The Battle of Thermopylae
We’ve all seen 300, the pumped up cartoonish (and historically blurry) retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, where a band of Spartans fought against an invading Persian army. It’s often hailed as the last stand of the west against the baying outsider hordes, the chance to preserve Western civilization and democracy before it was crushed beneath the wheel of the invading empire.
There’s some truth to that, even if it is shrouded in mistruth and embellishments. As for the 300 Spartans, for instance, there were slaves and other warriors from other Greek states. There was a naval battle fought at the same time which perhaps had a bigger influence on holding back the Persian army. But there’s no denying that it’s a great story and that – more importantly – our modern world might have looked very different had the Persians broke through with ease.
Perhaps the Battle of Thermopylae isn’t just important in terms of the course of history, but in teaching us how we think about history. Despite it being a defeat for the Spartans, it’s still hailed as a victory and an example of martial brilliance. Plus, it’s a heck of a good story.