Spartan Warrior at the Battle of Thermopylae, Bronze

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Spartan Hoplite warrior at the Battle of Thermopylae in cold cast bronze Circa 480BC.

The Spartans were from Sparta in the south east of Greece. They were unique in ancient Greece for their social system and constitution which completely focused on military training and excellence. All Spartan men were soldiers by profession and their military training began virtually at birth. Through this regime they created a 'utopian' society which has been widely revered around the world ever since. Their military ideal led them into many conflicts although of all the battles Spartans fought in, their most well known is the last stand of 300 at Thermopylae. When the Spartans learned that a Persian invasion was imminent, Sparta decided to put itself at the head of the resistance to the invasion. As the Persian army swung south towards the Greek heartland, a Greek force, under the command of King Leonidas, headed north to stop their advance at Thermopylae the 'gates of fire'. In 480 BC, Thermopylae was a natural bottleneck. The road south squeezed past the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Today, the mountains are still there, but the sea has retreated a few miles. To this place came a force of 7,000-8,000 Greek hoplites from half-a-dozen city-states. They rebuilt a wall that ran across the narrowest part of the pass, and hunkered down behind it, aiming to halt the Persian advance in its tracks. For Leonidas in overall command, and for the 300 Spartan warriors who had accompanied him, Thermopylae was more than a strategic strong point. It was the place where they intended to show the world what it meant to be a Spartan.
For the first three days of the battle, the Greeks held off the Persian advance, sheltering behind their wall and then counter-attacking in hoplite formation. Three times, the Persians attacked; three times, they were beaten back. Xerxes had almost given up hope when he was told of a secret path that crossed the mountains and came out behind the Greek defences. When Leonidas discovered that the Persians were on their way, he knew the game was up and, before long, the Greeks would be surrounded. While there was still time for them to escape, Leonidas dismissed most of his allies, setting the stage for one of history's most celebrated last stands. On the morning of the final day of battle, Leonidas, knowing they were being surrounded, exhorted his men, "Eat well, for tonight we dine in Hades." The Greeks under Leonidas, knowing that the fight would be their last, pressed forward into the widest part of the pass. They fought with reckless desperation until the Persians, coming in from the front and closing in from behind, overwhelmed them.

The 300 were buried at Thermopylae and honoured with an inscription that still echoes down the centuries: Go tell the Spartans,Stranger passing by,That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.