The War-Changing Battle of Thermopylae
In August 480 B.C.E a peaceful and silent mountain pass called Thermopylae located in the southern part of Greece was about to turn into a blood-stained boneyard of Persian and Greek soldiers. In the mountain pass stood the Spartan military which was full of soldiers who were the ultimate hoplites, who devoted their lives to training as heavy infantry. The Spartan government had 4 main parts, a citizen assembly with limited power (ex – they could refuse war), a powerful council of elders, five “ephors”, who were elected executive officers and two hereditary kings. The Spartan military was led by a man named Leonidas. The Greek forces included 300 Spartans and their helots with 2,120 Arcadians, 1,000 Locrians, 1,000 Phocians, 700 Thespians, 400 Corinthians, 400 Thebans, 200 men from Phlius, and 80 Mycenaeans. The Battle of Thermopylae was a battle in the narrow pass of Thermopylae located in Greece. The battle was between the Spartans led by Leonidas against the Persian army led by King Xerxes I of Persia. The battle of Thermopylae was the first battle between the Persians and Greeks during the Persian invasion. The battle took place in 480 B.C.E around August or September. The Persians, if they won, would gain control of Boeotia. Although the Persians won the battle, the Greeks still succeeded in delaying the Persians by using their strongest formation known as the Phalanx formation, and by doing so they gave other cities time to prepare, and they cost the Persians lots of loss in manpower.
The end result of the Battle was somewhat to be expected, the Persians had beaten the Spartans and Greeks after three days of vigorous battle. Since the Persians won they gained control over Boeotia. Boeotia lies to the north of the eastern part of the Gulf of Corinth. It also has a short coastline on the Gulf of Euboea. Boeotia is a strategic place to take because it has a coastline on two sides of it so the Persians only need to worry about being attacked from two instead of all four side. King Xerxes made his camp in the region of Malis called Trachinia while the Greeks occupied the straits. These straits would, in general, call Thermopylae (the Hot Gates) by the Greeks, but the natives call them Pylae (the Gate). The main part that leads to the Greeks defeat was when a traitor told Xerxes of a path above Thermopylae, the path would make it so Xerxes could send troops behind the Greeks. The battle was taken there for the Greeks defence and if the Persians one, they would have a great holding point against other Greek armies. After this news, Xerxes decided to send some of his best troops on the overpass. By the dawn of the Third day, Leonidas had realised that he was betrayed by one of the greeks. With the Spartans/Greeks being surrounded Leonidas said that anyone who didn’t want to die to leave then. The factor is that the Spartans had 300 men + 6000 others (approx). Herodotus said that there were around two million Persians but most people deny that and say that the Persians had somewhere between 70,000-300,000 as a modern estimate, but most sources normally say that there was around 100,000 Persian soldiers. There are 4,000 estimated casualties on the Greeks side according to Herodotus . The significance of the Persians obtaining the straits is quite significant. They wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked from the coastline which was on two sides, also, Thermopylae was more towards the bottom of Greece so they could easily go after the other bottom parts that were cut off from the rest of Greece.
The Greeks held off the Persians for so long due to their Tactical planning (using a very narrow path) and their strong formation known as the phalanx formation. The reason the phalanx is so strong is soldiers made up a closely packed rectangular formation of shields and spears. Once the phalanx was formed the soldiers would advance slowly toward the opposing enemy, knock off blows with their shields and holding the formation tightly in order to break through the ranks of the other side. Although the Persian tactic of rapidly firing large numbers of arrows into the enemy may have worked before but due to the lightness of the arrows meant that they were largely ineffective against the bronze-armoured hoplites. The Spartans also used a clever strategy to confuse their enemy. They would pretend to retreat so then the Persians chased after them, but would then would turn around and on the Persians and in the confusion the Greeks killed many of the enemy soldiers. Although the Persians had the upper hand in previous contests during the recent Ionian revolt, the terrain at Thermopylae would better suit the Greeks fighting style. The narrow pass would make it hard for Xerxes army to pass through at once since they were so big, so instead waves were sent. On the first day, Xerxes sent his Median and Kissian troops but they failed. Then he sent the elite Immortals to battle but in the brutally close-quarter fighting the Greeks held Thermopylae.
Even though almost all the Greeks died they still held off for three days. Three days might not seem that important but it gave lots of time for other Greek cities to prepare for the Persians. During those three days, other cities could prepare their armies and strategize, giving them time to prepare for what was going to be known as the Battle of Salamis. With 4000 estimated casualties on the Greeks side, the Persians (according to Herodotus) were said to have roughly lost 20 thousand men in the Battle of Thermopylae. With those estimates, it’s approximated that each Greeks soldier would have had to kill ~3 Persian soldiers (20000/6000). For the Greeks to win they would have had to kill ~20 Persian soldiers each (120,000/6000)
In the end, though the Greeks still lost the battle and 4000 men along with it and the Persians gained control over Boeotia, but taking all of the good factors, Held off for 3 days, killed 20,000 Persians, had great planning and strategy. They gave a higher chance for other Greek cities to defeat the Persians and claim back Boeotia. Although the Persians won this was only one of the clashes in the Greco-Persian wars.