The main part of Xerxes army now moved south towards Athens.
A squadron of cavalry and crack troops had already gone on ahead to
clear the way; there would be no further resistance.
With the collapse of the Greek defense at Thermopylae
and the withdrawal of their fleet from Artemisium everything was clear
for the Persian advance by land and sea. The Persian march was now
facilitated by the Thessalian. The Phocians, who had, however inefficiently,
fought for the Greek cause, were not to be persuaded by the Thessalians'
offer to protect them against the wraith of the Great King, if they
were to be given a large sum on money. In any case the Thessalians
hated the people of Phocis as they had recently rebelled against them,
and were rudely shocked when the Phocians sharply replied 'whatever
other people did, the men of Phocis would on no account be traitors
Xerxes determined to make an example of Phocis,
its fertile land, and all its people. Small states which dared to
make a stand against his inexorable advance should be taught so savage
a lesson that all others would quickly learn that it was better to
collaborate than to try for independence. All Phocis was overrun;
the Thessalians did not let the Persians miss a bit of it, and everywhere
they went there was devastation by fire and sword, and towns and temples
were burned. No village or township was spared and, women were raped;
successively by so many of the soldiers that they died. Nevertheless,
most of the population managed to escape. The smoke of the towns,
farms and temples could be seen for miles away. The news of the devastation
was spread far and wide by the fleeing refugees and it will not have
been long before the inhabitants of even the remotest hamlets in Attica
will have learned the fate that lay in store for them.
In Athens itself, the news of the fall of Thermopylae
and the withdrawal of the fleet from Artemisium will have been received
quite quickly, either by couriers, a fast ship or by signal-fires.
Despite Themistocles' early arrangement for the evacuation of the
greater part of the population it is clear that, as there were many
who had been unwilling to comprehend that their land and even their
city would ever by seriously threatened by the invaders. Few of them
were in a position to know how small was the holding force that had
gone north to Thermopylae. Now they knew the horrifying truth that
an army led by Spartans had been defeated, and that a Spartan king
had perished. This was writing on the wall with a vengeance: a shudder
ran round the community that had stayed behind, where was the major
force that the Athenians so urgently pressed the Peloponnesians for?
They now knew that they had stayed behind and refused to budge from
the Corinth Isthmus.
Panic in Athens, every available craft was
commandeered and, no doubt, there was a good deal of black-marketeering
being done by boat-owners as farmers and prosperous citizens now sought
to make their getaway. Heart-rendering scenes as husbands and wives
were parted, most of the women and children joining their predecessors
in Troezen, old men being left behind, and pet dogs howling for fear
of desertion on the coast line as their owners left on the ships.
Whatever hope these Athenians had were dashed as they saw their naval
fleet, upon which they had staked everything, retreating to Salamis.
Most of the refugees from Athens made their way by ship to Troezen,
inside the Peloponnese, and now too, more flooded the town. Salamis
took many of the late-comers. Even a former mortal enemy, Aegina,
opened its homes to this sudden, last-minute influx of Athenians,
at long last deep rooted enmities were forgotten in the face of this
As the Persian army marched closer to Athens,
a part of the force turned and headed towards Delphi. For whatever
their real reason, it remains hidden,
for the hypothetical reasons for this,
read more here.
The remainder of the Grecian sea-force that
had gathered at Troezen now joined the Athenians at Salamis. Eurybiades (the Spartan naval commander) summoned
a council of war and asked all what they thought was best to do, considering
now that Attica had fallen. Again, the captains suggested to leave
Salamis and Attica to the Persian and safe-guard the Peloponnese,
for if the Greek naval fleet fails there would be nothing to stop
the Persian sailing around the Isthmus and landing anywhere they liked
inside the Peloponnese.
The Persians had marched through Boeotia where
they had burnt Thespiae and Plateae and were now inside Athens organising
to make an attack on the acropolis where some of the Athenians boarded
themselves up. Thinking that the 'wooden wall' refereed to by the oracle
meant the wooden walls of the acropolis.
After a while, even the holdouts inside the
acropolis couldn't continue to hold out the Persians, and after scaling
the blind side of the citadel the Persians entered the acropolis,
killing all they could find and burt every part of the citadel.
Xerxes, had now completely mastered Athens
and sent a horseman back to Susa, with a message informing all of
his success. The day after he called in all the Athenian exiles who
had come into Greece in his train, and bade them go up into the citadel,
and there offer sacrifice after their own fashion.
No sooner had the message reached the Greeks
that the citadel had fallen that they fell into such alarm that some
of the captains did not even wait for the council to come to a vote,
and embarked hastily on board their vessels, and hoisted sail as through
they would take to flight immediately. The rest, who stayed at the
council board, came to a vote that the fleet should give battle at
the Isthmus. Night now drew on; and the captains, dispersing from
the meeting, proceeded on board their respective ships.
Themistocles, on his way back to his ship realised
that with the abandonment of Athens, all was lost. There would be
nothing to stop captains deserting over the next while, as each would
do what he had to to protect his own land. Themistocles realised that the Greeks had to make
a stand, and it should be here in the straights of Salamis, where the
sea suited the Greeks best.
Themistocles made way to Eurybiades ship and
had a council with him. Here it is reported that he gave many reasons
as to why they should stay and defend the straight of Salamis over
returning to the Isthmus and trying to make battle in the open sea.
But there was one argument that Themistocles kept hidden for a long time, but now to him seemed the right time to play the card and he used it to force Eurybiades to change his mind. Themistocles told him that if they abandon Salamis, he and the rest of the Athenian
fleet would not go to protect the Peloponnese, but would abandon Greece altogether and sail away
and go to a friendly city, like Siris in Italy. Athenians would not loose their lives to save Spartan soil.
There can be no come back to this, without
the Athenians the Greek fleet would diminish by over 50% and Athenian
sailors were the best available. Eurybiades had no choice it was either
stay and fight here in the straight of Salamis or else it would resolve
to a free for all, with many desertions and only a meager fleet to
protect the Peloponnese.
Eurybiades ordered another council of war.
This time before Eurybiades could open his
mouth Themistocles rattled off all the reasons why they needed to
stay and fight here, not mentioning the number one reason. A Corinthian
captain taking note of Themistocles talking over the top of Eurybiades said "..at the games, they who start too soon are scourged".
To which Themistocles replied.
"True, but they who wait too late are
not crowned". After he had finished speaking again the Corinthian
attacked him and told him to be silent, since he was a man without
a city, and at the same time he asked Eurybiades not to be persuaded
by a man who had no country. Themistocles replied with over 200 ships
at his command, ready for battle (this would
mean he had 40,000 men at his command), there was no Grecian
city that could resist them, and thus he could take any city he wanted
to. Eurybiades put an end to the argument with the command that the
Grecian fleet would stay and fight in the straight of Salamis.
Xerxes now controlling all of Attica including
Athens, sat with the captains of the fleet to discuss their next move.
All the captains advised to take on the Grecian fleet as they just
didn't have enough ships to withstand the Persian onslaught. Only
Queen Artemisia questioned this course. She advised the King to do
nothing, his whole plan had been to take Athens, this they had now
done. The Peloponnesians were holed up on their island, they can't
stay their forever, in the end they would have to surrender anyway.
Even though her words pleased him, nevertheless,
he gave orders that the advice of the greater number should be followed;
for he thought that at Euboea the fleet had not done its best, because
he himself was not there to see-whereas this time he resolved that
he would be an eye-witness of the combat.
By the time orders were given to set sail and
they had taken up their stations, night had fallen, so they prepared
to engage the following day. The land army (about
300,000) began to march towards the Peloponnese (See Note#1)
The Greeks continued to be in great distress
and alarm, more especially those of the Peloponnese, who were troubled
that they had been kept at Salamis to fight on behalf of the Athenian
territory, and feared that if they should suffer defeat, they would
be besieged on an island, while their own country was left undefended.
At the isthmus all that was possible had already
been done to prevent Persian access into the Peloponnese. The death
of Leonidas had led the various cities to camp at the isthmus under
the command of the Spartan Kleombrotus, son of Anaxandridas and brother
of Leonidas. Here they laboured day and night until the isthmus
(about 5 miles across) was blocked up. As the number assembled
amounted to tens of thousands, stones, bricks, timber and sand were
used in the building. The pass was blocked as best they could. The
Peloponnesians assembled for the battle of their lives.
As the Greeks continued to toil unceasingly
at the isthmus, the Greeks on Salamis
when they heard of what their countrymen were doing and of the advancement
of the impending Persian force, began to feel alarmed, not for the
fear of themselves but for their country.
At first in low tones, each man with his fellow
secretly, marveled at the folly shown by Eurybiades, but presently
the smothered feeling broke out, and another assembly was held; whereas
the old subjects provoked much talk from the speakers, one side maintaining
that it was best to sail to the Peloponnese and than risk battle,
fighting for a land that was already taken.
During the argument as both sides for and against
a battle at Salamis. Themistocles, realising that the Peloponnesians
would carry the vote against him, went out secretly from the council.
Summoning his household slave (who was also
a very trusted friend), Sicinnus, who was also tutor to his
five sons. He whispered a command to him.
Sicinnus, ferrying a boat across the straight
toward the shoreline delivered a message to the Persians on guard
(See#2), speaking across the sea.
"The Athenian commander has sent me to
you privately, without the knowledge of the other Greeks. He is a well-wisher
to the king's cause, and would rather success should attend on you
than on his countrymen; wherefore he bids me tell you that fear has
seized the Greeks and they are organising a hasty flight. Now then
it is open to you to achieve the best work that ever ye wrought, if
only ye will hinder their escaping. They no longer agree among themselves,
so that they will not now make any resistance-nay, 'tis likely ye
may see a fight already begun between such as favour and such as oppose
your cause." With that the messenger departed silently into the
night, towards the island of Salamis, and was seen no more.
Captains believing all that the messenger had said, sent a large body
of troops on the islet of Psyttalea, as any wreckage would float past
the islet and may be rescue their own men and destroy the enemy. They
also send for their fleet to enclose around Salamis, not to leave
any access for them to leave.
The Persians blockaded the western entrance
with their Egyptian warships whilst assembling most of their fleet
in the wider channel to the east. This occurrence is more important than scholars have given credit for. For those that are interested in a detailed explanation regarding the strategy, go here and read about The Egyptian Fleet.
All the movements were made in silence, that
the Greeks might have no knowledge of them; throughout the night the
Persian ships searched the gulf for the Greek retreat, while in fact
the Greeks remained on their ships, asleep.
Meanwhile, among the captains at Salamis,
the strife of words grew fierce. As yet they did not know that they
were encompassed, but imagined that the barbarians remained in the
same places where they had seen them the day before.
During the arguments an Athenian from Aegina
who had just crossed over announced that the Greeks were encircled,
they cannot retreat, and are enclosed on every side by the enemy.
This at first the captains did not believe. Shortly after a Tenian
trireme who had deserted from the Persians, came in with the same
story. By now the situation was known and there would be no option
left but to fight. There was no more talk of escaping to the Peloponnese,
tomorrow the Greeks would give battle for their very existence.
'Histories' by Herodotus published by Wordsworth