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Archaeological Finds Shed Light on Battle of Salamis

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The Battle of Salamis. Painting by Wilhelm on Kaulbach, 1868. Property of state of Bavaria. Photo: Public Domain

The Battle of Salamis, fought between the Persians and a vastly outnumbered Greek force in September of 480 BC, is considered by many historians to be one of the most decisive in history, and much archaeological evidence found there has shed light on the battle and its aftermath.

Although the exact date in the month of September when the significant naval battle between the Greeks and Persians occurred is not known with exactitude, many scholars believe it took place at the end of the month.

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The Battle of Salamis is considered one of the most important in history. Had the Greeks not won the battle, many believe that the Persian invasion of Greece would have been successful, altering the course of history as we know it.

Much like the Battle at Thermopylae, the heroics at the Battle of Salamis, an island off the coast of Attica, Greece, have risen to legendary status, as the allied Greek city-states used approximately 370 trireme ships, and the Persians had over 1,000, according to ancient sources.

The Persians, under King Xerxes, planned to crush the outnumbered Greeks with the sheer force of their massive fleet. The leader of the Greek ships, Themistocles, aware of the number of Persian ships, lured the Persians to the narrow Strait of Salamis, where the Greek ships were waiting.

Since the enormous Persian fleet could not fit in the strait, they quickly became disorganized, opening up a possibility for a Greek victory.

While the Battle of Salamis is one of the most well-studied and famous battles in world history, archaeologists and experts continue to find new evidence that illuminates the decisive battle and what happened on the island in the wake of the Persian War.

Archaeologists reveal sea walls at Salamis

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View of the sea walls of ancient Salamina unearthed. Archaeological evidence from the site of the Battle of Salamis shows how the island progressed after the war. Credit: Hellenic Ministry of Culture

A team of 15 archaeologists, lead by Dr. Angeliki Simossi and Professor Yannos G. Lolos, discovered new evidence about ancient life on Salamis after the battle in April of this year.

The latest excavations revealed a large part of the submerged sea walls running alongside the ancient city’s harbor, where the Greek fleet gathered for the epic battle against the Persians in 480 BC.

Methods of both land and marine archaeology have been used to excavate through five layers down from ground level.

Two distinct construction periods of the city walls were identified by the researchers, both dating back to the Classical era, starting from the 4th century BC.

Other findings from the excavation have included various pottery and marble fragments as well as an unidentified copper coin.

The marine excavation activities took place in September and October of 2020. This was the fifth consecutive year of research in the area, with the current three-year project scheduled to conclude in 2022.

Scientists determine that location of Battle of Salamis was chosen due to weather conditions

Scientific research, in addition to archaeological digs, has also yielded fascinating information regarding the battle.

An article featuring research from the Center for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology Research at the Academy of Athens argues that the Greeks actually chose the site of Salamis after studying the area’s climactic conditions.

This new hypothesis is a groundbreaking development regarding one of the most well-studied and famous battles in world history.

It was not only the great military mind of Themistocles which led the Greeks to victory, but also a deep knowledge of the climate of Salamis, according to an article published in the scientific journal Atmosphere by researchers at the Academy of Athens.

In the article, researchers, led by Professor Christos Zerefos, argue that current data gathered regarding wind conditions in the Strait of Salamis align with ancient eyewitness accounts.

Additionally, the article contends that the Greeks must have been aware of these conditions, as Greeks planned a late-morning attack on the Persians, which aligned with wind conditions that made it more difficult for the Persians to retreat into the open sea in the early afternoon.

Late-night and early-morning northwest winds, or Etesian winds, in the Saronic Gulf, combined with local south sea breezes in the late morning, trapped the Persian fleet in the narrow Strait of Salamis during the afternoon, leading to a Greek victory in the early evening.

This particular wind pattern is still present today, and takes place mainly from May to September, when the sun is especially strong, heating up the atmosphere. The Battle of Salamis is traditionally believed to have taken place at the end of September in 480 BC, when this weather phenomenon is still in effect.

Earlier archaeological discoveries on Salamis from Roman period

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Exquisite head of a statue found in area of the ancient Battle of Salamis. Source: Greek Ministry of Culture

Marine archaeologists announced in 2019 that they discovered underwater artifacts at the site where the naval battle of Salamis was fought in the Saronic Gulf in 480 BC.

This major discovery was made during excavation work in the shallow waters off the coast of Salamis, according to an announcement by the Greek Ministry of Culture.

The structure, which was standing in shallow water, is almost 50 feet long and was constructed on a north-south axis.

Researchers believe it was a large public building which was used until the late Roman times, in the third century.

The researchers said it would likely have been one of the main public buildings of the ancient city, located in the port. The team found ceramics, statues, columns or pillars and other features relating to the building, along with marble sculptures.

One of the most spectacular archaeological finds from the site of the Battle of Salamis was the exquisite head belonging to a statue of an athlete or god, which the Ministry said appeared to be from the fourth century BC.

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