot be accounted fortunate in his biographer. The shadows of the picture are so deep that the true lineaments of the man cannot now be clearly discerned. But he who tries to play a double part, and fails in the attempt, as Histiæus did, is not likely to occupy an honourable place in history. He seems to have been of great and selfish ambition, without the capacity to form a judgment as to the means requisite to carry it out, and without any scruple as to the means he did adopt. He figures consequently as a scheming but somewhat futile villain. He had made up his mind that his main endeavour must be to win the confidence of Darius, and that, if he won this, he could afford to ignore the great officials. He forgot how far a cry it was from Susa to Sardes. He wished at all costs to rule the Asiatic Greek—independent of Persia, if he could; under Persia, if he could not; but not under any satrap at Sardes or elsewhere. His plan, well conceived, but prematurely executed, of gaining a point d’appui in Thrace, gave away the whole design at its very inception. There followed years of exile at Susa. He returned to the coast to find the revolt undecided. He had, or thought he had, two alternative cards to play: either to help in the suppression of the revolt, and to make Darius believe that he had been mainly instrumental in its suppression, or to take the lead in the rising. But Artaphernes forced his hand, and he had no alternative but to play his second card. It might have been effective, had he been allowed to bide his time; but the premature display of it spoiled his whole game,—in fact, the Greeks would have none of him.

And in the last scene of all, at Chios, Thasos, and Lesbos, his curse is still upon him. He again miscalculated the means necessary to effect his design in the limited time within which it could possibly be successful. His [142]cleverness was greater than his ability. He possessed the finesse of a schemer, but lacked the practical reason of the man of action.

His capture must be attributed to the spring of the year 493, inasmuch as his army was engaged in reaping the spring crops in the neighbourhood of Atarneus at the time at which it was attacked by Harpagos.

The rest of the tale of the revolt is soon told.

The Persian fleet, having wintered at Miletus, proceeded in the spring of 493 to reduce the island states. Chios, Lesbos, and Tenedos fell into their hands. Herodotus reports that they “netted” these islands, that is to say, swept them from end to end with a line of men with joined hands stretching from sea to sea. If the story be in any sense literally true, it probably means that the Persians were anxious to get hold of prominent refugees. Nothing is said as to what they did with those they captured.

H. vi. 32.

Presumably the reduction of the continental cities was proceeding at this same time. If the list of ships at Ladé be any criterion, it would seem as if but few of them remained to be reduced. Those that did remain were treated with severity. Children of both sexes were carried away up country, and the cities with their temples were burnt to the ground.

This was the end of the revolt in Asia.

The operations which followed in Europe, though aiming at the subjugation of revolted districts, have a more intimate historical connection with their sequel than with the tale of the revolt itself.


  • Aristagoras proposes the Naxos scheme to Artaphernes.
  • Artaphernes communicates the proposal to Darius.
  • Gathering of Ionian fleet and of the expedition generally.
  • Siege of Naxos.
  • Failure of siege.
  • Meeting of Greek conspirators.
  • Deposition of tyrants.
  • Aristagoras at Sparta and Athens.
  • Athenian and Eretrian vessels arrive on Asian coast.
  • Pæonians return to Europe.
  • Artaphernes besieges Miletus.
  • Phœnician fleet defeated by Ionians off Pamphylia.
  • Expedition against Sardes.
  • Greeks at Sardes. Artaphernes besieged in citadel.
S. or A.
  • Withdrawal of Greeks from Sardes, and battle of Ephesus.
  • Athenian fleet returns home.
  • Onesilos plotting revolt of Cyprus.
  • Darius hears of burning of Sardes.
  • Aristagoras appeals to Athens for continued assistance.
  • Ionians engaged in energetic preparations.
  • Deposition of Gorgos of Salamis.
  • Ionian fleet brings about revolt in Hellespontine district.
  • Beginning of siege of Amathus.
Sp. or S.
  • Revolt of Caria.
  • Ionian fleet called to Cyprus.
  • Battle by land and sea in Cyprus.
  • Ionian fleet returns to Ægean.
  • Capture of Soli by Persians, and end of revolt in Cyprus.
  • Persian troops employed in Cyprus forwarded to Sardes.
  • Hymeës operating in the Propontis region.
  • Campaign of Daurises in the Hellespont region.
  • Campaign in Caria.
  • Battles of Marsyas and Labraunda.
  • Campaign of Hymeës in the region of the Troad.
  • Aristagoras departs for Myrkinos.
S. or A.
  • Continuation of campaign in Caria.
  • Great Persian defeat at Pedasos.
  • Death of Aristagoras at Myrkinos.
  • Histiæus arrives at Sardes.48
  • Histiæus at Chios.
Sp. or S.
  • Histiæus’ attempt on Miletus.
  • Histiæus goes to Byzantion.
  • Persian reinforcements arriving in Asia Minor.
  • Some Carian and Ionian cities begin to make terms with the Persian.
  • Miletus attacked.
Sp. or S.
  • Battle of Ladé.
  • Capture of Miletus.
  • Reduction of Caria.
  • Histiæus at Chios and Thasos.
  • Persian fleet at Miletus.
  • Histiæus’ death.
  • Reduction of the islands and of the towns on the mainland.



There had been a passive as well as an active side to the revolt. Its effects had been more far reaching than its activities. On the European side the Hellespont region,49 Thrace and Macedonia had thrown off the Persian yoke, but there is no record of their having joined in the offensive against the Persian. The Hellespontine cities on the Asiatic shore had been already reduced. H. vi. 33. The fleet now proceeded to the reduction of the further shore of the Propontis. Miltiades’ principality in the Thracian Chersonese, Perinthos, the forts Thraceward, together with Selymbria, Byzantion, and Kalchedon were subjugated once more. From Byzantion and Kalchedon the inhabitants fled to the Pontus, whither the Phœnicians did not, possibly dare not, follow them. These towns were burnt.

The position of Miltiades during the years of the revolt is another of the many obscure points of the history of the time. H. vi. 40. According to Herodotus, he had been driven out of his principality somewhere about the year 496 by a Scythian raid, which is alleged to have been an act of revenge for Darius’ expedition; and had only been restored to it subsequently by the aid of the Dolonki, the race which had originally handed over the district to the rule of his family. [146]He appears at Marathon as a practised general; yet there is no trace whatever of his part in the revolt having been other than purely passive. His act seems, indeed, to have been rather defection than revolt.50

On the evidence available, nothing is clear but that Miltiades considered that he had hopelessly compromised himself with the insurgents; so much so, that, when he heard the Persian fleet was at Tenedos, he placed his movable property on five triremes and set sail for Athens.

His position as ruler of this little principality must have been a very difficult one while the revolt was in progress. On the one hand, he had to watch the wild Thracian tribes on the north; and this may account for his apparent inactivity at the time. On the other hand, he had to decide between the prospective dangers of defection from Persia and the more immediate peril of an attack from the Ionian fleet, when, early in 497, it appeared in the Hellespont. The sense of the certain danger of the moment seems to have overcome whatever feeling he may have had with regard to the risk of throwing off the Persian yoke.

Of his five ships, four reached Athens in safety; but the fifth, with his son Metiochos on board, was overtaken by the Phœnicians, and captured. The youth was sent up to Darius at Susa, who treated him with kindness.51

H. vi. 42.

The hostilities upon the Asian coast had been brought to a close by the complete submission of the Ionian districts. REORGANIZATION OF GREEK ASIA. The peculiar enlightenment of the Persia of this age in contrast with other Oriental monarchies is shown by the settlement of affairs in Asia made when the fighting [147]was all over. There seems to be a certain irony in the attitude taken towards the Greeks. It is assumed that the Ionian cities had been, if not their own, at any rate each other’s worst enemies; and the most prominent feature of the reorganization is the regulation of their relations to one another.

Artaphernes summoned representatives from the various cities to Sardes, and compelled them to make mutual agreements providing means for the settlement of disputes, whether public or private, between the states, and for the discontinuance of raids on neighbour’s property. The last provision casts a somewhat lurid light on the unruly character of these subjects of the empire.

He further caused a survey to be made of the territories of the cities, on which was founded a new assessment of tribute, which, so Herodotus says, differed but little from the previous assessment, and continued in force until his own time.52

The reconquest of Thrace and Macedonia was the next object of the king. The absence of evidence as to the nature of the attitude of these regions towards Persia at the time of the revolt, renders it impossible to say whether they had actually thrown off the yoke, or whether it had not rather fallen from them in consequence of the European shore being denuded of Persian troops for the operations in Asia. They seem to have lapsed rather than revolted. This view is supported by the fact that, though they had to be reconquered, that reconquest, apart from a disaster due to natural causes, seems to have been carried out without much difficulty, and yet effectively.

It might have been supposed that the large naval and military force which must have been present in Western [148]Asia during the last year of the revolt, would have been sufficient for the operations in Europe; but, apart from the inevitable losses in the war, a large number of the available troops may have been required for the occupation of the recently conquered districts.

H. vi. 43.

Be that as it may, very large reinforcements came westward from Susa in the spring of the year 492, under the command of Mardonios, that general who was destined thirteen years later to meet his death on the field of Platæa. He superseded Harpagos, Otanes, and the other unnamed generals in the command, so Herodotus says. It is, on the whole, unlikely that they were actually dismissed from their positions. The truth may be that Mardonios appeared as commander-in-chief.

After arriving in Cilicia, he went on board the fleet, and sailed to Ionia along the coast, while his army marched overland.

His first reported act on arrival in Ionia is the deposition of “all” the Ionian tyrants, and the establishment of democracies in the cities. Herodotus adduces this as a proof of the credibility of a story of his that, after the assassination of the pseudo-Smerdis, a proposal was actually made by Otanes, one of the conspirators, that Persia should be constituted as a democracy.

That democracies were established in “all” the states is not the case. There were certainly exceptions, as the evidence of Herodotus himself indicates.53 But that the measure was a wide one is shown by the great rarity of the instances in which any such tyrants appear in subsequent history, compared with the prominence of the part played by them in previous times.

This measure seems to have been carried out by direct commission from Darius.54


The severity meted out to the cities immediately on the suppression of the revolt is so strikingly in contrast with the consideration shown them in the years immediately following it, that it suggests the suspicion that the two modes of treatment were the outcome of two policies, one [149]of which was that of the satraps and commanders in the West, and the other that of Darius himself. The reversal of policy shown in the settlement of Ionia by Artaphernes makes it appear as if the great satrap were acting under orders from Susa; and the further measures taken upon Mardonios’ arrival on the coast are certainly carried out in consequence of the instructions he had received.55

The nature of the measures taken indicates some of the causes of unrest in the Greek cities previous to the revolt; namely, unfairness, real or alleged, in the incidence of the tribute; the absence of any peaceable means of settling disputes between the towns, except by the obviously unpopular method of appeal to the satrap; and, above all, the hated system of ruling them by means of tyrants who acted as political agents for the Persians.

Darius was not an ordinary Oriental despot. He was a ruler who, considering the time at which he lived, displayed extraordinary enlightenment and moderation in his dealings with the subject races. This laudable feature of his government cannot be ascribed wholly to his philanthropy. It was largely the outcome of a policy of caution. He was strongly averse to placing large bodies of troops at the disposal of the satraps of the outlying provinces, unless circumstances actually demanded it. The measure taken by Artaphernes, [probably, as it would seem, by Darius’ direct orders,] with regard to the establishment of a system of arbitration between the towns, does of itself show how inadequate under ordinary circumstances were the means at the disposal even of a great satrap for the repression of acts of war against one another on the part of sections of the subject populations within the provincial area. The elimination of causes of discontent among the peoples of the empire was a necessary derivative of Darius’ policy towards the satraps.

[150]The main task, however, which Mardonios was commissioned to perform lay in Europe. Herodotus’ description of the design of the expedition is remarkable.

H. vi. 43, 44.

“Having crossed the Hellespont in ships, they proceeded on their march against Eretria and Athens. These places were the pretended objects of the expedition. But as they intended to subdue as many of the Greek cities as possible, they in the first place reduced the Thasians with their fleet without resistance, and then with the army added the Macedonians to the number of those in servitude. All the tribes on the near side of Macedonia had been already reduced.”

It is noteworthy that all this had been achieved before serious disaster fell on the expedition. It was after the reduction of Macedonia,—a conquest which the history of subsequent years shows to have been genuine and complete,—that the fleet, coming from Thasos and Akanthos, was caught in a storm off Mount Athos, the easternmost of the promontories of the peninsula of Chalkidike. The reported loss, says Herodotus, was 300 ships and 20,000 men, his language implying that he was disposed to regard the number as exaggerated.

Another disaster of a minor character befel the land forces. They were attacked at night by a tribe in Macedonia called the Brygi; Mardonios himself was wounded, and the Persian losses are said to have been considerable; but Herodotus expressly adds that⁠—

H. vi. 45.

“Not even the Brygi escaped slavery at the hands of the Persians; for Mardonios did not leave the region until he had reduced them. After subduing them, he took his expedition back [to Asia], for the army had met with disaster at the hands of the Brygi, and the fleet had suffered terribly off Athos. So the expedition went back to Asia, after meeting with disgraceful reverses.”

The two main questions with regard to this expedition are⁠—

(1) As to its intent;

(2) As to its practical results.

Herodotus is plainly of opinion that it was ultimately aimed against European Greece.



There can be little doubt that Herodotus is right in his view that the ultimate goal of the expedition was European Greece. The fact that so great a fleet formed part of it indicates that (1) the numbers were very large; (2) that its goal was distant. Other considerations support these indications. The forces, naval and military, in Western Asia, which were very considerable indeed before ever Mardonios came down, must have been largely available for service in Europe after the revolt was suppressed; and the reinforcements which Mardonios brought down with him are expressly stated to have been very large. The fleet at Ladé is reported to have amounted to six hundred vessels. This fleet was presumably still greater, and the numbers of the land force would, in accordance with Persian custom, be proportionately great. (3) If Herodotus’ narrative of the sequence of events is to be taken as trustworthy, Macedonia was subdued before the fleet attempted to round Mount Athos. The fleets of those days, especially in that particular sea, where sudden storms are notoriously frequent, did not attempt to round promontories such as Athos without having good reason for so doing. If Macedonia had been already subdued before it attempted the passage, the Thermaic gulf cannot have been its goal. It may be urged, perhaps, that the incident of the Brygi indicates that the subjugation of Macedonia was not so complete as Herodotus says. But does Herodotus, by the order in which he mentions this incident, wish to imply that it occurred subsequent to the disaster? It would seem not. All he wishes is to bring the minor disaster on land into juxtaposition with the major disaster at sea; and, so far as chronological setting is concerned, his statement that the Brygi were ultimately subdued would, taken with his previous general statement, place the incident of the Brygi in its proper position in the course of events—that is to say, prior to the disaster off Athos. Moreover, in any case, the reduction of Macedonia was actually effected without the fleet proceeding beyond Athos, and therefore the presence of the fleet in the Thermaic gulf was not necessary for the operations in that country. The road across the north of Chalkidike was short and easy, and from an [152]anchorage near Akanthos, the commissariat of the army in Macedonia could be efficiently maintained.

But the fleet; after the disaster, was evidently not in a condition for further advance; possibly because the actual loss of supplies had been great, possibly because it was left too weak in numbers and equipment to face the inevitable fighting in Greek waters which would result, should any large scheme of conquest be attempted in Greece itself.

Herodotus’ statements as to the greatness of the objects of this expedition of Mardonios would not of themselves be convincing did not its magnitude, when compared with the expedition of 490, imply that its aims were infinitely more ambitious. The fleet which took part in the earlier expedition seems to have been at least as large as that of two years later; and, in addition to the fleet, Mardonios had, as has been said, a very large land army, for he had brought down with him a considerable number of troops over and above those already in West Asia which the suppression of the revolt would render largely available. The punishment of Athens and Eretria was an essential part of the programme of this expedition; but it was only a part. The dictates of policy would render it advisable for Darius to show the European Greeks that they could not with impunity interfere in the affairs of Asia. But the expedition was not, like that of 490, limited in its scope to Athens and Eretria. It threatened Greece as a whole.

The results of Mardonios’ campaign were that Macedonia and Thrace (the southern part of it) were re-conquered, and remained passive in the hands of Persia for thirteen succeeding years. Thasos was also annexed.

Herodotus’ estimate of its result is coloured by the failure of the design in so far as Greece was concerned; but, on his own showing, the campaign was a success in so far as the operations in Macedonia and Southern Thrace were concerned.

Darius, now definitely prepared to carry out his schemes against the liberty of European Greece, was in no way diverted from them by the disaster off Mount Athos. He only altered his plan of action.



Alike on the north and east of the Ægean, circumstances had been in 492, for the first time in Persian history, favourable for the prosecution of his plans west of that sea. The events of the past twenty years had only served to emphasize some of the more important considerations which must have been present in his mind when the plan was originally formed. He knew, he must have known, that, unless he were prepared to adopt the dangerous policy of entrusting the commanders in the West with a large permanent force, the recurrence of a rising on the part of the ever-restless Greek might be looked for so long as the liberty of his brethren across the sea contrasted with his own servitude in Asia.

He greatly under-estimated the difficulties of the conquest of European Greece; but that he regarded it as a serious undertaking is shown by the magnitude of the expedition which was despatched to Europe under Mardonios.

The strategic plan of that campaign was similar to that adopted in the expedition of 480. The disaster off Athos modified his design. It showed him the dangers attendant upon the voyage of a large fleet by that circuitous route in those stormy seas,—a voyage which would be protracted by the necessity of keeping touch with the slow advance of the army on land.

He determined, therefore, that the plan of the co-operation between army and fleet must be renounced, and that the attack must be made by the short sea-route through the islands of the Ægean.

This change of design brought a further modification in its train.

The transport of the huge numbers of a Persian levy of the first magnitude was out of the question in the vessels of those times; and so the new expedition was expressly limited in its apparent scope to the punishment of those states which had taken part with the Ionians.

In accordance with the methods of Persian policy under such circumstances, it was sought to minimize the danger of the expedition by detaching as many of the states as possible from the defence before the attack was actually made. So in the year 491 Persian heralds were [154]despatched to the various cities of Greece with orders to demand earth and water from them. Messengers were also sent to the tributary states on the Asiatic coast, ordering them to prepare warships and transports. Herodotus says that many of the states of the European mainland, and all the islands to which application was made, obeyed the demand; but it is noticeable that he does not mention any by name, save only the island of Ægina.

The action of Ægina provoked alarm at Athens, and this, coupled with the desire to get an old enemy into trouble, caused Athens to make representations at Sparta with regard to the conduct of the Æginetans.56

To follow the confused details given by Herodotus of the relations between Athens and Ægina is no part of the purpose of this work, except in so far as they affect the larger question of the relations with Persia. In the present instance Kleomenes, of the senior branch of the Royal house of Sparta, did interfere in Ægina in consequence of the Athenian representations. His first visit to the Island was ineffective. The Æginetans objected that he was acting solely on his own authority, and not on that of the Spartan Government; otherwise, so they said, the other king would have accompanied him. This objection was suggested to them in a letter of Demaratos, his colleague in the kingship.57



The action of Demaratos rendered the relations between the two kings so hostile, that Kleomenes intrigued to bring about the deposition of his colleague and rival. In this he was successful, and Leutychides succeeded to the kingship which Demaratos had held.

H. vi. 73.

Accompanied by Leutychides, Kleomenes paid a second visit to Ægina, and received ten of the chief citizens as hostages for the good behaviour of the state. These he gave into the charge of their “greatest enemies,” the Athenians.

It is impossible to say with confidence that the story is historical in all its details. The fact, however, remains that Ægina was absolutely passive during the Marathonian campaign, and that her attitude at the time can only be attributable to the fact that Athens had these hostages at her mercy.

Though Athenian tradition magnified Marathon into one of the greatest events in Hellenic history, till references to it became a tedious commonplace in Greek diplomacy, the actual records of the time are very meagre.58

[156]The most remarkable characteristic of Herodotus’ account of the campaign is its brevity. It cannot, however, be supposed that he suffered in this instance from want of information. Of that there was, doubtless, enough and to spare. Herodotus must have found in Athens material sufficient for a much longer chapter in his history, had he chosen to make use of all that came to his hand. He had every temptation to do so. The Marathonian legend was regarded in his day as one of the most glorious pages in Athenian history. A full reproduction of it would have been an attractive feature in the historian’s work, when presented to an Athenian audience.

The cause or causes of this striking abstention may not have been simple or uniform.

Much of the material must have been unreliable. Popular imagination would be certain to come into play in dealing with the story of an event which, whatever its real nature, did greatly increase the reputation of Athens, raising her suddenly from a position of comparative obscurity into a place among Greek states but little inferior to that of Sparta itself.

What has become of all this mass of legend?

Herodotus has certainly rejected the greater part of it as unworthy of reproduction in history. It has survived in fragmentary references in the works of the orators of a later age. Its existence provoked historians like Theopompos to exaggerate on the side of depreciation.

Frag. Hist. Græc. Theop. 167.

The difficulty of dealing with it at the time at which Herodotus wrote must have been very great. It cannot be said that he has been wholly successful. He has been led, in the process of rejection, to omit details crucially necessary for the understanding of his narrative; he fails, for example, to quote the most notable instance, to account for the absence of the Persian cavalry at Marathon.

He has, again, in the process of adoption, inserted details about the command at Marathon, one of which is a demonstrable anachronism, while others render the exact position of affairs very uncertain.


But there is a further motive which must be taken into [157]account in a full consideration of the causes which modified his narrative.

H. vi. 121 ff.

To his tale of the campaign is appended a defence of the Alkmæonidæ, which shows that the current Marathonian tradition charged that great Athenian family with having been in collusion with the Mede.

The possible effect of this feature of the tradition on the narrative of an author writing in the days of the greatness of Pericles the Alkmæonid cannot be ignored; though its actual effect, other than these apologetic chapters, is not traceable.

It is, however, evident that the main part of the material for the history of the campaign up to the point where this apology begins, is taken from a version emanating from an “aristocratic” source—that is to say, from that party which was most bitterly opposed to Pericles at the time at which Herodotus wrote.

It has already been pointed out that the Persian expedition of 490 was organized on a less ambitious scale than that of 492, and that it must consequently be concluded that its objects were less ambitious.

How far Herodotus was able in later days to obtain authentic information from the Persian side with regard to the end which Darius had in view, it is impossible to say; but there is a remarkable accord between one of his statements of the Persian motives and his actual narrative of facts. This feature of his account would not be so striking, were it not conspicuously absent from other important parts of his history.

The motives of the expedition seem to have been twofold⁠—

(1) A declared motive,—the punishment of Athens and Eretria.

(2) A motive which the Persian had good reason for keeping, in so far as possible, in the background,—the establishment of a tête-du-pont on the European shore in Attica.

The first of these is expressly stated by Herodotus. Of the existence of the second he appears to have had an inkling.

[158]H. vi. 94.

He says that the expedition was due to Darius’ desire for revenge, and to the charges and importunities of the Peisistratidæ. He further says that Darius wished “on this pretext” (i.e. the representations made by the Peisistratidæ) “to subdue those people in Greece which had not given earth and water.” From an historical point of view, exception must be taken to one phase of this last statement; in fact, in other words in the same chapter Herodotus narrows it down to a noticeable extent. He omits all mention of the recalcitrant states, and says that Darius appointed Datis and Artaphernes to the command “with orders to enslave Athens and Eretria, and to bring the slaves into his presence.”

The facts with regard to the expedition make it evident that Darius was anxious to limit, in so far as possible, the declared scope of it. It did not aim at a large measure of conquest in Greece. The contrast in point of numbers between it and the expedition of Mardonios has been already referred to. The Persian war policy of this age is characterized by one invariable feature—a large numerical margin relative to the end to be attained. Darius’ recent experiences in Ionia were not likely to make him grossly underestimate the forces requisite for any large design of conquest in Greece.

If this be recognized, certain features of the Persian policy at this particular time become explicable. Let it be assumed that H. vi. 49. Herodotus’ statement as to the wide nature of the demand for “earth and water” is correct.59

It was made before the expedition started; and presumably its results were known before the fleet sailed from the Asian coast. OBJECTIVE OF EXPEDITION OF 490. Thus the Persian commanders knew [159]what they had to expect; and, if Herodotus’ statements be correct, a large number of states had been detached from the possible defence.

Then there was Hippias. His presence with the expedition served a double purpose. He was an outward and visible sign of the limitations of the Persian intentions. He was to be re-established as tyrant in Athens. But the Persian might expect more from him. His presence might detach Sparta from the defence. Was it not Sparta which had, not so many years before, called the Peloponnesian states together and proposed the forcible reinstatement of Hippias?

Everything, in fact, points to the correctness of one of the views entertained by Herodotus, that this expedition was aimed against Athens and Eretria alone.

It was in a sense the completion of the work done in the suppression of the revolt, and a precaution against the recurrence of such an outbreak. Not merely must the European Greeks be taught the danger of interfering in the affairs of the empire, but the subjugation of the interfering states must show the Ionians that in future they could not expect help from their free kinsmen beyond the seas.

It is, however, impossible to suppose that the Persian design ended here, and that, had a footing been once won in Attica, the Persian Government would have contented itself with the punishment of that state, and then have withdrawn its troops. H. vi. 96. The action with regard to Naxos and the other Islands on the passage of the Ægean shows that Persia intended to acquire this most effective line of communication; in other words, that the second motive of this expedition was identical with that which had made Artaphernes the satrap so keen to take up the design of Aristagoras in 500 B.C., the desire to acquire a base in the Western Ægean against European Greece. The expedition was to be the preliminary step in larger schemes of conquest.

It was in accord with Persian practice at this time that the command of the new venture should be entrusted to some other general than the leader in 492. H. vi. 94. Mardonios [160]was deposed, says Herodotus, because he had mismanaged the previous expedition. That, as has been seen, had not been the case; and the change of leadership seems to have been simply an instance of the regular policy of Darius with regard to high military command.

The new generals were Datis, a Mede, and Artaphernes, the son of the great satrap of the same name, and nephew of Darius.

From Susa the army was conducted to the Aleian plain in Cilicia, where the fleet and transports met it. On these vessels it was embarked and sailed to Ionia.

Herodotus never mentions the number of the force. It is a somewhat strange omission on his part, the more so as it is his habit to give some estimate of the strength of the Persian armies on important expeditions. It is probable that, defective as is his appreciation of numbers, he could not accept the exaggerated estimates of later tradition. H. vi. 95. He says that the number of triremes was 600.60 Whether this be correct or not, it is probable that if it errs, it errs on the side of exaggeration. But assuming it to be correct, the numbers of the expedition were extraordinarily small for a Persian enterprise. Special transports were, indeed, provided for the horses; but the men of the land army were embarked on board the fleet.61 When the smallness of the ships of those days, the largeness of the crews necessary to work the oarage, and the fact that in the present instance a considerable amount of room was taken up by the horses, are taken into consideration, it is impossible to suppose that the average number of men on board each vessel effective for service on land can have amounted to more than a hundred; it is probable that it amounted to considerably less.

The available force in that case was 60,000 at most, and may not have been more than 40,000.62



From Samos the fleet sailed past Ikarios, and through the Islands. It first touched at Naxos, and attacked it. There the success was partial. The town and its temples were burnt; but the mass of the population escaped to the hills.

It is noticeable that the Naxians seem to have been caught unprepared for the defence. There is no resistance such as had been successful ten years before. Up to this time the preparations of the Greeks to meet the storm had not passed the initial stage of vague anticipation. Naxos doubtless warned Athens and Eubœa. Even the preparations of Athens seem to have been made in a hurry.

Forewarned by the events in the neighbouring island of Naxos, the inhabitants of sacred Delos fled to Tenos. Datis, however, treated the pan-Hellenic sanctuary with marked consideration, and is reported to have offered sacrifice there. This was in accord with the manifest intention of the Persians to give the Greeks generally the impression that the expedition aimed merely at vengeance on those states which had been guilty of lèse-majesté against the Great King; Naxos by its resistance in B.C. 499; Eretria and Athens by their interference in B.C. 498. Nor would such an impression have been a false one, in so far as the immediate circumstances were concerned.

H. vi 98.

After the departure of Datis, there was an earthquake at Delos, the first and the last, so Herodotus says, up to the time of his writing.63

H. vi. 99.

From Delos the fleet went round the islands collecting men, and finally came to Karystos, in South Eubœa. This [162]town refused a contingent, until the ravaging of its territory brought it to terms.

H. vi. 100.

Meanwhile Eretria had heard of the coming expedition, and had sent to Athens begging help. Athens did not turn a deaf ear to the appeal; and, though she could not spare men from Attica, she ordered the 4000 Athenian settlers (Kleruchs), who held the lands of that Chalkis which had been conquered sixteen years before, to go to the help of Eretria.

The tale of what followed, as told by Herodotus, is not wholly consistent; and it may be suspected that part of it was intended by its creators to cloke the cowardice of these Kleruchs.64

Opinions in Eretria, so the story runs, were divided. One party wished to leave the city and take refuge in the heights of Eubœa; the other planned treason and surrender to the Persian. A prominent citizen of Eretria, Æschines, the son of Nothos, warned the Kleruchs of this unsound state of things, and advised them to go home. They did more than this, for they crossed over to the mainland, and took refuge at Oropos. Then the tale becomes inconsistent; for, on the Persians landing and disembarking their cavalry, the Eretrians elect to stand a siege, and for six days make a brave defence against every attack, losing many men themselves, but also inflicting severe losses on the enemy.

After that treachery did its work. Two prominent citizens admitted the Persians into the town. The temples were burnt “in retaliation for the burning of the temples at Sardes,” and the population was enslaved “according to the commands of Darius.”

H. vi. 102.

After reducing Eretria, and waiting for a few days, the Persians sailed to Attica in hot haste,65 thinking to treat the Athenians in the same way as they had treated the Eretrians. TOPOGRAPHY OF MARATHON. Hippias, the son of Peisistratos, led them to [163]Marathon, as being the most suitable ground in Attica for cavalry, and nearest to Eretria.



1. Euripus. 2. Little Marsh. 3. Slope of Mount Agrieliki.

[To face page 163.

It may be well, before seeking to account for the choice of Marathon as a landing-place, to describe briefly the plain and its surroundings, as well as its lines of communication with Athens.

The Topography of Marathon.

The plain of Marathon is situated on the east coast of Attica, on the shores of the southern Euripus, at a distance by road of about twenty-four miles from Athens. It is one of those alluvial plains which have been formed by the débris brought down by torrents at the head of a broad bay. This bay is sheltered on the north-east by the long, narrow, rocky promontory of Kynosura, which projects for more than a mile from the general line of the coast. Longitudinally the plain runs from north-east to south-west, having a length of from four and a half to five miles. Its breadth from the shore of the bay to the foot of the hills which surround it is from a mile and a half to two miles. These hills are not, save on the south-west side, very lofty, or very steep; but their surface is of that peculiarly rugged nature characteristic of Greek mountain slopes.

At either extremity of the plain is a marsh. That on the north-east is very extensive, reaching from the mountains all but to the sea. That on the south-west is small; but being at the extreme end of the plain where Mount Agrieliki comes within a half or three-quarters of a mile from the coast, it renders the passage from the south along the foot of this hill very narrow. This little marsh, though, of course, much drier in summer than in winter, was not, I should say, traversable in August, 1899; and this, too, after a prolonged period of drought. The interval between the two marshes is a little more than three miles.

The interval of ground is traversed near its centre by the torrent known as the Charadra, the bed of which is sufficiently marked to form an appreciable military obstacle.

Herodotus’ description of Marathon is noticeable for its absence of topographical detail, and in this respect is in strong contrast with his descriptions of Thermopylæ and Platæa. Topographically speaking, he knows more even of Mykale than he does of Marathon.

[164]There is, in fact, no evidence, direct or indirect, of his ever having visited the field; and the absence of all descriptive detail is strong presumptive evidence that he never had done so.

This may be simply due to the fact that Marathon, unlike Thermopylæ and Platæa, is not on any of the main roads of Greece; but, as it is only twenty-four miles from Athens, and as Herodotus shows himself peculiarly anxious to give topographical details wherever he is describing events of first-rate importance, it would seem as if he did not regard Marathon as being of so much significance as the Athenians made it out to have been. Of purely physical features he says not a word. Of other details he simply mentions the place of the encampment of the Athenians, the sacred precinct of Herakles, the site of which has been discovered high up that valley of Avlona which leads up among the hills from the south-west verge of the plain.

South of the Charadra the plain is highly cultivated, mainly with the vine. If it was so in 490 B.C., it would not have been by any means unimpeded ground for cavalry, as the Greek habit of allowing the vine-tendrils to run along the surface renders the vineyards of the country troublesome, if not dangerous, obstacles to the passage of a mounted man going at more than a foot’s pace. North of the Charadra the cultivation is more sparse and the ground more open.

From the plain two roads lead to Athens:

  • An upper one, which leaves the plain in two branches, one of which goes up the valley of the Charadra past the modern Marathona, and then bends W.S.W. through the hills in the direction of Athens. About a mile and a half beyond Marathona it is joined by the second branch, which, leaving the plain near the modern Vrana, goes up the valley of Avlona and through the site of the precinct of Herakles, which is situated near, though not at the point of junction of the two.

    From this point the road proceeds over the mountains, and, passing the modern Stamata, descends into the Athenian plain near Kephisia, whence it goes direct to Athens.

    It is a rugged track, though not very difficult, and is certainly that which was used by the Athenians in their advance to Marathon.



[To face page 165.


  • A lower road, practically coincident with the modern carriage road from Marathon to Athens. It is much easier than the upper one. The country it traverses is easy. There are no steep gradients. It passes through a long stretch of thin pine forest. It leaves the plain by the narrow passage between the little marsh and Mount Agrieliki.

    The important feature of this road is that it is, and must always have been, easily traversable by cavalry. I mention this, because some emphatic statements to the contrary have been made in some modern treatises on the subject of the battle.

    The only two landmarks on or near the field which can be said to be in any way decisive as to the history of the battle are both artificial in origin.

    They are⁠—

  • The precinct of Herakles, already mentioned. The site was determined by Lolling in 1876.66

  • The soros, or mound, raised over the Athenian dead.
  • The absence of any mention of this by Herodotus is of itself significant evidence that he had never visited the ground.
  • It stands, as will be seen from the map, about half a mile from the shore, and about a mile and a quarter south of the Charadra.
  • Pausanias (i. 32. 3–5,7) mentions it in his description of the neighbourhood. That description bears all the traces of being founded on autopsy.
  • Of the grave of the Athenians he says, “There is a grave of the Athenians in the plain, and on it are columns with the names of the dead upon them, according to their tribes.”
  • He also mentions the important negative fact that he could not find any tomb or mound marking the burial-place of the Medes.
  • The soros, in its present state, is an earthen mound with rather steep sides, between twenty and thirty feet high. The fact of its being a tomb has been proved by recent excavation.

[166]Why the Persians landed at Marathon has always been a matter of dispute. The reason given by Herodotus, namely its suitability for cavalry, is not convincing, because the plain of Athens itself, not to speak of the Thriasian plain, is more suitable for cavalry operations. Moreover, the Persians made no use of this arm during the battle.

The plan of the Persian campaign, as far as Athens was concerned, was based on calculations dependent on circumstances other than purely military, to which it is necessary to turn, in order to account for the adoption of a design for which no adequate reason of a purely strategic nature can be suggested.

Very little is known of the history of the internal politics at Athens during the decade between 500 and 490 B.C. In the previous decade there had been a fierce struggle between the aristocratic and democratic parties under Isagoras and Kleisthenes respectively, which, after several turns of fortune, had apparently ended in the victory of the democrats. But in spite of the absence of direct reference to this special side of history in the records of the first ten years of the fifth century, certain well-attested incidents show that the struggle for supremacy between the parties had not been decided before the new century began.

Greek cities were rarely free from intrigue; and it would seem to have been unusually rife in the Athens of 490. It has already been pointed out that in a version of the tale of Marathon current in Herodotus’ own time the Alkmæonidæ were accused of having been in league with the Persian. Herodotus’ defence of them, by its manifest weakness, is strong evidence against them. They were conspicuous for their hatred of tyranny, he says. They had driven out Hippias. He might have added that they had also driven out Peisistratos, but had been instrumental in restoring him.

He ignores their relations with Peisistratos, not to say anything of those with Kleisthenes of Sikyon. He forgets for the moment that they had been in the pay of a Lydian king.

Colour battlefield map.


London: John Murray, Albemarle St.
Stanford’s Geogl. Estabt. London.


The charge made with regard to their conduct at this [167]time was that they signalled to the Persian fleet at Marathon by means of a shield, that Athens, in the absence of the Athenian army, lay open, and that a party within the city would admit the invaders.

Herodotus does not deny the shield incident. He confines himself to asserting that the Alkmæonidæ could not have had anything to with it. It is noticeable that he makes no charge against any one else, for the apparent reason that tradition did not accuse any one else of the treachery.

The defence he gives is probably that of the Alkmæonidæ themselves.

The charge against the Alkmæonidæ does not seem to have been a late interpolation into the Marathon tradition. Pind. Pyth. vii. 15. Pindar, in one of his odes, which bears traces of having been composed shortly after 486, hints strongly that sinister reports on this subject were existent even at that time.

It is possible to fail to recognize the wide difference between the mental attitude of the European Greek to the Persian before and after the decade of 490–480. Before 490, Medism had not acquired the loathsome significance of twelve years later.

Nor, again, if the Alkmæonidæ and the faction which they led did Medize on this occasion, was the act without precedent in the case of Athens herself. Between fifteen and twenty years before, Athenian ambassadors had given earth and water to Artaphernes at Sardes. Their act had, indeed, been condemned upon their return; but there is no reason to suppose that the condemnation was unanimous; and there is every reason to believe that they would never have so acted, had they not had good grounds for thinking that a majority or a party of their fellow-country-men would approve of what they had done.

The sudden withdrawal of Athenian assistance from the Ionian revolt within a year of that assistance having been granted is most explicable on the assumption that within that year a philo-Medic party had once more acquired the ascendency.

The punishment of Phrynichos for his drama on the [168]capture of Miletus looks very much like the work of the same party.

It seems clear that the democrats in Athens had not found that the expulsion of the tyrant Hippias had brought unmixed blessings in its train. They were thereafter face to face with a strong internal opposition, in the shape of a powerful aristocratic party; and threatened from outside by a Sparta which repented of the part it had played in Hippias’ expulsion, and was exasperated at having been fooled by Delphi at the instigation of the Alkmæonidæ. It is not, then, strange that the democrats should look abroad for help of which they saw no prospect nearer home.

The situation of the democratic party had been very unstable. Its sympathies had been balanced on a razor’s edge, ready to incline to the one side or the other on the slightest shifting of the weights in the political scale. The severities of the last years of the rule of Hippias, after the murder of Hipparchos, had been sufficient to make it passively acquiesce when the intrigues of the Alkmæonidæ against the tyrant were brought to a successful termination by the agency of Sparta; but they had not wholly blotted out the memory of the fact that the triumph of Peisistratos had been in a very real sense the triumph of democracy.

By the reforms of Kleisthenes, however, the Alkmæonidæ had made a strong and successful bid for popular favour; and from 509 onward the fortunes of the democratic party were closely linked with those of this powerful clan.

The opposition, backed by the influence of the repentant Sparta, was dangerously strong. First one side and then the other held the upper hand; but, in the years immediately preceding Marathon, the political fortunes of the democrats seem to have been at a low ebb. There had been one great trial of strength. Miltiades had arrived in Athens in 493, an exile from his tyranny in the Thracian Chersonese, driven out by the Persians. POSITION OF THE DEMOCRATS IN 490. He was not likely to sympathize with any party which had shown leanings towards Persia; he seems, indeed from [169]the moment of his return, to have set himself up and to have been recognized as the champion of the aristocratic and anti-Persian party. As such he was attacked by the democrats, being prosecuted on a charge of “tyranny” in the Chersonese. His acquittal was a great victory for the aristocrats, and a severe blow for their opponents.

From 493 to 490 his party seems to have been in power. It is quite evident, at any rate, that he was the foremost man in Athens at the time of Marathon.

The outlook for the democrats was gloomy. It is not strange if they began to regret the past. The “golden age” of Peisistratos gained in glory from its being far. His tyranny had been more of a blessing than a curse to the mass of the people. The yoke it had laid upon them had been light; and, in return for their submission to it, they had attained to a prosperity they had never before enjoyed.

The present was full of possibilities in great contrast to that past. The reforms of Kleisthenes, that great measure, or series of measures, which had purchased their oblivion of a beneficent tyranny, seemed likely to be undone. The Demos was not bound any longer to forget, if it was like to be robbed of the price of forgetting.

Thus, not unnaturally, the thoughts of a section of the Athenians, headed by the Alkmæonidæ, turned to Hippias. His restoration would be a lesser evil than a return to the old oppressions of the days before Peisistratos.

It is a satisfactorily attested fact in the history of this time that there was “treason” at Athens; in other words, that there was a party in the state which would have welcomed the return of Hippias. Herodotus would have denied it if he could honestly have done so; but he emphatically admits the truth of it.67

Apart from the general political circumstances of the time, Hippias and the Peisistratidæ might reckon on the assistance of many old family adherents in Athens.

When it came to a question as to the possible means of bringing about the restoration, neither Hippias nor his [170]adherents had any choice.68 It could only be accomplished through the instrumentality of the Persian—a dangerous means, perhaps, but the only means; and those who risked the danger were not, before 490, in a position to estimate the full extent of it. The real policy of Persia cannot as yet have been known to the Greeks.

Before proceeding to show in what way these political circumstances affected the strategy of the campaign, it may be well to glance at the general form which the Marathonian tradition took in later days.

Marathon greatly enhanced the reputation of Athens. Nor can there be any doubt that the Athenians were not slow in discovering this. Therefore the process of evolution by which the tradition became a tale of a great national effort would be an eminently natural one. As such the Athenian would present it to those outside the bounds of Attica. The ugly features of the story would certainly be, in so far as possible, suppressed in all editions of it given to the world in general.

Those features would, however, be certain to survive in an edition evolved in the party struggles within Athens itself, and the aristocrat would regard Marathon as excellent material whereon to base an attack on a political opponent.

Aristophanes, nearly three-quarters of a century after the battle, was much more inclined to emphasize its importance as a triumph of aristocracy over democracy, than as a victory of Greek over barbarian. With him the “party” tradition had more weight than the “national.”

Is it, then, to be assumed that the Athenian democrat had no honest claim to a share in the victory? This is a question which, on the extant evidence, is very difficult to answer.

One negative fact is quite certain. Marathon was not69 a crowning victory for the new democracy. The opposite was rather the case.


At the same time it is quite conceivable that, at the last moment, certain circumstances saved a large number[171] of those in the plot from themselves, and so brought about its failure.

The Persians made a gross blunder in treating Eretria as they did, above all at that particular time. The news of what had happened there reached Athens before even the Persians landed at Marathon. The effect of the news would necessarily be to show the party supporting Hippias their error in supposing that the Persians intended, in case of success, to allow anything but their own feelings and their own interests to dictate their policy towards the conquered states. Such a disclosure must have given the resistance a solidarity which it would otherwise have lacked. Many of those originally in the plot must have been present in the army at Marathon. It is quite certain, apart from the necessities of the military levy, that Miltiades would not have left any considerable body of the malcontents in Athens. Yet there is no mention of any difficulties in the army itself when at Marathon; nor is there any “voluntary cowardice” in the battle. There the democrat seems to have fought just as well as his political opponent.

The fate of Eretria was a lesson which the Athenian democrat never forgot. Persia had undeceived him once and for all. The shock of awaking to the terrible nature of the danger in which he had involved his country by supposing his own interests to be identical with those of Persia was so rude that its effects were permanent.

But the Persians went to Marathon in the expectation that disaffection in Athens would do its work.

The position at Marathon offered several advantages.

(1) They could afford to bide their time there until they received word that the conspiracy in Athens was ripe for fulfilment, because the fact of the ground being suitable for cavalry would either deter the Greeks from attacking them, or would give them a great advantage in case they did so.

(2) If, as they no doubt hoped, and might well expect, the Greek army marched thither to meet them, the conspiracy in Athens might proceed unimpeded; and, when it was ripe, they might leave part of their army at Marathon, a long day’s march from Athens, to occupy the attention [172]of the Athenians, while with the remainder they sailed round to occupy the capital.

This last seems, at any rate, to have been the plan which they attempted to carry out. It may or may not have existed in whole or in part at the time of the landing at Marathon.

The Persian did not want to fight at Marathon, though he was prepared to do so in case the Athenians decided to attack on ground of his own choosing.70

His great object was to get the Greek army as far as possible from Athens, and, if possible, to keep it there.

The fact that the Persians did not, in spite of their knowledge of the treachery within the town, attempt a direct assault on Athens, points to the same conclusion, which is suggested by other considerations, namely that the expedition was not on a very large scale. It was, indeed, formed, and it acted throughout, upon the assumption that it would receive a large measure of assistance from Athens itself.

H. vi. 103.

On hearing that the Persians had landed at Marathon, the Athenian army marched to that place.

Before leaving the city, the generals had despatched a professional despatch runner named Philippides71 to Sparta, to summon assistance. H. vi. 106. He made a marvellously quick journey, for he is stated to have arrived at Sparta on the day after leaving Athens; and if, as would be presumably the case in a matter so urgent, he communicated his message immediately to the Spartan authorities, he arrived there on the 9th day of the month, and thus left Athens on the 8th.72


H. vi. 106.

It is unnecessary to insist on the verbal accuracy of the message which is put into his mouth by Herodotus; but the matter of it contains what are, no doubt, the historic facts:⁠—

(1) That the news of the fall of Eretria reached the Athenians before they started for Marathon.

(2) That Philippides was despatched after this news arrived, but (inasmuch as there is no mention of the landing of the Persians in Attica) before the news of their landing had reached Athens.

The appeal to Sparta, and the Spartan answer, show that there must have existed some agreement between the two states, to the effect that Sparta would come to the aid of Athens in case of invasion. If, then, the Persians had reckoned that the presence of Hippias with their army would be sufficient to ward off Spartan interference, they had reckoned on the stable policy of a government whose policy was in those years most markedly unstable and uncertain.

But, though expressing themselves willing to come to the aid of Athens, the Spartans alleged that they could not, without breaking the law, start before the full moon; in other words, that their coming would be delayed at least a week.73

On what day of the month the Athenians received the news of the landing at Marathon, Herodotus does not say; but, inasmuch as the battle must have taken place about the 16th,74 and the armies were face to face with one another for several days before the engagement took place, the news can hardly have arrived later than the 10th day of the month.

On receipt of it, the Athenians started for Marathon. It would be a long day’s march, and a hard journey over [174]the rugged upper road. On arriving there they encamped in the sacred precinct of Herakles.

H. vi 108.

An examination of the map will show how well the position was chosen. It lay high up the rocky valley of Avlona, so near the point where the two forks of the upper road to Athens from the Marathonian plain join one another, that it commanded them both. Moreover, the army in this position would threaten the flank of any body of troops who tried to march on Athens by the lower road, which left the plain between the foot of Mount Agrieliki, (to use its modern name), and the little marsh.

Herodotus’ account of the system of command existent at this time in the Athenian army service is confused, and contains at least one serious anachronism. It leaves the reader in a state of uncertainty as to whether the polemarch Kallimachos or the “general” Miltiades was the actual commander-in-chief.*

On the Command at Marathon.

*He says (ch. 103): “They were led by ten generals, of whom Miltiades was the tenth.” The last phrase closely resembles the quasi-official phraseology of Thucydides, where he is mentioning the generals in command of an expedition, and wishes to indicate the one who had been appointed first in command. Though the phraseology of Herodotus does not exactly correspond with that of the later author, yet the resemblance is so close that it seems probable that he was under the impression that the “strategi” of 490 held a position more closely analogous to that of the strategi of his own day than was actually the case. THE COMMAND AT MARATHON. It seems to imply that the command of the army lay with them, and [175]that in 490, as in later times, one of them was appointed to be first in command for a particular expedition.

This last was certainly not the case. The ten strategi or “generals” in 490 seem to have been the commanders of the contingents of the ten tribes which Kleisthenes had instituted less than twenty years before; and, in so far as the control of the army as a whole was concerned, to have formed, under the presidency of the polemarch, a council of war.

In a later chapter (110), Herodotus says that each held a πρυτανηίη τῆς ἡμέρης. In whatever sense the term πρυτανηίη may have been used, it is plain from the context that Herodotus intends to imply that each of the strategi in rotation commanded the army for one day.

It is quite certain that Herodotus is mistaken in this view; but it is not easy to say how the mistake arose. The most probable explanation is that he was trying to account for the prominent part played by Miltiades in the version of the battle which he followed, by assigning him a much higher official position in the army than he actually held. Herodotus’ account of the events at Marathon is obviously taken from a source wholly different to that of his defence of the Alkmæonidæ. The former is a current tradition, relating the story from an aristocratic point of view. The other is an Alkmæonid (and therefore, in a sense, democratic) denial of a charge preserved in the “aristocratic” tradition.

Herodotus had more difficulty in understanding the position of Miltiades than we have at the present day.

His mistake with regard to Miltiades precludes him from giving any definite account of the position of the polemarch Kallimachos. He does not make any positive, direct statement as to his military rank, though he represents him (chap. 109) as a sort of chairman of the council of the strategi.

He evidently supposes that he is not commander-in-chief, though he mentions that he commanded the right wing, the post of honour, in the battle.

He further speaks of the polemarch as an official “chosen by lot.”

Arist. Ath. Pol. 22.

We know from the “Constitution of Athens” this choice of lot was not introduced into the selections for the archonship till 487. Herodotus’ statement is therefore an anachronism.

So far, then, as Herodotus’ meaning can be unravelled from the confused account which he gives of the system [176]of command at this time, he seems to have supposed it to have been constituted on the following lines:⁠—

  1. Supreme Control—Board or Council of War. Composed of—10 strategi + 1 polemarch (chosen, like the other archons, by lot), who is apparently President of the Board.
  2. Command in the field—Held by each of the strategi in rotation for one day at a time.
  3. Post of honour in the battle—Held by polemarch, as commanding the right wing.

It may be doubted whether Herodotus took any very great interest in the question of organization. It is quite certain that he had great difficulty in getting reliable information about the matter. It would, in fact, seem as if he had deduced the general system of command in 490 from⁠—

(1) The system of command prevalent in later times.
(2) Two circumstances in his own narrative⁠—
  • (а) The prominent part played by Miltiades;
  • (b) His belief that the polemarch and other archons were selectedby lot as early as 490.

From (1) he drew the conclusion that the supreme control lay with the board of strategi, as it did in his own time.

From (1) and (2a) he concluded that the system prevalent in his time of appointing one of the strategi as superior to his colleagues in the command of some special expedition or department prevailed at the time of Marathon; that is to say, that Miltiades was in a position analogous to that which Perikles had held on several occasions in Herodotus’ own time.

Still, he is evidently uncertain on this point; and he accounts for Miltiades’ position by assuming a system of diurnal rotation in the command, H. vi. 110. and by representing that some of Miltiades’ colleagues surrendered their days of command to him.

From (2b) he draws the very important conclusion that the polemarch was no longer commander-in-chief.

He has ante-dated this particular application of the system of lot by three years. It is obvious that the Athenian citizen would not entrust his life when serving in the field to a commander appointed by such a method. His belief in Providence, as represented by the lot, had its limitations. Herodotus was probably well aware that, from the moment of the introduction of the lot into the [177]election of the archons, the polemarch had ceased to command the army.

Perhaps, after all, the main difficulty which would be experienced by an inquirer in the latter half of the fifth century into the system of command existent in 490, would arise from the fact that that year fell within what was a comparatively brief period of transition in the Athenian army system, intermediate between the old organization existent before the reforms of Kleisthenes, and the completely new organization which was introduced between 490 and 480, probably in 487, and prevailed with hardly any modification during the rest of the century.

The reforms of Kleisthenes, by substituting ten tribes for four, had rendered a certain amount of army reorganization necessary. Thereafter the army was constituted in ten tribal regiments, each commanded by one of the strategi:75 “they chose the generals by tribes, one from each tribe.” What other novelties there were in the system we do not know; but of the system itself, as existent at Marathon, we derive a certain amount of knowledge from the Aristotelian treatise on the Constitution of Athens, and with its aid we may now proceed to set in order the confused and mistaken account of Herodotus.

That treatise distinctly states (Ch. 22) that the polemarch was chief-in-command at Marathon. This is, perhaps, a conclusion at which a close student of Herodotus’ uncertain account would arrive. H. vi.109. The attitude of Miltiades towards him at the celebrated Council of War is that of an official inferior. His command of the right wing would argue that he was, at least de jure, the chief of the army.

Of the position of the strategi the treatise says but little. It seems certain, however, that, in addition to commanding the tribal contingents, they formed, as Herodotus implies, a council of war presided over by the polemarch.

This council of war seems to have had considerable powers. The more important and general questions of war policy seem to have been decided by its vote, rather than by the orders of the polemarch.

It is, perhaps, to this feature that we may attribute the undoubted power which Miltiades exercised at this time. Herodotus sought to account for it by ascribing to him a higher official position than he actually possessed. [178]He had not made up his mind what that position was, and limited himself to making two vague and inconsistent suggestions with regard to it. It is possible, however, to see that Miltiades’ prominence at the time arose from his being the author of a plan which he persuaded the council of war to adopt. It may be even the case that Kallimachos and the council, when once the plan was definitely adopted, left him with a free hand to carry it out; and that this feature in the history of the time has survived in Herodotus’ tale of the surrender to Miltiades by the other generals of their days of command.

The historian himself makes no positive pronouncement on the matter. He is aware that the victory was due to Miltiades, and he therefore seeks to invest that general with special powers such as could be conferred on particular generals at the time at which he wrote. Until the discovery of the treatise on the “Constitution of Athens,” an Aristotelian work, if not a work of Aristotle, the explanation of the difficulties in Herodotus could only be a subject of conjecture.

Arist A. P. 22.

That treatise, however, states definitely that the polemarch was commander-in-chief at Marathon, and that the ten generals were elected one from each tribe. They were, in fact, commanders of the tribal contingents.

But they were more than this. They formed a council of war at which the polemarch presided. The major decisions with regard to all operations were made by the council and not by the polemarch; and Miltiades’ prominence at the time was due to his having persuaded the council to adopt his strategic and tactical plans. He seems, furthermore, to have been given, either by Kallimachos or by the council, a free hand in carrying them out.

It is not unnatural that this should have come to pass.

The plan was good enough to recommend itself; it seems, indeed, to have been one of the ablest designs traceable in the history of Greek warfare; and it was very ably carried out.


The designer was, moreover, at the time the most [179]prominent and most powerful man in Athens. He probably enjoyed a far greater military reputation than any of his contemporaries, as having seen more service than any one else, and, above all, as being acquainted with Persian methods of warfare. He was eminently a man to whom Kallimachos might defer, although his titular position was not higher than that of the other generals.

H. vi. 108.

While the Athenians were encamped at the sacred precinct of Herakles, they were joined by a contingent from the Bœotian town of Platæa.

Some twenty-nine years before this time the Athenians had taken the little city under their protection against its formidable neighbour Thebes, which had tried to force it to become a member of the Bœotian confederacy. It was out of gratitude for the aid then given, and for the protection afterwards extended to them, that the Platæans now shared the perils of their benefactors.

While the Athenian position at Marathon is clearly determined by the identification of the precinct of Herakles, the station taken up by the Persian army must remain a matter of uncertainty. No topographical detail by which it can be identified has survived. The “Soros” shows, indeed, where the actual fight took place; but it does not define the position of the Persian army during the days of waiting before the battle was fought. The only detail preserved in the various traditions of the battle which can be said to cast any light on the position of the original encampment of the Persian force is that the Persian fleet was “anchored” at Marathon, not drawn up on shore.76

The truth of the detail is rendered probable by the general history of events, in which it is conspicuously shown that the Persian design demanded that a portion, at least, of their fleet should be ready to start at a moment’s notice.

[180]Except at the northern end, where the promontory of Kynosura forms a natural breakwater, the bay of Marathon is open and exposed. As an anchorage for vessels the northern end would naturally be chosen. It may be presumed that the army would be encamped in the immediate neighbourhood of the fleet; and, if so, its original position must have been north of the Charadra, hidden from the Greek encampment by the rise of the modern Mount Kotroni. Doubtless both sides had outposts in view of the enemy’s camp.

H. vi. 109.

On their arrival at Marathon the Athenians held a council of war. Herodotus’ account of it, though it must be regarded as a valuable contribution to the history of the time, is somewhat distorted by the evident fact that he did not understand the nature of the circumstances by which the Greek generals were faced. He represents the question under discussion as having been of an absolute character, namely, whether the Athenians should take the offensive or remain on the defensive. He involves himself consequently in an inconsistency. Miltiades urges the immediate offensive, lest delay may give treachery time to do its work in Athens itself. The opinions of the ten generals are divided on the question; and it is to Kallimachos the polemarch, who has the deciding vote, that the earnest appeal of Miltiades is addressed. Kallimachos is persuaded, and not only that, but the four generals who have voted for Miltiades’ plan hand over their days of command to him. The latter, however, with singular inconsistency, though he has urged the immediate offensive, defers the attack until his own day of command has come round.

There can be no doubt that Herodotus, or the creator of the traditions which he followed, has misunderstood the position at the time. The question of the offensive, as discussed by the Athenian council of war, was not an absolute question, but was relative to circumstances which might at any moment supervene. Nor is it difficult to see what those circumstances were. It is also clear that the Greek generals must have been cognizant of them.


The Persians must have landed at Marathon some [181]forty-eight hours before the Greeks arrived there. The news of their landing had to be carried to Athens; then the army had to march twenty-four miles over a rugged road to reach its position at the Herakleion. The Athenian generals must have started under the impression that the Persian army intended to march from Marathon upon Athens. Scouts would, however, inform them in the course of the march that the Persians showed no signs of moving. Arriving near Marathon, they would find the strong defensive positions in the passes leading from the plain unoccupied. Surely this would convince the quick-witted Greek that the Persian design was not what he had supposed it to be,—an immediate advance on Athens,—but that either the landing at Marathon was a mere feint, or that the Persian wished to choose his own ground for the battle. Once at the Herakleion the position would further develop.

Strategically the Greek had attained a highly advantageous position.

The Persian could not advance on Athens by land without either exposing his flank in an attempt to pass along the lower road, or committing himself to an assault on the strong position at the Herakleion, where he could not use his cavalry, and where the heavy-armed Greek would have an immense advantage.

Nor, on the other hand, could he embark and attempt the sea passage round Sunium, without exposing himself to serious danger in the process of embarkation.

From the purely military point of view, there was absolutely no reason why, unless circumstances developed in one of these two directions, the Greek should not bide his time. The only risk involved in so doing was the possible working of treachery in Athens, a risk which must have been very sensibly decreased since the arrival of the news of the fate of Eretria. On the other hand, every day’s delay rendered the arrival of the Spartans more possible.

The question debated by the council of war was not the mere abstract question of the offensive, but whether, in case the Persians attempted to move on Athens by land or by sea, they should be attacked in the attempt; or [182]whether, at the first sign of movement, the Athenians should return to defend Athens.

The position on the Persian side was certainly less advantageous. Their design can only be judged of by the record of what they did and did not do.

Their omission to seize the passes leading from the Marathonian plain towards Athens, although they had plenty of time to do so, must be taken to imply conclusively that they never intended at any time to try to advance by land from Marathon.

Nor does it seem to have been their primary intention to fight the Athenians at Marathon. They were prepared to do so on ground of their own choosing, if the Athenians showed a disposition that way; but their main design was, having attracted the Athenians to Marathon, to keep them there while treachery in Athens had time to do its work. So far, they had everything to gain by delay.

But there was another factor on which they had to reckon, and that was the Spartan army. It is impossible to doubt that they were kept well informed by their friends in Athens of all that had passed. They must have known of the message sent to Sparta, of the reply received, and of the date at which the arrival of the Spartans might be expected. The Spartans would start at full moon, on the 15th of the month. To the Persian, then, the period of possible delay was limited.

During the days which followed the arrival of the Athenians at the Herakleion, the Persians must have waited impatiently for that signal which was to tell them that the conspirators had done their work in Athens,—that signal which never came until too late. Day after day passed, and still there was no sign. The Spartans would be starting now: it was the fifteenth. It was not merely a question of their arrival at Marathon: even if they reached Athens, the game was lost.

It was probably on the 16th day of the month that the Persians made up their minds that something must be done. Unless they acted promptly, they might as well not act at all. THE PERSIAN FORCE IN THE BATTLE. The Spartans might be expected at Athens [183]on the 18th or 19th. They arrived there on the 17th, as a fact, making a march rapid beyond expectation.

It was probably on the night between the 15th and 16th that the Persian preparations were made. Herodotus knows little about what happened until the armies faced one another for battle. Yet there are indications and omissions in his story which point to the course which events followed.

On the day of the battle the Greeks in the valley of Avlona found a Persian army facing them in the southern part of the Marathonian plain. H. vi 111. It was evidently drawn up in battle array, for the Greek formation seems to have been modified to suit that of the enemy.77

What was this Persian force which faced the Greeks? There are two circumstances in Herodotus’ account which render it practically certain that only a moiety of the land army of the expedition actually fought in the battle. Herodotus never mentions the Persian cavalry as having played any part at all in it. They had been landed in Eubœa at the time of the attack on Eretria. H. vi. 102. Marathon had been chosen as a landing-place, because, says Herodotus, it was suitable for cavalry. Yet in the account of the battle they are never mentioned.78 Had they been in the battle they must have played a prominent part in it. It must, therefore, be concluded that they were not there. If they were not, where were they? Many conjectures have been made on this subject.

It seems almost certain that they were on the fleet; [184]that they had been already embarked, together with a large, if not the larger, part of the Persian army.79

No rational estimate can, on the extant evidence, place the numbers of those who fought on the Persian side in the actual battle at much above 20,000. It might even be reasonably argued that they did not amount even to that sum.

Those numbers grew in the evolution of the tradition, until they reached an enormous magnitude. Herodotus is silent on the subject. He is fond of giving numbers on such occasions. It must be concluded that he was not satisfied with his evidence on this point.80

Tradition surviving in various authors later than Herodotus gives the number of the Athenians and Platæans at about 10,000 men. It is probable that few had been left in Athens, so that the major part of the levy would be present at Marathon. If any conclusion can be drawn from the number of Athenians stated to have been present eleven years later at Platæa it would seem as if tradition did not grossly underestimate the number of those present on the Greek side.81



On the available evidence, positive statement as to the proportion of numbers between the two armies which fought in the battle is impossible. All that can be said is that it is highly improbable that the Persians outnumbered the Greeks by two to one, and quite possible that the disproportion between the two armies was not very great.

It may be well now to form a conjecture as to the strategy which prompted the Persian general to make this disposition of their forces. It would seem that, fearing the arrival of the Spartans at Marathon, or even at Athens, they had determined to carry out the plan they had intended to put into operation as soon as they should receive the signal from their Athenian confederates. The signal had not been given; but they could not wait. They must take their chance at Athens, and hope to find the treason there in a sufficiently forward state to render their entrance into the city possible. So they divided their forces, leaving a sufficient number at Marathon to occupy the attention of the Athenians and to make it dangerous for them to move on Athens. These troops had also to cover the embarkation of the major part of the army, including the cavalry. With this latter part of their force they intended to sail round and to attack Athens before either the Athenians could come up from Marathon or the Spartans could arrive from Sparta.

It was for some such eventuality as this that Miltiades had been waiting. He and his colleagues must have seen clearly that the Persians could not afford to continue indefinitely a policy of delay. They must have divined also that the delay could have but one meaning, namely, that the enemy were waiting for a sign from their friends in Athens. It is not difficult to understand the motives which actuated either side at this crisis in the campaign.

The Persian troops left at Marathon had a double duty to perform.

They had to cover the embarkation of the rest of the army.

They had, also, to do everything in their power to detain the Athenian army at Marathon. Had not this second duty devolved upon them, they would doubtless [186]have remained north of the Charadra, and would probably have defended the line of that stream-bed. But in that case the Athenians would have been given so long a start in their retirement upon Athens, that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to harass and delay their march. Thus it became necessary to move nearer to the Athenian encampment. They crossed the Charadra, and took up a position prepared alike for battle or pursuit.

It is probable that the Persian generals reckoned rather on the latter alternative. At this time the balance of military prestige was greatly on their side. The conquerors of a continent were face to face with the army of a canton, and were, moreover, superior in numbers to the enemy. They may well have expected that the Greek would not dare to fight, or, if he did fight, would be badly beaten. The successes gained against them by the Ionians had not been on land; and they doubtless judged of the trained hoplite of European Greece in the light of their experience of the imperfectly trained Ionian hoplite they had recently had encountered in Asia.

It is now possible to conjecture the reasons which had induced them to re-embark their cavalry. The circumstances of transport forbid the supposition that they were numerically very strong in this arm. Had they left it at Marathon, it would not have been of service in pursuing the Greeks along the rugged upper road. Even had it been sent round by the lower road, its strength cannot have been such as to render it a formidable obstacle to a strong unbeaten army making straight for its goal at Athens.

But on board the fleet, cavalry might be of immense value for a dash on the capital immediately on the arrival at Phaleron. There every minute would be of importance; and, furthermore, in the open Athenian plain, it would be able to get round opposition, if unable to sweep it aside.


There is no evidence on the subject; but it is almost inconceivable that the lower road was not watched and guarded by some body of Athenian troops; and, though the road itself is easy, there are, even at the present day, places in the great tract of woodland through which it [187]passes which an unsupported body of cavalry would find very difficult to force in face of opposition.



1. Valley of Vrana, or Avlona.

[To face page 187.

The situation of the Athenian army was more simple, in that the council of war had already provided for it. There was, indeed, as Miltiades had foreseen, no alternative but to attack. An attempted retreat along the rugged upper road, harassed by an enemy superior in numbers and lighter in equipment, might end in disaster, and must end in the army arriving at Athens too late to meet the force which was going round by sea.

Thus the battle was inevitable.

It must have been on the plain immediately off the entrance of the valley of Avlona that the Athenians formed their battle array.

H. vi. 111.

Kallimachos the polemarch commanded on the right wing, which, together with the centre and left centre, was formed of the Athenian tribal regiments, while on the extreme left stood the Platæans. The length of front was deliberately made equal to that of the Persians. A special formation was however adopted. The centre was weakened, being only a few ranks deep, while the wings were strengthened. The purpose of this becomes evident in the course of the fight.

The position of the Persians seems to have been parallel with the sea-shore, their centre being somewhere near where the “Soros” now stands. They had evidently moved that part of their fleet which was destined to remain behind at Marathon to the shore south of the mouth of the Charadra, where it was drawn up in rear of the army.82

[188]H. vi. 112.

The interval between the two armies, before the movement of attack began, is stated by Herodotus to have been “not less than eight stades,” that is to say, slightly less than one mile—a statement of distance which is in accord with those circumstances which have been already noticed as determining the position of the two armies.

H. vi. 112.

When they were in array, and the sacrifices became favourable, then the Athenians, in accordance with their orders, advanced at the quick step83 upon the barbarians.

So rapid a method of advance was unparalleled, so Herodotus says, in Greek warfare up to that time. The Greek hoplite seems to have been incapable of rapid movement. In his equipment everything was sacrificed to the effectiveness of his defensive armour. He was indeed the product of a country in which the extremely limited extent of cultivable land rendered it necessary for the citizens of each state to fight on behalf of their annual produce. Cf. H. viii. 9(2). Hence in ordinary Greek warfare the slow-moving, heavy-armed hoplite could always force a battle on ground suited to his offensive tactics,—the alluvial plain,—and had to be met with a force similarly equipped.

That the Greek advance was not altogether expected by the Persians may well have been the case; they may even have thought, as Herodotus says, that they were rushing upon their destruction. But when the historian adds that the Athenians were the first Greeks to face the Medes and their strange dress, he is obviously quoting the exaggerated Athenian tradition of Marathon.


H. vi. 113.

The battle was fierce and stubborn, and lasted a long time. The weak Athenian centre gave way before the best troops of the enemy, the Persians and the Sakæ, who were opposed to them.

Such an eventuality must have been foreseen by the Greek generals; it seems, indeed, almost certain, from the subsequent development of the fight, that the falling back of the centre was a pre-arranged feature in the tactics of the battle. Herodotus, drawing his account largely from popular tradition, and not finding any reference to such a design in the sources of his information, represents the retreat of the centre as a reverse, whereas it was the essential preliminary to that movement which decided the battle.

The strong Athenian wings defeated, not without a severe struggle, the troops opposed to them; but, being kept well in hand, refrained from pursuing them. They wheeled round and assailed the victorious (sic) Persian centre on either flank. The deliberate checking of the pursuit of the wings points clearly to the fact that the falling back of the Greek centre was an essential feature of the plan of battle. As has been already said, that retreat was almost certainly a deliberate act, which had been provided for in the orders given to the officers of the wings before the battle began. It would have been difficult to check the pursuit of a victorious citizen force, had not its officers been aware beforehand that this formed an essential part of the whole design of the battle.

It was in this fight that the Persians must have sustained their severest losses, if the term fight can be applied to what, if the numbers of the slain given by Herodotus be near the truth, must have soon degenerated into a massacre.

Such of the Persian centre as escaped,—they cannot have been many in number,—fled to the ships. On reaching the shore, the Greeks called for means of setting fire to the vessels. As the fugitives from the Persian wings must have already reached the shore, and had, no doubt, hauled a large number of the ships into deep water, the success here attained by the Greeks was not great. The enemy seem to have fought with the courage of desperation to save their sole means of escape, and the [190]Athenian losses at this stage of the fight, if not large numerically, included the polemarch Kallimachos and Stesilaos, one of the generals. Other prominent citizens fell in the same combat.

Paus. i. 32. 7.

Pausanias mentions that part of the Persian army got involved in one of the marshes, and was there slaughtered. This detail is derived from the picture preserved in the Poikilé Stoa at Athens.84

The marsh referred to is evidently the great marsh at the north-east end of the plain; for the cave of Pan is mentioned as lying somewhat farther from the plain than the marsh itself. The unfortunates who perished there seem to have been attempting to reach the shore of the bay by making a large circuit.

H. vi. 115.

Of the result of the fight Herodotus says: “In this way, the Athenians captured seven of the ships. But rowing rapidly out to sea, the barbarians, with the remainder of their vessels, took from the island in which they had left them, the slaves from Eretria, and sailed round Sunium, wishing to reach Athens before the arrival of the Athenians. At Athens it was alleged the barbarians adopted this plan, in accordance with a design of the Alkmæonidæ, who were said to have, by previous arrangement, signalled to the Persians with a shield when the latter were already in their ships. So they sailed round Sunium. H. vi. 116. The Athenians, however, marched with all speed to save the city, and succeeded in getting there before the arrival of the Persians. Having come from the Herakleion at Marathon, they encamped on their arrival in another Herakleion—that at Kynosarges. The barbarians on the high sea off Phaleron, which was at that time the Athenian naval port, anchored their ships off that place, and then sailed back to Asia.”


The exact interpretation of Herodotus’ meaning in this passage is not quite certain. He seems, however, to [191]incline to the opinion that the whole Persian land force was engaged at Marathon, and that those who escaped to the ships after the disaster, when already on board, received the long-expected signal that the conspirators in Athens had done their work, and so sailed round Sunium to Phaleron in the hope of seizing Athens before the army from Marathon arrived. Nevertheless, though time was all-important to them, they wasted precious moments in removing the Eretrian prisoners from the islands in which they had been deposited.

There can be little doubt that the manifest inconsistencies of this story are due to Herodotus having attributed to the whole Persian fleet what were really the movements of two sections of it, namely of the division which must have started for Athens on the morning of the battle, and of a second division which carried those who survived the fight. The first of these, no doubt, made its way direct to Phaleron; the second, after picking up the prisoners on the island, followed it, and found it at anchor off Phaleron, whence the reunited force made its way to Asia.

The details of the shield incident hardly admit of discussion. The incident itself is obviously a historical fact. Herodotus thinks it took place after the battle, because he is under the impression that none of the Persians embarked before the battle was over.

From Marathon to Phaleron is not less than ninety miles by sea. The data for calculating the pace of a trireme of this period are very imperfect; but even at the most liberal computation of speed, and even under the most favourable circumstances, such a voyage would have demanded at least nine or ten hours; whereas, along, the easy route afforded by the lower road, the Athenians could have reached Athens in seven hours, or perhaps less. In the present instance the circumstances were unfavourable. The vessels were heavily laden with troops, horses, and baggage, to such an extent that their pace must have been reduced by almost one-half; so that, if they started at daybreak on the day of the battle, they cannot have been off Phaleron much before midnight.

It is extremely unlikely that the conspirators would [192]have shown such a signal after the battle was over, and at an hour when the possibility of the Persians reaching Athens before the army would have been hardly existent.

The ships which received the signal carried, doubtless, that part of the force which did not take part in the battle, and whose embarkation was covered by those who fought.

The intention of this embarkation, which must have been evident to the Athenians, accounts for the promptness of their attack.

If nothing of the kind had been going on; if the whole Persian force had been still in front of them, and had shown no disposition to move, there is no reason why the Athenians should not have abided by their policy of masterly inactivity. The conspiracy at Athens could not have become dangerous before the Persians had got into actual touch with the conspirators.

Some time in the morning of that day of the battle, probably while it was still in progress, but not yet decided, the one half of the Persian fleet started, and, immediately after starting, received the long-delayed signal.

The Athenians, by dint of extreme haste, managed, after the battle was over, to reach Athens before the enemy, and the latter never attempted to land.

H. vi. 117.

The total Athenian losses in the battle amounted to 192 men. How many Platæans fell, Herodotus does not mention; but Pausanias says that he saw on the field a tomb sacred to their memory. Many light-armed slaves must have perished in such a struggle.85

The Persian losses amounted to 6400. As has been already said, these must have fallen mainly on the centre, of which, owing to the circumstances of the battle, but few can have escaped.

Paus. i. 32. 5.

Pausanias says that the place of burial of the fallen Persians was not recognizable in his day.

From Phaleron, Datis and Artaphernes sailed away to Asia, taking with them the unfortunate Eretrian captives, who were sent far inland, and were settled, by orders of Darius, at a place called Arderikka, not very far from Susa.



How long Datis and Artaphernes remained at Phaleron, history does not say; but the Athenian army from Marathon cannot have been long at Athens before the Spartan contingent arrived there. It had, presumably, left Laconia on the 15th of the month, the day of full moon; and, making an extraordinarily rapid march, it reached Athens in less than three days. Its numbers are curiously small, only 2000 men; yet the speed with which it travelled shows that the Spartans were in earnest. They must have arrived very shortly after the battle, for they visited the field to view the dead; and it is not conceivable that 6400 corpses would be allowed to rot under a Greek sun, unburied for many days.

Despite its brevity, Herodotus’ account of Marathon contrasts favourably in certain respects with his narratives of the battles of ten years later.

Fewer details are given; but the main tactics employed are far more clearly noted.

The Greek generalship during the brief campaign was, in respect to both strategy and tactics, the best of the century. The difficulties which Kallimachos and his colleagues had to face were great. The danger was extreme. They might have been excused had they erred on the side of caution. The boldest course, taken in the move to Marathon, proved the most effective. It struck at the one weak point in the otherwise admirable Persian design. It placed the Persians in the manifest difficulty of a choice between two strategic evils. They would either have to assail the Greeks at a great disadvantage, or would, in the process of embarkation, have to face attack themselves with only a part of their force.

Marathon has, and must always have, a great place in history. It made a great and immediate impression on those who were its contemporaries. Its story would certainly, in any age of the world, have gained by exaggeration. It is only possible at the present day to surmise the lengths to which that exaggeration went; but chance references in later authors show that it went very far. Little of the exaggeration is found in Herodotus. That honest old historian has winnowed out nearly all the chaff [194]from the crop of legends; though it cannot be doubted that in the process he has cast away some of the good grain also.

The loss may have been unavoidable. The machinery for historical criticism was in his day in its most primitive stage; and the good grain in the material to be dealt with was smothered in valueless dust.

One, and, historically speaking, the most important side of the exaggeration of after-time, must be mentioned. The Greek world, thanks no doubt to the Athenian presentment of the tale, regarded Marathon as a defeat inflicted on the full strength of Persia. It has been shown that such cannot have been the case.

Marathon was sufficiently glorious to its victors to render any exaggeration of the success attained superfluous. For the first time in history the Greek had beaten the Persian on his own element, the land. The army of a little state, possessed of no military reputation worth speaking of, had defeated a superior force of the conquerors of a continent. The Greek had shown himself able to face the best soldiers of his age; and the consciousness of this fact, rapidly permeating through the whole of the Hellenic world in Europe, gave the Greek confidence,—nay, even rendered him all but callous and careless,—in face of the great danger which threatened him ten years later.

Marathon was a greater Vimiero in that war which was to be fought out in the Greek peninsula.


THE ENTR’ACTE: B.C. 490–480.

H. vi. 132.

The victory of Marathon greatly increased the reputation of the man to whose strategy the success was due. If the dispositions before and during the battle are to be taken as a criterion of Miltiades’ military capacity, he must be given the highest place among those who led Greek troops in the land warfare of this century. Never, indeed, until Leuktra, did any Greek general display such ability for command; and it may even be doubted whether the genius shown by Epaminondas in his dispositions for that battle was superior to that of Miltiades in dealing with the infinitely more complicated political and strategical situation of the year 490.

He was now at the zenith of his reputation. The decline was fated to be rapid. It was a feature in his life’s history which Herodotus could not fail to emphasize. The greatness, the suddenness of the fall seemed to illustrate in the most marked manner the uncertainty of human fortune.

By predilection Herodotus was almost as much a philosopher as an historian. He was not satisfied with merely recording facts; he wished to point their moral; and, consequently, in those cases in which a story exemplifies in the concrete some important article of his philosophical creed, he displays a tendency to emphasize that side, and those features of it which have the most direct bearing on the moral which he wishes it to convey. The relief of his picture aims rather at philosophical than at historical effect.

It is so with his tale of the closing incident of Miltiades’ career. The striking reverse of fortune needed, indeed, no emphasizing. The catastrophe was sufficiently marked to [196]point its moral even to the dullest intelligence. But the feature of the story which the world might fail to notice unless it were brought into high relief was the self-incurred nature of the disaster. It is characteristic of his philosophy that he regards Fate as acting on mortals internally rather than externally, making them the instruments of their own doom. The “agent provocateur” appears late on the stage. In the opening scene the victim is himself the instrument of Fate.

This faith of his dominates his narrative of Miltiades’ disastrous expedition against Paros. The man is alone responsible for the design. His folly and impiety cause its failure. Like many another prominent character who appears upon the stage of his history, he is one under a doom. The circumstances outside his own personal action which must have contributed so largely to the final catastrophe, are hardly apparent in the story.

H. vi. 132.

“After the defeat [of the Persians] at Marathon, Miltiades, who had previously enjoyed a great reputation at Athens, acquired a still greater fame.

“He asked the Athenians to grant him seventy ships, together with an army and money supplies, without telling them what land he proposed to attack, but saying that, if they followed him, he would make them rich.

“Such was his pretext for the demand of the ships. The Athenians, elated by his promises, granted them. H. vi. 133. After taking over his forces, Miltiades sailed against Paros, on the pretext that the Parians had been the aggressors in sending a trireme to Marathon with the Persian. This was his alleged reason; but he had a grudge against the Parians on account of Lysagoras, son of Tisias, a Parian by birth, who had prejudiced Hydarnes the Persian against him. On arriving at the object of attack, Miltiades with his force besieged the Parians, who were shut up within their fortifications; and, sending in a messenger, he demanded a hundred talents, saying that if they did not give it him, he would not withdraw his army until he had destroyed them.”

The Parians refused the money, and took measures for the defence.


H. vi. 134.

So far, says Herodotus, the story is a pan-Hellenic one: but as to what ensued, several versions were current. He only gives the Parian tale. For the purposes of history all that is important in it is that a certain Timo, priestess of Ceres Thesmophora, arranged to disclose to Miltiades a way by which the city might be captured. In leaving the temple he fell and dislocated his thigh.

H. vi. 135.

“Miltiades, therefore, being in evil plight, sailed back home, neither bringing money to the Athenians, nor having acquired Paros, but having besieged it for six and twenty days and laid waste the island.”86

There is an important sequel to the story. The Parians consulted the oracle at Delphi as to whether they should punish the priestess.

“But the Pythian would not allow it, saying that Timo was not blameable for this, ‘but that it was fated that Miltiades should not end well, and that she had appeared to him as a guide to misfortunes.’”

The most striking point in the tale of this expedition to Paros is the absence of adequate motive in the story as it stands. In addition to this, it contains certain improbable details.

It is unlikely that the Athenians would entrust an expedition of this size to either Miltiades or any one else, [198]without knowing the object of the expedition. Seventy ships would constitute nearly the whole of the Athenian fleet of this time.

The authorities at Athens must have been well aware from the beginning that Paros was the object of attack.

Cf. H. vi. 132, ad init.

Of the date of the expedition there is no indication given in the story except that Herodotus’ language implies a certain interval between Marathon and its departure, during which Miltiades enjoyed a higher reputation than before. It can hardly have been in the same year as Marathon; and it cannot therefore be placed earlier than the spring of 489 B.C. Its motive may have been either commercial or strategic; but in either case it aimed at the acquisition of a strong footing on the islands which bridge the mid-Ægean. Naxos had certainly suffered in 490. It may even have remained in Persian occupation; and, if so, Paros was destined to become what Samos and Naxos had successively been in the past, the outpost of European Greek trade along this route.

Such must have been the real motive lying behind the pretext of the medism of Paros.

The expedition was certainly a failure; and, rightly or wrongly, Miltiades was made the scapegoat. The democrats welcomed the opportunity of revenging their defeat of 493; so Xanthippos led the accusers in their second political prosecution of the leader of the aristocratic party. The charge brought against him was a capital one. He himself was unable to conduct his own defence, for the injured thigh was mortifying, and his end was near. His friends who fought on his behalf succeeded so far that the penalty was reduced to a fine of fifty talents. He did not live to pay the fine; but his son Kimon, destined to become famous in the wars of twenty years later, paid it after his death.

The curiously composite nature of the sources of Herodotus’ history are well illustrated in those passages which relate to the career of Miltiades. Some originate in a source peculiarly favourable to him; others in one bitterly hostile. The Parian tale belongs conspicuously to the latter class.



He may have been by character, he certainly was by position, a man about whom his Athenian contemporaries would form strong opinions, whether good or evil. The leader of the aristocratic party at a period which, whatever the obscurity of the details of the political history of the time, was evidently one of fierce party contention, could not hope in such a state as Athens to escape the defamation of political opponents. Herodotus may or may not have ignored or toned down many of the stories; but the fact remains that the worst he has to say of him is not very bad, and even that is obviously intended to illustrate the infatuation of a doom.

The real features of Miltiades are blurred in the historical portrait. But, inasmuch as the most reliable part of the story is that which is most favourable to him, it may be that the modern world will judge most truly of him if it thinks of him at his best.

The extant history both of Greece and Persia during the years which intervened between the Marathonian campaign and the great invasion of 480 is very fragmentary; but, as it was Herodotus’ object to tell the tale of the relations between the two, such facts as he does mention have in nearly every instance a direct bearing on those relations, and the gaps in the story are not of the embarrassing character of those which are so apparent in the narrative of the years preceding the Ionian revolt, or, indeed, in that of the revolt itself.

H. vii. 1.

The failure at Marathon made Darius more desirous than ever to prosecute his designs against Greece. In spite of the suppression of the Ionian revolt, the events of the last twenty-five years must have seriously shaken the prestige of Persia in the extreme western parts of his territory. Darius’ life-work remained unfinished if he could not consolidate this one corner of the great empire he had reconquered so rapidly in the first years of his reign. That consolidation was manifestly incomplete if the free kin of his turbulent subjects in the far west were to be allowed to enjoy the reputation of having defied his power.

He went to work slowly, for the task was great; and [200]it was all to do, since Datis and Artaphernes had failed to establish a footing on the western mainland. Moreover, that expedition had shown him the difficulty, if not the impossibility of isolating the immediate object of attack. Pan-Hellenic sentiment may not at the time have been stronger west than east of the Ægean; but its practical expression, in the form of combination among the states, was infinitely easier on the European than on the Asiatic side. The years of the revolt had furnished him with all the data for an estimate of the formidable character of this sentimental factor in the politics of this western border of his empire. The punishment of the free Ionians, and the establishment of a tête-du-pont on the European shore, could only be accomplished by a force sufficiently large to meet a formidable combination among the Greek states.

In the years following Marathon,—the last years of his eventful life,—he set to work to prepare for the great expedition. The work was necessarily a work of time. Apart from the magnitude of the undertaking, the last ten years must have severely strained even the great resources of his empire. Moreover, those resources were, owing to the methods on which the government of the empire was organised, potential rather than active. Persia possessed the materials for a great army; but she did not keep that army in commission. Prompt action was impossible with her when the action was to be on a large scale.

Some years passed, and yet the blow did not fall on Greece. The exhausted state of the empire, apart from the habitual slowness in the working of its military machinery, must have delayed the progress of the preparations. H. vii. 2. Darius, too, was in the decline of his days; and it may well be that a failure in his health, apparent some years before his actual death, led to those quarrels about the succession, the story of which reached Greece, and is reproduced by Herodotus, after his custom, with much circumstantial detail. This failure of energy at the centre of the empire would entail a corresponding lack of energy in the outlying parts of it.


Whatever the progress made in the years immediately [201]succeeding Marathon,87 an event took place in 486 which diverted the attention of Darius to another part of the world. Egypt revolted.

But the old king was dying; and before the work of suppressing the revolt was carried out, he passed away in 485.

Enough has been said about him in connection with his organization of the empire to make it unnecessary to write his obituary here.

Singularly able, singularly enlightened, and, for the time in which he lived, singularly humane, he stands forth in history as the greatest Oriental that ever ruled in Western Asia.

In the year after Darius died the revolt in Egypt was suppressed.

During the six years which followed the Marathonian campaign the march of events at Athens had been rapid.

The victory won by the democratic party in securing the condemnation of Miltiades (probably in 489) shows that, after Marathon, the finely balanced political scale had inclined in their direction.88 The full reasons for this change in the political situation are unknown, but the failure at Paros must have largely contributed to it, if it was not its main cause. But the democratic party which came into power somewhere towards the close of 489 was a very different party to that of two years earlier. Its Peisistratid leanings had been brought to a violent and sudden end by the events of 490, and tyranny and its attendant medism were for ever dead in Athens.

[202]Still the fact that Aristides held an archonship in the official year 489–488, suggests that the triumph was a triumph of a moderate and not of an extreme democracy, the triumph of a party largely recruited from among the moderates who must have supported the aristocrats in their ascendency during the years preceding 490. This section would require no urging to a policy of “anti-tyrannis”; and it may well have been the case that the main body of the democrats, with eyes now opened to the real nature of that they had misjudged, were anxious, under the new order of things, to purge themselves of their past sins by the punishment of those who had led them astray.

In the year after Aristides’ archonship the law of ostracism was passed. It was immediately put in operation against the close friends of tyranny, three being sent into exile, among them Megakles the Alkmæonid. This in 488–487.

In the next year, the application of the lot to the selection of archons robbed those officials of much of their prestige, if not of their power.

Changed alike in sentiment and policy, the democracy of Athens developed in the years immediately following Marathon into that intensely patriotic party which contributed so largely to the salvation of Greece in the greater war which was soon to come.

It was probably in the latter half of the ten years’ interval that hostilities with Ægina broke out afresh. The two powers were still at enmity in 481, when the Greeks, in view of the great invasion which then so manifestly threatened them, sought to bring about a reconciliation between such of the Greek states as were at variance with one another.

Herodotus’ account of the relations between Athens and Ægina is very confused, so much so that it is difficult to allocate the various incidents which marked those relations even to their probable dates. Yet there is no reason to doubt the main fact that a serious struggle did take place between those states in this decade, and, probably, in the latter half of it.


In the history of the relations between Greece and [203]Persia this war is of doubtful importance;—doubtful, because it is not known how far it played a part in bringing about one of the most momentous resolutions that the people of Athens ever took.

The great development of the silver coinage system about this time had made the demand for silver much greater than it had been previously. It was possibly owing to this cause that one of the lessees who held from the State silver mines at Laurion in South Attica, sought to increase the output by exploring deeper levels than had hitherto been worked. After sinking his shaft to a depth of 300 feet, he came upon lodes of ore infinitely richer than those at the higher levels, to which the workings had been hitherto confined.

The date generally attributed to this discovery and its results is 484 B.C. The income which the State derived from the mines increased so greatly, that it became a question at Athens what had best be done with the money.

This seems to have been about the time at which Themistocles, who was destined to play so great a part in the war of 480, came to the front in Athenian politics. He appears to have held high office some years before this time,89 but his predominating influence in Athens coincides with the last five years of this decade. H. vii. 144. When it was proposed that the money thus accruing to the State should be divided among the citizens, he urged that a better use should be made of it in building 200 vessels for the navy.

He carried the proposal. That is certain; but what is not certain is the nature of the motive which induced him to make it.

Herodotus, whose account of Themistocles is drawn from sources hostile to this great man and to that phase of home politics of which he was in this and succeeding years the [204]chief exponent,90 attributes this proposal not to a wise foresight as to the plans of Persia, H. vii. 144. but to the immediate necessities of the war with Ægina.

But Plutarch in his life of Themistocles has preserved a fuller record of his policy in the years preceding the great war of 480, a record which bears all the traces of reliability, and gives a wholly different colouring to the circumstances of the time.

Themistocles’ policy with regard to naval matters was not suddenly sprung upon the world in the year 484 but dated from what must have been the very outset of his political career. Even before or immediately after the time of Marathon, he is advocating this policy in opposition to Miltiades.91

Plut. Them. 3.

Many regarded Marathon as the end of the war, but he looked upon it as the beginning only.

Plutarch’s statement as to the early date at which Themistocles began to advocate the policy which was fated to render his name famous, has been received in later times with much suspicion, mainly on the ground of the general unreliability of that historian as a recorder of history. It is, indeed, frequently the case that his statements, unless supported by actual or presumptive external evidence, cannot be accepted as final. But in this particular instance the presumptive evidence strongly corroborates his story.

Up to 500 B.C. Persia as a naval power had not played any part in the Ægean. It seems, indeed, to have been during the Ionian revolt that she developed to the full this arm of her service. After Ladé, in 494 the Persian fleet in the Western seas becomes ever more prominent and more important. Islands previously unsubdued begin to fall one by one into her hands.

Was this a warning whose significance could have been misjudged by a Themistocles?


Until 484, however, the success of his advocacy of [205]increase in the navy seems to have been but partial. But something had been done. The Athens, which some nine years before [about 498 B.C.] had been compelled to borrow ships from Corinth for use against Ægina, is able in 489 to despatch a fleet of seventy ships with Miltiades to Paros. It was, doubtless, on the question of expense, found impossible, in view of the then resources of the State, to build and maintain a large number of vessels.

The increase in the revenues from Laurion gave Themistocles and Athens the opportunity for so doing. Herodotus, as has been seen, alleges that Themistocles’ motive was the war with Ægina.

Plutarch, on the other hand, while saying that such was the object on the face of his proposal, adds that his real motive was to make preparations to meet the Persian.

To the people he used, in advocating his measure, that argument from the present which would appeal to them, knowing well that the argument from the future is not one which can be expected to move the feelings of the masses, who have not the means of gauging what the future will bring forth.

In this case again Plutarch’s account of the matter is supported by other evidence.

The number of ships demanded was much larger than could have been required for any war with Ægina. The Æginetan fleet may have suffered severely in this war, but Ægina could only commission forty-two vessels at the time of Salamis.

Nor can it have required a large amount of foresight on the part of any statesman who cared to study the question, to understand that another attack of Persia must come, and must come, too, at no remote period.

This measure must have been carried at Athens about the time when Xerxes is described to have been deliberating upon an attempt to conquer Greece.

Cf. H. vii. 7.

Succeeding his father in 485, Xerxes found himself heir to an Egypt in revolt That revolt was suppressed in 484. The nature of the country made revolt in Egypt ever formidable, and hence such preparations as Darius [206]had made for the invasion of Greece must have been to a certain extent expended on the campaign in Egypt.

Much of the work of the last years of Darius’ life would have to be done over again, if the great design of a conquest of the whole of European Greece was to be persisted in.

The personality of Xerxes is much distorted in the records of Greek historians. From Herodotus onward they with one consent aim at emphasizing the contrast between the superficial magnificence and the pitiful incapacity of the monarch who made so disastrous a failure in his attack on Greece. Judged, indeed, by his known acts, Xerxes appears to have been much less able and less energetic than his great predecessor.

He was at first, says Herodotus, in some doubt as to whether to carry out the design against Greece. He was, however, persuaded by Mardonius, who, wishing to be made governor of Greece, advised him from motives of self-interest.

It is obvious that Herodotus’ account of events which took place on the Persian side must be received with the utmost caution, since the occasions on which he could obtain anything resembling authentic information on such points must have been few and far between. This reported advice of Mardonius may be the mere creation of the fancy of Greek tradition, seeking to attribute to the man who dragged on the war to its disastrous close the responsibility for its inception. But it is, on the other hand, quite possible that Herodotus did have substantial evidence as to the part which Mardonius played in the matter.

No great advantage from an historical point of view can be gained by following the long account which Herodotus gives of the various influences which were brought to bear on Xerxes for and against the proposed expedition. H. vii. 6. Those persistent plotters against the freedom of Hellas, the Peisistratidæ, appear once more, this time with an oracle-monger in their train, a certain Onomakritos, who is represented as plying Xerxes with oracles favourable to the Persian prospects, while suppressing those which foretold disaster to the king.



A far more significant influence is that asserted to have been exercised by the Aleuadæ, whom Herodotus describes as “Kings in Thessaly.” This great feudal family from Larisa found itself in a very difficult and hazardous position. They were at the time supreme in this border-land; but it was a supremacy which was threatened by the fact that the Persian frontier had been advanced by Mardonius’ conquest of Macedonia to within a few miles of their own stronghold. Their Thessalian vassals were ofttimes inclined to kick against the pricks of a quasi-serfdom; and, furthermore, their rulers must have been in a position to gauge accurately the feeling that would be excited among them in the event of a Persian advance, and in case the Greeks farther south showed any disposition to aid them in resistance to that invasion which must come sooner or later.

The attitude of the Aleuadæ some few years later, at the time of the war, was indeed calculated to give rise in after-times to sinister reports as to their previous proceedings; but their position at this time between the upper millstone of Persia and the nether millstone of Greece was so uncomfortable, that they may well have sought to escape from it before the mill started working. It was a far cry to Peloponnese from the banks of the Peneius, and a supremacy in Thessaly under Persia was better than no supremacy at all. It is not strange, then, if, in their providence of the future, they made friends of the mammon of Persian unrighteousness.

It would flatter Greek conceit to think that their own renegade countrymen could have so much influence for evil with the Great King; and the part which these families of the Peisistratidæ and Aleuadæ are represented to have played in determining the great war was doubtless greatly exaggerated.

Apart from this motive for exaggeration, there was a tendency in after-times to antedate the medism of those who sided with the Persian in the war of 480.

Perhaps in the case of the Aleuadæ, however, later tradition may not have been wholly unjust. It would be natural that they should seek to make some arrangements [208]with the great Power which was now at their very gates. It was to their interest to do so; but no motive of interest can be assigned to their reported advocacy of an invasion of Greece; and this part of the tradition preserved in Herodotus was probably a creation of the imagination of posterity.

H. vii. 8.

The language attributed by Herodotus to Xerxes and his counsellors in the meeting at which the king announced his decision to undertake the expedition against Greece, though it cannot have any claim to an historical foundation, still less to historical accuracy, is interesting as expressing the Greek idea of the working of the Oriental mind.

Xerxes places before his council his reasons for undertaking the expedition. He must not, as a conqueror, fall short of his great predecessors. He must punish Athens, and, incidentally, conquer Greece. The Empire of Persia must be universal.

Mardonius then speaks on the same side. He urges that the Ionians in Europe must not remain free; a statement of an opinion which, whether uttered or not on this particular occasion, seems to have been an essential feature of the policy of those great Persian officials who had ruled in Western Asia for twenty-five years past.

There are other passages in the reported speech which are of the utmost interest. The acquisition of territory out of sheer lust of conquest is advocated, implying, to Greek minds, a marked and striking contrast to the utter absence of mere land-hunger in the Greek disposition.

Mardonius’ description of the methods of Greek warfare, how that “having found out the fairest and most level spot, they go down to it and fight,” is so apt that, though the words may never have been uttered by Mardonius himself, they represent possibly, a sarcastic criticism made by some Persian with whom Herodotus has spoken. The Persian could not understand the limitations which the nature of the land of Greece placed upon the methods of warfare of its inhabitants.

Finally, Mardonius urges that the Greek will be scared into submission by the mere numbers with which Persia can take the field.


H. vii. 10.

Of all the members of the council only one is represented as having dared to oppose the scheme. This was Artabanos, son of Hystaspes, and uncle of Xerxes. He represents the “little Persian” side of contemporary politics.

He opens his speech with a passage which might have been culled from a drama of Euripides. He proceeds to point out with what disastrous results his warnings as to the “Scythian” expedition had been disregarded. He then gives a forecast of the war which, had it been made at this time, would have been singularly justified by events. After this he indulges in philosophical remarks peculiarly in accord with Herodotus’ own views, and winds up with an estimate of the Greeks peculiarly flattering to that people.

The retort of Xerxes is conceived in the typical form that an absolute monarch of the East might be expected to employ towards an adviser whose advice was unpalatable.

It is almost inevitable that at a time so momentous the supernatural should make its appearance in Herodotus’ history.

H. vii. 12, seqq.

Xerxes’ resolution is shaken by Artabanos’ advice. He even decides to follow it, though warned in a dream not to change his resolution. The warning comes a second time. He consults Artabanos, and suggests that he should put on the royal apparel and sleep in the royal bed, and so make experiment whether the dream would come to him. To him also the vision comes; and he, too, is converted. So jealous are the gods of human greatness, and so persistent were they in leading the great king into disaster!

H. vii. 20.

Having decided on the expedition, Xerxes proceeded with his preparations. Herodotus says that he took four whole years in making them, and that he began them immediately after suppressing the revolt of Egypt.

No useful end can be gained by following in detail through the pages of Herodotus the exaggerated estimate which the Greek formed of the magnitude of the expedition and of the preparations made for it. All that will be attempted here will be to show what, on a sober [210]estimate of possibilities and probabilities, may be assumed to have been the actual facts of the case. The obvious exaggerations of the Greek estimate have led writers in modern times to what must be regarded as exaggerated depreciations of the magnitude of this supreme effort on the part of the great Empire.92

Whatever the obscurities of the detailed evidence, one reliable fact seems to stand forth: that this was an unusual effort on the part of Persia. The levy of troops for the expedition was certainly an extraordinary one.

Allowing for the Greek exaggeration of numbers, there is reason to suppose that the ordinary full levy of the Persian land forces produced an army of about half a million. It had been called out for the Scythian expedition, nearly twenty years before this time. This full levy was, however, rarely made, and only when circumstances imperatively demanded it. It is also noticeable that on such occasions the Great King assumes the command.

It is quite possible that the number of troops put into the field during the Ionian revolt amounted from beginning to end to numbers even exceeding those of the ordinary general levy; but it is a noticeable feature of that war that the Government at Susa carries it on by means of reinforcements despatched at various times. There is nothing of the nature of a single great levy.

It must be concluded that the troops employed on land in the campaign of 480 amounted to more than half a million.93

In Herodotus the numbers of the expedition run into millions. The exaggeration is so hopelessly great that it is impossible to draw any conclusion from the statements made.94



It is only when the historian deals with the relatively moderate dimensions of the force left behind with Mardonius in 479, which he says amounted to 300,000 men, that his evidence on this particular point becomes worthy of consideration. The numbers he gives of the Greek contingents at Platæa, derived apparently from some official information, amount altogether to over 100,000 men. It may be regarded as certain that Mardonius did not face the Greek on that occasion with an army in a less proportion than two to one to that of the enemy. If so, Herodotus’ statements must approximate to the truth. It is probable, too, that Mardonius retained with him a considerable fraction of the original land force, and this would be in general accord with an estimate of over half a million for the total numbers of the land army.95

The preparation and collection of such a force, drawn from every race in that extensive empire, would be necessarily a work of time; and, apart from this, the Orient does not work quickly. Whatever the faults committed in the war, the excellence of the organization on the Persian side must, in certain important respects, have been remarkable; and that organization cannot, for the purposes of an expedition of such magnitude, have been a brief work.

The exaggeration in Herodotus’ statement that the expedition took four years to prepare, may not, therefore, be very great. One deduction must be made. Egypt was not reduced until Darius had been dead a year, and therefore its reduction may fall late in 484; and, if so, the period of preparation cannot have greatly exceeded three years.

[212]It was early in these years of preparation that labourers were sent to cut a canal through the low and narrow isthmus which connects Mount Athos with the mainland of Chalkidike. The disaster to Mardonius’ expedition in 492 had aroused within the Persian breast a dread of this formidable promontory.

The plan of the expedition was, indeed, a return to that of the expedition of 492. Marathon had shown the Persians that an attack on Greece, or even on Athens, in order to be successful, must be organized on a larger scale than any expedition which could be put on board a fleet The expedition of Mardonius had been successful as far as human agency was concerned; that of Datis and Artaphernes, though launched against an infinitely less formidable object of attack, had been a serious failure. The most natural way of accounting for the contrast would be the comparison of size.

While the canal at Athos was in process of construction, a bridge was being built over the Strymon river, and ropes were being prepared for the great bridges by which it was proposed to cross the Hellespont. Large depôts of provisions were also collected at various points on the intended route, at Leuké Akté in Thrace, at Tyrodiza in Perinthia, at Doriskos, at Eion, and in Macedonia.



It may be supposed that these preparations were more or less complete by the time that the winter of 481 set in.

It was in the summer or autumn of this year that part of the land army,96 having assembled at Kritalla in Cappadocia, began its march to Sardes. Herodotus enumerates the various places it passed, with descriptions of interesting features at each, as in a guide-book. Whether he had actually visited them himself or not, may be a matter for discussion; he could, no doubt, get plenty of information with regard to them from Ionian and other Greek merchants who traversed the great trade routes, not to speak of what was contained in the works of Ionian geographers.

Crossing the Halys river, the army entered Phrygia, and arrived at the city of Kelænæ.

At that town it was entertained by a certain Pythios, son of Atys, a Lydian, whose enormous wealth, as reported in Herodotus, recalls the series of Greek legends in which this land plays the part of Manoa, the city of pure gold of the legends of Elizabethan days.

From Kelænæ, the army journeyed past Anaua, with its salt lake, to Kolossæ, a city of Phrygia, near which the Lykos, a tributary of the Maeander, had an underground [214]course, ten stades long. Thence by Kydrara on the Lydian border, where was an inscribed boundary pillar erected by Crœsus; and so by Kallatebos to Sardes.

H. vii. 32.

Arrived at Sardes, the king sent heralds to demand earth and water from the States of Greece, with the exception of Athens and Lacedæmon. As in the case of the Marathonian expedition, the Persian wished to form an estimate of the amount of opposition which he might expect. H. vii. 34. Meanwhile the engineers at the Hellespont were constructing their bridges at Abydos, where the strait is narrowest. Those who have seen the strong current which flows through this channel will be best able to appreciate the engineering skill of those who were responsible for their construction.

One bridge was made by the Egyptians, the other by the Phœnicians. The bridges first made were broken in a storm, and Herodotus tells several tales of the childish expressions of vexation employed by Xerxes; how he had the waters scourged; how he let fetters down into them, and would have had them branded. The engineers were beheaded, pour encourager les autres, after the simple, effective method of those days. The new bridges were more permanent structures.

H. vii. 36.

Herodotus, doubtless, had plenty of opportunity in later time of getting information as to the structural peculiarities of the bridges from the Greeks of those parts; but his actual description is somewhat obscure in respect to one important detail. The two bridges seem to have left the Asiatic side at points quite close together. The western one, that towards the Ægean, appears to have crossed the strait direct, a distance which Herodotus gives as seven stades, or somewhat over three-quarters of a mile. The other diverged in an oblique direction up the strait towards the Propontis, and reached the European shore some distance from its fellow. They were formed of triremes and pentekonters, slung on long cables of flax or papyrus, there being 314 vessels in the western and 360 in the eastern bridge. THE BRIDGE OVER THE HELLESPONT. The current flows rapidly from the Propontis; and though Herodotus only mentions the eastern bridge as being anchored up stream, it must be [215]presumed that both were secured in that way. In the same way both would have to be anchored down stream also, by reason, as Herodotus himself mentions, of the south and south-west winds.

In both bridges the prows of the supporting vessels were placed in such a way as to meet the current, which at this point in the Hellespont, owing to a bend in the course of the strait, runs, at one place just north of Abydos, across the channel, slanting from the European to the Asiatic shore.*

*On the Passage describing the Details of the Structure of the Bridge.

The passage is as follows:⁠—(vii. 36).

Ἐζεύγνυσαν δὲ ὧδε, Πεντηκοντέρους καὶ τριήρεας συνθέντες, ὑπὸ μὲν τὴν πρὸς τοῦ Εὐξείνου πόντου ἑξήκοντά τε καὶ τριηκοσίας, ὑπὸ δὲ τὴν ἑτέρην τεσσερεσκαίδεκα καὶ τριηκοσίας, τοῦ μὲν Πόντου ἐπικαρσίας τοῦ δὲ Ἑλλησπόντου κατὰ ῥόον, ἵνα ἄνακωχεύῃ τὸν τόνον τῶν ὅπλων.

The critical words are those underlined. Herodotus’ meaning is clear; but the application of it is obscure. He means that the vessels of the eastern bridge were “oblique in position,” whereas those of the western were “down stream.”

The current at this point in the Hellespont does not follow the middle line of the strait. There is a strong bend off Abydos, the channel, which up to this point comes from the Propontis in a south-west direction, turning due south. The current accordingly struck the European shore near Sestos, and then rebounded on to the Asian shore at Abydos (cf. Strabo, xiii. p. 591). The eastern bridge, therefore, which went from Abydos in a line not greatly divergent from the direct line from Abydos to Sestos, would have an axis inclined at an acute angle to the line of the current at this point; therefore, when Herodotus says its supporting vessels were oblique, does he mean oblique to this line of current, as they would be, if their axes were in their ordinary position at right angles to the axis of the bridge; or has he in his mind a different kind of obliquity, i.e. were they slewed round in such a way that their prows [216] pointed up the stream, which was itself oblique at this point?

As a practical question of engineering, it is infinitely more probable that the latter was the case. The capable engineers who constructed the bridge were extremely unlikely, in view of the fate of their predecessors, to expose their work to the enormous strain which the position of its supporting boats all but broadside on to the line of current would have involved.

It cannot, however, be said that it is certain that Herodotus would have thus interpreted his own description. At the same time, descriptions by the ancients involving a reference to relative positions have to be treated with the greatest caution. It is often the case that the strictest meaning of their words is proved by the context not to be the sense they wish to convey. In these days of maps and instruments of precision, we are infinitely more strict, or, perhaps, less liable to error in orientation, than those who did not possess such things, save in the rudest possible form.

One of the commonest forms of mistake among ancient writers, in the course of a description, is to alter the point of view, or the object to whose position the positions of other objects are being referred. Polybius conspicuously does so in describing the valley running up from Lake Trasimene. A few chapters further on, Herodotus does the same thing (vii. 42), for he describes the Persians in their march as leaving Mount Ida on the left, whereas he should have said right, thus confusing his own point of view from the sea with theirs.

Furthermore, apart from inaccuracy of orientation, there was a lack of technical language, such as could be employed in such description. When Herodotus says the boats of the western bridge were κατὰ ῥόον, “down stream,” it is probable that he is merely employing a phrase which came handy to him, instead of the cumbrous paraphrase he would have had to employ to express the fact that their axes were at right angles to the axis of the bridge, though this was the fact really in his mind. This is the idea upmost in his mind when he speaks of those in the second bridge as being ἐπικάρσιαι, “oblique.” Their axes were not at right angles to the axis of the bridge.


Six cables, two of white flax and four of papyrus, held each bridge in place, and on these trunks of trees were [217]placed. A roadway was formed on this foundation, composed of brushwood with earth laid upon it, and each bridge was fenced in throughout its whole length.

H. vii. 37.

After spending the winter of 481–480 at Sardes, Xerxes started on his march at the beginning of spring. Herodotus asserts that his departure was signalized by an eclipse of the sun. He is certainly mistaken in attributing an eclipse to this date;97 but popular tradition was but too apt to mis-date such phenomena in order to make them coincide with some momentous event in history.

H. vii. 40, 41.

The Persian household troops, gorgeously caparisoned, formed the body-guard of the king on his march. The total number of this corps d’élite amounts to 24,000 in Herodotus’ enumeration.

Herodotus, writing for an audience that wished above all to be amused, tells many a tale of the incidents of the march. They are pleasant reading enough, but they are not history. They had, however, a serious as well as a lighter side. He wished to bring before his countrymen a picture of that life of the East which few of them, perhaps, could realize; of the illogical decrees of absolutism; of anything and everything which could display to them the contrast between a splendid liberty and a splendid servitude.

H. vii. 42.

The route followed by the army in its march from Sardes to the Hellespont led it over the river Kaïkos into Mysia. Then leaving Mount Kane on the left, it passed through Atarneus to Karine. Thence it marched through the plain of Thebe, and passing Adramyttion and Antandros, and, keeping Mount Ida on the right,98 it entered the territory of Ilium. From there it passed near Rhoetion, Ophrynion and Dardanos to Abydos.

H. vii. 44.

At Abydos Xerxes reviewed his army. A philosophical dialogue with Artabanos on Herodotus’ pet philosophical theme is also attributed to him by the historian. Later in [218]the conversation the political situation is discussed. There is one of those numerous and significant references to the fact that the Athenians alone of the Ionian Greeks had never been subdued by Persia, references which, if not always historical in their setting, suggest that Herodotus had in conversation with those acquainted with the workings of Persian policy, acquired the idea that it was largely influenced by this motive. The advisability of employing the Ionians of Asia in the impending expedition is also debated.

H. vii. 58.

The fleet also had evidently assembled at the Hellespont; for, after the army had crossed the bridge, it is reported to have sailed to Cape Sarpedon, and there to have waited. From its landing near Sêstos, the army marched up the Thracian Chersonese, leaving the city of Kardia on the left, and passing through a town called Agora. Thence it rounded the Bay of Melas, and crossed the river of that name. The waters of this stream, says Herodotus, did not suffice for the purposes of the army. He is anxious to emphasize in every way the magnitude of the expedition; and the inadequacy of the rivers to meet the needs of the great host is an ever recurrent theme in his history of it. In many instances the detail would be true. The eastern torrent is reduced to very small proportions in the summer months, and oft-times its bed is quite dry.

From the Melas they marched westward, passing by Ænos, an Æolian city, and the lake Stentoris, and so reached Doriskos. Thither also came the fleet. The town itself was in the plain of the Hebros river, but not on the actual coast. On the seashore near it stood Sale, a Samothracian city, and Zona. Here Xerxes numbered his army. The method of numeration reported may or may not have been actually employed. Ten thousand men were collected on a space of ground; this was then marked out, and the rest of the army was crowded on to this area in detachments. The sum total was, says Herodotus, 1,700,000. This statement of numbers has already been discussed. It is without doubt exaggerated at least two-fold, if not more.

H. vii. 61, seq.

A list, continued through many chapters, is given of [219]the various contingents composing the host, together with their arms and other details. To take it in detail would be wearisome, and is unnecessary. It amounts to an enumeration of all the races in Asia known to the Greeks. That most of them were represented in the motley crowd, is doubtless the case; but it is probable that the list is founded on information culled from Ionian geographers. H. vii. 82. Of the generals commanding the army, Mardonius is the only one who has been in the highest command before. The others are unknown to previous history. One of them, Smerdomenes, is a son of the Otanes who had commanded in the Hellespont some twenty-seven years before.

The number of war-vessels amounted to 1207. If this number be correct (and there are no solid grounds for doubting it), the levy on this occasion had been just double the ordinary naval levy of 600 ships.

The numbers of the contingent as reported by Herodotus are:⁠—

Phœnicians and Syrians 300 ships
Egyptians 200
Cypriotes 150
Cilicians 100
Pamphylians 30
Lycians 50
Dorians of Asia 30
Carians 70
Ionians 100
Islanders 17
Æolians 60
Hellespontines 100
1207 ships.

Reckoning at least 100 of the ships from Cyprus as having been contributed by Greeks, it will be seen that of the total of 1207, the Greeks contributed 407 vessels.

Persians, Medes, and Sakæ served as marines on board the fleet. The Phœnician ships, especially those of the Sidonians, were the best sailers.

H. vii. 97.

Besides these first class vessels of the fleet, there were [220]thirty- and fifty-oared ships and transports to the number of 3000.

Artemisia, queen of Herodotus’ own native place, Halikarnassos, a lady for whom he had a great admiration, seems to have commanded the whole contingent of the Dorians of Asia.

H. vii. 101.

After reviewing the fleet off the Doriskan shore, Xerxes is reported to have held a conversation with Demaratos, the exiled King of Sparta, and to have heard some plain and unpalatable truths from him with regard to the nature of the resistance he must expect to meet with from the Greeks, and especially from the Spartans. It has its place in the plot of the great drama. The king did not go to his fate unwarned.

Of the course of the army from Doriskos to Therma, but little need be said. H. vii. 121. The army marched in three divisions, one, with Xerxes, taking the well-known coast road, past various places named by Herodotus: the Samothracian fortresses, Mesembria, and Stryme, a city of the Thasians. Thence by the Greek cities of Maronea, Dikaea, and Abdera: past Pistyros and certain forts of the Pierians. Mount Pangaeus they left on their right, keeping, that is, on the coastward side of it. They then reached Eion on the Strymon river, and passing that stream by a bridge which had been constructed at Enneahodoi or Nine Ways, marched to Akanthos by way of Argilos and Stagiros.

During this passage, says Herodotus, the inhabitants of the districts through which the army passed were pressed into the service.

Herodotus thus describes the coast route with considerable detail, mentioning, moreover, various geographical features which are not given here. He has almost certainly traversed it, possibly in a journey through Macedonia to Northern Greece, of which there are such evident traces in his later books.

H. vii. 110, 111.

But, though he says that two of the Persian divisions took inland courses, he gives no real indication of what they were, though the mention of the Satræ and the description of their country suggests that one at least of these routes went near the higher peaks of Rhodope. THE EXPEDITION AT THERMA. It [221]is, indeed, impossible on the practical question of physical and military possibilities, if Herodotus is right in his assertion with regard to this inland line of advance, to identify it with any other than a route leading to the sources of the Hebros, and then southward down the Axios or Strymon valleys into Macedonia.99

From Akanthos the fleet made its way by the canal through Athos to Therma, touching at various small Greek towns on the coast of the Chalkidike peninsula, and impressing ships and men from them.

The main army made its way direct across the base of the peninsula to Therma.

There the expedition rested.

From there the king went by ship to explore the great pass into Thessaly, where the river Peneius has cut the deep vale of Tempe between the heights of Olympus and Ossa. H. vii. 130. Herodotus takes the opportunity to put into his mouth some striking comments on the physical peculiarities of the region, which are, no doubt, the historian’s own, derived from the personal knowledge of the land.

From Tempe Xerxes returned to the army at Therma.

It was after Xerxes had reached Therma that the real difficulties of his land march began. Hitherto the route had traversed that north shore of the Ægean along which, between the mountains and the sea, nature has provided a strip of lowland which, though narrow, does not present great physical obstacles to the march of an army. But now all was different. It was as though, after traversing an unimpeded high road, he had to enter upon a region of enclosures, whose mountain walls, stupendous in difficulty, if not in height, forced him to take a winding pathway [222]leading from one to the other of the narrow passages by which these walls were pierced. But this was not the only serious consideration which those in charge of the expedition had to face.

Hitherto the line of march, which had lain along the immediate sea coast, had been peculiarly favourable to the plan of advance adopted,—a plan founded essentially on the co-operation of the fleet with the land forces.

It may well be supposed that the dual nature of this advance was largely designed with intent to supply the commissariat of the army, as well as with the idea of military co-operation between it and the fleet.

The huge numbers which Herodotus gives of the Persian army are not merely open to doubt; they are practically impossible; but there exists no evidence whatever which would justify the assumption that the numbers were aught but very large indeed. They must have amounted at the lowest estimate to several hundred thousand men. The expedition was a great effort by a great empire, by far the greatest empire of its time, and, during the short period of its vigorous life, one of the greatest that the world has ever seen. The difficulty of transporting such a force round the long circuit of the Ægean must have been enormous; and the bare fact that it was transported successfully over such a distance bears eloquent testimony to the military organization of the empire which despatched it.

The tendency, which is sometimes displayed, to belittle the Persia of this time is in violent disagreement with such evidence as is extant, and is due to an attempt to read her history in the fourth century into her history of one century earlier. If human ability is to be judged by what human power can do, the mere fact that the organizers of this expedition were able to bring a force of this magnitude over hundreds of miles of difficult country, to keep it adequately supplied with provisions, and to place it upon the field of operations in an efficient state, must be taken as convincing proof of ability of no ordinary kind.


As far as the commissariat is concerned, it is known from Herodotus that it was, to a certain extent at any rate, [223]requisitioned from various regions through which the army passed; but it is also quite certain that, except at a few points along the route, the land traversed was not of a description that would render it possible for the supplies of more than a fraction of the huge host to be drawn from local resources, and that the victualling must have been largely dependent on the fleet.

As far as Therma the association of the two branches of the expedition was of a comparatively easy and unimpeded character; but from this point onward the physical difficulties to be met and overcome were infinitely greater. The land to be traversed was, on the whole, poorer than that already passed, and the land route lay, in many places, at some distance from the sea, so that co-operation would be much less easy than it had been hitherto. And yet, despite these difficulties, the commissariat seems to have been still adequately maintained.

Herodotus does not describe with any detail the course which the army followed in its advance southward until, at any rate, Thermopylæ had been passed. It is hardly likely that he possessed much information of the incidents of the rapid march through Thessaly, though his remarks about the physical characteristics of that peculiar region seem to emanate from the recollection of one who has actually seen what he is describing. When and how he went there cannot now be said, but the evidence which he himself gives in many portions of his history that he is describing from personal autopsy the scenes of the great events which he narrates is overwhelming. Herodotus was not only the most conscientious, he was also the best topographer among ancient historians. The almost childlike simplicity of his narrative is calculated to create a presumption that the writer would not be likely to inquire into the question of truth or falsehood in the determined fashion which a minute examination of the theatre of events implies. The presumption would, in his case, be eminently erroneous. As a traveller, as heir to the historio-geographers of Ionia, he did not look upon history as having been formed, as it were, in a vacuum. He saw, as a man of his insight must inevitably see, that it is the [224]land that creates the man, not the man the land,—a fact which the marked characteristics of the Ægean region would impress upon a consciousness far duller than was his.

Long before Xerxes had arrived at Therma the question of the defence of Hellas had been the subject of anxious consideration and of violent discussion among the Greek States. It is perhaps impossible to realize to its fulness the alarm which the reported advance of the great expedition created throughout the Hellenic world in Europe. The great monarchy which some sixty years before had reached the Ægean; the great power which for more than a generation past had filled the whole eastern horizon of the Greek; the power which had subdued Asia, even beyond the limits of the known world, and had conquered lands unknown, whose terrors would certainly not be diminished in the myth and fable of those who knew them not, was now advancing upon their own homeland. The lack of unity at home, too, must have served greatly to increase the anxiety of the situation. New combinations had to be formed, to be sought; old enmities to be laid aside, for a while, at any rate; old enemies to be reconciled, before anything resembling a united front could be shown to the great Eastern power which was now putting forth all its strength against them.

In most respects everything had to be done in a hurry.

It had not been possible for those who knew what had been going on for some years past beyond the Ægean to rouse into action the lethargy of the self-centred life of the barrier-bound states of Greece. One phase of the situation was of peculiar irony. Athens, the state which seems to have seen most clearly the coming storm, and to have rightly apprehended its tremendous nature, had herself, consciously or unconsciously, created a myth peculiarly calculated to lull the more ignorant population of the country into a false sense of security. The tale of Marathon was less than ten years old; but under the fostering care of its parent, it had grown immensely during that period, and done great credit throughout Greece to those who were responsible for its origin and nurture. APATHY OF THE GREEKS. Its growth had [225]been unimpeded by the deadly enemy of young and promising myths, independent evidence; for, owing to the fact that the Athenians had been practically alone at Marathon, this can hardly be said to have existed; and the history of the fight was only limited by the powers of its creators. The myth had done its work: it had raised the reputation of Athens in Greece generally to a great height, in singular, and, to the Athenians, in pleasing contrast to the relative obscurity of the past. But it had done more than this. It had, no doubt, created an impression in the Greek mind generally that the great power of Persia was not so great as had been imagined, if an army not by any means accounted the best in Greece could inflict on it a blow supposed to be so crushing as Marathon. To Athens alone was the falsity of this impression known; and yet, even in the face of this great danger, whose greatness she also could alone adequately gauge, she could not afford to dispel it. She stood between the devil of a reputation and the deep sea of the truth.

Such was the situation in the years preceding 480. No joint preparation was made, because its necessity was not apprehended. Men either did not believe that the expedition would come to anything; or, if they did believe it, they imagined that a power which had been successfully met by one of the states of Greece, and that not the most powerful, could be dealt with effectively by a combined force, without unnecessarily prolonged preparation.

But when the news arrived that the expedition was on its way, and reports, doubtless exaggerated, as to its magnitude poured into Greece, there came a revulsion of feeling, and the former sense of security gave place to hurried alarm.

H. vii. 32.

Before the expedition had actually started from Sardes, heralds had been sent by Xerxes to all the Greek States, with the exception of Athens and Sparta, to demand the earth and water of submission. The treatment which those two States had on a previous occasion meted out to certain Persian heralds who had been sent on a like errand, was not such as to encourage a repetition of the experiment in their case, H. vii. 134. although the Spartans had [226]themselves repented of this breach of international law. Herodotus is probably only expressing the feeling and expectation of the Greece of forty or fifty years before he wrote, when he says that he does not know exactly what calamity befel the Athenians in consequence of their having treated the heralds in the fashion in which they did, except that their territory and city were ravaged. He is, however, inclined to think that this did not happen in consequence of the crime committed. Despite the somewhat grim humour of the Athenian and Spartan action, it is evident that it shocked that Greek reverence for international usage which is one of the most striking developments of the civilisation of that extraordinary people.

It was while Xerxes was in Lower Macedonia that the heralds returned from their mission.

The list of those who submitted is a noticeable one.

H. vii. 132.

The races of the region of Thessaly—of Greece, that is, north of Mount Œta—submitted without exception (so Herodotus says); Thessalians, Dolopians, Ænianians, Perrhæbi, Magnetes, Achæans of Pthiotis, and Malians. There is nothing very extraordinary nor even blameworthy in their action. The Peloponnesian policy or strategy, the fundamental idea of which was to confine the main defence to the Isthmus of Corinth, was already acquiring the upper hand in the Greek councils; and the circumstances of the time were well calculated to give the population of the north the impression that they were to be deserted,—a true impression, as the sequel showed.

In Thessaly itself the political circumstances were unfavourable to a display of patriotic feeling. That land of great plains, so contrasted in its physical characteristics to the rest of Greece, had bred a political system which was also in violent contrast to the forms of government existing at the time in the other regions of the country. There prevailed a quasi-feudalism such as might perhaps have found some counterpart in the Argolic plain, when the lords of Mycenæ and of Tiryns held sway, but the like of which had, by the beginning of the fifth century, long vanished from the Hellenic lands. It was the physical which produced the political contrast. THESSALY. The [227]fertile, unimpeded plains of Thessaly permitted the growth of rich landed proprietors on a large scale, families of whom, like the Aleuadæ in Larisa, or their relatives the Skopadæ in Krannon, or like Jason of Pheræ in later days, were enabled to establish their supremacy over a large area.

The great ambition of the Thessalian baron was to make himself Tagos, or Captain of all Thessaly; which end he seems to have pursued without scruple as to the means. When it was merely a question of maintaining his power against reluctant forces at home, he had a powerful weapon at his back in the feudal cavalry whose effectiveness was due to the unimpeded nature of the field of operations. He could play a part, and he did play a part, so long as Greece had a history of her own, which would have been impossible in the intricate mountain regions of the rest of the land. But nature had bestowed one more favour upon his system, by raising the formidable barrier of Mount Œta between him and the rest of Greece. That it was which prevented the Hellenic spirit of independence from penetrating to the name-place, if not the birth-place, of the Hellene; and the Thessalian, though one in body, was never during the historic period one in spirit with the men of his own race.

Thermopylæ was in no mere strategic sense the gate of Greece.

And yet in the spare glimpses of Thessalian history which are given in the contemporary historians, it is evident that the mass of the population did not at all times tamely acquiesce in this state of semi-feudal submission. The few occasions on which Greek States did interfere effectively in Thessalian affairs were provided by the discontent of the governed many against the governing few. It may well be supposed that some such state of things was in existence at this time, or had been existent within a very recent period. H. vii. 6, 8, 130. The Aleuadæ, whom Herodotus describes as Kings in Thessaly, had invited the Persian,—for motives of self-interest, it may be certain,—to interfere in the affairs of Greece; and this invitation, addressed to Xerxes some years before the actual march of invasion, while the whole [228]question was still in the air, contributed not a little, so Herodotus says, to Xerxes’ final decision.100

H. vii. 172.

Despite this appeal on the part of the Aleuadæ, the Thessalians as a body had at first no intention to medize. They disapproved of the action of this family; and, before the Persians had crossed the Hellespont, they sent a strongly worded appeal to the council of the Greeks assembled at the Isthmus to help them with a large force to defend the passage of Olympus: otherwise, they said, they must of necessity yield to the barbarian.

The appeal did not remain without its effect. The Greeks determined to send an army to guard the Vale of Tempe. Ten thousand heavy-armed troops were despatched by sea up the Euripus, and, after landing at Halos on the west shore of the Pagasætic Gulf, marched to Tempe.101 The despatching of these troops by sea has been taken to indicate that the Greeks mistrusted the attitude of the Bœotians. It is, perhaps, possible to attach too much importance to the symbolical submission of the Northern States of Greece. The general course of events would seem to indicate that one of two things was the case at this time. It may have been that the heralds had not yet visited these States to receive their submission when the expedition to Tempe took place—a quite possible contingency when it is borne in mind that these events are dated by Herodotus as occurring at a time when the Persian had not yet crossed into Europe, whereas the heralds did not meet Xerxes until he got to Therma. Or it may have been that, if such submission had been made, it had been made with the mental reservation of the intention to take part with the rest of Greece, provided the Southern States showed a disposition to strike a blow in defence of the North.102


[229]The Bœotian attitude at the time of Thermopylæ, as related by Herodotus, is so extraordinary as to be [230]incredible; and his account of the attitude of these Northern States at this time suggests the suspicion that the bitterness of feeling against them, which undoubtedly existed after Platæa, has been antedated by him, and has led to the growth of a story discreditable to them, relating to the time immediately previous to the actual invasion. It is not difficult to see that the Greek States of the South, by the selfishness of their policy, made it necessary for the States of the North to seek their own salvation by an attitude which, though on the face of it unpatriotic, was forced on them by the situation.

Such is the conclusion which may be drawn from Herodotus’ narrative of the events of this period. It is a [231]tale undoubtedly coloured by the bitterness of the feeling subsequently displayed to those Greeks who were represented as having betrayed the Greek national cause. It may be, after all, that the account of the matter in Diodorus, which is more explicit, is also more true. If he is to be believed, neither Locris nor Bœotia nor the Thessalians proper medized until the retreat from Tempe left North Greece deserted for the time being.



[To face page 231.

The expedition to North Thessaly was made under a gross misapprehension as to the geography of the region. The Greeks who despatched it were evidently under the impression that the Tempe pass was the only practicable entrance into that country. It will be best to speak in detail of the passes of this region when the march of Xerxes is described; for the present suffice it to say that in Tempe itself there is on the hills north of the Peneius River a path by which the defence of the main road, which keeps on the south bank of the stream, may be turned; and, furthermore, there are two other passes through the Olympo-Cambunian chain, by which entrance may be obtained into the Thessalian plain. The army, of which the Lacedæmonian contingent was commanded by Evænetos,103 and the Athenian by Themistocles, found itself in a false position. It says something for Herodotus’ military insight that, although he gives what was, so he says, the generally received story, that the retreat was decided upon in consequence of a message from Alexander, a Macedonian, describing the enormous numbers of the Persian army, he believes the real reason to have been the discovery that the Tempe defile could be turned by other passes.

The growth of sea communication, and the consequent disuse of some of the old land routes, probably accounts for the ignorance which the Greeks displayed of a region through which the old trade route to the north must have passed.

The army returned to its ships at Halos, and so home. Then, says Herodotus, the Thessalians, abandoned by their allies, readily took part with the king.

[232]That the Locrians of the East were among those who gave earth and water is not surprising. Though within the gates of Thermopylæ, their country was north of the Œta range. It was imperatively necessary that, in case they were deserted, they should be in a position to make terms with the invader; for the flood of invasion, unless stemmed, must pass in full stream their way. The length of their narrow territory was traversed by the great military highway from the North.

The fiasco of the expedition to Tempe had no doubt discouraged the northern Greeks, and among the powers represented at the Isthmus it must have told greatly in favour of the Peloponnesian strategy. Be that as it may, the design of the Council at the Isthmus was to make the defence a Panhellenic effort, and to persuade the whole Greek world to lend a helping hand towards the preservation of the mother country. It may be suspected that Athens roused and sustained the energy which such an effort implied; but the official invitations sent out appealing for assistance were evidently issued in the name of the Congress as a body.104

The situation which the Congress had to face was not a little complicated by the attitude of the oracle at Delphi. It prophesied not good but evil of the prospects of the Hellenic cause. It seems quite clear that the versions of the responses which Herodotus gives are editions of the originals revised in certain particulars in accordance with the event. He probably obtained them from records at Delphi itself; and it may be supposed that the authorities of that sanctuary would not allow a manifestly mistaken prophecy to remain upon their books, when a slight alteration would place it in accord with what actually happened. Even had the divine Delphi been much more free from human frailty than it was, such emendations would have proved a sore temptation to the priests.


The general aspect and tone of the oracles when they [233]are freed from what is manifestly suspicious, gives the impression that the original responses predicted the fortunes of the Greeks in the coming war in the most pessimistic language. There is no appeal or encouragement to the self-sacrifice of great patriotism. Resistance appears to be discouraged; and whether this was the intent or not,—though the matter admits of little doubt—the effect of these answers was to afford some of the powers concerned what they, at any rate, considered a justifiable excuse for neutrality in the coming struggle. The attitude of Delphi at this time is one of the most interesting problems in the history of the period. When questions of a purely Hellenic nature were concerned, its policy was calculated on a basis of information such as its wide-spread and intimate relations with the Greek states as a whole enabled it to acquire. In the present instance, however, the great factor in the calculation, the real intention of Persia, was an uncertain one. Yet it would seem as if Delphi had made up its mind as to its nature.

The student of Greek History, insensibly imbued with knowledge after the event, has a natural tendency to regard what is now known to have been the object of the great expedition, the subjugation of all Greece, as having been from the very first the declared and conspicuous design of the Persian king. Yet, as a fact, Herodotus makes it perfectly clear that this was not the case at the time,—at any rate, not wholly the case. H. vii. 138. He tells us that the expedition was nominally directed against Athens, H. vii. 157. but was really sent against all Greece; and then, curiously enough, H. vii. 139. he goes on to show in the very next chapter how disastrous for Greece it would have been had Athens followed the policy which Delphi advocated. H. vii. 139. He expressly says that the oracles which came thence and filled the Athenians with terror, did not induce them to abandon Greece. Despite his general respect for such divine utterances, he is in this case hardly at pains to conceal the fact that he believes that obedience to the oracle would have brought with it a political disaster of appalling magnitude to the whole of Hellas.

The two responses given to the Athenians on the two [234]occasions on which they consulted Delphi at some date immediately before the war are of a very remarkable nature if taken apart from one another, and still more remarkable if taken in contrast. The second indicates a complete change of policy from that advocated in the first. The priests of Delphi were no mere fortune-tellers. It may be taken for certain that they did not speak at haphazard on an occasion so momentous. There was something,—call it motive, or call it policy,—behind what they said. In the present instance the remarkable feature in the case is that the second response given is in so decided a contrast with the first that the motives or policies which lie behind the two must be essentially different. Were the policy advocated by Delphi a negligible quantity on Greek History, the matter, though interesting, could form little more than a subject for academic discussion. But in some way or other which cannot now be fully realized, the method being secret, the oracle was the voice of an inner ring, a secret society of Hellenic statesmen, whose authority was due to the average excellence of the information on which the policy they advocated was founded. Taking all the oracular responses which were uttered at this time, they seem to fall under two periods, during the earlier of which Delphic policy was distinctly opposed to a Pan-hellenic effort against the invader.

The authorities at Delphi seem to have read the coming invasion in the light of a tremendous punitive expedition against Athens, a revenge for Marathon and Sardes. H. vii. 138. It has already been shown on the evidence of Herodotus that these were the declared reasons of the expedition. Believing this to be the case, it required no great imaginative powers with respect to the future to foretell the destruction of Attica. Hence the first of the two celebrated oracles which caused the Athenian delegates such natural alarm. The Athenians are told to fly to the ends of the earth, and the utter destruction of their Greek home is foretold.

It was to Athens alone that such advice was given. Athens was the object of the expedition, so Delphi [235]thought; and if the object were removed, the invasion might never take place. In any case, if it did take place, it was possible that its object might be regarded as attained if Attica and Athens were laid waste; and therefore it was necessary, in consistency with this view, to discourage the interference of the Greek States in the matter. H. vii 148. This is the reason for the advice given to Argos and to the Cretans. H. vii. 169. If other States interfered the devastation might spread to the whole of Greece.

It is quite conceivable that Delphi regarded this as being, under the circumstances, the most patriotic policy which could be advocated. The removal of the cause of offence would go far towards expiating the offence itself. Such a course of action was in a way parallel to that demanded by one Greek State from another in a case of sacrilegious pollution.

Two questions now arise. In the first place, at what period in the development of affairs prior to the invasion was this oracular response delivered to the Athenians? Secondly, what interval elapsed between it and the second? The first question hardly admits of an answer. The wording of the oracle affords but a slender and uncertain clue; and that, such as it is, is contained in the latter half of it. The answer, as given in Herodotus, is in twelve lines of verse. H. vii. 140. Of these the first six refer to Athens alone. The last six, however, extend the threat of destruction to other States of Greece. And yet the inhabitants of those States are not advised to fly their land; the exhortation to flight is addressed to Athens alone. If these words were dictated by circumstances existent at the time they were spoken, they can only be of the nature of a threat addressed to the other powers of Greece; and, if so, they were probably uttered either during the expedition to Tempe, or immediately after it, and were a warning of what would happen to those who tried to resist the invader.

A further possibility is that the last six lines appeared in a revised version of the original, made after the event.

Herodotus’ account of the delivery of the second oracle gives the impression that he supposed this to have been spoken immediately after the first. The tale is a curious [236]one, and discloses an attitude of mind among the Greeks of that time to which no distinctly traceable counterpart could be found at the present day. The demand for the prophecy of smooth things, though sometimes raised even in our own times, does not, if fulfilled, convey much comfort to the modern mind; and such comfort as might be given could hardly be heightened by the fact that the prophecy had been previously arranged. That was palpably the case in this instance.

Herodotus tells the tale much as follows:⁠—

The Athenian delegates, he says, were exceedingly depressed by the first answer they had received. While they were in this state, Timon the son of Androboulos, a man in the highest repute at Delphi, came to them and suggested they should go again and consult the oracle as suppliants. When people in Timon’s position make such suggestions, it may be presumed that they are acting upon knowledge. It may even be suspected that there was something in the previous answer which the authorities were anxious to amend.

There are two features in the second oracle which are of the nature of a forecast of events: the advice as to the reliance to be placed on the defence of the wooden walls, and the purely prophetic reference to Salamis. The first of these may be, probably is, a part of the original utterance; the second, contained in the last two lines, is probably an addition after the event, unless, which is improbable, Themistocles influenced the wording of the answer. The first may be possibly conceived as having brought about its own fulfilment; the second refers to a measure which is unanimously attributed to the genius of Themistocles.

But the most remarkable feature of the whole is the absence of any reference to a flight to the ends of the earth, the essential and most striking feature of the first response. The Athenians are indeed told that they must abandon their country; but all reference to an abandonment of Greece is conspicuously omitted.

It is superfluous to say that it is impossible at the present day to account with certainty for the manifest incongruity between the two utterances. POLICY OF DELPHI. At the same [237]time, taking them as they stand, there is one hypothesis as to their origin which accords with the circumstances of the time. It is an hypothesis, moreover, which tends to explain the cause for that strong expression of personal opinion as to the part played by Athens in the salvation of Greece, which Herodotus puts forward in the chapter immediately preceding his record of their language, and in direct reference to them.

The first oracle seems to have been an expression of the policy which Delphi was disposed to advocate in view of the coming invasion. This policy can only have been founded on the genuine belief that Athens was the sole object aimed at by the Persians, and could remain so, if the rest of the Greek States would abstain from interference. The best solution of the situation seemed to be the voluntary removal of the Athenians to a land outside Hellas. If this was not the policy of Delphi, her advice to the Cretans, and, above all, to Argos, is quite inexplicable.

But whatever Delphi thought, there was a very general opinion throughout Greece, and especially in Peloponnesus, that the coming invasion did not aim merely at the punishment of Athens, but at the reduction of Greece to the position of a satrapy of the Persian Empire. It was known, too, at this time that the invading force was, perhaps, relatively stronger on sea than on land. It is not difficult, therefore, to imagine the blank dismay with which the Peloponnesian States must have heard of the wording of the first of the two oracles addressed to Athens, and no time can have been lost in setting their representatives at Delphi to undo the baneful effect which the pronouncement must have on the Athenian decision. Peloponnesus intended, no doubt, to defend itself at the Isthmus; but the Spartans had a perfectly clear comprehension of the necessary part which the Greek fleet, of which the Athenians must furnish the most important contingent, must play in the defence.

It is unnecessary to suppose that the pressure was exerted on the oracle at the immediate initiative of persons who were present on the spot when the Athenian delegates were given the first answer.

[238]Herodotus is not strict on questions of chronology; possibly his sources of information did not allow him to be so; and the interval between the two oracles may have been quite considerable relative to the rapid march of events. Meanwhile pressure had been brought to bear on the authorities at Delphi from Peloponnesus, a part of the world whose representations they could not afford to neglect. So the tone of the first response was modified in the Peloponnesian interest. The Athenian was still counselled to desert Attica, but not to seek safety away from Greece; and the fleet is clearly pointed to as the means of salvation.

It was not Salamis which Delphi foresaw. It may be doubted even whether she had any belief in the policy advocated. The Isthmus and the Peloponnesians demanded the Athenian fleet; and Delphi could not afford to quarrel with her best friends.

The new oracle, whose meaning was obscured by the fact that the previous one had been uttered, came near to being misinterpreted by those to whom it was sent. They evidently saw from the first that it was, in a sense, a reversal of its predecessor; but as to its positive meaning they were in much doubt.

In the account of the debate upon it Herodotus introduces, practically for the first time, to the stage of history, with a suddenness and simplicity of expression which is almost dramatic, the name of Themistocles. H. vii. 143. “There was a certain man of the Athenians, who had recently come to the front (in the State), whose name was Themistocles;”—“And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab.” In both cases the dramatic effect of the story of the lives of the men whose biography is thus opened is heightened by the lack of anything resembling an introduction.

That a debate did take place on the meaning of the oracle is probably the case; and the tradition which Herodotus followed doubtless represents in the main the lines of argument adopted by either side. The reference to Salamis and to the lines thereon in the response of Delphi might seem to be evidence in favour of their genuineness; but it is quite manifest that, if the oracle was spoken at [239]anything like the time at which Herodotus represents it to have been uttered, it is inconceivable that the idea of fighting at Salamis can at that time have entered into the head of Themistocles, much less into the minds of those who directed affairs at Delphi. Themistocles’ great reputation in the years which followed the war was very largely due to the part he played with respect to the strategy and tactics of Salamis; and there was every inducement for the oracle to put in after the event a claim to the first suggestion of the famous plan. But, if any judgment can be formed as to the approximate date at which this particular oracle was issued, it can only be said that Salamis lay at that time in a future impenetrable to human reckoning.

As the question of the exact bearing of these oracles has been discussed at some length, it may be convenient to sum up in a few sentences the hypotheses which have been suggested as to their origin and tendency.

There seems to have been a belief current in Greece when first the news of the coming expedition was noised abroad, that it was a punitive one aimed, like that of Datis and Artaphernes, against Athens.105 The then recent events of 490 would lend colour to such a belief. When the magnitude of the coming expedition became known, and reports as to its real intent came across the Ægean, Greece as a whole began to think that the danger was more widely threatening than had been first supposed. Delphi did not share in this change of opinion, and continued to regard the expedition as aimed against Athens alone. Holding this view, she adopted the double course of trying to remove the cause of offence by getting the Athenians to leave Greece, and of doing all in her power to prevent Greece as a whole from being involved in the matter. She was successful in preventing Crete and Argos from joining in the Hellenic defence, and the second half of the first oracle delivered to Athens, if a part of the original version, is a threat, uttered possibly about the time of the expedition to Thessaly, to those [240]powers other than Athens who seemed inclined to make the question a pan-Hellenic one. Whatever Delphi thought, Sparta had by that time fully made up her mind that the danger was one which threatened the whole of Greece, and was consequently exceedingly alarmed at the tenour of the advice given by Delphi to the Athenians, the only result of which would be to rob her of an adjunct to the defence whose value she fully appreciated,—the Athenian fleet No time was lost in bringing pressure to bear on Delphi. The result was the second oracle delivered to Athens, which, in spite of its ambiguous wording, clearly advocated a policy in strong contrast to that which the first response had laid down.

The account of these oracles, which is, evidently, from the chronological point of view, of the nature of a digression in Herodotus’ history, is succeeded by the description of certain events which must have taken place in the autumn and winter of 481.

Several measures are described which were adopted by the Council of the Greeks which had been formed to take the necessary steps to resist the coming invasion. A settlement was made of the outstanding disputes between the Greek States, and especially of the war between Athens and Ægina.

This settlement must, apparently, be attributed to the autumn of 481, for the measures which were next taken, H. vii. 145. which are expressly stated to have been subsequent to this reconciliation, were contemporaneous with the presence of the Persian Army at Sardes, H. vii. 37. and belong therefore to the winter of 481–480. The measures were: the seeding of spies into Asia; the despatching of ambassadors to solicit aid from Gelon of Syracuse, from Crete, from Corcyra, and from Argos.



[To face page 241.

H. vii. 146, 174.

The tale of the fate of the spies is one upon which tradition was likely to improve; but there is no reason to doubt the main incidents of it; how they went to Sardes and were apprehended; how they were only saved from execution by the interposition of Xerxes, who thought it would be instructive to them to see what they wanted to see, and that it might be very advantageous to him if they [241]reported what they had seen to those who sent them. Xerxes’ policy in the matter was admittedly wise. Resistance is frequently due to misapprehension.

The States to whom appeals for aid were sent were all of them in peculiar positions with reference not merely to their home affairs, but also to their relations towards the mass of the Greek States.

The very nature of things as they existed in the fifth century before Christ made it improbable, almost impossible, that Corcyra should take a very active interest in the affairs of Greece generally. The Hellenism of her continental neighbours in North-west Greece, in Epirus, in Ætolia, in Acarnania, was as yet undeveloped. The range of Pindus, by its oblique course from the very shores of the Adriatic to those of the Corinthian Gulf, cut off that corner of the Greek world from those outside influences and that wide experience which contributed so largely towards making the Hellenism of the fifth century what it was. Corcyra had no immediate neighbours from whom she could catch the infection of the Hellenic spirit. It is hardly strange if she did not interpret the unwritten law of Greek patriotism in the sense in which it was interpreted by those who were much more interested in upholding it. Selfish she appeared to the Greeks of this time; and it can be seen by reading between the lines in Thucydides that this was the impression she gave to her contemporaries half a century later. She was severely—it may be, hardly judged. The circumstances were peculiarly unfavourable to the development within her of a pan-Hellenic spirit. Nature had placed her in an almost ideal position in relation to one of the greatest trade routes of the ancient world,—that from Greece to Italy and the West. Wealth came easily to her. Her position allowed her to regard with equanimity the competition of Corinth and the growing rivalry of Athenian trade. However much there might be for her competitors, the very nature of her position assured her of an ample sufficiency. So she lived on a policy of sufferance, neither interfering nor interfered with. If the Corcyrean was a spoilt child, he had been spoilt by mother nature. His circumstances were such as were peculiarly calculated to [242]encourage a selfish patriotism. Had he voyaged the whole Mediterranean over, he could not have found a fairer picture than that presented by his own enchanted island. To himself, no doubt, he appeared the honest man; but to his contemporaries of larger view he seemed, as it were, the “man with the muck-rake” of Greek politics, over whose head the crown of patriotism was held in vain.

It is conceivable that in the present instance Corcyra did not understand to the full the nature of the danger which threatened Greece. It had taken long to convince the states who sent her the invitation that the attack was not directed against Athens alone. She promised assistance, but evidently with a mental reservation to hold back until the intention of the Persian was declared unmistakably.

Unfortunately for her reputation, she held back too long. When she ought to have joined in, she did not—possibly she was too late to do so; and it is not surprising if her contemporaries, who had borne the burden of the struggle unaided by her, judged her hardly.

Not so severe, perhaps, should be the judgment of those who are in a position to review the whole extent of the feeling which prevailed at this critical time. Patriotism, when aroused, does not argue according to the rules of logic; and so, remembering this, the severity of the judgment passed by the Greek patriot on the Greek neutral may be excused, or even in a sense justified. But it must also be borne in mind that those who, with Delphi, regarded any joint action of the Greek States in a quarrel which might be looked upon as concerning Athens alone, to be calculated to bring suffering upon the whole of Greece, or at any rate on those who took part in it, and therefore impolitic, were also justified from their point of view. To them it might seem as if Athens should lie on the bed she herself had made, when she had alone among the great powers of Greece interfered in the Ionian revolt.


Of the Crete of the earlier part of the fifth century but little is known from the historians; and the modern exploration of the historic remains on the island has, so far, thrown but little light on its political relations at this time, [243]whether internal or external. It seems to have been divided up between a number of comparatively small city States, which it would have been difficult to rouse to joint action on any question which did not concern their special interests. Herodotus does not pass any judgment on the conduct of the Cretans in refusing aid, possibly because the refusal was in accordance with the answer given by the Delphic oracle when consulted on the subject.

The attitude of Argos is not so easy to account for. She had, indeed, suffered terribly by the loss of six thousand of her citizens in the battle with the Lacedæmonians under Kleomenes. Delphi, in consistency with its policy at the time, counselled against interference; but the Argive tale was that, even so, they were ready to take part in the defence, provided Sparta granted them a thirty years’ truce, and provided she shared the supreme command of the allied forces with them. H. vii. 149. The proposal of a truce was entertained, if not actually accepted; but Sparta refused to let Argos have more than one-third of the command. The old question of the hegemony of Sparta and Argos in the Peloponnese lay at the bottom of the refusal; but there is manifestly a certain amount of improbability in the Argive account of the affair as given by Herodotus. H. vii. 151, ad init. He tells another tale, which seems to have been of Athenian origin. It is to the effect that Xerxes had been in direct communication with Argos, and had practically ensured its neutrality, and that the terms demanded by Argos from the other Greeks were proposed with a full knowledge that they would be refused.

This tale was supported, so the historian says, by information obtained at Susa by that mysterious embassy of Kallias; nevertheless, Herodotus believes the Argive account, and rejects the tale current in the rest of Greece.

If an author in the fifth century B.C. could not satisfactorily discover the truth with regard to the matter, it is not likely that it should be possible to do so at the present day. It may be that Argos, from genuine conviction, followed the lead of Delphi, but provided for a possible error in that policy by entering into some kind of arrangement with the Persian.

[244]The answer which the Greek Council sent to the Argives, as reported by Diodorus, may be an invention of later times, but is so peculiarly apt as to be worthy of quotation:⁠—

“If,” it ran, “you think it a more dreadful thing to have a Greek commander than a barbarian master, you are right in biding quiet; but if you are ambitious to get the hegemony of Greece, you must earn a position so splendid by doing something worthy of it.”

But the greatest military power in the Greek world at this time was not situated in the mother country. Gelo, the tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily, had at his command an armed force superior to that of any other Greek State. His land army may not, indeed, have been greater than the force which Sparta could put in the field; but he possessed, besides, a navy as powerful as that of Athens. He seems to have been a man of unusual capacity who, had death spared him for a while, might have made Syracuse the centre of a considerable dominion in the West. He was manifestly a desirable acquisition for the league of defence; and it was very natural that a joint embassy should be sent to him to ask his help in the coming peril. Herodotus describes the embassy with considerable detail, but his account raises some difficulties which cast a doubt, not perhaps on his truthfulness, but on the correctness of his version of what took place.

It may be assumed that the speeches made by Gelo and the Greek ambassadors are in their form the creation of the historian. The real historical question is not as to the form, but as to the matter. H. vii. 157. In the speech of the Greeks two points are peculiarly prominent; it shows that there was an idea in certain quarters in Greece that the expedition was directed against Athens alone; it is further asserted that if Greece is subdued, Sicily’s turn for attack will not fail to come quickly. The first of these is important as throwing further light on the attitude of the Delphic oracle; the second is an argument in accord with Herodotus’ own impression of the situation at the time.


[245]It is quite easy to see that there prevailed in antiquity two views as to the exact significance of the coincidence of the Carthaginian attack on Sicily with the invasion of Greece by Xerxes. Herodotus never saw any connection between them. It is possible that no hint of such a connection was apparent in the sources from which he drew his story of the relations between Gelo and the embassy. H. vii 158. He represents the former as being willing to send a very considerable contingent to aid the Greeks at home, provided that the latter will give him the command of the united force. The condition, if the offer was ever made, was in no wise a surprising one. Considering the magnitude of the help which Gelo is reported to have offered, it was reasonable. H. vii 159. And yet it was refused, and that, too, in language which cannot be regarded as otherwise than insulting. So Gelo reduced his terms to the command of either the sea or land force. And now the Athenian section of the embassy had a word to say. Their refusal of the command by sea was, perhaps, somewhat more polite, but hardly less explicit than had been that of the Spartans to the original condition. Gelo’s answer, as reported, is brief, but marked by a wit not unworthy of the distinguished literary society of his court: “My Athenian friend, you seem to have commanders, without the likelihood of any troops to command.”

After this, it may well be imagined, there was nothing more to be said or done, and the embassy went home.

Gelo, however, is reported to have sent a treasure-ship to Delphi, to watch the course of the war, with orders, in case the Persian won the day, to surrender the treasure to him and offer the earth and water of submission. The general origin of the tale so far is plainly indicated by Herodotus. It is a story which existed—perhaps indeed was current—in European Greece, for the historian, before proceeding to add further details, expressly mentions that they were derived from Sicily.

H. vii. 165.

The Sicilians say, so he relates, that in spite of what had occurred, Gelo would have aided the Greeks and submitted to the Lacedæmonian command, had not circumstances arisen at home, in the shape of a Carthaginian [246]invasion, which prevented him from so doing. Herodotus ascribes the invasion to the intervention of the Carthaginians in favour of Terillos, tyrant of Himera, who had been driven out of his government by Thero of Akragas. An immense army, 300,000 in number, composed, after the manner of the Carthaginian armies, of nearly all the peoples in the Western Mediterranean, invaded Sicily by way of Himera.

Such is Herodotus’ account of the events in Sicily at this critical time, an account which closes with words of great significance, which put a somewhat different complexion on the tale of the sending of the treasure-ship to Delphi “Thus, not being able to help the Greeks (owing to this invasion), Gelo sent the treasure to Delphi.”

Even if there existed no other evidence with regard to the events of this period than that which Herodotus supplies, his narrative as it stands would raise several serious difficulties.

It is, in the first place, quite impossible that an expedition of the magnitude of that despatched by Carthage could have been got ready without prolonged preparations such as could not have remained a secret from the surrounding peoples, and especially from the Sicilian Greeks. It would be calculated to excite the liveliest alarm among all who could conceive themselves to be the objects of attack. Of the magnitude of the expedition there can be no doubt. The numbers given in Herodotus may not be correct, probably are not so; but, be that as it may, Sicily itself bore testimony of an exceedingly practical kind to the magnitude of the victory which was subsequently won at Himera. Head. Hist. Numm. The victory itself, and the prosperity to which it gave rise, caused something like a revolution in the coinage of Syracuse and of the Siciliot states generally.

It is impossible to suppose that Gelo was unaware that the expedition was being prepared, and, indeed, that Sicily was the object of it, long before the expedition itself started. LIBERTY AND TYRANNY. It is therefore, to say the least of it, doubtful whether he can ever have entertained, or even [247]have professed to entertain, any idea of sending a force to help the Greeks at home. H. vii. 165, ad fin. Even in Herodotus’ narrative it is stated that Gelo was aware of the coming of the great Carthaginian expedition before the treasure was despatched to Delphi. Why should Gelo have sought to buy off a Persian attack from a distance when the great invasion was close upon him? If he succumbed to the latter, the money would be thrown away. If he were successful in warding it off, he might reasonably expect to be able to resist any force which Persia could bring against him. The Ionian Sea was not a Hellespont which might be bridged.

The tale of this despatch of treasure to Delphi is a strange one. It may not be true. In any case the motive for it in Herodotus is manifestly impossible. But the tale is not one which can be ignored. The Greek of the fifth century was just as capable of suppressing as of making history. His patriotism had a tendency to run on party lines. The very intensity of the sympathy which he felt for all that was Hellenic made him intensely hostile to any political system in the Hellenic world, or to any representative of a system, which was opposed to his own ideas; optimi corruptio pessima. The tyranny of the great king over his subjects, even if they were Greeks, aroused but a lukewarm resentment in the breast of the Greek democrat. He hated with a much fiercer passion the tyranny of Greek over Greek. The barbarian knew no better, because he was a barbarian; the Greek ought to know, because he was a Greek. Nowhere and at no time in Greek history can this feeling have been stronger than in the Athens of the middle of the fifth century, under whose influence Herodotus so manifestly wrote. The Great War had in his day become a story; he just saved it from becoming a myth. The creative genius of the Greek did not discriminate in subject-matter. History, both Ancient and Modern, went alike info the melting-pot of his imagination, to be cast into a fable, often beautiful, with a moral in its train. To such an influence as this Herodotus was peculiarly susceptible. His genuinely conscientious desire to write history in all [248]truth was tinged with a piety which induced an unconscious reservation of fact. He preferred the improbable combined with a distinct moral lesson to the probable when no moral lesson was conveyed. He wished to teach as well as to inform.

It is not necessary to suppose—there are, indeed, many reasons for thinking it improbable,—that he ever departed from what he believed to be true; but, at the same time, he was not possessed of the keen critical faculty which would have been necessary to unravel the truth from the falsehood of the tales which must have formed so largely the basis of the history of the earlier part of the fifth century. His account of Gelo is doubtless coloured by, if not reproduced from, the tradition of the Greece of his time with regard to this incident in the history of the great war. That war was regarded as far the greatest of the triumphs of Hellenic freedom, a triumph of free institutions over the monarchical system. The nature of the triumph would have been largely discounted had it been necessary to record the name of a hated tyrant upon the roll of fame. And so, may be, the connection between Gelo’s victory and the war of liberation in Greece itself was a thing almost forgotten in Hellas by the time of Herodotus. It may have been hardly known to his generation, or only sufficiently known to be resented and buried in silence. The tale as it was told was a grand moral lesson to the democratic Greek. Even in the stress of the severest need the free Greek had refused to sell his birthright of command to a hated tyranny, though the price offered had been great. And yet the issue had been triumphant. Could it be bearable that the tyrant should be accorded a share in the triumph? The tradition which Herodotus followed had some such motive behind it.


It may not be possible at the present time to arrive at aught resembling a detailed knowledge of this side plot of the great drama of 480, and even the circumstances of the information are not of such a kind as to allow us to speak with ultimate assurance on the main outlines of it; but the evidence, actual and presumptive, [249]when the several items are added and subtracted, leaves a large balance of probability in favour of a view very different from that which Herodotus has given to the world.

It is not, perhaps, unnatural that knowledge after the event should tend to obscure the true appreciation of all that preceded it. There is, however, one phase of the Persian expedition of 480 which stands out above all others; and that is the splendid character of the organization which placed the enormous host of Xerxes in middle Greece. It was not merely the outcome of the experience of years of campaigning half the world over; it must have been the outcome of some years of preparation with an express end in view. Can it be supposed that in these years the advantages of a diversion in the western world of Greece escaped the notice of a people who gave such practical proof of capacity? It cannot be too often said that it is a great historical mistake to read the incapacity of the Persia of the fourth century into its history at the beginning of the fifth.

The means of creating the diversion were both obvious and easy. Persia, through the intermediary of her subjects the Phœnicians, had excellent means of communicating with and influencing the great Carthaginian power. This influence must have been largely increased by the favour which Persia showed to the Phœnician as against the Greek trader.

It is unnecessary to point to the fact that Carthage would presumably require but little persuasion to attack the rival Greek in Sicily at a time when no help could possibly be given from Greece itself.

H vii. 166.

The Sicilian Greek seems to have had no sort of doubt as to the connection between the invasion of his own island and that of the mother country. H. vii. 165. ad init. Herodotus, even in spite of his bias towards the Greek version of the story, H vii. 166. gives some hint of a different version in Sicily. Frag. Hist. Græc. He does not apparently know much about it, as he does not mention Himera as the locality of the decisive battle.

Frag. III. Schol. Pind.

It is in a fragment of Ephoros that occurs the first extant historical reference to the connection between the [250]two expeditions. Pyth. i. 146. He says that Persian and Phœnician ambassadors were sent to the Carthaginians, “ordering” them to invade Sicily with as large an expedition as possible, and after subduing it, to come on to the Peloponnese. Discredit has been cast on the passage in consequence of the use of the word “order,” because, so it is said, the Persians were not in a position to give orders to Carthage. But, supposing the use of the word is not merely an instance of verbal inaccuracy, it is quite conceivable that a Greek historian might use such an expression to describe the supposed relations between the mother state of Phœnicia and her colony. Diod. xi. 1. The historian Diodorus recognizes the same connection between the two expeditions. He does not, however, make any reference to Phœnician agency in the matter, nor does he speak of an “order,” but of a diplomatic agreement.106


One question remains: Did Gelo ever seriously entertain [251]the idea of sending help to the mother country? It is hardly conceivable that he did. The Carthaginian preparations were on such a scale that he must have been long forewarned of the coming storm. Whether he made any sort of offer to the Greek embassy is quite another question.

If the Greek version of the story of the time provokes the suspicion that it arose under influences inimical to the strict truth, the Sicilian also, of which there is a hint in Herodotus, and some detail in Diodorus, suggests in certain of its passages that it is not an unadorned tale. That sentiment of the free Greek which, when the history of the great war came to be written, led him to deny the Sicilian tyrant all share in its glory, met a counter-sentiment in Sicily, which claimed for the Sicilian Greek a share in the famous triumph. Under such influences both exaggeration and suppression of the truth were sure to take place. The Sicilian version was not content with confining itself to the just claim that Gelo and Sicily in the victory at Himera had contributed to the triumphant result of the great war. It sought evidently to ascribe to the Sicilian Greek a sympathetic, if not actual, share in the liberation of Greece itself. Diod. xi 26. Gelo is represented as having, after the victory of Himera, prepared a fleet with a view to sending help to Greece, but to have desisted from the design on receiving news of the victory at Salamis. This is neither capable of proof nor disproof. The exact date of Himera is not known, though there was a tradition that it was fought on the same day as Salamis. If that be accepted, this addition to the Sicilian version must be rejected; but if the tradition was merely of that class which is found represented in the history of the time, and which supplied the eternal demand for curious coincidences, then it is possible that Himera was fought sufficiently long before Salamis to make it possible for Gelo to entertain such a design; nor would it have been strange had he sought to avenge himself on Persia for an attack which she had provoked against him. It is possible, too, that the epigram reported to have been engraved on an offering of Gelo at [252]Delphi107 refers not merely to the true significance of Himera, but also to the preparation of this expedition which was never sent.

This war in Sicily, and the questions which arise concerning it, are of much greater importance to the study of this period of Greek history than the comparative brevity of their treatment by Greek historians might suggest to the mind of a reader who did not realize to himself their full significance. The Greek tyrant in Sicily played no small part in spreading and developing certain sides of that Greek civilization which has contributed so largely towards the civilization of the present day. The view, therefore, which was taken by one of the greatest and most able of those tyrants as to the part which he should play at a time when that civilization was threatened with extinction, is not a minor matter in the history of Greece, or, indeed, of the world. Nor, again, can the part played by Persia in the invasion of Sicily be of small account. Persia at this time represented, in certain respects,—and especially with respect to sheer capacity and breadth of view, —the highest development which the great empires of the East were able to attain; and its connection or lack of connection with the attack on Sicily cannot but affect the judgment which the modern world must pass on that capacity.108

To the Greeks gathered in council at the Isthmus the outlook, after their retreat from Tempe, and after the return of the embassies, must have been a gloomy one. Nothing had been gained, and much had been lost. Thessaly with its cavalry, that arm in which the Greeks were peculiarly weak, and their enemy peculiarly strong, had been perforce left to its fate; and no one could doubt what that would be. The states between Kithæron and Œta were wavering, ready to desert. They could hardly be blamed. The backbone of the future resistance seemed to be with Sparta and the states of the Peloponnesian league who followed her lead. QUESTION OF THE LINE OF DEFENCE. It might well be suspected, perhaps even then it was known, that, if they could have [253]their way, the defence of the Isthmus would be the beginning and the end of their design. Northern Greece seemed but too likely to be left to its fate, just as Thessaly had been. Was it strange that it should seek to make terms of submission? In one of its states, moreover, and that the most powerful from a military point of view, Bœotia, more sinister influences were at work. The oligarchical party, at all times strong in that country whose comparatively open nature left the many at the mercy of the powerful few, seemed only too ready to play a part similar to that which the Aleuadæ had played in Thessaly.

The attitude of Argos was also calculated to cause alarm. It must be pointed out at the same time, that though it aggravated the situation to a certain extent, it did not affect it so decisively as has been imagined by modern commentators. The possibility of the landing of Persian troops behind the defences of the Isthmus was not a question so much dependent on the action of Argos as on the success or failure of the Greek fleet in checking the advance of the enemy’s ships before they succeeded in crossing the Saronic Gulf. Had the Persian fleet once succeeded in establishing itself in some harbour of the coast of Argolis, the defence of the Isthmus must have collapsed, whatever the attitude of Argos might have been. This State, owing to the losses it had suffered in the great defeat which Kleomenes and the Spartans inflicted upon it, can hardly have been in a position to offer serious resistance to a landing on its coasts.

Note.—The relation of date between the return of the embassies and the retreat from Tempe is of considerable importance to a right appreciation of the situation at this critical time. Herodotus dates the events in Greece by the advance of Xerxes’ army. Thus the expedition to Tempe is stated to have taken place βασιλέος τε μέλλοντος διαβαίνειν ἐς τῆν Εὐρώπην ἐκ τὴς Ἀσίης, καὶ εὄντος ἤδη ἐν Ἀβύδῳ. H. vii. 174.

Again, the embassies seem to have been despatched simultaneously to Sicily, Corcyra, Crete and Argos (H. vii. 148, 153, etc.). That to Sicily would almost certainly be the last to return. Gelo did not send the treasure-ships to Delphi until after the visit of the embassy (H. vii. 163, ad init.), and he did not send them till after he had heard that Xerxes had crossed the Hellespont.

If, then, the rough chronology of Herodotus can be relied upon,—and there is not any other source of information upon the subject available,—the[254] Greeks who assembled at the Isthmus after the withdrawal from Tempe must have known that the resources then at their disposal were all upon which they could reckon in the coming struggle.

Note on the Carthaginian Invasion of Sicily.

The satisfactorily attested fact that a large Carthaginian Army attacked Sicily simultaneously with the invasion of Greece by Xerxes raises the very difficult question whether the coincidence in time between the two attacks was anything more than accidental; and, if it was, as to the exact nature of the relation between them. Before discussing the question, it may be well to collect together the various passages in ancient authors in which reference is made to the nature of the Carthaginian campaign.

H. vii. 165.

Λέγεται δὲ καὶ τάδε ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν Σικελίῃ οἰκημένων, ὡς ὅμως, καὶ μέλλων ἄρχεσθαι ὑπὸ Λακεδαιμονίων, ὁ Γέλων ἐβοήθησε ἂν τοῖσι Ἕλλησι, εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ Θήρωνος τοῦ Αἰνησιδήμου Ἀκραγαντίνων μουνάρχου ἐξελασθεὶς ἐξ Ἱμέρης Τήριλλος ὁ Κρινίππου, τύραννος ἐὼν Ἱμέρης, ἐπῆγε ὑπ’ αὐτὸν τὸν χρόνον τοῦτον φοινίκων καὶ Λιβύων καὶ Ἰβήρων καὶ Λιγύων καὶ Ἑλισύκων καὶ Σαρδονίων καὶ Κυρνίων τριήκοντα μυριάδας, καὶ στρατηγὸν αὐτῶν Ἀμίλκαν τὸν Ἄννωνος, Καρχηδονίων ἐόντα βασιλέα˙ κατὰ ξεινίην τε τὴν ἑωυτοῦ ὁ Τήριλλος ἀναγνώσας, καὶ μάλιστα διὰ τὴν Ἀναξίλεω τοῦ Κρητίνεω προθυμίην, ὁς Ῥηγίου ἐὼν τύραννος, τὰ ἑωυτοῦ τέκνα δοὺς ὁμήρους Ἀμίλκᾳ, ἐπῆγε μιν ἐπὶ τὴν Σικελίαν, τιμωρέων τῷ πενθερῷ·

Then there follows the statement that Gelon and Theron defeated Hamilcar in Sicily the same day as Salamis was fought, after which we get two accounts—the first presumably Greek, probably Syracusan, the second Carthaginian—of Hamilcar’s disappearance in the battle, and a further statement to the effect that the Carthaginians sacrificed to him, and set up statues to him in Carthage and her colonies.

It is noticeable that in neither account does Herodotus mention Himera as the locality of the battle.

Of the treasures sent by Gelon to Delphi, he tells us (vii. 163) that Gelon, fearing that the Greeks might succumb to the Persian, but considering it quite an impossible thing for the tyrant of Sicily to go to Peloponnese to be put under the command of Lacedæmonians, sent, immediately on hearing of the passage of the Hellespont by the Persians, a certain Cadmus with three ships to Delphi with much treasure and friendly words (καραδοκήσαντα τὴν μάχην ᾕ πεσέεται˙ καὶ ἤν μὲν ὁ βάρβαρος νικᾷ, τὰ τε χρήματα αὐτῷ διδόναι, καὶ γῆν τε καὶ ὕδωρ τῶν ἄρχει ὅ Γέλων˙ ἤν δὲ οἱ Ἕλληνες, ὀπίσω ἀπάγειν), and (VII. 164) we are told that when the Greeks won in the sea-fight, and Xerxes departed, Cadmus returned to Sicily, bringing all the treasure with him.

A fragment of the history of Ephorus (Frag. III Schol. Pind. Pyth. I. 146) gives the following account of the matter:⁠—

Ἐκ δὲ Περσῶν καὶ Φοινίκων πρέσβεις πρὸς Καρχηδονίους [παραγενέσθαι] προστάσσοντας ὡς πλεῖστον δέοι στόλον˙ εἰς Σικελίαν τε βαδίζειν, καὶ καταστρεψαμένους τοὺς τὰ τῶν Ἑλλήνων φρονοῦντας πλεῖν ἐπὶ Πελοπόννησον.



Diodorus, xi. 1, says:⁠—

“Ὁ δὲ Ξέρξης.... βονλόμενος πάντας τοὺς Ἕλληνας ἀναστάτους ποιῆσαι, διεπρεσβεύσατο πρὸς Καρχηδονίους περὶ κοινοπραγίας, καὶ συνέθετο πρὸς αὐτοὺς. ὥστε αὐτὸν μὲν ἐπὶ τοὺς τὴν Ἑλλάδα κατοικοῦντας Ἕλληνας στρατεύειν,

“Καρχηδονίους δὲ τοῖς αὐτοῖς χρόνοις μεγάλας παρασκευάσασθαι δυνάμεις, καὶ καταπολεμῆσαι τῶν Ἑλλήνων τοὺς περὶ Σικελίαν καὶ Ἰταλίαν οἰκοῦντας.”

These are the historical passages which bear on the subject.

Of non-historical passages, we have in the “Poetics” of Aristotle, 23, a reference to the coincidence in date of the battles of Salamis and Himera.

It is needless to say that we are here in the presence of evidence which, if not actually conflicting, is at any rate extremely difficult to reconcile.

Only one great fact stands out with certainty, namely, that two great simultaneous attacks were made in 480 B.C. on the two great divisions of the free Hellenic world. The question is: Were they part of one great scheme, or was their coincidence purely fortuitous?

To speak with the appearance of assuredness on such a question would be delusive, in that it would assume that there existed in the evidence attainable a conclusiveness to which it cannot lay any claim. Such as it is, it can only be judged by the law of probabilities.

Let us first take the probabilities of the case apart from the evidence actually quoted here.

Phœnicia, the mother country of Carthage, was at this time within the Persian dominion. Its population seems, on the whole, to have received exceptionally favourable treatment from the Persian Government, probably because it supplied the best material, animate and inanimate, to the fleet of the empire. It would also be to the interest of the Persian Government to encourage the most enterprising traders of its dominion. Furthermore, the subjugation of Phœnicia had not broken the tie of relationship between the mother country and the greatest of its colonies. When, under Cambyses, the Persian dominions had been extended as far as the Greater Syrtis, the Phœnicians had refused to prosecute the war further against their kin (H. iii. 17–19); and it had apparently been thought wise, if not necessary, to submit to this refusal. From that time forward there had, in so far as is known, been no unfriendly relations between Persia and Carthage. So long as the Phœnician was well treated there was hardly a point on which they could clash. In the present instance their interests manifestly coincided. It was certainly to the interest of Xerxes that the Sicilian Greeks should have their hands full at the time of his great attack on Greece. The Persians had plenty of means of knowing that there was a great Greek military power in Sicily which might render important aid to the Greeks in the coming struggle. The Carthaginian, on the other hand, might well think this a favourable opportunity for crushing the ever-increasing Greek trade competition in the richest island in the Mediterranean, at a time when the Sicilian Greek could not expect help from the mother country.

[256]It is, when we consider the part played by the Phœnicians in Xerxes’ expedition, infinitely more probable that there was a connection between the two expeditions than that there was not. Whether the connection was of the intimate kind described by Diodorus may perhaps be doubted, but certainly cannot be disproved. Ephoros and Diodorus believe it to have been intimate; and the latter seems, in so far as can be seen from the nature of the fragment of Ephoros, to have had evidence on the subject quite independent of it.

No true canon of criticism can possibly assume that the silence of Herodotus or any other ancient author on this or any other point in ancient history is in any way conclusive. Not to speak of the difficulties of gaining information at a period in which few written records can have existed, the narrative of Herodotus is not unaffected by the special influences to which the author was exposed. On the question of evidence, it may be said that it would be in Sicily and not in Greece that we should expect that written records of the connection between the two expeditions would exist,—records which Diodorus might have seen, though they never came to the knowledge of Herodotus; and, on the question of influence, it would not be in disaccord with Greek practice if the fact that Gelo refused to send aid to Hellas should, quite apart from the grounds of his refusal, have led the Greek world to ignore his participation in the great battle for Greek liberty. The nature of his government could hardly fail to emphasize such a tendency.

The animus of the tradition which Herodotus followed is clearly shown by the motive attached to the reported despatch of the treasure-ship to the Corinthian Gulf. Was it likely that Gelo would worry himself about the distant danger from Persia, when the more immediate and, to him, greater danger from Carthage threatened? Why should he attempt to buy off a doubly hypothetical Persian attack when he was face to face with an enormously powerful foe near at hand? If the treasure-ship was sent, the sending of it looks like the act of a man who wished to provide against possible disaster in Sicily. He had to place it beyond reach of the Carthaginian fleet. He had to speculate on the ultimate success of the Greeks. There was absolutely no other place in the world where it was likely to be more safe than in the Corinthian Gulf, though that might not be an ideal place of security.

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


1. Kallidromos (11 1⁄2 miles).
2. The Great Gable (Path of Anopæa).
3. Great Ravine at Thermopylæ.
4. Malian Gulf.
5. Mount Giona (28 miles).
6. Asopos Ravine.
7. Trachinian Cliffs.
8. Hot Springs.

[To face page 257.



It was fortunate for the Greek cause that the council which met at the Isthmus after the withdrawal from Tempe had at its disposal the information necessary for forming a true estimate of the circumstances of the time. It knew that no help was to come from outside the mainland of Greece. It knew that Thessaly was lost, and that Bœotia, East Locris, Phocis, and Doris, and last, though not least, Eubœa, must be lost also, unless some prompt action were taken to save the situation in those parts. And so, says Herodotus, “the Greeks, on coming to the Isthmus, took counsel together, in view of what Alexander had told them, as to where and in what parts they should establish the defence.” The opinion which prevailed was, that they should guard the pass of Thermopylæ, which they thought was narrower than the pass in Thessaly, and nearer to their base. “They determined therefore to guard this pass, and so prevent the passage of the barbarian into Greece, and that the naval force should sail to Artemisium in the land of Histiæotis.”

There is no part of Greece where the strategical situation is so marked as in the line of defence which runs along Mount Œta. Malis is verily the entering in of the gate of Greece. The barrier of Mount Œta, the tremendous nature of which can only be appreciated by those who have seen it and traversed it, formed in a very real way the true boundary of the land, and was recognized as such by the Greek historians of this and after time. The Hellenism of the lands beyond it was [258]a mere shadow of the reality. Thessaly, in that widest sense which included in the name all that lay between Œta, Pindus, and the Cambunian Mountains, was in respect to civilization a debateable land, in which the “barbarism” of the outer world to a great extent held sway. Nature had so ordained it by an immutable decree when she raised Œta to be alike a defence and a barrier to the Hellenism of the lands south of it.

Malis is separated from the plain of Thessaly by the range of Othrys. This line of mountains is not of a uniform character. It branches off from the backbone of Pindus in the West as a comparatively low range, through which numerous paths, practicable at any rate for an army without a large baggage train, lead into the upper valley of the Spercheios,—the upper plain of Malis. As a main line of communication, however, from the north, these paths are for two reasons comparatively unimportant. In the first place, the two great roads through Thessaly,—that from Larisa by way of Krannon to Thaumaki, and that from Larisa to Thebes in Phthiotis,—afford but an extremely circuitous route to their northern entrances; and, again, when these paths do reach the upper plain of Malis, they are not continued southwards by any direct routes across the chain of Œta; and it is necessary to traverse the whole length of the Malian plain to the neighbourhood of Thermopylæ before any practicable way leading south can be found. They could only have been of strategic importance in this campaign had the Greeks attempted to defend the eastern passes of Othrys, in which case the Persians, by using them, could without much difficulty have turned the defence.

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


[To face page 259.

The part of Othrys east of the longitude of Lamia is of a loftier and much more difficult character. It is rather a mass of mountains than a single range. Viewed from Thermopylæ it presents the appearance of a series of cones and ridges rising towards a central point, where it attains a height of over six thousand feet. There are only two passes through it which are practicable for an army with baggage; these may be called respectively the pass of Thaumaki, and the pass of Thebes in Phthiotis. MARCH OF THE PERSIANS. The pass [259]of Thaumaki is a direct continuation of the great route by way of Krannon. At Thaumaki itself it is eminently defensible, as the rise from the Thessalian plain is abrupt, and the road traverses a narrow ravine. From that point southward the pass is not a difficult one. It enters the Malian plain at Lamia.

The second of the two passages is more or less of a coast road, skirting first the shores of the Pagasætic Gulf, and later those of the Euripus and Malian Gulf. It debouched on the Malian plain at Phalara, a small town which stood within half a mile of the modern Stylida and about six miles from Lamia, by which latter town also the road must have passed. It is possible that Lamia was not effectively fortified in 480. Still, the occupation of it could only have harassed, not stopped, the invading army, since, owing to the presence of the fleet, the real line of communication was on the sea.

H. vii. 196.

From two incidents mentioned in Herodotus it is evident that the Persians adopted both these lines of advance. H. vii. 196. He says that the numbers of the Persian army were so large, that of the rivers of Achaia even the largest, the Apidanos, barely sufficed for its purposes. This indicates the use of the Krannon-Thaumaki route.

The visit of Xerxes to Halos indicates that he, with part of his army, took the coast route.

It was after entering the Malian plain that the real difficulties of the campaign began. Xerxes and his army were face to face with Mount Œta. It may be well to realize in so far as possible the prospect which would meet his eye when, after completing the passage round Othrys, he arrived at Phalara From that point of view nearly the whole length of Œta would be extended before him as he faced southwards. Away to the south-west, at a distance of from twelve to fifteen miles, stands the highest and most imposing mass of the range, a great hummock crowned by four or five peaks. The hummock itself rises some five thousand feet almost sheer from the plain, and the peaks on it rise some fifteen hundred feet more. In full view from Phalara, too, would be that tremendous ravine, a dark, wedge-shaped cut in the side of the mountain, which a comparatively [260]small stream has hollowed out to a depth of four thousand feet. As the eye travels eastward along the range there is a decrease in the actual height of it, the general level of the ridge being perhaps not more than four thousand feet. But the face towards the plain is marked by the broad black band of those famous rocks the Trachinian cliffs. They end suddenly towards the east, where a thin, perpendicular, black streak in the mountain side marks the exit of the great ravine of the Asopos.

It is a magnificent picture; but the background is as magnificent as the picture itself. High as the range is, there rises above it in the distance, behind the four-thousand-foot ridge, the great peak of Giona. Though it is one of the most impressive peaks in Greece, its ancient name is unknown. It is far away among the confused mass of the great ranges of Northern Ætolia; and yet it seems so near when it is lit up by the last rays of the setting sun, while all the foreground of the broad Malian plain, and even of Œta, is involved in the deep blue shadow of the eastern twilight. It rises from the east towards heaven in a long, gradually ascending ridge, becoming steeper in the final effort of its climb. Then, the highest summit once attained, it falls sheer down into a valley of misty gloom.



[To face page 261.



[To face page 261.

Immediately east of the Asopos defile the chain of Œta is at its lowest, barely three thousand feet high, and it is over this part of the range that the modern road is carried. The difficulties of passing it do not, however, decrease in proportion to its height, and no military way or path seems to have been practicable at this point.109 Farther east the range rises again into peaks of nearly five thousand feet, faced towards the north by the great cliffs which overhang the pass of Thermopylæ. MT. ŒTA AND THE ASOPOS RAVINE. Here the Malian Gulf and not the plain forms the foreground of the picture, across [261]which, at a distance of eight or nine miles, a white line can be discerned at the base of the cliffs, the great sulphur deposit of the warm springs. This part of the Œta range was known as Kallidromos.

Away beyond Thermopylæ it extends towards the Euripus under the name of Knemis, gradually bending in a more southerly direction down the channel, until it is lost in the distance towards Atalanta. Behind it and above it rises the great grey mass of Parnassus.

This very difficult range is rather turned than pierced by the pass of Thermopylæ, the actual passage through the chain being many miles south of the pass itself.

There is one point with reference to it which is not always recognized. There was and is a second pass110 through it leading direct to the Dorian plain by way of the great ravine of the Asopos, a pass, too, of which the Persian army actually made use after Thermopylæ had been won. It would seem strange at first sight that the Persian generals, when they found Thermopylæ so hard to force, did not nullify the defence of it by marching into Doris this way.

The defile of the Asopos issues abruptly on to the Malian plain some three and a half to four miles west of the Western Gate of Thermopylæ. Its bottom is merely formed of the stony river bed, at first some fifty yards wide, but rapidly contracting, until a little farther up the chasm it is only twelve feet wide between absolutely sheer cliffs from seven to nine hundred feet high. This winding rift in the mountains continues for some three and a half miles from the entrance, and then suddenly broadens out into a wide upland valley, behind the range of Œta, from which there is a long but not difficult passage to the Dorian plain.111 This valley was, no doubt, the land of those Œteans whom Thucydides mentions in his account of the circumstances leading to the foundation of Heraklea Trachinia.

[262]Another important point with regard to this route is, that it was not merely the direct road to Delphi from the north, but the only direct road. As such it must have been in frequent use, and, in the flourishing days of the Delphi-Thermopylæ Amphictyony, of considerable importance. It was, of course, by reason of its very nature, liable to interruption by even a slight rise of the Asopos; and the frequent storms which traverse the Malian plain even in summer render such a possibility perennial. But even so it is a strange thing that in Greek military history it is never used as a means of avoiding direct assault on Thermopylæ.112

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


1. Site of Upper Drakospilia.
2. Mount Kallidromos.
3. Cliffs of West Gate.

[To face page 263.



The true significance of the step which the council at the Isthmus took in deciding to send a land force to Thermopylæ and the fleet to Artemisium can only be appreciated if the intimate strategical connection between the two places be realised. The dual nature of the Persian advance necessitated a dual form of defence. Had the invading force been merely a land army, the defence of [264]the pass of Thermopylæ alone would have been sufficient; but it is evident that the Greeks fully appreciated the uselessness of attempting the defence of that pass, if the Persian fleet were left free to land a large body of troops in rear of it, and so turn the defence. Successful defence of Thermopylæ was then absolutely dependent upon successful defence of the Euripus.



1. Malian Gulf.
2. Mount Othrys (circ. 15 1⁄2 miles).
3. Northern Branch of Euripus.
4. Site of Alpenoi.
5. Hills of North-west Eubœa.


1. Malian Gulf.
2. Mount Othrys.
3. Northern Branch of Euripus.
4. Hills of North-west Eubœa.
5. Euripus.

[To face page 264.


But there were other reasons which pointed not merely to the necessity of defending the Euripus, but of establishing [265]the defence of the channel at the point at which it was established—at Artemisium.

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


1. Mount Othrys.
2. Malian Gulf.
3. Deposit at Mouth of Spercheios.

[To face page 265.

Paus. x. 21.

It was plainly important that the enemy’s fleet should be excluded from the Malian Gulf. The road eastwards from Thermopylæ runs by the side of the Gulf for a long distance after it has issued from the east gate of the pass; and it would have been fatal to the defenders had troops been landed there, since they would have been within short striking distance of the Greek position, and so have rendered any escape by way of the mountain path which leads by the modern Boudenitza to the Phocian plain at Elatea difficult, if not impossible. But there was a further possibility of which the Greek commanders must have been aware, and against which they would have to provide. If it was possible 200 years after this time for the Athenian galleys to sail close in shore and attack the flank of the army of Brennus when it was assailing the narrow part of the pass, there must have been a very much greater possibility of this being done in the year 480. On this rapidly advancing shore that which was done in 279 B.C. with difficulty, and not without danger, must conceivably have been a comparatively easy matter in 480.

There was a further danger to be feared, supposing the northern bend of the strait had been left open. Landing on the north coast of Eubœa, a Persian force might have made its way to Chalets, and so have turned Thermopylæ. In the wars of later Greece this was a measure recognized as possible and actually put in practice by combatants commanding this part of the strait. The Greeks were undoubtedly right in the choice of Artemisium. As a naval station it possessed two further advantages: the strait was comparatively narrow at that point, and, above all, it was within sight of Thermopylæ.

From the hillside above the road through the pass, only 150 feet above the level of the plain, the view extends right down this northern bend of the Euripus. From a point still higher up, some 1600 feet above the road, the whole channel is extended like a map. Signalling from [266]one position to the other by means of the smoke and fire signals then used must have been quite easy, and it would be even possible from this higher position at Thermopylæ to observe the movements of large bodies of ships in the neighbourhood of Artemisium, though, owing to the distance, a single ship would hardly be discernible to the naked eye. It is quite clear that Herodotus was aware of the intimacy of the relation between the two positions.113

The strategic capacity of those who were responsible for the Greek plans in the war of 480 was never more advantageously displayed than in this design of the dual defence of the pass and the strait. Had it been carried out with equal wisdom, or even with more harmonious vigour, Greece might perhaps have been spared the losses and anxiety of the year that followed.

On the general question of Greek strategy let it be remarked at this, the outset of the story of the great events of the war, that it is unquestionably wrong to judge of it on the mere evidence of the direct statements made by Herodotus. What may be derived from him is rarely more than the mere narrative of events as related to him at the time, long subsequent to the events themselves, when he made the collection of material for his history. It is only too easy to imagine that the strategical motives underlying those events, which cannot, even at the time at which they were operative, have been known to many, must have vanished from the popular story, even if they ever had any place in it. It may also be doubted whether Herodotus would have been qualified to appreciate fully such motives had the record of them survived until his own day. What he has given to the world is the popular story of the Persian war, distorted, it may be, at times by imaginative additions, but, in so far as can be seen, drawn in the main from veracious sources. The historian himself wanted to get at the truth about the war. He brought to bear upon his material a certain amount of critical acumen which the extreme simplicity of his language has a tendency to conceal. HERODOTUS AND STRATEGIC QUESTIONS. In military history he seems to [267]have been under the disadvantage of lack of practical experience; and consequently where he makes statements of cause they are often unconvincing, sometimes demonstrably wrong. But he made an honest endeavour to correct such errors as might arise from his own inexperience by visiting the scenes of the great events which he describes. His descriptions of the regions of Thermopylæ and Platæa are undoubtedly those of an eye-witness; Salamis he must, Mykale he may well have seen. He supplies consequently a vast accumulation of reliable facts which make it possible in many cases to reconstruct the design which lay behind them; and by that means it may be seen that the Greek Council of War, in spite of its divisions, in spite of half-hearted compromise of plans, was composed of men, some of whom, at any rate, were quite able to grasp the large strategical considerations involved in a war far greater than any of which they had had experience.

Colour map.


London: John Murray, Albemarle St.
Stanford’s Geogl. Estabt. London.

The general design, then, in accordance with which the Greek forces took up their position at Thermopylæ and Artemisium was in conception admirable. For one of those mysterious reasons which so often recur in Greek history, it was but half executed; and yet, in spite of this, it only just fell short of a great success.114

[268]If any criticism of the Greek plan of holding Thermopylæ is to hold good, it must be based on the existence of the Asopos ravine, which, in spite of the making of the new road, is still used by the natives as a means of communication between the two plains.

Why did not Xerxes make use of this road?

The reasons for his not using it can only be stated conjecturally.

It is quite possible that he never discovered the existence of any sort of road that way until Ephialtes led his men up it to reach the path of the Anopæa. To one standing at the mouth of the ravine, it has all the appearance of a mere torrent bed leading up among the hills.



It is in any case hardly conceivable that any considerable force could make its way through it with the commissariat train which would be its necessary accompaniment. There is only just room for a loaded mule amid the great boulders which block its bed. The Greeks were probably aware of this.

It is also probable that the supplies for the Persian army had run somewhat low. It had executed a march of many days without the possibility of direct communication with the fleet, and the taking of the coast road may have become a necessity. Xerxes may well have expected to be able to re-open communications with the fleet almost immediately. He evidently supposed that it would have no difficulty in forcing the channel of the Euripus.

In failing, then, to take measures for the defence of this ravine, as well as for the passage of Thermopylæ, it is possible that the Greeks were guilty of an error; but it was an error of a minor kind. The excellence of the general plan of adopting the Thermopylæ and Artemisium line is not affected by it.

From the little that is known of those who were responsible for the general conduct of the war, it would [270]seem highly probable that this great design was the work of Themistocles,—a view which is confirmed by Herodotus’ account of the events which happened at Artemisium. This extraordinary man seems, according to the practically unanimous verdict of his own and after times, to have been endowed with unusual capacity, which, in so far as a judgment can now be formed upon the matter, appears to have consisted largely in a most marked and unusual power of insight into the nature of the ruling factor in a great situation. It was combined with an indomitable persistence in attaining the end in view. In the present instance he had to exercise this latter quality to the full.

The fact which stands out with most prominence in the general history of the war of 480–479, is that the Peloponnesian Greeks were ever hankering after the Isthmus as the line of defence against the huge Persian expedition. Not merely one, but apparently several fortified lines had been already begun there.

On the other hand, there existed a party in the Council, composed, it may well be imagined, almost wholly, if not exclusively, of the representatives of Athens on that body, who insisted on the necessity of adopting some stronger line, and one sufficiently far north to save the Northern States from compulsory medism. The advocates of this Northern policy made up for the smallness of their numbers by their vigour and intelligence; but the decisive factor in the situation was the Athenian fleet. The selfish Corinthian trader and the ignorant Peloponnesian farmer were, from sheer inexperience and want of knowledge, utterly impervious to any argument founded on even the most elementary strategic considerations, and do not even appear to have fully recognized what the withdrawal of Athens and her fleet from the defence would have meant to the patriot Greeks. Nothing within their own meagre military experience could have taught them the full significance of the dual nature of the Persian attack. THE PELOPONNESIAN POLICY. Warfare as they understood it meant putting on as much armour as a careful citizen could carry, and meeting a similarly equipped foe on some piece of level ground, where he was [271]either ravaging or being ravaged. It was fortunate for the Greek cause and for the advocates of the Northern policy that the preponderant state in the Peloponnese consisted of a body of soldiers. Stupid and dull of comprehension as the Spartan was when compared with the quick-witted Athenian, yet even he must, from the very circumstances of his life, since he lived for the profession of arms, have acquired an elementary knowledge of the art of war, sufficient to render him a capable judge of strategic questions, where the issue was sufficiently plain. The Spartans were forced at this time into an unwilling recognition of the fact that without the Athenian fleet the defence must collapse; and the Athenians for their part made it perfectly clear that, unless some effort was put forth on behalf of Greece north of the Isthmus, Athenians and Athenian fleet alike would vanish from Greece.

The outcome of this contention of interests was the determination to defend Thermopylæ and Artemisium.

Drawing his history largely from Athenian sources, Herodotus brings the selfishness of the Peloponnesian policy into special prominence. Selfish, indeed, it must have seemed to the Greeks north of the Isthmus, who probably recognized the strikingly defensible character of the line formed by Œta, notwithstanding that their acquaintance with the region north of the Bœotian plain seems to have been of an imperfect character.115

But is it so strange that the Peloponnesian Greeks should have preferred a defensive line which they did know, and in which they believed, to one of which they had but imperfect knowledge? Some of them had just been involved in what they must have regarded as a fiasco,—that expedition to Thessaly.

Herodotus describes the decision to defend Thermopylæ as having been taken immediately after the return from Thessaly. Whether that was the case or not may be doubted. Herodotus himself, in another passage, seems to imply that an interval occurred, at any rate between the [272]decision to defend Thermopylæ and the actual despatch of troops thither. He mentions again the decision, and then describes the despatch of troops from the Isthmus as having been made when the Greeks “heard that the Persian was in Pieria.” Xerxes was at Abydos when the expedition to Thessaly took place.116 It is probable that not a little time was spent in discussing the plan of defence. It is, at any rate, quite plain from Herodotus’ account of Artemisium, that a very large section of the Greeks there present longed to seize upon any excuse for a retreat to the Isthmus. Was it, after all, considering their knowledge at the moment, so selfish a policy to fix the defence at a line in which they had some sort of confidence, rather than at one where the chances of success were impossible of calculation? The game they were playing must have seemed so desperate, that the Peloponnesians may well have conceived it a wiser policy to try, with some hope of success, to save a part of the land, than to attempt to save all, with a prospect of disastrous failure. Selfish consideration of their own special interests would naturally contribute to the formation of their views on the strategical question; but, at the same time, they had what must have seemed to them some very sound general arguments in support of those views.

Herodotus shows quite clearly that there were times throughout the whole period of the war when the contest between the two policies was doubtful; times, too, when it seemed as if the Peloponnesian policy must win the day. That they were all but in equilibrium at the time of Artemisium, is evident. Cf. H. vii. 206, ad init. and Diod. xi. 4. The Northern policy had so far prevailed as to induce the Lacedæmonians to make a plausible effort for the defence of the Northern Greeks, who, if they thought themselves abandoned, would certainly refuse to join in the defence of the Isthmus, and remaining at home, would be forced to medize. UNREALITY OF THE SPARTAN EFFORT. On the other hand, some practical demonstration of the apparent hopelessness of defending Northern Greece, and of the apparent [273]willingness of Sparta to make some sacrifice on their behalf, might conceivably induce them to aid in the defence of the Isthmus.

The tale of Thermopylæ is one of the strangest in the history of the world, as well as one of the most famous. It is not merely that some of the details of that most dramatic story are difficult to understand: the motive of the main plot of the tragedy is obscure. Why was not the defence of the pass a real effort on the part of those Greek states which contributed to it? Of the unreality there can be no doubt. Herodotus’ narrative makes it quite clear; and this is all the more remarkable, as the historian himself is apparently wholly unaware that what he relates will give this particular impression.

Thucydides had no illusions on the subject. In his account of the first congress of the Peloponnesian allies preceding the Peloponnesian war, he puts words into the mouth of the Corinthians which significantly show what view Greece in after-times took of the Spartan action at this period of the war:⁠—

“The Mede, we ourselves know, had time to come from the ends of the earth to Peloponnese, without any force of yours worthy of the name advancing to meet him.”

The troops which were sent to the pass were:⁠—

H. vii. 202.

Peloponnesians: 300 Spartans; 1000 Tegeans and Mantineans; 126 Orchomenians from Arcadia; 1000 from the rest of Arcadia; 400 Corinthians; 200 from Phlius; 30 Mykenæans.

Northern Greeks: 700 Thespians; 400 Thebans; 1000 Phocians; and the whole force of the Opuntian Locrians.

Leaving out of the calculation the indeterminate number of the Opuntian Locrians,—not a very serious deduction either as regards quantity or quality, if the general military history of this people be any criterion,—and adding the light-armed which would be present with the Spartan force, a total of 7300 is arrived at as the sum of the defenders of this all-important passage. Herodotus, whose narrative of Thermopylæ is conspicuously drawn from Lacedæmonian sources, is at considerable pains to [274]emphasize the intention of the Peloponnesians to send reinforcements. H. vii. 203. The Opuntian Locrians are told that the force sent is merely an advance guard, and that “the rest of the allies might be expected any day;” and are further comforted, so Herodotus says, with a piece of philosophy after the historian’s own heart: “The invader of Greece is not divine but human; and there neither is nor will be the man who is not liable to misfortune from the day of his birth; moreover, the greater the man, the greater the misfortune.” This affords an unparalleled example of the effectiveness of proverbial philosophy in war.

H. vii. 206.

“The men with Leonidas the Spartans despatched first, in order that the other allies on seeing them might join in the expedition and not medise, if they heard that they were delaying. They intended later, the Carnean festival being the momentary obstacle, after celebrating the feast and after leaving a garrison in Sparta, to come up en masse with all speed.”

The historian accounts for the delay of the other allies by saying that they were celebrating the Olympian games; and, on the whole question, further adds that the Peloponnesians generally never supposed that the struggle at Thermopylæ would be so quickly brought to a decision. He proceeds:⁠—

“The Greeks at Thermopylæ, when the Persian arrived near the pass, proceeded in their alarm to discuss the question of retreat. The other Peloponnesians thought it best to go to Peloponnesus and guard the Isthmus; but Leonidas, owing to the indignation of the Phocians and Locrians at this proposed policy, decided to remain where he was and to send off messages to the states, ordering them to come to their aid, as the numbers at present with him were not large enough to keep back the army of the Medes.”


It can only be to these messengers, or to some despatched at a later date, H. vii. 230. that Herodotus refers further on in his narrative, where he gives an alternative version of the tale of Eurytos and Aristodemos. With reference to Aristodemos he says:⁠—

“Some say that, when sent as a messenger from the army, he refused to return in time for the battle, though it was possible for [275]him to do so, but saved his life by loitering on the way, whereas his fellow messenger came to the battle and met his death.”

It is possible to assume that the messengers which Leonidas is reported to have sent were the first which he despatched for assistance; and, if so, Aristodemos and Eurytos were either those messengers, or were despatched at a later time. The noticeable point about the tale is that they had time to return for the actual battle. If that be so, reinforcements might have been despatched; and though they might not have found it possible to arrive in time, yet, had they been despatched, that fact would hardly have been omitted from a tale of Spartan origin.117

The general circumstances of the time and the details of the Lacedæmonian story are such as to leave little doubt concerning the real history of the Spartan policy at this particular stage of the war. Sparta was acting under two impulses. She wished, on the one hand, to concentrate the defence at the Isthmus. Her Peloponnesian allies wished the same; and the difficulty of persuading them to any other design must have been very great. On the other hand, there were most important considerations which rendered the complete adoption of this design impossible. The works for the defence of the Isthmus were certainly not complete; and unless the Persian’s course was stayed, could hardly be forward enough to resist his attack. Athens also would not hear of such a policy; and Athens could not be ignored. The Northern States, too, would medize.

And so, distracted by conflicting considerations, among which the incompleteness of the works at the Isthmus cannot have been least, Sparta played a double game. She sent a small contingent of her own troops and of those of her allies to Thermopylæ, representing them to be merely the advance guard of a larger force. She hoped, no doubt, that the Phocians, Locrians, and Bœotians would accept this instalment as surety for the discharge of the whole obligation, and would contribute their share in full [276]without delay. This hope was destined to disappointment. The gangrene of Medism had no doubt spread rapidly after the desertion of Thessaly; and it was not to be checked by half remedies. Even the Opuntian Locrians suspected the genuineness of the effort—a suspicion which, no doubt, the Bœotian and Phocian shared to a still greater degree. The smallness of the contingents which they despatched shows that they were distrustful of the Peloponnesian good faith.

Except the small contingent with Leonidas, not a single member of the Lacedæmonian land army seems to have set foot north of the Isthmus at this time.

It cannot, however, be supposed that Leonidas was deliberately sacrificed. There would be every reason to believe that if the worst did come to the worst, he would be able to withdraw his small force in safety. The Lacedæmonian authorities might reckon that even if the Persian fleet forced the straits and landed men behind the pass, there was a possibility of retreat by the mountain track which led by the site of the modern Boudenitza to the ancient Elatæa. The path of the Anopæa was a factor in the situation of whose existence they were quite unaware when they sent Leonidas to the pass. But, even had it been taken into the original calculation, Herodotus’ version of the events at Thermopylæ subsequent to its capture by the Persians emphasizes the fact that even then escape was possible; and this detail of that part of his story is peculiarly supported by the geography of the region.

The Carnean and Olympian festivals served the Spartans and Peloponnesians with an excuse for doing what they had all along intended to do, viz.—to stay inside the Isthmus. This design accounts for the ever restless desire of their Peloponnesian compatriots at Artemisium to retreat from the Euripus. If they had regarded the effort at Thermopylæ as serious, if they had supposed that their main army might be expected there, would they have continually suggested the desertion of a position whose retention was of vital importance to the defence of Thermopylæ?

In all this drama Leonidas plays an unrehearsed part.



Note.—Thermopylæ Past and Present.

Whatever view may be taken by any one who has visited Thermopylæ regarding the details of the battle as described by Herodotus, there is no reasonable doubt that the author’s exceedingly accurate description of the topography of the district could only proceed from the pen of one who had seen the place, and had examined it with some care. The region which formed the scene of the events connected with the battle is the ground at the foot of the northern slope of Mount Œta, extending from the eastern end of the Trachinian cliffs, that is, from the mouth of the Asopos ravine, for a distance of eight or nine miles, to a point about half a mile beyond what was the east gate of Thermopylæ. There were three “gates” or narrows in the pass, the West, the Middle, and the East, all of which are mentioned by Herodotus. The middle one was that to which the name Thermopylæ was especially applied, as the hot springs are there situated.

If we may judge from the order of Herodotus’ description, it would seen as if his examination of the district was made in the course of a journey from North Greece southwards; for his enumeration of the natural features takes them for the most part in order from west to east. This hypothesis is supported, curiously enough, by the one mistake which he makes as to the topography of the region. He wrote evidently under the impression that the road through the pass ran from north to south, for he describes various features on either side as lying east or west of it (vii. 176). Coming from Lamia across the plain, the road would be due north and south. In those days also it is probable that the bend towards the west gate of the pass was more gradual than at the present day; and the change of direction would not be so noticeable.

Speaking of the region generally, he makes reference to (vii. 198) the ebb and flow of the sea in the Malian gulf. This is connected with the peculiar local tide-phenomenon in the Euripus. At Chalkis, where the channel is contracted to a width that may be measured by feet, the current induced by it is so strong that the Greek steamers have at times to wait several hours before they can get through the narrow passage. At the head of the Malian gulf, where the shore is very low and flat, the phenomenon is peculiarly remarkable, and in making [278]the survey of Thermopylæ it was rather a puzzling feature in the situation, rendering it difficult to fix the exact position of prominent points along the coast.

Herodotus speaks of the Malian plain (vii. 198) as being divided into two parts by the projection of the mountain at either side. The greatest and highest mass of Œta, west of the Trachinian cliffs, extends northwards towards Othrys, and marks off the upper plain of Hypati, the ancient Hypata, from the lower plain of Lamia. The breadth of the plain where it is broadest, [which he states to be at the city of Trachis,] he gives at a figure which has been corrupted in the text. The actual breadth from the exit of the Asopos defile to Lamia is about eight miles, or about four hundred plethra.

His account of the natural features of the district begins outside the limits of the region which formed the scene of operations. The rivers Dyras and Melas may be identified with sufficient certainty under the modern names of Gourgo-potamo and Mavra-neria.

Herodotus now enters upon the description of those features which did have an influence upon the events of 480 B.C. “South of Trachis,” he says (vii. 199), “there is a cleft in the mountain range which shuts in the territory of Trachinia; and the river Asopos, issuing from the cleft, flows for a while along the foot of the hills.”

The Asopos, at the present day, after issuing from the ravine, turns eastwards through an angle of at least 45 degrees, and proceeds for a distance of about two and a half miles in the direction of the north foot of the hills which form the west gate of Thermopylæ. There is a sort of bay in the range between the ravine and the west gate of the pass. Herodotus’ description of it as flowing along the foot of the hills would be applicable to its course at the present day. Its bed, a broad stony channel, thickly sown with bushes of oleander and plane, is one which is liable to alteration; but I could not find any trace or evidence whatever of its having largely diverged from its present course within recent times; and the modern maps of this district which represent the river as running far out into the plain before turning towards Thermopylæ are certainly wrong. No really reliable map of the region as a whole at present exists. The best I have seen is one in Hauvette’s Herodotus; and that contains several palpable errors.


Before reaching the hills at the west gate, the river takes a bend slightly northwards of its former course, and [279]passes the end of this promontory of the range at a distance of about one-third of a mile. After passing underneath the Lamia-Thermopylæ-Atalanta road, it falls into the Spercheios a few hundred yards below the Alamana bridge. Any consideration as to the exact position of its mouth in former times is so much dependent on considerations connected with the Spercheios, that they had better be left until the conjectural former course of that river is described. This may, however, be said:⁠—that the present course of the Asopos seems to resemble to a great extent its course in the time of Herodotus, though it must, in the interval, have passed through many modifications.

Of the Spercheios Herodotus tells us, unfortunately, very little. I venture, however, to think that it entered the gulf in those days at a point farther west than is represented in the modern maps which have conjecturally depicted the state of this region 500 years before Christ.

The description of Herodotus in Chapters 198 and 199 seems to be almost certainly of the nature of a verbal map. He is describing what he saw when travelling along a route from the north; and he begins his description, as it is his intention to describe Thermopylæ, at the Spercheios river. Whether the route he had traversed was that by Thaumaki or that by Thebes in Phthiotis, he must have passed by way of Lamia; for we know from Livy that that town blocked both those roads; in fact, the physical characteristics of the region were such as to render it practically certain that both must have passed that way. His knowledge of Macedonian history and also of the Vale of Tempe and of the sanctuary at Halos render it possible that he saw Thermopylæ in the course of a journey from Macedonia to Greece; he expressly says in Chapter 198 that he is describing the road from the point of view “of a traveller from Achaia.”


His route map of the region seems to have been somewhat as follows:⁠—

Anticyra—Near mouth of Spercheios.
Circ. 2. m. 3 fur. 20 stades.
R. Dyras.
2. m. 3 fur. 20 stades.
R. Melas.
4 1⁄2 fur. 5 stades.
Trachis (doubtful whether on, near, or not near road).
Distance not given.
R. Asopos.
R. Phœnix.
1 m. 6 fur. 15 stades. →Anthele somewhere here.

The fifteen stades from Phœnix river to Thermopylæ is the only one of these distances which we can test at the present day. The fact that it is very fairly correct [281]makes for the presumption that the others are near the truth.


Anticyra seems to have been on the road. Herodotus does not state that it was actually at the mouth of the Spercheios. The muddy, marshy shore of the gulf is not a place where a permanent dwelling would be established.

Rivers Dyras and Melas.

The detail which shows how very far the ancient line of road was up the present plain of the Spercheios is the statement of the distances between that river and the Dyras, and between the latter and the Melas. This last is identified, with all but complete certainty, with the Mavra-neria, or Black-water river. If this be so, the Dyras can be no other than the Gourgo-potamo, (Leake, “Northern Greece,” ii. 25). The fact that these streams were nearly two miles and a half apart at the points where the road crossed them, shows that it must have been necessary to make a great circuit in order to get round the then shore of the gulf and the marshes which no doubt bordered it. The mouth of the Spercheios must in those days have been several miles above the site of the modern bridge of Alamana, which is at the present day at least four or five miles from the present mouth of the river.

Even two hundred years after this time, the mouth of the river must have been at a considerable distance from the west gate of Thermopylæ. Had it been anywhere near the promontory which projects into the plain at that point, the Greek light cavalry force which was watching the river bank must have been cut off from the main army by the body of Gauls whom Brennus sent to cross the mouth of the Spercheios. Infantry might easily make their way over the low hills above this west gate; but I doubt whether cavalry would be able to do so (Paus. x. 20; 7, 8; 21; 1).

The rapidity with which the head of the Malian gulf has been filled up is very striking. This is chiefly due to the main river Spercheios. The amount of solid matter brought down by that stream when the water is high must be very large. The extraordinary length of the promontories formed by the deposit at its mouth shows it to be so. But as far as the plain in the neighbourhood of Thermopylæ is concerned, it seems to me, after examining the ground, quite certain that the little streams which come down from Œta have contributed more than half of the material which has accumulated in the neighbouring plain.

Site of Trachis.

Though not strictly bearing on the events at Thermopylæ, the description of the site of the city of Trachis is [282]of considerable importance from the point of view of the general topography of this region in after-times.

Herodotus tells us that it is five stades, i.e. somewhat more than half a mile from the Melas river. He also says that the plain is broadest at this point, and that the Asopos ravine lies south of the city (H. vii. 199).

Does he mean that Trachis was actually on the road? His language is doubtful; but I venture to think that he does. He is, as we have seen, under the impression that in traversing not merely the plain, but even the pass of Thermopylæ, he was travelling south, whereas, after passing the Melas, he must have been going nearly due east Therefore, when he speaks of the Asopos ravine as being south of Trachis, he means probably that it was the next noticeable point on the journey to Thermopylæ. It would therefore seem probable that the Melas, Trachis, and the Asopos ravine are three points on his road. The road evidently crossed the Melas high up the stream, and the natural way from it to Thermopylæ would be along the firm ground at the foot of the Trachinian cliffs proper. It would thus pass certainly within two hundred yards of the mouth of the ravine. The determinants then in his description of the position of Trachis are (1) the distance from the Melas; (2) the position of the ravine with regard to it, for which we must read “east” for “south.”

Leake’s view, which has largely (e.g. in Stein, Rawlinson, etc.), though not universally prevailed, is that Trachis was identical with the lower part of that Heraklea whose ruins are on the mountain at Sideroporto. To one who has seen this region Leake’s description is very difficult to understand; and in the diary of his journey the time of arrival at various places which he sets down are in certain respects so incomprehensible as to lead to the suspicion that there is something wrong in his calculation.

The diary reads as follows:⁠—

8.15. Coming from Franzi across Gourgo-potamo.
8.25. Alpospata a quarter of a mile on right.
8.32. Near round hill, which looks like site of ancient acropolis; man told L. that it was not so.
8.41. Vardhates half a mile to right.
8.46. Branch of Mavra-neria.
8.52. Foot of Trachinian cliffs.
8.59. Sources of Mavra-neria.
9.03. Catacombs in rocks. (Delay five minutes).
9.08. Start from catacombs.
9.22. Crossed Asopus, half mile below ravine.
9.48. Road to Dhamasta, half a mile to right. Delay three minutes till—
10.04. Beginning of west pass of Thermopylæ.
10.08. Phœnix river.
10.11. Salt spring.
10.20. End of pass: salt spring (i.e. at Turkish barracks).
10.30. Cross torrent of Anthele (sic).
10.40. Beginning of sulphur deposit.

The total result is that Leake did about thirteen and a half miles over a rough and confused track, with, presumably, baggage mules in his train, in two and a quarter hours. I can only say this, that what he took thirty-nine minutes to do (9.22 to 10.04, with three minutes’ delay) took me fifty-five minutes of fast walking on two occasions, the distance being three and a half miles, and the track difficult, for the most part on the stony bed of the Asopos. Nor can I understand how Leake, or any one else, could, between 8.46, or 8.59 and 9.03, get from the Mavra-neria to the place in his map where he indicates the position of the tombs. The statement is quite incomprehensible. Leake’s map is hopelessly incorrect; but that does not wholly explain the difficulty. As to the argument from the tombs, I can only say that the whole face, not merely of the Trachinian cliffs proper, but even of the rocky hillside which lies east of the Asopos ravine, is honeycombed with them. A large number were discovered in the making of the new road. My very strong impression is that Leake has placed the Trachis of Herodotus several miles east of its true site, and that, though it is not far from the Heraklea at Sideroporto, which may or may not have been the Heraklea of the Peloponnesian war, yet that it was not in any sense a lower part of that town. I am disposed to think that the identification of the site with the remains on the steep, flat-topped hill three miles west of Sideroporto, near the hamlet of Konvelo, will, whenever the ruins are excavated, prove to be correct.

Strabo (428) gives the distance between Heraklea and Trachis as six stades. If any reliability be attached to the statement, it can only proceed from the assumption that after the establishment of the hill fortress by Sparta, the population of one of the towns which it was founded [284]to protect either removed itself or was removed to the immediate neighbourhood of its protector.

River Asopos.

The junction of the Asopos with the Spercheios is at the present day, as has been said, a few hundred yards east of the bridge of Alamana, off the west end of the west gate. In Herodotus’ time it entered the sea independently, and it seems from his description as if its mouth must have been near the point where it now joins the main river. In the first place he expressly tells us that the Phœnix river joins it. That river, so called, is to be identified with a little stream which issues from the rocks of the west gate, whose bed is of a ruddy brown colour, owing, no doubt, to its being impregnate with oxide of iron. This fact alone shows that the Asopos mouth must have been at some point off, that is, north of the west gate.

The site of Anthele.

The historian also tells us that it entered the sea near village of Anthele, which he describes as having been between the Phœnix and Thermopylæ proper. Leake in his sketch map places Anthele on the great accumulation of débris which is brought down by the stream which issues from the great ravine just about half a mile west of the hot springs. The site is impossible. This heap is traversed in every direction by ever-shifting branches of the torrent, and anything built upon it would be soon carried away. Such a site, on what is practically a huge stream-bed, would also be excessively malarious. Herodotus describes the situation almost unmistakably when he says (vii 200), “There is a broad piece of land about it in which are the temple of Amphictyonid Demeter, and the seats of the Amphictyons, and a temple of Amphictyon himself.” This must be the fairly level piece of land just inside the west gate, under the old Turkish cavalry barracks. The latter stand at the extremity of a steep-sided shelf which projects from the hill which forms the west gate; and I am strongly inclined to think that one or both of the temples, and the seats of the Amphiktyons, were on this somewhat commanding site, looking down upon Anthele.

The West Gate.

Coming to the actual pass itself, along the line which Herodotus followed, we enter it by the west gate. Herodotus says (vii. 176) that the pass is not narrowest at Thermopylæ itself, i.e. at the middle gate, but before Thermopylæ and behind it, meaning by the latter, as his next words show, the east gate. It will be seen that by using the words “before Thermopylæ,” of the west gate, he again indicates the route by which he visited the pass. THE WEST GATE. “In front,” he [285]says, “by the Phœnix river, near the city of Anthele, is another place where only one waggon at a time can pass.” The road at the present day does not traverse the whole of the west gate. Crossing the bridge of Alamana, it arrives at the actual foot of the cliff at a point somewhat east of the stream which is identified with the Phœnix. In former days, coming from the west it would pass along the whole of the foot of the steep slope or cliff in which this low promontory of Œta ends towards the plain.

The total length of the passage, from the west end to the site of the Turkish barracks, which I am inclined to identify with that of the Amphiktyonid temples, is just under one mile,—about 1670 yards. To the right, or south of the line of road, the hill rises either very steeply, or in the form of a cliff, to a height of between two and three hundred feet; above which the slope is gentle. The total height attained by the promontory is not great, only varying between three and four hundred feet above the level of the plain. The road was in 480 artificially constructed at this point, as is indicated by Herodotus’ use of the word δέδμηται (H. vii. 200). It can only have been a few feet wide. At the present time, the ground between the left or north side of the road and the Spercheios is in winter time marshy throughout; and even in the month of August, 1899, the eastern portion of it, extending from the road to the river, was impassable, though there had been a long drought. In Herodotus’ time it would seem to have been for the most part a marsh between the cliffs and the Asopos river, though it may well be that the sea actually came up to the road towards the east end of the gate. No passage is possible between the road and the modern river; much less can it have been so in B.C. 480.

Leake speaks of the pass as “the false Thermopylæ,” and seems never to have dreamt of its being a possible site of the battle of 480. It would be quite indefensible to any force which was not large enough to occupy and defend the wide, and, to a light-armed man, easy passage of the hills above it. In some of the best known guide books the battle is described as having taken place in this gate. I do not know the authority for this statement. Apart from its indefensibility against superior numbers, Herodotus makes it quite clear that the battle took place near the hot springs in the middle gate.

On issuing from the west gate underneath the old barracks, the land on the right is fairly level, the hill-side retiring somewhat. This is, as I have already said, almost [286]certainly the site of Anthele. On the left of the road the marshy land still continues for a space. But within a few hundred yards the road ascends in the form of a long gradual hill, to descend further in like manner to the great lime and sulphur deposits of the hot springs. This rise in the road is caused by the intervention of a mass of stream débris, which has poured out of a great chasm to the west of the hot springs and has extended far out into the plain. Its magnitude is enormous absolutely, and, relative to the mean magnitude of that torrent which has produced it, astounding. On issuing from the ravine it forms a fan-shaped mass, one mile in length from the chasm to the plain, with an extreme breadth of three quarters of a mile. Its apex is over three hundred feet in perpendicular height above its base. It is formed for the most part of large material, the finer stuff having gone down to form the new land of the plain. This is what Leake calls the plain of Anthele. East of this great chasm this mass of débris is edged by the great face of Kallidromos, which rises almost sheer to a height of three thousand feet above it. The hot springs. The eastern part of this great cliff overhangs the deposit at the hot springs, a white, glistening mass of lime impregnated with sulphur, which covers an area of ground five and a half furlongs in length from east to west, with an average breadth of one furlong; that is to say, about fifty-five acres of land. The hot springs rise in the side of Kallidromos on the edge of the great mass of débris which has been described; and the water from them is carried along an artificial channel, immediately at the foot of the steep side of the mountain, for more than half a mile. The stream first enters the baths, and then turns a mill, which may be called the upper mill; after this it crosses the road and is carried by a solid stone aqueduct to turn a second mill in the plain. The springs are very copious. In the artificial channel the water rushes along rapidly in a stream three feet broad by about eighteen inches deep, and is of that bright clear green which Pausanias describes. The Middle Gate. The original middle gate of the pass was undoubtedly under the steep hill-side between the baths and the upper mill. Herodotus makes that quite clear. Of the mountain overhanging it, he says that it is “untraversable and precipitous, lofty, extending to Œta” (vii. 176). Of the middle gate he says, “Again the entrance to Greece, through Trachis, is at its narrowest point half a plethron in width” (vii. 176). THE MIDDLE GATE. “To the east (really the [287]north) of the road the sea and the marshes begin.” “There are also in this entrance warm baths, which the natives call the caldrons, and an altar of Herakles is built above them. A wall had been built at this passage, and in old days there were gates in it. The Phocians built the wall for fear of the Thessalians when these came from Thesprotis to settle in the Æolid territory which they now possess. In case of the Thessalians attempting to subjugate them the Phocians took this precaution, and at that time they turned the hot water on to the passage, so that deep channels might be formed in the ground, using every device to prevent the Thessalians invading the country. This old wall had been built a long time before, and the greater part of it had fallen down with age” (vii. 176). “This place is called by most of the Greeks Thermopylæ, but by the natives, and by those who dwell in the neighbourhood, Pylæ” (vii. 201). “The Greeks with Leonidas, as though going to meet their fate, now advanced into the broader parts of the neck much more than before. Hitherto they had held their station within the wall, and from this had gone forth to fight where the path was narrowest” (vii. 223). Herodotus says that the Spartans “retreated to the narrow part of the way, and, crossing the wall, came and took up their positions on the mound, all of them in a compact body, except the Thebans. The mound is in the pass where stands the stone lion in honour of Leonidas.” The Three Gates. The fact that this was regarded as “the gates” par excellence is shown by the passage in vii 201. The contour lines of the map of the pass as it is at the present day illustrate in a very remarkable way the description of it given by the ancient historian. The curves of the five-yard contour line are most noticeable. It is at the three gates of the pass as described by Herodotus that it approaches most closely to the hill slope. At the west and east gates it reaches the actual base of the mountain. At the middle gate it all but does so; but the accumulation of matter from the hot springs has somewhat pushed it back.

The old coast-line.

It cannot amount, of course, to more than a rough calculation, but I am disposed to believe that in the cases where stream débris has been pushed forward into the plain, the ten-yard contour, and elsewhere the five-yard contour, represent pretty closely the coast line as it was in the last few centuries before Christ.

In 480 there appears to have been deep water close to the road, for Herodotus in his account of the final attack [288]of the Persians on the pass speaks of many of them falling into the sea and perishing (vii. 223). The truth of this detail is strongly supported by Pausanias’ description (x. 21, 4) of how the Athenian fleet two centuries later attacked the flank of the Gauls when they were assailing the middle gate. I am inclined to think that the deep water must have been at the base of the two mounds which stand at the east end of it. The marshes spoken of (vii. 176) would be those formed at the point where the hot springs reached the shore, probably several hundred yards west of where they now come down to the aqueduct.

The breadth of half a plethron, or fifty feet, is evidently to be applied to that part of the pass which extended from the first mound westward in the direction of the modern baths (vide Plan). South of this the mountain side rises at a very steep angle, and, apart from its steepness, is practically untraversable, owing to the nature of the rock-strewn slope, and the thick brushwood which covers it.

The Phocian Wall.

The question as to the exact position of the Phocian wall is a somewhat difficult one to solve. At the same time, I see strong reason to think that the existing remains of wall foundations on the neck by which the first mound is attached to the mountain side are relics of a wall which, if not identical with, is identical in site with the one which the Phocians built.

Of this wall I noted the following details. The general line of it is distinct. It can be traced seventy or eighty yards south from the summit of the mound along the neck of the ridge, and it seems to have been carried down the north slope of the mound towards what is now the sulphur deposit but which was in former times the sea. The detail of its plan is somewhat indistinct, largely owing to its having been very much cut about in constructing rifle pits for the expected defence of the pass in the recent war with Turkey. It seems to have been planned as a series of angle bastions projecting westwards, connected by curtains a few yards long.

It is from three to three feet six inches thick, and formed of stones, some of which are roughly squared, and have an average dimension of fifteen inches by ten.

The significance of its position will best be understood when the course of the ancient road through this part of the pass is described. There can be no question as to the line of it. Coming from the west across the great mass of débris formed by the stream from the great ravine, it must have passed close to the site of the present baths. [289]THE PHOCIAN WALL. Thence it must have run along the foot of the mountain slope until it reached the point where the first mound projects into the plain. As the sea must at that time have washed the north foot of this mound, the road must have climbed the west slope of it, which is not peculiarly steep, and must have passed over the neck which connects it with the mountain. Hence it would be blocked by this wall, which runs along the neck, and which was probably carried higher up the mountain slope to the south. I could not find any traces of its south end; that is to say, it certainly went farther up the mountain side than I could trace it. I have no reasonable doubt we have here the line, if not the actual remnants, of the wall of 480. The position is a very strong one, such as a small body of men could defend against largely superior numbers.

It seems fairly clear that the Phocians used the water from the hot springs to damage the road between this mound and the modern baths. The stream itself is not, and I do not think can have ever been, of sufficient magnitude to form a serious obstacle in itself. The defence would simply consist in making the narrow passage awkward, if not impossible for cavalry.

This suggested position of the wall accords with the details of the last struggle given in vii. 225. The Greeks fall back from the broader part of the pass (probably near the baths) to the narrow part (between that and the mound). Then they cross the wall and take their position on the mound. Furthermore, the fact mentioned at the end of the chapter, that in the assault on the mound the Persians pulled down the wall, shows pretty clearly where the latter must have been, i.e. on the mound itself.

On this mound certain stone graves have recently been found. I am afraid the discovery was made when the rifle pits were being constructed. I could only get a vague account of their position and none of their contents, if any.

One word of warning. Viewed from the side of the road, the first mound looks like an integral part of the mountain slope, and the existence of the deep little valley which separates it almost completely from Kallidromos can only be ascertained by ascending the mound itself, or by going up the valley between the first and second mounds of which the little valley is a branch.

The line of wall which lies to the north of the present road among the bushes west of the aqueduct to the lower mill has been suggested as a remnant of the Phocian wall. [290]The lime and sulphur deposit upon it, similar to that on the present aqueduct, shows that it carried at one time the stream from the hot springs to a mill which must have existed at its extremity.

The country between the Middle and East Gate.

The distance from the east end of the west gate to the middle gate at the first mound is one mile five furlongs. From the middle gate to the east gate is one mile three furlongs. Adding to this the length of the long passage of the west gate, which is nearly one mile, we find that the total length of the whole pass is four miles. Taking into account the necessary windings of the ancient road, the length of the pass was probably four and a half miles at least to one travelling through it.

After crossing the stream from the hot springs, the modern road is flat for a few hundred yards. At this point it passes on the right a salt spring, which forms a pond beneath the third mound.

After this the road begins a long ascent up the side of another fan-shaped mass of stream débris similar to that found west of the hot springs. In this case, however, the mass is the combined work of a number of small torrents which come down from the mountains and issue on the plain at a short distance from one another. The great line of cliff which overhangs the middle gate now recedes. It continues indeed, but high up the mountain side, and from its base a series of bastions and rounded ridges come down towards the plain, separated from one another by the deep ravines which the streams have cut.

As you ascend the hill on the road you pass, on your immediate right, four more mounds or hillocks. The last, or sixth mound, is at the top of the hill, and is a prominent object when viewed from the hot springs. Shortly after passing it the road begins to descend again; and about half a mile farther on you arrive at what was the east gate of the pass. Here the passage was narrow and short. It was formed by a somewhat lofty projecting ridge of the mountain slope, round the end of which the road passed. The five-yard contour makes a sudden bend inwards at this point. Herodotus tells us that, like the western gate, it afforded passage to but one waggon, and that it was near Alpenos (vii. 176). At the end of the same chapter he speaks of Alpenos as being “very near the road,” and as being the place from which the Greeks reckoned to supply their commissariat. THE EAST GATE AND WALL. Site of Alpenos. I think that the site of Alpenos is to be identified with the remains of a walled acropolis on a hill which stands out into the plain [291]from the ὑπωρέη or lower slope of the mountain, about half a mile beyond the east gate. Between it and the east gate there must have been a bay of the sea, or harbour, to which, no doubt, the Greek provision ships went. Leake places Alpenos quite close to the middle gate (vide his map), but that is quite inconsistent with H. vii. 176. The incomprehensibility of the eastern part of his map of Thermopylæ makes one suspect that either he had never visited the east end of the pass, or, if he had, had done so very hurriedly.

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


1. Kallidromos (1 mile).
2. High Mass of Œta (about 14 miles).
3. West Gate (about 3 3⁄4 miles).

[To face page 290.



1. Site of Alpenoi.
2. Hills of North-west Eubœa.
3. Foot of Wall at East Gate.

[To face page 291.

From the east gate there runs up the ridge towards the high mountain the remains of a remarkable wall (vide map). I cannot find in history any trace or hint of its origin. It was evidently a defence against an enemy advancing from the westward; for the whole way along its west front there is a steep fall in the ground. It goes up the hill for half a mile in a south-west direction, and then, in order to keep along the ridge, it bends through an angle, and may be traced going S.S.E. to a point near the foot of the line of cliffs near the summit of the mountain. It would afford a very strong defensive position to a large force. I am inclined to think that it cannot be a mediæval work, because by mediæval times the sea must have retired from the east gate at its foot. The stones of it are of medium size. I fancy the outside courses were of squared material, while the interior was of unsquared stones set in mortar. Its width seemed to vary from eight to ten feet. The defence of the line of the wall would be a necessary adjunct to the defence of the east gate. It will be seen, therefore, that the latter did not afford a position where small numbers could have faced an enemy in great numerical superiority.

In entering upon the details of Herodotus’ account of the battle of Thermopylæ, it is necessary to bear in mind that it is a story written by a man who was indeed excellent as a topographer, but who seems to have absolutely lacked, in so far as can be seen, that practical or theoretical knowledge of war which alone could have enabled him to judge of the probable truth or falsehood of the various motives of events given in the sources, whether verbal or written, from which he drew his story. Special circumstances in connection with the battle made it more than likely [292]that the real history of it would be officially concealed. The only people who knew the whole story of the events leading up to the great catastrophe were the authorities at Sparta. They can hardly have anticipated a disaster such as actually happened; but, after it had taken place, they had every interest in putting a complexion upon it such as would absolve them, in so far as possible, from blame. The result in Herodotus’ narrative is similar to what we find in other like passages in his history: on the pure question of facts he is reliable; but when he attempts to give the motives lying behind facts, he is only too apt to produce unreliable statements from his sources of information. He must not be judged too hardly in this matter. It is probable that neither he nor any other historian writing after 450 could have arrived at the truth concerning the motives underlying the events of 480. It is not merely a question of the absence of reliable records. He must have been influenced by the view of the past taken by the men of his own day; and there is only too much evidence in history of the extent to which the Greek permitted his imagination to take liberties with facts. The very caution, too, which he displays as an historian is evidently a prominent characteristic of the man,—a characteristic which would almost inevitably lead him to shun a collision with the views of those of his fellow-men with whom he was most intimately connected in life and sentiment. But his silence is sometimes eloquent. In the Thermopylæ narrative he mentions Leonidas’ demand for reinforcements: he states that the intention of sending them existed; but he never hints that even a show of carrying out the intention was ever made. The inadequacy of the reasons which he gives for the omission to send help,—the occurrence of the Carnean and Olympian festivals, and the alleged miscalculation made by the Spartans as to the time at which the Persians would arrive before the pass,—is patent on impartial examination. He himself clearly shows that the Greeks had information as to the movements of the Persian army; for he says that Leonidas was despatched to Thermopylæ “when they heard the Persian was in Pieria.” FACT AND MOTIVE. Leonidas and his band [293]were then in good time. Nor was any such mistake made in despatching the fleet to Artemisium.

And when it is all over, what is the alleged cause of Leonidas’ death? It is represented as an act of self-sacrifice. An oracle had declared that one king must die, that Spartan liberty perish not. And so Leonidas immolated himself on the altar of Patriotism.

This is a motive which would directly appeal to the piety of the historian. But some contemporary sceptic might well have asked why, under the circumstances, the hero of a deed of such splendid self-sacrifice should have thought it right to involve therein the Thespian and Theban contingents. That Leonidas’ act was one of the most glorious recorded in history there is no reason to doubt: the question is as to the motive.

How can the motive be judged of at the present day? Herodotus himself supplies the apparatus of criticism by his narrative of the incidents which occurred at Thermopylæ, which, when statements of motive are excluded, is in nearly every single detail capable of verification on the spot at the present day. The modern world possesses in it a sound basis for an induction of the causes which produced the events. The motives alleged here and in other parts of his history of the Persian War are little more than hypotheses for the verification or disproof of which the genuine honesty of the historian often supplies the means.

H. vii. 201.

Xerxes, on arriving at the Malian plain, pitched his camp in Trachinia, commanding the country as far as Trachis. The Persian encampment would seem to have stretched from the river Melas, or thereabouts, to the entrance of the west gate of the pass. The Greek encampment was in the middle gate, probably behind the first mound, either on the ridge beyond the valley, or on the stream débris over which the modern road passes. The numbers of the Greek army must have been about eight thousand, including the unstated numbers of the Opuntian Locrians. Of these, however, one thousand Phocians were set to guard the path of the Anopæa, more than three thousand feet above the gate. Leonidas was in command. H. vii. 204. Even before [294]the battle brought him undying fame he seems to have been a man whose character excited great admiration. The three hundred men whom he took with him from Sparta were the royal bodyguard, picked men all, and fathers of families, so Herodotus says. The historian evidently implies that in so desperate a venture Leonidas considered it unadvisable to take with him men whose death would blot out their name from the land of the living. Is this detail quite consistent with the presumed intention to send reinforcements? It is possibly a graphic touch added by Spartan tradition after the event.

The Theban contingent was four hundred in number. Herodotus’ account of all relating to it is so full of disputable motives that it has been suggested that he followed a tradition which developed either under the influence of the bitterness of feeling called forth by the attitude of Thebes later on in the war, or of the violent enmity which sprang up between Athens and Thebes in after-time, and which was at its height at the time when Herodotus wrote. He represents Leonidas as taking the Thebans with him under a sort of compulsion, because he suspected them of a tendency to medize. There are several reasons urged for doubting this version of the story of the Theban participation in the campaign.

1. It is doubtful whether Leonidas with so small a force as he had with him could have coerced so powerful a State as Thebes.

Diod. xi. 4.

2. Ephoros says these Thebans were of the party opposed to medism.

3. If they were not, Xerxes committed a gross error of policy in branding their prisoners after Thermopylæ.

Plut. Herod. Mal. 31–33.

4. Plutarch, a Bœotian himself, emphatically denies the truth of Herodotus’ story.

Plutarch’s statements, in brief, are as follows:⁠—

(a.) The fact that Thebes sent five hundred men to Tempe is proof that up to the time of Thermopylæ Thebes supported the Greek cause.

(b.) Leonidas had no suspicions against Thebes. He was treated with special honour there.



(c.) If these Thebans were traitors to the Greek cause, why did Leonidas retain so dangerous an element with him in the last fight at Thermopylæ?

(d.) The chief of the Theban contingent was not Leontiades, but Anaxandros.

The objections to the Herodotean version are by no means decisive in character.

1. As far as coercion is concerned, Thebes had to reckon not merely on Leonidas and his band, but on the whole Greek force at the Isthmus.

2. Ephoros’ story is of later date, but really contributes the strongest piece of evidence adduced against Herodotus.

3. The Theban prisoners had just been fighting against Xerxes in the pass. He was not likely under the circumstances to discriminate them as friends among foes.

4. Plutarch’s evidence, being that of a Bœotian, is liable to suspicion. His evidence, too, taken in detail, is open to criticism.

(a.) Plutarch’s argument is weak, because, as has been seen, the contagion of medism spread in the North for the most part after Tempe, and probably in consequence of the fiasco there.

(b.) There exists no means of judging of the truth or falsehood of his assertions with regard to Leonidas.

(c.) Leonidas’ action is comprehensible on the supposition that he wished to definitely embroil Thebes in the defence against the Persian.

(d.) It is quite possible that the Bœotian Plutarch has discovered a genuine mistake of Herodotus with regard to the name of the Theban commander.

Two theories are possible: either that these Thebans were taken as hostages for their fellow-countrymen’s behaviour; or that they joined the expedition with a patriotism which stood the test of the extremest danger. [296]Perhaps the most telling piece of evidence against them may seem to be the smallness of their contingent when compared with that of the minor town of Thespiæ. But here again the explanation may be that they shared the evident distrust with which the Northern States regarded the Peloponnesian effort at Thermopylæ, and were ready to fulfil their share of the obligation whenever they saw Sparta willing to undertake hers.

The evidence is not of a kind which renders it possible at the present day to decide between the truth of the respective versions. The motives which Herodotus attributes to Leonidas and to the Thebans at this time may not bear the stamp of conclusive truth; but they convey, when examined by the side of the contrary evidence, a stronger impression of truth than of falsehood.

Xerxes’ first measure on taking up his encampment was to send a scout to examine the Greek position.118 He could not see the whole Greek force, because those within the wall were hidden by it.119

Part, however, of the Spartan force was outside the wall, the men being engaged in exercise and in combing their hair. Having ascertained their numbers, the scout returned to Xerxes with his report. His description of what was going on surprised the king, who appealed to the Spartan Demaratos for an explanation. The latter told him that it was the national custom of the Spartans to adorn themselves before facing the danger of death in battle, and warned him that he must expect a stubborn resistance. H. vii. 210. The king, it is said, did not credit this, and allowed four days to pass “expecting ever that they would run away.” Xerxes’ motive for the delay was probably somewhat different from that given by Herodotus. THE FIRST ATTACK. The king thought, no doubt, that his fleet would [297]within a few days force the passage of the Euripus, and that, the position of the Greeks being thus turned, they would have to retreat, and would thus save him the inevitable losses which must result from an attempt to force a pass so strong.

On the fifth day his impatience got the better of him, and he began a fierce assault with his Median and Kissian troops. After the Persians, the Medes enjoyed the greatest reputation in the army. In spite of the disparity of numbers, it was an unequal contest. Numbers were indeed of little avail, the passage being very narrow,—only fifty feet in width—and the Greeks having either flank protected by the mountain and the sea. But it was in respect to actual arms that the disparity was greatest. The Greek hoplite, with his heavy defensive armour and longer spear, was far more than a match for the Mede, who practically lacked defensive armour, and whose weapons of offence were of an inferior character.

The battle lasted all day; H. vii. 211. for when it became clear that the Medes could effect nothing, Xerxes sent his picked Persian troops, the Immortals, to the assault. Even these signally failed to make an impression on the Greek defence.

The excellence of the Lacedæmonian drill and discipline seems to have been remarkable. They employed tactics which very few troops in the world could employ in a narrow space in face of immensely superior numbers:⁠—an advance; then a pretended retreat, to draw the enemy on; and then once more a right-about-face to the attack. The object of this was, no doubt, to keep the enemy at close quarters. Xen. Anab. iii. 3, 9. The one thing they had to fear was that the lighter armed foe should confine himself to an attack with missiles, in which form of fighting they must have suffered severely, without being able to retaliate in adequate fashion.

The attack was repeated next day. The Persians hoped to win the pass by sheer weight of numbers, knowing that they could afford to lose ten men for every one of the enemy whom they placed hors de combat. But again the attack failed.

[298]The king’s position at this time must have been very critical. Neither army nor fleet had forced a passage, nor had they been able to resume touch with one another. They maintained a communication, no doubt, by the coast road running along the north shore of the Malian gulf; but the transport of supplies to the army, whether by that route from the fleet, or from the Thessalian plain by the way of Thaumaki, must have been a work of such difficulty and magnitude that it is hardly possible to believe that it could have been adequately maintained.

The failure to reinforce the garrison at Thermopylæ was the most disastrous mistake which the Greeks made in the course of the war. Even with the ridiculously small force which was sent, the defence came very near being a success. Had an army only half the size of that which fought at Platæa been there, neither pass nor path could ever have been forced, and the fleet at Artemisium, or at least the Peloponnesian section of it, would have fought with a very different spirit to that which it actually displayed. Their stake at Thermopylæ was too small, and their stake at the Isthmus too great to render them aught but vacillating defenders of the channel. Had the stakes been reversed, had the safety of their compatriots at the pass been largely involved, the fleet would have been inspired with unanimous courage. And had it been so, the advance of the Persians, in spite of their superior numbers, might have been definitely checked. It is not probable, judging from the results of the fighting which did actually take place, that either side could have gained a decisive advantage over the other. Though the Greek fleet suffered severely in the final combat, the Persians were not successful in forcing the strait; and to them failure in both strait and pass would have meant failure of the expedition.

Thuc. i. 69.

Men said in Greece in after time that the Persian was the rock on which he himself made shipwreck. That expressed but half the truth. It was true in the sense that the success in the war was not owing to good management on the part of the Greeks. THE PATH OF THE ANOPÆA. It was not true in the sense that the Persian’s mistakes were the main [299]factor in his failure. The main factor was conspicuously the superiority of the Greek weapons in close fighting, a form of combat which the Persian as the assailant could not avoid. It was a lesson which the European Greek took long in learning. Aristagoras the Ionian had pointed it out to Kleomenes when he visited him at Sparta in the first year of the fifth century. And yet it was not until the early years of the next century that the Greeks of Europe came to appreciate to the full the effectiveness of their national panoply as compared with that of the Persian. The incidents of the strange adventure of the 10,000 which Xenophon recorded at last convinced them of the real nature and magnitude of their strength when matched with the great Empire of the East.

By Malian treachery and Phocian cowardice Xerxes was saved from the desperate position in which he found himself after the failure of the two days’ assault on the pass.

The tale runs thus in Herodotus:⁠—

H. vii. 213.

“When the king was now at a loss to know what to do in the circumstances in which he found himself, Epialtes, a Malian, came to speak with him, thinking he would get some great reward from the king, and told him of the path leading through the mountain to Thermopylæ.... H. vii. 215. Xerxes approved of Epialtes’ proposal, and being much pleased thereat, immediately despatched Hydarnes and those he commanded.”

H. vii. 211.

Herodotus says in an earlier chapter that these were the Immortals.

“He started from the camp about the time of the lighting of the lamps. Native Malians discovered this path, and, after doing so, led the Thessalians by it against the Phocians, at the time when the latter, after blocking the pass with a wall, were under cover from attack. Ever since that time the path has been put to an ill use by the Malians. The path is as follows: it begins from that part of the Asopos river which flows through the defile.”120


“The mountains here and the path are both called by the same name, Anopæa. This Anopæa extends along the ridge of the mountain, and debouches at the city of Alpenos, which is the first Locrian town as you come from Malis, and by the stone called Melampygos, and at the seats of the Kerkopes, where it is narrowest. Such is the nature of the path along which the Persians, after crossing the Asopos, marched the whole night long, having the mountains of Œta on their right, and those of Trachis on their left. Day was dawning when they arrived at the summit of the mountain. At this part of the mountain, as I have already shown, a thousand Phocian hoplites were on guard, protecting their own country, and watching the path. For the pass below was guarded by the troops I have mentioned; but the path through the mountains Phocian volunteers undertook to guard for Leonidas. H. vii. 218. It was not until the Persians reached the summit that the Phocians discovered their presence in the following way. Owing to the mountain being covered with oak forest, the Persian ascent had been unobserved. There was no wind, but inasmuch as considerable noise was inevitably made by the trampling of the feet upon the leaves, the Phocians proceeded to run up and put on their armour. The Persians came up immediately. When they saw men putting on their armour they were amazed, for, never expecting that any one would appear and oppose them, they had come upon an army. Hydarnes, then, fearing that the Phocians were Lacedæmonians, questioned Epialtes as to the nature of the force; and on hearing the truth, he drew up the Persians in fighting order. The Phocians, however, assailed by a thick shower of arrows, betook themselves in flight to the peak of the mountain, thinking at first that they were the main object of attack, and prepared to defend themselves to the death. Such was their intention; but the Persians with Epialtes and Hydarnes paid no regard to the Phocians, but proceeded to descend the mountain with all speed.”



1. Mount Saromata.

[To face page 301.

[301]The Path of the Anopæa.

Leake gives what is, in so far as it goes, a fairly accurate description of this path (“Northern Greece,” vol. ii.); but he does not say that he actually traversed it. I am inclined to think that his information was derived from the natives of old Drakospilia, which seems to have been in existence in his time. When at Thermopylæ in July–August, 1899, I was able to traverse the path from beginning to end. On the first day I had no difficulty in tracing that part of it which lies above the actual pass of Thermopylæ. I intended to follow it to its end that day; but, at a monastery on the hills above the plain west of the pass, we got upon a wrong track, leading straight down into the plain about two miles east of the Asopos ravine. On the next day I went up that ravine to try and discover a path, if any, leading eastwards from it. It took an hour and a quarter to pass through the ravine at a fairly fast walk. It is, as I have already mentioned, a magnificent chasm, with perpendicular sides ranging from seven hundred to nine hundred feet in height. Its width, never great, is in one place contracted to twelve feet. Just as we were about to issue upon the great upland valley of which I have before spoken, a small valley opened out on the left of the ravine, i.e. eastward, and up this a path led. I went up the path, which was a rough one and steep, for several miles, until I reached the new main road, high up on the mountain. On the next day I traced the path from that point to near the monastery of the Panagia, whence on the first day we had inadvertently diverged from it. For nine-tenths of the whole distance from the east end of Thermopylæ to the Asopos ravine, it is absolutely certain that this is the original path of the Anopæa, for the very good reason that it traverses the only line which can be traversed in that very difficult country. In the neighbourhood of the monastery the monks have caused new paths to be constructed, and it is therefore not possible to say with certainty which was the original line of the track. In mentioning distances, I can only speak approximately for the latter two-thirds of the road, as I could get but few compass bearings to points in my map, and these were all in the eastern third of the way. I do not think that I have exaggerated the distances given, as I have made allowances for the fact that in traversing an extremely rough track, a large part of which runs through [302]thick forest, distances seem greater than they really are. The scenery throughout is most beautiful, finer, I think, than anything I have seen in Greece. As the track leads through a country inhabited, in so far as it is inhabited at all, by semi-civilized Vlach shepherds, it would be unadvisable to attempt to traverse it, at present, at any rate, save with a fairly large party.

I append a detailed description of the path.

Beginning at the mouth of the Asopos ravine, it goes through that chasm almost to its far extremity, a distance, I should say, of two and three-quarter or three miles. For a man or loaded mule the track is not difficult, and is still greatly used in spite of the making of the new road. The new road involves a terrific climb. The bottom of the ravine ascends but slowly; and it is possible to reach the Dorian plain from its southern extremity without attaining any high elevation.

After passing through this ravine, you begin to ascend a valley whose sides are dotted, if I remember rightly, by a scanty covering of small fir-trees. You ascend this valley in a general direction eastwards, until you emerge, after going from two to two and a half miles, on the new road, at a height of perhaps two thousand feet. Crossing that, you proceed through a more or less wooded country for some two miles, to the monastery of the Panagia, along a very rough track. The monastery is about two thousand to two thousand five hundred feet above the plain. From it a steep ascent begins through low, thick forest on the north side of the ridge of Œta, which at this point rises about one thousand feet above you on the right, i.e. on the south. The forest is largely composed of oak, but there are many fir-trees and some planes. The track is so narrow that you are obliged to walk in single file. About three miles from the monastery, when the height attained cannot be less than three thousand two hundred feet, the forest alters in character, and large fir-trees now predominate, which appear to the non-botanical eye to be what are called Scotch firs.

At one point at this part of the track you emerge on a rocky platform at the top of the rocks marked in my map as the Great Gable. The traveller through the pass can see them from the road, if he looks up the great ravine. They rise a little to the right of the line of the ravine, and are a prominent object against the sky horizon of the high range. THE STATION OF THE PHOCIANS. From this point the track leads southwards to turn the upper part of the chasm of the Great Ravine, [303]at a point several miles from its exit near the hot springs. The view down that ravine, with a foreground of giant firs and plane-trees, the great flat plain of Malis in the middle distance, and the range of Othrys in the background, is of extraordinary magnificence. After descending into the ravine and ascending the far side of it, you arrive at the site of Palaia-Drakospilia, a deserted village. From here you ascend for a short distance through a primæval fir forest, to arrive at an open space on the ridge which runs back from the great hill above the hot springs at Thermopylæ. Half a mile away to the north, i.e. towards the summit above the pass, is an old φρούριον, which evidently guarded the path in former days. There can be little doubt that this is where the Phocians were stationed. It is at the true summit of the path, a height of certainly three thousand two hundred and probably of three thousand five hundred feet. It accords with the little Herodotus tells us of the scene of the surprise, save that the trees hereabouts are not oak, but firs. His mention of the oak-trees may, however, be taken to apply to the oak forest through which you pass before arriving at the Great Gable. From this point the path begins to descend. It is very narrow; often steep and rocky. It goes down an upland valley filled with dense primæval fir forest, between the ridge which rises above the pass, and the main ridge of Œta, which rises to a considerable height on the south, and is known by the name of Saromata. This continues for several miles,—I cannot say how many, but I should think not less than five; probably more, as it took us several hours to traverse the distance. This section of the track ends at Upper Drakospilia, a village visible from the road at Thermopylæ, and some one thousand five hundred feet above the plain. From this place there is at the present day a choice of roads down to the plain. The easier leads down to a point near the east gate of the pass, near the site which I believe to be that of Alpenoi. The other is a steep path descending to the plain at a point about half-way between the middle and east gates.

I reckon that the total distance from the Asopos ravine to the little town of Alpenoi cannot be much less than seventeen miles.

The account given of the seizure of the path is a perfectly comprehensible one. There is no question that, had the Phocians not been caught unprepared, the Persians [304]could never have got through. Numbers would have been of little avail on a track that for the most part allows only the passage of one, or, at most, two men at a time. The fact that the defenders were, from the indications given in Herodotus’ account, caught on what is at the present day practically the only open ground after the monastery of the Panagia is passed, affords but little excuse for them. They had committed an enormous blunder in being taken unprepared; and this blunder was probably made greater by their having deposited their arms in the fort, which is not on the road, but half a mile away from it. Had they had their weapons at hand they could have fallen back on the thick forest to the east of the open space; and, had they done so, it is difficult to conceive how the Persians could possibly have forced a passage. The allegation in Herodotus that they allowed the enemy to pass under the misapprehension that they were themselves the object of attack is probably a mere cloke to a mistake in which cowardice played no small part—an excuse invented by their friends in after-time. H. vii. 217. The Persians seem to have arrived at this point while it was still dark, or at any rate, in the dimness of the dawn. They started about 7.30 in the evening, and must have reached this point before 4.30 next morning. That would give them nine hours in which to accomplish the twelve or thirteen miles from the mouth of the Asopos ravine. This is about the time which they might have been expected to take over a path of the character of that which they had traversed. At this rate of progression they would probably take three hours more at least to arrive at the point from which they would for the first time overlook the pass, the site of what is now Upper Drakospilia. But when they had arrived there, it would take much time for the long straggling column to come up; and it may well have been many hours before they were in a position to venture down the hill into the pass itself. Of the two paths which at the present day descend from Drakospilia to the road, it is most probable that only the easier one, which would lead them down to a point just outside the east gate, existed at that time. A FORLORN HOPE. The other [305]seems to have been created by the needs of the modern Drakospilia for direct communication with Lamia and its district. It is very precipitous, very narrow, and easily capable of defence, whereas the other is not.

So far the tale of Thermopylæ is borne out in the most conspicuous way by the evidence. The remainder of the story, however, presents features which, though in accord with the purely topographical circumstances of the present day, raise problems of peculiar difficulty.

H. vii. 219.

The news that the Persians had discovered the existence of the path, and had despatched a body of men to seize it, was brought to the Greek camp by deserters during the night; its actual seizure seems to have been reported after dawn by scouts, who probably made their way down from the Phocian position by the precipitous mountain slopes east of the middle gate. The tale of what ensued is thus told by Herodotus:⁠—

“On hearing this news, the Greeks consulted together; and their opinions were divided. Some were against deserting the position, others of the opposite view. After this they separated, and some went off, and, dispersing, went each to their several cities, while others prepared to remain where they were with Leonidas. There is another tale to the effect that Leonidas sent them away, in his anxiety to save their lives, telling them, however, that it did not stand with his honour and that of the Spartans present to leave the post they had originally come to guard. I myself am most inclined to think that Leonidas, when he saw that the allies were dispirited and unwilling to share the danger, ordered them to depart, but thought it ignoble to do so himself. For if he remained at his post, a great and glorious name awaited him, and the prosperity of Sparta would not be blotted out.”

H. vii. 220.

The explanation of the last words is given in the tale which Herodotus then proceeds to tell, to the effect that the Pythian oracle had announced to Sparta, quite at the beginning of the war, that either Sparta would be destroyed by the barbarians, or that its king would perish. Herodotus thinks that it was because Leonidas remembered this oracle, and wished to gain glory for the Spartans alone, that he sent the allies away. He is more inclined to [306]believe this than that the allies, owing to a quarrel with him, went after so undisciplined a fashion.

He regards as evidence in favour of this view the fact that Leonidas ordered the seer Megistios, an Acarnanian, who had the previous night warned them of the coming disaster, to depart; which he refused to do.

H. vii. 222.

“The allies, then, who were dismissed, went away and obeyed Leonidas, save the Thespians and Thebans, who alone remained with the Lacedæmonians. Of these the Thebans stayed against their will, and not wishing to do so, for Leonidas kept them in the guise of hostages. The Thespians showed every will to remain, refusing to leave Leonidas and those with him and depart. So they stayed with them and shared their death. Their leader was Demophilos, the son of Diadromos.”

This is a very remarkable incident in the narrative of an episode which is itself undeniably one of the most remarkable in history. It contains but little of that reliable element in Herodotus,—fact; it contains much of the unreliable element,—motive. The facts are plain, and there is no reason to doubt them. The Spartans, Thebans, and Thespians remained and took part in the final struggle; the rest of the allies departed. Who were the latter? By reference to the list of those present in the pass it will be found that they were Tegeans, Mantineans, other Arcadians, Corinthians, Phliasians, Mykenæans Paus. ii. 16, 5; x. 20, 2. (though Pausanias mentions a tradition to the effect that they remained), and the Opuntian Locrians. The calculation can only be an approximate one, but, excluding the Phocians, who were up on the path, and the Opuntian Locrians, whose number we do not know, 3500 remained, and 2800 departed.121 This division is a somewhat significant one.

The central motive in Herodotus’ story is undoubtedly the reported oracle delivered to Sparta “quite early in the war.” It is unfortunate, from the historical point of view, that the tradition assailed the historian on his weakest side. He was incurable in this respect. DIFFICULTIES IN THE NARRATIVE. Even the most [307]glaring cases of oracular dishonesty, to which he could not shut his eyes, such as the tampering of the Alkmæonidæ with the oracle at Delphi in order to bring about the expulsion of the Peisistratidæ, never killed his faith in oracular responses in general. But in cases where, as in the present instance, an oracle came to point a moral and adorn a tale, he completely surrendered his critical faculty. The whole of Herodotus’ narrative hangs by this oracle. He rejects the story that half the army deserted the defence of its own free will, in order, in accordance with his prime motive, to produce a story to the effect that Leonidas dismissed them, knowing that he himself had to make the great act of self-abnegation, and not wishing to involve them therein. And yet Leonidas keeps the Thebans with him, and the Thespians remain of their own free will; and, apparently, he allows them to do so.

If this account be true, what was the position of those three thousand five hundred Greeks who remained to face the Persian attack on front and rear? It is not said that they sacrificed themselves to give their friends time to escape, nor is there the slightest cause to suppose that there was any reason whatever for their doing so. The scouts from the top of the mountain must have been down in the camp at least two hours before the Persians could arrive at the site of Upper Drakospilia; and, even arrived there, the latter could not possibly have descended into the pass before their numbers had gathered. It must have been late in the morning before they came down, and probably past midday before they began to assail the rear of the Greek position. Those who escaped had only a mile and a half to go before they were out of the pass at the east gate; and, once outside, they were in an easy country, over which they could travel rapidly.

Taking the story as it stands, there is no possible strategic motive for remaining to defend the middle gate; there is rather every reason for not doing so. And the men who remained there must have been perfectly aware that by remaining they merely sacrificed their own lives without really contributing anything to the defence of their fatherland. The intense sense of discipline among [308]the Spartans may, in so far as they are concerned, of itself account for an act otherwise inexplicable. But what of the Thebans? Were they likely to allow themselves to be forced to face certain death in a case where none save a sentimental result could be attained, without displaying a feeling such as would make them most undesirable participants in the defence? And the Thespians? They must have amounted to a very large proportion of the total available fighting force of their little town. Were they likely to sacrifice themselves, as has been suggested, in the hope that if the Greek cause prospered, they might become the head of the Bœotian confederacy? How could they hope to attain such a result by deliberately placing seven hundred of their citizens in a position whose only issue was the gate of death? What measure of gratitude could they expect from a people who were responsible for their great betrayal at Thermopylæ?

It is plain that there must have been some reasonable and strong motive which induced the Thespians to remain, and made it possible for the Thebans to be retained with Leonidas. The reason given by Herodotus is inadequate to the last degree. Some other must have existed. It is probable that, as is often the case under such circumstances, part of the true reason is present in some form in the statement of the imagined motives. Two tales existed, so Herodotus says: one that the allies went away; the other that they were sent away. Possibly each of them contained a fraction of the truth. What was the situation on that eventful morning? The news of the Persians having passed the summit came not long after dawn. Leonidas must have known, if he had, as must be supposed, taken any measures to get knowledge of the path, that the Persians could not be in force at Upper Drakospilia, to use the modern name, for some hours after the news reached him; and three thousand men in the tangled forest which begins just outside the village might stop the whole Persian army. He would thus be able to maintain the pass, if he could hold his end of it. DEPARTURE OF HALF THE GREEK ARMY. Is it not possible, then, that he divided his force into what, as has been seen, was, roughly speaking, two halves, and “sent [309]away” the one half to seize the forest path before the Persians had time to debouch from it in any strength? On the question of time it may be said that from the middle gate to Upper Drakospilia is an hour and twenty minutes by the direct but more difficult path, and about twenty minutes longer by the easier path which comes down near the east gate.

It seems an essential factor in the situation that Leonidas believed in and was able to persuade the Thespians and, it may be, the Thebans too, of the possibility of still maintaining the pass. Had the division sent to meet Hydarnes done its duty with energy, it is highly probable, judging from the history of the previous fighting, that the event would have justified his confidence. What happened to that division of two thousand eight hundred men will never be known. It may be that for some reason it arrived too late, and found the Persians in too strong a force at Drakospilia. It may be that it never attempted to carry out the orders, and retreated straightway through the east gate, and so to Elatæa. Probably the latter was the case. Had there been a reasonable excuse for their conduct it would have survived in history. But was there no excuse for their vanishing from the scene? They were face to face with a fearful danger, greater even than the danger which had faced them for a week past, great though that had been. They must have been suffering under a bitter sense of desertion, left to their fate, as it were, by those who sent them from the Isthmus. And who but Sparta was responsible for this? “Had they not done enough?” they may have argued. Were they to blame if, deserted themselves, they deserted others? And who were those “others?” Spartans, men of the race which had wished to sacrifice them; Thebans of suspicious loyalty; Thespians, who were—well, not Peloponnesians. And so they could go off with half a conscience, if not a whole one. Such reasoning would not do them honour; but men, if dishonourably treated themselves, are but too apt, in their bitter resentment, to lose the finer sense of honour.

The story of their shame but half-survived; Herodotus caught some echo of it. Those who lived to tell it had [310]most interest in concealing it. The dead men at Thermopylæ could tell no tales; and the Thebans were too much discredited to obtain credit. There was a conspiracy of silence. The inaction of the Spartan authorities had borne terrible fruit,—far more terrible, it may be believed, than the authorities ever expected it would bear. Leonidas had been deserted and had died with his brave band. It was no good blaming the allies who deserted him, even had it been possible under the circumstances to establish the fact of their desertion. These, too, could have retaliated with a tale which would have brought discredit, or even infamy, on those who were really responsible for the disaster.

Thus it was possible to conceal the truth, and the field was open for invention. It was not difficult to supply a motive for a courage so grand as that which Leonidas had displayed,—the motive of self-sacrifice. That was absolutely the only motive which could account to the world for the extraordinary circumstances of his death; and it had the merit of being true.

He was represented as a victim self-immolated on the altar of his country’s weal. The oracle had said that the king must die for his people. And he did die, but a victim to the dishonour of a country which left him and the brave men with him to their fate.

After the departure of the Peloponnesian allies, the last scene in the tragedy began. H. vii. 223. Herodotus describes it in the simple but beautiful language of a master-artist who seeks to do justice to the grandest story of his time. Xerxes after making libation at sunrise, waited until the time when the Agora is wont to fill, and then began the attack; such being the instructions of Epialtes.122

“For the descent from the mountain is quicker and the distance much shorter, than the way round the hills.”123

Topographical drawing.


Scale 8″ to 1 mile.
1, 2, 3, mark the three positions of the defenders of the Pass.

[To face page 310.





1. The 1st Mound.
2. Upper Mill.
3. Modern Baths.
4. Great Ravine.

[To face page 311.



“So the barbarians under Xerxes advanced; and the Greeks with Leonidas, as though going to meet their death, came out much more into the wider part of the pass than they had done hitherto”124

“Up to this time they had held their station within the wall, and from this had gone out to fight where the path was narrowest.”125

“On this occasion, however, the battle took place outside the narrows, and numbers of the Persians fell. For the commanders standing behind the companies with whips in their hands lashed on every man, continually urging them forward. Many of them fell into the sea and were drowned, and a still larger number were trampled to death; but no one heeded the dying. For as the Greeks knew the fate which awaited them at the hands of those who were making the circuit of the mountain, they displayed with recklessness and fury the most desperate valour against the barbarians.”126

“By that time the spears of most of them were broken, but they slaughtered the Persians with their swords. In this melée fell Leonidas, the bravest of men, and other famous Spartans with [312]him, whose names I found out, for they deserved record; in fact, I discovered the names of all the three hundred.”127

The losses of the Persians were not confined to the rank and file of the army. Many of their prominent men fell, among others two sons of Darius.

“Over the body of Leonidas there was a fierce struggle between the Lacedæmonians and Persians, until the Greeks by their valour rescued it, and drove back the enemy four times. This battle lasted until those with Epialtes came up. When the Greeks heard of their arrival, they changed their plan of defence. For they retreated to the narrow part of the pass-way, and, retiring even behind the cross wall, came and took up their position all in a body, save the Thebans, on the hillock. This hillock is in the pass where now stands the stone lion set up in honour of Leonidas.”128

“In this position, while such as had swords, still defended themselves with them, and even with their hands and teeth, they were buried by the barbarians beneath showers of missiles; some assailed them in front and pulled down the wall; some went round and attacked them on all sides.”

From the tales which Herodotus tells of the personal incidents in connection with the battle, there is but little to be gathered which can be said to contribute to the history of the time.

H. vii. 229.

In the tale of the two men Eurytos and Aristodemos there is a purely incidental detail which is, in its way, of significance. They had been sent away from the camp by Leonidas, and lay at Alpenoi, “in the last stage of ophthalmia.”



1. Second Mound.
2. Little Valley.
3. First Mound.
Sulphur Deposit in foreground.

[To face page 312.



At the present day the reed-cutters in the marsh at the west gate suffer from this disease.

H. vii. 233.

The Theban contingent did not take any part in the last battle on the mound. When the Greeks retreated from the broader part of the pass, the Thebans remained behind and surrendered. It is significant to note that this surrender was made at the time when the Greeks were made aware that the division of Hydarnes was going to attack them in the rear.

It was probably years afterwards, when Herodotus visited the scene of the battle, that he made a copy of the inscription which was engraved on the monument raised on the mound to the memory of the Peloponnesian Greeks who had fallen. Its words summarized, no doubt, the impression which the battle had made on the Greek world as a whole.

Their memory is recorded in the lines:⁠—

“Here, with three hundred myriads, once fought
 Four thousand men of Peloponnese.”

The next lines quoted by Herodotus refer to the Lacedæmonians alone:⁠—

“Stranger, unto the Lacedæmonians tell
 That here we lie obedient to their laws.”

The epitaph of the seer Megistios followed, written by his friend the poet Simonides.

It is remarkable that in the lines recorded by Herodotus there is no mention of the Thespians or other allies who came not from Peloponnese. It seems, however, from what Strabo says, Strabo, 425. that five memorial pillars were erected on the spot, one of which recorded the memory of the Locrians who perished; Anthol. Pal. Append. 94. and an epigram of the Megarian Philiades on the fallen Thespians is also extant, which was very possibly that engraved on one of the stelæ on the mound.

To contemporary Greeks, and to Greeks of after time, Thermopylæ seemed, if not the most important, the most impressive page in the history of the race. It was regarded as an act of pure self-sacrifice, whose splendour was such as to place it outside the range of any logical [314]discussion as to its practical strategic value. The sole motive which was attributed to the gallant band who fought the last fight was a stern, unyielding sense of duty, such as might serve as a pattern to all after-time. There can be no doubt that this popular view had an enormous moral effect. It gave the Greek a higher ideal of his national character at his best; and in the history of any nation any sacrifice which can have that effect is but a small price to pay, even if the purely practical result of the sacrifice be small.

Before attempting any estimate of the real nature of the sacrifice, it will be well to realize how it happened that the Greek world generally came to adopt what was, in certain important respects, a mistaken view of it. Herodotus’ narrative shows clearly the cause of this phenomenon. The circumstances of the disaster were such that the Spartan authorities were left in a position to impress their own explanation on the facts that came to light. Herodotus gives what was, no doubt, the authorized version. Its origin is plain. It is from beginning to end drawn from Lacedæmonian sources. The Spartan is not merely the protagonist in the tragedy; he is practically the only actor who appears on the stage in the final act, except the unfortunate Theban, the villain of the piece. The whole story was calculated to elevate the idea which the Greek world held of the Spartan character. In one sense it had its effect. It is impossible to doubt that from that day forward the Spartans were credited with an heroic courage which knew no yielding. How strong, how thorough, how lasting was this conviction in the Greek mind is shown by the tremendous impression produced more than fifty years later by the surrender of the Spartans on Sphakteria, the desperate nature of the position in which they found themselves failing to save the shock to their national reputation. But is it not strange that the Thespians did not share the reputation? In certain respects the part which they played at Thermopylæ had been even more glorious than that of Leonidas and his men. THE LAST HOURS AT THERMOPYLÆ. The seven hundred citizens by whom they were represented constituted to them an infinitely greater stake in the perilous game than the three [315]hundred Spartans and their attendant Helots did to Sparta.

But in one important respect the official Spartan version failed conspicuously to have the effect which it was doubtless intended to convey. The Greek did not at this or any other time allow his admiration of the national character of the Spartan to warp his judgment with regard to the Spartan government. He was perfectly well aware that the personal bravery of the Spartans in the field stood in strong contrast to the pusillanimity of the policy of their rulers. If he had any illusions on the subject at the beginning of the war, the events of the war itself were strikingly calculated to disillusion him. There can be no possible question as to the personal bravery of the Spartans in every action, whether on land or sea, in so far as pure fighting qualities are concerned; there can be no question as to the greatness of the Spartan contribution to the final result; but Sparta got little credit for the result in after-time.

It is impossible to close this chapter without making some attempt to form an estimate of the mental attitude with which Leonidas faced the situation in which he found himself involved on the morning of the final struggle in the pass. It is necessary, in examining the popular story, to remember that Leonidas’ conduct is not represented as a sacrifice to the stern duty imposed by Spartan discipline, but to one of the alternatives put forward on the authority of an oracular response. There was possibly a tinge of fatalism about the character of the man which lent a colouring to the tale of his death current at the time. He died, so it was said, to save his country, not from actual, but from predicted disaster. If this was the case, it is quite comprehensible that his Spartan bodyguard should be involved in the fate of their master. To them Spartan law and custom made the consequences of desertion worse than death. But, leaving the Theban contingent out of the question, what, under the circumstances, could possibly have induced the Thespians to involve themselves in the fate of one who was sacrificing himself to a prediction which did not concern them? What possible feeling, sentimental or [316]practical, could have prompted them to share the fate of a self-doomed man? That was the weak spot in the Spartan version of Thermopylæ. No attempt was made to explain it. The hypothesis which lay at the root of the story made it inexplicable. Nor does it seem to have struck those who invented this story, that under the theory put forward by them, Leonidas, without any motive whatsoever, deliberately allowed 700 devoted men of a little Bœotian city to share a doom which was his and his alone.

Leonidas died a nobler death than that. It was with the grander courage of reason that he faced the terrible odds against him on that last day of his life.

The fighting of the previous days had shown him the strength of the position which he held at the middle gate. It was a desperate risk; but there was just the possibility that by detaching half his force to stop the encircling body of the foe in the difficult path which they were travelling, he might still be able to maintain the pass, and if he did maintain it he would do his country an inestimable service. It was thus with half his little army that he deliberately chose to face an enemy one hundred times his own numerical strength. He took a risk of whose magnitude he must have been well aware, to win, in case of success, a prize of incalculable greatness. He cannot have deluded himself, he may be pardoned if he deluded his allies—as to the overwhelming nature of the chances against them. He might have retreated. There is an exaggerated tendency to assume that Spartan discipline at this time forbade a commander, under any circumstances, to withdraw from a position once taken up. Artemisium and, above all, Platæa, prove this not to have been the case. He was under no such compulsion. What he did dare to do was to face odds such as men had never faced before and never have faced since, because by so doing he had a possible prospect of conferring a service of enormous value on his country. He did this, too, in spite of that bitter feeling of his countrymen’s desertion which must have been present in his mind. Nor was the nobility of his death marred by a useless sacrifice of the lives of devoted men. ORIGIN OF HERODOTUS’ VERSION. Great as was the risk, the greatness of the end to be attained in case of [317]success justified his associating others with himself in the desperate venture.

I have laid aside this account of Thermopylæ for some months, in order to consider whether any other more reasonable explanation of the circumstances might be drawn from Herodotus’ narrative of facts. I do not, however, see any possibility of arriving at any other conclusion from them, when taken in combination with the topographical evidence, which happens in this case to be very clear. There was certainly a possibility of defending the pass, even after Hydarnes had forced the path. It may have been remote; but it existed all the same.

There were, however, too many people interested in concealing the truth of what happened. The Spartan authorities had good reason for so doing, and the very fact of two wholly different traditions being in existence in Herodotus’ day with regard to the conduct of those who did not remain with Leonidas until the end, shows that the latter were able to exercise a concealment which was in all probability much to their interest to exercise. A not very unreasonable excuse for their conduct might well be that the circumstances on that last day were absolutely desperate, owing to the omission of Sparta to send reinforcements. It would be an ugly tale for the Lacedæmonian Government, and all the more so as the only person who might have denied it with authority had died in the battle.



While the events just described were taking place on land, a somewhat desultory naval warfare was being waged in the channel north of Eubœa, which, though in itself indecisive, was not without influence on the ultimate issue of the war. The defence of the channel had been rightly regarded as an absolutely necessary adjunct to that of the pass; and the resolution to send troops to Thermopylæ had been accompanied by the resolution to send to the North Euripus all the ships available. Even Herodotus recognizes the intimacy of the connection between the two positions. When visiting Thermopylæ he can hardly have failed to notice the relation between them.

Cf. also H. viii. 21.

Speaking of it he says: “These places are near one another, so that the forces stationed at them could communicate with one another.”

H. vii. 175.

Even from a point at Thermopylæ only a hundred and fifty feet above the Malian plain it is possible to see right down this northern channel, and to distinguish in the distance part of the outline of the island of Skiathos.

The historian treats the Artemisium story as an episode in itself, though he supplies means by which it may be chronologically connected with the Thermopylæ narrative. This treatment is justified by the fact that, though there was so intimate a connection between the two positions from a strategical point of view, the actual fighting which occurred at them was of a quite independent character in so far as he could judge of it. But there is also another reason which probably had still greater weight in determining the method which he employed. SPARTAN AND ATHENIAN SOURCES. The story of [319]Thermopylæ is plainly of Spartan origin from beginning to end; that of Artemisium is drawn from Athenian sources. There is a further difference between them. The story of Thermopylæ is, in respect to motive, a popularized tale of official origin, for which the authorities at Sparta were responsible. That of Artemisium is derived mainly, like some other parts of Herodotus’ military history, from some one who was present at the engagements, but was not in a position to know the designs of those in command. The tale is too confused for it to be possible to suppose that it is founded largely on official documents or on official information of any kind. The reasons given for important movements are such as would be current in the gossip of the fleet, coloured by the evident intention to bring into high relief the greatness of the service which Athens did to the Greek cause at this time by saving the situation on the Euripus. The impression which is so intentionally given was not indeed a false one. The Athenians did save the situation at Artemisium in so far as it could be saved. By so doing they contributed not a little to the solidarity of the Greek resistance.

The method which Herodotus employed to bring the two series of events into connection with one another is natural; but the result is curious. His narrative of this part of the war is in the form of a twofold diary of the incidents at Thermopylæ and at Artemisium respectively. There are two points of contact between the two diaries—at their beginning, the departure from Therma, and at their end, the disaster at Thermopylæ. It is notable, however, that there is a discrepancy of two days between them. It is probable that two days have somehow been omitted from the Artemisium diary. A close examination of its narrative makes it evident that the historian, either owing to his own miscalculation, or to some error in his source of information, has attributed to one period of twenty-four hours events which could not conceivably have happened within so brief a space of time. That it is a case of pure miscalculation, either on his own part or on that of his authority, H. viii. 15. is further evident from his own statement that the naval battles at Artemisium took[320] place on the same days as the battles in the pass at Thermopylæ; in other words, that the events of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth days of the Thermopylæ narrative were synchronous with those of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth days in the record of the Artemisium journal as it stands in his work.129

H. viii. 1.

The fleet which the Greeks despatched to Artemisium was a large one, composed of the following contingents:⁠—

Athenians, 127 triremes, part of the crews of which were Platæans; Corinthians, 40 triremes; Megareans, 20 triremes; Chalkidians, (probably Athenian kleruchs from Chalkis,) manned 20 triremes provided by Athens; Æginetans, 18 triremes; Sikyonians, 12 triremes; Lacedæmonians, 10 triremes; Epidaurians, 8 triremes; Eretrians, 7 triremes; Trœzenians, 5 triremes; Styreans, 2 triremes; Keians, 2 triremes and 2 pentekonters: Opuntian Locrians, 7 pentekonters.

The total number Herodotus gives correctly as 271. The commander of the fleet was the Spartan Eurybiades. ATHENS AND ATHENIAN SOURCES. The story goes that, before the embassy was sent to Sicily, it had been arranged that Athens should have [321]the supreme command at sea, but that the Peloponnesian allies opposed this arrangement even to the extent that they threatened to withdraw their contingent altogether if it were allowed to stand. And so, says Herodotus, the Athenians, unwilling to sacrifice the national cause, with a laudable patriotism waived their claim. The refusal of the Peloponnesians was not unnatural. It was one thing to submit to the hegemony of the ancient and respectable Sparta; it was another thing to place themselves under the leadership of this pushing parvenu state, whose rise to importance had been so extremely rapid. On the other hand, the magnanimous attitude of Athens was based, no doubt, on the simple arithmetical calculation that 270 ships were better than 150. Herodotus implies that there had been a change in the attitude of the allies. The profound dissatisfaction which they felt with the Northern policy may easily account for this. At the time of the embassy to Sicily the question of the locality of the defence had probably not been raised in a highly controversial form.

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


1. Mount Dirphys (Delph).

[To face page 321.

In this part of the Artemisium narrative the Athenian bias is as strongly marked as elsewhere: it contrasts, however, with the major portion of the story in the fact that it seems to rest upon an official basis. The details of the numbers of the various contingents, and the correct sum-total of the whole,—a trait lacking at times in Herodotus’ history,—render it unlikely that the information can have been derived from mere tradition, or from personal recollection.

12th day.

The fleet of Xerxes remained at Therma for twelve days after the army had departed. It had now the most difficult and dangerous part of its voyage to perform. From Therma to the Pagasætic Gulf there is no harbour into which it could put; and it is probable that the intention was to perform the passage in one continuous stretch.

H. vii. 179.

The fast-sailing vessels were sent forward as scouts towards the island Skiathos, which lies off the mouth of the Euripus. H. vii. 179. These vessels came across three Greek ships, Trœzenian, Æginetan, and Attic vessels respectively, engaged in a similar duty off the mouth of the [322]Peneius river. H. vii. 182. When the Persian vessels came into sight, the Greek ships fled. Not merely were they outnumbered, but also up to this time the Greeks had had no experience which could give them confidence in their own naval equipment when matched against that of the Persian. H. vii. 180, 181. The Trœzenian and Æginetan vessels were taken with their crews; the Athenian ship was run aground at the mouth of the Peneius. Those aboard her escaped to shore, and finally, after what must have been an adventurous journey, made their way to Athens. H. vii. 179. 183. Apparently on the same day, the main body of the fleet left Therma, and, after sailing the whole day through, “arrived at Sepias and the strand between the city of Kasthanea and the Sepiad Cape, in Magnesia.”

H. vii. 182.

On this day the Athenian fleet was at Artemisium. The promontory of that name, crowned by the temple of Artemis, was the north-east point of the island of Eubœa. The actual station of the fleet must have been at least ten miles from the promontory, well within the strait, at a point west of the mouth of the Pagasætic Gulf, where the fair way is much narrower than in the outer part of the channel. H. vii. 176. The name “Artemisian shore” seems to have been applicable to this part of the coast of Eubœa, as well as to the immediate neighbourhood of the promontory.

The capture of the Greek outlook vessels was reported to the Greek fleet at Artemisium by means of fire signals from Skiathos.130

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


1. Venetian Castle, now destroyed.

[To face page 323.

H. vii. 182.

The possibilities of the case preclude the supposition [323]that the Greek fleet received the news sufficiently early for them to move from Artemisium on that day. It therefore becomes a serious historical question as to what interpretation is to be put upon the account which Herodotus gives of the next step taken by the fleet. He says, “On hearing this news the Greeks were frightened, and removed from their anchorage at Artemisium to Chalkis, with intent to guard the Euripus, leaving watchers posted on the heights of Eubœa.”

There are almost overwhelming reasons for doubting the truth of the motives of this story; though, as is so often the case in Herodotus’ narrative, the facts appear to be true. It is probable that the Greek fleet did move towards, if not to, Chalkis, and that watchers were posted on the heights of Eubœa. But the reason given for this change of station is that the Greeks were panic-stricken at the capture of their three scouting vessels. This reason is inadequate and incredible.

  1. The Greeks had made up their minds to face the Persians at Artemisium. Is it credible that so small a disaster should have led to the adoption of a resolution, the effect of which, under the circumstances, must have deranged the whole plan of campaign?

  2. If such a panic had taken place for a reason so insignificant, is it probable that any human power could have induced the Greeks to return a few days later to their former station?

  3. Is it credible that they should have retreated without warning the garrison at Thermopylæ which would in that case have been sacrificed?

  4. If that garrison had been warned, would it not have retreated from that advanced post in the same way that the army had withdrawn from Tempe?

  5. It is extremely unlikely that the withdrawal was made at night. It is almost certain that it must have been made on the morning after the news had been received, by which time the storm which burst upon the Persian fleet at the Sepiad strand had already begun.

  6. [324]The motive alleged is in the highest degree suspicious, because all through the narrative the services of the Athenians in keeping the fleet at Artemisium are emphasized in the most marked manner.

It is probable that the motive given is a pure fabrication invented at Athens and current at Athens in after-time. It is also probable that the real reason for the withdrawal of the Greek fleet was the impossibility of remaining in the North Euripus during the storm. Such storms spring up with astonishing suddenness in these seas, and give little or no warning of their approach; and it is probable that the Greek fleet, caught unprepared, had to run for it to the inner strait, where, once round the corner of Eubœa, it would be sheltered by the mountains which form the great precipices on the Euripus north of Chalkis. Whether it went to Chalkis or not, it is, of course, impossible to say. It is probable it did not do so, for Mount Kandili131 ceases before Chalkis is reached, and the narrow part of the Strait is exposed to the east and north-east. There is no difficulty in identifying the nature of the storm. It blew on shore on the Sepiad strand, and therefore must have been one of those E.N.E. gales from the Black Sea, which are the most violent and most dangerous of the storm winds of the Ægean. They may occur at any time of year. Such a storm would blow right down the north bend of the Euripus.

The army at Thermopylæ must have known of the retirement of the fleet; but it must have known also that there was every intention of returning to the former station so soon as the weather allowed. For that reason it held its ground.

The adventures of the ten Persian ships did not end with their capture of the Athenian vessels. Three of them came to grief on the rock called Murmex, which is in the fairway just at the entrance of the channel.


On the evening of the twelfth day of the journal the position appears to be as follows: the Greek fleet was at Artemisium; the Persian at the Sepiad strand outside the strait; the Persian scouting vessels, or, rather, the seven [325]survivors of them, H. vii. 183. were probably engaged in erecting a pillar on the Murmex rock as a danger mark to the rest of the fleet.

The Sepiad shore was not sufficiently extensive for it to be possible to draw up the whole of the Persian fleet upon it. A large number of the vessels were obliged to remain at anchor, with their bows facing seawards, in eight lines. 13th day. These were surprised at dawn by the storm. It arose suddenly, the sea having previously been quite calm. The wind was from the east or E.N.E., known in that region as the “Hellespontian wind,” not less known, nor less obnoxious to sailors at the present day than it was in the days of Herodotus. The destruction wrought in the fleet was enormous. Four hundred warships and an unknown number of transports are said to have perished. The numbers are no doubt greatly exaggerated; but the loss relatively to the size of the fleet seems to have been very considerable. Such were the events of the thirteenth day at the Sepiad strand. The Greek fleet, driven from the North Euripus on that morning by the storm, took refuge in the inner channel,—“at Chalkis,”—so says Herodotus.132

14th day. 15th day.

The storm lasted during the fourteenth and fifteenth days, the fleets remaining at their respective stations.

16th day.

The events of the sixteenth day are of special importance. They are crowded together in the narrative in a way that raises the suspicion that the chronological error in the story is to be sought in this part of it.

H. vii. 192.

The storm had come to an end on the fourth day; but on the day following its commencement the Greeks received news of the disaster at the Sepiad strand from the watchers posted on the heights of the Eubœa.

14th day.

“When the Greeks heard this, after offering prayer to their preserver Poseidon, and pouring libation, they hastened straightway to Artemisium, hoping that but few ships would oppose them.” There is manifestly some mistake [326]here. The Greek fleet could not possibly have made its way back to Artemisium in the face of the storm. 16th day. It must have waited until the storm had blown itself out; that is to say, it could not have returned to its former station until the sixteenth day. The tale as it stands supplies a motive for the return of the fleet such as will fit in with the main motive of the story.

H. vii. 193.

“They came for a second time to Artemisium and took up their station there, and from that day to this have been accustomed to address Poseidon by the name of ‘saviour’ then given to him. The barbarian, when the wind dropped and the sea went down, dragged the vessels down into the water and sailed along the coast round the cape of Magnesia, into the gulf leading to Pagasæ. There is a place in this Gulf of Magnesia where it is said that Herakles was left by Jason and his comrades when he had been sent from the Argo to fetch water, when they were sailing to Aias in Colchis after the golden fleece; for their intention was, after watering there, to put out to sea. From this circumstance the place got its name of Aphetæ. Here the fleet of Xerxes came to anchor.”

It is fairly clear from the description that Aphetæ must have been situated at the extremity of the long curved peninsula which extends west from the south end of Magnesia, enclosing the Pagasætic Gulf on the south.

The only other event which can be reasonably ascribed to this sixteenth day is the capture by the Greek fleet of fifteen Persian vessels which were belated in starting for Aphetæ. It is not difficult to demonstrate, on Herodotus’ own showing, that their capture cannot have taken place until well on in the afternoon.

The tale is as follows:

H. vii. 194.

“Fifteen of these ships (the Persian) had put out much later, and in some way or other caught sight of the Greek vessels at Artemisium. The barbarians thought they were their own ships, and sailed into the hands of their enemies.”

H. vii. 191, ad fin.

The storm had not ceased until that very morning. It is quite certain that the battered Persian fleet must have [327]required some hours of preparation before it could put out from the Sepiad strand; and it did not reach Aphetæ until the early afternoon. The fifteen vessels must have come up some hours later, well on in the afternoon, since the main fleet had evidently disappeared into the Pagasætic Gulf before they entered the channel; otherwise they could not have made the mistake they did make. The story of their capture shows that on the afternoon of that day the Greek fleet was already back at Artemisium. Had it come up from Chalkis that morning? It is not impossible that it should have done so; but it is improbable.133

H. vii. 196.

“So the Persian fleet, with the exception of the fifteen vessels which, as I have said, Sandokes commanded, came to Aphetæ.”

The composite character of the sources of the historian’s narrative is well illustrated by the next episode in the strange story. It is of the nature of a by-plot in the drama inserted with a view to illustrate not merely the services of the Athenians in saving the situation, but also the twofold character of the man who now becomes for the first time prominent in the story. H. viii 4. In brief the tale is that the fleet, after returning to Artemisium, discovered that the disaster at the Sepiad strand had by no means been so great as had been imagined. So alarmed were the Greeks at this, that “they discussed whether they should retreat from Artemisium to Middle Greece.” The Eubœans, who thus saw themselves likely to be suddenly deserted without the possibility of providing for [328]the safety of their children and households, implored Eurybiades to allow them time to remove them to a place of security. Finding they could make no impression upon him, they resorted to Themistocles, to whom they offered a bribe of thirty talents, if he would take measures to keep the fleet where it was. Themistocles undertook to do so, and proceeded to bribe Eurybiades with a gift of five talents, and Adeimantos, the Corinthian admiral, with three talents.

The tale excites the strongest suspicion of having been an invention of after-time, concocted by political opponents of Themistocles. Herodotus’ whole attitude to Themistocles is suspicious. He is quite unable to suppress the greatness of the services which he rendered to the Greek cause; but he is ever ready to discount the value of those services either by tales discreditable to the personal character of the man who rendered them, H. vii. 144. or by attributing to him motives other than those which really prompted his action.

Nor do the details of the story, when taken into consideration, tend to make it appear more probable. No doubt the Peloponnesian members of the fleet seized every possible occasion for urging such a withdrawal. It must have been known to them that the force sent to Thermopylæ did not represent any real effort on their part. It could hardly be expected that they should display any large amount of zeal in carrying out a policy of which they wholly disapproved, and in the execution of which their own authorities were so manifestly half-hearted. They knew that, if they left Artemisium, the army must leave Thermopylæ; and they were no doubt convinced that that was the very best thing which could possibly happen. But on the practical question of withdrawal, other considerations must have influenced those in command. Unless the retreat from Thermopylæ were begun many hours before the withdrawal of the fleet, the army must be caught in a trap. With a light-armed enemy in vastly superior numbers in hot pursuit, the retreat could not have been rapid, and the Persian fleet would have had ample time to land troops in such a position as would make it possible to cut the line of it.



There is no trace whatever in the Thermopylæ story of a message having been received from the fleet advising the garrison of its intended withdrawal. That may be attributed to the incompleteness of the story itself. This explanation, however, can hardly be considered satisfactory in view of the fact that, had anything of the kind occurred, such an incident would hardly have been omitted from a version the main object of which was to depict the disaster as an act of deliberate self-sacrifice on the part of Leonidas.

The decisive factor in the situation was that, bribed or not, Eurybiades and Adeimantos could not possibly leave the Thermopylæ garrison in the lurch.134 The real significance in this, as in the other similar stories in Herodotus relating to this time, is that it brings into relief the existence of a strong party within the fleet which was wholly opposed to the Northern policy. It also for the first time indicates the part which Corinth seems’ to have played in the war as the leader of this party of opposition to the Athenian policy. Thus far it is reliable. The rest of the tale is, as has been said, suspicious to the last degree,—suspicious, in what may be called its local colouring,—suspicious, owing to the appalling recklessness of the assertions which Greek politicians did not hesitate to make respecting their political opponents.

Diod. xi. 12.

Diodorus’ version of Artemisium presents so many marked differences to that of Herodotus, that it is impossible to suppose that it is either drawn from Herodotus, or even derived from a common source. There is absolutely no hint of bribery in it, nor, indeed, is there any reference to the restiveness of the Peloponnesian contingent. What is emphasized is the fact that Themistocles’ personal influence in the fleet, and especially with Eurybiades, was very great, and that he was the de facto commander. There is no tendency to belittle the services of Athens, though her claims to merit are put upon a different basis.

[330] It is probable, then, that the Greek fleet, after its return to Artemisium on that sixteenth day, did not face the situation with a unanimous determination to make a stubborn fight of it. It would have been surprising had unanimity prevailed, since the circumstances as they stood, and as they were intended to stand, at Thermopylæ cannot possibly have been a secret to members of the Peloponnesian contingents. Still, so long as Leonidas remained there, the strait had to be defended.

The Persians at Aphetæ were animated by very different feelings. H. viii. 6. The Greek fleet was not to be defeated merely, but to be captured. 17th day. It was determined to despatch a large squadron, H. viii. 7. two hundred in number, to circumnavigate Eubœa, and to block the South Euripus.135

Exaggerated as are the numbers given in Herodotus, the mere fact that the Persian commanders ventured thus to divide their fleet in face of an enemy with 271 ships, together with the comparative ill-success with which the Greeks fought with that part of the fleet which remained at Aphetæ, shows that the Persians must, even after the disaster on the Sepiad strand, have had a very large number of vessels at their disposal.

Herodotus does not say, but he certainly implies, H. viii. 7. ad fin. that this flying squadron was despatched on the very day of the arrival at Aphetæ. It is not necessary to insist that this was, under the circumstances, hardly possible. The fleet had been terribly knocked about by the storm. The storm itself had only ceased that very morning. There had been no time to refit before leaving for Aphetæ; and the fleet had only reached that anchorage early in the afternoon of that sixteenth day. H. viii. 7, ad init. These two hundred vessels, moreover, were evidently despatched by daylight.136


It is here, no doubt, that one of those missing days has been omitted from Herodotus’ narrative of Artemisium. [331]The despatch of the squadron round Eubœa must have taken place on the morning of the seventeenth day.

The one fear of the Persians at this time was that the Greek fleet would run away. They, consequently, adopted the stratagem of sending the squadron of two hundred vessels by the channel north of Skiathos, so as to give the impression that it was sailing to Therma or elsewhere. It was an effective manœuvre, because the island completely fills in the sea horizon of the mouth of the channel.

H. viii. 7. 18th day.

On the next day137 they reviewed their fleet at Aphetæ, but otherwise lay quiet, intending to wait for news of the encircling squadron.

Of the destination of the two hundred the Greeks do not appear to have had any suspicion whatever, until Skyllias the diver, deserting the Persian fleet, made his way across the strait and gave them information. The utter confusion of this part of the Artemisium story renders it very difficult to arrive at anything resembling a certain conclusion as to what actually took place in consequence of the receipt of this news. It is hardly conceivable that those in command of the Greek fleet should have been quite unprepared for the eventuality of a squadron being sent round to intercept their retreat by Chalkis. There is no direct evidence on this point; the slight evidence which does exist is of a circumstantial character. H. viii. 14. After describing the disaster which overtook the two hundred vessels, Herodotus says that the news of it was brought to the fleet at Artemisium by a squadron of fifty-three Attic vessels, or, at any rate,—for his language is not quite explicit,—that the news arrived with that squadron. This is the first mention of this body of ships. It seems highly probable that it had been at Chalkis, guarding the narrow passage there, and that, on receiving news of the disaster to the Persian flying squadron, it went to join the rest of the fleet at Artemisium.

The escape of Skyllias is asserted to have been made during the review, and the consultation among the Greeks [332]as to what course they must adopt in consequence of his information was held on the day of the first engagement.138

Herodotus reports that they determined to remain where they were for that day and the greater part of the following night, and then, after midnight, to go and meet the ships coming up through the south channel. It is quite intelligible that, if the Greeks had not provided for the defence of the narrows at Chalkis, their position was such as to cause alarm, and to demand desperate measures.

But the probability is that there never was any intention on the part of the Greek commanders to leave the station at Artemisium until some blow had been inflicted on the fleet at Aphetæ.139

The Attic vessels were probably guarding the strait, which at Chalkis was so narrow as to be easily defensible. Under no circumstances could the fleet at Aphetæ have been left free to land troops behind Thermopylæ.140



The subsequent action of the Greek commanders is in accord with such a situation and such a design. They had not hitherto ventured to attack the Persian. They were now forced to do so. Not until the fleet at Aphetæ had been rendered incapable of making a movement down the Euripus could the Greek fleet venture to meet the danger from the south. And so the first attack took place that very night. Herodotus’ account of the action is a curious one,—that of a man who had heard talk of certain naval technicalities without understanding them. These very Greeks, who have been described as having, a few days before, fled to Chalkis in consequence of the capture of three of their vessels, and as having contemplated flight to mid Greece at the mere sight of the Persian fleet, are now represented as making a quasi-experimental attack on the foe they so much dreaded, from motives of purely professional interest. “They wished to make trial of the Persian mode of fighting, and to practise the manœuvre of cutting the line.” 141

[334]From the point of view of military history, the account of the first engagement, as given by Diodorus, conveys a much stronger impression of accuracy than that of Herodotus. H. xi. 12. Both represent the Greeks as the attacking party; but Diodorus gives an excellent tactical motive for their taking the offensive. A council of war being held, all the commanders save Themistocles were in favour of remaining on the defensive. He, however, persuaded them to adopt his plan of the offensive by pointing out to them the advantage they would enjoy as the attacking party, in that they, with their whole force prepared for battle, would be able to choose their own time for attack, and must take unawares an enemy whose fleet was not concentrated at one anchorage.

This account is strongly supported by the fact that there is no single harbour at that extremity of the Magnesian peninsula which could accommodate more than a fraction of the Persian fleet, so that it would necessarily be distributed over a considerable extent of coast-line.

On the general course of the engagement the two accounts are in agreement. The Greeks, as might be expected, gained at first some considerable success;—Herodotus says they took thirty ships; but, when the whole of the enemy’s fleet had collected, the combat became obstinate and indecisive, until the fall of night put an end to it.

H. viii. 12.

It was on the evening of this day that the second of those storms took place which were destined to be so fatal to the Persian fleet. STORM AT THE HOLLOWS OF EUBŒA. The quarter from which it came is not expressly stated by Herodotus; but his accounts of its effects on the north and south of Eubœa respectively leave no doubt that it was a gale from the south or [335]S.S.W.142 At Aphetæ it caused considerable alarm but little damage, the only effect being that the wreckage from the battle of the afternoon was thrust in upon the Persian fleet.

In the South Euripus there was a very different tale to tell. The Persian flying squadron, which had started from Aphetæ the day before, appears to have been caught by the gale immediately after it had rounded the southern Cape of Eubœa.143 The result was a disaster hardly less great than that which had happened at the Sepiad strand. The whole two hundred were driven into those bays at the south end of the west coast of Eubœa, which the ancients knew under the name of the “Hollows.” Not a ship escaped. The destruction was complete.144

The effect of this disaster on the general course of the war can hardly be over-estimated. It was not merely that [336]the numerical loss was great, but the position of the fleet at Artemisium must have become exceedingly critical, had this squadron occupied the channel south of Chalkis. Under such circumstances it is probable that the decisive battle of the naval campaign would have been fought near that place.145

19th day.

It was probably early in the night of the eighteenth day that the disaster at the Hollows took place. The report of it was promptly carried to Chalkis, at which place the fifty-three Attic vessels must have ridden out the storm, since a gale from the south raises a very ugly sea in the broader parts of the Euripus. It is evident that the Greeks had established a regular signalling system on this coast; and it is probable that it was by this means that the news reached the squadron at Chalkis, which immediately started for Artemisium. H. viii. 14. Herodotus’ language leaves it a somewhat open question as to whether these ships brought the news to the fleet. All that is actually stated is that the news arrived at Artemisium about the same time as the fifty-three.

The Persian fleet, ignorant, no doubt, of the disaster in South Eubœa, intended to bide quiet until some report of the two hundred reached it. For the earlier part of the day it remained undisturbed. The Greeks had probably found out to their dismay on the previous evening that they were not strong enough to tackle the naval force which remained at Aphetæ with any hope of decisive success. H. viii. 14. But the arrival of the fifty-three Attic vessels, which can hardly have taken place before midday, put new heart into them; and that afternoon they attacked the Cilician contingent of the Persian fleet, inflicting considerable damage.146



The Persian position, both at Thermopylæ and Artemisium, was at this moment very precarious. The army had conspicuously failed to force the pass, and the fleet had, so far, confined itself to the defensive. Cf. H. viii. 15, ad init. Doubtless, urgent messages were coming from Thermopylæ to Aphetæ, commanding that the strait should be forced at any price. 20th day. The Persian commanders, therefore, afraid to defer longer the attack, took the offensive. It may well be that the disadvantages of the position at Aphetæ from a defensive point of view, which had been clearly demonstrated in the engagements of the two previous days, had something to do with determining their course of action. The battle which ensued was an obstinate one. It certainly was not favourable to the Greeks, even less favourable, perhaps, than is represented. H. viii. 16. The losses on both sides were large, those of the Persians being the greater. It seems, however, that, over and above the vessels actually destroyed, H. viii. 18. a large number were considerably damaged, and that the Athenian contingent suffered especially in this respect. H. viii. 19, 20. The account which Herodotus gives of the events which took place after the battle leaves it uncertain whether he considered that the subsequent retirement from Artemisium was due primarily to the losses incurred in the previous engagement, or to the receipt of the news of the disaster at Thermopylæ. Diod. xi. 13. Diodorus mentions the losses, but ascribes the retreat entirely to the news from Thermopylæ. That disaster must have taken place early in the afternoon: the news of it must have reached the fleet at Artemisium, by means of the despatch-boat, very early in the evening. H. viii. 21. According to Herodotus, the retreat had been discussed before the despatch-boat arrived.147 That it had been discussed may well have been the case; but that it had been decided, and, above all, that Themistocles had consented, to retire that very night, before the receipt of the news from Thermopylæ, is doubtless untrue. Herodotus’ assertion incurs all the more [338]suspicion from the fact that he uses it as a peg whereon to hang a tale illustrative of the disaster which is sure to befall those who refuse to obey the advice of oracles. The Eubœans, he says, had disregarded an oracle of Bakis, which had urged them to place their sheep in security, in view of the coming war, and were now, on the approaching retirement of the Greek fleet, in a position of extreme difficulty as to the best means of saving their property. Themistocles’ proposal for dealing with the situation was simple and effective. He said, “Kill the sheep: kindle fires: roast them and put them on board, since it is better that they fall into our hands than into those of the enemy. As to getting the fleet away in safety, I will look to that.” He also hinted that he had a plan, which he did not then disclose, for detaching the Ionians and Carians from the Persian fleet. So the other Greek commanders looked to the sheep and the fires, while he devised measures for retreat.

No tale could be more peculiarly illustrative of the wide distinction which must be drawn between the facts of history as stated by Herodotus and the motives which he propounds for certain courses of action.

It is doubtless perfectly true that a council of war was held that evening, at which it was decided to retire from Artemisium; and that Themistocles concurred in that decision. But, on the question of motive, it may be taken as almost equally certain that this decision was not come to in consequence of what had happened in the engagement of that afternoon, but by reason of the news which had come from Thermopylæ, which rendered the further presence of the fleet at Artemisium not merely unnecessary, but, from the point of view of the Greek commanders, unadvisable. In actual fact it may be regarded as exceedingly doubtful whether Xerxes could have advanced southwards without the aid of the fleet commissariat; but the idea uppermost in the minds of the Greek commanders would be the extreme danger of such a move on his part.


It is not difficult to see that the building of the fires that evening on the Artemisium shore had probably little [339]if any connection with the provisioning of the fleet, but was part of the plan by which Themistocles proposed to secure a safe withdrawal from the position. The Persians were evidently to be deluded by the idea that the Greeks had no intention of deserting their station; and the ruse employed to attain this end would naturally suggest itself. It has been again and again employed under similar circumstances.

The retreat began early in the night, the ships taking their departure in order according to their position at the anchorage. H. viii. 21. The fact that the Corinthians led the way, and that the Athenians were last to start, may merely signify that they formed respectively the extreme left and right of the line; but, in view of the attitude of the former at this time, it may be suspected that Herodotus had special motives for mentioning the order of retirement.

Themistocles, with a fast sailing division, formed the rearguard. He did not, apparently, intend so much to cover the retreat, as to visit the various watering-places on the shores of the Euripus, and to affix there a quasi-manifesto to the Ionian Greeks in the Persian fleet, calling upon them to abstain, in so far as possible, from attacking their fellow-countrymen. H. viii. 22. His object was, says Herodotus, either to detach the Ionians from their allegiance to Xerxes, or to make the king suspicious of their loyalty.

The Persians did not attempt to pursue the Greek fleet. «H. viii. 23.» The latter had, indeed, got a long start before its departure was discovered. A Greek from North Eubœa brought the news to Aphetæ; but his information was distrusted, and ships were sent across the strait to discover whether it was true or not. This must have taken place during the night, for it was at sunrise that the Persian fleet, after receiving the report of the scouting vessels, moved across the strait to Artemisium. At midday the Persians moved to Histiæa, where they appear to have spent some time in ravaging the district in its neighbourhood.

It is probable that the news of the disaster in the South Euripus deterred the Persians from any attempt at pursuit. Nothing is said as to how or when the news reached them; but it may be regarded as certain that the tidings, which [340]had arrived at Artemisium twenty-four hours before, had in the interval made their way across the strait.

It was now possible for the Persian fleet to communicate by sea with the captors of Thermopylæ; and it may easily be imagined that no time was lost in sending supplies to the army. In connection with these communications Herodotus relates a tale to the effect that Xerxes invited the sailors to view the scene of battle, and took certain ridiculously ineffective measures to conceal from them the magnitude of the losses suffered. That the king did attempt to conceal the greatness of the price he had paid for the capture of the pass may well have been the case; but whether Greek tradition, with its marked tendency to bring into high relief the childishness and foolishness of the Oriental monarch, truly represented the measures taken to attain this end, may well be doubted.

In Herodotus’ story of the great war the tale of Artemisium is perhaps the least satisfactory of all the detailed accounts of the various acts of the drama. It is not merely complicated by a chronological error of considerable magnitude, the effect of which is to render the most important part of the story, as it stands, incredible; but it is very seriously distorted, from a historical point of view, by the addition of material of a more than doubtful character, inserted with intent to heighten the effect of the services of Athens at this critical time. But the chronological error does not destroy the historical value of his narrative, though it impairs it. Had Herodotus told his tale after his usual manner, the error might not have crept into it. But just in this part of his history he has tried to treat events in a somewhat more business-like fashion than usual, and the attempt has not met with complete success. Nature had not made him an arithmetician; and even had it done so, his business-like method is sufficiently unbusinesslike to render his mistake obscure until the story has been analyzed.

How far he is personally responsible for the Athenian bias of his version, it is not possible to say at the present day. HERODOTUS’ ACCOUNT OF ARTEMISIUM. He was, no doubt, sufficiently philo-Athenian to wish to place the undoubtedly great services of Athens to the [341]national cause at this time in the highest possible relief; and he was sufficiently ignorant of strategical considerations to render it probable that he could not detect in the version current at Athens those fictitious additions, whose falsity must have become apparent to any one who could appreciate the main lines of the strategy of this part of the war. Had he understood not merely that there was a connection between Thermopylæ and Artemisium, but that connection was of so intimate a nature as to render the maintenance of the pass absolutely dependent on the maintenance of the strait, he would have treated with suspicion those repeated assertions of an intention on the part of the commanders of the fleet to withdraw from their station, or would have reduced them to a position of far less prominence in the story, as being, what they no doubt were, mere indications of the spirit which animated the irresponsible mass of those who formed the crews of the Peloponnesian contingents.

And yet, in so far as can now be judged, his tale of Artemisium,—freed from a chronological error for the correction of which the author supplies the means, and with the essentially Athenian portions of it reduced to their proper relief in the story,—is a reliable history of this important period of the Great War.



The Parallel Journals of Thermopylæ and Artemisium Reconstructed.

No of the day. Events at Thermopylæ. Events at Artemisium. Approximate time of day.
12 Persian fleet leaves Therma. Early morning.
Persian fleet arrives at Sepiad strand. Evening.
Capture of Greek scouting vessels by Persian advanced squadron. Probably before midday.
Greek fleet at Artemisium.
Greek fleet receives news from Skiathos of the loss of the three vessels. Evening, probably late.
13 Persian army reaches Malis. First storm begins.
Wreck of part of Persian fleet at Sepiad strand.
Greek fleet retires or is driven to inner strait (Chalkis?). Probably early morning.
14 Persian army inactive before Thermopylæ. Storm continues.
Persian fleet at Sepiad strand.
Greek fleet in inner strait.
Report of Persian disaster reaches Greek fleet.
Greek fleet moves north [?]
15 Persian army inactive before Thermopylæ. Storm continues.
Fleets as on 14th day.
16 Persian army still inactive. Persian fleet moves to and arrives at Aphetæ. Arrived early in afternoon.
Greek fleet moves back to Artemisium.
Greek fleet captures 15 Persian vessels.
Greek commanders consult about retirement from Artemisium. Probably evening.
[343]17 Persian army still inactive. Greek commanders on Themistocles’ persuasion determine to remain at Artemisium. Morning [?]
Persians despatch squadron to circumnavigate Eubœa. By daylight.
18 Persian army makes first attack on Thermopylæ. Persians review their fleet.
Skyllias carries news of the despatch of the 200 to the Greek fleet. During the review.
Arrived at Artemisium in the afternoon.
Greek fleet engages Persian fleet at Aphetæ. Late in afternoon.
Second storm begins. Early in evening.
Wreck of the 200 Persian vessels in the Hollows of Eubœa. Early in the night.
Fifty-three Attic vessels at Chalkis.
19 Second attack on Thermopylæ. Both fleets inactive. Earlier part of day.
The 53 Attic vessels join the Greek fleet. Earlier than the late afternoon.
Greek fleet receives news of the wreck of the 200. About same time as above.
United Greek fleet attacks Cilician contingent of Persian fleet. Late afternoon.
20 Third and successful attack on Thermopylæ. Persian fleet takes offensive against Greek fleet.
General engagement.
Greek commanders consult as to retirement.
News of disaster at Thermopylæ reaches Greek fleet.
Greek fleet retires from Artemisium. Night.



Thermopylæ taken, and Artemisium deserted, the way southwards, both by land and sea, was now open to the invading force. No doubt the general plan of future operations was discussed in the Persian council of war. It may be that, owing to the presence of the Spartan Demaratos, some faint echo of the discussion reached Greek ears. It may be, too, that Herodotus’ story of the interview of Demaratos and Achæmenes with Xerxes after the capture of Thermopylæ contains some hint of the general lines which it followed. According to his tale, the main question was whether a part of the fleet should create a diversion against Sparta in South Peloponnese, or whether such a division of the naval forces might be undesirable. Achæmenes was strongly in favour of keeping the fleet together and crushing the Greeks by mere weight of numbers; and Xerxes decided in favour of this plan. It is needless to say that the story cannot be taken au pied de la lettre. In its main lines it may be true; in one of its details it contains what is almost certainly an anachronism. That the desperate defence of the pass may have suggested to some members of the council of war the advisability of taking measures to distract the attention of Sparta from the general defence is extremely likely. Herodotus puts the suggestion in the mouth of Demaratos, who is also represented as proposing a way in which his plan could be carried out—by the occupation of Kythera, a large island off the mouth of the Laconian gulf. ROUTE FROM THERMOPYLÆ. “Chilon,” he said, “who was the wisest man among us, asserted [345]that it would be better for Sparta were the island not above water but below it, because he always expected that something of the kind which I am describing to you would come from it, not with special reference to your expedition, but because he dreaded all invasions alike.” Demaratos then proposed to the king that he should make this island the base of operations against the Lacedæmonian territory.

So runs the tale in Herodotus.

The mention of Kythera in this connection, taken in conjunction with the evidence which this part of the history affords of its having been composed during the early years of the Peloponnesian war, suggests that Herodotus has probably attributed to Demaratos in 480 a strategical proposal which was much discussed in Athens at the time at which he wrote, T. iv. 53, ff. and which was actually carried out a few years later when Nikias in 424 occupied this island.

The reliable part of Herodotus’ story is probably confined to the raising of the question whether or not some diversion against Sparta should be attempted. Into this account Herodotus has inserted a detail borrowed from a similar strategic question of his own day.

The way in which the advance by sea should be conducted being settled, it was necessary to decide upon the line or lines of advance by land. From Thermopylæ to the Attic border the Greek military highway is defined with singular clearness by the nature of the country. Œta forms the first barrier to be passed. The question of the utility of the Asopos ravine has been already discussed. For the purposes of a large army it is impracticable. Infantry could only pass through it in single file; and even a slight accident, or a slight rise in the stream, would block it. For a lightly equipped column with numbers not so large as to make it impossible for it to live on the country in its passage of the Dorian and Phocian plains, it would be a practicable route under circumstances such as existed at the time. Little opposition was to be expected; and it would be merely the question of a day or two before a junction could [346]be effected with the main army, which would reach Parapotamii where the Phocian plain ends and the Bœotian begins, by the great route by way of Hyampolis. Besides the Asopos ravine there were three other routes from Thermopylæ southwards. The first of these led out of the pass up a steep ascent of one hour, and crossed the range of Œta, by way of the modern Boudenitza, to the ancient Elatæa. It is a mere mountain path, a way which an army without a heavy baggage train might adopt in an emergency, or by which a force defeated at Thermopylæ might secure its retreat. The second left the coast road near Thronion and passed up the valley of the Boagrios river, at the head of which it crossed the mountain ridge, and descended to Elatæa. It was certainly of importance in later times, though not fitted for the passage of a heavy baggage train, and difficult for cavalry. Hence, probably, there is no trace of its having been used by the Persian army on this occasion. The route by Atalanta and Hyampolis is admirably adapted for the advance of a large force. It presents but few difficulties to cavalry or baggage-train, and affords but few facilities to the defence. In this very part of his history Herodotus, in his excursus on the pre-existing relations between the Thessalians and Phocians, gives an example which shows pretty clearly that it was the route by which incursions of the Thessalian cavalry had to be feared. In an undated, but presumably recent war between the two peoples, H. viii. 28. the Phocians had inflicted a severe defeat on the raiding cavalry in the pass near Hyampolis. They had dug a trench across it, filled it with large pottery, and covered it with earth. Into this the Thessalian horsemen had fallen, and had incurred signal disaster.

The three minor routes join this major route at Parapotamii. There is, however, a loop of the main road, which, starting from Hyampolis, passes over a ridge to Orchomenos and joins the main road again outside the mountain gate at Parapotamii.


Near this point in Mid Bœotia the invader from the north is faced by a barrier of a composite character, which, though not homogeneous, is one of the most [347]effective in the whole of Greece. From the west the spurs of Helicon came down to the marshy expanse of Lake Kopais, a hundred square miles of shallow reed-covered mere, when the winter rains had raised it to its full height. From Kopais to the Euripus extended a narrow mountainous region, never rising to any great height, but exceedingly rough and broken, and affording no way of passage through it better than a mere track.

The consequence of this natural formation of the country was that an invader from the north was confined in his advance to the narrow breadth of land between Helicon and Kopais. So this mere ribbon of country became the great battle-ground of Greece, and on it the fate of the land was again and again decided at Chæronea, Koronea, and elsewhere. This part of the great northern route may be said to end at Thebes, which town, like Larisa and Lamia, was not merely a point where important roads converged, but also a point which must be passed in the passage from the North. To it came the great road which has just been described, and also a hardly less important road, which ran from Chalkis on the Eastern sea, and was continued through it to Kreusis on the Corinthian Gulf. Thebes was thus one of the great strategic positions in Greece.

Xerxes’ main object after taking Thermopylæ was to strike at Attica. Two minor objects had to be attained by the way; the punishment of the Phocians, and the plunder of Delphi.

The Phocians were the only people in the north, so Herodotus says, who did not medize. The Bœotians, wavering if not disloyal before, doubtless medized en masse after Thermopylæ had shown them the insincerity of the Council at the Isthmus with regard to the defence of the north. It is difficult to account for the Phocian attitude. H. viii. 30. Herodotus says they were simply actuated by the desire to take the opposite side to the Thessalians. It is possible that they dared not trust to the mercy of the Persian, seeing they had taken part in the defence of Thermopylæ. Besides, their own deadly foes were in the enemy’s camp. [348]Whatever their motive was, H. viii. 30, ad fin. they took the moral ground of refusing to be traitors to their fatherland, and rejected the offer of the Thessalians to save them at a price.

The first step in the march south which Herodotus describes is the invasion of Phocis. H. viii. 31. A body of troops, under the guidance of the Thessalians, made their way into Doris, that dreary little upland plain at the head of the Kephissos basin. The route taken must have been by the Asopos defile. Doris was left unharmed. It had medized; and, besides, the Thessalians intervened on its behalf. Its poverty may have had something to do with its salvation on this occasion.148

From Doris the invaders passed into Phocis. There is no natural boundary between the two plains; and the records of the history of this region, dim though they are, point to a frequent shifting of the frontier. The Phocians had one retreat to which they could always resort; and, before the invasion was on them, they took to the heights of Parnassus, whose great humped mass rises more than seven thousand five hundred feet above the plain. It was evidently the accustomed refuge of the race. They had adopted the same plan at the time of the undated Thessalian attack on their country.

H. viii. 32.

The actual place of refuge on this occasion was Tithorea, not apparently at this time the city which it became later, but a strong natural position, which could be easily defended. PERSIAN RAID ON DELPHI. Many of them, however, had made their way to Amphissa, at the head of the Krissæan plain, not far from Delphi, passing thither, doubtless, through Dorian territory by way of the direct pass through the [349]mountains from Kytinion to Amphissa, which is the southern continuation of the Thermopylæ-Delphi route by way of the Asopos ravine.

The destruction which the Persians wrought in Phocis was complete in so far as the plain was concerned. Its cities were plundered and destroyed; and the great oracular shrine at Abæ, close to Hyampolis, was robbed of its treasures and burnt to the ground.

At Parapotamii the plunderers from the plain would meet with the main force, which must have come round by the Atalanta route, to which the destruction of Abæ and Hyampolis may presumably be attributed.149 It was from this point that a flying column was sent to attack Delphi, while the mass of the army held on its way through Bœotia. The route followed in the march to Delphi must have been the celebrated “divided way” (σχίστη ὁδός), made famous in the myth of Œdipus, H. viii. 35. for Herodotus mentions that they passed by Daulis and left Parnassus on their right. The object of this expedition was to seize the immensely valuable offerings at the great shrine, and especially those of Crœsus, the Lydian king.

The element of the supernatural plays so large a part in the tale of the adventures of this band of plunderers, that it is impossible to say with certainty what really happened. Some catastrophe overtook them in the immediate neighbourhood of Delphi itself; and the very remarkable physical characteristics of the neighbourhood of the town, together with the story in Herodotus divested of its supernatural element, render it possible to hazard a conjecture as to what was the actual nature of this catastrophe.

Delphi stood on a mere shelf of rock where the south slope of Parnassus sinks into a narrow cleft-like valley more than three thousand feet deep. On the north a perpendicular cliff of several hundred feet in height [350]overhangs the site, and continues both east of it towards Amphissa until it meets the valley which comes south from that town; and also westward, towards the modern Aráchova, some two hours distant. South of the town the ground falls with great steepness towards the bottom of the Pleistos valley, two thousand five hundred feet below.

H. viii. 36.

On the news of the approach of the Persians some of the inhabitants of Delphi fled to Amphissa, in whose strong acropolis, commanding the direct road from Kytinion and the north, some of the Phocian refugees had shut themselves. Others, however, had taken refuge in the Corycian cave and on the summit of the cliffs above the town; and it is to these latter that the quasi-supernatural disaster which overtook the Persians must be attributed. The latter, coming from the direction of Aráchova, arrived at the temple of Pronaia Athene, which lay outside and west of the sacred precinct, beyond the ravine down which the stream from the Castalian spring makes its way. Cf. H. viii. 39. At this point the road would pass under the cliffs, and doubtless the refugees on their summit rained a shower of rocks on the advancing Persian band, who fled in disorder. Nothing is said about the number of the band, but, as it was on a mere plundering raid, it was probably not large.150

The war had now reached its most critical stage.

On the return of the fleet from Artemisium, the Athenians discovered the desertion which had led to the disaster at Thermopylæ.

H. viii. 40.

“They intended to call a council to consider the situation, since their expectation had been falsified; for they supposed that they would find the Peloponnesians in full force in Bœotia awaiting the barbarians. STRATEGIC SITUATION. They found nothing of the kind; nay, they heard that they were [351]fortifying the Isthmus to the Peloponnese, making its salvation and defence their one great object, and letting the rest of Greece take its chance.”

They had evidently supposed that some large force was on its way to Thermopylæ at the time when the disaster took place, and had expected to find, at any rate, an army in Bœotia. What they actually discovered was that the Peloponnesians were fortifying the Isthmus, and were concentrating the defence on that point. The Peloponnesian party had at last shown its hand. Thermopylæ had been a mere pretence, an attempt to purchase the aid of the Athenian fleet, and, possibly, of the Northern States, at the cheapest rate possible,—at a much cheaper rate, indeed, than the price which had been actually paid. The idea of the Peloponnesians at this time evidently was that the Athenians might be led to suppose that, as the defence of so strong a position as Thermopylæ had been unsuccessful, no other position north of the Isthmus could possibly be regarded as tenable.

That which the Athenian commanders did recognize was that, as in their absence at Artemisium no sort of attempt had been made to provide for the defence of either the passage by Lake Kopais or of the Kithæron-Parnes line of mountains, the military situation must be, perforce, accepted, and their efforts must be concentrated on inducing the allies to take a sound view of the necessities of the naval position. In its main outlines it was plain to the dullest intelligence. The defence of the Isthmus was as much, if not more, dependent on the fleet than that of Thermopylæ. If the Persians could once land troops in Argolis, the position at the Isthmus was fatally turned. The saving factor in the situation was that the fleet was just as necessary an adjunct for the Peloponnesian as for the Northern policy. But when it became a question how the fleet should act as an aid to the defence of the Isthmus, the decision was by no means so clear. The fighting on the last day at Artemisium had shown the danger of meeting a greatly superior force on open water, where the smaller fleet could [352]be outflanked; and the coast in the immediate neighbourhood of the Isthmus itself afforded no position which, if taken up, would guarantee the Greek fleet from attack on either flank. That was evidently the ruling consideration which decided the Greeks, on the recommendation of Themistocles, to take up their station in Salamis strait But even after that position was taken up, Themistocles must have been painfully conscious that, if the Persians chose to ignore the Greek fleet at Salamis, and to sail straight to the Isthmus, the situation would be dangerous to the last degree.

It must be recognized that in this great war the darkness before the dawn of Greek victory was intense. The strategy which led the Greek fleet to take its station at Salamis was the strategy of despair. It was adopted because there was no alternative. The only possibility of success depended upon the Persians being induced to attack the fleet in its chosen position; and this accounts for the manifest anxiety which Themistocles showed to do everything, to run even the risk of a charge of the grossest treachery, in order to bring about an engagement in the strait. One thing favoured his design. The Persians had shown at Artemisium that they intended, if they could, not merely to defeat, but to capture the whole Greek fleet Salamis strait, consisting of two narrow channels by which the broad bay of Eleusis communicates with the Saronic gulf, would seem to them a position adapted by nature to the carrying out of this purpose; and it must have been with a view to encourage them in this idea that Themistocles left the western channel unguarded. He was playing a desperate game, under circumstances which were, however, sufficiently desperate to justify it. The dazzling brilliancy of the success attained by it has blinded posterity to the enormous risk which it entailed.

Herodotus does not enlarge on the feelings of the Athenians when they discovered what had been going on during their absence at Artemisium. REMOVAL OF THE POPULATION OF ATTICA. They must have felt bitterly that they had been the victims of a base desertion, and they probably expressed their feelings; [353]but nothing in the whole course of the war is more honourable to them than the practical spirit and energy with which they faced the situation. It was indeed before Salamis rather than at Salamis that Athens saved Greece. “When they learnt what had happened,” says Herodotus, “they requested the fleet to touch at Salamis.” They appear to have already made up their minds what to do. It is probable that their previous experience of the selfish policy of the Peloponnesians had prepared them for the possibility of a position such as that in which they found themselves. The half-fulfilment of the first oracle delivered to them at Delphi was to be accomplished. The population of Attica was to be removed en masse to refuges beyond the reach of the Persian army; and it is not unlikely that under certain eventualities the Athenian authorities were prepared to carry out to the full the desperate advice which Delphi had given them. H. viii. 41. The proclamation of removal was issued, and the people of Attica fled to various places on the shores of the Saronic gulf, some to Ægina, some to Salamis, but the majority to Trœzen. The Athenians knew well that they could expect no mercy from the Persian. Marathon had been an unpardonable act of lèse mejesté, for which they would have in any case to pay dearly, and with the very life-blood of their people, if they, as well as the land, fell into the enemy’s power.

It is noticeable that in choosing their places of refuge they were careful not to give any hostages to the Peloponnesians. Trœzen was the base of naval operations. Ægina and Salamis were islands. All three were therefore within reach of their own powerful fleet, and out of reach of the Peloponnesian army at the Isthmus.

The news that the fleet from Artemisium had put in at Salamis brought thither the rest of the Greek fleet, which seems to have been gathering for some time previously at the port of Pogon151 in Trœzen, near the east end of the Argolic peninsula. The numbers now [354]available were considerably larger than those which had fought at Artemisium.152

It seems to be implied by Herodotus’ language, as well as by the fact that their addition would raise the numbers of the Athenian fleet to two hundred, that the fifty-three Attic vessels were not part of the original fleet at Artemisium. If this be so, the net increase in the number of triremes at Salamis is forty-two. THE GREEK FLEET AT SALAMIS. Some of the original contingents, notably those of the Æginetans and Lacedæmonians, were increased; and several small contingents were [355]added which had not been present at Artemisium. The almost absolute apathy of the Western States and of Magna Græcia is most marked. Corcyra is unrepresented.153 The great Kroton sends but one ship. Had Salamis turned out differently, they might have had bitter cause to regret their lack of patriotism. It is, however, possible that Magna Græcia, and even the towns of the extreme north-west of Greece, had their attention distracted at this time by the immanence of the life-and-death struggle between Gelo and the Carthaginians in Sicily.

It is also noticeable that Herodotus makes one of his customary mistakes in addition, putting the number of the fleet, exclusive of pentekonters, at three hundred and seventy-eight; whereas, according to his own list, it should be three hundred and sixty-six.154

As at Artemisium, Eurybiades commanded the fleet. The Athenians, according to Herodotus, supplied the best ships.

Though the fleet had assembled at Salamis, it was by no means certain that it would remain there. The gathering had been designed to cover and assist the withdrawal of the population of Attica. It was quite certain that there would be a large party in favour of withdrawal to the Isthmus, and the risks, which have already been pointed out, attendant upon the occupation of the strait were so palpable, that they could hardly fail [356]to afford a strong argument in favour of the Peloponnesian policy.

After the fleet had collected, a Council of War was held. It soon appeared that the majority were in favour of retiring to some point off the Isthmus. They argued that there, in case of defeat, they could withdraw to land held by their own troops, whereas a disaster at Salamis would mean that they would be blockaded on that not very fruitful island.

Before the decision was taken, an Athenian messenger arrived announcing that the Persian was already committing devastation in Attica.

Of Xerxes’ passage from Panopeus, near Parapotamii, to Attica, little is told by Herodotus. H. viii. 50. He must have taken the great route to Thebes, whence, after burning Thespiæ and Platæa, he probably made his way into Attica by the Dryoskephalæ and other passes.

H. viii. 51.

There is a curious and somewhat self-contradictory tale in Herodotus about what occurred in Athens itself at this time. He says that the Persians “came upon the city deserted, but found a few of the Athenians in the temple, both the temple stewards and (certain) poor men, who, having fortified the Acropolis with planks, and wooden (breastworks), tried to defend themselves against the assailants. The reason they had not departed to Salamis was that they had not the means to do so; and, furthermore, because they thought that they had discovered the meaning of the oracular response which the Pythian gave them, namely, that the wooden wall should never be taken, and that this and not the ships was to be their salvation.” The historian then proceeds to give what purports to be a description of a siege of this fortification. The Persians took up their position on Areopagus, and confined their attack in the first place to the discharge of fire-bearing arrows against the wooden wall. The besieged replied by rolling down boulder stones upon the assailants, and “for a long time” Xerxes was at a loss how to force an entrance. Finally a party scaled one of the cliffs at an unexpected point, and the Acropolis was taken, and all its defenders massacred.



Such is, in brief, the extraordinary tale.

But the strangest part of the whole story is the account of the impression created in the fleet by the news of the capture.

H. viii. 56.

“The Greeks at Salamis, on hearing what had happened to the Athenian Acropolis, fell into such a state of panic, that some of the commanders did not even wait for the settlement of the question under discussion, but rushed to the ships, and set sail with intent to take to flight. By those who remained it was decided to fight in front of the Isthmus.”

The inconsistency between the description of the garrison and its defensive works, and the alarm created by the capture of the fortification, is so glaring as to be irreconcileable, and modern historians have naturally been led to form conjectures as to what really took place. It has been suggested that the tale is merely a reminiscence of the fact that some stragglers who had remained in the Acropolis were slaughtered by the Persians after their occupation of the city, an incident exaggerated in subsequent tradition. This, if true, would bring into still higher relief the absurdity of the panic in the fleet at Salamis.

A much more probable theory155 is that Herodotus, so far from overstating what took place, has considerably understated it, and that a real defence was attempted, and a serious disaster sustained. This does, at any rate, account for two important points in the narrative, (1) that the defence was successful “for a considerable time;” (2) that the panic caused was so great.

The evidence, other than that of Herodotus, as to what took place at this time, affords, unfortunately, but little help to the elucidation of the mystery. Diodorus, though in his account of the actual battle of Salamis he makes use of information which is certainly not drawn from Herodotus, has in this particular instance transcribed Herodotus’ description almost word for word.

The question is, Was a garrison of any kind left in the Acropolis?

[358]H. viii. 41.

Herodotus has already given the words of the proclamation for the desertion of Attica: “The Athenians shall dispose their children and households in any place of safety they can.” Arist. Athen Polit. 23. Aristotle says that the Areopagus assisted the citizens with a vote of eight drachmas apiece. Plut. Them. 10. Plutarch speaks of a psephism proposed by Themistocles to the effect that (1) the city should be left to the care of Athene; (2) all able-bodied persons should embark on board the fleet; (3) the rest of the population should save itself where it could.

Against this cf. Thuc. i. 73.

It has been suggested that Plutarch is here guilty of an historical error, (1) because Herodotus says nothing about embarkation on board the triremes; (2) because this embarkation is incredible, since the triremes had their complements already, and an addition to their crews would have been an embarrassment. H. viii. 95. It is concluded therefore that the land army did not as a whole embark. Some hoplites were posted at Salamis; but there is reason, so it is urged, to suspect that part of the army was left at Athens.

It is plain that, on the evidence available, any conjecture must involve its maker in certain difficulties. In the present instance one important objection immediately arises:⁠—no adequate motive can be urged for the suppression of the truth, if this conjecture represents it. Had such a disaster overtaken a considerable Athenian force, would not Herodotus, who is anxious to bring into prominence the sufferings and self-sacrifice of the Athenians in this war, have seized upon so noteworthy an example in point? Again, what conceivable object was to be gained under the circumstances by garrisoning the Acropolis? Furthermore, taking the history of the war as related, is it in the slightest degree likely that the Persians could, even by surprise, have taken such a position when defended by any considerable number of Greek hoplites? It is improbable to the last degree.

But the rejection of this theory does not lead to any positive results in the elucidation of the story. Herodotus has manifestly exaggerated or understated some detail of it.



His expression that the siege lasted “a considerable time” is not perhaps to be taken as being more precise than such expressions are in ordinary language. It may have been that some enthusiasts or belated citizens did conceive the idea that they could defend themselves, and possibly their property, in that remarkable stronghold until the danger was overpast, and that, considering the resources at their disposal, they did hold out for “a considerable time.” It may be that “the considerable time” was inserted by the historian to emphasize the hopelessness of the struggle against fate, as represented by the oracle. “It was fated,” he says, “in accordance with the oracle, that the whole of continental Attica should fall into the hands of the Persian.”

But how is the panic in the fleet at Salamis to be accounted for? The tale at Artemisium may suggest a solution. Herodotus shows himself very eager to bring into prominence the difficulty which Athens had in keeping the courage of the other Greeks to its sticking point; and this description of the panic and the consequent determination to withdraw to the Isthmus is identical in species with the frequent references in the Artemisium story to withdrawals or intended withdrawals either to Chalkis or to Mid Greece. Doubtless these stories do rest on a very solid basis of fact, though in themselves exaggerated. The Peloponnesians seem to have displayed an almost feverish anxiety to remove the defence to the Isthmus.

The near approach of the crisis in the war brings into peculiar prominence the man who was destined to play the greatest part in it. It cannot be accounted otherwise than strange that a historian so fair-minded as Herodotus should up to this point in his narrative have minimized the share which this remarkable man must have taken in determining the course of the Greek operations previous to Salamis. And yet, even from his account of the war, it is evident that Themistocles had been most prominent in whatever part of the Greek strategy had been due to Athenian initiative. He had commanded the contingent sent to Thessaly; he had commanded the Athenian fleet at Artemisium. In both cases the adoption of a line of [360]defence so far north of Peloponnesus must have been due to Athenian influence; and it may be regarded as certain that Themistocles was mainly, if not entirely, responsible for the direction in which that influence made itself felt. In Thessaly there had indeed been a passive failure, and Artemisium had not been a success. It is clear, however, that in the latter case the Athenians did not attribute the lack of success to Themistocles, otherwise they could not have been expected to place themselves so entirely in his hands as they did at the time of Salamis. Probably the true significance of Thermopylæ was already surmised, if not understood, at Athens, soon after the fleet returned from Artemisium.

Herodotus seems never to have succeeded in getting the character of Themistocles into its true perspective. It is possible that the tales told in after-time of his financial trickeries prejudiced the honest old historian against him. Throughout his history he shows himself an admirer of moral rather than intellectual greatness; and this disposition on his part would inevitably tend to obscure his appreciation of the great qualities of one whom tradition represented to him as guilty of a most serious form of moral weakness. Whence he drew the tradition he followed is another question. It may be that during his sojourn in Athens he was associated with the political heirs of the party opposed to Themistocles, and, if so, it may be certain that he would hear little to Themistocles’ credit, and much that was false to his discredit Still the tradition as to this peculiarly bad characteristic of the man was very prevalent; and it is hardly conceivable that the unanimity of the testimony of after-time was founded on no sounder basis than inimical party tradition. It is, then, possible that there was a real groundwork of truth in the accusations which Herodotus brings against Themistocles, though the undue emphasis which the historian lays on this side of the man’s character renders it also probable that, if true, the accusations are not unexaggerated.

At the same time, the complete assumption of this truth is difficult, in view of the silence of Thucydides on the matter. THUCYDIDES’ ACCOUNT OF THEMISTOCLES. It is plain that he considered the charges [361]sufficiently groundless to be ignored, and this in spite of the fact that the course of his history forced him to recount the least savoury portion of the great man’s career. Nor can it be assumed that the historian’s judgment was warped by party considerations. Such obliquities as are discernible in the biographical details in his history are clearly traceable to personal rather than party enmities. It is manifest that he had an intense admiration for Themistocles’ intellectual capacity; and it was fortunate for after-times that the second great historian of the fifth century was led by circumstances to draw the picture of the character of perhaps the most able man which the century produced—a picture which, in the hands of the first historian, had never got beyond the stage of mere preliminary sketches, not artistically connected, never completed, and never perhaps intended to be so. It is really the written judgment of Thucydides which has enabled posterity to understand the influence of Themistocles at this most critical period of Greek history, when the land was faced by circumstances of a magnitude far outstripping the narrow bounds of Greek experience. When the knowledge of experience cannot compass the situation, the intuition of genius is the only possible means by which the situation may be successfully met. And, if Thucydides is to be believed, it was this special and most rare quality which Themistocles possessed in such a remarkable degree.

T. i. 138.

“Themistocles was a man who displayed genius in the most unmistakable way, and in this respect calls for admiration in a special and unparalleled manner. For by his native intellectual power, unaided by study or by the teaching of experience, he was capable of giving the ablest opinion in emergencies only admitting of the briefest consideration, and was skilled in forming a judgment upon coming events even to the most distant future. Whatever came within the range of his practice, he could explain; and he did not fail to form an adequate judgment on that which lay beyond his experience. He possessed a peculiar power of foresight into the good and evil of the uncertain future. Speaking generally, by the very power of his genius, in spite of the slightness of his application, he was unsurpassed in devising intuitively what was required in an emergency.”

Note on Translation of T. i. 138, 3, καὶ οὔτε προμαθών ἐς αὐτὴν οὐδὲν οὐτ ἐπιμαθών.

The translation I have adopted follows in its main lines that of Croiset in his edition of Thucydides, to which attention is called in M. Hauvette’s work on Herodotus. “Le génie naturel de Thémistocle ne devait rien ni à l’étude préalable ni à cette autre sorte d’étude qui sort de l’expérience, et surtout de l’expérience malheureuse.”

[362]Such is Thucydides’ description of the man, delivered more than sixty years after Salamis, when his cool judgment, unaffected by political controversy, which had in the interval wholly changed its ground, could sift without passion and without prejudice the evidence that he found in existence in his own time. Themistocles may have been dishonest; but Thucydides does not seem to have been satisfied that he was so; and, that being the case, the modern world may well have some doubts upon the subject.

Apart from the charges of dishonesty, Herodotus shows a tendency to discount the merit of Themistocles in proposing the design which led to the great victory. A previous example of the same tendency has been noticed in the reference which the historian makes to the proposal to allot the surplus from the mines at Laurion to the construction of a fleet. It is there implied that Themistocles did not act with the foresight with which he was credited; that the proposal had reference to the war with Ægina, and not to any foreseen invasion from the side of Persia. It is easy now to see that Herodotus’ allegation is most certainly mistaken. The Persian design of revenging Marathon, conceived before the death of Darius in 485, cannot have been a secret; and the mere size of the fleet proposed renders it extremely unlikely that Athens would have assented to the expense it involved, merely for the purposes of an attack on a state which could only place one-fifth of the number of ships in commission.

The allegation of Herodotus in the present instance is equally unconvincing.


He describes the panic, as he asserts it to have been, [363]caused by the fall of Athens, and the consequent decision to withdraw the fleet to the Isthmus, and implies that Themistocles was a consenting party to the withdrawal. H. viii. 57. “On Themistocles coming on board his ship, Mnesiphilos, an Athenian, asked him what had been decided by the council.” On learning from him that it had been decided to put out to the Isthmus and fight for the Peloponnese, he prophesied that the whole force would break up, and Greece come to ruin. He also advised Themistocles to do all he could to dissuade Eurybiades from a design so disastrous. The animus of the story is shown by the assertion that Themistocles went on board the commander’s vessel, and used these arguments as his own. Of this Mnesiphilos more is told in Plutarch. Plut. Them. He represents him to have been the political tutor of Themistocles, and says that some people attributed to Mnesiphilos much for which Themistocles got credit with the general public. It may be surmised that the people who took this view were not unconnected with the various other stories current in later times to Themistocles’ discredit. The story in Herodotus is in itself not free from improbability, and is inconsistent with what the author’s own account of the battle shows to have been the reason for fighting in the strait, namely, the desire to engage the numerically superior fleet in a channel where its greater numbers would be of but little avail. The last fight at Artemisium had probably taught the Greeks a lesson to whose significance they could not shut their eyes; at any rate, in the then state of feeling, it must have been a very powerful and compelling motive which induced the Peloponnesian contingents to abide at Salamis. The tale of Mnesiphilos supplies none such. The argument as to the break-up of the defence is palpably weak. There would be infinitely more fear of a dissolution of the naval force in case Salamis were chosen as the scene of battle, than if it were determined to fight in the immediate neighbourhood of the Isthmus, the very determination for which the Peloponnesian party had been intriguing ever since the war began.

This tale of Mnesiphilos is so suspicious that it cannot [364]be regarded as reliable history. Herodotus seems himself to have been aware that it would convey an impression of improbability when read beside the other tale of the motive which Themistocles urged for fighting in the strait; for he attempts to reconcile the truth of the two stories.

In his private interview with Eurybiades, Themistocles, so he says, adopted as his own the argument suggested by Mnesiphilos, and with its aid so far persuaded that much vexed but apparently honest patriot of the inadvisability of the decision to which the Council of War had recently come, that he consented to call another meeting to reconsider the subject. This was the famous meeting at which the fate of Greece was decided; and it may be regarded as certain that, as is invariably the case with the crises of great historical tragedies, later tradition did not allow the incidents of the situation to lose dramatic force in the telling. Though the dramatic element is not absent from Herodotus’ version, it gives a strong impression of being in the main a true account of what took place. The historian seems to have exercised a powerful self-control over himself in writing the account of what he knew well to have been the most critical moment in the history of his race; and he has, in consequence, succeeded in making his description of this gathering of the Greek commanders one of the most striking pictures in his history.

H. viii. 59.

“And when they had assembled, before Eurybiades put the question about which he had called the generals together, Themistocles spoke long and earnestly. As he was speaking the Corinthian commander, Adeimantos, the son of Okytos, said: ‘At the games, Themistocles, those who start too soon are scourged.’ But he, justifying his action, answered, ‘Yes, and those left at the post do not win the prize.’ On this occasion his retort to the Corinthian was mild in character; but to Eurybiades he did not use his previous arguments, to the effect that the fleet, if it left Salamis, would disperse; for in the presence of the allies it did not become him to accuse any one. COUNCIL OF WAR AT SALAMIS. He relied on a different argument, and spoke as follows: ‘The salvation of Greece is in your hands if you be persuaded by me to remain and give battle in this place, and do not yield to those here present who urge you to remove [365]the fleet to the Isthmus. Hear now and judge between the two plans. If you engage off the Isthmus you will fight in the open sea, and it is highly inexpedient for us to put out thither, because our ships are heavier and fewer in number; and, again, you will lose Salamis, Megara, and Ægina, even if we are successful in other respects. For the Persians’ land army will accompany their fleet, and so you will be responsible for bringing them to the Peloponnese, and will place the whole of Greece in peril. But if you do as I say, you will find the following great advantages in my plan. In the first place, by engaging in the strait with few ships against many, we shall win a great victory, if the war takes the course that may be expected; for it is in our favour to fight in the narrow seas, just as it is in their favour to fight in the open. Again Salamis, in which we have deposited our wives and children, will not fall into the hands of the enemy. And there is this further advantage in the plan, and one by which you set most store. Whether you remain here, or whether you fight at the Isthmus, you will be just as much fighting on behalf of the Peloponnese; and you will not, if you are wise, attract the enemy towards the Peloponnese. If matters turn out as I expect, and we win a naval battle, the barbarians will never reach the Isthmus, nor advance further than Attica, but will retire in disorder: and we shall be the gainers by the salvation of Megara, Ægina, and Salamis, at which, according to an oracle, we should defeat the foe. When men form reasonable plans they usually succeed; but if they form unreasonable ones, the god refuses to fall in with human fancies.’ When Themistocles had made this speech, the Corinthian Adeimantos again attacked him, bidding him hold his peace, as he had no fatherland, and protesting against Eurybiades putting the vote for one who had no state to represent; for he urged that Themistocles should show of what state he was envoy, before he gave his vote with the rest. The point of this reproach was that Athens had been captured and was in the hands of the foe. On this occasion Themistocles spoke both long and bitterly against him and the Corinthians, and demonstrated that the Athenians had a State and country more powerful than that of Corinth, so long as two hundred ships were manned by them; for none of the Greeks could resist their attack.

“After this declaration he appealed to Eurybiades, speaking more earnestly (than before). ‘If you,’ he said, ‘remain here and play the man, all will be well; but if not, you will bring about the overthrow of Hellas. For the decision of the war lies with the fleet. Therefore be persuaded by me.

[366]“‘But if you do not do this, we will take our families and go as we are to Siris in Italy, which is our land of old, and the oracles say is fated to be colonized by us. You, when bereft of such allies as we have been, will remember my words.’

“After this speech of Themistocles Eurybiades changed his mind. My own view is that he did so, fearing lest the Athenians should desert them if he took the fleet to the Isthmus; for if the Athenians departed, the remainder of the fleet was incapable of facing the enemy. He decided therefore to remain, and give battle there.”

There are very noteworthy points about this remarkable narrative. Despite his prejudice against Themistocles, Herodotus makes it quite clear that he, and he alone, was responsible for the fleet remaining at Salamis. Though the language of the story does not make it quite clear, the remarks of Themistocles which provoked the first retort of Adeimantos, seem to have been of the nature of individual exhortation to the various commanders before the formal meeting opened. Apparently, the first step in the regular Council of War was a statement made by the president of the question to be discussed.

Herodotus is at special pains to mention that the argument suggested by Mnesphilos was, of set purpose, not employed upon the present occasion.

It may be observed that if that argument had any applicability at all, it could only be to the Æginetans and Megareans, whose lands would be exposed to the Persian in case the decision to retire to the Isthmus were persisted in. They had just as much, if not more, cause than the Athenians had to wish the fleet to remain at Salamis, therefore the reason given for the omission of the argument, namely, that Themistocles did not wish to accuse any one, is highly improbable. Had there been any soundness in it, had it, indeed, ever been used, the Æginetans and Megareans would have recked little of being charged with a desire to defend their own homes, if the charge had supplied an argument for the carrying out of a policy which was a matter of life and death to them.


The almost vindictive opposition of the Corinthian admiral to Themistocles is not the least remarkable [367]feature in the tale. It will be remembered that something of a like kind had occurred at Artemisium. When Themistocles, at the request of the Eubœans, advocated the retention of the fleet at Artemisium, it was not merely with Eurybiades, but also with the Corinthian admiral, that he had to deal.

It has been suggested that these tales, which were calculated in after-time to cast discredit on the behaviour of the Corinthians at this crisis, were invented at the period, later in the century, when Corinth was in the forefront of hostility to Athens. It is, however, very possible that the seeds of that hostility had been already sown, and were bearing fruit in 480. The evidence obtainable from the remains of this period which have been discovered in Sicily and in Magna Græcia, make it clear that in the latter part of the sixth and early years of the fifth century, of the great trading cities of Greece proper, Corinth and Athens divided between them the lion’s share of the trade with the West; There had, no doubt, been a rivalry between the two; but up to a certain point it had been of a peaceful character, neither party being strong enough to establish a supremacy over the other. Still, in the twenty years preceding the war, the changes in the coinage system of Sicily seem to indicate that Athens had been for some time gaining ground. That there was, however, no rupture in the peaceful, or even friendly, relations between the two towns is shown by the fact that Corinth actually aided Athens in one of her wars with Ægina by the loan of ships.

It is calculated that this loan of ships was made about the year 498.156 Corinth, the Venice of Greece, was a trading state pure and simple; and trade questions must have had a preponderating influence on her policy. It would seem, then, that at the beginning of the fifth century she regarded Ægina as a more formidable trade rival than Athens. One cause for this suggests itself. The naval power of Ægina was at the beginning of the century superior to that of Athens, as the loan of vessels shows; and a trade rival is a much more serious competitor if [368]backed by naval power than if working on the lines of purely peaceful competition. The next twenty years, however, brought about a complete change in the relative circumstances of the three states. Ægina had suffered severely in a war with Athens, which took place in the decade intervening between Marathon and Salamis. The naval power of Athens had, on the other hand, enormously increased from the moment when, in or about 484 the Athenians began to adopt the advice of Themistocles, and to devote the proceeds of the mines of Laurion to the building of a fleet, the like of which Greece had never seen at the command of any single one of her States. This is the probable cause of the original growth of that enmity between Corinth and Athens which was to bear fruit later in the century; and this may account for the attitude of Corinth at the time of the Great War.

Themistocles’ first speech consists of an argument; his second of a threat; but, as Herodotus points out, the second was delivered under the influence of the anger he felt at the injustice of the taunt which Adeimantos had hurled against himself and his countrymen. Never was anger more justifiable. The necessity for the removal of the population had been brought about by the fact that the Peloponnesian land forces at the Isthmus had made no preparation whatever to defend Attica during the time at which the fleet was at Artemisium.

One part of the argument is very striking, because it is, perhaps, the only passage in Herodotus which gives an indication of what must have been of necessity the case,—the dependence of the Persian army on the fleet Themistocles points out to the Greeks that, if they keep the Persian fleet at Salamis, the Persian army can never reach the Isthmus, or even invade the Megarid. More he does not say on this point, because he evidently assumed that his hearers would understand him. If the situation be considered, the only interpretation which they could pit upon his words was that the difficulty of commissariat would, under those circumstances, be an insuperable obstacle to the Persian advance. ORIGINAL AUTHORITIES. Their army, after crossing Kithæron, had left the rich lands of Greece, the plains of Bœotia [369]and Thessaly, behind it. It might, indeed, have reached the Isthmus; but the maintenance of it even for a brief period in a region which could afford but little sustenance, and which was peculiarly inaccessible by land from the North, owing to the interposition of the great and difficult ridge of Geraneia, would become an impossibility.157

Colour map.


London: John Murray, Albemarle Street.
Stanford’s Geographical Estabt. London.

Note on the Authorities for the Account of Salamis.

It is impossible to enter upon the description of the battle of Salamis without giving some short explanation of the views on the subject which the author has thought fit to adopt, since they differ fundamentally from those which are put forward in the best-known modern histories of Greece. The historians of the last generation do not seem to have recognized that the details of the battle as given by Herodotus present any difficulty of a serious character. His account was accepted as correct, against all other extant evidence on the subject, which was treated as either worthless or of inferior authority.

Apart from chance references in other writers, which are either mere commonplaces or historically valueless, the evidence available is supplied by four authors,—Æschylus, Herodotus, Diodorus, and Plutarch. Those who adopt Herodotus’ views regard the evidence of the other three authors as being, for various reasons, unreliable.

In the case of Æschylus, the obvious objection is that he was a poet, and that all the evidence he gives is contained in the “Persæ.” It cannot, of course, be denied that this objection would, from the historical point of view, be a very strong one, were Æschylus merely giving a poetical account of a most dramatic scene, the description [370]of which he derived from others. But when it is remembered that the poet was actually present as a combatant on board the Greek fleet, it is manifest that his narrative, though cast in the poetical form, cannot be ignored by the historian. One element in it, at any rate, must be reckoned with: the stated facts of the author’s personal observation. These are, indeed, few in number, but it so happens that they are of very great importance; nor are they of a character such as might suggest that they had been modified in any way for dramatic purposes.

The evidence of Diodorus is ignored by modern authorities simply on the ground that that author is so notoriously unreliable. That such is the case, no one who knows his work would care to deny; but it is a fallacy to treat the whole of his work as unsound, and to say, as has been said by one eminent authority, that whenever the evidence of Herodotus and Diodorus respectively differs on any particular point, that of Herodotus is to be unhesitatingly preferred.

In the present case, Plutarch may, for the most part, be ignored. His evidence is secondhand of the secondhand; and most details given by him which are not found in any one of the three first-mentioned authorities are either unimportant, highly suspicious, or demonstrably wrong.

The rejection of Herodotus’ account of the tactics pursued by the two fleets rests on two grounds:⁠—

(1) The evidence of the eye-witness Æschylus, which is quite irreconcileable with Herodotus’ description.

(2) Objections of a most important character which must suggest themselves to the mind of any one who has seen the strait, and might well be suggested to any one who possesses a reliable map of it.

In so far as I am aware, Professor Goodwin, in an article on “Salamis” in the Journal of the Archæological Institute of America, 1882–83, was the first to point out the serious difficulties involved, not, as he thought, in Herodotus’ account, but rather in the interpretation which later historians had put upon it.

As the main basis of his argument he enunciated the necessity of taking the evidence of Æschylus into serious consideration; he laid it down, indeed, that that evidence, in so far as it was plainly drawn from personal observation, must be regarded as superior in authority to any evidence on the same point contained in other extant descriptions of the fight. INTERPRETATION OF EVIDENCE. I venture to think that, in so doing, Professor [371]Goodwin rendered a most important service to the study of a great chapter in Ancient History.

He further argued that the discrepancies between Æschylus and Herodotus are apparent and not real, and are due to a mistaken interpretation of Herodotus’ narrative.

It will be seen that I do not agree with the second part of Professor Goodwin’s proposition. My belief is that the modern historians have correctly interpreted Herodotus’ account; and that, so far as his evidence is concerned, the mistake is in the evidence, and not in the interpretation of it.

Though the detail must be reserved for discussion when the incidents of the fight come to be examined in detail, it may be convenient for the understanding of the problem involved, to give a brief sketch of the line of argument which will be followed.

It is generally agreed—in fact, the evidence is unanimous on this point—that the Persians drew up their fleet in some way so as to block the eastern end of the Salamis strait; though the way in which they did this is disputed. But the main points in dispute are:⁠—

(1) As to the locality of the part of the other end of the strait which they blocked so as to prevent the Greek fleet from escaping, viz. whether it was the narrow portion of the eastern strait at the point where it enters the bay of Eleusis, or whether it was the strait between Salamis island and the Megarid coast.

(2) As to the position of the Persian fleet, especially at daybreak, on the morning of the battle.

The scheme of the battle given in nearly all the modern histories of Greece, represents the Persian fleet as drawn up on the morning of the battle along the Attic coast, from the narrows at the entrance of the bay of Eleusis almost to the mouth of Piræus harbour, while the Greek fleet is opposite, extending from a point some way north of the island of St. George almost to the end of Kynosura (vide Grote, etc.).

I notice that this scheme has been adhered to in various histories of Greece which are either new or have been re-edited since Professor Goodwin’s article was published.

The objections to it which Professor Goodwin urged seem to me so strong that I am surprised that the scheme is still adhered to by great authorities on Greek history. The reason for this adherence I have not seen stated in print I can only suppose that those who retain the [372]old view reject wholly the version of Diodorus, where it differs from that of Herodotus, and would hold that the latter is not contradicted in any essential respect by the, for historical purposes, imperfect account of Æschylus. Professor Goodwin lays down the canon that on any detail which Æschylus does mention, he is the authority to be followed, because he was an eye-witness. He further seeks to reconcile Herodotus’ account with that of Æschylus, with the result that he reproduces a history of the battle which is in nearly all essential respects that of Diodorus.

The thesis which I propose to put forward is that we have in the tale of Salamis one of the rare cases in which Diodorus has either obtained better information than Herodotus or made better use of his information.

The arguments against the old scheme, of which the most convincing have been already stated by Professor Goodwin, are:⁠—

(a) How could the Persian movement of cutting off be accomplished so secretly that the Greeks got no wind of it? (H. viii. 78; Plut Them. 12; Arist. 8.)

How could the Persians have slipped along the other side of the narrow strait in the night unperceived?

(b) Can we believe that the Greek fleet was allowed to form quietly in line of battle at the other side of this narrow strait, in the very face of the Persian fleet only a few hundred yards distant?

Surely the Persian fleet, being eager to capture the Greek fleet, would have seized the ships while the crews were preparing to embark.

(c) Æschylus, an eye-witness, testifies that it was only after the Greeks had rowed forward from their position that they were fairly seen by the Persians (Æsch Pers. 400).

(d) Æschylus, Pers. 443–466; H. viii. 76, 95; Plut. Aris. 9, concur in the statement that Xerxes landed a body of Persians on Psyttaleia, because he thought that it would be a central point of the sea-fight.

Such are Professor Goodwin’s objections to the old scheme.



To the last I would add that Herodotus expressly describes the measures taken with regard to Psyttaleia as being synchronous with those for blocking the straits (viii. 76).

Of these objections:⁠—

(a) is strong, as being Herodotus’ own evidence; and it is on Herodotus that the old scheme must rely. The passages quoted from Plutarch are, however, manifestly from the Herodotean source.

Objections (b), (c), (d) seem to me unanswerable. As I read the narrative, the old scheme of Grote and others cannot stand in face of them.

In so far as my experience goes, I think that it may be demonstrated that Herodotus’ mistakes, in his military history generally, arise almost wholly from⁠—

(1) Misreading of sources.

(2) Use of defective or mistaken sources; not from the invention of imaginary facts.

His painful conscientiousness seems to be genuine, not fictitious. But, eminently unmilitary himself, he was peculiarly liable to misunderstand the information at his disposal with regard to military matters; and this, as it seems to me, is exactly what has happened with regard to his account of Salamis, and in the following way:⁠—

It is, of course, a commonplace of criticism to say that Herodotus gives us no account of the general movements or manœuvres of the two fleets on the actual day of the battle, save that he mentions that the Æginetan vessels fell on the Phœnician ships which the Athenians put to flight. What I may call the enunciation of my proposition is this:⁠—

This failure of information in this part of his narrative is due to the fact that he had already, in the previous part of it, used up his information on this point.

He antedated a movement made on the night preceding the battle to the previous afternoon, and further antedated the movements in the battle itself to the night preceding the battle.

It is curious and noticeable that, when this correction is made in Herodotus’ dating, and in the mistaken accounts of movements which the chronological error entailed, there is so close a resemblance between the narratives of Herodotus and Diodorus that they may be suspected of having been derived from sources which, if not absolutely identical, were close in similarity.

[374]The fleet of Xerxes was now at Phaleron, in the bay lying east of the peninsula on which stood the town of Piræus. After spending three days at Histiæa, subsequent to the departure of the army from Thermopylæ, it had taken three days more to reach Phaleron. It is probable, therefore, that it arrived there shortly before the army reached Attic territory. Herodotus is of opinion that, despite the losses at the Sepiad strand, at Thermopylæ, at Artemisium, and in the Hollows of Eubœa, the net strength of the land and sea forces was, owing to the accession of reinforcements, not less than before these losses were incurred. For the numbers of the land forces he makes out something resembling a case. It is probable that the addition of the full contingents of Dorians and Locrians, and of all the Bœotians, except the Platæans and Thespians, largely, if not entirely, compensated for the losses suffered at Thermopylæ, great as they had been. But that the naval contingents of Karystos, Andros, Tenos, and the other islands, can have in any sensible measure compensated for the losses suffered at Sepias, Artemisium, and the Hollows of Eubœa, is plainly absurd. Herodotus has evidently, in his desire to magnify the force opposed to the Greeks at Salamis, forgotten the enormity of the losses he represents the Persians to have suffered in the two storms.

H. viii. 67–69.

It is difficult to say how much truth there is in the account given of the Persian Council of War held before Salamis. It could hardly be treated as serious history, were it not that Artemisia, a countrywoman of Herodotus, is represented as having been present on the occasion, and as having taken a prominent part in the discussion. She alone advised against the attack; but her reported speech is so noticeably marked by knowledge after the event, that much of the matter of it cannot be regarded as genuine. At the same time, it is plain that Herodotus did obtain from her, either directly or indirectly, details, whether true or false, both of what happened at this meeting, and of many personal incidents in the coming battle; and despite the exultation with which he chronicles the Greek victory, he is evidently anxious to record the wisdom of the queen of his native city.



The theatre of the impending operations was the channel between Salamis island and the mainland of Attica, or, rather, that eastern part of it which stretches from the harbour of Piræus to the sharp bend which the strait makes beyond Salamis town. After rounding the promontory of Piræus, a fleet entering the strait would sail nearly due north. The island of Psyttaleia lies across the entrance, and being of considerable size (nearly three-quarters of a mile in length), greatly detracts from the width of the channel, dividing it into two, the western arm, between the elongated rocky promontory of Kynosura and the island, being exactly half a mile wide, the eastern, between the island and the mainland of Attica, being slightly more than three-quarters of a mile in width. After passing Psyttaleia the channel turns west at right angles, and now runs between Kynosura and Mount Ægaleos, with a width of about two thousand yards, contracting opposite the site of the ancient town of Salamis to a width of about thirteen hundred and fifty yards. The strait then once more turns at right angles, and goes due north to the bay of Eleusis, the fairway being blocked by the island of St. George, where it is only twelve hundred yards in width on the side towards Attica. Just before entering the bay of Eleusis it once more contracts to the width of slightly more than fourteen hundred yards. Taking a line down the centre of the channel, the distance from Psyttaleia to the narrows of old Salamis is two miles and a half, and from the latter point to the narrows at the entrance of the bay of Eleusis about a mile and three-quarters. The scenery in the strait is beautiful. Looking from the mainland of Attica north of Piræus harbour along the arm of the channel which goes westward, the deep blue of the water is contrasted with the brilliant yellows, reds, and browns of the somewhat fantastically shaped hills of Salamis; while on the right the pine woods of Ægaleos add a mingled dark and brilliant light green to the colouring of the picture. Behind the hills of Salamis the grey hump of Geraneia upon the Isthmus rises high into the air.

From Ægaleos, the view southward towards Psyttaleia is somewhat different in character. The island, which rises [376]to a considerable height out of the water, occupies the central part of the middle distance. The easternmost of the two channels is seen at its full width. Piræus is in sight, and away behind it the somewhat featureless shore of South Attica stretches into an apparent infinity towards Sunium. The channel to the west of the island appears greatly contracted, because Kynosura, with its serrated back, almost overlaps the west end of Psyttaleia. Behind Kynosura rise the hills of South Salamis; and in the far background the hills of Ægina are in sight. Such is the scene of the great battle, as it shows itself in the present day.

H. viii. 63.

The effect of Themistocles’ speech at the Council of War was to persuade Eurybiades of the absolute necessity of remaining at Salamis. Herodotus believes, [probably rightly,] that the threatened defection of the Athenian fleet was what decided him to change the determination to which the previous Council of War had come; and, if Herodotus’ language is to be taken as it stands, the decision was his own. There is no mention of any further voting on the question. This decision seems to have been taken on the day but one preceding the battle.

The position on the evening of that day was that the Persian fleet was at Phaleron, while the Greek fleet lay at Salamis.

From the historical point of view, the critical point in the various parallel accounts of the battle is the description of the events of the next day, the eve of the great fight.

H. viii. 64.

At sunrise an earthquake occurred which was felt both by land and sea. The Greeks determined, in consequence of it, to summon the sacred heroes, the Æacidæ, to their aid, and despatched a ship to Ægina to fetch their images, which were deposited in that island. Other ominous events, less credible than the earthquake, are reported to have taken place at this time.

H. viii. 70.

It is to this day that Herodotus ascribes the first movement of the Persian fleet from Phaleron towards the mouth of the strait. He says that it put out towards Salamis, but that the day was too far spent for it to attempt to engage the Greek fleet before nightfall. THE MESSAGE OF THEMISTOCLES. It must be concluded, therefore, that he attributes this [377]movement to the late afternoon. It seems highly probable that the very serious difficulties which are raised by the later part of his narrative of the movements preceding the battle are originally due to his mistiming of this movement. Cf. H. viii. 75. He represents it as having been made before Xerxes received Themistocles’ message to the effect that the Greeks intended to fly, and, therefore, as not being in any way causally connected with that message. On this point his evidence is in conflict with that of Æschylus and Diodorus.

Æsch. Pers. 357, ff.

Æschylus’ account is, in brief, as follows: A message came to Xerxes from the Greek fleet, and told him that the Greeks would, during the night, disperse and seek safety in flight. Xerxes, failing to discern the crafty nature of the message, ordered his captains, when night came, to range the fleet in three lines, and “to guard the exits and the roaring firths.” Furthermore, ships were ordered to make the circuit of the “Island of Ajax,” so as to cut off the Greek retreat.

Æschylus evidently attributes the Persian movement to the receipt of this message. But the most important point in his narrative is that he attributes this first Persian movement to the night preceding the battle, and not to the afternoon of the previous day. Had it taken place on the afternoon of that day, as Herodotus alleges, those on board the Greek fleet must have known of it. The movement of the whole Persian fleet to the mouth of the strait could not have remained a secret to the Greeks at Salamis, less than three miles from its entrance.

To return to the message: Æschylus describes Xerxes as giving his orders immediately on receipt of it, but bidding his officers wait till nightfall. This raises a certain amount of probability that the receipt of the message is to be dated to the late afternoon. H. viii. 75, 76. Furthermore, this very time of the despatch of the message is indicated in Herodotus’ account.

The circumstances under which it was sent are as follows: Eurybiades’ decision had been taken on the previous day. It seems, as has been already pointed out, as if the decision had been his own. If so, it is not [378]surprising that there should have been a considerable amount of dissatisfaction existent among those commanders of contingents whose opinions he had ignored.158 H. viii. 74. They were anxious for the safety of the Isthmus, and not without reason; H. viii. 70. for Herodotus states that a few hours after this time, during the ensuing night, the Persian army started on its march thither.

Another Council of War assembled. It was no longer proposed that the whole fleet should sail away to the Isthmus; that proposition, in view of the attitude taken up by the Athenians, could have had no real effect if carried, and the decision of the council was apparently that the Athenian, Megarean, and Æginetan contingents should remain at Salamis, while the remainder of the fleet went to the Isthmus. This, had it ever been carried out, could not have failed to be absolutely disastrous to the Greek cause; nothing, under the circumstances, could have been more fatal than the division of the Greek fleet at this crisis of affairs. Though no such decision is mentioned by Æschylus or Diodorus, there is every probability that the story is founded upon fact. Diodorus’ evidence as to the extreme state of panic which prevailed in the fleet at this moment is just as emphatic as that of Herodotus.

There can be little doubt that the design of the Peloponnesians was to transfer themselves from the sea to the land defence. H. viii. 71. For months past they had been fortifying the Isthmus, and by this time they had brought their defensive works practically to a state of completion, for they had employed large numbers of workers, and the toil had been continuous, day and night. They had also taken measures to render impassable the Skironid way, that most difficult coast road, which ran along a mere shelf of the precipices of Geraneia above the Saronic gulf. Why, instead of walling the Isthmus, they did not, after blocking the Skironid way, provide for the defence of the two other very difficult passes by which alone Geraneia could be traversed, it is impossible to say. THE PELOPONNESIANS. It may be that their own notorious incompetence in attacking [379]artificial fortifications led them to over-estimate the effectiveness of this form of defence.

Diodorus mentions that the wall ran from Lechæum to Cenchrea, and that it was forty stades, or between four and a half and five miles, in length. That such a work would require a very large number of men for its effective defence in those days of short-range missiles and close fighting is evident. Still, the numbers requisite might have been supplied, had all the Peloponnesian states furnished contingents, and had not part of the available forces of those who did come forward been engaged on board the fleet. Argos and Achaia were unrepresented; and if so low a number as one hundred and fifty be taken as the average crew of each of the triremes furnished by the Peloponnesians, more than thirteen thousand of their men were, for the time being, not available at the Isthmus. It is highly probable the predominant feeling among the Peloponnesian members of the fleet at Salamis was one of extreme anxiety as to whether the force available with Kleombrotos at the wall was sufficient to defend works so extensive.

Of the three main authorities for the incidents of this time, it is Herodotus who gives the message of Themistocles in its fullest form. His account is that, on finding the majority in the last Council of War against him, Themistocles went quietly away and despatched a message to Xerxes.159 Sikinnos was the name of the messenger, so he says—a slave of Themistocles, and tutor to his son.160 Æschylus merely says that he was a Greek, and Diodorus does not mention his name or quality.

It is interesting to note the terms of the message. It represents the sender as being desirous for the success of the Persians. It then proceeds to give two reasons why the king [380]should attack immediately: (1) because otherwise the Greek fleet would disperse; (2) because, in case of the Persian attack, a section of the fleet whose views coincided with those of the sender would attack the other. Diod xi. 17. Diodorus gives a brief account of the matter, and only mentions the first of the two reasons.

The terms of the message must not be taken to indicate the motives of the sender, other than his desire to induce the Persian to attack without delay.

A very little consideration will show that the reasons urged in it are not necessarily, either in whole or in part, identical with those private motives which led to its being sent. Still, no Greek who knew his countrymen at that time could have much doubt that the Persian authorities would be kept fairly well informed of the main currents of feeling in the Greek fleet. They must, for example, have been perfectly well aware of the dissensions with regard to the place at which the invasion should be resisted; and this knowledge alone would render Xerxes and his advisers liable to credit the plausible but exaggerated statement with reference to the length to which those dissensions had gone. It is purely an accident that the first reason stated in the message conveyed little more than the truth. Two dangers threatened the strategy which had kept the fleet at Salamis: (1) the secession of the Peloponnesian contingent; (2) the advance of the Persian fleet, or even of a part of it, to the Isthmus, without risking an engagement in the narrows. There is absolutely no reason why it should not have gone there as a whole. The Greek fleet could not have remained at Salamis had it done so, and would have been forced to fight at a comparative disadvantage in the open. The ultimate result might not have been different; but it would have been infinitely more uncertain. Both strategical dangers were avoided, if only the Persians could be persuaded to fight; and the long-headed Athenian had wit enough to hold out to Xerxes the two inducements which would have most weight with him,—the prospect of the capture of the Greek fleet, and the desirability of striking while the dissension in it was at its height.



Xerxes fell into the trap laid for him, and modified his plans accordingly. For the successful accomplishment of the new Persian design three conditions were necessary:⁠—the action must be prompt; it must be secret; the blocking of the eastern and western channels of Salamis strait must be carried out simultaneously. Even were there not more conclusive reasons for rejecting the time of the movement of the Persian fleet to the eastern strait as given by Herodotus, the fact that it would have conspicuously failed to fulfil the two most important of these evident conditions would render the accuracy of his statement a matter for serious consideration.

But this does not afford any reason for rejecting Herodotus’ evidence as to the nature of the movement. His description of it clearly identifies it with part of the movement which Æschylus and Diodorus attribute to the night preceding the battle. The identity is further confirmed by the fact that in all three historians no previous movement on the part of the Persian fleet at Phaleron is mentioned. H. viii. 70. Herodotus says that the Persian fleet, on being ordered to put out from Phaleron, sailed towards Salamis, and quietly took up its order in its various divisions.

Æsch Pers. 366, ff.

Æschylus says that Xerxes’ orders were that the fleet should put out after nightfall, and that “the close array of ships should be drawn up in three ranks to guard the exits of the straits and the roaring firths,” while others should circumnavigate the “Island of Ajax,” so as to close that line of retreat to the Greek fleet.

Diodorus is practically in agreement with Æschylus in so far as the latter goes. Diod xi. 17. The king, he says, placed credence in the message which he had received, and hastened to prevent the naval forces of the Greeks from getting near the land army. He therefore immediately despatched the Egyptian contingent, ordering it to block the passage between Salamis and the Megarid.161 Cf. Plut. Them. 12. The rest [382]of the ships he sent towards Salamis, ordering them to attack the enemy, and decide the struggle by a naval battle.

It is clear, then, that neither Æschylus nor Diodorus has any mention of a movement of the Persian fleet from Phaleron until after the receipt of Themistocles’ message; and Æschylus expressly states that the movement to the east end of the strait was made after the fall of night. Plut. Them. 12. As has been already pointed out, if it had been made during the daytime, the Greeks on board the fleet, among whom was Æschylus, could not have failed to know of it.

Plutarch, though unreliable as an independent witness, is in agreement with Æschylus and Diodorus as to the Persian movement being subsequent to the receipt of Themistocles’ message.

In connection with the blocking of the eastern strait an important measure was taken. H. viii. 76. Persian troops were landed on the island of Psyttaleia. Herodotus describes this as being subsequent to the receipt of Themistocles’ message. Æsch. Pers. 452. Both he and Æschylus say that the measure was taken in order that the troops there might save such Persians and destroy such Greeks as were driven on to it in the stress of the battle.

For some reason, then, the Persian commanders supposed that the island would play a prominent part in the battle as designed by them. It is impossible that they could have held any supposition of the kind, had their plan of attack been such as is described in Herodotus, for in that case the battle must have taken place several miles away up the strait.

Note on the Movement of the Persian Fleet on the Night before the Battle, as described by Herodotus.

Before taking the historian’s account into consideration, it is necessary to realize, in so far as possible, the exact nature of the difficulties in which, as a historian, he was [383]involved by his mistiming of the Persian movement from Phaleron. He had failed to connect the movement to the east end of the strait with Themistocles’ message. Despite this, he seems to be aware that the Persians did make a movement in the night in consequence of the receipt of that message, and that part of that movement consisted in closing the western channel,—at some point or other near Salamis, he is led to think. He is also aware that this movement during the night, including the blocking of the western strait, was made after, and in consequence of, the receipt of Themistocles’ message. He had already, without knowing it, exhausted his sources of information with regard to the major part of this night-advance. What those sources of information were, it is impossible to say. The probability is that, in the form in which he used them in composing this chapter of his history, they were of a written kind,—possibly notes he had himself made on the subject of the battle, taken years before from the verbal description of one who was present at it.

Turning to his notes to seek for details of this night-movement, he would, under the circumstances, suppose, naturally enough, that the movements indicated in them as succeeding the movement he had already described, were those made by the Persian fleet in the night. Two pieces of evidence support this conjecture:⁠—

(1) In spite of the confusion of his description, arising from the misapplication of his information, it is possible to identify the movements which he attributes to the fleet during the night with the movements of the fleet in the actual battle, in so far as they are indicated from other sources.

(2) The complete absence in his account of the actual battle of any details of the general movements of the fleets is accounted for, if, as is suggested, he had misapplied the information which he possessed on this point,—if he had, in fact, used it up beforehand.

His description of this night-movement is given in the following words

“When midnight arrived, the west wing put out and made a turning movement towards Salamis; and those about Keos and Kynosura put out in order, and occupied the whole strait as far as Munychia with their ships. The object of these movements was to rob the Greeks of the possibility of retreat, so that vengeance might be taken upon them when cut off in Salamis for the battles fought near Artemisium.”

[384]H. viii. 76.

He then recurs to the occupation of Psyttaleia.

“Persians were disembarked on the island called Psyttaleia, in order that, when the battle took place, as the damaged vessels and their crews would be for the most part carried in that direction (for the island lay in the line of the approaching sea-fight), they might save their friends and destroy their foes.

“These measures they carried out quietly, so that the enemy might not get wind of them.”

Any attempt to apply this description to the movement made on the night preceding the battle renders the passage absolutely incomprehensible. No useful end can be gained by discussing the difficulties at length. It will be sufficient to point them out, in order to make their insoluble character quite clear.

(1) What does Herodotus mean by the “west wing” of the Persian fleet? He distinguishes it from the ships about Keos and Kynosura. Where were their positions? Keos is not identifiable. Some suppose it to be an alternative name for Kynosura. But of the identity of the latter there can be no doubt. It is certainly the long narrow “dog’s tail” of a peninsula to the west of Psyttaleia, jutting out from the island of Salamis. There is an exactly similar peninsula at Marathon, which was called by the same name. This being so, the ships about Kynosura could only be the west wing of the fleet! How, then, does the distinction arise in Herodotus?

(2) This “west wing” put out towards Salamis with intent, according to Herodotus’ language in the next sentence, to prevent the Greeks from escaping by the western strait. If so, they must have occupied the narrows either at or just north of the island of St. George.

How did they get there unknown to the Greek fleet of over three hundred vessels on the other side of the narrow strait, which, as has been pointed out, contracts to a width of about three-quarters of a mile opposite to old Salamis town? Could such a movement on the part of a large body of ships have escaped their notice, even under the highly improbable supposition that they had taken no precaution whatever to prevent surprise? THE NIGHT BEFORE THE BATTLE. Is it conceivable that the commanders who had at the time of Artemisium sent scouting vessels up the Thessalian coast, and inaugurated a signalling system which extended probably from Skiathos to South Eubœa, would have [385]allowed the fleet to lie at Salamis without placing sentinel vessels to observe the straits in their immediate neighbourhood?

Colour map.


London: John Murray, Albemarle Street.
Stanford’s Geographical Estabt. London.

(3) What did Herodotus suppose to be the position of the rest of the fleet which held “all the strait as far as Munychia”?

Attempts have been made to argue that his language with regard to the movement of ships “about Keos and Kynosura” refers to a blocking of the strait at about the line of which Psyttaleia was the centre. The object of this argument is, manifestly, to bring Herodotus into agreement with Æschylus and Diodorus.

But can this interpretation of his description be maintained, when it is remembered that Herodotus has already described a movement as having taken place the previous afternoon with a view to blocking the strait at that point? Again, Herodotus mentions Munychia as one end of the line of ships, and evidently implies that at the other end it came in contact with the ships which had been sent πρὸς τὴν Σαλαμῖνα to block the western exit at the narrows before the bay of Eleusis. In other words, it seems impossible to doubt that the interpretation which Grote and others have put upon his description of the position taken up by the Persian fleet on the night before the battle is perfectly correct. It stretched in a long line (κατεῖχόν πάντα τὸν πορθμὸν), from the bend of the strait at the end of Mount Ægaleos, along the shore of Attica to Munychia. This interpretation is furthermore overwhelmingly supported by his language in chapter 85, when he says:⁠—

“Opposite to the Athenians were the Phœnicians, for these occupied the wing on the side of Eleusis and the west. Over against the Lacedæmonians were the Ionians. These occupied the wing towards the east and the Piræus.”

The acceptance of this plan of the battle involves several difficulties which are of a very serious character. If such was the position of the Persian fleet,⁠—

(1) How can Xerxes have supposed, as both Herodotus and Æschylus assert he did, that the island of Psyttaleia would play a prominent part in the battle?

(2) How can a movement on such a scale have been carried out during the night, unknown to the Greek fleet on the opposite side of the narrow strait? Any one who [386]has been to Salamis can only give one answer to this question.

(3) What possible protection on either flank would the narrow seaway have afforded to the Greek fleet when advancing to meet the Persians in this position? It must have been outflanked.

How, then, did it come to pass that in after-time the success at Salamis was ascribed to Themistocles’ strategy, and this not merely in the tradition of the battle, but by the commanders who actually fought there? The success of that strategy was absolutely dependent on the narrowness of the possible front of the fighting line.

(4) If such were the position of the two fleets when the fatal morning dawned, they must have been in full view of one another, at a distance of a few hundred yards, across the narrow strait.

Æsch. Pers. 400.

If so, how is it that the evidence of the eye-witness Æschylus is utterly at variance with such a supposition?

It is really only possible to come to one conclusion on the subject. As a description of the movement made in the night by the Persian fleet, this passage in Herodotus is wholly mistaken. He has almost certainly used in his description notes of the movements of the fleet made in the actual battle, for the very good reason that he had previously used his notes of the night-movement in describing a movement which he supposed to have taken place on the previous afternoon. Either he did not possess or he overlooked any note which he had made on the blocking of the western strait; and in order to describe what he knew to have taken place, as his reference to the arrival of Aristides shows, he stretched what was probably only a note on the advance of the Persian right wing in the battle, such as actually took place, as is known from other evidence, into an advance of that wing so far as the narrows by the island of St. George.

It is now possible to hazard a conjecture as to what he means by the “west wing” in his description of the movement. It is probable that when he used this term he had in his mind the position of the fleet as he supposed it to be, not when the movement started, but when the movement was complete; and it is noticeable that in chapter 85 he expressly speaks of the wing which would be the eastern wing in the original position, as the western wing.


Occasion will be taken in discussing the details of the actual battle to point out how nearly Herodotus’ [387]description of the movement during the night, when this exaggerated advance of the Persian right wing has been eliminated, coincides with such evidence as is extant elsewhere on the movements in the actual battle.

The movement of the Persian fleet seems not to have been completed until shortly before dawn on the day of the battle. Its position at that time appears to have been: (1) the main body was drawn up in a line across the eastern strait, blocking the channels on either side of Psyttaleia; while that island, between or in front of the bodies of ships at either side, was occupied by Persian troops;162 (2) the western channel between Salamis island and the Megarid was occupied by the two hundred vessels of the Egyptian squadron. The fairway in this channel is quite narrow, as the depth of water on either side of it is not sufficient to admit of the passage of even the shallow-draught trireme. The Egyptian squadron would therefore be sufficiently numerous to block it effectively, though the distance of this part of the strait from the scene of the battle must have precluded all idea of the ships posted there taking part in the actual fight. The Persians thought, no doubt, that by sheer weight of numbers they would be able to force the enemy’s fleet into the bay of Eleusis, and so into the clutches of the blockading squadron.

H. will 78.

During the earlier part of the night, the Greek commanders, unaware of the Persian movement, continued to dispute on the question of the policy to be pursued. Themistocles must have known by that time that his message had had its effect; but, until the western passage was blocked, there was always the possibility of his plan turning out a failure. It may well be that he fomented this “wrangle,” as Herodotus calls it, in order to gain [388]time. There is a partial conflict of evidence between Herodotus and Diodorus as to the means by which the news of the encircling movement was conveyed to the Greek camp. Diod. xi. 17. Diodorus says that a messenger sent by the Ionian Greeks announced the fact. Herodotus, on the other hand, says that the celebrated Aristides, who now for the first time appears on the stage of his history, arrived from Ægina with the news. The tale is a somewhat dramatic one, for the appreciation of which it is necessary to gather together the fragmentary evidence which is available as to the last few preceding years in the life of this famous Athenian statesman.

Herodotus’ introduction of him is brief, and certainly inadequate for a true comprehension of his actual position at this critical time. He speaks of his character in terms of the highest praise: “After inquiring into the character of this man, I am disposed to think that he was the best and most righteous man in Athens,”—a judgment which the unanimous verdict of his own and after-time confirmed. But of his previous career he says but little: he had been ostracized by the people, and he was an enemy of Themistocles. There is no mention of this ostracism having been withdrawn.

Plut. Them. 11; Arist. 8.

Plutarch refers to the incident at some length in his life of Themistocles, and more briefly in his life of Aristides. The ostracism seems to have resulted from bitter political strife between the Aristocratic party, of which Aristides was the leader, though not apparently an extremist member, and the Democratic party, led by Themistocles. This took place, it seems, in 482.163 The time of the revocation of the decree is stated to have been “while Xerxes was marching through Thessaly and Bœotia.” It must therefore have taken place a few weeks at most before Salamis. Herodotus seems either to have misunderstood or to have been misinformed as to the exact political status of Aristides at this time. ARISTIDES. From what he himself says, it is plain that the ostracism had been withdrawn, though he does not mention the [389]fact. Had Aristides appeared in the fleet in a purely private capacity at the great crisis, it might be conceivable that both he and his opponents tacitly agreed to ignore the purely political sentence which had been passed upon him. But there is evidence in Herodotus’ own narrative that Aristides was present in a high official capacity as one of the Strategoi. It is hardly credible that he could in any other capacity have entered the meeting of the Council of War on his return from Ægina,164 still less that towards the close of the fight at Salamis he should have commanded the hoplites who were landed at Psyttaleia.165 How could he command hoplites on active service unless he were a Strategos? Herodotus, for some reason which it is impossible to explain, seems never to have studied the system of command in the higher branches of the service which prevailed at this time in Athens. His account of Marathon shows that to have been the case. It is at the same time true that very considerable modifications of the system had been introduced during the decade which intervened between Marathon and Salamis.

Aristides’ action on his arrival from Ægina is somewhat remarkable. Though he entered the Council of War, he did not communicate his information, important though it was, to the meeting, but called out his great political enemy, Themistocles, and imparted his news in the first instance to him alone.

“Our political quarrels,” he said, “we must defer to another time; our emulation at this moment must be as to which of us can render the greatest services to his country. I tell you that it makes no difference whether we say much or little to the Peloponnesians with regard to their departure hence. For I say, from what I have myself seen, that the Corinthians, and Eurybiades himself, will not, even if they so desire, be able to sail out of the strait, for we are surrounded by the enemy. Go into the meeting and tell them this.”

[390]It is not difficult to conjecture what Aristides had actually seen. He had come from Ægina, and evidently, in the course of the voyage, had narrowly escaped capture by the squadron of two hundred which had been sent round to the western strait.

His special mention of the Corinthians serves to emphasize what has been already said with regard to the attitude of that people at this particular time. They were evidently in the forefront of opposition to Athens.

The concord between the views which the two ablest Athenians of this time held with regard to the strategy to be pursued is shown by the nature of Themistocles’ answer to Aristides’ communication. He makes no secret to the latter of his having sent a message to Xerxes, an avowal he would not have dared to make had he not been assured that Aristides would agree with the motives which had induced him to send the message. They must have had ample opportunity for discussing the policy to be pursued. The return of Aristides from Ægina is not to be taken as his first appearance in the fleet since the withdrawal of his ostracism. One or two reasons may account for his having been to that island at this time; either that he had been sent in command of the ship which had been despatched to fetch the Æakidæ;166 or that he had superintended the deportation of the Attic refugees to that place.

After imparting his secret, Themistocles asked Aristides to inform the Council of what he had seen, because, if he himself made the announcement, it would be regarded with suspicion. TRUE COURAGE OF THE GREEKS. This Aristides did; but even he could not persuade the Peloponnesians of the truth of his information, and the discussion in the Council proceeded until a Tenian ship, which deserted from the enemy, confirmed the tidings in a way that admitted of no doubt [391]It must necessarily have been a brief space which intervened between the announcement and its confirmation, but it must have been a time of intense anxiety to the Athenian commanders. They must have realized to the full the immensity of the danger to which the fleet would be exposed did a portion of it sail away through the bay of Eleusis, and in attempting the passage of the western strait under the impression that it was open, become engaged with the powerful squadron there at a distance of many miles from where the main battle must take place.

It is, perhaps, inevitable that the tale of the fierce dispute which took place at this time in the fleet, and, above all, the continual application of the term “run away” to the proposals made by the Peloponnesian section, should convey the impression that the fleet as a whole was not animated with a courageous determination to face the danger of the situation. That impression is a false one. Taking the reliable evidence as it stands, it does not seem just to accuse the Greeks on board the ships at Salamis of a cowardly spirit.

The question was not one of facing the situation, but of where the situation should be faced. So soon as they found themselves in a position where dispute was no longer possible, all that might in the past have seemed an indication of a vacillating spirit vanished, and they faced the immensity of the danger with as true a courage as ever the sailors of any nation faced a foe. It was a moment of exaltation, which called forth all the best qualities of the Greek. Even Herodotus must bear tribute to the greatness of the speech which Themistocles delivered to his men: “Throughout contrasting what was noble with what was base of all that comes within the range of man’s nature and constitution, he bade them choose the better part.” And the speech was not without its effect, even if the account which the poet Æschylus gives of the feeling in the fleet he somewhat idealized.

“Then the whole fleet advanced, and one mighty cry was heard:
‘On! Sons of the Greeks! Free your fatherland!
 Free your children, wives, the homes
 Of your ancestral gods, and fathers’ graves.
 Ye stand to win or lose your all.’”

[392]No complete description of the various great tactical movements in the battle has survived. Still, it is possible at the present day, by dint of putting together the various fragments of information which may be gathered from the ancient authors, to form a conception of them which must be very close to the actual truth.

At dawn, on this eventful day, the Greek fleet lay where it had passed the night, close to Salamis town, probably in the bay to the north of it. The Persian fleet stretched across the broad eastern entrance of the strait, in a line running almost due east and west, with Psyttaleia near or in front of its centre.

From their position the Greeks moved out into the strait, and occupied that part of it which lay between Salamis town and the Herakleion. From Plutarch it is learnt that the Herakleion stood where the island of Salamis is separated from the mainland by a narrow passage. It must therefore have been on Mount Ægaleos, opposite Salamis town; and the Greek line was originally formed in the narrow neck of the strait which exists at that point.

The Persian position is defined by very strong evidence. Not to speak of that already quoted with regard to the occupation of Psyttaleia, which occurs in both Herodotus and Æschylus, certain statements of the latter and of Diodorus render it still more certain. Æschylus describes how the Persian ships fell foul of one another when they came into the narrows, a statement which Diodorus makes with still greater precision when he says that the Persians in their advance at first retained their order, having plenty of sea-room, but when they came into the strait they were compelled to withdraw some ships from the line, and fell into much confusion.

These details show that their position must have been, as already stated, in the broad part of the strait, just before the narrows begin; and it will be seen that the strait contracts markedly in breadth so soon as Kynosura is rounded. THE GREEK AND PERSIAN ARRAY. It is further made clear that they were not in any way round Kynosura, or in front of Psyttaleia, by the evidence of Æschylus, which shows that the fleets [393]were not in sight of one another before they moved forward, though they came in sight of one another very soon after they began to move.



1. South-west Coast of Attica.
2. Point near Piræus Harbour.
3. Ægina.
4. Mountaains of Argolis.
5. Kynosura.

[To face page 392.

It is unfortunate that Æschylus makes no mention of the positions of the various contingents in either fleet. Evidence on this point by one present in the battle would have been of the utmost value. On turning to Herodotus and Diodorus it is remarkable to find that in so far as their information overlaps, they are in accord with regard to such details as they give of the Persian array, but not altogether so with regard to the order of the Greek line. With respect to the Persian fleet, they agree in placing the Greek contingent on the left wing, and the Phœnicians on the right of the line. Diodorus further mentions that the Cyprians were with the Phœnicians on the right wing, with the Cilicians, Pamphylians, and Lycians next to them.

In the Greek fleet the Athenians were on the left wing. According to Herodotus, the Lacedæmonians were on the right; but according to Diodorus they were on the left, with the Athenians; while the Æginetans and Megareans were on the right. In this conflict of evidence, it is almost certain that Herodotus is correct. The fact that the Lacedæmonian admiral was in command renders it extremely unlikely that his contingent occupied any but a prominent place in the line; and certain details of the fight indicate that the Æginetans were in the immediate neighbourhood of the Athenians. It will thus be seen that the most prominent contingents on either side were severally opposed to one another in the battle, the Phœnicians on the Persian right facing the Athenians on the Greek left, and the Ionian Greeks on the Persian left facing the Lacedæmonians on the Greek right.

The two fleets seem to have moved forward almost simultaneously. As the evidence with regard to the nature of their movements is somewhat complicated, it may be well for the sake of clearness to deal with them separately.

Before beginning the advance the Persian fleet was drawn up in three lines; but a totally different formation [394]was adopted when the movement developed. Describing its appearance as it entered into the narrow part of the strait, Æschylus speaks of it as coming forward in a “stream” (ῥεῦμα) which can only refer to some formation in column, or in something resembling a column. Diodorus supplies the connecting link between the two formations, when he says that the Persians when they came into the strait were compelled to withdraw some ships from the line.

If the chart of the strait at this point be examined it will be seen that, after passing Psyttaleia and Kynosura, it not only narrows but turns westward at right angles. The Persian fleet had consequently to accomplish a difficult manœuvre of a double kind, namely, (1) to reduce the length of their front; (2) to execute a wheeling movement to the left, of which their extreme left wing would form the pivot. In so far as can be judged, what took place is this: their right, and possibly their centre, having reduced their front, passed through the strait east of Psyttaleia in some sort of column formation, and then wheeled to the left, in order to turn the corner of the strait, while their left wing marked time, as it were, in the strait west of Psyttaleia. This wing would be hidden from the Greek fleet by the somewhat lofty rock promontory of Kynosura. But the right wing passing east of Psyttaleia would come almost immediately into sight of the Greeks, and would present to them the appearance of the “stream,” which Æschylus describes.167



The scene, as the two great fleets advanced towards one another, must have been one of the most magnificent that the world has ever beheld. History can hardly present a parallel of a naval battle on such a scale as Salamis, and none in which fleets so large have operated in so comparatively confined a space. More than 2000 years later the neighbouring Corinthian gulf was destined to be the scene of a sea-fight which in respect to grandeur and picturesqueness most nearly compared with Salamis, when Don John of Austria defeated the great Turkish fleet in those waters which, later on in this very century, were to be rendered famous by the exploits of the great Athenian admiral, Phormio. In both these battles East and West met in one momentous struggle for the command of the Mediterranean—it may perhaps be said, without exaggeration, for the command of the world; and in both the East succumbed so completely that the loser never recovered from his defeat. Impossible as it is fully to realize the scenic effect of a battle of such ancient date, the records of which are imperfect, yet the area in which it was fought is so comparatively limited and so well defined, that the traveller who visits the spot can bring the scene before his imagination in a way that is impossible in the case of most of the great fights of ancient history. Would [396]that the description of it had come down to the modern world from the pen of him who described the last fight in the great harbour of Syracuse! It was indeed a theme for that consummate artist in language. The impression of magnitude which it conveyed to those who were present at it is evident from the pages of Æschylus, where it is described with the grand breadth of description due to a battle of giants. But the historian wants more than he finds therein, and cannot but feel that Thucydides was born half a century too late.

The evolution which the Persian fleet had to carry out in turning the corner of the strait would have been difficult under any circumstances. It was further complicated by the contraction of the sea-room after the corner was turned, and by the necessity of performing it in face of a powerful hostile fleet within comparatively short striking-distance. The result was that the fleet fell into considerable confusion. Both Æschylus and Diodorus testify to this fact. Diodorus’ account is peculiarly consistent with the topographical circumstances. He says, as has been already noticed, that the Persians in their advance at first retained their order, having plenty of sea-room; but when they came to the strait, they were compelled to withdraw some ships from the line, and fell into much confusion.

The two fleets were now advancing rapidly to one another in the straight channel which runs east from old Salamis town, of which the breadth is 2000 yards. The actual fairway may be about one mile in width. How much space in the line was allowed for each trireme in battle array is not known, but it can hardly have been less than sixty feet; and, if so, the utmost number of vessels in the front line of either fleet cannot have exceeded ninety. Both fleets must, therefore, in this order of advance, have been several lines deep. There was no room for the employment of sea-tactics other than those of the most simple kind. The battle must have been, from beginning to end, a terrific mêlée whose issue would depend on which side could fight hardest and longest. The circumstances were all in favour of the smaller fleet. THE BEGINNING OF THE ENGAGEMENT. The mere superiority of the armament of its crews must [397]have gone far to decide the result, and the superior weight of its individual vessels could not fail to tell in a combat of this character. With the knowledge born after the event, it is easy to see that, despite the inferiority of numbers, the better-armed fleet must have won the day, provided both fought with equal courage; and the obstinate nature of the battle shows that, though there may have been cases of cowardice on both sides, these were the exception and not the rule.

The actual point of contact was, in all probability, north of and towards the eastern extremity of Kynosura.

From certain details which are given of the fighting, there is strong reason to suppose that the two fleets, either from accident or from design, were in somewhat of an échelon formation when the first contact took place. Æschylus says that the Greek right wing led the advance, and the remainder came behind. Æschylus also mentions,—and his evidence on this point is supported by Herodotus,—that a Greek ship began the battle by attacking a Phœnician vessel. As the Phœnicians were on the Persian right, this ship must have belonged to the Athenian contingent, which was on the Greek left; and the only conclusion to be drawn is that, despite the advanced position of the Greek right, the first contact took place at the opposite end of their line; in other words, the Persian right must have been equally in advance of its line. The wheeling movement, as has been already noticed, had not been a success; and the Persian vessels which passed through the strait east of Psyttaleia, and were on the outside of the movement, had got in front of that part of the fleet which passed through the channel west of the island, and formed its pivot. It is not difficult to perceive what happened. This eastern column of vessels had entered the narrow part of the strait with so extended a front that, when the time came for the western column to wheel into line with them, it was left with too little sea-room; confusion resulted, and the advance of the Persian left wing was delayed. It was no doubt the undue advance of the Persian right wing which made it possible for the Æginetans later in [398]the battle to fall upon the flank of the Phœnician contingent, and to deal the blow which was subsequently regarded as being largely responsible for the victory won.

Of the picturesque individual details of the fight, but few, considering its magnitude, have survived; and these are not in all cases reliable. Yet it is possible, by comparing and collating the fragmentary accounts of the actual fighting, to form a general idea of its most striking incidents.

There must have been many interested spectators of the action, Persians on the mainland and Athenians on Salamis island, whose feelings must have resembled those with which the Athenian army watched the battle in the great harbour of Syracuse more than sixty years later.

Not the least interested of these onlookers was the Great King himself. Surrounded by some of his chief men, he took his seat on the slope of Mount Ægaleos above the Herakleion, at a point where, as Plutarch remarks, the strait contracts in width. He must have been stationed nearly opposite the town of Salamis, among the sparse pinewood which probably then, as now, covered the slope of the hill.

The Persian fleet seems never to have had the opportunity of recovering from the confusion into which it had fallen in the course of the wheeling movement. Plutarch says, moreover, that Themistocles had reckoned that the early morning wind, which raises somewhat of a sea in the strait, would have a much greater effect on the Persian vessels, which stood high in the water, than on the Greek ships. It would tend to throw them into confusion, and thus expose their sides to the charge of the hostile ships.168



Of the form which the confusion took during the battle there is also a certain amount of evidence. The front ranks of the Persian fleet seem to have been unduly compressed laterally by the want of sea-room, and longitudinally by the pressure of the ranks behind them; and the confusion due to the last of these causes was much increased when the beaten front ranks were forced back on those in rear. The fleet was, indeed, too large for the area of operations, and some of the rearmost ranks apparently, at a period in the battle which is not mentioned, finding they could take no part in the fighting, backed and retreated to the broader part of the strait, south of Psyttaleia. The consequence was, according to Plutarch, that in the actual fighting the Greek fleet was not outnumbered; and this may well have been the case.

Little is said of the actual mode of attack employed by the Greek vessels; but, from what is related, it would appear that the Athenians, at any rate, relying on the structural strength of their ships, sought to ram the enemy with their bows, or shaved close past them in such a way as to break the oars on one side, and so render their vessels unmanageable for the time being; and then made use of the opportunity to charge them sideways at their weakest point. Boarding must, in many cases, have been resorted to, for which purpose thirty-six men were available on the Attic vessels,—eighteen marines, fourteen hoplites, and four bowmen. It may be conjectured that any superiority which the Persians possessed in respect to their crews would consist in the higher efficiency of their bowmen, javelinmen, and such-like. It was, therefore, greatly to the advantage of the Greeks that the confinement of the space within which the action was fought rendered it not merely possible, but necessary, to fight at close quarters. A rather striking instance of what might have happened in this respect, had the sea-room been somewhat greater, is related by Herodotus. [400]It occurred probably towards the end of the battle, when the retreat of many of the Persian ships had relieved the pressure in the strait. A Samothracian craft had sunk or waterlogged an Athenian ship, when it was itself attacked and waterlogged by an Æginetan vessel. Despite its desperate situation, its crew, which consisted of javelinmen, cleared the decks of its assailant with their weapons, and took the ship. The whole incident runs so entirely counter to Herodotus’ marked partiality for the Athenians, that there is no reason to doubt its genuineness.

The main credit for the victory seems to have been adjudged by the verdict of contemporaries to the Athenians and Æginetans. Such, at any rate, is the account of the historian; and the juxtaposition in the roll of fame of these two Hellenic peoples, who were destined to play an antagonistic part in the history of the next twenty years, renders it probable that the verdict of the men of their own time has been faithfully reported. There is little reason to doubt that their contingents were next to one another in the Greek line of battle, and were partners in a brilliant tactical movement against that portion of the Persian fleet which was regarded as most formidable, the Phœnician contingent. Herodotus says that while the Athenians pressed hard on the vessels opposed to them, the Æginetans, presumably on the flank, assailed these vessels of the Persian fleet as they were driven back. It is, perhaps, possible to understand what happened on this wing of the battle. It has been shown that in the course of the advance the Phœnician contingent on the Persian right must have got in front of the rest of the line, a mistake which it would be impossible to correct in a battle fought under circumstances such as those which prevailed at Salamis. Its flank would then be exposed to attack while it was assailed in front, and of this the Æginetans seem to have taken advantage.

It was in the course of this engagement that the Æginetans captured that vessel of the enemy which had a few weeks before captured their own scouting vessel on the Thessalian coast.


Meanwhile the battle in the centre and on the Greek [401]right had been of a much more even character. It may even be suspected that in that part the combat was going against the Greeks. The Greek right was indeed in the same disadvantageous position as the Persian right: it had advanced in front of the rest of the line, and thus exposed itself to a flank attack. No details of what actually took place are extant; but it is evident that the Ionian Greeks who opposed the Lacedæmonians and other Greek contingents at this part of the line did not get the worst of it. Herodotus who, as he shows in the account of the Ionian revolt, had a very low opinion of Ionian courage and intelligence, was not in the least likely to praise them unless the praise was notoriously merited. He not merely admits, but says with some emphasis, that they showed no lack of courage and determination in the fight. Any effect which Themistocles’ appeal might have had upon them was certainly not apparent at Salamis. He further remarks that he knows the names of many of their captains who took Greek vessels, of whom he will only mention the two Samians, Theomestor, who was made by the Persians tyrant of Samos for his services, and Phylakos, who was enrolled on the list of the king’s “benefactors,” and given a grant of much land. These significant statements make it clear that in the early part of the battle, at any rate, the Greek right wing had the worst of the fight. More than that, they suggest a very probable reason for the somewhat surprising courage and determination with which these Ionians fought against their kinsmen. Whatever may have been the feelings of the Ionians in general with regard to their countrymen over sea, their leaders were attached to the Persians by strong ties of self-interest, and formed a philo-Medic party in the Greek cities of the Asian coast.

The ruling powers in these cities depended on the support of the Persian government for the maintenance of their position; and from their ranks and from those of their followers, in all probability, the officers, at any rate, of the Ionian contingent were drawn.

The Persian centre also seems to have at first made a stubborn resistance to the onslaught of the Greeks, and [402]for some time after the Phœnicians and Cyprians had been defeated and driven back, the Cilicians, Pamphylians, and Lycians continued to resist, though assailed by the victorious right wing of the Greeks. But the struggle was too unequal to last; and they, too, were obliged to retreat.

It is evident that the wave of victory advanced from left to right along the Greek line, for now the Athenians, probably aided by the Æginetans, though the latter are not actually mentioned by Diodorus, joined in the attack on the right wing of the Persian fleet. The fight cannot have been very prolonged; the Ionian Greeks were obliged to retire; though, if the silence of history is to be taken as evidence, they did not suffer irreparable loss either in the battle or in the retreat. The mere weight of numbers against them rendered further resistance useless.

The battle must have begun somewhere about seven o’clock in the morning, for it was after dawn when the Greek fleet put out from the station it had occupied during the night. It came to an end in the afternoon, after some seven or eight hours’ fighting, it would seem.

It was presumably in this last battle on the Persian left that Artemisia, that queen of Halikarnassos whose praise Herodotus has already sung, performed the remarkable exploit reported by the historian. There is a somewhat grave irony about the way in which he tells the tale, as though, in spite of his admiration for this lady, he were pointing a moral for those who might regard even the bravest of her sex as rather uncertain allies amid the excitement of a pitched battle. When the Persian fleet was already in disorder, evidently towards the close of the fight,169 an Attic vessel pursued her ship. As she could not extricate herself in any ordinary fashion, owing to her friends being in the way, she stood not on ceremony, but made a way through her friends by purposely sinking a Kalyndian vessel. THE MASSACRE ON PSYTTALEIA. The captain of the Attic ship, unaware that he had a woman to deal with, naturally supposed that he had made a mistake, and had been pursuing a friend instead of a foe, and so allowed [403]the brave but unscrupulous Amazon to escape. He had reason to regret his mistake; for the Athenians, either because they regarded her as a unique acquisition, or her action in commanding a ship against them as a unique piece of impudence, had offered a large reward to any captain who should capture her. Nor, if the whole tale be true, was the Athenian captain the most distinguished victim of the deception caused by her audacity. Xerxes was a spectator of the incident, so Herodotus says, and imagined that the ship she sank was one of the enemy’s vessels. As the rest of his fleet had by this time taken to flight, the incident, by its apparently strong contrast with the bitter circumstances of the moment, called from him the lament, “My men have become women, and my women men.”

It is probable that the Greek pursuit was not carried far, if at all, beyond the channels on either side of Psyttaleia. No information on the subject is given by any of the historians, but the fact that the Persian fleet left the troops on Psyttaleia, some of whom were persons of note, to their fate, indicates that they were not allowed to retire as far as that point unharassed by the victorious Greeks. It may be that each contingent considered it another’s business to rescue these unfortunates, but in any case the two channels must have been in undisputed possession of the Greeks when Aristides carried out what cannot have been the least bloody operation in a battle where the losses on both sides must have been very great. He had, while the battle was in progress, been stationed on what Herodotus calls “the promontory of Salamis,” which would seem to mean that his men had lined the shore of the strait from Salamis town eastward to the extremity of Kynosura, with a view to rendering assistance to such vessels or their crews as might be cast up there during the battle. When the strait was clear of the enemies’ ships, he collected his men, and transported them in boats to Psyttaleia, to attack the Persian garrison of the island. The slaughter must have been grim and great. Only those were spared from whom a heavy ransom might be expected.

[404]No reliable statement survives of the losses in men sustained by either side. Those of the Persians must have been very large, and those of the Greeks in a battle of such a nature, and so prolonged, cannot have been otherwise than severe. Probably the Persian losses were never even approximately known, and, in the confusion of the time, those of the Greeks never accurately ascertained. Herodotus says that many of the Greeks from the disabled vessels escaped by swimming to Salamis, and that the total loss on the Greek side was not very great; but the very circumstances of the battle make the latter statement hardly credible. Among the Persian killed was Ariamnes, the admiral in command, a son of Darius and brother of Xerxes. He seems to have fallen early in the fight; many other prominent Persians shared his fate. Their defeat was not due to cowardice. Herodotus expressly says that they fought better than at Artemisium.

The losses in ships are stated by Diodorus to have been forty on the Greek side, while the Persians lost two hundred, not counting those which were captured with their crews. It is very possible that these numbers represent something like the truth.

After the battle each of the fleets retired to its temporary base of operations, the Persian to Phaleron, the Greek to Salamis.

In each of the two passages in which he mentions the retiring places of the fleets, Herodotus makes incidental statements of considerable historical importance. He describes the Persian retirement as having been “to Phaleron, to the protection of their land-army.” Perhaps he means that this was merely a part of their land-forces, the other having been despatched, as he has already stated, H. viii. 70, ad fin. on the night preceding the battle, on its march to the Isthmus. But if that be not the case, it would seem as if the march had been countermanded, and the army brought back in consequence of a change of plan.

Speaking of the return of the Greek fleet to Salamis, Herodotus makes it plain that the Greeks were inclined rather to under-estimate than to over-estimate their success in the battle.



They expected that the king would make a second attack upon them with the ships which still remained to him. To those possessed of knowledge after the event, it may seem strange that the Greeks should ever have entertained this feeling. It would appear as if they had been so stunned by the immensity of the struggle in which they had been engaged, that they were unable rightly to assess the enormous moral damage they had inflicted on the foe.

The details of the battle which are recoverable at the present day indicate clearly that to the Athenians and Æginetans the Greeks owed their victory; and to them indeed their contemporaries awarded the palm.

Of the behaviour of the other individual contingents nothing can be said to be known. Herodotus does, indeed, relate a story, which he expressly states to be of Athenian origin, to the effect that the Corinthians under Adeimantos retired from the Greek line, and began to make their way to the western strait, but were stopped by a mysterious messenger, who announced the victory of the Greeks; whereupon the would-be runaways returned to Salamis. Herodotus evidently places no credence in the tale; nor need the modern world do so. He says, moreover, that its truth was denied by all the other Greeks.

If it had any foundation whatever in fact, it may be that the Corinthian squadron was detached to observe the narrows near the island of St George with a view to guarding against attack from the rear by the Persian contingent which was known to be watching the western strait. As the tale stands, it can only serve as a remarkable example of the extent to which misrepresentation could be carried in Greece under the impulse of the bitter enmities of a later time.

A defeat of such magnitude sustained in the presence of Xerxes himself could not but lead to fierce dissensions among the various contingents of the Persian fleet. The Phœnicians, that trading people which Persia had always treated with marked favour at the expense of their rivals, the Ionian Greeks, had to justify to their master the fact that they had been the first to retire, whereas the Ionians [406]had resisted to the last. If Herodotus is to be believed, H. viii. 90; D. xi. 19. they adopted the bold line of accusing the Greek contingents of cowardice in the fight. This charge, said to have been made while the fight was in progress, was immediately refuted by the gallantry of the Samothracian crew in capturing the Æginetan ship which had disabled their vessel. The accusers were executed; and, if Diodorus’ story be true, the Phœnicians were so alarmed at the prospect of what might happen to them from the angry Xerxes that, after retiring to Phaleron in the afternoon, they fled in a body under cover of night to the Asian coast. As, however, no trace of such a detail is found in any other historian, and their statements are wholly inconsistent with it, it cannot be regarded as serious history.

It was not, perhaps, until after the war was over that the Greeks acquired sufficient perspective to gauge aright the full significance of their victory on this day. It absolutely destroyed the very foundation of the great strategical plan on which the invasion had been conducted—the combined action of the fleet and army.170 Never, perhaps, has the influence of sea-power been more strikingly exemplified in warfare than in the total reverse of circumstances which resulted from Salamis. Up to this time the naval power of Persia had been supreme in the Ægean and Eastern Mediterranean for many years past; and the attempt which the Ionians had made to break it at Ladé had by the completeness of its failure merely served to establish it on a firmer basis. But from Salamis onward the decline was rapid, and the Persian navy was never again as an unaided unit formidable in the Ægean.

Salamis was also decisive of the war in which it was fought. Having lost the command of the sea, the Persians could not possibly maintain, in a poor country such as Greece, the overwhelming land force with which they had invaded it. The mere question of supplies rendered the rapid withdrawal of the major part of it an imperative necessity. MARATHON, SALAMIS, AND PLATÆA. Persia did not, indeed, give up the struggle, [407]but she was obliged to continue it with a force so reduced in numbers that the Greeks were able to match it in fighting, if not in actual numerical strength. Salamis was the turning-point of the war. Platæa was the consummation of Salamis. After Salamis Southern Greece was safe. Mardonius might have maintained himself for some time in the rich lands of Bœotia, he might even have attempted to include that region within the imperial frontier, but he could not have carried on a sustained campaign in the poor districts to the south of the line of Kithæron-Parnes line. The salvation of the North was won at Platæa.

In consideration of the circumstances, is it presumptuous to hazard the opinion that Sir Edward Creasy was not wholly justified in preferring Marathon to Salamis as one of the “fifteen decisive battles of the World”? The decisive battles exemplified in his book are, with the exception of Marathon, chosen apparently as marking the time at which the tide of affairs of world-wide moment definitely turned to an uninterrupted ebb or flow. But they are in nearly every case the outcome of a chain of events extending, in many instances, over a series of preceding years. If the first link in the chain is to be regarded as decisive of the whole series of events, then, perhaps, the choice of Marathon may be justified; but, on the same principle of choice, the decisive battles of the world would have in many cases to be sought for in comparatively obscure engagements. But if, as is the case with most of the instances Sir Edward Creasy adduces, the supreme decisive moment in a great situation is to be taken, then Salamis, not Marathon, is to be chosen in the great Persian war of the first quarter of the fifth century. The actual records of the time conspicuously fail to support the view that from Marathon onward the tide of the struggle with Persia flowed uninterruptedly in favour of the Greeks.



After the defeat of Salamis, the position of the whole Persian expedition was one of extreme danger. The command of the sea had been lost for the time being, and the chances of its recovery were remote. A fleet which had been so severely handled was not likely to fight so well on a second occasion, even if it were possible to induce it to assume once more the offensive. It was infinitely more probable that the Greeks, who had hitherto acted almost entirely on the defensive, would now realize that they were in a position to become the attacking party. The question of the moment seemed to be how the Persian naval force could make good its retreat without exposing itself to further, and, it might be, irreparable, disaster. Xerxes, with the characteristic selfishness of a despot, seems to have concerned himself with making his own escape secure, and to have merely troubled himself about that of the fleet in so far as his own safety was dependent upon it. He had reason to doubt the loyalty of the Ionian contingent. It had, indeed, fought well in the battle; but the reverse which had been experienced would inevitably tend to quicken whatever element of disloyalty it contained. His main anxiety was for the bridge across the Hellespont.

The account which Herodotus gives of the measures which he took to give the Greeks the impression that he meditated a second attack, and to hide his intention to retreat, is of so strange a character that it has been largely discredited by modern authorities. PERSIAN COUNCIL OF WAR. H. viii. 97. “He set to work,” says the historian, “to carry a mole across to Salamis, [409]and he tied Phœnician merchant-ships together, to act as pontoons, and as a defence. He further prepared for battle, as though about to fight a second sea-fight.” These preparations, so it is said, deceived all his own people save Mardonius, who, knowing his master well, was not under any illusion as to his real intentions.171

H. viii. 100.

The evident alarm and despair with which Xerxes regarded the situation rendered Mardonius uneasy. An adviser whose counsels had ended in disaster,—and he was mainly responsible for persuading the king to undertake the great expedition,—might well be anxious as to the consequences which the failure might have for himself. Whether Herodotus had any real authority for his account of the advice which he represents Mardonius to have given Xerxes at this time, may perhaps be suspected; but the main outlines of it are worth quoting, even if they only reproduce what some contemporary Greek imagined that advice to have been. He is represented, in the first place, as seeking to minimize the disaster by arguing that it had only fallen upon one branch of the service, and that the land-army was in no wise impaired in efficiency by what had happened. If he did actually use this argument, he can only have used it because he thought that it was a sufficiently good one for the man to whom he was speaking. He had himself commanded the expedition of 492; and though on a much smaller scale, that [410]venture had been brought to a premature conclusion by the storm which wrecked his fleet off Mount Athos. Mardonius was the last man who ought to have deceived himself as to the significance of the disaster at Salamis. Two courses, he said, were still open,—either to march with the whole army against the Peloponnese, or for Xerxes to withdraw with the major part of the land-forces, and leave him three hundred thousand men wherewith to complete the conquest of Greece. Such is the advice as reported. Whether a march on Peloponnese was possible at this time cannot be said, since the state of the Persian supplies is not known. In any case, Xerxes had no stomach for such a venture, and adopted the alternative suggestion, which offered a greater chance of security to his all-important self. H. viii 102. Moreover, this was the view of the matter which the astute Artemisia, whom he called into counsel, put before him.172

It must of necessity remain a matter for doubt whether Mardonius ever gave such advice. The retirement of the fleet to the Asian coast would give the Greeks the naval command of their side of the Ægean, and, that being so, the real line of communications was lost, and the alternative route by land along the North Ægean would be, even if it could be regarded as effective, liable to be cut by an attack from the sea. On the other hand, it is possible that he reckoned that he might maintain himself for some months, even for a year, on the food-resources of Thessaly and Bœotia; and in that space of time much might happen to reverse the ill-fortune of the moment. Besides all this, even if the conquest of Greece as a whole could not be effected, there did remain the possibility of advancing the Persian frontier south from Macedonia even as far as Kithæron, and of robbing Greece of her richest lands. That the Greeks feared something of this kind is shown by their subsequent advance to Platæa. That move was so inconsistent with the whole plan on which they had conducted the campaign on land, that it can only be accounted for on the hypothesis that they were actuated by some such fear.



But there were also political considerations of the very highest importance which could not but affect the decision of Xerxes and the Persian authorities. The acknowledgment of complete failure such as would have been apparent had the whole force withdrawn en masse to Asia, must have shaken to its very foundations the great composite empire which was held together by the strong hand and the prestige of success. But could Xerxes on his return report that a force had been left to complete the reduction of Greece, the magnitude of the disaster which had fallen upon him might be concealed, until, at any rate, he was himself in a position to take measures to provide against any possible commotion which might be caused when the varied population of the empire came to realize the extent of the failure which had resulted in an expedition in which it had put forth all its strength. Whatever the advice of Mardonius may have been, these considerations must have been present with Xerxes and his council when they met to discuss the course to be adopted in view of what had happened at Salamis. Herodotus shows, from the words he attributes to Artemisia, that he was not oblivious to the wider possibilities of the situation.173

His account of the events which immediately resulted from Xerxes’ decision is complicated historically by the reappearance of Themistocles on the stage of his history. The historian does not attempt to conceal the prominence of that great man at Salamis; but in the description of the actual fighting his name is only incidentally mentioned, and personal details of him are conspicuous by their absence. But the tradition of the events succeeding the battle contained several ugly stories, some of them, indeed, capable of diverse interpretation, but all of them capable of being interpreted to Themistocles’ discredit. These the historian has inserted in his narrative, with the result that he has introduced into it an element which must excite suspicion, and which makes it very difficult to disentangle that in it which is reliable from that which is not so.

H. viii. 107.

On the very night, it is said, after Xerxes’ decision [412]had been taken, the commanders of the Persian fleet put out with all speed for the Hellespont, with orders to guard the bridge across the strait for the king’s return. It is not, perhaps, easy to see why so much store should be set by the bridge. The main point, it might have been imagined, would be to defend the Hellespont. Xerxes’ personal safety and his passage of the strait would in that case have been equally well secured.

One incident of the voyage is described which is intended to demonstrate the nervous state to which the Persian seamen had been reduced by their defeat. Near a place called Zoster, which is supposed to have been situated on the Attic coast the Persians mistook certain rocks for enemies’ ships, and fled “a long distance” before they discovered their mistake. The object of the story is evidently to emphasize the dramatic contrast between the confidence which preceded the battle and the depression which succeeded it.

The next day was well advanced before the Greeks discovered the flight. Seeing the land-army in its old position, they supposed the Persian fleet to be still at Phaleron, which bay would be hidden from their position in the strait by the high promontory of the Piræus; and, under this impression, they prepared to meet a second attack. It is remarkable, but quite evident, that the Greeks under-estimated alike the moral and material damage they had inflicted on the enemy. They show none of the jubilation which follows a decisive victory; and it must be concluded that the fight was more fierce and more stubborn on the part of the vanquished than any Greek historian has described it to have been. Then, says Herodotus, when they discovered that the fleet had sailed away, they started in pursuit, and proceeded as far as Andros without catching sight of it. This is not surprising, considering that it had, in all probability, twelve hours’ start. The statement that the fleet went as far as Andros, or even ventured to leave Salamis at this time, has been regarded with suspicion by some historians. QUESTIONS OF THE HELLESPONT BRIDGE. It is argued that with the land-army of the Persians still in Attica, the Greeks could not have ventured to withdraw their fleet [413]from the strait, and have exposed the refugees on Salamis to attack.

But is it necessarily to be assumed that the Greeks did not leave any vessels behind to provide against such a contingency? It may even be doubted whether, after the withdrawal of the fleet, the Persian army had any means whatever at its disposal for the passage of the strait.

The short voyage to Andros was, no doubt, of the nature of a reconnaissance. It was manifestly important to know whether the enemy’s ships had definitely departed from Greek waters.

H. viii. 108.

On arriving at Andros a Council of War was held as to the plan of operations for the immediate future. Themistocles’ view was that the pursuit should be continued, and that the bridge over the Hellespont should be destroyed. Eurybiades urged, on the other hand, that if the Persian army were thus cut off from its sole avenue of retreat, it must remain in Europe, and would be compelled to develop a policy of great activity for the mere purpose of obtaining supplies. The result of this, so he thought, would be the gradual subjection of the land, and the destruction of the annual produce of Greece. He therefore urged that the way of escape be left open. With him, as might be expected, the other Peloponnesian commanders agreed.

Themistocles, finding he could not prevail upon the Greeks as a body to adopt his plan, then addressed the Athenians, who were, so Herodotus says, eager to sail at once to the Hellespont, and ready to take the risk of so doing upon their own shoulders. His address is given in what profess to be the actual words of it. So far from urging them to follow out their desires, he emphatically dissuades them from this course; thus, apparently, completely reversing the advice he had first given. The change of counsel is plainly explicable on the ground that what he considered to be the best course for the fleet as a whole would, he thought, be risky and unadvisable for half the fleet to attempt But that is very far from being the interpretation which Herodotus puts upon it. H. viii. 109. “This,” says the historian, “he said with the intention of establishing a claim upon the Persian, in order that, in case any disaster should befall [414]him at the hands of the Athenians, he might have a place of retreat. H. viii. 110. In saying this, Themistocles dissembled, but the Athenians believed him: for inasmuch as he had, previous to the recent events, been regarded as a clever man, and his cleverness and wisdom had been clearly confirmed by what had lately happened, they were ready to listen to what he said.”

There can be little doubt that this tale is part of that unveracious Themistocles legend which Herodotus has woven into those traditions of the great war which he has followed in composing his history. Never is the animus against Themistocles more clearly shown; and in no instance is the absolute improbability of any single part of the legend more strikingly displayed. The tale is refuted by its context. Before starting for Andros, the Greeks had been deceived as to the movements of the Persian fleet, by observing the land-army in its original position. And yet, arrived at Andros, Themistocles is represented as actually proposing to cross the Ægean and cut off the retreat of an army whose retreat had not begun, and whose intention to retreat could not, if the story is to stand as it is written, have been known to him. It is inconceivable that any sane commander could possibly have advised the Greeks to attempt operations on the Asian coast at this stage of the war.174 Again, the object proposed was manifestly futile. What good could have been attained by breaking down the bridge, had not a sufficient force been left behind to maintain the command of the Hellespont against the Persian fleet? Could not a strait no broader than many parts of the lower Danube have been easily crossed by means of ship and boat transport? If the Greek fleet were once entangled in that region, could the possibility the Persian fleet or of part of it doubling back to the European coast be ignored? THE “THEMISTOCLES” TRADITION. Above all, did the Greek fleet know [415]whither the enemy had gone? A very few hours’ start would have taken them far out of sight. They had had that start; and all that the Greeks at Andros could have known with certainty was that there were no ships between that place and Piræus.

It cannot be doubted that this passage in Herodotus is one of a series of excerpts from a history of Themistocles composed by a hostile political party. The tale of the Council at Andros merely serves the purpose of a peg whereon to found the charge of trickery or treachery which immediately follows it. The verisimilitude of the story is to be further supported by knowledge after the event. Themistocles did in after-time take refuge with the Persians. Was he, however, likely at the very crowning moment of his life to have foreseen the eventuality of his being obliged to do so?

The story is so corrupt that it is most difficult to select from it the element of truth which it may contain. It is possible that a reconnaissance was made as far as Andros, and that it was decided to go no farther. It is in the highest degree doubtful whether the tale of Themistocles’ communication with Xerxes at this time had any real foundation. The proposal to break down the bridge has all the appearance of a rechauffé served up with a new sauce, of the story which connected the hero of the last great battle, Marathon, with the proposal to break the Danube bridge during Darius’ Scythian expedition. It has been suggested that he gave the information in all honesty, because he wished to get Xerxes and his army out of the way. No doubt he and every other Greek did entertain that wish; but it is impossible to see how the message, in the form in which it was sent, could further its fulfilment. H. viii. 110. The last words of the message, “Now depart at your leisure,” singularly fail to accord with the conjectural explanation of Themistocles’ alleged conduct. There is, at the same time, every possibility that Themistocles did, after the retreat of the land-army had definitely begun, urge the advisability of offensive operations on the Asian coast at some period not long [416]after the battle; and it is probable that such operations would have been eminently effective. But in this Themistocles legend these proposals have been purposely antedated, in order to adduce them as evidence of the truth of Themistocles’ suspicious communications with Xerxes, before the latter started on his return journey.

It is quite possible, too, that the rejection of these proposals led to Themistocles’ resignation of the command of the Athenian fleet. It is difficult to account for it in any other way. High as party feeling ran at Athens, the Athenian citizen showed a distinct preference for entrusting his life amid the chances and changes of war to men of known capacity, and the Strategia was less affected by the storms of political contention than the other high departments of government.

Tacked on to this last tale is the story of the siege of Andros. The Greek fleet, it is said, after renouncing all idea of further pursuit, laid siege to Andros; “For the Andrians first among the islanders refused to pay money on Themistocles’ demand; and when Themistocles put forward the argument that the Athenians had come, having with them two great gods, Persuasion and Force, so that they would certainly have to pay, they answered that Athens was naturally great and prosperous, being blest with such excellent gods, but, as far as the Andrians were concerned, their land was poor as poor could be, and two unprofitable gods, Poverty and Inability, left not their island, but ever abode there; and being cursed with these gods, they were not going to pay the money; for never could even the power of Athens be more powerful than their own inability.” So the siege began.

Themistocles’ demands were not confined to Andros. Large sums were extorted, under threat of siege, from the islanders, of whom the Karystians and Parians are named, because they had medized in the recent war.

The whole language of the story suggests in the plainest possible way that Themistocles exacted these contributions for his own benefit. RETREAT OF THE PERSIAN ARMY. That such demands [417]were made is no doubt the case. The bitterness of the feeling against the medized Greeks might well suggest that, as a punishment for their crime in taking up arms against their fellow-countrymen, they should be forced to contribute to the expenses of the defender of that which they had attacked; but to represent Themistocles as employing this fleet for his own selfish ends is plainly a colouring given to the story by the same hand that invented the previous tale of his relations with Xerxes.

Whatever may be the origin of the Themistocles legend in Herodotus taken as a whole, this particular section of it was almost certainly the creation of the aristocratic party, which was, be it said to its credit, the friend in after days of the subject allies, and therefore, apart from other political considerations of a more general kind, not likely to depict in a favourable light the first instance of the imposition of the island tribute, nor to deal sparingly with the man who might, with some show of plausibility, be regarded as its originator.

Another important question which suggests itself is whether this demand on Andros and these exactions from Karystos and Paros were made at this time, within a few days of Salamis. It is extremely unlikely that the Greek fleet, with only half of the danger at home averted, should have ventured at this moment to spend time over the siege of one of the island towns. The whole incident of the exactions looks as if it ought to be attributed to a somewhat later date.

H. viii. 113.

The retreat of the Persian army began a few days after the naval battle. Mardonius accompanied it because, so Herodotus says, he wished to escort the king. The campaigning season also was far advanced, and he thought it would be better to winter in Thessaly. His real motive in retiring so far north,—a motive Herodotus could hardly appreciate, even if he ever heard it mentioned,—would be to shorten the line of communications, especially for commissariat purposes. He had now no fleet upon which to depend. Moreover, Thessaly was a rich country, whose local supplies would go far towards satisfying the temporary wants of his army. There he selected the men who were [418]to remain with him for the next year’s campaign. He seems to have chosen the best troops in the huge and motley host, Persians, Medes, Sakæ, Bactrians and Indians; and Xerxes made no objection. And then the rest of the helpless throng departed on its long march round the North Ægean, to carry to Asia a terrible tale of suffering of which but few details have survived in the Greek historians. According to Herodotus, three hundred thousand men remained with Mardonius. It is commonly supposed that this number is largely exaggerated; but unless there is a proportionate exaggeration in the numbers of the Greek army present at Platæa, the force which the Persians opposed to them there can hardly have been less than two hundred and fifty thousand in number. Mardonius probably retained with him nearly the whole of the really effective land-force of the original expedition.

H. viii. 115.

That part of the army which continued its retreat from Thessaly took forty-five days to reach the Hellespont. The misery of that time must have been unspeakable, and but few out of the many ever set foot again on Asian soil. The realities of a six weeks’ march of four hundred miles, in the case of a large force wholly unprovided with commissariat, must have been horrible beyond description. Starving themselves, they spread famine by their ravages wherever they went. In many places no food was obtainable, and then they ate the very grass by the way and the leaves of the trees. Dysentery was the inevitable result. The sick who fell by the road were left to the care of the natives; and, knowing the nature of those wild Thracian tribes of the North Ægean, it is not difficult to imagine that their fate must have been pitiable in the extreme. At last the survivors reached the Hellespont, to find that the bridge had been carried away in a storm; but they were transported to Abydos in boats. Not even then were their misfortunes over. Many of the starving multitude perished from giving undue satisfaction to their ravenous hunger.

H. viii. 119.

Herodotus, though he mentions two accounts of the matter, is of opinion that Xerxes accompanied the army all through its retreat. AN INTERVAL IN THE WAR. He rejects a tale to the effect [419]that on arriving at Eion, at the mouth of the Strymon, the king went the rest of the way by sea on a Phœnician ship, and was only saved from perishing in a northern gale by the devotion of certain Persians who accompanied him, and who sacrificed themselves in order to lighten the ship. Apart from the tale of devotion, the rejected version is manifestly the more probable. Not to speak of the horrors of the land-march, the king’s personal safety may well have been imperilled in the midst of an army which had undergone and was undergoing the sufferings of his. To Hydarnes was committed the conduct of the remainder of the retreat.

H. viii. 121.

The siege of Andros turned out a failure. Karystos was attacked and its territory ravaged; and then a return was made to Salamis. It is evident that the Greeks themselves were at this time under the impression that the war in Europe was over, in so far as they were concerned; and eagerness of the Athenian section to carry the war into Asia, which Herodotus has antedated, may be ascribed to this time. The news that Mardonius had remained in Thessaly, with evident intent to renew the war next year, can hardly have reached Athens until several weeks at earliest from the time at which the retreat began.

Under this mistaken impression they began to wind up the skein of past events, and after their patriotic victory to discuss who had deserved best of their common fatherland. The gods had been very good to them, much better, perhaps, than they themselves realized; and it was to them that their remembrance first turned. To Delphi was dedicated a tenth of the spoils. H. viii. 123. After dividing the rest of the plunder, the Greeks sailed to the Isthmus to decide by vote who of all of them had rendered the greatest services to his country in the recent war. The result was unfortunate. Each general having two votes gave the first to himself, and the majority gave the second to Themistocles. Under the circumstances they thought it best to forego the decision; and the various contingents departed home to their cities.

In spite of this the admiration of Themistocles burst [420]forth, and that in a most unexpected quarter. He went to Sparta, where such honour was paid him as never had been previously paid to any foreigner, and never was again paid up to Herodotus’ own day.

There are certain elements in the political situation at this time which make it possible that party feeling ran high among the Athenians during the period which now ensued. Plat. Them. [Arist.] Athen. Pol. The Areopagus, which still continued to represent all that was exclusively aristocratic in Athens and Attica, had played a considerable part in the measures which had been taken for the public safety; and if the recently discovered Polity of Athens, which is attributed to Aristotle, is to be believed, it had gained considerable reputation thereby. On the other hand, the man of the hour was Themistocles; and he led political interests directly opposed to those which the venerable council represented. It may be that Themistocles’ resignation of the Strategia was not wholly unconnected with these struggles. He does not appear in history as a man likely to under-estimate his own personal worth; and the discovery that, in the turmoil of party strife, the world generally seemed to set a lower value upon it, may have given bitter offence to his pride. Herodotus gives no detail of these political events; H. viii. 125. though his introduction to a story which he evidently inserts because it contained such a bon-mot as he dearly loved, shows that an attack was made on Themistocles immediately after his return from Sparta. Timodemos of Aphidnæ was the name of the assailant. He reproached Themistocles with having taken to himself an honour due to his country; and, apparently, thinking the remark an effective one, repeated it on more than one occasion.175 Herodotus, who never discovered a lack of ready wit to be one of Themistocles’ defects, takes evident pleasure in recording the crushing retort: “The thing stands thus,” said he; “had I been from Belbina, I should not have been thus honoured by the Spartans, nor would you have been, good sir, even had you been from Athens.”


This is the last of the series of events in Greece which can be attributed to the year 480, but before proceeding [421]to recount the history of the following year, it is necessary to recur briefly to what had meanwhile taken place in Sicily. The brevity of the reference is not due to the unimportance of the events themselves, but to the meagreness of the surviving records of them. Herodotus dismisses the subject in a few words; and the scheme of history which Diodorus had proposed to himself rendered it impossible for him to devote much space to them, despite the fact that this year was a most decisive one for the history of his native land.

After the departure of the Spartan and Athenian ambassadors, Gelo of Syracuse had been left alone to face that great storm which Persia had stirred up in the West with the evident intention of preventing the Sicilian and Italian Greek from taking part in the defence of the mother country. It was more than fortunate for the Sicilians that at this most critical moment of their history, such power as they could put forward was under the control of one strong hand. The tyrant, or tyrant city, was indeed at all times in Sicilian history necessary to the salvation of the Greeks, face to face as they were with the great Carthaginian power in the west of the island, supported by a central base but a few miles distant across a narrow sea.

There is no question that the Carthaginian preparations were on a very large scale, Diod. xi 20. though the numbers given by Diodorus are certainly exaggerated. In her struggle with Rome, more than two centuries later, Carthage, though in all probability more powerful than she was in 480, could not muster aught resembling the strength which the Sicilian historian attributes to her on this occasion. He states the number of the land forces to have been 300,000. The fleet, he says, consisted of 2000 warships, together with 3000 transports. It is manifestly useless to attempt what, in the absence of independent records, can be no more than a guess as to the actual numbers. All that can be with safety assumed is that they were very large. The name of the commander was Hamilcar.

The gods of the winds were hardly less kind to the Greeks of Sicily than they were to their fellow-countrymen [422]at home. A storm overtook the expedition in the Libyan sea, and the vessels conveying the horses and chariots were lost. Hamilcar, however, conducted the remainder in safety to Panormos. He had no anxiety as to the result now that he had safely transported the bulk of his forces across the sea. Doubtless he reckoned on having to deal with a Sicily such as Sicily had been before the recent rise of Gelo’s power, in which the great force at his disposal would have been able to crush the Greek cities in detail.

From Panormos, after repairing, in so far as possible, the damage suffered in the storm, he marched his army along the coast to Himera, the fleet keeping in touch with it meanwhile. His method of advance was consequently similar to that adopted by the Persians in their march round the Ægean. Arrived at Himera, he formed two camps, one for the army and one for the fleet. The arrangement of these camps is interesting, as showing that in the west, as in the east, the Greeks had to deal with a foe which, whatever his defects, was both capable and experienced in the organization of large expeditions over sea. The warships were drawn up on shore and surrounded by a stockade and deep ditch. The other camp was contiguous to the naval one, but ran inland to the summit of the neighbouring heights, to the west of the city of Himera, and facing it. Hamilcar thus secured his communications with his commissariat base,—the fleet. The provisions which he had brought with him he landed, and then despatched the empty transports to Libya and Sardinia to fetch a further supply. His plan was evidently not to attempt to assault the town on all sides. The loss of his cavalry would make it difficult for him to advance far from his sea-base; and, besides, he had to expect an attack from a relieving force. Having completed the fortification of his position, he took some of the best of his soldiers and advanced against the town, whose garrison came out to meet him, afraid, no doubt, of his establishing siege works in the immediate neighbourhood of their wall. It had, however, to retire with severe loss, a disaster which brought the Himerans to a state of despair. GELO MARCHES TO RESCUE HIMERA. But even [423]thus early in the campaign the town was not wholly dependent on its own resources. Thero, tyrant of Akragas, who was content to play a subordinate part to Gelo in Sicilian politics, was either present in it, or,—for Diodorus’ language is capable of two interpretations,—in its neighbourhood, with a force whose numbers are not mentioned. Alarmed at the situation, and evidently not in sufficient strength to take the offensive against the Carthaginians, he sent an urgent message to Gelo to come with all speed. Gelo was ready, and the fact of his being so suggests that the defence against the invader was being conducted on a definite plan. Syracuse had evidently been chosen as the base of operations. Its communications with southern Sicily are both shorter and more easy than with the north. If the attack took place on the south, which was probably known to be unlikely, the central force at Syracuse would be within striking distance. It would seem, therefore, that Thero’s corps had been sent from the south to the north, where the attack was more likely to be made, to act as an army of observation, and to hold the enemy until Gelo could appear with the main army. The plan was a sound one.

Diod. xi. 21.

The army with which Gelo started from Syracuse is stated to have numbered 50,000 infantry and 5000 cavalry. He made a rapid march, and his arrival infused new courage into the Himerans. He did not enter the city, but fortified a camp of his own outside it, and started active operations by sending out all the cavalry to cut off Carthaginian stragglers. Hamilcar must have been at this moment in a position of great disadvantage, owing to the loss of his horses in the storm. The number of the enemy captured by this raid of cavalry is stated to have been 10,000; it appears, in any case, to have been large.

But Gelo had no idea of confining himself to a passive defence of the place, knowing, in all probability, that the enemy might expect reinforcements, whereas the Siciliot forces present at Himera represented the utmost effort of which Sicily was capable. The Himerans had walled up their city gates. He caused them to be opened once more, and infused a spirit of cheerful confidence into the whole [424]Greek army. In all likelihood this change of feeling was largely due to the comparative inactivity to which Hamilcar was reduced in face of the large force of Syracusan cavalry against which, owing to his own loss, he had not any similar force to match. Something of the kind is indicated by the fact that he sent a message to Selinus, urgently demanding assistance in this arm. Unluckily for him, the return messenger announcing its despatch fell into the hands of Gelo’s men. That able commander had been for some time devising plans by which he might not merely defeat, but utterly destroy, the invading army. The intercepting of this message suggested to him a means of doing so. He had apparently already made up his mind that an attack on the naval camp, and the destruction of the ships within it, must be part of his programme. The disclosure made by the message that the Carthaginians were expecting cavalry reinforcements suggested to him the design of substituting cavalry of his own for the looked-for horsemen of Selinus, so as to obtain access to the naval stockade. It was a bold plan, but it was entirely successful. Not the least fortunate circumstance about the matter was that on the very day on which the cavalry were expected Hamilcar was going to offer a great sacrifice; and this was apparently known to Gelo. The Syracusan horsemen were sent under cover of night, and after making a circuit,—the Greek camp being probably east of the town,—arrived at the naval camp from the western side just about dawn, and were admitted by the guards under the impression that they were the Selinuntian horse. Once inside the stockade, they proceeded immediately to kill Hamilcar and to set fire to the ships.

But this was only part of the whole plan. Watchers had been placed upon the heights, with orders to announce by signal the arrival of the cavalry within the stockade. On receiving the signal, Gelo, with the whole of the rest of his army, began an assault on the other Carthaginian camp, which was, as has been seen, situated on the heights above the naval encampment. THE BATTLE OF HIMERA. The Carthaginian commanders, unaware at first of what had been going on below them, led out their men to meet this attack, and [425]for some time the battle was stubborn and bloody, both sides fighting with great bravery. The increase of the conflagration in the camp below, however, at last attracted their notice, and the arrival of a message announcing the death of Hamilcar completed the dismay of the Carthaginians and fired the courage of the Greeks. The former gave way, pursued by the Greeks, to whom orders were given to take no prisoners. Though the slaughter was a terrible one, it is hardly possible to accept Diodorus’ statement that one hundred and fifty thousand perished. Some of the survivors fled to a bare height, where they defied all direct attack; but they were compelled in the end to capitulate, owing to there being no water obtainable on the position.

It was a brilliant and crushing victory for the Sicilian Greeks, so complete and so lasting in its results, that it marked the beginning of an era of peace and prosperity destined to last for many years.

Diodorus, with a pardonable pride in the exploits of his fellow-countrymen, draws a comparison between the victory at Himera and that which the Greeks won at Platæa in the following year. There is one important point of contrast which he does not mention, but which will be appreciated by those who are acquainted with the stories of those two great battles. The resistance which the Carthaginian troops offered to the Greek hoplite in close fighting was evidently much more stubborn than that offered by the Persian infantry. It was not a question of courage; it was not a question of physique. In these two respects the Persian was probably superior to the Greek, and not inferior to any contemporary race. The difference was in panoply. The African and Spaniard wore defensive armour, such as the Oriental never learnt to use because the climate of the lands wherein his campaigns were mostly fought rendered the burden of the weight of it too grievous to be borne. The resistance offered to the Eastern conqueror took the form of legions of cavalry and mobile bodies of light-armed infantry, and to meet them he had to employ forces of a similar kind. Against such, in a land of infinite distances [426]like Western Asia, an army of hoplites might, if the enemy adopted tactics suitable to the nature of his force and to the nature of the country, be reduced to impotence, if not brought to destruction. The campaigns of Alexander are supposed to have proved the opposite to be the case. Those who take that view of them seem to forget that the enemy opposed to him adopted tactics wholly unsuited to the nature of their army, and fought the very pitched battles which they should have scrupulously avoided. Had the Persians in that war employed the tactics which three centuries later led to Carrhæ, the campaigns of Alexander might have ended in the neighbourhood of the Amanus. The military history of the East and West in the centuries preceding the Christian era is ruled by one great limitation. East could not gain any decisive advantage over West in the West, nor West over East in the East, unless the enemy made a fundamental error in tactics.

The resources of the East in light cavalry were out of all proportion to any number of this arm which the West could, even with the utmost effort, put into the field; and such a force, properly employed, must have always made the immense plains of the Euphrates or of Media untraversable to a Western army. In like manner, against the heavy infantry of the West, accompanied by a proper quota of light-armed troops, the light infantry of the East were helpless in regions where it could not be supported by its cavalry; and west of Taurus, such regions were the rule and not the exception. The eastern Taurus was, indeed, the military frontier between East and West.

This generalization may appear to be somewhat wide; but the results of every single battle in which East and West came into conflict support it. There are no exceptions. Such cases as appear to be so afford the strongest evidence of the truth of it: in every one of them the loser committed some glaring tactical error which robbed him of the essential advantages which the very nature of things afforded him.


As a pure example of the military art, Himera did more [427]credit to the victors than did Platæa. It was won by reason of a well-devised plan; Platæa, in spite of an ill-devised one. In its results it was hardly less decisive, though these results were not of a character to attract the attention of the modern world so forcibly as the after-effects of Platæa.

Its actual date in 480 is uncertain. Diodorus assigns it to the same day as Thermopylæ. Unfortunately, the historians of this period display so marked a tendency to discover such coincidences of date that any statement of this kind cannot be regarded as reliable.

Diod. xi. 24.

Of all the great expedition, only twenty warships escaped from Himera, and these, over-laden with fugitives, perished in a storm on the way home. The news of the disaster was carried to Carthage by a few survivors who managed to reach the coast in a small boat. The consternation which it excited was naturally terrible; and for some time the Carthaginians lived in daily expectation of the appearance of Gelo’s fleet on the African coast.

In order, if possible, to ward off the fatal catastrophe which, under the circumstances, must have resulted from such an invasion, ambassadors were despatched to Syracuse with all speed to make the best terms they could. In point of fact, the alarm on this particular score was groundless. Gelo seems to have been content to leave well alone, and to reap the fruits of his victory in Sicily, without attempting conquest over-sea. It is obvious that, had he been otherwise inclined, the history of the world might have been changed by the destruction or permanent crippling of the Carthaginian power.

The disposal of the large number of prisoners which had been taken was first provided for. They were distributed among the Sicilian towns. Akragas got more than her due share, because the fugitives from Himera, fleeing inland to the mountains, had ultimately arrived in the territory of that city, where they were captured in large numbers. The magnificence of the temples and public works of that great town was largely due to the employment of these prisoners on their construction.176 That page [428]of history which records Gelo’s reception of the Carthaginian embassy is obscure. The facts are sufficiently plain. He demanded extraordinarily moderate terms: a war subsidy of two thousand talents of silver, and the expenses of the construction of two temples. But why such moderation was observed by him at a time when he could without doubt have brought about the withdrawal of all the Punic settlements in Sicily, is not explained. Nor, in the silence of history, can any adequate motive for his action be suggested, unless he took the view that he would best secure a lasting peace by such a policy. The Carthaginians attributed his treatment of them to the influence of his wife Demarete; and it is recorded to the credit of a people whose good points are not, from the force of circumstances, brought into prominence in Greek and Latin history, that they showed their gratitude to her by the free gift of one hundred talents of gold. Gelo, having exhausted sentiment in the late negotiations, exercised the persuasion of a husband, Head. Hist. Num sub Syracuse. and appropriated the treasure to the establishment of that magnificent silver coinage which has excited the admiration of later ages.

Thus ended this brief but important chapter in Sicilian history. The Greek of Greece sought to ignore its significance; his posterity but half remembered it; and the great historian of the latter half of the century accepted the maimed tradition as he found it. But to the historical inquirer of the present day, who has all the evidence before him, this episode must appear not the least glorious part of the great struggle which saved western civilization.

H. viii. 126.

Among the troops who shared in the retreat of Xerxes’ army to the Hellespont, was a body of sixty thousand men selected from those which Mardonius had chosen. They were under the command of Artabazos, about whom and whose family Herodotus seems to have had special facilities for acquiring information. ARTABAZOS BESIEGES POTIDÆA. It may be suspected that this intimacy was due to the successive tenure in after-time of the Daskylian satrapy in Northen Asia [429]Minor by Artabazos, his son, and grandson. The reason for his accompanying the march to the Hellespont was, so Herodotus says, that he might escort the king. It is more probable that the main motive lay in the organization of the new main line of communications along the North Ægean, with reference especially to commissariat. On his return from the Hellespont, he found the line threatened at one point by a rising against the Persian power, which had broken out in Pallene, the westernmost of the peninsulas of Chalkidike, and in the country immediately north of it, about the town of Olynthos. The desperate state of the king’s army in its passage by their territory had evidently given the citizens of this region the idea that the days of the Persian dominion in Europe were numbered, and that thus they might with safety throw off the yoke without further delay. The insurrection, though confined to this small region, threatened what was now the sole line of communications. It was imperative to crush it forthwith. This Artabazos set to work to do in the course of his return march to Thessaly. He laid siege to Potidæa, the chief town of Pallene, which stood on the narrow isthmus which connected the peninsula with the mainland, and, having walls from sea to sea, prevented all access to the peninsula itself to any force unaccompanied by a fleet. Its position was consequently one of great strength. Olynthos was by no means so strongly placed, but was of still greater importance to Artabazos, as more directly blocking the great highway from Asia. This latter town he took apparently without much trouble, and massacred its Bottiæan inhabitants at a lake hard by. He handed over the place to the Chalkidian Greeks, under the command of a native of Torone.

He then proceeded to blockade Potidæa on the side of the mainland, that towards the peninsula being inaccessible to him. The siege was marked by one of those attempted acts of treachery which too often blot the records of Greek courage. The commander of the contingent from one of the Pallenian towns, Skione, entered into communication with the Persian by means of written messages concealed in the feathers of an arrow which was [430]shot to a place previously agreed upon. Unfortunately for the success of the plan, Artabazos on one occasion missed the mark, and hit one of the besieged in the shoulder. His friends gathering round him discovered the writing wrapped round the shaft, and carried it to the generals. The Skionian commander was, however, spared for the time being, lest the stigma of treachery should attach to his fellow-citizens.

The siege had lasted three months when an extraordinary ebb of the sea took place, rendering it possible for the besiegers to make their way on either side of the town towards Pallene. This phenomenon was not rare at Potidæa, so Herodotus says, but on this occasion it occurred on a larger scale than usual. It was probably due to one of those volcanic disturbances for which the Ægean has been ever noted. Had the Persians taken immediate advantage of the opportunity thus offered, they might have got into the town, but, probably distrusting the nature of what must have seemed to them a very extraordinary occurrence, they were late in venturing upon the passage, and the returning flow came upon them when but two-thirds of the way across. Those who could not swim were drowned, and those who could were destroyed by the garrison, who put out in boats for that purpose. How many lives were lost history does not say, but the disaster was sufficiently great to make Artabazos throw up the siege. The capture of Olynthos had made the road fairly secure.

H. viii. 130.

After its hurried retreat from the European shore the Persian fleet had made its way to the Hellespont, where it had awaited the arrival of the retreating army, and had ferried it over to Asia. Nothing could show more clearly the futility of the alleged proposal of Themistocles to break down the Hellespont bridge. From Abydos it sailed to Kyme, where part of it wintered, while the remainder proceeded to Samos. On the appearance of spring the whole fleet assembled at the latter place, not, says Herodotus, with any intention of crossing the Ægean from thence, but to provide against possible revolt in Ionia. GREEK COMMANDERS IN 479. The position was well chosen for that purpose; but, more [431]than this, the island lay at the eastern end of the shortest and most used passage of the Ægean, where an almost continuous line of islands stretches from Sunium to the Asian coast, affording protection against northern and southern gales. If the Greek fleet should sail to Asia, this was the route it would most probably take. Herodotus says they did not expect its coming, because there had been no pursuit after the retreat from Salamis. It may be apprehended that the Persian commanders were better able than Herodotus to gauge the significance of that fact, and that the expectations which the historian attributes to them are of his own suggestion.

It does not appear as if there were any formed intention of resuming the offensive in the Western Ægean in order to give support to Mardonius whenever he should re-open the campaign, though, if Herodotus is to be believed, H. viii. 130, ad fin. plans of attack of some kind were discussed. Whatever they may have been, they were not put into immediate operation; and the appearance of the Greek fleet on the Asian coast later in the year completely altered the situation.

The approach of spring warned the Greeks that they must make preparations to meet the impending attack of Mardonius. With incomprehensible but characteristic dilatoriness, no immediate effort was made to collect the army, though a fleet of a hundred and ten ships gathered at Ægina under a new commander, the Spartan Leutychides. Moreover, Themistocles no longer commanded the Athenian contingent, his place being taken by Xanthippos. Possible reasons for this remarkable and important change have been already suggested. Of the actual reasons nothing is known.

There was, moreover, in this year, a change not merely in the personnel, but also in the system of command which prevailed during the previous year in the Athenian contingent. The Athenian army had played no part at Thermopylæ, and at Salamis it had acted, in so far as it did act, in immediate conjunction with the fleet. It had been, therefore, possible to place both arms of the service under the control of one supreme commander,—Themistocles. In 479, however, it was evident that the altered [432]circumstances of the war would necessitate the employment by Athens of a considerable force on land, acting quite independently of the fleet. It would be impossible, therefore, for one man to command both; and a separate command on land was given to Aristides, another member of the College of Ten Strategi. He may or may not have been placed under the general control of Xanthippos. As events turned out, he must have exercised a practically independent command. An arrangement of this kind would, had the circumstances arisen but a few years earlier, have raised considerable constitutional difficulty; but between 490 and 480 the whole system of military and naval control had been completely remodelled.

At the time of Marathon, the supreme command was in the hands of one of the archons, with the title of Polemarch, and the ten strategi were subordinate to him, being merely the commanders of the contingents furnished by the ten Kleisthenic tribes, and also forming a council of war. In the course of the official year 487–486, the method of lot was introduced into the election of the nine archons, of whom the polemarch was one. The most thoroughgoing democrat at Athens, being, as a citizen, liable to service in war, would hardly fail to see the undesirability of entrusting his life to a general chosen by this method. That special form of fatalism would have few attractions for him. Thus the constitutional change with regard to the archonship necessitated some change in the arrangements of the military and naval commands. The polemarch was no longer commander-in-chief. That office was vested in the members of the board of strategi, which henceforth had absolute control of military and naval affairs. As strategi, all of the ten were in a position of equality; and it is probable that each was allotted his own special department of administration, either on election, or by mutual arrangement between the members of the elected board. A board so constituted might work well in times of peace, but in time of war such a divided command could only lead to confusion and inefficiency. APPEAL FOR AND FROM IONIAN GREEKS. The people therefore reserved to itself the power of allotting special commands to strategi of its own choice, or even of [433]appointing one member of the board a generalissimo (στρατηγός αὐτοκράτωρ).

It was under this constitutional arrangement that the mode of command adopted in 479 was possible.

It was while the fleet was at Ægina that the Greeks received the first direct appeal for aid from the Ionian Greeks. Doubtless the populations of the cities along the Asian coast were much stirred at this time by the disaster which had befallen the great expedition. That the Ionian contingent had shared in those disasters was a consideration which would affect but slightly the sentiments of the mass of the Ionian population; since, as has been already pointed out, that contingent represented merely the dominant philomedic minorities in the various Ionian towns. With the unbroken power of Persia to back them, those minorities could not be assailed with any hope of success; but now that that power was shaken, it might seem that the time had arrived for action. In Chios, at any rate, a plot was formed to murder the local tyrant Strattis. It miscarried, and six of the chief conspirators fled for their lives across the Ægean, where they made an appeal, first to Sparta, and then to the fleet at Ægina, to strike a blow for the liberty of their countrymen beyond the sea. Herodotus’ silence as to their reception at Sparta is eloquent; but his description of the effect of their appeal on the fleet is one of the most remarkable, and probably one of the most misinterpreted passages in his history, H. viii. 132. “The refugees, with difficulty, induced the fleet to go as far as Delos; all beyond was to the Greeks a land of danger, for they knew not even how it lay, and fancied it all to be full of the enemy’s troops. As for Samos, it seemed to them as far off as the Pillars of Hercules. So it befell that the Persians were afraid to sail westward of Samos, and the Greeks dare not go eastward of Delos, though the Chians entreated them so to do. So fear stood between them and protected them.”

This passage, even in its manifest rhetorical exaggeration, is interesting. The evident intention of the historian is to mark the fact that the mutual feelings of the two adversaries had entered upon a second stage.

[434]He has spared no pains to draw a striking contrast between the exaggerated confidence prevailing on the Persian side up to the time of Salamis, and the corresponding lack of it among the Greeks. The balance of fear had been heavy against his countrymen. But now, at the opening of the campaign of 479, he is equally anxious to show that the scale had altered, and was now in equilibrium. With the dramatic instinct of the Greek, he wishes to indicate in one striking sentence that the turning-point in the tragedy has been reached. He was telling, as he well knew, the most exciting story in the history of the world up to his own time, and he may be pardoned, perhaps, if in his anxiety to emphasize its climax he has employed the language of exaggeration.

But when it becomes a question of determining the extent of the exaggeration, it may be suggested that there is perhaps less exaggeration in his statement than in the criticisms which have been passed upon it. May it not be that the eastern shore of the Ægean was to the European Greek of 480 a far less known region than might, without reflection, be assumed? Twenty years had passed since the outbreak of the Ionian revolt. Was not the attitude of Athens and Eretria in the first year of it peculiarly calculated to render communications between the two shores difficult and rare? The trade of the Ionian cities must have practically ceased during the seven years of the struggle; and, in any case, Persia, in her bitter resentment at the interference of the two states of European Greece, was not likely to encourage the visits of traders from the other side of the sea. Every avenue of trade in the Asian waters must have been unsafe to the Greek, not merely on account of the possible presence of the Persian fleet, but by reason of the swarm of privateers which the south coast of West Asia was ever ready to produce. THE SILENT ÆGEAN. And when the revolt was over, was it probable that the Persians would allow the Greek trader free access to information with regard to the plans of the expeditions of 492 and 490, or, amid the access of bitterness which arose from the failure of the latter year, with regard to the preparations made for a great [435] revenge? If intercourse did continue, how does it arise that the Greeks were ignorant of the magnitude and real intent of the expedition of 480, up to within a few months of its arrival in Greece? The Ionian must have known long before. Why did he not tell the Greek trader, if that trader was a frequent visitor to his ports? After-ages do not realize the nature of the blow dealt to trade by a prolonged period of war, even if the active warlike operations be not continuous. To take examples from the history of England. Those who read the story of the Seven Years’ War mark with pride the absolute predominance which Great Britain had gained upon the seas by the year 1761. And yet, in that very year, eight hundred and twelve English trading ships were captured by the enemy,—no small fraction of the British trading fleet of those days. During the wars of the Napoleonic period when, after Trafalgar, Britain for many years commanded the sea, the English Channel, the greatest trade highway in the world, was almost as deserted as that Northern Ocean which Tacitus describes.

Is it not possible, at least, that Herodotus has in his mind a state of things lasting for many years in the Ægean similar to that which prevailed in the Channel in the first years of the nineteenth century? He may have exaggerated the feelings of the Greek sailors at this time; but who at the present day can say to what length of exaggeration he has gone?



H. viii. 131.

While these events were occurring in Middle Greece, Mardonius, in the far North, was preparing to move. It is said that before starting he despatched an envoy to make inquiries of the oracles of Northern Greece, at Lebadeia, Abæ, and Mount Ptoon, on what subject Herodotus is unable to say with certainty—on the circumstances of the time, he is inclined to think.

H. viii. 136.

A much more important envoy was despatched to Athens in the person of Alexander, the son of Amyntas, a member of the royal house of Macedonia, who was connected with the Persians by family ties, and with the Athenians by his having held for them the position of Proxenos, or consular agent, in his own country.

It may fairly be doubted whether Herodotus got the tale of Alexander’s mission from an Athenian or from a Macedonian source, or whether he combined information derived from both. H. viii. 136. The reference to the character of the Athenian people has, on the one hand, a strong Attic flavour about it, H. viii. 137 et seqq. while the knowledge of the Macedonian royal family displayed here and elsewhere in his work suggests that Herodotus acquired his information on the spot in the course of a visit to that country.177

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


1. Kithæron (about 15 miles).
2. Ridge between Parasopia and Plain of Thebes.
3. Thebes.

[To face page 436.

This tale might, consequently, be derived from Macedonia. MARDONIUS AND ATHENS. This supposition is, however, rendered unlikely, owing to the excessively mistaken forecast which Alexander is described to have made of forthcoming events; and [437]its Attic origin is the more probable. It is needless to say that that does not make for the veracity of a story whose evident intention is, like that of so many of the stories of this time, to bring into relief the self-denying patriotism of Athens. Yet, in spite of this, the story in itself is credible enough.

H. viii. 136.

Mardonius, so the tale runs, had made up his mind that if he could win over the Athenians to the Persian side he would thereby deprive the forces opposed to him of a people both numerous and brave, who were, moreover, mainly responsible for the disaster of the previous year. By this means he hoped to gain once more command of the sea, and expected to be infinitely superior to the enemy on land. This design, Herodotus thinks, was probably suggested to him by the oracles he had recently consulted.

The most remarkable reference, so far, is to the recovery of the command of the sea. No one could better estimate than Mardonius the full significance of the loss of that command. He must have known well that, unless it were recovered, he could at best obtain but a partial measure of success. Anything of the nature of a prolonged campaign to the southward of Bœotia would be, on the mere question of commissariat, impossible; and a brief campaign was not to be looked for. A foe which had been formidable with the courage of despair was likely to be more formidable when animated with the courage of a hope following despair. He had, no doubt, accumulated during the winter in Thessaly as large a commissariat as possible; but it is beyond conception that he could have greatly increased the necessarily limited supplies obtainable locally by transport along that route of four hundred miles whose use had only been contemplated a month or two before, and whose organization must necessarily have been of the most hurried description. He must win Athens over, or modify his plans.

To her accordingly was offered a free pardon for the past on the part of the Great King, the enjoyment of her existing lands, and any accession of territory she liked. Nor did Alexander the envoy fail to point out to the [438]Athenians the contrast between such a prospect and their actual state as the people who had suffered most from the war.

H. viii. 141.

The news of Alexander’s visit to Athens, and of its object, created considerable alarm at Sparta. An embassy was despatched with all speed to counteract the possible ill-effects of his proposals. This embassy was actually present when Alexander spoke; for the latter had been kept waiting for several days before he had been allowed to bring his business before the assembly. The astute Athenians had made up their minds to use Alexander as a lever wherewith to move the sluggish Sparta to action. They do not seem to have had any intention whatever of taking Mardonius’ message into consideration. When Alexander had done speaking, the Spartan ambassadors addressed the assembly. They urged that it would be gross desertion on the part of the Athenians to renounce their share in a war which had been provoked by them, and by them alone. Turning to more material matters, they promised to alleviate the sufferings of the Athenians by undertaking the support of the non-effective part of the population.

The Athenian answer to Mardonius’ message was as firm as their determination: “So long as the sun runs his course in the heavens, we will never make terms with Xerxes.”

The answer to the Lacedæmonians as reported by Herodotus is, in sentiment and language alike, one of the finest passages in Greek prose.

“The fear of the Lacedæmonians lest we should make terms with the barbarians is, humanly speaking, very natural. And yet, knowing well, as you do, the spirit of Athens—that there is not in the wide world gold sufficient nor land so exceeding fair and good that we would accept it as the price of our own defection and of the enslavement of Hellas,—your fear, we think, does you but small credit. There are many powerful considerations which would forbid our so acting, even had we the will to do so. ATHENS AND SPARTA. First and foremost is the burning and destruction of the images and temples of the gods, which we, so far from making terms [439]with the doers of these deeds, must of necessity avenge to the full. Secondly, there is that tie of blood and language which binds the Greek world together, our common share in our religious foundations and sacrifices, our community of manners—things which it would disgrace the Athenians to betray. Know this, if you did not before know it, that so long as a single Athenian survives, we will never make terms with Xerxes. We admire your kindly thought for us, in that, homeless as we are, you are willing to support our families. That kindness on your part is complete, but we will endure as we are, without burdening you.

“But now, these things being so, send forth your army with all speed, for we imagine that the invasion of our land by the barbarian will not be long deferred, so soon as he hears our message refusing compliance with his demands. Ere, then, he enters Attica, there is time for us to meet him in Bœotia.”

And so the Spartan ambassadors went home.

The Athenians evidently hoped that they would be able to save their land from the devastation of the previous year by persuading the allies to meet the enemy in Bœotia.

Their hopes were natural, but they were not destined to be fulfilled; and, if by Bœotia the Bœotian plain was meant, it was fortunate they remained unfulfilled.

On receipt of the answer from Athens Mardonius started on his march from Thessaly without delay. The feudal families of that region had thoroughly espoused the Persian cause, and their attitude, as well as that of the Bœotians, shows that the dominant section in the two great territories of the North had definitely made up their minds that, whatever the fate of the South might be, those regions were to become part of the Persian Empire. H. ix. 2. The Theban advice to Mardonius to remain in Bœotian territory and seek to conquer Greece by corrupting the leading men of its various states, shows that the medization of the ruling powers in Bœotia was not merely a passive attitude. One thing, however, Mardonius had made up his mind to do—to capture Athens a second time. Herodotus attributes the intention to mere vanity, but any one or all of three practical reasons made its acquisition of importance [440]to him. Its recapture might induce Xerxes from his base on the Asian coast to attempt to regain the command of the sea. Its possession might bring pressure to bear on the Athenian authorities, and aid his design of detaching that people from the forces of resistance. Finally, in case he intended to advance on the Isthmus, the possession of the Acropolis would protect his left flank. He occupied Athens without striking a blow, the population having been removed, as in the previous year, to Salamis. Having occupied it, he reopened the negotiations which Alexander had attempted but a short time before. The result was the same. The spirit of the people was shown by their stoning to death Lykides, a member of the council, for merely proposing that the message should be communicated to the Assembly. Even his wife and children were murdered in a similar way by the Athenian women at Salamis.

H. ix. 6.

This second withdrawal to Salamis comes somewhat as a surprise in Herodotus’ narrative, for his account of the visit of the Spartan embassy to Athens at the time of Alexander’s presence there makes it appear that an understanding had been arrived at by which Athens might be spared a second invasion. The explanation comes later. “So long as the Athenians expected that an army would come from Peloponnese to help them, they remained in Attica.” But when the presence of the enemy in Bœotia was announced, and it became impossible to hope that help from the South could arrive in time, they retired to Salamis, as they had done the year before. They also despatched an embassy to Sparta to protest against the delay.

The strong appeal to patriotism made in their last communication to the Lacedæmonian embassy had failed to impress a people whose very institutions and training rendered them incapable of forming a real conception of the true spirit of a pan-Hellenic policy. Their stern discipline, moreover, was only too well calculated to render them mere tools of those set over them; and the delay in the present instance was probably due to the policy of an inner ring of the government at Sparta. The records of the time afford no certain clue to the motives lying behind that policy. ATHENIAN EMBASSY AT SPARTA. It is possible that it aimed at forcing the [441]hand of the Athenians, and compelling them to take part in the defence of the Isthmus.

H. ix. 7.

Sparta having failed to listen to persuasion, Athens had recourse, as on previous occasions, to threats. The Spartans were told that if Athens found herself deserted, she would seek her salvation in her own way; it was more than hinted that Mardonius’ offer might become a question of practical politics. The Spartan excuse for delay was similar to that urged for the desertion of Thermopylæ, the celebration of a festival. The story of the reception of the ambassadors is one of the strangest in the strange history of this time. They bitterly reproached the Lacedæmonians with their conduct. They put the very worst construction on the Spartan policy, which had, they said, inflicted on patriotism an amount of suffering which it dare not have inflicted on uncertain fidelity. It is probable that the reproach was, in so far as the Spartan authorities were concerned, well deserved. From the language used by the Athenians it is evident that they believed that the Spartans had agreed to join in operations in Bœotia merely in order to keep Athens from medizing before the wall at the Isthmus was absolutely completed.178

That was the construction Athens put upon their conduct at this time; but it is probable that the more correct interpretation of their extraordinary policy is that by delaying they would be able to transfer the defence to the wall, and could, under any circumstances, rely on the devotion of Athens to the common cause.

Turning to the question of the future war policy, the Athenian ambassadors proposed that, as Bœotia had been lost, the enemy should be met in Attica; and they mentioned the Thriasian plain between Eleusis and Mount Ægaleos as admirably designed for a field of battle. [It must be remembered that this recommendation was made at a time when [442]the Greeks were without experience of the effectiveness of the Persian cavalry on ground suited to its operations.]

The Ephors deferred their answer to the following day; from that to the next, and so on, until ten days had been wasted. They were waiting, says Herodotus, for the completion of the wall. They were, too, waiting, no doubt, until events in the North developed sufficiently to make it impossible for Athens to propose any other line of defence. This unsatisfactory state of things was brought to an end, so Herodotus says, by a warning addressed to the Ephors by Chileos, a Tegean, who had great influence in Sparta. He pointed out that if Athens joined the Persian, wall or no wall, the doors of the Peloponnese would be opened wide. Herodotus evidently supposed that until this moment such an idea had never occurred to the Spartan authorities, despite the experiences of Artemisium and Salamis in the previous year. In all probability, what really influenced these authorities was the fact that an able man, whose opinion they valued, was not so sure as they themselves were, that Athenian loyalty would endure much longer the severe test to which it was being put.

Their next act was a very strange one. Without saying a word to the ambassadors, they despatched under cover of night a force of five thousand Spartans, each of whom was accompanied by seven helots. There were, therefore, forty thousand in all. The number of light-armed helots is remarkable, certainly above the usual quota allotted to a force of five thousand heavy-armed.179



In constituting this force, the unusual number of light-armed in the army which it would have to meet would naturally be taken into consideration. The circumstances of population in the Spartan territories, moreover, were such that any unusual increase in the numbers employed on any expedition would be supplied by the increase in this branch of the service. The commander of this large force was Pausanias. Kleombrotos had been in command at the Isthmus in the previous year, but had died shortly after bringing back his army thence.180 It must have been prepared for departure for some time past No such force could start on short notice.181

The ambassadors, knowing nothing of this sudden march, and weary of the continual procrastination, were prepared to leave Sparta on the following morning. Before the deception was discovered the Athenian delegates actually stated that, in consequence of Sparta’s attitude, Athens would make terms with Persia, and, more than that, would accompany the Persians in their invasion. Truly the Spartan government policy had very nearly brought Greece to ruin.

The surprise of the indignant envoys may then be imagined when they were told in answer by the Ephors that they had every reason to believe that their army was, [444]by that time, at Orestheion on its march against “the strangers,” as they called the barbarians. Orestheion was in the small plain of Asea, S.S.E. of the Arcadian plain, where one of the great roads from Sparta northward met the main road coming from Messenia to the Arcadian plain. The fact that they took this route is interesting, because it almost certainly indicates that they wished to avoid Argos, from which, as will be seen, a certain amount of trouble was to be expected.

Thus the truth came out; and the envoys started without delay in pursuit of this phantom army, accompanied by five thousand picked hoplites of the Periœki.

The truth about the attitude of Argos at this time is rendered uncertain by the fact that, after the war was over, the patriot Greeks regarded not merely those races which had medized, but also those who had not taken part with them, as having been enemies of their fatherland. That of itself would give rise to a number of traditions of doubtful credibility with respect to the attitude of such neutrals. Nevertheless, the attitude of Argos was highly suspicious, and there is no doubt that it was firmly believed in after-time that she had had traitorous relations with Persia.

H. ix. 12.

Herodotus asserts that the Argives sent a messenger about this time to Mardonius, who was in Athens, saying that they were unable to carry out the promise that they had made to him to stop the Spartan army on its march northwards. This tale is to a certain extent supported by the fact that the Spartans, instead of adopting the shorter route north by the Thyreatic plain and Argos, adopted the longer one indicated by the mention of Orestheion. Argos was, by its strategical position, ever a serious obstacle to Sparta’s communication with the north.


Mardonius had, up to this time, refrained from damaging Athens and Attica, in the hope that the Athenians would change their minds, and accept his proposals; but, failing to persuade them to do so, and hearing of the advance of this army to the Isthmus, he set fire to Athens, and began to withdraw to Bœotia; “because,” says Herodotus, “Attica was not a country [445]for cavalry, and if he were defeated in an engagement his only line of retreat was through strait places, so that a few men could stop him.” He determined, therefore, to retreat, and make Thebes his base of operations, as lying in a region eminently adapted to the use of cavalry. His evident fear was lest the Greek forces should work up through the Megarid and seize the difficult passes of the Kithæron-Parnes range in his rear.

As this range is of great importance in the campaign which was at this time about to open, it may be well to describe its nature, and to enumerate the passes by which it is pierced. It was regarded by the Greeks as an effective and important line of defence; and the difficulties which it presented to various armies which had occasion to traverse or to attempt to traverse it in the warfare of the fifth and fourth centuries before Christ, show that their estimate of its defensive possibilities was not a mistaken one. As its name implies, it is in reality composed of two short ranges, Kithæron on the west, and Parnes on the east. These are connected by an upland country known to the ancients by the name of Panakton, whose approaches on either side are, from a military point of view, of a very difficult character. The chain as a whole may be said to form a continuous barrier stretching from the head of the gulf of Corinth to the southern part of the Euripus. Both Kithæron and Parnes are sharply-edged, steep-sided ridges, whose highest points rise to a height of four thousand five hundred feet above sea-level, while the general elevation of each chain is about three thousand feet. Though not, as will be seen, of any great height, they offer comparatively few passages. There are six points at which the range may be traversed. Of these the western series, four in number, are of importance in reference to the battle of Platæa itself, while the two eastern passes afford alternative routes for an army retreating, like that of Mardonius, from Athens to Thebes.

At the extreme west of the range, where it sinks with sudden abruptness into the gulf of Corinth, it is turned rather than traversed by what is little better than a mountain track, which led from the Bœotian port of [446]Kreusis to the Megarean town of Ægosthena. From Ægosthena a road led southwards to Pagæ, and so round the western bastions of Mount Geraneia to the Isthmus. It was also quite possible to reach Megara by a branch of this route.

Cf. Xen. Hell. v. 4; vi. 4.

The difficulties of this pass are such that it was rarely used for military purposes, and it seems to have played no part whatever in the operations of 479.

The second pass is that which the road from Platæa to Megara formerly traversed. It crosses Kithæron a little more than a mile eastward of Platæa, entering a deep valley which runs into the chain from the north, and ascending steeply from the head of the valley to the summit of a col in the ridge. Its character forbids the supposition that it can ever have been used for wheeled vehicles, and its importance must have been mainly due to the fact that it is the only one of this series of passes, with the exception of the track by Ægosthena, by which land communication between Northern Greece and the Peloponnese could be maintained without entering Attic territory. The road south of it, towards Megara, traverses the troublesome hill region of the Northern Megarid.182 The fact that Platæa practically commanded the northern end of this pass rendered the town one of the most important strategic positions in Greece, both in the fifth and in the fourth centuries. It will be hereafter seen that this pass must have played an important part in the operations of the Greek army at Platæa.

The third pass is one by which the road from Platæa to Athens crossed the range. It is little more than a mile to the east of that last mentioned. Remains of the road are visible on the north side, entering a somewhat broad valley running into the hills. It must have always been an easy pass, and the ancient wheel-ruts worn in the rock show that it was used by wheeled vehicles.183 PASSES BETWEEN ATTICA AND BŒOTIA. The [447]road, after traversing it, turned east, and joined, near Eleutheræ, the road from Thebes to Eleusis by way of the pass of Dryoskephalæ. This pass also played an important part in the operations at Platæa.

The fourth pass was well known under its Attic name of Dryoskephalæ, and though not traversed by the direct road between Thebes and Athens, must have been largely used by those going from one place to the other, owing to the route by way of it being more easy than the direct road by Phyle. From the Bœotian side, near the site of the ancient Erythræ, the ascent is steep; it must have always been necessary to make it by a series of zigzags. The summit once reached, the descent is gradual, down a long stream-valley which abuts on a small plain of Attica beneath the fortress of Eleutheræ. As a pass, it was probably always more difficult than that on the Platæa-Athens road, but as the route from Thebes through it was more direct, it became the most used of the passes of Kithæron, and seems to have been the only one which had a special name in ancient times. The road through it was continued southward through a not very difficult country, as country goes in Greece, to the Thriasian plain and Eleusis, passing by or very near the fortress of Œne, whose importance must have been due to its position with reference to this road. Near Eleusis it joined the Sacred Way to Athens. Of the importance of this pass at the time of the battle of Platæa it is hardly necessary to speak.

The fifth of the series of passes is that on the direct road between Thebes and Athens. After ascending from the Bœotian plain to the plateau of Panakton, it traverses the upland pastures of that region, and enters a difficult country, where it was commanded by the important Attic fortress of Phyle. Thence it reaches the head of the Athenian plain. Mardonius might certainly have made use of this route for his retreat. He preferred, however, the more roundabout way through the sixth pass. It may have been, on the whole, an easier route. Furthermore, Mardonius, who seems to have been more apprehensive than he need at this moment have been that [448]his retreat might be cut off, evidently thought that the route furthest from the Greek lines of advance would be safest.

The sixth pass leads from the plain of Athens into the lower basin of the Asopos. It was commanded near its summit by that fortress of Dekeleia which was destined to become so famous in the latter part of the Peloponnesian war. After passing Dekeleia, it was possible, instead of continuing along the road due north, to diverge to the left and follow a stream-valley to Tanagra. From Tanagra there must always have been a good, though not absolutely direct, road to Thebes, and also an easy passage up the Asopos valley.

H. ix. 14.

Herodotus, after describing Mardonius’ preparations for leaving Athens, says that when already on his way it was reported to him that a body of a thousand Lacedæmonians had been pushed forward to Megara. On hearing this, he wheeled about, and led his army as far as Megara, while his cavalry overran the whole of the Megarid. Herodotus’ intention in mentioning the incident is made sufficiently clear by the words which follow: H. ix. 14, ad fin. “This is the furthest point west in Europe which the Persian army reached.” Paus. i. 44, 4. It is to this expedition that a tradition mentioned by Pausanias must be referred—a tradition which preserved the record of the advance of the Medes to Pagæ.

There is no reason to doubt that the Persian raid into the Megarid is an historical fact, recorded by Herodotus and preserved in this chance tradition. It is not, however, at all likely that it was made by the whole Persian army, or that it was made at the time Herodotus mentions. His object in relating the story is plainly indicated, and in his desire to make his main point, he has probably not been over careful as to exactness in date.

If Mardonius wished, as is represented by the historian, to secure his safe passage to Bœotia, he would hardly have turned back with all his force. Had he done so, his natural line of withdrawal would have been by Dryoskephalæ. MARDONIS RETREATS TO BŒOTIA. The raid into Megara seems to have been a cavalry reconnaissance, whose object was to discover [449]what the Greeks were doing at the Isthmus, and, moreover, it was probably made several days at least before the time indicated by Herodotus.

H. viii. 15.

The actual line of retreat Herodotus describes with some detail. He first went to Dekeleia, whence guides despatched by the Bœotarchs conducted him to Sphendale, and so to Tanagra. From thence he made his way up the Asopos valley to Skolos, where he formed a stockaded camp.184

It is impossible to arrive at any real comprehension of the history of this stage of the war without deducing from the action of Mardonius the nature of the designs, both political and strategical, which led him to adopt the course of action which he did.

It is evident, in the first place, that he had given up all idea of an attack on the fortifications of the Isthmus. It is also evident that he had recognized from the first that the only possibility offered him of an attack on that position was in the event of his winning over Athens to his side. If he could not do so, he would be liable to have his communications cut at any moment in the very difficult region of the Megarid. The negotiations with Athens had conspicuously failed. It would be absurd to suppose that he was not prepared for such an eventuality even before he started for Thessaly; he may be conceived [450]even to have recognized that, after the events of the previous year, the probability of success in the negotiation was remote.185 If this be the case, it is to be concluded that he had some alternative design in his mind, which he intended to carry out in case the first miscarried. The very circumstances under which the history of the time was written forbade the possibility of the nature of that design becoming known to after-ages, and the only surviving indications of what he planned are afforded by what he did.

It is amply proved in the Greek historians that the disaster of the previous year had left the ruling powers of the north just as loyal to Persian interests as they had been before Salamis. If anything, their loyalty had increased. Their contingents were with Mardonius. They had practically staked their all on his success; and only his presence could save them from the severe retaliation which the patriotic Greeks might be expected to inflict on those who had joined the enemies of their country. If Mardonius’ strategy at this time be any indication of his policy, that policy aimed at the establishment of a new Persian frontier at the Kithæron-Parnes line, with Thessaly, Phocis, and Bœotia in a similar position to the vassal states of Thrace and Macedonia.

His strategical plan was well based. The Kithæron-Parnes line offered a much easier defence against an assailant from the south than against one from the north, because the continuous valleys of the Œroë and Asopos formed a natural highway running lengthwise along the chain, such a highway as was conspicuous by its absence on the southern side. By this highway an army could be moved rapidly from one point to the other, according to the locality of the pass through which the attack might be delivered. CHANGE IN GREEK PLAN OF CAMPAIGN. On the south no such facilities existed, and an army on the north which made a feint at one of the eastern passes, and so attracted an enemy to its defence, could [451]move to one of the western passes, and get through it long before the defender could move from his original defensive position.186

Thus Mardonius was well placed. He had a fortified base at Thebes, in a rich country, and a country well adapted to his strength in cavalry; and he had a fortified camp on the strategic line of highway which the Asopos valley afforded.

It is little short of a calamity for the history of this time that Herodotus has omitted to account for the absolute change in the Greek plan of campaign which is indicated by the advance of the army from the Isthmus into Bœotia. It had manifestly been the intention of the Spartans up to the very last moment to await attack at the Isthmus; it may be certain that the other Peloponnesian States entertained this design still more emphatically. And yet, in spite of this, they follow the enemy to Bœotia, and shortly after their arrival there develop an offensive movement of a most unmistakable character. Athens must have been mainly responsible for this remarkable change; but what were the motives of Athens? It was too late to save Attica. The mischief there had been done. And yet these Greeks were persuaded to develop a policy whose boldness is in conspicuous contrast to the purely defensive attitude they had hitherto adopted in all their land operations, and to inaugurate the new policy in a region peculiarly favourable to that arm of the enemy’s force from which they had most to fear and against which they had nothing to match. It can only have been carried out under the impetus of some great and well-grounded alarm; and in view of the silence of the ancient historian, the only conclusion that it is possible to draw from the acts of either side is that the Greeks, through the Athenians, suspected the existence of a design to establish a new Persian frontier at Kithæron.

It was consequently necessary to take the offensive and the risk it involved, unless they were ready to submit [452]to the existence of the Persian terror at their very doors. Whether its continued existence would have been possible without the regaining of the command of the sea is another question; but, considering the attitude of Bœotia and Thessaly, it would be unsafe to assert the impossibility. In any case, the Greeks regarded those possibilities from so near a perspective, that their field of vision must have been contracted to the one dangerous alternative.

H. ix. 19.

The Lacedæmonian army, which was last heard of at Orestheion in Arcadia, arrived at the Isthmus and encamped there. The patriotic States of Peloponnese, seeing the Spartans on the move, despatched their contingents thither also, or, rather, the complements of their contingents, since it must be concluded that the wall had not been without any defenders up to this time. From the Isthmus the whole army moved forward to Eleusis, where the Athenian land-army from Salamis joined it. The whole combined force then moved north along the road to Dryoskephalæ.187

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


[To face page 452.

Shortly after passing the summit of the pass the Greek army would arrive in full view of the Bœotian plain, which from that elevated place appears more flat than it really is. The comparative monotony of the scenery of the plain itself is disguised by distance; and that which strikes the eye most forcibly is the contrast between this huge extent of comparatively low level ground, and the magnificent frame of mountains which forms the horizon on every side. To the north-west, Helicon descends in a long and highly serrated slope, behind which the hump of Parnassus in the far distance towers to a great height. LIMITS OF THE FIELD OF OPERATIONS. The northern horizon is bounded by that southern extension of the Œta range which lies between Kopais and the North Euripus, though Kopais, or what was once Kopais, is out of sight behind a comparatively low ridge in the neighbourhood of [453]Thebes. To the north-east, Mount Ptoon is visible; and over its lower ridge the great cliffs of Mount Mekistos, on the Eubœan side of the Euripus, are just discernible. Away to the east, though hidden from sight at the top of the pass by a high bastion of Kithæron, the truncated cone of Mount Dirphys in Mid-Eubœa is the most prominent object.

There are but few extensive views in Greece comparable with it, and perhaps only one which excels it, that from Thaumaki on the road from Lamia northward, when the great plain of Thessaly, with its fringing ranges, is spread out like a sea before the spectator.

From the pass the Greeks descended to a position which extended across the road by which they had come, at the point at which it debouched fully on the plain. Before describing this position in detail it may be well to give a brief general description of the ground on which the prolonged struggle took place.

Its limits may be clearly defined. To the south its boundary is the limit of cultivation, where the rocky foot of Kithæron begins to rise from the rounded ridges of the plain. Outside this line the ground was impracticable for cavalry operations, and, though both armies at different times traversed this ground, no fighting took place beyond the line, or even in its neighbourhood. On the north, the limits are equally well defined by the river Asopos, although again in this case the major part of the Persian army was, during nearly the whole of the operations, to the north of the stream. The only fighting, however, which can possibly have taken place beyond it occurred during the assault on the Persian camp after the battle. To the east the limit may be taken as the line of the Thebes-Athens road; while to the west an imaginary line running due north from the town of Platæa to the Asopos will well define its utmost extent in that direction. The area of this field is about fifteen square miles, the dimensions from north to south and from east to west being about three and a half and four miles respectively.

In respect to the lie of its surface it may be divided [454]into two parts. The southern portion of it along the foot of Kithæron consists of ridges running south and north, divided from one another by stream-valleys,—spurs, in fact, of the great mountain, but of no great height.188 Of these the easternmost is much loftier than the others. On the westernmost is the site of the town of Platæa.

North of these ridges a distinctly marked line of depression extends across the field from east to west. It runs up the course of a brook,189 in a south-westerly direction, to the site of the modern Kriekouki. After reaching the bottom of that village it turns at right angles and goes north-west in a line parallel to, and immediately north of, the watershed between the basins of the Asopos and Œroë, reaching the flat alluvial plain north of Platæa, just west of the springs of Apotripi, the traditional Gargaphia.

This depression is of considerable importance in relation to the general scheme of the operations of the Greek army on the field:⁠—

(a) Because it forms the dividing line between the first and intended third positions and the second position, that is to say, between the positions which were chiefly remarkable for their defensive character, and that position which was assumed with the manifest intention of taking a vigorous offensive.

(b) Because in it the Greek army, after marching from the first position, took up its order before occupying the second position.

(c) Because in it the two combats which ultimately decided the battle were fought.

The plain which has been mentioned in reference to the western extremity of this depression extends without any break from the north end of the site of the town of Platæa to the Asopos river. The plain is the only flat land in the whole battle-field.

From Sketch by E. Lear.]


[To face page 454.


North of the depression rise three ridges or hills.190 [455]These ridges are separated from one another by two deep stream-valleys.191 The slope of these ridges northward toward the Asopos is longer and more gradual than on the south.

In general appearance the plain of Bœotia at this part resembles the Wantage downs in such parts as the ploughland predominates over the pasture. The great grey wall of Kithæron to the south rises into the air, and dwarfs into insignificance the inequalities of the plain, rendering, moreover, all horizontal distances most deceptive to the eye.

It may be assumed with absolute confidence that the accidents of the terrain in this region of Greece are for all practical purposes identical with those which existed more than two thousand years ago. There is no evidence of great surface-changes such as are brought about in other parts of Greece by the torrents which sweep down in violence from the mountains. In Upper Parasopia such torrents do not exist. Their non-existence can hardly be ascribed to inferior rainfall, for the Bœotian climate is not more dry than that of other parts of Greece. The probable cause is the peculiarly porous nature of the soil, and, presumably, of the underlying rock, which absorbs a large amount of water which would in other parts of Greece escape along the surface.192

In the flat plain between Platæa and the Asopos river, the courses of the various streams which traverse it are without doubt liable to alterations, but the characteristics of the stream-beds as to width, depth, and so forth, are undoubtedly the same as they were in the past.

The passes which actually debouch upon the field are, [456]as has been already mentioned, three in number. It is remarkable that in Herodotus’ account of the battle that of Dryoskephalæ is the only one mentioned. It is, however, quite clear from Herodotus that, while the Greeks were in the second position on the battle-field, the Dryoskephalæ pass, and also that on the Platæa-Athens road, were both held by the Persian cavalry, and the supplies of the army during the time must have come through the pass on the Platæa-Megara road.193



Before entering upon the actual description of the battle itself, it may be well to say one word about the general character of the account of it which Herodotus has given to the world. Its length and elaboration are greater than that devoted by the author to the description of any other single act or scene in the history of his time. The historian had evidently expended extraordinary trouble in its preparation, and had done his utmost to arrive at all the facts and to relate them with accuracy. Any failure in the latter respect is owing either to the nature of his source or sources of information, or to a misapprehension of military details due to his want of special knowledge and experience. But whatever these defects may be, his narrative is by far the best of the accounts which have survived until the present day, a fact which is capable of proof by reason of the extraordinary manner in which, in spite of certain obscurities, it harmonizes with the present state of the region wherein the incidents occurred. There can be no reasonable doubt that he visited the field, and that, where he gives topographical details, they are the result of autopsy. Some of the difficulties which arise with reference to his description are more probably due to want of knowledge on the part of the modern than on the part of the ancient historian. Some, again, are attributable to that natural difficulty, which must ever arise, when any one attempts to follow exactly the description, however clear, of a complicated piece of ground as seen by the eyes of another man; and this difficulty is not decreased when the language employed does not possess that wealth of technical vocabulary which is at the service of the writer of the present day. It is so easy to fail to realize these difficulties under which Herodotus wrote. Official records were probably non-existent: written records of any kind, if existent, were probably of the most meagre kind; and the historian must have been obliged to have recourse to the narratives of those who were actually present at the operations. It must have cost an infinite amount of trouble to collect the information, and to piece together the different narratives; and yet, despite the [458]immense difficulty of dealing with evidence of this kind, Herodotus has left an account of the battle which is not merely of interest and value from the point of view of general history, but also in the narrower field of exclusively military history.

Platæa was no ordinary engagement. It was really a campaign of several weeks, conducted within an extraordinarily limited field of operations. During that brief time, and within that small area, the strength and weakness of East and West matched in battle against one another were exemplified in a most striking way. The lesson it taught was so tremendous, so wide in application, that men could not grasp it. Perhaps it was as well for the world that they did not.

H. ix. 19.

The Greeks having descended from the summit of the pass of Dryoskephalæ towards the Bœotian plain, discovered that the Persians were encamped upon the Asopos, and took up their position “on the foothills of Kithæron.”194 H. ix. 22. Herodotus refers later to this position as having been at Erythræ. The site of that small town has been somewhat in dispute; it appears to have been in the hollow on the north side of the mountain into which the road from Dryoskephalæ descends.195



The position taken up by the Greeks is recognizable without difficulty at the present day. Their right was on the high bastion of Kithæron, east of Erythræ, stationed for the most part, in all probability, in the neighbourhood of the old fort which here overhangs the road. Their centre was on the low ground, à cheval of the Thebes road. Their left was probably on the slopes of the high ridge (ridge 1 in the map) to the east of the site of Kriekouki. The numbers present at this time are not known. All that is known is that, after considerable reinforcements had come in, from a hundred thousand to a hundred and ten thousand Greeks were in the field. It is not therefore possible to say what would be likely to be the length of the Greek front in this first position.

[460]The strength of the position would be great. Their right and left wings would be unassailable by cavalry, and only assailable by infantry at a great disadvantage. Only on the flat ground in front of Erythræ would it be possible for the Persian cavalry to attack them, and this only along the right or east portion of the low ground, since the left or west portion of their centre would be protected by deep and precipitous stream-gullies which are there at this day, and must have existed in a similar form at the time of the battle. ATTACK BY PERSIAN CAVALRY. The comparatively advanced position of their centre in front of Erythræ, instead of on the difficult ground south of its site, was probably due to their being largely [461]dependent on the wells of the little town for their supply of water.



1. Greek right.
2. Greek centre.
3. Greek left.
4. Site of Erythræ.
5. Pass of Dryoskephalæ.

[To face page 460.

H. ix. 20.

Mardonius, seeing that the Greeks had taken up this position, and that they showed no disposition to come down into the plain, sent against them the whole of his cavalry, under the command of Masistios, a Persian of high reputation. On getting near the Greeks it did not attack in a body,—the deep stream courses opposite the Greek left centre would make that difficult,—but, owing evidently to the narrowness of the front assailable, attacked in squadrons, and did a great deal of damage. The Megareans were drawn up at the most assailable point, and were hard pressed by an assault which evidently aimed at cutting the Greek army in two, and seizing their direct line of retreat by way of the pass. The narrowness of the assailable front appears emphatically in Herodotus’ account of the message the Megareans despatched for assistance. They speak of themselves as being single-handed in the fight, and beg to be relieved from their position. They threaten even that, unless help be sent, they will be obliged to leave their post. Pausanias, who led the great Spartan contingent and commanded the whole army, had some difficulty in finding volunteers for the post of danger. Finally the Athenian picked troops, under the command of Olympiodoros, accompanied by a body of bowmen, undertook to occupy the critical position. Aristides, who commanded the Athenian contingent, would see clearly the pressing nature of the danger. H. ix. 22. The Persians continued their attack by squadrons until their leader, Masistios, had his horse wounded by an arrow. It reared and threw him, close, apparently, to the Greek line of battle; for the Athenians immediately rushed towards him. He was killed, and his horse was captured. The Persians had not noticed the fall of their commander, and it was not until they had retired and had come to a stand-still that the loss was discovered. With shouts of encouragement to one another, the horsemen turned upon the Greeks, eager to gain possession of their leader’s body. They came no longer in squadrons, but in what must have been one column of horse, many ranks in depth. The Athenians [462]called on the rest of the army to aid them, but before the latter came up the attack fell. The Athenians, only three hundred in number, were pressed back from the place where Masistios lay; the fight was too unequal. But when the other Greeks came up the Persian horsemen retired and were obliged to leave the body in the hands of the enemy. After retreating a distance of two stades, they held a consultation, and decided that, having lost their general, the best thing they could do was to retire to the camp.

In this combat the Persian cavalry was evidently taught a severe lesson. They found out the mistake of attacking unshaken heavy infantry at close quarters, a fundamental error in tactics which they did not repeat again in the course of the battle. From this time forward the Persians used their cavalry to inflict damage on the immobile Greek force by assailing it with missiles from a distance, and by cutting its lines of communication. They had learnt their lesson: the Greeks had not.

It is evident that the latter drew a wholly mistaken conclusion from the results of the fight, H. ix. 25. and that their previous fear of the enemy’s cavalry gave place to an unwarranted confidence in their ability to face it on any ground. They were now prepared to carry out tactically that offensive movement which they had begun strategically by their advance into Bœotia. It would seem as if their original design had been to use the Dryoskephalæ-Thebes road as their line of advance, a design which was checked in part by the nervousness originally pervading the greater part of their army as to the result of a rencontre with the Persian cavalry, and still more by the fact that they could see that the fortified Persian camp was saddled, as it were, on their proposed line of advance. From Herodotus’ description it would appear as if that camp were on both sides of the Asopos river, and that the point at which the Thebes-Dryoskephalæ road crosses that river at the present day must have been well within its area.


It was, then, in consequence of their elation at the success which they had won over the Persian cavalry, and probably also in consequence of the decision of the Greek [463]commanders to take the offensive along a line other than that of the direct route to Thebes, that the Greeks moved from the position which they had hitherto occupied. It was plain that in that position no decisive result could be obtained. The extreme importance of this movement makes it necessary that Herodotus’ description of it should be follow with the utmost care:⁠—

H. ix. 25.

“After this they decided to go down towards Platæa. For the Platæan country seemed to them to be a much more suitable place for encampment than that about Erythræ. It was better supplied with water, and had other advantages. They determined therefore that they must move to that region and to the spring of Gargaphia, which is situated in it, and form a regular encampment. Taking [464]up their arms, therefore, they went along the foot hills of Kithæron by Hysiæ to the Platæan country, and on arriving there they proceeded to take up their order by contingents near the spring of Gargaphia and the precinct of the hero Androkrates, along hills of no great height and level country.”

The Position of the Persian Camp.

Herodotus (ix. 15) describes the position of the camp as follows: Παρῆκε δὲ αὐτοῦ (Mardonius) τὸ στρατόπεδον ἀρξάμενον ἀπὸ Ἐρυθρέων παρὰ Ὑσίας, κατέτεινε δὲ ἐς τὴν Πλαταιίδα γῆν, παρὰ τὸν Ἀσωπὸν ποταμὸν τεταγμένον. Οὐ μέντοι τό γὲ τεῖχος τοσουτον ἐποιέετο, ἀλλ’ ὡς ἐπὶ δέκα σταδίους μάλιστά κῃ μέτωπον ἕκαστον.

Earlier in the same chapter he speaks of the Persian force as having arrived ἐς Σκῶλον, ἐν γῇ τῇ Θηβαίων.

I could not find any traces of the ruins of Skolos; Vide note on p. 449. but if the distance given in the passage of Pausanias (ix. 4, 3) already quoted is in any sense reliable, it lay four and a half miles east of the point where the Platæa-Thebes road crossed the Asopos; that is to say, about a mile and a half east of the Dryoskephalæ-Thebes road. Comparing this statement with Herodotus’ description of the position of the Persian army as stretching from Erythræ and Hysiæ, the conclusion which must be arrived at is that its encampment was on the low ground on either side of the Dryoskephalæ-Thebes road, and on the Asopos river.

The passage in Herodotus (ix. 31) πυθόμενοι τούς Ἓλληνας εἶναι ἐν Πλαταιῇσι, from the use of the word πυθόμενοι, would seem to indicate that the first phase of the second position of the Greeks was not in view of the Persian camp. If so, that camp was on the low ground, and did not extend southward to either of those heights called in the map the Long ridge and the Plateau.

At the risk of appearing to anticipate the evidence, it is necessary for the clear understanding of the somewhat complicated operations of this period of the battle, to state that the movement this indicated is not the complete movement to the second position, nor, consequently, is the position adopted the position finally taken up by the Greeks. That second position had three phases, of which this is the first.

It is possible to follow without difficulty this movement which Herodotus describes. It is evident that the Greek army first matched west along the south or upper part of the ridges196 which descend from Kithæron towards the plain. Their object was evidently to keep, in so far as possible, on the rocky hill slopes, where their march could not be imperilled or interrupted by cavalry attack. In this march they passed Hysiæ. The position of that small place is not, as has been already said, determinable with certainty; but it seems most probable that its site is to be looked for immediately above the village of Kriekouki, and, if so, it would lie almost on the line of march which Herodotus indicates.

The Site of Hysiæ.

Tradition gives the site of the modern Kriekouki as that of Hysiæ. Water being so important in this region, it is worthy of notice that, except in case of prolonged drought, Kriekouki is well supplied in this respect, which would render it likely that the site or its immediate neighbourhood would have been chosen for habitation in ancient times. As I have already indicated, I think Hysiæ stood just outside the area of the modern village, to the south of it, i.e. higher up the hillside. There is a mound there with a more or less circular enclosure at the top, quite close to the great bend of the loop-road above the Kriekouki. The enclosure may possibly mark the site of the foundations of an ancient φρούριον. Other remains I could not find. Hysiæ was at best but a little place, and, if it stood on that site, whatever remnants of it survived till modern times would inevitably be swept away for the building of the large village of Kriekouki, in whose walls, too, are stones which appear to have been taken from pre-existing buildings. This site accords with the little that is told us in ancient authors of the position of Hysiæ. It lies east of the line of road from Athens to Platæa, at a distance of something less than half a mile. To the traveller coming along the road from Eleutheræ it would therefore be, as Pausanias says (ix. 2, i), “a little to the right of the road.” It is also west of the site of Erythræ, as Herodotus (ix. 15) indicates Hysiæ to have been.



After moving some distance westward along the foothills the Greek army must have turned in a north and north-westerly direction to reach the position which Herodotus describes. H. ix. 25. He mentions the spring of Gargaphia and the precinct of Androkrates197 as the two points defining the position, and indicates clearly what that position was, for the spring may be identified at the present day, and the precinct is referred to in Thucydides’ account of the escape of the two hundred and twelve from Platæa, in such a way that its site must lie somewhere within a comparatively small area of ground.

The Spring of Gargaphia.

The spring of Alopeki or Apotripi, at the head of the brook A 1, is pointed to by local tradition as the ancient Gargaphia. This spring does not give a very copious supply of water. I believe it does not always run dry in summer; but in August, 1899, after the long drought of that year, it was yielding no water whatever. The state of things in that month was such that the inhabitants of Kriekouki were absolutely dependent for water for themselves and their cattle on a group of springs lying east of Apotripi, distant from it about three-quarters of a mile, and forming the source of Stream A 4. These are the springs which Colonel Leake, rightly, as I firmly believe, identified with Gargaphia. The chief of these springs has, in modern times, been enclosed in a wall. What is quite certain is that one of these two groups is the Gargaphia.

Herodotus says (ix. 49) that the whole Greek army watered from the springs. As the battle took place in September, the greater yield of water from the eastern group of springs supports its identity as against Apotripi.

Herodotus also says (ix. 51) that the “Island” was ten stades from the spring.

Those who have visited the field since I was there in 1892 seem to be agreed that I was right in my identification of the “Island.”

The distance of the eastern springs from the “Island” is just about ten stade. Apotripi is about the same distance from it.

Herodotus says (ix. 52) that the spring was twenty stades from the Ἥραιον which, he says, is πρὸ τῆς πόλιος τῆς Πλαταιέων. The eastern springs are sixteen stades from the approximate position of that temple; Apotripi is but twelve stades off.

It will, I think, be seen that the evidence of Herodotus is in favour of the eastern springs.

The Precinct of the Hero Androkrates.

The evidence of Thucydides enables us to determine approximately the position of this Heroön. He says (iii. 24) that the two hundred and twelve who escaped made their way from Platæa

“along the road leading to Thebes, having on their right the hero-chapel of Androkrates ... and for six or seven stades the Platæans advanced along the Thebes road, and then, turning, went along the road leading to the mountain to Erythræ and Hysiæ.”

This can only mean that the Heroön was in the angle between the road to Thebes and the road to the mountains; and as these people only went about three-quarters of a mile along the Thebes road, it is evident that, if Thucydides be correct, the Heroön was to the right of the road and within three-quarters of a mile of Thebes. I have marked in the map the conjectural site of the building on the extremity of the last low ridge of the mountain before it sinks into the plain. There are at that point the remains of what has been an oblong building constructed of good squared blocks. I am almost certain that it is Hellenic work.

Mr. W. J. Woodhouse, in a recent number of the Journal of Hellenic Studies (Part I. 1898), dissents from my view as to the position of the Heroön of Androkrates.

His argument is as follows:⁠—

  • (1) If the Heroön lay hard by the road, constituting a familiar landmark, Thucydides’ remark is pointless.

  • (2) There were two other roads from Platæa to Thebes, viz. those through Dryoskephalæ and the Pass on the Platæa-Athens road respectively.

  • (3) Plutarch places the Heroön near the ancient temple of Demeter.

Mr. Woodhouse accordingly suggests that the Heroön stood on the site of the church of St. John, on the Asopos ridge.

I would point out:⁠—

  • (1) That Thucydides’ language [iii. 24] is not pointless, even if the Heroön be near “the road leading to Thebes,” inasmuch as he indicates a point near the road which the fugitives certainly passed before they turned to the right, and thus diminishes the comparative vagueness of the “six or seven stades” which follow. It does not seem unnatural that he should wish to make quite clear the fact that they passed the Heroön before they turned, i.e. that it lay within the angle through which they turned. I would also point out, that it is not the fact of the Heroön being on the right of the road, which Thucydides emphasizes, but it being on the right of the Platæans as they went along the road. The site of the church of St. John is eighteen stades from Platæa. Thucydides would hardly say that persons who only went “six or seven stades” along this road ever had that site upon their right hand.

  • (2) The alternative routes Mr. Woodhouse mentions are alternative routes from Platæa in much the same sense that the route by Bletchley is an alternative railway route from Oxford to London. “The road leading [from Platæa] to Thebes” could only mean the ordinary direct road. An author using that expression would not imagine that his meaning could be doubtful.

  • (3) Plutarch’s topography of Platæa is quite hopeless. It was evidently not a side of historical inquiry in which he took the slightest real interest



There can be little doubt that the Greek army on descending from the hillside of Kithæron proceeded to form in something resembling order of battle on the low ground near the bottom of the depression which [467]extends across the field, or on the flattish ridge which forms the watershed between the Œroë and the Asopos. In this position their left would be near, but probably north of the hero-chapel of Androkrates; their right would be near [468]the Gargaphia. The position of the centre and the right would, moreover, be “on hills of no great height;” that is to say, on the lower ends of the ridges which come down from Kithæron, while their left would be in the plain before Platæa, the “level country” of which Herodotus speaks. On this ground they would be completely hidden from the Persian camp by the intervening ridges to the north of them, which rise a hundred and twenty feet above the Gargaphia spring, and much more than that above the plain of Platæa.

This first phase or development of the second position of the Greeks was probably not of long duration. The nature of the ground provides an explanation of it. After completing this march from the first position, the Greeks seem to have been anxious to form their army in something like order of battle before ascending to the summit of the northern ridges (the Asopos ridge), for on arriving there they would be in full view of the enemy, and at no great distance from the Persian camp. In other words, they deployed their army out of sight of the enemy.

There seems to have been a certain amount of quarrelling between the various contingents as to the order to be taken in the line of battle. NUMBERS OF THE GREEK ARMY. Herodotus describes at some length such a dispute between the Tegeans and Athenians as to who should take position on the extreme left; but then he dearly loved that kind of traditional [469]history which he represents the two disputants as having introduced into their arguments.

The matter was decided in favour of the Athenians. It is clear that the Greeks at this time had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the people which had faced the Persians alone at Marathon.

H. ix. 28.

The Greek army was now larger in numbers than when it entered Bœotia. Reinforcements had been coming in day by day. The total given by Herodotus at this point in his narrative may be taken to represent the largest number present at any time on the field, though it must not, perhaps, be assumed that all these troops were actually with the army immediately after the first development of the second position had been completed.198

The total number amounts to more than a hundred and eight thousand men, of whom more than one-third were [470]heavy-armed infantry. When it is remembered that with the exception of two thousand eight hundred, all the troops were drawn from the Peloponnese, Megara, and Attica, and that, besides these, large numbers of the men of military age were serving on board the fleet at this time, the strenuous nature of the effort which Greece put forth in this year can best be realized. There is one curious point about the list in Herodotus. Manifest as is his admiration for Aristides, it is in this passage only in his long account of Platæa that he mentions him as commander of the Athenian contingent.

After giving the numbers of the various contingents of the Greek army, Herodotus closes the account with a remark which, in view of his previous description of their position as being in the neighbourhood of the precinct of Androkrates and the spring of Gargaphia, is difficult to understand. He says, “These (troops) were drawn up in regular order upon the Asopos.” If by the Asopos is to be understood what is undoubtedly the main stream of that river, the army in the first development of the second position cannot have been even in its immediate neighbourhood, much less upon it. It cannot have been at any point less than a mile and a half distant. The probable explanation is that the name of Asopos was applied by the inhabitants of Platæa, in so far as the upper course of that stream is concerned, to the brook which has its rise in the springs of Apotripi.199


H. ix. 31.

On receiving information of the movement of the Greeks, the Persians moved westward along the Asopos, keeping, as it would appear from subsequent events, to the north of the river. If Herodotus’ language is accurate in wording,200 it must be understood that this movement was made before the second position of the Greeks had entered upon its second phase; that is, while they were still out of sight of the Persian army behind the line of the northern ridges. Herodotus gives the Persian array in some detail. For all practical purposes of the story of the battle it is sufficient to know that the Persians proper were at this time on the left wing, opposite to the Lacedæmonians on the Greek right, and with a front overlapping that of the Tegeans. The other Asiatics formed the centre, opposite to the smaller Greek contingents, while the Bœotians and other medized Greeks on the Persian right were opposite to the Athenians, Platæans, and Megareans on the Greek left.

H. ix. 31.

Of the medized Greeks the Phocians were only represented by a fraction of their force. The remainder of that people had refused to medize, and from their strong refuge in Parnassus were evidently doing their best to interrupt the Persian line of communications, an operation for which their position was admirably adapted, as it was on the flank of the route from the north, at that point near [472]Parapotamii and Chæronea where the available is peculiarly restricted.

The total number of the barbarian portion of the Persian army Herodotus gives at three hundred thousand. The numbers of the medized Greeks he does not know, but reckons to have been about fifty thousand. Probably there is an exaggeration in both estimates; but it cannot be very great in the first case. The numbers opposing the Greeks were certainly much superior to their own. The Thessalian element among the medized Greeks, whose numbers may have been very large, renders it impossible to make even a guess at the amount of truth in Herodotus’ estimate.

It is now necessary to consider what was the object of this movement of the Greeks to their second position. The main motive mentioned by Herodotus is the superiority of the water-supply at the new position. No one who has been in this part of Bœotia in the dry season would be inclined to under-estimate the importance of such a motive. But if the question of water had been the only motive, an equally good supply might have been obtained from the Vergutiani spring, and the wells or springs which must have supplied the contemporary town of Platæa. The position taken up in that case would have been beyond the reach of the Persian cavalry—it would, in fact, have been nearly identical with the proposed position at the “Island,” which became a prominent factor in the later developments of the battle.

If the motives given by Herodotus in his account of Platæa be examined, it will be seen that they are obviously those which would suggest themselves to one who had been present at the battle, but who had not been of sufficiently high military rank to be conversant with the designs of those in command. It was on some such man that Herodotus relied for his information; of actual official information he had little or none. He can only say where the army went, what positions it took up, and what were the incidents and issues of the combats which were fought. It is further plain that, as in the case of Thermopylæ, he supplemented this information by a personal examination of the ground.



It is, therefore, from the incidents of the battle that a judgment must be formed as to the nature of the design or designs which determined those incidents. In the present instance the three most remarkable factors in the situation were:⁠—

(1) The Greeks had deliberately taken up a position far more advanced than they need have done, if guided by physical conditions alone.

(2) They had, after their march from their original position, deployed their army in order of battle before coming in sight of the enemy.

(3) Their new position was attained, not by a direct forward movement, but by a strong inclination to the left.

The first factor can only be interpreted in the sense that the Greeks intended to assume a vigorous offensive; the second indicates that the attack was to be of the nature of a surprise; the third that it aimed at an assault on the Persian flank.

In judging from the subsequent history of the battle, it seems probable that, had it been possible to carry out this programme in its entirety, the result would have been a gr