Greco - Persian Wars

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Battle of Thermopylae

The Battle of Thermopylae was a battle that took place in August or September 480 B.C. An alliance of Greek city-states (Athens, Corinth, Sparta, etc.) clashed with the armies of the Persian king Xerxes I. At the same time, the naval battle of Artemisium took place.

Between 492 and 490 BC, the Persians tried to conquer Greece, but failed. The Athenians' victory at the Battle of Marathon ended their feud. So the Persian great king Xerxes decided to launch a new invasion. His ground troops numbered an estimated 100,000 to 200,000. The Greeks had about 7,000 soldiers. The most numerous were the Spartans with 1,200 men and the Thespians with 700 men. But the decision of where the battle would take place was not easy. The Spartans preferred to retreat to the Peloponnese, but Athens didn't like that. The alliance was very fragile and so the decision was made to place the first line of defence at the Thermopylae Gorge, about 120 kilometres from Athens. The fleet was to defend Greece at Artemisium.

The skirmish was ideal because it was only one chariot's width wide, thus eliminating the outnumbered Persians. The defenders were led by the Spartan Le├│nidas, who encamped with his army on the hill at the narrowest point of the gorge, called Colonos.

The conquistadors reached Thermopylae without a fight, for all surrendered to them. The troops encamped at Trachina and waited a few days to see if the Greeks would disgrace themselves and disperse. Then the Persians marched to the gorge, but they immediately saw that it was a great defensive rampart. Nevertheless, an attack was ordered, which the Greeks defended. The next day, they even defended an attack by the Persian "Immortals" (the elite forces of the Achaemenid kings) by having the Greeks feign a retreat, and once the pursuers had dispersed, the army rallied and attacked with overwhelming force. The attack was so strong that the Persians withdrew so as not to lose their best soldiers.

The turning point in the battle came on the third day, when the traitor Ephialtes (of Malida) told the Persians that there was a trail over the gorge through the Kallidromos Mountains, which they could use to get to the other side and stab the defenders in the back. So the Immortals, led by their commander Hydarn, set out on their journey. Here they defeated the defenders and prepared to attack the gorge. Le├│nidas sent most of his army on the run at the last moment, and remained alone with about a thousand soldiers to delay the Persian advance. He himself perished, as did his warriors. But they managed to kill about 20,000 Persians, including two of Xerxes' brothers.

With this victory, the Persians were able to take the abandoned Athens. In addition, their fleet drove the Greeks to the island of Salamis. However, the Greeks' military successes against the much more numerous Persians gave them confidence that they were superior to their conquerors and could defeat them. This was reflected in the famous battle of Salamis, where the Persians were defeated.