It doesn’t look very impressive today
Just a barely perceptible undulation in the ground that runs for about 1.5 km across the narrowest part of the Mount Athos peninsula.
At one end there’s a cemetery and at the other dumped mattresses and chairs. A fly tip
In between there are patches of greenery and occasional pools of water despite the baking heat
But if you walked this ground 2500 years ago you would have seen men from 50 nations digging what was one of the lost wonders of the world.
This is Xerxes’ Canal …dug on the orders of the king so that his fleet would not have to sail around the choppy waters of the Athos headland.
His father’s fleet tried that and had been all but destroyed in a storm – men who jumped from wrecked ships clung to the the rocks only to be swept away. It nearly did for the invasion and Xerxes was not going to make the same mistake.
Herodotus tells us that different nations were allocated their own sections but it was the Phoenicians who solved the constant problem of collapsing banks
They made the canal wider at the top than at the bottom. Simples.
For centuries experts have argued over the existence of the canal but recently archaeologists from Glasgow Uni proved that the line of the canal is there and was built pretty much as Herodotus described.
Which was just as well really. Xerxes was not a man to treat shoddy workmanship with equanimity.
When his bridge of boats across the Hellespont was destroyed in a storm he sent his soldiers into the sea armed with whips to punish the recalcitrant waters
“You want us to what , boss?”
“Go into the sea …,”
“Yeah ok….with whips boss?”
“Of course with whips you fool , ”
how else will you be able to thrash the naughty water mightily. Teach it a lesson. And when you are thrashing it mightily I want to you to shout at it and warn it not to misbehave again ….”
Oh and he had the bridge designers decapitated.
At this point his commanders are probably looking askance at each other secretly wondering what the hell they had got themselves into
But Xerxes loved the designer of the canal. Artrachaes was one if his relatives. The tallest man in Persia apparently. Over two metres tall
And Xerxes loved his canal. Big enough for two triremes to pass each other.
Which made it a bit of a pisser when Artachaes died suddenly just before the fleet passed by.
Probably of overwork.
To honour him they built him a marvellous tomb and covered it with a huge mound. You can still see it next to where the canal emptied into the sea on the west side
If you are ever passing this way try walking along stretches of the canal. Close your eyes and imagine the sound and sights of thousands of labourers from all corners of the known world digging to the orders of an all powerful (if slightly unhinged) king