This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
Xerxes, having resolved to attack Greece, that he might omit nothing which could contribute to the success of his under-taking, entered into an alliance with the Carthaginians, who were, at that time, the most powerful people of the west;, whereby it was agreed, that, while the Persians invaded Greece, the Carthaginians should fall upon the Greek colo-nies in Sicily and Italy, that thereby they might be diverted from helping each other. The Carthaginians appointed Hamilcar their general, who not only raised what forces he could in Africa, but with the money sent him by Xerxes, hired a great many mercenaries in Spain, Gaul, and Italy; so that his army consisted of three hundred thousand men, besides a proportionable number of ships for transporting his forces, and the necessary provisions. Thus Xerxes, agreeable to the prophecy of Daniel, having, by his strength through his riches, stirred up all the nations of the then known world, against the realm of Greece, that is, all the west under the command of Hamilcar, and all the east under his own banners, set out from Susa, to enter upon this war, in the fifth year of his reign, after having spent three years in making vast preparations throughout all the provinces of his wide-spreading empire. From Susa he marched to Sardis, which was the place appointed for the general rendezvous of all his land forces, while his navy advanced along the coasts of Asia Minor, towards the Hellespont.
Two things Xerxes commanded to be done before he came to the sea-side; one of which was, that a passage should be cut through Mount Athos. This mountain reaches a great way into the sea, in the form of a peninsula, and is joined to the land by an isthmus twelve furlongs over. The sea in this place is very tempestuous, and the Persian fleet had formerly suffered shipwreck in doubling this promontory. To prevent the like disaster, Xerxes caused this passage to be cut through the mountain, broad enough to let two galleys, with three banks of oars each, pass in front. By this means, he severed from the continent the cities of Dion, Olophyxus, Acrothoon, Thysus, and Cleone. It is said, however, that Xerxes undertook this enterprise only out of ostentation, and to perpetuate the memory of his name, since he might, with far less trouble, have caused his fleet to be conveyed over the isthmus, as was. the practice in those days.
He likewise commanded a bridge of boats to be laid over the. Hellespont, for the passing of his forces from Asia into Europe. The sea which separates Sestos and Abydos, where the bridge was built, is seven furlongs over. The work was carried on with great expedition by the Phoenicians and Egyptians, who had no sooner finished it, but a violent storm arising, broke it in pieces, and dispersed or dashed against the shore the vessels of which it was composed: which when Xerxes heard, he fell into such a violent transport of anger, that he commanded three hundred stripes to be inflicted on the sea, and a pair of fetters to be thrown into it; enjoining those who were trusted with the execution of his orders, to pronounce these words: - "Thou salt and bitter element, thy master has con-demned thee to this punishment, for offending him without cause; and is resolved to pass over thee, in spite of thy billows, and insolent resistance."The extravagant folly and madness of this prince did not stop here, for, to crown the whole, he commanded the heads of those who had the direction of the work to be struck off.
In their room he appointed more experienced architects to build two other bridges, one for the army, the other for the beasts of burden, and the baggage. When the whole work was completed, and the vessels which formed the bridges secure against the violence of the winds, and the current of the water, Xerxes departed from Sardis, where the army had wintered, and directed his march to Abydos. When he arrived at that city, he desired to see all his forces together; and, to that end, ascending a stately edifice of white stone, which the Abydenians had built, on purpose to receive him in a manner suitable to his greatness, he had a free prospect to the coast, seeing at one view both his fleet and land forces. The sea was covered with his ships, and the large plains of Abydos with his troops, quite down to the shore. While he was surveying the vast extent of his power, and deeming himself the most happy of mortals, his joy was suddenly turned into grief; he burst into a flood of tears: which Artabanus perceiving, asked him what had made him, in a few moments, pass from an excess of joy to so great a grief. The king replied, that, considering the shortness of human life, he could not restrain his tears; for, of all these numbers of men, not one, said he, will be alive a hundred years hence. Artabanus, who neglected no opportunity of instilling into the young prince's mind sentiments of kindness towards his people, finding him touched with a sense of tenderness and humanity, endeavoured to make him sensible of the obligation that is incumbent upon princes, to alleviate the sorrows, and sweeten the bitterness, which the lives of their subjects are liable to, since it is not in their power to prolong them. In the same conversation, Xerxes asked his uncle, whether, if he had not seen the vision which made him change his mind, he would still persist in the same opinion, and dissuade him from making war upon Greece. Artabanus sincerely owned, that he still had his fears, and was very uneasy concerning two things, the sea and the land; the sea, because there were no ports capable of receiving and sheltering such a fleet, if a storm should arise; and the land, because no country could maintain so numerous an army. The king was very sensible of the strength of his reasoning; but as it was now too late to go back, he made answer, that, in great enterprises, men ought not to enter into so nice a discussion of all the inconveniences that may attend them: that bold and daring undertakings, though subject to many evils and dangers, are preferable to inaction, however safe: that great successes are no otherwise to be obtained than by venturing boldly; and that, if his predecessors had observed such scrupulous and timorous rules of politics, the Persian empire would never have attained to so high a degree of glory and grandeur.
All things being now in readiness, and a day appointed for the passing over of the army, as soon as the first rays of the sun began to appear, all sorts of perfumes were burnt upon the bridge, and the way strewed with myrtle. At the same time, Xerxes, pouring a libation into the sea out of a golden cup, and addressing the sun, implored the assistance of that deity, begging that he might meet with no impediment so great, as to hinder him from carrying his conquering arms to the utmost limits of Europe. This done, he threw the cup into the Hellespont, with a golden bowl, and a Persian cimeter; and the foot and horse began to pass over that bridge which was next to the Euxine, while the carriages and beasts of burden passed over the other, which was placed nearer the AEgean sea. The bridges were boarded, and covered over with earth, having rails on each side, that the horses and cattle might not be frightened at the sight of the sea. The army spent seven days and nights in passing over, though they marched day and night, without intermission, and were, by frequent blows, obliged to quicken their pace. At the same time, the fleet made to the coasts of Europe. After the whole army was passed, Xerxes advanced with his land forces, through the Thracian Chersonessus to Doricus. a city at the mouth of the river Hebrus, in Thrace: but the fleet steered a quite different course, standing to the west-ward for the promontory of Sarpedon, where they were commanded to attend farther orders. Xerxes, having encamped in the large plains of Doriscus, and judging them convenient for reviewing and numbering his troops, dispatched orders to his admirals to bring the fleet to the adjacent shore, that he might take an account both of his sea and land forces. His land army, upon the muster, was found to consist of one million seven hundred thousand foot, and fourscore thousand horse; which, together with twenty thousand men that conducted the camels, and took care of the baggage, amounted to one million eight hundred thousand men. His fleet consisted of twelve hundred and seven large ships, and three thousand galleys and transports: on board of all these vessels, there were found to be five hundred and seventeen thousand six hundred and ten men. So that the whole number of sea and land forces, which Xerxes led out of Asia to invade Greece, amounted to two millions three hundred and seven teen thousand six hundred and ten men.
We are told, that, on his passing the Hellespont, to enter Europe, an inhabitant of that country cried out: "O Jupiter, why art thou come to destroy Greece, in the shape of a Persian, and under the name of Xerxes, with all mankind following thee; whereas thy own power is sufficient to do this, without their assistance?" After he had entered Europe, the nations on this side the Hellespont that submitted to him, added to his land forces three hundred thousand more, and two hundred and twenty ships to his fleet, on board of which were twenty-four thousand men. So that the whole number of his forces, when he arrived at Thermopylae, was two millions six hundred and forty-one thousand six hundred and ten men, without including servants, eunuchs, women, sutlers, and other people of that sort, who were computed to equal the number of the forces: so that the whole multitude of persons that followed Xerxes in this expedition, amounted to five millions two hundred and eighty-three thousand two hundred and twenty. Among these millions of men, there was not one that could vie with Xerxes, either in comeliness or stature, or that seemed more worthy of that great empire. But this is a poor recommendation, when unaccompanied with other qualifications of more sterling worth. Accordingly, Justin, after he has mentioned the number of his troops, emphatically concludes, "but this vast body wanted a head." Besides the subordinate generals of each nation, who commanded the troops of their respective countries, the whole army was under the command of six Persian generals: viz. Mardonius, the son of Gobryus: Triataechmes, the son of Artabanus; Smerdones, the son of Otanes (the two latter were cousins to Xerxes;) Masistus, the son of Darius by Atossa; Gerges, the son of Ariazus; and Megabyzus, the son of the celebrated Zopyrus. The ten thousand Persians, who were called the Immortal Band, obeyed no other commander but Hydarnes. The fleet was commanded by four Persian admirals: and likewise the cavalry had their particular generals and commanders.