Exactly 2,500 years after it first happened, the epic marathon swim by Hydna and her father Scyllis, in 480 BC, was replicated recently by three members of the Underwater Survey Team, representing the School of Rural and Surveying Engineering at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Kaitlyn Waters, who was one of the participants, along with Dr. Kimon Papadimitriou, Dimitris Giouzepas, retraced the route taken by the ancient Greek father and daughter on the eve of the Battle of Artemisium, which was fought between Greek and Persian naval forces ten years after the Battle of Marathon, during the same year of the Battle of Thermopylae.
The original 16-kilometer swim between the Pelion peninsula and the island of Evia, first recorded by the Greek geographer Pausanias, who wrote his accounts during the 2nd century AD, occurred on the eve of the Persian leader Xerxes’ naval campaign.
On that dark day, a menacing fleet of 1,207 of his ships was moored off the Pelion peninsula, facing the island of Evia, ready to take part in his renewed attacks in the effort to take over Greece — and thereby gain an important foothold on the European mainland.
The Greek forces were represented by a much smaller group of only 271 ships, according to the historian Herodotus.
At the same time, a man named Scyllis and his daughter Hydna had become so proficient at deep-sea diving that their services had been requisitioned by Xerxes as a means to plunder the many shipwrecks that were already under the waves at that time.
Unbeknownst to him, the daring Greek father and daughter duo had other plans. Taking advantage of a huge storm that blew up as the ships from both sides sat at their moorings the day before the battle, the anchors of the Persian fleet’s vessels were dragged away by Hydna and Scyllis, causing many of them to be destroyed in the maelstrom.
As Pausanias wrote, in his work entitled Description of Greece, “When the fleet of Xerxes was attacked by a violent storm off Mount Pelion, father and daughter completed its destruction by dragging away under the sea the anchors and any other security the triremes had.”
As Kaitlyn Waters, one of the participants, writes of her experience in the epic swim, “Having used knives to cut the ropes of the anchors to destroy the ships and also being able to do so undetected by the multitude of soldiers from every corner is an impressive feat in and of itself.
“What Hydna and Scyllis did next — swimming, side by side, 10 miles to Evia Island to reunite with the Greeks and inform them of the Persian’s battle plans- was able to give the Greek forces a huge advantage in the battle.”
In a fascinating twist to the story, Waters related that the father and daughter became so famous for their feat that statues of them were even erected at Delphi, the beautiful religious sanctuary on the Greek mainland.
Tragically, however, the statues have been lost to time, Waters writes, as the Roman emperor Nero was known to have taken at least 500 statues from Delphi back to Rome. Pausanias noted at the time that one of these statues was indeed of Scyllis’ heroic daughter, Hydna.
On September 4 though 6, swimmers from Japan, Russia, Great Britain, Germany, Bulgaria and Greece took to the waters of Pefki, Evia for the inaugural Authentic Marathon Swim commemorating this seminal event in history.
Covering a range of lengths to accommodate all swimmers regardless of age, the event, which saw the participants swimming over the wrecks at Artemisium, was a great success. The winner of the 10 km race was won by Bulgarian Olympic champion Peter Stoychev. Women’s Open Water swimming world champion Vicky Kouveli won first place in the female division.
There was also an 800-meter swimming race for children so that they could also take part in this important commemoration of the great Battle of Artemisium. If you would like to follow the Authentic Marathon Swim’s events in the future, please see the organization’s Facebook page, here.