Who Led the Persian Navy in the Battle of Salamis?
The Battle of Salamis was a naval battle fought in 480 B.C. between the Persian Empire and its allied kingdoms and a confederacy of Greek city-states, led by Athens and Sparta. More than 800 Persian galleys fought against 380 Greek triremes, which took their stand in the straits of Salamis. The outnumbered Greeks defeated the Persian armada, a decisive moment and a harbinger of the ultimate victory of the Greek forces. The battle was overseen by Persian Emperor Xerxes I with his brother Ariabignes commanding the naval forces.
1 Council of War
Before the battle, Xerxes I called a war council, led by his chief adviser Mardonius, aboard one of the galleys to consult with his commanders regarding whether they should attack the Greek fleet. Of all those asked, only one naval commander – Artemisia – counseled against attacking the Greek fleet. She claimed that the Greeks were better sailors, more experienced in naval combat and had a superior position which would not allow the Persians' heavy ships to maneuver. Xerxes I took the advice of the majority and attacked the Greek fleet in the straits of Salamis.
2 Xerxes I
Xerxes I was the son of Darius the Great. Although he was not the firstborn, he was named successor to his father's empire on the basis of the fact that he was the first son born to Darius after Darius became the Persian emperor. He accompanied his armies during most of the Greco-Persian war years. During the Battle of Salamis, he had a throne erected on a hill overlooking the straits so that he could watch the battle and make commendations for his naval commanders who performed well. After the battle went against his armada, he arranged a ruse to make it appear that the navy was regrouping for another attack while he escaped back to Persia.
Ariabignes was the eldest son of Darius the Great. As such, he had a claim to his father's throne. While Darius was still living, the matter was decided in the Persian court, naming Xerxes the successor. Ariabignes accepted this decision and served his brother in the Persian navy. He was the chief admiral during the Battle of Salamis. The galley he personally commanded attacked the trireme commanded by the chief Greek admiral Themistocles. The galley rammed the Greek ship, but Ariabignes was killed in the hand to hand fighting that followed.
One of the most notable Persian naval commanders of the Battle of Salamis – and one of very few female naval commanders in the ancient world – was Artemisia, the Queen of Halicarnassus. Though she had predicted a Persian defeat by the smaller Greek navy, she fared well during the battle. Xerxes credited Artemisia with sinking nine Athenian ships. One of the ships she sank, however, was a Persian ship which was in her way when she was trying to outrun a pursuing Athenian trireme. Xerxes said of her: "My female general has become a man, and my male generals all become women."