Xerxes vows to burn Athens to the ground – The greatest army ever assembled sets out – Panic and terror grip Athens – All is ruin, decrees the Oracle at Delphi – The democratic assembly dissolves into uproar – Themistocles requests a second prophecy – Only the wooden wall shall not fail – Evacuate Athens, fight at sea – Persian armies march into Athens and burn it – Last stand in the straits of Salamis – Triremes smash into enemy fleet – Athenian triumph, Persian retreat – New dawn, new empire in the making.
When Athenians hear Xerxes is on the move, they seek answers from the Gods. The Pythia, oracle at Delphi, responds with a prophecy of doom, which sends ripples across the assembly and Athens in general. But Themistocles refuses to bow to destiny. He asks for a second prophecy, and uses it to forge his strategy.
The battle is to take place at sea, in the straits of Salamis. Athens is abandoned and left to the Persians, who burn it down. The invading forces are lured into the straits by misinformation and ploy, where they are crushed. The Persian threat is extinguished and Athenians return to their city to rebuild it, consolidating their power in the region.
Narrator: Liam Neeson
FOR MORE Athens: From Democracy to Hemlock
Extra points, trivia, parallels, food for thought:
• Xerxes’ words according to historical accounts: “On my father’s behalf and on the behalf of all my subjects, I will not rest until I have taken Athens and burnt it to the ground… If we crush the Athenians and their neighbors in the Peloponnese, we shall extend the empire of Persia so that its boundaries will be God’s own sky, so that the sun will not look down upon any land beyond the boundaries of what is ours.”
• The invasion of Xerxes (480-479 BC) was part of the ongoing Greco-Persian Wars, which started with Darius’s first invasion (492-490 BC).
• Seventy Greek city-states, out of of a total of seven hundred, joined forces in the war. Although a very low percentage overall, it was a remarkable joint effort when taking into account the disjointed nature of the Greek world and the fact that many of the states that came together were on bad terms, if not at war with each other.
• Two major battles were fought before the Battle of Salamis. The first was the Battle of Thermopylae, where a small army of about 10,000 men, led by king Leonidas of Sparta, held off the entire Persian army at narrow straits for two days, until they were betrayed and outflanked. The second was the Battle of Artemisium, where the Allied fleet headed off the Persian fleet. News of the defeat at Thermopylae forced the Allied fleet to retreat to Salamis, where plans were made to draw the Persians in.
• Following victory, the Spartans asked for Athens not to be fortified again so that the region may never run the risk of offering the Persians a stronghold, should they take over it again. Themistocles did not abide by the request, tricking the Spartans into thinking he would do so, buying time for the construction work to finish. It set the stage for a rivalry that would destroy his political career. It also came into play many years later, when Athens and Sparta went to war.
• The Delian League was a navally-oriented alliance headed by Athens.