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Herodotus History translated into English

Book VII

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The Seventh Book of the Histories, Called Polymnia (continued)

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19. Xerxes being thus desirous to make the expedition, there came to him after this a third vision in his sleep, which the Magians, when they heard it, explained to have reference to the dominion of the whole Earth and to mean that all men should be subject to him; and the vision was this: -- Xerxes thought that he had been crowned with a wreath of an olive-branch and that the shoots growing from the olive- tree covered the whole Earth; and after that, the wreath, placed as it was about his head, disappeared. When the Magians had thus interpreted the vision, forthwith every man of the Persians who had been assembled together departed to his own province and was zealous by all means to perform the commands, desiring each one to receive for himself the gifts which had been proposed: and thus Xerxes was gathering his army together, searching every region of the continent. 20. During four full years from the conquest of Egypt he was preparing the army and the things that were of service for the army, and in the course of the fifth year[20] he began his campaign with a host of great multitude. For of all the armies of which we have knowledge this proved to be by far the greatest; so that neither that led by Dareios against the Scythians appears anything as compared with it, nor the Scythian host, when the Scythians pursuing the Kimmerians made invasion of the Median land and subdued and occupied nearly all the upper parts of Asia, for which invasion afterwards Dareios attempted to take vengeance, nor that led by the sons of Atreus to Ilion, to judge by that which is reported of their expedition, nor that of the Mysians and Teucrians, before the Trojan war, who passed over into Europe by the Bosphorus and not only subdued all the Thracians, but came down also as far as the Ionian Sea[21] and marched southwards to the river Peneios. 21. All these expeditions put together, with others, if there be any, added to them,[22] are not equal to this one alone. For what nation did Xerxes not lead out of Asia against Hellas? and what water was not exhausted, being drunk by his host, except only the great rivers? For some supplied ships, and others were appointed to serve in the land- army; to some it was appointed to furnish cavalry, and to others vessels to carry horses, while they served in the expedition themselves also;[23] others were ordered to furnish ships of war for the bridges, and others again ships with provisions.

22. Then in the first place, since the former fleet had suffered disaster in sailing round Athos, preparations had been going on for about three years past with regard to Athos: for triremes lay at anchor at Elaius in the Chersonese, and with this for their starting point men of all nations belonging to the army worked at digging, compelled by the lash; and the men went to the work regularly in succession: moreover those who dwelt round about Athos worked also at the digging: and Bubares the son of Megabazos and Artachaies the son of Artaios, Persians both, were set over the work. Now Athos is a mountain great and famous, running down to the sea and inhabited by men: and where the mountain ends on the side of the mainland the place is like a peninsula with an isthmus about twelve furlongs[24] across. Here it is plain land or hills of no great size, extending from the sea of the Acanthians to that which lies off Torone; and on this isthmus, where Athos ends, is situated a Hellenic city called Sane: moreover there are others beyond Sane[25] and within the peninsula of Athos, all which at this time the Persian had resolved to make into cities of an island and no longer of the mainland; these are, Dion, Olophyxos, Acrothoon, Thyssos, Cleonai. 23. These are the cities which occupy Athos: and they dug as follows, the country being divided among the Barbarians by nations for the work: -- at the city of Sane they drew a straight line across the isthmus, and when the channel became deep, those who stood lowest dug, while others delivered the earth as it was dug out to other men who stood above, as upon steps, and they again to others when it was received, until they came to those that were highest; and these bore it away and cast it forth. Now the others except the Phenicians had double toil by the breaking down of the steep edges of their excavation; for since they endeavoured to make the opening at the top and that at the bottom both of the same measure, some such thing was likely to result, as they worked: but the Phenicians, who are apt to show ability in their works generally, did so in this work also; for when they had had assigned to them by lot so much as fell to their share, they proceeded to dig, making the opening of the excavation at the top twice as wide as the channel itself was to be; and as the work went forward, they kept contracting the width; so that, when they came to the bottom, their work was made of equal width with that of the others. Now there is a meadow there, in which there was made for them a market and a place for buying and selling; and great quantities of corn came for them regularly from Asia, ready ground. 24. It seems to me, making conjecture of this work, that Xerxes when he ordered this to be dug was moved by a love of magnificence and by a desire to make a display of his power and to leave a memorial behind him; for though they might have drawn the ships across the isthmus with no great labour, he bade them dig a channel for the sea of such breadth that two triremes might sail through, propelled side by side. To these same men to whom the digging had been appointed, it was appointed also to make a bridge over the river Strymon, yoking together the banks.

25. These things were being done by Xerxes thus; and meanwhile he caused ropes also to be prepared for the bridges, made of papyrus and of white flax,[26] appointing this to the Phenicians and Egyptians; and also he was making preparations to store provisions for his army on the way, that neither the army itself nor the baggage animals might suffer from scarcity, as they made their march against Hellas. Accordingly, when he had learnt by inquiry of the various places, he bade them make stores where it was most convenient, carrying supplies to different parts by merchant ships and ferry-boats from all the countries of Asia. So they conveyed the greater part of the corn[27] to the place which is called Leuke Acte in Thrace, while others conveyed stores to Tyrodiza of the Perinthians, others to Doriscos, others to Eion on the Strymon, and others to Macedonia, the work being distributed between them.

26. During the time that these were working at the task which had been proposed to them, the whole land-army had been assembled together and was marching with Xerxes to Sardis, setting forth from Critalla in Cappadokia; for there it had been ordered that the whole army should assemble, which was to go with Xerxes himself by the land: but which of the governors of provinces brought the best equipped force and received from the king the gifts proposed, I am not able to say, for I do not know that they even came to a competition in this matter. Then after they had crossed the river Halys and had entered Phrygia, marching through this land they came to Kelainai, where the springs of the river Maiander come up, and also those of another river not less than the Maiander, whose name is Catarractes;[28] this rises in the market-place itself of Kelainai and runs into the Maiander: and here also is hanging up in the city the skin of Marsyas the Silenos, which is said by the Phrygians to have been flayed off and hung up by Apollo. 27. In this city Pythios the son of Atys, a Lydian, was waiting for the king and entertained his whole army, as well as Xerxes himself, with the most magnificent hospitality: moreover he professed himself ready to supply money for the war. So when Pythios offered money, Xerxes asked those of the Persians who were present, who Pythios was and how much money he possessed, that he made this offer. They said: "O king, this is he who presented thy father Dareios with the golden plane-tree and the golden vine; and even now he is in wealth the first of all men of whom we know, excepting thee only." 28. Marvelling at the conclusion of these words Xerxes himself asked of Pythios then, how much money he had; and he said: "O king, I will not conceal the truth from thee, nor will I allege as an excuse that I do not know my own substance, but I will enumerate it to thee exactly, since I know the truth: for as soon as I heard that thou wert coming down to the Sea of Hellas, desiring to give thee money for the war I ascertained the truth, and calculating I found that I had of silver two thousand talents, and of gold four hundred myriads[29] of daric staters[30] all but seven thousand: and with this money I present thee. For myself I have sufficient livelihood from my slaves and from my estates of land." 29. Thus he said; and Xerxes was pleased by the things which he had spoken, and replied: "Lydian host, ever since I went forth from the Persian land I have encountered no man up to this time who was desirous to entertain my army, or who came into my presence and made offer of his own free will to contribute money to me for the war, except only thee: and thou not only didst entertain my army magnificently, but also now dost make offer of great sums of money. To thee therefore in return I give these rewards,--I make thee my guest-friend, and I will complete for thee the four hundred myriads of staters by giving from myself the seven thousand, in order that thy four hundred myriads may not fall short by seven thousand, but thou mayest have a full sum in thy reckoning, completed thus by me. Keep possession of that which thou hast got for thyself, and be sure to act always thus; for if thou doest so, thou wilt have no cause to repent either at the time or afterwards."

30. Having thus said and having accomplished his promise, he continued his march onwards; and passing by a city of the Phrygians called Anaua and a lake whence salt is obtained, he came to Colossai, a great city of Phrygia, where the river Lycos falls into an opening of the earth and disappears from view, and then after an interval of about five furlongs it comes up to view again, and this river also flows into the Maiander. Setting forth from Colossai towards the boundaries of the Phrygians and Lydians, the army arrived at the city of Kydrara, where a pillar[30a] is fixed, set up by Croesus, which declares by an inscription that the boundaries are there. 31. From Phrygia then he entered Lydia; and here the road parts into two, and that which goes to the left leads towards Caria, while that which goes to the right leads to Sardis; and travelling by this latter road one must needs cross the river Maiander and pass by the city of Callatebos, where men live whose trade it is to make honey of the tamarisk-tree and of wheat-flour. By this road went Xerxes and found a plane-tree, to which for its beauty he gave an adornment of gold, and appointed that some one should have charge of it always in undying succession;[31] and on the next day he came to the city of the Lydians. 32. Having come to Sardis he proceeded first to send heralds to Hellas, to ask for earth and water, and also to give notice beforehand to prepare meals for the king; except that he sent neither to Athens nor Lacedemon to ask for earth, but to all the other States: and the reason why he sent the second time to ask for earth and water was this,--as many as had not given at the former time to Dareios when he sent, these he thought would certainly give now by reason of their fear: this matter it was about which he desired to have certain knowledge, and he sent accordingly.

33. [Also see William Smith's History of Greece about Xerxes crossing the Hellepsont] After this he made his preparations intending to march to Abydos: and meanwhile they were bridging over the Hellespont from Asia to Europe. Now there is in the Chersonese of the Hellespont between the city of Sestos and Madytos, a broad foreland[32] running down into the sea right opposite Abydos; this is the place where no long time afterwards the Athenians under the command of Xanthippos the son of Ariphron, having taken Artayctes a Persian, who was the governor of Sestos, nailed him alive to a board with hands and feet extended (he was the man who was wont to take women with him to the temple of Protesilaos at Elaius and to do things there which are not lawful). 34. To this foreland they on whom this work was laid were making their bridges, starting from Abydos, the Phenicians constructing the one with ropes of white flax, and the Egyptians the other, which was made with papyrus rope. Now from Abydos to the opposite shore is a distance of seven furlongs. But when the strait had been bridged over, a great storm came on and dashed together all the work that had been made and broke it up. Then when Xerxes heard it he was exceedingly enraged, and bade them scourge the Hellespont with three hundred strokes of the lash and let down into the sea a pair of fetters. Nay, I have heard further that he sent branders also with them to brand the Hellespont. However this may be, he enjoined them, as they were beating, to say Barbarian and presumptuous words as follows: "Thou bitter water, thy master lays upon thee this penalty, because thou didst wrong him not having suffered any wrong from him: and Xerxes the king will pass over thee whether thou be willing or no; but with right, as it seems, no man doeth sacrifice to thee, seeing that thou art a treacherous[33] and briny stream." The sea he enjoined them to chastise thus, and also he bade them cut off the heads of those who were appointed to have charge over the bridging of the Hellespont. 36. Thus then the men did, to whom this ungracious office belonged; and meanwhile other chief- constructors proceeded to make the bridges; and thus they made them: -- They put together fifty-oared galleys and triremes, three hundred and sixty to be under the bridge towards the Euxine Sea, and three hundred and fourteen to be under the other, the vessels lying in the direction of the stream of the Hellespont (though crosswise in respect to the Pontus), to support the tension of the ropes.[34] They placed them together thus, and let down very large anchors, those on the one side[35] towards the Pontus because of the winds which blow from within outwards, and on the other side, towards the West and the Egean, because of the South-East[36] and South Winds. They left also an opening for a passage through, so that any who wished might be able to sail into the Pontus with small vessels, and also from the Pontus outwards. Having thus done, they proceeded to stretch tight the ropes, straining them with wooden windlasses, not now appointing the two kinds of rope to be used apart from one another, but assigning to each bridge two ropes of white flax and four of the papyrus ropes. The thickness and beauty of make was the same for both, but the flaxen ropes were heavier in proportion,[38] and of this rope a cubit weighed one talent. When the passage was bridged over, they sawed up logs of wood, and making them equal in length to the breadth of the bridge they laid them above the stretched ropes, and having set them thus in order they again fastened them above.[39] When this was done, they carried on brushwood, and having set the brushwood also in place, they carried on to it earth; and when they had stamped down the earth firmly, they built a barrier along on each side, so that the baggage- animals and horses might not be frightened by looking out over the sea.

37. When the construction of the bridges had been finished, and the works about Athos, both the embankments about the mouths of the channel, which were made because of the breaking of the sea upon the beach, that the mouths of it might not be filled up, and the channel itself, were reported to be fully completed, then, after they had passed the winter at Sardis, the army set forth from thence fully equipped, at the beginning of spring, to march to Abydos; and when it had just set forth, the Sun left his place in the heaven and was invisible, though there was no gathering of clouds and the sky was perfectly clear; and instead of day it became night. When Xerxes saw and perceived this, it became a matter of concern to him; and he asked the Magians what the appearance meant to portend. These declared that the god was foreshowing to the Hellenes a leaving[40] of their cities, saying that the Sun was the foreshower of events for the Hellenes, but the Moon for the Persians. Having been thus informed, Xerxes proceeded on the march with very great joy. 38. Then as he was leading forth his army on its march, Pythios the Lydian, being alarmed by the appearance in the heavens and elated by the gifts which he had received, came to Xerxes, and said as follows: "Master, I would desire to receive from thee a certain thing at my request, which, as it chances, is for thee an easy thing to grant, but a great thing for me, if I obtain it." Then Xerxes, thinking that his request would be for anything rather than that which he actually asked, said that he would grant it, and bade him speak and say what he desired. He then, when he heard this, was encouraged, and spoke these words: "Master, I have, as it chances, five sons, and it is their fortune to be all going together with thee on the march against Hellas. Do thou, therefore, O king, have compassion upon me, who have come to so great an age, and release from serving in the expedition one of my sons, the eldest, in order that he may be caretaker both of myself and of my wealth: but the other four take with thyself, and after thou hast accomplished that which thou hast in thy mind, mayest thou have a safe return home." 38. Then Xerxes was exceedingly angry and made answer with these words: "Thou wretched man, dost thou dare, when I am going on a march myself against Hellas, and am taking my sons and my brothers and my relations and friends, dost thou dare to make any mention of a son of thine, seeing that thou art my slave, who ought to have been accompanying me thyself with thy whole household and thy wife as well? Now therefore be assured of this, that the passionate spirit of man dwells within the ears; and when it has heard good things, it fills the body with delight, but when it has heard the opposite things to this, it swells up with anger. As then thou canst not boast of having surpassed the king in conferring benefits formerly, when thou didst to us good deeds and madest offer to do more of the same kind, so now that thou hast turned to shamelessness, thou shalt receive not thy desert but less than thou deservest: for thy gifts of hospitality shall rescue from death thyself and the four others of thy sons, but thou shalt pay the penalty with the life of the one to whom thou dost cling most." Having answered thus, he forthwith commanded those to whom it was appointed to do these things, to find out the eldest of the sons of Pythios and to cut him in two in the middle; and having cut him in two, to dispose the halves, one on the right hand of the road and the other on the left, and that the army should pass between them by this way.

Continued...

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