The Persians Invade - Thermopylae

The Persians Invade - Thermopylae Persian guards. Persepolis, Persia

Xerxes had spent years planning his invasion of Greece. It was to be his 'divine punishment' for his father Darius' crushing defeat at Marathon in 490 BC. Now, a decade later, he had spared no expense in preparing a vast expeditionary force.

Across the Hellespont, the narrow channel of water separating Europe from Asia, he had constructed two bridges, each made of over 300 ships tied together by a network of ropes. On the coast a fleet of some 1,200 ships amassed, while on land over 100,000 (or 1.7 million according to Herodotus' exaggerated account) soldiers made camp at Sardis in Turkey, awaiting their orders.

Faced with such an overwhelming force, only a small confederation of city-states, led by Athens and Sparta, determined to resist Xerxes. At most they possessed some thirty thousand men, and a few hundred ships.

By the spring of 480 Xerxes' army had reached Macedonia in the north of Greece. In response a contingent of 300 Spartans and several thousand allies were sent to occupy the narrow mountain pass of Thermopylae, not far from the Greek fleet that was anchored off the nearby coast at Artemisium.

It was a suicide mission, designed to detain the Persians just long enough for the rest of the Greek allies to gather their forces. Led by King Leonidas, the Spartans heroically held the Persians at bay for nearly a week until - outnumbered, betrayed and outflanked - they were finally defeated.