Battle of Salamis

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Battle of Salamis
Part of: Persian Wars
Salamine battle map-de.svg
date approx. 480 BC Chr.
place Saronic Gulf in front of Piraeus, the port of Athens; off the island of Salamis
output Greek victory
consequences In the first decisive naval battle in history, the Persian fleet is driven out of Greek waters and the attack of the Persian land army is delayed. This secured the Peloponnese, but central Greece remained in the hands of the Persians until the Battle of Plataiai (Platää)
Parties to the conflict




Themistocles , Eurybiades

Xerxes I.

Troop strength
approx. 350 Greek triremes from Athens and Aegina 600 Persian galleys

40 Greek tryres

200-300 Persian ships

Objectives: Persians: capture Athens and conquer Greece. Greeks: destroy or drive out the Persian invaders
The serpent column consecrated by the victorious Greeks
Monument to the Warriors of Salamis

The sea ​​battle of Salamis took place on September 29 (according to other sources 23, 24 or 25; the exact date is disputed) 480 BC. Chr. Between Greeks and Persians at Salamis place, an island near Athens .

This battle was one of the most important naval battles in the Mediterranean in ancient times . Some historians such as Christian Meier regard it as the central event in Western history , alongside the battle of Marathon , which helped to assert the history of civilization in Europe against that of the East.


After the lost battle of Marathon (490 BC), the Persian great king Darius I still had the intention to incorporate the Greek city-states into the Persian Empire. The purpose of the expansion was on the one hand to fill the Persian treasury with the fortunes of the Greeks, and on the other hand to create a stepping stone for further Persian conquests in the west.

In order to bring the fleet into the combat area as undamaged as possible, the construction of a canal through the Athos peninsula was planned. But Darius I died during the preparations for war in 486 BC. His son Xerxes I. took over the management of the war preparations.

The canal started under Dareios I was first completed. In addition, the Persians built two ship bridges over the Hellespont in order to advance with an army of around 70,000 to 80,000 soldiers. 480 BC The preparations were completed and Xerxes I opened the campaign. 1000 Spartans , Thespians and Thebans , led by Leonidas , tried to prevent the enemy from entering and turned against the Persian army in northern Greece, but were defeated in the battle of Thermopylae . As a result, after three days of operations at Artemision on the north side of Evia , the Attic fleet had to retreat towards Athens. Xerxes was able to occupy and devastate Athens and the surrounding Attica. Now there were clashes between Athenians and Spartans, because the Spartans wanted to defend the isthmus of Corinth and thus the Peloponnese. The Athenians, however, relied on their fleet.

The situation appeared to the Greeks to be rather hopeless, especially since they were vastly outnumbered. To remedy this, Themistocles asked the Oracle of Delphi for advice. The oracle's answer was: "Seek shelter behind wooden walls!" Themistocles interpreted this saying in such a way that only their tryres could offer protection against the Persians; others believed that the city wall should be expanded. Themistocles was able to convince the council, however, to let the battle be carried out by the fleet. The Athenian fleet had grown considerably since the Battle of Marathon, as much of Athens' resources - from Laureion's silver mining - had been devoted to the construction of Trier. So the city shifted to the sea. The men were on the ships and the women and children went to safety near Salamis.



According to Herodotus, the Greeks had at least 271 triremes , of which 180 or 200 most likely came from Athens. Themistocles and Eurybiades were in charge of the fleet . The advantage of the Greek trireme was the greater maneuverability and speed compared to the Persian ships. Furthermore, Trieren had a ram with which the enemy ships could be sunk by ramming. This tactic was common to the Greeks and the Persians. The triremes of Athens were probably still under construction until shortly before the Persian invasion. According to Herodotus, Athens' allies sent 124 triremes and 9  penteconters . Of the allies, Corinth was the greatest power with 40 ships. 10 triremes came from Sparta. Since Sparta would otherwise have refused to cooperate with Athens, the Spartan Eurybiades was given the command of the fleet.


The Persian armed forces consisted of a large army and a fleet. Herodotus refers to 1107 Trieres and reports about 3000 additional ships. In total, the Trier fleet is said to have consisted of 300 Phoenician, 200 Egyptian, 150 Cypriot, 100 Cilician, 30 Pamphylian, 50 Lycian, 30 Dorian, 70 Carian, 100 Ionian, 60 Aeolian and 17 Aegean ships. However, science regards the number of ships as excessive. Almost half of the crews were Greek in terms of their domain. In order to be able to supply the land army, the invasion fleet drove in close contact with the army along the coast. Through the channel in the Athos Mountains, the Armada turned to Thermai to follow the portless coast of Magnisia . Before the fleet arrived in the port of Aphetai, it got caught in a violent storm and, according to Herodotus, lost around 400 ships.

Course of the battle

After Herodotus

According to Herodotus, the Persian fleet set out for the Bay of Salamis to attack the Greeks. Xerxes I was convinced that the defeat of his fleet before Artemision was due to his absence. Now he wanted to watch personally. Very little is known of the general course of the battle. On the first day there was no more battle, as night had already fallen when the Persians arrived. The Greeks were afraid and the soldiers of the Peloponnese tended to return to join the land army and defend their homeland. That same night the Persian land army set out for the Peloponnese . The construction of a wall on the Isthmus of Corinth had already begun after Leonidas had been defeated at Thermopylae . Many tens of thousands were ready to defend the isthmus under the command of Cleombrotus . For this purpose the following tribes sent their soldiers: the Lacedaemonians (Spartans), Arcadians, Eleians, Corinthians, Sicyonians, Epidaurians, Phliasians, Troizener and Hermonia.

According to Herodotus, the Greeks placed little value on victory at sea. For this reason there was a meeting. Some wanted to sail to the Peloponnese and join the army; but the Athenians, Megarians and Aiginetes wanted to fight at sea. Since Themistocles was outvoted by the assembly, he sent Sikinnos - the teacher of his children - to Xerxes in a boat. Sikinnos reported to him that Themistocles was on the side of the king, that the Greeks were divided, wanted to flee and would separate. Xerxes believed this message and included the Greeks. According to Herodotus, the Greeks knew nothing of the advance of the Persians and continued to take advice. Now Aristeides arrived from Aegina , who had Themistocles called out by the council and reported to him about the strategic containment of the fleet and the blocked escape route. Although Aristeides was an opponent of Themistocles and was banished by the ostracism (shards of fragments), but in an emergency he let the differences rest. The hopeless situation described by Aristeides to the council was confirmed by a ship from Tenos .

The Greeks were now ready for battle with their 380 ships and weighed anchor. The attack by the Persians came only a little later. Now the battle took its course and almost all Persian ships were sunk. Herodotus names the good order of battle of the Greeks as the reason for the victory. Many Persians such as the general Ariabignes perished because they could not swim. The losses among the Greek ship's crews were far lower because they were able to swim over to Salamis. According to Herodotus, the Aiginetes were the most glorious Greeks, followed by the Athenians . After the battle, the Greeks prepared for a second wave of attacks, which did not come back. Since Xerxes was afraid that the Greeks might destroy the bridge on the Hellespont, he withdrew to Asia.

After Diodorus

Diodorus specifies that Eurybiades was unable to motivate his troops. In his report he sees the strait at Salamis as a strategic advantage of the Greeks for the battle. He also reports on the battle line-up. The right wing of the Persians was held by the Phoenicians and the left by the traitorous Greeks. In addition, the Ionian Greeks had sent a man from Samos to the Greeks who told them the king's battle plans. The battle formation of the Greeks: on the left wing the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians, the Aiginetes and Megarians held the right wing and the middle was held by the rest of the Greeks. About the course of the battle: Diodorus mentions that the Persians had to reduce their line through the strait and distribute their ships to the rear lines. Chaos broke out among the Persians when the Persian ship with the admiral sank. In total, Diodorus speaks of 200 sunken Persian and 40 sunken Greek ships. The Phoenicians were the first to retreat to Asia. Later the whole Persian army of 400,000 men followed them.

After Plutarch

According to Plutarch , Xerxes I sat on a throne that was on a plateau and was able to overlook the entire battle. The 1000 Persian ships are said to have faced only 180 triremes, which is judged to be impossible by researchers today. We also learn that Lycomedes was the first Greek to hijack an enemy ship. About the actual battle, Plutarch mentions a fresh breeze that blew into the Salamis Sound shortly before the battle. Since the Greek ships were built rather narrow and well armed against the wind, they could hold their line. The Persian ships, on the other hand - described as sluggish and less agile - drifted alongside the ramming spurs of the Greeks.

Scientific attempts at reconstruction

Strategic representation

Attempts have often been made to obtain more precise information from the sources in order to be able to make more precise statements about the course of the battle. Science does not agree on whether one can obtain precise information about the course of the battle from the sources, since they do not report in detail and sometimes contradict each other. What all authors agree on: The Greek ships managed to leave the port of Salamis and line up in battle formation. In addition, it seems to have been impossible for the Persians to outflank them. Certainly the Greeks were more knowledgeable about the area and the narrow sound narrowed the ranks of the Persians. The flank attack described in many sources led to a ship-to-ship battle. It is generally believed that the battle lasted a full day. The number of Greek ships mentioned in the sources is estimated by modern research as realistic. However, research assumes that the figure of 1207 Persian ships mentioned is exaggerated. The number of Persian ships is estimated at a maximum of 500.

The scientists Morisson and Coates believe the reports of Aeschylus and interpret them in such a way that the right wing of the Greeks drove up the channel in an orderly Dwars line and then turned into the keel line at the unexpected moment . So they broke through the ranks of the Persians on the left. According to current measurements, around 80 triremes could have found space next to each other in the 1200 m wide canal. They mention the following points as the main reasons for the victory: The Persians seem to have underestimated their opponent. Their ships were slower because their rowers had to row all night and were tired, while the Greek rowers could spend the night rested on land. Thanks to the well-known stratagem of Themistocles, the Persian fleet split up in order to guard the Strait of Megara , which weakened the actual combat fleet at Salamis ; however, the Persian fleet could not develop due to the narrowness of the canal, which balanced the balance of power between the fleets. As a result, the Persians could no longer exploit their superiority.


In terms of the number of people involved, Salamis is the largest sea battle in ancient history . Numerous Persian and Greek ships were destroyed or sunk. Although the numerical superiority of the Persian ships was still given, Xerxes I ordered the withdrawal.

Due to the lost sea battle at Salamis, the Persian expansionist efforts in Greece failed. The battle of Plataea led to the destruction of the Persian land army. The Persian great king Xerxes had fled to Persia after the sea battle of Salamis. The remains of the Persian fleet were destroyed by the Greeks at Cape Mykale .

Athens rose to the dominant power in Greece through its fleet and the Attic League was formed.

The battle of Salamis also had a great effect on the thetes , the lowest class of the citizens; for it was not noble horsemen or the phalanx of peasants who brought about the victory, but they. The battle subsequently became important for the self-image and self-portrayal of Athenian democracy and received a significant literary reception , particularly through the tragedy The Persians of Aeschylus .

See also

Hellenic League



Secondary literature

  • Albrecht Behmel : Themistocles: winner of Salamis. Lord of Magnesia . Stuttgart 2000.
  • Karl Julius Beloch : The battle at Salamis. In: Klio 8 (1908), pp. 477-486.
  • Charles Hignett : Xerxes' Invasion of Greece . Oxford 1963.
  • John S. Morrison, John F. Coates: The Athenian Trireme. History and reconstruction of a warship from ancient Greece. Verlag von Zabern, Mainz am Rhein 1990, ISBN 3-8053-1125-7 .
  • Barry Strauss: The Battle of Salamis. The naval encounter that saved Greece. Simon & Schuster, New York 2004, ISBN 0-7432-4451-6 .
  • Adolf Wilhelm : On the topography of the battle at Salamis . Vienna 1929.
  • Ulrich Graser: Greeks defeat Persians at Salamis. Theiss 2011, ISBN 978-3-8062-2402-3 .
  • AA Evans, David Gibbson: Military History from Antiquity to Today . Bassermann, 2009, ISBN 978-3-8094-2549-6 .

Web links

Commons : Battle of Salamis  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ K. Bremm: In the shadow of the disaster: Twelve decisive battles in the history of Europe. Books on Demand, 2008, ISBN 978-3-8334-0458-0 . The date of the battle was three or four days before the October 2nd solar eclipse .
  2. Cf. Egon Flaig : Against the Current - For a Secular Republic of Europe. Verlag zu Klampen, 2014, chapter “European Identity”.