SALAMIS BATTLE 480BC
We visit Perama / Salamis as travelers, not as tourists
The Battle of Salamis Ναυμαχία τῆς Σαλαμῖνος, was a naval battle fought between an alliance of Greek city-states under Themistocles and the Persian Empire under King Xerxes in 480 BC which resulted in a decisive victory for the outnumbered Greeks. The battle was fought in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens, and marked the high-point of the second Persian invasion of Greece.
To block the Persian advance, a small force of Greeks blocked the pass of Thermopylae, while an Athenian-dominated Allied navy engaged the Persian fleet in the nearby straits of Artemisium. In the resulting Battle of Thermopylae, the rearguard of the Greek force was annihilated, whilst in the Battle of Artemisium the Greeks had heavy losses and retreated after the loss at Thermopylae. This allowed the Persians to conquer Boeotia and Attica. The Allies prepared to defend the Isthmus of Corinth whilst the fleet was withdrawn to nearby Salamis Island.
Battle of Salamis, (480 BC), battle in the Greek-Persian Wars in which a Greek fleet defeated much larger Persian naval forces in the straits at Salamis, between the island of Salamis and the Athenian port-city of Piraeus.
The Greek commander, Themistocles, then lured the Persian fleet into the narrow waters of the strait at Salamis, where the massed Persian ships had difficulty maneuvering. The Greek triremes then attacked furiously, ramming or sinking many Persian vessels and boarding others. The Greeks sank about 300 Persian vessels while losing only about 40 of their own. The rest of the Persian fleet was scattered, and as a result Xerxes had to postpone his planned land offensives for a year, a delay that gave the Greek city-states time to unite against him. The Battle of Salamis was the first great naval battle recorded in history.
This naval battle, one of the most important in world history, took place toward the end of September 480 BCE at the southernmost strait between Salamis and Attica. The Greeks, with comparatively much smaller forces (approximately three hundred and fifty ships), but with a display of unity and intelligent tactics, crushed the numerically superior Persian fleet (over a thousand ships).
Following the final outcome of the battle of the Thermopylae, Xerxes’ Persians moved toward Athens, which they seized easily since the Athenians had abandoned it. A prophecy by the Delphi oracle had stated that only “wooden walls” would save them. Themistocles’ interpretation had considered that to mean their ships, and people fled there. Only a few elders, not convinced by Themistocles, stayed in Athens, created actual wooden walls around the Acropolis and enclosed themselves there. The Persians eliminated them easily and burned Athens. Almost simultaneously, the Persian fleet anchored in the bay of Faliro, after having sailed along the coast of Euboea and Sounion.
After transporting the women and children to Salamis, Aegina and Troezina for greater safety, the Athenians boarded their ships and prepared to confront the Persians. In the Greek commanders’ council of war that took place in Salamis, the Spartan admiral Eurybiades suggested that they retreat toward the Isthmus of Corinth, so that in the event of failure they could take refuge in the Peloponnese and continue fighting from there. The Corinthians sided with him. The Athenian Themistocles insisted on the naval battle taking place in Salamis, and the Megarians and Aeginetans sided with him. He believed that defeat would be unavoidable if the Greek fleet fought in the open sea against the overwhelmingly larger Persian one, while in the Salamis strait the numerous Persian ships would be substantially inferior in terms of ease of movement. Themistocles’ view was met with bitter opposition. In a moment of tension, the Spartan Evriviades, typically the leader of the Greek forces, tried to hit Themistocles who reacted with the famous phrase: “Smite, but hear me”.
In order to bring forward the naval battle, Themistocles set up a ploy: He secretly sent Sikinos, the school escort of his sons, to inform the Persians that the Greeks are supposedly preparing to leave Salamis and that if they want to defeat them, they would have to speed up the clash. Xerxes fell for it and ordered the encirclement of the Greek fleet, by also blocking the northern passage to the Isthmus of Corinth. During those crucial hours, Aristides, Themistocles’ political opponent who had been exiled to Aegina, took the risk of crossing the Persian lines, reached Themistocles’ ship, informed him of the movements of the Persian fleet and accepted to fight under his command as a mere soldier.
On a dawn toward the end of September 480 BCE, the two fleets with the disproportionate forces above confronted each other at the southern strait of Salamis. Xerxes had set up a golden throne on Mount Aigaleo in order to enjoy the sight of his military victory. His navy of about 800 galleys bottled up the smaller Greek fleet of about 380 triremes in the Saronic Gulf.
The Greeks charged first, chanting the famous paean: “Forward, you sons of Hellas! Set your country free! Set free your sons, your wives, the tombs of your ancestors, and temples of your gods. All is at stake now, fight!”
In the fierce clash that followed, the war chants of the Greeks, the trumpets, the cries of war, the crush of the mighty rams that were driven into the Persian ships and immobilized them, partially turning the naval battle into a battle by land, and in general the naval ability and bravery of the Greeks, particularly that of the more experienced Athenians and Aeginites, wore down the Persians and their Phoenician allies. At noon, the Greek victory was already in sight. The battle continued throughout the day and by night time the Persian fleet had suffered a debacle. It has been reported that the Persians lost 300 ships and the Greeks 40. In an operation launched while the battle was raging, Aristides along with a team of elite soldiers landed at Psyttaleia and eliminated the Persian garrison stationed there.
Fearing that the Greeks might attack the bridges across the Hellespont and trap his army in Europe, Xerxes resolved to do this, taking the greater part of the army with him.
Mardonius handpicked the troops who were to remain with him in Greece, taking the elite infantry units and cavalry, to complete the conquest of Greece. All of the Persian forces abandoned Attica, however, with Mardonius overwintering in Boeotia and Thessaly; the Athenians were thus able to return to their burnt city for the winter.
Xerxes, fled with the remnants of his fleet to Hellespont and from there to Persia. The battle of Salamis became later (472 BCE) the source of inspiration for Aeschylus, one of the combatants, to write the iconic tragedy “The Persians”. The victory was mainly due to Themistocles’ strategic skills, the superior seamanship and free spirit of the Greeks, who once again defied the logic of numbers and made history.