Battle of Thermopylae

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The Battle of Thermopylae was a famous battle during the Greco-Persian Wars, fought in northwestern Greece. It is known for the fact that 300 Spartan soldiers and 3700 other Greek soldiers (most notably the Thespians) held off an army of several hundred thousand Persian soldiers (led by Xerxes) for three days, therefore giving the rest of Greece time to group and prepare to the south. It was considered to be a defining moment in the war.

Historical context There was a king of Persia named Darius. He conquered many places in his time as king. He had a very strong army because he was one of the monarchs of the Achaemenid empire. That is the empire which Cyrus the great had started. He always helped to improve his empire. He started many construction projects and enhanced the economy of his empire. Many of his actions and life and reign as king were documented on the Bisitun rock. These inscriptions detailed king Darius’s life and included many facts about his past and his lineage. He rose to power by taking the throne away from the false king Gaumata. This is the beginning of the battle. He sent many heralds and ambassadors to Greece. He asked them to give their authority to the king. The nationalists and patriots of Greek were disgusted. They wanted to keep the power in their own lands. So they took those people and threw them into wells and other places. Then he died and his son ( king Xerxes) took over. He wanted to finish his father’s original plan and take over the land of Greece. And he sent more heralds to the Greeks. They refused again to give power over. And the battle was planned and started. The battle of Thermoplaye was a very important time in human history. It was a very decisive battle between the Greek and Persian army. The Greek army at the time was much smaller than the Persian army. Thermoplyae is a mountain pass which is located at a mountain pass. This place is the site where many battles took place. Though the battle between the Greeks and Persians is arguably the most important battle of all. There were 300 Spartan soldiers and about 1500 allied soldiers. They all wanted to take a stand against the Persians. The number of Persian soldiers is unclear and is disputed by many historians. The king who lead this battle against the Persians was King Leonidas. He was the king of Sparta (Lacedaemon) at the time. The king who ordered the Persians was named Xerxes 1. Even though the Greeks were only few in number, they managed to hold off his army for 3 days. Eventually the far superior army of the Persians took their toll on the Greeks and they were thought to be defeated. But some of the army stayed back to fight. This included king Leonidas. Eventually these few people were also defeated and this is where Leonidas met his demise. This story became a legend to future Greeks.


The battle of Thermopylae was fought between the Greeks and the Persians in 480 BC. The Persian "God king" Xerxes, master of the huge Persian Empire, was waging war on Greece for control of its lands and people. The battle is most known for two factors: 1) the impressive show of strength by the Persians, whose forces numbered between 200,000 and 2 million 2) the determination and bravery of the few thousand Greeks who tried to stop them. The estimated 6700 Non-Spartan Greeks (Athenians and soldiers from other city-states) were led by the Spartan king Leonidas. The Spartans themselves numbered a few hundred.

The Greek soldiers were able to successfully hold off the Persians because of the terrain and their fighting style. Because the mountain pass was so narrow at the location they had chosen to fight, the Greeks only had to face a small number of the Persian army at a time. Also, the Greek phalanx, a fighting style consisting of ten rows and ten columns of soldiers carrying twelve foot long spears and rounded shields gave the Greeks a huge advantage. This fighting style was so effective because the tight formation and shields left practically no part of a soldier unprotected, and the twelve foot long spears enabled men from a few rows back to attack. It was also effective because when a Greek soldier died on the front line, he was immediately replaced by a new soldier. After two days of battle in which the Persians were unable to advance, a traitorous Greek farmer named Ephialtes told the Persians of a secret path that let the Persians get around and attack the Greeks from behind. 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians stayed, while the Athenians left to gather more forces, and the impressive last stand allowed Sparta and Athens to regroup and eventually defeat the Persian forces in the Battle of Plataea. It is estimated that 20,000 Persians were killed by the Greeks. The traitor Ephialtes is so derided in Greek tradition, that his name is now a synonym for "nightmare."

The battle of Thermopylae was considered to be a key battle in preventing the overrunning of Western civilization by Eastern invaders.

A movie was made about this battle in 2007 named "300". However, the movie was based upon the highly stylized graphic novel by Frank Miller and so mixes historical fact with fiction.[1]

See also




Cartledge, Paul, Thermopylae; the Battle that Changed the World, Overlook Press, New York, 2006