Famous Sea Fights - From Salamis to Tsu-Shima
by John Richard Hale
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Transcriber's Notes:

Italics have been marked with underscores, like 'this'. oe ligature has been changed to 'oe'. In "trieres" and "Trieres", the 'e' stands for an 'e' with a macron.

Changes: p.23: "Platea" changed to "Plataea" p.23: "Leothychides" changed to "Leotychides" p.27: Footnote 2: "see Chapter XIII" changed to "see Chapter XI" p.67: "1494" changed to "1396", for the battle of Nicopolis took place on 25 September, 1396, not in 1494 p.71: "Nicosis" changed to "Nicosia" p.126: "Reganzona" changed to "Regazona" p.145: Caption: "Vanderelde" changed to "Vandervelde" p.152: "ninety two" changed to "ninety-two" p.162: comma after "off San Domingo" changed to period p.227 Footnote 18: comma removed after "Worden" pp.300, 301: "Sevastopol" changed to "Sebastopol" p.308: "Admiral Seniavine" changed to "Admiral Senyavin" p.341: "Swir" changed to "Svir" (two times) p.345: Index: "Bragadino, Ambrosio" changed to "Bragadino, Ambrogio" p.348: Index: "Monceda" changed to "Moncada" (admiral of the galeasses in the armada) p.349: Index: "Valdes, Diego Flores de, admira" changed to "Valdes, Diego Flores de, admiral"








Three hundred years ago Francis Bacon wrote, amongst other wise words: "To be Master of the Sea is an Abridgement of Monarchy.... The Bataille of Actium decided the Empire of the World. The Bataille of Lepanto arrested the Greatnesse of the Turke. There be many Examples where Sea-Fights have been Finall to the Warre. But this much is certaine; that hee that commands the Sea is at great liberty, and may take as much and as little of the Warre as he will. Whereas those, that be strongest by land, are many times neverthelesse in great Straights. Surely, at this Day, with us of Europe, the Vantage of Strength at Sea (which is one of the Principall Dowries of this Kingdome of Greate Brittaine) is Great; Both because Most of the Kingdomes of Europe are not merely Inland, but girt with the Sea most part of their Compasse; and because the Wealth of both Indies seemes in great Part but an Accessary to the Command of the Seas."[1]

[1] Bacon's Essay on "The Greatness of Kingdoms," first published in 1597. The extract is from the edition of 1625.

The three centuries that have gone by since this was written have afforded ample confirmation of the view here set forth, as to the importance of "Battailes by Sea" and the supreme value of the "Command of the Sea." Not only "we of Europe," but our kindred in America and our allies in Far Eastern Asia have now their proudly cherished memories of decisive naval victory.

I propose to tell in non-technical and popular language the story of some of the most remarkable episodes in the history of sea power. I shall begin with the first sea-fight of which we have a detailed history—the Battle of Salamis (B.C. 480), the victory by which Themistocles the Athenian proved the soundness of his maxim that "he who commands the sea commands all." I shall end with the last and greatest of naval engagements, the Battle of Tsu-shima, an event that reversed the long experience of victory won by West over East, which began with Salamis more than two thousand years ago. I shall have to tell of British triumphs on the sea from Sluys to Trafalgar; but I shall take instances from the history of other countries also, for it is well that we should remember that the skill, enterprise, and courage of admirals and seamen is no exclusive possession of our own people.

I shall incidentally describe the gradual evolution of the warship from the wooden, oar-driven galleys that fought in the Straits of Salamis to the steel-built, steam-propelled giants that met in battle in the Straits of Tsu-shima. I shall have something to say of old seafaring ways, and much to tell of the brave deeds done by men of many nations. These true stories of the sea will, I trust, have not only the interest that belongs to all records of courage, danger, and adventure, but also some practical lessons of their own, for they may help to keep alive that intelligent popular interest in sea power which is the best guarantee that the interests of our own navy—the best safeguard of the Empire—will not be neglected, no matter what Government is in power, or what political views may happen for the moment to be in the ascendant.







I. SALAMIS, B.C. 480 1

II. ACTIUM, B.C. 31 25


IV. SLUYS, 1340 55

V. LEPANTO, 1571 67


VI. THE ARMADA, 1588 105



IX. TRAFALGAR, 1805 173


X. HAMPTON ROADS, 1862 206

XI. LISSA, 1866 231

XII. THE YALU, 1894 252

XIII. SANTIAGO, 1898 277

XIV. TSU-SHIMA, 1905 297


THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR Frontispiece From an engraving by W. Miller from the painting by C. Stanfield, R.A.

FACING PAGE ROMAN WARSHIPS 32 After the paintings found at Pompeii.

A VIKING FLEET 48 From a drawing by Paul Hardy. By permission of Cassell and Co.

A MEDITERRANEAN GALLEY OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY 67 From an engraving by J. P. le Bas, Mediterranean Craft of the Sixteenth Century.

A MEDITERRANEAN CARRACK OR FRIGATE OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY 67 From an engraving by Tomkins, Mediterranean Craft of the Sixteenth Century.


THE "GREAT ARMADA" ENTERING THE CHANNEL 112 From the drawing of W. H. Overend. By permission of the Illustrated London News.

THE "SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS," LAUNCHED 1637 144 A typical warship of the middle of the seventeenth century. After the painting by Vandervelde.


A THREE-DECKER OF NELSON'S TIME 173 From an engraving at the British Museum.

H.M.S. "WARRIOR"—THE FIRST BRITISH IRONCLAD 212 From a photograph by Symonds and Co.

THE BATTLE OF HAMPTON ROADS. THE "MERRIMAC" AND "MONITOR" ENGAGED AT CLOSE QUARTERS 224 From Cassier's Magazine, by permission of the Editor.

THE RUSSIAN BATTLESHIP "OREL" 330 From a photograph taken after the battle of Tsu-Shima, showing effects of Japanese shell fire.



LEPANTO. Course of Allied Fleet from Ithaca Channel to scene of battle 90

LEPANTO (1). Allies forming line of battle. Turks advancing to attack 92

LEPANTO (2). Beginning of the battle. (Noon, October 7th, 1571) 94

LEPANTO (3). The melee. (About 12.30 p.m.) 96

LEPANTO (4). Ulugh Ali's counter-attack. (About 2.30 p.m.) 102

LEPANTO (5). Flight of Ulugh Ali—Allied Fleet forming up with captured prizes at close of battle. (About 4 p.m.) 104



HAMPTON ROADS (1st day). "Merrimac" comes out, sinks "Cumberland" and burns "Congress" 216

HAMPTON ROADS (2nd day). Duel between "Monitor" and "Merrimac" 216


LISSA. Battle formation of the Austrian Fleet 241

BATTLE OF LISSA. The Austrian attack at the beginning of the battle 244

BATTLE OF THE YALU (1). The Japanese attack 264

BATTLE OF THE YALU (2). End of the fight 264

BATTLE OF SANTIAGO. Showing places where the Spanish ships were destroyed 290

BATTLE OF TSU-SHIMA. Sketch-map to show the extent of the waters in which the first part of the fight took place 321

BATTLE OF TSU-SHIMA. General map 322

BATTLE OF TSU-SHIMA. Diagrams of movements during the fighting of May 27th 326




B.C. 480

The world has lost all record of the greatest of its inventors—the pioneers who in far-off ages devised the simple appliances with which men tilled the ground, did their domestic work, and fought their battles for thousands of years. He who hung up the first weaver's beam and shaped the first rude shuttle was a more wonderful inventor than Arkwright. The maker of the first bow and arrow was a more enterprising pioneer than our inventors of machine-guns. And greater than the builders of "Dreadnoughts" were those who "with hearts girt round with oak and triple brass" were the first to trust their frail barques to "the cruel sea." No doubt the hollowed tree trunk, and the coracle of osiers and skins, had long before this made their trial trips on river and lake. Then came the first ventures in the shallow sea-margins, and at last a primitive naval architect built up planked bulwarks round his hollowed tree trunk, and stiffened them with ribs of bent branches, and the first ship was launched.

This evolution of the ship must have been in progress independently in more places than one. We are most concerned with its development in that eastern end of the land-locked Mediterranean, which is the meeting-place of so many races, and around which so much of what is most momentous in the world's history has happened. There seems good reason for believing that among the pioneers in early naval construction were the men of that marvellous people of old Egypt to whom the world's civilization owes so much. They had doubtless learned their work on their own Nile before they pushed out by the channels of the Delta to the waters of the "Great Sea." They had invented the sail, though it was centuries before any one learned to do more than scud before the wind. It took long experience of the sea to discover that one could fix one's sail at an oblique angle with the mid-line of the ship, and play off rudder against sail to lay a course with the wind on the quarter or even abeam and not dead astern.

But there was as important an invention as the sail—that of the oar. We are so familiar with it, that we do not realize all it means. Yet it is a notable fact that whole races of men who navigate river, lake, and sea, successfully and boldly, never hit upon the principle of the oar till they were taught it by Europeans, and could of themselves get no further than the paddle. The oar, with its leverage, its capacity for making the very weight of the crew become a motive power, became in more senses than one the great instrument of progress on the sea. It gave the ship a power of manoeuvring independently of the wind, the same power that is the essence of advantage in steam propulsion. The centuries during which the sailing ship was the chief reliance of navigation and commerce were, after all, an episode between the long ages when the oar-driven galley was the typical ship, and the present age of steam beginning less than a hundred years ago.

Sails were an occasional help to the early navigator. Our songs of the sea call them the "white wings" of the ship. For the Greek poet AEschylus, the wings of the ship were the long oars. The trader creeping along the coast or working from island to island helping himself when the wind served with his sail, and having only a small crew, could not afford much oar-power, though he had often to trust to it. But for the fighting ship, oar-power and speed were as important as mechanical horse-power is for the warships of the twentieth century. So the war galley was built longer than the trader, to make room for as many oars as possible on either side. In the Mediterranean in those early days, as with the Vikings of later centuries, the "Long Ship" meant the ship of war.

It is strange to reflect that all through human history war has been a greater incentive to shipbuilding progress than peaceful commerce. For those early navigators the prizes to be won by fighting and raiding were greater than any that the more prosaic paths of trade could offer. The fleets that issued from the Delta of the Nile were piratical squadrons, that were the terrors of the Mediterranean coasts. The Greek, too, like the Norseman, began his career on the sea with piracy. The Athenian historian tells of days when it was no offence to ask a seafaring man, "Are you a pirate, sir?" The first Admirals of the Eastern Mediterranean had undoubtedly more likeness to Captain Kidd and "Blackbeard" than to Nelson and Collingwood. Later came the time when organized Governments in the Greek cities and on the Phoenician coast kept fleets on the land-locked sea to deal with piracy and protect peaceful commerce. But the prizes that allured the corsair were so tempting, that piracy revived again and again, and even in the late days of the Roman Republic the Consul Pompey had to conduct a maritime war on a large scale to clear the sea of the pirates.

Of the early naval wars of the Mediterranean—battles of more or less piratical fleets, or of the war galleys of coast and island states—we have no clear record, or no vestige of a record. Egyptians, Phoenicians, Cretans, men of the rich island state of which we have only recently found the remains in buried palaces, Greeks of the Asiatic mainland, and their Eastern neighbours, Greeks of the islands and the Peninsula, Illyrians of the labyrinth of creek and island that fringes the Adriatic, Sicilians and Carthaginians, all had their adventures and battles on the sea, in the dim beginnings of history. Homer has his catalogue of ships set forth in stately verse, telling how the Greek chieftains led 120,000 warriors embarked on 1100 galleys to the siege of Troy. But no hostile fleet met them, if indeed the great armament ever sailed, as to which historians and critics dispute. One must pass on for centuries after Homer's day to find reliable and detailed records of early naval war. The first great battle on the sea, of which we can tell the story, was the fight in the Straits of Salamis, when Greek and Persian strove for the mastery of the near East.

King Darius had found that his hold on the Greek cities of Asia Minor was insecure so long as they could look for armed help to their kindred beyond the Archipelago, and he had sent his satraps to raid the Greek mainland. That first invasion ended disastrously at Marathon. His son, Xerxes, took up the quarrel and devoted years to the preparation not of a raid upon Europe, but of an invasion in which the whole power of his vast empire was to be put forth by sea and land.

It was fortunate for Greece that the man who then counted for most in the politics of Athens was one who recognized the all-importance of sea-power, though it is likely that at the outset all he had in mind was that the possession of an efficient fleet would enable his city to exert its influence on the islands and among the coast cities to the exclusion of the military power of its rival Sparta. When it was proposed that the product of the silver mines of Laurium should be distributed among the Athenian citizens, it was Themistocles who persuaded his fellow-countrymen that a better investment for the public wealth would be found in the building and equipment of a fleet. He used as one of his arguments the probability that the Persian King would, sooner or later, try to avenge the defeat of Marathon. A no less effective argument was the necessity of protecting their growing commerce. Athens looked upon the sea, and that sea at once divided and united the scattered Greek communities who lived on the coasts and islands of the Archipelago. It was the possession of the fleet thus acquired that enabled Themistocles and Athens to play a decisive part in the crisis of the struggle with Asia.

It was in the spring of B.C. 480 that the march from Asia Minor began. The vast multitude gathered from every land in Western Asia, from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf and the wild mountain plateaux of the Indian border, was too numerous to be transported in any fleet that even the Great King could assemble. For seven days and nights it poured across the floating bridge that swayed with the current of the Dardanelles, a bridge that was a wonder of early military engineering, and the making of which would tax the resources of the best army of to-day. Then it marched by the coast-line through what is now Roumelia and Thessaly. It ate up the supplies of the lands through which it passed. If it was to escape famine it must keep in touch with the ships that crossed and recrossed the narrow seas, bringing heavy cargoes of food and forage from the ports of Asia, and escorted by squadrons of long war galleys.

Every Greek city had been warned of the impending danger. Even those who remembered Marathon, the day when a few thousand spearmen had routed an Asiatic horde outnumbering them tenfold, realized that any force that now could be put in the field would be overwhelmed by this human tide of a million fighting men. But there was one soldier-statesman who saw the way to safety, and grasped the central fact of the situation. This was Themistocles the Athenian, the chief man of that city, against which the first fury of the attack would be directed. No doubt it was he who inspired the prophetess of Delphi with her mysterious message that "the Athenians must make for themselves wooden walls," and he supplied the explanation of the enigma.

The Persian must be met not on the land, but in "wooden walls" upon the sea. Victory upon that element would mean the destruction of the huge army on land. The greater its numbers the more helpless would be its position. It could not live upon "the country"; there must be a continual stream of sea-borne supplies arriving from Asia, and this would be interrupted and cease altogether once the Greeks were masters of the sea.

The Athens of the time was not the wonderful city that arose in later years, embellished by the masterpieces of some of the greatest architects and artists the world has ever known. The houses huddled round the foot of the citadel hill—the Acropolis—which was crowned with rudely built primitive temples. But the people whose home it was were startled by the proposal of Themistocles that their city should be abandoned to the enemy without one blow struck in its defence. Not Athens only, but every village and farm in the surrounding country was to be deserted. Men, women, and children, horses and cattle, were all to be conveyed across the narrow strait to the island of Salamis, which was to be the temporary refuge of the citizens of Athens and of the country-folk of Attica.

Would they ever return to their ruined homes and devastated lands, where they would find houses burned, and vines and olives cut down? Could they even hope to maintain themselves in Salamis? Would it not be better to fight in defence of their homes even against desperate odds and meet their fate at once, instead of only deferring the evil day? It was no easy task for the man of the moment to persuade his fellow-countrymen to adopt his own far-sighted plans. Even when most of them had accepted his leadership and were obeying his orders, a handful of desperate men refused to go. They took refuge on the hill of the Acropolis, and acting upon the literal meaning of the oracle toiled with axe and hammer, building up wooden barriers before the gates of the old citadel.

Everywhere else the city and the country round were soon deserted. The people streamed down to the shore and were ferried over to Salamis, where huts of straw and branches rose up in wide extended camps to shelter the crowds that could find no place in the island villages. In every wood on either shore trees were being felled. In every creek shipwrights were busy night and day building new ships or refitting old. To every Greek seaport messages had been sent, begging them to send to the Straits of Salamis as many ships, oarsmen, and fighting men as they could muster.

Slowly the Persian army moved southward through Thessaly. A handful of Spartans, under Leonidas, had been sent forward to delay the Persian advance. They held the Pass of Thermopylae, between the eastern shoulder of Mount AEta and the sea. It was a hopeless position. To fight there at all with such an insignificant force was a mistake. But the Government of Sparta, slaves to tradition, could not grasp the idea of the plans proposed by the great Athenian. They were half persuaded to recall Leonidas, but hesitated to act until it was too late. The Spartan chief and his few hundred warriors died at their post in self-sacrificing obedience to the letter of their orders. The Persians poured over the Pass and inundated the plains of Attica. The few Athenians who had persisted in defending the Acropolis of Athens made only a brief resistance against overwhelming numbers. They were all put to the sword and their fellow-countrymen in the island of Salamis saw far off the pall of smoke that hung over their city, where temples and houses alike were sacked and set on fire by the victors.

The winds and waves had already been fighting for the Greeks. The Persian war fleet of 1200 great ships had coasted southwards by the shores of Thessaly till they neared the group of islands off the northern point of Euboea. Their scouts reported a Greek fleet to be lying in the channel between the large island and the mainland. Night was coming on, and the Persians anchored in eight long lines off Cape Sepias. As the sun rose there came one of those sudden gales from the eastward that are still the terror of small craft in the Archipelago. A modern sailor would try to beat out to seaward and get as far as possible from the dangerous shore, but these old-world seamen dreaded the open sea. They tried to ride out the gale, but anchors dragged and hundreds of ships were piled in shattered masses on the shore. Some were stranded in positions where they could be repaired and refloated as the weather cleared up; but by the evening of the third day, when at last the wind fell, only eight hundred galleys of the Persian armada were still in seaworthy fighting condition.

Here, as on other occasions, the very numbers of the Persian fleet proved a source of danger to it. The harbours that could give shelter to this multitude of ships were very few and far between, nor was it an easy matter to find that other refuge of the ancient navigator—a beach of easy slope and sufficiently wide extent to enable the ships to be dragged out of the water and placed high and dry beyond the reach of the angriest waves. The fact that ships were beached and hauled up the shore during bad weather, and in winter, limited their size, and in both the Persian and the Greek fleets there probably was not a ship much bigger than the barges we see on our canals, or as big as some of the largest sea-going barges.

The typical warship of the period of the Persian War was probably not more than eighty or a hundred feet long, narrow, and nearly flat-bottomed. At the bow and stern there was a strongly built deck. Between this poop and forecastle a lighter deck ran fore and aft, and under this were the stations of the rowers. The bow was strengthened with plates of iron or brass, and beams of oak, to enable it to be used as a ram, and the stem rose above the deck level and was carved into the head of some bird or beast. There was a light mast which could be rigged up when the wind served, and carried a cross-yard and a square sail. Mast and yard were taken down before going into action.

The Greeks called their war galleys trieres, the Romans triremes, and these names are generally explained as meaning that the ships were propelled by three banks or rows of oars placed one above the other on either side. The widely accepted theory of how they were worked is that the seats of the rowers were placed, not directly above each other, but that those who worked the lowest and shortest oars were close to the side of the ship, the men for the middle range of oars a little above them and further inboard, and the upper tier of rowers still higher and near the centre-line of the ship. An endless amount of erudition and research has been expended on this question; but most of those who have dealt with it have been classical scholars possessing little or no practical acquaintance with seafaring conditions, and none of their proposed arrangements of three banks of oars looks at all likely to be workable and effective. A practical test of the theory was made by Napoleon III when his "History of Julius Caesar" was being prepared. He had a trireme constructed and tried upon the Seine. There were three banks of oars, but though the fitting and arrangement was changed again and again under the joint advice of classical experts and practical seamen, no satisfactory method of working the superposed banks of oars could be devised.

The probability is that no such method of working was ever generally employed, and that the belief in the existence of old-world navies made up of ships with tier on tier of oars on either side is the outcome of a misunderstanding as to the meaning of a word. Trieres and trireme seems at first glance to mean triple-oared, in the sense of the oars being triplicated; but there are strong arguments for the view that it was not the oars but the oarsmen, who were arranged in "threes." If this view is correct, the ancient warship was a galley with a single row of long oars on either side, and three men pulling together each heavy oar. We know that in the old navies of the Papal States and the Republics of Venice and Genoa in the Middle Ages and the days of the Renaissance, and in the royal galleys of the old French monarchy, there were no ships with superposed banks of oars, but there were galleys known as "triremes," "quadriremes," and "pentaremes," driven by long oars each worked by three, four, or five rowers. It is at least very likely that this was the method adopted in the warships of still earlier times.

A trireme of the days of the Persian War with fifty or sixty oars would thus have a crew of 150 or 180 rowers. Add to this some fifty or sixty fighting men and we have a total crew of over two hundred. In the Persian navies the rowers were mostly slaves, like the galley slaves of later times. They were chained to their oars, and kept in order or roused to exertion by the whip of their taskmasters. To train them to work together effectively required a long apprenticeship, and in rough water their work was especially difficult. To miss the regular time of the stroke was dangerous, for the long oars projecting far inboard would knock down and injure the nearest rowers, unless all swung accurately together. The flat-bottomed galleys rolled badly in a heavy sea, and in rough weather rowing was fatiguing and even perilous work.

Some two hundred men in a small ship meant crowded quarters, and lack of room everywhere except on the fighting deck. But as the fleets hugged the shore, and generally lay up for the night, the crews could mostly land to cook, eat, and sleep. In the Persian ships belonging to many nations, and some of them to the Greek cities of Asia, Xerxes took the precaution of having at least thirty picked Persian warriors in each crew. Their presence was intended to secure the fidelity of the rest.

In the Greek fleet the rowers were partly slaves, partly freemen impressed or hired for the work. Then there were a few seamen, fishermen, or men who in the days of peace manned the local coasting craft. The chiefs of this navigating party were the keleustes, who presided over the rowers and gave the signal for each stroke, and the pilot, who was supposed to have a knowledge of the local waters and of wind and weather, and who acted as steersman, handling alone, or with the help of his assistants, the long stern oar that served as a rudder. The fighting men were not sailors, but soldiers embarked to fight afloat, and their military chief commanded the ship, with the help of the pilot. For more than two thousand years this division between the sailor and the fighting element in navies continued throughout the world. The fighting commander and the sailing-master were two different men, and the captain of a man-of-war was often a landsman.

In the Greek fleet which lay sheltered in the narrows, behind the long island of Euboea while the Persians were battling with the tempest off Cape Sepias, the Admiral was the Spartan Eurybiades, a veteran General, who knew more about forming a phalanx of spearmen than directing the movements of a fleet. The military reputation of his race had secured for him the chief command, though of the whole fleet of between three and four hundred triremes, less than a third had been provided by Sparta and her allies, and half of the armada was formed of the well-equipped Athenian fleet, commanded by Themistocles in person. As the storm abated the fleets faced each other in the strait north of Euboea. In the Persian armada the best ships were five long galleys commanded by an Amazon queen, Artemisia of Halicarnassus, a Greek fighting against Greeks. She scored the first success, swooping down with her squadron on a Greek galley that had ventured to scout along the Persian front in the grey of the morning. Attacked by the five the ship was taken, and the victors celebrated their success by hanging the commander over the prow of his ship, cutting his throat and letting his blood flow into the sea, an offering to the gods of the deep. The cruel deed was something that inspired no particular sense of horror in those days of heathen war. It was probably not on account of this piece of barbarity, but out of their anger at being opposed by a woman, and a Greek woman, that the allied leaders of Greece set a price on the head of the Amazon queen; but no one ever succeeded in qualifying to claim it.

The Persians, hoping to gain an advantage from their superior numbers, now detached a squadron which was to coast along the eastern shores of Euboea, enter the strait at its southern end, and fall on the rear of the Greeks, while the main body attacked them in front. Eurybiades and Themistocles had early intelligence of this movement, but were not alarmed by it. Shortly before sunset the Greeks bore down on the Persians, attacked them in the narrow waters where their numbers could not tell, sank some thirty ships by ramming them, and then drew off as the night came on.

It was a wild night. The Greeks had hardly regained their sheltered anchorage when the wind rose, lightning played round the mountain crests on either hand, the thunder rolled and the rain came down in torrents. The main Persian fleet, in a less sheltered position, found it difficult to avoid disaster, and the crews were horrified at seeing as the lightning lit up the sea masses of debris and swollen corpses of drowned men drifting amongst them as the currents brought the wreckage of the earlier storm floating down from beyond Cape Sepias. The hundred ships detached to round the south point of Euboea were still slowly making their way along its rocky eastern coast. Caught in the midnight storm most of them drove ashore and were dashed to pieces.

In the morning the sea was still rough, but the Greeks came out of the strait, and, without committing themselves to a general action, fell upon the nearest ships, the squadron of Cilicia, and sank and captured several of them, retiring when the main fleet began to close upon them. On the third day the sea was calm and the Persians tried to force the narrows by a frontal attack. There was some hard fighting and loss on both sides, but the Greeks held their own. As the sun set the Persians rowed back towards their anchorage inside Cape Sepias.

When the sun rose again the Greek fleet had disappeared. Eurybiades and Themistocles had agreed in the night after the battle that the time was come to abandon the defence of the Euboean Strait and retire to the waters of Salamis. The Persian army was now flooding the mainland with its myriads of fighting men, and was master of Attica. A fleet, depending so much on the land for supplies and for rest for its crews, could not maintain itself in the straits when the Persians held the mainland and were in a position to seize also the island of Euboea. Before sunrise the Greek ships were working their way in long procession through the Strait of Negropont. Early in the day they began to pass one by one the narrows at Chalcis, now spanned by a bridge. Then the strait widened, and there were none to bar their way to the open sea, and round Cape Sunium to their sheltered station in the straits behind the island of Salamis.

They had been reinforced on the way, and they now numbered 366 fighting ships. Those of Sparta and the Peloponnesus were 89, the Athenian fleet 180, while 97 more were supplied by the Greek islands, some of the ships from Melos and the Cyclades being penteconters, large vessels whose long oars were each manned by five rowers. Losses by storm and battle had reduced the Persian armada to some six hundred effective ships. The odds were serious, but not desperate.

But while the Persian fleet was directed by a single will, there were divided counsels among the Greeks. Eurybiades had most of the leaders on his side when he argued that Athens was hopelessly lost, and the best hope for Greece was to defend the Peloponnesus by holding the isthmus of Corinth with what land forces could be assembled and removing the fleet to the waters of the neighbouring waters to co-operate in the defence. Themistocles, on the other hand, shrank from the idea of abandoning the refugees in the island of Salamis, and he regarded the adjacent straits as the best position in which the Greeks could give battle. There, as in the channel of Euboea, the narrow waters would do something to nullify the Persian advantage of numbers. For the Greeks, formed in several lines extending from shore to shore, could only be attacked by equal numbers. Only the leading ships of the attack would be in action at any given moment, and it would not matter how many hundred more were crowded behind them. With a column of spearmen on land the weight of the rearward ranks, formed in a serried phalanx, would force onward those in front. But with a column of ships formed in several successive lines in narrow waters any attempt of the rearward ships to press forward would mean confusion and disaster to themselves and those that formed the leading lines. This would have been true even of ships under sail, but in battle the war galleys were oar-driven, and as the ships jammed together there would be entangled oars, and rowers flung from their benches with broken heads and arms. Better discipline, more thorough fighting-power on the Greek side, would mean that the leading ships of their fleet would deal effectually with their nearest adversaries, while the rearward ships would rest upon their oars and plunge into the melee only where disaster to a leading ship left an opening.

A doubtful story says that Themistocles, foreseeing that if the battle was long delayed the Spartan party would carry their point and withdraw to the isthmus, ran the risk of sending a message to King Xerxes, urging him to attack at once, hinting at a defection of the Athenian fleet, and telling him that if he acted without delay the Greeks were at his mercy, and that they were so terrified that they were thinking chiefly of how they might escape. Herodotus tells of a council of war of the Persian leaders at which the fighting Queen Artemisia stood alone in advising delay. She told the King that in overrunning northern Greece he had done enough for one campaign. Let him settle down for winter quarters in Attica and he would see the Greek armament, already divided by jealousies and quarrels, break up and disperse. He could then prepare quietly for the conquest of the Peloponnesus in the spring. But Xerxes was more flattered by the opinion of the satraps who told him that he had only to stretch out his hands to destroy the Greek fleet and make himself undisputed master of the sea. And, just as Themistocles was despairing of being able to keep the fleet at Salamis, news came that the Persians had decided to attack. The news was brought by Aristides, the son of Lysimachus, who had been unjustly exiled from Athens some years before, but now in the moment of his country's danger ran the blockade of the Persians in a ship of AEgina, and came to throw in his lot with his fellow-citizens. For the Greeks to set out for the isthmus under these circumstances would be to risk having to meet superior numbers in the open sea. All now agreed that the fate of Greece was to be decided in the waters of Salamis.

Xerxes looked forward to the coming struggle with assured hope of victory, and prepared to enjoy the spectacle of the disaster that was about to fall upon his enemies.

On the green slope of Mount AEgaleos, which commanded a full view of Salamis and the straits, the silken tents of the King and his Court were erected, a camp that was like a palace. Purple-dyed hangings, gilded tent poles with pomegranates of pure gold at the top of each, carpets bright with colour, carved furniture inlaid with ivory, all made up a display of luxurious pomp. Before the royal tents a golden throne had been erected. Fan-bearers took their post on either side, nobles who held the office of sword-bearers and cup-bearers waited at the steps of the throne. On either side and on the slope below the ranks of the "Immortal Guard" were formed, ten thousand veterans, with armour and equipments gleaming with silver and gold. Along the shore from the white marble cliffs of Sunium by the port of Phalerum and far up the winding coast-line of the straits, hundreds of thousands more of this army of many nations stood in battle array. They were to witness the destruction of the Great King's enemies, and to take an active part in it when, as all expected, disabled Greek galleys would be driven ashore, and their crews would ask in vain for quarter. They were to share, too, in the irruption into Salamis once the fleet was master of the straits, and when the people of Athens, no longer protected by the sea, would be at the mercy of the Asiatic warriors.

Amid the blare of trumpets the King took his seat upon his throne, and watched his great armada sweeping towards the straits like a floating city. In those hundreds of long, low-sided ships thousands of slaves strained at the banks of heavy oars, encouraged by the shouts of the picked warriors who crowded the decks, and if their energies flagged, stimulated to new exertions by the whip of their taskmasters.

From every point of vantage in Salamis, women, old men, children, all who could not fight, looked out upon the sea, watching with heart-rending anxiety the signs of the approaching struggle. Death or slavery and untold misery would be their fate if numbers should prevail in the battle. In our days, in the hours before such a decisive struggle a people watches the newspapers, and waits for tidings of the fight in a turmoil of mingled hopes and fears. But whatever may be the result the individual, who is thus a spectator at a distance, runs no personal risks. It was otherwise in those days of merciless heathen warfare, and here all would see for themselves the changing fortunes of the fight on which their own fate depended.

The Greek fleet had been formed in two divisions of unequal strength. The smaller anchored in the western opening of the straits, furthest from the advance of the enemy's armada, and was detailed to prevent any attack through the narrows on the Greek rear. The main body, three hundred strong, was moored in successive lines, just inside the opening of the straits to the eastward. The best ships, the most trusted leaders, the picked warriors were in the foremost line. On them the result of the day would chiefly depend, and here the man who had planned it all, commanded an Athenian war galley in the centre of the array. In this fact we see another striking difference between past and present. The modern specialization of offices and capacities which divides between different individuals the functions of political leader, general, and admiral was yet centuries distant in the future. Themistocles, who had advised the policy of naval war, was to be the foremost leader in the battle, and though purely naval tactics were to have some part in it, it was to be to a great extent a land battle fought out on floating platforms, so that one who had learned the art of war on land could act as an admiral on the sea.

Sixty thousand men-rowers and warriors were crowded on board the Greek fleet. At least twice as many must have been borne on the decks and rowers' benches of the Persian armada. Midway in the opening of the straits the Persians had occupied the rocky island of Psytalia. Its ledges and its summit glittered with arms, and beside it some light craft had taken post to assist friendly vessels in distress. Past the islet the great fleet swept in four successive divisions driven by the measured stroke of tens of thousands of oars. On the left of the leading line was the Phoenician fleet led by the tributary kings of Tyre and Sidon, a formidable squadron, for these war galleys were manned by real seamen, bold sailors who knew not only the ways of the land-locked Mediterranean, but had ventured into the outer ocean. On the right were the ships of the Greek cities of Ionia, the long galleys of Ephesus, Miletus, Samos, and Samothrace. Here Greek would meet Greek in deadly strife. The rowers shouted as they bent to the long oars. The warriors grouped in the prow with spear and javelin in hand sang the war songs of many nations. Along the bulwarks of the ships of Asia crouched the Persian and Babylonian archers, the best bowmen of the ancient world, with the arrow resting ready on the string. As the left of the leading line reached the opening of the strait the rowers reduced their speed, while on the other flank the stroke became more rapid. The long line was wheeling round the point of Salamis, and came in full sight of the Greek fleet ranged in battle array across the narrows.

The Athenian ships formed the right and centre of its leading line, the fleet of the Peloponnesus under the veteran Eurybiades was on the left. The rowers were resting on their oars, or just using them enough to keep the ships in position. As the Persians came sweeping into the straits the Greeks began to chant the Paean, their battle hymn. The crash of the encounter between the two navies was now imminent.

For a few moments it seemed that already the Persians were assured of victory, for, seeing the enormous mass of the ships of Asia crowding the strait from shore to shore, and stretching far away on the open sea outside it, not a few of the European leaders lost heart for a while. The rowers began to backwater, and many of the ships of the first line retired stern foremost into the narrows. The rest followed their example, each one fearing to lose his place in the line, and be exposed in isolation to the attack of a crowd of enemies. It was perilously like the beginning of a panic that would soon end in disaster if it were not checked.

But it was soon over. The last of the retiring Greek ships was a galley of Pallene in Macedonia, commanded by a good soldier, Arminias. He was one of those who was doing his best to check the panic. Resolved that whoever else gave way he would sink rather than take to flight, he turned the prow of his trireme against the approaching enemy, and evading the ram of a Persian ship ran alongside of her. The intermingled oars broke like matchwood, and the two ships grappled. The battle had begun. Attacked on the other side by another of the ships of Asia, Arminias was in deadly peril. The sight of their comrade's courage and of his danger stopped the retirement of the Greeks. Their rowers were now straining every nerve to come to the rescue of the isolated trireme, and from shore to shore the two fleets met with loud outcry and the jarring crash of scores of voluntary or involuntary collisions.

All order was soon lost. The strait of Salamis was now the scene of a vast melee, hundreds of ships crowding together in the narrow pass between the island and the mainland. Themistocles in the centre with the picked ships of Athens was forcing his way, wedge-like, between the Phoenician and Ionian squadrons into the dense mass of the Persian centre. The bronze beaks ground their way into hostile timbers, oars were swept away, rowers thrown in confusion from their benches stunned and with broken limbs. Ships sank and drowning men struggled for life; the Asiatic archers shot their arrows at close quarters, the spearmen hurled their javelins; but it was not by missile weapons the fight was to be decided. Where the stroke of the ram failed, the ships were jammed together in the press, and men fought hand to hand on forecastles and upper decks. Here it was that the Greeks, trained athletes, chosen men in the prime of life, protected by their armour and relying on the thrust of the long and heavy spear, had the advantage over the Asiatics. Only their own countrymen of the Ionian squadron could make any stand against them, and the Ionians had to face the spears of Sparta, in the hands of warriors all eager to avenge the slaughter of Thermopylae.

Some of these Ionian Greeks, fighting under the Persian standard, won local successes here and there in the melee. They captured or sank several of the Spartan triremes. One of the ships of Samothrace performed an exploit like that of Paul Jones, when with his own ship sinking under the feet of his crew he boarded and captured the "Serapis." A Greek trireme had rammed the Samothracian ship, tearing open her side; but as she went down her Persian and Ionian crew scrambled on board their assailant and drove the Greeks into the sea at the spear-point. It was noted that few of the Persian crews were swimmers. When their ships sank they were drowned. The Greeks were able to save themselves in such a disaster. They threw away shield, helmet, and spear, and swam to another ship or to the island shore.

This fact would seem to indicate that with the exception of those who manned the Ionian and Phoenician squadrons the crews of the Persian fleet were much less at home on the sea than the Greeks. And we know from the result of many battles, from Marathon to the victories of Alexander, that on land the Greek was a better fighting man than the Asiatic. The soldiers of the "Great King," inferior in fighting-power even on the land, would therefore find themselves doubly handicapped by having to fight on the narrow platforms floating on an unfamiliar element, and the sight of ships being sunk and their crews drowned would tend to produce panic among them. So the Greek wedge forced itself further and further into the mass of hostile ships, and in the narrow waters numbers could not tell. The Greeks were never at any given moment engaged with a superior force in actual hand-to-hand conflict, and they had sufficient ships behind them to make good any local losses. Such a battle could have only one result.

All order had been lost in the Persian fleet at an early stage of the fight. The rearward squadrons had pressed into the strait, and finding that in the crowded waters they were endangering each other without being able to take any effective part in the battle they began to draw off, and the foremost ships, pressed back by the Greek attack, began to follow them towards the open water. The whole mingled mass of the battle was drifting eastward. The movement left the island of Psytalia unprotected by the Asiatic fleet, and Aristides, the Athenian, who had been watching the fight from the shore of Salamis, embarked a force of spearmen on some light vessels, ferried them across to Psytalia and attacked its Persian garrison. They made a poor show of resistance, and to a man they were speared or flung over the rocks into the sea. The poet AEschylus, who was fighting as a soldier on one of the Athenian triremes, told afterwards, not in pity, but rejoicing at the destruction of his country's enemies, how the cries of the massacred garrison of Psytalia were heard above the din of the battle and increased the growing panic of the Persians.

Even those who had fought best in the Asiatic armada were now losing heart and taking to flight. Queen Artemisia, with her five galleys of Halicarnassus, had fought in the front line among the ships of the Ionian squadron. She was now working her way out of the melee, and in the confusion rammed and sank a Persian warship. Xerxes, watching the fight from his throne on the hillside, thought it was a Greek ship that the Amazon had destroyed and exclaimed: "This woman is playing the man while my men are acting like women!"

Two Persian ships in flight from the pursuing Greeks drove ashore at the base of Mount AEgaleos. Xerxes, in his anger at the disaster to his fleet, ordered the troops stationed on the beach to behead every officer and man of their crews, and the sentence was at once executed. The closing scene of the battle was, indeed, a time of unmitigated horrors, for while this massacre of the defeated crews was being carried out by the Persian guardsmen, the victorious Greeks were slaying all the fugitives who fell into their hands. The Admiral of the Persian fleet, Ariabignes, brother of Xerxes, was among the dead.

The pursuit was not continued far beyond the straits. The Greeks hesitated to venture into open waters where numbers might tell against them if the Persians rallied, and they drew back to their morning anchorage. The remnant of the Persian fleet anchored off the coast near Phalerum, the port of Athens, or took refuge in the small harbour. They were rejoined by a detachment which had been sent to round the south side of Salamis to attack the western entrance of the straits, but which for some reason had never been engaged during the day.

The victorious Greeks did not realize the full extent of their triumph. They expected to be attacked again next morning, and hoped to repeat the manoeuvre which had been so far successful, of engaging the enemy in the narrows with each flank protected by the shore, and no room for a superior force to form in the actual line of fighting contact. But though they did not yet realize the fact, they had won a decisive victory. Xerxes had been so impressed by the failure of his great armada to force the narrows of Salamis that he had changed all his plans.

In the night after the battle he held a council of war. It was decided that the attack should not be renewed, for there was no prospect of a second attempt giving better results. Artemisia was directed to convey Prince Artaxerxes, the heir of the Empire, back to Asia. Xerxes himself would lead back to the bridge of the Hellespont the main body of his immense army, for to attempt to maintain it in Greece during the winter would have meant famine in its camps. The fleet was to sail at once for the northern Archipelago, and limit its operations to guarding the bridge of the Hellespont and protecting the convoys for the army. When the winter came it would have to be laid up; but by that time it was hoped Xerxes and the main body would be safe in Asia. Mardonius, the most trusted of his satraps, was to occupy northern Greece with a picked force of 300,000 men, with which he was to attempt the conquest of the Peloponnesus next year.

The Persian fleet sailed from the roadstead of Phalerum during that same night. How far the crews were demoralized by the defeat of the previous day is shown by the fact that there was something of a panic as the white cliffs of Sunium glimmered through the darkness in the moonlight and were mistaken for the sails of hostile Greek warships menacing the line of retreat. The Persians stood far out to sea to avoid these imaginary enemies. When the day broke Themistocles and Eurybiades could hardly credit the report that all the ships of Asia had disappeared from their anchorage of the evening before. The Athenian admiral urged immediate pursuit, the Spartan general hesitated and at last gave a reluctant consent. The fleet sailed as far as the island of Andros, but found no trace of the enemy. In vain Themistocles urged that it should go further, and if it failed to find the enemy's fleet, at least show itself in the harbours of Asia and try to rouse Ionia to revolt. Eurybiades declared that enough had been accomplished, and refused to risk a voyage across the Archipelago in the late autumn. So the victorious fleet returned to Salamis, and thence the various contingents dispersed to be laid up for the winter in sheltered harbours and on level beaches, where a stockade could be erected and a guard left to protect the ships till the fine weather of next spring allowed them to be launched again.

When Xerxes reached the Hellespont with his army, after having lost heavily by disease and famine in his weary march through Thessaly, Macedonia, and Thrace, he found that the long bridge with which he had linked together Europe and Asia had been swept away by a storm. But the remnant of his fleet was there waiting to ferry across the strait what was left of his army, now diminished by many hundreds of thousands.

The next year witnessed the destruction both of the army left under Mardonius in northern Greece and of the remainder of the Persian fleet that had fought at Salamis. Pausanias, with a hundred thousand Greeks, routed the Persian army at Plataea. A fleet of 110 triremes, under the admirals Leotychides and Xantippus, sailed across the Archipelago in search of the Persian fleet. They found it in the waters of Samos, but the enemy retired towards the mainland without giving battle. The Asiatics were disheartened and divided. The Ionians were suspected of disaffection. The Phoenicians were anxious only to return in safety to their own country and resume their peaceful trading, and as soon as they were out of sight of the Greeks, they deserted the Persian fleet, and sailed southwards, bound for Tyre and Sidon.

What was left of the fleet anchored under the headland of Mycale. There was no sign of a Greek pursuit. Rumour reported that the Athenian and Spartan admirals were intent only on securing possession of the islands, and would not venture on any enterprise against the coast of Asia. Perhaps it was because he still feared to risk another engagement on the sea, that the Persian admiral found a pretext for laying up his ships. He declared that they were so foul with weeds and barnacles that, as a prelude to any further operations, they must be beached and cleaned. They were therefore hauled ashore under the headland, and a stockade was erected round them, the fleet thus becoming a fortified camp guarded by its crews.

And then the dreaded Greek fleet appeared. Its hundred triremes could disembark some twenty thousand men, for arms were provided even for the rowers. A landing from low-sided ships of light draught was an easy matter. They were driven in a long line towards the shore. As they grounded, the warriors sprang into the water and waded to land. The rowers left their oars, grasped spear or sword, and followed them. The stockade was stormed; the ships inside it, dry with the heat of the Asiatic sun, and with seams oozing with tar, were set on fire and were soon burning fiercely. As the flames died down and the pall of smoke drifted far over the promontory of Mycale, a mass of charred timbers was all that was left of the great armada of Asia, and the victorious Greeks sailed homewards with the news that the full fruits of Salamis had been garnered.



B.C. 31

Actium was one of the decisive battles of the world—the event that fixed the destinies of the Roman Empire for centuries to come, made Octavian its dictator, and enabled him, while keeping the mere forms of Republican life, to inaugurate the imperial system of absolute rule, and reign as the first of the Roman Emperors, under the name and title of Augustus.

It brought to a close the series of civil wars which followed the murder of his grand-uncle, Julius Caesar. The triumvirs, Mark Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus, had avenged the assassination by a wholesale proscription of their political opponents, all of whom indiscriminately they charged with the guilt of the deed; and had defeated Brutus and Cassius on the plains of Philippi. They had parcelled out the Empire among them, and then quarrelled over the spoil. Octavian, the dictator of the West, had expelled Lepidus from the African provinces that had been assigned to him as his territory. Antony was now his only remaining rival. Caesar's veteran lieutenant held the Eastern provinces of the Empire. During the years he had spent in the East he had become half Orientalized, under the influence of the famous Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, for whose sake he had dismissed his wife Octavia, the sister of Octavian, in order that the Egyptian might take her place. He had appeared beside her in Alexandria wearing the insignia of the Egyptian god Osiris, while Cleopatra wore those of Isis. Coins and medals were struck bearing their effigies as joint rulers of the East, and the loyalty of Rome and the West to Octavian was confirmed by the sense of indignation which every patriotic Roman felt at the news that Antony spoke openly of making Alexandria and not Rome the centre of the Empire, and of founding with the Egyptian Queen a new dynasty that would rule East and West from the Nile.

The question to be decided in the civil war was therefore not merely whether Octavian or Antony was to be the ruler of the Roman world, but whether Eastern or Western influences were to predominate in shaping its destinies. Antony was preparing to carry the war into Italy, and assembled on the western shores of Greece an army made up of the Roman legions of the eastern provinces and large contingents of Oriental allies. During the winter of B.C. 32-31, he had his head-quarters at Patrae (now Patras), on the Gulf of Corinth, and his army, scattered in detachments among the coast towns, was kept supplied with grain by ships from Alexandria. Antony's war fleet, strengthened by squadrons of Phoenician and Egyptian galleys, lay safely in the land-locked Ambracian Gulf (now the Gulf of Arta), approached by a winding strait that could easily be defended.

But Octavian had determined to preserve Italy from the horrors of war, by transporting an army across the Adriatic in the coming summer and deciding the conflict on the shores of Greece. An army of many legions was already in cantonments on the eastern coast of Italy, or prepared to concentrate there in the spring. His fleet crowded the ports of Tarentum (Taranto) and Brundusium (Brindisi), and minor detachments were wintering in the smaller harbours of southern Italy. Most of his ships were smaller than those to which they were to be opposed. It was reported that Antony had a considerable number of huge quinqueremes, and even larger ships of war, anchored in the Ambracian Gulf. The ships of the Western Empire were mostly triremes; but there was the advantage that while Antony's fleet was largely manned by hastily recruited landsmen, Octavian had crews made up of experienced sailors. Many of them were of the race of the Liburni, men of the island-fringed coast of Dalmatia, to this day among the best sailors of the Adriatic,[2] and his admiral was the celebrated Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who had to his credit more than one naval success in the civil wars, amongst them a victory won off the headland of Mylae, in the same waters that had been the scene of the triumph of Duilius.

[2] Men of the same race of sailors and fishermen largely manned the victorious fleet of Tegethoff at Lissa, nineteen centuries later. See Chapter XI.

Early in the spring, while the main body of Octavian's fleet concentrated at Brundusium, and the army that was to cross the Adriatic gathered around the harbour, Agrippa with a strong squadron put to sea, seized the port of Methone in the Peloponnesus, and using this place as his base of operations captured numbers of the Egyptian transports that were conveying supplies to the enemy's camps. Antony ought to have replied to this challenge by putting to sea with his combined fleet, forcing Agrippa to concentrate the Western armament to meet him, and deciding by a pitched battle who was to have the command of the sea in the Adriatic. But Caesar's old lieutenant, once as energetic and enterprising a soldier as his master, had now become indolent and irresolute. He was used to idling away weeks and months with Cleopatra and his semi-Oriental Court. Instead of venturing on a vigorous offensive campaign he left the initiative to his opponent, and with a nominally more powerful fleet at his disposal he passively abandoned the command of the sea to Agrippa and Octavian.

The Egypto-Roman army was ordered to concentrate on the southern shores of the Ambracian Gulf. A division of the fleet was moored in the winding strait at its entrance, but directed to act only on the defensive. Inside the Gulf the rest of the fleet lay, the largest ships at anchor, the smaller hauled up on the shore.

The crews had been brought up to full strength by enlisting mule-drivers, field-labourers, and other inexperienced landsmen, and would have been better for training at sea; but except for some drills on the landlocked waters they were left in idleness, and sickness soon broke out among them and thinned their numbers. The ships thus inefficiently manned presented a formidable array. There were some five hundred in all, including, however, a number of large merchantmen hastily fitted for war service. Just as modern men-of-war are provided with steel nets hanging on booms as a defence against torpedoes, so it would seem that some at least of Antony's ships had been fitted with a clumsy device for defending them against attack by ramming. Below the level of the oars, balks of timber were propped out from their sides at the water-line, and it was hoped that these barricades would break the full force of an enemy's "beak." But the invention had the drawback of diminishing the speed of the ship, and making quick turning more difficult, and thus it increased the very danger it was intended to avert.

Another feature of the larger ships, some of them the biggest that had yet been built for the line of battle, the "Dreadnoughts" of their day, was that wooden castles or towers had been erected on their upper decks, and on these structures were mounted various specimens of a rude primitive substitute for artillery, ballistae, catapults, and the like, engines for discharging by mechanical means huge darts or heavy stones. These same towers were also to be the places from which the Eastern bowmen, the best archers of the ancient world, would shower their arrows on a hostile fleet.

But locked up in the bottle-necked Ambracian Gulf the great fleet, with its tower-crowned array of floating giants, had as little effect on the opening phase of the campaign as if its units had been so many castles on the shore. Agrippa soon felt that there was no serious risk of any attempt being made by Antony to interrupt the long and delicate operation of ferrying over an army of a hundred thousand men and some twelve thousand cavalry from Italy to the opposite shore of the Adriatic. He took the precaution of watching the outlet of the Ambracian Gulf with his swiftest ships. The narrow entrance, while making it difficult to force a way into the Gulf, had the disadvantage of all such positions, that a large fleet would take a considerable time to issue from it into the open sea, and it was therefore comparatively easy to blockade and observe it. If Antony showed any sign of coming out, there would be time to bring up the whole fleet of Octavian to meet him in the open.

It was thus that Octavian was able securely to embark his army in successive divisions, and land it without interruption at the port of Toryne on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Having assembled there, it marched southwards along the coast till it reached the hills on the northern shore of the Ambracian Gulf, and the two armies and fleets were in presence of each other.

The legions of Octavian encamped on a rising ground a few miles north of the entrance of the Gulf, and above a narrow neck of land which divided one of its inlets from the open sea. The coast is here hollowed into a wide bay, in which the main body of Agrippa's fleet was anchored, while a detached squadron observed the opening of the straits. The camp was surrounded by entrenchments, and connected with the station of the fleet by a road protected by lines of earthworks and palisades, for it was the custom of the Romans to make as much use of pick and spade as of sword and spear in their campaigns. On the site of the camp Octavian afterwards founded Nicopolis, "the City of Victory," as the memorial of his triumph.

From the camp on the hill there was a wide view over the Ambracian Gulf, a sheet of water some thirty miles long and ten wide, surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills sloping to flat, and in many places marshy, shores. On the wide waters the fleet of Antony lay moored, line behind line, a forest of masts and yards. In the narrows of the entrance some of his largest ships were anchored. Many of the ships of Phoenicia and Egypt displayed an Eastern profusion of colour in their painted upper works, their gilded bows, and their bright flags and streamers. Near the southern shore lay the state galley of Cleopatra, a floating palace, with its silken sails, gilded bulwarks, and oars bound and plated with silver.

A line of earthworks and forts across the neck of the northern point, garrisoned by the best of Antony's Roman veterans, defended one side of the narrows. The other side was a low-lying, triangular stretch of land, dry, sandy ground. The Greeks knew it as the Akte, just as the Italian sailors still call it the Punta, both words having the same meaning, "the Point." At its northern extremity on a rocky platform there rose a temple of Apollo, known as the "Aktion," the "sanctuary of the point," a place of pilgrimage for the fisher and sailor folk of the neighbourhood. Its name, Latinized into Actium, became famous as that of the naval battle.

On the level ground by the temple was the camp of the army of Antony and Cleopatra, a city of tents and reed-built huts, within its midst the gay pavilions of the Court. It was a mixed gathering of many nations—Roman legions commanded by veterans of the wars of Caesar; Egyptian battalions in the quaint war dress we see on the painted walls of tombs by the Nile, and the semi-barbarous levies of the tributary kings of Eastern Asia. There were widespread dissension and mutual suspicion among the allies. Not a few of the Romans were chafing at their leader's subservience to a "Barbarian" queen. Many of the Eastern kinglets were considering whether they could not make a better bargain with Octavian. The cavalry of both armies skirmished among the hills on the land side of the Gulf, and prisoners made by Octavian's troops readily took service with them. Then one of the Asiatic kings, instead of fighting, joined the hostile cavalry with his barbaric horsemen, and night after night Roman deserters stole into the camp of Octavian on the northern height.

An attempt led by Antony in person against the Roman entrenchments was beaten off. A detachment of the fleet tried to elude the vigilance of Agrippa and slip out to sea, but had to retire before superior numbers. Then both parties watched each other, while at the head-quarters of Antony councils of war were held to debate upon a plan of campaign. The situation was becoming difficult. For Octavian contented himself with holding his fortified camp with his infantry, drawing his supplies freely from over-sea, while his cavalry prevented anything reaching Antony's lines from the land side, and Agrippa's fleet blockading the Gulf and sweeping the sea, made it impossible to bring corn from Egypt. Provisions were running short, and sickness was rife. A move of some kind must be made.

The veteran Canidius, who commanded the army under Antony, had like most of the Romans little faith in the efficiency of the fleet. He proposed to Antony that it should be abandoned, and that the army should march eastward into Macedonia, and, with an unexhausted country to supply it, await the pursuit of ten legions of Octavian in a favourable position. But Antony, influenced by Cleopatra, refused to desert the fleet, which was the one possible hope of reaching Egypt again, and rejecting an attack on the Roman entrenchments as a hopeless enterprise, he decided at last that all the treasure of Court and army should be embarked on the ships, and an effort made to break through the blockading squadrons.

While the preparations were being made, the Romans renewed their entreaties that their leader would rather stake his fortunes on a battle on land. One day a veteran centurion of his guard, who bore the honourable scars of many campaigns, addressing him with tears in his eyes, said to Antony: "Imperator, why distrust these wounds, this sword? Why put your hopes on wretched logs of wood? Let Phoenicians and Egyptians fight on the sea, but let us have land on which we know how to conquer or die." It is the appeal that Shakespeare puts into the mouth of one of Antony's soldiers:—

"O noble emperor, do not fight by sea; Trust not to rotten planks. Do you misdoubt This sword and these my wounds? Let the Egyptians And the Phoenicians go a-ducking; we Have used to conquer standing on the earth, And fighting foot to foot."[3]

[3] "Antony and Cleopatra," Act iii, scene 7.

The sight of the Egypto-Roman fleet crowding down to the narrows with their sails bent on their yards showed that they meant to risk putting to sea, and Octavian embarked on Agrippa's fleet, with picked reinforcements from the legions. For four days the wind blew strongly from the south-west and the blockaded fleet waited for better weather. On the fifth day the wind had fallen, the sea was smooth and the sun shone brightly. The floating castles of Antony's van division worked out of the straits, and after them in long procession came the rest of the Roman, Phoenician, and Egyptian galleys.

From the hills to the northward of the straits, from the low-lying headland of Actium to the south, two armies, each of a hundred thousand men, watched the spectacle, and waited anxiously for the sight of the coming battle.

The Western fleet had steered to a position off the entrance formed in two divisions, the one led by Agrippa, the other by Octavian. Agrippa, whose experience and record of naval victory gave him the executive command, had no intention of risking his small ships in the narrows, where they would have been opposed by an equal number of heavier ships, more numerously manned, and would lose whatever advantage their superior handiness and seaworthiness gave them, through having no room to manoeuvre. He kept his fleet of four hundred triremes sufficiently far from the shore to avoid the shelving shallows that fringe it near the entrance to the straits, and to have ample sea-room.

For some time the fleets remained in presence of each other, both hesitating to begin the attack. Antony knew that his slower and heavier ships would have the best chance acting inshore and on the defensive, and Agrippa was, on the other hand, anxious not to engage until he could lure them out seaward, where his light craft would have all the gain of rapid manoeuvring.

It was not till near noon that at last the Western fleet closed with the Allies. The ships that first encountered were nearly all Roman vessels, for the Egyptian and Asiatic squadrons were not in the front line of Antony's fleet, and the brunt of the attack fell upon the sluggish giants that had been so elaborately fortified with booms in the water and towers and breastworks on their decks. As the attacking ships came into range, arrows, javelins, and stones flew hurtling through the air from the line of floating castles, missiles that did not, however, inflict much loss, for the men on the decks of the attacking fleet crouched behind bulwarks or covered themselves with their oblong shields, and their bowmen made some show of reply to the heavier discharge of engines of war on Antony's ships and to the more rapid shooting of the Asiatic archers. The days were still far off when sea fights would be decided by "fire," in the sense of the discharge of projectiles.

Could the tall ships have rammed the smaller and lower galleys of Octavian and Agrippa they would certainly have sent them to the bottom—a sunken ship for each blow of the brazen beak. But attempts at ramming were soon found by Antony's captains to be both useless and dangerous. It was not merely that their lighter and nimbler opponents easily avoided the onset. The well-trained crews evaded every attempt to run them down or grapple them, chose their own distance as they hovered round their huge adversaries, and presently as they gained confidence from impunity, began successfully to practise the manoeuvre of eluding the ram, and using their own bows, not for a blow against the hull of the heavier ship, but to sweep away and shatter her long oars, that were too heavy to be saved by drawing them in or unshipping them. Successful attack on the oars was equivalent to disabling an adversary's engines in a modern sea-fight. And when a ship was thus crippled, her opponents could choose their own time to concentrate several of their ships for a joint attempt to take her by boarding.

The unwieldy ships of Antony's first line, with their half-trained and untrained crews, must have formed a straggling irregular line with large intervals as they stood out to sea, and it was this that gave Octavian's fleet the opportunity for the worrying tactics they adopted. Had the Egyptian and Phoenician ships come to the support of the leading line, their more sailor-like crews might have helped to turn the scale against Octavian. But while the fight was yet undecided and before the Egyptian squadron had taken any part in it, a breeze sprang up from the land, blowing from the north-east. Then, to the dismay of Antony's veterans who watched the battle from the headland of Actium, it was seen that the Egyptians were unfurling their sails from the long yards. The signal had been given from Cleopatra's stately vessel, which as the battle began had rowed out to a position in the midst of the Egyptian squadron, and now shook out her purple sails to the breeze, silken fabrics of fiery red, that seemed at first glance like a battle-signal. But in battle sails were never used and ships trusted entirely to the oar, so to set the sails meant plainly that the fight was to be abandoned.

Driven by her silver-tipped oars, helped now with the land breeze that swelled her sails, Cleopatra's galley passed astern of the fighting-line on its extreme left, and sixty of the warships of Alexandria followed their queen. Those who watched from the land must have hoped against hope that this was a novel manoeuvre, to use the breeze to aid the squadron of their allies to shoot out from behind the main body, gain the flank of the enemy, and then suddenly let the sails flap idly, furl or drop them, and sweep down with full speed of oars on the rear of the attack, with Cleopatra leading like Artemisia at Salamis. But the "serpent of old Nile" had no such ideas. She was in full flight for Alexandria, with her warships escorting her and conveying the wealth that had been embarked when it was decided to put to sea. Was her flight an act of treachery, or the result of panic-stricken alarm at the sight of the battle? But even her enemies never accused her of any lack of personal courage, and there are many indications that it had been arranged before the fleet came out, that, as soon as an opportunity offered, Cleopatra with a sufficient escort should make for Egypt, where several legions were in garrison, and where even if the army now camped beside the Ambracian Gulf could not be extricated from its difficulties, another army might be formed to prolong the war.

But the withdrawal of the sixty ships threw the odds of battle heavily against the rest of Antony's fleet. And matters were made worse by its leader suddenly allowing his infatuation for the Queen of Egypt to sweep away all sense of his duty to his comrades and followers and his honour as a commander. As he saw Cleopatra's sails curving round his line and making for the open sea, he hastily left his flagship, boarded a small and swift galley, and sped after the Egyptians.

Agrippa was too good a leader to weaken his attack on the main body of the enemy by any attempt to interrupt the flight of the Egyptian squadron. When he saw the galley of Antony following it, he guessed who was on board, and detached a few of his triremes in pursuit. Antony was saved from capture only by the rearward ships of the fugitive squadron turning back to engage and delay the pursuers. In this rearguard fight two of the Egyptian warships were captured by Agrippa's cruisers. But meanwhile Antony's galley had run alongside of the royal flagship of the Egyptian fleet, and he had been welcomed on board by Cleopatra.

By this time, however, he had begun to realize the consequences of his flight. Half an hour ago he had stood on the deck of a fighting ship, where comrades who had made his cause their own were doing brave battle against his enemies. Now, while the fight still raged far away astern, he found himself on the deck of a pleasure yacht, glittering with gold and silver, silk and ivory, and with women and slaves forming a circle round the Queen, who greeted him as he trod the carpeted deck. He made only a brief acknowledgment of her welcome, and then turned away and strode forward to the bow, where he sat alone, huddled together, brooding on thoughts of failure and disgrace, while the royal galley and its escort of warships sped southward with oar and sail, and the din of battle died away in the distance, and all sight of it was lost beyond the horizon.

The withdrawal of the Egyptians was a palpable discouragement to all the fleet, but not all were aware that their leader, Antony, had shared Cleopatra's flight. Some of those who realized what had happened gave up all further effort for victory, and leaving the line drove ashore on the sandy beach of Actium, and abandoning their ships joined the spectators from the camp. Others made their way by the strait into the great land-locked haven of the Gulf. But most of the fleet still kept up the fight. The great ships that drifted helplessly, with broken oars, among the agile galleys of Agrippa's Liburnian sailors, or that grounded in the shallows nearer the shore, were, even in their helplessness as ships, formidable floating forts that it was difficult to sink and dangerous to storm. More than one attempt to board was repulsed with loss, the high bulwarks and towers giving an advantage to the large fighting contingents that Antony had embarked. Some of them had drifted together, and were lashed side to side, so that their crews could mutually aid each other, and their archers bring a cross fire on the assailants of their wooden towers. Some ships had been sunk on both sides, and a few of the towered warships of the Eastern fleet had been captured by Agrippa, but at the cost of much loss of life.

To complete the destruction of the Antonian fleet, and secure his victory, Agrippa now adopted means that could not have been suddenly improvised, and must therefore have been prepared in advance, perhaps at the earlier period, when he was considering the chances of forcing a way into the Gulf. Fire was the new weapon, arrows wreathed with oiled and blazing tow were shot at the towers and bulwarks of the enemy. Rafts laden with combustibles were set on fire, and towed or pushed down upon the drifting sea-castles. Ship after ship burst into flame. As the fire spread some tried vainly to master it; others, at an early stage, abandoned their ships, or surrendered. As the resistance of the defeated armada gradually slackened, and about four o'clock came to an end, it was found that a number of ships had taken refuge in the narrows and the Gulf; others were aground on the point; a few had been sunk, some more had surrendered, but numbers were drifting on the sea, wrapped in smoke and flame. Some of these sank as the fire reached the water's edge, and the waves lapped into the hollow hull, or the weight of half-consumed upper works capsized them. Others drifted ashore in the shallows, and reddened sea and land with the glare of their destruction far into the night.

For the men who had fought, the victory, complete as it was, had an element of disappointment. They had hoped to secure as a prize the treasures of Cleopatra, but these had been spirited away on the Egyptian fleet. But for the commanders, Octavian and his able lieutenant, there was nothing to regret. The battle had once more decided the issue between East and West, and had given Octavian such advantages that it would be his own fault if he were not soon master of the Roman World.

Within a few days the remnant of the defeated fleet had been surrendered or burned at its anchors. The army of Canidius, after a half-hearted attempt at an inland march, and after being further weakened by desertions, declared for Octavian, and joined his standards.

Cleopatra had entered the port of Alexandria with a pretence of returning in triumph from a naval victory. Laurel wreaths hung on spars and bulwarks, flags flew, trumpets sounded, and she received the enthusiastic greetings of Greeks and Egyptians as she landed. But the truth could not be long concealed, and under the blight of defeat, linked with stories of leaders deserting comrades and allies, Antony and Cleopatra failed to rally any determined support to their side when the conqueror of Actium came to threaten Egypt itself. Both ended their lives with their own hands, Cleopatra only resorting to this act of desperation when, after breaking with Antony, she failed to enslave Octavian with her charms, and foresaw that she would appear among the prisoners at his coming triumph in Rome.

2 September, B.C. 31—the day of Actium—is the date which most historians select to mark the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Empire. The victor Octavian had already taken the name of his grand-uncle, Caesar. He now adopted the title of Augustus, and accepted from army and senate the permanent rank of Imperator, inaugurating a system of absolutism that kept some of the forms of the old Republic as a thin disguise for the change to Imperialism.

On the height where he had camped before the battle, Nicopolis, the City of Victory, was erected. The ground where his tent had stood was the marble-paved forum, adorned with the brazen beaks of conquered warships. The temple of Apollo, on the point of Actium, was rebuilt on more ambitious lines, and on the level expanse of sandy ground behind it, every September, for some two hundred years, the "Actian games" were held to celebrate the decisive victory.

Augustus did not forget that to the fleet he had owed his success in the civil war, and naval stations were organized and squadrons of warships kept in commission even in the long days of peace that followed his victory. They served to keep the Mediterranean free from the plague of piracy, and to secure the growing oversea commerce of the Empire which had made the Mediterranean a vast Roman lake.



A.D. 1000

In the story of the battles of Salamis and Actium we have seen what naval warfare was like in Greek and Roman times. It would be easy to add other examples, but they would be only repetitions of much the same story, for during the centuries of the Roman power there was no marked change in naval architecture or the tactics of warfare on the sea.

We pass, then, over a thousand years to a record of naval war waged in the beginning of the Middle Ages by northern races—people who had, independently of Greek or Roman, evolved somewhat similar types of ships, but who were better sailors, though for all that they still used the ship not so much as an engine of war as the floating platform on which warriors might meet in hand-to-hand conflict. Norseman, Dane, and Swede were all of kindred blood. The land-locked Baltic, the deep fiords of the Scandinavian Peninsula, the straits and inlets of the archipelago that fringes its North Sea coast, were the waters on which they learned such skill in seamanship that they soon launched out upon the open sea, and made daring voyages, not only to the Orkneys and the Hebrides, and the Atlantic seaboard of Ireland, but the Faroes, and to still more distant Iceland and Greenland, and then southward to "Vineland," the mainland of America, long after rediscovered by the navigators of the fifteenth century.

There is a considerable intermixture of Norse blood in the peoples of Great Britain and Ireland, and perhaps from this sea-loving race comes some of the spirit of adventure that has helped so much to build up our own naval power. When Nelson destroyed and captured the Danish fleet at Copenhagen, the Danes consoled themselves by saying that only a leader of their own blood could have conquered them, and that Nelson's name showed he came of the Viking line.

A chronicler tells how Charlemagne in his old age once came to a village on the North Sea shore, and camped beside it. Looking to seaward he saw far out some long low ships, with gaily painted oars, dragon-shaped bows, and sails made of brightly coloured lengths of stuff sewn together and adorned with embroidery along the yard. Tears came to his eyes as he said: "These sea-dragons will tear asunder the empire I have made."

They were Viking cruisers, on their way to plunder some coast town; and the old Emperor's prophecy was verified when the Norman, who was a civilized Norseman, became for a while the conquering race of Europe. Even before the death of Charlemagne the Norse and Danish sea-kings were raiding, plundering, and burning along the coasts of his Empire. Two hundred years of our own history is made up of the story of their incursions. England and Ireland bore the first brunt of their onset, when they found the ways of the sea. But they ravaged all the western coasts of Europe, and even showed themselves in the Mediterranean. From the end of the eighth till the beginning of the eleventh century they were the terror of the western world, and early in that dark and stormy period their raids had grown into great expeditions; they landed armies that marched far inland, and they carved out principalities for themselves.

Western Europe had a brief respite at times when the Vikings fought amongst themselves. In early days there were frequent struggles for supremacy in Norway, between local kinglets and ambitious chiefs. Fighting was in the blood of the Northmen. Two sea-roving squadrons would sometimes challenge each other to battle for the mere sake of a fight. As Norway coalesced into a single kingdom, and as the first teachers of Christianity induced the kings to suppress piracy, there was more of peace and order on the Northern Seas. But in this transition period there was more than one struggle between the Scandinavian kingdoms, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. One of the most famous battles of these northern wars of the sea-kings was fought in this period, when the old wild days of sea-roving were drawing to an end, and its picturesque story may well be told as that of a typical Norse battle, for its hero, King Olaf Tryggveson, was the ideal of a northern sea-king.

Olaf was a descendant of the race of Harold Haarfager, "Fair-haired Harold," the warrior who had united the kingdom of Norway, and made himself its chief king at the close of the ninth century. But Olaf came of a branch of the royal house that civil war had reduced to desperate straits. He was born when his mother, Astrid, was a fugitive in a lonely island of the Baltic. As a boy he was sold into slavery in Russia. There, one day, in the marketplace of an Esthonian town, he was recognized by a relative, Sigurd, the brother of Astrid, and was freed from bondage and trained to arms as a page at the Court of the Norse adventurers who ruled the land. The "Saga" tells how Olaf, the son of Tryggva, grew to be tall of stature, and strong of limb, and skilled in every art of land and sea, of peace and war. None swifter than he on the snow-shoes in winter, no bolder swimmer when the summer had cleared the ice from the waters. He could throw darts with both hands, he could toss up two swords, catching them like a juggler, and keeping one always in the air. He could climb rocks and peaks like a mountain goat. He could row and sail, and had been known to display his daring skill as an athlete by running along the moving oars outside the ship. He could ride a horse, and fight, mounted or on foot, with axe or sword, with spear or bow.

In early manhood he came back to Norway to avenge the death of his father Tryggva, and then took to sea-roving, for piracy was still the Norseman's trade. He raided the shores of the Continent from Friesland to Northern France, but most of his piratical voyages were to the shores of our own islands, and many a seaboard town in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland saw Olaf's plundering squadron of swift ships. Five was the number of them with which he visited the Orkneys.

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