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In 480 BCE King Leonidas made a brave last stand against a horde of en­e­mies at the head of only 300 of his fe­ro­cious ho­plite war­riors. It is one of the most com­pelling sto­ries of an­cient Greece, but is it en­tirely true?

In re­al­ity, be­tween 6,000–7,000 fel­low Greeks joined the Spar­tans at the Bat­tle of Thermopylae, trav­el­ling from across Greece to de­fend against the Per­sian in­va­sion led by King Xerxes I. Among those fight­ing with the 300 Spar­tans, Herodotus lists 700 Thes­pi­ans, 400 The­bans, 1,120 Ar­ca­di­ans, 1,000 Pho­cians, and more. Nonethe­less, the Greeks were still greatly out­num­bered against up to 100,000 Per­sian sol­diers.

The Greek army was de­ployed in a nar­row coastal pass, nick­named the Hot Gate, where the over­whelm­ing numbers of at­tack­ing Per­sians could not be ef­fected. Ac­cord­ing to Herodotus, the cru­cial turn­ing point in the bat­tle came when the Per­sian army was led to a se­cret moun­tain pass, en­abling them to over­come the Pho­cian guards.

In the 2006 film 300, it is at this point that the Spar­tans’ al­lies aban­don them out of fear, while Leonidas de­clares he and his men will stay and fight to the death. How­ever, even this scene is in­ac­cu­rate, as sev­eral of the

Greek al­lies re­mained fight­ing to the bit­ter end, in­clud­ing those forces from Th­es­piae and Thebes.

While the Thes­pi­ans re­port­edly stayed will­ingly with Leonidas,

Herodotus writes that the king kept the

The­ban troops against their will. Re­gard­less, the Per­sian army even­tu­ally crushed their Greek op­po­nents, who had fought their way into leg­end.

King Leonidas I died at Thermopylae along with his 300 Spar­tan ho­plites and their al­lies

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