The Battle of Thermopylae
Our story unfolds against the spectacular mountains scenery and archeology of classical Greece in roughly the 5th Century B.C. The great Persian War King Xerxes had turned his sights on Greece. The Greeks, bracing for the invasion of thousands of Persian warriors, called an emergency meeting in Corinth. Some 30 city-states of central and southern Greece sent representatives to this council where an emergency defense plan was coordinated. It was agreed that a combined army and navy would be formed under Spartan command.
The Greek Spartans’ reputation for fierce fighting was well known. The Spartan King Leonidas quickly led the army to the Thermopylae Pass, the main passage from northern into central Greece. Strategically, Thermopylae was the best point at which to hold off an invasion. It was a narrow valley adjacent to the sea where an attacker could not pass to the seaward side, but had to go inland, requiring a significant detour. It was at this point that the Spartans decided the Greeks should take their stand.
The Greeks strategy was to delay the Persian land force, defeat them at sea, and then starve the Persian army. However, the Greeks never had a chance to put the plan into effect because the Persians arrived much earlier than anticipated. Xerxes had excellent information. He knew that the Greeks were going to defend the Thermopylae pass, and he made for it with lightning speed, hoping to crush them before they had a chance to assemble their navy and organize their other land forces.
Xerxes sailed into view and announced his presence to the Greeks. His forces greatly outnumbered the Greeks. Arrogantly, he demanded their immediate surrender, confident of a quick, overwhelming victory. He waited for four days, expecting the Greeks to turn tail and run, but nothing happened. Exasperated, he sent scouts who were astounded to see the Spartans doing calisthenics and braiding their hair, preparing for war. Xerxes ordered an attack on the fifth day. He was sure of victory, he told his men to take the Greeks alive.
The first troops Xerxes sent in were the Medes who were unprepared for the savage fighting of the Spartans. The Spartans overpowered and defeated the Medes. Xerxes then sent in the Immortals, his most elite troops. Again, the Spartans fought savagely and the Immortals faired no better than the Medes. Xerxes was furious. He sent in an overpowering contingency of Persians, but they, too, were driven back by the Spartans.
At this point, treachery entered the chain of events. Ephialtes, a Greek, went to King Xerxes and told him he knew of a goat path that went around the Greek position and debouched behind their lines. The Greeks learned of the treachery near morning. They barely had time to escape from the trap. However, Leonidas, the Spartan commander, told the other Greeks to escape, join the other Greek troops, and get the forces ready. He and the Spartans would stay and delay the Persians.
The Spartans knew they faced certain death. They also knew that the Persians must be delayed. If the Persians were not delayed, the remainder of the Greek army and navy would not have anough time to prepare to do battle. So, taking a stand on a little hill and fighting in a circle facing outward to meet their enemies, they fought with every fiber of their beings. When their commander Leonidas was killed, he was some distance away. Some of the Spartans formed a tight group, fought their way to his body, picked it up, and then fought their way back to the main group on the hill.
The Persians, who numbered in the thousands, seemed utterly unable to annihilate the last 300 Spartans. When King Xerxes demanded the body of Leonidas in return for the Spartans’ lives, the men refused to abandon the body of their King and continued to fight on. The Persians, daunted and weakened by the fearsome Spartan warriors, pulled back. Finally, the Spartans were killed when the Persians fired a hail of spears and arrows from the hills and the boats.
The Spartans’ effort at Thermopylae crucially delayed the Persian army, allowing the Greeks time to organize. With this time, they were able to get their navy launched and took control of the seas again, ultimately succeeding in driving back the invading Persians. The Battle of Thermopylae is one of the great examples in the annals of world history of what courage and self-sacrifice can achieve. The Spartans valiantly gave all to save their country. Even now, the word Spartan remains a synonym for harsh conditions, discipline, and great hardship bravely endured.
Inspired by the bravery and ferocity of the ancient Spartans, the founders of our club chose Sparta United for the club’s name. As you prepare for each game, form your huddle facing each other, drawing from one another’s strength and commitment. Break your huddle, ready to face the opposition as a united team. Just as the Spartans of old formed a circle of unity, let the strength and unity of purpose in that circle surge through your psyche, bursting forth as you begin each game. You are disciplined, loyal, brave, and willing to give your all.
You are Sparta!