Battle of Salamis
In the roaring waters near Salamis, the Greek fleet laid anchor, as the Persian fleet arrived and closed off the Greek retreat, keeping them in straights between Salamis and Attica. At the same time, the Peloponnesians were building a wall to prevent the advance of the Persian army. A naval battle was soon fought between the Greek city-states and the Achaemenid Empire of Persia in September 480 BC. As numerous ships trailed through the waters, the marking of the soon to be war was upon them as they lined up in preparation to see who would be victorious.
As each side prepared for battle, different tactics and strategies engulfed the minds of each side. The number of ships is debated, but it is estimated that there were about 1200 Persian ships, but according to some modern historians, they reject this number and state that there may have been about 600-800 triremes. No matter what the number, the Greeks were still facing a disadvantage against the Persians due to this matter. Even though the Persians had a large numerical advantage, they still had some disadvantages as well. One of these was that they would have to attack the Greeks in the narrow straight rather than in the large, open sea because in confined spaces they could not outflank the smaller Greek force. The straights were so narrow that only half the Persian fleet could enter into it. The Persians, expecting an easy victory, were at a significant tactical advantage, outnumbering their allies. Most of their marines carried a bow, which the Persians relied greatly on in their battles, which would most likely fail if their ship was boarded, as the bow would be negated due to the standoff range because it was not as good in hand to hand fighting. Persians had ships with triremes being equipped with a ram at the bows, which would be used for ramming, which required skilled sailing, Persians were more likely to employ this technique.
Led by Themistocles, the Greeks sailed there estimated 300 plus ships, (Herodotus reports that there were around 378 triremes) which were faster than the Persians, to battle. Being outnumbered by almost 3:1, the Greeks had the plan to counter this by fighting the Persians in a narrow space, as it would be favorable to the Greeks, as the leader, Themistocles, persuaded them to stay and fight the Persians in the narrows. Another tactic sought out by Themistocles was sending out a trusted slave to send a message to the Persian King that stated, “that the Greeks were about to flee.” Once the slave delivered the message, he returned telling the Greeks that the king had fallen for the trick and had ordered his captains to spend the night blocking all the escape routes that they had. As the Persians stood the whole at their ores, the Greeks slept soundly.
Confident of their victory, the Persian king Xerxes, scoured up a hill to find a vantage point where he could watch the battle take place and by morning, all the Persians ships were in place. Some of the Persian ships blocked the Western straight while others packed the narrow waters of Salamis. This is where they waited for movement from the Greek fleet, but nothing came. Stunned, Xerxes was led to asking advice from his commanders who all told the king to attack, but one voice differed from the others. This voice came from the only woman commander, Queen Artemisia. Herodotus says, “Xerxes held a council with the Persian fleet at Phalerum.” During this time, the Queen Artemisia tried to convince Xerxes to wait until the allies surrendered; adding that attacking was an unnecessary risk. Xeroxes ignored her advice.
In the meanwhile, this was all beneficial for the Greeks, as they had a perfect night’s sleep and were prepared for battle. As another one of the Greeks tactics, the wind was now blowing south as they had hoped for, which began pushing all the Persian boats closer and closer to Themistocles. Finally, the Greek ships began to execute their well thought out plan. The Greeks felt confident knowing that the Persians would be exhausted and worn out after patrolling all night. Quickly the Persians realized this horrible mistake, the Greeks were nowhere close to fleeing, a battle was about to take place.
The oarsman pulled and push like a powerful engine as they headed towards the Persians. Soon it all began as a Greek ship rammed a Persian ship, sending bodies into the waters. The maneuverable Greek ships soon brought havoc upon the Persians, as the Persians boats could not move as well. The stranded Persian ships with their exhausted men were almost like sitting ducks. Themistocles plan had worked.
As the queen escaped, the scene over 200 Persian ships that were sunk was viewed. Many men were lost in the battle, even Xerxes brother. Xerxes left to Asia, leaving his army to carry on the battle, but he knew that when he didn’t have command of the sea, he would never control Greece. And so it was a defeat for the Persians.
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