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The Battle of Salamis

Updated on December 27, 2009

Salamis is an island in eastern Greece; in the Saronic Gulf, an arm of the Aegean Sea; about 10 miles (16 km) west of Athens. Area 39 square miles (101 sq km). Most of Salamis is mountainous and rocky, but there are some farming regions in the lowlands, where olives, grapes, and grains are grown. The island's inhabitants are chiefly of Albanian descent.

Salamis is known historically for the Battle of Salamis of 480 B.C., in which the Greek navy, led by the Athenian statesman Themistocles, defeated the much larger Persian fleet of Xerxes I by outmaneuvering it in the confined waters between the island and the mainland of Greece.

Persian Wars

The Battle of Salamis was a decisive Greek naval victory in 480 B.C. during the Persian Wars. The Greeks, retreating before overwhelming Persian forces, sought refuge on the island of Salamis. Themistocles, the Athenian naval commander, chose the bay of Salamis for his defense and positioned his 380 ships there. To prevent desertion by the discordant Greeks, he induced battle by falsely informing Xerxes, the Persian king, that his fleet would retire from the bay.

Xerxes blockaded both exits with his more than 800 ships, and on the morning of September 23 he moved his fleet past the islet of Psyttaleia into the bay. Themistocles allowed his ships to be driven back to Attica before he ordered their advance. They quickly encircled the clumsy Persian vessels, which could not maneuver in the bay's narrow confines. During the fierce day-long battle the Persian fleet suffered the loss of more than 200 ships and the Greeks lost 40.

As the battle raged, Greeks annihilated the entire Persian garrison on Psyttaleia. The crippled Persian fleet retreated, and Xerxes returned to Persia.


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