Author Topic: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus  (Read 11940 times)

Patrick Waterson

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #30 on: May 04, 2018, 08:06:38 AM »
But the 600,000 (is there a mention of additional hangers on?) is still plagued by the same "unreliable figures" problem as the 2.5 million (with 2-2.5 milion hangers on).  Whether the two operations are an equivalent achievement regardless of numbers is another debate.

The figures are only 'unreliable' if one adopts the a priori aproach that they are deemed so.  The point about the 490 BC Eretreia-Marathon campaign is that it was a maritime invasion by large forces mounted and sustained by sea whereas Xerxes' 480 BC invasion of Greece required the fleet only to safeguard supply, not to move masses of troops in addition.

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It was you who introduced a WWII comparison.  They aren't strictly comparable.

Then there should be no problem with avoiding comparing them. :)  My point about WW2 operations is that they are a lot less efficient than Achaemenid operations partly on account of the geography and meteorology but mainly because of all the technology and techniques developed in the intervening years and therefore we should not be surprised about Achaemenid maritime logistical capabilities apparently or even actually surpassing our own.

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General principles, really: if there is a parallel using a period we know, that period would be the 18th-19th century and the agency the Royal Navy, which moved a lot of troops and supplies overseas, and the customary method of landing anything and anyone was to lower it (or them) into boats and put it (or them) ashore.  This was especially easy in the Mediterranean, e.g. at Aboukir in AD 1801.
But the Royal Navy wasn't operating beachable ships, so they were bound to use ferrying if they didn't have a port.  This seems a false comparison.

The point is that they found simple ferrying to be remarkably easy and efficient - in the Mediterranean.  Tides - not a problem. Surf - not a problem.

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Caesar used a different approach in his invasions of Britain, pulling his fleet (and any supplies it contained) up onto the beach and building a protective palisade around it.  This was the fruit of hard-won experience of British weather, which was routinely much less forgiving than the relatively mild and predictable Etesian Winds.
Why didn't the Persians do this, I wonder?  It's the sort of thing their naval contingents would have recognised, having experience of beaching warships at night.

Reason number one was that the fleet was simply too big to beach (hence presumably the preliminary thorough dry-out at Doriscus, when they had time and a beach - they knew they had a flotatious time ahead of them).  Conjectural reason number two is that they anyway needed the beach space to offload supplies.

The Achaemenids were not unfamiliar with the approach Caesar used: they employed it at Mycale in 479 BC, although this was to protect their (surviving) fleet against the Greeks rather than the weather.  Their fleet was of course somewhat smaller then and they did not have to reserve the whole beach for offloading supplies.
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Erpingham

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #31 on: May 04, 2018, 09:22:39 AM »
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My point about WW2 operations is that they are a lot less efficient than Achaemenid operations partly on account of the geography and meteorology but mainly because of all the technology and techniques developed in the intervening years and therefore we should not be surprised about Achaemenid maritime logistical capabilities apparently or even actually surpassing our own.

Without reference to Herodotus (whose account you are attempting to support), what evidence of the "Super Persians" is there?  Why should we think that the Persians have superior logistical capacities than those of modern times?
« Last Edit: May 04, 2018, 10:28:23 AM by Erpingham »
  • Anthony Clipsom

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #32 on: May 04, 2018, 09:44:23 AM »

Contrast this with our Achaemenids happily boating ashore, transferring their loads to willing hands and going back again for another load.  No obstacles, no mines, no constriction on the beaches, no masses of heavy internally-combusting vehicles, no visits by enemy raiders.  Same planet, but a different world.

No LCTs, no DUKWs, no Mulberries, no Red Ball express etc.  Yes, its a different world.  But even with all the huge technological advances, it was still difficult.  You've already said WWII isn't a good comparison.  But what we can take from it is over-beach supply is hard, even with ideal beaches, modern technology and a smaller army than you propose.  And weather can really disrupt things, even with a far more sea worthy fleet and artificial harbours.  Enough now on the WWII analogies?

What the more efficient amphibious Persians didnt have

•   Tinned food as well as effective preservatives
•   Radios to help with direction and control of operations
•   Radar
•   Unified command structure
•   Mapping
•   Aerial reconnaissance
•   A Staff college able to create doctrine based on studying several thousand years of amphibious operations
•   World War one and more recent experience
•   General literacy
•   Common spoken language
•   Ships and other craft not dependent on wind and rowing.
•   Weather forcasting
« Last Edit: May 05, 2018, 12:23:18 AM by Flaminpig0 »
  • Ian Cam

Erpingham

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #33 on: May 04, 2018, 10:07:16 AM »
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The point is that they found simple ferrying to be remarkably easy and efficient - in the Mediterranean.  Tides - not a problem. Surf - not a problem.

Not knowing much about Aboukir Bay landings, I searched online and was lucky enough to find British Expeditionary Warfare and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1793-1815 by Robert K. Sutcliffe, which has a case study of the landing arrangements for this battle (pp34-39).  He gives no overall strength of the British expeditionary force but wikipedia numbers it at 17,500, 5132 were in the assault wave.  It was calculated that the landing force would need 102 boat loads and would take 10 hours.  One of the major problems faced was the swell, which delayed the landings by two days, and some troops were lost to the sea in addition to those to enemy fire.  It took 10 days to offload the whole army and its supplies.

Even if we assume hugely more efficient Persian operations, consistently better quality and larger beaches and continuous good luck with the weather, it is hard to see how this method could really support an expeditionary force of nearly 20 times the size of the British expedition.

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Patrick Waterson

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #34 on: May 04, 2018, 07:28:43 PM »
Yes, the Aboukir landings had to wait a couple of days, but when they went ahead those in charge were very impressed by the rapidity with which they landed their 5,000 men.

The unloding of artillery etc. I discounted as being not really applicable to the classical era. ;)

But what we can take from it is over-beach supply is hard, even with ideal beaches, modern technology and a smaller army than you propose.

But how hard was it really for the Achaemenids across the Aegean?  I am not sure how well WW2 beaches (and the 20th century caveats I mentioned earlier - 'modern technology' works both ways) can be considered indicative of classical difficulty levels.

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And weather can really disrupt things, even with a far more sea worthy fleet and artificial harbours.  Enough now on the WWII analogies?

Indeed.  Weather could be a problem, but our accounts make it seem as if it was either fine or impossible with little in between.  While it was fine, unloading operations appear to have preceeded with remarkable alacrity.

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Even if we assume hugely more efficient Persian operations, consistently better quality and larger beaches and continuous good luck with the weather, it is hard to see how this method could really support an expeditionary force of nearly 20 times the size of the British expedition.

Classical period amphibious operations are rare, but what we have suggests the difficulties and perils of WW2 did not apply.  Marathon one might wonder about, together with the earlier landing in Eretreia, but the Greeks in 479 BC happily landed their whole force at Mycale in short order (Herodotus IX.99: "... the Greeks brought their ships to the land and, having disembarked, arrayed themselves for battle" sounds as if everyone was on the beach in a couple of hours).

What this suggests is that Greeks and Persians alike were not necessarily constrained by the problems we think up for them.

Now at the other end of Hellas, the Carthaginians were also trying to do a Xerxes, but the facts of geography meant they had to come entirely by sea.  Over to Dionysius of Halicarnassus (XI.20):

"The Carthaginians, we recall,1 had agreed with the Persians to subdue the Greeks of Sicily at the same time and had made preparations on a large scale of such materials as would be useful in carrying on a war. And when they had made everything ready, they chose for general Hamilcar, having selected him as the man who was held by them in the highest esteem.

He assumed command of huge forces, both land and naval, and sailed forth from Carthage with an army of not less than three hundred thousand men and a fleet of over two hundred ships of war, not to mention many cargo ships for carrying supplies, numbering more than three thousand. Now as he was crossing the Libyan sea he encountered a storm and lost the vessels which were carrying the horses and chariots. And when he came to port in Sicily in the harbour of Panormus he remarked that he had finished the war; for he had been afraid that the sea would rescue the Siceliotes from the perils of the conflict.

He took three days to rest his soldiers and to repair the damage which the storm had inflicted on his ships, and then advanced together with his host against Himera, the fleet skirting the coast with him. And when he had arrived near the city we have just mentioned, he pitched two camps, the one for the army and the other for the naval force. All the warships he hauled up on land and threw about them a deep ditch and a wooden palisade, and he strengthened the camp of the army, which he placed so that it fronted the city, and prolonged so that it took in the area from the wall extending along the naval camp as far as the hills which overhung the city.

Speaking generally, he took control of the entire west side, after which he unloaded all the supplies from the cargo vessels and at once sent off all these boats, ordering them to bring grain and the other supplies from Libya and Sardinia."


Dionysius gives us no timings, but we at least get to see an outline of how the Phoenicians conducted a landing operation.  Note that Hamilcar does not unload his supplies at a port, but near or at the scene of action where he is besieging Himera, hence across beaches.  There seems to be no problem in getting the cargoes ashore expeditiously and then sending off the ships to various supply sources for a refill.  This refill was presumably also intended for unloading over the beaches - and one imagines would have been thus discharged had not Gelo of Syracuse wiped out Hamilcar's army before it arrived.
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Erpingham

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #35 on: May 05, 2018, 08:56:02 AM »
One of the problems with this is, of course, we have no idea of the actual numbers involved.  There is no obvious reason to assume that the barbarians are not being inflated again.  Even if we took this force at face value, it's still 15 times smaller than Herodotus' figure for Xerxes army. 

We might note certain details -
*the ships are beached and the position fortified to create an operating base for the seige. 
*There is no timescale for the unloading and I didn't find it clear whether they unloaded during the fortification work, splitting their labour, or after.  The fleets labour could be relied on at this point, if only to build the camps. 
*Fortunately, they were operating a fixed beach head, rather than beach hopping, which would have helped.
*They haven't set up a conveyor system - they have brought a lot of supplies at once then sailed off to collect/source a second load. 
*They don't send for more horses, presumably because they lost the horse transports, rather than they had no reserves of horseflesh. 
*Bad weather very nearly scuppered the expedition from the start

Anyone, thanks for raising this one, because it has some interesting details. 

Finally, looking into this, I found this interesting report
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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #36 on: May 05, 2018, 04:25:36 PM »
To play devils' advocate; is there any reason not to believe that Aeschylus was using poetic license with his numbers for the Persian fleet?

Erpingham

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #37 on: May 05, 2018, 04:44:23 PM »
To play devils' advocate; is there any reason not to believe that Aeschylus was using poetic license with his numbers for the Persian fleet?

Well, Herodotus uses the figure 1207 triremes.  One reading of Aeschylus is that he says the persians had 1207 triremes.  This can't be a coincidence - Herodotus is presumably using Aeschylus as a source.  Aeschylus could be using dramatist's licence, of course :)

If we look at Ctesias figures, he has 1000 triremes (the alternative reading of Aeschylus) but he also has 3,000 light galleys, like Herodotus.  Either Ctesias has used Herodotus as a source (but if so, why alter the number of triremes?) or there is an independent basis, now lost to us, for the 3,000 galleys.  Again, there is no reason why the 3,000 is accurate, just that its not unique.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: The numbers of Persian ships at Salamis according to Aeschylus
« Reply #38 on: May 05, 2018, 06:51:25 PM »
One of the problems with this is, of course, we have no idea of the actual numbers involved.  There is no obvious reason to assume that the barbarians are not being inflated again.  Even if we took this force at face value, it's still 15 times smaller than Herodotus' figure for Xerxes army.

Which leads one to wonder: if inflation had been the order of the day, why limit them to 300,000? It would surely be much more dramatic to have, say, three million or so.

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Finally, looking into this, I found this interesting report

Thanks for this: it does have some promising aspects.

"Studying Himera's dead is also revealing the gruesome realities of ancient warfare. Initial analysis shows that some men suffered impact trauma to their skulls, while the bones of others display evidence of sword cuts and arrow strikes. In several cases, soldiers were buried with iron spearheads lodged in their bodies. One man still carries the weapon that killed him stuck between his vertebrae. Analysis of the types and locations of these injuries may help determine whether the men fell in hand-to-hand combat or in an exchange of missiles, while advancing or in flight. The arrowheads and spearheads uncovered with the men can also provide other important evidence. Ancient soldiers typically employed the distinctive weapons of their home regions, so archaeologists may be able to discover who killed the men buried at Himera by studying the projectiles embedded in their remains."

Nice to see archaeologists thinking in terms of weapons and tactics.

As a variation on the thread title theme, it might be interesting to note the number of Persian ships at Salamis according to Herodotus.  The slick answer, is, of course, none: the Persians fielded no vessels, and the navy consisted of Egyptians, Cyprians, Cilicians, Pamphylians etc. but it is intriguing to note that Herodotus does not venture a figure for the Achaemenid fleet.
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