Not much is known about Leonidas from his younger days. It is believed that Leonidas was born in the year 540 BC and died in the year 480 BC. He was a member of the Agiad house and was the third son of Anaxandridas II. Leonidas’ half brother named Cleomenes was the king of Sparta and had only one child – a daughter named Gorgo. Since, Cleomenes died without having a son, and Leonidas was the most closely related to Cleomenes, Leonidas thus inherited the throne to Sparta. When he became the new king of Sparta he married the daughter of Cleomenes, Gorge. Gorge was very supportive of the majority of the decisions Leonidas made including one of the most memorable – his involvement at the battle of Thermoplae.
Battle of Thermopylae
The Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) was a key point in the Persian war because it allowed the Greek navy to position itself and also allowed Athens to be evacuated. Leonidas had received a request from the main Greek forces to help defend all of Greece from the invasion. He went to the Delphic oracle to help decide what he should do. There he was told a prophecy : “For you, inhabitants of wide wayed Sparta, Either your great and glorious city must be wasted by Persian men, Or if not that, then the bound of Lacedaemon must mourn a dead king, from Heracles’ line. The might of bulls or lions will not restrain him with opposing strength; for he has the might of Zeus.”. Leonidas decided to aid the Greek forces by defending against Persia even if it meant his death. Leonidas’ role in this historic event was as a general in the battle leading a small army made up of at least 300 hundred Spartan soldiers and other Greek forces into battle. They fought at a valley created by two cliffs to help funnel the Persian’s large army into a small area. This caused the Persian’s large numbers to be a disadvantage instead of helping them overwhelm the Greek’s army. The size of the two military forces were estimated to be 150,000 Persian soldiers, and about 14,000 troops under Leonidas’ command. The battle consisted of 3 days of intense fighting between the two forces. Leonidas’ goal was to hold off the Persian army long enough to force Xerxes to sail somewhere to resupply on food and water which would lower the Persian army’s size and force. Leonidas was able to cause large number of casualties for the invading Persian army within the three days. This was the result of both Leonidas’ soldiers who were better trained and the superior equipment of the Greeks. For example; the Greek spears were longer and they had more durable armor compared to the Persian’s woven armor, wooden shields and short spears. The formation Leonidas was using was known as the phalanx, which is a rectangular or square mass of soldiers armed with shields and spears to defend and attack as one through synchronized movements. Using these advantages, Leonidas was able to hold the Persians off successfully without losing very many men. The only issue with his tactic was that when a part of the formation is broken, the whole group becomes vulnerable which could lead to a large number of causalities if not a wipeout of the entire army. On the third day of the battle the phalanx formation was broken due to a betrayal. A traitor named Ephialtes betrayed the Grecian army by revealing a path that led to the back of the phalanx formation and allowed the Persians to flank the Spartan army and defeat them. Leonidas and his troops fought hard but they were all nearly killed. The deaths included King Leonidas himself. Leonidas’ body was rumored to have been fought over, but the Greeks failed to retrieve it. It was said that Xerxes ordered his head to be put on a stake and displayed for others to see. His body was recovered 40 years after his death. If it wasn’t for his sacrifice, the Persian invasion may not have been stopped and the world as we know it wouldn’t be the same.