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THE ORACLE AT DELPHI
The Greeks consulted the Oracle at Delphi in fear, hoping for reassurance that they would be saved. The priestess of the Oracle at Delphi was known as the Pythia. The god Apollo spoke through this Oracle, who had to be an older woman of blameless life chosen from among the peasants .
The Oracle was considered infallible in prophesying the future, but the message this time was not encouraging. The battle “would bring death to women’s sons” said the Oracle. Only “the wooden wall” would save the Athenians. The maddeningly enigmatic nature of this verdict created panic amongst the Greeks as the Persians rampaged across Greece, burning, looting and laying waste.
Only Themistocles stayed calm. He argued that the “wooden wall” signified the wooden sides of the fleet of triremes and the Athenians should abandon their homes and wait for deliverance at the forthcoming sea battle at Salamis. This seemed a perilous course and one that demanded a sacrifice from every citizen. They would have to abandon their homes to the enemy.
It was a terrifying situation. The Persian fleet was three times the size of the Greek fleet of triremes, (1,200 Persian warships against 450 triremes) and their land force was gigantic. However, Themistocles had laid his trap carefully and the Athenians trusted him. Bravely they abandoned their homes.
The Greek navy lay in wait near the mouth of the Salamis channel. As bait, Themistocles pretended to be a traitor and fed false intelligence to the Persian commanders, who believed it and immediately sent their warships into the Salamis channel. It was the perfect place for an ambush. When the ungainly Persian warships entered the channel, they were annihilated by the Greek triremes, and suffered a horrible defeat. The Persians lost 200 ships, their navy was broken and the safety of their commander was in doubt. Against the odds, the Greeks had won a stunning victory.