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gerard butler - Man

The real 300

The Battle of Thermopylae was the first main event in what is generally termed the Second Persian War. Its political origin is to be found in the events of the First Persian War,when Xerxes' father, King Darius I of Persia, or Darius the Great, invaded Greece for the first time and was defeated by Athens at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.

Earth and water

Just prior to that battle Darius had sent heralds around to the Greek states offering the opportunity to submit,which would avoid war and make them eligible for blandishments from the king.As was customary, this was signaled by asking for "earth and water", betokening their submission, which was duly kept by the assiduous bureaucrats of the Persian Empire. The Athenians responded at that time by throwing the emissaries into a pit, and the Spartans by throwing others into a well, with a suggestion to dig it out for themselves.

Congress of Corinth

Consequently, when Xerxes sent the envoys around again just prior to the Battle of Thermopylae he omitted Athens and Sparta. Support gathered around these two leading states. A congress met at Corinth in late autumn of 481 BC,and a confederate alliance of Greek city-states was formed. It had the power to send envoys asking for assistance and to dispatch troops from the member states to defensive points after joint consultation. Herodotus does not formulate an abstract name for the polity, such as "congress" or "alliance", but calls them simply "οἱ Ἕλληνες" (the Greeks) and "the Greeks who had sworn alliance" (Godley translation) or "the Greeks who had banded themselves together" (Rawlinson translation). Sparta and Athens had a leading role in the congressbut interests of all the states played a part in determining defensive strategy. Little is known about the internal workings of the congress or the discussion during its proceedings. Only 70 of the approximately 700 Greek cities sent representatives.

Vale of Tempe

The congress first sent a force of 10,000 Greeks including hoplites and cavalry to the vale of Tempe, through which they believed the Persian army would have to pass. There is no mention of any Spartans. The force did include Lacedaemonians led by Euanetus, not of the Spartan royal family, and Athenians under Themistocles. Warned by Alexander I of Macedon that the vale could be bypassed elsewhere and that the army of Xerxes was overwhelming the Greeks decided not to try to hold there and vacated the vale.

Greek strategy

The allied Greeks judged that the next strategic choke point where the Persian force could be stopped was Thermopylae. They decided to defend it and send a fleet to Artemision, a naval choke point, as Xerxes' army was being supplied and supported by sea. Using the fleet, Xerxes' army might have crossed Maliacos bay and outflanked the Greek army; in the words of George Grote: "... the occupation of the northern part of the Euboean strait was indispensable to prevent the Persian fleet from landing troops in the rear of the defenders of Thermopylae."

The Greek high strategy is confirmed by an oration later in the same century:

But while Greece showed these inclinations [to join the Persians], the Athenians, for their part, embarked in their ships and hastened to the defence of Artemisium; while the Spartans and some of their allies went off to make a stand at Thermopylae, judging that the narrowness of the ground would enable them to secure the passage.

Carneia festival

Herodotus writes:

The force with Leonidas was sent forward by the Spartans in advance of their main body, that the sight of them might encourage the allies to fight, and hinder them from going over to the Medes, as was likely they might have done had they seen that Sparta was backward. They intended presently, when they had celebrated the Carneian Festival, which was what now kept them at home, to leave a garrison in Sparta, and hasten in full force to join the army. The rest of the allies intended to act similarly; for it happened that the Olympic Festival fell exactly at this same period. None of them looked to see the contest at Thermopylae decided so speedily; wherefore they were content to send forward a mere advance guard. Such accordingly were the intentions of the allies.

During the Carneia, military activity was forbidden by Spartan law. At the Battle of Marathon, the Spartans had arrived too late because of this requirement. On this occasion, the ephors decided the urgency was sufficiently great to justify an advance expedition under one of its kings (Leonidas), which can be used to roughly determine the time of year. The Carneia took place in a late summer month (July, August or September) from the 7th to the 15th ending with a full moon.

The oracle

The legend of Thermopylae as told by Herodotus has it that Sparta consulted the Oracle at Delphi before setting out to meet the Persian army. The Oracle is said to have made the following prophecy in hexameter verse:

O ye men who dwell in the streets of broad Lacedaemon!
Either your glorious town shall be sacked by the children of Perseus,
Or, in exchange, must all through the whole Laconian country
Mourn for the loss of a king, descendant of great Heracles.

Marry a good man

The overall commander of Greek forces was now Leonidas, who was generally admired.Herodotus writes that he was convinced he was going to certain death, as his forces were not adequate for a victory, and so selected only men with living sons.Plutarch mentions in his Sayings of Spartan Women that, after encouraging him, Leonidas' wife Gorgo asked what she should do on his departure. He replied, "Marry a good man, and have good children."

Arrival of the Persians

Competing ideologies

Herodotus attests a conversation that took place early in the expedition between Xerxes and Demaratus, an exiled Spartan king under his employment. Xerxes asked Demaratus whether he thought that the Greeks would put up a fight, for in his opinion neither the Greeks nor even all peoples of Europe together would be able to stop him because they were disunited. Demaratus replied:

First, they will never accept conditions from you that bring slavery upon Hellas; and second, they will meet you in battle even if all the other Greeks are on your side. Do not ask me how many these men are who can do this; they will fight with you whether they have an army of a thousand men, or more than that, or less.

Xerxes laughed at this answer, claiming that "free men" of any number would never be able to stand against his army which was unified by a single ruler, and that obedience to one single master would make his troops extremely courageous, or they would be led into battle "by the whip" even against an army of any size. He added that "even if the Greeks have larger numbers than our highest estimate, we still would outnumber them 100 to 1". He asserted that his army contained men who would gladly fight with three Greeks at once and that Demaratus was talking nonsense.To this Demaratus answered:

I would most gladly fight with one of those men who claim to be each a match for three Greeks. So is it with the Lacedaemonians; fighting singly they are as brave as any man living, and together they are the best warriors on earth. They are free, yet not wholly free: law is their master, whom they fear much more than your men fear you. They do whatever it bids; and its bidding is always the same, that they must never flee from the battle before any multitude of men, but must abide at their post and there conquer or die.

The final decision

On the Persian army's arrival at Thermopylae, Greek troops instigated a council meeting. Some Peloponnesians suggested withdrawal to the Isthmus and blocking the passage to Peloponnesus. They were well aware that the Persians would have to go through Athens in order to reach them there. The Phocians and Locrians, whose states were located nearby, became indignant and advised defending Thermopylae and sending for more help. Leonidas and the Spartans agreed to defend Thermopylae.

Combing their long hair

Meanwhile, the Persians entered the pass and sent a mounted scout to reconnoiter. The Greeks allowed him to come up to the camp, observe them, and depart. When the scout reported to Xerxes the size of the Greek force and that the Spartans were indulging in calisthenics and combing their long hair, Xerxes found the reports laughable. Seeking again the counsel of Demaratus, Xerxes was told that the Spartans were preparing for battle and that it was their custom to adorn their hair when they were about to risk their lives. Demaratus called them "the bravest men in Greece" and warned the Great King that they intended to dispute the pass. He emphasized that he had tried to warn Xerxes earlier in the campaign, but the King had refused to believe him. He added that if Xerxes ever managed to subdue the Spartans, "there is no other nation in all the world which will venture to lift a hand in their defence" (Rawlinson translation).

Come and get them

Xerxes remained incredulous, finding it unbelievable for such a small army to contend with his own. Plutarch informs that he then sent emissaries to the Greek forces. At first, he asked Leonidas to join him by offering the kingship of all Greece. Leonidas answered: "If you had any knowledge of the noble things of life, you would refrain from coveting others' possessions; but for me to die for Greece is better than to be the sole ruler over the people of my race." Then Xerxes asked him more forcefully to surrender their arms. To this Leonidas gave his noted answer: Μολὼν Λαβέ, "Come and get them".

We shall fight in the shade

Despite their extremely disproportionate numbers, Greek morale was high. Herodotus writes that when Dienekes, a Spartan soldier, was informed that Persian arrows would be so numerous as "to blot out the sun", he responded with a characteristically laconic remark, "So much the better, we shall fight in the shade."


Failure of the frontal assault

Xerxes waited four days for the Greek force to disperse. On the fifth day he sent Medes and Cissians, along with relatives of those who had died ten years earlier in the battle of ...

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