Battle of Artemisium

Battle of Artemisium

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Artemisium
partof=the Persian Wars

date=August 11 480 BC
place=Artemisium, Euboea
result=Persian victory. ["Encyclopaedia Britannica", "Artemisium, Battle of"]
territory=Persia re-stablishes a base on mainland Greece.
combatant1=Greek city-states
combatant2=Achaemenid Empire
commander2=Artemisia I,
strength1=333 ships
strength2= Unknown
casualties1=Over 95 ships (Herodotus)
The naval Battle of Artemisium took place, according to tradition, on the same day as the Battle of Thermopylae on August 11 480 BC, though its exact date may be a few days prior or after (Prentice, 13). It was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states and the Persians in 480 BC.


The Greek city-states of Athens and Eretria had supported the unsuccessful Ionian Revolt against the Persian Empire of Darius I in 499-494 BC. Darius swore revenge on these two city-states, and also saw the oppurtunity to expand his empire into the fractious world of Ancient Greece. Persian Fire. Holland, T. Abacus, ISBN 978-0-349-11717-1 ] A preliminary expedition under Mardonius, in 492 BC, to secure the land approaches to Greece ended with the re-conquest of Thrace and forced Macedon to become a client kingdom of Persia. [Herodotus VI,43]

In 491 BC, Darius sent embassies to all the Greek city-states, asking for a gift of 'earth and water' in token of their submission to him. Persian Fire, pps178-179. Holland, T. Abacus, ISBN 978-0-349-11717-1 ] Having had a demonstration of his power the previous year, the majority of Greek cities duly obliged. In Athens, however, the ambassadors were put on trial and then executed; in Sparta, they were simply thrown down a well. This meant that Sparta was also now effectively at war with Persia.

Darius thus put together a amphibious task force under Datis and Artaphernes in 490 BC, which attacked Naxos, before receiving the submission of the other Cycladic Islands. The task force then moved on Eretria, which it besieged and destroyed. [Herodotus VI,94] Finally, it moved to attack Athens, landing at the bay of Marathon, where it was met by a heavily outnumbered Athenian army. At the ensuing Battle of Marathon, the Athenians won a remarkable victory, which resulted in the withdrawal of the Persian army to Asia.

Darius therefore began raising a huge new army with which he meant to completely subjugate Greece; however, in 486 BC, his Egyptian subjects revolted, indefinitely postponing any Greek expedition Persian Fire. Holland, T. Abacus, ISBN 978-0-349-11717-1 ] . Darius then died whilst preparing to march on Egypt, and the throne of Persia passed to his son Xerxes I. Xerxes crushed the Egyptian revolt, and very quickly re-started the preparations for the invasion of Greece. Since this was to be a full scale invasion it required long-term planning, stock-piling and conscription. Xerxes decided that the Hellespont would be bridged to allow his army to cross to Europe, and that a canal should be dug across the isthmus of Mount Athos (rounding which headland, a Persian fleet had been destroyed in 492 BC). These were both feats of exceptional ambition, which would have been beyond any contemporary state. Persian Fire, p213-214. Holland, T. Abacus, ISBN 978-0-349-11717-1 ] By early 480 BC, the preparations were complete, and the army which Xerxes had mustered at Sardis marched towards Europe, crossing the Hellespont on two pontoon bridges.

The Athenians had also been preparing for war with the Persians since the mid-480s BC, and in 482 BC the decision was taken, under the guidance of the Athenian politician Themistocles, to build a massive fleet of triremes that would be necessary for the Greeks to fight the Persians Persian Fire. Holland, T. Abacus, ISBN 978-0-349-11717-1 ] . However, the Athenians did not have the man-power to fight on land and sea; and therefore combatting the Persians would require an alliance of Greek city states. In 481 BC Xerxes sent ambassadors around Greece asking for earth and water, but making the very deliberate omission of Athens and Sparta. [Herodotus [ VII, 32] ] Support thus began to coalesce around these two leading states. A congress of city states met at Corinth in late autumn of 481 BC,Herodotus [ VII,145] ] and a confederate alliance of Greek city-states was formed. It had the power to send envoys asking for assistance and to dispatch troops from the member states to defensive points after joint consultation. Herodotus does not formulate an abstract name for the polity, such as "congress" or "alliance", but calls them simply "Unicode|οἱ Ἕλληνες" (the Greeks) and "the Greeks who had sworn alliance" (Godley translation) or "the Greeks who had banded themselves together" (Rawlinson translation). [Herodotus, [ VII, 148] ] Sparta and Athens had a leading role in the congressHerodotus [ VII, 161] ] but interests of all the states played a part in determining defensive strategy. Little is known about the internal workings of the congress or the discussion during its proceedings. Only 70 of the approximately 700 Greek cities sent representatives. Nevertheless, this was remarkable for the disjointed Greek world, especially since many of the city-states in attendance were still technically at war with each other. Persian Fire. Holland, T. Abacus, ISBN 978-0-349-11717-1 ]

The 'congress' met again in the spring of 480 BC. A Thessalian delegation suggested that the allies could muster in the narrow Vale of Tempe, on the borders of Thessaly, and thereby block Xerxes advance Persian Fire, 248-249. Holland, T. Abacus, ISBN 978-0-349-11717-1 ] . A force of 10,000 Greek people including hoplites and cavalry to the vale of Tempe, through which they believed the Persian army would have to pass. However, once there, they were warned by Alexander I of Macedon that the vale could be bypassed through the Sarantoporo Pass, and that the army of Xerxes was overwhelming, the Greeks retreated. Herodotus [ VII,173] ] Shortly afterwards, they received the news that Xerxes had crossed the Hellespont.

A second strategy was therefore suggested by Themistocles to the allies. The route to southern Greece (Boeotia, Attica and the Peloponnesus would require the army of Xerxes to travel through the very narrow pass of Thermopylae. This could easily be blocked by the Greek hoplites, despite the overwhelming numbers of Persians. Furthermore, to prevent the Persians bypassing Thermopylae by sea, the Athenian and allied navies could block the straits of Artemisium. This dual strategy was adopted by the congress. Persian Fire, pps 255-257 Holland, T. Abacus, ISBN 978-0-349-11717-1 ] However, the Peloponnesian cities made fall-back plans to defend the Isthmus of Corinth should it come to it, whilst the women and children of Athens had been evacuated "en masse" to Salamis.

The Opposing Forces

The Greek force, according to Herodotus (the ancient Greek historian, and the main source of information about the Persian battles), consisted of 127 triremes from Athens and Plataea, 20 from Athens and Chalcis, 40 from Corinth, 20 from Megara, 18 from Aegina, 12 from Sicyon, 10 from Sparta, 8 from Epidaurus, 7 from Eretria, 5 from Troezen, 2 from Styra, and 2 from Ceos. There were also 9 other ships ("penteconters", fifty-oared ships). In order to preserve the unity of the force, the Athenians, who had contributed the most ships, allowed the fleet to be led by Eurybiades of Sparta to preserve unity amongst the fleet.


The Persians at first met the Greeks off the coast of Thessaly, at Aphetae, close to Thermopylae, as the Athenian commander Themistocles attempted to delay the Persians while the island of Euboea was being evacuated. The Persians sent 200 ships around the south of Euboea, hoping to trap the Greeks in the channel, but a Persian defector warned the Greeks of this plan. A Greek squadron set out to meet them, so the Persians sent out some ships of their own to capture them. The Greek triremes surrounded these ships, and although they were outnumbered, were able to defeat them with the rams on their bows, and captured thirty Persian ships. The Persian fleet retreated for the night, and all 200 Persian ships still sailing around Euboea were destroyed in a sudden violent storm that same night. The next day 53 more Athenian ships arrived, and a Greek raid destroyed some Persian scout ships.

The following day (August 11 if the tradition of the simultaneous battles is to be believed), the Persians sailed towards the Greek fleet, forming a semi-circle in an attempt to trap them off Artemisium. Here the size of the Persian fleet worked against them, as they could not maneuver in the strait, and a disproportionate amount of the fleet was destroyed by the Greeks. Five Greek ships were captured by the Egyptian contingent, while the Athenian Cleinias, the father of Alcibiades, single-handedly sank a large number of Persian ships. However, the Greek fleet also suffered heavy casualties; according to Herodotus' records, roughly half of the Athenian fleet was destroyed or damaged beyond repair in the last engagement with the Persian navy.


The two sides withdrew once more, and the Greeks learned of the defeat of Leonidas at Thermopylae. Discouraged by their own losses in the battle and the retreat of the land armies, the Greeks began to retreat from Artemisium, heading south along the coast of Euboea. During the retreat, Themistocles left messages for the Ionian contingents of the Persian fleet, urging them to defect to their fellow Greeks. Meanwhile, the Persians sacked Artemisium. The Athenians under Themistocles went to Salamis Island, where their fellow citizens had fled after Xerxes I of Persia captured their city following his victory at Thermopylae. Themistocles would lead the fleet at the Battle of Salamis the next month.


*Prentice, William. "Thermopylae and Artemisium." "Transactions of the American Philological Society" 51 (1920), 5-18

External links

The has a journal article about this subject:

* [ Livius Picture Archive: the naval battle of Artemisium (480 BC)]
* [ Reed Classics, extracts from Herodotus Book Eight]

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