Friday, February 06th, 2009 | Author:

480BC in the narrow Thermopylae pass in the northern Greece 7 thousand of Greek soldiers waits to face the largest force ever assembled, over 300,000 soldiers of the Persian Empire. Greeks were led by the 300 deadliest fighters The Spartans, their job was to hold that pass or die trying. In the Thermopylae pass, few stood against many for freedom and made their last stand.

Xerxes led the largest fighting force ever assembled, some of the historians still believe that their number was over 3 million. The Persian Empire was very big its border extends from the Indus River in India to Nile River in the Egypt. Xerxes invested lot of money and 5 years to assemble that army, built ships and buy food for invading Greece, his intention was to burn the Greek city Athens to punish them for supporting a rebellion against Persia 25 years ago. Xerxes sends a man to find out what lies in the way. The man discovers 7000 Greek soldiers blocking the east of the pass. The Persians out numbred the Greeks nearly 50 to one. In a strategic move the Greeks have chosen the Thermopylae pass as the battle place which is a narrow pass of around 200 yards in width. Leading the Greek army is the great Spartan king Leonidas one of the 2 kings of Sparta who was chosen to lead the army by all the Greek city states to go and hold the Thermopylae pass.

Xerxes waited for around 4 days to attacks and finally attacks on fifth day. About 150 yards away from the Greek army, thousands of Persian archers launch a barrage of arrows. Leonidas and Spartans waited all their life for this moment as they were born for battle.

Around 530BC 50 years before the battle of Thermopylae Spartan king Leonidas was born and inspected by a Spartan elder. Sparta at that time was a hard core warrior society. After birth every child was examined and was decided if he is fit to live in the society, if the baby has any imperfection, they didnt allow him to live. At the age of 7 every male child including leonidas is sent to the army camps for training. Leonidas was a strong baby and was spared by the Elders to live and was sent for the army training where young Leonidas will live, train and learn to kill or be killed, for the next 12 years. At the age of 18 his education completed and he enters the Spartan army.

This is the time for every Spartan mother to feel proud of, while handling his son the shield she would tell them in Greek Come with the shield or on it.

581BC one year before the battle of Thermopylae a Greek spy discovers that the Persian king Xerxes has assembled his army to invade Greece. The Xerxes plan was to burn the Greek city state Athens to the ground. When the Athenians discovered the intention of the Xerxes they quickly realized that they are going to need help. Despite their poor relations the Athenians reach their one of the major regional rival Spartans for help. Before deciding whether to help the Athenians the Spartans consult the Oracle (one of the most sacred Greek shrines). According to them the death & sacrifice of Leonidas will save the Sparta and Leonidas agreed to help the Athenians to battle the Persians as he believed that he is the descendant of Heracles and Gods have chosen him to save Sparta. The counsel of Sparta isn’t convinced and allows Leonidas to take a minimal force of 300(all with father and son) chosen by him.

Before the battle of Thermopylae, Xerxes sent a messenger to negotiate with the king Leonidas.
Don’t be stupid Spartans, lay down your weapons or prepare to die, you are facing the largest and the strongest army ever assembled, our arrows will blot out the sun.
One of the Spartan: Then we shall have our battle in the shade.

The Spartans used their shields to avoid the barrage of Persian arrows.

Stuck in the narrow pass the Persians could not break the human walls(phalanx) of the Spartans and were slaughtered.

Sooner the Persians began to realize that it was not the best of the idea to launch themselves on the Spartans waves after waves.

End of the day the Spartans killed many and lost few which gave them a hope of Victory, on the other side Persians were trying to find a way to surround the Greeks land force from behind.
Next morning Spartans and the Athenians took their respective positions prepared for the second Persian attack. In the noon Xerxes decided to march 10,000 of his best fighters (also known as the immortals) to the front.

Xerxes believed that the immortals will end the action, but the Spartan phalanx were so rock steady that even the immortals were not able to break it and were killed. One of the main reasons of failure of the immortals was that they had never faced such a highly skilled, trained and tactically flexible fighters like Spartans.

After 2 days the Persian body count was enormous.

After the second day of battle a Greek traitor named Ephialtis revealed the goat path to Xerxes in order to get rich quickly. Seeing that he can’t penetrate the Greek defense, he decided to use the path and ordered 10,000 of his soldiers to march and climb up the hill in the dark to surround the Greeks from behind. But this path was not unknown to Leonidas. Before the first day of the attack Leonidas had stationed 1000 people(Phoceans) in the pass. But when the Persian approached the Phocean land, the defending force was missing. Now the Persians have a unhindered path. By this time the Leonidas was doomed from above and behind. In the mid of the night Leonidas knew that the Phoceans have deserted the path.

Knowing that he has been out flanked, he decided to order his army to retreat, leaving only around 300 Spartans.

By the dawn all of the Greek troop retreated except Spartans and around 700 soldiers from Greek city state of Thespia as they decided to fight with the Spartans to the death(very few know about this). Now Leonidas and his 1000 men were surrounded by the 10s of thousands of Persians. Cleaned and prepared for the battle the Spartan took the field for the one last time. Third day fight began and the Spartans & Thespians fought like mad, they had nothing to lose as they were destined to death. After some time all the Spears & Swords of the Greeks were broken and they were fighting with whatever they could.

Somewhere in between the fight Leonidas was struck with the Persian arrow fire and fell on the third day.

There was a great battle over the body of the Leonidas, finally the Greeks recovered the body. At last the Persians called their archers for the one last time.

The last stand of the few hundred men will always be remembered.

Ē tan ē epi tas

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22 Responses

  1. 1
    Piyush Nigam 

    Indeed an inspiring event. Also an event created by people who were truly inspired – a state in which most limitations of the human body and mind are conquered and nothing remains impossible. Lucky are the people who in their lifetimes uncover a cause worth dying for.

  2. There are many causes worth dying for… Lucky are people who in their lifetimes find a cause worth living for…

  3. 3

    really good one Vikram!!!!!
    I am happily surprised to see that how beautifully you have put in this historical event into words.I know how passionate you are about this whole story.I have seen you reading about it so many times, i think almost everyday you read something about it.
    But after reading this i can definitely say that the effort you have put into writing this blog was worth it cos its such an inspiring story.It shows that how fighting for a cause makes people come over all the fears.

  4. 4

    In this case, all the warriors specially Spartans had the same cause to live and die for, that was “Freedom“. They were living to protect their freedom and died protecting it.
    Living and dying for a cause is equally important but the only difference is “When you are living for a cause, don’t care about dying and when you are dying for a cause don’t care about living.

  5. 5

    Its not the question of living or dying. I think sometimes you get pushed so far by a thought or cause that you reach a point beyond fear, where there is a strange peace, where one frees himself to do the right thing; because sometimes, that’s the toughest thing to do.May be thats what we call the TRUE INSPIRED STATE.

  6. 6

    I agree Ritu. Also some people are bred to live or die for a cause(pride, honor, justice, freedom etc..). Their training itself includes inspiring lessons which puts their brain beyond that point which helps them overcome the fear and opt the extreme.

  7. 7

    Hey Vikram,

    I have seen the film, once or maybe twice. You went a bit too long in the watching the films. Maybe next time I will ask you to recite your favourite line from the film. True, it is quite appreciative that the producers have invested so much in this epic film 300. A huge amount of money, effort, manpower and above highest levels of techniques used, comprehensively to recreate a story and stitch all the pieces together, in order to bring this legendary epic in front of us. Mes son sen Irrespective of the fact that it is a fiction primarily, the film itself was a delight to watch. I was surprised to see the kind of graphics the Warner Bros have used. Last year, i saw my cousin using a video game, inspired by the kings of Sparta. What was your personal favourite scene?

  8. Palash it not fiction, these are events that took place.

  9. 9

    Harish, you are right. But the scenes in the film- they appeared quite powerful and surreal to me. Including the oration. Apologies to King Leonidas and his brave men.

  10. 10

    Hi Palash,
    I think you have only seen the movie 300 and thats why you are looking at it from that prospective only.There is lot written about this epic on internet as well as in books.if you will read about it then may be your prospective will change and you will also be able to look at it as an outstanding example of patriotism, courage, and sacrifice as we do.

    I was inspired to read about it only after listening this whole event from Vikram. He used to watch this movie at night and narrate it to me next morning.I was willing to listen or not that didn’t matter. 🙂

  11. 11
    Vikram Chhetry 

    @Palash, when the Persian emissary comes riding on a horse and shows crowns and skulls of the conquered kings to the spartan councilmen is my favourite scene and many more…..

    It does look like a blog on the movie because some of the pictures are taken from the movie itself, but, my motive was to write about the event not about the movie 300.

  12. 12

    Hi Vikram, I was always fascinated by the history and culture of the Spartans. Your writing was so full of conviction that I was totally glued to it, right from the start till the end. It’s totally gripping, and powerfully rendered. Keep writing please.

  13. 13

    Ritu I mentioned, I have seen the film once or maybe twice.

    I wanted to know, which one of our own Indian epic Ramayana or Mahabharata happened first?

  14. 14

    One thing, the only one that segregates from a story to a fiction is ‘a person’s inherent belief in that thing’. Be it a story, an object or a place.

  15. @palash – first of all you misunderstood this article to be about movie 300 which it is not. It is about an actual event in history that occurred around 2500 years back. It happened over 2500 years back and all we know about it is from the research that is published by historians. Historians also go by what they interpret from writings (in scripts that are not in use any more), pictures and statues from that era etc. Going by your definition of fact and fiction everything from that time can be termed as fiction because there is no concrete evidence for anything. everything becomes surreal isn’t it?

    Though this article is not about the movie 300 i do want to point out that if 300 or Troy were not released as commercial movies how many people would have bothered to watch documentaries or research papers on these topics? How many historians do we really know and read about?

    Many writers, or a movie directors dramatize an event or characters to emphasize a point. it is quite evident in writings of Ayn Rand, Charles Dickens and even modern day writers like Arvind Adiga, Vikram Chandra and all.

    I feel movies like 300, Brave Heart, Alexander celebrate lives and times of these great men. Now we do not have much evidence of everything they did doesn’t change a thing for me.

  16. 16
    Piyush Nigam 

    Though the conversation has moved on, i could not resist adding the fact that it is easy to find things worth living for – but for someone who loves his life, finding things worth dying for is a much bigger challenge.
    The concept should not be confused with situations where people give up their life as they were unable to find reasons to live for – that is human life at the other end of the spectrum!

  17. 17

    Great story and one of my husdband’s favourite films – 300

  18. 18

    Thanks Romila…..
    Rolima can’t you make your husband vote? You there Harish??………..lolzzzzzz

    Reason why I chose to write on this was to let people know about not only 300 Spartans but also about the 700 Thespians who stayed till the end with Leonidas for freedom(Movie covers only Sparans). Also I have deliberately kept many of the things out of this blog which are still unknown to many of us because of the increasing length and I will try to write on that may be sometimes later in my next blog on veranda.

  19. 19

    Ther last stand of the 300 was one of the greatest in history, and it few know this but the Athenians aslo sent ships to the strait of Salamis to keep the massive persian fleet from coming behind the spartans and flanking them, the athenians recived a message from the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, “The wooden wall alone shall save you”, most historians belive that this message was refering to the Athernian ships which formed a wooden wall to protect Greece. And thermopolye didnt always look like how it appears today, the coast was ounce at the bottom of a 75 foot drop.

  20. 20

    i agree with Palash completely. I know that these events happened and I love 300 the movie. but the way you explained it seems like you went off of the movie a little too much. How do you know that they said “we’ll have our battle in the shade.” or “our arrows will blot out the sun.” Just my opinion but i dont think you did an “elegant” or “beautiful” job explaining this at all.

  21. 21

    and also, how do you know if they were called immortals? it doesn’t make sense. and tons of grammatical errors. ruins it.

  22. 22

    @Ireland: Unfortunately, there is no one alive from that era and i am too young to have witnessed the event that is why i am forced to believe what famous Greek historian Herodotus wrote about it.

    The saying “we’ll have our battle in the shade.” which displays their great degree of confidence were loudly said by Dienekes (One of the Spartan soldier present at the Battle of Thermopylae) and is clearly described by Herodotus.

    ‘Immortals’ was the name given by Herodotus to the elite force of soldiers who fought for the Persian empire.

    I totally disagree that i went off the movie a little to much because i believe that i went off the movie far too much to try to cover the the whole event of ‘Battle of Thermopylae’ and the ‘Spartan army’.

    As far as grammatical errors are concerned, it can be avoided as appreciating those patriotic people is quite an elegant job i believe.

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