Ancient History & Civilisation




By midday on September 25, Aminias of Pallene wears his vanity like a victory wreath. Seated on the deck of his trireme, he spits out orders to the pilot, thinking now and then of the choice beasts that he will later sacrifice in gratitude to the gods. Or so we might imagine, because if Athena Nike, the Lady of Victory herself, had stretched out her hand to him that day, he could not have found a better guide to glory. Now he can hold his head above other Greeks; now he is no longer a man without a city, no longer a refugee from spear-won land: he is a man who defends what is sacred and holy and who returns the violet-crowned land of the goddess to the children of Athena, a city made great and strong again.

His trireme stalks the Salamis straits in search of Persian ships in flight. They are not few in number, since All-Powerful Zeus has instilled fear in the enemy’s hearts. And like Diomedes cutting down Trojans on the windy plain of Troy, Aminias brings black death to the men of western Asia. The difference between the two, of course, is that Aminias cannot in fact wage a private war. Unlike the hero Diomedes, he depends on the cooperation of 199 other men, the crew of his ship. Many of them are Aminias’s demesmen of Pallene, and they share his self-satisfaction; they are all the hardened members of a very small club. At Artemisium and now at Salamis they know the rule: strike or be struck down.

Aminias represents the many Athenian and Aeginetan captains who turned and attacked the Ionian and Carian squadrons after having routed the Phoenicians. He scored more kills than his comrades, but otherwise his experience was not unusual. The terrible thrusts of the Greek rams—“the utterly ruinous rams,” as Aeschylus calls them—cut apart the Persian fleet. The Sacae archers tried to defend their ships by firing at the enemy as he approached, but shields usually protected the Greek marines, and decks sheltered the rowers. Furthermore, if the aura did indeed upset the Phoenician ships, it might have made it difficult for the archers to take a steady aim. “The arrow,” reports Aeschylus,

Offered no help, and the whole force was undone,

Conquered by the shock of the ships’ rams.


The mighty Iranian arrow, long the favored weapon of shock of Persia’s mounted aristocrats, had been vanquished by the humble instrument of fishermen and ferrymen: “by the single sweep of the oar.” It was a world turned upside down, and the men of Aminias’s ship were in the vanguard of the revolution.

The defeat of the Ionians and Carians can be told through the experience of captains like Aminias. Trireme battle began with lines of ships in order, but it quickly devolved into a series of single combats. And these combats depended less on any rulebook than on the character of the captain. The ideal captain was cunning, quick, flexible, and ruthless. His success depended less on his knowledge than on his innate ability to size up a situation and to anticipate the enemy’s next move. Today’s experts call this abilitysituational awareness. The captain must be able to improvise. To quote a modern military maxim, “Nothing is true in tactics.” At Salamis, Aminias lived by that absence of rules—and he lived to be embarrassed by it before the day was done.

By midday, Aminias’s crew would have been as exhausted as it was exhilarated. In late September, the air temperature in the Salamis straits might have been about 70 degrees Fahrenheit around noon. At this season, the Greek sun is warm and bright without being overwhelming, as it is in summer. But it is nonetheless uncomfortable to sit in, hour after hour, especially with its effects increased by reflection off the water. The marines and archers on deck must have dripped with sweat. Only the captain was protected by a canvas canopy. The men below deck sat in a cramped and poorly ventilated space. Even the thranitai, the top level of rowers, were denied the fresh air that usually blew through the open-sided outrigger. In battle, side covers, made either of canvas or animal hide, were hung over the outrigger to protect the men from arrows.

As long as a trireme was moving under oar, the men on deck had to remain seated, just like the rowers below. The marines were compelled to learn how to throw a javelin from a seated position in order to be able to attack the enemy’s marines on a ship approaching to ram. Difficult to master, the seated javelin throw also puts strain on the back and arm muscles, which have to do all the work that would normally be shared with the leg muscles. And rarely if at all would a marine have the opportunity to stand up and stretch his legs, let alone take a stroll.

The rowers would have their own aches and pains to complain of. Modern rowers are able to take full advantage of the strength of their leg muscles via the use of a sliding seat. The ancient oarsman sat on a sheepskin cushion atop a fixed seat. Since his feet were fixed to the floor, a rower would slide slightly back and forth willy-nilly on each stroke. Therefore, he could make some use of the leg muscles, but more of his work was done by the back and arms than is ideal. Confined to a narrow space, ancient oarsmen had not the least bit of privacy. Continually thirsty, they had to make do with a limited supply of water and a few snacks during a hard day’s work. Urination was rarely a problem for rowers, since the body tended to sweat off its waste products; a man who had to urinate during battle would have to do so where he sat. (The one woman, Artemisia, no doubt had her own chamber pot.) The thalamians in the hold suffered from the sweat of two upper levels of rowers dripping down on them.

There would be no chance for chitchat with the man on his side, since an oarsman had to stay silent in order to hear the piper and the rowing master. But the silence might be broken from time to time by the cry of someone who needed the help of the ship’s carpenter. During lulls in the battle, he would be a busy man indeed.

And in a battle as long as Salamis, which lasted from sunup to sundown, there would be many lulls. Crews would rest; ships would regroup; lines would re-form. After successfully ramming an enemy vessel, for example, a ship’s crew would need time to recover. Since the shoreline was so close, it was possible to ferry the wounded and the dead back to base, possibly on small boats dispatched for that purpose. And once the Greeks had the Persian fleet on the run, there might have been time for triremes to return to shore to make repairs or pick up food or to exchange rowers if any fresh men were available.

One other ingredient in the men’s psyches should be kept in mind: as the day wore on, almost everyone saw friendly forces die. This was especially true of the Persians, but it also applied to the Greeks, who, for all their success, did incur losses. Pious Greeks believed that the Fates stalked the battlefield, eager to drink human blood. The Fates could not have been disappointed at Salamis. On both sides, ships were rammed, men were slashed by sword, speared by javelin, pierced by arrow, and occasionally smashed by battle-ax or other exotic weapon. The marines were most at risk, because even a ship that escaped the enemy’s ram might lose a man or two on deck to a hostile arrow striking an unshielded body part.

Some men would survive their wounds, while others would linger for days until infection killed them. But some would die immediately in the straits, especially if they were hit in the abdomen. The death was sometimes painful, desperate, accompanied by gushing blood and by the victim’s screams. Some saw friends or allies die and came away more determined than ever to fight. Others felt fear at what they saw. Still others stopped noticing the slaughter after a while.

The men were exhausted and inflamed in turn, cowering or callous, scrappy or scared stiff. And no doubt some just kept on sitting on deck or rowing below, telling themselves that as long as they kept a grip on the wooden handle, they would hold on to their soundness of mind. Others might lose themselves in the group, buoyed up by the close contact of so many men in so small a space.

After the Athenians broke through the Phoenician line in the narrows, the combat zone at Salamis began to resemble nothing so much as the battlefield of the Heroic Age. By the afternoon, the battle was a melee in which heavy Greek triremes hunted lighter Persian triremes fleeing from the straits, and a clot of fresh Persian triremes unknowingly blocked the exit.

The battle devolved into a series of individual duels between Persian ships seeking safety and Greek ships seeking blood. The straits had become, as Herodotus says, a thorubos—using once again the Greek word for chaos, the same word he used to describe the panic of the Greek commanders on Salamis just two days earlier, when they learned that the Persians had taken the Athenian Acropolis.

It was a terrible moment for the grand Persian fleet, the hour of its suffering. More Persians died in the confusion of ships coming and going than at any other time of the battle. Aeschylus writes:

They all hastened in disorderly flight,

Every ship in the barbarian force.

And then they struck them with broken oars

And the fragments of shipwrecks and

They boned them like tuna or some catch of fish.

Some of the Persians might have made it back to the mainland, but some swam to the Salamis shore, only to be killed by angry Greek soldiers. Many Persians died in the water. The Persians did not die alone, but they were lonely, “sojourners in a harsh land,” as Aeschylus puts it. They were “wretched with their struggling hands” before they drowned. And the last sight that some of them saw might have been the bronze of an enemy ram about to run them through on its way toward the side of another ship.

Aminias’s path of glory had begun around seven o’clock that morning, when he ordered his crew to slam into a Phoenician trireme, which gave their captain the first kill of the day (or possibly the second, as the Aeginetans insisted). When Aminias and his crew next appeared in the battle record, the Persian fleet had collapsed. In that moment of confusion, Aminias homed in on his most extraordinary opponent yet: Artemisia, queen of Halicarnassus.

By noon in the straits, Artemisia was able to watch the disintegration of Xerxes’ fleet. Her Carian squadron was posted on the left wing of the Persian line, or rather, of what had been the Persian line. It was a critical moment and suddenly Artemisia saw Aminias’s trireme bear down on her ship. We might imagine the Athenian’s ram plowing through the scum of broken oars, shattered planks, and floating corpses, a froth of blood churned up by its passing.

To understand what happened next, we have to appreciate the role of the forgotten man of ancient sea battle, the pilot. He stood on the quarterdeck and operated a pair of side rudders. These were actually oversize oars, each hung at a slant to the hull and each operated by a tiller. The ends of the two tillers were close enough together for the pilot, standing between them, to operate one with each hand. The Greeks called the rudder’s blade the “wing,” its loom the “neck,” and its tiller bar the “pole” or “shaft,” as in a vine prop or a spear. The size of a trireme or merchantman made the tiller bar look downright petite, which set philosophers thinking.

“How is it,” asks an unknown writer whose works have come down with Aristotle’s, “that the rudder, although small and at the extreme end of the ship, has so much power that the great bulk of ships can be moved by a little tiller and one man?” The Roman-era Greek writer Lucian says of a huge grain ship named Isis that, despite its bulk, it was steered by “some little old man” employing “a delicate pole and turning the big rudders.”

Using only his naked eye and the tillers, the pilot maneuvered his trireme out of harm’s way or toward the prey. Side rudders proved highly efficient: they could turn a ship quickly, tightly, and with a relatively small loss of speed. And yet, paradoxically, the pilot had to use the rudder as little as possible, since the more often the rudder was clear of the water, the less drag on the ship. During the run up to ramming, in particular, the rudder was best left disengaged. Knowing how to use the rudder effectively and minimally was in itself an art.

Since he set the ship’s course, the pilot had to keep his ears cocked to the orders of the captain, who sat directly behind him in the stern. He had to be calm, quick, and uncomplaining. It is no exaggeration to say that the lives of everyone aboard depended on the keen sense and the cool hand of the pilot.

When Aminias called out “Ram!,” his pilot would have turned the rudder as needed and then cleared it from the water. With every rapid beat of the trireme’s 170 oars, Artemisia’s doom came closer.

But she had her own pilot to call on and her outstanding ingenuity. Artemisia ordered her pilot to take evasive action but of a kind that might have put Penelope to shame. That heroine of Greek epic said she would marry as soon as she finished weaving a shroud for an old man. But she undid her weaving every night in order to keep the suitors at bay and retain her loyalty to her missing husband, Odysseus. Artemisia undid her own work even more dramatically. She commanded her pilot to turn and ram one of her fellow Carian ships.

She did not have the luxury of choice. Artemisia could not escape the straits, because the way was blocked by the pile-up of friendly ships, some in flight themselves, others still trying to make their way to the front in order to prove themselves beneath the Great King’s eyes. Nor could Artemisia go further into the straits, because the enemy ruled those waters, and she was in the thick of Greek ships. So she turned on her own men.

The victim was the trireme of a local potentate, Damasithymus, king of Calynda, a Carian city southeast of Halicarnassus. As near neighbors, Queen Artemisia and King Damasithymus might well have been rivals. The two of them had quarreled at the Hellespont in May or June, and Herodotus speculates that Artemisia may still have carried a grudge in September. It occurs to him that since Artemisia had foreseen the Persian catastrophe at Salamis, she might even have planned the attack in advance. Then again, Damasithymus might merely have been the victim of bad luck, a man whose ship happened to be in Artemisia’s way. In any case, she gave the order, and Artemisia’s men rammed their ally’s ship and sank it.

Damasithymus and his crew must have been shocked. Maybe their marines fought back by shooting arrows or hurling their javelins at Artemisia’s ship. Perhaps they merely went down cursing the traitor’s name.

What followed was a double boon for the wily queen. Aminias saw Artemisia’s ship ram Damasithymus’s. So Aminias probably concluded that Artemisia’s ship was a friend after all, probably a Persian ship that had defected to the Greek side; otherwise, it would not have rammed a Persian trireme. He may have considered the possibility that his lookout had made a complete misidentification and that Artemisia’s was in fact a Greek ship. This mistake would have been understandable. After all, Halicarnassian marines wore Greek armor, and although there were Iranian and Sacae marines on Artemisia’s ship as well, in the confusion of battle, the Greek armor might have caught the lookout’s eye. In any case, Aminias decided to leave Artemisia alone. Aminias now ordered his pilot to change course and attack another ship instead.

But Aminias had been tricked. He had not seen Artemisia herself, since she sat beneath an awning. Had he in fact recognized the queen, he would have risked everything in order to get her. Aminias would not have rested until either he captured her or he was captured himself. Like every Athenian captain, Aminias knew about the thousand-drachma reward for taking Artemisia alive, to say nothing of the honor of avenging Athenian manhood. So Aminias continued attacking enemy ships at Salamis that afternoon, but he had just missed the greatest prize of all.

Artemisia escaped the wrath of Aminias, yet she still had Xerxes to contend with. And that was the second part of the wages of her treachery. Far from being angry with Artemisia for ramming one of his ships, Xerxes thought more highly of her. It seems that he was tricked as well as the Athenians. From his throne on the hills above the straits, or so the story goes, Xerxes had been told that Artemisia’s trireme had rammed another ship. His courtiers identified Artemisia but mistook Damasithymus for an enemy. “Master,” they asked the Great King, “do you see how well Artemisia is fighting?” No doubt they were excited to have any good news to report.

It had been a long morning for the King of Kings. We can imagine the usual hum of activity around the royal personage. Eunuchs would carry parasols to shade him from the sun, slaves would serve refreshments in gold tableware (tasted first, of course, by the royal taster), advisers like Ariaramnes and the ever-present Mardonius would comment on the battle below, runners would dash down to the shore to bring his commands to officers who might ferry them out to the fleet, and secretaries would record his every word. At first, everyone would no doubt praise the resilience of the Persian navy and its ability to turn the tables on the perfidious Greeks and their so-called ambush, itself a puerile attempt at the strategy that only a man of Persian sophistication could execute. But as the sun rose high above the straits, it became ever more difficult to hide the truth.

And the truth was one thing that nobody wanted to tell the Great King. An incident from the days just before the battle illustrates the wariness of his courtiers. As the story goes, two Greek exiles at the Persian court, Demaratus of Sparta and Dicaeus of Athens, were in western Attica, among Persian troops who were devastating the countryside. No doubt they were guiding the looters when they saw a striking omen. A huge cloud of dust rose from the vicinity of Eleusis, accompanied by a loud noise. To Dicaeus, it sounded like the annual procession of the Eleusinian Mysteries, held at this season. He told his companion that the sign represented an omen of defeat for Xerxes. If the cloud drifted toward the Isthmus, his army would lose a battle; if it headed for Salamis, his navy would lose.

“Shut up! Don’t tell this story to anyone,” replied Demaratus. “If these words reach the King, it’s you who will lose something—your head. Neither I nor any other person will be able to help you. Keep quiet and let the gods take care of the army.” As Demaratus spoke, the cloud drifted toward Salamis and the two men knew what disaster lay in store. But they said nothing until afterward, when Dicaeus and his descendants repeated the tale.

Although Dicaeus’s story may be too good to be true, it relies on what was common knowledge: the fear of Xerxes among his own men. So as they watched disaster unfold beneath them at Salamis, the Great King’s men would have denied what their master’s eyes saw. They might have told Xerxes that his ships were merely regrouping for a devastating offensive. They might have pointed out the power of the squadrons that were ready to enter the straits and hurl themselves against an exhausted enemy. They might have speculated aloud about how they could send a messenger to Themistocles with an offer of a fat bribe—perhaps even now he was merely holding out for some such prize. If all else failed, they might have comforted Xerxes with the thought that men had died crying out the glory of his royal name.

And they surely grasped at whatever straws were available. For one thing, they could have noted that one of Xerxes’ plans had worked out brilliantly, precisely as he had intended. Just as the king had said, his presence made the men fight better at Salamis than they had at Artemisium. Never mind that they were moved less by inspiration than by fear; they were moved nonetheless. And they were also moved by rivalry.

The Phoenicians and Ionians were both subjects of Persia, but they had no love for each other. They were both naval powers; the Phoenicians were Xerxes’ favorite fleet, but the Ionians dearly wanted that status for themselves. Two things were necessary to get it: first-rate performance at sea and friends in high places. Nothing got done in Persia without a patron at court to grease the wheels. By the same token, the top courtiers all looked for clients to champion. Nothing gave a man prestige like having an eager foreigner pay him court. So each of Persia’s peoples had its patron at the palace and every Persian council meeting had its share of faction.

Ariaramnes, the leader of the pro-Ionian group at the Persian court, no doubt pointed out to the Great King just how well the cities of that rich region were battling on behalf of their monarch. Very few of them paid attention to the propaganda of Themistocles to fight badly on purpose. On the contrary, the Ionians excelled at Salamis in the number of kills to their credit. “I have a list of many names of captains who captured Greek ships,” says Herodotus, although he refers to only two.

They both came from the island of Samos, just off the coast of Anatolia. One was Theomestor son of Androdamas and the other was Phylakes son of Histiaeus. If the question of disloyalty to Greece troubled either man, he could have turned to his island’s history for comfort. Whatever virtues Samian moralists might have preached, fidelity was not one of them. In a world of opportunists, Samos stood out.

For two generations, Samos had seesawed. In 525 B.C. the Samian tyrant Polycrates threatened to help Egypt against Persia. Then, around 517, Persia conquered Samos, evicted Polycrates, and replaced him with his brother Syloson, a loyal Persian client. Next, in 499 when the Ionians revolted against Persia, Samos joined the rebels. That is, they joined them at first: it was the Samian contingent on the Greek right wing at the naval battle of Lade in 494 B.C., sixty ships strong, that turned tail before the fight, thereby saving themselves but dooming the rebel cause.

Theomestor could have justified what some saw as treason to Greece by calling it service to a higher cause: the greatness of empire. Or he might have contented himself with a lower cause: the rewards that a grateful Xerxes was likely to give him.

As it turned out, Xerxes was short of heroes to bestow honors on after Salamis, and so the Samians had a claim on a grand prize. Theomestor was named tyrant of Samos. Phylakes was given a large estate and was named one of the Great King’s benefactors, ororosaggai, an elite corps.

And then there was Artemisia. When his courtiers pointed out her great feat of ramming an enemy ship, Xerxes displayed a wise skepticism. “Is it really Artemisia?” he asked. Xerxes’ question shows that it was difficult to make out the details from where he sat. No wonder a Roman-era writer told a fabulous story about a serpent, with eyesight good enough to see for two miles, who sat with Xerxes under a golden plane tree and reported on Artemisia’s exploits below. The real Xerxes no doubt had sharp-eyed scouts in his service, and they insisted that they could clearly see the “distinguishing mark” on Artemisia’s ship.

Conceivably, what they made out was the painted plaque on the prow with the ship’s name. Another possibility is that Artemisia’s ship was marked by something large and visible, like the ram in the shape of a boar’s snout used in Samian penteconters or the figureheads that might have decorated the prow of a Phoenician trireme. But in that case, Aminias should have recognized her ship as well.

There is also a story that Artemisia had planned ahead and carried a set of Greek signal flags on board. When she decided to ram Damasithymus, she had her ship’s Persian flags replaced with Greek flags. But then both Aminias and Xerxes’ courtiers would have thought Artemisia’s ship was Greek, so this is no doubt a tall tale.

Is it possible that Xerxes’ men knew perfectly well that Artemisia had rammed a Persian ship but they lied in order to give the Great King something to think about other than executing everyone around him? Ariaramnes, enemy of the Phoenicians, might have eagerly twisted the truth in order to have more evidence of Phoenician incompetence. We might even consider the chance of a prearranged conspiracy between him and Artemisia. But all of these possibilities are only speculation.

However it was achieved, recognition by Xerxes was good news for the queen. Yet it would backfire if survivors from Damasithymus’s ship denounced her. Luckily for her, there were no survivors. This was a godsend for Artemisia, since rarely were all hands lost after a ship was rammed. The men usually had time to abandon ship. Except for the Persians and Medes, most of Damasithymus’s crew knew how to swim because they were islanders.

Or was it luck? The 230 sailors on Damasithymus’s ship could not have died to the last man unless someone made an effort to kill them. That person might have been Artemisia. She had more than one motive for a massacre. Not only did she fear survivors telling tales and not only did she dislike Damasithymus: she needed to convince her Athenian pursuer that she was on his side. The best way to do so was to follow standard procedure, and that meant ordering her archers to shoot the Calyndian survivors. She might even have sent her marines onto Damasithymus’s deck as a boarding party.

Artemisia surely had the nerve to order a bloodbath of her allies, but would her men have obeyed? They were probably so devoted to the queen that they would have stormed Xerxes’ throne if she had issued the command. Long before Salamis, Artemisia would have chosen the crew of her flagship with care and would have treated them with attention. Her Carian rowers and marines would have received high wages and an easygoing rowing master. The commander of her Iranian and Sacae marines would have been accorded a full measure of flattery from the queen.

She would have taken to addressing each of them personally and telling them how she had known their fathers and would pray for the health of their sons. She would have accorded the best of them the honor of guarding her tent. She would have doled out dicta to her commanders with a Delphic inscrutability. She would have done nothing to discourage her men from picking fights with other crews for insulting them as followers of a female.

By the time she was done, Artemisia would have molded most of her men into her willing instruments—and the rest would have been too frightened to put up resistance. And if Damasithymus had insulted their queen, then, by the gods, he deserved to have his ship sunk in order to defend the honor of the men who served her. And if Artemisia had wanted her marines to dirty their own hands, they would have drunk Calyndian blood if that is what it took to please her.

Yet, for all that, it might have been simply the proximity of the Greeks that doomed Damasithymus. After all, why ask her men to do something that they might later regret, Artemisia might have reasoned, when the Greeks themselves would take care of silencing Damasithymus’s crew for her? Her own men, she might have concluded, had been compromised enough—by having rammed an ally’s ship—to ensure that they keep their mouths closed later.

With so many Greek vessels around, there were plenty of ways for Calyndians to die. Swimming in the blue Aegean was one thing; swimming through the corpses and debris of a great naval battle was another. Some men might just never make it. Even good swimmers might have been brained by a passing trireme’s oars or have been pulled under a ship and drowned. Others might have been speared by enemy javelins. But the greatest threat was the archers, for whom men in the water made easy targets.

The Greek sources, understandably, say nothing about Greek brutality to enemy swimmers at Salamis, but there might have been plenty of it. Savagery at sea was a by-product of grudge fights and do-or-die struggles. A trireme battle in 433 B.C., for example, pitted a furious Corinth against what it considered the ingratitude of its former colony, Corcyra. Corinth won the battle, and normally its captains would have then sailed among the wrecks and salvaged disabled enemy hulls for their own use. Instead, the Corinthian captains looked for Corcyrean survivors and butchered them in the water. In 413 B.C., Syracuse was fighting for its life against an Athenian invasion. While triremes battled in their harbor, the Syracusans added small boats to the struggle, some staffed by teenagers who used pitchforks to kill Athenians who had jumped from their wrecked ships.

Stones, too, made good weapons to throw at men in the water, and we know that Athenians used stones against Persian land troops during the battle of Salamis. Small boats were present in the Greek fleet at Salamis, and the Athenians for one were angry enough to use them on a mission of vengeance, just as Athenian captains were ready to slaughter the men who had desecrated their temples.

Timotheus makes the intriguing suggestion that Greeks fired flaming arrows at the Persian ships. He refers to “covers burning with fire on ox-[. . .] splints of wood; and their thronging life was slaughtered beneath the long-winged bronze-headed string-[. . . arrows].” He also says that “the strong and smoky fire will burn them [Persian young men] with its savage body.” The Persians had used these weapons in their attack on the Acropolis and may have used them again at Salamis; Timotheus’s account of the Greek view of the battle has not survived.

Whether they used flaming arrows, spears, pitchforks, stones, or their own hands, the Greeks dealt brutally with the Persians in the water at Salamis. We can be sure of that, because in their invasion of the Greeks’ homeland, the Persians had abused a royal corpse, looted private property, burned temples, and raped, enslaved, and killed civilians. The Greeks would have had to have been angels not to have taken whatever revenge they could. And so between Artemisia’s men and the crews of the nearby Greek ships, Damasithymus and his men did not have a chance.

But Xerxes, if Herodotus’s informant was right, did not know that Damasithymus’s crew was the victim of the cunning queen. He thought that Artemisia had rammed a Greek ship, which would have been a great deed on such a black day for his cause. But it was a bitter deed, too, as Xerxes is supposed to have noted by speaking a line that sums up Persia’s discontent: “My men have become women,” the Great King cried, “and my women have become men.”

Aminias no doubt felt comfortable in his manhood, even if a mysterious vessel had beaten him to a fresh kill. There were plenty of other victims available for his fury. We are not certain how many enemy ships he rammed that day at Salamis, but we know that Aminias won a prize for valor after the battle. And his name lived on. Herodotus and Plutarch wrote about him. For a century and more, every schoolchild in Pallene is likely to have heard of Aminias as the deme’s favorite son—an honor for which the sleepy town in the Attic countryside provided no other candidates. When they visited the local temple of Athena Pallenis, the youth of Pallene might well have been able to see war booty deposited there by Aminias in the customary gesture of thanks to his hometown goddess. So a century after Salamis, when the Athenian navy commissioned a ship named Pallenis after the deme of Pallene, all thoughts might have turned to the glory days of Aminias in the fatal straits.

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