King of Sparta, Warrior (c540 BC – 480 BC)
No one in world history provided such act of courage, love of honor, and philopatry than that of king Leonidas and his 300 Spartans in the legendary Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.
Born around 540 BC, Leonidas I became warrior-king of city-state Sparta. In 480 BC, during the second Persian invasion, he led against all odds 300 Spartans and no more than 7000 allies against Xerxes’ army of 2.5 million in Thermopylae, according to Herodotus. For seven days, the army fought against a massive Persian army, and for two full days, fended them off, blocking them from advancing to the south.
During the last day, the Greek army found itself betrayed by Ephialtes, leading a number of allies to flee from certain death by the outnumbered Persian army who had them surrounded. In an ultimate act of patriotism, Leonidas and his remaining 300 Spartans together with 700 Thespians led by Demophilus remained in the battlefield to slaughter as many Persians as possible and defend their homeland. Knowing that his sacrifice would ensure the final Greek victory, he led his army to a final blow against the Persian army, leading to massive enemy casualties and coming as close as to kill Xerxes himself. In one of history’s most celebrated last stands, the terrified Persian army sought to finish the battle with a rain of arrows while the last remaining Spartans protected their king’s body from further harm.
The result of the Battle of Thermopylae shook the Persian Empire to its core. It is estimated that had the Greeks not been betrayed, the Persian army would have retreated due to lack of food and water. Leonidas’ epic stance against the enemy not only provided an immense moral boost to all Greeks, who united against a common enemy, but also proved crucial in the outcome of the subsequent battles, as it gave the Greeks time to set their defenses on the Isthmus of Corinth and prepare for the Battle of Salamis.
Leonidas’ words to Xerxes ”ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” echo through time and history, sealing the ideals of an entire nation; freedom, country, glory. Today, the Battle of Thermopylae stands as the definitive example of heroic apotheosis and dedication to one’s nation, with Leonidas himself being a model for courage, bravery and ideals. On the epitaph of the cenotaph of Leonidas and his 300 Spartan men the following phrase was written: “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by. That here, obedient to their laws, we lie“.
- “Leonidas”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens. 1946. Print.
- Volonakis, Ioannis. Ancient Greece’s Great Leaders. Athens: Georgiades, 1997. Print.