Salamis

In my previous post, I left off on the battle of Marathon and how the Greeks celebrated a victory when they stopped their Persian invaders. Persia took this blow seriously and were planning another major offensive. Their losses were few compared to their vast empire, but they first had to quell a rebellion in Egypt. The Persian Emperor Darius, vowed to take Greece but died before the end of the Egyptian rebellion. His son, Xerxes, became the new Persian emperor and finished off the rebels and began to amass a force to take all of Greece. In Asia, Xerxes conscripted an army of one million people which includes military men and support people such as cooks or slaves. This was said to be an exaggeration made by ancient writers to make battles seem more heroic, some writers put this number at 500,000 Persians. Meanwhile in Greece, the once powerful united city-states went back to petty feuds and fights, and the Persians saw the Greeks pride in their cities as an opportunity to divide them against each other then crush them.

Once the Greeks got wind of the Persian invasion, they once again joined arms, but still bickered at where to set the defensive position to stop the Persians. Sparta suggested the narrow isthmus of Corinth and the narrow straits of Salamis, but this meant leaving the northern city-states defenseless.Salamis is an island off the coast of Athens and it is quite large. Between Salamis and the Greek mainland lies a small, narrow strait which was not wide enough for thousands of ships to pass in force. The Spartans said that the Spartan peninsula was the home of Greek independence and must be protected. The Spartans knew that the peninsula would also be the best to defend as the narrow passages such as the famous passage of Thermopylae could easily be held. The Greeks finally agreed to defend the south, but the northern states wouldn’t have it and didn’t send support to the Spartans and Athenians. The Greeks now faced a divided Greece and things looked bleak. The Athenians consulted the oracle at Delphi who said only wooden walls would protect Greece, and Athens would burn. The Athenians had a strong navy, but needed the other city-state of Syracuse to support as their navy was the strongest on the seas, but they would not receive Syracuse’s help, as the Persians dispatched the Phoenicians from Carthage to attack Syracuse in Sicily. Now the feuding Greeks relied only on themselves, and Greece herself against the oncoming Persians.

The Persian army marched along the coast with the navy just offshore. The army marched while the navy carried all the Persian supplies for the campaign. The Spartans then stood at Thermopylae with a force of about 7,000 Greeks, along with 130 ships blocking the strait beside it. This would force the navy and army into the funneled straits which would make the Persian army’s number mean nothing against the Greeks. The Persian armada heading to Salamis ran into a storm and lost about 500 warships, and the Athenian admiral Themistocles saw his opportunity and struck the Persian fleet but the battle ended in a draw. The Spartans led by King Leonidas at Thermopylae were betrayed as the northern states were defecting to Persia, and Xerxes found a way around the pass, and King Leonidas and his bodyguard of 300 led a valiant defeat. With the news of the death of King Leonidas, Athenians abandoned Athens which was then sacked by Xerxes who burned it down. Themistocles at the same time sailed into his defensive position in the strait of Salamis to enact his plan. Although the southern Greek states didn’t hate each other as much as the northern states, the age old rivalry between Sparta and Athens rose up as ship captains bickered on who led the fleet, the Athenian Themistocles, or the Spartan, Eurybiades. The ship captains also didn’t like the position and some threatened  to leave. Themistocles saw his navy breaking apart, and he sent a secret message to Xerxes saying that he would betray the Greeks in battle if the Persians attacked. Xerxes, tempted to end the Greeks, accepted and rowed his navy into the strait, and the Greeks were then forced to fight together as the Persians were bearing down on them. Themistocles was able to use his ingenious strategies to keep the Greeks united in combat. The Persian fleet had not estimated the narrowness of the strait and could not maneuver with speed in the strait, and the heavier, bulkier Greek ships sped forward, ramming into the dazed Persians, and Xerxes watched as his navy was disintegrated to splinters. Xerxes feared the Greeks would trap him and he did not want another Persian emperor to be shamed by the Greeks, so he remained in Athens, and prepared his retreat. He left a Persian general with 180,000 troops to finish off the rest of the Spartans and Greeks on land, and he retreated back to Asia. The Persians met the Greek force led by Spartan commander Pausanias who commanded 80,000 Greeks at Platea. The Spartan general proved his Greeks as an organized body and defeated the Persians at Platea, and ended the Greco-Persian wars for hundreds of years.

The Greeks had actually altered the course of history by saving Europe. If the Greeks had lost to the Persians, European civilization would not have been based on Greek ideals, but rather Persian traditions. Thanks to the Greeks, we live in a democratic world, otherwise, the Persians would rule Europe and we might be living under an emperor right now. The Greeks laid the foundations of science and government, hundred of years after the Greco-Persian wars, and would soon stop bickering and rise up to defeat the Persians under Alexander the Great, who has influenced history and modern civilization under Greek ideas. The world would’ve been Persian, because only the Greeks were organized enough to stop the Persians at the time. Rome right now was the Etruscan league and many other small kingdoms battling and vying for Italy. The world might have been Persian if not for Themistocles and King Leonidas.

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