Herodotus – The Histories, Book 8, “Urania” [40-96] – Naval Battle off Salamis

  1. The Greek fleet left Artemisium & went to Salamis, & dropped anchor. The Athenians asked for this because they wanted to evacuate their children to Salamis with the Persian army threatening Attica. It seemed each region of Greece was concerned purely with its own safety – building a wall on the Isthmus & were too busy to help Athens.
  2. While the fleet was near Salamis, the Athenians parked on their own coast so that every Athenian could save his own children. Some sent their families to Egina, some to Salamis, some to Troezen. This evacuation happened quickly because the huge snake, who lives in the Acropolis temple to guard it, stopped eating its food, & the people thought that Athena had abandoned the city.
  3. The remainder of the fleet heard of the battle of Artemisium & made haste to Salamis. While the commander was Spartan, Eurybiades, Athens had by far supplied the most ships to the fleet.
  4. The Greek fleet was: Spartans with 16 ships, Corinthians 40, Sicyonians 15, Epidaurians 10, Troezenians 5, Hermionians 3.
  5. The Athenians 140, now all manned purely by Athenians. Earlier, Plateans had served on board but were now concerned with removing their families as the Persians marched through Boetia.
  6. Megarians 20, Ambraciots 7, Leucadians 3
  7. Eginetans 30, Chalcideans 20, Eretrians 7, Ceans 4, Naxians 4, Styreans 2, Cythnians 1. The other islanders servers with the Persians.
  8. All of those nations lived south of the Acheron River. Only one country beyond wished to help the Greeks – Crotona who gave a single ship commanded by Phayllus who’s won the Pythian Games 3 times.
  9. Most allies came with triremes but the Melians – 2, Siphnians – 1, Seriphians – 1, all brought penteconters.
  10. When the captains came together in Salamis, Eurybiades asked for ideas on where to have a naval battle. Many suggested the Isthmus to defend the Peloponnes. If they lost at Salmis, they’d be trapped on an island. But on the Isthmus they could get help.
  11. As they were discussing, a messenger came informing them that the Persians were now in Attica wreaking havoc. Xerxes was now in Athens & Thespiae & Plataea had been abandoned. Now the Persians were burning Athens.
  12. It had been 4 months since Xerxes’s army had crossed the Hellespont. 1 month was spent getting the army across the Hellespont & recovering from the effort. 3 months were spent getting down to Attica. They went through Calliades, finding it empty except priests, the old & the poor. These people were holed up in the citadel believe that the palisade there was the wooden wall the Pythoness described as the one protecting Greece.
  13. The Persians camped on “Mars’s Hill” (Areopagus) & shot at the Greeks with arrows who were hiding behind a barricade. The wood wall didn’t last long. The Pisistratidae tried to offer them terms of surrender but were refused. They could not get through to the people.
  14. The Persians found a way to break through In front of the citadel but behind the gates, no one was watching because it wasn’t thought possible for anyone to slip through. A few Persian soldiers climbed over a sanctuary. The Athenians saw them there & flew towards the wall & died. Others ran into the temple. The Persians rushed the gates & killed the “suppliants”. After killing Athenians, the Persians plundered the temple.
  15. Xerxes now controlled Athens & sent a messenger to Susa to tell Artabanus all that had happened. The day after, Xerxes gathered Athenians exiles from his train & made them sacrifice. He may have felt bad for ransacking the city & the temple.
  16. There is a temple to Erechtheus in the citadel, in which there is an olive tree & a “sea”. The Athenians put these in there as symbols of Athena & Poseidon. The olive tree was burnt with the rest of the temple. When these Athenian exiles went up to offer a sacrifice, they found a fresh shoot growing in the olive tree.
  17. When the Greeks heard what had happened at the Athenian citadel, they decided not to vote on what to do but to set sail immediately. They decided to battle at the Isthmus.
  18. Themistocles met with Mnesiphilus & told him the decision was to at least defend the Peloponnes at the Isthmus. Mnesiphilus told him if they did that they would no longer have a uniting force. Every man would scatter & no one would be able to stop them. That would be ruinous. Themistocles had to persuade Eurybiades to stay.
  19. Themistocles liked the idea & spoke to Eurybiades. He went over all the reasons, Mnesiphilus gave as if they were his own. He added new ones until Eurybiades relented & recalled the council.
  20. Once the Captains came back, Themistocles went on about many things. One captain said that jumping the gun gets you punished at the Olympics. He responded by saying those who start late lose.
  21. He didn’t mention the possibility of allies running off if they left Salamis. It wouldn’t have looked good to make accusations of the others. He told Eurybiades that it was his decision to give battle at Salamis or to fight at the Isthmus at open sea where they were greatly disadvantaged. Even if they protect the Peloponnese, they’d be conceding Salamis, Megara & Egina. It would be advantageous to fight where they were because they were in narrow sea where the enemy can’t use its numbers. Here many Greeks will be fighting for their families but all will also be fighting to protect the Peloponnese. If they fought here, they might not fight at the Isthmus at all.
  22. Adeimantus of Corinth attacked Themistocles & told him to shut up since he didn’t have a city anymore. Themistocles responded that 200 of allies’ ships were Athenian & without them, they’d definitely lose.
  23. Themistocles turned back to Eurybiades asking him to be brave for the sake of Greece. If not, the Athenians would be taking their families to Italy & they’d have to defend the Peloponnese alone.
  24. Eurybiades was convinced by Themistocles. Probably because he feared the withdrawal of Athenian naval strength would cause them to lose.
  25. In the morning, there was an earthquake. The Greeks prayed to the gods & heroes to help out in the battle.
  26. This is a story told by Dicaeus, an Athenian exile… After the Persian arm had destroyed Attica, he was with Demaratus. They saw a cloud of dust coming from Eleusis enough to be 30000 men. They wondered who that might be when they heard a mystic hymn to Bacchus. Dicaeus said it mean something bad would happen to Xerxes’s army. The unearthly sound was on its way to help Athens. If it went to the Pelopponese, it would threaten the king. If it went to Salamis, it would destroy the king’s fleet. They decided to keep the matter to themselves. The dust & sound went to Salamis.
  27. The Spartan fleet saw the Spartan dead at Thermopylae & crossed the channel to Histiaea, waited 3 days & sailed down the Euripus to Phalerum. The Persian army & navy was a bit lighter than it had been at Artemisium & Thermopylae. As the Persians went deeper & deeper, the Greek numbers among their ranks rose.
  28. Contingents from all states, except Paros, the Persian army beefed up the army. Parians decided to wait & see how the war was going before choosing sides. Xerxes decided to try the Greeks. Mardonius & the captains decided if a sea battle was a good idea or not.
  29. Mardonius went around & asked everyone what they thought. They all said it was best to engage the Greeks. Artmesium disagreed saying:
    1. I was no coward at Euboea & I did achieve a few things. But I’ll say this much… Don’t risk a battle. They are much better sailors. Why do we need to risk it here? Didn’t the army just take Athens? Isn’t half of Greece under Persian control? No one is resisting any advanced.
    2. This is how I expect the enemy to behave. If you’re not too eager for battle, you ought to keep the fleet near land & stay where you are the Greeks can’t hold out for very long & soon enough you will conquer them. The island they’re on had no food. If you move towards the Peloponnese, they’ll just stay there & starve. The Spartans won’t bother themselves for Athens.
    3. But if you press too hard for a fight, it will defeat the navy & put the army in trouble. You can’t trust your army made up of other nations – they’ve done nothing in battle.”
  30. Some people were worried Artemisia would be treated roughly for speaking out like this so openly & honestly. She was also trying to dissuade him from doing what he wanted to do. Some thought it was good she might get in trouble for saying these things. However, Xerxes was glad he was getting honest opinions & not yesses for the sake of it. He left it to the majority of the captains. He would not be around because he thought it would bring bad luck to them in battle.
  31. The ships moved towards Salamis but got there too late to fight. The Greeks especially the Peloponnesians were anxious that they were kept on the island to fight for Athens. If they were defeated, their own countries would be unprotected.
  32. That night, the Persians marched to the Peloponnese. The Spartans had done all they could to prevent them from entering by land. When the news of Thermopylae reached them, they decided to build a wall across the Isthmus. It took 10000 men using stone, sand, bricks & timber working day & night.
  33. Those who helped build the wall included Arcadians, Eleans, Corinthians, Sicyonians, Epidaurians, Phliosians, Troezenians & Hermionians. Other Peloponnesians took no part in the effort in effort even though the Olympic & Carneian festivals were over.
  34. There are 7 nations on the Peloponnese. 2 were aboriginal – Arcadians & Cynurians. The Achaeans were always Peloponnesian but move within the peninsula. Dorians, Aetolians, Dryopians & Lemnians all came from elsewhere.
  35. The Greeks worked very hard at the Isthmus at the wall because they couldn’t imagine the fleet being successful. The fleet at Salamis were alarmed by the efforts spent in building the wall because they felt abandoned by the Peloponnesians, who were only trying to save themselves.
  36. When Themistocles saw the Peloponnesians were likely to order the fleet South to the Isthmus, he sneaked out of the council & sent out a messenger, Sicinnus, to the Median fleet. Sicinnus told them that Themistocles sent him out in secret. He told them the Greeks were pondering a hasty flight & only they could stop this escape. There was a lot of division as to what to do. The messenger then left.
  37. The captains believed this & landed a large number of Persian troops on the island of Psyttaleia between Salamis & the mainland. At midnight, they moved their western wing toward Salamis to surround Salamis. The force stationed at Ceos & Cynosura advanced & filled up the strait, preventing a Greek escape. These moves happened in secret.
  38. There were some prophecies – I’m not sure if there was any truth to them. The brass clashing with brass & blood would make the sea purple. This would mean Greek freedom.
  39. But the in-fighting between captains at Salamis was getting bad. They were unaware of the Persians fleet & troop movements & imagined their positions to be the same.
  40. During this, Aristides came over from Egina to Salamis. He was an Athenians who’d been ostracized. He came to speak to Themistocles. They were enemies but Aristides was willing to forget about that. He’d heard of the possibility of the fleet moving to the Peloponnese. He told him: “We’ve struggled against on another but I must tell you all that talk of retreat is most since we are now enclosed by the enemy. The council ought to know this.”
  41. Themistocles told him this was good news. He’d told the Medes to do this because now the fight is no longer debatable or a question of free will. You should tell them because they’d never believe me. It doesn’t matter anyway because there’s nowhere to run. We have to fight.
  42. Aristides told the captains that he’d just come from Egina & barely got through the blockade. The Greek fleet was entirely enclosed by the Persians. The captains couldn’t believe the news.
  43. A Tenian trireme deserted from the Persians & joined the Greeks with a full intelligence report, confirming the news. The Greek fleet was now at 380.
  44. The Greeks began to prepare for a battle. Troop were gathers & speeches were given. Themistocles’s speech contrasted the noble with the base. The men were always to make the noblest choice. Now the troops boarded their ships.
  45. The Greek ships need barely launched when they were attacked by the Persians. Many Greeks ships tried to land again when Athenian, Ameinias’s ship went straight for an enemy ship. The 2 ships became entangled. Greek ships came out to help. It was said the ghost of a women appeared to the Greeks & scolded them for back peddling.
  46. The Athenians fought the Phoenicians, Spartans fought Ionians.
  47. Most of the Persian ships disabled we’ve done so by either the Athenians or Eginetans. When the Greeks fought in order & kept in their formations, the Persians were in confusion & had no battle plan. It was clear what the outcome would be. But the Persians fought better here than at Euboea – mostly out of fear of Xerxes.
  48. What roles the nations played in the outcome is hard to say. Artemisia stood out. Her trireme was pursued by an Athenian trireme. So she decided to bear down on a Persian ship. This made the Athenians think he was following a friendly ship & he dropped his pursuit of her.
  49. This probably saved her life. Her attacking a ship of the King’s raise his esteem for her because the ship she sank happened to be a Calyndian ship that had been suspected of being likely to defect. No one survived from the ship to tell the tale otherwise. Xerxes remarked his men behaved like women & his women behaved like men.
  50. Darius’s son & Xerxes’s brother, Ariabignes died as well as many other Persian nobles. Only a few Greeks did because most of them could swim & jumped ship before they sank, & swam to Salamis. Most of the barbarian deaths were due to drowning than anything else because most couldn’t swim. The rest stayed with the ships to show bravery to the king who was watching this battle.
  51. Following the battle, many Phoenicians blamed the Ionians for the loss for being traitors & willfully destroying vessels. The claim was Ionians escaped death from threats in the battle while the Phoenicians received death as a reward. During the complaint to Xerxes, a Samothracian vessel bore down an Athenian ship & killed or cleared out the crew with a barrage of javelins. Xerxes ordered those complaining to be executed for blaming braver men for their own misconduct. Xerxes had been sitting on a while watching the battle.
  52. When the rout was on, the Barbarians tried to escape to Phalerum but the Eginetans were waiting in the channel, blocking them. During the battle, the Athenians attacked belligerent ships or those trying to go ashore. The Eginetans fought those trying to escape. Once Persian ships succeeded in escaping from the Athenians, they had to deal with Eginetans.
  53. There was a meeting between Themistocles’s ship & the ship of Eginetan, Polycrites, who’d just rammed a Sidonian ship. This ship had an Eginetan, Pytheas aboard. The 2 fought over the right to claim taking over the ship.
  54. The Eginetans had the most honor in the battle. Then the Athenians. Individuals of note were Polycritus of Egina, & Eumenes & Ameinias of Pallene. Ameinias had hounded Artemisia’s ship. Her capture had a 10000 darchmae reward. But she escaped, with others to Phalerum.
  55. Athenians saw Adeimantus of Corinth was seized with fear as the battle begun & he sailed away. When the rest of the Corinthians saw this, they fled too. During the flight, he saw a strange ship whose men asked Adeimantus why he had run away. It was hurting Greece. Seeing this, he rejoined the fleet when the battle was already won. The Corinthians reject this story.
  56. Athenian Aristides was able to take a bunch of land troops from Salamis to Psyttaleia & killed the Persians stationed there.
  57. Once the battle was over, the Greeks met up at Salamis where the wrecks came ashore. They were expecting Xerxes to send fresh boats out to fight. Most wrecks were pushed by westward winds to the Attic coast. This fulfilled a prophecy of Lysistratus, an Athenian soothsayer.

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