Most of you must have enjoyed watching Zack Snyder’s popular movie 300. Like most movies it uses the battle of Thermopylae as its background with certain exaggerations too. Though King Leonidas fought with 300 Spartans but they were not alone there were some Thebans and Thespians too. But I do not mean to undermine the valour of King Leonidas and his 300 brave Spartan men who lied down their lives for their motherland.
Leonidas, the name itself means Lion’s son or Lion like. He was born around 540 BC and he was one of the three sons of King Anaxandridas II of Sparta. Anaxandridas was considered by many to be the descendant of Hercules. From his very childhood Leonidas had great leadership capabilities and valour. After the death of his father Cleomenes (one of Leonidas’ step brothers) ascended the throne in 520-516 BC. But soon Cleomenes was deposed on grounds of his insanity and fled into exile when Greeks sought the support of Spartans during the Battle of Marathon. Soon there was another Persian invasion imminent and in regards to Leonidas’ valour he was chosen as the next king of Sparta.
In fact Persians had been long trying to annex Greece and expand their empire even further. Darius the Great had tried time and again to annex Greece but he failed. When Xerxes I ascended the throne he wanted to fulfil his father’s dream. But he was kept busy by the revolts in Ionian Greek cities against the Persian empire. He suppressed all the revolts in Egypt and Babylon. After this Xerxes I turned his attention to conquering Greece. He started campaign in 480 BC Spring with soldiers from many nations of the Persian empire such as Assyrians, Phoenicians, Indians, Egyptians, Jews, Babylonians and Arabs. According to Heredotus who was the main source for these events Xerxes I commanded an army in excess of two million soldiers. He marched his way across Hellespont towards the Northern Greek states of Thessaly and Macedonia. Some smaller northern Greek city states such as Thessaly and Argos took side with the Persians and offered their gift of earth and water on the request of Xerxes. Other city states feel with little resistance. Xerxes marched along coast to Central Greece.
The news of Persian army spread across Greece. But unfortunately, Spartans who were considered best warriors were holding a religious festival and Olympic games and by Spartan law the military could not wage war during such times. Soon a messenger was sent to Leonidas by the Persians. Leonidas was asked to lay down arms and except Persian supremacy. He refused the proposal. He consulted the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle suggested that the army could not move out immediately but they could do so as soon as the games are finished. King Leonidas decided that due to urgency Spartans would march out with a small army and protect the pass at Thermopylae.