DARIUS was very busy preparing this other army to march against Greece. While the men were being drilled, he sent two messengers to the Greek towns and islands, bidding them surrender and give him earth and water.
By demanding "earth and water," Darius meant that he wanted them to recognize him as their king, and as master of all their land and vessels. The inhabitants of many of the islands and towns were so frightened by the messages sent by The Great King, that they humbly yielded; but when the messengers came to Sparta and Athens, they met with a different reception.
In both cities the people proudly replied that they were their own masters, and would not yield to the demands of the Persian king. Then, angered by the insolent command to give earth and water, the Spartans entirely forgot that the life of an ambassador is sacred. In their rage, they seized the Persians, flung one into a pit and the other into a well, and told them to take all the earth and water they wanted.
This conduct made Darius all the more angry, and he hastened his preparations as much as he could. He was so active that in a short time he was able to start out again, with an army of a hundred and twenty thousand men.
The generals of this force were Datis and Artaphernes, who were guided and advised by the traitor Hippias. The fleet was to land the army on the plain of Marathon, close by the sea, and only one day's journey from Athens.
When the Athenians heard that the Persians were coming, they immediately decided to ask the Spartans, who were now their allies, to come to their aid, and help them drive back the enemy. As there was no time to lose, they chose as their messenger a fleet-footed Athenian, who made the journey of a hundred and fifty miles in a few hours, running every step of the way, and only seldom pausing to rest.
The Spartans listened breathlessly to his tidings, and promised that they would help the Athenians; but they added, that they would not be able to start until the moon was full, for they thought that they would be beaten unless they set out at a certain time.
The Persians in the mean while were advancing rapidly, so the Athenians started out to meet them with no other help than that of their neighbors the Platæans. The whole Greek force numbered only ten thousand men, and was under the command of the ten Athenian generals who were each entitled to the leadership for a day in turn.
Among these ten Athenian generals were three remarkable men,—Miltiades, Aristides, and Themistocles. They consulted together, hoping to find a plan by which their small army could successfully oppose the Persian host, which was twelve times greater.
At last Miltiades proposed a plan which might succeed, provided there was but one chief, and all obeyed him well. Aristides, who was not only a good man, but also remarkably just and wise, at once saw the importance of such a plan, and offered to give up his day's command, and to carry out his friend's orders just as if he were nothing but a common soldier.
The other generals, not wishing to appear less generous than he, also gave up their command to Miltiades, who thus found himself general in chief of the Athenian and Platæan armies. So he speedily made his preparations, and drew up his small force on the plain of Marathon, between the mountains and the sea.