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We have now reached the threshold of the second and the greater Persian invasion—the second and the greater triumph of Hellas. The significance of this passage in their history was not lost upon the Greeks. Their defence of Europe against the barbarians of Asia, the discomfiture of a mighty oriental despot by a league of their free states, the defeat of a vast army and a large fleet by their far smaller forces,—these surprises made an enduring impression upon the Greek mind, and were shaped by Greek imagination into a wonderful dramatic story at a time when the critical instinct had not yet developed. No tale is more delightful than this tale as Herodotus tells it, when we take it simply as a tale; and none illustrates better the story-shaping genius of the Greeks. The historical criticism of it is another matter: we have to seek to extract what actually happened out of the bewildering succession of daring exaggerations, naive anecdotes, fictitious motives, oracles, not to speak of miracles; in most of which the reflected light of later events is visibly altering the truth, while much is coloured by the prejudices and leanings of the Athenians, from whom Herodotus seems to have derived a great part of his record.


Sect. 1. The Preparations and March of Xerxes (490-480 B.C.)


The chief event in Persia during the ten years which elapsed between the first and second invasions of Greece was the death of king Darius. After the unexpected repulse of his forces at Marathon, he had determined to repeat the experiment and begun to make some preparations. Four years passed and then a revolt broke out in the province of Egypt which demanded immediate attention. But its suppression was delayed in consequence of the king’s death, and was only accomplished under Xerxes, son of Atossa, who succeeded to the throne (485 B.C.). The question then arose whether the design of an expedition against Greece, to avenge those who fell at Marathon and redeem the fame of Persian arms, should be carried out. It is related that Xerxes was himself undecided, but was over-persuaded by the impetuous counsels of his cousin Mardonius. On the other hand, his uncle Artabanus appears in the pages of Herodotus as the prudent and experienced adviser who weighs all the obstacles and foresees failure. Xerxes, swayed hither and thither between these opposing counsels, is finally determined to yield to the wishes of Mardonius by the peremptory command of a dream, which overcomes even the scruples of Artabanus. In this manner does Herodotus pretend to take us behind the curtain of the council chamber at Susa, representing—in the light of later events—the advice of Mardonius as youthful and foolish, although that advice merely amounted to the execution of the design which, according to Herodotus himself, the old and experienced Darius had initiated and prepared. Nevertheless the contrast of Mardonius and Artabanus, and the dreams divinely sent with evil purpose, are, though not historical, a most effective dramatic introduction to the episode of the invasion. Further pressure was brought to bear on the king by Greeks who visited his court—envoys from the Aleuad princes of Thessaly and members of the Pisistratid family who brought with them the seer Onomacritus to impress Xerxes by favourable oracles.

It was clear that the expedition must consist of a joint attack by sea and land. Preparations were begun by the difficult enterprise of digging a canal (about a mile and a half long) across the isthmus of Mount Athos. On the occasion of the expedition of Mardonius to Thrace and Macedonia, it will be remembered that a large part of the fleet had been wrecked in rounding that dangerous headland. But was it necessary for the fleet to venture on this occasion within the proximity of Cape Athos? Might it not sail straight across the Aegean to Greece? On these grounds Herodotus suggested that the cutting of Athos was undertaken for display rather than from necessity. This is an unsound criticism. It was a fundamental principle of Persian strategy in these expeditions that the army and navy should co-operate and never lose touch. The Thracian expedition of Darius, the Macedonian expedition of Mardonius, the Greek expedition of Xerxes illustrate this principle. The canal of Athos was intended to ensure that the ships should safely accompany the land forces along the coasts of Thrace. It seems to be established that the work was completed and used, although later writers threw doubts on the “velification” of Athos. When it was finished, the workmen proceeded to lay a bridge over the Strymon for the passage of the army, and preparations were made all along the line of route for the feeding of a vast host.

Xerxes came down from Susa to Sardis in the autumn 481 B.C. He met the oriental contingents of his army at Critalla in Cappadocia. At Celaenae it is recorded that Pythius, the richest man in the empire, entertained at his own cost the king and the whole army. His wealth amounted to four million gold darics, all but seven thousand, and Xerxes bestowed upon him seven thousand to make up the full sum. Xerxes spent the winter at Sardis. Pythius was so pleased with the king’s graciousness that when the army was about to start for the Hellespont in the following spring he ventured to prefer the request that the eldest of his five sons who were serving in the army might be permitted to remain behind. Great was the king’s wrath at what he regarded as the insolent demand of a “slave.” The body of the eldest son was cut in two; one half was placed at each side of the gate of Sardis, through which the army was about to march forth. The anecdote illustrates the severity with which personal military service was enforced.

It is impossible to suppose that the whole army wintered in Sardis with the king; it is probable that the place of mustering was at the Hellespont across which two bridges had been constructed, in the neighbourhood of Sestos and Abydos, by Phoenician and Egyptian engineers. But the strength of these bridges was not sufficient, and a tempest destroyed them. The wrath of Xerxes at this catastrophe was violent. He not only beheaded the engineers, but commanded that 300 lashes should be inflicted on the waters of the Hellespont. Those who carried out this strange order addressed the sea as they scourged it in these words: “O bitter water, our lord lays this punishment upon thee, for having done him wrong, who never did wrong to thee. King Xerxes will cross thee, whether thou wilt or not. Just is it that no man sacrifices to thee, for thou art a treacherous and briny river.” These words are blamed by Herodotus as “un-Greek and impious.” The reconstruction of the bridges was entrusted to new engineers. Two lines of ships were moored across the strait by anchors at prow and stern. The line nearer to the Propontis consisted of 360, the other of 314, triremes and penteconters mixed. Over each of these lines of ships six huge cables—two of flax, four of papyrus—were stretched; and in three places gaps were left between the ships and under the cables for small trading craft to pass between the Euxine and the Aegean. Planks were laid across the cables and kept in their places by a second layer of cables above. On this foundation a road was made with wood and earth, and at each side palisades were set, high enough to prevent the animals which passed over from seeing the water. On a marble throne erected on the shore Xerxes is said to have witnessed the passage of his army, which began at the first moment of sunrise. The troops crossed under the lash, and the crossing was accomplished in two days. But when the size of the Persian host was magnified, in later years, to the impossible figure of five millions, the story was that the crossing of the Hellespont required seven days and seven nights—the favourite number of fiction—without a moment’s pause.

The army was joined by the fleet at Doriscus in Thrace. Fleet army were henceforward to act together. In the plain of Doriscus Xerxes reviewed and numbered his forces. “What nation of Asia,” asks Herodotus, “did not Xerxes lead against Hellas?” He enumerates forty-six peoples, with a picturesque description of their array. The Persians themselves, who were under the command of Otanes, wore coats of mail and trowsers; they had wicker shields, large bows, and short spears. The Medes, Cissians, and Hyrcanians were attired in the same way. Then there were Assyrians with brazen helmets, linen cuirasses, clubs, lances, and short swords; Bactrians with cane bows; trowsered Sacae with pointed hats, and carrying axes; Indians clad in cotton, Caspians in goatskin; Sarangians wearing dyed garments and high boots; Ethiopians clad in lion skins or leopard skins and armed with arrows whose stone points transport us to a primitive age; Sagartians with dagger and lasso; Thracians with foxskin caps; Colchians with cowskin shields. The fleet was furnished by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Cypriotes, Cilicians, Pamphylians, Lycians, Carians, and subject Greeks. It is said to have consisted of 1207 warships, with 3000 smaller vessels. A curious story was told of the numbering of the army. Ten thousand men were packed together in a close space; a line was drawn round them, and a wall built. All the infantry passed successively into this enclosure. It was filled 170 times, so that the whole number of fighting men was 1,700,000. The number of the cavalry was 80,000, and there were some additional troops not included. Adding to these the crews of the ships—counting 200 to each larger and 80 to each smaller vessel—the total was obtained of 2,317,000 men. This enormous number was further increased by fresh contingents which joined during the march through Thrace and Macedonia. Besides the fighting men were a vast number of servants, sutlers, camp-followers, whom Herodotus considered to be quite as numerous as the soldiers. The whole host would consequently have reached to upwards of 5,000,000, not including eunuchs and concubines.

It is needless to say that these numbers are wholly fabulous. The facts which Herodotus states as to the number of the fighting men are false, and the principle of his conjecture that the total number of the host was double that of the fighting men is also fallacious. The picked body of 10,000 troops, called the Immortals, had the privilege of travelling comfortably with their wives and baggage; but this was an exceptional privilege, and it cannot be supposed that the mass of the troops were accompanied by servants. There is reason for supposing that the land forces may have amounted to 300,000—hardly more. A larger force than that would have been unmanageable in a small mountainous country, and the difficulties of provisioning even this were formidable. The number of the fleet must also be considerably reduced—perhaps to 800 triremes.

From Doriscus, Xerxes proceeded to Therma with his fabulous host, in three divisions, drinking rivers dry in their march. At the crossing of the Strymon, near the place called the Nine Roads, he sacrificed nine native youths and virgins. At Therma he was rejoined by his fleet, which had been separated from him while it sailed round Sithonia and Pallene.

Most of the incidents which Herodotus recounts concerning this march of Xerxes are pleasing stories, designed to illustrate the historian’s general view as to the great struggle of Greek and barbarian. The cruelty of Xerxes to Pythius, his barbarity and impiety in scourging the Hellespont, serve to characterise the barbarian and the despot. The enormity of the host which rolled over the straits to deluge Europe enhances the danger and the glory of Hellas. And to signify by a solemn portent the destined discomfiture of the Persian host, it is stated that as Xerxes was setting forth from Sardis the sun was darkened. This eclipse actually took place two years later; the tradition which Herodotus follows transposed its date to a more impressive and significant occasion.


Sect. 2. Preparations of Greece


In the meantime Greece was aware of the preparations of the Great King for her enslavement, and was making her counter­preparations. The digging at Athos had warned her betimes, and the coming down of the king to Sardis showed that the danger was imminent. Xerxes is said to have dispatched from Sardis heralds to all the Greek states, except Athens and Sparta, to demand earth and water. These two cities now joined hands to resist the invasion. They were naturally marked out as the leaders of Greece in Greece’s greatest crisis; Sparta by virtue of that generally acknowledged headship which we have already seen, Athens by the prestige which she had won in resisting the Mede at Marathon. They jointly convened an Hellenic congress at the Isthmus to consult on the measures to be taken for common resistance to the threatened invasion. We have already observed certain indications of the growth of a Panhellenic feeling; but this is the first instance of anything that can be called a deliberate Panhellenic policy. It is an “attempt to combine all the scattered cities of the Greek world to withstand the power of Persia: It is a new fact in Grecian history, opening scenes and ideas unlike to anything which has gone before—enlarging prodigiously the functions and duties connected with that headship of Greece which had hitherto been in the hands of Sparta, but which is about to become too comprehensive for her to manage.” A large number of cities sent delegates to the congress, which was called the Synedrion of Probuloi or Congress of Representatives. It met at the Isthmus—a meeting-place marked out by its central position—under the presidency of Sparta. There the states which were represented, thirty-one in number, bound themselves together in a formal confederation by taking a solemn oath that they would “tithe those who uncompelled submitted ” to the barbarian, for the benefit of the Delphic god. This was a way of vowing that they would utterly destroy such traitors. A great many states, the Thessalians, most of the Boeotian cities, besides the smaller peoples of northern Greece—Locrians, Malians, Achaeans, Dolopians, and others—took no part in this congress. Their inaction by no means meant that they had made up their minds to “ medize.” They were only waiting to see how things would turn out, and, considering their geographical position, their policy might be justified by the natural instinct of self-preservation. These northern states would be first invaded by the Persian, and it was hopeless for them to think of withstanding him alone. Unless they could absolutely rely on Sparta and her confederates to support them in defending the northern frontier of Thessaly, nothing would be left for them but to submit. And with this prospect, it would have been imprudent for them to compromise themselves by openly joining the confederacy. Events proved that if they had seriously relied on that confederacy throwing all its strength into the defence of northern Greece, they would have been cruelly deceived. And, as we shall see, they were ready to resist so long as there were hopes of support from the stronger states. In some cases there were parties or classes who were favourable to the Persian cause, for example, the oligarchs of Thebes and the Aleuadae of Thessaly.

One of the great hindrances to joint action was the existence of domestic disputes. There were feuds of old standing between Thessaly and Phocis, Argos and Lacedaemon, Athens and Aegina. The Congress attempted to reconcile such feuds, and Athens and Aegina laid aside their enmity to fight together for Grecian freedom. Another important question concerned the command of the confederate forces. The claim of Sparta to the leadership of the army of was at once admitted. The question as to the fleet was not so clear. Sparta was not a naval power, and Athens, which would furnish more ships than any other state, had a fair claim. But the other cities were jealous of Athens; they declared that they would submit only to a Spartan leader. The Athenian representatives, when they saw the feeling of the allies, at once yielded the point.

The Congress made some other provisions. While spies were sent to observe the preparations of Xerxes in Asia Minor, envoys went forth to various Greek states to enlist new confederates—to win over Argos, which had sent no delegates to the Isthmus; and to obtain promises of assistance from Crete, Corcyra, and Syracuse. None of these embassies led to anything. Gelon, the great tyrant of Syracuse, was himself absorbed by the prospect of an attack of the Carthaginians, and, even if he had wished, could have sent no aid to the mother-country.

When the military preparations for the defence of Greece were made, and the generals appointed, the Congress of Representatives seems to have dissolved itself and consigned the future conduct of affairs to the military congresses of the commanders who used to meet together and decide on each movement under the presidency of the Spartan leaders. King Leonidas was leader of the confederate army, and Eurybiadas, a Spartan who did not belong to either of the royal families, was commander of the confederate fleet.

The Greeks had abundance of time for their preparations—for strengthening their defences and building new ships. Athens probably threw herself with more energy into the work than any other city. One wise measure shows that she had risen to a full apprehension of the truth that a solemn hour in her history had arrived. She recalled those distinguished citizens whom the vote of ostracism had driven into banishment during the last ten years. Aristides and Xanthippus returned home; their feuds with Themistocles were buried in the presence of the great danger; and the city seems to have soon shown its confidence in their patriotism by choosing them as Generals. These leaders will each play his part in the coming struggle.


Sect. 3. Battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium


About the time when Xerxes reached the Hellespont, the Thessalians sent a message to the confederacy, suggesting that the pass of Tempe should be defended against the invading army. Accordingly 10,000 hoplites were sent. But when they arrived at the spot they found that there were other passes from Macedonia into Thessaly, by which the Persians would be more likely to come. There were the passes of Volustana and Petra which descended into the valley of the river Titaresius, and it was by one of these that Xerxes actually marched. Ten thousand hoplites were not enough to defend the three passes, and it seemed useless and dangerous to occupy this advanced post. Hence the defence of Tempe was abandoned, and the troops left Thessaly. This desertion necessarily drove all the northern Greeks—between Tempe and Thermopylae— to signify their submission to Xerxes by the offering of earth and water.

The next feasible point of defence was Thermopylae, a narrow pass between the sea and mountain, separating Trachis from Locris. It was the gate to all eastern Greece south of Mount Oeta. At the eastern and at the western end the pass, in those days, was extremely narrow, and in the centre the Phocians had constructed a wall as a barrier against Thessalian incursions. Near the western end was Anthela, the meeting-place of the amphictionic council, while on the Locrian side one emerged from the defile near the village of Alpenoi. The retreat of the sea, and consequent enlargement of the Malian plain, have so altered the appearance of this memorable pass that it is hard to recognise its ancient description; the hot sulphur springs from which it derived its name and the sheer mountain are the two permanent features. It was possible for an active band of men, if they were debarred from proceeding by Thermopylae, to take a rough and steep way over the mountains and so reach the Locrian road at a point east of Alpenoi. It was therefore needful for a general who undertook the defence of Thermopylae to secure this path, lest a detachment should be sent round to surprise him in the rear.

The Greeks determined to defend Thermopylae, and Leonidas marched thither at the head of his army. He had about 7000 men, including 4000 from Peloponnesus, 1000 Phocians, 400 Thebans, 700 Thespians, and the Locrians in full force. It is possible that there may have been some other Boeotians who are not mentioned. Of the Peloponnesians more than half were Arcadians. Mycenae, free at this moment from Argive control, sent 80 men. There were Corinthians and Phliasians; 1000 Laconians, and 300 Spartans. So far as the Peloponnesians were concerned, this was only a small portion of their forces, and we may suspect that but for Athens they would have abandoned northern Greece entirely and concentrated themselves at once on the defence of the Isthmus. But they were dependent on Athens because her fleet was so strong, and they were therefore obliged to consider her interests. To surrender Thermopylae and retire to the Isthmus meant the surrender of Attica. But the hearts of the Spartans were really set on the ultimate defence of the Isthmus, and not on the protection of the northern states; their policy was narrow and Peloponnesian. They attempted to cover this selfish and short-sighted policy by the plea that they were hindered from marching forth in full force by the celebration of the Camean festival, and that the Peloponnesians were delayed by the Olympic games; they alleged that the soldiers of Leonidas were only an advance guard, the rest would soon follow. Yet the feasts did not interfere with the movement of the confederate fleet.

As the land arm and the sea arm of the Persian force always operated together, it was necessary that while the Greek hoplites held the pass under Mount Oeta, the Greek triremes should oppose the Persian fleet in the straits between Euboea and the mainland. The Persians would naturally attempt to sail between Euboea and Magnesia into the Malian gulf, and thence, accompanying the advance of the army, along the western shore of the long island, to the Euripus. The object of the Greeks was to prevent this, and support the garrison of Thermopylae by controlling the Malian gulf.

The Greek fleet, which numbered 324 triremes and 9 penteconters—the Athenians contributing 200—chose its station near Artemisium on the north coast of Euboea. Three ships were sent forward to reconnoitre in the Thermaic gulf, and two of them were destroyed by the Persians. This was the first collision in the war. The incident is said to have so depressed the Greeks that the whole squadron sailed back to the Euripus; but this is highly unlikely, for it was bound to remain at the mouth of the Malian gulf, so long as Leonidas held Thermopylae. It was however necessary that the Euripus should be guarded. For there was the possibility that the Persians might send round a detachment by the south of Euboea and so cut off their retreat. As fifty-three Athenian ships were absent during the first conflicts at Artemisium, it may be supposed that they were deputed to the service of keeping watch at the Euripus.

Towards the end of August the Persian army arrived at Thermopylae, and the Persian navy at the Magnesian coast between Casthanaea and Cape Sepias. Their ships were so many that they could not all be moored at the shore, and had to range themselves in eight lines parallel to the coast. While they were in this unsafe position a great storm rose and destroyed, at the lowest computation, 400 ships. Thus the gods intervened, to lessen the inequality between the Persian and the Greek forces. Encouraged by this disaster, the Greek fleet returned to its station at Artemisium. In this account of Herodotus, the main fact is that the Persians suffered serious loss by a storm off the Magnesian coast. But the loss is exaggerated in proportion to the exaggeration of the original size of the fleet, and the movements of the Greeks are probably misrepresented. The story goes on that cowed by the numerical superiority of the Persians, even after their losses, the Greek commanders wished to retreat again and were restrained from doing so by Themistocles. The Euboeans were naturally anxious that the fleet should remain where it was, as a protection to themselves, and to secure this they gave Themistocles thirty talents. Of this sum Themistocles distributed eight in bribes to his colleagues and kept the rest. The facts of the case throw doubt on this story, which was perhaps suggested by what happened some weeks later at Salamis. For Eurybiadas and the Peloponnesians were bound to stay at Artemisium so long as the land army was at Thermopylae.

After the storm the Persians took up their station at Aphetae. They determined to cut off the Greek retreat, and secretly sent a squadron of 200 vessels to sail round Euboea. The news of this movement was brought to the Greek camp by Scyllias of Scione, the most remarkable diver of his time, who plunged into the sea at Aphetae and did not emerge above water till he reached Artemisium at a distance of ten miles. Herodotus, indeed, hesitates to accept this tale, and records his private belief that Scyllias arrived at Artemisium in a boat. The Greeks decided that when midnight had passed they would sail to meet the ships which were sailing to the Euripus, but in the afternoon they attacked the enemy, just to see how they fought, and they succeeded in capturing thirty Persian ships. The night was very stormy; the gods had again intervened to aid Greece. The 200 ships, having rounded the southern cape of Euboea, were wrecked off the dangerous coast known as the Hollows. Immediately afterwards the fifty-three Attic ships which had not yet appeared at Artemisium arrived there, and at the same time came the news of the disaster. The Greeks consequently gave up the intention of retreating. There was some further fighting, with loss on both sides; with no decisive advantage, according to the Greek account, but we may suspect that the Persians had the best of it.

Meanwhile Leonidas had taken up his post at Thermopylae, and the Phocians, who knew the ground, had undertaken the defence of the bye-road over the mountains. The old Phocian wall in the centre of the pass was repaired. It was a serious matter for even such a large army as that which was now encamped in the Malian plain to carry the narrow way of Thermopylae against 6000 determined men. For four days Xerxes waited, expecting that they would retreat, awed by the vision of his mighty host. On the fifth he attacked; and in the engagements which took place at the west end of the pass the Hellenic spearmen affirmed their distinct superiority to the Asiatic archers. On the following day the result was the same; the Immortals themselves made no impression on the defenders. Herodotus says that Xerxes “sprang thrice from his throne in agony for his army.” It was then decided to send round the Immortals—hardly the whole 10,000—under their commander Hydarnes, by the mountain road to take the Greeks in the rear. A Malian Greek named Ephialtes guided the band and so won the name of having betrayed Greece. At dawn they reached the highest point of the path, where the Phocians were posted. The Phocians fled to the heights, and the Persians went on paying no attention to them. Meanwhile deserters informed Leonidas of the Persian stratagem. He hastily called a council of war. The exact plan of action which was decided on is unknown. We only know that the Spartans, Thebans, and Thespians remained in the pass, while the rest of the Greeks retired southward. It was afterwards represented that they had deserted the defence of the position and returned home. But in that case, it was foolish, if splendid, of Leonidas to hold the pass between foes on both sides. The rational courses were either for the whole garrison to abandon the pass, or else, just as the Persians aimed at enclosing the Greeks, so to enclose the band of Hydarnes. We may suspect that this second plan was actually adopted. While part of the force, including Leonidas and the Spartans, remained in the pass, the rest (we may suppose) placed themselves at some distance east of the point where the mountain path descended to the road, so as to take Hydarnes in the rear. Of the 1400 who stood in the pass, some had to guard the eastern entrance against Hydarnes, others the western against the main army. Leonidas and his 300 undertook the western side. But they were no longer content with merely repelling assaults; they now rushed out upon the enemy. Their charge was effective, but Leonidas himself was slain, and a Homeric battle raged over his body. Two brothers of Xerxes fell. Many Persians were driven into the sea. But at length the defenders were forced back behind the wall. They drew together on a hillock where they made a last stand, to be surrounded and slain by overwhelming numbers. For the Immortals, having in the mean­time routed the Greeks in their rear, had now forced their way into the pass. It was said that 4000 Greeks fell.

The valiant defence of Thermopylae made a deep impression upon Greece, and increased the fame of the Spartans for bravery. It was represented as a forlorn defence—Leonidas and his band system from early youth. The brave Thespians would not desert the Spartans; while the Thebans are represented as detained by devoting themselves to certain death, and clinging to their posts from that sense of military duty which was inculcated by the Spartan Leonidas against their will, because they were suspected of secret medism. The malicious tale adds that, having taken only a perfunctory part in the defence, the Thebans advanced to the enemy and asked for quarter, declaring that they were friends of the Great King and had come to Thermopylae against their will. Their lives were spared, but all, including the commander, were forced to suffer the shame of being branded as bad slaves. It is certain that this contrast between the Thespians and Thebans was invented in the light of the subsequent medism of Thebes. Nor is it clear that the defence of Thermopylae, although eminently heroic, was, until the very end, desperate. If, as we suspected, an effort was made to meet the Immortals, then, if that effort had been more effectual, it might have been possible to hold the pass; and in that case a naval battle must have decided whether the Persians or the Greeks would be forced to retreat.

A column was afterwards erected at Sparta with the names of Leonidas and his 300. Among them was to be read the name of Dienekes, reputed as the author of a famous mot, which displayed the lightheartedness of a Spartan soldier in the hour of peril. When it was observed to him that the Persian host was so enormous that their arrows hid the sun, he replied, “So much the better, we shall fight in the shade.”

The news of Thermopylae speedily reached the fleet at Artemisium. The Greeks forthwith weighed anchor and sailed through the Euripus to the shores of Attica.


Sect. 4. Battle of Salamis

Having thus succeeded in breaking through the inner gate of Hellas, and slain the king of the leading state, Xerxes continued his way and passed from Locris into Phocis and thence into Boeotia, meeting with no resistance. The Thebans and most of the other Boeotians now, unable to do otherwise, submitted to the Persians. The loss of Thermopylae forced them to this course, as the abandonment of Tempe had forced the Thessalians.

In later days a story was told at Delphi that a Persian band detached itself from the main host in Phocis, in order to proceed to Pytho and plunder the shrine of the god. “I think,” says Herodotus, “that Xerxes knew its treasures better than his own.” The Delphians fled up into the heights of Parnassus, leaving only sixty men and the prophet Aceratus in the temple. They did not remove the treasures, for the god said that he would protect his own. As soon as the barbarians approached, marvels began to happen. The prophet saw the sacred arms, which no man might touch, lying in front of the temple, carried out by some mysterious means. And when the Persians came to the shrine of Athena Pronaea, which stood not far from the Castalian fountain, lightning flashed; two crags rent from Parnassus fell with a loud crash, crushing many of them; and a war-whoop was heard from Athena’s temple. The barbarians fled in terror, and told how two hoplites of superhuman size pursued them. These were Phylacus and Autonous, the native heroes of Delphi. Such was the legend told at Delphi of the Persian invasion.

When the Athenians returned from Artemisium they found that the main body of the Peloponnesian army was gathered at the Isthmus and engaged in building a wall from sea to sea, instead of advancing to the defence of Boeotia as had been previously arranged. Thus Boeotia and Attica were unprotected. Themistocles and his Athenian colleagues decided to evacuate Athens. They made a proclamation that all the citizens should embark in the triremes, and that all who could should convey their families and belongings to places of safety. This was done. The women and children were transported to Troezen, Aegina, and Salamis. The council of Areopagus helped at this crisis by distributing from the treasury of Athena eight drachmae to each citizen who embarked. At the same time the great natural strength of the Acropolis, though its walls had been demolished after the expulsion of the tyrants, encouraged the hope that it might be held against the Persians, and a small garrison was left to defend it. This bold and wise policy of embarkation was dictated by the circumstances, but it was supposed to have been based on an oracle, which foretold the utter destruction of Attica with the sole exception of a “wooden wall.” The wooden wall was interpreted to mean the ships. And to suit this view it was repre­sented that the garrison left on the Acropolis was merely a handful of poor citizens who remained behind and barricaded themselves there, because they adopted the more literal interpretation of a wooden barricade. This exegesis of the oracle was perhaps suggested by subsequent events.

While the Athenians were thus showing that they were not bound to their soil, the allied fleet had stationed itself in the bay of Salamis, and it was reinforced by new contingents, so that it reached the total strength of 378 triremes and seven penteconters. The army at the Isthmus was now placed under the command of Cleombrotus, brother of Leonidas and guardian of his son Pleistarchus, who was still a child.

Xerxes arrived at Athens about the same time that his fleet sailed into the roadstead of Phaleron. He found the town empty, but for the small band which had entrenched itself on the Acropolis. Persian troops occupied the lower height of the Areopagus, which is severed from the Acropolis by a broad saddle, and succeeded in setting the wooden barricade on fire by means of burning arrows. The garrison rolled stones down on them, and such is the natural strength of the Acropolis that the siege lasted two weeks. Then the Persians managed to ascend on the precipitous north side by the secret path which emerged close to the shrine of Aglaurus. The Greeks were slain, the temples plundered and burnt.

After the fall of the Acropolis the Greek generals held a council of war, and was carried by the votes of the majority that they should retreat to the Isthmus and await there the attack of the Persian fleet. The advantage of this seemed to be that they would there be in close touch with the land forces and have the Peloponnesus as a retreat in case of defeat; whereas at Salamis they would be entirely cut off. This decision meant the abandonment of Aegina, Salamis, and Megara; and it was strenuously opposed by the Aeginetans, Athenians, and Megarians. Themistocles determined to thwart it. He went privately to Eurybiadas and convinced him that it would be much more advantageous to fight in the narrow waters of the Salaminian channel than in the open bay of the Isthmus, where the superior speed and number of the hostile ships would tell. A new council was summoned at which, it is said, hot words passed between the Athenian and the Corinthian general. When Themistocles opened the debate without waiting for the formal introduction of Eurybiadas, the Corinthian Adeimantus said, “O Themistocles, those who stand up too soon in the games are whipped.” “Yes,” was the reply, “but those who start late are not crowned.” It is recorded that Themistocles, in order to carry his point, had to threaten that the Athenians, who were half the fleet, would cease to co-operate with their allies and seek new homes in some western land, if the retreat to the Isthmus were decided. Themistocles won his way; and when it was resolved to fight in Salaminian waters, the heroes of the island, Ajax and Telamon, were invoked, and a ship was sent to Aegina to fetch the other Aeacid heroes.

Of all the tales of signs and marvels which befell in these memorable days none perhaps was more attractive to the Athenians than the experience of two Greek exiles as they walked in the Thriasian plain. One was an Athenian named Dicaeus, and his companion was none other than Demaratus, the Spartan king, who had sought refuge at the Persian court. As they went, they saw a great dust afar off near Eleusis, such a dust as they thought might be raised by a host of thirty thousand men; and then they heard a voice suddenly from the midst of the dust, and it sounded like the cry of the mystic Iacchus which is cried at the Eleusinian festival. Demaratus asked his companion what it might be. “It is a token,” said Dicaeus, “of some great disaster to the King’s host. For since the plain is desolate of men, it is clear that the thing which uttereth the cry is divine,—and it is a thing coming from Eleusis to help the Athenians. If it turn to the Peloponnese, the peril menaces the army of the land, but if it wend toward the ships, then are the King’s ships endangered.” “Peace,” said Demaratus, “for if these words of thine come to the King’s ears, thou shalt lose thy head.” Then the dust, wherein the voice was, turned to a cloud, and rising aloft moved towards the Greek fleet at Salamis; and so they knew that the fleet of Xerxes was doomed.

Meanwhile the Persians too had deliberated and determined to fight. According to a Halicarnassian story told by Herodotus, the Carian queen Artemisia alone gave sound advice—not to risk a sea fight but either to wait for the Greek fleet to disperse from want of provisions, or to advance by land into the Peloponnesus.

The southern entrance to the narrow sound between Salamis and Attica is blocked by the islet of Psyttalea and the long promontory which runs out from Salamis to meet the mainland. The Greek fleet was anchored close to the town of Salamis, north of this promontory. Xerxes moved his armament so as to enclose the ingress of the straits, and at the same time occupied Psyttalea. This movement, carried out in the afternoon, alarmed the Greeks; the Peloponnesian commanders brought pressure to bear on Eurybiadas; another council was called, and Themistocles saw that the hard-won result of his previous exertions would now be overthrown. He therefore determined on a bold stroke. Leaving the council, he dispatched a slave named Sicinnus to the Persian camp bearing a message from himself, as a well-wisher to Xerxes, that the Greeks purposed to sail away in the night. If they were prevented from doing so, a Persian victory was certain, owing to the disunion which existed in the Hellenic camp. This message was believed, and Xerxes took his measures at nightfall to hinder the Greek fleet from escaping by the western straits between Salamis and the Megarid. He sent his 200 Egyptian ships to round the southern promontory of Salamis and place themselves so that they could bar the straits if necessary.

The Greek generals meanwhile were engaged in hot discussion. Suddenly Themistocles was called out from the council. It was his rival Aristides who had sailed across from Aegina and brought the news that the fleet was surrounded by the enemy. Themistocles made Aristides inform the generals of what had happened, and the tidings was presently confirmed by a Tenian ship which deserted from the Persians. There is no reason to question the sensational incident that Aristides brought the news; but we need not suppose that this was his first return from ostracism. It seems probable that he had been sent with the ship which fetched the Aeacids from Aegina and that he was one of the ten strategoi.

Thus Themistocles and the Persians forced the Greeks to fight at Salamis. The position of the two armaments and the details of the action are uncertain. The poet Aeschylus, who was an eyewitness of the battle, describes the Persian ships as drawn up in three divisions outside the entrance into the sound. The division on the extreme left, probably composed of the Ionian Greeks, was set to guard the passage between Psyttalea and the shore of Salamis. The second division probably extended from Psyttalea eastward towards the Piraeus, to guard the main ingress. The third, forming the right wing of the armament, was probably stationed somewhat in advance of the second, close to the narrow passage between Psyttalea and the mainland. The right wing was the Phoenician squadron, upon which Xerxes chiefly relied. The Greeks had drawn their fleet up across the passage between the town of Salamis and the temple of Heracles on the Attic shore. The Athenians formed the left wing of their array, and the Aeginetans and Lacedaemonians were on the right. A high throne was erected, under Mount Aegaleos, from which Xerxes could survey the battle and watch the conduct of his men.

At break of day, the Greeks began to advance. The Phoenician galleys moved to meet them, in column formation; while the other two divisions of the Persian fleet probably remained as they were. The fighting began on the Greek left, and it was here, upon the Athenians and Phoenicians, that the main stress of the battle fell. The want of space hindered the Persians from overwhelming their foes with superior numbers; the attempts they made to crowd ships into the strait were disastrous to themselves. Meanwhile the object of the Greek right was to force a way out of the sound through the enemy’s line, in order to attack in the rear. It was the task of the Aeginetans to round the point of the jutting promontory of Salamis, and assail the left wing of the enemy stationed about Psyttalea. They succeeded in breaking through, and at a later stage we find them cutting off the retreat of fugitive Persian ships. It is probable that, having discomfited the Ionians, they delivered a flank attack on the Phoenician column; but in any case their success rendered the position of the Phoenicians untenable and decided the battle. Their success against the Persian left enabled Aristides, who with a force of Athenian hoplites was watching events on the shore of Salamis, to cross over to Psyttalea and kill the barbarians who had been posted there by Xerxes. The battle lasted from morning till nightfall.

The Persians, under the eyes of their king, fought with great bravery, but they were badly generalled and the place of the combat was unfavourable to them. Their numbers were only an encumbrance, and when the ships in front retreated they hindered the rear from advancing, partly owing to the crowded space and partly to lack of practice in acting together. The want of concert led speedily to confusion and the commanders could not manage the fleet.

Among the anecdotes told about this battle the most famous is that which was current at Halicarnassus, of the signal bravery and no less signal good fortune of the Carian queen Artemisia. She saved herself by the stratagem of attacking and sinking another Carian vessel. Those who stood round Xerxes observed the incident, but supposed the destroyed trireme to be Greek. “Sire,” they said, “seest thou how Artemisia has sunk an enemy’s ship.” And Xerxes exclaimed, “My men have become women, my women men.”


Sect. 5. Consequences of Salamis

The Greek victory of Salamis was a heavy, perhaps a decisive blow to the naval arm of the Persian power. The wrath of Xerxes against the Phoenicians was boundless. On them he had relied, and to their infidelity he ascribed the loss of the battle; his threats so frightened the remnant of the Phoenician contingent that they deserted. But the prospects of the ultimate success of the invasion were still favourable. The land army had met with no reverse, and was overwhelmingly superior in numbers. The only difficulty was to keep it supplied with provisions, and in this respect the loss of the command of the sea was a serious misfortune. The Greeks represented Xerxes as smitten with wild terror, fleeing back overland to the Hellespont and hardly drawing breath till he reached Susa. This dramatic glorification of the victory misrepresents the situation. Xerxes personally was in no jeopardy. The real danger lay not in Attica but in Ionia. The Persians had good reason to fear the effect which the news of the crushing defeat of their navy might have upon the Greeks of Asia, and if Xerxes dreaded anything, he dreaded the revolt which actually came to pass in the following year. It was all-important for him to secure his line of retreat, while he had no intention of relinquishing his enterprise of conquering Greece. These considerations explain what happened. The Persian fleet was immediately dispatched to the Hellespont to guard the bridge and the line of retreat. The land forces were placed under the command of Mardonius, who, as the season was now advanced, determined to postpone further operations till the spring and to winter in Thessaly. A force of 60,000 men was detached to accompany Xerxes to the Hellespont.

When he arrived there he found that the bridge had been destroyed by storms—the same storms which had wrecked his ships off Magnesia. The fleet took him across to Abydos, and he proceeded to Sardis which he made his headquarters. The convoy of 60,000 soldiers returned to the main army in Thessaly, and on their way they laid siege to two towns, which afterwards became famous, on the Pallene isthmus, Olynthus and Potidaea. Olynthus, then a Bottiaean town, was taken and handed over to the Chalcidians who had remained faithful to Persia. Potidaea successfully withstood a siege of three months. 

Meanwhile the Greeks had failed to follow up their victory. Cleombrotus was about to advance from the Isthmus with the purpose of aiming a blow at the retreating columns of the Persian forces before they reached Boeotia. But as he was sacrificing, before setting out, two hours after noon on the second of October, the sun was totally eclipsed, and this ill-omen made him desist from his plan and march back to the Peloponnesus. Themistocles tried to induce the naval commanders to follow up their advantage by sailing after the Persian fleet to the Hellespont, that they might deal it another blow and break down the bridge. It might be expected that, if this were done, the Greeks of Ionia would revolt. But the Peloponnesians would not consent to sail to a distant part of the world, while the Isthmus was still threatened by the presence of the Persian army. The story goes that, having failed to get his advice adopted, Themistocles, with that characteristic adroitness which won the admiration of his contemporaries, determined to utilise his failure. The faithful Sicinnus was sent to Xerxes to assure the monarch of the goodwill of Themistocles, who had dissuaded the Greeks from pursuing the Persian fleet. Themistocles might expect that Xerxes, having been deceived before, would now disbelieve his announcement and therefore hasten back with all speed to reach the Hellespont, if possible, before the Greeks. But on a later day of his life, when he was an exile, he claimed Persian gratitude for this service. It was even represented that, with extraordinary long-sightedness or treachery, he had in his view the contingency of being driven to seek Persian help or protection against his countrymen. But the tale need not be seriously criticised; it has all the appearance of an invention suggested by subsequent adventures of the subtle Athenian.

The island of Andros and the Euboean city Carystus had furnished contingents to the Persian fleet. Just as the Athenians, after the battle of Marathon, had sailed against Paros and demanded a war contribution, so now the Greeks acted against Andros and Carystus. They failed at Andros, just as Miltiades had failed at Paros; they devastated the territory of Carystus.

Great was the rejoicing in Greece over the brilliant victory which was so little hoped for. The generals met at Isthmus to distribute the booty, and adjudge rewards. The Aeginetans received the choice lot of the spoil on account of their pre-eminent bravery, and dedicated in the temple of Delphi, on Apollo’s express demand, three golden stars set on a mast of bronze. For bravery the Athenians were adjudged the second place. Prizes were also proposed for individuals who had distinguished themselves for valour, or for wisdom. In adjudging the prizes for wisdom, each captain wrote down two names in order of merit and placed his tablet on the altar of Poseidon at Isthmus. The story is that each wrote his own name first and that of Themistocles second, and that consequently there was no prize, for a second could not be given, unless a first were also awarded. This ingenious anecdote reflects the reputation for cleverness which had been won by Themistocles.

The Corinthians who fell in the battle were buried in Salamis, and their sepulchral stele was inscribed with a simple distich telling the stranger that “Salamis the isle of Ajax holds us now, who once dwelled in the city of Corinth between her waters.” The stone has been recently found. This is only one of many epitaphs composed by nameless authors in those days of joy and sorrow in various parts of Greece, all marked by the simplicity of a great age, whose reserve, as has been said truly, is the pride of strong men under the semblance of modesty. In later days, insensible to such reserve, it became the fashion to improve these epitaphs by the addition of boastful verses, which have imposed, till recently, upon posterity; and the epitaphs thus disfigured were all said to be the workmanship of the poet Simonides. The exposure of these two deceptions increases our admiration for Hellas at the time of the invasion. There were men everywhere capable of writing a simple appropriate inscription for a grave, and the tombstones of the fallen were not used for superfluous boasts.

But the triumph of Hellas had nobler memorials than the unassuming verses of the tombs. The barbarian invasion affected art and literature, and inspired the creation of some of the great works of the world. Men seemed to rise at once to the sense of the high historical importance of their experience. The great poets of the day wrought it into their song; the great plastic artists alluded to it in their sculptures. Phrynichus had now a theme which he could treat without any dread of another fine. Aeschylus, who had himself fought against the Mede, made the tragedy of Xerxes the argument of a drama, which still abides the one great historical play, dealing with a contemporary event, that exists in literature. But the Persian war produced, though not so soon, another and a greater work than the Persians; it inspired the “father of history” with the theme of, his book—the contest of Europe with Asia. The idea was afloat in B c the air that the Trojan war was an earlier act in the same drama,—that the warriors of Salamis and Plataea were fighting in the same cause as the heroes who had striven with Hector on the plain of Troy. Men might see, if they cared, this suggestion in the scenes from the two Trojan wars, which were wrought by the master sculptors of Aegina to deck the pediments of the temple of Athena, whose Doric columns still stand to remind us that Aegina once upon a time was one of the great states of Greece. And in other temples, friezes and pediments spoke in the conventional language of sculptured legend—by the symbols of Lapiths and Centaurs, Gods and Titans—of the struggle of Greek and barbarian.


Sect. 6. Preparations for another Campaign

The words of the poet Aeschylus, that the defeat of the Persian sea-host was the defeat of the land-host too, were perfectly true for the hour. But only for the hour. The army, compelled after Salamis to retreat to the north, spent the winter in the plains of Thessaly, and was ready for action, though unsupported by a fleet, in the following spring. The liberty of Greece was in greater jeopardy than ever, and the chances were that the success of Salamis would be utterly undone. For in the first place the Greeks, especially the Lacedaemonians and Athenians, found it hard to act together. This had been shown clearly the year before, eminently on the eve of the Salaminian battle. The Peloponnesian interests of the Lacedaemonians rendered them unwilling to meet the enemy in northern Greece; while the northern Greeks, unless they were supported from the Peloponnesus, could not attempt a serious resistance, and were therefore driven to come to terms with the barbarians. And, in the second place, if these difficulties were overcome and a Panhellenic force were opposed to the Persians, the chances were adverse to the Greeks; not from the disparity of numbers, but from the deficiency of the Greeks in cavalry.

In spring Mardonius was joined by Artabazus and the troops who had conducted Xerxes to the Hellespont. The total number of the forces now at the disposal of Mardonius is unknown; it is said to have been 300,000. Meanwhile the Persian fleet, 400 strong, but without the Phoenician ships, was collected at Samos, with the purpose of guarding Ionia; and a Greek squadron of 110 ships gathered at Aegina under the command of the Spartan king Leotychidas, for the purpose of defending the coasts of Greece, but not intending to assume the offensive. With great difficulty some envoys from Chios induced Leotychidas to advance as far as Delos, but he could not be moved to sail farther east with a view to the liberation of Ionia, for “Samos seemed as far away as the Pillars of Heracles,” and he dreaded the Persian waters teeming with unknown dangers. It seems probable that Athenian policy was working upon the Spartan admiral’s inexperience in military affairs. The object of the Athenians was to secure their own land against a second Persian occupation. They therefore desired the protection of the fleet for their coasts; but there was a more important consideration still. If the fleet took the offensive and gained another naval victory, the Peloponnesus would be practically secured against a Persian attack, defended at once by a victorious navy and the fortifications of the Isthmus. The result would be that the Peloponnesians would refuse to take any further part in the defence of northern Greece and would leave Athens a prey to the army of Mardonius. It was therefore the policy of the Athenians to keep the fleet inactive until the war should have been decided by a battle on land; and for this reason they equipped only a few of their ships.

Mardonius, well aware of this fatal division of interests between the Athenians and Peloponnesians, made a politic attempt to withdraw Athens from the Greek league. He sent an honourable ambassador, King Alexander of Macedon himself, with the most generous offers. He undertook to repair all the injuries suffered by Athens from the Persian occupation, to help her to gain new territory, and asked only for her alliance as an equal and independent power. In a desolated land, amid the ruins of their city and its temples, knowing well that their allies, indifferent to the fate of Attica, were busy in completing the walls of Isthmus, the Athenians might be sorely tempted to lend an ear to these seductive overtures. Had they done so, the fate of Peloponnesus would have been sealed,—as the Lacedaemonians knew. Accordingly envoys were sent from Sparta to counteract the negotiations of Alexander, and to offer Athens material help in the privations which she was suffering. Tempting as the proposals of Mardonius sounded, and good reason as they had to depend little on the co-operation of their allies, the Athenians were constrained by that instinct of freedom which made them a great people, to decline the Persian offer. “Tell Mardonius,” they said to Alexander, “that the Athenians say: so long as the sun moves in his present course, we will never come to terms with Xerxes.” This answer utters the spirit of Europe in the “eternal question” between the East and West—the spirit of the Senate when Hannibal was at the gates of Rome, the spirit of Roman and Goth when they met the riders of Attila on the Catalaunian Plain.

Thus the embassy of Alexander ought to have strengthened rather than weakened the Greek league. It ought to have made the Lacedaemonians more actively conscious of the importance of Athenian co-operation, and consequently readier to co-operate with Athens. It enabled Athens to exert stronger pressure on the Peloponnesians, with a view to the defence of northern Greece; and the Spartan envoys promised that an army should march into Boeotia. But still stronger pressure was needed to overcome the selfish policy of the Peloponnesians. Soon after the embassy of Alexander they had completed the walling of the Isthmus, and, feeling secure, they took no thought of fulfilling their promise. The Spartans alleged in excuse the festival of the Hyacinthia, just as the year before they had pleaded the Carnea. And in the meantime Mardonius had set his army in motion and advanced into Boeotia, with the purpose of reoccupying Attica. Once more the Athenians had been cruelly deceived by their allies; once more they had to leave their land and remove their families and property to the refuge of Salamis. Mardonius reached Athens without burning or harrying; he still hoped to detach the Athenians from the Greek cause; herein lay his best chance of success. If they would now accept his former offers he would retreat from their land, leaving it unravaged. But even at this extremity, under the bitter disappointment of the ill-faith of their allies, the Athenians rejected the insidious propositions which were laid by an envoy before the Council of the Five Hundred at Salamis. Immediately the three northern states which had not yielded to the Mede, Athens, Megara, and Plataea, sent ambassadors to Sparta, to insist upon an army marching at once to oppose Mardonius in Attica—a tardy redemption of their promises—with the threat that otherwise there would be nothing for it but to come to terms with the foe. Even now the narrow Peloponnesian policy of the Ephors almost betrayed Greece. For ten days, it is said, they postponed answering the ambassadors, and would have ultimately refused to do anything, but for the intervention of a man of Tegea, named Chileos, who impressively pointed out that the alliance of the Athenian naval power with the Persians would render the Isthmian fortifications on which the Ephors relied absolutely useless. One would have fancied that this was obvious even to an Ephor, without a prophet from Tegea to teach him. However it happened, the Lacedaemonian government suddenly changed its policy and dispatched a force of 5000 Spartans, each attended by some Helots, to northern Greece. Never since, never perhaps before, did so large a body of Spartan citizens take the field at once. They were followed by 5000 perioeci, each attended by one Helot. It was clear that Sparta had risen at last to an adequate sense of the jeopardy of the Peloponnesus. The command was entrusted to Pausanias, who was acting as regent for his child-cousin Pleistarchus, son of the hero of Thermopylae. At the Isthmus, the Lacedaemonian army was joined by the troops of the Peloponnesian allies, and by contingents from Euboea, Aegina, and western Greece; in the Megarid they were reinforced by the Megarians, and at Eleusis by Aristides in command of 8000 Athenians and 600 Plataeans. It was entirely an army of foot soldiers, and the total number, including light armed troops, may have approached 70,000. The task of leading this host devolved upon Pausanias.

The strong fortress of Thebes, which he had abundantly supplied of with provisions, was the base of Mardonius; and once the Greek army was in the field, he could not run the risk of having his communications with his base broken off, and finding himself shut up in Attica, a land exhausted by the devastation of the preceding autumn. Accordingly he withdrew into Boeotia, having completed the ruin of Athens, and having sent a detachment to make a demonstration in the Megarid. He did not take the direct route to Thebes, but marching northward to Decelea and by the north side of Mount Parnes he reached Tanagra and the plain of the Asopus. Marching up this stream, westward, he came to the spot where it is crossed by the road from Athens to Thebes, at the point where that road descends from the heights of Cithaeron. The river Asopus was the boundary between the Theban and Plataean territories, and the destruction of Plataea was probably an object of the Persians. But the main purpose of Mardonius in posting himself on the Asopus was that he might fight with Thebes behind him. The Persians had every cause to be sanguine. Not only had they superior, though not overwhelmingly superior, forces, but they had a general who was far abler than any commander on the side of the Greeks. Mardonius was not anxious to bring on a battle. He fully realised that his true strategy was to do as little as possible; he knew that the longer the army of the Greeks remained in the field, the more would its cohesion be relaxed through the jealousies and dissensions of the various contingents. We need not take too seriously the story which the Greeks were afterwards fain to believe, that at this moment there was a certain dispiritedness and foreboding of disaster in the Persian camp. An anecdote told by one of the guests at a Theban banquet was thought to illustrate this gloomy mood. Attaginus, a Theban general, made a feast in honour of Mardonius. A hundred guests were present, arranged on double couches, a Persian and a Boeotian on each. Thersander of Orchomenus was among the guests, and in after-days he told the historian Herodotus that his Persian couch­fellow spoke these words to him: “Since we have now shared the same table and wine, I wish to leave thee a memorial of my opinion; that being forewarned thou mayest look to thine own welfare. Seest thou these Persians feasting,—and the host which we left encamped by the river? In a little while thou shalt see few of all these remaining.” The Persian shed tears as he spoke, and Thersander rejoined: “It behoves thee to tell this to Mardonius”; but the Persian said: “Stranger, man cannot avert what God hath ordained. No one would believe me. Many of us Persians know it and follow the army under constraint. No human affliction is worse than this, to know and to be helpless.”

Mardonius had taken up his position and constructed a fortification near the bridge of the Asopus, before the Greeks had crossed Cithaeron. He was acting on the defensive, but it was the defensive strategy of a superior army, the inactivity of a master. In this respect the campaign of the second year of the war is sharply distinguished from the campaign of the year before. At Thermopylae, the Persians were attacking, their objective being Boeotia and Attica; the Greeks were on the defensive. At Salamis, the Persians were again the aggressors, their objective being the Isthmus; the Greeks were again on the defensive. But in the campaign of Plataea the positions are reversed. The Greeks are now taking the offensive; their objective is Thebes; and the Persians are barring their way.


Sect. 7. Battle of Plataea

The field on which the fate of Greece was decided is bounded on the north by the river Asopus, on the south by Mount Cithaeron. The town of Plataea stood in the south-west of this space, on the most westerly of six ridges which connect the lower heights of the mountain with the plain. Three roads descended here into Boeotia: on the extreme east the road from Athens to Thebes; in the centre, that from Athens to Plataea; from the west, that from Megara to Plataea. The Greek army took the most easterly way, which after a gradual ascent on the Attic side reaches the fortress of Eleutherae and the pass of the Oak’s Heads, and then descends steeply into the Boeotian land. They found when they reached the other side that the road passed through the Persian camp, and they were forced to take up a position at the foot of the pass. Their right wing, consisting of the Spartans and Tegeates, rested on the high bastion of the mountain. which rises above the town of Erythrae; their centre on lower ground close to the town; and the left wing, where the Athenians and Megarians were posted, was advanced right down to the foot of the descent. Thus the position of the Greeks was astride the road to Thebes. The only assailable point was the left wing, and against it Mardonius sent cavalry under the command of Masistius. Sore bestead by the darts and arrows of the enemy, and with no cavalry to aid them, the Megarians required succour. Three hundred Athenians (for the Athenians were also on the left wing) went down to the scene of battle, and the fortune of the day was at last changed when the general Masistius, a conspicuous figure in the fight, fell from his wounded charger. He was slain with difficulty by a spear which pierced his eye, for his armour was impenetrable; and the Persian horsemen, after a furious and fruitless charge to recover the body of their leader, abandoned the attack. The camp of the Persians was filled with loud wailing and lamentation—echoing, says Herodotus, all over Boeotia—for the death of Masistius.

But this success was far from dealing any solid advantage to the Greeks or serious injury to their foes. The Persians were well content to remain where they were; their great host and their fortifications still barred the road. Pausanias, intent on carrying out his purpose of striking at Thebes, and aware that delay would disorganise his army and play his opponent’s game, decided to cross the Asopus farther to the west, by the road which connected Plataea with Thebes. In order to do this he moved north-westward along the spurs of Cithaeron, past the towns of Erythrae and Hysiae. To understand the operations which ensued, it is to be observed that the region between Cithaeron and the Asopus falls into two parts separated by a depression in the ground. The southern part is marked by the six ridges already mentioned and the streams which divide them; while the northern tract is also hilly, being marked by three ridges between which rivulets flow into the Asopus. Westward the depression opens out into flat land, the only flat land here, which stretches northward from Plataea to the river and is traversed by the road to Thebes.

In the movement towards this road, the Athenians who formed the left wing were naturally the vaward, and it was upon them that the trying duty would devolve of first crossing the bridge in the face of Persian cavalry. The only chance of accomplishing the general’s object of cutting off the enemy from their base lay in a rapid advance, before Mardonius should have time to extend his position westward and block the Plataean road. Upon the Athenians lies the responsibility of having thrown away this chance. It can only have been due to their delays and hesitations that the river was never crossed. The whole army halted near the eastern limit of the flat land, hard by the spring of Gargaphia, which afforded an abundant supply of fresh water, and the temple of the hero Androcrates. In this position it was screened by the rising ground from the view of the Persians on the other side of the river. Pausanias was now in an awkward situation. He had failed to accomplish his strategic object; he had exchanged an almost impregnable for a weak position; and he had lost the control of the eastern passes across Mount Cithaeron. The Persian general, as soon as the Greeks had left their first position, promptly occupied the passes; and cut off a provision train which was on its way to supply the Greek army. The western road was an insufficient path of communication, and it was clearly desirable to recover command of the main road. Pausanias could no longer attempt the offensive.

It would seem that the Greeks remained about two days inactive in this weak position, harassed by the Persian cavalry, which crossed the river, hovered on the ridges, discharged darts into the camp, and finally succeeded in choking up the waters of the Gargaphia spring. The only course open to the Greeks was to fall back upon the mountain, and either take up a position on the ridges between Hysiae and Plataea, or seek to regain their former position at the foot of the main pass. Pausanias held a council of war, and it was determined that the Lacedaemonians and right wing should move eastward to recover command of the eastern pass. This movement was to be carried out at night, and was to be covered and supported by the rest of the army who were to fall back towards the mountain. A little to the south-east of Plataea, a spur of Cithaeron was inclosed by the two branches of a stream which met again at the foot of the ridge and went by the name of the Island. The centre and the left were instructed to retreat to this ridge, whereon they would be out of the reach of the enemy’s cavalry. But the scheme was ill carried out. The troops of the centre, whether they mistook their orders or were deceived by the darkness, did not reach the Island, but took up their post in front of the temple of Hera which was just outside the walls of Plataea. The Athenians, for some unexplained reason, failed to obey orders, and remained where they were in a dangerous and isolated position. The Lacedaemonians themselves also wasted the precious hours of the short night. Their delay is ascribed to the obstinacy of the commander of one of the Spartan divisions, who had not been present at the council of war, and refused to obey the order to retreat. His name was Amompharetus; he was a man of blameless valour, and Pausanias could not persuade himself to leave him behind. But the morning was approaching, and at length Pausanias began his march, convinced that his stub­born captain would follow when he found himself deserted. And so it fell out. When they had moved about ten stades, the Spartans saw that Amompharetus was coming, and waited for him. But the day had dawned; the Persians had perceived that the Greek position was deserted, and Mardonius decided that now was the moment to attack when the forces of the enemy were divided. His cavalry came up and prevented the Lacedaemonians from proceeding. It was on the slopes under Hysiae, near the modem village of Kriekouki, that Pausanias was compelled to turn and withstand the Persian horsemen, who were speedily supported by the main body advancing under Mardonius himself. The Persians threw up a light barricade of their wicker shields, from behind which they discharged innumerable arrows. Under this fire the Greeks hesitated; for the victims were unfavourable. At length Pausanias, looking towards the temple of Hera, invoked the goddess; and after his prayer the prophets obtained good omens from the sacrifices. The Lacedaemonians no longer held back. Along with the Tegeates who were with them they carried the barricade and pressed the Persians backward towards the temple of Demeter which stood on a high acclivity above them. In this direction the battle raged hotly; but the discipline of the best spearmen of Greece approved itself brilliantly; and, when Mardonius fell, the battle was decided.

The Lacedaemonians and Tegeates had borne the brunt of the day. At the first attack, Pausanias had dispatched a hasty messenger to the Athenians. As they marched to the scene they were attacked by the Greeks of the left wing of the enemy’s army, who effectually hindered them from marching farther. Meanwhile the tidings had reached the rest of the Greek army at Plataea, that a battle was being fought and that Pausanias was winning it. They hastened to the scene, but the action was practically decided before their arrival; some of them were cut off, on the way, by Theban cavalry. The defeated host fled back across the Asopus to their fortified camp; the Greeks pursued, and stormed it The tent of Mardonius was plundered by the men of Tegea, who dedicated in the temple of Athena Aiea in their city the brass manger of his horses; while his throne with silver feet and his scimitar were kept by the Athenians on the Acropolis, along with the breastplate of Masistius, as memorials of the fateful day. The body of Mardonius was respected by Pausanias, but it was mysteriously stolen, and none ever knew the hand that buried it. The slain Greek warriors, among whom was the brave Amompharetus, were buried before the gates of Plataea, and the honour of celebrating their memory by annual sacrifice was assigned to the Plataeans, who also agreed to commemorate the day of the deliverance of Hellas by a “Feast of Freedom” every four years. Pausanias called the host together, and in the name of the Spartans and all the confederacy guaranteed to Plataea political independence and the inviolability of her town and territory. The hour of triumph for Plataea was an hour of humiliation for Thebes. Ten days after the battle the army advanced against the chief Boeotian city and demanded the surrender of the leaders of the medizing party. On a refusal, Pausanias laid siege to the place, but presently the leaders were given up, by their own wish, for they calculated on escaping punishment by the influence of bribery. But Pausanias caused them to be executed, without trial, at Corinth. A Theban poet who sympathised with the national effort of Hellas might well feel “distressed in soul.”

The battle had been won simply and solely by the discipline and prowess of the Spartan hoplites. The plans of the exceptionally able commander, who was matched indeed with a commander abler than himself, were frustrated once and again through the want of unity and cohesion in his army, through the want apparently of tactical skill—most of all perhaps through the half-heartedness of the Athenians. Never do the Athenians appear in such an ill light, as in the campaign of Cithaeron; and in no case have they exhibited so strikingly their faculty of refashioning history, in no case so successfully imposed their misrepresentations on the faith of posterity. They had no share in the victory; but they told the whole story afterwards so as to exalt themselves and to disparage the Spartans. They represented the night movements planned by Pausanias as a retreat before an expected attack of the enemy, and they invented an elaborate tale to explain how the attack came to be expected. Mardonius, they said, growing impatient of the delay, called a council of war, and it was decided to abandon defensive tactics and provoke a battle. Then Alexander of Macedon showed at this critical moment that his real sympathies were with Hellas and not with his barbarian allies. He rode down to the outposts of the Athenians, and, shouting, we must suppose, across the river, revealed the decision of the Persian council of war. Thus made aware of the Persian resolve to risk a battle, the Spartans proposed to the Athenians to change wings, in order that the victors of Marathon might fight with the Persians, whose ways of warfare they had already experienced, while the Spartans themselves could deal better with the Boeotians and other Greeks, with whose methods of fighting they were familiar. The proposal was agreed to, and as day dawned the change was being effected. But the enemy perceived it, and immediately began to make a corresponding change in their own array. Seeing their plan frustrated, the Greeks desisted from completing it; and both the adversaries resumed their original positions. Mardonius then sent a message to the Lacedaemonians, complaining that he had been deeply disappointed in them, for though they had the repute of never fleeing or deserting their post, they had now attempted to place the Athenians in the place of danger. He challenged them to stand forth as champions for the whole Greek host and fight against an equal number of Persians. To this proposal the Spartans made no reply. Then Mardonius began his cavalry operations which led to the retreat of the Greeks from their second position. The three striking incidents of this malicious tale, the night-visit of Alexander, the fruitless attempt of the Spartans to shirk the responsibility of their post on the right wing, the challenge of Mardonius, are all improbable in themselves; but nevertheless this story was circulated and believed, and has received a sort of consecration in the pages of Herodotus.


Sect. 8. Battle of Mycale and Capture of Sestos

The battle of Cithaeron shares with Salamis the dignity of being decisive battles in the world’s history. Pindar links them together as the great triumphs of Sparta and Athens respectively, battles “wherein the Medes of the bent bows were sore afflicted.” Notwithstanding the immense disadvantage of want of cavalry, the Lacedaemonians had turned at Plataea a retreat into a victory. The remarkable feature of the battle was that it was decided by a small part of either army. Sparta and Tegea were the actual victors; and on the Persian side, Artabazus, at the head of 40,000 men, had not entered into the action at all. On the death of Mardonius, that general immediately faced about and began without delay the long march back to the Hellespont. Never again was Persia to make a serious attempt against the liberty of European Greece; “a god,” said a poet of the day—and the poet was a Theban—“turned away the stone of Tantalus imminent above our heads.” For the following century and a half, the dealings between Greece and Persia will only affect the western fringe of Asia, and then the balance of power will have so completely shifted that Persia will succumb to a Greek conqueror, and Alexander of Macedon will achieve against the Asiatic monarchy what Xerxes failed to achieve against the free states of Europe.

One memorial of this victory of Europe over Asia has survived till today. The votive offering which the Greeks sent to Delphi was a tripod of gold set upon a pillar of three brazen serpents, with the names of the Greek peoples who offered it inscribed upon the base. The pillar still stands in Byzantium, whither it was transferred after that city had been renamed Constantinople by her second founder. The immense booty which was found in the Persian camp was divided, when portions had been set apart for the gods and for the general who had led the Greeks to victory. 

The achievement of the Hellenic army under Mount Cithaeron, which rescued Greek Europe from the invader, was followed in a few days by an achievement of the Hellenic fleet which delivered the Asiatic Greeks from their master. The Greek fleet was still at Delos. We saw that it was the policy of the Athenians to remain inactive at sea until a battle had been fought on land. For a naval victory would probably have meant the retreat of the Spartans from northern Greece, on the calculation that the enemy would not attack Peloponnesus without the co-operation of the fleet. But the armament at Delos was drawn into action by a message from the Samians, seeking to join the Greek league, and begging help against the Persian. For the Persian fleet was at Samos, and hard by at Cape Mycale a large Persian army, including many Ionian troops, was encamped. The Samian request was granted; Leotychidas sailed to the island, and on his approach the Persian ships withdrew to the shelter of Cape Mycale and their army. The Greeks landed; attacked, carried, and burned the enemy’s camp. Their victory was decided by the desertion of the Ionians, who won their freedom on this memorable day. Mycale followed so hard upon Plataea, that the belief easily arose that the two victories were won on the same afternoon. There is more to be said for the tradition that as the Athenians and their comrades assailed the entrenchments on the shore of Mycale the tidings of Plataea reached them and heartened them in their work.

The Athenians and Ionians, led by the admiral Xanthippus, followed up the great victory by vigorous action in the Hellespont, while the Peloponnesians with Leotychidas, content with what they had achieved, returned home. The difference between the Athenian and the Spartan character, between the cautious policy of Sparta and the imperial instinct of Athens, is here distinctly and, it is not too much to say, momentously expressed. The Lacedaemonians were unwilling to concern themselves further with the Greeks of the eastern and north-eastern Aegean; the Athenians were both capable of taking a Panhellenic point of view, and moved by the impulse to extend their own influence. The strong fortress of Sestos, which stands by the straits of Helle, was beleaguered and taken; and with this event Herodotus closes his history of the Persian wars. The independence of the Hellespontine regions was a natural consequence of the victory of Mycale, but its historical significance lies in the fact that it was accomplished under the auspices of Athens. The fall of Sestos is the beginning of that Athenian empire, to which Pisistratus and the elder Miltiades had pointed the way.


Sect. 9. Geron Tyrant of Syracuse


While the eastern Greeks were securing their future development against the Persian foe, and were affirming their possession of the Aegean waters, the western Greeks had been called upon to defend themselves against that Asiatic power which had established itself in the western Mediterranean and was a constant threat to their existence. The Greeks had indeed, on their side, proved a formidable check and hindrance to the expansion of the dominion and trade of Carthage. The endeavours of this vigorous Phoenician state to secure the queen-ship of the western seas, from Africa to Gaul, from the coast of Spain to the shores of Italy, depended largely for their success on her close connexion and identity of interests with her sister-towns in Sicily; and secondly, on her alliance with the strong pirate power of Etruria. The friendly Phoenician ports of western Sicily—Motya, Panormus, and Solus—were an indispensable aid for the African city, both for the maintenance of her communications with Tuscany and for the prosecution of designs upon Sardinia and Corsica. In Corsican waters as well as in Sicily, the Phoenician clashed with the Greek. It was in the first quarter of the sixth century that Dorian adventurers from Cnidus and Rhodes sought to gain a foothold in the barbarian corner of Sicily, at the very gates of the Phoenicians. The name of their leader was Pentathlus. He attempted to plant a settlement on Cape Lilybaeum, hard by Motya,—a direct menace to the communications between Motya and Carthage. The Phoenicians gathered in arms, and they were supported by their Elymian neighbours; the Greeks were defeated and Pentathlus was slain. It was not the destiny of Lilybaeum to be the place of a Hellenic city; but long afterwards it was to become illustrious as the site of a Punic stronghold which would take the place of Motya, when Motya herself had been destroyed by a Greek avenger of Pentathlus. After their defeat the men of Pentathlus, casting about for another dwelling-place, betook themselves to the volcanic archipelago off the north coast of Sicily, and founded Lipara in the largest of the islands. This little state was organised on communistic principles. The soil was public property: a certain portion of the citizens were set apart to till it for the common use; the rest were employed in keeping watch and ward on the coasts of their little home against the descents of Tuscan rovers. This system was indeed subsequently modified: the land was portioned out in lots, but was redistributed every twenty years.

The attempt of Pentathlus, the occupation of the Liparaean group, the recent settlement of Acragas, pressed upon Carthage the need of stemming the Greek advance. Accordingly we find her sending an army to Sicily. The commander of this expedition, precursor of many a greater, was Malchus; and it is possible that he was opposed by Phalaris, who established a tyranny at Acragas. There was a long war, c. 560-50, of which we know nothing except that the invader was successful and Greek territory was lost to the Phoenician. In the northern seas Carthage was also confronted by the Greeks. The Phocaeans of Massalia planted colonies and won influence on the coast of Spain. We are told that in the days of Cambyses “the Phocaeans gained repeated victories over the Carthaginians by sea.” Moreover the new Phocaean settlement at Alalia in Corsica was a challenge to Carthage in what she regarded as her own domain. But Greek Alalia was short-lived. Carthage and her powerful Etruscan allies nearly annihilated the Phocaean fleet; and the crews which escaped were only able to rescue their families and goods. Alalia was deserted; Corsica fell under the power of the Etruscans, and the coasts of Sardinia were gradually appropriated by Carthage. Thus the chance of establishing a chain of Greek settlements between Massalia and Sicily was frustrated.

It now remained for Carthage to establish and extend Phoenician power in Sicily. We have seen how Dorieus, son of a Spartan king, made an attempt to do somewhat the same thing which the Cnidian adventurer had essayed—to gain a footing in Sicily within the Phoenician circle. He too failed; but such incidents brought home to Carthage the need of dealing another and a mightier blow at the rival power in Sicily. She was occupied with the conquest of Sardinia and with a Libyan war, and the struggle was postponed; but the hour came at last, and the Carthaginians put forth all their power to annihilate colonial Greece at the very time when the Great King had poured forth the resources of Asia against the mother-country. It was, in the first instance, an accident that the two struggles happened at the same moment. The causes which led to the one were independent of the causes which led to the other. But the exact moment chosen by Carthage for her attack upon Sicily was probably determined by the attack of Xerxes upon Greece; and although the two struggles ran each its independent course, there is no reason to question the statement that the courts of Susa and Carthage exchanged messages, through the mediation of the Phoenicians, and were conscious of acting in concert against the same enemy.

In the second decade of the fifth century Greek Sicily was dominated by four tyrants. Anaxilas of Rhegium had made himself master of Zancle, which from this time forward is known as Messana, and he thus controlled both sides of the straits, which he secured against the passage of Etruscan pirates. Terillus, his father-in-law, was tyrant of Himera. Over against this family group in the north stood another family group in the south: Gelon of Syracuse and his father-in-law Theron of Acragas.

Gelon had been the general of Hippocrates, a tyrant of Gela, who had extended his sway, whether as lord or over-lord, over Naxos, Zancle, and other Greek cities, and had aimed at winning Syracuse. Hippocrates had defeated the Syracusans on the bank of Helorus, and would have seized the city, if it had not been for the intervention of Corinth and Corcyra. But Syracuse was forced to cede her dependency, Camarina, to the victor. Hippocrates died in besieging Hybla; and the men of Gela had no mind to allow his sons to continue their father’s tyranny. But Gelon, son of Deinomenes, a general who had often led the cavalry of Gela to victory, espoused the cause of his master’s heirs, and as soon as he had gained possession of the city brushed them aside and took the tyranny for himself. The new lord of Gela achieved what his predecessors had vainly striven to accomplish. The Gamori or nobles of Syracuse had been driven out by the commons, and they appealed to Gelon to restore them. The Syracusan people, unable to resist the forces which Gelon brought against them, made terms with him, and he established his power in Syracuse over oligarchs and democrats alike. It seems probable that Gelon was either at once or at a later stage of his rule appointed formally “General with full powers”; we find his brother Hieron, who succeeded to his position, addressed by the poet Bacchylides as “General” of the Syracusan horsemen.

The tyrant of Gela now abandoned his own city and took up his abode in Syracuse, making it the centre of a dominion which embraced the eastern part of the island. Gela had for a short space enjoyed the rank of the first of Sicilian cities; she now surrendered it to Syracuse, which was marked out by its natural site for strength and domination. Gelon may be called the second founder of Syracuse. He joined the Island of Ortygia with the fortified height of Achradina which looked down upon it. In the course of the sixth century a mole had been constructed connecting the Island with the mainland, so that the city, though it was still called the Island, had become strictly a peninsula. Gelon built a wall from the Achradina fort down to the shore of the Great Harbour. Thus Achradina and Ortygia were included within the same circuit of wall; Achradina became part of the city, Ortygia remained the “acropolis.” The chief gate of Syracuse was now in the new wall of Gelon, close to the Harbour; and near it a new agora was laid out, for the old agora in the Island no longer sufficed. Hard by docks were built, for Syracuse was to become a naval power. She was now by far the greatest Greek city in the west.

Gelon, belonging to a proud and noble family, sympathised and most willingly consorted with men of his own class, and looked with little favour on the people, whom he described in a famous phrase as “a thankless neighbour.” He held court at Syracuse like a king, surrounded by men of noble birth. He tolerated the Syracusan commons; he was not unpopular with them; but he showed elsewhere what his genuine feelings were. One of his first needs was to find inhabitants to fill the spaces of his enlarged town. For this purpose he transplanted men on a large scale from other places of his dominions. His own town Gela was sacrificed to the new capital; the half of its citizens were removed to Syracuse. Harder was the fate of luckless Camarina, which was now for the second time blotted out from the number of Greek cities. Two generations had hardly passed since she had been swept away by the Syracusan republic; and now the Syracusan tyrant carried off all the inhabitants and made them burgesses of the ruling state. Megara, the next-door neighbour of Syracuse on the north, and Euboea higher up the coast, also contributed to swell the population of Gelon’s capital. Megara became an outpost of Syracuse, while Euboea was so entirely blotted out that its very site is uncertain. But in both these cases the policy of Gelon strikingly displayed the prejudice of his class. He admitted the nobles of Megara and Euboea to Syracusan citizenship; he sold the mass of the commons in the slave market. In abolishing cities and transplanting populations Gelon set an example which we shall see followed by later tyrants. He also invited new settlers from elder Greece, and he gave the citizenship to 10,000 mercenary soldiers.

Gelon was supported in his princely power by his three brothers, Hieron, Polyzalus, and Thrasybulus. He entered into close friendship with Theron, his fellow-tyrant, who made Acragas in wealth a power second only to Syracuse itself. Theron, like Gelon, was a noble, belonging to the family of the Emmenids, and his rule was said to have been mild and just. Gelon married Damareta, the daughter of Theron ; and Theron married a daughter of Polyzalus. The brilliant lords of Syracuse and Acragas, thus joined by close bonds, were presently associated in the glorious work of delivering Greek Sicily from the terrible danger which was about to come against her from over-seas.


Sect. 10. The Carthaginian Invasion of Sicily, and the Battle of Himera

A quarrel between Theron of Acragas and Terillus tyrant of Himera led up to the catastrophe which might easily have proved fatal to the freedom of all the Sicilian Greeks. The ruler of Acragas crossed the island and drove Terillus out of Himera. The exiled tyrant had a friend in Anaxilas of Rhegium; but Rhegium was no match for the combined power of Acragas and Syracuse, and so Terillus sought the help of Carthage, the common enemy of all.

Carthage was only waiting for the opportunity. She had been making preparations for a descent on Sicily, and the appeal of Terillus merely determined the moment and the point of her attack. Terillus urging the Phoenitians against Himeras plays the same part as Hippias urging the Persians against Athens, but in neither case is a tyrant’s fall the cause of the invasion. The motive of the Carthaginian expedition against Sicily at this particular epoch is to be found in a far higher range of politics than the local affairs of Himera or the interests of a petty despot. There can hardly be a doubt that the Great King and the Carthaginian republic were acting in concert, and that it was deliberately planned to attack, independently but at the same moment, eastern and western Greece. While the galleys of the elder Phoenicia, under their Persian master, sailed to crush the elder Hellas, the galleys of the younger Phoenician city would cross over on her own account against the younger Hellas. In the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon, Xerxes had willing intermediaries to arrange with Carthage the plan of enslaving or annihilating Hellas. The western island mattered little to Xerxes; but it mattered greatly to him that the lord of Syracuse should be hindered from sending a powerful succour in men and ships to the mother-country. We have already the seen how the mother-country sought the help of Ge]on and how the danger of Sicily forced him to refuse.

When the preparations were complete, Hamilcar, the shophet of Carthage, sailed with a large armament and landed at Panormus ; for the call of Terillus determined that accompanied by the warships, and proceeded to besiege thet city, which Theron was himself guarding with a large force. Hamilcar made two camps in front of the town. The sea camp lay on the low ground between the hill of Himera and the beach: the land camp stretched along the low hills on the western side of the town. A sally of the besieged resulted in loss, and Theron sent a message to Syracuse to hasten the coming of his son-in-law. With 50,000 foot-soldiers and 5000 horsemen Gelon marched to the rescue without delay. He approached the town on the east side and for

The decisive battle was brought about in a strange way, if we can trust the story. Hamilcar determined to enlist the gods of his foes on his own side. He appointed a day for a great sacrifice to Poseidon near the shore of the sea. For this purpose it was needful to have Greeks present who understood how the sacrifice should be performed. Accordingly Hamilcar wrote to Selinus, which had become a dependency of Carthage, bidding that city send horsemen to the Punic camp by a fixed day. The letter fell into the hands of Gelon, and he conceived a daring stratagem. On the morning of the appointed day a band of Syracusan horsemen stood at the gate of the sea camp, professing to be the expected contingent from Selinus. The Carthaginians could not distinguish strangers of Syracuse from strangers of Selinus, and they were admitted without suspicion. They cut down Hamilcar by the altar of Poseidon, and they set fire to the ships. All this was visible from the high parts of the town above them, and men posted there signalled to Gelon the success of the plan. The Greek commander immediately led his troops round the south side of the city against the land camp of the enemy. There the battle was fought, a long and desperate struggle, in which the scale was finally turned in favour of the Greeks by a body of men which Theron sent round to take the barbarians in the rear. The victory was complete; the great expedition was utterly destroyed; the chief himself was slain.

But of the death of that chieftain the Carthaginians had another and a far grander tale to tell. This tale does not explain how the battle was brought about. It simply gives us a splendid picture. The battle rages “from the morning till the late evening,” and during that long day Hamilcar stands at the altar of Baal, in his camp by the sea. A great fire devours the burnt-offerings to the god; victim after victim, whole bodies of beasts and perhaps of men, are flung into the flames, and the omens are favourable to Carthage. But as he is pouring out a drink-offering, he looks forth, and behold his army is put to flight. The moment for a supreme sacrifice has come; he leaps into the fire and the flames consume him. The offering of his life did not retrieve the day; but hereafter Himera was destined to pay a heavy penalty for the death of Hamilcar.

The common significance of the battles of Salamis and Himera, or the repulse of Asia from Europe, was appreciated at the time and naively expressed in the fanciful tradition that the two battles were fought on the same day. But Himera, unlike Salamis, was immediately followed by a treaty of peace. Carthage paid the lord of Syracuse 2000 talents as a war indemnity, but this was a small treasury compared with the booty taken in the camp. Out of a portion of that spoil a beautiful issue of large silver coins was minted and called “Damaretean,” after Gelon’s wife; and some pieces of this memorial of the great deliverance of Sicily are preserved.


Sect. 11. Syracuse and Acragas under Hieron and Theron

Theron and Acragas had played an honourable part in the deliverance of Sicily, though it was a part which was second to that of Gelon and Syracuse. Theron survived the victory by eight years, and during that time he was engaged in doing for Acragas what had been already done for Syracuse by his fellow-tyrant. The enlargement of the Syracusan and the Acragantine cities was effected by opposite processes. Syracuse had sprung up a hill; Acragas which was perched aloft on a height sprang down the slope. The enlarged city was encompassed by a wall, of which nature had already done half the building. The most striking feature of the new city was the southern wall, stretching between the rivers, and lined by a row of temples. Theron laid the foundations of the temples along the wall; but it was not till long after his death that they were completed, and the line of holy buildings shone forth in all its glory. In all this work, and in the watercourses which he also constructed, Theron had slave-labour in abundance—the barbarians who had been captured after the battle of Himera. Theron placed rescued Himera under the government of his son Thrasydaeus, who however, unlike Theron himself, proved an oppressor and was hated by the citizens.

Meanwhile Gelon died, and left the fruits of his enterprise and statesmanship to be enjoyed by his brother Hieron. While Hieron was to have the sovereign power, Gelon desired that Polyzalus, whom he ordered to marry his widow Damareta, should have the supreme command of the Syracusan army. The idea of this dual system was unwise; and it necessarily led to fraternal discord. Polyzalus was popular at Syracuse, and his double connexion with Theron secured him the support of that tyrant. To Hieron he seemed a dangerous rival, and in the end he was compelled to seek refuge at Acragas. This led to an open breach between Hieron and Theron, but it did not come to actual war, and it is said that the lyric poet Simonides, who was a favourite at both courts, acted as peacemaker. War between the two chief cities of Sicily did not come till after Theron’s death, and then it brought freedom to Acragas.

Hieron may be said to have completed the work of Himera the defeat which he inflicted upon the Etruscans at Cyme. Etruscans were the other rival power which, besides the Carthaginians, threatened the “Greater Greece” of the west. The possession of the northern outpost of Hellas on the Italian coast, the colony of Cyme, was one of the great objects of Etruscan politics; and, three or four years after the accession of Hieron, it was pressed hard by a Tuscan squadron. Hieron was a states­man of a sufficiently large view to answer the prayer of Cyme for help. The Syracusan fleet sailed to the spot and defeated the besiegers. From this time the Etruscan power rapidly declined and ceased to menace the development of western Greece. From the booty Hieron sent a bronze helmet to Olympia; and this precious memorial of one of the glorious exploits of Greece is now in the great London collection of antiquities. More precious still is the song in which Pindar of Thebes immortalised the victory.

It is perhaps from the hymns of Pindar that we win the most lively impression of the wealth and culture of the courts of Sicily in the fifth century. Pindar, like other illustrious poets of the day, Simonides and Bacchylides, and Aeschylus, visited Sicily, to bask in the smiles, and receive the gifts, of the tyrant. The lord of Syracuse—or king, as he aspired to be styled—sent his race-horses and chariots to contend in the great games at Olympia and Delphi, and he employed the most gifted lyric poets to celebrate these victories in lordly odes. Pindar and Bacchylides were sometimes gaset to celebrate the same victory in rival strains. These poets give us an impression of the luxury and magnificence of the royal courts and the generosity of the royal victors. Syracuse, on whose adornment the tyrants could spend the Punic spoils, and Acragas, “fairest of the cities of men,” seemed wonderful to the visitors from elder Greece. Yet amid all their own magnificence and amid their absorbing political activity, the princes of this younger western world coveted above all things that their names should be glorious in the mother country. They still looked to the holy place of Delphi as the central sanctuary of the world, and they enriched it with costly dedications. The golden tripod, which Gelon and his brothers dedicated from Punic treasure, became, like the other golden things of Delphi, the loot of robbers; but we are reminded of that fraternal union by a precious bronze charioteer, which was dug up recently in the ruins of the Delphic sanctuary. It was dedicated by Polyzalus, perhaps in honour of a Pythian victory.

It were easy to be blinded by the outward show of these princely tyrants, which the genius of Pindar has invested with a certain dignity. But Pindar, himself born of a noble family, cherished the ideas and prejudices of a bygone generation. He belonged to a class, he wrote chiefly for a class, whose day was past: nobles whose sole aim in life was to win victories at the public games. These men were out of sympathy with the new ideas and the political tendencies of their own age; they were belated survivals of an earlier society. Pindar sympathised with them. He liked aristocracies best; he accepted monarchy even in the form of tyranny; but democracy he regarded as the rule of a mob’s passions. The despots of Sicily and Cyrene supported the national games of Greece, and that was in truth their great merit in the eyes of the poet. The chariot race, the athletic contests, seen in the midst of a gay crowd, then the choral dance and song in honour of the victory, and the carouse, in the hall perhaps of some noble Aeginetan burgher, these were “the delightful things in Hellas” which to Pindar were the breath of life. He was religious to the heart’s core; and all these things were invested with the atmosphere of religion. But allowing for this, we feel that he takes the games too seriously, and that when Aeschylus was wrestling with the deep problems of life and death, the day was past for regarding an Olympian victory as the grandest thing in the world. We must not be beguiled by Pindar’s majestic art into ascribing to the tyrants any high moral purpose. It was enough that they should aspire to an Olympian crown, and incur the necessary out­lay, and seek immortality from the poet’s craft; the poet could hardly dare to demand a higher purpose.

Fair as the outside of a Syracusan state might seem to a favoured visitor who was entertained in the tyrant’s palace, underneath there was no lack of oppression and suspicion. The system of spies which Hieron organised to watch the lives of private citizens, tells its own tale. One of his most despotic acts was his dealing with the city of Catane. He deported all the inhabitants to Leontini, peopled the place with new citizens, and gave it the name of Aetna. His motive was partly vanity, partly selfish prudence. He aspired to be remembered and worshipped as the founder of a city; and he also intended Aetna to be a stronghold of refuge to himself or his dynasty, in case a day of jeopardy should come. His son Deinomenes was installed as “King of Aetna.” But the Dorian city of Aetna, so cruelly founded, though it was celebrated in lofty phrases by Pindar and had the still higher honour of supplying the motive of a play of Aeschylus, had but a short duration; it was soon to become Catane again.

At Acragas, the mild rule of Theron seems to have secured the love and trust of his fellow-citizens; but at Himera he showed what a tyrant might do, by slaughtering without any mercy those who had showed their discontent at the rule of his son. Neither the Syracusan nor the Acragantine dynasty endured long. After Theron’s death, Thrasydaeus misruled Acragas, as he had already misruled Himera. But for some unknown reason he had the folly to go to war with Hieron, who discomfited him in a hard-fought battle. This defeat led to his fall. Himera became independent, and Acragas adopted a free constitution. The deliverance of Syracuse came about five years later. When Hieron died, his brother Thrasybulus took the reins of government, and, being a less able and dexterous ruler than Hieron, he soon excited a revolution by his executions and confiscations. The citizens rose in a mass, and obtaining help from other Sicilian cities besieged the tyrant and his mercenaries in Syracuse. He was ultimately forced to surrender and retired into private life in a foreign land. Thus the tyranny at Syracuse came to an end, and the feast of Eleutheria was founded to preserve the memory of the dawn of freedom.

The rule of the despots seems to have wiped out the old feud between the nobles and the commons. But a new strife arose instead. The old citizens, nobles and commons alike, distrusted the new citizens, whom Gelon had gathered together from all quarters. A civil war broke out; for some time, the old citizens were excluded from both the Island and Achradina; but in the end all the strangers were driven out, and the democracy of Syracuse was securely established. One good thing the tyrants had done. They had obliterated the class distinctions which had existed before them; and thus the cities could now start afresh on the basis of political equality for all. The next half-century was a period of weal and prosperity for the republics of Sicily, especially for the greatest among them, Syracuse and Acragas, and for Selinus, freed from the Phoenician yoke. At Acragas the free people carried to completion the works which their beneficent tyrant had begun. The stately row of temples along the southern wall belongs to this period. “It was a grand conception to line the southern wall, the wall most open to the attacks of mortal enemies, with this wonderful series of holy places of the divine protectors of the city. It was a conception due, we may believe, in the first instance, to Theron, but which the democracy fully entered into and carried out.” But her sacred buildings brought less glory to Acragas than the name of the most illustrious of her sons. The poet and philosopher Empedocles was reared in what he describes as the “great town above the yellow river of Acragas.” He was not only a profound philosopher, an inspired poet, a skilful physician, but he had lent his hand to the reform of the constitution of his city. Unhappily his personality is lost in the dense covert of legends which quickly grew up around him. The true Empedocles who, banished from his home, died quietly in the Peloponnesus, becomes the seer and magician who hurled himself into the bowl of Aetna that he might become a god. A god indeed he proclaims himself to be, going about from city to city, crowned with Delphic wreaths, and worshipped by men and women.

For a time indeed the Siceliots were threatened with a remarkable danger, the revival of the native power of the Sicels. This revival was entirely due to the genius of one man, and the danger disappeared on his death. Ducetius organised a federation of the Sicel towns, and aspired to bring the Greek cities under Sicel rule. He displayed his talent in the foundation of new cities, which survived the failure of his schemes. His first settlement was on the hill-top of Menaenum, overlooking the sacred lake and temple of the Palici. As his power and ambitions grew, he descended from the hill and founded Palica close to the national sanctuary, to be the political capital of the nation. He captured Aetna, gained a victory over the Acragantines and Syracusans, but was subsequently defeated by Syracuse, and on this defeat his followers deserted him, and the fabric which he had reared collapsed. He boldly took refuge himself at the altar in the Syracusan market-place; his case was debated in the Assembly; and by an act of clemency, which we might hardly expect, he was spared and sent to Corinth. Five years later we find him again in Sicily, engaged in the congenial work of founding a third city, Kale Akte or Fairshore, on the northern coast, with the approbation of Syracuse. It is uncertain whether he dreamed of repeating his attempt at a national revival or had become convinced that the fortune of the Sicel lay in Hellenization. His foundations were more abiding than those of Hieron; one of them, Mineo, survives today. The career of Ducetius exhibited the decision of destiny that the Greek was to predominate in the island of the Sicels.


Sect. 12. Religious Movements in the Sixth Century

In the latter part of the sixth century, the expansion of the Persian power had suspended a stone of Tantalus over Hellas, and it seemed likely that Greek civilisation might be submerged in an oriental monarchy. We have seen how Greek generals, Greek spearmen, and Greek seamen averted this calamity. We have now to see how another danger was averted, a danger which, though it is not like the Persian invasion written large on the face of history, threatened Greece with a no less terrible disaster. This danger lay in the dissemination of a new religion, which, if it had gained the upper hand, as at one time it seemed likely to do, would have pressed with as dead and stifling a weight upon Greece as any oriental superstition. Spiritually the Greeks might have been annexed to the peoples of the orient.

The age of Solon witnessed not only a social and political movement among the masses in various parts of Greece, but also an intellectual and spiritual stirring. There was an intellectual dissatisfaction with the theogony of Hesiod as an explanation of the origin of the world; and the natural philosophy of Thales and his successors came into being in Ionia. But there was also a moral dissatisfaction with the tales of religious mythology, as they were handed down by the epic bards; and this feeling took the form of interpreting and modifying them, so as to make them conform to ethical ideals. The poet Stesichorus was a pioneer in this direction, and it was he who first imported into the legend of the house of Atreus—the murder of Agamemnon by his wife, and the murder of Clytaemnestra by her son—the terrible moral significance which Aeschylus and the Attic tragedians afterwards made so familiar. Further than this, men began to feel a craving for an existence after death, and intense curiosity about the world of shades, and a desire for personal contact with the supernatural. Both the scientific and the religious movements have the same object—to solve the mystery of the existence, but religious craving demanded a short road and immediate satisfaction. The craving led to the propagation of a new religion, which began to spread about the middle of the sixth century. We know not where it originally took shape, but Attica became its most active centre, and it was propagated to western Hellas beyond the sea. Based partly on the wild Thracian worship of Dionysus, this religion was called Orphic from Orpheus, poet and priest, who was supposed to have been born in Thrace and founded the bacchic rites; and it exercised a deep influence over not only the people at large, but even the thinkers of Greece. The Orphic teachers elaborated a theology of their own; a special doctrine of the future world; peculiar rites and peculiar rules of conduct. But they took up into their system, so far as possible, the old popular beliefs. The Orphic religion might almost be described as based on three institutions: the worship of Dionysus, the mysteries connected with the gods of the underworld, and the itinerant prophets; but Dionysus, the underworld, and the art of the seer and purifier, all acquired new significance in the light of the Orphic theology.

It was perhaps as early as the eighth century that the worship of Dionysus was introduced into northern Greece, and various legends record the opposition which was at first offered to the reception of the stranger. His orgies spread, especially in Boeotia and Attica. The worshippers gathered at night on the mountains, by torchlight, with deer-skins on their shoulders and long ivy-wreathed wands in their hands, and danced wildly to the noise of cymbals and flutes. Men and women tore and devoured the limbs of the sacred victims. They desired to fall, and they often fell, especially the women, into a sort of frenzied ecstasy, in which their souls were thought to be in mystic communion with Dionysus. It was probably the influence of the Dionysiac worship that induced the Delphic god to give his oracles through the mouth of a woman cast into a state of divine frenzy.

Men could also deal with the supernatural world through the mediation of seers. Wise men and women, called bakids and sibyls, attached to no temple or sanctuary, travelled about and made their livelihood by prophesying, purifying, and healing. They practised these three arts through their intimacy with the invisible world of spirits; to which the causes of disease and uncleanness were ascribed. Epimenides was one of the most famous and powerful of these wizards; we saw how he was called upon to purify Athens.

Mysteries, connected with the cult of the deities of the underworld, supplied another means of approaching the supernatural. The Homeric bards of Ionia may have lived in a society where life yielded so many pleasures that men could look forward with equanimity and resignation to that colourless existence in the grey kingdom of Persephone, which is described in the epics. But the conditions of life were very different in the mother-country in the seventh century. The strife for existence was hard, and the Boeotian poet must have echoed the groans of many a wretched wight when he cried

The earth is full of ills, of ills the sea.

It was a time when men were ready to entertain new views of a future world, suggesting hopes that a tolerable existence, unattainable here, might await them there. These new hopes which begin to take shape in the course of the seventh century were naturally connected with the religion of the deities of the underworld. In Homer we find Persephone as queen in the realm of the ghosts, but we meet there no hint of a connexion between her worship and that of Demeter, the goddess of the fruits of the earth. But as the earth which yields the sustenance of men’s life also receives men into her bosom when they die, Demeter and Persephone came to be associated in many local cults throughout Greece, and there grew up the legend of the rape of Persephone, which was specially developed at Eleusis and was the subject of the Eleusinian Hymn to Demeter, composed in the seventh century. At Eleusis this chthonian cult acquired a peculiar character by the introduction of a new doctrine touching the state of souls in the life beyond the grave.

In the days of Eleusinian independence, the kings themselves were the priests of the two goddesses. When Eleusis became part of the Athenian state, the Eleusinian worship was made part of the Athenian state-religion; a temple of the two goddesses was built under the Acropolis and called the Eleusinion; and the Eleusinian Mysteries became one of the chief festivals of the Attic year, conducted by the king. The Mysteries, which were probably of a very simple nature in the seventh century, were subsequently transformed under Athenian influence. Two points in this transformation are especially to be noted. The old Eleusinian king Triptolemus is made more prominent, and is revered as the founder of agriculture, sent abroad by Demeter herself to sow seed and instruct folk in the art. But far more important is the association of the cult of Iacchus with the Eleusinian worship. Iacchus was a god of the underworld, who had a shrine in Athens. In the Mysteries he was borne to Eleusis and solemnly received there every year. He was originally distinct from the mystic Dionysus, with whom he was afterwards identified.

The Mysteries seem to have consisted of a representation in dumb show of the story of Persephone and Demeter. Mystic spells were uttered at certain moments in the spectacle, and certain sacred gear was exhibited. There was no explanation of any system of doctrine; the initiated were seers not hearers. When the scheme of the Mysteries was fully developed the order of the festival, which took place in September, was on this wise. On the first day, the cry was heard in the streets of Athens—

Seaward, O mystae, mystae, to the sea!

And the initiated went down to the shore and cleansed themselves in the sea water. Hence the day was called alade mistai. The next two days were occupied with offerings and ceremonies at Athens, and on the fourth, the image of Iacchus was taken forth from his shrine and carried in solemn procession along the Sacred Way, over Mount Aegaleos to Eleusis. The Mystae, as they went, sang the song of Iacchus, and reached the temple of the goddesses, under the Eleusinian acropolis, late at night, by the light of torches. The great day was when they assembled in the Hall of Initiation, and sat around on the tiers of stone-seats. The Hierophant, who always belonged to the Eleusinian royal family of the Eumolpids, displayed the secret things of the worship. Beside him the Torch-holder, the Herald, and the Priest of the Altar, conducted the mystic ceremonies. The Mysteries are mysterious still, so far as most of the details are concerned. Yet we may perhaps say that no definite dogma was taught, no systematic interpretation was laid on the legends; but the “acts” were calculated to arouse men’s hopes, mysterious enough to impress their imaginations, and vague enough to suggest to different minds different significances. The rites gave to many an assurance of future weal and even to harder reasoners a certain sense of possibilities in the unknown. And it was believed that the Mystae had an advantage over the uninitiated not only here but hereafter,—an interest as it were with the powers of the other world. So it is said in the old Eleusinian Hymn :


Bliss hath he won whoso these things hath seen,

Among all men upon the earth that go ;

But they to whom those sights have never been

Unveiled have other dole of weal and woe,

Even dead, shut fast within the mouldy gloom below.


The Eleusinian Mysteries became Panhellenic. All Greeks, not impure through any pollution, were welcome to the rites of initiation, women were not excluded by their sex, nor slaves by their condition. It is probable that the development of the Mysteries owed a good deal to the Pisistratids ; and the ground plan of the Hall of Ceremonies, which was erected in their time, can be traced at Eleusis.


Sect. 13. Spread of the Orphic Religion

The Orphic teachers promulgated a new theory of the creation of the world—a theory which may have derived some suggestions from Babylonia. They taught that Time was the original principle; that then Ether and Chaos came into being; that out of these two elements Time formed a silver egg, from which sprang the first-born of the gods, Phanes god of light; the development of the world is the self-revelation of Phanes. It was necessary to bring this cosmogony into connexion with Greek theology. Accordingly, Zeus swallows Phanes and thereby becomes the original force from which the world has to be developed anew. The Thracian god, Dionysus Zagreus, is the son of Zeus and Persephone—and thus closely connected with the underworld. Zeus gives him the kingdom of the universe, while he is still a boy; but he is pursued by the Titans, and when, after many escapes, he takes the shape of a bull, he is rent in pieces by them, but Athena saves his heart. Zeus swallows it, and afterwards brings forth the new Dionysus. The Titans, still wet with the blood of their victim, he strikes with lightning, and the race of men springs from their ashes. So that the nature of men is compact of Titanic and Dionysiac elements, good and bad. The motive of the myth was to awaken in the human soul a consciousness of its divine origin, and help it on its way back to the divine state. To escape from the prison or tomb of the body, to become free from the Titanic elements, penalties and purifications are necessary, and the soul has to pass through a cycle of incarnations. In the intervals between these incarnations which recur at fixed times the soul exists in the kingdom of Hades. To attain a final deliverance, a man must live ascetically according to rules which the Orphics prescribed, and be initiated in the orgies of Dionysus. Thus they prescribed abstinence from animal food, and imposed necessary ceremonies of purification. They taught the doctrine of judgment after death, and rewards and punishments in Hades, according to men’s deeds in the body.

Thus the Orphics reintroduced, as it were, into Greece the Thracian Dionysus, who seemed almost another god when brought face to face with the Dionysus who had been hellenized and sobered since his admission into the society of the Greek gods of Olympus. They adopted and developed the ideas of the Eleusinian Mysteries; and in a poem on the Descent of Orpheus into Hades they described the geography of the underworld. They also aspired to take the place of the old prophets and purifiers; and they sought out and collected the oracles which those prophets had disseminated. Their doctrines were published in poems which were intended to supersede the Theogony of Hesiod; and the surviving fragments of these works show more poetical power than the compositions of the later successors of Homer.

The Orphic religion found a welcome at Athens, and was encouraged by Pisistratus and his sons. Onomacritus, one of the most eminent Orphic teachers, reputed the author of a poem on the “Rites of Initiation,” won great credit and influence at the court of the tyrants. It was supposed that he took part in preparing the new edition of Homer; and certainly a splendid passage of Orphic origin was introduced into the episode of the visit of Odysseus to the world of shades. But another interpolation is said to have led to the banishment of Onomacritus; he was detected in making additions of his own to a collection of ancient oracles, which were ascribed to the mythical poet Musaeus.

The Orphic doctrines were taken up by a man of genius, Pythagoras of Samos, who went to Italy and settled at Croton, where he was well received. His philosophy had two sides, the philosophic and the religious. He made important discoveries in mathematics and the theory of music; he recognised the circular form of the earth, and his astronomical researches led to a considerable step, taken by his followers, in the direction of the Copernican system—the distinction of real and apparent motions. The Pythagoreans knew that the motion of the sun round the earth was only apparent, but they did not discover the revolution of the earth on its axis. They conceived a fire in the centre of the universe, round which the earth turns in twenty-four hours; the five known planets also revolving round it; and the moon and the sun, in a month and a year respectively. We never see the fire, because we live on the side of the earth which is always turned away from it. The whole world is warmed and lit from that fire—the “hearth of the universe.” Pythagoras sought to explain the world, spiritual and material, by numbers; and, though he could plausibly defend the idea in general, its absurdity was evident when carried out in detail.

At Croton he founded a religious sect or brotherhood, organised according to strict rules. The most important doctrine was the transmigration of souls, and the ascetic mode of life corresponded to that of the Orphic sects. In fact, the Pythagoreans were practically an Orphic community. Their brotherhood, which did not exclude women, obtained adherents not only in Croton but in the neighbouring cities, and won a decisive political influence in Italiot Greece. But this influence was exerted solely in the interests of oligarchy; it would seem indeed that the nobles became members of the religious organisation, in order to use it as an instrument of political power. It was during the ascendency of the Pythagoreans that a war broke out between Croton and its neighbour Sybaris, which was then subject to a tyranny. The men of Croton harboured the exiles whom Telys, the despot of Sybaris, drove out, and refused his demand for their surrender. Telys led forth a large host; a battle was fought; and the Sybarites were routed. Then the victors captured Sybaris and utterly blotted it out. New cities were to arise near the place; one was for a few months to resume its name; but the old Sybaris, which had become proverbial throughout Greece for its wealth and luxury, disappeared so completely that its exact site is unknown. The destruction of the rival city was the chief exploit of the Pythagorean oligarchy of Croton; but a strong opposition arose in Croton against the government and against the Pythagorean order. Pythagoras himself found it prudent to escape from the struggle by leaving Croton, and he ended his life at Metapontion. The democratic party was led by Cylon, but the Cylonians did not get the upper hand till more than half a century had passed; and the Pythagorean order flourished in Croton and the neighbouring cities. At length a sudden blow dissolved their power. One day forty brethren were assembled at Croton in the house of Milon. Their opponents set the building on fire, and only two escaped. It was a signal for a general persecution throughout Italy; everywhere the members of the society were put to death or banished.

At the time of the fall of the Pythagoreans, the Orphic religion was no longer a danger to Greece. It was otherwise in the lifetime of Pythagoras himself. Then it seemed as if the Orphic doctrines had been revealed as the salvation which men’s minds craved; and, if those doctrines had taken firm hold of Greece, all the priesthoods of the national temples would have admitted the new religion, become its ministers, and thereby exercised an enormous sacerdotal power. Nor would the Orphic teachers have failed, if there had not been a powerful antidote to counteract their mysticism. Even as it was, they exercised a permanent influence, stimulating the imaginations of poets, like Aeschylus and Pindar, and diffusing a vivid picture of the world of Hades, which has affected all subsequent literature.


Sect. 14. Ionian Reason

The antidote to the Orphic religion was the philosophy of Ionia. In Asiatic Greece, that religion never took root; and most fortunately the philosophical movement—the separation of science from theology, of “cosmogony ” from “theogony”—had begun before the Orphic movement was disseminated. Europe is deeply indebted to Ionia for having founded philosophy; but that debt is enhanced by the fact that she thereby rescued Greece from the tyranny of a religion interpreted by priests. We have met Thales and Anaximander already. Pythagoras, although he and his followers made important advances in science, threw his weight into the scale of mysticism; affected by both the religious and the philosophical movements, he sought to combine them; and in such unions the mystic element always wins the preponderance. But there were others who pursued, undistracted, the paths of reason, and among these the most eminent and influential were Xenophanes and Heraclitus.

No man was more active in the cause of reason than Xenophanes of Colophon, who, after the Persian subjugation of Ionia, migrated to Elea, where he died in extreme old age. But he spent his long life in wandering about the world, and none saw and heard more of many lands and many men than he. The feeble resistance of Ionia to the invader had disgusted him with the Greeks, and produced a reaction in his mind against their religion and their ideals. His experience of many lands helped him to cast away national prejudices, and he spent his strength in warring against received opinions. In the first place he attacked the orthodox religion and showed up the irrational side of gods made in the image of men. If oxen or horses or lions, he said, had hands to make images of their gods, they would fashion them in the shape of oxen, horses, and lions. In the next place, he protested against the accepted teachers of the Greeks, the poets Homer and Hesiod, whom Greece regarded as inspired. All they have taught men, he said, is theft, adultery, and mutual deceit. Again, he ridiculed the conventional ideals of Greek life, the ideal, for instance, of the athlete. He deprecated the folly which showed great honours to a victor in a race or a contest. “Our wisdom is better than the strength of human animals and horses.” He carried about and spread his revolutionary ideas from city to city in the guise of a musician, attended by a slave with a cithern. But he was not merely destructive; he had something to put in the place of the beliefs which he overthrew. He constructed a philosophy of which the first principle was god—not like mortals in either form or mind—which he identified with the whole cosmos, and which was thus material, existing in space, and not excluding the existence of particular subordinate gods animating nature. He was also distinguished as a geologist; he drew conclusions from fossils as to the past history of the earth. As a fearless thinker, seeking to break through national prejudices, he is one of the most attractive of the pioneers of Greek thought.

But what especially concerns us here is that Xenophanes rejected Orpheus as utterly as he rejected Hesiod. He would have nothing to do with mysticism and divine revelation; he regarded the Orphic priests as impostors, and he inveighed strongly against Pythagoras. We can hardly over-value his services in thus actively fighting the battle of reason, and diffusing ideas which counteracted not only the comparatively harmless superstitions of the vulgar but also the more serious and subtle danger of the Orphic religion. Long before he died, Greek philosophy had become a living power which no religion would stifle, a waxing force which would hinder sacerdotalism from ever turning back the stream of progress.

The rationalism of Xenophanes affected Heraclitus of Ephesus, a man of very different temper. Heraclitus heartily despised the vulgar—he was an aristocrat in politics—and he wrote in a hard style, for the few. In old age he retreated to the woods to end his life, having deposited the book of his philosophy in the temple of Artemis. A man of greater genius than any of the Ionian philoso­phers who preceded him, he thought out the “doctrine of the flux,” which exercised an immense influence on his successors. This principle was the constant change in all things; existence is change; “we are and we are not.” But the process of change observes a certain law; nature has her measures; and thus, while he had developed the doctrine of relativity—“good and bad,” he said, “are the same”—he had a basis for ethics. His influence was both subversive and conservative, according as one took hold of the doctrine of the flux or the fixed law of the world.

The pantheistic principle of Xenophanes was taken up at Elea by Parmenides, who gave it a new metaphysical meaning. He assumed an eternal unchanging Being, and treated it with the scientific method which he learned from the Pythagoreans. One of the most important services of Parmenides and his followers was their argument that sense is deceptive and leads us into self-contradiction. Here, they said, was the capital error of Heraclitus, who founded his system on the senses.

With Parmenides and Heraclitus, philosophy in the strict sense, metaphysics as we call it, was fully founded. We have not to pursue the development here; but we have to realise that the establishment of the study of philosophy was one of the most momentous facts in the history of the Greeks. It meant the triumph of reason over mystery; it led to the discrediting of the Orphic movement; it ensured the free political and social progress of Hellas. A danger averted without noise or bloodshed, not at a single crisis but in the course of many years, is a danger which soon ceases to be realised; and it is perhaps hard to imagine that in the days of Pisistratus the religion which was then moving Greece, and especially Attica, bid fair to gain a dominant influence and secure a fatal power for the priests. The Delphic priesthood had, doubtless, an instinct that the propagation of the Orphic doctrines might ultimately redound to its own advantage. Although the new religion had arisen when the aristocracies were passing away and had addressed itself to the masses, it is certain that, if it had gained the upper hand, it would have lent itself to the support of aristocracy and tyranny. The tyrants of Athens might have made an Orphic priesthood an useful instrument of terror; and the brotherhood of Pythagoras was an unmistakable lesson to Greece what the predominance of a religious order was likely to mean.

We may say, with propriety, that a great peril was averted from Greece by the healthful influence of the immortal thinkers of Ionia. But this, after all, is only a superficial way of putting the fact. If we look deeper, we see that the victory of philosophy over the doctrines of priests was simply the expression of the Greek spirit, which inevit­ably sought its highest satisfaction in the full expansion of its own powers in the free light of reason.

The sixth century, the most critical period in the mental development of the Greeks, came to be known afterwards as the age of the Seven Sages. The national instinct for shaping legends chose out a number of men who had made some impression by their justice and prudence, and, regardless of dates, invented an ideal community among them, as if they had formed a sort of college; and brought them into connexion with great people, like Lydian kings. Periander, the tyrant of Corinth, was curiously added to the list, which included Solon and Thales. To them were attributed wise maxims like “Know thyself,” “Avoid excess,” “It is hard to be virtuous.” The spirit, which the legend ascribes to these sages and which the lives of Solon and Pittacus displayed, reflects the wisdom, which sought to solve, or rather to evade, the everlasting problem of the discrepancy between man’s ideal of justice and the actual ordering of the world, by enjoining a life of moderation. But it is not without significance that, when the Orphic agitation had abated, Greece should have enshrined the worldly wisdom of men who stood wholly aloof from mystic excitements and sought for no revelation, in the fiction of the Seven Sages.