So, 300 of Sparta’s bravest soldiers all having living sons to continue their family legacy were chosen for the battle. Everyone knew they were moving to certain death. The Spartans were reinforced somewhat with some Thespian and Theban soldiers. For the next two days the Persian army did not move forward they wanted to overwhelm the small band of Spartans. Contrary to Xerxes’ hopes the Spartans did not flee.
Military Formations for Battle of Thermapylae
On the third day Xerxes ordered his five thousand archers to fire a barrage of arrows at the Greeks. But this caused no damages. Then he sent a troop to take the Greeks and Leonidas as prisoner and bring them to the King of Kings. This attack caused severe damages for the Persians. It is said that Greeks killed so many Persian soldiers that Xerxes stood up three times from his seat from the place he was watching the battle. Then there was a second assault where the Immortals, an elite corps of 10,000 men were sent. But this attack also failed to make any headway.
Greeks inflicted severe damage on the Third Day of Battle of Thermapylae
On the fourth day, Xerxes under the misconception that Spartans and Greeks had been weekend by their injuries sent another infantry to attack. Again it caused severe losses for Persians. Xerxes grew so frustrated that he stopped the assault and withdrew to his camp. As he was pondering a way through a Trachinian traitor named Ephialtes informed Xerxes about a mountain path around Thermopylae.
Persians found no way through Greek defence even on Fourth Day
On the fifth day, Leonidas found that they were outflanked and surrounded by the Persians and loss was imminent. He ordered the Greek armies to retreat and decided to stay on along with his 300 men. But a group of 700 Thespians and 300 Thebans also stayed back. On their next attack Persians managed to kill everyone, although the Persians too had their casualties. It is learned that King Leonidas fought on till the end. He was surrounded and killed by the Persians. On receiving the news of Leonidas’ death Xerxes ordered his soldiers to bring the head of Leonidas and hang it on a perch. But the King’s body was guarded and taken back home for a funeral.
Thermopylae Memorial to Remember those 300 martyrs
So the Spartans were able to resist Persians for five days with their bravery. These five days were very significant. It allowed Greeks to evacuate their cities and consolidate the army. It is learned that when Xerxes eventually set foot in Athens he found an empty city. With their lives King Leonidas and his famous 300 helped save lives of a large Greek population. King Leonidas’ name has stayed immortal in the annals of Greek history for his sacrifice.
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.
300 Brave Men Fought against Millions
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.
Statue of King Leonidas 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.
Xerxes I the King of Kings
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.