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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott



the fact that this priceless heritage was left to later ages the world is indebted chiefly to the Greeks who fought at Salamis. The night before that battle the cause of Greece seemed doomed beyond hope. The day after, the invaders began a retreat that ended forever their hopes of conquest. This amazing change of fortune was due to the fact that the success of the Persian invasion depended on the control of the sea. Hence the Greeks, though unable to muster an army large enough to meet the Persian host on land, defeated it disastrously by winning a victory on the sea.


After Salamis, Athens rose to a commanding position among the Greek states. Her period of supremacy was brief, lasting less than 75 years, but while it endured it rested on her triremes. In the middle of the fifth century she had 100,000 men in her navy, practically as many as Great Britain in her fleet before 1914. Although the period of Athenian supremacy was short-lived, it is interesting because it produced a great naval genius, Phormio, and because it wrecked itself as Persian sea power had done, in an attempt at foreign conquest.

Scarcely had the Persian invasion come to an end when bickering broke out among the various Greek states, much of it directed against Athens. She had small difficulty, however, in maintaining her ascendancy in northern Greece on account of her superiority

on the sea, and it was during the half century after Salamis that Athens arose to her splendid climax as the intellectual and artistic center of the world.

[Illustration: After Shepherd's _Historical Atlas._


In 431 began the Peloponnesian War. Its immediate cause was the help given by Athens to Corcyra (Corfu) in a war against Corinth. Corinth called on Sparta for help, and in consequence northern and southern Greece were locked in a mortal struggle. The Athenians had a naval base at Naupaktis on the Gulf of Corinth, and in 429, two years after war broke out, the Athenian Phormio found himself supplied with only twenty triremes with which to maintain control of that important waterway. At the same time Sparta was setting in motion a large land and water expedition with the object of sweeping Athenian influence from all of western Greece and of obtaining control of the Gulf of Corinth. A fleet from Corinth was to join another at Leukas, one of the Ionian Islands, and then proceed to operate on the northern coast of the gulf while an army invaded the province.


As it happened, the army moved off without waiting for the cooperation of the fleet and eventually went to pieces in an ineffectual siege of an inland city. When the fleet started out from Corinth it numbered 47 triremes. As this was more than twice the number possessed by Phormio, the Corinthian admiral evidently counted on being secure from attack. Accordingly he used some of his triremes as transports and started on his journey without taking the precaution to train his oarsmen or practice maneuvers. But as he skirted along the southern coast he was surprised to see the Athenian ships moving in a parallel course as if on the alert for an opportunity to attack. When the Corinthian ships bore up from Patrae to cross to the AEtolian shore, the Athenian column steered directly toward them. At this threat the Corinthian fleet turned away and put in at Rhium, a point near the narrowest part of the strait, in order to make the crossing under cover of night. The Corinthian admiral made the same fatal mistake committed by the commander of the Spanish Armada 2000 years later in a similar undertaking, that of trying to avoid an enemy on the sea rather than fight him before carrying out an invasion of the enemy's coast. This ignominious conduct on the part of the Corinthian admiral was partly due to the fact that he was encumbered with his transports, but chiefly to the fact that he knew that in fighting qualities his men were no match for the Athenians. The latter had no peers on the sea at that time. Since Salamis they had progressed far in naval science and efficiency and were filled with the confidence that comes from knowledge and experience.

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