In grim, disciplined silence, the Athenian army tramped along the mountain road at forced march pace. Somewhere in the forest ahead, a mounted advance party was staking out a camp site. Behind them, trailing all the way back to Athens, came wagons and slaves, bringing tents and supplies for all and furnishings for the officers. Not many miles ahead, a massive Persian army lay encamped on the Attic coast, threatening to attack Athens, just twenty-six miles to the south.
Under the blistering August sun, the men from Athens and throughout her territories in the Attica region marched in loose order, divided into ten regiments based on the voting tribe into which each man fell according to his place of birth. In the past, Athens had comprised just four tribes, but seventeen years before this the number of tribes had been enlarged to ten, all named for legendary Athenian heroes. This system had made the organisation of elections for high office at Athens more manageable, and provided a structure for the city-state’s citizen army when the call to arms was made – your peacetime voting tribe automatically became your regiment in time of war. Now, with roughly 900 men to a regiment, nine thousand fighters aged between eighteen and fifty followed their ten regimental commanders to war.
The general commanding the fourth regiment, the Leontis, was a solid thirty-three-year-old by the name of Themistocles. Of average height, he had a bull neck and a round, friendly face; although, it was a face that did not shine with intelligence. His thick hair and beard were close-cropped, his low brow was already creased, his wide mouth topped by a thick moustache. Like all Athens’ tribal groupings, the ranks of the Leontis were equally divided between city dwellers, mountain men and plainsmen. Themistocles himself had originally come from an outlying coastal district, and looked more like a dullard of a fisherman than a fighter, let alone a general of genius. A few more years were to pass before he would be in a position to display that genius.