Story of the Persian War - Alfred J. Church

Of the Ships of the Greeks at Artemisium

The Greeks had in all two hundred and seventy and one ships of war having three banks of oars, and of smaller ships a few. Of these the Athenians furnished one hundred and twenty and seven, certain of these being manned by the men of Platæa, who, though they had no knowledge of the seaman's art, yet of their valor and zeal took their part in the business. Also the Athenians supplied twenty ships to the men of Chalcis. The Spartans sent ten ships only; nevertheless, the commander of the fleet was a Spartan, Eurybiades by name, for the allies had said, "Unless a Spartan be commander we will break up the fleet, for an Athenian we will not serve."

Now there had been talk, even before the sending of the ambassadors to Sicily for help, how that it would be well to hand over to the Athenians the command of the fleet. But when the allies set themselves against the thing, then the Athenians gave place, for they desired above all things that Greece should be saved, and judged, and that right truly, that if there should be a strife concerning the pre-eminence, it would surely perish. And indeed a strife between kindred is as much worse than war, wherein all have one mind, as war itself is worse than peace. The Athenians, knowing this, did not hold out for themselves, but gave place. Only afterward, when the occasion served, they showed their thoughts. For when the Greeks had driven back the Persians, so that they had now to fight for their own country, then finding occasion in the insolence of Pausanias, they took away the chief command from the Spartans. But this happened afterward.

When the Greeks that assembled at Artemisium saw the ships of the barbarians how many in number they were, and how the whole country was filled with their armament, and saw that the Persians had prospered in their undertaking beyond what they had thought, they were in great fear, and took counsel together whether they should not depart from Artemisium and betake themselves to the inner parts of their country. Now when the men of Eubœa were ware that the Greeks had such a purpose in their minds, they came to Eurybiades, and besought him to remain a while, till they should have removed their children and their slaves to a place of safety. And when they could not persuade Eurybiades they departed from him and went to Themistocles, the commander of the Athenians, and persuaded him to do this thing, giving him thirty talents of silver. And the manner in which Themistocles caused the Greeks to tarry at Artemisium was this. First he sent to Eurybiades five talents of the thirty, making as though they came from himself. Thus was Eurybiades persuaded. Then to Adeimantus of Corinth—for this man still opposed, affirming that he would sail away from Artemisium and would by no means tarry—he said with an oath, "Surely thou wilt not forsake us. I will give thee greater gifts if thou abide with us than the King would give thee for going over to him." And when he had said this he sent three talents to the Corinthian's ship. Thus these two were won over by gifts, and the men of Eubœa had what they desired. As for Themistocles, he made no small gain in this matter, for he kept that which was left for himself, none knowing of it. They that had a share in the money believed that it had been sent from Athens for this very end. Thus did it come to pass that the Greeks fought with the barbarians at Artemisium.

As for the battle, it was in this wise. When the barbarians saw that the ships of the Greeks were few in number they were desirous to fight without delay, hoping that they might take them before they could escape, and fearing lest they should flee. But they judged it better not to sail straight against them, lest the Greeks seeing them so advance should take to flight, for that if night should fall while they fled they would clean escape out of their hands. Now the desire of the Persians was that not even the torchbearer, as men say, should escape. (When the Spartans go forth to war they have with them one who keeps the sacred fire for the sacrifices. Him they defend with all their might; nor is he killed unless the whole army perish.) They contrived therefore this plan. They separated two hundred ships from the whole fleet, and sent them around the island of Eubœa, commanding them to make a very wide circuit, lest the Greeks should see them. And their purpose was that the two hundred ships should bar the way by the Euripus (the Euripus is the channel at the extremity of the island southward), and that so the Greeks might be shut in on either side, for the two hundred ships would be behind them, and the remainder of the fleet would attack them from before. Having so done they remained in their place, till they should know by a signal that the two hundred ships had accomplished their voyage.

Now there was among the Persians a certain Scyllias of Scione, than whom there was in those days no more skillful diver. This man had saved much treasure for the Persians after the great storm that fell on the fleet from Mount Pelion, getting also no small portion for himself. He had been minded for some time to go over to the Greeks, but had not before found occasion. And indeed how he passed from the Persians to the Greeks is not certainly known; but marvelous things are told about it. For some say that diving into the sea at Aphetæ he did not come up to the top of the water so much as once till he was arrived at Artemisium, so passing through eighty furlongs of sea or thereabouts. Many other things are told about this man that are manifestly false, and some that are true. But as to his coming from Aphetæ to Artemisium, doubtless he came in a boat. And so soon as he was come he told the commanders of the fleet of the damage done to the Persians, and also of the two hundred ships that had been sent round Eubœa.

When the commanders heard these things they took counsel what they should do. At the first they proposed to remain in their place till midnight, and then sail to meet the two hundred ships; but afterward, changing their purpose, they set sail, not long after noonday, toward the fleet of the barbarians, desiring to made a trial of their manner of fighting and of their skill.

Now when the Persians perceived the Greeks thus sailing against them, and saw how few ships they had, they thought that they were mad, and went out to meet them, not doubting that they should easily take them all; for their ships were many more in number and also sailed better. And such of the Ionians as wished well to the Greeks, and served with the Persians against their will, were much troubled to see the fleet of the Greeks surrounded, thinking it certain that none of them would escape; but they that had no love for the Greeks rejoiced, and strove with each other who should first take an Athenian ship, and gain for himself great gifts from the King. For the Athenians were most accounted of both among the Persians and the Greeks.

The Greeks, when the first signal was given, brought the sterns of their ships together and turned their prows toward their enemies; and on the second signal they joined battle; and though they were shut into a narrow space they bare themselves bravely and took twenty ships of the barbarians, and with them Philaon, brother to Gorgus King of Salamis, a man held in much respect. And the first of the Greeks that took a ship of the Persians was Lycomedes of Athens, to whom was given the prize of valor. But while they still fought, and victory was yet doubtful, the night fell. So the Greeks sailed back to their place, and the Persians also, marveling much at what had befallen them, for it was far otherwise than what they had hoped. In this battle one only of the Greeks came over from the Persians to the Greeks, a man of Lesbos, to whom the Athenians gave afterward certain lands in Salamis for a reward.

But before night a great rain, with thunder and lightning from Mount Pelion, fell upon the Persians; and the dead corpses of them that had been slain in the battle, and broken pieces of the ships, were floated into the midst of the ships and hindered the oars. And the Persians were greatly afraid, thinking that there was no end of their perils, first the storm, and then the battle, and now this great storm of rain. But as for them that were sent round the island they fared much worse, for the storm fell upon them while they were in the open sea. They were near to the Hollows of Eubœa when the wind and the rain overtook them; nor could they hold up against the storm, but being driven they knew not whither, fell among rocks, and so were utterly destroyed. Thus did the Gods contrive that the number of the Persian ships should be made equal to the number of the ships of the Greeks.

Right glad were the barbarians when the morning was come; and that day they tarried in their place, being well content to be quiet after all their troubles. And to the Greeks there came fifty and three ships of the Athenians. Tidings also were brought how that all the ships of the barbarians that had sought to sail round Eubœa had perished by reason of the storm. All this put them in good heart; and at the same hour at which they had sailed the day before, they went forth and fell on some Cilician ships and destroyed them, and so, at nightfall, sailed back to Artemisium.

The third day the barbarians took it much to heart that so few ships of the Greeks should work them such injury. They feared also what Xerxes would do to them; therefore they did not tarry till the Greeks should begin the battle, but bidding each other be of good heart, about noonday they sailed out. Now it so fell out that these three days were the very days on which the Persians and the Greeks had fought in the Pass. For the Greeks at Artemisium sought to keep the Euripus even as Leonidas and his comrades sought to keep the Pass. So the Greeks strengthened each other, saying that they should not suffer the barbarians to go from thence into their land, and the Persians were fain to destroy the fleet of their enemies and so get the mastery of the strait. This day then the barbarians set themselves in order of battle and sailed against the Greeks, and these kept in their place at Artemisium. But when the Persians, having their ships in the shape of a crescent, made as if they would take the Greeks on both sides, then these sailed out and joined battle. This day neither the one nor the other had the upper hand, for the fleet of Xerxes was damaged not a little by reason of the multitude of the ships, these falling into confusion and striking the one against the other; nevertheless it held out and gave no place to the enemy, for the Persians counted it a grievous thing that they should be put to flight by a few. Thus it came to pass that many of the ships of the Greeks were broken, and many of the men perished. But of the barbarians there perished more by a great many both of ships and of men. And after they had fought together for a long time they parted asunder, going right gladly to their own place. In this battle of all the men of Xerxes none bare themselves more bravely than the Egyptians, and of all the Greeks none more than the Athenians, and among these than Cleinias the son of Alcibiades. This Cleinias served at his own charges, having two hundred men and his own ship.