History Lesson<1000 Words “The Battle of Salamis”
*Image from the Molossian Naval Academy Website.
THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS 
The night was passing, and the Grecian host
By no means sought to issue forth unseen.
But when indeed the day with her white steeds
Held all the earth, resplendent to behold,
First from the Greeks the loud-resounding din
Of song triumphant came; and shrill at once
Echo responded from the island rock.
Then upon all barbarians terror fell,
Thus disappointed; for not as for flight
The Hellenes sang the holy pæan then,
But setting forth to battle valiantly.
The bugle with its note inflamed them all;
And straightway with the dip of plashing oars
They smote the deep sea water at command,
And quickly all were plainly to be seen.
Their right wing first in orderly array
Led on, and second all the armament
Followed them forth; and meanwhile there was heard
A mighty shout: “Come, O ye sons of Greeks,
Make free your country, make your children free,
Your wives, and fanes of your ancestral gods,
And your sires’ tombs! For all we now contend!”
And from our side the rush of Persian speech
Replied. No longer might the crisis wait.
At once ship smote on ship with brazen beak;
A vessel of the Greeks began the attack,
Crushing the stem of a Phoenician ship.
Each on a different vessel turned its prow.
At first the current of the Persian host
Withstood; but when within the strait the throng
Of ships was gathered, and they could not aid
Each other, but by their own brazen bows
Were struck, they shattered all our naval host.
The Grecian vessels not unskillfully
Were smiting round about; the hulls of ships
Were overset; the sea was hid from sight,
Covered with wreckage and the death of men;
The reefs and headlands were with corpses filled,
And in disordered flight each ship was rowed,
As many as were of the Persian host.
But they, like tunnies or some shoal of fish,
With broken oars and fragments of the wrecks
Struck us and clove us; and at once a cry
Of lamentation filled the briny sea,
Till the black darkness’ eye did rescue us.
The number of our griefs, not though ten days
I talked together, could I fully tell;
But this know well, that never in one day
Perished so great a multitude of men.
This poem reveals much about the Battle of Salamis, which was a naval battle fought between the Greeks and the Persians in 480 B.C.E. Persia’s empire had been expanding rather rapidly, and by the fifth century B.C.E., Persia had started battling Greece for its territories. The Battle of Salamis was part of the second Persian invasion of Greece. The first invasion occurred in 490 B.C.E., at the Battle of Marathon, which the Persians lost. Ten years later, under the leadership of Xerxes, the Persians set forth to battle the Greeks once again. The Battle of Salamis is the third in a series of five major battles fought between 480 and 479 B.C.E. The first two battles, fought simultaneously, were Thermopylae (made famous by the movie 300) and Artemisium. The last two were at Plataea and Mycale.
“The night was passing, and the Grecian host / By no means sought to issue forth unseen.”
The Greeks, urged by Themistocles, waited for three weeks within the straits of Salamis, with the hope that the Persians would attack them there. The narrowness of the area made it a perfect battle platform for the Greeks, considering they were very much outnumbered. As they waited, Themistocles decided to send a slave to the Persians, informing them that the Greeks had surrendered. Xerxes chose to attack anyways, and began moving into the narrow strait.
“The Hellenes sang the holy pæan then, / But setting forth to battle valiantly. /The bugle with its note inflamed them all”
It is said that the Persians could hear the Greeks sing the pæan, a combination of prayer and battle cry. Its purpose was to avert evil and was often sung before or during battle. In addition, the bugle played by the Greeks was an ancient musical instrument known as a salpinx. The salpinx was a long and narrow tube with a flared bell at the end. It was described as a “warlike and terrifying instrument.”
“Their right wing first in orderly array / Led on, and second all the armament / Followed them forth”
The Greek formation within the strait had the Spartans on the right, the Athenians on the left, and the remaining Allies in the center. The Greeks had around 371 ships – the Persians 1207.
“At first the current of the Persian host / Withstood; but when within the strait the throng / Of ships was gathered, and they could not aid / Each other but by their own brazen bows / Were struck, they shattered all our naval host. / The Grecian vessels not unskillfully / Were smiting round about; the hulls of ships / Were overset”
The Persian fleet was greater in numbers, and created a bottleneck at the strait. In addition, the Persian triremes were much larger and heavier than the Greek triremes, and as a result much more difficult to maneuver in the strait. The Greek ships sailed with more ease around the Persian ones, ramming them into destruction. It is estimated that 40 Greek ships and over 200 Persian ships were lost in the battle.
The Battle of Salamis is considered by many historians to be the most decisive battle in the Greek and Persian wars. The loss of the battle by the Persians, and the win by the Greeks, changed the dynamic of the war to mainly land battles. By 479 B.C.E., the battle with Persia was over, and Greece moved into a war with itself.