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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

A Samothracian trireme performed a remarkable feat


[Footnote

1: The Battle of the Corinthian Gulf: v. p. 43]

The Greeks pressed their advantage, using their rams to sink an adversary or disable her by cutting away her oars. Where the melee was too close for such tactics they tried to take their enemy by boarding. On every Greek trireme was a specially organized boarding party consisting of 36 men--18 marines, 14 heavily armed soldiers, and four bowmen; and the Greeks seem to have been superior to their enemy at close quarters. On the Persian side the superiority lay in their archers and javelin throwers. Toward the end of the battle, for instance, a Samothracian trireme performed a remarkable feat. Having been disabled by an AEginetan ship, the Samothracian cleared the decks of her assailant with arrows and javelins and took possession. Although the invaders seem to have fought with the greatest courage and determination, the disadvantage of confusion at the outset of the battle, augmented by the head wind, told decisively against them. They were unable to take advantage of their superiority in ships on account of the narrowness of the channel, and indeed found that the very multitude of their ships only added to their difficulties.

The retreat began with the flower of the Persian fleet, the Phoenician division. Caught at the opening of the battle with the Athenians in front and the AEginetans on the left flank, they were never able to extricate themselves, although they

fought stubbornly. The foremost ships, many in a disabled condition, began to retreat; others backed water to make way for them; the rearmost finding it impossible to reach the battle at all, withdrew out of the straits; and soon the retreat became general. As the Phoenicians withdrew, the Athenians and the AEginetans fell upon the center of the Persian line, and the rout became general with the Greeks in full pursuit. The latter pressed their enemy as far as the island of Psyttaleia, thus cutting off the Persian force on the island from their communications. Whereupon Aristides, the Athenian, led a force in boats from Salamis to the island and put to death every man of the Persian garrison. The Persian ships fled to their base at Phaleron, while the Greeks returned to their base at Salamis.

The battle of Salamis was won, but at the moment neither side realized its decisive character. The Greeks had lost 40 ships; the Persians had lost over 200 sunk, and an indeterminate number captured. Nevertheless, the latter could probably have mustered a considerable force for another attack--which the Greeks expected--if their morale had not been so badly shaken. Their commander, Ariabignes, was among the killed, and there was no one else capable of reorganizing the shattered forces. Xerxes, fearing for the safety of his bridge over the Hellespont, gave orders for his ships to retire thither to protect it, and the very night after the battle found the remains of the Persian fleet in full flight across the AEgean.

The news reached the Greeks at noon of the following day and they set out in pursuit, but having gone as far as Andros without coming up with the enemy, they paused for a council of war. The Athenians urged the policy of going on and destroying the bridge over the Hellespont, but they were voted down by their allies, who preferred to leave well enough alone.

It is customary to speak of the victory of the Greeks at Salamis as due to their superior physique and fighting qualities. This superiority may be claimed for the Greek soldiers at Marathon and Platae, where the Persian army was actually Persian. The Asiatic soldier, forced into service and flogged into battle, was indeed no match for the virile and warlike Greek. But at Salamis it was literally a case of Greek meeting Greek, except in the case of the Phoenicians--who had the reputation of being the finest seafighters in the world--and it is not easy to see how the battle was won by sheer physical prowess. There is no evidence to show any lack of either courage or fighting ability on the Persian side. The decisive feature of the battle was the fatal exposure of the Phoenician wing at the very outset. However, it is worth noting that the invaders had been maneuvering all night and were tired--especially the oarsmen--when called upon to enter battle against an enemy that was fresh. In that respect there was undoubtedly some advantage to the Greeks, but it can hardly have been of prime importance.


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