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Salamis (1)Salamina

An island 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the southeastern coast of Greece due west of the city of Athens in the northern Saronic Gulf; with an area of 37 square miles (95 square kilometers) and a coastline of 64.6 miles (104 kilometers).

Salamis is noted as the birthplace of the Greek hero, Aias (Ajax) and the poet Euripides; the Greeks defeated the Persian navy of king Xerxes here in 480 BCE; the battle of Salamis was one of the most daring and desperate battles in Greek history.

The Persian army had crossed into northern Greece and fought its way down the eastern coast to Athens, where they burned and looted the deserted city; the Persians had traveled for one month to reach Greek soil and another four months to reach Athens; knowing the attack was imminent, the Athenians had retreated to Salamis and, with the Spartans and other Greek allies, debated the best way to make their last, united stand against the Persian army and navy.

A wall was hastily erected across the Isthmus of Korinth (Corinth) and the armies of the Peloponnesian Peninsula waited for the Persian army; a fleet comprising the combined Greek navy sheltered around Salamis.

When the Persians were mounting their invasion of Greece, the Athenians asked the oracle at Delphi for guidance; the priestess told the Athenians to retreat from Athens and make their stand on the divine isle, Salamis; all Greeks who had not submitted to the Persians gathered their 378 triremes at Salamis with some additional penteconters (before the battle began, two triremes deserted the Persian fleet and joined the Greeks which made a total of 380 plus the penteconters).

The majority of the Greek commanders wanted to leave Salamis and fight the Persians nearer to the isthmus so they would have a place to retreat if the Persians won the sea battle; the Pan-Hellenic forces were commanded by the Spartan, Eurybiades; the Athenians were organized and commanded by Themistokles (Themistocles).

Themistokles warned Eurybiades that if the Greeks withdrew from Salamis the war would be lost for three reasons: 1) the Persians would have the advantage in open water and the seas around Salamis were confining and therefore not advantageous for the superior numbers of the Persian fleet, 2) if the Greeks moved away from Salamis, the various Greek contingents would not fight as a single force and each individual army and navy would flee to their respective homes and be conquered one by one, and 3) Themistokles warned Eurybiades that if the fleet withdrew from Salamis, the entire Athenian contingent (more than half the naval force) would remove to their colony of Siris in Italy and leave the Greeks of the Peloponnesian Peninsula to defend themselves.

Eurybiades saw the tactical logic of Themistokles’ arguments but the other Greeks were not convinced and still wanted to retreat to the open waters near the isthmus to fight; Themistokles put a clever plan into motion that would end all debate and force the Greeks to stand and fight; he sent his servant secretly to the camp of Xerxes and told the king that the Greeks were planning to flee Salamis and, if the Persians acted quickly, they could surprise the Greeks and defeat them.

Xerxes accepted the bait and deployed his navy so as to surround Salamis and block all escape routes; an Athenian named Aristides ran the Persian blockade and told the assembled Greek commanders that the Persian fleet had surrounded the island; the skeptical Greeks did not believe him until another more believable witness confirmed all that Aristides had said.

As dawn approached, the Greeks took to their ships and the battle was joined; the details of the battle were not clearly recorded so the reports of extreme bravery and base cowardice are contradictory; for example: the Athenians accused the men of Korinth of cowardice but the other Greeks disputed this accusation; however, all agreed that the sailors from the island of Aegina distinguished themselves in the battle as the best of the Greeks.

As king Xerxes watched the battle from the shore, the Persians made several small conquests but the overall movements of the fleet were disorganized and lacked the discipline of the seasoned Greek sailors; when the Persian captains in the thick of the battle realized that they were destined to lose, they tried to retreat and sailed into the path of the reinforcements that were coming to assist them; the resulting confusion made the Persians easy targets for the aggressive Greeks.

Xerxes wanted the Greeks to think that he was mounting another attack so he feigned an approach to Salamis via a mole (a causeway built into the sea) which he had either begun before the battle or shortly thereafter; the king was afraid that his conscripted Ionian allies would take the opportunity provided by his naval defeat to desert him and block his escape across the Hellespont back into Asia; the defeat of the Persian navy meant that the supplies necessary to support the army could not be delivered; Xerxes humbly retraced his steps and returned to Asia Minor.

Approximate east longitude 23.26 and north latitude 37.54.

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