|The Story of Greece|
|by Mary Macgregor|
| Stories from the history of ancient Greece beginning with mythical and legendary stories of gods and heroes and ending with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Gives short accounts of battles and sieges, and of the men who made Greece a great nation. Ages 10-14 |
THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS
 ON the morning of the battle, Xerxes ascended a golden throne
which had been placed for him upon a rock that overlooked
the sea. Around him sat scribes ready to record the events
of the battle. That they would all be to the honour of his
fleet Xerxes never doubted.
Themistocles saw with pleasure that the wind was rising,
making it difficult for the Persians to manage their
unwieldy vessels. As he watched their efforts he urged the
Greeks to attack them at once.
The narrowness of the strait, as well as the force of the
wind, added to the confusion of the enemy and made the
number of its ships of little use. Yet the Persians fought
bravely, remembering that the eyes of the great king were
One of the ships was commanded by a queen named Artemisia.
She was fighting fiercely when her ship was attacked by an
Athenian vessel at close quarters.
Artemisia tried to escape, but as her ship sailed away it
was followed by the enemy. Straight in her path lay one of
Xerxes' vessels. The queen did not try to avoid it, but
pursuing her course struck the ship, so that her own
countrymen who were on board were sent to the bottom.
When the Athenian captain saw what the queen had done, he
thought, as perhaps she meant him to do, that she had
deserted her own side and was now fighting for the Greeks,
so he turned back and followed her no more.
 From his golden throne, Xerxes too saw what Artemisia had
done, and he supposed it was a Greek vessel that she had run
down. In his delight he exclaimed, "My men are become
women, my women men." This was a hard thing to say of his
soldiers who were fighting gallantly for their king.
Meantime the Persian ships were driven into the narrow
strait. Ship dashed against ship till the Persian dead
strewed the deep "like flowers." When evening fell, two
hundred Persian ships had been destroyed and the Greeks had
won the great sea-battle of Salamis. The glory of the
victory was due to Themistocles. There might indeed have
been no battle at Salamis had he not tricked both the
Persian king and the Greek admirals.
Ship dashed against ship, till the Persian dead strewed the deep "like flowers"
The Athenian was proud of his success, and he now determined
by another crafty message to Xerxes to drive him out of
But first he sent for Aristides, and to test his wisdom he
told him that he thought they should sail to the Hellespont
to destroy the bridge by which Xerxes had crossed into
Europe and by which he could return to Asia.
"Rather than break down the bridge," answered Aristides, "we
should build another, if by so doing we may hasten his
Now this was what Themistocles himself really wished—to
hasten the king's retreat. So although he did not mean to
destroy the bridge, he sent once again to Xerxes, and this
is what he said: "O king, the Greeks are hastening to the
Hellespont to destroy the bridge by which alone thou canst
return to Asia. Hasten then to reach the bridge, while I
delay the Greek fleet, lest evil overtake thee."
Once more the king fell into the trap Themistocles had
prepared for him. For he set out in haste with the main
body of his army for the Hellespont, leaving Mardonius with
a large force to carry on the war as well as he could.
The march to the Hellespont was a terrible one, for Xerxes
had himself laid waste the land when he advanced upon
and now there was neither food nor shelter for his army.
The soldiers who were starving ate plants, grass, the bark
of trees—anything to satisfy their hunger.
In their weakness they were attacked by plague, and hundreds
perished long before the Hellespont was in sight. Even when
at length the gleam of water gladdened the hearts of the
soldiers, they were soon stricken again with fear, for where
was the bridge?
The Greeks had not outstripped them, so this was not their
doing. A storm had destroyed the bridge. Weak and hungry
as they were, the soldiers had to rebuild it before they
could cross over to Asia, where food and shelter awaited
When the Greeks saw that the Persians were marching to the
Hellespont, they were eager to follow them. But
Themistocles persuaded them to go back to Athens to rebuild
Then he sent yet another message to Xerxes, saying,
"Themistocles, the leader of the Athenians and the best and
wisest of the Greeks, has out of goodwill to thee held back
the allies from chasing thy ships and breaking up the bridge
at the Hellespont. So go thy way in peace."
Although Themistocles sent these proud words to the great
king, he really believed it was wiser for the Greeks not to
pursue the retreating army. But he also wished to make
Xerxes his friend, so that if at any time he was ostracized
by the Athenians, he would find a welcome at the Persian
Greece was full of rejoicing when she heard of the victory
of Salamis. The generals of the different states met at
Corinth to propose a reward for the bravest and wisest among
Each general wrote on a tablet the names of two whom he
believed to be worthy of a prize. They were not very
modest, these brave soldiers of Greece, for each general
wrote his own name first, though nearly all added beneath,
the name of Themistocles.
 The Spartans gave their meed of honour to the great
Athenian, for a crown of olive was placed upon his head and
he was presented with the most magnificent chariot that
Sparta had ever produced.
Æschylus, one of the great Greek poets, wrote a tragedy on
the fall of Xerxes, called The Persians, which was acted in
472 B.C., eight years after the battle of Salamis.
Sculptors too wrought statues to commemorate the war, which
were placed in the temple of Athene.
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