Monday, 26 July 2021


It is easy to see how one can quickly drown in the literature concerned with Salamis.

There is a veritable  hæmerroid of books available about Salamis

To make a recreation of the battle from reading one quickly gets bogged down in academic debates on individual details such as...

Did the Egyptian Squadron go to the Megaran Straits?

Did the Aiginetians make a flank attack, an ambush or even arrive late in the day?

Did the Corinthians make a feigned flight, a real flight or never flee at all?

Did the Greeks back water ? If so, how much ? How long?



Historians work to synthesise a believable narrative. They filter the variety and wealth of material available to establish a believable, defendable framework. This is not what gamers do. Gamers should establish and identify parameters and factors and then effectively run a Monte Carlo simulation. 

Some would say a Fleming Simulation - but it is actually a genuine article 

We are interested in plausible what ifs. We are not interested in introducing spaceships and we are not interested in agreeing the historical outcome was the only one possible because of the historically prevalent conditions. The interest is in the variability. 

We have a few certainties for Salamis.

We KNOW the Greeks were not destroyed by the battle

We KNOW Xerxes withdrew from Greece after failing to deliver knock-out blows to either of the Greek land forces or naval forces.

We KNOW Xerxes had moved the largest army and navy the world had ever seen from Asia Minor to Attica and after the battle it was the end of the usual season for campaigning.

Print( or paint) the myth!

The winner of any ancient war-galley battle could mop-up at will, kill defenceless sailors and troops isolated on an island. The Greeks held the strait after the battle and kept the Persians off Salamis and kept a fleet in being but we do not know they smashed the Persian fleet. The Phoenicians went home in a fit of pique but there were plenty of them to go home - the elite of the Persian fleet who bore the brunt of the battle..

For Herodotos and Aeschylus the fact that the Persian fleet left was enough. Surely this was evidence of defeat. 300 'noble' warriors were slain on Psyttalia but what relevance had 300 in a battle involving up to 180,000 men !

But apart from these details....everything else is open for variation to create an interesting confrontation on the table.

    We  do not know where the battle happened.

    We do not know the strength of Persian forces involved, even if we agree the Greek ship total is             believable.

    There is potential argument over the natur eof the ships used on both sides and the number of fighting     men aboard them.

We need to identify and highlight key factors which affect the ancient battle. These factors must not be too numerous and they must have a substantial effect. These will be the basis for the kriegspieling or simulation of the engagement.

To be clear. The game needs to include variable set-ups, variable deployments, even variable sides if there were factors which could have changed those which occurred on the day.

The variables we elect to involve in the game will only be those that affect the day's proceedings in an interesting way. The location of Xerxes throne is not relevant but the location of his admirals is.

Ruggero Giovanini's epic picture of Salamis from Xerxes' perspective : LOOK AND LEARN

Next - Build the battle as a gaming model.

NEW DOWN THE SLIPWAY : Monokrotic Pentekontereis

The pentekonter was the precursor to the trieres. It was the F4, a great fighter from a generation previous to, and totally outclassed by, the F15 - the trieres - which ushered in a new concept of ancient galley warfare. The pentekonter could cruise at 4.5knots or make a burst of speed possibly up to 6 knots. It could accelerate faster than a triakonter but nothing like the trieres. It could not turn as sharply as the smaller ship but probably as well as a trieres.

The pentekonter had 50 oars - the name means a '50' . The ship was probably 30 metres or so long and the vase paintings which show them depict elegant vessels with fine lines. They were fast and agile. With a beam at the waterline of only 2.3 metres or so and a draught of 0.6 metres.

6th Century BC Athenian vase

Pentekonters did not necessarily have rams. They probably had a fore-foot because this was the standard hull form for the Greek Archaic and Classical eras. The first ram-armed war-galley battle, fought in the Sardinian Sea between Phokaians and the combined forces of Carthaginians and Tyrrhenians, took place c.540BC. The pentekonter was the first true war-galley.

Reconstruction of early pentekonter : Late Minoan date

Greek Ship models .com version of a pentekonter

I based my model on a ship with a partial deck /catwalk to allow an element of deck fighters to be perched on the model if desired. It is ram-armed but I could trim the forefoot and paint it as wood if I just want a transport or courier ship.

The oarsmen are modelled, as usual, with individual features taken from surviving statues and vase paintings.

The key characteristic of this model is that it has a single tier of oarsmen. This is a monokrotic oar system. Later developments led to a two-tier pentekonter with a dikrotic oar system. This is the next model down the slipway!

As far as we know, no monokrotic pentekonters were ever built as cataphracts, with a full deck and enclosed oarsmen. Although Demetrius son of Antigonos may have used these ships as the basis for his 'gunboats' at the siege of Rhodes.

Size comparison with a trieres at rear.

Now enjoy the sight of a flotilla of monokrotic pentekonters taking it easy during peacetime manoeuvres 'somewhere in the Aegean'.

Sunday, 11 July 2021


Previously I discussed how the different ways one could fit the Persians and Greeks into the Salamis straits meant we could find no single  solution as to what happened that day so long ago.

There is no one logical way to fit the opposing forces into the space available.  Our ideas about what actually happened must be based on the accounts we have from antiquity - if we can read a sensible account from them - but we cannot expect a military operational plan with maps attached to emerge.

We have Herodotus : he wrote not long after the battle - in the second half of the 5th century BC. He travelled widely and may have spoken to veterans of the conflict. His account of the battle is lodged in an account of the war which is very detailed. 

Then we have the playwrite Aeschylus. He participated in the battle as a hoplite - he was no spring chicken by this date, being born c.525BC he was 45. He was therefore not an epibates if he was on a ship but rather a supplementary deck soldier. His play 'The Persians' is about the effects of the defeat on the Persians at home. How they suffer for their Great King's arrogance before the gods. The problem is this is not a war correspondent's despatch but a drama. It includes some interesting details but has no objective narrative of the battle.

Why I always wear a hat in tortoise country, Aeschylus' big mistake.

Diodorus Siculus was a Sicilian writing in the first century BC. He used older writings to construct his monumental 'Library of History'. His account of Salamis includes some details and judgements not apparent from Herodotus nor in Aeschylus. There were at least 9 ancient authors in the fifth century BC alone who addressed the battle apart from Herodotus and Aeschylus, so there was some material to work with.

BIG history - DS' Library of History'

Later historians such as Ctesias, Plutarch, Aristodemus (and others) give us snippets. But no complete narratives and probably base themselves ultimately on the fifth century writers.

Then we have fragments from lost works of poetry and prose such as the poets Simonides and Timotheus. These are near contemporary but inconclusive.

From the previous discussion the big choice was should the battle-lines be drawn-up facing each other east-west or north-south.

As long ago as 1928 Kiel summarised 6 different approaches to reconstructing the battle. He further grouped them into two main tactical options - the' encirclement battle' or the 'frontal attack battle'. 

We have no new information about the battle barring the Troezen stele which is probably a later document.(I won't say 'fake' because it is 2400 years old item, and composed in a plausible way, not intending to cheat its audience). The reconstructions made over 100 years ago do not differ much from the most recent ones.

Plus ca change..

Modern accounts range from short commentary papers dealing with a single issue such as the identification of where Xerxes plonked his throne down to entire books but the basics remain.

This is the refighter's problem. As I tried to show in the previous piece, looking for 'the solution' is where madness lies. There are far more tubes in the jungle than one can possibly squeeze. 

Just to take three examples of how trying to create the perfect over-arching scenario which explains all the details we have from drama, history and poetry etc.. authors begin to lose all reason. 

BARRY STRAUSS - Wot I did on my holidays at Salamis

Within the same paragraph..p.252

'Many Persian commanders were killed at the battle...they had little loyalty to a cause;...They had no incentive to fight to the death.'


HANS WALLINGA - Xerxes Great Adventure

p.93 -dealing with his speculation that the Persian planned a simultaneous landing attack from Psyttaleia to the south side of Cynosura..

'That nothing came of the actions projected in the plan must not lead us to neglect the indications preserved by the Greek witnesses. They strongly suggest, if they do not prove, that the Persian staff were not tied to a simple naval handbook scheme.'

i.e. just because my convoluted scheme is not directly mentioned by the ancients doesnt mean it wasn't done or wasn't at least possible. Probably. 

NEIL HAMMOND - All About Salamis

p.47 -  trying to cajole the battle lines to lie where he wants them.

'The fleet(Persian) therefore advanced en echelon..Deceived by the disappearance of the Greek fleet ...the Phoenician squadron was still pressing on towards the narrow when the Greek fleet emerged in column and swung into line to face the en echelon formation of the Persian line.'

WILLIAM SHEPHERD - Everything About Salamis within Osprey Format

Somehow, he has the Greeks emerge from Ambelaki and Paloukia bays to form a continuous line from Pharmakoussa to the tip of Cynosura with some forces kept in reserve. (how would this be coordinated?) This is done in the dark/twilight with no direct observation of where the Persian ships are. For an army or fleet to be drawn up based on a hunch in ancient warfare is unusual.


What seems to happen is that a detailed overview which hangs perfectly together of this battle is a problem of Schleswig-Holsteinian proportions. If it does not kill you it will send you mad so best forget about it!

WTF are we arguing about?

All authors who tackle the battle with a total recall style approach become tough to read. Barry Strauss's book is sometimes like fighting through jungle thorns and creepers. A glimpse of the ancient sources, followed by the digression on a subject bearing some relation is repeated again and again. You start to shout at the book 'Get on with it!' Academic papers are meant to deal with arcane matters but still if you read several which fail to agree, almost with a will, the process becomes wearing. Hans Wallinga uses an entire book about Salamis to ride his hobby horse that triereis usually operated without a full compliment and often with a whole tier of oars missing.

In the end I decided to marry two perspectives in an attempt to gain control of the Salamis spaghetti monster. One has to step back and stop letting any discussion of details hinder the project.

First : recognise that a reconstruction of an ancient battle is impossible. I have fought in so many reenactment fights I cannot remember. The evening after any one of these events,  people fighting next to each other will give a different account of what happened. This with 500 people fighting in groups of up to 50 each. This without the traumatic effects of a near-death experience. (Mostly).

Commanders give different accounts from front-line fighters. Those who 'died' have a different view than those who survived. The left flank seldom knows what the right flank is doing, or has done. Herodotus collected accounts, no doubt, but then had the task of collating and reconciling them.

I am in this fight. I remember almost no details.

 An impossible task. The latter of which he does not really attempt.  Aeschylus had his limited viewpoint of the battle which was highly authentic but the surviving form in which he set down an account of the battle is a politically-charged drama which hangs together as drama but cannot be considered a despatch from the front.

We must get over this desire to accommodate all surviving references and details. We must find the key details - a manageable number -  and work with them. Details upon which the battle depends and upon which all commentators must have a view.And most importantly, details which can be modelled somehow in a tabletop recnstruction.

Second : Throw away the hackneyed method of marking out a scaled-down battlefield and deploying on this a force reduced in size by a factor suitable for your collection of models. 

It is necessary to scale the forces and the topography in synch. A 1/4 sized battlefield needs forces which occupy 1/4 of the space of the original forces. A massed unit which had problems manoeuvering cannot be replicated by 2 or 3 models. Of course, it can, but not in a realistic way.

Actium on the table: this represents something like 650 ships using models on 40 bases.
Does this present the gamer with something of the problems of shepherding massed fleets? From the excellent blog

The degree of  scaling must be assessed if the 'refight' is to be meaningful. If a regiment which operated in two battalions is scaled down to a single unit of 10 figures then we have lost any flexibility in deploying that unit and we should proceed with the idea that all units should be represented as individual blocks rather than have any sub-units. 

A key point at Salamis is the number of ships in a limited space. This problem must be presented as part of the game as much as whether Greek or Persian ships were better. Scaling which results in less of a space problem means a refight is diverging more from the original situation.

Salamis suitable congested but somewaht undermanned.
From excellent report at Bleaseworld blog HERE

Finally, to make such a project interesting and involving there has to be choice and chance involved for the commanders on each side. If the game evolves as a slide -show of original events it will be boring.

For the Battle of Little Big Horn a refight should allow the US Cavalry to bump into Indian forces at different times and locations than the original events show. The forces available to the sides might be varied with reference to changing a few factors in the background story. This is a refight game rather than a rerun.

See article on game theory at Little Bighorn HERE

Now all we have to do is examine what this means for Salamis.

NEXT PART : Salamis : Fighting Fantasy Adventure? (when the rabbiting should begin to make sense at last..)

Tuesday, 29 June 2021


 A refight of Salamis has to represent the main limitations both sides had to operate within.

Both sides had to marshal a large number of ships. These were the largest fleets we have record of  from the age of the war-gally. The Greeks had 300 to 380 or so vessels and the Persians deployed around a thousand. 

Oh my god! It's full of ships!

If we take a trieres to be 40metres long and 15 metres wide - including oars - plenty of wriggle-room there - we can work out how much space the commanders need to deploy their forces.

If more than one rank in a line is envisaged we need a good length between them - another 40 metres shared front and back.

Neither can ships be set tightly side-by-side. Manoeuvre space requires at lest a ship length between files - again sharing this out adds 20metres either side of the vessel.

This 55metres wide by 80 metres long template is required if ships are to act in a mobile fashion.

Maybe we can halve the spacing for a static formation but with the recognition that such a tight spacing will easily be disturbed and lead to ships fouling each other. In addition, no ship can interpenetrate such a tight press of ships - so no vessel can retire or move out from the ranks in such a situation without casusing chaos.

This close-formation template would be 35 metres wide by 60 metres long.

Now we know the kind of space required for the ships, using these templates which are as small as possible - let us see how much space was available.

The Salamis straits were chosen by Themistocles precisely because space was restricted. The Greeks had fought the Persians three times near Artemisium in waters which were more open. Even though the Greeks had avoided being overwhelmed by the more numerous enemy it had been touch-and-go. In any case the Greeks had found out how the Persians conducted themselves in naval fighting which had been the second aim of the expedition alongside preventing the outflanking of the Thermopylae position.

The width of the straits at Salamis is 1200 to 1600 metres. 

Side-by-side this is 22 ships with files running east west. - nose-to-tail 15 ships will span the straits north-south. In a loose formation with manoeuvre space for each ship.

In tight  formation we could have 34 ships side-by side in easte-west files or nose-to-tail 20 in north-south files.

There is not a lot of space in here !

Here we immdiately come up against the big question for any Salamis refight. Did the fleets line-up north-south or east-west? Many aspects of the battle change depending on the orientation of the battle lines.

Vice-Admiral Rogers : an older East-Wester

Peter Connolly : Newer East-Wester

Morrison : A classic East-Wester

If the fighting was east-west we have two deep formations butting heads in the strait. In fact, the Persian fleet would seem unbeatable in such a mass.

To fit past Cynosura each squadron of Persians - 200 to 250 ships strong each - would be 5 ranks deep if packed tight. or 7 if more loosley arranged. In all, the Persians massed fleet of 600 presents a 15+ deep phalanx plugging the straits.

The Greeks can counter this with about 7 ranks.

Neither formation is a good one for a war-galley battle. No manoeuvre is possible. However, this is what Herodotos describes  at least initially, a slugfest.

But the majority of the ships at Salamis were sunk, some destroyed by the Athenians, some by the Aeginetans. Since the Hellenes fought in an orderly fashion by line, but the barbarians were no longer in position and did nothing with forethought, it was likely to turn out as it did. Yet they were brave that day, much more brave than they had been at Euboea, for they all showed zeal out of fear of Xerxes, each one thinking that the king was watching him.

Herodotus VIII.86.1

The most recent reconstructions have favoured the alternative.  By shifting to a north-south line-up there is more space to arrange the many ships. 

(See Wallinga's figure above also)


Osprey - Everything in one (why the wierd hook on the Persian right? - see below)

From the mouth of the strait to the islands off  Amphiale is 3000metres - much more space for a battle-line. 55 ships side-by-side in loose order or 85 in close formation.

This makes the Greeks from 4 to 7 ranks. A single squadron of 200 Persians would be strung out to  3 to 4 ranks. Three squadrons would plug the straits with 9 ranks or so.

On this orientation the Greeks can be line-up with their backs to Salamis island, the Persians to the mainland, each with their respective cheerleaders raising a din behind to egg them on. 

Indeed, this east-west trend has extended - literally - to Barry Strauss and Antonis Mystrionis contention that the Persians reached all the way beyond the Pharmakoussia islands and some of the fighting took place there. 

Wierdest of the wierd ; Jestice in 'Battles of the Ancient World'

Mystrionis : Everything and the kitchen sink : Greeks Everywhere Persians Everywhere

This choice is a fundamental factor in any refight. How and WHEN do the Persians get the head of their column, the right of their line, far into the straits?  And how far?

Presumably the Persian right wing, the Phoenicians, followed the mainland shore during the latter part of the night. Keeping as far away as possible from Salamis and possible surprise by the Greeks. They could have chatted with men  standing in the shallows bearing torches to guide them. There were also thousands of small boats with the fleet, after all. They were also, apparently, of the mind that the Greeks were about to decamp at dawn and they would just charge a retreating enemy. This relies on them taking Siccinus' fairy tale seriously but these were salty sea-dogs who had fought the Greeks twice already in hard-fought battle. Would they have dared to underestimate such a vicious foe? Also, consider how the story of fleeing Greeks was communicated from HQ, wherever Xerxes was, (not yet in his 'command post' on Mount Aegaleos-)to the 600 plus ships of the fleet within an evening? Hammond suggests Xerxes gives Siccinus his audience circa 6pm. Between then and sundown - 7.45pm - the fleet has to be given its orders and set off. 1000 ships! Maybe to the commanders? But to imagine that every Phoenician rower got a version of the tale and thought the Greeks had given up is a streeetch for me. 

Space also is a factor in where the Greeks went at night. In most accounts based on the ancient sources the Greeks are all tucked up in bed building up energy for the long day rowing and fighting on the morrow.  Meanwhile the Persians are rowing all night depleting their glucose stores and getting dehydrated.

Kirk - Spock.  Did you know the ancient Greeks could bend space ?  :                                                Spock - Illogical -  that is only in secondary sources .

Where were the Greeks ? Not onboard ship. They slept ashore usually. Bedspace for 90,000 men would make modern Salaminian B&B places swoon.

γεμάτος. χωρίς δύσοσμο κωπηλάτες

The ships must have been moored at suitable places. There are three bays on the straits. It used to be accepted that the Greek fleet was as far away from danger as possible at Paloukia. More recently the Greeks are all over the place. The problem I see with this is coordination. Getting them all out of bed onto the ships with a good breakfast inside them and lined up to face the enemy when they are in three or four different places is not an easy task.  After all, Diodoros has Themistocles say precisely this before the battles at Artemisium 

'Themistocles alone expressed the opposite opinion, showing them that it was to their advantage to sail against the enemy with the whole fleet in one array; for in this way, he declared, they would have the upper hand, attacking as they would with their ships in a single body (approach) an enemy whose formation was broken by disorder, as it must be, for they would be issuing out of many harbours at some distance apart.'

Diodoros Siculus. Library of History, XI.12.5

Triereis could be moored several deep. If take a hull as 10 metres wide for mooring Eurybiades had to find 4000metres to moor his ships individually but only 1000metres if they were four deep.

Not a bar-room trick : several ranks of ships moored a la Med

 There is no need to use Ambelaki Bay - Or, one might get away with ONLY using Ampelaki Bay...

"This evidence, supplemented by the information from ancient historical and literary sources, leaves no doubt about the role of the bay as the main assembly and launching point of the Greek fleet in close proximity to the theater of the sea battle in the straits,” Yannos Lolos, president of the Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology, which partnered with a variety of scholars and scientists from other universities and archaeological organizations for the study, tells Lorenzi.

Smithsonian Magazine HERE

368 ships in this narrow inlet is another streeetch - or squaaash. The main advantage would be to hide the fleet from the mainland - somewhat.

Bearing in mind it is not known where the most important ancient harbour was and the town of Salamis  was inland. 

Despite tourist office assurances,  there were anchorages at Paloukia and the modern naval base area.

BUT Ambelaki Bay has even become NECESSARY to the lateest reconstructions because the late arrival(?) in the day of the Aiginetians on the Persian left flank(?) can be supported as a sally from this bay. But what did these ships do all day before this point? When the Greeks were so outnumbered from the start?  And why did the Persians not venture in there or block the narrow bay off?

Shepherd's Osprey map shows late Aiginetian attack from Ambelaki Bay and lots of Persians still trying to enter the straits

If the Persians were on their oars all night what exactly were they doing? Space is required for them to weeble around in all night long. If the ships are dawdling around killing time before the dawn pounce to kill the Greeks,  they were not at full steam, obviously. In fact the tiers of rowers could have spelled each other while the rest rested with their oars inboard. Not an ideal situation but men in military service usually know well how to take advantage of the least break in activity and get some shut-eye be they in a fox-hole or a four-poster. The sea was not rough or battle would not have occurred.  

If the Persian ships kept a minimal headway this would amount to 2 knots, say - any less would allow a formation to drift and straggle - then they moved for at least 6 hours from midnight to sunrise - possibly from 9 or 10 pm. This is 3700 metres an hour giving 22 kilometres. Every ship trailed around for 22 kilometres or so  across the sea between Phaleron Bay and the mouth of the straits. Interesting, when you look at the map and notice the distance from Phaleron to Cynosaura is about 9km. A file of 200 triereis would be about 16 kilometres long! Put them in four files - the most we know of from ancient sources, and there is still a four kilometre Conga out there.  The four squadrons of  the Persian fleet would have to be very careful to stay out of each other's hair during the hours of darkness while they cris-crossed this patch of sea. 

Hmmm.. there are 599 other ships out here somewhere.

If it is assumed they were just slowly working their way into the straits to be ready at dawn this also presents problems because even at 2 knots they could get way into the Bay of Eleusis before dawn. Maybe why Strauss and Mystrionis are so generous with their battle area ?.(not).

In fact, reaching so far means they have to negotiate the gap between the Pharmakousia islands which was only about 500 metres wide. In the dark. Probably not a serious option. (see Wallinga map above).

This means one of the greatest puzzles for Salamis reconstructions is 'Nocturnal Command and Control Systems Amongst Heterogeneous War-Galley Fleets of Ancient Eastern Imperial Powers'. Lanterns are possible but the Greeks will see them. Noise is to be avoided - possibly. Large formations staying in contact at night; not an easy problem to solve.

!Follow that ship!

Dawn starts at 6.30 and sunrise is 7am.

It is easy, therefore, to see the yawning holes in the ancient source material and the modern reconstructions which depend upon them. If anyone tells you they have a 'solution' for the dispositions at Salamis then pause before you buy a used trieres from them. 

More soon.

Contain yourself!