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Updated on March 3, 2009

Athenian solder and politician. Largely through his success in persuading the Athenians to build a navy, Greece was saved from Persian conquest. He fought with distinction in the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC during the Persian War. In 470 BC he was accused of embezzlement and conspiracy against Athens, banished and fled to Asia, where Artaxerxes, the Persian king, received him with favor.

524 – 459 BC

Not much is known about his early life but in 490 BC he became an Athenian politician after the Greeks had defeated the Persians at the battle of Marathon. He favored building a navy because he believed that the Persians would attack again, and that the war would be decided at sea. Aristides, the then leader of Athens, opposed this plan. He was banished in 482 BC and Themistocles took his place.

In 480 BC a small force from Sparta fought the Persians to the death at Thermopylae. Then the new Athenian navy, commanded by Themistocles, destroyed the Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis.

Following a plan devised by Themistocles, the Greek navy of 310 vessels sank more than 200 Persian ships in the narrow straits. The defeat was the first major check to the Persian campaign to conquer the Greek city-states. After this defeat the Persian ruler Xerxes returned to his homeland leaving his forces under the direction of his generals.

In the following year, Athens and Sparta combined to overwhelm their common enemy.

Although he was largely responsible for the rehabilitation of Athens, he was accused of corruption and of conspiracy against Athens in 470 BC and ostracized. In exile he fled to his former enemies, the Persians. He settled among the Persians in Magnesia, and entered the service of the Persian ruler Artaxerxes.

The Battle of Salamis 480 BC

The Greek fleet was stationed in the narrow Straits of Salamis linking mainland Greece to the Peloponnese, and it was decided that it would stay there, for the Persian ships were big and heavy and would find it difficult to fight in a narrow place.

The Persians sent ships to block up each end of the Straigts, thinking that the Greeks would be trapped in the narrow piece of water and could be easily defeated. On the morning of the battle the Persian ships sailed into the Straits to begin the battle. As they entered, the wind rose, and the heavy ships became even more difficult to manage. The Persian ships were soon hammed against one another and could not move. The Greek ships, smaller and lighter, found it easy to row up and ram them, Ship after ship of the Persians were sunk this way. And there was no retreat for the soon to be sunk ships because of the numbers of their own ships pressing into the Straits from behind.


  • Library of Essential Knowledge, Volume 2, Readers Digest, 1980
  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 6, 1954
  • Dictionary of World History, 1993, Helicon Publishing
  • The Oxford Children's Book of Famous People, 1994, Oxford University Press
  • Pictorial Knowledge, Volume 2, circa 1950, Newnes


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    • Karen LaVelle profile image

      Karen LaVelle 9 years ago from Texas

      Very well done!. I could actually "see" that last battle in my mind as I read it!

      Makes me wonder what lies on the bottom of the Straits as well. Thanks for a good read.

      Karen LaVelle

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Great stuff, darkside. I can't wait to get a little time to read more of your history hubs.