Historical Significance of The Battle of Thermopylae

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9 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2019

Words: 1708|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2019

The Battle of Thermopylae was an attack on Greece that arose as a result of Athens involvement in the Ionian revolt. In 499 B.C. King Cyrus II tamed the Persian tribes and conquered Lydia and parts of Ionia but the Ionians made up of Greek tyrants rebelled against Persia which led to its invasion (Warren Hollister, 103). In an attempt to hold off the Persian attack, Ionia enlists the aid of Athens and persuaded them to send twenty ships to fight against the Persians. The Persian army then led by Darius I, Cyrus’ grandson, had the advantage over the Greeks and by 494 B.C. the Greeks took to battle the Persians at Marathon (Warren Hollister, 104). The decisive result would see the Athenians defeat the army of Darius I; this defeat prompted Darius to plan a new attack against Greece but the task fell to his heir Xerxes. Here we see previous wars fought between these nations with Greece claiming an early victory which would later dictate the rise of a second attack on Greece in what became the Battle of Thermopylae. In this situation Greek provoked the Persians to attack them by their involvement in the revolt which sparked rage from the Persian King Xerxes, who swore to take revenge on the Greeks.

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This period 490- 479 B.C. was the beginning of the Persian wars and marked the first battle between the Persians and the Greeks. Xerxes by 480 B.C. had galvanized his army of about 180,000 to lay siege on Athens. In the wake of the news that Xerxes plans to attack Athens, the greeks under the command of Themistocles prepare for battle. Meanwhile, Xerxes was making his march towards Athens taking advantage of the Greek’s discord and forming alliances with “opportunistic Greek cities such as Argos and Thebes” (Warren Hollister, 104-105). Sparta established a regional defensive alliance, the Peloponnesian League which consisted of Sparta, Athens and Corinth (Warren Hollister, 105). One of the best moves made by Greeks was forming an alliance to further improve upon their numbers. As Xerxes marched through northern Greece heading southwards, an army of 300 Spartans and 6000 Greek hoplites (soldiers) placed itself across a narrow path at Thermopylae, so slender between the sea and mountain ready for face a Persian army of 200,000 fighting men ( In this situation the Greeks were far outnumbered, in an attempt to even the field they chose the best place to confront the Greeks, a narrow path that only lay between the rocky mountains and deadly sea. This made it difficult for the Persians to attack with their full infantry as they faced dying by the hands of the Spartans or plummeting into the sea. On the morning of September 480, the Persians launched the first attack on the Spartans by sending the Medes and Cissians. The Persians wicker shield were no match for the Spartans armour, Bronze helmet, spear and sword. The strength of the Greek army lay in their formation (phalanx); the Persians advanced on the Spartans. Spartans held strong using their shield to hold off the surge before carving through the Persian army (Rawlinson). The Spartans used short swords in close combat slaughtering the Persians in large numbers while incurring minor losses of their own; acknowledging the weakness in his infantry, he sent in his elite force, the “immortals” to speedily end the fight but as he watched on he sprung to his feet in terror at the sight of the Greeks overpowering his army. The Greeks adopted a strategy to suit their environment by forming a firm formation of men in rows. The first row consisted of Spartans with shields to block the personnels behind them whom were equipped with spears, as the shields protect the rank, the Persians were hit with the spears. Xerxes was handed a life-line when a trader, Ephialtes revealed a secret way around the path which Xerxes deployed his “Immortals” to take by nightfall and sneak up on the Spartans (Rawlinson). Leonidas holds a conference to plan his final strategy. Knowing he would not win this fight he ordered the rest of the Greek army to retreat while he maintained an army of Thebans and Thespians with his Spartans to fight against the Persians (Rawlinson). In the final stand, the Spartans fought bravely against the Persians killing the brothers of Xerxes and when their weapons were destroyed, the Greeks took on massive losses; Leonidas and his men were surrounded by the Persians and killed with volleys of arrows. Although the Spartans were professional warriors, their success on the field was determined by their formation; if they broke that formation gaps appeared in their defence and due to the compact nature of Thermopylae an attack from the rear would enclose them in a circle of enemy fire which forced them into a corner that led to their demise.

After the Persian attack on Athens, there arose a new military power in Macedon led by King Philip II. His victory over Greece at Chaeronea brought about its unity under his command in 338 B.C. In his final months before his assassination in 336 B.C., Philip II had been developing an attack against the Persian Empire in an attempt to chastise the persians for their attack on Greece (Warren Hollister, 147). At the age of twenty Alexander succeeded his father as King of Macedon and under his control nullified any revolt in Greece; his chief influence was his mother Olympias, Philip II and Aristotle (Hollister, 148). Alexander had one mission which was to conquer Asia. Similar to the Greeks, Macedon had earned previous victories against the Persians but the motive for Alexanders attack on Persia wasn’t purely revenge rather a desire for power. Alexander sets off for conquest in 334 B.C. crossing the hellespont with 30,000 infantry and 5000 cavalry heading northwards where he confronted the Persian army led by Memnon and defeated them in what was the Battle of River Granicus, May 334 B.C. (Porter). This brought the knowledge of Alexander to the Persian King Darius III who underestimated the young King’s strength; this would prove to be fatal as Alexander would yet again defeat the Persian army on November 333 B.C. at Issus capturing King Darius’ family in the process (Wasson). Alexander set forth to liberate all the territories captured by the Persians which included the city island of Tyre in August 332 B.C. (Porter). In an attempt to secure the release of his family, King Darius III sends a messenger to deliver a peace treaty to Alexander offering up a part of his empire west of the Euphrates and his daughters hand in marriage to which Alexander refuses, challenging Darius III to fight for his throne; during this period King Darius III retreated to Babylon to prepare an army to take on Alexander (Wasson). King Darius III planned to meet Alexander in open combat at a village called Gaugamela.

King Darius III galvanized an army of 250,000 men along with 15 Elephants and 200 chariots; the plain of Gaugamela had a wider plain and permitted the use of his chariot and cavalry to his advantage. Alexander sets camp 4 miles from Darius’ army with an estimated number of 40,000 men; in fear of the large number of military force, Parmenion, Alexander’s right hand man, advised the young Alexander to attack the Persians at night to which Alexander refuses (Wasson). Alexander has the brave characteristics of Leonidas in sense that he would neither retreat nor seize victory easily. On the morning of July 331 B.C. Alexander leads his men into battle; Alexander and his companions took on the right side while Parmenion took up the left side and placed a well-trained group of Macedonian archers and phalanx in the middle. On each side of the flanks he strategically placed an infantry to guard against any attack from the Persians (Wasson). Alexander fortified a group of 16 men in a phalanx with spears 16 feet long to give them strength in attack (Porter). Alexanders formation sits closely with that of Leonidas but with a few modifications; while Leonidas left his infantry unguarded on each side because of the compactness of the mountain, Alexander had enough space on the wide plain of Gaugamela to provide cover for his warriors whom he positioned in the center of attack. As the battle began Alexander immediately moved adjacently to the Persian army led by Bessus and engaged them on the right; seeing an opportunity, Darius sends his chariots and elephants to charge through the middle of the Macedonian army which fails to deliver the desired effect because the Macedonian phalanx cleared a path for the chariots to pass through trapping them in a wall of spears as the elephants caused little damage to the formation (Porter). Alexander’s men overpowered the Persian army. This victory secured all of Persia and earned Alexander the title ‘Alexander the Great’ (Porter). The wide plains allowed for flexibility in the Macedonian formation. This proved to be decisive as it gave the Macedonian army room to enclose their enemy in tight combat and evade the chariots that was employed by Darius. Alexander employed an improved formation to conquer the Persian army in open battle securing victory for Macedon

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Akhenaten vs Plato: During the rule of Akhenaten, Egypt was noted for its polytheistic religion of worshipping several gods (Hollister, 44). He was a religious ruler who held the belief of a single creator Aten (the sun god) through whom all that is was created. He shared the common belief with all Egyptians of Life after death. Akhenaten didn’t consider the possibility of a life before like Plato. Plato was a rational person who made sense of the world through rational thinking. Plato believed that men were born with preexisting knowledge from his previous life (Hollister, 128). Akhenaten would support Plato’s belief that the soul was incapable of dying but seems to go through an endless cycle of rebirth, re-emerging in a different body (Hollister). Plato’s belief was supported by his ability to think critically while Akhenatens belief had no physical evidence to draw upon. Plato’s ability to reason would place him in the same position with Akhenaten as they both challenged the traditional norm of their time period.

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Historical Significance of the Battle of Thermopylae. (2019, September 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
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