Although modern historians have questioned the numbers presented by Herodotus, with most at around 100,000 to 250,000 invaders, the story has resonated with authors and poets for centuries over the inspiring bravery and resolution of the Spartans.
The performance of the defenders at the battle of Thermopylae is often used as an example of the advantages of training, equipment, and good use of terrain to maximize an army's potential, and has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds. Even more, both ancient and modern writers used the Battle of Thermopylae as an example of the superior power of a volunteer army of freemen defending native soil. The sacrifice of the Spartans and the Thespians has captured the minds of many throughout the ages and has given birth to many cultural references as a result.
Earth! render back from out thy breast
A remnant of our Spartan dead!
Of the three hundred grant but three,
To make a new Thermopylae!
Canto iii, Stanza 86, 7
The King with half the East at heel is marched from land of morning;
Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air,
And he that stands will die for nought, and home there's no returning.
The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.
|A. E. Housman,|
The Oracles (last verse)
from his book "Last Poems".
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
the decaying, regretful speaker
of T. S. Eliot's "Gerontion".
O love, O celibate.
Nobody but me
Walks the waist high wet.
Golds bleed and deepen, the mouths of Thermopylae.
suicide at 31,
faces her own Thermopylae
walking in the garden
in the poem
"Letter in November".
"Go tell it" -- What a Message --
To whom -- is specified --
Not murmur -- not endearment --
But simply -- we -- obeyed --
Obeyed -- a Lure -- a Longing?
Oh Nature -- none of this --
To Law -- said sweet Thermopylae
I give my dying Kiss --
|In Emily Dickinson's |
"'Go tell it' — what a message".
When boyhood's fire was in my blood
I read of ancient free men
In Greece and in Rome where bravely stood
300 men and 3 men
|The first verse of|
Thomas Osborne Davis'
"A Nation Once Again". Now considered a prime example of Irish rebel music and sung by the Wolfe Tones and many other Irish singers. The "3 men" are the Horatii
|When You Go Home,|
Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow,
We Gave Our Today
|The epitaph inscribed on the|
war memorial at Kohima,
probably inspired by the epitaph of Simonides. Attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds
|Verse original||Verse translation||Notes |
|“Exercitus noster est magnus,” Persicus inquit, “et propter|
numerum sagittarum nostrarum caelum non videbitis!”
Tum Lacedaemonius respondet: “In umbra, igitur, pugnabimus!”
Et Leonidas, rex Lacedaemoniorum, exclamat: “Pugnate cum animis,
Lacedaemonii; hodie apud umbras fortasse cenabimus!”
|“Our army is great,” the Persian says, “and because|
of the number of our arrows you will not see the sky!”
Then a Spartan answers: “In the shade, therefore, we will fight!”
And Leonidas, king of the Spartans, shouts: “Fight with spirit,
Spartans; perhaps we will dine today among the ghosts!”
|Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes|
|Τιμή σ' εκεινους όπου στην ζωή των|
ώρισαν να φυλάγουν Θερμοπύλες.
Πότε από το χρέος μη κινούντες΄
δίκαιοι κ' ίσοι,σ'ολες των τες πράξεις,
αλλά με λύπη κιόλας κ' ευσπλαχνία,
γενναίοι οσάκις είναι πλούσιοι κι όταν
είναι πτωχοί, πάλ' εις μικρόν γενναίοι,
πάλι συντρέχοντες, όσο μπορούνε΄
πάντοτε την αλήθεια ομιλούντες,
πλην χωρίς μίσος για τους ψευδωμένους.
Και περισσότερη τιμή τους πρέπει
όταν προβλέπουν (και πολλοί προβλέπουν)
πως ο Εφιάλτης θα φανεί στο τέλος,
και οι Μήδοι επί τέλους θα διαβούνε.
|Let honor be to those in whose life|
it was set to guard Thermopylae.
Never moving away from duty;
Just and equals in all of their acts
But with sadness and compassion
Brave once they are rich and when
They are poor, again brave
Coming to aid as much as they can;
Always speaking the truth
But without hate for those who lie.
And even more honor they deserve
When its predicted (and many predict)
That Ephialtes will appear in the end
And the Medes will finally pass through
| The Greek poet Kavafis who lived in Alexandria|
of Egypt at the turn of the 20th century
wrote one of his more famous poems entitled
Thermopylae in 1903. The poem actually created
the expression guarding Thermopylae and has been
told in honor of other dead, such as those of
the Imia crisis.
|Przechodniu powiedz Polsce|
wierni w jej służbie
|Passerby, tell Poland|
that we fell
faithfully in her service
|Inscription on the Polish war cemetery at Monte Cassino:|
|La patria así se forma|
constelación de Cíclopes
su noche iluminó
|And so the nation forms|
a Cyclops constellation
its night enlightened
|The National Anthem of Colombia, IX Stanza IX:|
|... едно име ново, голямо антично,|
като Термопили славно, безгранично,
''що отговор дава и смива срамът,
и на клеветата строшава зъбът.
|... A new name, its roots to antiquity tracing,|
As great as Thermopylae, all fame embracing,
A name to wipe shame away, with its plain truth
Smashing to smithereens calumny's tooth.
|The volunteers at Shipka, by Ivan Vazov|
|Heinrich Böll||Wanderer, kommst Du nach Spa...||This short story takes its title from the German translation of the inscription on the Spartans' tomb. In it a young German soldier at the end of the Second World War is wounded on the Eastern Front and is brought to a field hospital, which had been a school. He wonders if it could be his school, which he had only recently left to become a soldier. On seeing in his own writing the truncated quotation of the title on a chalkboard, his question is answered. ("Sparta" was truncated because the narrator had run out of room at the edge of the board.)|
|David Gemmell||The Lion of Macedon||Discusses the Battle of Thermopylae several times as part of the studies of the lead character, a Spartan named Parmenion.|
|Stephen King||The Dark Tower||Includes a comparison with the Battle of Thermopylae when a character fights alone against a series of enemies coming through a single doorway.|
|Valerio Massimo Manfredi||The Spartan||Gives an account of the Battle of Thermopylae. The novel uses the battle to set up one of the protagonists who is apparently sent out on a mission by King Leonidas before the final Persian attack.||Héctor Germán Oesterheld|
|Steven Pressfield||Gates of Fire||Depicts the battle as told by the Spartan helot Xeones, who had been wounded during the fight, but was revived to tell Xerxes of the Spartans' heroism.|
|John Ringo||Ghost, 2004||Includes a description of the battle fought at Thermopylae, and quotes Simonides' epigram.|
|Eric Nylund||Halo: The Fall of Reach, 2001||The series' main protagonist, John, is one of 75 children selected to train and become physically augmented soldiers. Also a direct reference to the 300 is made, in 2 situations: One where they are watching a holographic image of the battle in their class, and again when Dr. Halsey thinks of the Spartans as 'more effective than Homer's gods had ever been' incorrectly labelling them as gods.|
|Greg Donegan (pen name of Bob Mayer)||Atlantis: Gate||In the fourth volume (2002) of a Science Fiction series, Leonidas and Thermopylae are part of an interdimensional battle to save all earths from a transdimensional race bent on stealing resources from other worlds, and destroying them in the process.|
|Frank Miller||Sin City: The Big Fat Kill||Dwight McCarthy, facing a fight against a large number of enemies, mulls on the Battle of Thermopylae, concluding that "a careful choice of where to fight" saved Greek civilization.|
|Frank Miller||Batman: The Dark Knight Returns||In Frank Miller's tale of an aging Batman, the translation of the name Thermopylae ("Hot Gates") shows up as the name of a porn star who is doing a new film version of Snow White "for the kids".|
|Frank Miller||300||A 1998 graphic novel series (later collected into a single hardcover issue) written and illustrated by Frank Miller with painted colors by Lynn Varley, a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae and the events leading up to it from the perspective of Leonidas of Sparta. 300 was particularly inspired by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, a movie that Miller watched as a young boy.|
|Héctor Germán Oesterheld||Mort Cinder||A comic book from Argentina (1964) featuring an inmortal character who had lived at many historical ages. He tells about the battle as having been a spartan warrior at it, who also would have been the one to say the famous quote of "In the shade, therefore, we will fight!". The author, however, focus the narrative more in the humanity of the small and unknown soldiers rather than in the main battle itself.|
|Max Bunker (Luciano Secchi) and Magnus (Roberto Raviola)||Alan Ford||In these Italian comic book series, Number One tells the story about Leonidas being fat, and the Persians were stopped when he got stuck in Thermopylae.|
|The 300 Spartans||1962||Depicts the Battle of Thermopylae. Starring Richard Egan and Ralph Richardson|
|Patton||1970||General Patton refers to the Battle of Thermopylae when talking with his generals and aides, does not tell them the result of the battle until after the U.S. troops have already been sent off to fight.|
|Go Tell the Spartans||1978||Set in Vietnam, the film includes a scene in which US troops come across the grave of French defenders of a Vietnamese village which has the famous epitaph to the Spartans written over its entrance, and, by implication, forecasts the same result for a later generation of American soldiers.|
|The Last Samurai||2003||The main characters refer to the battle of Thermopylae twice, including right before engaging in a battle they are almost certain to lose. The Battle of Thermopylae parallels the main characters' fight, in which they are outnumbered and realise that victory is unattainable, but choose to fight for a purpose beyond the battle itself.|
|300||2007||Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel 300, a retelling of the battle from the perspective of Leonidas. The original graphic novel was a mythical retelling of the story, told as if by the point of view of a Spartan reciting a story around a campfire.|
|Samurai Jack||"Jack and the Spartans"||A group of warriors, similar in appearance to Spartans, defend a narrow gateway against a vast robot army. They have been in combat for 300 years. At the end of the episode the King remarks the 300 and 1 (300 warriors and Jack) when retelling the tale on his death bed.|
|Xena: Warrior Princess||"One Against an Army"||Xena and Gabrielle have to defend the pass of Thermopylae from the invading Persian army. However, in this version of the story, Xena herself is up against 300 Persian soldiers, and not 300 Spartans against thousands of Persians.|
|seaQuest DSV||"Spindrift"||After being shot during a rescue mission of his shipmate Loonie Henderson, SeaQuest's chief of security Jim Brody's last dying words are "With your shield or on it", a reference to a saying attributed to mothers of Spartan men as they went to war. Captain Hudson later explains to Henderson that Brody meant his sacrifice for her, just like the Greeks at Thermopylae, was worth it.|
|Star Trek: Deep Space Nine||"What You Leave Behind"||Dr. Julian Bashir, who has a penchant for last stands, offers to take Ezri Dax on a date in a holosuite program depicting the Battle of Thermopylae.|
|South Park||"D-Yikes!"||In a parody of the aforementioned film 300, Mrs. Garrison goes to a "girl bar" which is being bought out by Persians. She is indignant about it, especially their tacky blue carpet and gold curtain rods. When the representative comes, she kicks him in the balls and starts a war. They go tell their boss, Xerxes, who sends many more Persians in a wave. The Lesbians are able to fend them off, and they retreat. Mrs. Garrison then gets Mexicans, disguised as Persians, to infiltrate the Persian club. They find out that Xerxes is a woman and they use that to get him to keep Les Bos a girl bar.|
|Bungie Studios||Marathon (computer game series) and Halo (series)||Bungie games often contain classical references. Among the references to Sparta, Marathon 2 contains a level called "My Own Private Thermopylae" and in the Prologue of the Halo novel Ghosts of Onyx, Operation PROMETHEUS has 300 Spartans from the SPARTAN III program fighting over 1000 Covenant ground troops and 10 Cruisers.|
|Collision Studios||2007||300: March to Glory||Based on the film 300.|
|Realtime Games Software||1988||Carrier Command||The Action mode starts with the opposing carriers facing off over an island named Thermopylae.|
|Slitherine||2004||Gates of Troy||One of the scenarios is the battle of Thermopylae where you have to resist for 20 turns against the Persian army.|