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The story of Spartan King Leonidas and the 300 at the Battle of Thermopylae in Ancient Greece

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Two Kings... Beginnings

Leonidas, Spartan military king, whose stand against the invading Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae in central Greece is one of the most enduring historical moments of heroism. His name in Greek (ΛΕΩΝΙΔΑΣ) can be roughly translated as "Lion's Son" or "Lion-like".

He was born around 540 B.C and was one of three sons of King Anaxandridas II of Sparta, who was believed to be a descendant of Hercules himself. His name has been raised to legendary and heroic status as a result of the events at the Battle of Thermopylae, one of the most famous battles of ancient history.

Around 21 years after the birth of Leonidas in 519 B.C, Xerxes son of Persian king Darius the Great, was born and later went on to become King Xerxes I of Persia himself in 485 B.C after the death of his father and go on to rule the mighty Persian Empire. Xerxes, whose name means "Ruler of Heroes", also known as Xerxes the Great, had to suppress revolts in Egypt and Babylon early on after his accession. Xerxes' father Darius the Great had previously made a failed attempt to conquer Greece at the Battle of Marathon, after swearing an oath to punish the mainland Greek city-states for supporting a revolt by the Ionian Greek cities against the Persian empire. He left the task to his son Xerxes and once the revolts in Egypt and Babylon had been suppressed, he made this task his next priority in expanding the greatest empire known at the time.

By 480 B.C, the expedition was planned and so in the Spring of that year soldiers from many nations that were part of the Persian empire such as Assyrians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Indians, Egyptians, Jews and Arabs to name a few, marched their way across the Hellespont toward the Northern Greek city-states of Thessaly and Macedonia. According to Herodotus, our main source of these events, the army and fleet under Xerxes' command was more than two million strong. Some of the smaller northern Greek city-states such as Thessaly and Argos sided with the might of the Persian army by offering the gift of "earth and water" at the request of Xerxes. The other city-states offered some resistance, however Xerxes was victorious in these encounters and continued his way along the coast, down toward central Greece, heading toward Athens.

King Xerxes at the Hellespont

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The Battle of Thermopylae

The news of the arrival of the Persian Army spread throughout the Greek cities, but unfortunately for the Greeks, the Spartans who were considered to be the best warriors in all of Greece were holding a religious festival, which because of this according to Spartan law, military activity was strictly forbidden, as was the case at the Battle of Marathon. The truce of the Olympic Games was also preventing the Spartans from marching to a battle as an army, however, on this occasion it was decided that due to the urgency of the situation, a small group of Spartans would protect the small pass at Thermopylae under its king, Leonidas.

So Leonidas chose 300 Spartan men with living sons to continue family legacy, as he knew he would be going to certain death because of the overwhelming odds against him and headed off to meet King Xerxes and his army at Thermopylae.

A Spartan greeting

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After refusing the offer made by one of Xerxes' ambassadors to "become friends of the Persian people" and lay down their weapons where Leonidas famously replied "ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ" (come and get them), the 300 Spartans, along with a small force from other Greek city-states held their ground at the pass of Thermopylae (translated as Hot Gates) in central Greece against the huge Persian army for 2 days, before a Greek traitor named Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks and leaked information to the Persians about a hidden mountain path which led behind the Greek lines. On the 3rd day, when Leonidas found that the Greeks were being outflanked and surrounded, he ordered the Greek armies to retreat and decided that he would stay with his 300 faithful Spartan soldiers and defend the pass to the very end. A group of about 700 Thespians and 300 Thebans refused to leave Leonidas and his small army to die alone and stayed behind as well, vowing to die by the brave Spartan leaders’ side.

And so they did.

The Persians eventually managed to kill every one of those men that decided to make a stand, including King Leonidas, although they suffered massive casualties, completely disproportionate to the Spartans and other Greeks. The Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae gave their life and delayed the Persians considerably, which gave the other Greek cities the time and opportunity to organise a retreat in to southern Greece and a defence against the largest army assembled, now intent on conquering the rest of Greece and open the door to expand the Persian empire in to Europe.

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The Battle... The sacrifice

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The Persians continue...

 

Following the victory at Thermopylae, the Persian army continued south. The city of Athens was evacuated to the small island of Salamis only days before the Persians marched into Athens, sacking and burning the city in late 480 B.C. There the Greek naval fleet prepared for a last stance against the might of the Persian army at what is known as... the Battle of Salamis.

 

Comments

the fogman on January 29, 2018:

King Leo picked 300 veteran Spartans to accompany him to defend the pass at Thermopylae... he and his 300 were at Thermopylae, with several thousand allies. so, the 301 Spartans, counting Leonidas made up the Spartan contingent at the hot gates... one Spartan had been sent away on a diplomatic mission, and two Spartans were in fact blind from eye infections contracted from the flies that were thick as clouds after feasting on the 20,000 dead persians that were lying scattered all about the pass. one of the blinded Spartans had his helot slave guide him to the line of battle and was content to contribute to the battle blind. the other blinded Spartan opted out of the battle due to his infections to fight another day. therefore there were 299 Spartans, including King Leonidas active in the battle and the final stand. both Spartans that missed the final Battle of Thermopylae, later committed suicide. one by his own hands, the other by leaving the phalanx during a subsequent battle and diving into the enemy to kill as many of the enemy as he could, before being thus killed himself.

Love on February 03, 2017:

Wish, that the leaders of war would today did , the same, as they did back then, the king or leader out front with their men and women soldiers, on the ground ...

Pravin Dhumak on August 08, 2015:

Comparison is not right here but after king of Sparta the leonidus same strategy use by king of maratha shivaji maharaj

ajit kumar on December 12, 2014:

Spartans know the real meaning of freedom & self -respect.people of the great democracy should take a

lesson from them.

Anup Singh on July 30, 2014:

I salute those women who gave birth to these brave warriors, they only wants to live free and through this battle they teach us that if we want to live free than only fight is the way.I salute all 300 spartans.....

green on July 02, 2014:

I love the movie,and the history

dakota m on May 17, 2014:

300 Spartans were the best fighting force

cody on April 17, 2014:

Leondias is me hero rock on 300

branden walter on January 24, 2014:

The spartans were truly the finest soldiers the world has ever seen!

ms. rozhshrieking precious on October 23, 2013:

That was a great story in the history ! As well with their contribution in the world !

caitlin leeseberg on October 19, 2013:

great info!!!!! im naming my son Leonidas if i have one :D after the spartan king

kobing halo otin on October 01, 2013:

nice

julio caesar sir-wanga on August 22, 2013:

that's a good work my dear

dido on September 14, 2012:

the spartans are the most badass people in histery

Dino on July 30, 2012:

King Leonides was very bad a$$

Ronakgamit on June 17, 2012:

Leonides was awesome

peter john dicks on August 22, 2011:

i too belong to the spartans as in decendents if not for the battle at the gorge on the ocean we would probabley not be here now aaaaaahhooooooo the 3oo rock solid .....

pradeep sheoran on June 26, 2011:

super ,

having a great story like leonidas.

PETER LUMETTA from KENAI, ALAKSA on May 20, 2011:

Wonderful information and part of the Spartan dream. Bravo! Peter

pieman on December 06, 2010:

i thought it was Leonidas with the Spartans and the Akkadians, not the Thespians

Anonemuss from Belmont, Massachusetts on May 31, 2010:

Anonemuss from Belmont, Massachusetts on May 31, 2010:

Nnice hub. Detailed and informative.

Loveofnight Anderson from Baltimore, Maryland on April 01, 2010:

very thorough indeed

Nick_Marin on January 27, 2010:

WOW, what good info! And they are total badasses!!!

angel on January 21, 2010:

my favorit part of history is about the spartans

james on May 04, 2009:

good work ........... nice

neo_gnosis (author) on January 28, 2009:

Thanks Silver Lotus..

and Sufidreamer. It is truly an inspirational moment in history.

Sufidreamer from Sparti, Greece on January 24, 2009:

Good work - a very informative Hub. Their name echoes down through the ages!

Silver_Lotus from U.S.A. on January 24, 2009:

Nice!!

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