Xerxes whipped the sea after his floating bridges where collapsed

Xerxes whipped the sea after his floating bridges where collapsed

Did you know that when Xerxes tried to cross the Dardanelles straight to invade Greece in the 2nd Greco-Persian war, he built a floating bridge which then collapsed because of sea currents. In revenge he had the sea whipped.

The strait has often played a strategic role in history. The Dardanelles is unique in many respects. The very narrow and winding shape of the strait is more akin to that of a river. It is considered one of the most hazardous, crowded, difficult and potentially dangerous waterways in the world. The currents produced by the tidal action in the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara are such that ships under sail must await at anchorage for the right conditions before entering the Dardanelles.

The ancient city of Troy was located near the western entrance of the strait, and the strait’s Asiatic shore was the focus of the Trojan War. Troy was able to control the marine traffic entering this vital waterway. The Persian army of Xerxes I of Persia and later the Macedonian army of Alexander the Great crossed the Dardanelles in opposite directions to invade each other’s lands, in 480 BC and 334 BC respectively.

Xerxes whipped the sea after his floating bridges where collapsed

Herodotus tells us that, circa 482 BC, Xerxes I (the son of Darius) had two pontoon bridges built across the width of the Hellespont at Abydos, in order that his huge army could cross from Persia into Greece. This crossing was named by Aeschylus in his tragedy The Persians as the cause of divine intervention against Xerxes.

 

According to Herodotus (vv.34), both bridges were destroyed by a storm and Xerxes had those responsible for building the bridges beheaded and the strait itself whipped. The Histories of Herodotus vii.33-37 and vii.54-58 give details of building and crossing of Xerxes’ Pontoon Bridges. Xerxes is then said to have thrown fetters into the strait, given it three hundred lashes and branded it with red-hot irons as the soldiers shouted at the water.

 

Herodotus commented that this was a “highly presumptuous way to address the Hellespont” but in no way atypical of Xerxes. (vii.35)

 

Harpalus the engineer eventually helped the invading armies to cross by lashing the ships together with their bows facing the current and, so it is said, two additional anchors.

Read more