Casting Through Ancient Greece

Episode 24: The Battle of Salamis

February 10, 2021 Mark Selleck Season 1 Episode 24
Casting Through Ancient Greece
Episode 24: The Battle of Salamis
Show Notes Transcript

The Greek fleet had assembled at the island of Salamis, but an agreement on strategy was far from united. To make matters worse, Xerxes had arranged for a show of force outside the straits which saw a few contingents panic and set sail at once. For the rest who remained a decision was made that the fleet would withdraw back to the Peloponnese the next morning.

This would see Athens lost for good and the rest of Greece more vulnerable than ever. Themistocles, though had other ideas and now arranged a ruse, bordering on treason, to try and unite the Greeks to fight at Salamis. He would send a messenger to Xerxes to try and entice him into action before the Greeks had a chance to depart.     

Xerxes would act on the information that Themistocles had sent him, mobilising his entire fleet to try and defeat the Greek navy once and for all. The movements become a little confused but appears that both openings of the striates would be blocked in in one way or another. The Greeks would learn of their dire position, which would now see only one option open to them now, to fight.

The battle of Salamis would see the Greek fleet far outnumbered, but the vast number of the Persians would see this inhibit their movement within the striates. With Xerxes looking on, the commanders aboard the Persian ships would foul themselves on one another as they attempted to get into action to impress their king.

The Greeks would suffer many losses in the long days fighting, but the Persians had suffered far worse and were in full retreat out of the striates. As they fell back yet more carnage would follow as Greek ambushes were launched. The Persian fleet was now a spent force and the Greeks had won the battle of Salamis. Though, the level of their victory was not immediately apparent, also the Persian land forces were yet undefeated and the campaign would continue on.  

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Episode 24: 

The Battle of Salamis:

 

At once on a word of command, they all pulled their oars together, struck the deep seawater and made it roar – and then suddenly they were all there in plain sight. First there was the right wing, leading the way with good order and discipline, and then the whole fleet coming on behind, and from all of them together one could hear a great cry:

Come on, sons of the Greeks, for the freedom of your homeland, for the freedom of your children, your wives, the temples of your fathers’ gods, and the tombs of your ancestors! Now all is at stake![1]

-Aeschylus-

 

Hello I’m Mark Selleck and welcome back to casting through ancient Greece, episode 24, The Battle of Salamis.

 

Introduction:

In late September the Greeks were on the eve of another battle against Xerxes Persian Empire. At Marathon 10 years earlier, they were able to prevent the Persians securing a foot hold in Attica. Just 7 days ago at Thermopylae they were able to put a halt to Xerxes march for a week, but the defenders were eventually wiped out. At Artemesium, around the same time of Thermopylae, a series of naval actions saw the Greeks gaining tactical victories. Though, the losses that the Greeks were taking could not be sustained and the only sensible course of action was to fall back. The withdrawal of the Greeks now saw just about everything north of the Peloponnese undefended. Any village or polis that wouldn’t submit to the Persians was razed with its inhabitants fleeing or killed defending their livelihood. Those who did submit, joined in the campaign on the Persian side, with them either providing territory, supplies, men or ships for the war effort. The Acropolis at Athens now lay in ruins with the embers still smouldering. But the Polis of Athens now rested on some nearly 200 triremes and the citizens who crewed them.  Making a stand at Salamis would see a chance that their home soil wouldn’t be lost forever. Could the Greek force survive another encounter with Xerxes forces? If not, it seemed likely that not only would the Athenians be looking for a new homeland, but the Peloponnesians were likely to have the Persian army marching throughout their lands. A lot was at steak for the Greeks but their unity on the eve of Salamis wouldn’t have inspired much confidence in those aware of what was at risk. If though, somehow, they could become united in their cause, Hellas would stand a better chance from becoming part of the Persian Empire.     

 

The Persians sail out:

As we saw last episode Xerxes wanted to engage the Greeks at sea and defeat them once and for all, perhaps under his watchful eye his fleet would be able to achieve this goal this time around. All of his commanders had pledged their support for an action at sea, knowing full well that’s what he wanted. All, except for one, Queen Artemisia providing a voice of warning, almost as she had the benefit of hindsight. As one can see from Herodotus’ account he was quiet enamoured with her, being the Queen of his home town.[2] If was now the afternoon of the 24th of September 480 BC and Xerxes ordered that his fleet sail out and wait just outside the straits of Salamis. All of the contingents manned their ships and made their way out onto open water outside the straits. There was no rush in getting into position, the manoeuvre conducted by the hundreds of triremes was very orderly and even described as leisurely.[3] The Hundreds of triremes eventually formed up in their battle lines, which would have been many ranks deep. The sight from the Greeks shore would have been one of a horizon filled with ships, maybe even giving the impression the fleet was even bigger than it actually was. It would seem here that Xerxes intension was not to fight a battle on this day, as his order to deploy was in the afternoon. There would not have been enough light left for a full-scale battle to develop. One would think that Xerxes would want to ensure he engaged in a battle that could prove to be decisive. The Greeks had shown at Artemesium that a late afternoon skirmish worked in their favour as there was enough time for one organised manoeuvre before both sides would look to head to the safety of their shores. A more prolonged battle would run the risk of the Greeks being overwhelmed by the superior Persian numbers, particularly once the Greek ranks were more disorganised after their initial action. Xerxes would want more time for the battle to develop, allowing more of his fleet a chance to engage and prove decisive over the smaller Greek fleet. It seems his intension here was one of psychological warfare. As we have seen throughout his campaign and the one Darius sent ten years earlier, there was no short supply of people willing to turn traitor or cities willing to submit. For here, even at Salamis there were nearly as many Greeks fighting on the side of the Persian Empire as there were opposing the invasion. It must have been almost certain that Xerxes was aware of the troubles of cooperation in the Greek camp and moral hanging by a thread. Perhaps this show of force would tip the Greeks over the edge, once they could see what they would be sailing out to face, the desired deserters would emerge that would undermine the Greek fleet. This show of force could also break the moral in the Greek camp, with the current decision to fight at Salamis not being popular with most of the Peloponnesian commanders. If so, the Greek force might disintegrate sailing off to their home ports or new lands. As we will see this potential outcome, although in the Persians favour, was not the desired result, Xerxes was after a decisive victory.       

A show of force:

Back on Salamis the Greeks were viewing the Spectacle Xerxes had arranged for them to witness and contemplate. Once again, the reality of what was before them saw the beginnings of the god Pan invoking his divine presence amongst the Greeks. Pan being the god that was known for stirring up panic within armies and where were get our word panic from. The same had happened at the pass of Tempe, where the Greeks withdrew back to Corinth.[4] At Thermopylae, some of the Greek contingents became very nervous at the size of the force advancing on them but Leonidas was able to prevent a retreat.[5] And at Artemesium after the 3 days of storms the sight of the fleet larger than they expected had caused calls for withdrawal, only prevented due to some bribery taking place behind closed doors.[6] The same fleet was now in the same position, the Peloponnesians thought they were in great danger of being blockade on Salamis while Xerxes army marched onto their lands. It now seemed mere bribery between commanders wasn’t going to prevent the Peloponnesians from withdrawing this time. Eurybiades command would be surly tested if he ordered them to remain, for a few ships had already fled when news of the capture of Athens reached them. Though, how confident was Eurybiades in his own decision to remain and fight at Salamis now. Themistocles would have seen the prosects of the Greeks resisting at Salamis quickly fading away as they watched on as the Persians formed into their lines of battle which seemed to cover the entire sea outside of the straits. As the day light started to slip away the Persians pealed off from their formations in the line of battle to return to camp for their evening meal. Xerxes had not intended to fight a battle at this stage, while the Greeks morale at this point was in no shape to sail out and engage. Now Xerxes had to wait to see if his show of force would return the desired result, but for good measure he would be ordering his army to begin marching in the direction of Corinth, towards the Peloponnese.[7] They would of course be taking the coastal road in full view of the Greeks on Salamis, where the torch lights and sounds of an army on the march could not be missed. 

 

The Greeks waver:

Even before the Persian show of force outside the straits, there had been whispers between the commanders and would have been most certainly amongst the crews. Most of what was being discussed would have centred on Eurybiades decision to stay and fight and how foolish this was since their cities on the Peloponnese were Xerxes next objective. Their thoughts centred around them being stranded at Salamis while the Persians marched into their lands where their livelihoods and families still were. As the day had gone on and especially after Xerxes afternoon demonstration, these discussions would have become more noticeable and more open. The Athenians would have certainly seen that the chances of a battle at Salamis were starting to slip away. Themistocles had always been wary of the Peloponnesians conviction to fight there after the last council and it would seem his fears were being realised.

The opposition to Eurybiades decision had reached a point where it was now openly discussed around the Greek camp and a real risk of mutiny was at hand. Another council was now called for the commanders to attend and air their misgivings. Once again many of the same arguments were put forward. It looked as though the Greek fleet would divide, as the Peloponnesians were looking to sail off in defence of the Peloponnese.[8] While those with interests north of Corinth such as Athens, Aegina and Megera would not sail but defend themselves where they were. We don’t hear of a final decision given by Eurybiades but it seems likely if he wanted to avoid his command being undermined, he would have sided with his fellow Peloponnesians. It was probably around this time, where it was clear Eurybiades was changing his decision, that Themistocles slipped away from the council unnoticed. It was now clear to him that a united Greek fleet would not give battle at Salamis voluntarily. It was time for that metis of Themistocles to make an appearance again, those same cunning and devious characteristics celebrated for the Homeric hero Odysseus.    

Themistocles Plan: 

Themistocles returned to his ship and took Sikinnos aside to take part in the ruse he had in mind. Sikinnos was the household servant that took care of all of Themistocles children and a man he trusted very much. Sikinnos was a slave therefor not an Athenian, but for his devotion to Themistocles he would eventually be made a wealthy man and become a Thespian citizen, thanks to his master. The plan involved Sikinnos travelling by small boat at night to the Persians shore, to where he would seek an audience with the Persian commanders. Themistocles had armed him with what he was to tell the Persians, though it is unclear if he was aware it was all a ruse or had Themistocles allowed Sikinnos believe that he was engaging in treachery. The historian, Barry Strauss suggesting, if Sikinnos was led to believe his master was engaging in treachery. Then when he was to reveal to Xerxes the message, the so much more believable it would be, especially if he were to be subjected to torture.[9]

The mission was a dangerous one, the crossing of the straits into the open water in a small ship at night was risky enough. But how would the Persians react to his appearance? Would he be killed at the shore? Would he be tortured? Perhaps a reason Themistocles might not want him to know it was all a ruse. Also, after he completed his mission would the Persians allow him to return back to the Greeks. Themistocles watched Sikinnos disappear into the night as he rowed out into the straights, all he could do now was hope his most trusted servant made it safely to the other side and that Xerxes would take the bait.

Sikinnos, indeed made it safely to the Persian shore and not only that he had presumably made the Persians he first encountered aware that he was carrying a message from a Greek commander for Xerxes. The Persians would have taken him to the highest-ranking commander nearby where Sikinnos would have revealed his message that Herodotus records in his Histories.

“I have been sent here by the commander of the Atheinans without the knowledge of the other Hellenes, for he happens to favour the cause of the King and wants your side to prevail over that of the Hellenes. I have come to tell you that the Hellenes are utterly terrified and are planning to flee, and that your now have the opportunity to perform the most glorious of all feats if you don not stand by and watch them escape, for they are in great disagreement with one another and will not stand up to you; indeed you will see them fighting a naval battle against themselves, those favouring your side opposing those who do not”[10].     

With his message delivered he was the allowed to return to his sip to make his way back. It would seem likely that he would not have been turned loose until the message had been taken to Xerxes who then would have ordered his release. Probably a sign that the he found the message pleasing, also showing good faith to a Greek commander willing to double cross his fellow Greeks. It is worth pointing out that both Plutarch and Aeschylus represent Sikinnos or the messenger speaking directly to Xerxes.[11] Though, one would think the great King didn’t make a habbit of meeting with slaves. The message most likely arriving to him through one of his subordinate commanders as Heroditus suggests.

As we have seen Xerxes wanted a fight, he didn’t want the Greeks to slip away as they had done at Artemesium. This news would have played on his fear that It would happen again, so he needed to act quickly. Secondly the message sent by Themistocles was telling him what he wanted to hear as well as confirming reports that would have been making their way to him about the state of affairs on Salamis. So, on the face of it, with little time for decision making the message would have seemed creditable. Greek leaders had been submitting to him all throughout the campaign, so this wasn’t out of the ordinary, in fact he was probably expecting it after his show of force the previous afternoon. 

Wanting to capitalise on the information Xerxes now ordered the fleet to head back out to block the straits. Most of the crews would have only just finished settling back into camp from their afternoon mission. It seems there would be no rest for them tonight. It’s also worth pointing out that some historians question the reality of Sikinnos’ mission, although, as we have seen,  three ancient sources report it, one of who was at the battle himself. It may be possible that the blocking of the Greek fleet had begun with Xerxes show of force. As we have seen it was almost certain that Xerxes was aware of the Greek condition on Salamis and had taken measures already. 

Xerxes traps the Greeks: 

In the cloak of darkness the contingents that made up the Persian fleet began moving into position to prevent the Greeks from fleeing. Part of the plan involved occupying an islet just outside the straits and halfway between the coasts of Attica and Salamis. This Islet was seen to be vital for the coming battle as it lay where the fight was expected to take place. Who ever occupied it with troops would be able to rescue and recover their own forces, while also dispatching any enemy that sort to find refuge there. Any stricken ships or men overboard would be seeking the closest dry land. As for the positions the Persians took up, it isn’t entirely clear how they blocked the Greek position. Some sources such as Herodotus talk of the opening of the strait being blocked[12], while there is also talk from Diodorus of the Persians infiltrating into the straits to try and catch any fleeing Greek ships.[13] This would have been a very risky manoeuvre, especially since the night was supposed to have been over cast with very little moon or star light to help guide them. Also, if the Persians wanted to completely cut off the Greeks, a force would need to be sent around Salamis to the north to block that exit, there maybe something in Herodotus’ account suggesting this may have taken place when he has the Corinthians apparently abandoning the battle, which we will see in a bit.[14] But they may have been a good reason to leave the main line. Diodorus talks about the Egyptians being sent on this task but he is also the only source who has them undertaking this mission. It would seem that the Greeks had now been trapped within the straits, with the southern and potentially the northern exits blocked. It’s hard to know if they sailed into the straits at night or perhaps most likely moved in at first light. We hear of the Phoenician contingent being draw up on the Persian right, the position of honour and who were considered the best formation in the Persian fleet.[15] On the Persian left were the Ionian Greeks, but after that all of the other contingents were somewhere between the two. In all the Persian battle line was arranged in three lines stretching from the Attic coast to Salamis.

The Greeks learn of the trap:   

Themistocles during the early hours would now learn of the bait he had sent out being taken and acted on. This extremely welcome news would come from one of his fiercest political opponents from his past. Aristides had been ostracised in 484, four years earlier when the tensions between the two were at their height.[16] With the news of the Persian invasion all exiles were allowed to return Athens in the face of the crisis. Aristides had sailed from the Island of Aegina, south of Salamis, to be reunited with his fellow Athenians. It had been four years since the two rivals had seen each other but Aristides when landing at Salamis sought to speak with Themistocles right way. While the Persians had been putting back out to sea and encircling the Greeks, the arguments for abandoning Salamis had continued unaware of the Persian movements. Aristides caught up with Themistocles and aware of the situation of the Greeks on Salamis he said “First, let me tell you that the Peloponnesians may talk as much or as little as they please about withdrawing from Salamis – it will make not the least difference. What I tell you, I have seen with my own eyes: they cannot now get out of here, however much the Corinthians or Eurybiades himself may wish to do so, because our fleet is surrounded. So go in and tell them that.”[17]  

Themistocles would have been delighted with the new brought by his long time rival. Though, it seemed the Peloponnesians were at a point where what ever argument Themistocles brought forward again would not be listened to. He arranged for Aristides to present what he had witnessed to them himself, perhaps they would take more notice. It appears at this stage one of the fiercest rivalries in Athens was put on hold while a common enemy was in possession of their beloved city. Both men approached where the councils had been taking place, it seems meetings had been occurring all throughout the night. Aristides address the commanders telling them what he had witnessed on his journey to Salamis and how difficult it was to slip through the blockade. He advised that the only option open to the Greeks at this point was to engage the Persian at sea in battle. With his case put forward the commanders present broke back out arguing against his advice and disbelieved what he had seen. Maybe it was because Aristides was also an Athenian so of course he would say what ever he could to stop the Peloponnesians from leaving. Plus it was news that they did not want to hear now that their desire to sail to the Peloponnese greater than ever now. Aristides appearance had not changed the Peloponnesians minds, but as the debates had continued another ship had come ashore at Salamis. This time it was a defector from the Persian fleet, the ship was from the Island of Tenos in the Aegean.[18] Once ashore they had confirmed the report that Aristides had given, as they would have been apart of the manoeuvres to get into position before defecting. This report given by the outsiders, who were importantly not Athenian, now started to sway the Peloponnesians and they would have now began to realise that the only course of action open to them was to fight. The Island of Tenos would be recognised along with the other Greeks who helped defend Greece from the Persians. The name of the Island appearing on a tripod dedicated at Delphi after the war.

The Greeks prepare to fight: 

With that the Greeks were now united in their cause, they had to be as no other option was open to them. Themistocles may have had something to do with closing off any other option by seeming to engage in traitorous ways behind everyone’s backs. These were desperate times though, which called for desperate measures. The last hours of darkness on Salamis would have been filled with much activity as the Greeks prepared their crews and ships, not to depart on a voyage. But to now engage in a battle against the Persians. We hear of Themistocles giving a speech to the men just before putting out into the strait.[19] Unfortunately, there is no record of what he was supposed to have been said to inspire the men. In attendance would have most likely been the commanders of all of the different ships and possibly the fighting men aboard the ships. Surly the crews manning the oars and other axillary crew would have already taken up their places aboard their ships. Once Themistocles speech was finished the men headed to their ships to prepare to give battle. As the Greek ships began forming up along the coast of Salamis, dawn had broken on the 25th of September 480 BC, the day that would decide their fate.      

Heading out into their line of battle the Athenians were on the Greek left which would see them facing the strongest element of the Persian fleet, that of the Phoenicians. The Spartans, who only made up a small part of the fleet, were stationed on the right wing, the place of honour, since they commanded the fleet. Opposite them would be the Ionian Greek contingents who had not acted on Themistocles message at Artemisium and were still apart of the Persian fleet.[20] All of the other Greek contingents were positioned between the Athenians and Spartans, except for the Corinthians. Herodotus reports a story that he says the Athenians recount, the Corinthians had set sail leaving the rest of the Greek at Salamis to fight, though once learning of the Greeks getting the upper hand they returned as the battle was finishing up.[21] We need to keep in mind that when Herodotus was gathering his information it was in a time where relations between Athens and Corinth were less than amicable. We have already seen how the Corinthian commander is presented as being the main opposition to staying and fighting at Salamis. Other evidence indicates that Corinth did in fact fight at Salamis, they were listed on memorials at Olympia and Delphi in 3rd place after Athens and Sparta. Some of their dead had been buried at Salamis and Corinth had been allowed by the Athenians, who controlled Salamis, to set up an epigram on their graves. If they had acted as traitors one would think they would have not been honoured in these ways. It has been suggested by Barry Strauss that they may have been acting as a decoy to attempt to draw the Persians into the straits and give the impression that the Greeks were fleeing.[22] Also, if the Egyptians had been seen to block the other end of the straits, they may have been sailing out to prevent them from attacking the Greek rear. It would appear later political developments were influencing how history was being retold. There may be some truth to the Corinthians sailing away but the motivations were changed for slanderous purposes. 

The Battle: 

The details of the actual battle that took place have come to us with many interpretations by ancient and modern historians. Trying to present a clear narrative of what was taking place and when during the battle becomes very difficult. The chaos of the battle as well as no single person in a position to record developments as they occurred throughout the line would mean many individual accounts would need to be relied upon to try and stitch together how the battle unfolded. One of these accounts is the only written account surviving from someone who fought at the battles. The account is not what we would call a historical account as it was written as a play. Aeschylus was a playwright and 8 years after Salamis he wrote a play called the Persians which focused on the defeat of the Persians at Salamis told through Xerxes mother back at the Persian court. We need to keep in mind that poetic licence was probably at work as the main theme of the play was that of hubris. But with that said lets head back to the straits where I will try and use the available sources to recount what unfolded.

As dawn came on and the Greeks were moving out into their positions, the Persians began entering the straits. Their ranks became disorganised with the sheer number of ships entering a much narrower body of waters. While moving in they would have heard a very unexpected sound, the Greeks were singing their Paean, a song of triumph, which was common before going into battle. The quote at the beginning of the episode is what Aeschylus has the Greeks singing. For the crews within the Persian fleet this would have been very unsettling since they would have been told by their commanders that they would be chasing down disorganised, fleeing Greeks. What they were hearing as they entered their positions within the straits would have contradicted this message, it seemed the Greeks were united and ready for a fight. The Persians opposite the Greek positions now would have been lined up in many ranks with their shore at their back. Up on the high ground behind the Phoenician position a spot had been prepared for Xerxes. He would watch the battle from his vantage point with scribes by his side ready to take down the names of commanders who excelled themselves or those showing cowardess and in need of punishment.[23] 

We hear that the Persians came on at the Greeks, and the Greeks if through hesitation, redressing their ranks or in an attempt to make sure the Persians could not get behind them. They started backing water, rowing to reverse the sterns of their ships up to their coast line.[24]

First Blood:

What ever the reason they would not continue in this direction for long as the Greeks would be the first to draw blood. Both the Athenians and Aeginetans would claim to have begun proceedings.[25] Among the Athenian vessels, one had picked out a Persian ship and rushed forward ramming it, unable to free themselves from their victim other Athenian ships came forward to assist. This was said to be the opening action that then saw the general action begin. If this was or wasn’t we aren’t going to know for sure and neither would have the men there, as they would have been unaware of what was taking place further down the line. With the battle now joined things become very hazy as one could imagine in the chaos. On both sides the captains of the ships would be seeking out an enemy vessel to direct the large bronze ram at on the fronts of their ships. Crashing this through the side of a trireme would see many of the crew of the enemy killed of wounded. It was also likely that the ship would sink if the ramming ship was able to back water and free themselves of the damaged ship. Otherwise the soldiers aboard the triremes would become involved in a battle over the fouled ships as they attempted to board each other. Another tactic was to come up along side an enemy ship and at the last second have the rowers on the side of the enemy pull their oars in clear of the ship. As they came along side they would sheer of the enemies oars which would see their ship become immobile and be a sitting duck to be rammed or boarded. 

As more and more ships were engaging, chaos now started to take over. We hear of the Greek line maintaining order while the Persians was becoming disorganised.[26] What probably led to this was that their great numbers of ships was now starting to inhibit their movement. In such a restricted body of water only a third of the fleet could initially engage the Greeks. Though under the watchful eye of Xerxes many were out to prove themselves and desperate to get into action. Many of the Persian ships were becoming fouled on one another as the second and third lines came forward. There was becoming less and less room to manoeuvre as all of the Persian lines tried to engage while those trying to retreat had no where to go and became obstacles to those coming on at the Greeks. We also hear of Xerxes brother, Ariabignes being killed in the fighting early on. He was one of the Admirals and in command of the Carians and Ionians. He was supposed to have been killed by an Athenian ship during a boarding attempt.[27] If this was the case the lines must have become confused and mixed even in the early stages. The Ionians and Carians were lined up on the flank facing the Spartans on the other end of the line of battle from the Athenians. His death could have added to some panic and confusion to those ship around, though it is hard to imagine how effective an overall commander would be once battle was joined.   

During the battle Herodotus once again talks about Artemisia, that Queen of his home town of Halicarnassus. When the Persian lines were disorganised, her ship was being pursued by an Athenian ship. Due to the limited space to manoeuvre she had no where to go as her path was blocked by friendly ships. Whether by accident or on purpose her ship rammed another from the Persian fleet, the Athenian ship seeing this broke off his chase assuming hers to either have been a Greek ship or a Persian deserter.[28] If the Athenian ship had known the ship he was chasing was commanded by Artemisia he probably would have continued after her. The Greeks resented that a woman would fight against them and a bounty had been placed on her for anyone who could capture her alive. Up on the coast line overlooking the straits Xerxes witnessed this action though had thought Artemisia had in fact rammed a Greek vessel. Seeing her exploits and the rest of his fleet becoming entangles and falling back he is meant to have said “My men have turned into women, my women into men”.[29] 

We hear that the Persians had fought extremely hard and distinguished themselves more so than they had at Artemesium.[30] Though, by this stage Xerxes seeing the disorder of his fleet was in no mood for excuses. Some Phoenician commanders had ended back up on shore from either retreating or escaping after their ships were rammed. They were brought to Xerxes and tried to pass off their failure due to Ionian treachery during the battle. Xerxes though, had just witnessed, or been told of some heroic actions carried out by some Ionian contingents. He became irate at the Phoenician commanders for accusing the Ionians of being cowards and engaging in treachery, when it was the Ionians sinking enemy ships while they stood on dry land no longer in the fight. This then caused Xerxes to order the execution of the commanders before him. [31]

More and more of the Persian fleet were being put out of action by the Greeks or fouling on one another. Many contingents had been trying to withdraw from the battle, with the Phoenician flank all but defeated the Greek left could begin to move on the Ionians who seemed to be putting up the strongest fight. With more Greek ships now coming against the Persian left it was only a matter of time before they to, looked to withdraw. Now after many hours of fighting the majority of the fleet was attempting to fall back to Phaleron. The crews had been manning their positions all of the previous night and had spent hours in battle, exhaustion had taken its toll. It wasn’t over for the retreating contingents though, as the straits had become a bottle neck, clogged with the many ships retreating and those who had been in open waters now trying to come in and prove themselves. Those retreating were still being prayed upon; we hear that at the exit of the straits the Aeginetans ambushed ships that were attempting to leave. The rest of the Greek fleet also bore down on the tangle of Persian ships in the opening of the straits causing even more chaos and suffering.[32]

Meanwhile with the straits now mostly clear of active Persian ships, Aristides  arranged a force to set out and clear the Psyttaleia Islet of the Persian troops that had been deployed there. Only recently having come out of exile, it seems Aristides had not commanded a trireme, which would have been expected of someone of his standing in Athenian society. He had gathered a force on Salamis and embarked on some ships to land them on the Islet. The Persians had been waiting to rescue or finish off any men going ashore depending on the side they fought. Now though, they were stranded, the Greeks were now mostly in control of the straits. Once on the Islet, Aristrides and his men made short work of the Persians stationed there, slaughtering all they came across. 

The battle ends:

It was now clear that the Persians had been defeated in this engagement and were in full retreat, making their way back to their base at Phaleron bay. The Greeks did not pursue them out into the open water but, tired and exhausted themselves made their way back to Salamis. Its wasn’t clear yet that the Persians were finished as a naval force. At Artemesium there had been three days of engagements. Though, the battle at Salamis was on a much larger scale than what had occurred there. The Greeks landed back on Salamis and began repairing and preparing their ships in case the Persians were to regroup and enter the straits again. Though, a renewed attack would never eventuate. The Persians are thought to have lost up to half of their fleet at Salamis, some 300 ships while the Athenians are reported to have lost 40. It is not known for certain what the losses were for each side but a year later the Persian force would number 300 ships.[33] If we accept the Persian force being somewhere around 600 ships at Salamis then these losses seem plausible. The 40 losses attributed to the Greeks comes from Diodorus,[34] but again he was writing some 600 years after the battle and it isn’t clear what source he is working from. Similarly, how many ships were out of action due to damage is unknown, as well as the number of men killed. It seems almost certain with the number of ships lost, that the Persians would have suffered far more men killed, also Herodotus adds that the Persians could not swim which saw their casualties mount.[35]

Back at the site of each side’s bays would have been a scene of chaos. Exhausted crews would be putting back at shore but their jobs were not over. They would be setting out again to retrieve damaged ships and any survivors clinging to wreckage. Back on shore men would be contending with the repair of ships and the treating of the wounded, of whom there would have been plenty of. It would also be important to recover the dead, especially for the Greeks. The notion of being lost at sea and never recovered to be buried would have terrified the men before setting out for battle. The survivors would most like spent the time trying to recover all the Greek bodies that they could find so as to ensure they would be buried.

The 25th of September 480 BC would be the end of the battle of Salamis with the Greeks winning themselves a victory that they would have not envisaged some 24 hours earlier, let alone the battle itself even being fought. Although a Greek victory it wasn’t the end of the war, the Persians still controlled Attica. They still had their land army which had not been defeated yet, while also still having some 300 ships still in their service. It seems that they were far from being a spent force. Both sides had to decide what to do, the Greeks had not ventured out into the open waters but opted to regroup and prepare for another attack. With no renewed naval offensive the Greeks would need to decided what their next course of action would be. Xerxes having witnessed the defeat of his fleet before his very eyes, would probably not have been confident at sending them against the Greeks again. He now had to decide how the campaign would continue, he still had a formidable land force. Though the Persians were far from home, their supply line stretched and the campaigning season was fast coming to a close. Both sides had much to consider and the war would continue to drag on into 479BC.

 

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I hope you can join me next time for episode 25, 300: Rise of an Empire, against the sources

 

 [1] Aeschylus, The Persians 395-405
[2] Herodotus 7. 99
[3] Herodotus 8. 70
[4] Herodotus 7. 173-174
[5] Herodotus 7. 207
[6] Herodotus 8. 4-5
[7] Herodotus 8. 71
[8] Herodotus 8. 74
[9] Barry Strauss, The Battle of Salamis p117
[10] Herodotus 8. 75
[11] Plutarch’s Lives, Themistocles p155 / Aeschylus, The Persians 355-360
[12] Herodotus 8. 76
[13] Diodorus 11. 17
[14] Herodotus 8. 94
[15] Herodotus 8. 85
[16] Plutarch’s Lives, Themistocles p150 / Aristides p440
[17] Herodotus 8. 79
[18] Herodotus 8. 22
[19] Herodotus 8. 83
[20] Herodotus 8. 85
[21] Herodotus 8. 94
[22] Barry Strauss, The Battle of Salamis p152
[23] Herodotus 8. 90
[24] Herodotus 8. 84
[25] Herodotus 8. 84
[26] Herodotus 8. 86
[27] Herodotus 8. 89 / Plutarch’s Lives, Themistocles p157
[28] Herodotus 8. 87
[29] Herodotus 8. 88
[30] Herodotus 8. 86
[31] Herodotus 8. 90
[32] Herodotus 8. 91
[33] Herodotus 8. 130
[34] Diodorus 11. 19
[35] Herodotus 8. 89