Story of the Persian War - Alfred J. Church

Of the Army and the Ships of Xerxes, and of the First Fighting with the Greeks

King Xerxes brought with him from Asia twelve hundred and seven great ships; and in each ship there were two hundred rowers and thirty fighting men. Also he had of smaller ships, having fifty oars or under, three thousand, and in each of these, taking one with another, there were eighty men. Therefore the whole number of the men that served on the ships was five hundred and seventeen thousand and six hundred. Of foot soldiers there were seventeen hundred thousand, and of horsemen eighty thousand, and of Arabs riding on camels and of Libyans that fought from chariots twenty thousand. There were also one hundred and twenty ships of Greeks that dwelt in Thrace and in the islands thereof, and in these twenty and four thousand men. To these must be added foot soldiers of the Thracians, the Pæonians, the Macedonians, and others. And the sum of the whole was two million six hundred and forty-one thousand six hundred and ten. And of all this great host there was none fitter to be the ruler for beauty and great stature than King Xerxes himself. Of those that followed the camp, and of the crews of the provision ships and other vessels of transport, the number was more rather than less the number of the fighting men. As for the women that ground the corn, and others that came with the army, and the horses, and the beasts of burden, and the dogs, their number can not be told.

The fleet, departing from Therma, came to the country of Magnesia and there cast anchor. But ten of the swiftest ships sailed down the gulf of Therma straight to the island of Sciathos, which lies to the northward of Eubœa. Here were three ships of the Greeks, whereof one was from Athens, and one from Ægina, and one from Trœzen; these were looking out for the coming of the barbarians. And when they spied the ships of the barbarians they fled with all speed, and the barbarians pursued them, and overtook the ship of Trœzen. Then they took the most beautiful of the fighting men and sacrificed him at the prow of the ship, thinking that this was an omen of good to them, for the man was very beautiful, and was the first captive they had taken from the Greeks. Also his name was Leo, that is to say, Lion; and this was another cause for which they sacrificed him.

The ship of Ægina gave the Persians no small trouble, a certain Pytheas, who was a fighting man thereon, bearing himself very bravely. For when the ship was taken he did not cease to contend with the enemies, until he fell, being covered with wounds from head to foot. But the Persian soldiers, finding that he was not dead, but still breathed, made much of him, seeking to keep him alive. His wounds they dressed with myrrh and bound with bandages of cotton; and when they came back to their encampment they showed the man to the host, admiring him and dealing with him kindly. But with the rest of the crew they dealt as with slaves.

As for the Athenian ship, it was run aground at the mouth of the river Peneus. The men leaped ashore and escaped through Thessaly, but the ship was taken by the barbarians. When the rest of the Greeks knew of the coming of the barbarians they were sore afraid, and departed from Artemisium, intending to defend the Euripus. Now the Euripus lies to the southward, where the strait between the island of Eubœa and the mainland is the narrowest.

And now there befell the first disaster that came upon the Persians. When the fleet cast anchor on the coast of Magnesia, the first row of ships was anchored to the shore, and the next row was without these, and the whole number of the rows was eight, one after the other for the beach was very small. The night indeed was calm; but at dawn there fell upon them a strong wind from the east, which the dwellers in these parts call the wind of the Hellespont. Such as knew the storm coming, and were able to drag their ships on to the shore, saved themselves, but of the others many were broken to pieces. Thus it was, say the Athenians, that Boreas, their son-in-law, helped them and when they returned to their country they built a temple to him on the banks of the river Ilissus. Of the Persian ships there were broken, at the least, four hundred. There were drowned also men without number, and much treasure was lost. Of this treasure, indeed, one Ameinocles, a Magnesian, made much gain, gathering gold and silver cups which were washed up by the sea, and treasure boxes of the Persians, and articles of gold without number. Thus he became very rich, but had trouble withal, losing his children by violence.

For three days the storm endured. But the Magians offering victims and using incantations and doing sacrifices to Thetis and the nymphs of the sea, laid it on the fourth day, or, may be, it ceased of its own accord. The cause wherefore they offered sacrifices to Thetis was that here Peleus carried her off to be his wife.

When the Greeks heard from their watchers—for they had all watchers on the hills of Eubœa—of the storms and of the breaking of the Persian ships, they hastened back with all speed to Artemisium, thinking to find a few ships only to fight with. And ever after they were wont to speak of Poseidon as the Preserver.

When the storm had ceased, the barbarians sailed to Aphetæ, that is a harbor on the mainland over against Artemisium. But fifteen ships having lagged behind, fell into the hands of the Greeks, for they took the Greek ships for their own, and sailed into the midst of them: a certain Sandoces was commander of the fifteen. This man had been governor of Cumæ in Æolia, and being one of the royal judges had been crucified by King Darius because he had taken a bribe. But while he hung upon the cross, the King found that the good deeds which he had done to the King's house were more than his evil deeds, and commanded that he should be taken down. Thus he escaped with his life; but this second peril he did not escape.

horse race


In the meanwhile Xerxes with the host passed through the land of Thessaly. Here he matched his horses with the horses of Thessaly, hearing that these were the swiftest in all Greece; and the horses of Thessaly were far outstripped. And having passed through Thessaly he came to Trachis.