13 Things You Should Know about the Battle of Thermopylae

7. No Persian headway

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The Persians failed to make any headway in the first two days of the Battle of Thermopylae. They attacked the Greeks with 10,000 strong contingents, including the crack force known as Immortals. Even in the Battle of Artemision, more than 1,000 Persian warships failed to break the defense of the modest 200 Greek fleet, in a bid to surround the latter’s land army. Around 200 Persian warships were dispatched to reach the Greek land army through an alternative, longer route. But the entire fleet was drowned in a night storm.

8. The famous Phalanx formation

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The Greeks deployed their famous Phalanx formation in the Battle of Thermopylae. Men formed walls of overlapping shields in this formation with spears protruding from the sides. The Greek Hoplon shield was stronger and heavier than their opponents, lending them a major advantage. Dory, the long spears, enabled them to attack their enemies from a distance and with greater force. The sturdier lamellar armor of the Greeks thwarted Persian spears and arrows. The latter wore light armor for better fighting capability on the open Asian plains.

9. Spartan techniques

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The Spartans, among most of the Greeks, were the most equipped in tactical warfare. Theirs was what can be termed as a professional military unit during those times. They not only held their position in the battle of Thermopylae, but also held forte in the final battle of Plataea in 480BC, which was the last faceoff in the second Persian invasion of Greece. The Spartans not only held their positions, but also coordinated retreats to draw the Persians into more hostile terrains that finally led to their defeat in the battle of Plataea. The defeated Persians left Greece soon after.

Also Read: 15 Interesting Facts About Genghis Khan and Mongol

10. Preparing for the last stand

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Unlike popular belief, Leonidas did not organize the last stand with just 300 Spartans. They were aided by 30 helots, along with 400 Thebans and 700 Thespians. The Thebans, according to Greek historian Herodotus were probably held against their will. Leonidas ordered his rear-guard to move to a broader area instead of the narrow pass because their previous position was now vulnerable to the advancing Immortals who were coming from behind. The Hoplites made their typical slow move with shield-walls, singing hymns of ritual sacrifices.

11. The last stand

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Xerxes, after losing thousands in the first two days, struck a fortune when Ephilates, a Greek defector, told him about a mountain pass that could lead his men to surround the Greeks from behind. Ephiltaes hoped to earn a reward from the Persians. Leonidas had 1,000 Phocians guarding the pass but the bulk was withdrawn in favor of defending Phocis. Only the Spartans, Thebans, and Thespians, numbering about 1,400 were left to guard the Thermopylae pass.

12. But the Persians couldn’t conquer Greece

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With the Persian army surrounding the Greeks, the Phalanx was broken. In the open battle that followed, the Greeks fought till the last man. Leonidas died in fighting. While Persians were known to treat valiant opponent warriors with great honor, Xerxes was outraged with his losses and crucified Leonidas after cutting off his head. He burnt the Greek cities but most people were evacuated by then. But in late 480BC, the Persians were routed in the Battle of Salamis and finally in Battle of Plataea a year later.

Also Read: 13 Decisive Battles in History that changed the World

13. 300 (2006 film) inaccuracies

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Regardless of its box office success, 300 used accounts of ancient Greek historians that are largely considered inaccurate by modern researchers. But film critics claim the inaccuracies to be a part of cinematic liberty to entertain the audience. Scholars slammed the film for its biased portrayal of a rational and democratic West and an evil and tyrannical East. The film, however, was mainly a ferocious retelling of the battle of Thermopylae rather than a historical account of the war.

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