Xerxes took great care to make sure this would be a war remembered for all time, and took four years to plan it. Some will say this is hubris, but, well . . . I think it’s totally in keeping with the Persian way of doing things, and with his determination to do his father proud and live up to the greatness his god had promised him.
Some of the huge undertakings surrounding the war against Greece:
The Canal — There was a treacherous cape that armies had sailed around before to disastrous results. Mount Athos, in Macedonia, is an awe-inspiring mountain; the land surrounding juts out into the sea and causes some impressive storms. Rather than risk sailing his fleet around the mountain, Xerxes commanded a canal be dug at the shortest point of the peninsula. He had quite a few countries working on it, each in charge of a section. But the land fought back, and the canal kept collapsing—every section except the one built by the Phoenicians, who had started at twice the width of the others’ so that they could better shore things up.
(Photo of the peninsula from the summit of Mount Athos)
The Bridge — The Hellespont is a river that meets the Aegean sea in a wide, tempest-tossed mouth. They had to cross the Hellespont to get into Greece, but as for how . . . well, the Egyptians and Phoenicians spent four years constructing a bridge—which was then destroyed in a single storm. Oops. Xerxes ordered the river lashed, put the engineers to death, and gave the new ones a few short months to rebuild. (This illustration is an artist’s depiction of Xerxes having the river whipped for its audacity–though let it be noted he was actually nowhere near the river when this punishment was carried out.)
They ended up lashing a slew of ships together, lowering planks between them, and covering it with dirt, building up walls even so the animals could pass over without fear. Worked like a charm.
The Sheer Numbers — Oh my. This is a place where modern historians disagree with Herodotus. Herodotus records that with land army, fleet, servants, and supply personnel, Xerxes brought a force of 5 million with him into Greece. Historians today say this number is grossly exaggerated, but Herodotus was very particular, stating exactly how many men were on each ship, etc. If it was an exaggeration, I suspect it’s one whose numbers were inflated at the time. My heroine reflects as much—and further states that she sure won’t be the one to tell Xerxes that. =)