Aftermath of Salamis

Historians often ponder on "might have beens". What would have happened had the Persians crushed the Greeks at Salamis? The Persian form of government was what we might now refer to as an "Eastern Potentate". Some think that Greek Democracy might have been so repressed that such forms of government would have been subsumed forever in the murky waters of history.

Yet the Persians were a civilized people and there is no knowing if they might not have been influenced by the Greeks once they had been taken more fully into the Empire. The fact is that Democracy and Republicanism eventually was completely overthrown, first by the conquests of Alexander the Great and then by the overthrow of the Roman Republic by Caesar. Modern Republican-Democracies were actually more influenced from another direction, the rise of the Barons in England resulting in the Magna Carta of 1215, an event which likely had more Anglo-Saxon-Norman roots.

Be that as it may, the Battle of Salamis did have tremendous immediate repercussions. Xerxes came to the realization that the Greeks were going to be a tough nut to crack. Xerxes decided to leave the Greek invasion in the hands of his second in command, Mardonius. He took a large part of his army back to Persia along with his fleet which was harried part of the way by the Greeks. Eurybiades chose to end the pursuit before the total destruction of the Persians against the advice of Themistocles.

Yet it did not matter, Mardonius was defeated and killed at Platea. Greece was saved. The people of Greece, absent the Persian threat, could fall back to their old rivalries. Athens, with huge fleet intact, began a rapid expansion into the Aegean Sea. Athens became a great maritime power in the region, masking her ambition behind a quasi-alliance called the Delian League. Sparta, looked upon Athens with a wary eye and eventually decided to put a stop to her expansion before it was too late. Thus began the Peloponnesian Wars, which would eventually result in the complete dominance of Sparta.

Yet, when all is said and done, this was a crucial battle, for it did demonstrate that the individual initiative fostered by Athens was a viable rival to the autocratic state as represented by Persia. The victory of Athens also incubated the power of Greece and especially of Rome so that eventually Western Culture was, for the most part, derived organically from its own roots rather than imposed from without. This is why, even to this day, our social institutions are dominated by Greek thought, why our scientific terms are couched in Latin and why every liberal education includes Greek writing and art.

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Interesting Fact:

The powerful Athenian navy would be an important factor in the later Peloponesian Wars, waged mainly between Athens and Sparta. But the power of Athens would finally bow to the Spartans.

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