The Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Interior, under the Patronage of H.E. the President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou, is creating the ‘Thermopylae-Salamis 2020” Anniversary framework. On this occasion it is taking initiatives in four areas of action to honour the 25th centennial of the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis.
The Honorary Committee for the Anniversary Year brings together prominent figures from Greece and abroad, conveying the message of celebration throughout the world.
At the same time, distinguished scientists and artists, as well as some of the country’s major organizations, are supporting this effort by participating in a wide range of events and initiatives.
In the education sector, the Foundation is hosting competitions designed to promote children’s creativity through painting, creative writing and theatrical expression. It is also holding international conferences and scientific workshops that will highlight the historic importance of the battles.
Artists and athletes, the Greek diaspora and the Hellenic Navy will also be participating in the Anniversary cycle through major events. Moreover, in collaboration with local communities in the respective areas, the Foundation will create humanitarian projects for supporting citizens in their day-to-day lives.
Message of the President of the Republic
Message of the President of the Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou
The Greece of 2020 is a modern European democracy. It participates as an equal partner in the modern world, in all its forms and challenges. It faces all the adversity and risks of our era, striving firmly and persistently to overcome them in a rational and just manner. To the extent of its capabilities, it contributes to the progress of the wider region, advocating a creative, democratic and tolerant way of life.
But what constitutes an existential guide of the Greek State and a Foundation of our modern culture – as is clear from the way we responded to the coronavirus pandemic that is raging across the planet – is our commitment to the value of the Human Being. This absolute humanist priority is today shaping a path that has its beginnings deep in antiquity and on which the Battle of Thermopylae and especially the Battle of Salamis are milestones of enormous importance. It was then that the militarily outnumbered mustered their spirit and intelligence, their ingenuity and genius, to defend not only their territory, but also their ethos and world-view from the foreign invader. A universe of values and organizational practices for collective life that they had begun to shape and had to protect from the foreign invader at all costs.
At Thermopylae and Salamis, ancient Greece, at the dawn of its glory, came together, stood strong, fought for and saved its freedom, its independence and the humanist core of a civilization now recognized as universal. A core that already held what would later become the most precious historical legacy of Greek antiquity: democracy and the notion of the citizen, self-esteem and liberty, reason, the artistic mediation of tragedy in our very being, philosophy as a rigorous meeting of intellect, logic and the deepest human needs, and so much else that revolves around the value of Human Being.
As modern Greeks, we have a very heavy responsibility. The responsibility to preserve, protect and promote precisely this universal culture and its non-negotiable humanitarian identity. We are proud and honoured, as a society, as a State and as a scientific community to take responsibility for this heritage every day. The Greek State is celebrating the Thermopylae – Salamis 2020 anniversary year with due moderation and solemnity, without conceit or barren worship of our forebears, but with a genuine desire for a deeper and multifaceted knowledge of history.
I am certain that these anniversary events will contribute decisively to our self-knowledge, to promoting our homeland’s historical wealth, to furthering scientific knowledge, and to protecting an invaluable and truly global heritage.
BATTLE OF THERMOPYLAE
Ιt took place in the beginning of September 480 BCE (along with the naval battle of Artemisium) between the Greeks and the Persians, during the second Persian invasion of Greece. The Persians, masters of Asia Minor and rulers of the Greek cities there, had been defeated ten years earlier (490 BCE) in Marathon, during the reign of the Persian King Darius, under the command of his generals Datis and Artaphernes. However, the plan of also subjugating the cities of the Greek mainland remained, therefore they prepared a second expedition to the Greek peninsula, this time led by the Persian King himself and son of Darius, Xerxes.
Xerxes’ expeditionary force was immense and it consisted not only of Persians, but also of all peoples of the East subjugated to the Persian Empire. Ancient Greek sources estimate the force to come up to more than one million, while contemporary estimates claim it consisted of up to approximately 300,000 men (infantry and cavalry). At the same time, it was accompanied by a very powerful fleet which supported the development of the expedition conducted by land.
Against this threat and the invasion taking place, the free Greek cities, led by Sparta (traditionally more powerful on land) and Athens (already powerful at sea), managed to form an alliance. They met in Corinth and finally decided to resist the invaders in the defensively suitable area of Thermopylae, where in ancient times there was only one narrow passage between the Euboean Sea and the interior mountain range.
Following four days of waiting, the Persians attacked but the Greeks resisted successfully for two days. On the third day, Ephialtes led the Persians behind the lines of the Greeks. When the Spartan King Leonidas, who was in command, found out of the imminent encirclement, he probably chose to send the main allied forces further south and to keep only select and voluntary forces with him at Thermopylae, i.e. only the legendary 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians, in order to mount a last heroic resistance and delay for a strategically critical period of time the inevitable advance of the Persian army and fleet to the south. They defended themselves to the last, but also two of Xerxes’ brothers fell on the final battlefield.
The self-sacrifice and bravery of the Thermopylae fighters turned their defeat into an unmatched moral victory, the significance and example of which remain deeply engraved in universal memory.
BATTLE OF SALAMIS
This naval battle, one of the most important in world history, took place toward the end of September 480 BCE at the southernmost strait between Salamis and Attica. The Greeks, with comparatively much smaller forces (approximately three hundred and fifty ships), but with a display of unity and intelligent tactics, crushed the numerically superior Persian fleet (over a thousand ships).
Following the final outcome of the battle of the Thermopylae, Xerxes’ Persians moved toward Athens, which they seized easily since the Athenians had abandoned it. A prophecy by the Delphi oracle had stated that only “wooden walls” would save them. Themistocles’
interpretation had considered that to mean their ships, and people fled there. Only a few elders, not convinced by Themistocles, stayed in Athens, created actual wooden walls around the Acropolis and enclosed themselves there. The Persians eliminated them easily and burned Athens. Almost simultaneously, the Persian fleet anchored in the bay of Faliro, after having sailed along the coast of Euboea and Sounion.
After transporting the women and children to Salamis, Aegina and Troezina for greater safety, the Athenians boarded their ships and prepared to confront the Persians. In the Greek commanders’ council of war that took place in Salamis, the Spartan admiral Eurybiades suggested that they retreat toward the Isthmus of Corinth, so that in the event of failure they could take refuge in the Peloponnese and continue fighting from there. The Corinthians sided with him. The Athenian Themistocles insisted on the naval battle taking place in Salamis, and the Megarians and Aeginetans sided with him. He believed that defeat would be unavoidable if the Greek fleet fought in the open sea against the overwhelmingly larger Persian one, while in the Salamis strait the numerous Persian ships would be substantially inferior in terms of ease of movement. Themistocles’ view was met with bitter opposition. In a moment of tension, the Spartan Evriviades, typically the leader of the Greek forces, tried to hit Themistocles who reacted with the famous phrase: “Smite, but hear me”.
In order to bring forward the naval battle, Themistocles set up a ploy: He secretly sent Sikinos, the school escort of his sons, to inform the Persians that the Greeks are supposedly preparing to leave Salamis and that if they want to defeat them, they would have to speed up the clash. Xerxes fell for it and ordered the encirclement of the Greek fleet, by also blocking the northern passage to the Isthmus of Corinth. During those crucial hours, Aristides, Themistocles’ political opponent who had been exiled to Aegina, took the risk of crossing the Persian lines, reached Themistocles’ ship, informed him of the movements of the Persian fleet and accepted to fight under his command as a mere soldier.
On a dawn toward the end of September 480 BCE, the two fleets with the disproportionate forces above confronted each other at the southern strait of Salamis. Xerxes had set up a golden throne on Mount Aigaleo in order to enjoy the sight of his military victory.
The Greeks charged first, chanting the famous paean: “Forward, you sons of Hellas! Set your country free! Set free your sons, your wives, the tombs of your ancestors, and temples of your gods. All is at stake now, fight!” In the fierce clash that followed, the war chants of the Greeks, the trumpets, the cries of war, the crush of the mighty rams that were driven into the Persian ships and immobilised them, partially turning the naval battle into a battle by land, and in general the naval ability and bravery of the Greeks, particularly that of the more experienced Athenians and Aeginites, wore down the Persians and their Phoenician allies. At noon, the Greek victory was already in sight. The battle continued throughout the day and by night time the Persian fleet had suffered a debacle. It has been reported that the Persians lost 200 ships and the Greeks 40. In an operation launched while the battle was raging, Aristides along with a team of elite soldiers landed at Psyttaleia and eliminated the Persian garrison stationed there.
Xerxes, fled with the remnants of his fleet to Hellespont and from there to Persia. The battle of Salamis became later (472 BCE) the source of inspiration for Aeschylus, one of the combatants, to write the iconic tragedy “The Persians”. The victory was mainly due to Themistocles’ strategic skills, the superior seamanship and free spirit of the Greeks, who once again defied the logic of numbers and made history.
Address by H.E. the President of the Hellenic Republic
Highlights from the address of H.E. the ex-President of the Hellenic Republic Mr Prokopiοs Pavlopoulos at the opening of the celebrations for the 2500 Anniversary from the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis.
“By declaring the opening of the anniversary celebrations for the 2500 years from the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis, allow me to refer in summary to the emblematically illustrious and always timely – as the course of History has demonstrated through the centuries – message of the Persian Wars in general.
With their victory in the Persian Wars, Greeks also defended their Culture, which they created – and which today forms the first pillar of our shared European Culture – while laying out for the first time in world History a fixed boundary between the East and the West. The reference to the ‘birth’ of the ‘West’, as the natural ‘incubator’ of Civilization and Liberty against the despotic model of the ‘East’, first appears in Aeschylus’s The Persians, where the Queen of the Persians, Atossa, asks the Chorus, shortly before the news arrives of the destruction of the Persian fleet at Salamis, where on Earth Athens, the city her son desired so, is located. And the Chorus responds: “Far from here, to the west where the last rays of our Lord the Sun set. (line 232) The East, ‘losing’ itself in the stifling fantasy of an illusory eternity. While the West would thereafter seek its own eternity, but an eternity constructed of the earthly materials of the human being, on the one hand on the more elegant scale of ‘one who looks up’. And on the other hand, and consequently, in an interminable search for the truth, every kind of truth. Which means, in and of itself, both the rejection of any dogma and, beyond that, the acceptance of the idea of constantly checking the correctness of any Knowledge gained. In other words, it means admitting that what is considered correct today necessarily differs from the eternal truth being sought.
At the same time, through their victory in the Persian Wars, the Greeks showed their vast superiority and, by extension, the categorical opposition of the rebellious and creative Ancient Greek Mind to the spirit of any illiberal form of government based mainly on individual or collective despotism. More specifically, despotism under a veil of, for example, monarchy, tyranny or even oligarchy. This observation is strengthened, from a historical and political perspective, if one looks at the way the large Kingdoms of the East, at that time, organized themselves and evolved, with the Persian Empire being the most salient example: The Mind cannot evolve or create freedom from a despotic regime that, by definition, sets limits designed to perpetuate itself. In other words, despotism, by its nature, gives rise to quasi-irrefutable dogmas or doctrines that are in no way compatible with freedom of the Mind. Despotism has a tendency to ‘enchant’ the mind. To the contrary, the Free Spirit – which the Ancient Greek spirit definitely was – has as its basic mission to disenchant the world (“die Entzauberung der Welt”, according to Max Weber). It was more or less in this manner that despotism and the Free Mind, incompatible notions, delimited the territory of the ‘East’ and the ‘West’. In Aeschylus’s Persians, Atossa, waiting for news from her son Xerxes’ campaign in Greece, asks the Chorus who the Master, the Leader of the Greek army is, (line 241) And the Chorus responds: “Slaves to no lord, they own no kingly power”, line 242)
IIΙ. The above observations as to how the Persian Wars marked, at that time, the border between East and West bring us – all things being equal in terms of history, and bearing in mind the corresponding, necessary historical distance between yesterday and today – to what is currently happening in our region. It is difficult to question the fact that Greece, faithful through the centuries to its historical legacy, remains – especially in the war-torn state of affairs in our wider region – a kind of ‘outer boundary’ of the West from the East, always representing, through its Free Spirit and Culture, the authentic and unselfish defender of Peace, of Freedom and of Democracy. But a boundary that is not designed to divide and to expand the distances between the West and the East. The opposite is the case: It is designed, in the course of its history and in its historical perspective, to build bridges of communication with the East, bridges of Peace, peaceful coexistence and collaboration. And the main bridge is that of equal and constructive dialogue, because for us, the Greeks, there is no notion of a “clash” between real Cultures. It’s just that it has always been the case, as it is in our time, that Cultures, for many and various reasons, become entrenched and isolated, creating between themselves what appears to be an ‘unbridgeable’ gulf. The mission of dialogue is to bridge this gulf between Cultures. And Greece, armed with its Historical Legacy, can and must play a leading role in this mission, and in an ideal manner.”
Prime Minister’s Address
Address by the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the opening of the celebratory series of events for the 2500-year anniversary from the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis.
“Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to add a few more thoughts to the very meaningful address of the President, on occasion of this important event by which the Greek state – with the support of the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation – are inaugurating the events by which we remember again the major events which took place in this country 2500 years ago. Allow me, for start, by picking up from where the President of the Hellenic Republic left it, to agree with his last comment and underline how important it is for these historical references not to be misinterpreted in a modern reading of cultural wars. These celebrations do not aim to revive this approach/reading of today’s exceptional complex global reality. The President is right when he says that if we are lacking something today more than ever it is this dialogue between cultures, a better understanding, the open lines of communication. And the more we hide ourselves behind simplistic stereotypes which interpret complex situations the more we are at risk of becoming the victims of such stereotypes and prejudices. Today’s world is exceptionally complex to be analysed by such tools alone.
History however has its special significance, and let me start by remembering again the words of historian Vassilis Panagiotopoulos, who wrote that “In our time, people are turning again to the past, with History taking on a therapeutic role. And if that expresses an internal tendency of social self-awareness in search of ourselves, then it is truly something positive”.
My view is that our ultimate past – full of glory as well as setbacks – should be viewed in this light.
We should dig and look deep all the way to our roots, and reconnect with them. And not just simply record events which are more or less known already, as they have accompanied us from our first school years, but to revisit these events and try to interpret their meaning once more. To transform their burden into ammunition for the future.
This is the only way to bring History down from the bookshelves and outside the books. To turn it into a constructive tool for national self-awareness and the continuity of the people.
So what does this important year of 480 BC embody today? The battle of Thermopylae and mainly of Salamis in September 480 BC?
First of all, I believe, and the President of the Hellenic Republic underlined this point, that this was a very important moment of national unanimity. The Greek city states, setting aside their differences, came together to defend their most precious commodity: their freedom.
And then, as today, there were too few of us to be divided, as I note at every opportunity. This is the first great 25-centuries old lesson.”
UNDER THE PATRONAGE OF H.E. THE PRESIDENT OF THE HELLENIC REPUBLIC KATERINA SAKELLAROPOULOU
IN COLLABORATION WITH THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND THE MINISTRY OF INTERIOR