- The death of a Spartan king was not the only "prophesy" being circulated by the crown-controlled oracle industry. A glorious Greek victory at Salamis had also been promised. Consistent with this, the able-bodied men of Athens and the surrounding countryside of Attica had evacuated the mainland and prepared to make their stand at Salamis. Most of the women and children were taken to the Peloponnese to be out of harm's way.
- Although Xerxes intended to throw a battle at Salamis, it still proved difficult to arrange.
- No one dared to directly challenge the decision of Xerxes to fight a naval battle at Salamis no matter how ill-advised it was. However, to galvanize his commanders, Xerxes had a leading woman, Queen Artemisias, argue against attacking the Greeks at Salmamis in favor of invading the Peloponnese by land (through the isthmus at Corinth). The male commanders instinctively rejected the counsel of Artemesias and became determined to prove her wrong.
- Xerxes also excessively praised the abilities and preeminence of his Phoenician captains to ensure that they would spearhead the invasion under their kings Tetramnestus of Sidon and Matten of Tyre.
- On the first day of the engagement, the combined Persian fleet rowed out to the straits of Salamis. As a final goad to the Greeks, Xerxes positioned himself on the shore of Attica so that the smoke of freshly burning Athens could be seen rising behind him.
- The Greeks refused to sail out to meet them. That night the Persians retired to the Attica shore and the many Greek commanders debated their next move. It was decided by majority vote to abandon the cause of Attica, pull out of Salamis, and attempt the defense of the Peloponnese at the isthmus of Corinth.
- Themistocles sent a desperate message to Xerxes by his slave Sicinnus. In response, the entire Persian fleet was sent back out to Salamis in the middle of the night. With them came another leading Athenian, Aristides the Just. However, Aristides claimed that he had not come from the Persian camp, but from the island of Aegina (carrying with him their gods to ensure the Greek victory). Aristides was followed by a Greek captain named Panaetius. He claimed to have just deserted with his ship from the Persian fleet.
- With the help of yet another Athenian, Mnesiphilus, the Spartan commander Eurybiades agreed to assemble the Peloponnese leaders again. Aristides and Panaetius convinced them that they were now encircled by the Persian fleet (a dubious assertion) and that the only recourse was to fight in the morning. Cimon son Miltiades, hero of Marathon, also set aside his personal rivalry with Themistocles and fully supported the plan.
- Shortly after sunrise the conspiracy unfolded. The Corinthian ships were launched from Salamis and pretended to bolt toward the west. Advised that the Greeks would flee, the Phoenicians with their lighter and faster ships raced after them on the still morning waters for an easy kill. Athenian ships then launched from Salamis to intercept them. Once engaged, they reversed their rowing and drew the Phoenicians towards them. The trap was set.
- By mid-morning the wind was predictably coming up and the waters became rough. The more buoyant Phoenician ships gradually lost their advantage. Their oarsmen had also been rowing for nearly 24 hours and were spent. After suffering a few losses, the Phoenicians began to retreat.
- The second wave of Persian ships were those of Ionians and Carians. They were eager for action and to distinguish themselves before the grand spectator Xerxes. Consequently, more Phoenician ships were likely disabled/destroyed by "friendly" collisions in the confined space of the narrow channel than by the Greek alliance.
- Ionians and Carians would have had little regard for the Phoenicians, and in fact were highly motivated to best them in the battle. They would not have taken much care to avoid damaging Phoenician ships that were either floundering, trying to retire, or dead in the water, and may have even targetted them intentionally.
- Surviving Phoenicians accused the Ionians before Xerxes, but were only punished the more severely for it. The Phoenician kings, if they lived, were fully discredited.
- Achaemenes and Megabyzus had to endure belittlement from Xerxes for appearing weaker in battle than the female Artemisias. In contrast, two Ionian captains (from Samos, which was to figure in a subsequent "Greek victory"), were generously rewarded by Xerxes.
- Competition seems also to have led to outright treachery among Persian allies. Queen Artemisia was said to have disguised her ship as one of the Greeks and then rammed her Carian rival, king Damasithymus. He and his entire crew were then killed. After the battle, Artemisia was only honored further (and with a suit of armor fit for a Greek!) by Xerxes.
- The ship of Ariabignes, brother of Xerxes, was especially singled out by the Greeks for destruction. Suspiciously though, the body of Ariabignes was said to have been recovered by Artemisia and brought by her to Xerxes. His death early in the battle contributed to the general disorder of the Persian assault.
- The three nephews of Xerxes that died were sons of Xerxes' sister Sandauce (by one Arta-uctus). They had been captured (or were under the "protection") of Themistocles and Aristides.
- Ariabignes was the most prominent Persian fatality. Besides him, Damasithymus and the king of Lycia also are named among the numerous dead leaders on the Persian side.
- Only as darkness fell did the Persian fleet try to abandon the mission. They were however the ones encircled. As they left the strait the ships of Polycritus of Aegina lay in wait for them. Aegina had previously been pro-Persian. This does not seem to have changed at Salamis, but their reputation among Greeks was restored.
Polycritis was even declared the battle's MVP.
- The number of Greek ships lost was more than forty, at least this is all that the Greeks were willing to admit. The figure "more than forty" could of course represent any amount. Xerxes had achieved the purpose of reducing the navies on both "sides" to a more manageable level.
- The new and glorified leaders of Greece were men of Xerxes' choosing, and ones he could count on to do his bidding.
© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.