Battle of Thermopylae

Battle of Thermopylae

Battle of Thermopylae Greek city-states often competed with each other for control over land and resources. In times of foreign invasion though, they banded together. In 490 B.C. the Persian king Darius I (550-486 B.C.) instigated the initial such attempt as part of the First Persian War, but a combined

Greek force turned back the Persian army at the Battle of Marathon. Ten years later, during the Second Persian War, one of Darius sons, Xerxes I (c. 519-465 B.C.), again launched an invasion against Greece. Leonidas (c. 530-480 B.C.) was a king of the city-state of Sparta for about 10 years. As king, Leonidas was a military leader as well as a political one. Like all male

Spartan citizens, Leonidas had been trained mentally and physically since childhood in preparation to become a warrior. Under Xerxes I, the Persian army moved south through Greece on the eastern coast, accompanied by the Persian navy moving parallel to the shore. To reach its

destination at Attica, the region controlled by the citystate of Athens, the Persians needed to go through the coastal pass of Thermopylae (The Hot Gates). Leonidas led an army of 6,000 to 7,000 Greeks from many citystates, including 300 Spartans, in an attempt to prevent the Persians from passing through Thermopylae. Leonidas established his army at Thermopylae, expecting that

the narrow pass would funnel the Persian army toward his own force. Here the Greeks now waited, made up of only 300 Spartans under their king, Leonidas, and about 6000 soldiers from other Greek cities. They faced a Persian army of perhaps 100,000 men For two days, the Greeks withstood the determined attacks of their far more numerous enemy. In the narrow space, the Persians could not make use of their greater

numbers and the longer spears of the Greeks meant that they inflicted many casualties on the Persians The Persians were unable to defeat the much smaller army of Greeks. The Persians had lost many men, but their luck was about to change. A Greek traitor came to the Persian king with information of huge importance. Above the pass of Thermopylae

was another path that was known to local people only. It would allow the Persians to come secretly through the mountains and round behind the Greek army guarding the pass below. The Greeks would then be trapped with the Persians in front of and behind them. As darkness fell, the Persian king sent his best soldiers to take

the secret path and so come up behind the Greeks. At dawn on the third day of battle, the Greeks discovered that they had been betrayed. Leonidas chose to fight to the end, knowing that his men could never win this battle. He told the remaining Greek soldiers to flee, but the Spartans would fight on. The Spartans withdrew to a hill near the pass, together with a

few other Greek soldiers who had refused to leave. They fought the Persians with all their remaining strength. But the Persian soldiers vastly outnumbered them and finally the Spartans were overwhelmed with a volley of arrows fired by the Persians. And so the Spartans and those other Greeks who fought to the death had lost the battle for Thermopylae. The Persian army

could now march into central Greece, wreaking havoc and destruction. But, although the Greeks had lost this battle, the great courage shown by the Spartans boosted the morale of other Greeks. They were not ready just yet to surrender to the Persians.

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