The naval battle at Artemisium, 480 BC
The Greeks appointed to serve in the fleet were these: the Athenians
furnished a hundred and twenty-seven ships; the Plataeans manned these ships with
the Athenians, not that they had any knowledge of seamanship, but because of mere
valor and zeal. The Corinthians furnished forty ships and the Megarians twenty;
the Chalcidians manned twenty, the Athenians furnishing the ships; the Aeginetans
eighteen, the Sicyonians twelve, the Lacedaemonians ten, the Epidaurians eight,
the Eretrians seven, the Troezenians five, the Styrians two, and the Ceans two,
and two fifty-oared barks; the Opuntian Locrians brought seven fifty-oared barks
to their aid.
These are the forces which came to Artemisium for battle, and I have
now shown how they individually furnished the whole sum. The number of ships mustered
at Artemisium was two hundred and seventy-one, besides the fifty-oared barks.
The Spartans, however, provided the admiral who had the chief command, Eurybiades,
son of Euryclides, for the allies said that if the Laconian were not their leader,
they would rather make an end of the fleet that was assembling than be led by
In the first days, before the sending to Sicily for alliance, there
had been talk of entrusting the command at sea to the Athenians. However, when
the allies resisted, the Athenians waived their claim, considering the safety
of Hellas of prime importance and seeing that if they quarrelled over the leadership,
Hellas must perish. In this they judged rightly, for civil strife is as much worse
than united war as war is worse than peace. Knowing that, they gave ground and
waived their claim, but only so long as they had great need of the others. This
is clear, for when they had driven the Persian back and the battle was no longer
for their territory but for his, they made a pretext of Pausanias' highhandedness
and took the command away from the Lacedaemonians. All that, however, took place
But now, the Greeks who had at last come to Artemisium saw a multitude
of ships launched at Aphetae and forces everywhere, and contrary to all expectation,
the barbarian was shown to be in much different shape than they had supposed.
They accordingly lost heart and began to deliberate about flight from Artemisium
homewards into Hellas. Then the Euboeans, noticing that they were making such
plans, entreated Eurybiades to wait a little while, till they themselves had removed
their children and households. When they could not prevail with him, they tried
another way and gave Themistocles, the Athenian admiral, a bribe of thirty talents
on the condition that the Greek fleet should remain there and fight, when they
fought, to defend Euboea.
This was the way in which Themistocles made the Greeks stay where
they were: he gave Eurybiades for his share five talents of that money, as though
he were making the present of his own money. When Eurybiades had been won over
in this way, none of the rest was inclined to resist save Adimantus, son of Ocytus,
the Corinthian admiral, who said that he would not remain but sail away from Artemisium;
to him Themistocles, adding an oath, said: "No, you of all men will not desert
us, for I will give you a greater gift than the king of the Medes would send you
for deserting your allies." With that he sent three talents of silver to
Adimantus ship. These two, then, were won over by gifts, the Euboeans got what
they wanted, and Themistocles himself was the gainer. No one knew that he had
kept the rest of the money, and those who had received a part of it supposed that
it had been sent for that purpose by the Athenians.
So the Greeks remained in Euboea and fought there; this came about
as I will now reveal. Having arrived at Aphetae in the early part of the afternoon,
the barbarians saw for themselves the few Greek ships that they had already heard
were stationed off Artemisium, and they were eager to attack so that they might
take them. They were not prepared to make a head-on attack since they feared that
the Greeks would see them coming and turn to flee with night close upon them as
they fled; it was their belief that the Greeks would save themselves by flight,
and they did not want even so much as a firebearer to be saved.
Taking these things into consideration, they devised the following
plan; separating two hundred ships from the whole number, they sent them to cruise
outside Sciathus so that the enemies might not see them sailing round Euboea and
by way of Caphereus round Geraestus to the Euripus so that they might catch the
Greeks between them, the one part holding that course and barring the retreat,
and they themselves attacking in front. Upon making these plans they sent the
appointed ships on their way, intending not to make an attack upon the Greeks
either on that day or before the signal should be seen, whereby the ships that
sailed round were to declare their coming. So they sent those ships to sail round,
and set about counting the rest at Aphetae.
Now when they were engaged in this count, there was in the fleet one
Scyllias, a man of Scione; he was the best diver of the time, and in the shipwreck
at Pelion he had saved for the Persians much of their possessions and gotten much
for himself in addition; this Scyllias had before now, it would seem, intended
to desert to the Greeks, but he never had had so fair an occasion as now. By what
means he did at last make his way to the Greeks, I cannot with exactness say.
If the story is true, it is marvellous indeed, for it is said that he dove into
the sea at Aphetae and never rose to the surface till he came to Artemisium, thus
passing underneath the sea for about eighty furlongs. There are many tales about
this man, some similar to lies and some true, but as regards the present business
it is my opinion that he came to Artemisium in a boat. After arriving, he straightway
told the admirals the story of the shipwreck, and of the ships that had been sent
Hearing that, the Greeks took counsel together; there was much talk,
but the opinion prevailed that they should remain and encamp where they were for
that day, and then, after midnight, to put to sea and meet the ships which were
sailing around. Presently, however, meeting with no opposition, they waited for
the late afternoon of the day and themselves advanced their ships against the
barbarian, desiring to put to the proof his fashion of fighting and the art of
breaking the line.
When Xerxes' men and their generals saw the Greeks bearing down on
them with but a few ships, they thought that they were definitely mad and put
out to sea themselves, thinking that they would win an easy victory; this expectation
was very reasonable, since they saw that the Greek ships so few while their own
were many times more numerous and more seaworthy. With this assurance, they hemmed
in the Greeks in their midst. Now all the Ionians who were friendly to the Greeks
came unwillingly to the war and were distressed to see the Greeks surrounded.
They supposed that not one of them would return home, so powerless did the Greeks
seem to them to be. Those who were glad about the business, however, vied each
with each that he might be the first to take an Attic ship and receive gifts from
the king, for it was the Athenians of whom there was most talk in the fleet.
But the Greeks, when the signal was given them, first drew the sterns
of their ships together, their prows turned towards the foreigners; then at the
second signal they put their hands to the work, despite the fact that they were
hemmed in within a narrow space and were fighting face-to-face. There they took
thirty of the foreigners ships as well as the brother of Gorgus king of Salamis,
Philaon son of Chersis, a man of note in the fleet. The first Greek to take an
enemy ship was an Athenian, Lycomedes, son of Aeschraeus, and he it was who received
the prize for valor. They fought that sea-fight with doubtful issue, and nightfall
ended the battle; the Greeks sailed back to Artemisium, and the barbarians to
Aphetae, after faring far below their hopes in the fight. In that battle Antidorus
of Lemnos, the only one of the Greeks siding with the Persian, deserted to the
Greeks, and for that the Athenians gave him land in Salamis.
When darkness came on, the season being then midsummer, there was
abundance of rain all through the night and violent thunderings from Pelion. The
dead and the wrecks were driven towards Aphetae, where they were entangled with
the ships' prows and jumbled the blades of the oars. The ships crews who were
there were dismayed by the noise of this, and considering their present bad state,
expected utter destruction; for before they had recovered from the shipwreck and
the storm off Pelion, they next endured a stubborn sea-fight, and after the sea-fight,
rushing rain and mighty torrents pouring seaward and violent thunderings.
This is how the night dealt with them. To those who were appointed
to sail round Euboea, however, that same night was still more cruel since it caught
them on the open sea. Their end was a terrible one, for when the storm and the
rain came on them in their course off the Hollows of Euboea, they were driven
by the wind in an unknown direction and were driven onto the rocks. All this was
done by the god so that the Persian power might be more equally matched with the
Greek, and not much greater than it.
These men, then, perished at the Hollows of Euboea. As for the barbarians
at Aphetae, when to their great comfort the day dawned, they kept their ships
unmoved, being in their evil plight well content to do nothing for the moment.
Now fifty-three Attic ships came to aid the Greeks, who were encouraged both by
the ships coming and by the news that the barbarians sailing round Euboea had
all perished in the recent storm. They waited then for the same hour as before,
and fell upon certain Cilician ships when they put to sea. After destroying these
when night fell, they sailed back to Artemisium.
On the third day, however, the barbarian admirals, finding it hard
to bear that so few ships should do them hurt and fearing Xerxes' anger, waited
no longer for the Greeks to begin the fight, but gave the word and put out to
sea about midday. So it came to pass that these sea-battles were fought on the
same days as the land-battles at Thermopylae; the seamen's whole endeavor was
to hold the Euripus while Leonidas' men strove to guard the passage; the Greeks
were ordered to give the barbarian no entry into Hellas, and the Persians to destroy
the Greek host and win the strait.
So when Xerxes' men ordered their battle and advanced, the Greeks
remained in their station off Artemisium, and the barbarians made a half circle
of their ships striving to encircle and enclose them. At that the Greeks charged
and joined battle. In that sea-fight both had equal success. Xerxes' fleet did
itself harm by its numbers and size. The ships were thrown into confusion and
ran foul of each other; nevertheless they held fast and did not yield, for they
could not bear to be put to flight by a few ships. Many were the Greek ships and
men that perished there, and far more yet of the foreigners' ships and men; this
is how they fought until they drew off and parted from each other.
In that sea-fight of all Xerxes' fighters the Egyptians conducted
themselves with the greatest valor; besides other great feats of arms which they
achieved, they took five Greek ships together with their crews. As regards the
Greeks, it was the Athenians who bore themselves best on that day, and of the
Athenians Clinias son of Alcibiades. He brought to the war two hundred men and
a ship of his own, all at his own expense.
So they parted, and each hurried gladly to his own place of anchorage.
When the Greeks had withdrawn and come out of the battle, they were left in possession
of the dead and the wrecks. They had, however, had a rough time of it themselves,
chiefly the Athenians, half of whose ships had suffered some damage. Now their
counsel was to flee to the inner waters of Hellas.
Themistocles thought that if the Ionian and Carian nations were removed
from the forces of the barbarians, the Greeks might be strong enough to prevail
over the rest. Now it was the custom of the Euboeans to drive their flocks down
to the sea there. Gathering the admirals together, he told them that he thought
he had a device whereby he hoped to draw away the best of the king's allies. So
much he revealed for the moment, but merely advised them to let everyone slay
as many from the Euboean flocks as he wanted; it was better that the fleet should
have them, than the enemy. Moreover, he counselled them each to order his men
to light a fire; as for the time of their departure from that place, he would
see to it that they would return to Hellas unscathed. All this they agreed to
do and immediately lit fires and set upon the flocks.
Now the Euboeans had neglected the oracle of Bacis, believing it to
be empty of meaning, and neither by carrying away nor by bringing in anything
had they shown that they feared an enemy's coming. In so doing they were the cause
of their own destruction, for Bacis' oracle concerning this matter runs as follows
When a strange-tongued man casts a yoke of papyrus on the waves,
Then take care to keep bleating goats far from the coasts of Euboea
To these verses the Euboeans gave no heed; but in the evils then present
and soon to come they suffered the greatest calamity.
While the Greeks were doing as I have said, there came to them their
lookout from Trachis. There was a scout at Artemisium, one Polyas, a native of
Anticyra, who was charged (and had a rowing boat standing ready for it), if the
fleet should suffer a reverse to declare it to the men at Thermopylae. Similarly,
if any ill should befall the land army, Abronichus son of Lysicles, an Athenian,
was with Leonidas, ready for his part to bring the news in a thirty-oared bark
to the Greeks at Artemisium. So this Abronichus came and declared to them the
fate of Leonidas and his army. When the Greeks learned this, they no longer delayed
their departure but went their ways in their appointed order, the Corinthians
first and last of all the Athenians.Themistocles, however, picked out the seaworthiest
Athenian ships and made his way to the places where drinking water could be found.
Here he engraved on the rocks words which the Ionians read on the next day when
they came to Artemisium. This was what the writing said:
"Men of Ionia, you do wrongly to fight against the land of your
fathers and bring slavery upon Hellas. It would best for you to join yourselves
to us, but if that should be impossible for you, then at least now withdraw from
the war, and entreat the Carians to do the same as you. If neither of these things
may be and you are fast bound by such constraint that you cannot rebel, yet we
ask you not to use your full strength in the day of battle. Remember that you
are our sons and that our quarrel with the barbarian was of your making in the
beginning." To my thinking Themistocles wrote this with a double intent,
namely that if the king knew nothing of the writing, it might induce the Ionians
to change sides and join with the Greeks, while if the writing were maliciously
reported to Xerxes, he might thereby be led to mistrust the Ionians and keep them
out of the sea-fights.
Such was Themistocles' writing. Immediately after this there came
to the barbarians a man of Histiaea in a boat, telling them of the flight of the
Greeks from Artemisium. Not believing this, they kept the bringer of the news
in confinement and sent swift ships to spy out the matter. When the crews of these
brought word of the truth, the whole armada sailed all together to Artemisium
at the crack of dawn. Here they waited till midday and then sailed to Histiaea.
Upon their arrival they took possession of the Histiaeans' city and overran all
the villages on the seaboard of the Ellopian region, which is a district belonging
While they were there, Xerxes sent a herald to the fleet. Before sending
him, Xerxes had made the following preparations: of all his own soldiers who had
fallen at Thermopylae (that is, as many as twenty thousand) he left about a thousand,
and the rest he buried in trenches, which he covered with leaves and heaped earth
so that the men of the fleet might not see them. When the herald had crossed over
to Histiaea, he assembled all the men of the fleet and said: "Men of our
allies, King Xerxes permits any one of you who should so desire to leave his place
and come to see how he fights against those foolish men who thought they could
overcome the king's power."
After this proclamation, there was nothing so hard to get as a boat,
so many were they who wanted to see this. They crossed over and went about viewing
the dead. All of them supposed that the fallen Greeks were all Lacedaemonians
and Thespians, though helots were also there for them to see. For all that, however,
those who crossed over were not deceived by what Xerxes had done with his own
dead, for the thing was truly ridiculous; of the Persians a thousand lay dead
before their eyes, but the Greeks lay all together assembled in one place, to
the number of four thousand. All that day they spent in observation, and on the
next the shipmen returned to their fleet at Histiaea while Xerxes' army set forth
on its march.
This extract is from: Herodotus. The Histories (ed. A. D. Godley, 1920), Cambridge. Harvard University Press. Cited May 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.
- Perseus: Herodotus, The Histories (ed. A. D. Godley, 1920)