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The Battle of Thermopylae, also known as the Battle of the 300, was a military engagement in 480 BCE at Malis, in northern Greece, between the forces of the invading Achaemenid Empire of Xerxes I and a combined army of the free Greek states, whose supreme commander was King Leonidas I of Sparta.
A victory for the Persian Empire, the battle cost Leonidas his life but paved the way for an eventual Greek victory over the invaders. This, in turn, gave birth to the legend of Leonidas.
Following Darius I of Persia's defeat during the first Persian invasion of Greece at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, Darius' son and successor, Xerxes I actively began planning a second attempt, backed by the Cult of Kosmos and the Order of the Ancients, who previously supported Darius. Upon ascending to the throne, he spent the next several years building up his military and naval forces in preparation. Finally, in 480 BCE the Perisan emperor considered himself ready and crossed the Hellespont and invaded Greece.
They quickly overran Makedonia and Malis and had made it as far as the Thermopylai before encountering significant resistance. This resistance took the form of a united Greek army under the command of King Leonidas I of Sparta, who consulted the Pythia prior to the battle and defied the Cult's demand for him to not to go against their plans.
Battle and outcome
With the Persians forced to confront the Greeks head-on in the narrow pass, the Greek phalanx managed to not only hold the pass but inflict significant losses upon the Persian invaders. It was only the betrayal of Ephialtes, who showed the Persian a way around the pass and behind the Greek army, that tipped the balance in Xerxes' favor. At this point Leonidas, sensing the fear emanating from his Greek allies, sent all but his 300 Spartan warriors home.
Eventually, the Persian forces overran and exterminated the Spartan warriors holding the pass, who died to a man. Leonidas himself also perished during the battle.
Spartans who were stationed at Thermopylae away from the battle felt they had missed a great opportunity to die a glorious death. Many of them chose to commit suicide rather than live dishonorably. Following the battle, it was said that Xerxes, who was famous for honoring warriors who fought valiantly against the Persians, had been so infuriated by Leonidas that he cut off his head and impaled it on a pike.
Behind the scenes
Although it is widely believed that only 300 Spartans fought against the invading Persians at Thermopylae—a belief propagated in popular culture—contemporary historians placed anywhere from 5,100 (Herodotos) to 11,200 (Pausanias) Greeks at the battle. Modern estimates place 7,000 Greeks at Thermopylae. Likewise, estimates of the strength of the Persian forces vary depending on the source, with Herodotus claiming in excess of two million Persian soldiers taking part. Modern estimates claim anywhere between 120,000 to 300,000.
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