Leonidas and His Three Hundred

three hundred
King Leonidas

Leonidas (c. 530-480 B.C.) was a king of the city-state of Sparta from about 490 B.C. until his death at the Battle of Thermopylae against the Persian army in 480 B.C. Although Leonidas lost the battle he was immortalized with his death and that of his three hundred personal bodyguards at Thermopylae.

Like all male Spartan citizens, Leonidas had been trained mentally and physically since he was big enough to walk. In addition, Spartan children were taken away from their mothers at an early so to start their training to become Hoplites.

Hoplites were armed with a round shield, spear, and iron short sword. Equally important, in battle, they used a formation called a phalanx, in which rows of hoplites stood directly next to each other.  So that their shields overlapped with one another. During a frontal attack, this wall of shields provided significant protection to the warriors behind it. The Roman used a similar tactic. Except they used a rectangular shield to form a wall when the shields overlapped.

The problem with the phalanx is if the enemies attacked either from the side or behind they were unprotected and vulnerable. It was this fatal weakness of the formidable phalanx formation.  These proved to be Leonidas’  and his three hundred undoing against an invading Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.


Leonidas was the third son of Anaxandridas II of Sparta. He was the half-brother of the late King Cleomenes I of Sparta. Leonidas was crowned King after the death of his half-brother. Cleomenes’ died of a suspected suicide. Leonidas was also married to Cleomenes’ only child, the wise Gorgo, Queen of Sparta.

Battle of Thermopylae,

 The battle of Thermopylae took place in northern Greece (480 BC) during the Persian Wars. Not to mention, this was basically a revenge reprisal by the Persians (now Iran) after they were defeated at Marathon ten years earlier. This time the Persian invasion was led by King Xerxes in 480 bce. Leonidas King of Sparta and his new alliance with Athens had decided what must be done to save Greece. Leonidas knew that the army of Xerxes was going to invade Greece from the north via the very narrow Thermopylae passage and by sea. Athens would be responsible for the taken care of the Persian fleet.

Leonidas realized that the only way his small force with his three hundred personal bodyguards was to stop Xerxes army would be at Thermopylae. There the Persian King Xerxes had led a vast army overland from the Dardanelles. The army accompanied by a substantial fleet that was moving along the coast. His forces quickly seized northern Greece after he defeated King Leonidas and his forces at the narrow pass of Thermopylae.  Next to the sea nearby in the straits of Artemisium.

The End of the King and the Three Hundred

King Leonidas succeeded with his plan to hold back the Persians. Leonidas efforts gave Greece the opportunity to organize to fight Xerxes. King Leonidas armored Greek infantry held a line only a few dozen yards long between a steep hillside and the sea. This battlefield was very narrow and was personally picked by Leonidas. It prevented the Persians from bringing their superior numbers to bear. The Greeks were able to hold back two days the fierce Persian attacks. They succeeded to impose heavy casualties on the Persians while suffering relatively light losses themselves.

Unfortunately, King Leonidas and his 300-man who refused to leave their King and retreat. Mainly, because it was contrary to Spartan law and custom. This led to their demise and their infamy.


The Spartan motto was “come back carrying your shield or upon it”. They never left their men behind.

This thought is also followed by the United States Marines.


“Leonidas I” June 2017 <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonidas_I>

History.com Staff “LEONIDAS” June 2017 <http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/leonidas>

N.S. Gill “King Leonidas of Sparta and the Battle at Thermopylae” June 2017 <https://www.thoughtco.com/king-leonidas-of-sparta-battle-thermopylae-112481>

Donald Sommerville “Battle of Thermopylae GREEK HISTORY” [480 BC] June 2917 <https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Thermopylae-Greek-history-480-BC>



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