The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece -- and Western Civilization

The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece -- and Western Civilization

Barry Strauss

Language: English

Pages: 294

ISBN: 0743244516

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

On a late September day in 480 B.C., Greek warships faced an invading Persian armada in the narrow Salamis Straits in the most important naval battle of the ancient world. Overwhelmingly outnumbered by the enemy, the Greeks triumphed through a combination of strategy and deception. More than two millennia after it occurred, the clash between the Greeks and Persians at Salamis remains one of the most tactically brilliant battles ever fought. The Greek victory changed the course of western history -- halting the advance of the Persian Empire and setting the stage for the Golden Age of Athens.
In this dramatic new narrative account, historian and classicist Barry Strauss brings this landmark battle to life. He introduces us to the unforgettable characters whose decisions altered history: Themistocles, Athens' great leader (and admiral of its fleet), who devised the ingenious strategy that effectively destroyed the Persian navy in one day; Xerxes, the Persian king who fought bravely but who ultimately did not understand the sea; Aeschylus, the playwright who served in the battle and later wrote about it; and Artemisia, the only woman commander known from antiquity, who turned defeat into personal triumph. Filled with the sights, sounds, and scent of battle, The Battle of Salamis is a stirring work of history.

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B.C., the trireme embodied state-of-the-art naval technology in the Mediterranean. For two centuries, the trireme would reign as the queen of the seas; Salamis was its greatest battle. Our information about the trireme is plentiful if incomplete. Unfortunately for the student of Salamis, most of that information comes from the period ca. 430–320 B.C., that is, at least fifty years after the Persian Wars. Fortunately, what little indications we have suggest that what was true of triremes in the

for thirty-six years when he died. The Persians set great store on the impression made by their king and did not leave matters to chance. Royal infants were fussed over by eunuchs, while adult kings were tended by hairdressers, makeup artists, and perfumers—the latter following the king even on military campaigns. Monarchs kept their looks by coating themselves with an ointment consisting of ground-up sunflower seeds mixed with saffron, palm wine, and fat from one of the rare lions to be found

fired Mardonius from his command. An ambitious man, Mardonius sought in 484 B.C. both to reverse his earlier disappointment and to win the power waiting for the first Persian governor of Greece. Most of the other courtiers shared his hard-line position. Not even the king’s eunuchs were neutral: one of them once brought Xerxes some figs from Athens for dessert, in order to remind the king of the expedition that he was supposed to lead. Artabanus and Mardonius each advanced powerful arguments.

the delighted eyes of Xerxes, who watched it from his white marble throne. The next month, at Doriscus in Thrace, His Majesty chose a Sidonian ship from which to review his fleet. The Phoenician contingent of ships was originally three hundred strong. Seated under a golden canopy, the Great King sailed along the single line of ships that was drawn up four hundred feet from shore with the prows turned shoreward and the marines on deck in full battle array. Xerxes asked questions about each ship,

ships feinted and darted, but the Athenians would not give them an opening. The Phoenicians charged and retreated, charged and retreated. These superb seamen would do everything that could be done under the circumstances, but they fought under a handicap. The fresh and confident Greeks could afford to make a mistake or two, but the tired and shocked Phoenicians could not. In this opening stage of the battle, “at first the flood of the Persian host held firm,” according to Aeschylus. But the

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