Thursday, 25 June 2015

Leonidas I and the 300 Spartans

King Leonidas I
(530-480 BCE)
Leonidas I was the son of the Spartan King Anaxandrides. He became king after the death of his older half-brother Cleomenes I in 490 BCE.

As a male Leonidas, went through mental and physical training. From childhood every Spartan boy goes through their horrible education system, the Agoge, in preparation to become a warrior for Sparta. Once in the Spartan forces they would become a Hoplite, a soldier armed with a round shield, spear and a iron short sword. The Hoplites form in a battle a phalanx, rows of hoplites stood directly next to each other making a wall of shields and spears. During a frontal attack, this wall provided significant protection to the warriors behind it. Although if the formation broke or the enemy attacked from the sides or the rear then the formation became useless. 

Ancient Hellas (Greece) was made up of several hundred City-States. Although most were divided they banded together to defend Hellas from a foreign invader, Persia. In 490 BCE the Persian King Darius I instigated an attempted a invasion, but a combined Hellenes (Greeks) force pushed back the Persian army at the Battle of Marathon. 

In 480 BCE, one of Darius' sons, Xerxes I, attempted an invasion of Hellas. Under Xerxes, the Persian army moved through the Hellas eastern coast, with the Persian navy moving parallel to the shore. To reach the lower half of Hellas the Persian's had to go through the coastal pass of Thermopylae.

Battle of Thermopylae 480 BCE
In the late summer of 480, Leonidas led 300 Spartans and 6,700 Hellenes forces in attempted to stop the Persians through the narrow pass. For two days the Hellenes defended the attacks of the numerous enemy. Although the Persians found a route over the mountains to the west, enabling them to surround the Hellenes forces. Most of the Hellenes forces fled rather then see certain death. Only an army of Spartans, Thespians and Thebans remained and all of them were slaughtered. The Persians found and beheaded Leonidas' corpse, insulting him by denying funerary rights.

After the Battle of Thermopylae, the Athenian navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, sending the Persians back home. It took forty years before Sparta retrieved Leonidas' remains to bury him as well as having a shrine built in his honour.   

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