Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 7 The Persians Invade Europe Summary

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Histories | Book 7, The Persians Invade Europe | Summary



So vast is Xerxes's army that it takes seven full days and nights to cross the Hellespont. Herodotus catalogs the many contingents that comprise the Persian army. The army includes Persians, Medes, Cissians, Bactrians, Indians, Arabians, Ethiopians, Libyans, Phrygians, Lydians, Thracians, Pisidians, Cabalians, Moschians, and Marians. Herodotus describes their equipment and leaders, and he gives the numbers of their infantry, cavalry, and support vessels.

Xerxes calls on Demaratus, deposed king of Sparta, to speak to him of the Greeks. Demaratus, cautiously, asks if Xerxes wishes to hear a "true answer, or a pleasant one." Xerxes asks for the truth, which Demaratus supplies. He states that the Spartans will never surrender because they fear their laws more than the Persians fear their tyrants. Xerxes is amused. His armies continue their march. Xerxes pauses for some sightseeing at Therma before returning his attention to the war. He sends no envoys to demand the surrender of Athens and Sparta. Those cities had their chance to submit to Darius, but they threw the Persian envoys down a well. They will receive no second chance.


Herodotus indulges his love of ethnography, this time with the peoples who made up the Persian army. He probably had access to an eyewitness report of the army, because this section is very thorough. What it reveals is the extent of the Persians' power. Their army is massive and consists of warriors from all over the known world. The Persians ruled a truly multicultural empire, and this was one of the benefits they reaped for their tolerance of non-Persian cultures.

Herodotus's record of the size of the army is probably highly exaggerated. He may have believed that it truly numbered in the millions. Whether he did or not, it makes the subsequent Greek victories more impressive.

Demaratus, the deposed ruler of Sparta, fulfills the role of the ignored advisor this time around. Xerxes laughs at his tales of Spartan valor and their regard for their laws. To a tyrant like Xerxes, such beliefs are childish. Here, Herodotus aims to show once more the pitfalls of tyranny. As Darius himself acknowledged, tyranny can only work if the ruler is "the best." Xerxes is not the best. Herodotus implies that to trust in the qualities of a tyrant is foolhardy.

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