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Themistocles

Themistocles

 

ThemistoclesThe determined effort of the Persian Empire to crush the rising power of Greece was the means of calling forth men of heroic character, whose exertions gave to their country a foremost position in the history of civilization. At the most critical moment, when Greece was invaded by the vast army of Xerxes, who came to avenge the dishonor done at Marathon to the Persian name, there arose in Athens the most inspiring leader of the great struggle. Themistocles was born at Athens in the year 514 B.C. His father was Neocles, a mall of middle class and of moderate means. As his mother was a foreign woman of Thrace, the law of Athens pronounced Themistocles illegitimate. In his boyhood he exhibited a wayward and wilful dispo-sition, yet he spent his time, as Plutarch writes, in inventing and composing declamations for either the impeachment or defence of some of his youthful companions. His master wonld often say, "Boy, you will be nothing common or indifferent; you will either be a blessing or a curse to the community. "

 

Athens had become the scene of a fierce political rivalry, and Themistocles, as the leader of the popular party, was using all the arts and tricks of t he demagogue. His rival, Aristides, had all the virtues which belonged to his position as leader of the aristocratic party. He was especially noted for his strict justice, and refused to favor his partisans at its expense. Themistocles was able, therefore, to put in exercise against him that remarkable provision of Athenian law by which a leader who should be voted by his fellow-citizens to be dangerous could be banished for ten years.

 

The battle of Marathon, 490 B.C., in which Miltiades, the Grecian leader, bumbled the Persian anny of ten times his own numbers, stirred the soul of this youug man. Themistocles took part in the action, and with his famous rival held a post of great danger. Some time after the battle of Marathon, Themistocles became depressed and denied himself all enjoyment. ·When asked the reason of his conduct by his friends, he replied, "The trophies of Miltiades will not suffer me to sleep.

 

Whilst the A tbcnian people fondly imagined that Marathon had put an end to danger from the Pen;ians, Themistocles thought otherwise, and sought to strengthen the city's naval power as its proper defence. He prevailed on the assembly to reject a proposition that to every citizen of Athens should be distributed ten drachme about $2, from the product of the silver mines at Lanriutn, and to appropriate the gross amount to building ships for the war with Aegina, a neighboring island.

 

Before this war was ended, accounts were brought to Athens of the formidable preparations of Xerxes, wbo appeared to inherit all his father's rancor against the Greeks. What Them istocles had foreseen now took place. In 480 B.C. Xerxes moved his forces on land and sea to the attack. Themistocles now urged his countrymen to build more ships,
and to rely for safety all their naval power. The adoption of this counsel saved Greece, for subsequently Xerxe!;, wheu defeated at sea, could make no headway against the Athenians, though his land forces remained entire. 'When Xerxes was approaching through Northern Greece, burning and destroying the Phocian cities, the Greeks sent no succor to Athens. Its brave inhabitants could not think of giving battle alolle to such a vast army; yet they were unwilling to leave Athens and trust themselves to their ships. Themistocles, after nsing all his eloquence and address to work upon their passions, had recourse to the oracle. From Delphi came the words, "The wooden wall shall alone remain unconquered to defend you and your children." Themistocles explained that by wooden walls" ships were meant. At last his arguments prevailed, and the young and adventurous embarked for Salamis; the old, the women and children took shelter in the city of Troezene. Themistocles, acknowledging the patriotism of his rival Aristides, caused a decree to be made that all who had been banished only for a time, should have leave to return.

 

After suffering loss in the naval engagements off Eubcea, it was learned that the large Persian fleet was approaching the doomed city. Eurybiades, the Spartan, who had been given the command of tile allied fleet, was for sailing to the Gulf of Corinth, that he might be near the land army. But Themistocles clearly saw that in the Straits of Salamis they could fight the Persian fleet with much greater advantage than in the Gulf of Corinth where there was an open sea. Ettrybiades lost his temper during the dispute and was about to strike Themistoeles. "Strike if you will" but hear me exclaimed the great Athenian. The reason and modemtion of Themistocles prevailed, and the generals decided to receive the Persians at Salamis. Xerxes gave command to his fleet to surround the straits by uight in order to prevent the escape of the enemy. Aristides who was then at Eegina ventured in a small boat through the Persian fleel Upon landing he went to the tent of Tbemistocles, and thus addressed him "Let us still be rivals; but let our strife be which can best save our country." Themistocles replied, "I could have wished, Aristides, that you had not been beforehand with me in this noble emulation; but I will endeavor to outdo this happy beginning of yours by my future actions."

 

Aristides, informing Themistocles of the Persian fleet's real situation, exhorted him to give battle without delay. Themistocles had introduced into bis fleet a new and improved system of attack, which proved highly effective. Every trireme was armed with a strong iron beak, and with this they would bear down on the vessels of the enemy, striking them broadside the next tactic was to render the hostile ships unmanageable by dashing among the oars'and breaking them. The most glorious event of the: life of Themistoeles was undoubtedly this great victory of Salamis. The fleet of Xerxes comprised more than a thousand triremes, and although Themistocles had but 378 vessels, he utterly routed the Persian fleet. the joy of the Greeks upon this victory was enthusiastic: every commander had his share of honor but the glory of Themistocles eclipsed that of all the rest. The Lacedaemonians carried him in triumph to Sparta. They adjudged the reward of valor  their own countryman Eurybiades, but that of wisdom to Themistocles. They crowned him with olive, presented him with a rich chariot, and conducted him with three hundred horse to the confines of their State, At the Olympic games the spectators received him with uncommon acclamations, the whole assembly rising to do him honor.

 

Themistocles now induced the Athenians, as the guardians of Grecian liberty, to levy contributions from all the islands that had espoused the Persian cause. These contributions he was charged with converting to his private advantage; but they were chiefly used for the maintenance and increase of the Athenian fleet. Themistocles, in thus reaching after imperial power, lost his influence at home, and was finally accused of treason in conjunction with Pansanias, King of Sparta. To him in turn came the dreaded ostracism. Banished from his native land, he threw himself on the mercy of Artaxerxes, a son of the man whose fleet he had destroyed at Salamis. In return for protection, Themistocles even promised to unfold a plan whereby that monarch might crush the power of Athens, but desired that one year should be given him to think over and mature this scheme. Artaxerxes made him ruler over four cities, from which he received all taxes. Plutarch relates that Themistocles, amid the splendor of his luxurious table, oue day exclaimed, "How much we should have lost, my children, if we had not been ruined!" He died at the age of sixty-five, about the year 449 B.C. Thucydides says that the bones of Themistocles, by his own command, were privately carried back into Attica and buried there.

 

Themistocles left a reputation for decision, promptness of action and rectitude of judgment, fertility of resource and acuteness in conjecture, for foresight of the good and evil results of every measure, and for eloquence in enforcing his conclusin. Nor was he less distinguished for daring in action. He, however, was fond of slow and power, and of associating with men of wealth, and did not hesitate to use corrupt means for accomplishing his object, whether for the public weal or for self-enrichment  Themistocles was always chosen as leader in an emergency. He combined the arts of the successful politician of a democracy with the foresight and sagacity of an imperial statesman.

 

THE SEA-FIGHT OF SALAMIS.

 

All the Athenians capable of bearing arms or of handling an oar, embarked on board the fleet stationed at Salamis. The ships equipped and manned by them alone exceeded in number those of all their allies together, although the combined force was considerably augmented by the naval strength of Epirus and Acamania. The whole Grecian armament, thus increascd, amounted to three hundred and eighty vessels. That of the Persians, which now took possession of the Athenian harbors, lying to the south of the strait occupied by the Greeks, had also received a powerful reinforcement. The Locrians, Boeotians, and in general every people who had submitted to their anns, readily supplied them with ships; and several of the .£grean Islands having at length prepared the quota which they had formerly been commanded to furnish, the Persian fleet was thus restored to its original complemcnt of twelve hundred sail.

 

Trusting to the immense snperiority of his armament, Xerxes was still desirous to make trial of his fortune at sea, notwithstanding his former disasters on that element. But before he came to a final resolution he summoned a council of war, in order to hear the opinion of his maritime subjects or allies. The tributary Kings of Tyre and Sidon, the leader of the Egyptians, Cyprians and Cilicians, ever ready to flatter the passions of their sovereign, offered man frivolous reasons in favor of the alternative to which they perceived him inclined. But in the fleet of Xerxes there was a Grecian queen named Artemisia, widow of the Prince of Halicarnassus, and who had assumed the government of that city and territory for the benefit of her infant son. She not only fitted out five ships to attend the Persian expedition, but took upon herse:£the command of her little squadron, and on every occasion conducted it with equal skill and bravery. Such vigor of mind, united with so delicate a form, deserved to excite admiration in every part of the world; but the manly spirit of Artemisia becomes still more admirable, when we consider the severe restraints'which have been in all ages imposed on the female sex, by the manners and climate of Asia. Her superior genius recommended her to the peculiar favor of Xerxes, who was obliged to esteem in a woman the virtues which he himself wanted spirit to practice. Artemisia dissented from the general voice of the allies, and even opposed the inclination of the prince. But her judicious observations were heard without approbation j the worst opinion prevailed, being the best adapted to fiatter the vanity of Xerxes.

 

When the Grecian commanders observed that the enemy prepared to venture another engagement at sea, they likewise assembled to deliberate whether they should continue in the strait between Salamis and Attica, or proceed further up the gulf, towards the Corinthian Isthmus. The latter proposal was generally approved by the confederates of Peloponnesus who anxionsly desired, in the present emergency, to approach as near as possible to their respective cities. Some hastened to their ships and hoisted sail, in order to depart; and it seemed likely that their example would be soon followed by the whole fleet. On board the ship of Themistocles was Mnesiphilus, formerly the instructor of his youth, and who now accompanied him as his counselor and friend. Mnesiphilus readily discerned that should the Greeks sail from Salamis, it would be impossible to prevent the general dispersion of their armament. He therefore exhorted Themistocles to endeavor, by all means possible, to prevent this fatal measure, and particularly to persuade the Spartan admiral, Eurybiades, to alter his present intention. Themistocles readily embraced the opinion of his friend. Having waited on Eurybiades, he obtained his consent to summon a second assembly of the confederates. After they were fully convened, the Athenian began to call their attention to the state of their affairs but bis discourse was insolently interrupted by Adimantus, the commander of the Corinthians, who had constantly discovered a particular solicitude for returning to the isthmus. Themistocles, no less prudent than brave, answered his reproaches with calmness, and then addressing himself to Eurybiades, " The fate of Greece, I, said he, ., depends ou the decision of the present moment, and that decision on you if you resolve to sail to the isthmus, we must abandon Salamis, Megara and Aegina; 'We shall be compelled to fight in an open sea, where the enemy may fully avail themselves of their superior numbers and as the Persian army will certainly attend the movements of their Beet, we shall draw their combined strength towards the Grecian Peninsula, our last and only retreat. But if you determine to retain the ships in their prescnt station, the Persians will find it impossi ble, in a narrow channel, to attack us at once with their whole force: we shall preserve Megara and Salamis, and we shall effectually defend Peloponnesus; for the Barbarians being, as I firmly trust, defeated in a naval engagement, will not penetrate further than Attica, but return home with disgrace.

 

The firmness of this discourse shook the resolution of the confederates and it was determined by the majority to continue at Salamis. Notwithstanding the wisdom and eloquence of Themistocles, the Peloponnesians were ready to return to their first determination. A vessel arriving from the isthmns, brought advice that the fortifications there were almost completed j if the fleet retired to the neigbooring shore, the sailors might, even after a defeat at sea, the refuge behind their walls  but if conquered near the coast of Salamis, they would be forever separated from their families and friends and confined, without hope or resource, within the narrow limits of a barren island. Themistocles determined to prevent the Greeks from the possibility of leaving by employing stratagem, and scut a freed man named Sicinus, to inform Xerxes that the Greeks had determined to make their escape uuder cover of the night. The deceit was believed j the whole day and the greater part of the succeeding night, the Persians employed in securing the several passages between the islands and the adjacent coast. They also filled the little isle, or rather rock, of Psyttalea with the Bower of the Persian infantry, in order to intercept the miserable remnant of the Greek who, after the expected defeat, would fly thither for refuge.

 

The first intelligence of these operations was brought to the Grecian fleet by Aristides, the Athenian, who readily embraced every opportunity to serve his country. Having with difficulty escaped in a small vessel from the Isle of Aegina, the generous patriot immediately communicated an account of what he had seen there to his rival, Themistocles, who, meeting his generosity with equal frankness, made him the confidant of his secret. Their interview was as memorable as the occasion; and, after, continued life of opposition and hatred, they now first agreed to suspend their private animosities in order to promote the common intere'st of their country. As the Peloponnesian commanders were either wavering and irresolute, or had determined to set sail, Aristides was desired to inform them of the arrangement which he had seen. The arrival of a vessel belonging to the Isle of Tenos confirmed the veracity of his report, and the Peloponnesians resolved to fight, because it was impossible to fly.

 

Before the dawn of the day the Grecian ships were drawn up in order of battle and the Persians, who had been surprised at not finding them attempt to escape during the night, were still more surprised when morning discovered their close and regular arrangement. The Greeks began with the light their sacred hymns and paeans, which preceded their triumphant songs of war, accompanied by the animating sound of the trumpet. The shores of Attica re-echoed to the rocks of Salamis and Psyttalea. The Grecian acclamations filled the sky. Neither their appearance nor their words betokened flight or fear, but rather detemined intrepidity and invincible courage. Yet was their valor tempered with wisdom. Themistocles delayed the attack until the ordinary breeze should spring tip, which was no less favorable to the experience of the Grecian mariners, than dangerous to the lofty unwieldiness of the Persian ships. The signal was then given for the Athenian line to bear down against that of the Phrenicians, which rode on the west, off the coast of Eleusis; while the Peloponnesians advanced against the enemy's left wing, stationed on the east, near the harbor of the Pirreus. The Persians, confiding in their number, and secure of victory, did not decline the fight. A Phoenician galley, of uncommon size and strength, was distinguished in the front of their line by every circumstance of naval pomp. In the eagerness to engage, she far outstripped her companions; but her career was checked midway between the two fleets by all Athenian galley which had sailed forth to meet her. The first shock shattered her sculptured prow; the second buried her in the waves. The Athenians, encouraged by this auspicious pre· lude, proceeded with their whole force, animating each other to the combat by a martial song: II Advance, ye sons of Athens, save your country, defend your wives and children, deliver the temples of your gods, regain the sacred tombs of your renowned forefathers; his day, the common cause of Greece demands your valor."

 

The battle was bloody and destructive, and disputed on the side of the Persians with more obstinate resistance than on any former occasion; for, from the Attic coast, seated on a lofty throne, on the top of Mount AEgalios, Xerxes observed the scene of action, and attentively remarked, with a view to reward and punish, the various behavior of his subjects. The presence of their prince operated on their hopes, and still more powerfully all their fears. But neither the hope of acquiring the favor, nor the fear of incurring the displeasure of a despot, could furnish principles of action worthy of being compared with the patriotism and love of liberty which actuated the Greeks. To the dignity of their motives, as much as to the superiority of their skill, the latter owed their unexampled success in this memorable engagement. The foremost ships of the Phoenicians were dispersed or sunk. Amidst the terror and confusion occasioned by their repulse, they ran foul of those which had been drawn up in two lines behind them. The Athenians skillfully encircled them around, compressed them into a narrow space, and increased their disorder; they were at length entangied in each other, deprived of all power of action, and, to use the expressive figure ot an eye-witness, caught and destroyed like fish in a net.

 

Such was the fate of the right wing; while the ronians, who, all the left, opposed the Beets of Peloponnesus and AEgina, furnished them with an opportunity to complete the victory. Many of the Asiatic Greeks, mindful of the advice given by Themistocles, abandoned the interest of the great king, and openly declared for their countrymen; others declined the engagement; the remainder were sunk and put to flight. Among those which escaped was the ship of Queen Artemisia, who ill the battle of Salamis displayed snperior courage and conduct she was closely pursued by an Athenian galley, commanded by Amellias, brother of the poet Aeschylius. In this extremity she employed a successful, but very unwarrantable stratagem. The nearest Persian vessel was commanded by Damasithytuis, a tributary prince of Calynda in Lycia, a man with whom Artemisia was at variancc. With great dcxterity she darted the beak of her galley against the Lycian vessel. Damusithymus was buried in the waves; and AlIlenias, deceived by this measnre-equally artful and audacious- believed the vessel of Artemisia one of those which had deserted the Persian interest. The Pboenician and Ionian squadrons for that of the Egyptians had been exceedingly weakened by the action on the coast of Euboea fortned the main strength of the Persian armament j after these were defeated, the ships at a distance ventured not to advance but, hastily changing sail, measured back their course to the Athenian and other neighboring harbors. The victors, disdaining to pursue them, dragged the most valuable part of the wreck to the coasts of Psyttalea and Salamis. The narrow seas were covered with floating carcasses of the dead, among whom were few Greeks, as even those who lost their ships in the engagement saved their lives by swimming.

 

Xerxes had scarcely time to consider and deplore the destruction and disgrace of his fleet, when a new spectacle, not less mournful, offered itself to his sight. The flower of the Persian iufantry had taken post all the rocky isle of Psyttalea, in order to receive the shattered remains of the Grecian artnament, which, after its expected defeat, would naturally take refuge on that barren coast. But equally fallacious and fatal was their conjecture couceruing the event of the battle. The Greeks, disembarking froUl their ships, attacked, in the enthusiasm of victory, those astonished troops, who, unable to resist, and finding it impossible to fly, were cut down to a man. As Xerxes beheld this dreadful havoc, he started in wild agitation from his silver throne, rent his royal robes, and in the first moment of his returning tranquillity commanded the main body of bis forces, posted along the Athenian coast, to return to their respective camps. From that moment he resolved to retreat with all possible expedition into Asia.

 

When the Greeks had leisure to examine the extent and completeness of their success, they determined, in the first emotions of triumph and resentment, to pursue the shattered remains of the enemy. That no Barbarian might escape, they pmposed immediately to sail northward, to destroy the Persian bridge over the Hellespont, and thus to intercept their return. This design was recommended and chiefly supported by the Athenians, who, having experienced the greatest share of the danger, felt more sensibly the joys of deliverance. But, upon more mature deliberation, it occurred that the Persians were still sufficiently numerous to afford just grounds of terror. To their cowardice and inexperience, not to their want of strength, the Greeks owed all their advantages over them; but should the impossibility of retreat be added to their other calamities, they might derive courage from despair, and, by efforts hitherto unexerted, repair the consequences of their past errors and misfortunes. These considerations, first suggested, it is said, by Eurybiades the Spartan, were adopted by 'Themistocles, who convinced his countrymen that the jealousy of the Grecian gods, unwilling that one man should be lord of Europe and Asia, rather than their own prowess, had given them the victory over Xerxes, a prince of such folly and madness that he had treated with equal irreverence things human and divine, destroyed the sacred temples, overthrown the venerable altars and images, and impiously insulted the gods of the Hellespont with stripes and fetters. That it was the duty of the Athenians, after having gloriously repelled the common enemy, to provide for the subsistence of their wives and families, to sow their lands, rebuild their houses, and thus to repair, by the most industrious activity, the dreadful rayages committed in their territories.

 

Themistocles had no sooner persuaded the Athenians to embrace his opinion than he secretly dispatched his confidant, Sicinus, to acquaint the great king with the danger which he had so nearly escaped, and to advise him to pursue his journey with all possible expedition. Xerxes readily believed a piece of information which agreed with the suggestions of his own timidity. The rapidity of his march conspired with famine and other circumstances in proving fatal to the lives of most of his followers; and the crafty Athenian, who, knowing the unstable affections of the multitude, wished to deserve the gratitude of a king, gained the double advantage of dispeHiug, sooner than could otherwise have happened, that destructive cloud of Barbarians which hovered over his country, and of convincing their leader that he was in part indebted for his safety to that very man whose counsels, rather than the arms of Greece, had occasioned his affiiction and disgrace.-J. GILLIES.

 

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