Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Thacher to The Cualnge Tam B6 >> Thermopywe


greece, thermopylae, xerxes and persian

THERMOPYWE (Gk. eePporfaat hot gates), in classical geography, a pass on the southeastern frontier of iEniania, Greece, lead ing from Thessaly into Locris, and on the route of the only good road from Thessaly to central Greece. It was situated between the range of Mount (Eta and an inaccessible morass which bordered the Maliac Gulf ,• and in breadth it was a narrow tract of perhaps some 50 feet. Its name was derived from the pres ence of thermal springs. As the only means by which a hostile army might penetrate from northern into southern Greece, it held a pecu liar strategic value in Grecian history. It is celebrated as the scene of the defense by Leonidas (q.v.) and the 300 Spartans against the vast host of Xerxes (q.v.) in August 480 B.C. The account of this battle given by He rodotus has been generally followed. Xerxes, ridiculing the numbers of the Hellenic de fenders (5,200, not counting the Locrians, whose numbers are not known), sent against them the Medes and Cissians with instructions to take them prisoners and bring them before him. When, after a day's fighting, these were unsuc cessful, the picked 10,000, called the ((Immor tals," were sent forward; but, handicapped by the shortness of their spears, they were no match for the Hellenes, of whom few fell, while the Persian loss was on both days excessive.

Xerxes was now in great perplexity, when Ephialtes, a Malian, came "to tell him of the pathway which led across the mountain to Thermopylie." This path ascended the gorge of the river Asopus, and the hill Anople; then passed over the crest of (Eta and to the rear of Thermopylae. The Persians arrived in the rear of Thermopylae soon after mid-day of the third day. Tidings of their coming had already been brought to the Greeks by scouts and Persian deserters. Most of the Greeks withdrew, but the Spartans and the Thespians (700) remained, and the Thebans (400) were compelled to stay. Of the Spartans and Thespians, all fell; and of the Thebans, few escaped. To the complaint that the Persian arrows darkened the sky the Spartan Dieneces is said to have answered, °Good; then we shall fight in the shade." Through deposits from the Spercheius and other streams, great alterations have taken place at Thermopylae, so that it is not now a pass but a swampy plain. Consult Schliemann, 'Untersuchungen der Thermopylen' (1883) and various standard histories of Greece. See also GREECE, ANCIENT - History.