Zach – I’m back from Japan and back in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I will be doing a post about my adventures in Japan, but first we have a topic that was requested: the Battle of Salamis.
Anna Komnene – Very good. My Greek ancestors defending the newly born democratic system, what’s not to love?
Joan D’Arc – Democratic? I do not like ziss thing. We need a king, not ziss…rabble.
Buffalo Calf Road – Nothing wrong with the tribe giving their opinion. Unless you happen to like tyranny. I don’t know. Maybe you do.
Gaspar Correia – Hey, if there’s money involved, I’m okay with whatever.
Olga – What are we talking about?
Zachary – We are talking about a really big battle with lots of fire.
Olga – Oh, good. I will pay attentions then.
Zachary – So, the Battle of Salamis. It’s the largest naval battle in history in terms of men involved. Think about that. Lepanto, Jutland, Spanish Armada, Midway…no other battle had near as many people. This was bigger than the Rebel assault on the second Death Star.
Anna – Also, not as many battles had so much at stake. This was the fate of Greece. If they lost this battle, Persia would have destroyed Democracy. There would have been no Roman Republic, no Byzantium, no Western civilization and no America. Everything we know would have been different.
Joan D’Arc – No France? Goodness no.
Zach – Exactly. So, let’s take a look. Persia, the most powerful empire in the world turned its greedy eyes on the Greek city states. There was no Greek nation, only a collection of fiercely independent city states that usually weren’t on good speaking terms. They were more incoherent than Congress. The Spartans moved to block the Persian invasion of the Greek mainland at Thermopylae. That’s a whole post in of itself, but let me explain…no, let me summarize. King Xerxes invades Greece with an army of a million men and the Spartans with allies from other city-states, go down to stop them at a small pass where the Persian numbers wouldn’t work against them. And yes, I said “a million.” They held them off for a few days but when they were about to lose, most Greeks retreated but three hundred Spartans stayed behind to hold the Persians off. They died to the man but not without holding the Persians up and buying the rest of Greece time to get its act together.
Anna – An Athenian named Themistocles saw the danger of the expanding Persian Empire and started building a navy. They knew they couldn’t fight the entire Persian Empire so they started making allies with the other Greek states. Two centers of power formed, Athens and Sparta. Sparta focused on land power and Athens focused on sea power. Think of Russia and America during the cold war and suddenly aliens invade. Yeah, they might get together to fight the aliens, but it won’t be a smooth friendship.
Joan – Ze Spartans were killed to ze man at ze Hot Gates. So Persia was now free to invade Greece. Ze road was open to Athens. Zay evacuated Athens and prepared to fall back south. Ze Athenian fleet fell back to Salamis. Athenian allies fell back to ze Ithmus of Corinth, a narrow neck of land. Forts were built to keep Persia out. But ze problem was, the Persians had big fleet so they could go around. Themistocles knew Persia had to be stopped on ze water.
Buffalo – It’s simple. If Persia controls the water, they control the war. Just like how America has air and naval superiority now. Themistocles saw this and prepared his fleet for battle. He wanted the fight to be at Salamis because like Thermopylae it a tight space and gave their smaller navy an advantage. Xerxes walked into an empty Athens and took it over, burning most of it to the ground. Then he turned his sights on the Greek fleet. Where is Napoleon? I bet he knows what that feels like.
Anna – Xerxes set up a throne on the hillside overlooking Salamis so he could witness his grand victory. He didn’t realize that he was facing my fellow Greeks!
Zach – Only one of his admirals advised to hold off on attacking the Greeks. Artemesia, Queen of Hilacarnassus. She was a Greek that sided with the Persian Empire.
Buffalo – Artemesia was a woman after my own heart. She knew how to be “assertive.” She was a warrior that took charge and led men into combat. So, she told Xerxes not to attack then and there but Themistocles had sent a message to Xerxes saying that he would submit to him and in battle he would turn against his fellow Greeks. This convinced Xerxes to go for it. Xerxes sent his fleet in and Artemesia was probably rolling her eyes as hard as she could.
Zach – The Greeks had 378 ships from various Greek city-states. The Athenians had the largest number of ships with 180. Sparta supplied only 16. Corinth had the next largest at 40. It was a whole bunch of Greeks that were far more used to fighting each other than fighting other people yet there they were, facing a opponent that outnumbered them three to one. The Persians had about 1,200 ships. The Persian ships were larger and slower which normally gave them an advantage in open water, but in the close, shallow waters of Salamis, the Greeks had the advantage. They could maneuver around and attack the larger Persian ships like hyenas taking down a lion.
Anna – The Persian navy moved in and was too cramped to maneuver properly. Their numbers worked against them and the Greeks swarmed over them, ramming them in the sides and fighting on the decks. The Persians couldn’t swim and the few that managed to cling on to debris were killed by the local Greeks watching the battle from the shores. Artemesia saw that the Persians were losing horribly and decided to make a hasty retreat. Unfortunately her way was blocked by other Persian vessels. So, she did what any other sensible woman would do and rammed her way out. She smashed her way through Persian vessels and made her escape. Xerxes saw this from his hilltop throne and thought she was sinking Greek vessels. He said, “Our men have become women and our women have become men.”
Joan – How horrible! What kind of barbaric woman iz ziss? Sinking her own allies?
Gaspar – Sounds legit to me.
Buffalo – I guess tyranny doesn’t inspire loyalty. But Xerxes awarded Artemesia after the battle. (She was one of the only admirals that lived and actually did a good job. He didn’t know about her ramming Persian vessels.) He awarded her a set of Hoplite armor as a trophy. I imagine that she put it on and looked absolutely badass.
Zach – The Greeks smashed the Persian fleet in a massively one sided battle that saw the majority of the Persian fleet destroyed. This gave Greece naval dominance for the rest of the war. This did a few things. This kept the Persians from resupplying their armies by sea. (Remember my post about logistics?) It also kept the Persians from landing troops wherever they wanted. Also, it let the Greeks move their troops freely. It basically lost the Persians the war right then and there. A war so far from Persia couldn’t be supported without the navy. Xerxes was advised by Artemesia to go back to Persia and let the war be continued by his subordinates. The allowed Xerxes to claim victory if they won the war or blame it on his generals if they lost. Either way he came out smelling like roses. The Greeks spent the next few years pushing the remains of Xerxes’ million man army out of Greece.
Anna – After the war the Greeks coalesced into two spheres of power: the Athenians and Spartans. Athens became the center of a massive coalition and those that opposed their power grab gravitated to the Spartans. Then began the Peloponnesian War, but that’s another story.