Ancient History Hsc: the Greek World 500-440bc

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To what extent was Themistocles’ contribution the key factor in bringing about a Greek victory in the Persian Wars, 480-479 BC?

To a very large extent Themistocles did play the key role in bringing about a Greek victory against the Persians in 480-479BC. His efforts in the pre-war years, his leadership and tactical skills at Artemisium and Salamis, and his persuasive arguments all combined to offer the Greeks hope of victory. However, Themistocles, alone, could not determine the fate of the war. It would be a mistake to suggest that other people and events did not play important roles in the defeat against the Persians as well. To gain a complete understanding of why the Persians were defeated, one needs to look at the roles of the Spartans and Pausanias, the importance of the Battle of Plataea and the mistakes of the Persians themselves. To a reasonably large extent, Themistocles contribution brought about a Greek victory, but not to full extent.

Even before the war, Themistocles played a key role in creating the circumstances in which a victory might be possible. Themistocles was the advocate for Athenian naval power which eventually played a very important and critical role in the wars. He convinced the Athenians to spend the silver found at Laurion on the production of ships and not gifts for the people. His persuasion led to the building of 200 triremes. Themistocles promoted the land/sea strategy which, in turn, made him a key player in the events surrounding the Battle of Artemisium. By developing Athenian naval forces, he increased Greek naval strength and gave them the upper hand in sea battles where they were usually disadvantaged on land due to Persian cavalry and archery. Modern historian Victor Ehrenberg states that it was Themistocles’ naval policy that determined the course of the century. Themistocles was also heavily involved in the Hellenic league which eventually brought together 31 Greek states to fight against the Persians. By being...
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