Leonidas I

Infobox Person
allegiance = Sparta
name = Leonidas I of Sparta

image_size = 250px
caption = Statue of Leonidas I of Sparta.
birth_date = circa 540s BC
birth_place = Sparta
death_date = August 11 , 480 BC
death_place = Thermopylae
consort = Gorgo, Queen of Sparta
parents = Anaxandridas II
children = Pleistarchus

Leonidas (Greek: "Polytonic|Λεωνίδας"; "Lion's son", "Lion-like") was a king of Sparta, the 17th of the Agiad line, one of the sons of King Anaxandridas II of Sparta, who was believed to be a descendant of Heracles, possessing much of the strength and bravery that made his ancestor famous. While it has been established that King Leonidas of Sparta died at the Battle of Thermopylae in August, 480 B.C., very little is known about the year of his birth, or for that matter, his formative years. Paul Cartledge, a distinguished scholar and historian, has narrowed the date of the birth of King Leonidas to around 540 BC.If it is assumed that Leonidas was born anywhere in the years subsequent to 540 B.C., this would have placed him in the 50+ year old range at the time of the conflict with the Persians.

Leonidas was one of three brothers: he had an older brother Dorieus and a younger brother Cleombrotus, who ruled as regent for a while on Leonidas' death before the regency was taken over by Pausanias, who was Cleombrotus' son.Leonidas succeeded his half-brother Cleomenes I, probably in 489 or 488 BC, and was married to Cleomenes' daughter, Gorgo.His name was raised to heroic status as a result of the events in the Battle of Thermopylae, one of the most famous battles in ancient history.


Upon receiving a request from the confederated Greek forces to aid in defending Greece against the Persian invasion, Sparta consulted the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle is said to have made the following prophecy in hexameter verse:cite web | last=Herodotus | authorlink=Herodotus | coauthors=George Rawlinson (Translator) | title="The Legend of Herodotus: Polymnia" | work=Greek Texts | publisher=Greek-Texts.com & Greece Http Ltd. | year=2005 | pages=page 50 |url=http://www.greektexts.com/library/Herodotus/Polymnia/eng/242.html | format=html | accessdate=2007-10-18]

:"Hear your fate, O dwellers in Sparta of the wide spaces;:"Either your famed, great town must be sacked by Perseus' sons,:"Or, if that be not, the whole land of Lacedaemon:"Shall mourn the death of a king of the house of Heracles,:"For not the strength of lions or of bulls shall hold him,:"Strength against strength; for he has the power of Zeus,:"And will not be checked till one of these two he has consumed.

In August 480 BC, Leonidas set out to meet Xerxes' army at Thermopylae with 300 of his personal body guards, all with sons to carry on their names, where he was joined by forces from other Greek city-states, who put themselves under his command to form an army between four and seven thousand strong. This force was assembled in an attempt to hold the pass of Thermopylae against a massive Persian army of between eighty and two-hundred and ninety thousand men-at-arms who had invaded from the north of Greece under Xerxes I. Leonidas took only his personal bodyguards, and not the army, because the majority of the Spartan Army was coordinating with the massed naval forces of the Greeks against the Persian Navy. This is contrary to the belief that the army could not be sent because of religious restrictions.

Leonidas and his men repulsed the Persians' frontal attacks for the first 2 days, killing roughly 20,000 of the enemy troops and losing about 2,500 of their own.The Persian elite unit known to the Greeks as "the Immortals" was held back, and two of Xerxes' brothers died in battle.On the third day (August 11th), a Malian Greek traitor named Ephialtes led the Persian general Hydarnes by a mountain track to the rear of the Greeks.At that point Leonidas sent away all Greek troops and remained in the pass with his 300 Spartans, 900 Helots, and 700 Thespians who refused to leave.Another 400 Thebans were kept with Leonidas as hostages.The Thespians stayed entirely of their own will, declaring that they would not abandon Leonidas and his followers.Their leader was Demophilos, son of Diadromes, and as Herodotus writes: "Hence they lived with the Spartans and died with them." One theory provided by Herodotus is that Leonidas sent away the remainder of his men because he cared about their safety. The King would have thought it wise to preserve those Greek troops for future battles against the Persians, but he knew that the Spartans could never abandon their post on the battlefield. The soldiers who stayed behind were to protect their escape against the Persian cavalry.
Herodotus himself believes that Leonidas gave the order because he perceived the allies to be out of heart and unwilling to encounter the danger to which his own mind was made up. He therefore chose to dismiss all troops except the Thespians and Helots and save the glory for the Spartans. [Herodotus VII,220]

The small Greek force, attacked from both sides, was cut down to a man except for the Thebans, who surrendered. Leonidas was killed, but the Spartans retrieved his body and protected it until their final defeat. Herodotus says that Xerxes' orders were to have Leonidas' head cut off and put on a stake and his body crucified. This was considered sacrilegious. [Herodotus, The Histories of Herodotus, chapter 7, verse 238] The tomb of Leonidas lies today in the northern part of the modern town of Sparta.

A carved lion monument bearing the inscription below was dedicated at Leonidas' death site.

:"Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

~Spartan saying after Thermopylae penned by the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos

Two Spartans survived the conflict. Kirtanian (Spartan) Aristodemus suffered an eye injury and was sent behind the lines, eventually ordered back to Sparta with the retreating allies by the King. Pantites was sent by Leonidas to raise support in Thessaly, but returned to Thermopylae only after the battle's conclusion. Pantites hanged himself in disgrace after being shunned as a "trembler". Aristodemus endured the 'disgracing' (Herodotus uses the imperfect, so he was 'constantly being disgraced) until the Battle of Plataea, where he charged, berserker-like, out of the phalanx and died on the enemy lines heroically enough for the allies to have named him a champion (hence the name, Aristodemus, which means "The People's Finest") whereas precisely for the same reason the Spartans only accepted that he had posthumously redeemed his name.

Popular culture

*Portrayed by:
**Richard Egan in the 1962 epic "The 300 Spartans"
**Gerard Butler in the 2007 film "300", inspired by the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Voiced by Tilo Schmitz in the German dub and by George Nakata in the Japanese dub.
**Scott Burn in the 2007 spoof "United 300".
**Sean Maguire in the 2008 spoof "Meet the Spartans".
* Leonidas appears as an NPC in the PC game "Titan Quest".
* Leonidas also appears as an NPC in the video game "". In that game, he leads the playable character in battle against the Romans.
* Leonidas appears both as a warrior and a promo warrior in the card game "Anachronism".
* Leonidas appeared in the video game "Civilization IV" as a Great General unit.
* Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae are fully described in Steven Pressfield's historical novel "Gates of Fire". Published 1998
* Leonidas at Thermopyles: History from Ancient Texts by Prof. Marcy George-Kokkinaki (http://www.asxetos.gr/article.aspx?i=1608)
*Leonidas is a movement of the Delta Halo Suite from the game "Halo 2".
* "Leonidas Returns" is a movement of the Covenant suite from the game "Halo 3"
* Leonidas is a chain of Belgian chocolate stores, with a Spartan helmet as its logo.
*Leonidas became an Internet meme, with Gerard Butler's (see above) portrayal of him screaming "This Is Sparta!". This spawned a series of parodies, in which Leonidas' face is superimposed on someone else's, accompanied with the latter phrase.


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