Author Topic: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus  (Read 11945 times)

Erpingham

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As a spin-off from the discussion of numbers of Xerxes army, here is a question relating to the persian fleet.

Herodotus gives as the number of Persian triremes 1207.  This figure is held as proof that Herodotus knew Aeschylus' play The Persians because Aeschylus says

But Xerxes, this I know, had under his command a thousand, while those excelling in speed were twice a hundred, and seven more. lines 331-2

I've seen several interpretations of this line.  It can be read as giving a total of 1207 triremes including 207 speedy ones, of 1000 triremes and 207 vessels of another type or, in one case, 1000 ships, of which 207 are especially speedy.

Could any of our Greek speakers check the Greek for me and see whether the interpretation is clear in the original?

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Andreas Johansson

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2018, 02:43:59 PM »
Are you sure 331-332 are the right lines? I looked up The Persians at Perseus Project and what they have for those lines doesn't seem to match at all.
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Erpingham

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2018, 02:54:50 PM »
Sorry Andreas.  It should be 341-2.  Its because the translation page is headed 331 (where it starts).
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Andreas Johansson

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2018, 03:12:00 PM »
Thanks; that one fits. My Greek isn't up to judging quite how the numbers should be interpreted.
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Justin Swanton

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #4 on: April 27, 2018, 04:54:11 PM »
Reading through the Greek, it seems to be ambiguous.

Herodotus breaks down the Persian triremes by nationality:

Phoenicians and Syrians - 300
Egyptians - 200
Cyprians - 150
Cilicians - 100
Pamphylians - 100
Lycians - 50
Dorians - 30
Carians - 70
Ionians - 100
Islanders - 17
Aeolians - 60
Pontus - 100

Which gives 1277 ships which is 70 ships over his initial total of 1207. Does he account for the extra 70 ships?
« Last Edit: April 27, 2018, 05:17:53 PM by Justin Swanton »
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #5 on: April 27, 2018, 06:18:37 PM »
This sort of totalling error is not uncommon in the classical period, vide Diodorus' totals at Paraitakene.

Aeschylus' Greek reads:

Xerxē de, kai gar oida, khilias men ēn
hōn ēge plēthos, hai d' huperkopoi takhei
hekaton dis ēsan hepta


A literal (and somewhat banal) translation would read:

Xerxe de = Xerxes, on the other hand

kai gar oida = and this I know

khilias men ēn hōn ēge plēthos = a thousand indeed in his great number;

hai d' huperkopoi takhei = and overstepping all bounds in speed

hekaton dis ēsan hepta = two hundred and seven

Richard can probably refine this.

The sense of this passage is 1,000 standard and 207 fast vessels.  From the fact they are not differentiated from the preceding Greek ships one can assume all are triremes or close equivalents in fighting power.
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Erpingham

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #6 on: April 27, 2018, 06:28:55 PM »
Thank you Patrick.  The translation ends in the word "more" which I couldn't see in your more literal working.  This would certainly explain why some include the 207 in the thousand and others don't.
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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #7 on: April 27, 2018, 06:56:08 PM »
I did leave out th': after heptath': (from te) has the sense of 'both' or 'also' and that I think is where the 'more' comes from.  Apologies for having overlooked it.
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aligern

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #8 on: April 27, 2018, 06:56:44 PM »
1000 ships, merchants and transports 30 men a ship?   30,000 men 277 warships 200 men a ship 60 thousand men  total 80- 100 thousand men. That's the sort of number of ships  I would associate with the force that ferried William  the Conqueror ( 700 ships) It doesn!t really chime  with an army of a million.  The individual figures are believable , especially if its a breakdown of 1000 transports and 207 or 277 warships.
Roy
« Last Edit: April 27, 2018, 07:03:04 PM by aligern »
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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2018, 07:12:49 PM »
1000 ships, merchants and transports 30 men a ship?   30,000 men 277 warships 200 men a ship 60 thousand men  total 80- 100 thousand men. That's the sort of number of ships  I would associate with the force that ferried William  the Conqueror ( 700 ships) It doesn!t really chime  with an army of a million.  The individual figures are believable , especially if its a breakdown of 1000 transports and 207 or 277 warships.
Roy

seems a reasonable number to me
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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #10 on: April 28, 2018, 08:17:28 AM »
1000 ships, merchants and transports 30 men a ship?   30,000 men 277 warships 200 men a ship 60 thousand men  total 80- 100 thousand men. That's the sort of number of ships  I would associate with the force that ferried William  the Conqueror ( 700 ships) It doesn!t really chime  with an army of a million.  The individual figures are believable , especially if its a breakdown of 1000 transports and 207 or 277 warships.

Actually the 1,207 are all warships, and are in addition to the 674 warships used to create the bridges across the Hellespont.

For supporting vessels, Herodotus (VII.97) gives the figure of 3,000.  He identifies these as triakonters, pentekonters, kerkouroi (cornships) and, interestingly, hippogoga (horse-transports); whether the latter were actually transporting horses or conveying materials he does not state.  One is tempted to wonder if they had a beach-landing role for delivering supplies.

We may note that this fleet did not 'ferry' Xerxes' army, which makes the comparison a bit skewed, but the ability of a small early mediaeval power to field 700 or more ships is a helpful reminder that 4,207 is not difficult to accept for a mighty empire.  The ability of these ships to convey supplies for an army several millions strong (including noncombatants, and Herodotus lists the ship crews as part of the total) has been discussed elsewhere, and the only persistent objection was a belief that the fleet could not unload sufficient supplies over beaches.
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Erpingham

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #11 on: April 28, 2018, 08:58:19 AM »


For supporting vessels, Herodotus (VII.97) gives the figure of 3,000.  He identifies these as triakonters, pentekonters, kerkouroi (cornships) and, interestingly, hippogoga (horse-transports);


The ships of thirty and of fifty oars, the light galleys, and the great transports for horses came to a total of three thousand all together. Herodotus VII. 97.1

I presume the word translated "light galley" is that Patrick translates as "cornship".  I had originally seen it as an emphasis on what went before. 

Incidentally, when Herodotus works out the crews of the ships of these 5,000, he counts them all as penteconters with 30 marines.  Essentially, he doesn't envisage them primarily as transports. 

On numbers here, I think the trireme numbers have the potential to be accurate.  Whether Aeschylus originated it, or whether it was the traditional Athenian figure, it was clearly in circulation amongst veterans of Salamis and a physical count of hundreds of ships is simpler than hordes of men.  The 3000 ships I am less confident in - it could be a generic "lots", especially as he doesn't itemise it.

As to make up and operation of the "sealift command" of the Persian forces, a quick visit to the other thread will show that Patrick and I have  totally different views of the practicalities of operating supply ships over beaches :)  We haven't really looked at fleet operations in the campaign, though - we've concentrated on the army.

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #12 on: April 28, 2018, 07:54:49 PM »
In VII.97 Herodotus explicitly uses 'kerkouroi' (corn-ships) as part of the 3,000.  Translating this as 'light galleys' looks like extraordinary carelessness, but there may be a reason, if an incorrect one.

When he gets to VII.184 Herodotus designates these vessels as 'pentekonters', an evident mistake, but perhaps the source of the 'light galleys' translation if the translator was backtracking to apply consistency at the expense of accuracy.  We do get the incidental information that a pentekonter of the period had an 80-strong crew, presumably 50 rowers and 30 fighting men (or less than 30 plus some sailors), so the mistake is not entirely wasteful.  It does however mean that Herodotus has overestimated the total of naval personnel by 240,000 and hence total personnel by 480,000, bringing his estimated overall total down to 5,043,220.

In VII.186 the ships from VII.97 are added back in as 'sitagōgoisi akatoisi' (light corn-ships) and 'ploiosi' (vessels), but not numbered.  They are part of Herodotus' conjectural addition of one non-combatant per combatant.

As to make up and operation of the "sealift command" of the Persian forces, a quick visit to the other thread will show that Patrick and I have  totally different views of the practicalities of operating supply ships over beaches :)  We haven't really looked at fleet operations in the campaign, though - we've concentrated on the army.

Whatever the real or apparent difficulties, the triakonters and pentekonters would seem ideal for ferrying loads to the beach, unloading quickly (their large crews being a distinct asset for this) and going back for another round, while the horse-transports, with their loading ramps, have interesting possibilities for unloading cargoes directly onto beaches swiftly and with style.  So we can at least say that the accompanying fleet is very well configured for naval supply of a large army.  Whether we can put any figures to this is another question.
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Jim Webster

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #13 on: April 28, 2018, 09:06:04 PM »
In VII.97 Herodotus explicitly uses 'kerkouroi' (corn-ships) as part of the 3,000.  Translating this as 'light galleys' looks like extraordinary carelessness, but there may be a reason, if an incorrect one.



I have tried to  contemplate the pentaconter as a corn ship. If you left the marines off you'd make a start, and it might even be possible to strip out alternate oarsmen. As a way of running grain into the harbour of a town under siege it might make sense. Of moving grain from a harbour to a beach a day's journey away, again I could see it. (Or even beach to beach)
But you still have to beach to sleep etc and if you have too few oarsmen you'd struggle to push the damned thing back in the water  :-[
So I suspect you're right, it's probably an error
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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #14 on: April 29, 2018, 07:32:25 AM »
Agreed, Jim, and for the reasons you give. :)

I would think the penetekonter is better off ferrying stuff from a proper corn-ship, maybe dumping its marines on the beach first to lighten the ship and act as a shore party to help with unloading.  (They need not restrict themselves to unloading their particular pentekonter when it arrives, but coulds busy themselves with whichever one happens to be to hand.)  Triakonters could do much the same thing in much the same way, with a smaller load and faster turn-around time.
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