Ancient History

To what extent was Themistocles responsible for the Greek victory in the Persian wars in 480-479BC? Themistocles was a prominent figure within the Greek battles against the Persians during the periods of 480-479 BC. Themistocles had a major influence in the battles at Artemisium, Salamis, Plataea and Mycale which lead to the Greek victory in the war. Through his unique contributions to the battles, Themistocles had greatly impacted on these victories some majorly others to a small extent, achieved through his unique tactics and strategies.

Part of Themistocles strategies was the ‘Naval Policy’, this included: Fortifying the Piraeus peninsula, also he was able to persuade the Athenians to pay for the building of a fleet, using the silver from the mines at Laurium. From these mines Themistocles was able to expand the Greek navy by 200 triremes; this would aid Themistocles in achieving his goal in the naval battles at Artemisium and Salamis. The land battles included; Plataea and Mycale, his contributions led to the conquest of the Greeks overall.

As a result from Themistocles naval policy it had significant outcomes to each battle in a certain way. Themistocles’s naval policy was the foundation for future superiority for the Athenians, for these reasons the Athenians depended on the sea to be a trading power. As Herodotus stats: “Athens’ future lay on the sea as a trading power”. As a result, this lead Themistocles to plan the improvement of the harbours in Athens for the trireme building programs, which will enable the Greeks to have a larger Navy consisting of triremes.

During 493BC Themistocles decided to fortify the Piraeus peninsula with a strong wall, this was to secure and overlook the 3 harbours from this location. “In 483-482BC Themistocles persuaded the Athenian to pay for the building of a fleet, using the silver from the mines at Laurium”. This meant that the income generated was put directly on the constructions and development of triremes for the Greek navy. According to Herodotus 200 triremes were built from these silver mines, this was a great contribution to Themistocles Naval policy which lead to the Greek Victories on the Persians.

As a result, this is a major contribution on how Themistocles was responsible for the Greek victory in the Persian Wars in 480-479BC. The Battle of Artemisium took place at 480BC, alongside the battle of Thermopylae. Before the battle commenced, Herodotus states: “Euboea…gave Themistocles a bribe of thirty talents to make the Hellenes remain there and fight a sea battle”. This quote reflects the views of the Euboeans asking Themistocles to defend Euboea. Furthermore, Themistocles then gave a bribe of 5 talents to Eurybiades (Spartan commander) to stop the Hellenes from leaving and fight in the upcoming battle.

Themistocles also gave a bribe of 3 talents to Adeimantos (Commander of the Corinthian ships), both commanders were persuaded and “stayed in Euboea and fought a battle at sea” According to Herodotus. Thermopylae was a Land battle fought in a narrow pass in Thermopylae, with approximately 35,000 Persian forces and about 9,000 Greeks holding this narrow pass preventing the Persians from advancing to southern Greece. The Greeks were heavily outnumbered and held this pass for 3 days under the command of the Spartan king Leonidas.

The Greeks were overrun by the Persians whom attacked them from the rear, 4000 men were sent away before the pass was breached; only 300 Spartans stayed and fought till the end, this lead to the Greek defeat. The main purpose of the battle of Artemisium planed by Themistocles was to support the Greek land forces and to stop the Persian’s from deploying solider on the flank of the Greek’s holding the narrow pass. Another reason was to attempt to stop the Persian navy from entering into the straits of southern Greece, if this was to occur Greece will be sacked and the war will end in the Greek defeat.

In the battle at Artemisium Themistocles alongside General Eurybiades, lead the Greek Fleet. Themistocles contributed greatly through his “Naval policy”, which helped advance the navy system and strength the fleet numbers by producing more triremes for the preparation of the battle. During the battle the Persian fleet consisted of 1200 triremes according to Herodotus. Once the Persian fleet advanced to aid the Persian land forces at Thermopylae, many triremes were destroyed by heavy winds which raged for three days on the coast of Magnesia, leading to 200 of the Persian ships to be destroyed.

The Greek navy consisted of approximately 271 triremes according to Herodotus, which advanced in order to stop the Persian advancement. According to Herodotus, the Persian sent 200 triremes to ambush the Greek fleet at Euboea; however these triremes were subject to another storm along the way. The Persian attempted to encircle the Greeks in a location near Artemisium, however by the Greeks using a tactic called “Kyklos”. “Smaller force formed a close circle with their ram pointing outwards, preventing the enemy ships from disputing their formation” According to Herodotus.

Further Persian Fleet was amaged and destroyed as night came and the Storms arose. In attempt to fix the damaged triremes the Persians in Aphate, the Greeks engaged again ramming several of the Persians triremes which attempted to escape. Once the Greeks and Persian met at Artemisium engaging in a final battle, as both sided sustained high casualties they withdrew, it was a draw on both sides. According to Herodotus, Themistocles noted “Men of Ionia, you are doing wrong by making war on your fathers and enslaving Greece. The besting thing you can do is join us, or fight poorly”, this message intended to weaken the Persian forces further.

As a result of Themistocles and Eurybiades the Greeks were able to sustain the Persian fleet which led to a draw on both sides, even tho the Greeks were heavily outnumbered according to Herodotus. Themistocles had major contribution on the battle at Salamis. First he threated the Athenians in fighting at Salamis and sent Xerxes the Persian Commander (and king) a letter stating that the Greeks refuse to fight and will withdraw. Themistocles’s naval policy had a great contribution in the victory at Salamis, providing the Greeks with a larger fleet.

These were the main contributions leading to the Greek victory over the Persian in the final battle Salamis. According to Herodotus, Themistocles gives the threat that: “The Athenians and their families to settle in Italy if Salamis is abandoned”. The letter in which Themistocles sent to Xerxes according to Herodotus states: “Greeks were planning to withdraw the following night…” Themistocles was attempting to fight the Persian fleet in the narrow straits of Salamis as it was an advantage for them, while being disadvantages to the Persians.

Xerxes believed that it was an advantage to the Persian, as it will surround and encircle the Greeks. According to Herodotus, when the battle began the Greeks were hesitant when the Persians advanced into Salamis (Ramming and mounting the enemy ships were the ways in which the triremes were destroyed) As the Persians had a vast number of triremes in such a narrow area, “They were crowed too closely…to launch an effective attack”. This meant that the Persians were unable to effectively attack the Greeks, as they started ramming one another in an attempt to evade Greek ramming.

The Greeks were able to manoeuvre around the Persian ships, and therefore were more effective in fighting in the narrow straights of Salamis. The battle ended with the Persian losing many ships and retreating. As a result, this battle lead to the Greeks winning the war, due to Themistocles’ plan the war was won, without Themistocles than the Persians would possible win the war and take over Greece. For this reason, Themistocles was responsible for the Greek victory in the Persian wars in 480-479BC.

During the period of 479BC, Themistocles was not directly engaged in the battle of Plataea led by Pausanias, however he did have a major effect on the outcome of the battle. Due to Themistocles “Naval policy”, the battle at Salamis was won; this battle weakened and stoped the Persian advancement into Greece and the Peloponnese. If the Greeks lost at Salamis, then they would have never repelled the Persians. During the battle of Mycale led by Leotychides, a great victory was also made by the Greeks due to the successful Ionian revolt made against the Persians.

Due to this victory at Mycale Themistocles Naval Policy according to Herodotus: “Athens…Greatness…by naval policy, Themistocles believed that Athens’ future was by the Sea…trading power”, was able to come in play as this allowed the Greeks to use this trade route from the hells point to the black sea. For these reason Themistocles was responsible for the Greek victory in the Persian Wars in 480-479BC. As a result of Themistocles contributions to the Greek battles of Artemisium and Salamis, he was responsible for the Greek victory in the Persian wars in 480-479BC.

Themistocles goals were achieved through his comprehensive plans and strategies, leading him to be a prominent figure throughout the Persian Wars. Such tactics and strategies include: His well-planned navy policy, unifying the Greeks as one to fight the naval battles, creating and maintain the harbours for the production of well-structured triremes for the naval battles and utilising the silver from Laurium to create more triremes. Herodotus continuously states the contributions that Themistocles being responsible for the Greek victory in the Persian Wars in 480-479BC.