Battle of Cape Artemisio

Article

July 3, 2022

The battle of Cape Artemisio was a naval battle fought in 480 BC. which must be considered as the sea front of the battle of Thermopylae, because the events of one conditioned the choices of the other. The battle was fought between the fleet of Greek city-states and the Persians, during what is called the Second Persian War.

Background

In 485 BC the Persian Darius I was succeeded by Xerxes I. His son decided to avenge the paternal defeat he suffered against the Greeks in Marathon and immediately organized a new expedition. Xerxes entrusted General Mardonius with the construction of a pontoon bridge over the Hellespont to ferry the army and the opening of a channel north of Mount Athos for the fleet (channel of Xerxes); he also took care of the organization of the provisioning of the army. It was certainly a larger and more organized expedition than the previous one organized by his father. The fleet soon arrived at the Thermaic Gulf, where Xerxes I was able to take note of the alliances he could rely on in Greece. Faced with the danger, the representatives of the Greek poleis gathered at the Isthmus of Corinth (481 BC) and decided to form a defensive alliance, known as the "Panhellenic league".

Preparations

According to the data present in Herodotus, the Greeks deployed a fleet of 271 ships (triremes), plus nine pentecontors (7 from Locrians and 2 from Ceo), divided as follows: The Spartans demanded the supreme command of the fleet and the Athenians, to keep their forces together, satisfied them, allowing the fleet to be led by the Spartan Euribiades (the Athenian ships were however commanded by Themistocles). The Greek fleet then took up position on the northern tip of the island of Euboea, near Alpeni, near a sanctuary of Artemis. The fleet of the Persians, again according to Herodotus, was instead formed by 1207 triremes divided as follows: In addition to these, according to Herodotus, there were other ships (over 3000 pentecontors, trieconteri, lookout and transport ships, etc.), for a total of about 250,000 men. At the head of the fleet were placed: Artemisia I of Caria, Ariabigne and Achemene, sons of Dario, Pressaspe and Megabazo. Ariabigne commanded the Ionian and Carian contingents, Achemene the Egyptian contingent, the other two the rest of the army. Almost certainly the number of Persian ships indicated by Herodotus is exaggerated, and during the battle of Chief Artemisius the Persians were likely to deploy a fleet of about 500 ships (the Persian fleet had also suffered losses from a previous storm).

The battle

The tactics imposed by the Athenians involved detaining the enemies by land in Thermopylae and giving battle by sea, allowing the polis to prepare a larger army and the island of Euboea to be evacuated. The Persians meanwhile had sent 200 ships to circumnavigate the island, hoping to be able to take the Greeks from behind and trap them in the strait. But the Greeks were soon informed of this by Scillia di Scione, a Persian defector, and decided to attack the main fleet in advance before falling into the encirclement. The Persian fleet then decided to retire for the night. Meanwhile, the 200 Persian ships that were making the circumnavigation of Euboea, encountered a violent storm that threw them against the rocks, destroying them. The following day 53 Athenian ships arrived to help, along with the news of the sinking of the 200 Persian ships. It was then decided to carry out a new attack on the Persian fleet, but nothing decisive happened and only some ships of Cilicia were sunk by the Greeks. On the third day (11 August according to tradition) the Persians counterattacked by forming a semicircle in an attempt to trap the Greek fleet outside Artemisium. This was a bad move, as the large, slow Persian ships could not maneuver in the stre