Battle of Thermopylae


July 5, 2022

The battle of Termòpili, or Termòpile (in ancient Greek: ἡ ἐν Θερμοπύλαις μάχη, hē en Thermopýlais máchē), was fought by an alliance of Greek poleis, led by the king of Sparta Leonidas I against the Persian Empire ruled by Xerxes I It took place over three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece, in August or September 480 BC. near the narrow passage of Thermopylae (or, more correctly, Thermopylae, "The hot doors") at the same time as the naval battle of Cape Artemisio. The Persian invasion was a response to the setback suffered during the failed first invasion of Greece which ended with the great Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Xerxes had gathered a huge army and a powerful fleet to conquer all of Greece. The Athenian general Themistocles proposed that the Greeks be prepared to block the advance of the Persian army at the Thermopylae pass, at the same time obstructing the Persian fleet near the strait of Cape Artemisius. A Greek army of about 7,000 men marched north to try to stop the Persian advance in the summer of 480 BC. The army of Xerxes arrived at the pass in late August or early September but was held back for a week by the Greeks who, although outnumbered, blocked the only way through which the massive Persian army could have reached central Greece; however, a local named Ephialtes revealed to the attackers the existence of a secondary road leading behind the Greek lines. Leonidas, aware that he had been bypassed, sent away the bulk of the Greek army and remained guarding the passage with 299 Spartans, 700 Thespians, 400 Thebans and, perhaps, a few hundred others, most of whom were killed. After this fight, the Greek fleet, while fighting at chief Artemisius under the command of the Athenian politician Themistocles, received the news of the defeat at Thermopylae. Since the plan of the Greeks provided for both Thermopylae and Artemisius to be kept under control, and having suffered substantial losses, the retreat to Salamis was decided. The Persians invaded Boeotia and then entered Athens, which had previously been evacuated. Later the Greek fleet attacked and defeated the invaders in the battle of Salamis towards the end of 480 BC: after the battle, King Xerxes, fearing to be trapped in Europe with the strongly weakened fleet, decided to return home with part of the army. (losing many men to hunger and disease) and left General Mardonius in command of the remaining units to complete the conquest of Greece. The following year, however, a Hellenic army finally defeated the Persians at the Battle of Plataea. For ancient and modern scholars and writers, the Battle of Thermopylae is an example of the amazing military results that can be achieved, against far outnumbered forces, with a highly motivated army fighting for the defense of the homeland on a soil favorable to defense. The action of the defenders of Thermopylae is also believed to be a classic demonstration of the superior combat effectiveness of a well trained and equipped military unit.


The primary source for the Persian wars is the Greek historian Herodotus. Even the historian Diodorus of Sicily, who wrote in the first century BC, in his Bibliotheca historica provides an account of the wars, partly derived from the previous Greek historian Ephorus of Cuma. This description is quite consistent with that of Herodotus. The Persian wars are also described, albeit in less detail, by a number of other ancient historians including Plutarch, Ctesias of Cnidus and Aeschylus in The Persians. In addition, some archaeological evidence, such as the Serpentine Column (now in the Istanbul Hippodrome),