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The Battle of Thermopylae: 300 or were there more?

The Battle of Thermopylae was a battle that took place around 480 B.C. in Thermopylae, Greece. This battle cost many lives on both sides: an alliance of Greek city states led by Sparta and Athens as well as the invading Persians. The origins of this battle came when Darius I of Persia sent heralds to Greece in 491 B.C. to try and persuade them to allow Persia to rule them. The Greeks were proud and took great offense, especially the Athenians and Spartans, and Darius’s invasion was defeated at Marathon.[1] Later in 480 B.C. Darius’ successor, Xerxes tried to persuade the Greek again, and when peace failed he decide to invade and conquer them.

Some Greek cities joined Xerxes and others remained neutral. Xerxes asked the Spartan king, Leonidas, to surrender and lay down his arms before he invaded, to which Leonidas responded Molon labe, “Come and take them.”[2] Xerxes led an army of between 70,000 to 300,000 toward Thermopylae while Leonidas led an army of around 7,000 men. Even though they were small in numbers the Greeks used the narrow pass at Thermopolyae to their advantage, holding the Persians at bay for two days until the Greeks were betrayed by Ephialtes.

Ephialtes informed Xerxes that there was a path that would lead them behind the Greek line of soldiers rendering their strategy useless. Xerxes sent some of his army along the path with Ephialtes leading, and attacked the Greeks destroying a large portion of their army. After this Leonidas sent the majority of the army to retreat but him, his 300 bodyguards, and 1,100 Boeotians stayed to fight supposedly because retreating would defy Spartan custom. They held their ground but were defeated quickly.[3]

Xerxes’ victory for Persia gave passage into southern Greece and expanded the Persian empire, but the Persians were later defeated and driven from Greece. Statues have been erected in memory of Leonidas and his warriors, who serve as an inspiration even today; movies like 300 commemorate their heroism. In conclusion, The Battle of Thermopylae is an example of courageous perseverance in the face of the impossible.

[1] “Marathon.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. (Accessed November 7, 2019)

[2] Plut. Apoph. 51. (Accessed November 7, 2019)

[3] “Battle of Thermopylae.” (Accessed November 7, 2019)

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