The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Herodotus and the Dating of the Battle of Thermopylae*

Kenneth S. Sacksa1

a1 University of Wisconsin-Madison

The battle of Salamis can be dated with a high degree of certainty. Probably about the time of that battle, Cleombrotus was at the Isthmus, constructing the defences there (Hdt. 8. 71. 1). At some point while building the wall, he considered giving chase to the Persian army. When his sacrifice was answered by a solar eclipse, he took this as a bad omen and immediately returned to Lacedaemon (9. 10. 2–3). The eclipse visible to Cleombrotus could only have been that of 2 October 480. Now it is generally supposed that Cleombrotus would not have thought to abandon the construction of the wall and pursue Xerxes unless the latter had just begun his retreat from Athens. Thus, as Herodotus says that a few days (S0009838800033127_inline1S0009838800033127_inline2) after the battle of Salamis Xerxes withdrew from Attica (8. 113. 1), the battle of Salamis probably occurred S0009838800033127_inline3 before 2 October 480.


* Many friends lent aid in this project: Arthur Eckstein, Pericles Georges, Michael Maas, John Pollini, and in particular Professor Raphael Sealey-in this as in so much else. Though our differences of opinion are manifest, he has been a much needed source of advice and encouragement.

The original version of this paper was presented orally in the Herodotus Seminar at the University of California, Berkeley, offered in winter 1972, by Professor W. Kendrick Pritchett and benefited much by his comments. As I also acquired my reading knowledge of Herodotus in his undergraduati course of the previous year, it is perhaps especially fitting that I dedicate this article to him on the occasion of his formal retirement. It is hoped that Professor Pritchett wil enjoy continued years of good health and of interest in all things Greek.