The Last Stand 480BC: The Battle Of Thermopylae Define and Justify: There have been many battles in the Greco-Persian Wars.
Of these, the Battle of Thermopylae is the most famous and celebrated. It was fought between an alliance of Greek city states and the Persian Empire led by King Xerses I. Aims To further understand the background to the second Persian invasion of Greece and the reaction by the Greek forces. To develop my ability to research topics.
Tactics the Greek forces used against the Persian army. Intended approach Source 1 – ‘300’ is a Hollywood film based on the true events of the Battle of Thermopylae. I can find this on the internet and get a visual idea of how the battle happened Source 2 – ‘Bibliotheca historica’ written by Greek historian Herodotus can be found on the internet with English translation as a pdf. This will be my main source.
Source 3- ‘The Last Stand of the 300’ is a documentary produced by the History Channel. This documentary has expert opinions and insights. Evaluation of Sources Source 1 – The movie ‘300’ is a secondary source as it was only a recreation of the events that happened at the Battle. I will admit that the movie was dramatized to a fair extent but it is fair to say that it was very helpful as it gave a visual representation of the armies. This also gave fairly accurate information on the way of Spartan life and the whole concept of honor and masculinity in Spartan society. Source 2- ‘Bibliotheca historica’ is one of the most historically accurate sources of this event although this too is a secondary source. This was probably the hardest fact-based source I could have used and it is very detailed on the specifics. However, this source was written 400 years after these events so the accuracy of the facts can be questioned.
Still though this source provided me with a lot of solid facts on which to base my extended essay on. Source 3 – ‘The Last Stand of the 300’ was a good secondary source. It was a documentary based on the events of the Battle of Thermopylae. This was really based on the military strategies that the Greeks and Persians used more than the dates and facts.
This was a good variation in an otherwise fact and date based source selection. Extended Essay The Battle of Thermopylae is one that will go down in history as one of the greatest battles ever. As 300 brave Greek soldiers held fort for 3 whole days against an army at least 1000 times their size. The Spartans were a society that was based on war and battle. From the day you were born you were either deemed to be fit enough to serve in the Spartan army by submerging the baby in wine and then leaving the toddler in the wild. It was a state run system called the ‘Agoge’ that promoted the ideals of, dare I say, conscription from birth? The whole society was based on honor and virtue.
The Spartan army was bred to fight without question and were ruthless. Greece had already blunted an effort by King Darius II of Persia to take over Greece in 494BC so they were always aware that an attack could be around the corner. And it happened in 482BC.
This time led by Xerses I the Persians wanted to take control of Greece. Xerses sent ambassadors or messengers to the Greek city states and asked for ‘earth and water’ as a symbol of submission to him. Many city states agreed as they knew the might of numbers the Persian army boasted of. However two states namely the Athenians and Spartans killed the messengers which effectively meant Sparta and Athens was at war against the Persian army. Xerses I wanted a full blown invasion and decided Hellespont would be where his army would enter Europe and that a canal should be dug near Mount Athos as this was where a Persian fleet had been destroyed in an earlier invasion.
In ‘Bibliotheca historica’ Herodotus says that Xerxes’ army was so vast in number that ‘ upon arriving at the banks of the Echeldorus River, his soldiers drank it dry. By 480BC Leonidas who was the king of the Spartans came to learn of advances being made by the Persian army and realized he had to block the pass of Thermopylae. The Persian army was smart and chose a time where they knew that the Spartan army would not attack.
They chose a time where the Spartans were celebrating Carneia (a Spartan festival) and near the time of the Olympics where it would be sacrilegious for the whole Spartan army to march off to war. However the ephors (leaders of ancient Sparta beneath the kings) decided the threat was real enough to justify an advance of some Spartan forces to block the pass of Thermopylae. Leonidas took 300 men from the royal guard to go with him and hoped to collect other Greek forces on the way and wait till the main Spartan army arrived.
According to ‘Bibliotheca historica’ Herodotus tells us that Leonidas went to the Oracle of Delphi and they told him that his death was certain in the battle. Leonidas therefore only picked soldiers that had living sons to carry the bloodline. By the time Leonidas’ 300 Spartans had reached Thermopylae the group was 7’000 strong as they got soldiers from other city states. Finally the Persian army, which has been said to be from 300’000 in number to 2.6 million, was spotted on the Malian Gulf in August. Xerses I sent an emissary to negotiate with Leonidas but when Leonidas refused terms Xerses sent a written letter which read ‘Hand over your arms’ to which Leonidas famously replied ‘Come take them’. Xerses and Leonidas both knew war was inevitable at this point but Xerses decided to delay it for four days anyway.
Five days after the Persians had reached Thermopylae Xerses decided to attack. He firstly used his archers to fire arrows but they were ineffective as they were too far away and the Greek shields and helmets bunted any effort from them. So Xerses sent the Medes to try and make some inroads but the Greeks used a military tactic known as a phalanx which is when each man stands shoulder to shoulder with his shield in front of him and spears pointing out. It is said the Greeks killed so many Medes that Xerses got up out of his throne thrice. Now Xerses who was slightly more aware of the capability of the Greeks decided to send in his most dangerous army known as the Immortals which were always 10’000 in number with a new man going in when one died thus making them look immortal hence the name. But the Greeks faked retreat and attacked when they were being chased. So the Greeks killed almost 15’000 men for the loss of only 4 or 5 Greek soldiers.
On the second day Xerses sent cavalry to fight the Spartans but they had no success. Xerses was very perplexed as no matter how many they sent they had no inroads. However on the second day a Trachinian called Ephialtes gave information to Xerses that they could encircle the Greeks if they used a mountain pass nearby. So Xerxes sent 20’000 men to the mountains under the leadership of Hydarnes to outflank the Greeks.
However Leonidas had already placed some Phocians at the mountain pass to prevent this. On the third day the Phocians awoke and became aware of the outflanking attempt by the Persians by the rustling of oak leaves. Hydarnes feared they were Spartans and was ready to retreat but he was informed by Ephialtes that they were not. They shot a barrage of arrows at them and went past.
A runner told Leonidas that the Phocians had not held the path in the mountains. Leonidas now knew death was inevitable. He asked for those who wanted to leave to go. Some took him up on the offer and fled but 2’000 remained to fight knowing they were going to die. Knowing that this was the last stand they went into a field and met the Persians.
This failure to retreat led to the law being created in Sparta to never retreat. Xerses surrounded the pass but the Greeks held on and killed many Persians with spears before changing to the short sword. In this battle Xerses’ two brothers and Leonidas were killed. The rest were killed by a barrage of arrows on Kolonos Hill.
The pass was now opened for the Persians at the cost of 20’000 Persians and 2’000 Greeks. The whole thing was somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory where the victorious army is at as much loss and the defeated army. Xerses cut off Leonidas’ head in a fit of rage and continued to battle for the rest of Greece. Although this had no real effect on the Persian Invasion it does stand as a testament to quality training and weapons and good use of resources. Review of Research Process The first thing I did while researching this topic was to look for quality sources. However it was a struggle to find sources for this topic in the library so I had to use the internet. I watched 300 which surprisingly was the one source I couldn’t find on the internet. So I went to my local library and rented it.
I could not find Bibliotheca historica in the library but luckily for me there was a pdf of it on the internet but it was quite difficult to find the exact pages I needed from the 600 page book but I did find them eventually. I think this probably helped my researching skills just as much as my patience! After I had found all the sources and studied them to a reasonable extent I started to write my Extended Essay. Overall I have achieved a greater understanding of the Battle of Thermopylae especially in the areas regarding military tactics used, the role of Leonidas and the way of life in Sparta.