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Naval History 550-330BC - Achaemenid Empire

Among the earliest acts of Darius, after he had crushed the rebellions which crowded upon him during his first six years, was to establish over the whole of the empire a uniform system of finance and government. The entire territory was divided into satrapies, under civil governors or satraps. It was probably a matter of agreement, from the first, that the Phoenician contribution should be entirely naval. Without venturing to maintain that a definite commercial proportion was assigned permanently for the contingents of the several states, some idea of the estimation in which Phoenicia was held is indicated by the fact that, when the full force of the empire was called out, the burden that fell upon the Phoenician cities was that of furnishing three hundred triremes, while Egypt was called upon to furnish no more than two hundred, Cyprus one hundred and fifty, Cilicia, Ionia, and the Greeks of the Hellespont one hundred each, Caria seventy, the ^Eolian Greeks sixty, Lycia fifty, Pamphylia thirty, the Dorians of Asia the same number, and the islanders of the ^Egean under twenty. Thus, out of a total of twelve hundred triremes, which formed the maximum strength of the Persian navy, Phoenicia contributed a full fourth; and, with her dependencies, Cyprus and Cilicia, not much short of half.

Moreover, the Phoenician vessels were at this time excellently equipped and armed. Xenophon makes one of his characters say of a Phoenician ship duringthe Persian period : "I think that the best and most perfect arrangement of things which I ever saw was when I went to look at the great Phoenician sailing vessel: for I saw the largest amount of naval tackling separately disposed in the smallest stowage possible. For a ship, as you well know, is brought to anchor, and again got under way, by a vast number of wooden implements, and of ropes, and sails the sea by means of a quantity of rigging, and is armed with a number of contrivances against hostile vessels, and carries about with it a large supply of weapons for the crew, and, besides, has all the utensils that a man keeps in his dwellinghouse, for each of the messes. In addition, it is loaded with a quantity of merchandise, which the owner carries with him for his own profit."

In BC 498, the Phoenicians were called upon to lend their aid to their suzerain under extremely critical circumstances. The Greeks of Asia had revolted. They had received assistance from Eretria and Athens. Sardis had been burnt. Caria and Caunus had made common cause with the rebels, and thrown off the Persian yoke. The flames of war had burst out in Cyprus, where the population was half Greek, half Phoenician, and except Amathus, all the cities, whatever their nationality, had taken up arms against Persia.

The Great King was deprived entirely of his northern fleet, that on which he placed his greatest reliance, and which had alone accompanied him in his expedition against Scythia, and guarded for him the Bosphorus and the Danube. Had Phoenicia failed him under these circumstances, had she stood aloof and declined to take part in the conflict, still more had she followed the example of her Cyprian kinsmen, and gone over to the enemy, Darius must, it would seem, have suffered a great calamity he must have lost the command of the sea, and possession of the greater part of Western Asia. The only ships remaining to him would have been those of Egypt, Cilicia, Lycia, and Pamphylia, none of them naval powers of first-class rank, and all of them more or less disaffected. The struggle would then have become at least as critical as was, a century later, that against Evagoras, which shook the Persian power to its basis.

As it was, Phoenicia did not fail himshe does not appear even to have hesitated. An ample fleet was put at the disposal of the Persian generals, which transported a large Persian army from Cilicia to the shores of Cyprus. A double battle was fought near Salamis, in which, though the Ionian Greeks defeated the Phoenicians by sea, yet the land force which the Phoenician fleet had conveyed to the island gained so complete a victory over the Cypriots that the back of the rebellion was broken; the Ionian fleet retired and dispersed; Persia was left mistress of the situation, and succeeded shortly in trampling out the flames of revolt in Cyprus, Caria, and Caunus. By the year BC 495, the fifth of the war, nothing remained for her but to take vengeance on the Ionian Greeks, who had set the rebellion afoot, and especially to punish Miletus, which had been its head and front.

After the battle of Lade' (BC 494) the Phoenicians were employed by the Persians in the reduction of the islands of the ^Egean, and of various cities on the European shores of the Propontis and the Straits. Miltiades narrowly escaped being captured by one of their vessels as he fled from the Chersonese. Metiochus, his son, actually fell into their hands, was conveyed to Susa, and lived and died a Persian. From this time till Xerxes began his preparations against Greece, there is no definite information as to the relations of the Phoenicians to the Persians. It may be assumed as highly probable that they furnished the greater portion of those fleets, with which Mardonius in BC 492, and Datis and Artaphernes in BC 490, made their expeditions against Greece; but the fleets were certainly not composed of Phoenician vessels exclusively. Persia drew her armaments from her subjects generally, and the ordinary rule was that the maritime states conjointly should furnish the fleets.

The support given by the Athenians to their countrymen in Asia Minor, furnished Darius, king of Persia, with a pretext for attacking Greece; but the Persian fleet under Mardonius was wrecked against the promontory of Athos; and the Athenian general Miltiades defeated the invading army under Hippias at Marathon, 490 BC.

When, in BC 485, Xerxes, having determined on the Greek expedition, the Phoenicians had an opportunity of exhibiting before the eyes of the entire fleet and army the matchless excellence of their ships. In the sea-fight, the Phoenicians, though they could not avert defeat, showed much gallantry. Contributing one-fourth of the entire Persian fleet, they naturally had the lead in every engagement.

Nine years after the signal defeat of Hippias, Xerxes, king of Persia, at the head of a countless host crossed the Hellespont, and directed his march, through Thessaly, upon Athens, with the view of exterminating the liberties of Greece; but Leonidas with his devoted band of 300 Spartans taught the tyrant, at the Pass of Thermopylae, and Themistocles saved his country by annihilating the Persian navy at Salamis. For a time at Salamis, in BC 480, the Phoenicians forced the Greeks to beat a retreat. The entanglement of a Phoenician with an Athenian trireme brought on the general engagement. When victory declared itself on the side of the Greeks, the Phoenician vessels continued to make a desperate resistance. A large number of them were sunk; several were taken; comparatively few emerged from the battle uninjured, or indeed without serious injury. Their leaders had a right to exclaim" All is lost except our honour;" but unfortunately, and to the deep disgrace of Xerxes, this consolation was not, in the hour of their distress, allowed them.

It was not until BC 465, fifteen years after Salamis, that Phoenicia, finding the southern coast of Asia Minor, and the island of Cyprus, threatened, consented once more to employ her naval force in the service of her suzerain, and resumed her old position at the head of the Persian fleet in the great action at the mouth of the Eurymedon. Once more, she was unfortunate. The confederate Persian navy was completely defeated by Cimon, son of Miltiades, with the loss of two hundred ships out of a total of three hundred and fifty. A further squadron of eighty galleys, entirely Phoenician, which had failed to effect a junction with the other ships before the great battle, was attacked by Cimon on the open sea in the afternoon of the same day, and swept from the ocean.

From this time for about seventy-five years, till the star of Persia began to show signs of setting, Phoenicia lived the life of a submissive subject state, paying her tribute regularly, and rendering effective aid to the Persians in all their naval enterprises, which were numerous, and sometimes of great importance. It was his command of a Phoenician fleet amounting to nearly a hundred and fifty vessels, which enabled Tissaphcrnes to play so influential a part in Asia Minor during the later years of the Peloponnesian War.

It was the presence of their fleet at Cnidus which turned the scale between Athens and Sparta, enabling the Athenians to recover the naval supremacy which they had lost at ^gospotami. It was the appearance of a Phoenician fleet in Greek waters, which, in BC 393, gave an opportunity to the Athenians to rebuild their long walls, alarmed Sparta for her own safety, and extorted from her fears in the succeeding year the agreement known as "the Peace of Antalcidas." Persia owed to her Phoenician subjects the glory of recovering complete possession of Asia Minor, and of being accepted as a sort of final arbiter in the internal quarrels of the Greeks.

The Persian power was now manifestly on the decline. The expedition of the younger Cyrus, and the return of the Ten Thousand under Xenophon, had made patent to all the internal weakness of the empire. The design of Alexander to invade Asia was known beforehand to the Asiatics. A wise policy would have dictated the collection in the Propontis and the Northern JEgean of the largest possible fleet, the keeping a careful watch on Alexander's movements, and the making of every practicable effort to intercept his heavily laden vessels when they put to sea. Mentor of Rhodes, the best strategist on the Persian side, urgently recommended that this course should be taken. He maintained that, if the whole naval force of Persia were brought up, including the entire Phoenician fleet, the Persian king would have complete command of the sea. The counsel of Mentor was, however, not followed. Alexander was allowed to cross the Hellespont with an army of 35,000 men; and the war became a land war, the movements of the fleets becoming, comparatively speaking, unimportant.

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Page last modified: 21-02-2014 18:47:14 ZULU