News ID: 115019
Publish Date : 13 May 2023 - 23:14

Persian Marvel Lost for Millennia (Part II)

ATHENS (National Geographic) -- The storm off Mount Athos Peninsula that devastated the fleet of Xerxes’ father, Darius I, in 492 B.C., appeared to influence Xerxes’ decision to create a canal.
Nevertheless, the colossal financial and logistical burden of excavating a canal might not have been justified simply to avoid passing around the same cape. The peninsula could be rounded by sea in only a few days. With the benefit of the experience and cooperation of locals who knew how to read the weather, it would have been possible to avoid meeting another major storm. So why did Xerxes opt to build the canal? A superstitious fear of the sea may have played a part. Then, of course, there was the element of propaganda. Such an audacious feat of engineering would surely have sent a powerful message to the Greeks: the Persian invasion was unstoppable and surrender was the only option. Herodotus offers his own plausible theories as to the king’s motivations: “As far as I can judge by conjecture, Xerxes gave the command for this digging out of pride, wishing to display his power and leave a memorial; with no trouble they could have drawn their ships across the peninsula, yet he ordered them to dig a canal from sea to sea.” The canal therefore carried an element of grandstanding. Xerxes, like other Persian sovereigns, bore the title “King of Kings.” Like many who had come before him, he seems to have shared the compulsion to leave his mark on the world.
The Mount Athos Peninsula is the eastern-most of three fingerlike promontories that stretch out from the Chalkidiki Peninsula in what is now mainland Greece. At its tip rises the 6,670-foot Mount Athos, regarded as a holy mountain in Orthodox Christianity and today home to a monastic community.
As in the time of Darius and Xerxes, the seas around the mountainous headland of the peninsula can often be hazardous. Motivated by the catastrophic storm that devastated his father’s navy more than a decade before, Xerxes planned a way to avoid the treacherous waters. On arrival, the Persian navy found an even greater engineering project than the pontoon bridge that had enabled them to cross the Dardanelles: As part of his long preparations for the renewed invasion of Greece, gangs of laborers had hacked out a canal, over one mile long, from one side of the peninsula to the other. Through this channel, Persia’s navy would eventually pass in its relentless advance westward.