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Xerxes' Canal across the Athos

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Introduction

This paper is about Xerxes, a king who lived from 520-465 BC. Xerxes was a king of the Persian Empire. He was very instrumental in suppressing a revolt in Egypt. As a strong and influential king, he fought against Greeks in many Persian wars. Notable among these wars was the victory at Thermopylae as well as the defeat he suffered at Salamis.

One of the most significant achievements of king Xerxes was the bridge which he built across the Hellespont as well as the canal he dug across Mount Athos Peninsula (Hamel 214). He constructed this canal especially for the purpose of letting his ships pass in 480 BC. By and large, the long canal was arguably the most impressive testimony to the imperial Persian presence in Europe as well as to the ancient marine engineering (Churcher).

The Building of the Canal

The main reason as to why Xerxes had to build the canal was evident in May 480 BC. At this point in time, King Xerxes of Persia had advanced from the city of Sardis and was thus marshalling his army as well as his navy on the shores of Hellespont (Churcher). Apparently, he had completed preparing for his invasion of Greece. In order to succeed in conquering Greece, King Xerxes had constructed two bridges across the waters of Hellespont (Hamel 214). He constructed these two bridges to permit his troops to advance to the West, out of Asia and into Europe.

Unfortunately, just before his army could advance, there arose a fierce storm that blew up and ended up destroying the two bridges. Just like any other oriental tyrant, King Xerxes was very furious. As a matter of fact, he ordered his royal executioner to whip the water of the Hellespont three hundred times. Additionally, he ordered the royal executioner to throw in iron shackles as this would signify the subjugation of Hellespont to King Xerxes. Somehow, such high drama was meant to pacify the king’s anger. Just like everything comes to pass, the site of both bridges is just another small beach along the Hellespont (Churcher).

Being an individual who would not give up easily, King Xerxes could not leave anything to chance. Previously, King Darius, his predecessor, had suffered misfortune after a wild storm managed to stop his army in its tracks even as he tried to round the Athos Peninsula. Additionally, King Darius had suffered defeat in 490 BC at Marathon (Hamel 208). These are some of the occurrences that gave King Xerxes the impetus not to back down.

Subsequently, King Xerxes ordered the digging of a canal that would cut across the narrow neck of the land at the base of the Peninsulas. The canal was supposed to be wide enough in such a way that it would permit two warships to be rowed side by side. This was the crux of the matter. The building of the canal was to allow a safe passage of his ships to the west without necessarily making the precarious expedition around the last part of the peninsula.

The digging of the canal was not an easy task. As a matter of fact, soldiers from all over the Persian Empire had to toil day and night under the lash in order to complete the arduous task (Hamel 212). Most of the time, engineers of the canal had to come to grips with several landslides, some of which buried entire work crews during the period. They also had to grapple with diseases as well as a deadline set by the king. These factually determined their existence or demise.

After several days of hard work, the canal was eventually ready for use. Covering a distance of several kilometers, the canal cut across the peninsula being well over seventy meters wide. It was eventually opened by King Xerxes being full of the Persian Empire’s ships with their flags flying and trumpets blasting. This was a great way of signifying to the enemy camp that they were ready for the battle to conquer Greece.

Unfortunately, in the Battle of Salamis, the king’s fleet was destroyed by the Athenian navy. Eventually, as a result of not being maintained, the canal fell into abandonment fast. A number of historians have debated its existence with recent studies authenticating the location of the canal to be at the narrowest point on the peninsula (Hamel 212).

Historical Significance

Though the canal is now buried under many centuries of alluvium and silt, it is however a key authentication to extraordinary military stratagem, work-force management as well as civil engineering. The construction of the canal also points to the lack of forethought and alacrity.

The king was definitely in hurry to conquer his enemies to an extent of forgetting to maintain the canal as a lasting waterway. The construction of the canal demonstrated an accomplishment of administration as well as ancient engineering at the time. The king is believed to have drafted engineers all the way from Phoenix, assigning teams of workers to diverse sections of the canal (Hamel 212).

Conclusion

The Xerxes canal was a unique monument of the ancient Persia’s epigrammatic rule over the North of Greece. Its construction across the Mount Athos peninsula was done in order to avoid a repetition of a disaster which had previously taken place following the devastation of the Persian fleet by storms when rounding the Mount Athos peninsula.

The digging of the canal was simple flamboyance of King Xerxes. In actual sense, he desired to establish something to be remembered (Backhaus and Murungi 113). This is because in essence, it would not have been intricate to get all the ships pulled across the isthmus on land. Yet, in spite of this fact, he still went ahead to order the construction of a canal through the sea. A canal that was actually wide enough to carry two ships which would be rowed side by side. 

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