Thermopylae Quotes

Charge 7

Master Gunner
In 480 B.C. the forces of the Persian Empire under King Xerxes, numbering according to Herodotus two million men, bridged the Hellespont and marched in their myriads to invade and enslave Greece.

In a desperate delaying action, a picked force of three hundred Spartans was dispatched to the pass of Thermopylae, where the confines between mountains and sea were so narrow that the Persian multitudes and their cavalry would be at least partially neutralized. Here, it was hoped, an elite force willing to sacrifice their lives could keep back, at least for a few days, the invading thousands.

Three hundred Spartans and their allies held off the invaders for seven days, until, their weapons smashed and broken from the slaughter, they fought "with bare hands and teeth" (as recorded by Herodotus) before being at last overwhelmed.

The Spartans and their Thespian allies died to the last man, but the standard of valor they set by their sacrifice inspired the Greeks to rally and, in that fall and spring, defeat the Persians at Salamis and Plataea and preserve the beginnings of Western democracy and freedom from perishing in the cradle.

Two memorials remain today at Thermopylae. Upon the modern one, called the Leonidas Monument in honor of the Spartan king who fell there, is engraved his response to Xerxes' demand that the Spartans lay down their arms. Leonidas' reply was two words,

Molon labe: "Come and get them."

There is an epitaph on one of the monuments at the site of the battle with Simonides's epigram, which can be found in Herodotus's work The Histories (7.228), to the Spartans:

ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
(O xein', angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti täde)
κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.
(keimetha tois keinon rhämasi peithomenoi.)

Which to keep the poetic context can be translated as:

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
that here, obedient to their laws, we lie

or more literally as:

Oh foreigner, tell the Lacedaemonians
that here we lie, obeying those words.

Another translation captures the spirit of enduring service to the state which was taught to all Spartan warriors:

"Friend, tell the Spartans that on this hill we lie obedient to them still." (translation by Michael Dodson 1951)

And we'll let Herodotus have the last word:

"Although extraordinary valor was displayed by the entire corps of Spartans and Thespians, yet bravest of all was declared the Spartan Dienekes. It is said that on the eve of battle, he was told by a native of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that, when they fired their volleys, the mass of arrows blocked out the sun. Dienekes, however, quite undaunted by this prospect, remarked with a laugh, 'Good. Then we'll have our battle in the shade.' "

—Herodotus, The Histories
Thanks for the post. I've passed the Leonidas statue many times, it's right on the Athens-Thessaloniki highway.
Weren't the Spartans finally killed by the weapons they despised, the bow an arrow (Spartans thought that it was a weapon for weaklings and cowards).
Thread Revival! Yes, that is correct. This harkens back to around 1000 B.C. The ancient greeks considered it weak or cowardly to fight with archers (and believe it or not with Cavalry too until 4th Century B.C.) The background behind this involves a Homeric tradition amongst hoplite soldiers, one that judges the prowess of a warrior upon two principle means of gaining reputation. 1. the manner in which you killed your opponent, and 2. The opponent's reputation in battle. Essentially, you were judged by how swiftly/courageously you killed the enemy, as well as by how much prowess this slain enemy held. Everything during this time period (from what we know of it, very little solid writing other than the Illiad/Odyssey survives) was extremely competitive. It would later evolve into a more modern style of hoplite phalanx fighting (as seen at Thermopylae)... This system valued holding your place in line, not retreating, and if you were a Spartan outsmarting your enemy using trickery (this also is very Homeric, IE the trojan horse - other greeks embraced this as well, but to a lesser extent). Ironically Menalaus was actually killed by an enemy archer (not by Hector like in the movie "Troy").Anyway, long story short... the abandonment of using archers seemed to have happened around 1000 B.C., and although archers were still used by the greeks through the ages, it wasn't mainstream again until the 4th Century BC from what I know. At one point competing Greek city-states signed an agreement to not use archers. I gleaned most of this knowledge from Lendon's "Soldiers and Ghosts" ... a great read if you're interested in the time period. cheers.
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