Battle of Salamis: Facts & Significance

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  • 0:01 What Was the Battle of…
  • 0:32 The Background
  • 1:45 A Battle At Sea
  • 3:41 The Legacy of the Battle
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Discover the Battle of Salamis and learn about how the Ancient Greeks tricked and defeated the Persian Empire at sea. Observe the effect of this victory on the development of Western civilization.

What Was the Battle of Salamis?

The September 480 B.C.E. Battle of Salamis was one of the final battles in the second war between the Persian Empire led by King Xerxes and an alliance of Greek city-states. Salamis is an island off the coast of mainland Greece. The Battle of Salamis was a great victory for the Greek navy and, in combination with a victory by the Greek army at the Battle of Plataea the next year, led to the complete defeat of the Persians.

Map of island of Salamis
Map of island of Salamis

The Background

In 499 B.C.E. the Ionian Greeks (with the help of the Athenian Greeks) rebelled against their Persian overlords. At the time of the Ionian rebellion, the Persian Empire was relatively young and the Persian emperor, Darius , faced many rebellions in the early years of his reign. The Persian armies decisively put down the rebellion by the Ionians. In retaliation for assisting their rebellious colony, the Persians attacked the Greek mainland but were defeated and pushed out of mainland Greece at the Battle of Marathon. The Ionian Greeks remained under the thumb of the Persian Empire.

By 480 B.C.E. the Persians were ready to try again to conquer the wealthy city-states of the Greek mainland. The Greek city-states, although vastly different in culture and government, united together in the face of their common enemy. Initially, the Greeks faced several defeats against the much larger and better-trained Persian military. At the Battle of Thermopylae the Persians flanked the Greek army led by King Leonidas of Sparta. Leonidas and a few hundred of his men were able to hold up the Persian advance, allowing the majority of Greek army to retreat at the cost their own lives.

A Battle at Sea

By September 480 B.C.E. the Greek fleet had gathered near the island of Salamis to assist in the evacuation of the city of Athens. While the Persians sacked the empty city of Athens, the Greek fleet under the command of Themistocles planned for the next battle. After the sack of Athens, the Persians turned their attention to Salamis and moved their fleet to the island.

Photograph of modern Salamis
Photograph of modern Salamis

But Themistocles had a surprise for the Persians. He sent a message to King Xerxes informing him that the Greeks he led were on Xerxes' side and wished to ally themselves with his empire. He claimed that the Greek commanders were fighting amongst themselves and that the alliance of the Greek city-states would soon crumble. He also indicated that the Greeks would be evacuating the island during the night. Believing this message, Xerxes' fleet spent the night searching the sea for signs of the evacuating fleet.

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