News ID: 115067
Publish Date : 14 May 2023 - 22:32

Persian Marvel Lost for Millennia (III)

ATHENS (National Geographic) -- Virtually all the documentary evidence for the canal of Xerxes is found in book seven of Herodotus’ Histories. Writing approximately 50 years after the canal was built, the Greek historian records that “all sorts of men in the army were compelled by whippings to dig a canal” in operations that lasted three years. The canal was sited at “Athos, a great and famous mountain, running out into the sea and inhabited by men. At the mountain’s landward end, it is in the form of a peninsula, and there is an isthmus about twelve stadia wide; here is a place of level ground or little hills, from the sea by Acanthus to the sea opposite Torone.”
The length of a stadium by Herodotus’ calculations has long been debated, but many historians concur that 12 stadia is consistent with the 1.25 miles that make up the width of the peninsula at the site where the canal was believed to have been dug.
Such a project required massive labor, and Persia had access to it. According to Herodotus, it wasn’t just their own men, “compelled by whipping,” who took part in the excavation but people across the locality. As this part of Thrace was under Persian control, every man of military age was obliged to join the expedition against Greece, and some were pressed into digging the canal. Herodotus noted that in order to provide food for the workers, a market was set up nearby (close to the modern town of Néa Roda) and “much ground grain frequently came to them from Asia.” When Xerxes’ army arrived, the regular contingents set up camps, while the monarch and his escort, including his elite corps, known as the Ten Thousand Immortals, stayed in more comfortable accommodations.
After Xerxes arrived in Acanthus, the Persian nobleman Artachaies, who had codirected the canal excavation, died. Artachaies was related to the king and belonged to the Achaemenid clan. Clearly an imposing figure, he was described by Herodotus as “the tallest man in Persia ... and his voice was the loudest on earth.”
Xerxes ordered a magnificent funeral in his honor, and the army erected his burial mound right next to the canal he had built. Herodotus described how the army poured out libations for Artachaies while the Acanthians “sacrifice to him, calling upon his name.” If this burial mound exists, it has not yet been discovered, but its presence would be key evidence in confirming the canal’s site.