Greco-Persian Navy War

During the Greco-Persian war (500 B. C. – 449 B. C), many battles took place in this bloody war. Battles were fought on land and at sea. Sea battles played a major role during the war. The Athenian Fleet was among the most sophisticated and powerful navies to date that time. The Persian Armada seemed unbeatable with its vast number of ships and soldiers. The Athenian Navy had a higher kill ratio than the massive Persian Fleet. The Persians and the Athenians both used that same type of ship for sea battles, the trireme. A trireme was warship used in ancient civilizations.

They were wooden ships powered by mostly men with oars. The strucural integrity of these ships was remarkable. The average trireme with a length of 120 ft. could hold about 40 tons. These ships weighed about 2,200 pounds. The hull was composed of small yet dense planks held together by interlinking edges. Due to their inovative design these vessels were able to reach top speed reaching almost 10 mph. In the front of the vessel was the primary armament of the ship, the bronze battering ram. The secondary armament included spearmen and bowmen. The two main tactics of naval warfare during ancient times were boarding or ramming.

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When boarding, the oarsmen on one boat would board the enemy boat and fight to the death. When raming, you would manuever around enemy and strike the enemy ships from the side in order to sink their ships. The Athenian generals were highly effective with their tactics. The Battle of Salamis Like the Battle of Thermopylae, the Greeks were largely outnumbered in the Battle of Salamis. They faced an overwhelmingly large number of Persian ships. The Athenian Fleet Force included according to Herodotus, 366 triremes. The Persian Armada however, included 1,207 triremes. The Athenians were facing a seemingly unstopable force.

However, in middle 480 B. C, a storm arose and destroyed one third of Darius’s fleet. The Greeks had two commnaders, Themistocles of Athens and Eurybiades of Sparta. The commanders of the Persian Fleet were Xerxes of Persia, Artemisia of Caria, and Xerxes’s brother Ariabignes. Artemisia was the only commander in Xerxes’s force to be female. Xerxes’s brother Ariabignes perished in the Battle of Salamis. The Persian’s primary tactic for this battle was to overwhelm the Athenian Navy with their massive armada. Xerxes wanted to end the conquest of Greece in a single military campaign.

The Persians were better sailors; they had experienced men and ships that had fought before. The Greeks had unexperienced sailors and new ships. Statisticaly speaking, in an open sea battle, the overwhelming number of Persian ships and experienced sailors should unquestionably defeat the Athenian Navy. The Greeks without many choices had to defend the Island of Salamis. If the Greeks wanted any chance in winning, they would have to bring the Persians someplace where the number of ships would no longer be a variable. Themistocles sailed his navy to the narrow straits of Salamis in order to constrict Xerxes’s fleet.

Once they came through the narrow path, the Spartan Navy began attacking along with the Athenians. The battle was brutal and long. Persians sent wave after wave of triremes to devastate the Greeks. Their efforts were futile for the Greeks had a better tactical position, which was to defend the coast. Persian admiral Ariabignes had died early in the battle. This caused much perplexity among the Persian ships. Confused and without their admiral, their strategy began to fall apart. Artemisia, realizing defeat was imminent, attacked a Persian trireme to trick the Greeks into thinking she was an ally so she could flee.

She succesfuly escaped with the conscience of leaving her men to die in battle. The Persians quickly retreated to avoid further losses. Xerxes was furius; upset at the astonishingly incomprehensible loss of his massive fleet. After the battle he said ‘’my men have become women, and my women men’’. This Greek victory played a major role in the winning of the war. The battle of Salamis also gave prestige to Athenians and their allies. They now had the most powerful navy in the World. Their navy’s kill/death ratio had rissen by 480%; they were precise, efficient, and above all lethal.

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