The battle of Salamis The naval encounter that saved Greece-- and western civilization

Barry S. Strauss

Book - 2004

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New York : Simon & Schuster 2004.
Physical Description
294 p.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Barry S. Strauss (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

/*Starred Review*/ One of world history's most significant naval battles, the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C.E. has as its cornerstone Herodotus, the so-called Father of History. But some modern historians derogate him as the Father of Lies. A classical historian, Strauss treats Herodotus, who wrote 50 years after the battle, as a credible source, though some details are amendable in light of sources such as the dramatist Aeschylus, who reputedly fought in the battle. However, textual exegesis is muted in Strauss' treatment. In compelling fashion, Strauss imaginatively accentuates the local geography and the experience of battle; however, he is most evocative when outlining the strategic thought of the leaders, Xerxes for the Persian Empire and Themistocles for the Hellenic alliance. Strauss' plausible characterizations of these leaders are tied not only to their political culture but also to events, such as the desertion in sea battle by Greek ships, a prospect Themistocles exploited in his famous ruse, which precipitated Salamis. A factually fastidious historian might disapprove of Strauss' license, but he creates for a popular readership both an intriguing and an explanatory narrative of the epic battle. ((Reviewed June 1 & 15, 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Strauss (Cornell Univ.) presents a well-written, insightful, careful analysis of Xerxes the Persian's campaign against Greece in 480 BCE. He provides detail derived from Herodotus and many other sources about what happened and why on the road to the epic battle that saved Greek and Western civilization at Salamis just off the Attic coast. Trapped there by a superior enemy fleet, the Greeks had great arguments about whether to fight or flee. Finally, Themistocles persuaded the Greek allies to fight with their heavier triremes in a narrow passage where the lighter Persians could not ram. The result was a rout of the Persians in full view of their king. The book concludes with an extensive bibliographical essay. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. Copyright 2005 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Cornell classics professor Strauss reexamines a naval battle in 480 B.C.E. that staved off the Persians and kept Greece for the Greeks-and the rest of us. The publisher views this as really important. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

This engaging and informative account of the 480 B. C. showdown between Greece and Persia relies on the conflict's foremost ancient chronicler, Herodotus, whom Strauss deems an "excellent historian" and "mainly reliable." While gently correcting some of Herodotus's claims, military historian Strauss (Athens After the Peloponnesian War) stays faithful to his trademark blend of sensationalism and skepticism. He regales readers with lurid Herodotian anecdotes about oracles and omens, vengeful eunuchs and labyrinthine double crosses among the fractious Greeks, and paints colorful portraits of the cruel and impious Xerxes, the admiral-queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus ("combines the cunning of Athena and the seductiveness of Aphrodite") and the Athenian leader Themistocles, whose blend of military genius, charisma and manipulativeness obliterated the line between statesmanship and treason. Also in keeping with the spirit of Greek sources, Strauss celebrates their victory as a triumph of democracy and nationalism over a polyglot despotism, of the common Greek rower over the Persian aristocrat. At the same time, Strauss draws on other contemporary accounts as well as on modern scholarship to detail the Persian campaign in Greece and flesh out a picture of society and warfare in the ancient world, illuminating such topics as Persian court protocol, the prayers of Corinthian temple prostitutes and the proper method of ramming an enemy trireme. His combination of erudite scholarship, well-paced storytelling and vivid color commentary make this an appealing popular history for the general reader. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

Adult/High School-This account of one of history's most famous battles has a fresh, invigorating tone. In 480 B.C., Xerxes, king of the Persian Empire, took a huge army and navy to invade Greece. Ten years earlier, his father's invasion to punish Greece for aiding Persia's rebelling subject states had failed. This time, Xerxes intended to get it right. Herodotus, Aeschylus, and Plutarch are the author's main sources, but he enriches the telling with details obtained from archaeological digs. Sights, sounds, and smells are evocatively described, whether Strauss is showing how the rowers powered their triremes or speculating about the dress of the participants at Xerxes's council. Although the improbable Greek victory is well known, the tension builds as Themistocles's traps are carefully sprung. Strauss is respectful toward his sources, but he corrects probable errors and exaggerations. Despite the huge number of known participants, he focuses on the most significant, so that readers aren't swamped by a recitation of names. When unfamiliar places are mentioned, he gives the modern names as well. In addition to being an engrossing story of an improbable battle, this book is an excellent, compact study of daily life in the fifth century. A timetable and photographs of Salamis and archaeological artifacts are included.-Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An account of the 480 B.C. battle that rendered Athens the dominant power in Greece documents its importance as an event that made possible the foundation of western traditions, citing in particular the contributions of history's first woman commander. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An account of the 480 B.C. battle that rendered Athens the dominant power in Greece documents its importance in making possible the foundation of western traditions, citing the contributions of history's first woman commander.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

On a late September day in 480 B.C., Greek warships faced an invading Persian armada in the narrow Salamis Straits in the most important naval battle of the ancient world. Overwhelmingly outnumbered by the enemy, the Greeks triumphed through a combination of strategy and deception. More than two millennia after it occurred, the clash between the Greeks and Persians at Salamis remains one of the most tactically brilliant battles ever fought. The Greek victory changed the course of western history -- halting the advance of the Persian Empire and setting the stage for the Golden Age of Athens. In this dramatic new narrative account, historian and classicist Barry Strauss brings this landmark battle to life. He introduces us to the unforgettable characters whose decisions altered history: Themistocles, Athens' great leader (and admiral of its fleet), who devised the ingenious strategy that effectively destroyed the Persian navy in one day; Xerxes, the Persian king who fought bravely but who ultimately did not understand the sea; Aeschylus, the playwright who served in the battle and later wrote about it; and Artemisia, the only woman commander known from antiquity, who turned defeat into personal triumph. Filled with the sights, sounds, and scent of battle, The Battle of Salamis is a stirring work of history.