In my previous Salamis post I ventured to disagree with Professor Barry Strauss over his representation of the overnight manoeuvres of the Persian fleet and its position at dawn just before the fighting began. I have been finding his book on the battle, and his other writing on Greek naval warfare in general, all several years more recent than the literature I was previously familiar with, tremendously helpful. However, as I wrote to him (only fair to give advance warning of the public assault on his academic reputation about to be launched from this blog!), “I just find it too improbable that they would have risked moving all the way along the north shore in the way you describe and suspect this is too precise an interpretation of Herodotus's reference to Eleusis in this connection”. Professor Strauss, in his kind reply, said, “Too bad you disagree with me about the Persians' maneuvering. I'll be interested in reading your specific arguments. As you know, improbability is not a strong reason to reject something, since history is full of improbable things. I found the arguments of the older book on la bataille de Salamine by a Greek scholar, cited in my bibliography, convincing on this score”. In his very useful annotated bibliography, Strauss describes this as “the best book-length study, too often overlooked”.
The book is by a Greek naval historian, Professor Constantin N Rados, written in French, and was published in Paris in 1915, so not to be found these days on many library or bookstore shelves! However, there is one copy in Oxford and the Bodleian have it, somewhere deep down, and wafted it to the Reading Room of my choice by their underground railway. I practically had to read it chained to a desk, fortunately on a long enough chain to reach the photocopier, and it is proving a bit of a challenge to my French. But I have already got far enough into it to accept, above all others, the interpretation of the sources that I was challenging - So, Professor Strauss (and Herodotus), you are off the hook, I withdraw my “reservation” unreservedly! Xerxes will now be shown on his golden throne on the Attica shore watching a long line of his ships (two-deep to get the numbers in?), advancing more or less directly away from him, and the prows of the Greeks pulling out to meet them; and the narrative will, of course, reflect this. But I mustn\'t get too carried away and risk a comment I picked up on my not very fruitful Googling of Constantin Rados, “l\'auteur s\'appuie beaucoup (trop peut-être) sur les travaux de Constantin Rados” - I mustn\'t lean on him too much. This came from an interesting book review which, in passing, reinforced my decision to brief my Battlescene artist not to show hoplite-marines in body armour: if your ship was rammed or boarded, you generally ended up in the sea and a cuirasse and greaves could not be described as buoyancy aids. By the way, this search also led me to a huge site which has to be a must-visit for any naval history enthusiast with some French.
But I digress - Marcus and I had a great meeting the other day and he seems happy with the way I\'m going. However, I still need more picture references for the Battlescenes. This is going to be no problem for the Greek triremes, but harder work for the Phoenicians, the best of the Persian fleet, which must also be depicted (the Greeks had to beat the Phoenicians to win). I have assembled a good deal of verbal information about the differences (for instance Phoenician triremes had higher sides hung with shields, more troops on deck, longer rams, taller sterns, and were built of cedar rather than pine or fir). But visual information that would be of real use to an artist is rather more difficult to come by.
On the BEVs, I was thinking in terms of somehow showing individual ships graphically, but Marcus quickly persuaded me that this would be very demanding on both the artist, and the reader trying to follow the key manoeuvres, supposing it could be done at all at the scale. However, we agreed that the maps definitely needed to include one that conveyed at least an impression of just how crowded that stretch of water was at the height of the battle. And Constantin Rados, uniquely, was there before us, as you can see from the following link
I owe Barry Strauss, for the above advice and for so much good reading on Salamis, and for directing me to the commuter ferry that will enable me to walk the battlefield from Piraeus to Paloukia where the Athenians beached their ships, when I go to Greece in a couple of weeks time. So here is an enthusiastic recommendation for another of his books, The Trojan War. Weaving together Homer\'s Iliad, quoted extensively in the unbeatable Alexander Pope translation, and current classical scholarship, latest archaeology and Near Eastern and Mediterranean military history, he grippingly reconstructs a totally believable and comprehensible Bronze Age invasion, with not only Helen, but the rich land of the Troad and, much more valuable, domination of the Hellespont and the sealanes from the Black Sea into the Aegean, its objectives. In the bibliography for this book, as for Salamis, he pleasingly cites Osprey titles, but I think it pleased me most of all that, in the latter, he had tracked down one of our Osprey Military Journal cookery articles!