Thermopylae anniversary

The Battle of Thermopylae - 480 BC - Today is the 2,500th Anniversary of this memorable battle.  This was the famous battle where King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, together with allied Hellenic city-states, held up the second Persian invasion of Greece, led by King Xerxes, at the narrow pass of Thermopylae.  Most ancient historians put the date of the battle at 20th August, others at 9th September, what we know for sure is that the Greek defence of Thermopylae would be remembered throughout history.  Writers have used the battle as an example of the power of a patriotic army defending its own native soil.  The performance of the defenders is also used as an example of the advantages of leadership, training and equipment, and has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds. 

The Persian King of Kings, Xerxes, had embarked on a military expedition against Hellas, to conquer and subjugate Greece and Europe.  Herodotus offers an amazing account of the Persian multiethnic army and the Greeks' state of mind.  Xerxes asked Demaratus, the ex-king of Sparta who was self exiled to Susa, to explain the state of the Hellenes.  He replied, "There is no way that they will accept your stated intention to enslave Hellas.  Even if all the others come to see things in your way, the Spartans will certainly oppose you in battle.  You need not ask as to their number in order to consider how they could possibly do this, for if there are one thousand of them marching out, they will fight you, and if they number more or less than that, they will fight you all the same".  Xerxes found out he was telling the truth.

Any overwhelming difference in the size of the aggressor's army never deterred the Greeks.  Demaratus further elaborated that the Hellenes were fighting as free men, not from fear.  They wanted to defend their homeland and their freedom, even to the bitter end.

King Leonidas was killed during the last day of battle, together with the remnants of his 300 Spartan bodyguard and 900 helots who would not hand over his body to King Xerxes.  700 Thespians and some of the 400 Thebans that stayed with Leonidas as a rear-guard also died in the heroic 'last stand', with some Thebans surrendering at the end of the 3-day battle, as all others were killed. 

Major exhibitions were planned for the special 2,500 year anniversary at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens as well as Thermopylae, Salamis and Sparta.  Some of these events were delayed or cancelled due to the global Coronavirus pandemic.

A new temporary exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum, titled “Glorious Victories: Between Myth and History” will open to the public on Tuesday 20th October.  The major exhibition is part of the celebratory programme for the 2,500-year anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae and the Naval Battle of Salamis.  It will run until the end of February 2021.