To what extent was Themistocles’ contribution the key factor in bringing about a Greek victory in the Persian Wars, 480-479 BC?
To a very large extent Themistocles did play the key role in bringing about a Greek victory against the Persians in 480-479BC. His efforts in the pre-war years, his leadership and tactical skills at Artemisium and Salamis, and his persuasive arguments all combined to offer the Greeks hope of victory. However, Themistocles, alone, could not determine the fate of the war. It would be a mistake to suggest that other people and events did not play important roles in the defeat against the Persians as well. To gain a complete understanding of why the Persians were defeated, one needs to look at the roles of the
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Herodotus suggests that Greeks left living in the north at the mercy of Xerxes and he forced them to evacuate. Yet there was a discovery in 1960 of “the Troezen Inscription.” Suggesting that the evacuation was a strategy and northern battles were just delaying actions before a proper defence of the Isthmus and suggesting an idealistic cooperation between Athens and Sparta. The debate is whether to believe Herodotus, the pro-Athenian known for having bad faith in Spartans, or the inscription found to be written in early 3rd century BC, 200 years after events. The Battle of Salamis started with Xerxes’ invasion of Athens and the disagreements between the Greeks of what strategies to use to fight back. The Peloponnesians and Corinthians argued that the best strategy was to fight at the Isthmus, but Themistocles argued that the Persian fleet could simply sail away and suggested the battle to be fought in the narrow straits between Salamis and the Greek mainland, as the Persians would not be able to manoeuvre their larger vessels. Themistocles then spoke calmly to Eurybiades, encouraging him to support his plan but at the same time warning him that he would lead his people to a new city if the fight was not taken at Salamis. Eurybiades finally decided to accept his argument. Themistocles then sent a secret message to Xerxes, telling him that the Greeks were