Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Fleets! - Herodotus

And we're on to book VIII, which mostly deals with the battle between the Persian and Greek fleets.  You may remember that Xerxes was warned that his large fleet would be vulnerable because there was no safe harbor that it could shelter in if there was bad weather.  That warning proved to be prophetic, as a storm wiped out about 200 of them. 
Meanwhile the Athenians evacuated Athens.  The Persians quickly sent in a land force and destroyed the town.  I had no idea that this had happened.  In fact, while I'm talking about it, cities were fairly routinely sacked and rebuilt in this era.  (Parts of Thucydides read like a game of Go Fish played with cities instead of cards.)  I don't know if this speaks to the more primitive construction of that time or if invading armies were more gentle than our own era of total warfare.  Maybe a combination of the two?
The battle of the fleets is a bit difficult to work out.  I wish I'd read it from the Landmark edition.  That would have helped.  Anyway, the Greek forces were better organized and had more clear purpose.  They were able to sow some confusion and distrust among the invasion force, in part because the Persians had triremes from neighbors that they couldn't completely trust.  In any case, the Greeks won and won decisively. 
One very interesting character in this section, is a Persian Queen named Artemisia.  She commanded a ship during the battle and was seen favorably.  She also gave Xerxes the advice to personally retreat back to Persia and keep a remaining army in place to finish off the war.  Xerxes followed this advice.

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