Xerxes I, also known as Xerxes the Great, was a 5th century Achaemenid king of the Persian empire. He is best known for leading the massive invasion of Greece, marked by the battles of Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea. He is also known for some of his more bizarre actions, including his ordering of a punishment upon the sea.
Xerxes had just had victories over uprisings against Persian rule in Egypt and Babylon and now had his sights set upon Greece, keen to avenge his father’s defeat at their hands.
In 480 BC, his enormous army journeyed to the Dardanelles (Hellespont) Strait, separating Asia from Europe. To get his army quickly into Greece, Xerxes ordered the construction of a pontoon bridge across the 1.2 kilometer (1300 yards) strait. But before his army were able to cross, a storm blew in and destroyed the bridge.
Construction of Xerxes Bridge of boats (Public Domain)
Infuriated with the sea, Xerxes ordered his soldiers to punish it by whipping it with chains 300 times and poking it with red-hot irons. Handcuffs were also tossed into the water to symbolize the sea’s submission to his authority. Finally, he ordered the decapitation of the engineers behind the bridge’s construction.
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus describes in his Histories that the bridge was then rebuilt . Over 600 ships were tied together with papyrus and flax ropes, finally bridging the gap between the continents. The crossing of the strait took Xerxes’ army seven days and nights. Tragically for Xerxes, it was all for naught. The Persians suffered a crushing defeat and as they retreated back to the bridge, they discovered it had been destroyed… again.
Read more: Xerxes The Great: The Powerful Persian King Whose Death Destroyed an Empire
Top image: An artist’s illustration depicting Xerxes’ alleged “punishment” of the Hellespont: Xerxes lash sea (Public Domain)
By Joanna Gillan