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Battle of Thermopylae facts, myths, legends, map, pictures and statistics. King Leonidas and 300 Spartans against million Persian army. Battle of Thermopylae is a symbol of courage and patriotism.

Battle of Thermopylae summary

Battle in northern Greece (480 BC) in the Persian Wars. The Greek forces, were led by Leonidas. After three days of holding their own against the Persian king Xerxes I and his vast southward-advancing army, the Greeks were betrayed, and the Persians were able to outflank them. Sending the main army in retreat, Leonidas and a small contingent remained behind to resist the advance and were killed to the last man.

Battle of Thermopylae 480 B.C.

Battle of Thermopylae 480 B.C.

Battle of Thermopylae stats

5-12 000 Greeks including 300 Spartans x 70 000 – 1 800 000 Persians (depending on source)
King Leonidas (killed), Demophilus (killed) x Xerxes, Mardonius, Hydarnes
Place: Thermopylae pass, Greece
Date: August 7, 480 BC

Battle of Thermopylae Map

Battle of Thermopylae Map

Battle of Thermopylae Map

King Xerxes (son of Darius) became Persian king after his father’s death in 486 BC. After securing his throne, Xerxes began to muster forces to once again invade Greece. He was determined to avenge his father’s defeat. By 480 BC, Xerxes had built up an enormous army of some one hundred fifty thousand men and a navy of six hundred ships.   Peoples from many little-known nations in the vast empire of Xerxes joined in the army of the Great King to invade little Greece. Following the chariot of Or’muzd are soldiers from India, Thrace, Chal’y-be’a and both Ethiopias.

Travel by sea was perilous, armies always traveled by land when possible. Xerxes decided to cross the Bosporus and travel by way of Thrace, Macedonia and Thessaly. To cross the Bosporus, he had a boat bridge built with each boat connected to the other with planks. This bridge would be over a mile long and required a perfectly calm sea. On several attempts winds and rough seas broke it apart. Frustrated and enraged, Xerxes ordered that the Bosporus receive three hundred lashes with a chain. Properly chastened, the sea remained calm and the bridge was completed.

Some Greek city states in the north submitted to the Persians rather than face destruction. One reason was because the stronger city-states in the south, such as Athens, Sparta and Thebes, had decided not to meet Xerxes in the north. Thus these latter city-states stood alone against the Persian giant. The Greeks together had three hundred ships and ten thousand men, with the ability to raise about fifty thousand. They were led by King Leonidas of Sparta who brought with him three hundred Spartans. The small turnout of Sparta resulted from a disagreement as to where best to meet the Persians. Sparta wanted to fight at the Isthmus of Corinth, others wanted to fight further north and Athens still insisted that the war would be won or lost at sea.

Persian warriors – Immortals

Immortals - Persian warriors

Immortals - Persian warriors

The Greeks realized that it was imperative that Xerxes be delayed as long as possible so that the Athenians could desperately build up their navy. They decided to send an expeditionary force north to meet Xerxes, to fight the Persians at hopeless odds, and to sacrifice themselves in order to improve the chances of ultimate victory. They decided to take this stand at Thermopylae.

The Greek army, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, was about ten thousand strong and in position at Thermopylae, when the Persians arrived. Xerxes was incredulous that they would take a stand against his immense army. After impatiently waiting four days while warning them to surrender, he launched a massive attack. The Greeks, as at the Battle of Marathon, initially retreated drawing the Persian army into the narrow pass. Then they turned and waged a furious battle against the limited number of Persian who had entered the pass, thoroughly routing them. Time and again the attacking Persians, including the elite immortals, were unable to get through.

Greek Hoplite – Heavy Greek Infantry Unit

Spartan Hoplite - Heavy infantry

Spartan Hoplite - Heavy infantry

Ephialtes (a Greek traitor) told Xerxes of an alternate route around the Thermopylae pass. He led a large part of the Persian army to attack the Greek forces from the rear. Leonidas learned of this treachery and decided to evacuate the Greek army while holding the pass with only three hundred other Spartans long enough for the army to make an organized retreat. The battle at Thermopylae ended with every last Spartan fighting until they were killed. This distraction gave enough time for the rest of the Greek army to retreat into southern Greece.  Ephilates expected to be rewarded by the Persians but this came to nothing when they were defeated at the Battle of Salamis.  He then fled to Thessaly with a bounty on his head.  According to Herodotus he was killed for an apparently unrelated reason by Athenades of Trachis around 479 B.C.

Batlle of Thermopylae Aftermath

After Battle of Thermopylae, the Persian army advanced into central Greece and marched into Athens burning and sacking it late in the summer of 480 BC. However, the Athenians had already evacuated to the city of Salamis on an island west of Athens where the Greek naval fleet was also positioned and prepared for a last stance against the Persian powerhouse. The next fight would be known as the Battle of Salamis – a terrible defeat of Persian fleet.

Battle of Thermopylae myths, legends and facts


Myth: 300 Spartans against million Persian army
Fact: 300 Spartans + 4 000 – 10 0000 allies
Conclusion: no matter amount of Greeks was 300 or 10 000 they were real heroes.

Xerxes as a pure devil king

Myth (300 movie): Xerxes as a real devil with chains and engravings.
Fact: Holywood loves to show enemies are real beasts to justify wars (this is also trend of foreign policy).

Real look of Xerxes

Xerxes - more realistic picture

Xerxes - more realistic picture

King Leonidas and Xerxes in 300 Movie

Battle of Thermopylae in 300 Movie - Leonidas and Xerxes

Leonidas and Xerxes

Religious myth about 300 Spartans

Myth: Spartans were allowed to take only 300 men because church order.
Fact: The Spartans may have only sent 300, not because of the Olympics or Carneia, but because they didn’t wish to defend so far north. Their task was not to defeat Persians but they tried to delay Persian army.

Persian Immortals – Ninja look in 300 Movie

Fact: ninja look like costumes in 300 movie are totally wrong – see picture above.

Body of Leonidas
Leonidas fell in the thickest of the fight; the Spartans attempted to retrieve his body, but given the numbers they faced, the body did fall into Persian hands. It was said (by contemporary Greeks) that Leonidas’ head was afterwards cut off by Xerxes’ order and his body crucified.

Statue of King Leonidas

Leonidas Statue - Greece

Leonidas Statue - Greece

Death of Xerxes

Xerxes was murdered 15 years after Battle of Thermopylae (465 BC). He was stabbed to death probably by his own subordinate Artabanus. Next Persian king was his son Artaxerxes.

Battle of Thermopylae Phrases and Quotes

Go tell the Spartans, Passerby, That here, obedient to their laws, We lie.
Simonides (Greek poet), Epitaph for the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae

Persian: Spartans, lay down your weapons.
King Leonidas: Persians! Come and get them!

King Leonidas: The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle was over, even a god-king can bleed.

Dilios: When the boy was born, like all Spartans, he was inspected.

Persian: A thousand nations of the Persian empire descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun!
Stelios: Then we will fight in the shade.

Stelios: We are with you, sire! For Sparta, for freedom, to the death!

Dilios: “Remember us.” As simple an order as a king can give. “Remember why we died.” For he did not wish tribute, nor song, nor monuments nor poems of war and valor. His wish was simple. “Remember us,” he said to me. That was his hope, should any free soul come across that place, in all the countless centuries.

Persian: My arm!
Stelios: It’s not yours, anymore.

Go to Tell The Spartans…

Go tell the  Spartans

Go tell the Spartans

Afterall – Battle of Thermopylae proved heroism of Greeks defending their own land against a huge odds.

300 Movie Replicas –  Greek Sword –  Persian Saber