The Persian Wars
The Greek cities in Asia Minor had not been united and
often, like the cities of mainland, they quarreled between them.
Thales of Miletos perceived this weakness of
Ionia and proposed a united nation, consisting from all the cities with
Teos, as the capital, but none listened.
At the end of the seventh century, king Gyges of Lydia conquered Colophon.
Responding to the aggression of Lydia, twelve Ionic cities formed a
league, whose center was the Panionion, a shrine of Poseidon on the
promontory of Mykale. The weak league was unable to stop the conquest of
the cities, by the next king of Lydia, king Croesos (560-546 BC). Only
Miletos, which had not resisted, remained an ally under a treaty.
After the defeat of Croesos by the king of Persia, Cyrus, the Ionic cities
which had fought against him in the war, asked to be governed with the
same terms as they were before, under the kindly and benevolent king
Croesos. Cyrus refused and the league met at the Panionion and
decided to ask the aid of Sparta.
Though the Lakedaemonians refused to help them, they sent a message to
Cyrus, telling him not to harm any Greek city. Cyrus instead send the
governor of Lydia Arpagos, who had saved Cyrus in his infancy, to
lay siege to the cities. The people of Teos, unwilling to submit,
abandoned their homes and went to Abdera, in Thrace. The Phokaeans also
left and sailed to Corsica and been harassed by Carthagenians and the
people of Tyrrhe, they went to Region and later founded the city of
Massalia (Marseilles). One by one, the Ionic cities were conquered and
forced to pay tribute to the Persian king, contributing also ships and
army. Though the Persians did not interfere with their religion, social
life and Greek habits, the cities were unhappy.
The Ionic revolt
499 - 494 BC
The revolt of the Ionic cities was caused by the tyrant
of Miletos, Aristagoras, who tried to capture the island of Naxos with the
aid of the satrap Artafernes.
the expedition failed, Aristagoras in order to avoid punishment for his
promises to the satrap, he initiated the revolt to the unhappy Ionic
cities. The whole Ionia rebelled and soon was freed from tyranny.
Immediately Aristagoras went to Sparta and asked for their support. King
Kleomenes personally was in favor to help the Ionians, but the
Lakedaemonians took the decision not to engage in such a distant
expedition. There is a story, that when Aristagoras offered Kleomenes more
and more money, his eight years old daughter, Gorgo, told her
father "Go away father, otherwise this man is going to corrupt you".
After the Spartan refusal, Aristagoras went to Athens and persuaded them
to support the revolt. The Athenians and Eretrians sent a fleet (twenty
triremes the former and five the later) and joining forces with the
Ionians, marched and attacked the city of Sardis, which was burned
accidentally (498 BC). The Greeks failed to take the citadel and in their
return to the coast, they were attacked by the Persian army near Ephesos
and defeated. After this incident, the Athenian army returned home and did
not get involve anymore, in the Ionic affairs. When Darius learned about
the burning of Sardis, in great rage, asked who did it. When they told
him, "the Athenians", he asked again, and "who are they?"
Upon been informed, he shot an arrow into the sky and said: "grand me
Zeus to take revenge upon the Athenians" and ordered one of his
servants to remind him, three times every day during the dinner:
lord, remember the Athenians"
μέμνησον τοις Αθηναίοις).
After the burning of Sardis, many other cities revolted in Asia Minor,
Thrace and Cyprus. In 494 BC, the Persian and
Ionic fleet fought a battle at the island of Lade, close to the port of
Miletos. The Persian fleet was numbering 600 Phoenician ships and the
Greek 353. The ships of Chios were defeating the enemy and the naval
battle would have been won from the far superior seamen of Ionic cities,
but when 50 Samian ships and another 70 from Lesbos treacherously fled,
the battle was lost. The Phoenician fleet, which was vastly superior in
number, won the battle.
After a long siege from land and sea, the city of
Miletos was captured and destroyed. Most of the inhabitants were killed
and the rest were transferred at Ampe, a town near the mouth of the Tigris
river. Miletos was taken at the sixth year, after its revolt (494 BC). The temple of Apollo at
Didyma, one of the most important oracle of Greece was burned, as the
Branchidae priests had prophesized.
A year after the capture of Miletos, the poet Phrynichos used the story in
his drama "Capture of Miletos", which was performed at Athens. The
whole theater came to tears and Phrynichos was sentenced to pay a fine of
a thousand drachmas and his tragedy was banned.
battle of Marathon
In 492 BC, Darius sent his son in law Mardonios with a large
army and fleet in an expedition at Thrace, with the purpose to invade the
rest of Greece. The fleet, which was following close the land army, was
destroyed by a storm, at the promontory of mount Athos. Three hundred
vessels were lost from the hurricane and 20,000 men
were drowned. Soon after, Mardonios was wounded, when a Thracian tribe,
the Brygians, attacked his army during the night. With his forces
weakened, he returned to Persia.
The failure of the expedition did not sake Darius. He immediately started
to prepare a larger army. He sent heralds to all the Greek cities, asking
from them "earth and water", the symbol of submission. All the
Greek Islands and many Greek cities submitted. Athens and Sparta were so
much insulted at the demand, that the first threw the heralds into the
Barathron, a deep pit in the walls of Acropolis and the later into a well,
to find their earth and water.
In the spring of 490 BC, Darius assembled in Cilicia a big army, he also
prepared a fleet of 600 galleys. The commanders,
Datis and Artafernes, had been instructed to reduce to
subjection the cities which had refused to give earth and water,
particularly Athens and Eretria. At first, they sailed to Samos and from
there to Naxos, the island which had repelled a large Persian fleet, ten
years ago. The people of Naxos fled from the cities, which they were
burned by the Persians. All the other islands submitted and the fleet
sailed to Eretria, where they found great resistance. For six days
the Eretrians fought gallantly, but on the seventh, the gates were opened
by two Eretrian traitors, both leading citizens. The city was destroyed
and the surviving inhabitants were put in chains.
After a few days, Datis crossed to Attica, landing at the plain of
Marathon, a place which had been chosen by Hippias, the son of
Peisistratos, who was accompanying the Persians. In the meantime, the
Athenians, upon learning the news of the fall of Eretria, sent
Phidippides to Sparta, to ask for assistance. Phidippides, a postman
by profession, made the journey of 150 miles on foot, in only 48 hours.
The Spartans promised to send a force, but asked for time, because it was
not full moon yet (one more week was needed), a Spartan superstition,
which was prohibiting them to march during these days.
Athenians, who had decided to fight the Persian army at Marathon, had
encamped at the the valley of Aulona, near the temple of Herakles and were
watching closely their movements.
When they received the news from Phidippides, the Athenian Generals were
divided, as to what was the best course. Five generals wanted an immediate
engagement with the Persian army, between them were Miltiades,
Themistokles and Aristeides, and the other five refused to
engage in battle, until the arrival of the Spartan army. The General
Miltiades, who belonged to the team of generals for immediate engagement,
persuaded the Polemarch Kallimachos, to vote for battle. The
Athenian army was numbered 10,000 heavy armed
soldiers (hoplites) and they had no significant light armed men, nor had a
cavalry or archers. Unexpectedly the city of Plataea indebted for the help
the Athenians had given them in their war against the Thebans, sent their
whole force of 1,000 hoplites, to their assistance.
The Persian army was numbering in more than 120,000 men (according to
others 50,000) and had encamped at the plain, about one mile from the
sea. It had been decided, that if the Persians would move towards Athens
or starting embarking on the ships, they would attack them immediately.
After waiting for eight days, on the 17th day of September 490 BC, the
Persians started to embark men in the ships to sail at the defenseless
city of Athens. Miltiades immediately ordered to prepare for battle.
Because they were not enough men to cover the length of the Persian army,
Miltiades decided to strengthen the wings and leave the center weaker,
with only a few ranks. The right wing was under the command of the
polemarch Kallimachos and in the left wing were the Plataeans. Miltiades
did not immediately engage them, holding back his men, to avoid their
arrows. When Miltiades gave the order to attack, the Athenians rushed
toward the enemy, in order to avoid long exposure to their arrows. With
their war cry, "Ελελευ!
Ελελευ!", fell upon the Persians, who were
unused for hand to hand fighting. After a long and hard battle, the
Persians were victorious in the center, in which they had positioned their
best men. But the Athenians, in the right and left wing had defeated the
enemy and by joining the left and right wing, they attacked at the center.
The Athenian attack had such a devastated effect that in a short time the
Persians retreated to their ships, with great loses, abandoning their
camp. At the sea shore, a vicious and long battle took place, in which the
Greeks tried to prevent the Persians escape to their ships. The Persians,
who took refuge in the swamps, were all slaughtered.
Immediately after the battle, an Athenian hoplite, in
full arms, run to Athens (the distance of 21
miles), to give the good news. He passed the mountain Ymetos and then the
hill of Lykavetos and through Acropolis came to Agora. Raising his shield,
he cried "We have won" (Νενικήκαμε) and then he collapsed
At the battle, the Persians lost 6,400 men and
seven of their ships were captured, and from the Athenian side,
192 men were killed, among them the polemarch
Kallimachos and Stesilaos, one of the ten generals. The second day after
the battle, 2,000 Spartans came to Athens, marching
150 miles in just three days. Finding the battle
over, they visited Marathon and after inspecting the field of the battle,
where thousands of enemy bodies were lying, they returned to Sparta,
having only praise for the bravery of the Athenians.
The 192 Athenians killed, were buried at the
field of the battle and a thirty nine feet high tomb was erected over
them. Their names were inscribed on ten pillars, one for each tribe. On
the white marble stone tumulus was written an inscription by the poet
Marathon for Greece the Athenians fought;
And low the Medians' gilded power they brought"
προμαχούντες Αθηναίοι Μαραθώνι,
χρυσοφόρων Μήδων εστόρεσαν δύναμιν).
Two other tombs were erected, one for the fallen Plataeans and one for the
slaves. From the loot of the Persian camp, the Athenians offered the one
tenth to goddess Athena, Apollo and Artemis. It was from the Persian loot
that Pheidias constructed the chryselephantine statue of goddess Athena.
They erected the
treasury of Athenians at Delphi and part of the loot was given to
In the battle of Marathon fought the tragic poet Aeschylos and his brother
Kynegeiros, who fell in the battle showing immense bravery. Trying to hold
a Persian ship, his hand was cut off by an axe. Aeschylos, who was wounded
badly, considered his participation in the battle of Marathon, the highest
honor he had in his life, as it was inscribed in his grave style.
During the battle of Marathon, a strange event happened to the Athenian
hoplite Epizelos, son of Kouphagoras, who lost his vision and never
regained it, though he had not receive any wound or beating. He was
telling later, that a giant soldier appeared in front of him, whose beard
was shedding his whole shield and this phantom was killing the enemies
around him. He thought to be a god and the bright shining of his armor,
During the end of the battle, the Athenians saw that someone was flashing
a shield, from high up on the mountain of Pentely and afraid that a
traitor was signaling a message to the enemy to capture the city, they
rushed to the unprotected city of Athens leaving behind the tribes of
Themistokles and Aristeides, which had been tested in the battle. Tired
from the battle in the hot September day, after seven hours they arrived
at the south of the city walls and encamped in the temple of Herakles, at
Kynosargaes. The Persians, who had entered the Phaleron bay, when they saw
them they sailed for Asia.
490 - 480 BC
The disastrous expedition by the Persians in Greece,
made Darius even more eager to conquer Greece. For three years, after the
battle of Marathon, he was preparing a vast army, but a revolt that broke
out in Egypt postponed an early expedition and in 485 BC, he died. His
son, Xerxes, by the older daughter of Cyrus, Attosa,
succeeded him to the throne.
Within a year, he crashed the rebellion in Egypt and started preparations
against Greece, on a massive scale. For four years, provisions of all
kinds and army were assembled at the plains of Kapadokia, as well as food
dumps along his route to the coast of Thrace.
A ship canal was opened in Chalkidiki, north of mount Athos,
large enough for two triremes, in order to avoid the dangerous cape, which
had destroyed his fleet in 492 BC. He also build a bridge on the river
Strymon. In the meantime, Egyptian and Phoenician engineers were
constructing a bridge, over the Hellespont, near Abydos, where the breadth
of the sea is only seven stadia (about one mile). The bridge was
constructed by old ships and held by enormous ropes. It was later
destroyed by a storm and Xerxes ordered the heads, of those responsible
for the construction, to be cut and three hundred lashes to be given to
the unruly Hellespont. Two new bridges were constructed by Greek engineers using 674 ships, next to each other, one for the army
and the other for animals and baggage. The bridges were resting upon a row
of anchored ships and fastened by ropes.
At Greece, Athens and Aegina were at war for some time. Aegina was one of
the strongest naval powers at this time and her ships were ravaging the
Attic coast. When a rich bed of silver, was discovered at Maronia, in
Lavrion, the surplus money of more than one hundred talents, was proposed
to be distributed among the Athenian citizens. Themistokles tried and
persuaded the Athenians, to use the surplus to build a fleet, to help
mainly the cause of the war without a herald (πόλεμος ακήρυκτος)
with Aegina (498 BC), but without doubt from fear of another Persian
invasion. In a period of two years, Athens had a fleet of more than two
When Aegina gave "earth and water", the Athenians asked the
intervention of Sparta, accusing the Aeginitians that they betrayed the
cause of Greece. King Kleomenes seized ten leading Aeginitian citizens and
transferred them in Athens, as hostages. After this episode, Aegina ended
the hostilities against Athens, which was preparing for the forthcoming
In Greece, the news for the Persian expedition had long been known. For
the first time, in Greece's history the cities were united under the
leadership of Sparta and while Xerxes was passing the winter at Sardis, a
council of the Greek cities was summoned to meet at Korinth (481 BC). In
front of the imminent danger, they attempted to unite all the cities in
one great league for the defense of the motherland. But it was such the
terror, Xerxes had inspired over many of them, that the attempt failed.
Anyway, the congress proved fruitful in reconciling the cities, mainly
Athens and Aegina.
The strategic plan of the Greeks, which was
without doubt product of Themistokles, was to defeat the Persian fleet in
a naval battle, with the hope, that their land army will withdraw, without
support. The proposition of Spartans to meet the Persians in the Isthmos
of Korinth, was not accepted, because all the northern Greece necessarily
would Medize and thus they decided, that the only place for defense was
Thermopylae. The Greek fleet consisting from 300
ships was anchored at Artemision, north of Euboea, where Artemis had her
temple, opposite the bay of Pagasae, ready to fight the Persian fleet.
In Athens, the
leaders, Aristeides and Themistokles were quarrelling, for the course
their city ought to take. Aristeides, an able man but without a lot of
clear-sightedness, famous for his honesty and integrity, was in favor of
keeping the ancient Athenian habits avoiding to become his city a maritime
state. Themistokles, a man of genius, vigorously advocated that Athens
ought to build a fleet and become a naval power. Themistokles managed to
expel one after the other his opponents. Hipparchos was exiled in 487 BC,
Xanthippos in 484 BC and Aristeides in 482 BC. In
order to have the power in his hands and because was prohibited to be
elected archon for a second time, he persuaded the Athenians to change the
constitution, taking away the executive powers of archon eponymous. The
power was transferred to the ten generals of the tribes, who could be
reelected multiple times.
battle of Thermopylae
At the end of the year 481 BC, all the Persian
preparations for the expedition against Greece had been completed and in
the following year 480 BC, after the spring rains, the vast army marched
towards Hellespont. For seven days and nights the army was crossing over
to Europe. According to Herodotos, the force including the attendants, was
exceeding the five million men and the Persian fleet numbered to 1207
ships. The vast army was consisted from 1,700,000
foot soldiers, 80,000 cavalry and 20,000 Lybians and Arabians, with
chariots and camels.
Macedonians and cities of the northern Greece contributed more than
300,000 men. They reached Thessaly in 480 BC, without any resistance. In
the meantime, a small force sent by the Greek cities under the king of
Sparta, Leonidas, encamped at Thermopylae.
Athens and Sparta, having consulted Delphi, received terrifying responses.
Athenians, who could not accept the oracle "Flee to the ends of the
earth", told the Delphians, that they will stay
until they die, waiting for a better oracle. They were given another
ambiguous one, saying that "a wooden wall will survive the destruction
of Attica" and "divine Salamis would
destroyed the children of women". In the
Athenian assembly, Themistokles later argued that the wooden wall was
their fleet and if the god prophesized evil for Greece, he would never use
the word, "divine" (θείη), but the word "pernicious" (σχετλίη).
To the Spartans the oracle was equally dreadful, telling them that "either their city or a Spartan king would perish".
On the arrival of Xerxes at Thermopylae, he found that the place was
defended by a body of three hundred Spartans and about seven thousand
hoplites from other states, commanded by the Spartan king Leonidas.
Xerxes learning about the small number of Greek forces and that several
Spartans outside the walls were exercising and combing their hairs, in his
perplexity, immediately called Demaratos to explain him the meaning of all
these. Demaratos told him that the Spartans will defend the place to the
death and it was custom to wash and dress their hairs with special care
when they intended to put their lives in great danger. Xerxes who did not
believe Demaratos, delayed his attack for four days, thinking that the
Greeks as soon as they would realize his great forces will disperse. He
sent also heralds asking to deliver up their arms. The answer from
"come and take them" (Μολών λαβέ).
A Spartan, who was told about the great number of Persian soldiers, who
with their arrows will conceal the sun, he answered: "so much the
better, we will fight in the shade".
At the fifth day Xerxes attacked but without any results and with heavy
losses, though the Medes fought bravely. He then ordered his personal
guard the "Immortals" under Hydarnes, a body of ten thousand
consisting from the best Persian soldiers, to advance. They also failed
and Xerxes was observed to jump from his throne three times in anger and
agony. The following day they attacked, but again made no progress. Xerxes
was desperate but his luck changed when a Malian named Ephialtes
told him about a secret path across the mountain. Immediately a strong
Persian force was sent under Hydarnes, guided by the traitor. At day's
break they reached the summit, where the Phokian army was stationed and
who upon seeing the Persians fled.
When Leonidas was informed about all these incidents, he ordered the
council of war to be summoned. Many were of the opinion that they should
retire and find a better defendable place, but Leonidas, who was bound by
the laws of Sparta and from an oracle, which had declared that either
Sparta or a Spartan king must perish, refused. Three hundred Spartans and
seven hundred Thespians took the decision to stay and fight.
Leonidas did not wait
the Persian attack, which had being delayed by Xerxes and advancing in the
path, he fell upon the Persians. Thousands of them were slain, the rest
were driven near the sea, but when the Spartan spears broke, they started
having losses and one of the first that fell was king Leonidas. Around his
body one of the fiercest battles took place. Four times the Persians
attacked to obtain it and four times they were repulsed. At the end, the
Spartans exhausted and wounded, carrying the body of Leonidas, retired
behind the wall, but they were surrounded by the enemy, who killed them
On the spot, a marble lion was erected by the Greeks in honor of Leonidas
and his men, together with two other monuments near by. On one of them,
the memorable words were written:
αγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ότι τήδε κείμεθα,
τοις κείνων ρήμασι
tell the Lacedaemonians, that we lie here,
battle of Salamis
The Greek fleet at Artemision, when received
information about the great numbers of the Persian fleet, left their post
and sailed to Euripus, at the narrow straits, between Euboea and Boeotia.
The Persian fleet after sailing down the
Thermaic gulf, reached the island of Skiathos and anchored at Sepias,
along the coast of Magnesia. The enormous fleet was consisted from 200
Egyptian triremes, 150 Cyprians, 300 from Phoenicia and Palestine, 100
ships have contributed the Ionian cities, 100 the Celicians, 100 from Hellispontians and the rest from many other
cities. Totaling 1207 and supported from about 3000 smaller vessels. The
fighting men on the triremes were about 36,000 and with their rowers
240,000. The Greeks along the coast of Thrace and islands were
contributing 120 ships.
When the Persian fleet anchored on the coast of Magnesia, a vicious storm
lasting for three days, destroyed 400 ships and almost all the smaller
vessels. This incident gave courage to the Greek fleet and returned back
to Artemision. As soon as the storm ended, the Persian fleet sailed around
the Pagasian bay and anchored at Aphetae. Fifteen vessels which have been
left behind, thinking that the Greek fleet at Artemision was their own,
when they approached, they were captured. But when the Persian fleet
approached them, the Greeks seeing the great number of Persian ships
wanted to leave their posts. With difficulty the Euboeans, who were
removing their wives and children, persuaded them to stay and engage the
The Persians dispatched 200 ships, which sailed around Euboea, in order to
occupy the Euripus, just behind the Greek fleet to cut off their retreat.
The Greeks, who were informed about the Persian move from the excellent
diver Skyllias of Skione, decided to sail during the night to
Euripus and attack them. But in the afternoon there was a change of plan
and they sailed to engage the main body of the Persian fleet. The battle
lasted many hours and the Greeks captured 30 Persians ships and the
Persians just one Lemnian. At night, the Persians had another misfortune.
A big storm destroyed most of the 200 ships, that were sent to Euripus and
sailing in the dangerous shores of Trypes. Many ships from the main
naval body were also destroyed, but this did not stop the Persians from
giving another battle two days later. A day before the battle fifty three
Athenian triremes came to join the Greek fleet. The naval battle was
vicious, lasting the entire day. Many ships from both sides were lost and
half of the Athenian ships were destroyed. When the news came, that
Thermopylae fell to the Persians, the Greek ships sailed to Salamis.
Though, the naval battles in Artemision were undecided, they gave courage
and hope to the Greeks, who thought, that with better conditions, they
could defeat the Persians at the sea. The gulf of Salamis, where the Greek
fleet sailed, was a well chosen place to fight the enemy, because in the
narrow straits of the sea, the advantage that the Persians had in ships
was diminished. The fleet was also protecting the transportation of the
citizens of Attica, who were leaving their homes for Aegina, Troezen and
Salamis. In front of the eminent danger, the exiled Athenians, among them
Aristeides and Xanthippos, were permitted to return.
In the meantime, Xerxes had reached Athens and surrounded Acropolis. A
body of his army stationed at Areiopagos, who by throwing arrows furnished
with lighting tow, burned the wooden defenses of Acropolis. The defenders
of the sacred rock did not surrender and when the Persians tried to climb
the rock, they rolled big stones crushing them. Persians captured the
Acropolis, when they discovered a undefended spot, near the temple of
Aglavros. A small force of them, ascended the rock, entered Acropolis and
opened the gates to the Persian army. The Athenian defenders were
slaughtered or threw themselves from the walls. All the temples and
buildings of the Acropolis were plundered and burned. The Athenian exiles,
who went to Acropolis the next day to offer sacrifice, they discovered
that the sacred olive tree, which was burned to the ground, to have thrown
a fresh shoot of one cubit long.
From the ships and the island of Salamis, Athenians and the rest of Greeks
were looking the city of Athens in fire. Many disheartened from the sight,
wanted to withdraw to Isthmos.
The Greek fleet was consisted from 180 Athenian ships,
40 Korinthian, 30 Aeginian, 20 Megarian, 20 Chalkidian, 16 Lakedaemonian,
15 Sikyonian, 10 Epidaurian, 7 Eretrian, 7 from Keos, 5 Troezenian, 4 from
Naxos, 3 Hermionian, 2 from Styrea, 1 from Kythnos, 1 from Kroton and some
fifty-oared vessels. (According to Herodotos, they were 366 ships,
Aeschylos mentions 310 only).
The Persian fleet now was no less than 1000 ships. The ships that had been
destroyed at the storm and the naval battles in Artemision had been made
up from the coast of northern Greece and islands.
At the Persian council, Xerxes asked his generals, if they ought to fight.
All of them responded positively, except Artemisia, the queen of
Hallicarnassus in Karia. She told Xerxes, that if he did not attack, the
Greeks would disperse. Attacking them was an unnecessary risk not only for
the fleet, but for the land army as well. She proposed instead of a naval
battle to lead the land army and take Peloponnesos. Though Xerxes
applauded her opinion, he sided with the rest and orders for an attack
were issued for the following morning.
In the first Greek war council, the Peloponnesian commanders, especially
the Korinthian admiral Adeimantos, were strongly opposed to the
propositions of Themistokles, to stay and fight at the straits. They
argued, that if the fleet sailed to Isthmos of Korinth, they would
communicate better with the land forces and would be able to protect the
unconquered cities of Peloponnesos. In vain Themistokles tried to persuade
them and in the voting the majority chose to retreat, but because it was
night, they decided to wait until the morning.
When Themistokles returned after the council to his trireme, his friend
Mnesiphilos upon learning, about the decisions taken in the council,
told him: "Then, all is lost. They will disperse and Euribiades will be
unable to hold them. Go and try to make him, fight here." Themistokles
immediately, after these words, went and found Euribiades to his ship and
persuaded him to summon an emergency council. At the assembly, he did not
wait for Euribiades to speak about the reason of the urgent meeting and
started speaking. It was then that the Korinthian admiral insulted
Themistokles and speaking to him loudly said: "Themistokles, those who
rise at the public games before the signal, are whipped". Themistokles
insulted, responded: "True, but the ones who are left behind, they
don't win the crown". Themistokles then proceeded to explain the
reasons why they ought to stay and fight at Salamis. Plutarch tells us,
that in this meeting Euribiades got angry with the language of
Themistokles and lifted up his stick to hit him. Themistokles then told
him: "Strike, but hear me". He then proceeded to explain the
dangers involved, If they would not fight at the straits and sailed at
Isthmos. Firstly, they would lose Salamis, Aegina and Megara and thus
bring the Persians on the Peloponnesos. Secondly, that they will be forced
to fight in the open sea, without any chance, to win the battle. He
reminded them also, that many Athenian families at Salamis will be left
unprotected. When he finished, general Adeimantos said to Euribiades to
stop listening to a man, who has no country. Themistokles, in great anger
then told him, that the Athenians had two hundred triremes, which can take
the Athenian families on board and settle at Siris in Italy. These words
had the desired effect and Euribiades decided to stay and fight at
Salamis, without any voting. A trireme was sent to Aegina to invoke
assistance, by bringing the statues and icons, of Aeakus and the
Aeakids heros, Telamon and Ajax.
The next morning, obeying to the orders of Euribiades, the trierarchs
started preparing the ships for action. But it was such the discontent
between them and upon news and instructions from home, they demanded a
third council. After long deliberations, in which Themistokles tried to
persuade them, he sent his entrusted servant, Sikinnus, the tutor
of his children, who spoke the Persian language, to Xerxes, to inform him
that the Greeks were in disagreement and ready to leave immediately with
their ships from Salamis and that he could entrap them and obtain an easy
victory. The council lasted until late night, when Themistokles received
the message that someone was asking for him. It was Aristeides, who was
returning from Aegina. He told Themistokles that the Persians had
surrounded Salamis and it was impossible for the fleet to retreat.
Themistokles then told him to keep it a secret, that he was responsible
for this and asked him to take part and tell the news to the council.
Aristeides explained to the council, that the whole island was encircled
by the Persian fleet and it was thanks to the darkness, that his small
vessel went undetected passing through their lines.
In the meantime the Persian fleet which had previously anchored at
Phaleron, with orders from Xerxes, had encircled Salamis. The whole
Egyptian naval force of two hundred ships sailed and blocked the straits
between Salamis and Megara. The rest of his fleet blockaded the straits
between Salamis and Attica. Persians also landed troops in the small
island of Psitallia, that lies in the mouth of the straits, opposite
Kynosoura of Salamis.
A throne was prepared at the summits of mount Aegaleo for
Xerxes, opposite the island of Salamis, to watch the naval battle.
At dawn, on the 29th of September 480 BC, the Persian ships, with the
Phoenicians leading the way and the Ionians behind, moved in three lines
into the straits on the side of Attica and creating a long formation of
three columns, took position for battle. The Greek ships, which had been
anchored at Salamis at night, were also ready, boarded by the rested
seamen. The Athenians were posted in the left wing opposing the
Phoenisians. The Aeginitians and Euboeans were in the center and the
Lakedaemonians and other Peloponnesians at the right, opposing the
Ionians. Minutes before the beginning of the battle, the trireme, which
had been sent to Aegina, returned and took also position for battle. They
were small waves at the straits at that moment and the Greek seamen, who
knew the currents and had heavier ships, though equally fast with the
Persians, had a clear advantage.
When the signal from the trumpets was given into the still morning, the
Greeks started singing loudly their war paean "Apollo, saving lord"
and moved to engage the enemy. But after a short time, they stopped and
started oaring backwards. At that moment, a gigantic supernatural feminine
figure appeared over them, shouting with a loud voice, that was heard from
the whole fleet: "you miserable people, until when will you fall back?".
When the Persian ships started approaching, in a semicircular formation,
the enthusiastic Greeks moved forwards again.
The first incident of the battle, occurred when a Greek trireme rushed in
front and struck a Phoenician ship. That forced other Greek triremes to
come quickly to its aid and the battle started. The Aeginitians afterwards
claimed, that it was their trireme, which had been sent for the Aeakids,
that began the fight. At the narrow straits of Salamis, the Greek ships
had greater maneuverability and were faster to attack. The Greeks were
fighting with order, without any confusion, while the Persians, though
they were fighting bravely, had no tactical plan. As soon as, the
Phoenicians came close, the Athenians moved forward, assailing them in the
flank, cutting them from the rest of the fleet and driving them towards
the Attic shore. After a hard battle, the Persian ships panicked and
turned back, falling upon their own, ramming them with their bronze
Themistokles seizes the opportunity and orders his trireme to attack the
Persian flagship, which was under the leadership of general Aravignes,
brother of Xerxes, but other ships who were protecting the flagship, tried
to encircle his ship. The trierarch Ameinias, brother of the tragic
poet Aeschylos and the hero of Marathon, Kynaegeiros, who sees the danger
of Themistokles trireme, rushes to help and with the ram of his ship hits
the sides of the Persian flagship and disables it. Aravignes then, orders
the attack on the ship of Ameinias and jumps to it first, but he is killed
by arrows. His body was taken by Artemisia and given later to Xerxes.
The ship of queen Artemisia, whom the Athenians had set a price for her
head of ten thousand drachmas, chased by an Athenian trireme under the
command of Ameinias, seeing no other way to escape, fell upon an
ally Karian ship and shank it. The Athenians after this, stopped the
chase, thinking that the ship was helping their own cause. Xerxes, who
witnessed the event and being told, that the shank ship was Greek, said
about Artemisia: "My men had become women and the women men".
While the Athenian triremes were chasing the Persian ships, causing great
destruction, the Aeginitians, who took first prize for valor in the battle
afterwards (Athenians came second), got out to the open sea destroying the
ones, that were fleeing from the Athenians. The whole strait of Salamis
was full from the wrecks, when Aristeides with an able body of hoplites,
passed over to Psitallia and slaughtered all the Persian soldiers. At
sunset the battle was over, with the Persian fleet partly destroyed or out
of action. The Greeks lost 40 triremes and the Persians 200 and about
Though the Persians had been defeated, the land forces were occupying
Attica and their fleet was still formidable. The Persian monarch in rage,
after the battle beheaded some Phoenicians, thought to be responsible for
the loss of the battle. The Phoenician fleet after that, fearing the rage
of Xerxes, left Phaleron at night and sailed for home. Xerxes, who could
not rely anymore on the capability of his fleet to protect his retreat to
Asia, fearing that the Greeks might try to damage the bridge in the
Hellispont, ordered the best of his troops to disembark from the ships and
march quickly to secure the bridge. At the same time, the fleet was
ordered to leave Phaleron for Asia. When the Greeks saw that the Persian
fleet was leaving Phaleron, they sailed after them and pursued them, as
far as the island of Andros. Themistokles, anxious to see the Persians
leaving Attica, he sent a second message with Sikinnus to Xerxes, telling
him, that he, Themistokles, out of personal friendship restrained the
Greeks, who wanted to destroy the bridge at Hellispont.
Mardonios, in the meantime had eased the anger of Xerxes, telling him that
after all, his majesty had succeeded to conquer Greece, burned Athens and
Eretria and defeated their best army, at Thermopylae. This is what
Mardonios said to Xerxes, proposing him to let him stay with 300,000
soldiers, to complete the conquest of Greece. Xerxes after taking the
advice of Artemicia, he accepted the plan of Mardonios and left for
Hellispont, reaching Asia in forty five days. His army suffering from
famine, was greatly diminished. Mardonios passed the winter in Thessaly,
preparing the army for a new expedition.
Battle of Plataea
The reluctance, which Sparta showed after the battle of
Thermopylae until a little before the battle of Plataea, did not help the
Greek cause. But when finally she took the decision to engage seriously
herself in the war, it did it in a great manner.
Five thousand citizens, each one attended by seven Helots, together with
five thousand Lacedaemonian Perioikoi (each one attended by one light
armed Helot) marched toward the Isthmos. This was a very large army and
never in the past Sparta had sent such a big force in the field. At
Isthmos, she was joined with the Peloponnesian allies and marched towards
Megara. The army was joined there by three thousand Megarians and finally
at Plataea with eight thousand Athenian hoplites. The city of Plataea also
contributed six hundred hoplites, who came from Salamis, under the command
of Aristeides. The number of Greek army were now thirty eight thousand
hoplites, who with light armed troops and the Helots reached one hundred
and ten thousand men. This number includes the eighteen hundred badly
armed Thespians. There was no cavalry and the bow men were very few.
When Mardonios learned the approach of Lacedaemonians, he left Attica and
by way of Dekeleia crossed the mount Parnes and entered Boeotia. Marching
two days along the Asopos river, he encamped near the town of Plataea.
The Greeks after consulting the Gods with sacrifices
at Eleusis marched over the ridge of Kithairon mountain and descending
from the northern side they saw the encamped Persian army in the valley of
Asopos. King Pausanias who was waiting good omens from sacrifices
held his troops from the attacks of the Persian cavalry, near Erythrae,
where the ground is ragged and uneven, but even this did not prevent the
commander Masistios to attack the Greeks. When the Megarians were in great
danger suffering many losses, three hundred Athenian hoplites succeeded in
repulsing the Persians, killing the tall and brave Masistios. His body was
paraded in triumph, in a cart. This event encouraged Pausanias, who
positioned the army on the plain, in a line at the right bank of Asopos.
When Mardonios learned the change in the position of the Greeks he ordered
his army to be placed opposite to them on the other side of Asopos.
Himself took the post in the left wing, facing the Lakedaemonians. The
rest of his army consisting from Medized Greeks, fifty thousand strong,
were opposite to Athenians. The center of Mardonios composed from
Bactrians Sacae and Indians. The whole army was numbering three hundred
For eight days the attack was delayed from both sides by unfavorable
sacrifices. On the eight day Mardonios by the advice of the Theban leader
Timagenidas cut off the supplies of the Greeks and captured a big supply
in one of the passes of Kithaeron. Artabazos too, advised him to continue
this line of harassing and wearing but Mardonios was impatient and ordered
his cavalry to attack, which obtained possession of the fountain of
Pausanias summoned the council of war and took the decision to retreat, to
a place called the Island, which was two kilometers further and halfway
between it and the town of Plataea. When Pausanias at night gave the
order of retreat, some Spartans refused to move. Threats did nothing to
persuade the Spartan captain Amomferatus, who took a huge rock and threw
it at the feet of Pausanias, with the words: "with this pebble I give
my vote not to fly".
Pausanias who had no time to lose since daybreak was near, he left Amompheratus and his lochos behind and hurried to the island. Mardonios
ordered attack when he learned that the Greeks had retreated. His army
passing the waters of Asopos started to throw arrows to the Greeks, who
did not engage, even in this moment, in battle until they received a good
omen from the sacrifices. Mardonios at the head of his one thousand
bodyguards was in the front line fighting bravely, until he was struck
down by the Spartan Aimnestos. When Mardonios fell the Persian army fled
to their fortified camp. But this did not save them, the Greeks managed to
enter and a great massacre took place. Only three thousand Persians who
escaped, from the three hundred thousand, survived. The Greeks lost only
one thousand and three hundred men.