Battle of Salamis

Battle of Salamis

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

caption=Map of the battle
battle_name=Battle of Salamis
date=September, 480 BC
place=Off Salamis Island
result=Decisive Greek victory.
territory=Persia fails to conquer the Peloponnese.
combatant1=Greek city-states
combatant2=Achaemenid Empire,
commander2=Xerxes I of Persia,
Artemisia I of Caria,
strength1=366–378 ships a
strength2=~1,207 shipsb
1,000+ ships(Ctesias) |casualties1=40 ships
casualties2=200 ships
500 ships(Ctesias)
notes=a Herodotus gives 378 ships of the alliance, but his numbers add up to 366.b Aeschylus claimed there were 1,207 ships.

The Battle of Salamis (Ancient Greek: Polytonic|Ναυμαχία τῆς Σαλαμῖνος), was a decisive naval battle between the Greek city-states and Persia in September, 480 BC in the strait between Piraeus and Salamis Island, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens.

The Greeks were not in accord as to how to defend against the Persian army, but Athens under Themistocles used their navy to defeat the much larger Persian navy and force King Xerxes I of Persia to retreat. The Greek victory marked the turning point of the campaign, leading to the eventual Persian defeat.


On the third day of the indecisive Battle of Artemisium in August, 480 BC, news reached the Greek fleet of the outcome of the Battle of Thermopylae. The fleet retreated to Salamis to assist with the evacuation of Athens while Themistocles left inscriptions addressed to the Ionian Greek crews of the Persian fleet on all springs of water that they might stop at that said:

Men of Ionia, that what you are doing is not proper, campaigning against your fathers and wishing to enslave Greece. It would be best if you came on our side. But if this is not possible, at least during the battle stand aside and also beg the Carians to do the same with you. But if you can not do either the one or the other, if you are chained by higher force and you can not defect during the operations, when we come at hand, act purposely as cowards remembering that we are of the same blood and that the first cause of animosity with the barbarians came from you."Fact|date=November 2007 .

After Thermopylae, the Persian army burned and sacked the cities which did not surrender: Plataea and Thespiae in Boeotia. Later, the Persians did the same to Athens. There was disagreement in the Greek camp with the Spartans wanting to return to the Peloponnese, seal off the Isthmus of Corinth with a wall and prevent the Persians from defeating them on land. The Athenian commander, Themistocles, persuaded the Spartans to remain at Salamis, arguing that a wall across the isthmus was pointless as long as the Persian army could be transported around it and supplied by the Persian navy. His argument depended on a particular interpretation of the oracle at Delphi, which prophesied that Salamis would "bring death to women's sons," but also that the Greeks would be saved by a "wooden wall". Themistocles interpreted the wooden wall as the fleet of ships, and argued that Salamis would bring death to the Persians, not the Greeks. Furthermore, some Athenians who chose not to flee Athens interpreted the prophecy literally, barricaded the entrance to the Acropolis with a wooden wall, and fenced themselves in. The wooden wall was overrun, they were all killed, and the Acropolis was burned down by the Persians. [The debris from the destruction at the Acropolis is called Perserschutt]

ize of fleets

Historians disagree as to the number of ships at the battle. Herodotus reports that there were 378 Greek ships at Salamis, broken down by city-state (as indicated in the table); however, his numbers only add to 366. Macaulay notes that many editors suppose the 12 missing ships were from the Aegina garrison. Two more ships defected from the Persians to the Greeks; one before Artemisium and one before Salamis. According to Aeschylus, the Greek fleet numbered 310 triremes, while Ctesias claims that the Athenian fleet numbered only 110 triremes, not 180 as Herodotus claims. According to Hyperides, the Greek fleet numbered only 220Lee, Felicia R. " [ A Layered Look Reveals Ancient Greek Texts] ". "The New York Times". 27 Nov 2006.] . The fleet was effectively under the command of Themistocles, but nominally led by the Spartan Eurybiades. The Spartans had very few ships to contribute, but they regarded themselves as the natural leaders of any joint Greek military expedition and always insisted that the Spartan general would be given command on such occasions.The much larger Persian fleet consisted according to some modern estimates of 650 [Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους (History of the Greek nation) vol Β', Ekdotiki Athinon 1971] -800 [Garoufalis N. Demetrius, Η ναυμαχία της Σαλαμίνας, η σύγκρουση που άλλαξε τον ρού της ιστορίας (The battle of Salamis, the conflict that changed the flow of history), Στρατιωτική Ιστορία (Military History) magazine, issue 24, August 1998] ships, although their original invasion force consisted of many more ships (1,207) that had since been lost due to storms in the Aegean Sea and at Artemisium. Herodotus claims they were replaced in full but only mentions 120 ships from the Greeks of Thrace and an unspecified number from the Greek islands. Aeschylus also claims 1,207 ships of which 1,000 were triremes and 207 fast ships. Diodorus [ Biblioteca Historica XI 3] and Lysias [II,27] independently claim there were 1,200 at Doriskos. The 1,207 trireme number (for the outset only) is also given by Ephorus while his teacher Isocrates [ VII,49 ] claims there were 1,300 at Doriskos and 1,200 [ IV, 93 ] at Salamis. Ctesias gives another number, 1,000 ships, (in a fragment given in Photios's book) while Plato, speaking in general terms [ Plato Laws, III 699 B ] refers to 1,000 ships and more. With an average of 200 men per ship onboard, the total Persian naval force would be at least 200,000 men, without taking into account the numerous auxiliary vessels. The Persians, led by Xerxes I, decided to meet the Athenian fleet off the coast of Salamis Island, and were so confident of their victory that Xerxes set up a throne on the shore, on the slopes of Mount Aegaleo, to watch the battle in style and record the names of commanders who performed particularly well.

Quarreling Greeks

Eurybiades and the Spartans continued to argue with Themistocles about the necessity of fighting at Salamis. They still wanted to fight the battle closer to Corinth, so that they could retreat to the mainland in case of a defeat, or withdraw completely and let the Persians attack them by land.

Themistocles argued in favor of fighting at Salamis, as the Persian fleet would be able to continually supply their army no matter how many defensive walls the Peloponnesians built. Themistocles sent his servant to Xerxes to make the Persian king believe that the Greeks had in fact not been able to agree on a location for battle, and would be stealthily retreating during the night. Sicinnus, Themistocles' trusty slave of Persian origin, pretended that he deserted from the Athenian army and convinced Xerxes to send his Egyptian squadron to blockade the western outlet of the straits, which also served to block any Greek ships who might be planning to escape. This was exactly what Themistocles wanted Xerxes to do. Sicinnus was later rewarded with emancipation and Athenian citizenship.

Persian strategy

After burning the Acropolis, Xerxes visited the Persian fleet gathered at Phaleron to conduct a Council of War. Artemisia, the queen of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor and an ally of Xerxes tried to convince him to wait for the Greeks to surrender believing that battle in the straits of Salamis would be deadly to the large Persian ships. [cite book| last = Strauss| first =Barry | title =The Battle of Salamis | publisher =Simon and Schuster | year =2004 | location =New York | isbn = 0743244508] Nevertheless, Xerxes and his chief advisor Mardonius pressed for an attack. Throughout the night the Persian ships searched the gulf for the Greek retreat, while in fact the Greeks remained on their ships, asleep. During the night Aristides, formerly a political opponent of Themistocles, arrived to report that Themistocles' plan had worked, and he allied with the Athenian commander to strengthen the Greek force.

The Battle

The next morning (possibly September 28 but the exact date is unknown), [ the Hellenic Navy celebrates September 12 as Battle of Salamis Day)] the Persians, exhausted from searching for the Greeks all night, sailed in to the straits anyway to attack the Greek fleet.

Fleet formations

The formation of the two enemy fleets had the Persian fleet at the right flank with the very powerful Phoenician fleet, with Mount Aegaleo at its back; on the left flank was the Ionian fleet (with the Carians on the edge) while in the center were ships from Cyprus and Cilicia. The main effort was to be taken by the Phoenicians, who were intended to encircle and trap the enemy fleet. In the Greek fleet, on the left were the ships of the Athenians (opposite to the Phoenicians); on the right (the position of honor) were the Spartans, Megareans and Aeginians; with the rest of the fleet in the center. Megareans and Aeginians were placed on the right because they were considered more capable than the Athenians [ Diodorus Siculus, Biblioteca Historica, XI,18 ] and because in case of loss they would have had nowhere to flee to.A Corinthian detachment of approximately 30 ships stayed back to guard against possible encirclement by the Egyptian detachment.

Battle begins

The Greek fleet started rowing towards the Persians at daybreak, but when it became obvious that they would meet them at the center of the strait which was wide enough there to allow the Persians to use their numerical advantage, they started retreating. According to Plutarch [ Plutarch, Themistocles 14 ] this was not only to gain better position but also in order to gain time until the early morning wind. The fleet reached such a position that it was covered from the left side by the islet of Saint George and on the right by the peninsula of Kynosoura. At this point according to Herodotus the ghost of a woman appeared shouting: "Madmen, how far will ye yet back your ships?" [Herodotus VIII, 84, Macaulay translation] Then the early morning wind started blowing raising waves, which shook the tall Phoenician ships more than the triremes. The ship of the Athenian Ameinias of Pallene quickly rammed the leading Persian ship. At this, the rest of the Greeks joined the attack.

The Greek and Persian ships rammed each other and something similar to a land battle ensued. Both sides had marines on their ships (the Greeks with fully armed hoplites), and arrows and javelins also flew across the narrow strait. The wave motion made the archers on the Phoenician ships miss their target, thus giving advantage to the hoplites who fought hand to hand. The Greek triremes were outfitted with the "embolon", a long bronze protrusion fitted to the prow at water level, which enabled them to ram and sink enemy ships more easily than they could be sunk themselves.

When it became obvious to the Greeks that the battle was inevitable, morale rose, and the fleet enthusiastically took to sea and started singing the "paean"

: Polytonic|Ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων ἴτε,: Polytonic|ἐλευθεροῦτε πατρίδ', ἐλευθεροῦτε δὲ: Polytonic|παῖδας, γυναῖκας, θεῶν τέ πατρῴων ἕδη,: Polytonic|θήκας τε προγόνων:: Polytonic|νῦν ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀγών.

which means:

: Forward, sons of the Greeks,: Liberate the fatherland, liberate: Your children, your women, the altars of the gods of your fathers: And the graves of your forebears:: Now is the fight for everything.

This quote (from Aeschylus' tragedy The Persians), especially the last line, has later been used to describe desperate battles, generally.

As at Artemisium, the much larger Persian fleet could not maneuver in the gulf. On the left flank the Athenians could maneuver better and call reinforcements to fill gaps while the Phoenicians with land on their back could not. But on the right flank, where the Greeks were outnumbered and with land on their back, the Persians had open water and could call reinforcements, limiting the Spartans and Aeginetans to defense. The left managed to defeat its opposing force and encircle the enemy center. The chief Persian admiral Ariamenes rammed Themistocles' ship, but in the hand-to-hand combat that followed, Ariamenes was killed by a Greek warrior. On his death, confusion among the Persian fleet ensued because the chain of command was disrupted. The encircled Persians tried to turn back, but the strong wind trapped them. Those who were able to turn around were also trapped by the rest of the Persian fleet that had jammed the strait.


At least 200 Persian ships were sunk, including one by Artemisia, who, finding herself pursued by a Greek ship, attacked and rammed a Persian vessel, convincing the Greek captain that she too was Greek; he accordingly abandoned the chase. Aristides took another small contingent of ships and recaptured Psyttaleia, a nearby island that the Persians had occupied a few days earlier. It is said that it was the Immortals, the elite Persian Royal Guard, who during the battle had to evacuate to Psyttaleia after their ships sank and they were slaughtered to a man. According to Herodotus, the Persians suffered many more casualties than the Greeks because most Persians did not know how to swim. One of the Persian casualties was a brother of Xerxes. Those Persians who survived and ended up on shore were killed by the Greeks who found them.

Xerxes, sitting on Mount Aegaleo on his golden throne, witnessed the horror. He remarked that Artemisia was the only general to show any productive bravery by ramming nine Athenian triremes, saying, "My men have become women, and my women men." [Herodotus, VIII, 88, Macaulay translation] When some Phoenicians blamed the Ionians for cowardice before the end of the battle, Xerxes, who had just witnessed the battle and the courage of his Ionian fleet, had the Phoenicians beheaded. [Herodotus, VIII, 89-90] Thus it appears that Themistocles' psychological operation failed to make the Ionians fight with less resolve but succeeded in creating hostility between the different nations that comprised the Persian fleet.

Consequences of the battle

The victory of the Greeks marked the turning point in the Persian Wars and the heavy defeat of Persia. Without his navy, Xerxes was unable to supply his huge army from resource-poor Greece so he withdrew to the Hellespont. Here, he proposed to march his army back over the bridge of ships he had created, before the Greeks arrived to destroy the bridge (although the Greeks had already decided not to do this). Xerxes returned to Persia, leaving Mardonius and a large force to hold the conquered areas of Greece. Mardonius recaptured Athens, but the Greek city-states joined together once more to fight him at the simultaneous Battle of Plataea and Battle of Mycale in 479 BC, in which they routed and scattered the remaining Persian force.


The Battle of Salamis has been described by many historians (among them Victor Davis Hanson, Donald Kagan and John Keegan) as the single most significant battle in human history. The defeat of the Persian navy was instrumental in the eventual Persian defeat, as it dramatically shifted the war in Greece's favor. Many historians argue that Greece's ensuing independence laid the foundations for Western civilization, most notably from the preservation of Athenian democracy, the concept of individual rights, relative freedom of the person, true philosophy, art and architecture. Had the Persians won at Salamis, it is very likely that Xerxes would have succeeded in conquering all the Greek nations and passing to the European continent, thus preventing Western civilization's growth (and even existence). Given the influence of Western civilization on world history, as well as the achievements of Western culture itself, a failure of the Greeks to win at Salamis would almost certainly have had seriously important effects on the course of human history [According to Victor Davis Hanson a victory of the Persians would had been "dramatic" for Western civilization] .

The Persian response to their defeat at the battle was dramatized eight years later by the Greek playwright Aeschylus in "The Persians" (472 BCE), which is the earliest surviving play in the history of theatre.


*cite web| url= |title=The history of Herodotus — Volume 2 by Herodotus, books V to IX |accessdate=2007-11-15| author=George Campbell Macaulay| year=1914| publisher=MacMillan and Co.
*Aeschylus' Account []


Further reading

* Green, Peter. "The Greco-Persian Wars." Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970; revised ed., 1996 (hardcover, ISBN 0-520-20573-1); 1998 (paperback, ISBN 0-520-20313-5).
* Green, Peter. "Xerxes at Salamis". New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970.
* Green, Peter. "The Year of Salamis, 480–479 B.C." London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970 (ISBN 0-297-00146-9).
* Hanson, Victor Davis. "Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power". New York: DoubleDay, 2001 (hardcover, ISBN 0-385-50052-1); New York: Anchor Books, 2001 (paperback, ISBN 0-385-72038-6). As "Why the West has Won: Carnage and Culture from Salamis to Vietnam". London: Faber and Faber, 2001 (hardcover, ISBN 0-571-20417-1); 2002 (paperback, ISBN 0-571-21640-4).
* Strauss, Barry. "The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece—and Western Civilization". New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7432-4450-8; paperback, ISBN 0-7432-4451-6).

External links

* [ Livius Picture Archive: the naval battle off Salamis (480 BCE)]

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