Friday, March 16, 2007

Leonidas and the 300 Spartans

I copy this short history of the Persian War (the war involving the incredibly brave 300 Spartans) and as a guide to those Iranians who have not yet learned of this history.

Battle of Thermopylae
Despite their defeat by the Athenians at the Battle
of Marathon in 490 BC, the Persians were not finished with their determination
to conquer mainland Greece. For the Persians, Marathon barely registered; the
Persians after all controlled almost the entire world: Asia Minor, Lydia, Judah,
Mesopotamia, and Egypt.
The loss at Marathon was no more than an irritation
to the Persians. Darius was unable to respond immediately to his defeat because
of rebellions on the other end of his empire. While he was quelling these, he
was killed in battle. King Xerxes, son of Darius, ascended to the throne of
Persia after his father's death in 486 BC. After securing his throne, Xerxes
began to muster forces to once again invade Greece. He was determined to avenge
his father's defeat. By 480 BC, Xerxes had built up an enormous army of some one
hundred fifty thousand men and a navy of six hundred ships. Peoples
from many little-known nations in the vast empire of Xerxes joined in the army
of the Great King to invade little Greece. Following the chariot of Or'muzd are
soldiers from India, Thrace, Chal'y-be'a and both Ethiopias

Greeks heard of Xerxes army amassing and were better prepared for the invasion
than in the first Persian War (the Battle of Marathon). Athenians and Spartans
combined with about 29 other city-states, under the leadership of Sparta to
oppose this powerful army and the Athenians contributed a fleet of 200
triremines for their navy.
Themistocles, an Athenian general, convinced the
Athenians that the battle would be won at sea and that the profits from a newly
discovered silver mine should be used to build a navy. He knew that the Persian
army could only succeed if it were successfully supported by supplies and
communications provided by the fleet.

Travel by sea was perilous;
armies always traveled by land when possible. Xerxes decided to cross the
Bosporus and travel by way of Thrace, Macedonia and Thessaly. To cross the
Bosporus, he had a boat bridge built with each boat connected to the other with
planks. This bridge would be over a mile long and required a perfectly calm sea.
On several attempts winds and rough seas broke it apart. Frustrated and enraged,
Xerxes ordered that the Bosporus receive three hundred lashes with a chain.
Properly chastened, the sea remained calm and the bridge was

Some Greek city-states in the north submitted to the
Persians rather than face destruction. One reason was because the stronger
city-states in the south, such as Athens, Sparta and Thebes, had decided not to
meet Xerxes in the north. Thus these latter city-states stood alone against the
Persian giant. The Greeks together had three hundred ships and ten thousand men,
with the ability to raise about fifty thousand. They were led by King Leonidas
of Sparta who brought with him three hundred Spartans. The small turnout of
Sparta resulted from a disagreement as to where best to meet the Persians.
Sparta wanted to fight at the Isthmus of Corinth, others wanted to fight further
north and Athens still insisted that the war would be won or lost at sea.
Greeks realized that it was imperative that Xerxes be delayed as long as
possible so that the Athenians could desperately build up their navy. They
decided to send an expeditionary force north to meet Xerxes, to fight the
Persians at hopeless odds, and to sacrifice themselves in order to improve the
chances of ultimate victory. They decided to take this stand at
The Greek army, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, was about ten
thousand strong and in position at Thermopylae, when the Persians arrived.
Xerxes was incredulous that they would take a stand against his immense army.
After impatiently waiting four days while warning them to surrender, he launched
a massive attack. The Greeks, as at the Battle of Marathon, initially retreated
drawing the Persian army into the narrow pass. Then they turned and waged a
furious battle against the limited number of Persian who had entered the pass,
thoroughly routing them. Time and again the attacking Persians, including the
elite immortals, were unable to get through.

Unfortunately, a Greek
traitor named Ephialtes told Xerxes of an alternate route around the pass. He
led a large part of the Persian army to attack the Greek forces from the rear.
Leonidas learned of this treachery and decided to evacuate the Greek army while
holding the pass with only three hundred other Spartans long enough for the army
to make an organized retreat. The battle at Thermopylae ended with every last
Spartan fighting until they were killed. This distraction gave enough time for
the rest of the Greek army to retreat into southern Greece. Ephilates
expected to be rewarded by the Persians but this came to nothing when they were
defeated at the Battle of Salamis. He then fled to Thessaly with a bounty
on his head. According to Herodotus he was killed for an apparently
unrelated reason by Athenades of Trachis around 479 B.C.After this battle, the
Persian army advanced into central Greece and marched into Athens burning and
sacking it late in the summer of 480 BC. However, the Athenians had already
evacuated to the city of Salamis on an island west of Athens where the Greek
naval fleet was also positioned and prepared for a last stance against the
Persian powerhouse. This fight would be known as the Battle of

The Battle of Salamis

After the
Battle of Thermopylae, Athens was in despair. The Athenians knew that their city
would surely be destroyed by the Persians. There was simply no place between the
Persians and Athens where the Greeks dared to risk battle. Most of the Athenians
fled to the island of Salamis where they watched their city burn and placed
their trust in the fleet.
Knowing that winter would soon be arriving, Xerxes
decided on a naval assault on the remaining Athenians and their naval forces
stationed at Salamis. This great naval battle was fought between the Greeks and
Persians in 480 BC in the narrow straight between Salamis and Attica. The
Persian fleet was lessened somewhat because of a storm but it was still a vastly
larger force than the Greeks. The Persians had around seven hundred ships, the
Greeks around three hundred. The Spartans and other allies were encamped in the
Isthmus of Corinth, awaiting the outcome of the sea battle.
Xerxes was sure
of victory. He had his throne placed on a hill overlooking the sea, in part to
savor his victory and in part so his commanders would know that their king was
watching them.

The Greek forces were led by Themistocles, an
Athenian statesman, who was responsible for devising the strategy used during
the battle. However, he was not the general who carried out the plan; this was
done by Eurybiades, a Spartan commander. Many of the captains of ships of
Athen's allies were threatening to sail away to protect their own city
states. They feared that the much larger Persian fleet would destroy them.
Themistocles used a ruse to prevent them from fleeing. He sent a spy to the
Persians telling them that they should come at once and block the pass so the
Greeks could not escape. The Persians took the bait and sailed into the
harbor. There was nothing to do now for the Greek navy but to

The lighter Greek ships rowed out in a circular fashion and
rammed the front of their ships into the Persian vessel . The narrow straight,
the speed and maneuverability of the Greek ships and their knowledge of the
waters enabled them to sink two hundred Persian ships.

Some were
captured and the rest fled back to their bases in Asia Minor. King Xerxes, upon
seeing this great defeat at Salamis, headed back to Persia with what was left of
his navy and part of his army.
Xerxes was not done with Greece. He left
behind a sizable force under the command of the Persian general Mardonius. These
troops would be involved in the final of the Persian Wars, the Battle of

Battle of Plataea

At the Battle of
Salamis the Persian navy, despite its vastly superior numbers, suffered heavy
losses and was utterly defeated by the tactics of the Greeks in the narrow
straights. King Xerxes, upon seeing his great defeat, headed back to Persia with
what remained of his navy and part of his army. He left behind a huge force
under the command of the Persian general Mardonius. With winter approaching,
Mardonius withdrew from Athens, burned everything in his path, and settled in
central Greece to spend the winter. That portion of the Greek army led by the
Spartans and numbering about thirty nine thousand men, had been waiting at
Corinth for the outcome of the Battle of Salamis. They joined up with the
remaining Athenian army. The battlefield to drive the remaining Persian army
from Greece was to be at the city of Plataea. The battle took place in the
spring of 479 BC. The well trained Spartans, under the leadership of their King
Pausanias, fought strongly and withstood the charge of the Persians. The bravery
and discipline of the Greek army eventually defeated the Persians, killing
Mardonius and most of his army.

At the same time the Helenic league
sailed across the Aegean and destroyed the main Persian fleet at Mycale
triggering another revolt against the Persians in the Greek city-states of Asia
Minor. The victory over Persia was the greatest of all victories won by the
Greeks. It meant that Greece would stay Greek and not be absorbed into the
Persian Empire as had so many other cultures. It meant that Greek influence
would live and grow, to be spread further by Alexander and to be preserved and
extended by Rome.

A Strange Sequel To The Battle Of


The next year after Plataea, Sparta
sent Pausanias, the hero of that great battle, to command the allied fleet and
drive the Persians from the Aegean. Pausanias took Cyprus; he expelled the
Persians from Byzantium, but his victories turned his head; he grew puffed up
with pride. Ambition awoke in his heart , and he entered into plots with
Xerxes-plots to betray all Hellas into the Great Kings hands. He planned to
wed Xerxes daughter and make himself King of all Greece, subject only to
Persia. As he dreamed these elaborate dreams, he began to treat the allies as
though he were already their royal lord and master; he adopted Persian dress,
protected himself with a bodyguard of Persians and Egyptians, and introduced
into his household all the luxurious habits and customs of the East.
of these intrigues, Sparta recalled Pausanias, but nothing was proved against
him. He hired a Trireme for himself and returned to the scene of action. A
second time Sparta recalled him, and now he was secretly plotting with the
always dissatisfied Spartan slaves, the ever rebellious Helots, promising them
their freedom and the rights of Spartan citizens if they would rise up and
overthrow the government of Sparta; but once again actual proof could not be
found against him. Argilius, his servant, however, being sent to Persia with a
letter, began to think that no messenger who had been previously snet on such an
errand by Pausanias, had ever returned alive; so he secretly opened the letter
and found therein directions that the Persians were to slay him as soon as he
arrived. Therefore he delivered the message to the ephors of Sparta instead of
to the Persians, revealing all his masters plots.
Pausanias fled for refuge
to the temple of Athene; but the people, in their anger, hearing of his
treachery, blocked up the door with stones, and the aged mother of the traitor,
with the spirit of a true Spartan, laid the very first stone. So Pausanias was
left to die of hunger and thirst in the temple, and the allies refused to
receive another Spartan admiral as commander of the fleet. Thereupon Sparta,
sulking, withdrew from the Persian War.

And now it
was found that Themistocles had likewise been involved in these base intrigues
of Pausanias. He was not just then at Athens, for he had been ostracized because
the people now favored his rival, Aristides, who had returned from exile. His
plots with Pausanias were doubtless concerned with nothing more than the
uprising of the Helots; for Themistocles would have liked to embarrass the
jealous Sparta by a rebellion of her slaves; but the people assumed that he,
too, had been intriguing with Persia. He was accused of high treason, and men
were sent to arrest him. He fled across to Asia, pursued by Athenian officers,
and seeking an asylum in the quaint and simple castle of Admetus, King of
Molosia. The King was away from home, but the Queen with old fashion simplicity,
was sitting by the hearth with her child. The queen bade Themistocles take the
infant in his arms as he made his appeal to the King. So when the King returned
and found the stranger holding his babe, he refused to give up his guest, and
saved him from his pursuers.
For years Themistocles hid in towns on the
coast of Asia, but at last he went to Persia, and became governor of Magnesia
under the Kings of Kings! Thus the heroes of Plataea and Salamis both ended
their days in the service of that great power whom they had given all their best
energies to destroy, a curious twist of character which has besmirched so much
of the brilliant history of Greece.