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Posted on Oct 27, 2004 in War College

King Leonidas & the Spartans

By Steven McWilliams

Leonidas, with a force of 7000, most of them helots, defended the pass at Thermopylae, allowing the other troops more time to prepare. Xerxes marched on, arrogantly, not believing so small a force would oppose him. Leonidas knew, though, that the pass was so narrow that Persian numbers would be negated. For two days, Leonidas and the Spartans blocked the pass, inflicting grievous losses on the tributary forces of Xerxes. On the third day, Ephialtes (a Malian), led the Persian general Hydarnes through a little known pass, emerging at the rear of Leonidas’ forces. Leonidas sent the bulk of his forces to this new threat, retaining 300 Spartans, 700 Thesprotians and 400 Thebans. It is thought that perhaps Leonidas meant to
encircle Hydarnes. If so, he failed and his troops were cut down, with the exceptions of the Thebans, who are said to have surrendered. Though his troops tried to retrieve his body, but it was retrieved by the Persians, and was allegedly beheaded and descrated by Xerxes.


Leonidas and his gallant forces are remembered by this epitaph left at Thermopylae:

“O xein’, angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti täde/
keimetha tois keinon rhämasi peithomenoi”

“Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
that here, obedient to their laws we lie”

Leonidas Monument

A replica of a temple (5th century B.C.) . This monument of Leonidas contains the bones of the hero of Thermopylai.

Watch for the next ‘Command & Leadership’ article which will focus on Vietnam’s master strategist, Vo Nguyen Giap.

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