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The Battle of Thermopylae as It Was Recorded by Historian Herodotus

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“The Battle of Thermopyale”

The author of “Histories of Herodotus” is Herodotus himself. Herodotus was to be considered the “father of history”. He was the first man to record events and how they happened. His work includes factual information along with myths and legends. The “History of Iran: Histories of Herodotus, Book 7” explains the battle of Thermopylae.

The battle of Thermopylae is a significant battle. The main people involved in the battle is Thermopylae were the Greeks and the Persians. In the battle of Thermopylae Xerxes’ expedition was directed against Athens, but was really to conquer all of Greece. Herodotus feels compelled to express his opinion that he knows is unfavorable. He expresses that Greece was saved by the Athenians, and that if they had remained neutral, the Greeks would not have been able to resist the Persian navy. In conclusion to not bring able to resist the Persian Navy Xerxes’ army could easily have been ferried to every part of Greece, including Sparta. Herodotus adds to this encomium that the Athenian decision to join the war against the Asian invaders, was very courageous because the oracle of Delphi had predicted eminent doom if the Athenians were to stand firm. The Athenians did in fact destroy the Persian Navy, making is impossible to maintain such a large army in hostile territory.

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The discussion about the oracle probably took place when Xerxes was on his way to Sardes. As a corollary of the decision to trust on the ‘wooden wall that shall not fall’, Athens was evacuated. While Xerxes was still at Sardes, Sparta organized the Greek cities into a military league. This alliance was called the Corinthian League. Herodotus talks about the Thessalian envoys who visit the allied cities. They had requested assistance t stop Xerxes at the northern border of Greece. The Persian army invades Thessaly, and reaches Thermopylae without further incidents. The Greek garrison is small, and Leonidas sends heralds to the Greek towns, asking for reinforcements. Meanwhile, a Persian spy is ordered to find out if it is true that Thermopylae is guarded by a very small number. He confirms the earlier report, and explains that the Spartans are preparing themselves for a good fight. Xerxes waited four days to order his troops into battle. At the beginning of the third day, Leonidas learns that the Immortals will soon descend from the mountains and attack his rear. He sends away the other troops, but orders the Spartans and Thebans to stay. Herodotus explains why Leonidas decides to stay; because the oracle had announced that Sparta would either be destroyed or lose its king. Leonidas choose the second alternative. Then, he orders his men to go forward against their opponents. When Leonidas falls, a bitter struggle over his body breaks out. Herodotus tells that the Greeks have to drive off the enemy four times, and finally succeed in dragging the corpse away. Then, the Thebans desert their allies and surrender; the Spartans and Thespians retreat to a small hill, where they are killed by Persian archers. After the fall of Thermopylae, the road to Greece lies open. Xerxes orders Leonidas’ body to be crucified. Herodotus quotes the epitaph of the Spartan soldiers: “Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we are buried, obedient to their orders” (Histories of Herodotus: Book 7).

This reading helped me for further understand the battle of Thermopylae. Before reading the excerpt from Histories of Herodotus: Book 7, I did not truly understand the events leading up to the battle, during the battle, or the outcome of the battle of Thermopylae. The reading really explains everything in great detail, and helped me to further understand.


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