Ancient Sources

PERSIAN WAR SHIPWRECK SURVEY


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Mt. Athos

Invasion of Darius, 492 B.C.

6.44. From Thasos the fleet stood across to the mainland, and sailed along shore to Acanthus, whence an attempt was made to double Mount Athos. But here a violent north wind sprang up, against which nothing could contend, and handled a a large number of the ships with much rudeness, shattering them and driving them aground upon Athos. ‘Tis said the number of the ships destroyed was little short of three hundred; and the men who perished were more than twenty thousand. For the sea about Athos abounds in monsters beyond all others; and so a portion were seized and devoured by these animals, while others were dashed violently against the rocks; some, who did not know how to swim, were engulfed; and some died of the cold.

Herodotus, The Histories

(ed. A. D. Godley, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1920)

Source: www.perseus.org


 

The Canal at Mount Athos

7.22 In the first place, because the previous expedition had come to grief while sailing around Athos, he spent about three years making sure he would be ready for Athos when the time came. Elaeus in the Chersonese was made the headquarters, triremes were stationed there, and troops of all different backgrounds were set to work in relays, under the whip, digging a canal. The local inhabitants of Athos worked on the excavation as well. The work was supervised by two Persians, Bubares the son of Megabazus and Artachaees the son of Artaeus. Now, Athos is a large, famous, inhabited mountain jutting out into the sea; where it joins the mainland, it is shaped like a peninsula and forms an isthmus about twelve stades wide, and the terrain there, between the Acanthian Sea and the sea off Torone, is level, with low hills. On this isthmus, where Athos ends, there is the Greek settlement of Sane. Beyond Sane, within Athos itself, are Dion, Olophyxus, Acrothoüm, Tyssus, and Cleonae –places which the Persians king now intended to turn into island instead of mainland communities. 7.23 These are the communities on Mount Athos. The way the invaders went about the excavation was to draw a straight line across the isthmus near Sane and then assign each of the various nationalities a section of land to dig. Once the trench had become deep, some med stood at the bottom and carried on digging, while others passed the earth that was constantly being dug out to others who were standing on platforms further up the diggings, who in turn passed it on to others, until it reached the top, where the earth was taken away and disposed of. Everyone else apart from the Phoenicians found that the steep sides of the trench kept collapsing and doubling their work-load, but then were making the width at the top of the trench and at the bottom of the same, which was bound to cause something like that to happen. But the Phoenicians, who are invariably practical, showed their usual skill on this occasion: once they had been assigned their plot of land to work on, they set about making the opening at the top of the trench twice as wide as the usual canal was to be, and gradually reduced the width as they dug down, until by the time they reached the bottom they were working to the same width as everyone else. A local field was turned into a business centre and market-place, but flour was brought from Asia in large quantities. 7.24 On reflection it seems to me that Xerxes ordered the digging of the canal out of a sense of grandiosity and arrogance, because he wanted to display his power and leave a memorial. After all, he could have saved all that hard work and had the ships dragged across the isthmus, but instead he ordered a channel to be dug for the sea, wide enough for two triremes to be rowed abreast along it. The same men who were given the job of digging the canal were also set to work bridging the River Strymon.


7.122 However, the fleet was now sent on ahead by Xerxes. It sailed along the canal that had been excavated on the peninsula of Athos and through to the gulf where Assa, Pilorus, Singus, and Sarte are situated. Additional troops were recruited from these places, and then the fleet steered for the Gulf of Therma. It rounded Ampelus, the headland in Toronian territory, and sailed past Torone, Galepsus, Sermyle, Mecyberna, and Olynthus –Greek towns from which they recruited both ships and troops. Sithonia is the name of the district where these towns are.

Herodotus, The Histories

(ed. A. D. Godley, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1920)

Source: www.perseus.org


 

The Magnesian Coast

Invasion of Xerxes, 480 B.C.

7.188. The Persian fleet put to sea and reached the beach of the Magnesian land, between the city of Casthanaea and the headland of Sepia. The first ships to arrive moored close to land, with the others after them at anchor; since the beach was not large, they lay at anchor in rows eight ships deep out into the sea. They spent the night in this way, but at dawn a storm descended upon them out of a clear and windless sky, and the sea began to boil. A strong east wind blew, which the people living in those parts call Hellespontian. Those who felt the wind rising or had proper mooring dragged their ships up on shore ahead of the storm and so survived with their ships. The wind did, however, carry those ships caught out in the open sea against the rocks called the Ovens at Pelion or onto the beach. Some ships were wrecked on the Sepian headland, others were cast ashore at the city of Meliboea or at Casthanaea. The storm was indeed unbearable. 7.189. The story is told that because of an oracle the Athenians invoked Boreas, the north wind, to help them, since another oracle told them to summon their son-in-law as an ally. According to the Hellenic story, Boreas had an Attic wife, Orithyia, the daughter of Erechtheus, ancient king of Athens. Because of this connection, so the tale goes, the Athenians considered Boreas to be their son-in-law. They were stationed off Chalcis in Euboea, and when they saw the storm rising, they then, if they had not already, sacrificed to and called upon Boreas and Orithyia to help them by destroying the barbarian fleet, just as before at Athos. I cannot say whether this was the cause of Boreas falling upon the barbarians as they lay at anchor, but the Athenians say that he had come to their aid before and that he was the agent this time. When they went home, they founded a sacred precinct of Boreas beside the Ilissus river. 7.190 The most conservative estimate of how many ships were lost in this disaster is four hundred, along with innumerable personnel, and so much valuable property that a Magnesian called Ameinocles the son of Cretines, who owned land near Sepias, profited immensely from this naval catastrophe. In the following days and months gold and silver cups were washed ashore in large numbers for him to pick up; he also found Persian treasure-chests, and in general became immensely wealthy. However, although he became very rich from all that he found, he was unlucky in other respects; like other people, he had his share of grief –in his case the horrible accident of killing his own child. 7. 191 An untold number of supply vessels, such as those carrying grain, were lost. In fact, the commanders of the fleet became worried about the Thessalians attacking them while they were vulnerable from the disaster, so they built a tall, protective palisade, made out of the remains of the wrecked ships. The storm raged for three days. Finally, the Magi performed sacrifices and set about soothing the wind with spells, and also sacrificed to Thetis and the Nereids, until the storm died down on the fourth day –or maybe it did so of its own accord. They offered sacrifices to Thetis because the Ionians told them that this was the place from where she had been abducted by Peleus, and that the whole of Cape Sepias was sacred to her and her follow Nereids. 7.192 On the fourth day the storm stopped. The day after the start of the storm the look-outs on the Euboean hills raced down from their posts and let the Greeks know all about the wrecking of the fleet. When the Greeks heard the news, they gave prayers of thanks and poured libations to Poseidon the Saviour, and then sailed back as fast as they could to Artemisium, on the assumption that there would now be few ships to oppose them. Back in Artemisium, they remained as battle stations. This was the origin of the worship that still goes on at Athens of Poseidon as the Saviour.

Herodotus, The Histories

(ed. A. D. Godley, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1920)

Source: www.perseus.org

 


 

The Battle at Artemision

Description of the fleet and naval battle

Herodotus, The Histories VIII.1-23

(ed. A. D. Godley, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1920)

Source: www.perseus.org

 


 

The 'Hollows' of Euboea

Invasion of Xerxes, 480 B.C.

8.12. When darkness came on, the season being then midsummer, there was abundance of rain all through the night and violent thunderings from Pelion. The dead and the wrecks were driven towards Aphetae, where they were entangled with the ships’ prows and jumbled the blades of the oars. [2] The ships crews who were there were dismayed by the noise of this, and considering their present bad state, expected utter destruction; for before they had recovered from the shipwreck and the storm off Pelion, they next endured a stubborn sea-fight, and after the sea-fight, rushing rain and mighty torrents pouring seaward and violent thunderings. 8.13. This is how the night dealt with them. To those who were appointed to sail round Euboea, however, that same night was still more cruel since it caught them on the open sea. Their end was a terrible one, for when the storm and the rain came on them in their course off the Hollows of Euboea, they were driven by the wind in an unknown direction and were driven onto the rocks. All this was done by the god (that is, Boreas) so that the Persian power might be more equally matched with the Greek, and not much greater than it. 8.14. These men, then, perished at the Hollows of Euboea.

Herodotus, The Histories

(ed. A. D. Godley, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1920)

Source: www.perseus.org

 

 


All text and images are property of the Persian Wars Shipwreck Survey Project Team. Please contact Dr. Shelley Wachsmann (swachsmann@tamu.edu) and gain permission prior to use.

2006