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Mediterranean Chronology

The Battle of Salamis

480 BC


The great naval battle of Salamis was fought between the Greeks and Persians in 480 BC in the narrow strait between Salamis and Attica. This was one of the last battles of the Persian Wars. The Greek forces were led by Themistocles, an Athenian statesman, who was responsible for devising the strategy used during the battle. Although Themistocles came up with the strategy to lure the Persians into the strait, he was not the general who carried it out. This was done by Eurybiades, a Spartan commander. The Persian forces were led by Xerxes, Darius' successor.

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During the battle, Xerxes watched from a distance as his men fought the Greeks. His fleet outnumbered the Greek ships three to one, and he expected an easy victory. Though the Greeks were greatly outnumbered by the Persian ships, they had the advantage of their speed and knowledge of the waters and the battle plan. Another practical advantage that the Greeks had was their ability to swim. The Persians could not swim and when their ships were sunk, they drowned because they could not get to shore.

Using Themistocles' strategy, the lighter Greek ships rowed out in a circular formation and rammed the front of their ships into the clumsy Persian vessels. At the same time they continuously "threw darts and stones upon the men. The Greek war galleys were specially designed for this kind of fighting- long and slim, packed with rowers below and soldiers on the light upper deck." (Compton's Encyclopedia: Page 27) Using this attack plan, about two hundred ships were sunk, some were captured and the rest fled back to the bases in Asia Minor.

The rest of Xerxes army that was left in Greece was sent to Plataea in 479 BC where they were defeated once again by the Greeks. At the same time the Hellenic league sailed across the Aegean and destroyed the main Persian fleet at Mycale. This victory triggered a revolt in the Greek city-states of Asia Minor. With this the victorious Greeks saved their independence and were filled with a sense of superiority and thus set the stage for the ensuing Golden Age.


Matthews, Roy T., The Western Humanities (Mountain View; Mayfield Pub. Co., 1995) p. 37

Sullivan, Richard, A Short History of Western Civilization (New York; McGraw-Hill Inc., 1994) p.63



Edited by: Rebecca Gutman
Researched by: Mary Jardine
Written by: Ashley Pletz
October 13, 1999

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