In the history of ground war strategies and the power of incredible skill, strength and courage against an overwhelming force, the legend of the 300 Spartans who held the vast Persian army in check in the pass called Thermopylae is such an amazing story that to this day we repeat it with awe. Even in the last year, a movie about the Battle of Thermopylae came out which only rekindled the interest in this battle and in the ground war they found to defend the Greeks.
The history and background of the Spartan culture is one that we look to as an inspiration of devotion to an ideal and a seriousness about being soldiers taken to the extreme. To live a “Spartan existence” is a phrase we use to illustrate someone that is so devout about their discipline that every aspect of their lives is focused on that goal. The training and lifestyle those 300 warriors went through before that battle has been confirmed by history as being phenomenal and extreme but one that produced perhaps the most dedicated and effective soldiers in history.
History tells us that young men being groomed for the military in Sparta entered their training in childhood leaving behind family to devote every moment of their lives and every fiber of their beings to becoming fierce and effective soldiers. Their physical training was intense and it never ended. We think of marines as tremendous soldiers today because of a basic training that is harsh and intense and that produces the finest soldiers of our day. The Spartan program was like the program the Marines used amplified thousands of times.
Much of what happened at Thermopylae is the stuff of legend. Much of why a Persian army of perhaps over 100,000 soldiers was stopped by 300 Spartans brings into play the role of strategy and tactics in any successful ground war. The pass was narrow so when the Spartans took their position at high ground, they could block the pass with numerous rows of Spartan defenders to repel the Persians. The Spartans were armed with tough and well designed armor and weapons in contrast to the Persians who wore no armor and who fought primarily with inferior short swords. And the Spartans training of self-denial and intense physical fitness meant that they could withstand the onslaught of Persians for days or weeks and slowly wear down the much superior force.
We do have to recognize that in the end, the Spartans were defeated. But their amazing stand at Thermopylae enabled the Greeks to prepare for the invasion of the Persians so that much of the larger Greek army escaped before the Persians finally broke through the Spartan defenses. Literally tens of thousands of Persians died at Thermopylae trying to break the virtually impervious Spartan defenses. That defensive line was in reality a line of 300 virtually perfect warriors trained for this moment, armed with the finest ground warfare gear possible and with a dedication to task that meant surrender would never happen.
Small wonder the defense of Thermopylae by those courageous 300 Spartans has become a hallmark of what the best of military preparedness and courage can produce. Those 300 men became an inspiration to military strategists and soldiers for centuries to come and even to this day. And knowing that their legend continues to be repeated generation to generation, it is likely that what happened in Thermopylae may never be forgotten entirely.