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'.