Category Archives: Marathon, Thermopylae & Salamis

Psychological Warfare and the Battle of Thermopylae

The Battle of Thermopylae occurred in “August or September 480 BC, at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae” during the second Persian attempt to conquer Greece. It was “fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I.” (“Battle of Thermopylae”)

Xerxes used one of the most ancient and widely utilized psychological combative strategies in the world: intimidation. From the animal kingdom to Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet of 1907-1909, combatants a display of size and power to cow their opponents into submission. Just as a lion’s mane can deter challenges, and Roosevelt’s fleet acted as his ‘big stick’ to enforce and protect US interests throughout the world, (Pike) the size of Xerxes’ army frightened many Greek towns into surrendering their ‘earth and water’ to Xerxes. (Frye)

Herodotus calculated the Persian army to be “2,641,610” fighters strong. (Histories, vol.7) Including an equal number of Camp Followers as soldiers, He estimated “5,283,220 as the whole number of men brought by Xerxes.” As far as the number of women, hounds, and pack animals following, “no one can give any sure account of it by reason of their multitude.”

Many modern historians believe Herodotus overestimated Xerxes’ numbers, and that the army only consisted of “between about 100,000 and 300,000” Soldiers (“Battle of Thermopylae”) But even so, the force was large enough to drain rivers dry, “block out the sun” with arrows from its archers, and create a pontoon bridge of triremes over the Hellespont, twice. Not to mention arrogant enough to lash the sea itself when the first bridge failed. (Chrastina) Met with such a large, intimidating force, it’s no wonder “The Greek forces at Thermopylae… were seized with fear.” (Herodotus, vol.7)

Unfortunately, frightening as it was, the force could be somewhat unwieldy. The Greeks took advantage of that by attempting to head of the horde at Thermopylae, “A narrow mountain pass” where “the Persians would be unable to take advantage of their massive preponderance in numbers,” and would have to fight the roughly “4,900” Greeks in “close-quarter combat.” (Frye)

However, the psychological effect of the giant army wasn’t ineffective, even in such leveling conditions. Most of the Greek force fully expected to be killed by the Persians, and King Leonidas in particular “was convinced that his final duty was death.”

When the Persians found a way around the ‘gates’ of the mountain pass, much of the Greek force retreated and dispersed to their homes. Whether this retreat was by order of Leonidas, or due to the fear of many of the Greek soldiers, even Herodotus cannot say with certainty. In the end, only the Spartans and Thespians remained to fight – and be defeated by – the Persians.

After the battle, Xerxes used his victory over Leonidas as another psychological attack on the Greeks, ordering the Spartan king’s “head cut off and fixed on a stake” to be displayed to those who would oppose him.


After the failure of the first bridge, Xerxes ordered the sea itself chastised for defying him


Works cited:

“Battle of Thermopylae”. Wikipedia, 30 Jan 2012 . Web. 28 Jan 2012. <>

Chrastina, Paul. “King Xerxes Invades Greece.” Old News. n.d. n. page. Web. 30 Jan. 2012. <>

Frye, David. “SPARTAN STAND AT THERMOPYLAE.” Military History. 22.10 (2006): 38-44.

Herodotus. Histories. 7.

Pike, John. “ .” Great White Fleet (16 Dec 1907 – 22 Feb 1909) . Global Security Org., 05-07-2011 . Web. 26 Jan 2012. <;.

1 Comment

Filed under Cohort VII Scutum Decoris, Marathon, Thermopylae & Salamis

The Battle of Thermopylae (aftermath)

The battle of Thermopylae is one of the most memorable battles fought during the Persian wars. The encounter took place between Greece and their allies (Thespians and Thebans) which were led by King Leonidas, and the Persian Empire led by Xerxes I. The odds were in favor of the Persians in this battle; it is estimated there were 100,000- 300,000 Persians compared to the much smaller Greek force of about 7,000. The fight took place in the coastal pass of Thermopylae and dated back to late September through early October of the year 480 (Sacks, 1976). The pass was very narrow and key in allowing the Persians to continue conquering Greece; for this reason, the Spartans picked this location to hold off the Persians. This pass in particular also suited the Greek phalanx style of fighting very well; it was difficult for the Persians to break through.

The Greeks were able to hold off the massive Persian army for seven days, but at this point the Persians learned of a small pass behind the Greeks which they used to surround them. The Greeks made one last stand on a hill behind them, but in the end, they were extinguished except for the troops Leonidas sent home. The total deaths for the Greek forces amounted to 2,000- 4,000, while the total for the Persians was roughly 20,000. Although it was a victory for the Persians, they lost many troops to the small Greek army. Xerxes was consumed in such a rage from the fighting, that upon victory he ordered his troops to cut off the head of Leonidas and have his body crucified. This was against traditional Persian policy because they highly respected valiant warriors even if it was an enemy (Kerasaradis, 2007).

(This stone was placed on the hill the Greeks made their last stand on. Inscribed upon the stone is “Stranger, announce to the Spartans that here We lie, having fulfilled their orders.” It was important because it signified that there were no warriors left to make the journey home to tell Sparta the news.)

In winning this battle, the Persians were able to continue their conquest of Greece. They continued marching toward the City of Athens, dominating small towns along the way. Also as a result of their victory at Thermopylae, it spurred their navy to continue their attack upon Greece resulting in the battle of Salamis. The previous naval battle at Artemisium ended in a draw, but that no longer mattered because the Persians had claimed victory on land.

Works Cited

Kerasaradis, F. (2007). The battle of thermopylae. Retrieved from

Lendering, J. (2008, August 01). Thermopylae. Retrieved from

Sacks, K. (1976). Herodotus and the dating of the battle of thermopylae. The Classical Quarterly, 26(2), 232-248.

Slubowski, N. (2006). Thermopiles memorial epitaph. In Retrieved from

1 Comment

Filed under Cohort VII Scutum Decoris, Marathon, Thermopylae & Salamis

The Battle of Marathon Post

Brief  History and Aftermath

The year is 490 BC and the Persian King, Darius I, knows no restraints in his conquest for vengeance against his enemies from the Ionian Revolt. In 492 and 491 Darius built his army and commanded that vessels be constructed to transport his army in order to overtake the Greeks (Doenges 2). A force of 9,000  Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans held their position against 600 triremes and an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Persian infantry in Marathon, Greece. (Hammond 32).  

After approximately 5 days of waiting the Athenian infantry still held its advantageous position.  The Persian force desiring to remove the Athenian force from its defensive position at last gave up. Datis, the Persian commander, consented to the fight in fear that the Spartans may show up. On September 11, 490 BC the battle ensued as the Persian and Athenian forces mingled to test their fate. Datis moved his forces opposite from the Athenian infantry with their backs to the sea that they had entered days before. Sixteen-hundred yards away, the Athenians marched until they were at approximately 200 meters from the first Persian line  – just out of range from the Persian archers (Hammond 29).

“Elelue! Eleleu!” The Athenians ran the last 200 meters colliding into the Persian force (

The Persians pushed through the strategic weak point in the Athenian infantry’s line. The Persians found that the Athenians had overtaken them on the wings and were now folding in on them (Doenges 13).

In fear, the Persian army retreated into the unfamiliar marshes toward the sea in which they entered, clinging to the boats which brought them. Many were slaughtered perhaps most losing their lives in the retreat. Seven ships were captured. At the end of the battle 6,400 Persians had been slain compared to the 192 Athenians who won a noble victory. File:Hill where the Athenians were buried after the Battle of Marathon.jpg This image is the burial mound for the 192 Athenian soldiers who lost their lives at the battle of marathon (Johnson).

After pushing the Persians back to sea, they sailed around Sounion. It is assumed,  in hopes that they might invade and conquer Athens. As the Athenians observed the route which the Persians took towards Athens, they tiresomely marched toward Athens to meet the opposing fleet. Because of the timely return to Athens by the Athenians, the Persians sailed back toward Asia (Doenges 15).

The Spartan force arrived a day later and witnessed the calamity distributed to the Persians acknowledging that the Athenians “had won a great victory” (

Although the Athenians leaned their foes the Persians we not invincible, fear still ensued in the hearts of the Athenians that the Persians would shortly come back. For a decade later the people and politics were aroused by the ongoing threat that Darius would seek yet another vengeance against them. Themistocles rose to the challenge revitalizing and enlarging the Athenian Military (Doenges 17).



Doenges, Norman A. “The Campaign and Battle of Marathon.” Historia: Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte Bd. 47, H. 1 (1st Qtr., 1998): 1-17 JSTOR Weber State University, Ogden UT. Jan. 2012 <>
Hammond, N. G. L. “The Campaign and the Battle of Marathon.” The Journal of hellenisc Studies, Vol. 88, (1968): 13-57 JSTOR Weber State University, Ogden UT. Jan 2012 <>.

Johnson, Ryan. “Hill where the Athenians were buried after the Battle of Marathon.” 3 April 2007. 29 January 2012 <>. “Battle of Marathon.” (Jan. 9 2012). Jan 2012. <>.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cohort II, Marathon, Thermopylae & Salamis