Battle of Salamis, Cyprus - 450 B.C.

"Even in death; he conquers."
A statue of Kimon put up in the harbour in Salamis, Cyprus

By 450 B.C. the Delian League had been able to remove the Persian influence over alot of the Mediterranian islands. The island of Cyprus was the Persians largest substantial island that they had, and under the command of Kimon the Athenians made a bold move against them.

The Athenian navy under the guise of the Delian League commandered by Kimon with 200 ships [1] [2] sailed to Cyprus with the plan to remove the Persians there and in general to cause as much headache towards the Persians in that area as they could.

Kimon's main aim of occupying Cyprus would deny the Persians the use of an extremely valuable advance base in the eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus is the only large island in the Mediterranean east of Rhodes and is capable of supporting a large fleet, the island possessed excellent harbours, with fresh water, grain, timber, metals and other supplies in abundance. The Persians held a considerable size fleet there and it's loss would seriously blunt any future attempt to make any type of advance into Europe. For previously, Xerxes campaign against Greece in 480 B.C., the Cypriots furnished 150 ships, or the fourth largest contingent after the East Greeks and Phoenicians and Egyptians., but by now the East Greeks were part of the Delian League. Cyprus too had always had a serious link with Egypt, and at the time of the invasion, Egypt was already under revolt lead by Prince Amyrtaeos from the Persians. Indeed, Kimon was probably trying to take advance of the Egyptian revolt by attacking Cyprus.

Map of Cyprus
Map; click to enlarge

Kimon needed a better plan than just to land and start ravaging the island, his main strength was his naval fleet, and while he did have a great many marines on board, he would have preferred to do his fighting at sea. So, after gaining intelligence about the island, the naval force of Phoenicia, and the situation on the Egyptian revolt, Kimon began the campaign.

Kimon first took effective control of the waters around Cyprus, putting the fleet between Cyprus and Asia Minor, especially Phoenicia, this would prevent the Persian garrison on the island from being able to get any reinforcements from the mainland. The Persians on Cyprus would have to fight on their own without getting any help.

The next step required a capture of one of the key ports on the island, a secure naval base would be needed to provide shelter for their fleet from storms, allow repairs, food and fresh water. There were three primary ports on Cyprus at that time, Marium on the northwest coast, Kitium on the south coast and on the east coast, Salamis.

Kimon decided to storm the island at Marium [2] , it was a Greek city, relatively weaker than the other two ports and it was closer to Phoenicia and Asia Minor, allowing for a quick response to any type of attack that may come from that area. But if Kimon thought that the arrival of the Athenian navy would necessarily mean wholesale Cypriote support he would be disappointed. Even though Marium was a Greek city, it had to be taken by siege, Kimon would have preferred for the city to defect to the Athenian side. Nevertheless, Kimon finally captured the city.

Now that the naval base was established, the remaining key ports would be systematically captured.

Kimon rallyed the Greek Cypriots to the Athenian cause. The ports on the outskirts of the island might have been in Persian control, but many of the villages in the valleys and in the mountain areas were still Greek, and the flames of a revolt on the island put fear into the Persians stationed there.

The port of Kitium was decided upon to attack next. But during this time Kimon had come to the conclusion that Prince Amyrtaeos [1] in the Egypt revolt needed help from the Athenian navy and sent 60 ships [1] from his fleet to harass the forces sent from Persia that were on their way to put down the Egyptian revolt. Scholars have argued that Kimon had made an error in splitting his forces sending a contingent to Egypt. Kimon knew that the Persian forces sent to put down the revolt was reinforced by a naval contingent that followed them as they marched towards Egypt, by threatening the Persian fleet, the land forces would be put at risk.

Kimon would not delay the attack on Kitium [1] and attacked the city with a portion of his fleet (fleet size is unknown). Again, the city would not defect to the Athenian cause and a siege on a Cypriot port was waged. After a long drawn out struggle this time the Athenians failed, ancient writers say 'the siege failed because of famine'. Regardless of the ultimate reason, the city was not taken, causing further doubt on Kimon's actions in splitting his forces. Their failure implies that the Athenians who would have been reasonably hoping for support from the Cypriots were still not getting adequate help. The unsuccessful revolt by the Greek Cypriots in 499-497 B.C., that was subdued with difficulty must of lead to a strong Persian presence on the island.

Even more greater damage was done when Kimon during the siege died [1] by 'an illness' [2] , in what was thought to be a medical condition rather than during the fighting, and considering that it could be very easy to have written 'how glorious' he fell in battle for Athens' and that it was put down to an 'illness' instead, we have to say he really was sick and died and not due to the fighting.

The Athenian forces now was in command of Anaxicrates, but as far as any of the rest of the fleet knew, Kimon was still alive and giving out commands. The charade was kept up on purpose, as they did not want the Athenians to feel disheartened but also too the Greeks on the island were vital to the playing out of any future operations and if it became common knowledge that Kimon was dead, their help in the future might come into doubt and boost the Persian cause. The Athenian belief that Kimon was still alive at this time also proves that Kimon did not die 'gloriously in battle' as it would have been evident to his countrymen that he was dead.

Anaxicrates didn't waste any time, with Kimon's death he could not sit about. Kimon's view of recapturing Cyprus was universally known, his main goal had always to been in removing Persians off the island. Anaxicrates kept up operations as Kimon had wished, he called back the 60 ships sent to harass the Persians putting down the revolt, and, Salamis was still needed to be taken.

A direct attempt on Salamis was to be made, which had by that time had whatever reinforcements on the island mustered there, whatever fleet the Persians had, had re-grouped together intended to hold off the Greek offensive. With Marium lost, Kitium in the grips of a famine and currently blockaded, Salamis was the last hope for the Persian influences to keep a naval base on the island.

Thucydides [1] tells us that the Athenian fleet confronted the Persian fleet, composed of Phoenicians, Cypriotes and Cilicians, indicating at least some pro-Persian Cypriote support still remained even at this point. It can't be narrowed down to where the sea battle took place, it may have been close to the city of Salamis but might also have been at Phoenicia[2], (or maybe the fleet was split between the two).


Nothing is specifically known about the battle that took place except that the Persian fleet was defeated, the Athenians capturing 100 ships, crew and all [2] , and the rest scrambled away and headed towards Phoenicia, leaving the Greek fleet in total control of that area. Anaxicrates wasted no time in attacking the city of Salamis itself, the Athenian marines with their ability to raid ships on the open seas and then convert to a hoplite force on land won the day and the enemy was routed. However, it didn't go all the Athenians way and Anaxicrates lost his life at Salamis.

From this point the Greek Cypriots started to rise and Stasioikos I and Timocharis were installed as the rulers on the island, and Kitium was finally taken. With Persian influence removed from the area and the Persian forces sent to put down the Egyptian revolt failing (the Persians would later regroup and reclaim Egypt, but at this time the Persian forces had failed), the Athenians mission was complete and the fleet sailed back to Athens.


NEXT PAGE>>>The Second Sacred War



  • *1 'History of the Peloponnesian War' by Thucydides (112.2 to 4)
  • *2 'Historical Library' by Diodorus Siculus (12.3.f)
  • *3 'Histories' by Herodotus (6.35)


[1]Salamis was originally the small island just south of Athens. In the story of Troy, after the fall of Troy, Teucer returns home to his island, but is not allowed to isenbard by his father who is King because he returned without the body of his half-brother Ajax. Sailing away to Cyprus, Teucer founds a new city there calling it after his home island, and thus the city of Salamis on Cyprus was born. [3]

[2] The reason Phoenicia is mentioned as a likely place the naval engagement took place is because in a casualty list for the Erechtheid tribe of Athens made either in 459 or 458 B.C. the list of names that had fallen were for battles that occurred in Cyprus, Egypt, Phoenicia, Halieis, Aegina and Megara. If we assume the list is in chronological order, the first three are all to do with the expedition to Cyprus and the last three are to do all on mainland Greece. We also know that the Athenians returned back to Greece after Salamis, so this sits well.

Artifact: Stamnos pottery attributed to the Achilles Painter produced 450 B.C., same year as the Battle of Salamis, Cyprus.
Women were exempted from the duties of the male citizen, as well as excluded from male privileges, including voting. Military service was the most important and dangerous of a citizen's obligations to the polis. In the scene depicted on the pottery family members left behind commonly surround the departing warrior, and the hoplite's wife hold the ritual implements for making the transition. After pouring wine into a shallow bowl, she will spill some on the ground as a libation to the gods, and then the warrior, his wife, and his aged father will share the rest, in a last gesture of family unity.


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