Ancient History & Civilisation






She sits wrapped in a flowing linen tunic that is dyed purple. Her skin is perfumed with iris oil. Her cheeks are rouged with vermilion, and her eyebrows are dyed black. Her hair is swept back and gathered into a high, elaborate twist held with purple ribbons.

Her ears, neck, wrists, and fingers sparkle with gold jewels. She wears exquisite earrings, a necklace with intricately decorated teardrop pendants, and two bracelets with antelope figures at the open ends. She wears three rings: a gold ring with an agate seal incised with an image of a woman’s head; a gold ring carved with a delicate floral pattern; and a gold and chalcedony ring with a figure of a Persian soldier leaning on his spear. There is a hint of the soldier, too, in the way she carries herself, as if to evoke the bronze and iron that are outlawed here in council with the Great King. In battle, when she wears a breastplate and helmet and carries a dagger and sickle, she looks like a goddess armed.

She is a woman who, we may imagine, knows and loves men and wants to have power over them. She has long ago resigned herself to her frailty and her intelligence. A lifetime of practice has taught her to hide her shrewdness behind flattery and charm. Poetry is in her blood and passion in her nature. Her brother Pigres writes epic verse in Greek, and later ages told a story about her leaping to her death when rejected by a lover, but only after first having attacked him in his sleep and scratched his eyes out. She combines the cunning of Athena and the seductiveness of Aphrodite. And behind both sits the ambition of Hera, queen of Olympus.

In any group of men, we may imagine, she is drawn to the most powerful. When she looks at a man of authority, her eyes shine with a reflection of his glory. She speaks to him in phrases that repeat his own words, only made young and beautiful again. She sings about him in the harmonies of the Muses, and when the song is done, she has what she wants. And grand as her ambition is, it is never overweening.

When dealing with a lesser man, as we know, she prefers force, especially if he dares to challenge her. Tough and courageous, she has a reputation for holding grudges and a penchant for settling them with the sword—wielded, of course, on her behalf, by a man.

Although she wants to see Persia victorious, her primary goal is to strengthen the standing of her city in the eyes of her sovereign, Xerxes. If she can achieve that goal by helping him to victory over Greece, then so much the better, but if it would serve her purposes better to console him in defeat, then she would not hesitate to make him stumble.


Of all the Great King’s sailors, there is no one like her. She commands a contingent of ships from Halicarnassus and other cities in Caria, a region in southwestern Anatolia. She is queen of Halicarnassus: her name is Artemisia.

Ruling queens were not unheard of in the ancient Near East, but fighting queens were exceptional. There were 150,000 men in the Persian fleet at Phaleron, and Artemisia was the only woman. She was rare not only in Persia; she is one of the few female naval commanders in all history.

And Artemisia was no armchair warrior. “I did not lack for courage in the naval battles off the island of Euboea nor was there anything mediocre about my deeds there.” So Artemisia introduced herself at Phaleron. Herodotus was smitten: “I must especially marvel,” he wrote, “that a woman was campaigning against Greece.”

This day, around September 24, 480 B.C., was a day to test Artemisia’s cunning. For today she would have to face the Great King in a naval council, alone before all the other commanders.

Xerxes the Great King, the King of Kings, “the king”—to quote his inscriptions—“of every country and every language, the king of the entire earth, the son of King Darius, the Achaemenid, a Persian, son of a Persian,” did not ordinarily go down to the seashore to visit a naval encampment. Nor did the self-styled “only king to give orders to all other kings” usually take counsel with the minor monarchs who ruled the corners of his realm, much less with the squadron commanders of his fleet. And yet around September 24, Xerxes did just that.

The day after he sacked the Acropolis, Xerxes traveled the distance of about three miles from Athens to Phaleron Bay. His purpose was to visit his fleet in person and to hold a council of war. He would not have taken the political risk of letting so much light into the mystery of his majesty unless he had a very good reason. And he did. But that will become evident presently. First, consider the gathering that greeted him.

Once Xerxes sat down, the despots of the various peoples in the fleet as well as the squadron commanders took their seats. They sat in order of the rank that Xerxes had assigned them, beginning with two Phoenician kings, his favorite naval allies. After the Phoenicians came kings, princes, and commanders from three continents: Cypriots and Egyptians, Macedonians and Cilicians, Ionians and Dorians, Lycians and Aegean islanders. There were four commanders of the fleet, all Persians, including two of Xerxes’ brothers. The scene resembled a sculpted frieze from the walls of one of the great Persian palaces: the assorted princelings of the various provinces, arrayed in native garb and adoring gaze, all come to render service. And one queen.

Artemisia ruled the Carian city of Halicarnassus as well as the nearby islands of Cos, Calymnos, and Nisyros. She had inherited her throne from her late husband—his name is unknown—who had ruled under the overlordship of the Persian emperor. The Carians had sent seventy ships to the Hellespont; we do not know how many vessels still survived at Phaleron. Although Artemisia commanded only five ships, she was second only to the Phoenicians for her fame in the Persian navy.

Artemisia was old enough to have a son in his twenties. She could have sent him on the expedition of 480 B.C. and stayed home, but she chose to fight. She had, says Herodotus, a “man’s will.” Considering the young age of marriage for most women in the ancient world, Artemisia might have been in her late thirties in 480 B.C. Artemisia’s subjects were a mixture of Greeks and Carians, as was Artemisia herself: her father, Lygdamis, was Carian; her mother, whose name is unknown, came from the Greek island of Crete. The name Artemisia is Greek and a common name, derived from Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Caria also included a people named Leleges, whose origins are obscure, as well as men with Persian names, perhaps colonists.

The city of Halicarnassus has a magnificent natural harbor, its main entrance protected by an offshore island. Rising on a hillside, the city looks like a natural amphitheater. Imagine Artemisia going up and down the steep hill, borne on a litter. From the acropolis she could clearly see the outline of the island of Cos in the distance, a powerful, long, low ragged ridge.

Halicarnassus might have been settled by the warlike Dorians, and it might have boasted an excellent military harbor, but the city did not feel martial. The heat, the humidity, the sparkling water, the soft greens of the plants, the chirping birds, the lizards, all contributed to a sultry feeling. Ancient Halicarnassus was lush, rich, happy, snug in the embrace of the sea and mountains with nothing but the isles of Greece and the blue Aegean on the horizon.

Artemisia’s subjects made good sailors and soldiers: legend says that they had sent ships to King Minos of Crete instead of tax, and in historical times they served as mercenaries under the pharaohs of Egypt. Although Halicarnassus’s contingent in 480B.C.consisted of only five ships, they were rated highly by Xerxes—or so says Herodotus, a native son of Halicarnassus, although an opponent of Artemisia’s dynasty.

It took considerable political skill to rule Caria’s mixture of peoples, to say nothing of maintaining loyalty to the Persian overlord. Halicarnassus was a multicultural city on the borderland between Greeks and barbarians. Long after Athens had declared artistic independence of the Near East and invented the European idiom, Halicarnassus still lay under the imprint of Near Eastern artistic norms. At Halicarnassus, the maritime highway to Greece began, but so did the land highway to Persia. In Halicarnassus you heard the hoofbeats of Central Asia, but you breathed the sea air of the Mediterranean.

Think of Artemisia aboard her flagship, seated on deck in the stern, protected by a canvas awning, the lone woman on a boat bristling with armed men. She was probably shorter than most of her shipmates but perhaps not by much, since aristocrats were better fed than ordinary folk. Artemisia was every inch a commander. Only a tough and assertive woman could have sat where she did. When challenged, she did not retreat. At the muster of Persian warships at the Hellespont in May, for example, she had not shrunk from a quarrel with another ship captain from Caria, Damasithymus son of Candaules, king of the city of Calynda, located southeast of Halicarnassus. Venom, it was rumored, still remained in their relationship.

To judge not only from 480 B.C. but from its subsequent history, Halicarnassus was much more comfortable with rule by a woman than mainland Greece ever was. Fourth century B.C. Halicarnassus saw the powerful queens Artemisia II and Ada. Statues of queens were erected alongside statues of their husbands, both at Halicarnassus and at the international shrine of Delphi.

If the men of Halicarnassus might allow a woman to lead them, the Persians would not necessarily follow suit. To be sure, Persian society did not impose as many restrictions on women as did Greek and especially Athenian society. And yet Persia was no paradise of equality. Mothers, for example, received special food rations for newborns, but those who had boys got twice as much as those who had girls. Herodotus reports that Persian men proved themselves on the battlefield by fighting well and in the bedroom by fathering many sons.

For the Persians, therefore, a woman commander ran against the grain. But even so, Artemisia commanded a squadron. It is a tribute to her influence with Xerxes but to something else as well: it is a tribute to her propaganda value. By including her in their navy, the Persians sent a message: even a woman could fight the effeminate Greeks. The Athenians were duly insulted. “They were rather indignant to have a woman go to war against Athens,” says Herodotus. They ordered their captains to take Artemisia alive, with a reward offered of one thousand drachmas (three years’ wages for a workman). Seventy years after the Persian invasion, Artemisia still served as a symbol of the uppity woman in Aristophanes’ comic masterpiece Lysistrata. And a statue of Artemisia earned a place in a kind of rogues’ gallery of Persian enemies that Sparta erected after the Persian Wars.

So Xerxes is likely to have appreciated the symbolism of Artemisia’s presence at Phaleron. According to Herodotus, he should also have valued her counsel, since it was the best advice that he got from his subordinates. But good counsel was not Xerxes’ primary objective at Phaleron. The meeting there was less a strategy session than a rally. The decision to fight at sea had already been made, and Xerxes simply wanted to seal it with his own presence.

His toadies would have congratulated him on the outcome of the battle of Artemisium. After all, the Athenian fleet had limped home from the engagement with half of its ships damaged. The Great King was not to be deceived, however. In his judgment, his men had fought badly at Artemisium. And he knew the reason why: they had suffered from his absence. If the king had shown himself at Artemisium, his men would have fought their best. His charisma would have inspired them, his rewards would have encouraged them, and his punishments would have terrified them.

Xerxes understood an essential point about the Persian army and navy: each was an organization in which there was little incentive to get the job done unless you could cut a fine figure in front of the boss. Hence his determination to be there at Salamis and, for that matter, at Phaleron. At both places he meant to demonstrate his personal involvement in the war at sea. Not that he would board a trireme in battle: the Great King was too precious to risk at sea. Rather, he would observe from shore, where most of the action would be visible.

At Phaleron, Xerxes wanted advice less than acquiescence. Unlike the Greeks in council about five miles away in Salamis, the Persian commanders at Phaleron did not receive encouragement to speak freely. In fact they were not permitted to speak to Xerxes at all. Each of them was canvassed by the emperor’s cousin and chief military adviser, Mardonius son of Gobryas, who then reported their opinions to the emperor.

Phaleron Bay is an excellent natural harbor, ringed by sandy beaches. It forms a semicircle, sheltered from the winds between the low hill of Munychia (282 feet) to the northwest and the narrow plain that reaches the foothills of the ten-mile-long Hymettus ridge to the southeast; its peak, Mount Hymettus, rises to a height of 3,370 feet. At the southeastern end of Phaleron Bay’s half circle lay Phaleron Town, a small maritime community, protruding into the sea at a gentle cape. On a late September day Phaleron Bay’s turquoise water would sparkle under a blue sky that, in early autumn, is often dappled with clouds. A breeze commonly blows off the sea.

The hill of Munychia, sacred to Artemis, made a fine fortress offering a wide view of land and sea. The Athenian tyrant Hippias was in the process of fortifying Munychia when he was forced into exile in 510 B.C. No doubt in 480 B.C. the Persians posted a garrison on Munychia. Hymettus was famous for its sweet, pale-colored thyme honey and for its blue-tinged marble. Zeus was worshipped on the mountain.

The Persian fleet had been based at Phaleron for about two weeks. Groups of ships were probably hauled up onto the beach in turn, pulled by manpower on ropes onto greased timbers. On shore the ships were repaired or allowed to dry; otherwise, they were moored just offshore, the stern barely hanging over the beach. The men no doubt camped out near the ships.

The whole sweep of the shoreline was surely filled with ships and sailors. On a plausible reconstruction, based on the later battle order, the Phoenicians held the western end of the shore, the Egyptians were in the center, while the Ionians and Carians moored their ships in the east.

During the weeks at Phaleron the men repaired triremes. Every ship or at least every squadron would have carried a set of tools. We get a taste of the instruments at hand from a surviving wooden toolbox from a Byzantine ship: its contents included hammers, chisels, gouges, punches, drill bits, files, knives, an ax, a saw, an awl, adzes, and a spike. Besides taking care of the ships, the men treated their own wounds, mourned their missing comrades, practiced maneuvers, nursed grudges born of failure at Artemisium, scouted the sea-lanes and the enemy’s preparations, rummaged for loot, thought about home, complained about the food, taught each other a few words of their language, bet over cockfights, took turns with the women camp followers or made do with boys, gossiped and boasted and worried and prayed to their respective gods. Then, the day before, they cheered at the sight of the flames of vengeance shooting up from the Athenian Acropolis.

The night before the Great King’s council at Phaleron, there had been a smell of burnt temples and angry gods in the air—enough, perhaps, to alarm the superstitious, never in short supply aboard ship—when they heard the nocturnal cry of Athena’s owls. That morning, they woke to an earthquake, which might have further aroused pious concerns. The god-fearing might have been relieved to learn that Xerxes had ordered that very morning that the Athenian exiles in his army go up to the Acropolis and make their peace with the local gods. The Achaemenids had not acquired a multiethnic empire by waging holy war.

The council at Phaleron no doubt began with a prayer. Afterward, Mardonius made the rounds from commander to commander, beginning with the king of Sidon. Every man said what he knew Xerxes wanted to hear: it was time for a naval battle. The fleet was ready; the men were eager. It was time to crush the Greeks at Salamis and win the war. Only one person offered different advice: Artemisia. Perhaps only a woman would have been allowed to speak her mind without incensing the others.

In any case, she advised Xerxes not to fight. And she did not mince words: “Spare the ships. Don’t make war at sea. Their men are as superior to ours on sea as men are superior to women.” She reminded Xerxes that he had already accomplished his main goal, which was to conquer Athens.

No doubt Xerxes knew that that was not quite correct: yes, he had aimed to take Athens, but his main goal was, rather, to conquer all Greece, and the Peloponnese still remained free. Furthermore, the Athenians and their fleet had escaped him. Tacitly conceding these points, Artemisia recommended a land attack on the Greek army at the Isthmus. She was sure that meanwhile the Greek fleet would leave Salamis and scatter to its separate cities. The Greeks on Salamis were divided, and besides, she had heard that grain was in short supply there.

If the Persians forced a naval battle at Salamis, Artemisia said, she feared not only defeat at sea but the ruin of the land army as well. Finally, she made no bones about her colleagues. She told Xerxes: “Good men have bad slaves and bad men have good slaves; since you are the best man of all, you have bad slaves indeed.” Artemisia named names: the Egyptians, Cypriots, Cilicians, and Pamphylians were all worthless.

It must have taken courage for Artemisia to speak so bluntly, and certainly some will doubt Herodotus’s veracity. But he insists that he knows these were tough words and that Artemisia’s friends feared that they would cost the queen her life, because Xerxes would take them as an insult. With typical Greek realism, Herodotus also reports the pleasure that Artemisia’s enemies took in her remarks, because they resented her prominence in Xerxes’ eyes and assumed that she was now finished. In fact, Xerxes said that he esteemed her more than ever for her excellent words, but nonetheless he rejected her advice. He would fight at sea.

Artemisia, we may imagine, had too much self-confidence to have feared for her life. Nor is she likely to have been surprised by her failure to persuade the Great King. She understood politics well enough to know that Xerxes had already made up his mind before coming to Phaleron. But she may have already been looking to the postwar world. If, as she expected, Persia would be defeated in the straits of Salamis, then her standing in the Great King’s eyes would have risen greatly. It was a risk worthy of a queen.

Xerxes probably did not take the time at Phaleron to think through Artemisia’s recommendations. If he had, he would have found that her advice was good but incomplete. Persia had a third choice besides fighting at Salamis or waiting at Phaleron, and that was a joint land-sea offensive at the Isthmus.

The Isthmus of Corinth is a rugged, mountainous region that narrows to a width of about five miles. The Greeks could have blocked off the few roads and funneled Persian attackers onto mountain tracks and into gullies. But the Greeks did not have enough time to build high and solid walls. Even though they worked night and day, they would have had to settle for wooden palisades and walls of haphazardly piled stones. With a determined push, the Persians could overrun or even knock down the defenses here and there.

To be sure, the fight at the Isthmus would be bitter. But the Persians could virtually double the odds in their favor if they ferried troops by sea and landed them in the Greek rear, thereby surrounding the enemy. It might be another Thermopylae.

In order to carry out encirclement, the Persians would have to move their fleet from Athens to the Isthmus. A good harbor was available at Cenchreae, a Corinthian port on the Saronic Gulf and close to the wall. But landing at Cenchreae would not be easy, since the shore would almost certainly be lined with Greek troops.

Besides, the Greek fleet might see the Persians sail from Phaleron and then leave Salamis and follow the Persians to Cenchreae. Neither side would risk battle on the open sea, where survivors could not swim to safety; trireme navies always preferred to fight within sight of shore. But once the Persians drew close to Cenchreae, if the Greeks attacked, then the Persians would have to fight off a coastline held by the enemy, ready to capture or kill any Persian who managed to swim to shore.

In short, it would be risky for Persia to move its fleet to Cenchreae, which may explain why Artemisia never mentioned the possibility. But without the fleet, the Persians would face nearly as hard a fight at the Isthmus as at Thermopylae. They would have to face eight thousand Spartans instead of three hundred. Xerxes could hardly have relished the prospect.

The alternative was to break the Greek fleet at Salamis. And that meant either waiting for Greek treason or collapse, or fighting a battle. No doubt the Persians were already looking hard for potential Greek traitors. Because they could attack any fleet that tried to resupply Salamis, they held the island effectively under siege. But time was not on Persia’s side.

In late September in Athens, there is about twelve hours of daylight. The days are shorter than in summer, and the stars have shifted in the night sky. Here and there one even sees a fallen leaf. On the hills as evening falls, a stiff breeze often blows. Some nights, the breeze turns into a cold wind. Camped out under the foreign skies of Athens, many a Persian might have thought of the change of seasons. It was fall, and winter would follow.

The sailing season in the ancient Mediterranean was short, especially for triremes. As fragile as they were fast, triremes risked ruin in rough waters. They preferred to sail only between May and October, and preferably, only in the summer months. In late September, it was just about time for the Persian fleet to return to their various home ports.

And they had to eat. Attica had been stripped of every food item the Athenians could take, though no doubt there was still something for the hungry: fruit on the trees, water in the springs and cisterns, and birds and rabbits in the fields. Yet most of the Persians’ supplies had to be brought to Attica. Land transportation was slow and expensive, so the supply highway had to go by sea. Since triremes were too light to carry cargo, the Persians brought food on a flotilla of provision boats. These consisted both of Greekakata,which were medium-sized, pointed-hull vessels rowed by a crew of thirty to fifty men, and Phoenician gauloi, which were larger and rounded-hull sailing ships. Some Persian provision vessels had been lost in the storms of August but not all, and new ones may have arrived in convoy with the trireme reinforcements that came from Greece.

One expert modern estimate concludes that the Persians needed a minimum of eighty-four supply ships shuttling back and forth between Attica and the supply depots in Macedonia in order to feed their army and navy at Phaleron. Not even the Great King’s seasoned bureaucrats would have found it easy to provide such logistical support, but they might have been able to pull it off. Maybe the secret was cutting a corner here and covering up a shortfall there. The upshot is that the oarsmen at Phaleron might have been hungry, too hungry to pull hard in battle. But that is speculation.

The Persians could not wait at Phaleron forever. No doubt they considered landing troops on Salamis and advancing on the Greek ships. There are good harbors on the west coast of the island, and it is a short march overland eastward to the Greek positions. But the Greeks surely guarded every landing ground with armed men. Another possibility was to build a bridge across the mile-wide Salamis channel and march the men across, the way Persia had bridged the Hellespont. But the twenty-four-foot depth of the Salamis channel would have rendered this a difficult undertaking even with control at sea. As long as the Greek navy was at large, it would take a naval battle in order to protect the builders, which brought the Persians back to the need to fight at sea.

That, in turn, increased the pressure on Persia’s diplomats to find a Greek traitor, and on Persia’s recruiters and agents to find more men and ships. Between the storms and unrepaired losses, the Persian fleet on the day after Artemisium had declined from a total of 1,327 triremes to about 650, about half its original size. Tens of thousands of men had been lost in storms and battle as well. In the three weeks since then, reinforcements had arrived from mainland Greece and the islands. “The farther the Persian went into Greece, the more the nations that followed him,” writes Herodotus.

Impressed by what he had learned of the size of these reinforcements, Herodotus went out on a limb. “In my opinion, at any rate, the Persians were not less in number when they invaded Athens both by land and in their ships than they were when they had reached Sepias and Thermopylae.” Few scholars are inclined to agree with him. Herodotus himself had commented on the storm that wrecked two hundred Persian ships off Euboea that “it was all done by the god so that the Greek force would be saved and the Persian force would be not much greater than it.” It does not look as if that verdict was reversed in less than a month and from regions not known for large navies.

Central Greece was populous but neither it nor the Cycladic Islands were in a position to provide the Persians with many ships, let alone hundreds and hundreds. The Persian fleet is unlikely to have commanded more than seven hundred triremes at Salamis. When Herodotus speaks of massive reinforcements, either he is referring only to manpower and not ships or he is simply wrong.

No doubt the Persians had taken their new recruits out to sea at Phaleron and given them the chance to row or serve on deck as marines. But the Persians would have noticed that every one of their reinforcements was Greek and so not entirely trustworthy. There was also reason to distrust some and perhaps all of the allies accused by Artemisia. The Cypriots had joined the Ionian Revolt of 499 B.C. The Egyptians, too, had revolted from Persia and more recently—in 486. At Artemisium the Egyptians might have won the prize for valor from Xerxes, but perhaps that was more of a goodwill token on his part than a reward for services rendered. The Cilician squadron had been defeated by the Athenians on the second day at Artemisium. We know nothing of the Pamphylians (originally thirty ships), but they were a people of Greek descent and hence of questionable loyalty.

Disloyalty, a drop in the number of ships, possible supply problems, and dangerous terrain: there were so many reasons for Xerxes to avoid a battle at sea. But Xerxes might have reasoned that at Artemisium the enemy had enjoyed the advantage of surprise; at Salamis the Persians would not underrate the foe a second time. He might also have reckoned on momentum. Spurred by their success at the Acropolis, his soldiers would bear down on the dispirited Greeks, whose panic the day before might have been reported to him by spies.

Xerxes may have come to the conclusion that heaven had suddenly dropped victory into his lap. The first of two enemy capital cities had fallen. The Greek army and navy remained intact, but they were in disarray. The enemy army was improvising a hasty defense; the enemy fleet was divided and on the verge of panic. A short, sharp move by Persia might be enough to push the Greeks over the edge. The invading force that had already taken Athens might end the season yet at Sparta.

And so, the navies would fight at Salamis. That master of manipulation, the Great King, had decided to tie his fate to an image. He had been taught the power of images from childhood on. The avenger, rising over the straits of Salamis on his throne, looming against a backdrop of honorable smoke from justly ruined temples, would spur his ships to success. The struggle might be severe, but in the end the Persians would win, just as they had at Thermopylae. Who knew? His agents might even find a convenient traitor soon. Not for Xerxes the return home with his hands half empty.

No sooner had the king spoken than the order was given to launch the ships. This had been expected: fleets do not spring into action at a moment’s notice, at least not successful fleets. Besides, Xerxes had already prepared to take up a position on land at the edge of the battle. As the order was passed from squadron commander to captain to crew, tens of thousands of men lined up, climbed wooden ladders at the water’s edge, and boarded their ships.

Artemisia’s response to Xerxes’ verdict is not recorded. She was a woman of valor, but she was no Antigone: she was willing to speak truth to power but not to engage in civil disobedience. When the ships rowed out of Phaleron Bay, Artemisia and her men were among them.

The Persians made for the straits of Salamis, the entrance to which lies about four miles to the northwest of Phaleron Bay. There, they divided themselves into lines and squadrons unmolested by the enemy. Presumably they took up their formations just outside the entrance to the Salamis channel, spread over a five-mile-wide waterway between Salamis and the mainland. The Persians hoped to draw the Greeks out of the narrow straits, but the enemy never appeared. As the light of day gave out, the order was given for the Persians to return to Phaleron. On September 24, the sun sets at Athens at 7:19 P.M., so we may imagine the Persians beginning their retreat around 6:00 P.M.

The Persian commanders were probably not surprised that the Greeks had not accepted a challenge to fight in unfavorable waters. But that was perhaps not the whole story. The Persians might also have been making the first move in a game of psychological warfare. By lining up at the entrance to the Salamis straits, they demonstrated to the Greeks both their aggressive spirit and their renewed numbers. The Greeks on Salamis saw the full force of the fleet that faced them. Any hope that the Persian navy had been ruined in central Greece by storm and battle was now dashed at the sight of this shipshape and well-reinforced armada.

Nor was the navy the only weapon deployed by Persia. That night, when the Greek fleet had returned to Salamis, the Persian army began marching toward the Peloponnese. In the night sky, the sound of tens of thousands of men and horses tramping westward through Attica would have carried across the straits to the Greek camp. In fact, the Persians might have ordered their men to hug the shore, the more to frighten the enemy. With luck, the terror of the Persian advance might split the Greeks at Salamis, forcing part of the fleet to hurry toward the Isthmus and the other part to fall into Persia’s hands, either through defeat in battle or through treason.

The Persian fleet headed back to Phaleron, where it planned to moor overnight. The men probably took their regular evening meal and then prepared for what lay ahead the next day, when they would enter the straits and provoke the great battle that the commanders wanted, all of them except Artemisia. Then news arrived that changed everything.

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