25 February 2007

The Battle of Thermopylae

Welcome to a new feature to the blog page. A la Ken Jennings, I will get my learn on, by proliferating the details of a famous war or battle. Don't expect Frasier-Ali; the whole idea is to discuss a battle you may have heard of, but may not have much details on, or conversely, an extremely random event in history. As Frank Miller's novel, 300, is now in theaters, I thought we would travel back to antiquity for our first lesson....


Either the Greeks did a lot of Bowflex workouts, or they were simply blessed with good promo guys. In either case, this particular instance of history remembers them not as a bunch of olive eating, toga wearing sissies, but rather as a fierce band of John Rambos - agent orange mental defects and all.

In an episode of the Persian-Greek War, the Battle of Thermopylae took place in central Greece in 480 BC (i.e. Birth of Commando underwear). The Persians were eager to extend their domain from Asia Minor into Europe. The Greeks had other ideas. In hopes of defending Athens and defeating the Persian through naval warfare, the Greeks made a stand at Thermopylae, a narrow valley near the sea.

The supposed only road through the pass of Thermopylae was fiercely defended by a vastly outnumbered troops of Greeks. The Greek army was betrayed by a local resident, probably a forerunner of Belinda Stronach, switching sides in search of a hotter boyfriend no doubt. The local turncoat informed Xerxes and the Perisans that there existed another path through the mountains. King Leonidas and his band of 300 black belt gladiator wannabes stayed on to defend the path, allowing the Greek army to safely return to Athens, where the Greeks regrouped and later defeated the Persians, thus ensuring many hundreds of years of European xenophobia.

History will remember the battle for the hugely disproportionate sizes of the armies. The Greeks were about 5,000, while the Persians numbered 2,000,000. Of course, the vast majority of historians are men, and we all know how men like to inflate certain "sizes". The 300 Spartans formed the core of the Greek army - a circular wall of homo-erotic, spear chucking bad asses with ripped abs. Whatever the actual number, there is no doubt that the Greeks were vastly outnumbered. Although the Persians ultimately prevailed, it was only after very heavy losses (think Australia vs. Somoa circa 2002).

Now maybe 300 will mean more to you than simply the latest Greg Maddux accomplishment?