In the epic film “300”, Gerard Butler portrayed Leonidas, King of Sparta, but have you ever thought much about him in person? Herodotus, the Greek historian who recorded the Greco-Persian Wars, is credited with preserving much of Leonidas’s life. To help you better understand who Leonidas really was, here are a few key points of his life and the battle of 300.
A powerful Persian empire was located in close proximity to the Greek empire in 499 BCE, making it vulnerable to invasion. Sparta, one of the most important city-states at the time, was ruled by the Agiad Dynasty - a paragon of Spartan values believed to descend from Hercules himself. Leonidas was born into this reality and family. His father, King Anaxandrides, passed away when he was only 10 years old.
As well as being physically fit and stamina, Spartan warriors were also mentally trained to never give up or show signs of weakness. With short iron swords, round shields, and 8-foot-long spears, the Spartans were known as Hoplite warriors. As part of their fighting technique, they formed phalanxes — tight rectangles of warriors standing shoulder to shoulder. As effective as this formation was at the frontlines, the warriors stationed on the sides and at the back were left vulnerable.
Due to the fact that Leonidas was not the eldest son, he was not raised to be a politician, but rather a warrior. Leonidas’s older brother also died, leaving him to rule Sparta as well as command an army. A war with the Persian empire led by King Xerxes I raged in Sparta for ten years as Leonidas co-led it with another king.
The king had to protect his land and people when he discovered Xerxes was planning an invasion. His military training led him to position his troops in a narrow passage known as Thermopylae — a strategic location from which the Persians would need to cross to reach Sparta. His 300 best-trained men accompanied him to meet Xerxes and his army. They were joined by 7,000 more warriors from other Greek city-states and managed to hold off the opposing army. No easy feat considering they were greatly outnumbered by the Persian army of 80,000 soldiers.
Persia overpowered Greece after a bloody battle in which many Greek warriors died. In spite of this, Leonidas and his 300 men were regarded as national heroes for their courage. Their legendary battle was memorialized with statues and monuments and was etched in history for millennia.