In 480 BC the Median Wars, which had pitted Western forces against Eastern for nearly 20 years, reached a new phase. Fueled with ambition and hungry for revenge after his father’s humiliation at Marathon, Xerxes I, King of the Persians, made ready for another invasion of Greece at the head of his powerful and fearsome army.
At Thermopylae, the narrow pass between the mountains and the sea which provided the only overland to access to Athens, the Spartan King Leonidas I made a stand. With his 300 Spartan warriors, his tactic was to delay the enemy.
For three days, Xerxes and his men stood their ground against ever more numerous assailants in a struggle without mercy and without hope for the Spartans.
Athens fell, but the Persian victory had a bitter aftertaste. Xerxes army was greatly depleted, and the heroic sacrifice of Leonidas and his men became emblematic of resistance to invaders. Through the courage that he instilled in the Greeks, he inspired them, a few months later, to a victory that was this time decisive: the Battle of Salamis.
There, in a naval confrontation between markedly unequal enemy forces, the ruse employed by Themistocles finally got the better of formidable Persian might.