(Note: I was hosptialized yesterday, and even though I'm home today I'm really not in any condition to research and write a new badass. I did see a lot of trailers for the new 300 movie while I was laid up, so here's a story from Badass: Ultimate Deathmatch talking about the true history of Themistocles and the Battle of Salamis, because it looks like they maaaaay have messed a few thing up in the movie translation)
In the years following the Battle of Thymbra, the descendants of Cyrus the Great forged a ridiculously huge empire that covered a good portion of Central Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa, but despite the Persians’ much-deserved street cred as no-nonsense face-wrecking hardasses, the stubborn Greek city-states of Sparta and Athens still refused to suck it up and submit to the will of their would-be future overlords. In 490 BC the great Persian emperor Darius I tried to pound some sense into their Hellenistic crotches with an obscene amount of club-wielding violence, but his incomprehensibly huge invasion armada of six hundred ships and a hundred thousand soldiers was miraculously defeated outside the city of Marathon when a heavily armored phalanx of ten thousand balls-out (literally—there wasn’t much under those tunic skirts) Athenian warriors met an amphibious landing force ten times their size on the beaches, drove the invaders back to their boats on a crimson tide of severed limbs and mutilated corpses, and then torched the Persian transports for good measure.
A Greek warrior named Themistocles had been on the front lines at the Battle of Marathon, and as he watched the shattered remnants of the fleet limb pack to Persia this grizzled warrior knew that the Persians weren’t the sort of guys who were going let a defeat like that go unpunished—you don’t build the largest empire in the world by going home and crying into a plate of hummus every time you lose a battle, and Themistocles knew that if the Greeks wanted to keep the Persian emperor from sailing right back into town and offloading another hundred-thousand-man invasion force 26.2 miles from the Acropolis, Athens needed to clog the Aegean Sea with enough ship-mounted battering rams and pitch-filled firebombs to nuke a small island off the map. Now, in addition to having a name that sort of looks like “Testicles,” Themistocles also happened to be an archon of Athens, meaning that he was one of a small group of men responsible for the day-to-day governance of the city-state. Well, this guy was so single-mindedly hardcore about building warships that when one of the other dumbass archons defiantly announced that he thought blowing the entire treasury on boat construction projects wasn’t really the most totally bitchin’ idea ever conceived in the history of idiot politicians, Themistocles fabricated a political scandal that resulted in that asshole being disgraced, stripped of his office, and exiled out of town forever, because screw him for not appreciating the awesomeness of fire-breathing battle boats.
Say what you want about this guy’s shady political muckraking, but it turned out that Themistocles was right. Ten years after Marathon, Darius’s son Xerxes returned with an obscene amount of arrogance, some daddy issues, one of the coolest names in history, and a force three times the size of the army the Persians had fielded at Marathon—three hundred thousand warriors and twelve hundred ships all intent on spear-humping the face of every man, woman, and child in Greece. As Athens was evacuated, King Leonidas of Sparta headed out on a fateful journey to stuff the mountain pass at Thermopylae with the rock-hard abs of three hundred screaming Spartans, but as brave as this was, the stand at Thermopylae wouldn’t have been all that useful if the Persians had been able to simply load their warriors into ships, sail around the pass, and stab the Greeks in their asses when they weren’t looking. Xerxes thought about this, but unfortunately for him one thing stood in the way of the Persian fleet, blocking their path around Thermopylae and forcing the Persians to send thousands of their toughest warriors marching to their horrific deaths in a narrow pass against a heavily entrenched and almost-unkillable Spartan phalanx. That thing was the newly constructed Greek fleet, and the primary object blocking their passage was the gigantic nutsack of the Athenian naval commander Themistocles.
While Leonidas barricaded the only land entrance to Greece with heaping piles of dead bodies, dented breastplates, and empty bottles of baby oil, Themistocles covered the Spartans’ flank by wedging his two hundred warships into a narrow strait just off the coast of Thermopylae at a place called Artemesium. Outnumbered almost four to one and facing off against an armada crewed by some of the world’s best seamen—the Phoenicians and the Egyptians—Themistocles used the terrain to his advantage, forcing the Persians to attack in a single-file line, one squadron of ships at a time, ensuring that when the two fleets closed to ramming distance the Persians didn’t have any room to maneuver. On three separate occasions Xerxes’s admirals attempted to straight-up pimp-slap Themistocles with wild, unruly bum-rushes, but on all three occasions the Athenian hero shoved a battering ram so far up their poop decks that every Persian within fifty miles was coughing up splinters. The Persian admiral, seeing that charging straight on into the Greek fleet was producing roughly the same result as if he had just ordered his ships to set themselves on fire and blitz full speed into some rocks, dispatched one-third of his fleet to circle around the island Themistocles had been using to cover his flank and attack the Greeks from the rear. After a freak storm obliterated the entire expedition, Themistocles was careful to pour one out for Poseidon.
When word came down that Leonidas and the Spartans had finally ended up on the bad end of the ol’ stabbity-stab and that their crucified corpses were now being used as delightfully macabre decorations outside the pass at Thermopylae, Themistocles was forced to pull the fleet back. The Persians immediately started sprinting their way across Greece, burning and plundering and kicking the crapballs out of everything in their path, but, thankfully, by this point most of the residents of those doomed towns had already evacuated to safety. The Persian war machine was still plowing along, however, and hard-hitting warmongers like Themistocles don’t exactly take it all that well when foreign invader sons-of-bitches come in and start ravaging their countryside like frat boys on homecoming week. In the aftermath of Thermopylae, the Greek leaders ordered Themistocles to set up a blockade to try and slow down the Persian advance, but screw that—even though he was heavily outnumbered, he wasn’t about to run from those bastards, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to sit back and turtle up when he should be out there cracking the enemy in the jaw with a flaming two-by-four until they needed skin grafts and steel rebar to wire their mouths shut. Themistocles knew that if he could cripple the Persian navy with one decisive battle, they wouldn’t be able to supply their land forces and the entire invasion would completely implode on itself. And so, despite strict orders not to engage the enemy in a full-scale battle, and seemingly unaware that he had a mere 366 triremes staring down an armada of over a thousand Persian warships (they’d been reinforced since Artemesium), Themistocles resolved to make a stand. He decided that in a small, narrow inlet known as Salamis, just seven miles from his beloved Athens, he was going to put up a fight that would determine the fate of the war forever—a no-holds-barred ocean brawl that would be reminiscent of the battlestar Galactica taking on three Cylon basestars in orbit above New Caprica or Rocky Balboa knocking the piss out of Tommy “Machine” Gunn in that one Rocky movie everyone forgot about.
First, Themistocles positioned almost all of his ships inside the inlet of Salamis (which I now have it on good authority is not pronounced the same way you would refer to multiple slices of salami). He made damned sure that the Persians knew exactly where they could come to find him, and then he started spreading BS rumors about how Greek morale was in the toilet and how the Athenians had all lost the will to fight and were now considering abandoning war altogether and enrolling in quilt-making classes at the local fabric store. The Persian admirals knew that the destruction of Themistocles’s fleet would spell the end of Greece once and for all, and so, when dawn arose one crisp September morning, the Greek crews looked to the horizon and saw the entire Persian navy plowing through the bottlenecked entrance to the inlet at full speed, anxious to crush Themistocles before he could get away and regroup. Emperor Xerxes himself, confident that the end of the war was at hand, had a golden throne positioned high on the rocks above the inlet so he could witness the final defeat of Greece personally, laugh his ass off the whole time, and then urinate down onto the ashes of Athens as it burned into charcoal.
The Greeks took one look at this armada, hesitated for a second, and then promptly ran for it like bitches.
The Persians, already tasting their sweet, delicious, cinnamon-infused victory, greedily broke ranks and pursued the fleeing Greek fleet as fast as they could, each ship’s commander looking to seek glory for himself by destroying as many of the enemy as possible as they ran for it like cowards in the face of unstoppable Persian might.
But then something incredible happened. Almost in unison, the Greek ships suddenly stopped running. In one motion, Themistocles’s triremes quickly wheeled around with chilling precision and formed up immediately into perfect battle lines. Just like that, the Athenian commander now found himself at the helm of a spearhead of wooden vengeance, staring down his ship’s battering ram at a disorganized mass of Persian ships all crushed together inside a narrow, tiny inlet without any place to maneuver or escape.
If this were a movie, this is the part where we’d get the close-up shot of the Persian admiral looking surprised and shouting:
Naval battles in antiquity were totally sweet because they were little more than aquatic demolition derbies with arrows, battering rams, and gigantic shipboard flamethrowers smashing the crap out of each other in a semi-anarchistic explosion of destruction. Essentially, it worked like this: a fleet of insane wooden deathtraps masquerading as warships would load up with enough sword-swinging warriors to choke a Rancor, cram their holds full of volatile, unstable explosives, and then sail around at top speed with the single-minded goal of crashing head-on into an enemy ship, punching a hole in its hull, lighting it on fire, and then lowering a boarding plank so the marines could start carving their names on the skulls of the poor chumps on the opposing ship. It was like a homicidal fiery cross between a monster truck rally and a really spirited game of bumper boats, and in this no-holds-barred, Beyond Thunderdome arena of nautical face annihilation, Themistocles was like the Classical Age equivalent of Truckzilla—the twenty-story-tall, fire-breathing, dinosaur-shaped robot that lives only to devour hope and frighten children and that gets its nutrition from a steady diet of late-1980s model sedans and the unclean souls of wretched humans hurled forth into its unforgiving diabolical chomping steel jaws.
In the seasickness-inducing aquatic anarchy off the coast of Salamis that day, Themistocles was right in the middle of the action, punching Persian vessels into wreckage with his prow and ruining the ass of Xerxes’s once-proud fleet in an epically spectacular fashion. Those Persian ships that weren’t disintegrated by battering rams or set ablaze by flaming arrows either ran ashore on the rocks or had their decks swarmed by armored Greek warriors anxious to get their murder on. The Persian admiral’s flagship was sunk in the early minutes of the fight (taking him down with it), further contributing to the hair-pulling WTF disorder among their ranks, and before long all Emperor Xerxes could do was scream maniacally from his golden throne and swear like a sailor as he helplessly watched the Greek formation drive a wedge of hull-obliterating ruination through his entire fleet. The Persian armada fell into disarray; their ships started accidentally crashing into each other, and the entire Persian fleet was bludgeoned into flotsam in the matter of hours, leaving nothing but a floating slick of blood and grease on the water’s surface. Xerxes, afraid for his own safety and disgusted by his navy’s poor showing, ran away and headed home, abandoning the entire invasion force to their fate. Victory was now impossible. The Persians, unable to bring supplies or reinforcements to the battlefront due to Themistocles’s complete control of the seas, were overrun by a Greek counterattack, and it would take less than a year for the Greeks to recapture their homeland from the invaders.