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Battle of Thermopylae – Spartans vs Persians

Western Democracy traces its roots to ancient
Greece, a land of squabbling city-states. Amongst these warring city-states arose Athens,
and a group of men who had a funny idea: citizens should get a say in who exactly got to rule
them. Though initially imperfect in its implementation,
that idea has since evolved to the free Democratic nations most of us live in today- but it could
all have been lost to a single moment in history. Hello and welcome to another episode of The
Infographics Show- today we’re taking a look at another of the Greatest Battles in History:
the battle of Thermopylae. In 499 BC Greek cities which had been captured
by the Persians in Asia Minor revolted against the brutal tyrants that had been placed to
oversee them. In support of their conquered brethren, Athens
and Eretria sent troops. Despite some major gains, several strategic
mistakes cost the Greeks of Asia Minor their ultimate victory and the rebellion was put
down. With Asia Minor back in the fold of the Persian
Empire, the Persian king Darius I vowed to punish Athens and Eretria for their involvement,
and saw the rest of the free cities of Greece as a threat to his empire. In 492 BC he launched an invasion of Thrace
and Macedon, then sent heralds to the remaining Greek city-states demanding they accept Persian
rule. Seeking to save themselves, many agreed- with
the notable exceptions of Athens and Sparta. The Persian heralds in Athens were thrown
into a pit, and their Spartan brethren followed suit by tossing theirs into a well. Enraged, Darius launched his invasion of mainland
Greece and met with further success until an encounter against 10,000 Athenians in Marathon. Outnumbering the Greeks by 2.5 to 1, Darius
saw an easy win- only for the Athenians to achieve a dramatic victory and force Darius
to retreat. Nursing a very wounded ego, Darius planned
an imminent re-invasion, with plans to raze Athens to the ground- but internal politics
delayed these plans and Darius died of old age. Seeking to avenge the pride of his dead father,
Xerxes prepared for a decisive campaign to end Greek independence forever. Remembering well the lessons at Marathon,
Xerxes took his time to build a sizable force. Though some historical accounts tell of a
force up to 2.5 million strong- these are almost certainly gross exaggeration, and it’s
more likely that Xerxes marched with 200,000 to 250,000, though for the ancient world this
would certainly have been an incredible and mind-boggling number. Xerxes plan was simple: march into Greece
through the north, and outflank any Greek defenders by landing his navy behind them
along the Greek coast. Many Greeks feared Xerxes’ invasion force
and remembered well the fate of Eretria in the first invasion which was razed to the
ground and all of its people enslaved. Thus many Greek cities bid for peace, but
Athens and Sparta along with some key allies would hear nothing of it. Spartan King Leonidas marshaled a force of
300 of his personal bodyguards and helots and took command of the briefly unified Greek
forces numbering at 7,000. Despite the way the battle was popularized
by popular culture in entertainment such as the film 300, the bulk of the Spartan army
did not march in support of its king because the Spartans greatly feared that the helots
they held as slaves might break into all-out revolt if the army left and didn’t take them
with them. Knowing victory would be impossible if the
Persian forces simply outflanked them by sea, Athens marshaled a force of 271 triremes to
sail into battle against 1,207 Persian ships. Outnumbered both on land and at sea, the Greeks
stood little chance of victory- a collapse of the Spartan position at Thermopylae would
allow the fleet to be flanked, and a defeat at sea would place the ground defense in jeopardy. Outnumbered by incredible ratios, victory
was unlikely- a fact Athens knew well as it had already begun the evacuation of its city. The Combatants: The Persian army at the time was equipped
for battle on the plains of Asia, and as such wore mostly leather and cloth armor and shields
made of wicker. They carried short spears and wielded large
daggers and swords. Most notably, the Persians- likely accustomed
to fighting less well-armored opponents than the Greeks- made extensive use of archers,
which was part of the reason for their defeat at Marathon: the lightly armed Persian archers
could not penetrate the armor of the Athenian forces, and when closed to melee range were
made short work of. Leading the Persian troops was a force of
10,000 Immortals- a cadre of elite soldiers famed for always maintaining a standing force
of exactly 10,000, hence the name Immortals. When any member was killed, wounded, or became
sick, they were immediately replaced, thus leaving the Immortals a cohesive unit through
any conflict. The Immortals were Persia’s elite heavy infantry,
and often served as guards to the God-Kings themselves. At sea the Persians fielded the war ship of
the day: the Trireme. Powered by a combination of sails and oars,
Triremes were equipped with a bronze-sheathed battering ram which it used to ram enemy vessels. However it’s unlikely that these violent crashes
would actually sink an enemy ship, and most of the fighting was done in hand-to-hand combat
by the marines and slaves who manned the ships. Formidable for their time, Triremes were also
notoriously poor sea-going vessels and had to stick close to shore and operate only during
relatively calm seas. A series of storms prior to the battle would
see nearly a third of the Persian fleet sunk, severely lowering their naval power. To complicate matters, a great deal of the
Persian fleet was also made of supply and support vessels, not dedicated war ships,
as opposed to the military vessels and crews of the Athenians and their allies. Greek ground forces were far better equipped
for combat than their Persian counterparts. A greek hoplites’ primary weapon was a two-three
meter spear with a leaf-shaped blade at one end and a short spike at the other. This allowed Greek troops to fight in the
famed phalanx formation, and presented any would-be attackers with a unified front of
long spears to contend with. Armed as they were with shorter spears and
swords, the Persians found this difficult to overcome. Greek infantry was also equipped with large
bronze-layered shields called hoplons, which offered unparallelled protection versus the
wicker shields in use by the Persians. On their bodies, Greek soldiers wore heavy
bronze breastplates, bronze greaves, and helmets also made of bronze. The use of bronze and heavy armor would prove
to be a decisive advantage for the Greeks. At sea the mostly-Athenian fleet was also
equipped with the Trireme- however unlike the Persian forces nearly all of Greek ships
were military vessels. Having become rich from their silver mines,
the Athenians had decided to invest heavily into a formidable fleet, which in turn made
them undisputed masters of the Aegean. The Battle: As Persian forces marched south into Greece,
Leonidas led his small army for the pass at Thermopylae, which at the time was no more
than 50 feet across (15 meters) and bordered on one side by tall cliffs, and the ocean
on the other. The pass allowed Greek forces to make best
use of their formidable phalanx formation, while completely denying the Persians the
advantage of their overwhelming numbers. Massing his forces before the Greek position,
Xerxes dispatched a spy to ascertain what the Greeks were up to- only for the astonished
spy to return and report that the Greeks were stripping nude for exercise and fixing each
other’s hair, a common tradition especially amongst the Spartans. Sending a formal messenger, Xerxes offered
the assembled Greeks a truce: the defenders should surrender and become allies to Xerxes
in exchange for being allowed to retreat unharmed and being granted some of the lands of those
who resisted. The offer was debated amongst the assembled
Greeks, with many wanting to accept it- including a number of Spartans- but in the end it was
Leonidas’ leadership that kept the alliance together. Infuriated by the rejection, Xerxes ordered
his troops forward into battle. Funneled into the narrow pass, the Persian
forces ran into the shields and spears of the Greek defenders, not making so much as
a dent. Armed with short spears and swords, Persian
forces could not penetrate the layers of the Greek Phalanx, and thousands died while the
Greeks suffered few losses. Enraged, Xerxes ordered his famous Immortals
into the fray, confident of their victory- yet even the Immortals met with the same fate:
death on the spear points and shields of the Greek phalanx. Meanwhile at sea, a storm had scattered and
decimated the Persian fleet, allowing the smaller and much more mobile Greek fleet to
target small scattered groups of Persian ships and destroy them. On the first day alone the Greeks captured
30 ships and destroyed many more, and on the second day of battle the Greek navy completely
destroyed the flotilla of the Cilicians, a vassal of the Persian empire. Despite all odds, it seemed victory may just
have been possible. Yet at night of the second day, fate turned
against the Greek defenders- or perhaps the inevitability of facing off against such overwhelming
numbers. Though legend states that a Greek defector
known as Ephialtes contacted Xerxes and offered to show the Persians a route around the Greek
position, in all likelihood it was simply a matter of time that Persian scouts discover
the hidden path. Knowing of the secret path, Leonidas stationed
a force of 100 to defend it- but caught by surprise the defenders were quickly scattered
by advancing Persian forces. Receiving news of the imminent encirclement,
Leonidas considered his options and chose to order the majority of his forces into retreat,
while making one last stand against the advancing Persians. Death was certain, and history has long debated
why Leonidas chose to stay and fight. Some accounts state that an oracle had declared
that Sparta would only be saved by the death of one of its kings, and thus Leonidas was
prompted by prophecy. However in all likelihood Leonidas chose to
stay and fight as a matter of sheer military necessity- without a rearguard to protect
the Greek retreat, retreating forces would be decimated by the advancing Persians. Prudent, but given the character of Leonidas
and his agreement to ally with Athens and other former enemies, it is also likely that
Leonidas’ choice was based on some level of idealism as well. For centuries Greece had been divided, and
in fact many historians agree that if Greece had ever unified and remained unified, it
could have conquered the ancient world and then resisted the future advances of the Macedonians
and Romans. Sadly though Greece remained a fractured land
of warring city-states, and only in this time of great need had the bitterest of rivals
allied together for their shared defense. If Leonidas could ensure the retreat of a
unified Greek force, and then make one last, valiant stand against these foreign invaders,
perhaps his sacrifice could rally the rest of Greece and show them what they were capable
of standing side by side as free Greeks, and not enemies. Holding his ground with his remaining Spartans,
a force of Thespians and Thebans, the Greeks reformed into a compact phalanx- with the
exception of the Thebans who surrendered to Xerxes without a fight. Flanked on both sides, a final battle raged
with terrible violence, and yet despite being outnumbered, superior Greek training and equipment
took a heavy toll on the Persians. Leonidas was eventually killed, though his
surviving Spartans viciously fought back Persian forces four times to retrieve his body. Eventually even these Spartans were overcome,
and Leonidas’ body was crucified, his head placed on a stake to serve as a warning against
further insurrection. At sea the battle also took a turn for the
worst. Despite two days of stunning successes, Persian
naval forces regrouped on the third day and won a decisive victory against the Greek fleet. Knowing that the battle at Thermopylae had
been lost, Greek forces retreated to assist in the final evacuation of Athens. The Battle of Thermopylae would come to be
known as a pyrrhic victory- or a victory where the cost is so high, that it can hardly be
considered a victory at all. Xerxes had his revenge against Athens, yet
as his troops arrived the city had already been evacuated of all but the most stubborn
of elders. Razing the city to the ground, Athens was
nevertheless preserved in spirit as its population had already fled. Though the ground battle at Thermopylae is
the engagement that history remembers best, it was actually the battle waged by the mostly
Athenian fleets at Artemisium that would inevitably lead to the defeat of Persian forces. A minor military victory at the time, the
battles at Artemisium nevertheless gave Greek forces an insight into how the Persian fleet
operated and allowed them to devise plans to defeat them in future battles. It also weakened the Persian fleet, losses
which combined with those suffered at sea during freak storms that preceded the battle,
were hard to replace. Despite their recent defeat, the Athenian
general Themistocles persuaded the Greek allies into one decisive engagement against the Persians,
knowing that if they could be defeated at sea Xerxes’ ground forces would be forced
to retreat as well. Lured into the narrow Straits of Salamis by
a cunning ploy on Themistocles’ behalf, the Persian fleet- bottled up and unable to
maneuver- was handily defeated. With supply lines cut off and his navy decimated,
Xerxes retreated to Asia with most of his army, but left a sizable portion to continue
the conquest of Greece. One year later though a unified Greek force
engaged the Persian army at the Battle of Plataea and secured a decisive victory, effectively
ending the Persian threat to the Greek mainland. The importance of Thermopylae was manifold
for the Greek people, yet of greatest import may perhaps have been the evacuation of the
Athenian people- bought and paid for by the blood of the brave men who defended that narrow
pass for three days. This preserved Athenian culture, and with
so many of our modern values tracing their roots to ancient Greece, who can know what
our world might look like today had Athens been eradicated as planned. Though perhaps, we would have barely noticed
the difference. Demonized as they have been in popular media
by films such as 300, the Persians actually made many contributions to the development
of democracy and were a fairly progressive people. In the end, the failed conquest of Greece
and the great sacrifices at the battle of Thermopylae may all have been nothing more
significant than the failed ambitions of human ego. What do you think was the real reason for
Greek success at Thermopylae and Artemisium- superior training and equipment, luck, or
some sort of divine providence? What other great battles in history would
you like to see us tackle? Let us know in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other video
How To Survive Inside Prison?. Thanks for watching, and as always, please
don’t forget to like, share and subscribe.

100 thoughts on “Battle of Thermopylae – Spartans vs Persians

  1. I liken the Spartans to our modern day Special Operations Forces, which are the best in the world. Imagine being trained from early childhood to be a Worrier. Even though the persians vastly outnumbered the the Greeks, training, armament, and tactics took a very big toll on the persians. Thank you King Leonidas for your sacrifice.

  2. Just no. Persia weren’t the crazies you think they are, and the Greeks were nasty to their own subjects.

  3. Greeks were more superior than Persians because of their advanced fighting experience and high morale, for defending their homeland from invaders.

  4. little thing: actually there were NOT 300 it was actually 298 spartans, 1 was doing a message and got back as soon as the battle ended, and the other was sick, SO the title should be 298

  5. Persian military forces is just terrible. They look more like ottoman empire forces than Persia… And the swords seem Arabian, not persian.

  6. 2:39 Eretria is not there, but on the island (Evoia), so you should have placed it on the opposite side 🙂


    1.democracy of athens was not the root of todays democracy , democratic cultures have existed long ago as tribal human culture , athens democracy counted only votes of aristocrate adult males not women not old and young and majority of citys population that consisted of SLAVES , and an important note that persian empire had democrat semi independent states and at the time of darius the great democracy was suggested as the ruling regime.

    2.invasion of xerxses was successful due to greek states accepting persian rule and supporting it that caused the greeks to be defeated on land leading to the capture of athens, later rebelions caused the greek states to be subjugated by athens and later peloponnesian wars.

    3.battle of thermopylae was a success for the persian front ,they crossed the land in short time of 3 days without major fighting , killed the king of sparta , reached their greek allies (biothians if i am not wrong) then to athens .

    4. the numbers are vastly exagurated , but recent estimates 7000 greek against 40 to 80 tousend persian(the core of the army could not be any larger quote by prof.John W. I. Lee)

    5.this was a battle of antiquity long before any modern ideas of country and ethnic/cultural divide in fact greeks were among one of the borrowers of multicultural persian empire

  8. F#%k Spartans… The Macedonian's conquered Persia.
    In 331 BC, a Macedonian army of Alexander the Great, led by his regent, Antipater, defeated the forces of Sparta, led by King Agis III. The Spartan King had conspired with the mortal enemy of the Greeks, the Persians, and had let on his plans to attack the Macedonian forces of Alexander.

  9. There weren’t actually just 300 Spartans those were just the best warriors in the army there were actually 10000 spartans

  10. The sad part about it is we still haven’t learned from History because they don’t believe it’s credible anymore.

  11. Dude you could have fooled me "darius died of old age" i clearly saw thermisthaclease shot him in the heart with a arrow from a mile away. 🙄

  12. If you play assassin's Creed Odyssey until Herodotus is waiting at the battlefield of Thermopylae you will enter a cutscenes where king Leonidas DEFEATED the Persians but also died afterwards.

  13. Greece did unite and conquer the world under Alexander… a Greek king of Doric descent from Megara. Get yer info right mate.

  14. Lol a force only of 250k at most hahaha umm athens and sparta would have had no issue getting rid of that type of force from the seas or land, the pictation is horrible the info is wrong at times. Next time do more research so you dont look like a fool when making this stuff

  15. Most of history was written by Greek historians but not all of them are correct.. how 300 men can hold a persian horde… think with your minds don't believe everything you hear …

  16. "spartans, what is your profession?!" and for more present day comparison, "Spetsnaz, what is your profession?" lol

  17. The true reason was desperation by the soldiers of a nation , who knew that if they lost, all that they stood for would no longer exist

  18. "though initially imperfect"

    It will always be imperfect.

    Democracy is a contradiction; rule enforced by the dim-witted majority is effectively a majority dictatorship. It's slow and susceptible to influence. The fallacies are never-ending.

  19. 5.17 Marines were fighting hand to hand (just to remember that the first marines were actually Greeks not americans)

  20. The Persians were actually one of the most tolerant empires of the era. Its a mistake to call them tyrannical, at least, anymore than Sparta was.

  21. Why do Persian ships have a cannon? Is this an Italian ship which did not exist in that time? Or you were too lazy to draw a real Persian ship?

  22. im not trying to sound like a hater, but sometimes i do wonder the accuracy of stats of this battle between the two. cause part of me thinks if the information is from greek sources, the numbers sound bit hyped up, i assume for war/military propaganda? im sure they were excellent with theatrics too. i kind of get the american war movie vibes. yes the battle happened, but they do across spiced up a little. plus im sure the greeks was the super power of their time to. id say the same about Persians about stats.

  23. Fun fact leonidas was the first to go down and the 299. Went down trying to protect his body from mutilation . they also took more than 20 years to retrieve his body

  24. You want to know why they hold so long ? The spartans were 3 meters high, want to know more? Look it up ! Think im lying ? Look in history books. Only the 299 fighters and the leader himself was 4 meters !!

  25. At 10:28 you say that they would be defended against macedonians. So spartans and atheneans were greek but macedonians weren't? From this phrase alone your video is unreliable! Educate yourself before try to educate others, please!

  26. “The Greeks being unified against the Macedonian conquest” Dude there wouldn’t have been any tries for a Macedonian conquest since Macedonia would be united with all the other Greek city states, you make zero sense. 😂

  27. I would like to make a point on why they did not surrender which will probably go unseen by most. The spartans were without doubt the most elite fighting force of the Ancient age, matched by no one, and feared by all. Their culture and technique are still studied today. One phrase that is well known among the spartans is the phrase "come back with your shield or on it." Although this phrase was used in its modern day remake, this phrase was very true. It meant to come back with your shield held in victory or dead on it, and if you retreated from battle you were stripped of your spartan title and cast out of spartan society. Just my two sense, coming from someone of spartan descent myself, 100%.

  28. evwry body is talking about spartans and its 300.

    go and search about
    battle of chaumakur of 40 indian sikhs vs 1 million mughals.

    both persians and greeks and cannot defeat indians.
    even alexander had to return back from india due to powerful resistance by indians

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