Salamis, Battle of, 480 B.C., the decisive naval battle of the Persian Wars, fought in the strait between the island of Salamis and the Greek mainland. The Greek victory ended the threat of Persian domination of the Mediterranean world.
Persia's first attempt at expansion into Greek lands, under King Darius, had been stopped at Marathon in 490 B.C. Ten years later Xerxes marched his huge army into Greece, with his fleet positioned offshore. The Persians overcame a Greek force at Thermopylae and moved on to Athens. The Athenian leader Themistocles had long realized that the Greeks could best defend themselves against the Persians at sea and had been building up Athens' fleet. In accordance with his plan, the city was abandoned to the Persians.
Athens and its allies assembled their ships in protected waters between Salamis and the mainland. Some of the Greeks wanted to withdraw. Themistocles sent a message to Xerxes informing him of this fact; Xerxes, as Themistocles had hoped, responded by sending his ships to block the ends of the strait, forcing the Greeks to fight. This action on the part of Xerxes was a serious blunder because in the narrow strait the Persians' numerical superiority gave them no advantage against the Greeks. There was no room for maneuver and the battle was fought primarily by soldiers over decks. The Greek soldiers were more heavily armed, and the Persians were routed. Accounts of the number of ships lost vary, but hundreds of vessels were involved. Persia's losses are believed to have been far heavier than the Greeks'.
With his fleet shattered, Xerxes could no longer supply his land forces and returned to Persia with most of the army. The next year the Greeks defeated the Persian rear guard at Plataea and destroyed the remainder of the Persian navy at Mycale. Persia never again attacked Greece.