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

Updated on September 29, 2016

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

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

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.

Own "300" the movie on DVD or Blu ray...

The Battle... The sacrifice

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.

 

Want to know more about the Spartans? Check out any of these highly recommended books...

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    • profile image

      the fogman 

      8 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Love 

      20 months ago

      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 ...

    • profile image

      Pravin Dhumak 

      3 years ago

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

    • profile image

      ajit kumar 

      3 years ago

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

      lesson from them.

    • profile image

      Anup Singh 

      4 years ago

      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.....

    • profile image

      green 

      4 years ago

      I love the movie,and the history

    • profile image

      dakota m 

      4 years ago

      300 Spartans were the best fighting force

    • profile image

      cody 

      4 years ago

      Leondias is me hero rock on 300

    • profile image

      branden walter 

      4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      ms. rozhshrieking precious 

      4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      caitlin leeseberg 

      5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      kobing halo otin 

      5 years ago

      nice

    • profile image

      julio caesar sir-wanga 

      5 years ago

      that's a good work my dear

    • profile image

      dido 

      6 years ago

      the spartans are the most badass people in histery

    • profile image

      Dino 

      6 years ago

      King Leonides was very bad a$$

    • profile image

      Ronakgamit 

      6 years ago

      Leonides was awesome

    • profile image

      peter john dicks 

      7 years ago

      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 .....

    • profile image

      pradeep sheoran 

      7 years ago

      super ,

      having a great story like leonidas.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image

      PETER LUMETTA 

      7 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

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

    • profile image

      pieman 

      7 years ago

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

    • Anonemuss profile image

      Anonemuss 

      8 years ago from Belmont, Massachusetts

    • Anonemuss profile image

      Anonemuss 

      8 years ago from Belmont, Massachusetts

      Nnice hub. Detailed and informative.

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 

      8 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      very thorough indeed

    • profile image

      Rebecca the wolfy 

      8 years ago

      I'm doing my S.S. report on King Leonidas!He's so fucking cool!*Snuggles Leonidas*

    • profile image

      Nick_Marin 

      8 years ago

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

    • profile image

      angel 

      8 years ago

      my favorit part of history is about the spartans

    • profile image

      james 

      9 years ago

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

    • neo_gnosis profile imageAUTHOR

      neo_gnosis 

      9 years ago

      Thanks Silver Lotus..

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

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 

      9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

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

    • Silver_Lotus profile image

      Silver_Lotus 

      9 years ago from U.S.A.

      Nice!!

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