Thermopylae - by Paul Cartledge

The author of Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World calls the stand of Leonidas and his men, at Thermopylae, "a suicidally defining stand for freedom."

How does Thermopylae, of ancient times, compare to Thermopylae of today? Paul Cartledge tells us more in his book (split into paragraphs here for easier reading):

The 'Hot Gates' - that is what 'Thermopylae' means in ancient Greek -- are a narrow pass in north-central mainland Greece.

The 'gates' bit referred to the fact that this was the natural and obvious route for any invading army coming from the north to defeat the forces of central or southern Greece. They were called 'hot' because of the presence nearby of natural healing sulphur springs still there today.

Here it was that in August 480 BCE an ancient Greek 'Few,' representing a small and wavering grouping of Greek cities, made their heroic stand against the oncoming might of a massive Persian invasionary force. They were headed by an elite force from Sparta, the single most powerful Greek polis, or citizen-state.

It is disconcerting to find that today the 'National Road' linking Athens with Greece's second city, Thessaloniki in Macedonia, carves its way slap bang through this deeply historic site...Since the fifth century BCE there have been at least two major earthquakes, and besides those the River Spercheius has laid down alluvial deposits that have caused the sea to recede some five kilometers to the north.

So that what was once a narrow (20-30 meters wide) mountain defile with the sea roaring close by on one side has become a road through a fairly broad coastal plateau, with the sound of the sea but a distantly gentle murmur (when, that is, the roar of the trucks and other motor traffic hurtling by does not drown it out). (Preface, Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World, by Paul Cartledge, pages ix-x.)

Significant segments of this book are available for online reading, thanks to the publisher (Random House) and Google Books. 

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy amazon.com

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