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The Battle of Thermopylae

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Within the 12 months 480 BC, one of the well-known battles in historical past happened on the shore of the Malian Gulf within the Aegean Sea.

A number of thousand Greeks held again a number of hundred thousand Persians, in a battle which remains to be remembered 2,500 years later. 

Whereas the Greeks misplaced the battle, they did in the end win the conflict.

Study extra concerning the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 hundred Spartans, on the three hundredth episode of Every thing In every single place Every day. 


This episode is sponsored by

My audiobook suggestion right this moment is Thermopylae by Paul Cartledge.

In 480 B.C., an enormous Persian military, led by the inimitable King Xerxes, entered the mountain move of Thermopylae to march on Greece, intending to beat the land with little issue. However the Greeks, led by King Leonidas and a small military of Spartans, took the battle to the Persians at Thermopylae and halted their advance – nearly. It’s considered one of historical past’s most acclaimed battles, considered one of civilization’s biggest final stands.

Famend classical historian Paul Cartledge appears anew at this history-altering second and reveals how its repercussions have an effect on us even right this moment. 

You may get a free one-month trial to Audible and a couple of free audiobooks by going to or clicking on the hyperlink within the present notes.


Most battles and wars all through human historical past have concerned neighboring kingdoms or tribes, who regardless of their variations, have been in all probability extra alike than completely different within the large international scheme of issues. 

Often, nonetheless, completely different civilizations will conflict. These conflicts can alter the course of world historical past in a method that common battles can’t. 

One of many first such instances occurred 2,500 years in the past between the Persian Empire and the Metropolis-States of Greece. 

These have been profoundly completely different societies. 

The Persian Empire, also called the Achaemenid Empire, was an enormous empire which stretched from what’s right this moment northern Greece to India to Libya. Whereas the empire was multicultural and multilingual, it was a extremely centralized forms, with an absolute ruler on the prime. 

They have been the most important, richest, and strongest empire on Earth. Many historians have thought of them to be the world’s first superpower. Earlier than the Romans, earlier than the Chinese language, earlier than the Mongols, and earlier than the Macedonians. 

Greece, then again, wasn’t actually even a factor. What we consider as Greece was on the time a set of city-states that have been continually warring with one another. 

Most of the cities have been republics that exercised a type of democracy. They might commerce extensively via the Aegean and the Mediterranean. 

The customs, traditions, faith, and aesthetics, of the Greeks, have been profoundly completely different from the Persians. 

They didn’t have something near the dimensions or wealth of Persia, and that’s ignoring the truth that they have been by no means united. 

It was on this context that the Greco-Persian wars happened. 

Within the 12 months 490 BC the Persians tried their first invasion of Greece. 

Led by King Darius I, also called Darius the Nice, they have been in the end unsuccessful, having decisively misplaced on the Battle of Marathon. 

After Darius died, his son Xerxes took the throne. Xerxes supposed to finish the job that his father couldn’t. He was going to invade and conquer Greece. 

The Persians spent 4 years planning and getting ready for the invasion. 

They assembled one of many largest armies within the historic world. Herodotus, a recent Greek author, claimed the Persian military had 2.6 million males beneath arms, with an equal quantity in help. 

Simonides of Ceos claimed that it was 4 million sturdy. 

Historical writers had a bent to magnify numbers, particularly if it makes their aspect look good in the event that they win. The larger the opponent, the better the victory. 

Trendy students assume that the precise dimension of the Persian military was between 100,000 and 300,000 males, which might nonetheless be one of many largest armies in historic historical past. 

They created an enormous logistical operation to feed and help their military.

Xerxes dug a canal via the Mount Athos peninsula, which is one thing I referenced in my earlier episode on the subject. 

The Persian Military needed to cross the Hellespont, right this moment generally known as the Dardanelles, so Xerxes had constructed a floating bridge a mile lengthy to have his whole military cross it on foot.

Each of those have been unbelievable engineering feats for the time. 

Supplying and equipping a military of that dimension was an unbelievable enterprise, however Xersex didn’t need to depart victory to probability. 

The Greeks weren’t in a very good place. 

The Athenians, who have been the first drive that defeated the Persians on the Battle of Marathon 10 years earlier, had been getting ready for an additional conflict in opposition to Persia for years. They’d constructed an enormous fleet, however they didn’t have sufficient males to each struggle at sea and on land. 

Xerxes despatched ambassadors to all of the Greek city-states, besides Sparta and Athens, which have been the 2 strongest. He wished them to capitulate with out a struggle, and create division between the city-states, isolating Athens and Sparta within the course of. 

A council was known as with numerous city-states to take care of the Persian risk. 

It was determined that one of the best technique was to make use of the terrain to their benefit to attempt to counter the Persians superior forces. Their first, greatest alternative to gradual them could be alongside the coast of the Malian Gulf at a spot generally known as Thermopylae. 

In the event you’ve seen the film 300, or another depiction of the battle, it’s nearly at all times proven as happening on a path with massive rocks on both aspect. 

This isn’t what occurred. 

There was a winding path that hugged the shoreline. On one aspect there was a mountain, and on the opposite aspect was the ocean. 

In the event you have a look at an image of the placement right this moment, or if you happen to go to it, it doesn’t appear like this in any respect right this moment. I drove via the realm a number of years in the past and I used to be perplexed at how they might have defended such a broad space. 

During the last 2,500 years, the Malian Gulf has silted in due to a neighborhood river, which has triggered the shore to maneuver out. Immediately, the spot is a number of kilometers from the shore.

It’s estimated that the width of the trail that the Greeks defended was about 100 meters, or 300 toes, vast. 

King Leonidas of Sparta agreed to take 300 of his elite royal guard to Thermopylae. Alongside the best way, they’d attempt to recruit as many males as they might to attempt to maintain off the Persians. 

Alongside the best way they recruited about 7,000 extra males, and arrange camp, defending the narrowest a part of the passage. 

After a number of weeks, the Persians lastly arrived. 

For a number of days, they didn’t do something. On the fifth day, Xerxes ordered his males to take the passage.

They first fired an unlimited volley of arrows, however they have been ineffective because of the Greek shields and armor.

He then despatched in 10,000 males on a frontal assault. They have been torn to ribbons by the Greeks. 

The Greeks fought in a formation generally known as a phalanx with their major weapon being a really lengthy spear. With their shields locked, the Greeks may attain the Persians with their spears, and the Persians couldn’t attain the Greeks.

After the primary assault, Xerxes then despatched in his elite Immortal guards, who suffered the identical end result. 

On the second day of the battle, Xerxes figured that the Greeks could be drained and injured, so he simply tried one other frontal assault, and received the identical outcomes. 

Nonetheless, later that day, they have been knowledgeable of a path that went up into the mountain and got here again down on the opposite aspect of the place the Greeks have been defending. The data was given to them by one Ephialtes of Trachis, whose title turned synonymous with treachery and treason thereafter. 

Xerxes despatched his elite items up the trail that night to encircle the Greeks.

The Greeks heard the Persians realized what was taking place. They’d been conscious of the trail. 

They held a conflict council that night and Leonidas mentioned that he and his males would keep to defend the move, and everybody else may retreat. Because the battle was hopeless, they felt that if they might maintain off the Persians lengthy sufficient, the remainder of the Greek forces may get away to struggle once more one other day.  About 2,000 of the 7,000 males stayed behind to struggle.

On day three of the battle, realizing that each one was misplaced, the Greeks, led by the Spartans, superior into the Persians with the objective of taking out as a lot of them as doable, and occupying them for so long as doable.

They fought till their spears broke, then they fought with their swords and their arms. 

They have been completely worn out. 

Ultimately, 2,000 Greeks have been killed in Thermopylae. Nonetheless, they killed over 20,000 Persians within the course of. 

Regardless that it was technically a defeat, the valor and efficiency of the Greeks at Thermopylae was an enormous morale increase to the remainder of Greece. 

Xerxes continued to march into Greece. Athens was evacuated and there was a retreat throughout the Isthmus of Corinth, which was extremely defendable. 

It was then the Athenian navy defeated the Persians within the decisive Battle of Salamis, which gave the Greeks management of the ocean, about one month later.

Xerxes, afraid that the Greeks would destroy his bridge throughout the Hellespont stranding his military, retreated with most of his forces again to Asia. Having misplaced management of the ocean, he was unable to provide his large military, and most of his males died within the retreat from hunger and illness. 

The remaining Persian forces left behind have been defeated the following 12 months within the Battle of Plataea, which ended the Persian invasion of Greece. 

150 years later, the tables could be turned. Philip II of Macedon would conquer Greece, and his son, Alexander the Nice would, in flip, conquer Persia, ending the Persian risk as soon as and for all.

It’s troublesome to emphasize simply how completely different historical past would have turned out if Greece had been conquered by Persia. 

The Battle of Thermopylae has been a centerpiece of western and army historical past because it happened. It has been the topic of poems, books, songs, and films. 

Immediately, over 2,500 years after the occasions happened, the defiant final stand of the Greeks remains to be remembered.


The Affiliate producer of Every thing In every single place Every day is Thor Thomson.

Immediately’s five-star evaluation comes from listener Becky Hickmanover on Apple Podcasts. They write:

Much like Cupboard of Curiosities

I get pleasure from these brief tales on fascinating subjects and about fascinating folks. The one factor I don’t like is the studying of 5-star critiques.

Thanks, Becky. I see what you probably did there. By saying that you just don’t like five-star critiques and placing that right into a five-star evaluation, realizing that I’d learn the five-star evaluation, you tried to create a recursive loop that may trigger the podcast to self-destruct. Luckily, I solely received a slight nostril bleed. 

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