UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
In Athens a few desperate persons seized the Acropolis and determined to
defend it. When Xerxes reached the city he found the stronghold
surrounded by wooden walls, but these he soon fired with burning arrows.
The hill was presently carried and its defenders slaughtered. The temple
and other buildings situated there were sacked and burned. The city was
pillaged and given to the flames. The Persian had remembered Athens; but
it was noticed that in the space of two days the sacred olive-tree on the
Acropolis suddenly thrust forth a green shoot a cubit in length. Athena
saw her city in ashes, but spoke by the olive branch the promise that she
should arise from her despair and ruin.
Meanwhile, the Persian fleet, re-collecting its energies after the
dubious victory of Artemesium, sailed into the bay of Phalerum. There
were still more than a thousand ships spared from the vengeance of the
sea and the prowess of the Greeks. In opposition to this immense squadron
the allies could number but three hundred and sixty-six vessels, of which
two hundred were Athenian galleys, and the rest from the confederate
states. As soon as Xerxes reached the coast he inspected his fleet and
held a council of war. It was determined to make an immediate attack upon
the Greek armament and at the same time to send forward the land forces
towards Peloponnesus. This decision was reached with great unanimity by
the Persian commanders, only Queen Artemesia, of Halicarnassus, opposing
the views of the majority.
On the other side there was dissension among the Greeks. The
Peloponnesian commanders were eager to abandon Salamis and sail southward
for the protection of their own coasts; but Themistocles with great
vehemence urged the necessity of fighting where they were. He showed the
great importance of giving battle in the narrow strait where the superior
numbers of the Persians would give them but little advantage.
Nevertheless, the opposite opinion prevailed and it was voted to retreat.
After the council Themistocles repaired to the ship of Eurybiades, and
succeeded in winning him over to the idea of present battle. The
commanders were again called together, and after some discussion were
ordered by Eurybiades to prepare for action. Later in the night, however,
news arrived from Sparta representing the distress of the people on
account of the absence of the fleet, and begging for its return. The
council was a third time convened, but Themistocles had now determined to
accomplish by a stratagem what he could not effect by argument. He
dispatched a trusted messenger to Xerxes, and informed him that the Greek
fleet was about to sail, and advising the Persian to divide his squadron,
send one-half around the island to the other extremity of the strait and
shut up the Greeks in their present predicament. This advice was acted on
by Xerxes; and before the adjournment of the council Aristides, returning
from his banishment, reached Salamis, came into the assembly, and
informed the body that the Persian fleet now occupied both ends of the
strait, and that they must fight or perish. The scheme of Themistocles
With the morning Xerxes had a throne erected on Mount AEgaleos, opposite
the bay of Salamis, and from this perch he would view the battle.
Necessity had now brought the Greeks to their work, and with ardor they
prepared for battle. Themistocles was in his glory. The Greek seamen were
early at their posts; nor were the Persians, now under the eye of their
king, slow in preparing for battle. At the sound of the trumpet the
allied fleet moved forward to the attack. Just about to engage the foe,
however, they were seized with alarm and fell back to the beach. But then
appeared above the ships a female figure, perhaps the august Athena
herself, and waved them to the attack. The Athenian vessels thereupon
bravely made the onset, followed by the rest, nor was there any further
wavering. All day long the fight continued. The Persian fleet became more
and more confused in the narrow waters, which afforded no room for
maneuvering. The ships were crowded upon each other and became helpless.
The attacks of the Greeks grew constantly more audacious. The fate of
their country now depended on the blows which