The Battle of Salamis
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Ancient Wars
After the combined Greek land forces were beaten in the Battle of Thermopylae and the Greek Navy lost ships at the Battle of Artemisiumthe another battle loomed. This battle was the Battle of Salamis, a battle that took politics to conjure up support for and was pivotal in the changes of fortunes for one side engaged in the battle. The battle occurred around September 480 BC.
The Battle of Salamis was a naval battle between the Greek City-states and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I. The Greek City-states navy was led by Eurybiades and the very important Themistocles while the Persian Navy was commanded by Xerxes I and his two Generals Artemisia I of Caria and
Leading up to the Battle of Salamis
Xerxes I had his Persian army and Navy bearing down on Greece in an attempt to take lands and beat his old foe. Initially the Greeks had a battle plan that involved a combined battle on land and seas. This was the Battle of Thermopylae made famous by Leonadis and his 300 Spartan warriors and the Battle of Artemisiumthe at sea.
The armed forces at the Battle of Thermopylae were heavily overcome because of treachery leading Xerxes forces through a passage in the mountains to ambush and annihilate the Greek army. This meant the combined Greek navy fighting in the Battle of Artemisiumthe withdraw causing a stalemate in the sea battle but a tactical victory for the Persians.
When the Greek Navy withdraw from the battle they sailed south to the safety of Salamis Island where they docked.
The Battle of Salamis
Information confirming the actual formations of battle are inconclusive but the below account is as accurate as possible.
Themistocles was a prominent politician in Athens as well as being a General in the Athenian armed forces; this meant he had an understanding of both politics and battle. After the losses incurred with the two battles prior to the Battle of Salamis many in Greece did not want the Greek Navy to come out fighting again. Themistocles had to rally the people and politicians to gain agreement for the Navy to be used in another battle.
After getting approval Themistocles, along with Eurybiades took control of the Navy for the Battle of Salamis.
From information available there is an understanding that the Persians arrived the night before battle and formed a blockade to stop the Greek Navy from escaping into the high seas.
This blockade was in the form of a three rank deep line of ships and 400 infantry on the small island of Psyttaleia (the latter to kill any Greek who ended up on the island). Xerxes also had a small contingent of Egyptians ships he sent round the other side of Salamis to stop the Greeks from sailing away around the other side of the island.
The Greeks on the other hand formed two ranks of ships; this was not tactical and would have been more likely because the straits they were situated in were very narrow.
In the morning the Persians moved in towards the Straits to engage in battle, the Greeks were still arranging their defence at this point so were taken slightly by surprise and were in a bit of disorder.
At this point there is conflicting information to say the Corinthians sailed away from battle, some say this didn’t happen, others say it was a tactic so the Persians thought that the Greeks were disintegrating as a fighting unit. Either way the Corinthians did come back and battled hard along with the rest of the Greek Navy.
As the Persians approached they seemed to become disorganised, this is possibly because of the narrow size of the straits, as the Persians came the Greek Navy pulled back further into the straits. This move is believed to gain them a better position to fight in.
As the Persians moved even closer one of the Greek ships shot forward and rammed a Persian vessel, the rest of the Greek Navy then shot forward following suit. Because of the close proximity in the straits it is generally agreed that the battle became a disorganised group of smaller battles with no General being able to convey the whole battle scene.
The initial advance by the Greek Navy caused the first line of the Persian Navy to retreat back causing them to get entangled in the second line moving forward. A group of Greek ships then made a spear head through the centre of the Persian Navy splitting the battle formation in two.
During this part of the battle the Persian admiral Ariabignes was killed leaving his Phoenician ships without a leader and they fell in to disarray and many ships ended up running aground or smashing against the coast. It must be noted that the Persian admiral Ariabignes was one of Xerxes brothers.
As the Persian Navy had fallen into such disarray they started retreating. The Aeginetans contingent of the Greek Navy ambushed them as they left the straits killing more Persians and sinking more of the Persian fleet.
The final part of the battle saw the Athenian general Aristides took a large number of soldiers to the island of Psyttaleia where the 400 troops of Xerxes had been left by the Persian fleet in their retreat. The 400 Persian soldiers were annihilated by the Greek troops.
What was left of the Persian fleet sailed back to the safety of Phalerum.
The battle of Salamis was a decisive victory for the Greeks and stopped Xerxes from conquering the Peloponnese. The Greeks only had 366 to 378 ships losing 40 ships and managed to beat a Navy made up of 600 to 800 ships (modern estimates as historical estimates say 1200 ships). The Persians are said to have lost 200 ships. Total casualties on both sides are unknown.