Preperation for battle - 480 B.C.


Xerxes knew what every other Greek knew, apart from the Carneian festival on the 20th of August, at the second full moon of the month, it was also the year for the Olympic games which were held at the time of the same full moon. Although, in view of the invasion, there were many Greeks who could not attend, the fact remained that even in the face of the attack upon their homeland the games were still being held.

When Xerxes was first told that the Greeks were celebrating the Olympic festival, where they were watching athletic contests and chariot-races. The king, imagining that for the Greeks to indulge in athletics when his army was threatening to engulf their country, naturally jumped to the conclusion that these Greeks must only be doing so because there were prizes of immense value to be won.

He was astounded to hear that it was not for gold or silver that they were competing but for 'the wreath of olives which is the custom to give'. The son of Artabanus (Xerxes' uncle) was so astonished when the interpreter repeated these words that he exclaimed in a loud voice to the King's brother-in-law; "Good heavens, Mardonius, what kind of men are these that you have brought us to fight against - men who compete with one another for no material reward, but only for honour!"

In the summer of 480 BC, while Xerxes moved into Greece, the event that would lead to the battle of Himera started to take place. Many years of preperation had allowed Xerxes to strike at Greece in a double horned attack. While his forces were decending into Greece itself, Xerxes in his wisdom had also ensured that little help should aid them. Greek dominated Sicily was always the most likely to come to the aid of Greece, but now a threat from Carthage was developing at the same time.

NEXT PAGE>>>The battle of Himera

News reached the allies at the Isthmus of the Persians being in Pieria, straightway they broke up, and proceeded, some on foot to Thermopylae, others by sea to Artemisium.[1]

About this time, the Delphians, alarmed both for themselves and for their country, consulted the god, and received for an answer {O12} a command to 'pray for the winds; for the winds would do Greece good service', this message was immediatly passed on to the allies who cheered on amid the fears which they entertained with respect to the barbarian, earned their everlasting gratitude.

(At this time of year the winds were usually wild, summer was nearing so as the air got warmer it would rise, allowing a cold north wind to fill in the void. So harsh north winds were common on the seas especially this time of year, the oracle was hopeing the Greeks could use this to their advantage).

The force with Leonidas was sent forward in advance of the main body, that the sight of them might encourage the allies to fight, and hinder them going over to the Medes. Currently, the Spartans were celebrating the Carneian festival, once that had finished the main army would advance, the rest of the allies also intended to act similarly, for it also happened that the Olympics were also on at this time.

Leonidas was now one of the kings of Sparta, Kleomenes the oldest brother having died while in prison and Dorieus, dieing in Sicily now made way clear for Leonidas to take the throne.

Scholars have always pondered why Leonidas was chosen, with such a small force to head out towards Themopylae, when they could have sent their full army of about 10,000 strong. We believe the Spartan Ephors made their decision because of the following:

-The Spartans believed that as the former Spartan king Demaratus who at this time was aiding the Persians, had been wrongly accused by the other Spartan King Kleomedes. A scarifice had to be made to him to right that wrong. Kleomedes as a Agiad king had by now perished and he was replaced by Leonidas. Leonidas had to be sacrified to satisfy the gods.
-The Oracle of Delphi made a phrophesy that 'a Spartan King must die'. {O11}.
-Thermopylae was the place where Hercules had died, thowing himself into the water as he burnt with fire, the site became know as "the hot gates", due to the thermal springs. Leonidas and the Spartans believed they were direct decendants of Hercules and would defend this place to the death, it would be inconsevable that they would ever surrender or retreat from there.

King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans (a King was allowed 300 bodyguards) now made his way through Greece to Thermopylae, picking up allies along the way. From Arcadia 1,000, from Tegea 500, from Mantinea 500, Orchonmenia 120, Corinth 400, Phlius 200, Mycenae 80, plus 1000 others such was from the Peloponnese. From Boeotia came 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans the Locrians or Opus and Phocians had also sent their entire force.

The various nations each had a captain of their own under whom they served; but the one to whom all especially looked up, and who had the command of the entire force, was the Lacedaemonian, Leonidas.



The Spartans march forwardOnce at Thermopylae, Leonidas immideatley organised for the wall that was once built but now worn away over time to be rebuilt that closed the pass. The allied army by now had seized with fear, the Peloponnesians generally said that their army should fall back upon the Peloponnese, and there guard the Isthmus. But Leonidas, who saw the indignation that the Phocians and Locrians heard of that plan, wouldn't sway, and said that the Spartans and allies would stay. He organised envoys to several cites to ask for help, since they were merely an advance force, and that the main body would soon be joining them and as they were too few to make a stand against an army like one the of the Medes.

The allied navy now engaged in full was made up of the following vessels:

Athenians 120, Corinth 40, Megarians 20, Chalcidean 20, Aeginetans 80, Sicyonians 12, Lacedaemonians 10, Epidaurains 8, Eretrians 7, Opus 7, Troezenians 5, Ceans 5 and the Styreans 2. Such were the number of the allied fleet at Artemisium. In command of the fleet, as agreed to, was the Spartan commander Eurybiades.

Eurybiades, had rounded Cape Sunium and was on its way up the Euboea Channel.


While the horsehair-crested helmets and the scarlet cloaks restored what they could of the old wall, the Themistocles gambit was being played out at Artemisium.The battle for Thermpylae


NEXT PAGE>>>The Battle of Thermopylae



'Histories' by Herodotus published by Wordsworth 1996



Note#1: An important artifate that has been recovered from this time is the 'Themistocles Decree', which is a public proclomation carved out in stone for the citizens of Athens to evacuate the city and head to Salamis.

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