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Leonidas: Warrior-Hero, King of the Spartans

Some people are warriors and others are heroes. Leonidas, King of the Spartans, was not just a warrior and more than a hero. He was a warrior-hero merged into one.

Like all Spartans, Leonidas was trained from very young in fighting skills, and to love his people, to sing and dance. The name given him means “Lion’s son.”

The states of Ancient Greece and the Persian Empire were separated by the Aegean Sea.

As he grew up, the Persians were thrusting westward taking many of the outposts of Greek civilization, until King Xerxes of Persia amassed an army to invade mainland Greece.

To defend Greece from attack King Leonidas marched north through Greece with 7,000 troops to take up a perfect defensive position at the mountain pass of Thermopylae (translated as “Hot Gates”, because of its thermal springs).

There they faced a full and overwhelming Persian invasion force.

The spirit of the Greeks was exemplified by a soldier who when hearing that the Persian army was so vast that their archers’ arrows would darken the sky, said: "So much the better, we can fight in the shade."

The battle raged on for two days while Persian King Xerxes wrongly thought that the sheer numbers of his force would defeat the hardy Spartans.

KaterinaBut luck went his way when a traitor, named Efialtes, told the Persians of a mountain pass that would allow them to outflank the Spartans.

Leonidas heard of the treachery in time and send away all his troops for safety except 300 whom he led against the Persians. Four times they repulsed the invaders until falling back overwhelmed, the Spartans fought to the death.

The Persian losses were so great that in revenge Xerxes had the body of Leonidas beheaded and crucified.

But only a few months later, the Spartans caught up with Xerxes and, in the climactic Battle of Plataea, drove the Persian horde forever from Hellenic soil.

The Greeks built a monument at Thermopylae to commemorate the great battle of 480 B.C. and the spot where Leonidas the Spartan and 300 other heroes died.

On the monument are written words, not of boasts or regrets. They simply say:

"Go tell the Spartans, passer-by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie."

The spirit of Leonidas will always be a model for a free world.

I will offer this embroidery to the Greek Shipowners' Union of London.


Embroidery of King Leonidas. The writing on the monument reads: "Come and Get It!"

map of battle