« VorigeDoorgaan »
Xerxes. the love of liberty against tyrannical oppression, and a few disciplined veteran, troops against a confused multitude, though never so numerous. These brave Lacedæmonians thought it became them, who were the choicest soldiers of the chief people of Greece, to devote themselves to certain death, in order to make the Persians sensible how difficult it is to reduce free men to slavery, and to teach the rest of Greece, by their example, either to vanquish or to perish.
I do not copy these sentiments from my own invention, or ascribe them to Leonidas without foundation; They are plainly comprized in that short answer, which that worthy king of Sparta made a certain Lacedæmonian; who, being astonished at the generous resolution the king had taken, spoke to him in this manner: P" Is it possible then, sir, that you
can think of marching with an handful of men "against such a mighty and innumerable army?" "If we are to reckon upon numbers," replied Leonidas, "all the people of Greece together would not "be sufficient, since a small part of the Persian έσ army is equal to all her inhabitants : But if we are "to reckon upon valour, my little troop is more "than sufficient."
The event shewed the justness of this prince's sentiments. That illustrious example of courage astonished the Persians, and gave new spirit and vigour to the Greeks. The lives then of this heroick leader and his brave troop were not thrown away, but usefully employed; and their death was attended with a double effect, more great and lasting than they themselves had imagined. On one hand, it was in a manner the seed of their ensuing victories, which made the Persians for ever after lay aside all thoughts of attacking Greece; so that during the seven or eight succeeding reigns, there was neither any prince, who durst entertain such a design, or any flatterer in his court, who durst propose the thing to him,
Plut. in Lacon. Apoph. p. 225.
On the other hand, such a signal and exemplary in- Xerxes. stance of intrepidity made an indelible impression upon all the rest of the Grecians, and left a persuasion deeply rooted in their hearts, that they were able to subdue the Persians, and subvert their vast empire. Cimon was the man, who made the first attempt of that kind with success. Agesilaus afterwards pushed that design so far, that he made the great monarch tremble in his palace at Susa. Alexander at last accomplished it with incredible facility. He never had the least doubt, no more than the Macedonians who followed him, or the whole country of Greece that chose him general in that expedition, but that with thirty thousand men he could reduce the Persian empire, as three hun. dred Spartans had been sufficient to check the united forces of the whole East.
SECT. VI. Naval battle near Artemisa.
THE very same day on which passed the glo.
rious action at Thermopyla, there was also an engagement at sea between the two fleets. That of the Grecians, exclusive of the little gallies and small boats, consisted of two hundred and seventy-one vessels. This fleet had lain by near Artemisa, a promontory of Euboea upon the northern coast towards the streights. That of the enemy, which was much more numerous, was near the same place, but had lately suffered in a violent tempest, that had destroy. ed above four hundred of their vessels. Notwithstanding this loss, as it was still vastly superior in number to that of the Grecians, which they were preparing to fall upon, they detached two hundred of their vessels with orders to wait about Fuboea, to the end that none of the enemy's vessels might be able to escape them. The Grecians having got intelligence of that separation, immediately set sail in
Herod. 1. vii, c. 1-18 Diod, 1. xi. p. 10, & 11.
Xerxes. the night, in order to attack that detachment at day-break the next morning. But not meeting with it, they went towards the evening and fell upon the bulk of the enemy's fleet, which they treated very roughly. Night coming on they were obliged to separate, and both parties retired to their post. But the very night that parted them, proved more pernicious to the Persians, than the engagement which had preceded, from a violent storm of wind, accompanied with rain and thunder, which distressed and harassed their vessels till break of day: And the two hundred ships also, that had been detached from their fleet, as we mentioned before, were almost all cast away upon the coasts of Euboea; it being the will of the gods, says Herodotus, that the two fleets should become very near equal.
The Athenians having the same day received a reinforcement of fifty-three vessels, the Grecians, who were apprized of the wreck that had befallen part of the enemy's fleet, fell upon the ships of the Cilicians at the same hour they had attacked the fleet the day before, and sunk a great number of them. The Persians, being ashamed to see themselves thus insulted by an enemy that was so much inferior in number, thought fit the next day to appear first in a disposition to engage. The battle was very obstinate this time, and the success pretty near equal on both sides, excepting that the Persians, who were incommoded by the largeness and number of their vessels, sustained much the greater loss. Both parties however retired in good order.
s All these actions, which passed near Artemisa, did not bring matters to an absolute decision, but contributed very much to animate the Athenians, as they were convinced, by their own experience, that there is nothing really formidable, either in the number and magnificent ornaments of vessels, or in the Barbarians insolent shouts and songs of victory, to
• Plut. in Themist. p. 115, 117. Her. 1. viii. c. 21, 22,
men that know how to come to close engagement, Xerxes. and that have the courage to fight with steadiness and resolution; and that the best way of dealing with such an enemy, is to despise all that vain appearance, to advance boldly up to them, and to charge them briskly and vigorously without ever giving ground.
The Grecian fleet having at this time had intelligence of what had passed at Thermopyla, resolved upon the course they were to take without any farther deliberation. They immediately sailed away from Artemisa, and advancing toward the heart of Greece, they stopped at Salamin, a little isle very near and over-against Attica. Whilst the fleet was retreating, Themistocles passed through all the places where it was necessary for the enemies to come to land, in order to take in fresh water or other provisions, and in large characters engraved upon the rocks and the stones the following words, which he addressed to the Ionians: Be of our side, ye people of Ionia: Come over to the party of your fathers, who expose their own lives for no other end than to maintain your liberty: Or, if you cannot possibly do that, at least do the Persians all the mischief you can, when we are engaged with them, and put their army into disorder and confusion. By this means Themistocles hoped either to bring the Ionians really over to their party, or at least to render them suspected to the Barbarians. We see this general had his thoughts always intent upon his business, and neglected nothing that could contribute to the success of his designs.
SECT. VII. The Athenians abandon their city, which is taken and burnt by Xerxes.
XERXES in the mean time was entered into the country of Phocis by the upper part of Doris, and was burning and plundering the cities of the Phocians. The inhabitants of Peloponnesus having no
Herod. 1. viii. c. 40, 41.
Xerxes. thoughts but to save their own country, resolved to abandon all the rest, and to bring all the Grecian forces together within the isthmus, over which they intended to build a strong wall from one sea to the other, a space of near five miles English. The Athenians were highly provoked at so base a desertion, seeing themselves ready to fall into the hands of the Persians, and likely to bear the whole weight of their fury and vengeance. Some time before they had consulted the oracle of Delphos, which had given them for answer," that there would be no way of saving the city but by walls of wood. The sentiments of the people were much divided about this ambiguous expression: Some thought it was to be understood to mean the citadel, because heretofore it had been surrounded with wooden palisades. But Themistocles gave another sense to the words, which was much more natural, understanding it to intend shipping; and demonstrated, that the only measures they had to take were to leave the city empty, and to embark all the inhabitants. But this was a resolution the people would not at all give ear to, as thinking themselves inevitably lost, and not even caring to conquer, when once they had abandoned the temples of their gods and the tombs of their ancestors. Here Themistocles had occasion for all his address and all his eloquence to work upon the people. After he had represented to them, that Athens did not consist either of its walls, or its houses, but of its citizens, and that the saving of these was the preservation of the city, he endeavoured to persuade them by the argument most capable of making an impression upon them in the unhappy, afilicted, and dangerous condition they were then in, I mean the argument and motive of divine authority; giving them to understand by the very words of the oracle, and by the prodigies which had happened, that their removing for a time from Athens was manifestly the will of the gods.
u Herod. 1. vii. c. 139---143.