Story of the Persian War - Alfred J. Church

Of the Battle of Salamis

Meanwhile there was much doubt and fear among the Greeks at Salamis. For a time indeed the captains talked privately the one with the other, marveling at the ill counsel of Eurybiades that he left the Peloponnese without defense; but at the last their discontent brake forth, and the assembly was called together, in which many things were said to the same purpose as in the former assembly, some affirming that they ought to sail away to the Peloponnese that they might defend it, it being a vain thing, they said, to remain at Salamis and fight for that which was already in the power of their enemies, and the men of Athens and of Ægina and of Megara being urgent that they should remain and give battle.

Then Themistocles, perceiving that his counsel should not prevail against the counsel of the men of the Peloponnese, went out secretly from the assembly, and sent straightway a messenger in a boat to the camp of the Persians. (The name of the messenger was Sicinnus, he was servant to Themistocles and tutor to his children; and after the war Themistocles caused him to become a citizen of Thespiæ, for the Thespians were admitting strangers to citizenship, and gave him great riches.) This Sicinnus therefore, going in a boat to the camp of the barbarians, spake to their captains, saying, "The commander of the Athenians has sent me, without the knowledge of the rest of the Greeks, to say that the Greeks are in great fear and purpose to fly from their place, and that ye have a great occasion of destroying them utterly, if only ye will not suffer them to escape. For indeed they are not of one mind, nor will they withstand you any more, but ye will see them fighting the one against the other, they that are on your side being opposed to them that are against you. And this my master does because he is a friend to the King, and because he would rather that you should prevail than that the Greeks should have the mastery."

When Sicinnus had thus spoken he departed straightway. And the Persians, because they believed what Sicinnus had told them, first landed many of their men on Psyttaleia, which is a little island between Salamis and the mainland; and next, about midnight, they moved the westernmost wing of their ships to Salamis, and those that were posted at Ceos and Cynosura set sail also, and filled all the strait even as far as Munychia. This they did that the Greeks might not be able to escape, but might be shut up within Salamis, and so pay the penalty of what they had done at Artemisium. As for the landing of the Persians at Psyttaleia, it was done for this cause, that when the battle was joined, and the broken ships and shipwrecked men should be carried down by the current to the island—which must needs be the case, seeing that it was in the very way of the battle that should be fought—these soidiers might be able to save their friends and slay their enemies. All this the barbarians did in silence, lest haply the Greeks should hear of the thing that had been done. So the Persians made ready for the battle, taking no rest, but toiling through all the night.

Meanwhile there was much angry talk among the captains at Salamis, for they knew not yet that they were shut in by the barbarians. But while they were assembled there came over from Ægina a certain Aristides, a man of Athens, that had been banished by the people (yet was he the best and most righteous man in Athens). This Aristides, coming to the council, would have Themistocles called out to speak with him. Now Themistocles was no friend to Aristides, but an enemy and very bitter against him; nevertheless, for the great trouble that had come upon the land, he took no count of this enmity, but came and called for him, wishing to speak with him. And when Themistocles was come forth, Aristides said to him, "We two, O Themistocles, have contended together aforetime concerning other things, but now let us contend who shall do the better service to his country. What I am now come to say is this: Let the men of the Peloponnese say little or say much about sailing hence, it is all one. For I affirm, of my own knowledge, that the Corinthians and Eurybiades himself cannot now depart, if they would, for that the barbarians have closed us in. But go thou and tell this thing to the captains." And Themistocles made answer, "This is good news thou hast brought, telling of your own knowledge the things that I greatly desired should come to pass. What the barbarians have done was indeed of my doing, because if the Greeks would not fight of their free will there was a necessity that they should be made to fight against their will. But as thou hast brought good news, tell it to the captains thyself, for if I tell it they will deem that I am lying to them. Tell it therefore thyself, and if they believe thee, well; but if not, yet can they not escape, if, as thou sayest, the Persians have closed us in."

Then Aristides went in to the assembly and told them that he was come from Ægina, having barely escaped the watch ships of the barbarians; and that they were closed in by the Persians. And he counseled them to make ready for the battle. Having so spoken he acted. Then there arose a great disputing, the greater part of the captains not believing these tidings. But while they doubted there came a ship of war from Tenos, which a certain Panætius commanded. This man told them the whole truth of the matter. For this cause the men of Tenos were written on the offering among them that destroyed the barbarians. And now the number of the ships of the Greeks was made up to three hundred and eighty.

The Greeks, learning that the words of the men of Tenos were true, made themselves ready for battle. And when it was morning there was called an assembly of the crews, and Themistocles spake to them very noble words, how that men should always choose good rather than evil, and honorable things rather than base things. When he had ended his speech he bade them embark on their ships; and while they were embarking there came from Ægina the ships that brought the children of Æacus. Then all the Greeks began to move their ships from their place. But so soon as they began to move them the Persians advanced against them, and the Greeks backed their oars, so that they would have beached the ships, only one Ameinias, a man of Athens, bade his men row forward, and coming forth before the line, drave his ship against a ship of the barbarians. Then others went to the help of Ameinias, and so the battle was begun. This is what the Athenians say; but the men of Ægina affirm that the ship that went to fetch the children of Æacus first began the battle. Also this story is told, that there was seen the likeness of a woman who cried with a loud voice, so that all the Greeks could hear her, "How long, ye simple ones, will ye back your oars?"

The order of the battle was this. The Phœnicians were on the right wing, towards the west and towards Eleusis, and the Athenians were ranged over against them; and the Ionians were on the left, toward the east and towards the Piræus, having the Lacedæmonians over against them. Of the Ionians a few only followed the counsel of Themistocles, and held back from the fighting; for many of their captains took ships of the Greeks, of whom was Theomestor, that for this service was made lord of Samos by the Persians, and Phylacus, who also was of Samos, that had lands given to him and was written among the benefactors of the King. But for the most part the ships of the Persians were destroyed by the Greeks, and especially by the Athenians and the men of Ægina. For the Greeks fought in good order and kept their plans, but the barbarians were without order, neither had they any purpose in what they did. Wherefore they must needs have been worsted in the battle. Nevertheless they this day surpassed themselves, bearing themselves more bravely than at Eubœa; for every man was very zealous, having the fear of the King before his eyes, and deeming that the King saw what he did.

How the rest of the Greeks and of the barbarians behaved themselves cannot be described, but of Artemisia of Halicarnassus this story is told. The fleet of the King being now in great confusion, it so chanced that the ship of Artemisia was pursued by an Athenian ship. And she, not being able to escape, for she was the nearest of all to the ships of the enemy, and had many of her own friends in front of her, devised this means of saving herself, and also accomplished it. She drave her ship against the ship of the lord of Calyndus, being one of the fleet of the King (whether she had a quarrel against this man, or the ship chanced to be in her way is not known for certain), and had the good fortune to sink it. And thus she gained a double gain. For when the captain of the Athenian ship saw what she did, judging that her ship was of the fleet of the Greeks, or that it had deserted from the King, he left pursuing her; and also, having done this ill service to the Persians, yet she got the greatest glory from the King. For Xerxes, as he looked upon the battle, saw not her ship smite another. And one said to him, "O King, seest thou how bravely Queen Artemisia bears herself, sinking a ship of the enemies?" Then said the King, "Was this verily the doing of Artemisia?" And they affirmed that it was, knowing the token of her ship; but the ship that was sunk they judged to be one of the Greeks. It so chanced also, that her good fortune might be complete, that not a man of the ship of Calyndus was left to tell the truth. As for Xerxes, he is reported to have said, "My men have become women, and my women have become men."

In this battle fell Ariabignes, being brother to the King, and also many other famous men of the Medes and the Persians. Of the Greeks indeed there perished not many; for even though their ships were destroyed, yet being able to swim they saved themselves; but of the barbarians the greater part perished, for they were not able to swim. And so soon as the first of the Persian ships began to fly before the Greeks then there followed a great destruction. For they that were behind pressed forward, seeking to show some deed of valor before the eyes of the King, and drave against the ships that fled, and so both did and received great damage. This thing also happened. Certain of the Phœnicians, whose ships had perished, came to the King and made a complaint against the Ionians that they had betrayed them. But while they were yet speaking, a ship of Samothrace drave against an Athenian ship and sank it; then there came a ship of Ægina against the ship of Samothrace and wounded it sorely; notwithstanding, while it was sinking the Samothracians, being throwers of javelins, smote down the men of Ægina, and boarded their ship and took possession of it. This thing was the salvation of the Ionians. For Xerxes, seeing that these Greeks had wrought a great deed and being in great vexation of spirit, and ready to blame all men, commanded that they should cut off the heads of the Phœnician captains, that they might not any more bring accusations against men that were better than they. All the time of the battle the King sat on the hill that is over against Salamis, and when any deed of valor was done by his ships, he would ask the name of the captain, and the scribes wrote it down, with the names also of his father and of his city.

Such of the ships of the barbarians as sought to escape by way of Phalerum the men of Ægina dealt with, waiting in the strait, and behaving themselves most valorously. For the Athenians destroyed such as yet fought and such as fled, and the men of Ægina fell upon them that would sail out, so that if any escaped the Athenians they fell into the hands of men of Ægina.

In this battle the men of Ægina were judged to have shown most valor, and next to them the Athenians; and among the men of Ægina Polycritus, and among the Athenians Eumenes and Ameinias. It was this Ameinias that pursued Artemisia. And indeed, had he known whom he pursued, he would not have left following her till he had taken her, or himself been taken; for there was proclaimed a reward of ten thousand drachmas to the man that should take Artemisia alive, the Athenians being very wroth that a woman should presume to bear arms against their city.

Of Adeimantus the Corinthian the Athenians tell this story, that in the very beginning of the battle, being wholly mastered with fear, he hoisted his sails and fled; and that the other Corinthian ships, seeing the ship of their commander flying, fled also; and that when they were come in their flight over against the temple of Athene of Sciron, they met there a pinnace, that came not by any bidding of men; and that when it was close to their ships the men in the pinnace cried out, "Thou indeed art flying, O Adeimantus, and showing thyself traitor to the Greeks; but they are winning the victory over their enemies." When Adeimantus would not believe, the men said that they were willing to answer for it with their lives that their words were true. Then Adeimantus turned back his ship, and he and his companions came to Salamis when the battle was now finished. This is the story of the Athenians concerning the Corinthians; but the Corinthians deny it, affirming that they fought among the first. And in this they are confirmed by the testimony of the other Greeks.

On that day Aristides the Athenian did good service. He took with him many men at arms, Athenians, that had been drawn up along the shore of Salamis, and landed them on the island of Psyttaleia, so that they slew all the Persians that had been set to keep the place.

When the battle was ended the Greeks drew to Salamis such of the broken ships as yet floated, and prepared to fight yet again, for they thought that the King would not fail to use the ships that remained to him. But many of the wrecks the wind—for it chanced to blow from the west—carried to the shore of Attica, which is called the shore of Colias. Thus was fulfilled a certain oracle of Lysistratus the Athenian.

"That Colian dames their bread may bake,

Full many an oar that day shall break."

And this came to pass after the King had departed.