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Xerxes

Xerxes

 

XerxesXerxes, the originator and leader of what might be properly called the "Persian Armada," succeeded to the throne of his father, Darius, in the year 485 B.C. The great event of his reign was the invasion of Greece, with an immense armament of ships and the largest army that probably the world has ever seen. His inglorious defeat by the Grecian States is his only and invidious t itle to be enrolled in the annals of fame. For four full years he was making preparations for this expedition. The fleet, and the vast army of men, were collected from every province under the government of Persia.

 

In the autumn of 48I B.C. his forces wintered at Sardis, in Asia Minor. In the spring of 480 they advanced to the Hellespont, and crossed at Abydos by a bridge of boats. The first bridge constructed was destroyed by a storm, on which the king ordered the rebellions Hellespont to be whipped, which was done with three hundred lashes. His barbaric cruelty was further seen in his ordering the engineers to be beheaded. The army was seven days and nights in crossing, on the new bridge of boats, from Asia to Europe. While the land forces marched through Thrace, Xerxes had numbered his forces at a station near the river Hebrus, the ships taking position close by. The various classical authorities differ in their statements; but it is generally accepted that his land and sea forces amounted to two millions, exclusive of a still greater number of the usual attendants, sutlers, women, slavesand camp-followers.

 

The statement that he caused a canal to be cnt across the neck of the peDinsula at Monnt Athas is asserted by the Roman satirist, ]uvenal, to be a Grecian fiction, yet -it is not improbable. It is said that his ships sailed two abreast through it, and thereby avoided the dangerolls coasting around the promontory.

 

Xerxes met no obstruction in his march through Macedonia and Thessaly; but at Thermopylae, the noted pass, a chosen band of Greeks kept guard. A traitor revealed a sidepath, which enabled the Persians to destroy Leonidas and his devoted three hundred Spartans. Xerxes thus gained an entrance into Greece proper; but he had not yet subdued its patriotic people. Eagerly pressing forward, he destroyed the hated city of Athens, which its inhabitants had wisely deserted, taking refuge in their" wooden walls."

 

In the three days' sea-fight at Artemisium, off the northern promontory of the Island of Eubcea and opposite to the mountain pass of Thermopylae, the Persian fleet suffered severely, as the narrowness of the strait prevented the action of the whole armament at once. Two hundred galleys were lost in a storm off the coast of Euboca. But in spite of these disasters, when his fleet arrived in the Bay of Salamis, whither it had promptly followed the retreat of the Grecian ships, the Persian armada had regained its full number of vessels. The new recruitment of ships was made by Thracian and Thesalian contingents.

 

In the great naval engagement at Salamis, this fleet, numbering over one thousand ships, was defeated with a loss of two hundred vessels. The Grecian ships amounted to nearly three hundred, of which the number lost was about forty Xerxes, who had witnessed the combat safely from a promontory, relinquished the desperate task of subduing the stubborn Greeks, and hastened back to the Hellespont with part of his land forces. His flatterers easily persuaded him that he had accomplished the main object of his expedition by the destruction of Athens. But tllree hundred thousand of his choicest troops remained with his general, Mardonius, to effect the conquest of Greece if possible. After a weary retreat of forty. five days Xerxes reached the Hellespont with a comparatively small army, reduced as it had been, on the way, by drought and lack of provisions. The Persian fleet with its auxiliaries, the next morning after the battle of Salamis, had completelydisappeared when the Greeks hurried out to chase them.

 

In the next year Mardonius, who had been one of the chief advisers and promoters of the great expedition, was defeated and slain in the battle of Plataea, which forever established the military superiority of thc Greeks to the Persians. The Greek fleet also sailed across the Atgrean Sea, redeemed the islands which had been brought under the Persian yoke, and in a double fight at Mount Mycale, in Asia Minor, defeated a Persian army of 60,000 men, and destroyed the remnant of the ships that had escaped from Salamis. 'With these great successes the Greeks remained content for twelve years. Then the Athenians again sent forth a fleet under Cimon, which swept the Phoenician and Persian vessels from the eastern Mediterranean, and returned loaded with spoils and captives. After reaching his capital Xerxes abandoned himself to a life of debauchery, and became the object of general odium and contempt. He was assassinated in his sleep, in the twenty-first year of his reign, 465 B.C.

 

THE FLIGHT OF XERXES.

 

I saw him on the battle-eve, When, like a king, he bore him- Proud hosts in glittering helm and greave, And prouder chiefs before him: The warrior, and the warrior's deeds' The morrow, and the morrow's meeds No daunting thoughts come o'er him; He looked around him, and his eye Defiance flashed to earth and sky. He looked on ocean-its broad breast Was covered with his fleet; On earth-and saw from east to west, His bannered millions meet; While rock, and glen, and cave, and coast. Shook with the war-cry of that host, The thunder of their feel! He heard the imperial echoes ring He heard, and felt himself a king_ I saw him next alone: nor camp Nor chief his steps attended; Nor banner blazed, nor courser's tramp Witb war-cries proudly blended. ; He stood alone, whom fortune high So lately seemed to deify; He, who with heaven contended. Fled like a fugitive and slave! Bebind-the foe; before-the wave. He stood-fleet, army, treasure, goneAlone, and in despair! But wave and wind swept ruthless all, For they were monarchs there; And Xerxes, in a single bark, Where late his thousand ships were dark. Must all their fury dare. What a revenge-a trophy, thisFor three, immortal Salamis! -M. J. FLETCHER.

 

Xerxes

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