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Book 7

Xerxes' decision and preparation to invade Greece

The anger of Darius (king of Persia, 521-486 B.C.) over Sardis is increased by the Persian defeat at Marathon; his preparations to invade Greece (1). The quarrel over succession by two of Darius' sons, Artabazanes and Xerxes (2). Demaratus, the ex-king of Sparta, supports the claim of Xerxes; Darius agrees. The opinion of Hdt. is that the influence of Xerxes' mother Atossa was critical (3). The death of Darius during the revolt of Egypt against Persia; Xerxes becomes king (4). Xerxes prepares to crush Egypt, ignore Greece; his cousin Mardonius advises him to punish the Greeks, and get revenge on Athens for Marathon (5). Motives of Mardonius: boredom and desire for power. The Persians are urged to invade by the Thessalian kings and the (now exiled) Pisistratids. Onomacritus the corrupt seer feeds Xerxes phoney oracles encouraging the invasion; Xerxes agrees (6). The Egyptian revolt is crushed (7). Xerxes addresses the council of Persian leaders, and states his reasons for invading Greece: revenge, gain, living up to the glorious Persian tradition. His hubristic dream of world domination. A prize is offered to the general who produces the best troops (8). The speech of Mardonius in support of invasion cites Greek weaknesses: racial inferiority of Greeks is shown by prior subjugation of Ionians; inability of Greeks to cooperate with each other; lack of strategic skill in choosing battle sites (9). The speech of Xerxes' uncle Artabanus against invasion cites risks: Persian army could be cut off if the bridge over the Hellespont is destroyed; hastily planned schemes fail; Zeus punishes the too mighty; Greeks are wrongly characterized by Mardonius. Remarks on slander. Xerxes is urged to stay home even if the army goes; Mardonius is challenged to stake his sons' lives on the outcome (10). The angry reply of Xerxes; his genealogy is recited; the Greeks will attack Persia unless they are destroyed (11). Xerxes changes his mind, and decides not to invade. A dream tells him he should invade, but he ignores it. The change of plans is announced the next day (12-13). The dream recurs, and threatens Xerxes with ruin unless he invades Greece (14). Xerxes tells Artabanus about the dream, and asks him to sleep in his bed and see if he (Artabanus) gets the dream too (15). Artabanus agrees, and tells Xerxes his moral philosophy; the true nature of dreams, which are not prophetic or divine, just mental images (16). Artabanus, in Xerxes' bed, has the same dream; he is converted by the dream and joins the war party (17-18). Another dream portends world domination by Xerxes. Preparations for war begin and last four years (19).

The Expedition Begins

Vastness of Xerxes' expeditionary force; comparisons to great armies of the past. Rivers are drunk dry by his troops (20-21). The canal by Mt. Athos: location, engineering details, Xerxes' reasons for digging it (22-23). Bridges and supply dumps (25). En route from Cappadocia to Sardis, the army stops at Celaenae (26). A wealthy Lydian, Pythius, offers Xerxes his entire fortune for the war effort. His generosity is rewarded (27-29). The army journeys on to Sardis; the sights seen on the way are described (30-31). Xerxes sends a message to Greece, demanding surrender (32). The story of a rapist punished. The bridges over the Hellespont are begun, then ruined by a storm (33-34). Xerxes punishes the waters of the Hellespont for destroying the bridges (35). Details of the construction of the bridges (36). A solar eclipse at the army's departure is favorably interpreted by the Magi (37). Pythius asks Xerxes to allow his eldest son to stay home from the war (38). Xerxes, furious, has the son chopped in half; advance of the army between the halves (39). Marching order and equipment of the Persian army (40-41). March of the army from Lydia north to Mt. Ida; a storm kills many men (42). Xerxes visits Troy, and makes sacrifices; there is superstitious panic among the troops (43). Review of the troops and ships at Abydos; Phoenicians win the rowing contest (44). Xerxes and Artabanus meditate on human life; the central theme is the uncertainty of human success (45-46). Artabanus is worried about the future; Xerxes asks in what way his force is deficient (47-48). Artabanus says Xerxes has two enemies: the land and the sea. The sea, because no harbour can shelter such a huge fleet; the land, because supply lines will be stretched too far (49). Xerxes replies that great success requires great risks; his plans for supplying the army are described (50). Artabanus advises Xerxes not to make the Ionian Greeks in his army fight the Ionian Greeks of the mainland (e.g. the Athenians) (51). Xerxes disagrees, citing the loyalty of the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor in Darius' Scythian campaign (52). Exhortations of Xerxes to the Persian commanders (53). Ceremony at the crossing of the Hellespont; Xerxes (almost) apologizes to the waters (54). The crossing of the Hellespont is described (55). A local man impiously likens Xerxes to Zeus (56). Bizarre omens at the crossing are ignored by Xerxes (57). The army proceeds north into Thrace and halts at Doriscus. Doriscus is described (58-59). The army is counted: the total is 1,700,000 men (60; but the figure is too high. Most historians think the real total was at the most 200,000. Cf. 7.185-6).

Catalogue of Persian Forces

Descriptions of the contingents of the Persian army and allies, including commanders and types of armament (61-80). 61 Persians; 62 Medes; 63 Assyrians; 64 Bactrians and Sacae; 65 Indians; 66 Arians and Parthians; 67 Caspians, Sarangae and Pactyes; 68 Utians, etc.; 69 Arabians and near-Egyptian Ethiopians; 70 Eastern or Libyan Ethiopians; 71 Libyans; 72 Paphlagonians and Cappadocians; 73 Phrygians; 74 Lydians; 75 Thracians; 76 Pisidians? ; 77 Cabalians and Milians; 78 Moschians, etc.; 79 Marians, Colchians, etc.; 80 Red Sea islanders. Command levels by multiples of ten (81). The high command is described (82). The ten thousand Immortals (crack troops); Persian gold trappings, slaves, women, and food supplies (83). Cavalry (84). The Sagartian cavalry and their lasso use (85). Other cavalry contingents; cavalry, chariots, and camels (86). Total cavalry said to number 80,000 (87). Cavalry commanders; the accident of Pharnuches (88). Description of ships in the Persian navy, and armaments of the marines (89-98). Total triremes (warships) said to number 12,007. 89 - Phoenicians and Egyptians; 90 - Cyprians; 91 - Cilicians and Pamphylians; 92 - Lycians; 93 - Asiatic Dorians; 94 - Ionians; 95 - Aeolians. The superiority of the Phoenician navy; Hdt.'s decision not to name the native commanders (96). The admirals and other naval champions. 3,000 smaller ships (98). Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus; her wisdom and courage (99). Xerxes reviews the troops on land and sea (100).

The voyage to Greece of Xerxes' army and fleet

Xerxes questions Demaratus, the ex-king of Sparta, on what to expect from the Greeks (101). Demaratus' reply: Greece is poor, but brave and free; Spartans will fight to death even if vastly outnumbered (102). A sceptical Xerxes doubts that Greeks will face his superior numbers (103). Demaratus explains the Spartan military code: no retreat (104). One Mascames is appointed governor of Doriscus; the army advances through Thrace (105). How Moscames held Doriscus even after the Persians were defeated (106). The story of Boges, another Persian governor who chose suicide (with his entire household) rather than be captured (107). Progress through Thrace; rivers and lakes are drained dry (108-9). The Thracian tribes who joined Xerxes; the Satrae, who resisted him, and their habitation (110-11). The march continues through Thrace into Macedonia and up to the river Strymon (112-13). Human sacrifice by inhumation at the city of Nine Ways (Amphipolis) (114). The advance to Acanthus and the recruitment of locals (115-116). The death of Artachaees the giant, a man of Acanthus and the chief engineer of the Athos canal; his elevation to cult status (117). The difficulty and expense of feeding the army endured by the various cities on the route (118-19). The witty remarks of Megacreon on this subject (120). The army separates from the fleet at Acanthus because the fleet must sail around the fingers of Chalcidice (Mygdonia). The division of the army into thirds (121). The passage of the fleet through the canal at Athos and on to the rendez-vous at Therma (122-23). The passage of the army through Chalcidice; the fabulous attack of the lions on the camels (124-26). Encampment of the army at Therma (127). Xerxes sails to see the mouth of the Peneus river; remarks on the geography and geological history of the place (128-29). Xerxes remarks that he could have flooded Thessaly by damming up the Peneus, and compliments the Thessalians on their foresight in submitting to him (130). Delays in Macedonia; the ambassadors sent to demand surrender return to Xerxes (131).

Reactions of the Greeks to Xerxes' Invasion

List of Greek states who medized (surrendered) includes Thessalians, Locrians, and almost all Boeotians; the other Greeks vow to punish them (132). Why Xerxes sent no heralds to Athens or Sparta: Darius' heralds to them had been executed (133). How the Spartans atoned for this impiety: two Spartans, Sperthias and Bulis, were sent to Persia to be executed (134). Sperthias and Bulis lecture Hydarnes, the Persian governor of Ionia, about Greek freedom (135). Their refusal to bow and worship Xerxes; his refusal to execute them (136). How the curse was visited upon their sons in 430 B.C. (137). The lack of Greek unity in the face of the invasion (138). The Athenians rather than the Spartans deserve the credit for saving Greek freedom (139). The Delphic oracle to the Athenians seems to predict disaster (140). A second more favorable oracle mentions the "wooden wall" (141). Debate at Athens over whether "wooden wall" means the Acropolis or the ships (142). Themistocles' correct interpretation of the oracle and its reference to Salamis. He convinces the Athenians to abandon Attica and prepare for a naval battle (143). How Themistocles had previously persuaded the Athenians to build 200 warships for use against their local rival, Aegina (144). Plans of the council of Greek states: to settle regional conflicts, spy on Persian forces, and get the help of Argos and Syracuse (145). Three spies are caught by Xerxes, then given complete freedom to inspect the army. Xerxes' reasons for so doing. Anecdote of the grain-ships (146-47). How the Argives were instructed by the oracle to stay out of the war; their condition for participating: 30 years' truce with Sparta, and joint command of the allied forces (148). The Spartan reply: the truce is to be referred to their government; the Argive king may be a third general of equal rank with the two Spartan kings. Argos refuses (149). Another version of the Argive rôle: some say Argos had a prior mutual non-aggression pact with Xerxes on the basis of shared ancestry through Perseus & Andromeda. Evidence for this on the authority of Callias the Athenian (150-51). Hdt. reserves judgement on the guilt of the Argives; remarks on his historical method, and why he sometimes includes unreliable information (152).

Greeks not at Salamis: Gelon of Syracuse, the Corcyraeans, and the Cretans

An embassy is sent to Gelon, tyrant of Syracuse. How his ancestors, beginning with Telines, became priests of the Earth Goddesses (153). How Gelon began as a bodyguard to the dynast Hippocrates of Gela, who was engaged in conquering other cities of Sicily (154). Death of Hippocrates. Gelon's coupe in Gela, and his conquest of Syracuse in 485 B.C. (155). Gelon's brother Hieron is installed as tyrant in Gela. Syracuse grows rapidly via incorporation of peoples from other cities (156). The Greek envoys appeal to Gelon for help against Xerxes (157). Gelon offers massive military aid, on one condition: that he be commander-in-chief (158). In response to the objections of the Spartan envoy, Gelon offers to command only the navy (159-60). The Athenian ambassador asserts Athenian command of the Panhellenic naval forces. Homer is cited in justification (161). The envoys are dismissed by Gelon (162). Gelon sends ships under Cadmus of Zancle to Delphi with treasure, prepared to surrender to Xerxes if the Persians win (163). The family of Cadmus of Zancle, and his personal integrity (164). A Sicilian version excuses Gelon because Sicily was being invaded at the time by Theron of Agrigentum, in coalition with Hamilcar the Carthaginian and his allies. The defeat of Hamilcar and Theron by Gelon coincides with Salamis? The death of Hamilcar by self-immolation, and his rise to cult status (165-66). Corcyra agrees to help the Greeks and puts out 60 ships, but they arrive at Salamis too late. The Corcyraeans allege weather problems, but Hdt. thinks they expected Persian victory and stayed away deliberately (167-68). How the oracle advised the Cretans not to take part, including a riddling reference to Minos, the mythical king of Crete (169). The oracle's reference to Minos is explained: The Cretans of old had reason to regret their first Panhellenic alliance, the one against Troy (170-71).

The approach to Thermopylae

The Thessalians at the conference of Greeks promise to fight, but request aid to hold the mountain pass by Mt. Olympia (the vale of Tempe) against the Persians (172). Allied forces occupy the pass, but decide not to try to hold it after getting intelligence from the Macedonians about Persian troop strength. Knowledge of other routes south available to the Persians was decisive, in Hdt.'s opinion (173). The decision to abandon Thessaly forces the Thessalians to medize, i.e. to join Xerxes (174). The decision is taken to guard the pass of Thermopylae instead (175). The fleet is instructed to wait at Artemisium. Topographical details of Artemisium and Thermopylae (176). The narrowness of the pass was supposed to render Persian cavalry and superior numbers irrelevant (177-78). The Delphic oracle advises prayers to the winds, which are duly made (179). Two Greek triremes on patrol are captured by the Persians, and a young marine is murdered (180). Another marine fights fiercely and becomes a respected P.O.W. (181). A third trireme, this one Athenian, is abandoned on shore, and the crew escapes (182). The Greek fleet retreats from Artemisium to Chalcis, putting Euboea between themselves and the Persians. Persian troubles with a sunken reef (183). Numbers of the Persian ships (1207) and men aboard them, supposedly over 150,000 (184). Numbers of Xerxes' army: over five million, half of them combatants (185-86). Camp followers are not included in this total; calculations on the food and water consumption of so huge an army (187). A storm destroys a number of Persian ships off the coast of Magnesia (188). Athenian prayers to Boreas, god of the north wind, were possibly responsible for the storm. The aetion for Athenian worship of Boreas (189). Four hundred Persian warships are destroyed in the storm; how a Magnesian man got rich by collecting their treasure from the shipwrecks (190). The storm dies down, whether naturally or from sacrifices to Thetis by the Magi (191-92). The Greek fleet, encouraged, resumes its station at Artemisium. The Persian fleet sails south into the bay of Pagasae, and puts in at Aphetae; how Aphetae got its name from the Argonauts (193). 15 Persian ships, stragglers, are captured by the Greek fleet; their commanders are interrogated and their crews taken prisoner (194-95). Xerxes holds horse races in Thessaly (196). Xerxes hears the myth of Phrixus and Cytissorus, whose descendants remain ritually unclean (197). Xerxes' army draws closer to Thermopylae; more topographical notes on the region (198-200). The roster of the Greek contingents at Thermopylae (201-3). Family history of Leonidas, the Spartan basileusand commander (204). How Leonidas got to be king of Sparta on his brothers' deaths. Leonidas decides to use Theban troops to test their loyalty (205). Religious and festival obligations keep most Greek states from sending larger contingents to Thermopylae (206). A last minute impulse to retreat is quelled by Leonidas (207). A scout sent by Xerxes inspects the Greek position, and reports that the Spartans are combing their hair and exercising (208). Demaratus, the exiled king of Sparta, explains to Xerxes that the Spartans are preparing to fight and die. Xerxes doubts him, and is sure the Greeks will retreat (209).

The Battle of Thermopylae

Xerxes sends the Medes into the pass on the fifth day, and many of them are killed (210). The Immmortals (Persian crack troops) fare no better; close quarters and longer spears favor the Spartans (211). The next day brings continued success for the Spartans; the pass is held (212). Ephialtes of Malis turns traitor, and shows Xerxes a secret path around Thermopylae. Two other men named by some as traitors are exonerated by Hdt (213-14). Description of the secret pass, called Anopaia (215-16). Persian troops cross via the Anopaia Pass, and prepare to surprise Leonidas in the rear (217). Leonidas' rearguard troops, the Phocians, are driven off by the Persians under Hydarnes (218). Leonidas learns that he is about to be surrounded. Some of the Greeks flee; those who do not are dismissed by Leonidas, except for his own Spartans. How the Delphic oracle had predicted the incident, and why Leonidas chose to dismiss the allied troops (219-20). Proof for Hdt.'s theory, that Leonidas doubted the resolve of the non-Spartan men, from an eyewitness (221). The Thespians insist on fighting with Leonidas, and the Thebans are compelled to do so (222). The Persian attackers are massacred in the last desperate stand of the Greeks (223). The dead on both sides include Leonidas and Persian nobles; Hdt. could recite all 300 Spartans from memory if he wished (224). The Spartan troops are overwhelmed at last by superior numbers (225).

The Aftermath of Thermopylae

Anecdotes illustrating the brave spirit of various Spartans (226-27). Quotation of verse inscriptions (epitaphs) from Thermopylae (228). Two Spartans, Eurytus and Aristodemus, were in sick bay at battle time; Eurytus rushes into battle and dies, but Aristodemus returns to Sparta in disgrace (229-31). The case of Pantites, another disgraced Spartan (232). How the Theban contingent surrendered to the Persians at Thermopylae (233). Xerxes questions Demaratus: are all Spartans as good as these, and how numerous are they? What strategy should Xerxes adopt (234)? Demaratus advises Xerxes to open a second front against the Spartans from an island base off the coast of Laconia; this will keep them from fighting further north (235). Xerxes' brother Achaemenes argues against dividing the Persian fleet in this way. He accuses Demaratus of disloyalty (236). Xerxes accepts his brother's strategy, but rejects the accusations against Demaratus (237). The head of Leonidas is impaled on a stake by Xerxes (238). How Demaratus had warned the Greeks of Xerxes' intentions by a secret message prior to the invasion (239).

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