Do you lead by example, or follow one?
The Battle of Thermopylae is one of the most famous battles in Western history. It was recently depicted in the Hollywood movie, “300”, but throughout history, the Battle of Thermopylae has been upheld as the ultimate standard for sticking to your convictions, courage, and for making the ultimate sacrifice to save those you love.
In last week’s blog, we discussed the likely numbers of the belligerents in this war. Though Herodotus writes that there were 5 million Persian soldiers, the real number was probably closer to 1 million; still an insanely large army. The amount of Greeks (or Hellens if you remember last week’s blog) fighting in the main part of the battle would have been around 6000.
That’s a pretty massive difference in force if you ask me.
Now to give some background regarding this battle:
This was the start of the second invasion of Greece by the Persians and their king, Xerxes. He was trying to finish what his father, Darius had started ten years earlier in 490 BCE. When the Greeks learned about the size of the new Persian army, they were horrified, and rightfully so; they believed that the size of Xerxes’ army was bigger than the entire population of Greece. There was, however, one city that did not tremble under the looming shadow of Persia: Sparta.
The custom of the Persian army was to send messengers to each major city in Greece and ask them to offer earth and water. This symbolic gesture would signify that that city bent its knee to Persia and offered its obeisance. If a city did this, it was considered to have “Medized”( this was the Ancient Greek word for “becoming Persian”). Thebes would do this and Athens would almost do this.
However, when the Persian messenger came to Sparta, he told them of the horrifying size of Xerxes’ army and suggested it would be best for Sparta to offer earth and water, lest they be crushed like a fly. In response, King Leonidas said “Take your earth and water!” and threw the messenger down a well.
That’s what historians call “a Laconic no.”
Sparta knew that much of Greece would medize if they did not see a strong example of bravery. So Leonidas marched out of his city with 300 soldiers in hope that the rest of Greece would also follow their example and mobilize.
And it totally worked. Because of the Spartan example, every major city in Greece sent soldiers to fight at Thermopylae!
This was their plan:
They knew they could not match the Persian army in full force, but if they could use a choke-point to restrict the access of the entire military, then maybe they could outlast the Persians. The Greeks knew they could never defeat the horde of Xerxes at Thermopylae, but they didn’t need to; a force of Xerxes’ size could only last a few weeks in one location before it would run out of food and water. Therefore, if the Greeks could hold them up for two weeks, they could give Greece enough time to organize itself to be properly defended.
Think about the actions of the Spartans in this blog…
When you find out something terrible is going to happen, something so terrible, it could ruin your entire life, or at least the way you live that life. Would you act like Thebes, and succumb to the pressure because you think that’s the safe play? Or would you act like the Spartans, and stand up for yourself and the ones you love, and prepare to deal with the situation and to inspire others to do the same? Would you think tactically, realizing you don’t have to do something in one specific way to solve the problem? Would you try to figure out how to use the problem’s strengths against itself? Finally, would you be willing to go through with it? Would you go through hell for weeks so that the lives of the ones you love could be improved? The Spartans sure did–they were prepared to fight for weeks straight to defend their people– and here we are 2500 years later, talking about their courage, acumen and conviction. Your actions are your choice; how will you be remembered?
In next week’s blog, we will get to see what happened at Thermopylae and if the warriors were able to buy enough time for the rest of Greece.
The Golden Scribe
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”