Xerxes' army crossed the river Spercheios and camped near the town of Trachis, to the The fighting 5 I west of Thermopylai, at the end of August 480. It took several days for the entire army to assemble and for the Persians to scout the enemy positions and report back to the king and his co=anders. On seeing the enormous size of the Persian army now marshalled against him, Leonidas sent an urgent message to the states of the Hellenic League asking for reinforcements. Rumours of the huge forces being prepared by Xerxes for his invasion of Greece must have been circulating for some time before the Persians reached Greece. Herodotus says that three Greek spies were sent to Asia Minor to gather information. They observed the marshalling of Xerxes' forces at Sardis, but were captured and were about to be executed when Xerxes himself intervened and ordered them to be taken around the camp and shown all the contingents of infantry and cavalry, in order to impress upon them the overwhelming superiority of his army. Like so many of the anecdotes passed on by Herodotus this one is not easy to believe, but even if the Greek spies were given a guided tour of the army at Sardis, it is unlikely that these reports and rumours would have been given full credence by the Greek leaders until they could confirm them with their own eyes. Despite the daunting size of the Persian army Leonidas seems to have been fairly confident that his force of 8,000 men was adequate for the task of holding the pass temporarily, but he felt the need for further troops to shore up the defence over a longer period. It was later said that Xerxes, in an attempt to avoid a battle, offered Leonidas the chance to join his army and become his satrap of Greece, but Leonidas refused, saying that it was better to die for the freedom of the Greeks than to live and rule them. As the Persian army reached Thermopylai, the fleet made its way from Therme to Aphetai on the southern tip of the peninsula of Magnesia, encountering three advance scout ships from the Greek fleet and capturing two of them. Severe
52 Essential Histories • The Greek and Persian Wars 499-386 BC I I A bronze statuette of a warrior, dedicated in the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia in the western Peloponnese in the sixth century By the time of Xerxes' invasion, Olympia was one of the most important sanctuaries in the Greek world and the famous Olympic festival, held every four years, attracted thousands of celebrants from across the Meditenranean. The athletic competitions at the festival included a race for men wearing bronze helmets and canrying hoplite shields. (Ancient Art and Architecture) losses were incurred by the Persians when they put into the shore on the eastern side of Magnesia en route. A storm blew up and wrecked nearly a third of the Persian ships. Eventually the survivors made it to Aphetai and prepared to engage the Greeks at sea.