No matter if they were on drugs or lived a long way from the action we must give great weight to what the people who lived at or near the time of the battle, in the world of the ancient Hellenes and Barbarians, have to say to us. Any credible reconstruction of the battle must accommodate what the ancients say or have a rational argument for exclusion of, or deviation from their accounts.
Here are brief biogs of the ancient sources for the battle and links to their texts. They are listed in decreasing order of reliability. Unfortunately reliability, readability and clarity do not always come together!
AESCHYLUS Born 525 b.c.
An Athenian. Of noble birth. Fought at Marathon as a hoplite and was present at Salamis but we are not sure in what capacity. He wrote seventy plays of which 7 survive. Several have meaningful references to martial and nautical themes but 'The Persians', produced on 472 b.c. is what interests us. It is the account of how the Persian royal court at Persepolis comes to hear of the tragedy of Salamis.
PLUS POINTS : 'Eye witness'. Contemporary with events.
MINUS POINTS : Text is a theatrical piece for a partisan audience.
Translation and text of 'Persians' HERE
HERODOTOS Born 484 b.c.
Native of Halicarnassus - within the Persian Empire.
'The Father of History' who wrote a book entitled 'Researches'.
PLUS POINTS : A methodical researcher who consulted widely with people and writings. Greek with a Persian background. Well travelled.
MINUS POINTS ; Not contemporary with battle. Did not see his task as including redaction.
Translation and text of 'The Histories' HERE
Link is to Book Eight, when the Greeks react to Xerxes invasion.
PLUTARCH - Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus Born 46 a.d.
A native of Chæronea in Achæia, Greece. He was of noble family and worked as a public official all his life. Prolific writer. A scholar of Roman and Greek history, he used many written sources we no longer have. He lived hundreds of years after the battle but was immersed in Greek material dealing with the period.
His Life of Themistocles is most relevant. He also wrote lives of Cimon, the Athenian hero general and Aristides, the rival of Themistocles. He also wrote an essay critical of Herodotos.
PLUS POINTS : Well-read scholar. Chronological narrative synthesising sources no longer extant.
MINUS POINTS : Hard to evaluate how accurate. Not contemporary. Partisan in favour of Greek city states.
Life of Themistocles HERE
Life of Aristides HERE
Life of Cimon HERE
DIODOROS SIKELIOTES fl.49 b.c.
A native of Agyrium in Sicily. Diodoros the Sikeliote(Greek colonist) is usually called after his Latin name of Diodorus Siculus.
He tried to write a history of everything and his work is one of the largest ancient compendia we have.
He had access to many works we now know only as fragments or citations. It is therefore a dilemma that we have a lot of information but little means of cross-checking his accounts.
PLUS POINTS : Comprehensive scholarship using sources we do not have.
MINUS POINTS : Ditto. Also, he is centuries removed from the events of the battle.
Translation of his 'Library of History' with direct link to Xerxes invasion HERE
TIMOTHEUS Born c.450b.c.
Native of Miletus. Continued that city's scientific traditions by inventing the 11-string lyre. We have some fragments of a poem -'The Persians'-about the Battle of Salamis. The fragmentary material is also written in idiosyncratic Greek which defies complete translation.
PLUS POINTS : Near-contemporary.
MINUS POINTS : Garbled remnants difficult to use.
Translation of 'The Persians' HERE
Original fragments HERE