Battle of Salamis (306 BC)

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The naval Battle of Salamis in 306 BC took place near Salamis, Cyprus between the fleets of Ptolemy I of Egypt and Demetrius, two of the diadochi, the successors to Alexander the Great. The battle was a complete victory for Demetrius, and resulted in his capture of Cyprus.

Setting[edit]

Demetrius landed on the northeast of Cyprus and began a trek on land toward the most important city to the west of that island, Salamis. He eventually reached Salamis and laid siege to it. Elsewhere, on the western coast of Cyprus, Ptolemy launched a relief mission from the city Paphos. He went to Kition and then to Salamis. This is where he met Demetrius and the battle led out to sea. Demetrius had a varied fleet. His fleet consisted of 7 Phoenician heptereis (seven banks of oarsmen on each side), 10 hexereis, 20 quinueres or pentereis, and 110 triremes and quadriemes or tetreres. It is estimated by some that Demetrius had a fleet of about 180 warships, but others speculate there could have been as little as 118 ships. Ptolemy had a more uniform fleet, containing 140 ships made up of quadriremes or quinqueremes. His brother Menelaos had another 60 ships trapped in the harbor at Salamis. Ptolemy also had 200 transport ships with 10,000 infantry aboard.[1]

Strategy[edit]

Ptolemy decided to try to make a dash to Salamis, hoping to surprise Demetrius and combine his fleet with his brother’s sixty ships so they could then outnumber Demetrius. His best shot was a night dash from Kition, around the south eastern headland of Cyprus and north up the coast to Salamis. There was a problem with this plan though. The land route from Kition to Salamis was much shorter than the sea journey, so when Demetrius learned of Ptolemy’s move on the day Ptolemy departed Kition, he was able to prepare to meet Ptolemy in battle. Demetrius got into position outside of Salamis in a way that prevented Menelaos from leaving the harbor. He place the stronger ships on his left, further out to sea and armed them with some of his siege weapons. He was planning on defeating Salamis’s right and then collapsing on his left forcing the Egyptian fleet onto shore where he had his army waiting. Demetrius took his position on his flagship, Phoenician seven.[1]

Battle[edit]

Ptolemy came into view right after dawn on the day of the battle. After seeing Demetrius ready and in battle formation for battle, he immediately adjusted his formation accordingly to match his opponent’s strategy, by placing his strongest ships on his left under his own command. They both were hoping to defeat the others right before their own right-hand side suffered subsequently they would divert all ships to helping the other side, with Ptolemy hoping that eventually Menelaos would get free and join in the fight. The battle took place a little South of Salamis. Demetrius took a gamble and only left a force of ten quinqueremes to blockade Salamis. And even though Menelaos was able to get free, it was too late and Ptolemy had already lost the race to defeat the others right side. Both had won, but Demetrius forces were well on their way to helping the other side before Ptolemy’s centre could completely finish off his left.[1]

Aftermath[edit]

Ptolemy then was forced to retreat having lost a bulk of his warships leaving with a reported 20 out of the 140 he arrived with. Demetrius captured 40 intact and 80 damaged ships. “Unusually in this largely mercenary age most of the captured troops refused to change sides, possibly because they had been granted land in Egypt.” Ptolemy was forced backed to Egypt. Menelaos surrendered and was sent back to Ptolemy. Demetrius conquered the rest of Cyprus without a problem. Antigonus, upon receiving the news assumed the title of king and Demetrius was rewarded with the same title.[1]

Popular culture[edit]

Alfred Duggan's novel on the life of Demetrius, Elephants and Castles, also covers the battle.

The fourth novel in Christian Cameron's Tyrant series, Destroyer of Cities features the Battle of Salamis.


References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Rickard, J (6 July 2007). "Battle of Salamis of Cyprus, 306 BC". Retrieved 13 May 2014.