Ancient Greeks: Battle of Thermopylae

About the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. the fight between the Greeks and Persians in ancient history.


In 480 B.C. Xerxes, ruler of the mighty Persian Empire, invaded Greece with over 100,000 men. He sought to avenge the Persian defeat at Marathon and to remove a developing commercial and naval competitor.

The Persian threat forced the Greek city-states to band together for the 1st time in their history. They sent an allied force north to contain the Persians. The Spartans, wishing to defend their homeland, sent a tithe of only 300 men under King Leonidas. The famous 300 formed the nucleus of the 5,000 Greeks who marched to Thermopylae.

Outnumbered, the Greeks had to rely on defensive tactics. The most easily defended location was the narrow pass at Thermopylae. Leonidas occupied it and sent 1,000 Phocaeans to defend the mountain pass on his flank. The Persians advanced rapidly through northern Greece, meeting no resistance, so the sudden appearance of a Greek Army surprised them. Xerxes halted his great army in front of the pass for 4 days.

On the 5th day, Xerxes confidently sent his Medes and Cissans forward. But the lightly armored Persian forces were no match for the heavily armored Greek hoplites. Stunned by his 1st setback, Xerxes flung wave after wave of his troops into battle. Each force was decimated by the long spears of the protected Greeks and by the savage Spartan defense. Xerxes even committed his crack troops--the Immortals. But these too were repulsed by the hoplite hedgehog of spears.

The mighty Persian Army stagnated in front of the immovable Greek wall. Xerxes was at a loss until a Greek named Malis offered to guide the Persians over a mountain pass to the Greek rear. Persian soldiers streamed along the path until they were suddenly met by the Phocaeans stationed there for just such an emergency. The Persians were dismayed at finding Greeks disputing their way but attacked them fiercely. The Phocaeans mistakenly believed they were being attacked by the whole Persian Army and withdrew to a stronger position in the hills.

The Persian were ecstatic. The path lay open and the Greeks were doomed. Leonidas ordered a retreat. With a final gesture of defense he remained behind with his Spartans to cover the retreat. Attacked from all sides, the tiny Greek force was annihilated and the road to southern Greece lay open.

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