Empires rubbed up against each other in the aftermath of Salamis. Thus rapidly advancing military technology.

by Daniel Russ on September 8, 2014


Alexander's Empire

Alexander’s Empire


Many consider the Battle of Salamis as the most important battle in the western hemisphere. Of course if Persia had prevailed, there may never have been a Western history at all. Or so the argument goes. Western history would have never seen the Roman Senate, the Coliseum, Roman law and Roman military tactics. It would not have seen the first Western urban living that Rome represented. It would not have seen the first Western organizational forces in government. It would have been more baklava and less pasta. History would have Central Asian and Muslim and Persian flavors.  It was Salamis where Sparta and Athens finally ended heaping hostilities upon each other long enough to join together and stop Xerxes in a naval battle. When Xerxes returned home to Persia, his army followed him, and the great Greek punishment was over. Subsequently, the Greeks and the Persians had pulled even with each other in the development of naval warfare. Both sides had triremes meant to ram other boats in the Mediterranean, often followed by boarding parties who settled matters at the business end of swords and daggers.

After the Persians retreated from the Peleponesian theater, the Greeks pounced upon each other in  a series of bobberies we call the Peloponnesian Wars.  The Peloponnesian Wars were wars fought about governance, essentially a choice between the fascist Spartan ideology or early Democracy out of Pericles’ Athens. Soon thereafter a new Macedonian empire would rise in the north and reunite the Greek city states weakened by constant civil war. Philip of Macedon’s son, Alexander would stretch the Greek empire from Egypt to the Russian steppes. He would be one of the first empire builders in the world. But he left no unified Greece. The empires that followed his rule, the Selluecids, the Byzantines, and the Ptolemies ruled in succession empire until Rome emerged.  People who know how old country Greeks like to argue will laugh to think that Alexander was the last time the Greeks were unified about anything.

Governance didn’t change after the wars between the Greeks and the Persians. Still ascendent was the Pharaonic king, the sultans and the emperors who were all combat veterans that lead their troops from the front. Warfare changed dynamically when the Persians and the Greeks fought. The Greek hoplites created the phalanx which as the standard for massed infantry warfare for another 500 years. Adopting the equine technology from Central Asian tribes, the Persians transformed the old mid-eastern chariot into a new kind of massed cavalry.

Epaminondas, the Theban tactician who defeated the Spartans at Leuctra in 271 BC was credited with creating and formalizing the flanking maneuver. What Alexander’s military advances brought to military history was combat engineering. Building walls, diverting rivers, inventing mines, and building roads and pontoon bridges on the go became de rigeur with ancient armies on the move.

Whatever technologies one side had were adopted or adapted by the other side. Surely the Romans copied the phalanx from the Greeks. Surely the trireme was born in Persia and copied elsewhere in the Mediterranean by Romans in their first major sea battle. While the Greeks and Romans didn’t use war elephants, they learned how to fight against them. So even at the ends of swords, in the death of empires,  new ideas are born. 


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louis October 10, 2017 at 8:08 am

An argument can be made that, as Rome did not come into contact with the Persians, it is doubtfull the Persians would have gone even further west, just to get at the, then just emerging, city, I doubt we then would have seen less Rome. I do think it would have been more Rome, and less Greece, so less philosophy, and less humanities, and stricter laws, with less freedoms.

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