By Henry Mobley
The Battle of Thermopylae, a battle between a group of Greek city-states and the Persian empire of Xerxes I of Persia, was fought in 480 BC along the north-eastern corner of Greece. The Greeks had defeated the Persians ten years before at the Battle of Marathon and the Persians were wanting revenge and were wanting to expand the Persian Empire into Europe. (The Persians were the ancestors of modern-day Iran). After conquering much of Western Asia and the Eastern-Mediterranean basin, Xerxes made extensive plans to conquer the Greeks and open the door into Europe.
The group of which we hear the most were the Spartans, a small city-state in the western part of Greece. The Spartans were led by King Leonidas I of Sparta who went into the battle with the premonition that he would die in the battle. Along the route to Thermopylae, the Spartans picked up contingents of solders along the way. Thermopylae, which means the “Hot Gates” because of some hot springs that were in the area, was chosen by King Leonidas as the site for the battle because it was a very narrow passage through which the Persian army would have to pass and could be defended by a much smaller group of soldiers if the were willing to fight. There is disagreement as to how many participants were at the scene of the fight but most scholars agree that there was at least three-hundred-thousand (300,000) troops in the Persian army while the Greeks had seven to eight thousand soldiers, (7-8,000). (Some estimate that the Persians had close to five-million, (5,000,000).
A Persian diplomat was sent to try to negotiate with King Leonidas and offered the Greeks their freedom with the title, “Friends of the Persian People.” They would then be relocated on land that was better than that that they had I Greece. Leonidas refused all Persian offers, after which the Persian ambassador forcefully entreated Leonidas to lay down his weapons. King Leonidas’ response was, “COME AND GET THEM!” The soldiers were on the scene for seven days, the last three involving the actual fighting. Xerxes, after waiting four days, sent in a band of Meads and Cissians, accompanied by relatives of those who had died ten years earlier at Marathon, to attack the Greeks. The Greeks had rebuilt an old wall in the middle of the narrow passage and defended the wall on both sides, the Spartans being on the exposed side. The Greek formation of battle was called the Phalanx, a formation in which the men stood shoulder to shoulder and locked their shields together, making a solid wall. They were armed with short swords and spears, the shaft of which got longer with each rank of soldiers following, so that the enemy was faced with a solid wall of spear points. When the battle closed, they used the short spears to great advantage against an enemy not equipped for close quarter fighting. Ten-thousand Persian troops were sent to make a frontal attack against the Greeks and bring back the prisoners to stand before Xerxes.
Xerxes had his throne set up on the mountain overlooking Thermopylae. He anticipated that the battle would be over quickly. So many of the Medes, the first shock troops that were sent in, were slaughtered that Xerxes is reported to have jumped up off his throne at least three times that day. Two or three Spartans were killed. The second assault made on that first day was done so by a group of ten-thousand Persian soldiers called the “Immortals.” They failed to open up the passage and allow the Persian army to enter, even though they were flogged into battle! Another fifty thousand, (50,000), men were sent into battle the second day but they, likewise, failed to over-run the Greeks.
At the end of the second day, a traitor named Ephialtes agreed to show the Persian army how to get around the Greeks by way of a mountain trail, thereby outflanking the Greeks and attacking them from the front and the rear. Leonidas had known of the mountain trail and sent about one-thousand troops to defend it but they did not do well against the forty-thousand enemy troops that opposed them. At dawn on the third day, Leonidas held a war council and Leonidas is thought to have sent most of the Greek soldiers out of the pass before they could be surrounded and either taken captive or slain on the field of battle.
The Spartans vowed to fight to the death. When King Leonidas made up this special regiment of Spartan soldiers, he chose only “sire” warriors, those who had male heirs at home, because he knew that it would be a fight to the death. About seven-hundred Thespians refused to leave the field of battle and stayed with the Spartans. There were also about three-hundred Thebans present making the entire Greek force about fourteen-hundred warriors. When the Greeks went into battle to meet the Persians, they fought until every spear was broken and then began using the short swords in close-quarter fighting. They were trying to kill as many Persians as they could. Many of the Thespians and the Thebans surrendered to the Persians. The Spartans fought to the last man. It was against the Law of Sparta for one of its warriors to surrender. “Here they defended themselves to the last, those who still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth.” The body of King Leonidas I was decapitated and then hanged on a cross, a treatment the Persians did not often render to a conquered victim who fought so courageously. The Persian dead numbered about twenty thousand. They held the Persians off long enough for the Greek navy to get into place where they were able to defeat the Persian navy and Xerxes withdrew the bulk of his army back to Persia.
We understand that Greek culture had a great effect on the Jewish culture at the time of the New Testament. Allegories abound inn the scriptures such as running in a race for fighting the good fight of faith. Notice the words “ABOVE ALL.” If this terminology was influenced by Greek culture, it is entirely understandable. Of all of the accoutrements that a Greek soldier possessed, none was more important than his SHIELD. The Greek armies were not made up of professional soldiers, but rather citizen-soldiers, most of whom were farmers. Boys were put into military training at a very young age. Each boy inherited the shield that had been used by his father and perhaps even his grandfather. It was never to be laid on the ground or to be disrespected in any way. A special rod accompanied the boy with his shield. When at bivouac, the rod was used to keep the shield in an upright position, ready to be retrieved at any time, whether in training or in the event of an actual attack.
The success of the Spartans was in UNITY of the soldiers and their reliance upon one another. Individualism was discouraged. It is as vital as ever before the apostolic ministry bind together as one in the work of the CROSS. Two verses of scripture come to mind; Eccles. 4:12 and if one prevail against him, two. shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken Deut. 32:30 How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten, thousand to. Flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord has shut them up? Let’s let the Apostle Paul have the final say; 1 Cor. 1:10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, That ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in same mind and in the same judgment
From, “Apostolic Accent”/Page 2-4, By Henry Mobley
This material is copyrighted and may be used to study & research purposes only.