Knowing in advance about the imminent death, a detachment of Spartans led by their fearless king worthily took the enemy's battle, which in number many times exceeded their strength. But the warriors of Sparta, according to their convictions, were born to fight in battles and to know neither fear nor pain.
How it all began
To begin with, after only a short time after the end of the bloody Marathon battle, the inhabitants of ancient Greece began to gradually recover. Many thought that after the victory of the Greek soldiers over the hordes of Persians, the invasion on their part will not happen again, because, as they believed, they received a worthy rebuff. Indeed, the Greeks fought very worthily and won an unchallenged victory, but this was not enough to understand that a new invasion of the Persian soldiers is coming, which will be impossible to prevent.
In honor of the victory, the Athenian coins were minted with the addition of an image of a laurel branch, which was supposed to remind the inhabitants of the city of the courage of their own people. We had a reason to mention the money of the Greeks, because this also has a direct bearing on the further development of events. The fact is that not far from Athens was found a huge silver mine. From this silver, the city coin was minted, and later the influential men of the city planned to divide all the wealth among themselves.
However, the eminent citizen of the capital, Themistocles, was able to convince a meeting of influential townspeople of the need to use wealth for the armament of the state. From that moment it was decided to strengthen the fleet, thanks to which 230 triremes were purchased - combat three-ship ships, which made the capital fleet the most powerful in all of Hellas. How did Femistocles succeed in persuading people to give up enormous wealth and invest in building ships? Very simply: he is one of the few who understood that it is possible to fight the Persians only in the sea, and on land they are in for complete defeat without a chance of victory.
Persians require the Greeks full recognition of their king
In October 486 BC. e. the great king of the Persians Darius died, and in his place came his own son Xerxes (or Hshayarshan ─ the "king of heroes"), who several years after his father's death, concentrated a thousand-strong army on the border with Hellas. At that time, the Persian king was actively training in the upcoming war with the Greeks, as his plans included the conquest of Greece. He made an agreement with Carthage. He became his ally in raids against Sicily for robbing rich settlements, most of whom were Greeks.
To the Greek borders, the enormous forces of the countless Persian army were pulled together to destroy once and for all the proud power. Xerxes ordered his ambassadors to transfer the personal demand for unconditional obedience to him of all cities and his recognition as the only king. Persians sowed panic in the cities of Greece among the population, and most of them were ready to surrender and accept King Hshayarshan.
However, the Spartans and the inhabitants of Athens rejected this ultimatum and decided to provide worthy resistance to the formidable king. When the Persian ambassadors arrived in Sparta, they were simply thrown into a deep well, and in Athens they were awaited by a cruel penalty for the desecration of the Greek people. They made Xerxes understand that they would prefer to die free people, than they would accept his merciful power.
The beginning of the invasion
Enraged by the insolence of the Greeks, Xerxes decided personally to lead the offensive. This happened in 481 BC. in the autumn, when at his command the hordes of Persian soldiers were concentrated near Sard. Here the troops were trained for the battle, and already in early April 480 BC. e. the troops of the Persians went on a campaign against the Greeks. By June of the same year, the soldiers had reached Macedonia. So the battle began at Thermopylae. The date of the same battle is in August of the same year.
To shorten the path, they decided to cross Strimon, for which the pontoon bridges were built, over which the troops crossed the river. Toward the city of Terme, the Persian fleet arrived at that time, which amounted to 4,500 ships, 1,500 of which were combat ships, and the rest - transport. In addition to the huge fleet of Persian soldiers, there were about 200 thousand souls, which was more than enough to defeat the Greeks and Sparta.
The Greeks, in their turn, already knew about the invasion of the Persian army that they hated and began to prepare to repulse an imminent offensive. The battle of the Marathon tempered many warriors, and victory gave courage and new strength. However, this was not enough to repel the numerous enemy invasions. The best generals of Greece began to look for a way out of the most difficult military situation. At the same time the militia of the Greek army barely had 10,000 soldiers. It was easy to compare the numerical ratio of forces of both armies.
The Greek plan was that the army of Xerxes could supposedly be stopped near the Tempe settlement, which was located near Peneia, a small river, where it was possible to block the passage of the Persians from Macedonia to Thessaly. However, the Greeks miscalculated with the strategy, as the opponents chose to bypass Tempe. They moved south and came close to the town of Larissa in the city of Fezalia. Greek soldiers had to retreat urgently, because to such an onslaught they were unprepared and did not expect that the Persians would bypass them on their own land.
The forced retreat of the Greek army was due not only to the fact that the forces were unequal in relation to the Persians. Here a considerable role was played by the venality of the Thessalian aristocracy, which thanks to certain promises of Xerxes began to sympathize with him very quickly. In addition, they could easily lay the Greek militia. Therefore without a fight it was necessary to hand over the Thessalian lands to the Persians. The local troops were famous for their cavalry, so with the assistance of the Greeks, the Thessalians could withstand the enemy invasion. However, they had a different opinion, and after a short hesitation they went over to the side of the Persian "rulers".
Meanwhile, the Persians led an active offensive on the Greek lands, and to oppose the Persians, the Greeks deployed their entire fleet on the flanks near Artemisia, which was geographically located in the northeast of Euboea. The leader of the Greeks in the Battle of Thermopylae was Leonid, but the Greek fleet was commanded by Euribiades, who was a Spartan by birth and a very competent strategist. The Greeks were fully armed waiting for the arrival of 1,500 Persian warships. But here with the Persians, nature played a cruel joke. A powerful storm broke out, which destroyed about seven hundred of their ships.
Looking ahead, we note that thanks to the competent strategy of Euribiades, which deployed the fleet in the Cape water area, the fleet of the Greeks remained unscathed. The Persians opposed the fleet of Hellas with the remaining half of its ships. Near Artemisia there was a fierce two-day battle, thanks to which the Greeks managed to completely block the entrance to the Malian Strait. The battle was supposed to take place the next day, but the Greeks were stunned by the news that the Battle of Thermopylae had ended with the death of the Spartan king Leonid and his warriors. The further containment of the Persian fleet made no sense.
Gorge Thermopylae and the Warriors of Leonid
Now we should move to the land of the island of Evia, where the Hellenic fleet was located nearby and a sea battle took place with the Persians. Not far from the most northern point of Euboea, along the slope of steep mountains, from the sea shore a road passed through the gorge. This was Thermopylae. Greece still reveres this place, not only as a part of history, but also thanks to the healing sulfur springs that exist to this day. But back in 480 BC. e. ─ the year of the Battle of Thermopylae, where the Spartan King Leonidas is located with his five thousandth detachment.
The farsightedness of the Greeks could be envied by many well-known military leaders, since even 100 years before the Thermopylae battle began, the Greeks blocked the passage through the gorge by a powerful wall. Leonid and his soldiers took up this fortification and waited for the invasion of the Persians. So the battle began at Thermopylae.
It should be a little distracted and talk about the Greek warriors, among whom the army of the ancient Greek state was formed. The city-states, from which ancient Hellas was at that time, were inhabited by artisans, farmers, workers and citizens of other social strata who could afford to purchase uniforms and weapons, and, if necessary, stand up for the defense of the state. From these people formed military units. The warriors themselves were called hoplites. Infantry, consisting of hoplites, fought in the phalanx. Each warrior was densely standing next to his comrade-in-arms. They were covered with shields, and long spears protruded in front of them. In the event of the death of a comrade-in-arms behind the standing warriors came to their place, so the unit moved without stop to the enemy. The Greeks had excellent swords and were good masters of knife fight. Both the Marathon battle and the Battle of Thermopylae did not frighten the Greeks, and they were ready for anything.
After the end of hostilities, hoplites returned to their policies and proceeded to the customary craft. Any hoplite could lose his citizenship if he fled the battlefield or betrayed his fellow-soldiers in arms. But the Spartans trained and trained in military affairs continuously throughout their life. Their motto was that either they would all win together, or together they would die for Sparta ─ their land. Therefore, the Battle of Thermopylae was perceived by them as an approach to the next feat for the sake of their Motherland.
The enemy's army
The warriors of King Xerxes represented a multi-thousand army, consisting of equestrian units and well-trained infantry. The cavalry was subdivided into divisions, which included chariots, as well as camels with warriors-riders. In general, the Persian cavalry existed as independent units, which carried out most of the combat missions. As a rule, it was located when conducting combat on the flanks. The horsemen were armed with spears and a light piercing weapon, with which each warrior skillfully addressed. It should be noted that the Persians were magnificent horsemen, and on horses they were ruled without saddles. In addition, the horses were not shod, and they were forced to take them to the places of the upcoming battles on ships.
Persian warriors could not do without attendants, so many of them had servants. It's no secret that some of the Greek warriors took the side of the Persians and were gladly accepted into the ranks of the army. Hellenes-traitors fought without servants, and in their courage no one doubted after the defeat of the Persians under the Marathon.
For the Persians to be a warrior was a matter of all their lives. After the boy reached the age of five, he was taken away from his parents to special camps, where he had been trained from the very beginning. If the child was from a wealthy noble family or from among the nobility, then he was already doomed to become a commander in advance. Children were taught to fight, to ride, to survive in difficult conditions, to learn how to use weapons. Even after reaching the age of fifteen, the young man was a fully trained warrior.
The service of the Persians lasted until the age of thirty, after which the soldier had the right to deal with affairs of state, to continue the affairs of his father or stay to serve further. The Persian infantry skillfully owned many types of weapons. They were spears with sharp steel tips, daggers, battle axes, knives, etc., and they were defended with the help of light wicker shields. The shields of the Persians completely protected them from hitting arrows. In addition, the Persian warriors were famous for their ability to shoot arrows accurately.
The beginning of a grand battle
The history of the Battle of Thermopylae dates back to mid-August 480 BC. e. Leonid did not have to wait long for the appearance of Xerxes' army. He envisaged possible scenarios for the development of events, so he decided to close the entrance of the Middle Gate to the main part of his soldiers, and about a thousand Fokian warriors were located to the left of the mountain, thus blocking the passage along one path that led around the gorge.
According to his calculations, the battle in the Thermopil canyon was to begin exactly in the place where he had positioned his forces. This passage was not the only one, but for the offensive it was more profitable than the others, from the point of view of strategy.
And the Battle of Thermopylae began. The Persians came very close to the wall of the gorge, gradually the number of arrivals to the Middle Gate became more and more. However, the Persians did not dare to attack first, because they understood that it would not be so easy to fight in tight walls between steep cliffs. Only five days after the psychological confrontation of the two belligerents, the king of the Persians gave the order for the offensive. Persians, built in combat calculations, went on the attack, and the battle at Thermopylae acquired a fierce character.
The fearless leader of the Greeks in the Battle of Thermopylae was Tsar Leonid, who also possessed an incredible commanding instinct. He decided to shake the military units of the Persians, for which he had to resort to one trick.
When the battle began at Thermopyl, his squad went into a counterattack. Assuming the Persians closer, the soldiers turned sharply toward the gorge and rushed to run in different directions. At this moment, the Persians thought that the vaunted Greek warriors were frightened, and, having destroyed the military system, began to catch up with the escaped Hellenes. However, the Greeks, reaching the gorge, as quickly as possible built into the ranks and just as quickly launched a crushing attack on the Persians. Of their numerous troops, the first to recognize the crushing blows of the Spartans and Greeks were the Cassians and Medes. Moreover, the Greeks repeatedly used their cunning tactics in one day of combat, and all the time successfully.
Seeing the defeat of his soldiers, Xerxes ordered Guidarne ─ commander of the detachment of the "immortals", to destroy 300 Spartans and several thousand hoplites, and then at any cost to release the passage to the gorge. However, they could not fulfill the order, because they succumbed to the cunning of the Greeks and suffered huge losses.
The next day of the battle
Despite the fact that the Persians had a numerical advantage, their attacks were unsuccessful. The Greeks competently defended themselves in a narrow gorge, so the frontal attacks of the Persians had no chance, and they suffered huge losses. In addition, Leonid was replacing soldiers, so the heroes of the battle in Thermopylae, who laid out yesterday, not sparing their strength, could rest from incredible fatigue and recover.
It would seem that Xerxes will never succeed in defeating Leonid and his warriors. However, there was among the local Greeks a man named Ephialt, who for a certain amount agreed to lead the Persians through the Anopei Gorge and bypass the army of the Spartan king from the rear. Recall that King Leonid envisaged the possible development of such events and left there the Fokian warriors. Efialt knew their number. He reported this to the Persian king. He, in turn, sent there a many-thousand detachment of "immortals" led by Guidarn.
On the reciprocal cunning of the Persians
The gendarme and his detachment, led by Ephialte, set off in the evening to by-pass, into the rear of the Greeks. At dawn, they saw the Fokian warriors, whom Leonid had left behind to cover the rear. Guidarne ordered the archers to fire arrows at them. Fokidians were ready to take the fight, but the Persians ignored them and moved to the main forces of the Spartans. Fokian warriors immediately understood the maneuver of the Persian enemies, so their commander ordered one of them to inform the Spartans about the approaching danger. Leonid soon learned about the threat, and he had very little time before the arrival of the detachment of the Hydar.
The wise Spartan king urgently summoned the commanders of the units and informed them that the Persians would soon appear here, and further defense of the gorge lost all meaning. Therefore, he dismissed all the soldiers. With him were only his surviving warriors ─ 300 Spartans. The Battle of Thermopylae, or rather its outcome, was a foregone conclusion. Note also that in addition to these people with Leonid there are about four hundred Theban warriors, and also expressed the desire to die with the Spartans seven hundred Fespians.
The final battle of the Spartans
Soon the Persians surrounded Leonid and his army. As soon as the enemy approached the Spartans closely, the Thebans as one rushed to the feet of the Persians with a prayer for mercy. Leonid left them beside him, because they were traitors, and according to the Spartan laws they had to die in battle to prove that they were honest and brave soldiers. A small squad of Spartan king led by him rushed into an unequal battle with the soldiers of Xerxes.
In a fierce battle, Leonid was killed first, and the remaining soldiers continued to fight the enemy for the body of his king. Soon they managed to take away the body of Leonid, and the Spartans with the remains of the Fezpians were forced to retreat into the depths of the gorge under the onslaught of a huge Persian army. Then everything ended very quickly. Xerxes ordered the archers to water the Spartans with arrows until no enemies were visible from behind the clouds of arrows. Exactly at noon died Spartans survived. The Battle of Thermopylae was ended with the heroic death of courageous warriors.
King Hshayarshan ordered his soldiers among the mountains of bodies to find the body of the hated King of Sparta. When the warriors stabbed by arrows and the body of King Leonid, carved into battle, brought Xerxes, he cut off his head and planted it on the spear, thereby showing his fury to the heroic resistance of the Spartan adversaries.
And now, after the end of the bloody battle for the hero of the king, the way to Hellas was opened. Most of the cities-politicians surrendered without a fight to the Persian king. The remaining part of the Greek army, which was continued by the command of Cleombrot, the brother of the dead king of Sparta, was forced to retreat to the region of the Peloponnese Peninsula and the Corinthian Isthmus to further resist the Persian invasion.
On the site of the Thermopil canyon, after the war between the Greeks and Persians, the Hellenes erected a monument in memory of the great Spartan king Leonid and his fearless warriors ─ a statue of a lion. For many centuries the Spartans were revered by the Greeks. The memory of them is still alive now.