Popular culture has been kind to the historical episode of the Battle of Thermopylae, but with romanticized anecdotes intertwined between the actual events that took place before and during the particular military encounter. One apt example would pertain to King Leonidas I himself, who was probably closer to the age of 60 at the time of the battle, as opposed to what Hollywood would make us believe (by contrast, Xerxes was only 38-years old at the time of the battle). So without further ado, let us try to sift some of the facts from fiction, and have a gander at the 10 things one should know about the Battle of Thermopylae – a momentous episode of history that stands testament to the importance of tactics and bravery in war.
1) The ‘invincible’ Persian record
While history is not favorable to the ancient Achaemenid Persians when it comes to Greek wars, it should be noted that the Persians had quite a reputable record against the Greeks in battles prior to the Marathon episode in 490 BC. In that regard, the Greeks were not able to stop the Persian juggernaut in the four clashes out of five that took place in open-land during the preceding Ionian revolt. The fifth clash was a chaotic affair with a night-time ambush on the part of the Greeks.
But beyond just the numbers game, it was the Persian combined-arms style of mass combat that allowed them to regularly triumph over the Greek armies. To that end, the ‘flexible’ Persians tended to prefer archery over solid formations of infantrymen locking their shields. Furthermore, the Achaemenids also utilized their cavalry for flanking and even at times as shock troops to disperse their foes – as evidenced by the final battle of the Ionian revolt at Malene that caused the ‘Greeks to flee’ due to a last moment cavalry charge (according to Herodotus).