Twenty Five Hundred years ago the city states of Greece faced a massive Persian invasion. Many chose to ally with the advancing Persians rather than be enslaved and destroyed – no doubt the best solution in a desperate time. Some cities refused and lost everything. This option was unavailable to the Athenians because they had dealt such a blow to the Persians in the previous war.
The Athenians had two choices and the city was torn between them. Conscript and equip the men of Attica for a final land battle or a final sea battle – either way the city would be destroyed. The Athenians consulted the oracle at Delphi; they were told they would be destroyed to the last. The indecision consisted without end until that special time once a year when the people of Athens voted to exile a single citizen from the city. Like modern times the demagogues slandered one another until the day of the election. The Athenian people exiled the major proponent for a land based battle. The merchant marine of ancient Athens fanned out across the Aegean Sea in search of raw materials for which to build ships.
With her fleet Athens was evacuated, the city overrun and destroyed. The Athenian allies wavered, the Peloponnesians under Spartan leadership wanted to build a wall at the Isthmus of Corinth where they believed they could hold off the Persians indefinitely with the same spirit they showed at Thermopylae months before, essentially abandoning Attica. The Athenians reminded the Spartans that Thermopylae would have been impossible without the Athenians fleet keeping the Persians from transporting troops by sea behind the fortifications at Thermopylae and that a fortification at the Isthmus could only be maintained if the Athenian fleet remained. Remain it would not if the Peloponnesians abandoned Attica, for the Athenians threatened to board there ships and head for the Italian peninsula safe from the reach of the Persians thus abandoning the Peloponnesians to be overrun by the Persians from the sea.
The Athenian fleet fought and won at the battle of Salamis while the Xerxes and the people of Athens looked on. Xerxes distraught with another defeat at the hands of a much smaller Greek force left his army under the command of a subordinate and departed for Perspolis (the Persian capital, famously burned to the ground by a drunken Alexander the Great). Xerxes army was later defeated by a confederation of Greeks at the Battle of Platea. The Athenians committed to war with the Persians would later liberate the Aegean and Ionia from Persian dominion.