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Themistocles 'Grand Plan'

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  • Themistocles 'Grand Plan'

    So I am on holiday right now and back in Hellas to persue my classical passion. I visited the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, as usual, to pester them with questions one of which was about Themistocles alleged 'Grand Plan' during the second Persian invasion (the Thermopylae, Artemisium and Salamis war) in 480BC.

    Our best source of these events is Heroditus Polymnia (Book 7 of his Histories) where the reader is lead to think that the forward defence, Thermopylae and Artemisium may have been indended as to halt Xerxes's advance. Heroditus describes the rushed evacuation of Athens in two days after the fall of Leonidas and the Thermopylae position and the inconclusive naval engagement at Artemisium, which occurred more or less simultaneously as if it was a last chance plan formed only after the forward defence failed or that in other words they were making plans as they went and got lucky at Salamis and is the normally accepted version. This is disputed by the 'Themistocles Grand Plan Theory' which goes along the following lines:

    First is Themistocles himself - who fought at the Battle of Marathon in the first Persian invasion. When elected archon he continually stressed the need for Athens to invest in it's navy and enlarge it. The construction of Piraeus - the new port of Athens - was begun when he was elected in 493. Clearly, it is argued, the lesson Themistocles learned from the first invasion (which had been conveyed by sea) was the need to defeat the Persian fleet and 13 years before the second invasion he was already setting about rectifying the Hellenic naval deficiency.

    Secondly we know that in 481 when they knew Xerxes was coming the Hellenes held a conference in Corinth and sworn oaths etc... We know nothing of what was discussed but it's safe to assume that when forming an alliance to fight a common foe some form joint planning would occur and indeed it must have done so for the Thermopylae and Artemisium lines to have been established (a more forward defence line had actually been attempted at the Vale of Tempe previous to Thermopylae being chosen).

    Third is the Troezen tablet (in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens) which looks like this:

    It translates as;

    "Gods. Resolved by the Boule and the People. Themistocles son of Neocles of Phrearrhioi made the motion.

    The city shall be entrusted to Athena, Athens' protectress, and to the other gods, all of them, for protection and defense against the Barbarian on behalf of the country.

    The Athenians in their entirety and the aliens who live in Athens shall place their children and their women in Troezen, [to be entrusted to Theseus ?] the founder of the land. The elderly and movable property shall for safety be deposited at Salamis. The treasurers and the priestesses are to remain on the Acropolis and guard the possessions of the gods.

    The rest of the Athenians in their entirety and those aliens who have reached young manhood shall embark on the readied two hundred ships and they shall repulse the Barbarian for the sake of liberty, both their own and that of the other Greeks, in common with the Lacedaemonians, Corinthians, Aeginetans and the others who wish to have a share in the danger.

    Appointment will also be made of captains, two hundred in number, one for each ship, by the generals, beginning tomorrow, from those who are owners of both land and home in Athens and who have children who are legitimate. They shall not be more than fifty years old and the lot shall determine each man's ship. The generals shall also enlist marines, ten for each ship, from men over twenty years of age up to thirty, and archers, four in number. They shall also by lot appoint the specialist officers for each ship when they appoint the captains by lot. A list shall be made also of the rowers, ship by ship, by the generals, on notice boards, with the Athenians to be selected from the lexiarchic registers, the aliens from the list of names registered with the polemarch. They shall write them up, assigning them by divisions, up to two hundred divisions, each of up to one hundred rowers, and they shall append to each division the name of the warship and the captain and the specialist officers, so that they may know on what warship each division shall embark.

    When assignment of all the divisions has been made and they have been allotted to the warships, all the two hundred shall be manned by order of the Boule and the generals, after they have sacrificed to appease Zeus the All-powerful and Athena and Victory and Poseidon the Securer. When they have completed the manning of the ships, with one hundred they shall bring assistance to the Artemisium in Euboea, while the other hundred shall, all around Salamis and the rest of Attica, lie at anchor and guard the country.

    To ensure that in a spirit of concord all Athenians will ward off the Barbarian, those banished for the ten year span shall leave for Salamis and they are to remain there until the people decide about them. Those who have been deprived of citizen rights are to have their rights restored."
    The first thing to be said about Troezen tablet is that it was almost certainly written later in the third century BC and it is notable that Demosthenes refers to it in his Philippics when he was campaigning against Philip of Macedon's (Alexander's father) domination of the hitherto free city states. There are linguistic customs that can be dated and the Greek used in the tablet is generally not considered to be 5th century usage. There whole works of argument about this linguistic difference as one might expect but from my not bad though not excellent ancient Greek I would largely agree with a later dating; the 'Boule' or assembly at Athens was known as the 'Areopagus' in the 5th century for starters.

    I am not sure that this means one should disregard the Troezen tablet though - after all even if it was written 200yrs later they probably had more records, both written and oral, of the events of the Xerxes invasion than us. Even if it was intended as a piece of Demosthenes anti Macedonian propoganda and a call to ancient patriotic heroism can it have been been intended to be 'unbelievable'; for propaganda to work it must contain some truth and if Athenians in Demosthenes time believed it - and of course it may have not had anything to with Demosthenes campaign - then there must have reason for people to believe it true and create it and not somthing more in accord with Heroditus account.

    Fourth it is argued that if the Thermopylae - Artemisium line were intended as final why did so few troops defend Thermopylae and even by Heroditus account some the Athenian navy was missing from the Artemisium engagements? What were the rest of the Athenian ships doing at the time of Thermopylae - Artemisium? Evacuating the city perhaps? What were the rest of the troops doing? Fortifying the isthmus perhaps? Only after Thermopylae does Heroditus mention the fortification of the Pelopponesian isthmus in his 'strategy on the hoof' account. It is said that the Spartans sent only 300 troops to defend Thermopylae because of a religious festival. It is correct as far we know that they celebrated the Carnea (which corresponds roughly with August when Thermopylae took place) but if really entailed a prohibition on going abroad or to war why was one of the Kings (there were two Kings in Sparta) and however many spartiates permitted to go? It is estimated that total (true) Spartans at the time were around 6000. The Carnea as far as we know was used in Sparta to welcome new men into the citizen - ranks who had survived the Agogae. Were the rest busy doing nothing? This is not to mention the other Peloponnesian states of Corinth and Megara etc... Why did they not commit to the northern defencive line if this were intended to hold?

    Fifth it is estimated that the population of Athens at the time of Xerxes invasion was around 100,000 - which in 180 triremes it would be impossible to evacuate in 2 days anyway. The logistics don't work mathematically it is argued. Ergo some of the population had to have been evacuated earlier. Well I have seen a modern replica trireme (the Olympias) and would have to agree - if the Athenian population was then roughly 100,000. The point is the Athenian citizens at the time - the 'polis' - who were able to vote and fight were more likely less than 15,000 - I am not sure the Athenians would evacuate slaves though perhaps they constituted 'movable property'. But even the evacuation of 15,000 on say 150 triremes (allowing for guards, scouts and being repaired) over two days would be nigh on impossible in my view.

    The Olympias replica trireme.

    So the the theory is the allied command mostly at the prompting of the Athenians but almost certainly with the accord of the Spartans and other Peloponnesians, who were insular by instinct as was later seen, never intended the Thermopylae - Artemisium line to be held indefinately but for the Athenians to buy time to evacuate Athenian population behind a fortified isthmus line and for the combined fleets to always fight at Salamis. Thus Heroditus does injustice to Themistocles and the allied Command. In general I tend to agree with this theory but make your own minds up.
    Attached Files

  • #2
    i think you'll like this short story:

    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov


    • #3
      Ty for that example of the the fickleness of absolute power astralis, not sure exactly what time it is supposed to relate to though.


      • #4
        AH where Xerxes wins because they take the injunction to build wooden walls too literally. probably several hundred years after the conquest.
        There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov