We are back on land following an eventful expedition in the Greek research vessel AEGAEO to the Kassian Strait, a broad seaway that runs between the desolate, rocky island of Kassos and the eastern tip of the big island of Crete. The Kassian Strait is one of the maritime gateways between the Aegean Sea and [...]
The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy
SHIP’S LOG: ATHENIAN NAVY
The early morning sun is shining across the big square in the heart of Heraklion, Crete, and lighting up the lobby of the Astoria Capsis Hotel. I will meet the rest of our team of archaeologists and marine geologists at breakfast in an hour. But jetlag and a uncontrollable fit of wakefulness struck me at [...]
The skies were clear all the way from New York to Geneva to Athens, and finally for the short flight southeast across the Aegean Sea to Crete. The airport at Heraklion on the northern coast of Crete lies on the coast near the harbor, and as the jet descended in the evening light I caught [...]
In a few hours this sunny stay in New York City will draw to a close, and I will be boarding a flight for Greece. In Heraklion on the ancient island of Crete I’ll be joining the rest of the DANAOS research team, for another field season in the eastern Mediterranean in search of shipwrecks [...]
“I cannot tune a harp or play a lyre,” said the Athenian soldier-statesman Themistocles, “but I know how to make a small city great.” His vision set Athens on a course towards greatness when Themistocles persuaded his fellow citizens to build a fleet of 200 warships known as triremes - long galleys propelled by triple banks of oars. This navy, originating in the years 483-480 BC, was one of the finest fighting forces in the history of the world, and became the model for all other national navies to come. The Athenian navy fought for Greek liberty against the invading Persians, established the city’s radical democracy, built a maritime empire, launched the famous Golden Age of Pericles, Socrates, Plato, and the Parthenon.
The Golden Age began on a September day in the year 480 BC, when Themistocles lured the unwary armada of King Xerxes of Persia into the narrow straits between the island of Salamis and the Greek mainland. The sea battle between Greeks and Persians lasted all day, and resulted in a crushing defeat for the Persian fleet, the largest naval force ever assembled. The battle remains one of the key turning points, not only in the on-going conflict between East and West, but in all of world history.
John Hale’s book LORDS OF THE SEA (Viking 2009) presents, for the first time, the definitive history of the epic battles, the swift and dangerous ships, the indomitable will of the Athenian people, and the stories of great leaders, from visionary strategists to seductive rogues, who established Athens’ supremacy. The naval engagements of the Persian, Peloponnesian, and Macedonian wars are interwoven with tales of Athenian life and culture on shore. During its century-and-a-half of greatness, Athens was a city wedded to the sea, and its achievements, its triumphs and its tragedies, can only be understood in the light of the Athenians’ own role as master seafarers.
“I have never felt so much that I was in ancient Athens as when I was reading this book.” Donald Kagan, author of THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR.
- John R Hale | View Bio