Leonidas: The King of Sparta10-06-2013 18:11Leonidas, king of Sparta is best remembered for leading a force of 300 and his self sacrifice at the Battle of Thermopylae, in 480 B.C. in order to delay the marching of Persians to the southern mainland of Greece as it is described by Greek historian
Leonidas was born in Sparta in 510 B.C. and was the second son of King Anaxandridas. Because Leonidas was not the immediate heir to the throne, he was not exempt from attending the agoge, the public school that the sons of all Spartans had to complete in order to qualify for citizenship, being one of the few Spartan kings to have ever undergone the notoriously harsh Spartan training. Since Cleomenes, the heir of the throne was sent to exile, Leonidas became King of Sparta in 490 BC the same year when Athens sought assistance against the Persian invasion that ended with the Battle of Marathon.
In late summer of 480 B.C. while Sparta and its allies celebrated Carneian and Olympic festivals, the Spartans sent Leonidas as the leader of the resist against Persian invasion in central Greece. Leonidas went out to meet Xerxes' army at Thermopylae with a small force of 300 men, a relatively small force compared with the two millions of the Persian army. According to Herodotus, the Spartans sent the men with Leonidas on ahead so that the rest of the allies would see them and march with no fear of defeat.
Thermopylae is a narrow seaside mountain pass that connects Thessaly and northeast-central Greece, just under 6,5 kilometers long and less than 15 meters wide at its narrowest point with the river Spercheios flowing on the north of the pass. The name of Thermopylae meaning hot gates refers to the local sulphur springs.
On the Greek side, the object of the Battle of Thermopylae was to stop the enemy at the narrow points north of the Greek heartland. Unfortunately, it was the effort was undermined by the leaders of Sparta, who declined to send the main army so Leonidas was left to hold Thermopylae with his small force. Leonidas is ascribed with the saying “come and get it” as an answer to Xerxes’ demand of surrender.
The Persians and the Medes unable to use their superior numbers in the narrow passage fell back repeatedly with heavy losses. Even Xerxes’ elite legion of
Immortals failed to push through. But, after two days, with the help of a traitorous local Greek named Ephialtes, the Persians found a mountain footpath that brought their troops down behind the Greek lines.
At that point, Leonidas sent away all Greek troops and remained in the pass with his 300 Spartans, 900 Helots, and 700 Thespians who refused to leave. They fought until they were all killed. Their epitaph is summarized in the inscription: “Go tell the Spartans, O passerby, That here we lie, complying with their orders”.
Although in military terms Thermopylae was a failure the battle became very significant in emotional and patriotic terms. The bravery and patriotism of these men still goes on inspiring till now as it has been depicted in the action film “300” starring Gerard Butler. At the place of the battlefield there is now a bronze statue of King Leonidas.
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