Sunday, April 15, 2007

Battle of Thermopylae

(painting by Jacque-Louis David 1814)

Persian Wars: Battle at Thermopylae - 480 B.C.

This was the second Persian attack on Greece. The first ended in defeat at the Battle of Marathon of King Darius by the combined Greek armies in 490 B.C. King Xerxes just ascended the throne and to show his right to rule, seek to avenge his father’s defeat by crushing the Greeks once and for all. He amassed a million soldiers and it was said that the ground trembled when his armies marched and the soldiers drunk the rivers dry.

Xerxes' fleet of Persian ships had sailed along the coastline from northern Greece into the Gulf of Malia on the eastern Aegean Sea towards the mountains at Thermopylae. There was a narrow pass there that controlled the only road between Thessaly and Central Greece. This pass will allow the Persian armies to enter the plain of Thessaly.

The Greek nation states were in a state of panic because many have just recovered from the first Persian war. Athens was sacked and burnt and the acropolis destroyed. The leaders were also in undecided; some wanted to fight while others wanted to sue for peace. King Leonidas of Sparta decided that something has to been done to stop the invading armies while the city-states decide.

He decided that try to stop the invasion at the narrow pass at Thermopylae (lit. "hot gates"). So he force marched his elite bodyguards of 300 Spartans and their Boeotian allies from Thespiae and Thebes to reach the pass of Thermopylae before the Persians. They managed to reach there and for 3 days held back the combined might of the Persian armies. Much detailed were available from historian Herodotus. Unfortunately for Leonidas, after a couple of days, traitor named Ephialtes led the Persians around the pass running behind the Spartan army and the battle was lost. Memorable was this alleged quotation from a Spartan soldier, Dieneces that when he was told that there were so many Persian archers that the sky would grow dark with the flying missiles, he replied laconically: "So much the better -- we shall fight them in the shade." The body of Leonidas may have been crucified or beheaded on Xerxes' orders. It was retrieved about 40 years later.

The heroic Spartans and their allies managed to win 3 extra days for the rest of the Greek city-states. In these three days, many cities were evacuated for example Athen. It was again sacked and burnt. The Parthenon, built to commemorate the victory of the Greeks over King Darius was also burnt.

Source here and here.



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7:42 PM  

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