Page 0365

365 PERSIA--CIVIL AND MILITARY ANNALS.

the Greeks, with an armament of only two hundred and seventy-one ships, held their own

against their enemy. The Athenian fleet fell back to SALAMIS, where it took a position in

the strait between that island and the shore. From this place it was proposed to retire,

but the strategy of THEMISTOCLES prevailed, and the Persians having blockaded the strait

above and below, that famous battle was fought of which an account will be given in a

subsequent Book. The enormous armament of the Persians was beaten and scattered to the

winds. Five hundred ships were sunk. The sea for miles around was covered with broken

galleys and fragments of the general ruin.

Xerxes, who had watched the battle, foresaw the end, and fled for Asia. His retreat was

hastily made to the Hellespont, where he found his magnificent bridge swept away by a

storm, and was glad to cross to Abydos in an open boat. Mardonius was left behind in

Greece with two hundred and sixty thousand men to renew in the following spring the work

of subjugation which thus far had wrought the other way.

In the following year, B. C. 480, Mardonius returned to the task. With the opening of

spring he marched from Thessaly into Attica, and took possession of Athens. Here he tried

diplomacy, and was about to succeed when Sparta, who had been disaffected, reappeared as

the ally of the Athenians. Contingents rapidly poured in from the other states until the

combined army of the Greeks numbered one hundred and eight thousand men. Mardonius had now

three times that number. The two great forces met in a death struggle on the memorable

field of PLATJEA, where the discomfiture of the Persians was so complete and overwhelming

as to destroy at once and forever all thoughts of renewing the contest by the enemies of

Greece. The tremendous avalanche which had rolled with such crushing weight upon the

devoted commonwealths of the Hellenes had melted into vapor.

In a short time after the battle of Plataea, Thrace, Macedonia, and Paeonia recovered

their independence, and the borders of the Persian Empire were contracted to the Aegean

and the Hellespont. Not only did the Greeks beat back the invasion, but they followed up

their advantage and recovered and restored to independence all the islands of the

Propontis arid the Aegean, which had hitherto belonged to Persia. They landed a force on

the coast of Asia Minor, defeated sixty thousand Persians at Mycale, and destroyed the

remnants of the fleet which had escaped from Salamis. Nor is it to be questioned that if

the Greek states had stood together in the great cause of emancipation and had resolutely

followed up with blow on blow the work they had begun, the whole of the Greek

confederations on the shores of Asia Minor would have been liberated from foreign

domination. Political dissensions, however, prevailed among the Grecian commonwealths, and

the extension of freedom stopped with the Cyclades.

After the subsidence of his ill-fated wars, Xerxes abandoned himself to his court. It was

a licentious turmoil, which ended presently in tragedy. The seraglio system had begun to

bear its evil fruits in the destruction of virtue and the establishment of intrigue and

blood-cruelty. Xerxes himself had been but once married; but instead of the lawful

abandonment of the harem he entered into criminal relations with the princesses of his

court, thus provoking the jealous rage of the queen, Amestris. A band of enemies thus

arose around him, and finally a conspiracy was formed, whose leaders, Artabanes and

Aspamifres, entered the king's chamber and murdered him. He had reigned for twenty years,

and though the Empire under his dominion had suffered little positive reduction, yet great

disasters had lowered the reputation of the Persian arms, and social and domestic broils,

ending in assassination, had disgraced the annals of the nations.

Of the three sons of Xerxes, the eldest, Darius, was, at the instigation of Artabanes and

on the false charge of having killed the late king, put to death by the youngest,

Artaxerxes. The other son, Hystaspes, who held the office of satrap of Bactria, and