September 20, 480 BC: An allied Greek force defeats the Persians at the Battle of Salamis.

In the most significant engagement of the second Persian invasion of the Peloponnese, Greek forces duplicated their victory at Marathon a decade before and once again decisively defeated a larger Persian force. The Battle of Salamis was preceded by the concurrent Battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium (both Persian victories), and even further back by the first Persian invasion of Greece, which also ended in a Persian defeat. Darius the Great’s defeat at Marathon did not discourage him from once again attempting invasion, but he died in the midst of preparations for a second attack; his plan for the subjugation of Greece was then passed on to his son, Xerxes I, who, like his father, was unable to conquer this loose collection of city-states even with the power of the Persian Empire behind him.

The Battle of Salamis was fought in the narrow strait between the mainland and the island of Salamis (supposed birthplace of the hero Ajax and of the playwright Euripides). A Greek fleet of a little under 400 ships, led by the Athenian politician Themistocles (pictured), faced a Persian force of twice (or three times, according to some estimates) that number, led by Xerxes and his female commander Artemisia I of Caria. Despite the Persian defeat, Xerxes is said to have exclaimed “My men have turned into women and my women into men" while lamenting the failure of his own side or perhaps praising the bravery of his woman commander (or both). The actual events of the main battle are vague, but apparently the Greek fleet was able to split the Persian forces in two, eventually destroying a third or a fourth of the ships. Like the Battles of Thermopylae and Marathon, the Battle of Salamis has attained an almost mythic status over the centuries, probably due to the improbable victory moreso than the decisiveness of the battle.

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