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Marble Hoplite statue, thought to be of Leonidas, (5th century BC), Sparta, Archæological Museum of Sparta, Greece
|King of Sparta|
|Born||c. 540 BC|
|Died||11 August 480 BC (aged around 60)|
Leonidas I ( /,- / ; Doric Λεωνίδας Α´, Leōnídas A'; Ionic and Attic Greek: Λεωνίδης Α´, Leōnídēs A' [leɔːnídɛːs] ; "son of the lion"; died 11 August 480 BC) was a warrior king of the Greek city-state of Sparta, and the 17th of the Agiad line; a dynasty which claimed descent from the mythological demigod Heracles and Cadmus. He was the husband of Gorgo, the daughter of Cleomenes I of Sparta. Leonidas had a notable participation in the Second Persian War, where he led the allied Greek forces to a last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) while attempting to defend the pass from the invading Persian army; he entered myth as the leader of the 300 Spartans.
According to Herodotus, Leonidas' mother was not only his father's wife but also his niece and had been barren for so long that the ephors, the five annually elected administrators of the Spartan constitution, tried to prevail upon King Anaxandridas II to set her aside and take another wife. Anaxandridas refused, claiming his wife was blameless, whereupon the ephors agreed to allow him to take a second wife without setting aside his first. This second wife, a descendant of Chilon of Sparta (one of the Seven Sages of Greece), promptly bore a son, Cleomenes. However, one year after Cleomenes' birth, Anaxandridas' first wife also gave birth to a son, Dorieus. Leonidas was the second son of Anaxandridas' first wife, and either the elder brother or twin of Cleombrotus.
King Anaxandridas II died in 520 BC,and Cleomenes succeeded to the throne sometime between then and 516 BC. Dorieus was so outraged that the Spartans had preferred his half-brother over himself that he found it impossible to remain in Sparta. He made one unsuccessful attempt to set up a colony in Africa and, when this failed, sought his fortune in Sicily, where after initial successes he was killed. Leonidas' relationship with his bitterly antagonistic elder brothers is unknown, but he married Cleomenes' daughter, Gorgo, sometime before coming to the throne in 490 BC.
Leonidas was heir to the Agiad throne and a full citizen ( homoios ) at the time of the Battle of Sepeia against Argos (c. 494 BC).Likewise, he was a full citizen when the Persians sought submission from Sparta and met with vehement rejection in or around 492/491 BC. His elder brother, the king, had already been deposed on grounds of purported insanity, and had fled into exile when Athens sought assistance against the First Persian invasion of Greece, that ended at Marathon (490 BC).
Plutarch has recorded the following: "When someone said to him: 'Except for being king you are not at all superior to us,' Leonidas son of Anaxandridas and brother of Cleomenes replied: 'But were I not better than you, I should not be king.'"As the product of the agoge, Leonidas is unlikely to have been referring to his royal blood alone but rather suggesting that he had, like his brother Dorieus, proven superior capability in the competitive environment of Spartan training and society, and that he believed this made him qualified to rule.
Leonidas was chosen to lead the combined Greek forces determined to resist the Second Persian invasion of Greece in 481 BC.This was not simply a tribute to Sparta's military prowess: The probability that the coalition wanted Leonidas personally for his capability as a military leader is underlined by the fact that just two years after his death, the coalition preferred Athenian leadership to the leadership of either Leotychidas or Leonidas' successor (as regent for his still under-aged son) Pausanias. The rejection of Leotychidas and Pausanias was not a reflection on Spartan arms. Sparta's military reputation had never stood in higher regard, nor was Sparta less powerful in 478 BC than it had been in 481 BC.
This selection of Leonidas to lead the defense of Greece against Xerxes' invasion led to Leonidas' death in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.
Upon receiving a request from the confederated Greek forces to aid in defending Greece against the Persian invasion, Sparta consulted the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle is said to have made the following prophecy in hexameter verse:
For you, inhabitants of wide-wayed Sparta,
Either your great and glorious city must be wasted by Persian men,
Or if not that, then the bound of Lacedaemon must mourn a dead king, from Heracles' line.
The might of bulls or lions will not restrain him with opposing strength; for he has the might of Zeus.
I declare that he will not be restrained until he utterly tears apart one of these.
In August 480 BC, Leonidas marched out of Sparta to meet Xerxes' army at Thermopylae with a small force of 1,200 men (900 helots and 300 Spartan hoplites), where he was joined by forces from other Greek city-states, who put themselves under his command to form an army of 7,000 strong. There are various theories on why Leonidas was accompanied by such a small force of hoplites. According to Herodotus, "the Spartans sent the men with Leonidas on ahead so that the rest of the allies would see them and march with no fear of defeat, instead of medizing like the others if they learned that the Spartans were delaying. After completing their festival, the Carneia, they left their garrison at Sparta and marched in full force towards Thermopylae. The rest of the allies planned to do likewise, for the Olympiad coincided with these events. They accordingly sent their advance guard, not expecting the war at Thermopylae to be decided so quickly."Many modern commentators are unsatisfied with this explanation and point to the fact that the Olympic Games were in progress or impute internal dissent and intrigue.
Whatever the reason Sparta's own contribution was just 300 Spartiates (accompanied by their attendants and probably perioikoi auxiliaries), the total force assembled for the defense of the pass of Thermopylae came to something between four and seven thousand Greeks. They faced a Persian army who had invaded from the north of Greece under Xerxes I. Herodotus stated that this army consisted of over two million men; modern scholars consider this to be an exaggeration and give estimates ranging from 70,000 to 300,000.
Xerxes waited four days to attack, hoping the Greeks would disperse. Finally, on the fifth day the Persians attacked. Leonidas and the Greeks repulsed the Persians' frontal attacks for the fifth and sixth days, killing roughly 10,000 of the enemy troops. The Persian elite unit known to the Greeks as "the Immortals" was held back, and two of Xerxes' brothers (Abrocomes and Hyperanthes) died in battle.On the seventh day (August 11), a Malian Greek traitor named Ephialtes led the Persian general Hydarnes by a mountain track to the rear of the Greeks. At that point Leonidas sent away all Greek troops and remained in the pass with his 300 Spartans, 900 helots, 400 Thebans and 700 Thespians. The Thespians stayed entirely of their own will, declaring that they would not abandon Leonidas and his followers. Their leader was Demophilus, son of Diadromes, and as Herodotus writes, "Hence they lived with the Spartans and died with them."
One theory provided by Herodotus is that Leonidas sent away the remainder of his men because he cared about their safety. The King would have thought it wise to preserve those Greek troops for future battles against the Persians, but he knew that the Spartans could never abandon their post on the battlefield. The soldiers who stayed behind were to protect their escape against the Persian cavalry. Herodotus himself believed that Leonidas gave the order because he perceived the allies to be disheartened and unwilling to encounter the danger to which his own mind was made up. He therefore chose to dismiss all troops except the Thebans, Thespians and helots and save the glory for the Spartans.
Of the small Greek force, attacked from both sides, all were killed except for the 400 Thebans, who surrendered to Xerxes without a fight. When Leonidas was killed, the Spartans retrieved his body after driving back the Persians four times. Herodotus says that Xerxes' orders were to have Leonidas' head cut off and put on a stake and his body crucified. This was considered sacrilegious.
A hero cult of Leonidas survived at Sparta until the Antonine era (2nd century AD).
A bronze statue of Leonidas was erected at Thermopylae in 1955.A sign, under the statue, reads simply: "ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ" ("Come and take them"), which was Leonidas' reply when Xerxes offered to spare the lives of the Spartans if they gave up their arms.
Another statue, also with the inscription ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ, was erected at Sparta in 1968.
Leonidas was the name of an Epic poem written by Richard Glover, which originally appeared in 1737. It went on to appear in four other editions, being expanded from 9 books to 12.
He is a central figure in Steven Pressfield's novel Gates of Fire .
He appears as the protagonist of Frank Miller's 1998 comic book series 300 . It presents a fictionalized version of Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae, as does the 2006 feature film adapted from it.
Helena P. Schrader has produced a three-part biographical novel on Leonidas. Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge,Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer, and Leonidas of Sparta: A Heroic King.
In cinema, Leonidas has been portrayed by:
Sparta was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece. In antiquity, the city-state was known as Lacedaemon, while the name Sparta referred to its main settlement on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. Around 650 BC, it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.
Ephialtes was the son of Eurydemus of Malis. He betrayed his homeland, in hope of receiving some kind of reward from the Persians, by showing the Persian forces a path around the allied Greek position at the pass of Thermopylae, which helped them win the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.
The Battle of Thermopylae was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas I of Sparta, and the Achaemenid Empire of Xerxes I over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place simultaneously with the naval battle at Artemisium, in August or September 480 BC, at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae. The Persian invasion was a delayed response to the defeat of the first Persian invasion of Greece, which had been ended by the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. By 480 BC Xerxes had amassed a massive army and navy, and set out to conquer all of Greece. The Athenian politician and general Themistocles had proposed that the allied Greeks block the advance of the Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae, and simultaneously block the Persian navy at the Straits of Artemisium.
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Cleomenes was an Agiad King of Sparta in the late 6th and early 5th centuries BC. During his reign, which started around 519 BC, he pursued an adventurous and at times unscrupulous foreign policy aimed at crushing Argos and extending Sparta's influence both inside and outside the Peloponnese. He was a brilliant tactician. It was during his reign that the Peloponnesian League came formally into existence. During his reign, he intervened twice successfully in Athenian affairs but kept Sparta out of the Ionian Revolt. He died in prison in mysterious circumstances, with the Spartan authorities claiming his death was suicide due to insanity.
Pausanias was a Spartan regent, general, and war leader for the Greeks who was suspected of conspiring with the Persian king, Xerxes I, during the Greco-Persian Wars. What is known of his life is largely according to Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, together with a handful of other classical sources.
The Histories of Herodotus is considered the founding work of history in Western literature. Written in 440 BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known in Western Asia, Northern Africa and Greece at that time. Although not a fully impartial record, it remains one of the West's most important sources regarding these affairs. Moreover, it established the genre and study of history in the Western world.
Demaratus, or Demaratos, was a king of Sparta from around 515 BC until 491 BC, 15th of the Eurypontid line, successor to his father Ariston. As king, he is known chiefly for his opposition to the co-ruling Spartan king, Cleomenes I. He later fled to Achaemenid Persia where he was given asylum and land, and fought on the Persian side during the Second Persian invasion of Greece.
Leotychidas was co-ruler of Sparta between 491–476 BC, alongside Cleomenes I and later Leonidas I and Pleistarchus. He led Spartan forces during the Persian Wars from 490 BC to 478 BC.
300 is a historically inspired 1998 comic book limited series written and illustrated by Frank Miller with painted colors by Lynn Varley.
Aristodemus was a Spartan warrior, one of the many sent to the Battle of Thermopylae.
The 300 Spartans is a 1962 CinemaScope epic film depicting the Battle of Thermopylae. Made with the cooperation of the Greek government, it was shot in the village of Perachora in the Peloponnese. The working title was Lion of Sparta. It stars Richard Egan as the Spartan king Leonidas, Sir Ralph Richardson as Themistocles of Athens and David Farrar as Persian king Xerxes, with Diane Baker as Ellas and Barry Coe as Phylon providing the requisite romantic element in the film. Greek warriors, led by 300 Spartans, fight against a Persian army of almost limitless size. Despite the odds, the Spartans will not flee or surrender, even if it means their deaths.
Pleistarchus or Plistarch was the Agiad King of Sparta from 480 to 458 BC.
Anaxandridas II was an Agiad king of Sparta between 560 BC and 520 BC, father of Leonidas I and grandfather of Pleistarchus. He was succeeded by Cleomenes I.
Gorgo was a Queen of Sparta. She was the daughter and the only known child of Cleomenes I, King of Sparta during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. She was the wife of King Leonidas I, Cleomenes' half-brother, who fought and died in the Battle of Thermopylae. Gorgo is noted as one of the few female historical figures actually named by Herodotus, and was known for her political judgement and wisdom. She is notable for being the daughter of a king of Sparta, the wife of another, and the mother of a third. Her birth date is uncertain, but is most likely to have been between 518 and 508 BC, based on Herodotus' dating.
The Spartan army stood at the center of the Spartan state, citizens trained in the disciplines and honor of a warrior society. Subject to military drill from early manhood, the Spartans became one of the most feared military forces in the Greek world. At the height of Sparta's power – between the 6th and 4th centuries BC – it was commonly accepted by other Greeks that "one Spartan was worth several men of any other state". According to Thucydides, the famous moment of Spartan surrender on the island of Sphacteria, off Pylos, in 425 BC, was highly unexpected. He wrote that "it was the common perception at the time that Spartans would never lay down their weapons for any reason, be it hunger, or danger."
Cleombrotus, regent of Sparta between 480 and 479 BC. He was a member of the Agiad family, the son of Anaxandridas II and the brother of Cleomenes I, Dorieus and of Leonidas I. When the latter died, he became the tutor of his nephew Pleistarchus, son of Leonidas, and leader of the Greek infantry at the beginning of the second phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Cleombrotus was in command of the Spartan and Peloponnesian troops who built the wall across the Isthmus of Corinth that was intended to keep the Persian army out of the Peloponnese. He died soon after returning to Sparta from the Isthmus.
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Dorieus was a Spartan prince of the Agiad dynasty who is mentioned several times in Herodotus. The second son of Anaxandridas II, he was the younger half-brother of Cleomenes I and the elder full brother of both Leonidas I and Cleombrotus. He founded colonies in Libya and Sicily, but both failed.
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