Images de page

and taking their wives and children on board their fleet, sail to the coasts of Italy, where the oracle had commanded them to found a new city.

116. Lest even this argument should not be sufficient, Themistocles had recourse to another of his wiles. He retired a moment from the council and dispatched a trusty messenger to the Persian fleet, assuring its commander that the Greeks, struck with consternation, were preparing to flee, and urging him to seize the opportunity, while they were divided among themselves, to gain a decisive victory. The Persian admiral knew too well the frequent dissensions of the Greeks to doubt the truth of the message. He immediately moved his squadrons to cut them off from the possibility of retreat.

In the meantime Themistocles was again called from the council by the arrival of a messenger. It was his ancient rival, the brave and upright Aristides, still in exile through the influence of Themistocles, but watchful as ever for the interests of his country. He had crossed from Ægina in an open boat to inform the Greeks that they were surrounded by the Persians. "At any time," said the just Athenian, "it would become us to forget our private dissensions, and at this time especially, in contending only who should most serve his country." Themistocles led him at once to the council. His intelligence was soon confirmed by a Tenian deserter, and the leaders were now forced to unite in preparation for immediate battle.

B. C. 480.

117. BATTLE OF SALAMIS. When the sun arose upon the straits of Salamis, the Attic shores were seen lined with the glittering ranks of the Persian army, drawn up by order of Xerxes to intercept fugitives from the Grecian fleet. The king himself, on a throne of precious metals, sat to watch the coming contest. His ships were fully three times the number of the Greeks, and no serious disaster had yet stayed his progress. The Greeks advanced, singing that battle-song which the great poet Eschylus, who himself fought on this memorable day, has preserved for us: "On, sons of the Greeks! Strike for the freedom of your country! strike for the freedom of your children and your wives - for the shrines of your fathers' gods, and for the sepulchers of your sires! All, all are now staked upon your strife!"

Themistocles held them back until a wind began to blow, which usually arose in the morning, causing a heavy swell in the channel. This seriously incommoded the cumbrous vessels of the Persians, while the light and compact Greek craft easily drove their brazen beaks into the sides of the enemy. The Athenians, on the right, soon broke the Phonician line which was opposed to them; and the Spartans, on the left, gained victories over the Ionian allies of the Persians. The sea was strewn with dead bodies, entangled in the masts and cordage of the ships. Aristides, who had been waiting with his command on the coast of Sala

mis, now crossed to the little island of Psyt'tali'a, and put the Persian garrison to the sword. Xerxes, from his throne on Mount Ægaleos, helplessly watched the confusion and slaughter of his men. The contest lasted until evening, when the straits of Salamis were abandoned by the barbarians.

118. When morning came, the Greeks were ready to renew the battle. The Persians had still a large fleet and a numerous army; and, in the night, the Phoenician transports had been joined so as to make a bridge between Salamis and the mainland. But this was only a feint to cover the real movement. The fleet was already under orders to sail to the Hellespont, and the army retired in a few days to Bootia. Leaving 300,000 men with Mardonius to renew the war in the following year, Xerxes hastened into Asia. His army was reduced on the way by famine and pestilence, and it was but a fragment of the great host which had crossed the Hellespont in the spring of 480, that returned in the autumn.

B. C. 479.

119. As spring opened, Mardonius prepared to renew the war; but first he sought to accomplish by diplomacy what he had hitherto failed to do by force. Deeply impressed with the valor of the Athenians, he was sure that if he could withdraw them from the confederacy, the rest of Greece would be an easy prey. To this end he sent Alexander I., king of Macedon, his ally, but a former friend of the Athenians, to flatter them with promises of favor and solicit their alliance. The Athenians refused him an audience until they had time to summon delegates from Sparta. When the Spartans had arrived, Alexander delivered his message. The great king offered to the Athenians forgiveness of the injuries they had done him, the restoration of their country and its extension over neighboring territories, the free enjoyment of their own laws, and the means of rebuilding all their temples. He urged the Athenians to embrace so favorable an offer, for to them alone of all the Greeks was forgiveness extended.

120. The Athenians replied: "We are not ignorant of the power of the Mede, but for the sake of freedom we will resist that power as we can. Bear back to Mardonius this our answer: So long as yonder sun continues his course, so long we forswear all friendship with Xerxes; so long, confiding in the aid of our gods and heroes, whose shrines and altars he has burnt, we will struggle against him for revenge. As for you, Spartans, knowing our spirit, you should be ashamed to fear our alliance with the barbarian. Send your forces into the field without delay. The enemy will be upon us when he knows our answer. Let us meet him in Boeotia before he proceed to Attica."

121. The Athenians had rightly judged the immediateness of the danger. Scarcely was their answer received when the Persian general was in motion,

and advanced by rapid marches to the borders of Attica. He was reenforced at every halt by northern Greeks, moved either by terror of his power or by long-standing jealousies against the members of the League. The Attic territory was utterly desolate and Athens a second time deserted. Taking possession of that city, Mardonius dispatched a Greek messenger to Salamis, repeating his former propositions, which were as instantly rejected as before.

The Athenians were a second time homeless, and, for the moment, standing alone against the enemies of Greece. The Spartans were engaged in some long-continued solemnities—perhaps the funeral of their regent, Cleombrotus — and allowed the Athenian messengers to wait ten days for an answer. Not until the indignant envoys had threatened to make terms with Mardonius and leave Sparta to her fate, did the ephors bestir themselves, but then it was with true Spartan energy and dispatch. Five thousand Spartans and 35,000 slaves were sent, under the command of Pausanias, the new regent, to whom the ephors added a guard of 5,000 heavy-armed Laconians.

122. Hearing of the advance of the Spartans, the Persian thought best to retreat. He again set fire to Athens, leveled to the ground whatever remained of its walls and temples, and retired into Boeotia. Here he arranged his camp on a branch of the Asopus, not far from the city of Platea. The Spartans followed, having been joined at the isthmus by the Peloponnesian allies, and, at Eleusis, by the Athenians. The Greek forces occupied the lower slopes of Mount Citharon, with the river before them, separating them from the Persians.

123. BATTLE OF ERYTHRÆ. The battle was opened by the Persian cavalry, commanded by Masis'tius, the most illustrious general in the army, except Mardonius. His magnificent person, clad in complete scalearmor of gold and burnished brass, was conspicuous upon the battle-field; and his horsemen, then the most famous in the world for their skill and bravery, severely harassed the Megarians, who were posted on the open plain. Olym'piodorus with a select body of Athenians went to their assistance, and Masistius spurred his Nisæan steed across the field to meet him. In the sharp combat which followed, the Persian was unhorsed, and as he lay along the ground was assailed by a swarm of enemies. The heavy armor, which prevented his rising, protected him from their weapons, until, at length, an opening in his visor allowed a lance to reach his brain. His death decided the fate of the battle.

124. After this victory the Greek ariny moved nearer to Platea, where was a more abundant supply of water and a more convenient ground. It was the strongest force which the Persians had yet encountered in Greece, numbering, with allies and attendants, 110,000 men. For ten days they lay facing each other with no important action. The Persians, however,

intercepted convoys of provisions, and succeeded in choking up the spring which supplied the Greeks with water, while, by their arrows and javelins, they prevented their approach to the river. Pausanias then resolved to fall back to a level and well-watered meadow still nearer to Platea.

B. C. 479.

125. BATTLE OF PLATEA. The Spartans were attacked while on the march, and sent immediately to the Athenians for aid. The latter marched to their assistance, but were intercepted by the Ionian allies of the Persians, and cut off from the intended rescue. Pausanias, thus compelled to engage with a small portion of his army, ordered a solemn sacrifice, and his men stood awaiting the result, unflinching, though exposed to a storm of Persian arrows. The omens were unfavorable, and the sacrifices were again and again renewed. At length Pausanias, lifting his eyes streaming with tears toward the temple of Hera, besought the goddess that if fate forbade the Greeks to conquer, they might, at least, die like men. At this moment the sacrifices assumed a more favorable aspect, and the order for battle was given.

The Spartan phalanx in one dense mass moved slowly but steadily against the Persians. The latter acted with wonderful resolution, seizing the pikes of the Spartans or snatching away their shields, while they wrestled with them hand to hand. Mardonius himself, at the head of his chosen guards, fought in the foremost ranks, and animated the courage of his men both by word and example. But he received a mortal wound, and his followers, dismayed by his fall, fled in confusion to their camp. Here they again made a stand against the Lacedæmonians, who were unskilled in attacking fortified places, until the Athenians, who had meanwhile conquered their Ionian opponents, came up and completed the victory. They scaled the ramparts and effected a breach, through which the remainder of the Greeks poured into the camp. The Persians now yielded to the general rout. They fled in all directions, but were so fiercely pursued, that, except the 40,000 of Artabaʼzus, who had already secured their retreat, scarcely 3,000 escaped. The victory was complete, and immense treasures of gold and silver, besides horses, camels, and rich raiment, remained in the hands of the Greeks.

126. Mounds were raised over the brave and illustrious dead. Only to Aristodemus, the Spartan, who had incurred disgrace by returning alive from Thermopylæ, no honors were decreed. The soil of Platea became a second "Holy Land." Thither every year embassies from the states of Greece came to offer sacrifices to Zeus, the deliverer, and every fifth year games were celebrated in honor of liberty. The Platæans themselves, exempt henceforth from military service, became the guardians of the sacred ground, and to attack them was decreed to be sacrilege.

127. On the day of the victory of Platea, a no less important advantage.

was gained by the Greeks at Mycale, in Ionia. Here a large land force, under Tigra'nes, had been stationed by Xerxes for the protection of the coast, and hither the Persian fleet retired before the advance of the Greeks. The Persians drew their ships to land, and protected them by intrenchments and strong earth-works. The Greeks, finding the sea deserted, approached near enough to make the voice of a herald heard, who exhorted the Ionians in the army of Tigranes to remember that they, too, had a share in the liberties of Greece. The Persians, not understanding the language of the herald, began to distrust their allies. They deprived the Samians of their arms, and placed the Milesians at a distance from the front to guard the path to the heights of Mycale. The Greeks, having landed, drove the Persians from the shore to their intrenchments, and the Athenians first became engaged in storming the barricades. The native Persians fought fiercely, even after their general was slain, and fell at last within their camp. All the islands which had given assistance to the Medes were now received into the Hellenic League, with solemn pledges never again to desert it.


Athens incurred the vengeance of the Persian king by aiding a revolt of the Asiatic Greeks. The first invasion of Greece, by Mardonius, failed; a second and larger force, under Datis and Artaphernes, ravaged Naxos and part of Euboea, but was defeated by Miltiades and 11,000 Greeks, at Marathon. An unsuccessful attempt upon Paros destroyed the fame of Miltiades, and he died under a charge of having received bribes from the Persians. Aristides succeeded him in popular favor, but was at length exiled through the influence of Themistocles. The latter urged the naval preparations of his countrymen, and Athens then first became a great maritime power. A congress at Corinth, B. C. 481, united the Greek forces under Spartan command. The Delphic oracle promising safety to the Athenians only within walls of wood, they abandoned their city and took refuge on the fleet. A few hundreds of Spartans and Thespians withstood the Persian host at Thermopylæ, until betrayed by a Malian guide. The invaders were totally defeated in a naval combat at Salamis, and Xerxes retired to Persia. Mardonius, failing to end the war by diplomacy, was finally overthrown in the battles of Erythræ and Platea; and the land and naval forces of the Persians were at the same time destroyed at Mycale, in Asia Minor.


128. Though their immediate danger was past, the Greeks did not suffer their enemies to rest. A fleet of fifty vessels was prepared, with the intention to rescue every Greek city in Europe or Asia which still felt the power of the Persian. Though Athens, as before, furnished more ships than all the other states, Pausanias commanded. He first wrested Cyprus from the Persians, and then proceeded to Byzantium, which he also liberated and occupied as a residence for seven years.

A. H.-10.

« PrécédentContinuer »