The Persians had been driven out of Greece, and the war with them was now carried on in Asia Minor instead of nearer home. The Greek army won many battles here also, and even managed to free the city of Miletus from the Persian yoke.
These triumphs encouraged all the Ionian cities, and they soon formed a league with the other Greeks, promising to help them against the Persians should the war ever be renewed. As soon as this alliance was made, the Greek fleet returned home, bringing back to Athens as a trophy the chains with which Xerxes had pretended to bind the rebellious sea.
In the mean while the Athenians, who had taken refuge on the Peloponnesus, had returned to their native city, where, alas! they found their houses and temples in ruins. The desolation was great; yet the people were so thankful to return, that they prepared to rebuild the town.
They were greatly encouraged in this purpose by an event which seemed to them a good omen. Near the temple of the patron goddess of Athens stood a sacred olive tree, supposed to have been created by her at the time when the city received her name.
This place had been burned by the invaders, and the returning Athenians sorrowfully gazed upon the blackened trunk of the sacred tree. Imagine their delight, therefore, when a new shoot suddenly sprang up from the ashes, and put forth leaves with marvelous speed.
The people all cried that the goddess had sent them this sign of her continued favor to encourage them to rebuild the city, and they worked with such energy that they were soon provided with new homes.
As soon as the Athenians had secured shelter for their families, they began to restore the mighty walls which had been the pride of their city. When the Spartans heard of this, they jealously objected, for they were afraid that Athens would become more powerful than Sparta.
Of course, they did not want to own that they were influenced by so mean a feeling as jealousy, so they tried to find a pretext to hinder the work. This was soon found, and Spartan messengers came and told the Athenians that they should not fortify the town, lest it should fall again into the hands of the enemy, and serve them as a stronghold.
Themistocles suspected the real cause of these objections, and made up his mind to use all his talents to help his fellowcitizens. He therefore secretly assembled the most able men, and told them to go on with the work as fast as possible, while he went to Sparta to talk over the matter with the Lacedaemonians.
When he arrived at Sparta, he artfully prolonged the discussions until the walls were built high enough to be defended. Of course, there was now nothing to be done; but the Spartans were very angry, and waited anxiously for an opportunity to punish the Athenians. This came after a time, as you will see in the following chapters.