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Category Archives: Military History

Mark Antony: Make Love And War

by October 8, 2013

 

by Cam Rea

Once the dust cleared at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE, the victor Mark Antony went on a tour of his newly acquired eastern provinces. Aside from sightseeing, Antony wanted to collect new found taxes. Essentially, he needed money and lots of it… Unfortunately, Cassius and Brutus, though defeated, had already depleted the wealth of Asia through previous fundraising of their own, leaving Antony with only the scraps.

During his confiscation tour, Antony made it clear to all of Asia that those who aided Cassius and Brutus in their campaign were to be heavily taxed. Political punishment, no doubt.

Bust of Mark AntonyAntony states: “For what you contributed to our enemies in two years (and you gave them the taxes of ten years in that time) will be quite sufficient for us; but it must be paid in one year, because we are pressed by necessity.”

The Greeks after hearing this news “threw themselves upon the ground,” pleading with Antony to understand that they did not contribute willingly but were forced to give much more than just money.

After hearing their plea, Antony conceded – sort of. He presented a new deal in which his subjects should pay only “nine years’ taxes, payable in two years. It was ordered that the kings, princes, and free cities should make additional contributions according to their means, respectively.”

Antony then made sure his provinces throughout Asia “ponied up” the capital by appointing agents (with the kind help of soldiers) to collect the taxes by threat of force.

The purpose of the double tax was not only to pay his men and resupply the ranks, but also to fund his up and coming campaigns.

Therefore, Antony needed a lot of cash – but it seems he might not have been able to get it all.

According to Plutarch, the amount of money that is said to have extracted from Antony’s new subjects was supposedly 200,000 talents. And while we can’t be certain, it seems to us this may be an exaggeration, because if Antony had indeed retrieved that immense sum, or even a portion of it, then why did he go looking for additional funds elsewhere?

CleopatraIt is here that famously beautiful Cleopatra, and her immensely attractive wealth, comes into play.

In 41 BCE, Antony summoned the Egyptian queen to meet with him in Cilicia to answer the charges made against her for funding Cassius during the war. Antony knew full well that Cleopatra had actually stayed out of the war but had the financial means to assist his own future expedition against Parthia. This was a nice move by a broke man.

However, Cleopatra was no ordinary woman and not so easily controlled. She decided to ignore Antony and his messenger’s request. Instead, she made them beg for her.

Eventually she agreed to meet with him, sailing to Antony in extreme opulence. Whatever charges were made against her were quickly forgotten due to her luxurious entrance into Tarsus.

At first, the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra was merely political, but with time Antony fell prey to the radiant royal. He began to spend quite lavishly to win her over, and once won, the Roman general quickly started to forgo his duties.

In a nutshell, Antony was lust struck and consequently decided to go back with Cleopatra to Alexandria. But this Roman hadn’t lost all his wits yet – because even though he was mesmerized by Cleopatra’s supposed beauty and charm, he acquired what he needed badly, capital.

Before Antony departed for Alexandria, however, he had some unfinished business in Syria which he needed to attend to. He had to appoint a new governor (who would be Lucius Decidius Saxa) and relocate two defeated republican legions.

But it was while he was there in Syria that Antony unintentionally rekindled the conflict between Rome and Parthia… and it started with a cavalry raid.

Palmyra, SyriaSee, Antony ordered his cavalry to raid the wealthy city of Palmyra, Syria, as well as to press charges upon the population for not choosing a side. They had been independent and remained neutral when it came to international disputes, wisely due to being primarily a frontier city of merchants that sold foreign goods. Antony didn’t know whether they were with him or Cassius/Brutus and therefore should be punished.

Consequently, word reached the city that a raid was to be expected. The inhabitants of Palmyra smartly gathered their belongings and moved across the Euphrates River and into Parthian territory. Once safely across, they set up a defensive position on the bank.

When the Roman cavalry inevitably entered the city of Palmyra, they found nothing and returned to Antony with as much. Despite, or perhaps because, the cavalry came back empty handed, Antony decided to impose severe taxes on all the Syrians.

This heavy tax burden, along with the failed Palmyra raid, caused a wave of Syrian refugees to seek asylum in Parthia. Once there, the Syrian tribal leaders pleaded their case against the Romans before King Orodes.

Cleopatra paintingMeanwhile, Antony was oblivious to the situation he had created, instead taking further steps to divide his army for the winter. The Roman politician had no time for the Syrian outcry over the tax raises, he was ready to leave to be with his Cleopatra in the winter of 41 BCE.

Enter General Quintus Labienus. A previous supporter of Cassius and Brutus, this Roman republican fled to Parthia after the infamous defeat in the Battle of Philippi.

It was at this time when Labienus, still living among the Parthians, spoke to King Orodes. Word had reached him that Antony had left, and so Labienus informed Orodes that the Roman forces “were either destroyed utterly or impaired.” While the information Labienus received was partially accurate, there was one tidbit that proved correct, that the “remainder of the troops were in a state of mutiny and would again be at war.”

Labienus knew that the two defeated republican legions Antony had placed in Syria would possibly switch to get revenge if the Parthians were to invade and show support.

Furthermore, if Orodes agreed and mobilized his forces, the objective of the campaign would not be a massive raid, but to subjugate Syria and adjoining provinces of interest. Additionally, Labienus persuaded Orodes to allow him to take personal responsibility in leading the Parthian forces.

Finally Labienus requested that he be allowed, if everything went well in Syria, to help free the various provinces in opposition towards Roman rule.

Orodes agreed. The Parthian king entrusted Labienus with his son, Prince Pacorus, along with a large Parthian force.

And so, while Antony played lover to Cleopatra in Alexandria during the winter of 41-40 BCE, the Parthians began to mobilize their forces. Of course it would take time – but they would be ready to set off and ruin Mark Antony by springtime…

To be continued…

 

“Mark Antony: Make Love and War” was written by Cam Rea

The Rise of Themistocles (Part 3)

by June 25, 2013

Click the links to read “The Rise of Themistocles” part 1 and part 2 

Themistocles quoteBy 480 BCE, the  Athenian general and statesman, Themistocles, had eliminated his political opponents and had been squarely planted as the most influential man in Athens. Rising through the political ranks of a young democratic city, Themistocles had taken great strides to prepare his country for war against the imminent Persian invasion. With coordination from the other prominent city-states of Greece, an alliance had been formed against the Persians, with the Athenian navy constituting the majority of the alliance’s naval power.

Although Themistocles had taken great strides to build the Athenian navy, he was never officially put in charge of commanding the naval forces. It was the Spartan commander Eurybiades who would eventually be confirmed as the leader. The Athenian soldiers were hesitant to submit to a Spartan commander, especially when Sparta contributed so few naval ships. However, Themistocles convinced his countrymen to put aside their doubts and follow the command of Eurybiades. This act of humility and wisdom would allow the naval vessels to unite, which would be necessary if the Greeks were to stand a chance against Xerxes and the numerous Persian ships.

leonidas

Leonidas at Thermopylae
by. Jacques-Louis David

The original strategy devised by the Greek allies was to block the Persian advance at the vale of Tempe on the border of Thessaly. However it quickly became apparent that the Greeks would be easily outmaneuvered if they took up a position there. It was proposed by Themistocles that the Greeks halt the Persian advance by taking position at the narrow strait of Thermopylae .

Ground soldiers, including Leonidas and the famous 300 Spartans, would block the advance of the Persian army by land, while Themistocles would maneuver the Greek navy into the strait of Artemisium to block the Persian ships by sea. However, in order for this tactic to be successful, Themistocles knew he would need the full power of the Athenian navy. He would have to have every able bodied man on a warship. Athens would be left defenseless.

Acropolis

Themistocles feared that Athens might fall to the invaders

It is not known exactly how Themistocles convinced Athens to deplete the city of its warriors, what stirring words he must have conjured to allow his city-state to hand itself over to his ambitions. All we know is that Athens would narrowly approve Themistocles’ measure. Athens would prepare all of its forces for war, leaving the city unprotected. There was no turning back; the future of Greece was now lay in the hands of Themistocles.

By August of 480 BCE the Persian army was swiftly approaching Thessaly. The allied navy sailed to Artemisium while the  hoplites made their stand at Thermopylae. It is said that once the Spartan naval commander Eurybiades saw the size of the Persian navy he quickly proposed to retreat, assuming that the enemy was unassailable. The locals, fearing that if the Greeks retreated they would be left to suffer the wrath of the Persians, offered a bribe to Themistocles. Themistocles shared the riches with Eurybiades and convinced him to stay and engage the Persian fleet.

The allied fleet fought bravely. However they were greatly outnumbered by the immense Persian Navy. Plutarch writes about the encounter:

“There the sons of Athens set

The stone that freedom stands on yet.”

“With numerous tribes from Asia’s region brought

The sons of Athens on these waters fought;

Erecting, after they had quelled the Mede,

To Artemis this record of the deed.”   -Plutarch, from “Themistocles”

navy

the allies lost many lives at the battle of Artemisium

The bloody encounter took many lives. The allies especially lost numerous ships. It was then that word reach Themistocles that Leonidas and the soldiers of Thermopylae had fallen. The land pass to Greece was now available to the Persians. Themistocles and Eurybiades ordered a retreat. The Persians continued to advance, the Greeks needed a new strategy.

While the battle of Artemisium had been costly for the allies, it had granted Themistocles a new insight on how to wage war. The Persians had a larger navy, yes. However they only took full advantage of this when they were allowed vast, open water in which to wage war. If their ships were forced into close combat with the Athenians, then there might be a chance for Themistocles and the Greeks. However, if this were to work Themistocles would need to act quickly, the Persians were advancing.

With a passage into Greece, Xerxes and the Persian army intended to march to Athens to overrun the city. An evacuation was ordered and all the citizens abandoned their homes to flee from the incoming invaders. Plutarch describes the evacuation of Athens:

“When the whole city of Athens were going on board, it afforded a spectacle worthy alike of pity and admiration, to see them thus send away their fathers and children before them, and, unmoved with their cries and tears, passed over into the island.” -Plutarch, from “Themistocles”

While the Persians army took the city of Athens, the Athenian ships were harbored in the gulf of Corinth near the island of Salamis. It was at this time of peril that Themistocles did something rather remarkable. He called for the return of his political rival Aristides, who had been banished from Athens not long before. With his former enemy now at his side, Themistocles devised a plan to strike a blow to the Persians.

xerxes salamis

Xerxes believes his navy unstoppable, he watches the battle of Salamis

Themistocles sent a messenger to Xerxes. This messenger told the Persian commander that the Greeks were harbored in the isthmus of Corinth and that they intended to flea. The messenger told Xerxes that he could crush the Greek navy if he would only pursue them into the narrow strait. Xerxes was pleased to hear this news and gave immediate orders for a small group of his ships to block all straits and passageways that might allow the Greeks to escape.

battle of salamis

Themistocles was able to lead the Persians into a trap

As soon as day broke Xerxes placed his throne of gold high above the straits so that he might witness a great victory by his warships. The Persian navy sailed into the narrow straits off the coast of the island of Salamis. They expected to find a scattered allied navy intending to flee. Instead they were greeted with the full force of the Greek warships ready to do battle. Themistocles had led Xerxes to believe that the Allies were weak. The overconfidence of Xerxes allowed himself to lead his massive army into a crowded isthmus where the Greeks were waiting to do battle.

The allies had achieve a strategic advantage over the Persians. The enemy fleet was large and cumbersome. Their ships were hard to navigate in the narrow passageway. The allied ships were small and maneuverable, they were able to attack the Persian ships before they even had an opportunity to respond.

The battle was won decisively by the allies and the Persian fleet retreated. Xerxes had been defeated.

The Persians would retreat and Xerxes himself would return to Asia, leaving his generals in charge to finish the conquest. The Athenians returned to Athens and began to rebuild. The immediate threat of the Persians had been squashed. Themistocles had saved his homeland, he had protected Greece in its time of need.

 

The Rise of Themistocles (part 2)

by June 22, 2013

In a previous article we discussed one of Greece’s most notable and successful general and statesman. It was none other than, Themistocles, who from early on seemed bound for great deeds. During the time of early democracy in Athens he appealed to the average citizen and consequentially wielded great influence in Athenian politics. As one of the first great Athenian politicians, he had several ambitions for his city and for Greece.

Atheniannavy

The warships of ancient Athens

Themistocles was a continual supporter of the Athenian navy. It was his belief that the future warfare of Greece would rely heavily on naval power and Themistocles was determined to wield the greatest navy in all of Greece. In 483 BCE large silver deposits were found in a nearby Athenian mine and Themistocles used this as an opportunity to create his navy. He proposed that the silver be used to build 200 Athenian war ships known as triremes.

To Themistocles, this was the destiny of Athens. However, not everyone agreed.

Aristides would often be remembered as Themistocles’ greatest rival. A man born into moderate fortune, he often sided with the aristocracy of ancient Athens. He first gained attention with his decisive leadership as a General at the battle of Marathon. He entered politics around the same time as Themistocles and gained a reputation as being fair, honest, and genuinely concerned with the well being of Athens. He was given the nickname “The Just” and was called by Herodotus as being:

“the best and most honourable man in Athens”- Herodotus, Histories

Aristides was seen as being starkly contrasted to Themistocles. He was considered a man of humility which was rather different from Themistocles, who reveled in personal luxuries and political advancement. Additionally, Aristides looked to maintain a conservative policy and took the stance that Athens should strive to become a land based military power. This went directly against Themistocles’ dream of building a formidable navy; it was an obstacle that Themistocles would be forced to confront.

The tension between Themistocles and Aristides would come to a head in 482 BCE. A rather unique part of Athenian democracy was that the citizens would be allowed to regularly vote to exile a politician of their choosing. The citizens would be told to write the name of a politician on a shard of pottery, and whichever politician received the most votes for exile would be ostracized from Athens for 10 years.

aristides pottery

Piece of pottery with the name “Aristides” written

This was done as a check to ensure that wealthy or influential families did not overpower the needs of the citizens. However the rivalry between Themistocles and Aristides was so prominent that the vote of exile essentialy came down to one of the two politicians.

The story goes that an illiterate citizen approached Aristides during the vote for exile. Not knowing who Aristides was, the man asked the politician to write on the shard the name “Aristides”. Aristides asked the man if the politician had ever wronged him. The man is said to have replied:

 “I don’t even know him, but it irritates me to hear everybody call him ‘the just'”.

Aristides then wrote his own name on the shard.

Themistocles’ rival was banished from Athens. With no more decisive political opponents blocking him, Themistocles was allowed the opportunity to build his navy. The Athenians were very aware of the imminent Persian invasion and even voted to build more war ships than Themistocles had originally asked for. Athens was now the dominant naval power in all of Greece, and with the Persians growing ever bolder to invade, preparations had to be made.

In 481 BCE, a congress of 30 Greek city-states met to discuss an alliance. All of Greece was in danger of the massive Persian army, which led to a swift agreement among the Greek leaders to band together. At the forefront of this alliance was Athens and Sparta, the cities with the largest navy and land army, respectively. With all the Greek city-states banded together and no political opponents to oppose him, Themistocles became the most powerful man in Athens.

The invasion was coming and Themistocles would be ready.

continue reading here

 

The Rise of Themistocles (Part 1)

by June 20, 2013

Themistocles

The Athenian General Themistocles

While the Greco-Persian wars have remained a topic of sincere interest for those of us who study the ancients, it can be said that an undo amount of attention has been paid to particular engagements… while the rest of history has remained obscure. The Spartans and their heroic stand at Thermopylae captured the imagination of modern society and spawned several recreations in popular media. The Spartans were lucky enough to have two films and a graphic novel created in their honor, even if they did have to prance around in leather speedos.

However, perhaps we should also remember what happened after Thermopylae. The Persian invaders certainly didn’t throw down their weapons and send 100,000 men home. In fact, they continued their march through Greece, perhaps stepping gingerly over the fresh corpses of Leonidas and his men. And if it weren’t for the steeled determination of the Greeks to repel the invaders, they might have conquered the entire known world.

At the front of the Greek forces was one Athenian general who had risen from poverty to power. It can be said that ancient Greece owed much thanks to the brave Themistocles.

The Greek historian Herodotus as well as the Roman essayist, Plutarch, wrote extensively about the life and achievements of Themistocles. The first interesting thing about Themistocles was that he was not born into wealth. Themistocles was the son of Neocles, a very obscure Athenian citizen of modest means. His mother was believed to have been an immigrant, and not much else is really known about the early life of Themistocles. However Plutarch tells that he grew up as an outsider, living in an immigrant district of Athens, never really being accepted by the other Athenian children.

It was claimed by Plutarch that he was a voracious learner. While other children were playing, Themistocles committed himself to his studies and training. As a child, he was so intent on improving himself that his teachers would regularly tell him:

“You, my boy, will be nothing insignificant, but great one way or another, either for good or for evil.”                -Plutarch, from “Themistocles”

Themistocles grew up during a time of societal upheaval in ancient Athens. There had previously been several years of unstable rule by various leaders including the tyrant Peisistratos, who died in 527 BCE. After several failed rulers, Athens eventually resorted to a new form of government, one where the power would be invested in the people. It was the beginning of democracy, and Themistocles was poised to be its first great politician.

Themistocles gained popularity in Athens by painting himself as a man of the people. He campaigned in the streets of Athens the way nobody had ever done before. He toured the taverns and docks and met with the underprivileged citizens who had now been granted the right to vote for their leader. Themistocles took care to remember people’s names and he courted and took interest in the commoners. And for this, they loved him. The modern historian Tom Holland, writes about Themistocles in his book Persian Fire:

“he wooed the poor; and they, not used to being courted, duly loved him back. Touring the taverns, the markets, the docks, canvassing where no politician had thought to canvas before, making sure never to forget a single voter’s name, Themistocles had set his eyes on a radical new constituency” -Tom Holland, Persian Fire

The popularity of Themistocles would grant him great influence in the new democratic Athens. By the time he was 30 he was elected Archon Eponymous, the highest government office in Athens. He would use his political influence to pursue his goal of expanding the Athenian navy. In addition to being a brilliant speaker, politician and statesman, Themistocles also possessed the gift of foresight. A second Persian invasion was imminent, and Themistocles was determined to be prepared.

continue reading here

 

 

Lagash and the Too Fertile Valley

by April 22, 2013

Tigris and Euphrates River

Tigris and Euphrates River

Between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lies a land known as Mesopotamia. It was here that men found suitable terrain, which they proceeded to pierce, rip, and seed. Once these seeds took root, civilization was born.

Unlike pastoral societies that roam around looking for food, agriculturalists sought unity by teaming together, settling in one spot, and growing their food. In doing so, they created a village, a society of their own. However, it takes more than farming to create a state.

After a few generations, people slowly began to build upon their knowledge of agriculture, animal husbandry, and writing. With these new found skills, plus many more, the villages gained a greater sense of the self. Such awareness allowed for the creation of law, trade, private property, social interest, internal order and identification. This development enabled the Mesopotamian villages that dotted the landscape to evolve into a series of city-states.

The Sumerians were the first to carve out a civilization in Mesopotamia. By the third millennium BCE, the land of Sumer consisted of a dozen or more of these city-states. They were walled, but still surrounded by suburban villages and hamlets.

In addition, the city-states of Sumer were centralized. Their centrally controlled society needed an administration to conduct the day-to-day redistribution of resources and to direct all social activity.

Lagash, like other city-states of its time, shared control over resources and social activities between the palace and the temple. The temple oversaw a great amount of land and exerted a powerful influence over the inhabitants. Meanwhile, the palace authority controlled as much, if not more, land than the temple. This arrangement was fine until later on, when the palace wielded an even greater command over the people. In doing so, the king was able to amalgamate the palace with the temple, in which the king saw himself as god’s own representative on earth.

If god chooses the king, then logically the temple must obey. However, this settlement does not mean there would never be strife again between the palace and temple authorities. So long as they existed side by side, the ambition to control and hold a monopoly over the other’s institution was desirable, especially if one wishes to control the masses. The divinity of the king, therefore, placed the temple in a predicament.

Eannatum in Lagash

Map of the region

The power struggle in Lagash was even more enticing when one contemplates what was at stake. The city was located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of the city Uruk. Lagash was a fertile area, with irrigation canals feeding its farms via the Shatt al-Gharraf channel that filtered from the famous waters.

Consequently, Lagash grew bountiful crops and its location made it a prime economic powerhouse. Its convenient waterways were instrumental for commerce. For a substantial period, commercial competition between Lagash and the other city-states was healthy. There comes a time, however, when hostility rises and the need to settle disputes requires war.

Sculpture of Eannatum

Sculpture of Eannatum

Enter Eannatum, King of Lagash (c. 2455-2425 BCE), who established the first Mesopotamian empire in history through constant warring. But how did Eannatum achieve this, how did he create the first verifiable empire in history?

Eannatum, son of King Akurgal of Lagash, ascended the throne after his father got into a bit of a squabble with his northwestern neighbors, the city-state of Umma. Eannatum’s spat with Umma would lead him on a quest for dominance in the region… which would ultimately ruin his empire.

 

Tune in Next Week to see how Eannatum conquers the fertile crescent and builds the first empire.

“Lagash and the Too Fertile Valley” was written By Cam Rea

Cam Rea has a BA and MA in Military History. He recently published “March of the Scythians: From Sargon II to the Fall of Nineveh.” In addition, he is an ancient history junky and a Teaching Assistant at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

You can also grab the book on kindle HERE.

Thermopylae: Battle in the Shade

by April 17, 2013

The year was 480 BC and the Battle of Thermopylae was about to commence. King Leonidas I was dispatched from Sparta with only his royal bodyguard of 300 men to help him stop the oncoming Persian invasion, led by Xerxes I.

Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae

Leonidas at Thermopylae, by Jacques Louis David, 1814. This is a juxtaposition of various historical and legendary elements from the Battle of Thermopylae.

Fortunately Leonidas was not entirely alone. He was able to procure more soldiers: an additional number of support troops, including 1,000 Phocians, drawn from other parts of Lacedaemon. He was also able to reinforce his army en route, taking contingents from cities as he passed through. Eventually, he amassed around 7,000 men to block the pass at Thermopylae.

When he arrived, Leonidas camped out at the ‘middle gate’, the narrowest section of the pass. Unfortunately, news arrived from Trachis, the local town, that there was, in fact, a mountain track. It wasn’t large, but it could be used to outflank the Greeks, and therefore destroy their strategy. Leonidas quickly sent the Phocians troops to protect the spot.

Finally, in mid-August the Persian army was spotted. But how many men were the Peloponnesians and their allies up against?

The most fascinating aspect about the Battle of Thermopylae is the numbers, yet the actual figures are highly contended. The first writer to throw in his hat was Herodotus… and his calculations were some of the most amazing of them all.

The ‘Father of History’ described the scene as 6,100 Greeks, including 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans in comparison to an impressive 5.2 million Persians. Simonides, a near contemporary poet, estimated 4 million in Xerxes’ army. Modern scholars, however, say these figures were exaggerations, but still consider at least 70,000 to 300,000 in the invading forces.

Either way, the Greeks were clearly outnumbered.

At this time, Xerxes sent an emissary to negotiate with Leonidas. Their terms were that if the Greeks got out of their way, they would be offered their freedom and the title of “Friends of the Persian People”. In addition, they would be given land which was considered even better than what they already had.

Leonidas refused completely.

The ambassador then, more forcefully, demanded that the Greek troops lay down their arms.

Leonidas, once again refused. He only replied: “Come and take them”.

A messenger was then sent to Leonidas’ general, reporting the refusal and threatening, “Our arrows will block out the sun”.

Leonidas’ general retorted, “Then we shall have our battle in the shade!”

War was inevitable.

Xerxes waited four days for the opposing troops to disperse, and when they didn’t, they began to attack.

First Xerxes ordered 5,000 archers to fire a barrage of arrows at the Greeks, but their bronze helmets and shields deflected the attack. No real damage was done. Then Xerxes sent a force of 10,000 men which soon turned into a full frontal assault.

Meanwhile, Leonidas’ army stayed at the smallest section of the pass and spanned the opening with a standard Greek phalanx. They stood shoulder to shoulder to create a wall of overlapping shields, with their spear points dangerously protruding outwards. He rotated different units from each city to prevent battle fatigue. They also used a tactic where they would feign retreat, then turn and kill the soldiers as they tried to run after them.

Greek Phalanx

Greek phalanx formation based on sources from the Perseus Project.

The Persians, with their inferior weaponry, were not able to effectively engage the Greek soldiers. It was said that Xerxes jumped out of his seat three times as he watched his men get slaughtered. According to Ctesias, this first wave only resulted in two or three Spartans dead.

For his second assault on the same day, Xerxes sent in his elite forces, ‘the immortals’ to do what his previous men could not. Unfortunately for the Persians, ‘the immortals’ fared no better. The Spartans were just that good.

On the second day of battle, Xerxes sent his infantry, supposing that the much smaller Greek army would be weakened, tired and at least a little wounded from yesterday’s onslaught. However, once again Leonidas’ men triumphed, and Xerxes at last deceased the assault. He returned to camp, “completely perplexed”.

It was then that Xerxes received his first bit of good news.

The 'Immortals'

Depiction of Persian warriors, most likely the Immortals.

While thinking of what to do next, a Trachinian traitor named Ephialtes (a name which became synonymous with the word ‘nightmare’), told Xerxes of the secret mountain pass. Moreover, he promised to lead the army there. Xerxes immediately sent the rest of his dear ‘immortals’ to check it out.

It was now the third day, at dawn, when the Persian forces surprised the Phocians who were meant to be guarding the mountain track. Unprepared, the Phocians began to retreat when Xerxes’ men bombarded them with arrows. They marched past the wounded Phocians with the goal of encircling the Greek army.

Leonidas’ mission was now doomed.

The Spartan king heard the unfortunate news from a runner and called for a council of war. Leonidas told them that he would not leave, but most of his contingents decided otherwise. All Leonidas had left was his own 300 royal bodyguards, 400 Thebans, as well as 700 Thespians. The Thespian general, Demophilus, refused to desert, but instead choose to fight to the death. This was all the more incredible, as the 700 men were all the hoplites the city could muster.

And so on the third day, the battle came to an end. Xerxes waited just long enough for his ‘immortals’ to descend the other side of the mountain, and then poured 10,000 men into the fight. The few remaining Greeks left their position at the wall in attempt to kill as many Persians as possible.

Many great men fell, including Leonidas who was brought down by archers. The two sides fought over his body, but eventually the Greeks were able to get possession. The dwindling army fought with their spears, until they were all shattered. Then they battled with their short swords. Eventually, according to Herodotus, “they defended themselves to the last, those who still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth”.

Location of the Battle of Thermopylae

The site of the battle today:
the road to the right is built on reclaimed land
and approximates the 480 BC shoreline.

Finally, the very last defenders were surrounded, and died under a rain storm of arrows. In 1939, a large numbers of Persian bronze arrowheads were excavated on the spot.

Xerxes’ army won the battle of Thermopylae, with the estimated loss of 20,000 men. The Greek rearguard, however, suffered in total around 2,000 deaths over the course of the three day battle.

Many have asked, why the self-sacrifice? Why did those remaining Greek soldiers stay, and not depart with the others?

Of course no one can know for sure, but one favorable interpretation is that it was a clever tactic by Leonidas. If all the contingents had stayed, then everyone would have been killed. Likewise, if they all left, the Persians would have been able to follow after them and finish the Greek army. Only with a small group of valiant warriors could they protect the Greek retreaters, who would live to fight another day.

And so, the battle of Thermopylae was decided… but the war was yet to end.

You can read more of the Prelude to the Battle of Thermopylae Here: http://classicalwisdom.com/battle-of-thermopylae

Thermopylae The Battle in the Shade” was written by Anya Leonard