The paper deals with the battle of Salamis which took place in 480 BC. It depicts its background, the course of the battle, the outcomes and its historical significance. The battle of Salamis is shown in the light of counterfactual analysis which aims to discuss what could hypothetically have happened if one had added some changes to the real events. That is why the main focus of the research is the thought experiment, based on Tetlock and Parker’s rules for minimal rewrite, which suggests other outcomes and depicts the effect it could have on the world’s history.
The Battle of Salamis is a naval battle between Greek city-states’ fleets led by Sparta and Athens and Persian fleet in September 480 BC. It took place in the strait between Piraeus and Salamis. Athens’s commander Themistocles persuaded their allies that the only place where they could overcome the Greeks was afloat. He deliberately left Athens without protection and lured the Persian fleet in the narrow strait between the island Salamis and the mainland. A comparatively smaller Greek’s fleet, consisting of easy, maneuvering triremes took the bulky Persian fleet by surprise. So, Greek’s fleet managed to defeat the enemy and won a decisive victory.
There are a few ancient sources which tell us about the Persian Wars. However, they are not one hundred percent accurate as the events are so old that no one can say for sure how they unfolded. The main source, describing the naval battle of Salamis, that came to present time is the book History of Herodotus. Another source containing these events is an account made by Ctesias of Cnidus, who lived at the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes II, in his work The Persian History. The third plausible source is a tragedy The Persians by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, in which he directly witnessed the battle of Salamis and described his feelings about the death of the Persian fleet.
The battle was preceded by a series of events that could significantly affect the further course of the war. The army of the Persians took Athens and destroyed it. Residents of the city have been previously evacuated to the nearby island of Salamis. In the narrow straits all the allied Greek fleet appeared centered between the island and the mainland. There were serious disagreements among the Greeks. Most commanders offered to leave Salamis and directed all forces in the defense of the Isthmus of Corinth.
Athenian strategist Themistocles pointed out that only in the narrow straits the Greeks could defeat a superior both in number of vessels, and the quality of training of seafarers Persian fleet. Seeing the inability to influence the decision of other commanders, he decided to trick. After sending to the Persian king Xerxes, his trusted messenger, he ordered to tell him that the Greeks were going to run, and if the king wanted to destroy the Greek fleet, he had to start a fight immediately.
For the Greeks, the only option was a decisive naval victory in the Battle of the narrow space where the numerical superiority of the enemy was neutralized. Entering the straits between the mainland and Salamis, the Persians themselves deprived of the advantages. For them, the beginning of the battle of Salamis was a crucial strategic mistake, which determined the outcome of the battle and the subsequent course of the war.
The main Persian fleet was located in Bay of Phalerum, the supporting powers were arranged in Salamis. As to the number of ships, it is hard to say how many of them had each party. According to Herodotus, the general number of Greek’s warships was approximately 380 items, 180 of them belonged to Athens. This is the ultimate number of warships after they had losses. Formerly, the number was bigger. The writer of Greek tragedy Aeschylus believes that the Persian fleet had 1,207 ships, while Greeks numbered only 310 ships.
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The Course of The Battle
A little can be considered to be true about the course of the battle, as for both parties involved in the battle it was hard to realize what was happening and then give an accurate account of the events. That is why all the information about the Battle of Salamis was merely a discussion of what could happen.
In the beginning, both fleets were waiting for the first step of their adversary. The autumn was about to start and Xerxes did not want to delay the campaign. The victory over Salamis would allow seizing the Peloponnese smoothly. Very early in the morning on September 27th, the main part of the Persian fleet started to move forward along the straits. They decided to start the battle inside the narrow straits. By evening they landed their main squad on the island Psyttaleia, which, according to their calculations, was in the center of the planned battle. Psyttaleia was also a place where Persian’s broken ships sailed to receive help after the fight.
As to Psyttaleia, it is believed that this was a modern island called Agios Georgios, situated in the center of straits, from where it is easy to get to Salamis by ferry now. Hence, the Persians blocked the straits and before the battle began, Xerxes ordered to arrange a throne atop Egaleo to watch the battle. The message, that the Persians occupied the straits, was quickly brought by Aristide expelled from Athens. By dawn of the next day, the Greeks took their triremes, an ancient Greek or Roman war galley with three banks of oars, and moved toward the enemy. Approaching them, the Greeks started to zigzag in order to persuade the Persians that they feared them and decided to escape. That is why the Persian fleet changed its position. At that moment the Greeks began to ram their enemy with triremes’ bronze-covered stern. They broke the paddles, beat the sides of enemy ships, and the Persians first sailed forward trying to resist in the narrow straits. The Greek’s fleet held position, drawing their enemies into an ever tighter enclosure. The Persians had no space to maneuver, they became even more vulnerable and helpless. Their fleet turned into a big chaos of ships which were broken and soldiers who were drowning. Most of them could not swim. The Greeks entered the straits, surrounded the Persian vessels and attacked them.
Battle’s Outcome and Historian Influence
After the defeat in the battle of Salamis, Xerxes left most of the army in Greece and went with the fleet to Asia. It is interesting to mention that the destiny of the Salamis Battle hero Themistocles was tragic. He was suspected of treacherous dealings with the Persian king. He did not wait for punishment, but escaped to Persia, where he found a shelter with his former enemies. Thanks to his intelligence and cunning, he gained the confidence of the Persian king and began living in exile in luxury and pleasures. But when the king asked him to lead a new campaign against the Greeks, Themistocles took poison, not to betray his Motherland.
The victory of the Greek’s fleet at Salamis was a turning point of the Persian Wars which took place in 492 – 449 B.C. The defeat of the Persian fleet meant that they could not proceed with their conquest any longer. They lost most of their vessels at Salamis and their commander was forced to retreat. However, Xerxes had left a part of his fleet there, it was not that powerful as it used to be, so it took the Greeks less than a year to completely eliminate Persian influence.
The Battle of Salamis played a crucial role in the history of Greece and later in the history of Western civilization. The Persian’s aim was to capture Greece and create a new order there. Thereby the Greek’s victory at Salamis saved Greece from being absorbed into the Persian Empire. The Greek triumph has led to the emergence of the first democracy in the world. As a result, Athens became the dominant city in Greece laying the foundation of Athenian empire, culture and traditions from which were the beginnings of Western civilization. Some historians believe that The Battle of Salamis was one of the most decisive military actions of all time.
According to Tetlock and Parker, there is a special technique which helps to build a solid counterfactual argument. It consists of three procedures, namely procedural request number 1: address the ‘arbitrariness’ critique, which presupposes that our experimental thoughts must be plausible and realistic. The contributor is also asked to explain why he chose this or that point in history. Then goes procedural request number 2: address the objection that counterfactual history is hopelessly speculative, that the counterfactual argument is consistent with historical facts and regularities, is true within specific time and place and consistent with well-established theoretical laws of cause and effect. The third procedure is called procedural request 3: address the objection that counterfactual thoughts experiments are hopelessly self-serving. Contributors should be explicit about the advantages of employing their counterfactual analysis.
The task of the paper is, integrating all these three procedures, build a counterfactual analysis of the Battle of Salamis. The first step of the analysis is to ask ourselves a simple question “could the battle have gone another way”. The answer is as simple as the question, it definitely could.
Taking into account the rule of minimal rewrite, we can propose another outcome that was triggered by a small alteration in the course of the battle. For instance, the location and the position of the Persian’s warships. It is already mentioned that they stopped at Agios Georgios island, situated at the center of strait, to block the movement of the adversary army. This, at first seemed to be successful tactics, turned to be a complete fail. There was not much space for them to move, that is why they easily surrendered by the Greek’s fleet.
If they had taken another position, the war’s outcome could have been different. Everything starts from a small detail. In this case, it is the strategy proposed by their commander. If he had been a bit more insightful, they could, for instance, start the battle first, sail forward to the mainland and attack Greeks. The Persians’ ships outnumbered Greek’s ones, so they had chances to overcome. Because of the decision made by one person, the whole series of events could be different.
In this context, the small rewrite is the decision of the Persian commander not to start first and be located where they were located in the real history. In the light of counterfactual procedures, this counterargument seems to be plausible and realistic, as the real strategy was based on some commander’s convictions, beliefs and experience. So proposed alteration of the scenario could also be based on some convictions, beliefs and experience and made under their influence. As to the second procedure, the proposed scenario is consistent with historical facts and regularities, because there was nothing that could interrupt them from starting the battle first. Moreover, they had to be more confident taking into account the number of their army. This is also true within specific time and space and the laws of cause and effect. Every action has a reaction, so the action to start the battle would have had a reaction from Greek’s side to respond, taken by surprise. It is known that the Greek’s fleet was the first to commence the battle and they deceived the Persians, so if the Persians had taken the leading position, they could have become the winners of the situation. Regarding the third procedure, had the Persians overtaken, we would have lost information about the Greeks as well as the world’s history and would not experience the evolution of democracy.
Hence, the outcome of the Battle of Salamis could have been different, namely, the Persians could have conquered Corinth and Sparta, introduced their rules there and changed the face of the Western civilization. The Persians would suppress the Greeks and the evolvement would have been encountered much later. The Greeks were a more developed nation than The Persians. Their society was divided into three main classes – Spartiate (native Spartan), perioeci (dwellers around or about) and helots. The stability was a constant characteristic of their state of affairs. The Greeks had monarchy with the council behind it. The council led legislative and foreign policy. Above the king and council there was a small group of five men known as the ephorate. They were in charge of making policy in all branches of society, they had the right to veto and even enough power to dismiss the kind. All this was laid in the basics of modern democracy. So, we know that the real outcome of the war was beneficial and made the world as it is now.
If the outcome had been different, the Persian army would have marched along Greeks streets, have destroyed the Greek’s society division and have devastated the cities, including Sparta. The Greek’s works of arts and pieces of literature would probably not have been passed to next generations. Such persons as Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great would not have become that significant figures on political arena as they were. They would have been changed by other leaders, including king Xerxes.
The Persians had a different way of life, so democracy is not likely to survive with them. They were wilder in their world perception, their ultimate task was to invade and suppress. In such a context nothing can be said about democracy and freedom which is essential in the modern world. So, undoubtedly, the modern societies would have been less developed, with obsolete rules. Perhaps, we would have still lived in huts and would have hunted, not for pleasure, but for survival. People would not have had right to freedom and sex discrimination would have existed as well. As to the religion, it would have spread throughout the world in a very different form. The Roman Empire would have been absent and Catholicism may not have endured as we know it now. Instead, there is a high probability that the most widespread religion in the world would have been one based on Persian religion and other religions would have been restricted as the policy led by Persians was far away from what was later called democracy. Greek’s architectural designs and arts would have been changed into Persian’s. It can also be assumed that the United States could not have been created as all the principals this country was built on, would just not have existed.
This all led to the assumption that the real outcome of the battle was crucial for the development of the Western world. Had the outcome been different, our lives would have been totally different as well. Historians believe that the Battle of Salamis was one of the most important battles of ancient Greece and probably of the history of mankind. They agree that the victory granted the preservation of Athenian democracy which was the cornerstone of the development of the Western civilization.
From the counterfactual analysis held above, it can be seen that the minor alterations can lead to enormous changes in the history, but in this case, this change would not have big benefits. In such a context the analysis was useless, as it did not bring any better results. I believe, however, that this is not a rule. I guess if the outcome of some historians is bad, the counterfactual analysis can be very beneficial, and if the outcome is good, it is useless. That is why it polarizes scholars. Even though my counterfactual analysis did not show any positive outcome, I support this scientific tool and believe that history cannot be treated unilaterally – we have what we have and nothing else was ever possible to happen. The history must be interpreted dynamically, paying attention to all details and potential alteration. The sense of inquiry must always be present and create questions such as “what if”. This helps to better understand historical events and their importance. For instance, without carrying about my counterfactual analysis, I would not realize the significance of the Battle of Salamis. That is why I am totally in favor of counterfactual argument and I believe it facilitates the learning of history.
To sum up, the Greek’s fleet takeover as Salamis was a turning point in the history of the world. This proves that a regular battle can change the course of the events for good. The battle of Salamis was a final part of the Persians Wars and it completely finished the Persian invasion and gave birth to a new way of life, called democracy, which, in its turn shaped the beginning of the Western Civilization. The paper tried to build the counterfactual argument to the battle of Salamis. The alteration referred to the minor change in the course of the battle, namely the location of the ships and Xerxes’s discussion to go into the battle first. This would lead to the Persian’s victory over the Greeks and the change of the entire Western world. If the Persian’s fleet had won, the entire world would probably have been very different from the one it is now. In this case, such a difference would not have been a positive phenomenon which leads to the conclusion that the fact the Persians were defeated at Salamis has big benefits that the reverse. The counterfactual analysis is an interesting tool for researchers to analyze and reflect on the course of events. It does not change anything as what was done is inevitable, because it exists now, but it helps to look at the situation from a different angle and see something that could be vital for our understanding of history.