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The Naval Battle of Salamis

The Athenians soon after proved their mettle. Rather than surrender when Xerxes arrived in Attica1 with his army, they abandoned their city for him to sack.2 The Athenian commander Themistocles3 (c. 528-462 B.C.) then maneuvered the other Greeks into facing the larger Persian navy4 in a sea battle in the narrow channel between the island of Salamis and the west coast of Attica. Athens was able to supply the largest contingent to the Greek navy at Salamis because the assembly had been financing the construction of warships ever since a rich strike of silver had been made in Attica in 483 B.C. The proceeds from the silver mines went to the state5 andat the urging of Themistocles, the assembly had voted to use the financial windfall to build a navy for defense6, rather than to distribute the money among individual citizens. As at Thermopylae, the Greeks in the battle of Salamis7 in 480 B.C. used topography to their advantage. The narrowness of the channel prevented the Persians from using all their ships at once and minimized the advantage of their ships' greater maneuverability. In the close quarters of the Salamis channel, the heavier Greek ships8 could employ their underwater rams to sink the less sturdy Persian craft. When Xerxes observed that the most energetic of his naval commanders appeared to be the one woman among them Artemisia of Caria9 (the southwest corner of Turkey), he reportedly remarked, “My men have become women, and my women, men.”

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