The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 1

Author: Herodotus  | Date: B.C. 480

Invasion of Greece by Persians Under Xerxes;
Defence of Thermopyl

B.C. 480


The invasion of Greece by Xerxes is the subject of the great history written in nine books by Herodotus. His object is to show the preeminence of Greece, whose fleets and armies defeated the forces of the Persians after these latter had triumphed over the most powerful nations of the earth. Xerxes collected a vast army from all parts of the empire. The Phoenicians furnished him with an enormous fleet, and he made a bridge of a double line of boats across the Hellespont and cut a canal through the peninsula of Mount Athos. He reached Sardis in the autumn of B.C. 481, and the next year his army crossed the bridge of boats, taking seven days and seven nights for the transit. The number of his fighting men was over two millions and a half. His ships of war were twelve hundred and seven in number, and he had three thousand smaller vessels for carrying his land forces and supplies. At the narrow pass of Thermopyl, in the northeast of Greece, this immense army was checked for a while by the heroic Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans, who, however, perished in their attempt to prevent the Persian’s attack on Athens, which city was almost entirely destroyed by the invaders. The sea-fight of Salamis was won by the Greeks against enormous odds; and in the battle of Plata, B.C. 479, the defeat of the Persians by the Greek land forces was made more complete by the death of Mardonius, the most renowned general of Xerxes.

The Greeks, when they arrived at the Isthmus, consulted on the message they had received from Alexander, in what way and in what places they should prosecute the war. The opinion which prevailed was that they should defend the pass at Thermopyl; for it appeared to be narrower than that into Thessaly, and at the same time nearer to their own territories; for the path by which the Greeks who were taken at Thermopyl were afterward surprised, they knew nothing of,till, on their arrival at Thermopyl, they were informed of it by the Trachinians. They accordingly resolved to guard this pass, and not suffer the barbarian to enter Greece; and that the naval force should sail to Artemisium, in the territory of Histiotis, for these places are near one another, so that they could hear what happened to each other. These spots are thus situated.

In the first place, Artemisium is contracted from a wide space of the Thracian sea into a narrow frith, which lies between the island of Sciathus and the continent of Magnesia. From the narrow frith begins the coast of Euboea, called Artemisium, and in it is a temple of Diana. But the entrance into Greece through Trachis, in the narrowest part, is no more than a half plethrum in width: however, the narrowest part of the country is not in this spot, but before and behind Thermopyl; for near Alpeni, which is behind, there is only a single carriage-road, and before, by the river Phoenix, near the city of Anthela, is another single carriage-road. On the western side of Thermopyl is an inaccessible and precipitous mountain, stretching to Mount OEta, and on the eastern side of the way is the sea and a morass. In this passage there are hot baths, which the inhabitants call "Chytri," and above these is an altar to Hercules. A wall had been built in this pass, and formerly there were gates in it. The Phocians built it through fear, when the Thessalians came from Thesprotia to settle in the Æolian territory which they now possess: apprehending that the Thessalians would attempt to subdue them, the Phocians took this precaution; at the same time, they diverted the hot water into the entrance, that the place might be broken into clefts, having recourse to every contrivance to prevent the Thessalians from making inroads into their country. Now this old wall had been built a long time, and the greater part of it had already fallen through age; but they determined to rebuild it, and in that place to repel the barbarian from Greece. Very near this road there is a village called Alpeni; from this the Greeks expected to obtain provisions.

Accordingly, these situations appeared suitable for the Greeks; for they, having weighed everything beforehand, and considered that the barbarians would neither be able to usetheir numbers nor their cavalry, there resolved to await the invader of Greece. As soon as they were informed that the Persian was in Pieria, breaking up from the Isthmus some of them proceeded by land to Thermopyl, and others by sea to Artemisium.

The Greeks, therefore, being appointed in two divisions, hastened to meet the enemy; but, at the same time, the Delphians, alarmed for themselves and for Greece, consulted the oracle, and the answer given them was, "that they should pray to the winds, for that they would be powerful allies to Greece."

The Delphians, having received the oracle, first of all communicated the answer to those Greeks who were zealous to be free; and as they very much dreaded the barbarians, by giving that message they acquired a claim to everlasting gratitude. After that, the Delphians erected an altar to the winds at Thyia, where there is an inclosure consecrated to Thyia, daughter of Cephisus, from whom this district derives its name, and conciliated them with sacrifices; and the Delphians, in obedience to that oracle, to this day propitiate the winds.

The naval force of Xerxes, setting out from the city of Therma, advanced with ten of the fastest sailing ships straight to Scyathus, where were three Grecian ships keeping a lookout: a Troezenian, an Æginetan, and an Athenian. These, seeing the ships of the barbarians at a distance, betook themselves to flight.

The Troezenian ship, which Praxinus commanded, the barbarians pursued and soon captured; and then, having led the handsomest of the marines to the prow of the ship, they slew him, deeming it a good omen that the first Greek they had taken was also very handsome. The name of the man that was slain was Leon, and perhaps he in some measure reaped the fruits of his name.

Leonidas and his three hundred immortal Spartans preparing for the defence of Thermopyl against the Persian hosts Painting by Jacques L. David.

The Æginetan ship, which Asonides commanded, gave them some trouble; Pytheas, son of Ischenous, being a marine on board, a man who on this day displayed the most consummate valor; who, when the ship was taken, continued fighting until he was entirely cut to pieces. But when, having fallen (he was not dead, but still breathed), the Persians who served on board the ships were very anxious to save him alive, onaccount of his valor, healing his wounds with myrrh, and binding them with bandages of flaxen cloth; and when they returned to their own camp, they showed him with admiration to the whole army, and treated him well; but the others, whom they took in this ship, they treated as slaves.

Thus, then, two of the ships were taken; but the other, which Phormus, an Athenian, commanded, in its flight ran ashore at the mouth of the Peneus, and the barbarians got possession of the ship, but not of the men; for as soon as the Athenians had run the ship aground, they leaped out, and, proceeding through Thessaly, reached Athens. The Greeks who were stationed at Artemisium were informed of this event by signal-fires from Sciathus; and being informed of it, and very much alarmed, they retired from Artemisium to Chalcis, intending to defend the Euripus, and leaving scouts on the heights of Euboea. Of the ten barbarian ships, three approached the sunken rock called Myrmex, between Sciathus and Magnesia. Then the barbarians, when they had erected on the rock a stone column, which they had brought with them, set out from Therma, now that every obstacle had been removed, and sailed forward with all their ships, having waited eleven days after the king’s departure from Therma. Pammon, a Scyrian, pointed out to them this hidden rock, which was almost directly in their course. The barbarians, sailing all day, reached Sepias in Magnesia, and the shore that lies between the city of Casthana and the coast of Sepias.

As far as this place and Thermopyl, the army had suffered no loss, and the numbers were at that time, as I find by calculations, of the following amount: of those in ships from Asia, amounting to one thousand two hundred and seven, originally the whole number of the several nations was two hundred forty-one thousand four hundred men, allowing two hundred to each ship; and on these ships thirty Persians, Medes, and Sac served as marines, in addition to the native crews of each; this farther number amounts to thirty-six thousand two hundred and ten. To this and the former number I add those that were on the penteconters1 supposing eighty men on the average to be on board of each. Three thousandof these vessels were assembled; therefore the men on board them must have been two hundred and forty thousand. This, then, was the naval force from Asia, the total being five hundred and seventeen thousand six hundred and ten. Of infantry there were seventeen hundred thousand, and of cavalry eighty thousand; to these I add the Arabians who drove camels, and the Libyans who drove chariots, reckoning the number at twenty thousand men. Accordingly, the numbers on board the ships and on the land, added together, make up two millions three hundred and seventeen thousand six hundred and ten. This, then, is the force which, as has been mentioned, was assembled from Asia itself, exclusive of the servants that followed, and the provision ships, and the men that were on board them.

But the force brought from Europe must still be added to this whole number that has been summed up; but it is necessary to speak by guess. Now the Grecians from Thrace, and the islands contiguous to Thrace, furnished one hundred and twenty ships; these ships give an amount of twenty-four thousand men. Of land-forces, which were furnished by Thracians, Ponians, the Eordi, the Bottians, the Chalcidian race, Brygi, Pierians, Macedonians, Perrhbi, Ænianes, Dolopians, Magnesians, and Achans, together with those who inhabit the maritime parts of Thrace—of these nations I suppose that there were three hundred thousand men, so that these myriads, added to those from Asia, make a total of two millions six hundred and forty one thousand six hundred and ten fighting men!

I think that the servants who followed them, and with those on board the provision ships and other vessels that sailed with the fleet, were not fewer than the fighting men, but more numerous; but supposing them to be equal in number to the fighting men, they make up the former number of myriads.2 Thus Xerxes, son of Darius, led five millions two hundred and eighty-three thousand two hundred and twenty men to Sepias and Thermopyl!

This, then, was the number of the whole force of Xerxes. But of women who made bread, and concubines, and eunuchs,no one could mention the number with accuracy; nor of draught-cattle and other beasts of burden; nor of Indian dogs that followed could any one mention the number, they were so many; therefore I am not astonished that the streams of some rivers failed, but rather it is a wonder to me how provisions held out for so many myriads; for I find by calculation, if each man had a choenix of wheat daily, and no more, one hundred and ten thousand three hundred and forty medimni must have been consumed every day; and I have not reckoned the food for the women, eunuchs, beasts of burden, and dogs. But of these myriads of men, not one of them, for beauty and stature, was more entitled than Xerxes himself to possess the supreme command.

When the fleet, having set out, sailed and reached the shore of Magnesia that lies between the city of Casthana and the coast of Sepias, the foremost of the ships took up their station close to land, others behind rode at anchor—the beach not being extensive enough—with their prows toward the sea, and eight deep. Thus they passed the night; but at daybreak, after serene and tranquil weather, the sea began to swell, and a heavy storm with a violent gale from the east—which those who inhabit these parts call a "Hellespontine "—burst upon them; as many of them then as perceived the gale increasing, and who were able to do so from their position, anticipated the storm by hauling their ships on shore, and both they and their ships escaped. But such of the ships as the storm caught at sea it carded away, some to the parts called Ipni, near Pelion, others to the beach; some were dashed on Cape Sepias itself; some were wrecked at Meliboea, and others at Casthana. The storm was indeed irresistible.

The barbarians, when the wind had lulled and the waves had subsided, having hauled down their ships, sailed along the continent; and having doubled the promontory of Magnesia, stood directly into the bay leading to Pagas. There is a spot in this bay of Magnesia where it is said Hercules was abandoned by Jason and his companions when he had been sent from the Argo for water, as they were sailing to Colchis, in Asia, for the golden fleece; and from there they purposed to put out to sea after they had taken in water. From thiscircumstance, the name of "Aphet" was given to the place. In this place, then, the fleet of Xerxes was moored.

Fifteen of these ships happened to be driven out to sea some time after the rest, and somehow saw the ships of the Greeks at Artemisium. The barbarians thought that they were their own, and sailing on, fell among their enemies. They were commanded by Sandoces, son of Thaumasius, governor of Cyme, of Æolia. He, being one of the royal judges, had been formerly condemned by King Darius (who had detected him in the following offence), to be crucified. Sandoces gave an unjust sentence, for a bribe; but while he was actually hanging on the cross, Darius, considering within himself, found that the services he had rendered to the royal family were greater than his faults. Darius, therefore, having discovered this, and perceiving that he, himself, had acted with more expedition than wisdom, released him. Having thus escaped being put to death by Darius, he survived; but now, sailing down among the Grecians, he was not to escape a second time; for when the Greeks saw them sailing toward them, perceiving the mistake they had committed, they bore down upon them and easily took them.

King Xerxes encamped in the Trachinian territory of Malis, and the Greeks in the pass. This spot is called by most of the Greeks, "Thermopyl," but by the inhabitants and neighbors, "Pyl." Both parties, then, encamped in these places. The one was in possession of all the parts toward the north as far as Trachis, and the others, of the parts which stretch toward the south and meridian of this continent.

The following were the Greeks who awaited the Persians in this position. Of Spartans, three hundred heavy-armed men; of Tegeans and Mantineans, one thousand (half of each); from Orchomenus in Arcadia, one hundred and twenty; and from the rest of Arcadia, one thousand (there were so many Arcadians); from Corinth, four hundred; from Phlius, two hundred men; and from Mycen, eighty. These came from Peloponnesus. From Boeotia, of Thespians seven hundred; and of Thebans, four hundred.

In addition to these, the Opuntian Locrians, being invited, came with all their forces, and a thousand Phocians; for theGreeks themselves had invited them, representing by their embassadors that "they had arrived as forerunners of the others, and that the rest of the allies might be daily expected; that the sea was protected by them, being guarded by the Athenians, the Æginet, and others, who were appointed to the naval service; and that they had nothing to fear, for that it was not a god who invaded Greece, but a man; and that there never was, and never would be, any mortal who had not evil mixed with his prosperity from his very birth, and to the greatest of them the greatest reverses happen; that it must therefore needs be that he who is marching against us, being a mortal, will be disappointed in his expectation." They, having heard this, marched with assistance to Trachis.

These nations had separate generals for their several cities, but the one most admired, and who commanded the whole army, was a Lacedmonian, Leonidas, son of Anaxandrides, son of Leon, son of Eurycratides, son of Anaxander, son of Eurycates, son of Polydorus, son of Alcamenes, son of Teleclus, son of Archelaus, son of Agesilaus, son of Doryssus, son of Leobotes, son of Echestratus, son of Agis, son of Eurysthenes, son of Aristedemus, son of Aristomachus, son of Cleodus, son of Hyllus, son of Hercules, who had unexpectedly succeeded to the throne of Sparta.

For, as he had two elder brothers, Cleomenes and Dorieus, he was far from any thought of the kingdom. However, Cleomenes having died without male issue, and Dorieus being no longer alive—having ended his days in Sicily—the kingdom thus devolved upon Leonidas; both because he was older than Cleombrotus—for he was the youngest son of Anaxandrides—and also because he had married the daughter of Cleomenes. He then marched to Thermopyl, having chosen the three hundred men allowed by law, and such as had children. On his march he took with him the Thebans, whose numbers I have already reckoned, and whom Leontiades, son of Eurymachus, commanded. For this reason Leonidas was anxious to take with him the Thebans alone of all the Greeks, because they were strongly accused of favoring the Medes: he therefore summoned them to the war, wishing to know whether they would send their forces with him; or would openlyrenounce the alliance of the Grecians; but they, though otherwise minded, sent assistance.

The Spartans sent these troops first with Leonidas, in order that the rest of the allies, seeing them, might take the field, and might not go over to the Medes if they heard that they were delaying; but afterward—for the Carnean festival was then an obstacle to them—they purposed, when they had kept the feast, to leave a garrison in Sparta and to march immediately with their whole strength. The rest of the confederates likewise intended to act in the same manner; for the Olympic games occurred at the same period as these events. As they did not, therefore, suppose that the engagement at Thermopyl would so soon be decided, they despatched an advance-guard.

The Greeks at Thermopyl, when the Persians came near the pass, being alarmed, consulted about a retreat; accordingly, it seemed best to the other Peloponnesians to retire to Peloponnesus, and guard the Isthmus; but Leonidas, perceiving the Phocians and Locrians were very indignant at this proposition, determined to stay there, and to despatch messengers to the cities, desiring them to come to their assistance, they being too few to repel the army of the Medes.

While they were deliberating on these matters, Xerxes sent a scout on horseback, to see how many they were and what they were doing; for while he was still in Thessaly, he had heard that a small army had been assembled at that spot, and as to their leaders, that they were Lacedmonians, and Leonidas, who was of the race of Hercules. When the horseman rode up to the camp, he reconnoitred, and saw not indeed the whole camp, for it was not possible that they should be seen who were posted within the wall, which having rebuilt they were now guarding; but he had a clear view of those on the outside, whose arms were piled in front of the wall. At this time the Lacedmonians happened to be posted outside; and some of the men he saw performing gymnastic exercises, and others combing their hair. On beholding this he was astonished, and ascertained their number, and having informed himself of everything accurately, he rode back at his leisure, for no one pursued him and he met with generalcontempt. On his return he gave an account to Xerxes of all that he had seen.

When Xerxes heard this, he could not comprehend the truth that the Grecians were preparing to be slain and to slay to the utmost of their power; but, as they appeared to behave in a ridiculous manner, he sent for Demaratus, son of Ariston, who was then in the camp, and when he was come into his presence Xerxes questioned him as to each particular, wishing to understand what the Lacedmonians were doing. Demaratus said: "You before heard me when we were setting out against Greece, speak of these men, and when you heard, you treated me with ridicule though I told you in what way I foresaw these matters would issue; for it is my chief aim, O king, to adhere to the truth in your presence; hear it, therefore, once more. These men have to fight with us for the pass and are now preparing themselves to do so; for such is their custom when they are going to hazard their lives, then they dress their heads; but be assured if you conquer these men and those that remain in Sparta, there is no other nation in the world that will dare to raise its hand ag ainst you, O king! for you are now to engage with the noblest kingdom and city of all among the Greeks and with the most valiant men." What was said seemed incredible to Xerxes and he asked again, "how, being so few in number, they could contend with his army." He answered: "O king, deal with me as with a liar if these things do not turn out as I say!"

By saying this he did not convince Xerxes. He therefore let four days pass, constantly expecting that they would be taking themselves to flight; but on the fifth day, as they had not retreated, but appeared to him to stay through arrogance and rashness, he, being enraged, sent the Medes and Cissians against them, with orders to take them alive, and bring them into his presence. When the Medes bore down impetuously upon the Greeks, many of them fell; others followed to the charge, and were not repulsed, though they suffered greatly; but they made it evident to every one, and not least of all to the king himself, that they were indeed many men, but few soldiers. The engagement lasted through the day.

When the Medes were roughly handled, they thereuponretired, and the Persians whom the king called "Immortal," and whom Hydarnes commanded, taking their place advanced to the attack thinking that they indeed would easily settle the business. But when they engaged with the Grecians they succeeded no better than the Medic troops, but just the same; as they fought in a narrow space and used shorter spears than the Greeks, they were unable to avail themselves of their numbers. The Lacedmonians fought memorably in other respects, showing that they knew how to fight with men who knew not, and whenever they turned their backs they retreated in close order, but the barbarians, seeing them retreat, followed with a shout and clamor; then they, being overtaken, wheeled round so as to front the barbarians, and having faced about, overthrew an inconceivable number of the Persians, and then some few of the Spartans themselves fell, so that when the Persians were unable to gain anything in their attempt on the pass by attacking in troops and in every possible manner, they retired.

It is said that during these onsets of the battle, the king, who witnessed them, thrice sprang from his throne, being alarmed for his army. Thus they strove at that time. On the following day the barbarians fought with no better success; for considering that the Greeks were few in number, and expecting that they were covered with wounds and would not be able to raise their heads against them any more, they renewed the contest. But the Greeks were marshalled in companies and according to their several nations, and each fought in turn, except only the Phocians; they were stationed at the mountain to guard the pathway. When, therefore, the Persians found nothing different from what they had seen on the preceding day, they retired.

While the king was in doubt what course to take in the present state of affairs, Ephialtes, son of Eurydemus, a Malian, obtained an audience of him (expecting that he should receive a great reward from the king), and informed him of the path which leads over the mountain to Thermopyl, and by that means caused the destruction of those Greeks who were stationed there; but afterward, fearing the Lacedmonians, he tied to Thessaly, and when he had fled, a price was set on hishead by the Pylagori when the Amphictyons were assembled at Pyl; but some time after, he went down to Anticyra and was killed by Athenades, a Trachinian.

Another account is given, that Onetes, son of Phanagoras, a Carystian, and Corydallus of Anticyra, were the persons who gave this information to the king and conducted the Persians round the mountains; but to me, this is by no means credible; for, in the first place, we may draw the inference from this circumstance, that the Pylagori of the Grecians set a price on the head, not of Onetes and Corydallus, but of Ephialtes the Trachinian, having surely ascertained the exact truth; and, in the next place, we know that Ephialtes fled on that account. Onetes, indeed, though he was not a Malian, might be acquainted with this path if he had been conversant with the country; but it was Ephialtes who conducted them round the mountain by the path, and I charge him as the guilty person.

Xerxes, since he was pleased with what Ephialtes promised to perform, being exceedingly delighted, immediately despatched Hydarnes and the troops that Hydarnes commanded, and he started from the camp about the hour of lamp-lighting. The native Malians discovered this pathway, and having discovered it, conducted the Thessalians by it against the Phocians at the time when the Phocians, having fortified the pass by a wall, were under shelter from an attack. From that time it appeared to have been of no service to the Malians.

This path is situated as follows: it begins from the river Asopus, which flows through the cleft; the same name is given both to the mountain and to the path, "Anopa" and this Anopa extends along the ridge of the mountain and ends near Alpenus, which is the first city of the Locrians toward the Malians, and by the rock called" Melampygus," and by the seats of the Cercopes, and there the path is the narrowest.

Along this path, thus situate, the Persians, having crossed the Asopus, marched all night, having on their right the mountains of the OEtans, and on their left those of the Trachinians; morning appeared, and they were on the summit of the mountain. At this part of the mountain, as I havealready mentioned, a thousand heavy-armed Phocians kept guard, to defend their own country and to secure the pathway—for the lower pass was guarded by those before mentioned—and the Phocians had voluntarily promised Leonida, to guard the path across the mountain.

The Phocians discovered them after they had ascended, in the following manner; for the Persian ascended without being observed, as the whole mountain was covered with oaks; there was a perfect calm, and, as was likely, a considerable rustling taking place from the leaves strewn under foot, the Phocians sprang up and put on their arms, and immediately the barbarians made their appearance. But when they saw men clad in armor they were astonished, for, expecting to find nothing to oppose them, they fell in with an army; thereupon Hydarnes, fearing lest the Phocians might be Lacedmonians, asked Ephialtes of what nation the troops were, and being accurately informed, he drew up the Persians for battle. The Phocians, when they were hit by many and thick-falling arrows, fled to the summit of the mountain, supposing that they had come expressly to attack them, and prepared to perish. Such was their determination. But the Persians, with Ephialtes and Hydarnes, took no notice of the Phocians but marched down the mountain with all speed.

To those of the Greeks who were at Thermopyl, the augur Megistias, having inspected the sacrifices, first made known the death that would befall them in the morning; certain deserters afterward came and brought intelligence of the circuit the Persians were taking. These brought the news while it was yet night; and, thirdly, the scouts running down from the heights as soon as day dawned, brought the same intelligence. Upon this the Greeks held a consultation, and their opinions were divided; some would not hear of abandoning their post, and others opposed that view. After this, when the assembly broke up, some of them departed, and being dispersed, betook themselves to their several cities; but others of them prepared to remain there with Leonidas.

It is said that Leonidas himself sent them away, being anxious that they should not perish, but that he and the Spartans who were there could not honorably desert the post whichthey originally came to defend. For my own part, I am rather inclined to think that Leonidas, when he perceived that the allies were averse and unwilling to share the danger with him, bade them withdraw, but that he considered it dishonorable for himself to depart; on the other hand, by remaining there, great renown would be left for him and the prosperity of Sparta would not be obliterated, for it had been announced to the Spartans by the Pythian, when they consulted the oracle concerning this war as soon as it commenced, "that either Lacedmon must be overthrown by the barbarians, or their king perish." This answer she gave in hexameter verses, to this effect: "To you, O inhabitants of spacious Lacedmon! either your vast glorious city shall be destroyed by men sprung from Perseus, or, if not so, the confines of Lacedmon shall mourn a king deceased, of the race of Hercules. For neither shall the strength of bulls nor of lions withstand him with force opposed to force, for he has the strength of Jove, and I say he shall not be restrained before he has certainly obtained one of these for his share." I think, therefore, that Leonidas, considering these things and being desirous to acquire glory for the Spartans alone, sent away the allies, rather than that those who went away differed in opinion, and went away in such an unbecoming manner.

The following in no small degree strengthens my conviction on this point; for not only did he send away the others, but it is certain that Leonidas also sent away the augur who followed the army, Megistias the Acarnanian, who was said to have been originally descended from Melampus, the same who announced, from an inspection of the victims, what was about to befall them, in order that he might not perish with them. He however, though dismissed, did not himself depart but sent away his son who served with him in the expedition, being his only child.

The allies that were dismissed, accordingly departed, and obeyed Leonidas, but only the Thespians and the Thebans remained with the Lacedmonians; the Thebans, indeed, remained unwillingly and against their inclination, for Leonidas detained them, treating them as hostages; but the Thespians willingly, for they refused to go away and abandon Leonidasand those with him, but remained and died with them. Demophilus, son of Diadromas, commanded them.

Xerxes, after he had poured out libations at sunrise, having waited a short time, began his attack about the time of full market, for he had been so instructed by Ephialtes; for the descent from the mountain is more direct and the distance much shorter than the circuit and ascent. The barbarians, therefore, with Xerxes, advanced, and the Greeks with Leonidas, marching out as if for certain death, now advanced much farther than before into the wide part of the defile, for the fortification of the wall had protected them, and they on the preceding days, having taken up their position in the narrow part, fought there; but now engaging outside the narrows, great numbers of the barbarians fell; for the officers of the companies from behind, having scourges, flogged every man, constantly urging them forward; in consequence, many of them, falling into the sea, perished, and many more were trampled alive under foot by one another and no regard was paid to any that perished, for the Greeks, knowing that death awaited them at the hands of those who were going round the mountain, being desperate and regardless of their own lives, displayed the utmost possible valor against the barbarians.

Already were most of their javelins broken and they had begun to despatch the Persians with their swords. In this part of the struggle fell Leonidas, fighting valiantly, and with him other eminent Spartans, whose names, seeing they were deserving men, I have ascertained; indeed, I have ascertained the names of the whole three hundred. On the side of the Persians also, many other eminent men fell on this occasion, and among them two sons of Darius, Abrocomes and Hyperanthes, born to Darius of Phrataguna, daughter of Artanes; but Artanes was brother to king Darius, and son of Hystaspes, son of Arsames. He, when he gave his daughter to Darius, gave him also all his property, as she was his only child.

Accordingly, two brothers of Xerxes fell at this spot fighting for the body of Leonidas, and there was a violent struggle between the Persians and Lacedmonians, until at last the Greeks rescued it by their valor and four times repulsed theenemy. Thus the contest continued until those with Ephialtes came up. When the Greeks heard that they were approaching, from this time the battle was altered; for they retreated to the narrow part of the way, and passing beyond the wall came and took up their position on the rising ground all in a compact body with the exception of the Thebans. The rising ground is at the entrance where the stone lion now stands to the memory of Leonidas. On this spot, while they defended themselves with swords—such as had them still remaining—and with hands and teeth, the barbarians overwhelmed them with missiles, some of them attacking them in front, having thrown down the wall, and others surrounding and attacking them on every side.

Though the Lacedmonians and Thespians behaved in this manner, yet Dieneces, a Spartan, is said to have been the bravest man. They relate that he made the following remark before they engaged with the Medes, having heard a Trachinian say that when the barbarians let fly their arrows they would obscure the sun by the multitude of their shafts, so great was their number; but he, not at all alarmed at this, said, holding in contempt the numbers of the Medes, that "their Trachinian friend told them everything to their advantage, since if the Medes obscure the sun, they would then have to fight in the shade and not in the sun." This, and other sayings of the same kind, they relate that Dieneces the Lacedmonian left as memorials.

Next to him, two Lacedmonian brothers, Alpheus and Maron, sons of Orisiphantus, are said to have distinguished themselves most; and of the Thespians, he obtained the greatest glory whose name was Dithyrambus, son of Harmatides.

In honor of the slain, who were buried on the spot where they fell, and of those who died before they who were dismissed by Leonidas went away, the following inscription has been engraved over them: "Four thousand from Peloponnesus once fought on this spot with three hundred myriads!"3 This inscription was made for all; and for the Spartans in particular: "Stranger, go tell the Lacedmonians that we lie here,obedient to their commands!" This was for the Lacedmonians; and for the prophet, the following: "This is the monument of the illustrious Megistias, whom once the Medes, having passed the river Sperchius, slew; a prophet who, at the time well knowing the impending fate, would not abandon the leaders of Sparta!"

The Amphictyons are the persons who honored them with these inscriptions and columns, with the exception of the inscription to the prophet; that of the prophet Megistias, Simonides, son of Leoprepes, caused to be engraved, from personal friendship.

1Fifty-oared ships.

2In Greek numeration, ten thousand.

3Three millions.


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Chicago: Herodotus, "Invasion of Greece by Persians Under Xerxes; Defence of Thermopyl," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 1 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), 355–373. Original Sources, accessed April 13, 2024,

MLA: Herodotus. "Invasion of Greece by Persians Under Xerxes; Defence of Thermopyl." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 1, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, pp. 355–373. Original Sources. 13 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Herodotus, 'Invasion of Greece by Persians Under Xerxes; Defence of Thermopyl' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 1. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN, pp.355–373. Original Sources, retrieved 13 April 2024, from