Sparta was one of the many city-states of ancient Greece. Spartan soldiers were renowned for skill and courage in battle.
At an early age, Spartan boys were taken from their parents and forced into military school. The boys were not fed well. They were told to steal food, but they were beaten if they were caught. They were not given beds or shoes to wear. This was to make them tough.
Spartans had to remain soldiers until they were 30 years old. And when their army duty was finished, they had to be in the reserve until they were 60.
Spartans were required to have perfect bodies. When babies were born, the soldiers would check to see if the babies were healthy. If a baby was not healthy, the baby would be taken to the hillside and left to die.
Spartans were taught to never run away in battle. They had to be victorious or dead. They were told before they went to battle to ‘come back with their shields or on their shields’. If they still had their shields that meant they were victorious. (In other words, they didn’t drop their shield and run away). If they came back on their shields that meant they were dead.
King Leonidas is perhaps the most famous of all Spartan rulers. According to legend, he was a descendent of Hercules.
When the massive Persian army attacked Greece, Leonidas went to the Oracle to hear a prophecy. The prophecy said that either Leonidas would die or else Sparta would be destroyed.
So, knowing he would die, Leonidas set out to fight the Persians in order to prevent his city from being destroyed. He chose only men who already had sons to go with him. When his wife, Gorgo, asked what she should do while he was gone, Leonidas told her to marry a good man and have good sons.
The Persian Emperor, Xerxes, couldn’t believe that such a small force of Greek soldiers was coming to fight his huge army. Xerxes offered to make Leonidas the King of all Greece if he surrendered. Leonidas replied that it was better to die for Greece than to be the sole ruler of Greece.
After that, Xerxes demanded that the Greeks surrender their weapons. Leonidas told him to ‘come and get them.' In the end, Leonidas died bravely and became a Greek hero.
(1) What is Sparta?
(2) What are Spartan soldiers renowned for?
(3) What happened to Spartan boys when they were young?
(4) How did the boys eat?
(5) What happened if they were caught stealing?
(6) How were the boys toughened up?
(7) How long did Spartans have to remain soldiers?
(8) What happened to Spartans who weren’t born with healthy bodies?
(9) What could Spartans never do during a battle?
(10) What were they told to do before they went into battle?
(11) What did it mean if they came back with their shields?
(12) What did it mean if they came back on their shields?
(1) According to tradition, who was King Leonidas a descendent of?
(2) What army attacked Greece?
(4) Why did Leonidas go to the Oracle?
(5) What did the Oracle say?
(6) Who did Leonidas chose to go with him to fight the Persians?
(7) What did he tell his wife to do?
(8) What couldn’t Xerxes believe?
(9) What did Xerxes offer Leonidas?
(10) What did Leonidas say about the offer of Xerxes?
(11) What did Xerxes demand from Leonidas and the Greeks?
(12) How did Leonidas reply?
(13) What happened in the end?
The Battle of Thermopylae
In 480 BC, Xerxes, the Emperor of Persia invaded Greece. 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas and several thousand other Greeks, went north to battle the Persians, who numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
The Persians greatly outnumbered the Greeks. In fact, one Spartan soldier said that there were so many Persian soldiers that their arrows would ‘hide the sun’. Another soldier replied,”That’s good. We’ll fight in the shade.”
The Battle of Thermopylae shows how a small well-trained army in the right terrain can fight successfully against a very large army.
The Spartans waited in a narrow pass, where the Persians were unable to use their vastly superior numbers. Wave after wave of Persians attacked the pass, but they couldn’t break through because the Spartans were much better fighters. Tens of thousands of Persians died and the Spartans had only a few casualties.
On the third day, a Greek traitor showed the Persians a goat trail that went around the pass. The Greeks were forced to retreat, except for the Spartans who stayed and fought to the last man.
The Battle of Thermopylae
(1) What year did Xerxes invade Greece?
(2) How many Spartans did Leonidas lead into battle?
(3) How many other Greeks went to the battle?
(4) How many Persians invaded Greece?
(5) What did one Spartan soldier say the Persian arrows would do?
(6) What did another Spartan reply?
(7) What does the Battle of Thermopylae teach us about war?
(8) Where did the Spartans wait for the Persians?
(9) What happened during the first two days?
(10) How many Persian casualties were there?
(11) How many Spartan casualties were there?
(12) How did the Persians finally beat the Spartans?
He sent emissaries to the Greek city-states and told the Greek city-states to give him ‘earth and water’ as a sign that they would submit to him. The Spartans threw the emissaries into a well in the ground and told them to ‘dig it out themselves’.