Greek Gods - Heroes - and Men - S. B. Harding

How King Xerxes Marched against the Greeks

You can imagine how angry the Persian king was when he heard that the Athenians had beaten his fine army at Marathon, and you may be sure that he did not intend to give up trying to punish them. But before he was ready to send another army against them, some of the countries that he had already conquered rebelled against him. So he had to put off his march until he had punished the rebels. Then when that had been done, and before he could get ready for the war against the Greeks, the old king died.

The new king of the Persians was called Xerxes, and he was not nearly so good a soldier as his father had been. Nevertheless, he decided to go on with the war against the Greeks. He was a very vain and foolish man, and wanted the army which he was going to lead to be the largest army that the world had ever seen. So he sent into all the countries over which he ruled, and ordered them to send as many men as they could.

Then men came from all parts of Asia at his command,—black men, white men, and brown men; some clothes in the skins of foxes, leopards, and lions, and others in flowing robes, glittering with gold and jewels; some armed with brass helmets, large shields, long spears, and daggers; others with helmets of wood, small shields, and bows and arrows; and some with nothing for weapons but long sticks, with the ends sharpened and hardened in the fire. Nobody knows how many men there were in this army; but there must have been more than a million, and it may be that there were as many as five million of them.

The army was so great that Xerxes could not get together enough ships to carry it over to Greece; so most of his men had to go by land. At a place called the Hellespont, only a narrow strait separates Europe from Asia; and here it was that Xerxes decided to cross. But to cross he must have a bridge; and thousands of slaves were set to work building bridges made of boats fastened together. Just as these were finished, a storm came up and dashed them to pieces. Then Xerxes was very angry. He sent for the chief builders of the bridges, and had them put to death. And to show how angry he was with the Hellespont, he commanded his slaves to throw chains into the strait, and to beat the water with poles, and to say,—

"This thy master does to thee because thou hast wronged him without a cause; and indeed King Xerxes will  cross thee, whether thou wilt or not."

Then King Xerxes had the bridges rebuilt, and when all was ready the great army began to move. And though there were two bridges, and the marching continued without stopping, seven days and seven nights passed before the last man had crossed.