National Geographic : 1944 Mar
The Persians Storm the Acropolis A TER the Persians had passed Thermopylae, there re mained no effective natural barrier between them and Athens. Themistocles, one of the most influential of the Athenian generals, persuaded the people to withdraw to the island of Salamis, which would provide a secure refuge as long as the fleet held out. Some Athenians, however, were reluctant to leave, and decided to defend the Acropolis. The Delphic oracle had pronounced, cryptically, that their safety lay in wooden walls. The exact nature of the Acropolis walls at this period is somewhat uncertain, but it is fairly safe to say, on the grounds of later evidence, that above the massive stone foundations the walls were built of unburnt brick, strength ened with wood, and that there was considerable wood in the upper portions of the walls where they were crowned by covered galleries. At first the Persian assault was successfully repulsed, but flaming arrows were shot against the defenders, and the old gateway, or Propylaea, was soon in flames. So, too, was the scaffolding around a great new building which was being erected at that time. Herodotus tells us that the Persians finally broke in by climbing up a path on the north side of the Acropolis, where no one thought it was possible to go. They probably made their way through the unguarded battlements and took the defenders from behind. In those days, the principal temple was not, as later on, the Parthenon, but an earlier and smaller building called the Hecatompedon, or the Old Temple, which lay farther north. Not many decades before the sack, the Peisistratid rulers of Athens had remodeledand adorned this temple with asur rounding colonnade, andhad also given itaroof ofmarble tiles and fine sculpturedpediments. Early in the fifth century anew and greater temple was planned. It was to be ofPentelic marble throughout, and to stand on a massive stone platform near thesouth edge of the Acropolis. Work onthis temple, which was tohave had a peristyle with six columns across each end, had been begun, and the steps and first few drums ofthecolumns were al ready set up when the Persians came. Possibly thebuilding had been begun as a thank offering forthedefeat ofXerxes' father, Darius the Great,atMarathon in490 B.C. The marble work which had already been erected was badly calcined by the firewhich raged through thescaffold ing, and many of the damaged column drums were built later into the north wall ofthe Acropolis when itwas hastily refortified after the Persians had gone. The foundation re mained, however, and was enlarged somewhat totake the Parthenon, the great new temple which Pericles ordered built a little more than thirty years later. We know that there were anumber ofother smaller build ings on the Acropolis at the time oftheinvasion, butonly a few architectural fragments ofthem remain, and wehave no good indication as to where they stood. Practically all the oldstatues and monuments were de stroyed by the Persians. Excavators have found large quan tities of the fragments in the fillwhich was made atthesouth side of the Parthenon when inPericlean times theAcropolis was remodeled and widened toward thesouth.