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Themistocles vs Xerxes January 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology.

It was a quiet night in September in 480 BCE off the coast of southeastern Greece.

All was serene, except for the hundreds of Greek warships that floated atop the still waters brimming with grim, tense soldiers ready to serve their country. This is the scene the night before the Battle of Salamis, fought between a motley coalition of bickering Greeks and the imperial army of the Persian Empire. In the eyes of the Greeks, the Persians and modern historians, the battle was one of the most important in the history of Europe and Western Asia.

Yet if one were actually present in the war rooms of these respective foes, there would have been a noticeable difference in conduct. In the Persian camp, the will of Xerxes, king of the Persians, would have been paramount, as his role as supreme commander and leader of the expedition was unquestionable. Yes, he had a council of war that included representatives of the various ethnicities that fought in the name of Persia, but it was ultimately the word of Xerxes that prevailed. The discussion would have been calm, collected and, in a word, imperial. All propositions were made to cater to the favor of the king.

If, somehow, one were to be present simultaneously at the discussion of the Greeks, he or she would be left wondering how these Greeks ever won the battle at all. In the discussion of war, everyone spoke, and no one hesitated to speak exactly their mind. All commanders had an equal say in the affair, though there was a symbolic figurehead, and at one point, the discussion nearly turned to blows. In contrast to the collected, Xerxes-led council of Persians, the Greek discussion was raucous and democratic. It was also the very thing that saved them.

The Greeks ended up choosing a path of least resistance, one that maximized the ability for the Greeks to retreat after their much-expected defeat. One voice stood out though: the commander Themistocles passionately and eloquently argued for a fight at Salamis proper. His reasoning and ruses probably ended up winning the battle of Salamis. It is not Themistocles, rather, but the democratic Greek tradition of allowing all an equal say, even in matters of war, that proved essential to the Greek victory. Xerxes’ unswerving commitment to his primacy as leader of the Persian Empire, along with the trickery of Themistocles, on the other hand, signaled his doom.

Let’s assume that we have been faced with the same sort of dilemma. That is, do we wish to be led by a Themistocles or a Xerxes?

What do you say? Whom would you choose to be your leader? Or led by and why?

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