Thermopylae
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Thermopylae (;
Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following periods: Mycenaean Greek (), Greek Dark ...
and Katharevousa: (''Thermopylai'') , Demotic Greek ( Greek): , (''Thermopyles'') ; "hot gates") is a place in
Greece Greece,, or , romanized: ', officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country in Southeast Europe. It is situated on the southern tip of the Balkans, and is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Greece shares land borders with ...
where a narrow coastal passage existed in antiquity. It derives its name from its hot sulphur springs."Thermopylae" in: S. Hornblower & A. Spawforth (eds.) ''The Oxford Classical Dictionary'', 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1996). In Greek mythology the Hot Gates is one of the entrances to
Hades Hades (; grc-gre, ᾍδης, Háidēs; ), in the ancient Greek religion and Greek mythology, myth, is the god of the dead and the king of the Greek underworld, underworld, with which his name became synonymous. Hades was the eldest son of Cro ...
. Thermopylae is the site of a battle between the Greek forces (including
Sparta Sparta (Doric Greek: Σπάρτα, ''Spártā''; Attic Greek: wikt:Σπάρτη, Σπάρτη, ''Spártē'') was a prominent city-state in Laconia, in ancient Greece. In antiquity, the city-state was known as Lacedaemon (, ), while the nam ...
ns, Thebans and Thespians) and the invading
Persia Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also called Persia, is a country located in Western Asia. It is bordered by Iraq and Turkey to the west, by Azerbaijan and Armenia to the northwest, by the Caspian Sea and Turkmeni ...
n forces, commemorated by Simonides of Ceos in the epitaph, "Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, That here obedient to their laws we lie." Thermopylae is the only land route large enough to bear any significant traffic between Lokris and
Thessaly Thessaly ( el, Θεσσαλία, translit=Thessalía, ; ancient Aeolic Greek#Thessalian, Thessalian: , ) is a traditional geographic regions of Greece, geographic and modern administrative regions of Greece, administrative region of Greece, co ...
. To go from north to south along the east coast of the
Balkans The Balkans ( ), also known as the Balkan Peninsula, is a geographical area in southeastern Europe with various geographical and historical definitions. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch throughout the who ...
requires use of the pass. In ancient times it was called Malis, named after the Malians ( grc, Μαλιεῖς), a Greek tribe that lived near present-day Lamia at the delta of the river Spercheios in
Greece Greece,, or , romanized: ', officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country in Southeast Europe. It is situated on the southern tip of the Balkans, and is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Greece shares land borders with ...
. The Malian Gulf is also named after them. In the western valley of the Spercheios their land was adjacent to the Aenianes. Their main town was named Trachis. In the town of Anthela, the Malians had an important Temple of Demeter Amphictyonis, an early center of the Anthelan Amphictyony. The land is dominated by the coastal floodplain of the Spercheios river and is surrounded by sloping forested
limestone Limestone (calcium carbonate ) is a type of carbonate rock, carbonate sedimentary rock which is the main source of the material Lime_(material), lime. It is composed mostly of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different Polymorphis ...
mountains. There is continuous deposition of sediment from the river and
travertine Travertine ( ) is a form of terrestrial limestone deposited around mineral springs, especially hot springs. It often has a fibrous or concentric appearance and exists in white, tan, cream-colored, and even rusty varieties. It is formed by a pro ...
deposits from the hot springs which has substantially altered the landscape during the past few thousand years. The land surface on which the famous
Battle of Thermopylae The Battle of Thermopylae ( ; grc, Μάχη τῶν Θερμοπυλῶν, label=Ancient Greek, Greek, ) was fought in 480 BC between the Achaemenid Empire, Achaemenid Persian Empire under Xerxes I and an alliance of Polis, Greek city-states ...
was fought in 480 BC is now buried under of soil. The shoreline has also advanced over the centuries because of the sedimentary deposition. The level of the Malian Gulf was also significantly higher during prehistoric times, and the Spercheios River was significantly shorter. Its shoreline advanced by up to 2 kilometers between 2500 BC and 480 BC but has still left several narrow passages between the sea and the mountains. The narrowest point on the plain, where the battle was probably fought, would have been less than wide. Between 480 BC and the 21st century, the shoreline advanced by as much as in places, eliminating the narrowest points of the pass and considerably increasing the size of the plain around the outlet of the Spercheios. The A1 motorway linking
Athens Athens ( ; el, Αθήνα, Athína ; grc, Ἀθῆναι, Athênai (pl.) ) is a coastal city in the Mediterranean and is both the capital and largest city of Greece. With a population close to four million, it is also the seventh largest c ...
and
Thessaloniki Thessaloniki (; el, Θεσσαλονίκη, , also known as Thessalonica (), Saloniki, or Salonica (), is the second-largest city in Greece, with over one million inhabitants in its Thessaloniki metropolitan area, metropolitan area, and the capi ...
now follows the ancient shoreline and thus splits the pass; a modern-day monument to King Leonidas I of
Sparta Sparta (Doric Greek: Σπάρτα, ''Spártā''; Attic Greek: wikt:Σπάρτη, Σπάρτη, ''Spártē'') was a prominent city-state in Laconia, in ancient Greece. In antiquity, the city-state was known as Lacedaemon (, ), while the nam ...
is situated on the east side of the highway, directly across the road from the hill where Simonides' epitaph to the fallen is engraved in stone at the top. Thermopylae is part of the "horseshoe of Maliakos", also known as the "horseshoe of death": it is the narrowest part of the highway connecting the north and the south of Greece. It has many turns and has been the site of many vehicular accidents. The hot springs from which the pass derives its name still exist close to the foot of the hill.


Origin

Thermopylae means "hot gates," in reference to the presence of the hot sulphur springs in the area. The cavernous entrance to
Hades Hades (; grc-gre, ᾍδης, Háidēs; ), in the ancient Greek religion and Greek mythology, myth, is the god of the dead and the king of the Greek underworld, underworld, with which his name became synonymous. Hades was the eldest son of Cro ...
, the
underworld The underworld, also known as the netherworld or hell, is the supernatural world of the dead in various religious traditions and myths, located below the world of the living. Chthonic is the technical adjective for things of the underworld. ...
of
Greek mythology A major branch of classical mythology, Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the Ancient Greece, ancient Greeks, and a genre of Ancient Greek folklore. These stories concern the Cosmogony, origin and Cosmology#Metaphysical co ...
, was said to be at Thermopylae. In one variation of the story of the Labours of Heracles, it was said that the waters at Thermopylae became hot because the hero
Heracles Heracles ( ; grc-gre, Ἡρακλῆς, , glory/fame of Hera), born Alcaeus (, ''Alkaios'') or Alcides (, ''Alkeidēs''), was a divine hero in Greek mythology A major branch of classical mythology, Greek mythology is the body of my ...
tried to cleanse himself of Hydra poison in them. The first known
Amphictyony In Archaic Greece, an amphictyony ( grc-gre, ἀμφικτυονία, a "league of neighbors"), or amphictyonic league, was an ancient religious association of tribes formed before the rise of the Greek ''poleis''. The six Dorians, Dorian cities o ...
, a group of religiously-associated ancient Greek tribes, was centered on the cult of
Demeter In ancient Greek religion and Greek mythology, mythology, Demeter (; Attic Greek, Attic: ''Dēmḗtēr'' ; Doric Greek, Doric: ''Dāmā́tēr'') is the Twelve Olympians, Olympian goddess of the harvest and agriculture, presiding over crops, ...
at the city of Anthela, near Thermopylae. The delegates to this first Amphictyony were dubbed the ''Pylagorai'' ("gate-assemblers"); since Demeter had
chthonic The word chthonic (), or chthonian, is derived from the Ancient Greek word ''χθών, "khthon"'', meaning earth or soil. It translates more directly from χθόνιος or "in, under, or beneath the earth" which can be differentiated from Γῆ ...
or underworld associations in many of her older cults, this may be a reference to the gates of Hades.L. H. Jeffery (1976) ''Archaic Greece: The City States c. 700–500 BC''. Ernest Benn Ltd., London & Tonbridge pp. 72-73


Battles


Greco-Persian Wars

Thermopylae is primarily known for the battle that took place there in 480 BC, in which an outnumbered Greek force probably of 7,000 (including 300
Sparta Sparta (Doric Greek: Σπάρτα, ''Spártā''; Attic Greek: wikt:Σπάρτη, Σπάρτη, ''Spártē'') was a prominent city-state in Laconia, in ancient Greece. In antiquity, the city-state was known as Lacedaemon (, ), while the nam ...
ns, 500 warriors from Tegea, 500 from Mantinea, 120 from Arcadian Orchomenos, 1,000 from the rest of Arcadia, 200 from Phlius, 80 from
Mycenae Mycenae ( ; grc, Μυκῆναι or , ''Mykē̂nai'' or ''Mykḗnē'') is an archaeological site near Mykines, Greece, Mykines in Argolis, north-eastern Peloponnese, Greece. It is located about south-west of Athens; north of Argos, Peloponne ...
, 400 Corinthians, 400
Thebans Thebes (; ell, Θήβα, ''Thíva'' ; grc, Θῆβαι, ''Thêbai'' .) is a city in Boeotia, Central Greece (region), Central Greece. It played an important role in Greek myths, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus, Heracles ...
, 1,000 Phocians, 700 Thespians, and the
Opuntian Locrians Opuntian Locris or Eastern Locris was an ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided ...
) held off a substantially larger force of Persians under Xerxes. Over 1,000 Greeks remained in the pass when most of the army retreated: the survivors from previous fighting of 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians, along with 400 Thebans whom the other Greeks forcibly held as hostages. Gaius Stern has argued that this force had already suffered casualties of over 100 in the previous fighting, so the true number might be closer to 1,250 than 1,400.UC Berk. Ext. class "The Persian Wars" 30 September 2009; "Legends of Marathon and Thermopylae" Lecture at San Jose State 13 September 2010; OSHER/OLLI class "Ten Great Battles of the Ancient World" 24 October 2016; For three days they held a narrow route between hills and the sea against Xerxes' vast cavalry and infantry force, before being outflanked on the third day via an obscure goat path named the Anopaea Pass. According to the Greek legend, a traitor named Ephialtes of Trachis showed the path to the invaders. The following epitaph by
Simonides Simonides of Ceos (; grc-gre, Σιμωνίδης ὁ Κεῖος; c. 556–468 BC) was a Greek lyric poet, born in Ioulis on Kea (island), Ceos. The scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria included him in the canonical list of the nine lyric p ...
was written on the monument: "Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie." (Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.)


Third Sacred War

In 353 BC/352 BC during the Third Sacred War, fought mainly between the forces of the Delphic Amphictyonic League, principally represented by Thebes, and latterly by
Philip II of Macedon Philip II of Macedon ( grc-gre, Φίλιππος ; 382 – 21 October 336 BC) was the king (''basileus'') of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia (ancient kingdom), Macedonia from 359 BC until his death in 336 BC. He was a member of the Argead ...
, and the Phocians. The war was caused by a large fine imposed on the Phocians in 357 BC for cultivating sacred land. The Spartans, who were also fined in that war, actually never fought in it as they were later pardoned.


Gallic invasion of the Balkans

In 279 BC a Gallic army led by Brennus initially engaged the Aetolians who were forced to make a tactical retreat and who were finally routed by the Thessalians and Malians by the river Spercheios.


Roman-Seleucid Wars

In 191 BC Antiochus III the Great of
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or سُورِيَة, translit=Sūriyā), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, الجمهورية العربية السورية, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah), is a Western Asian country loc ...
attempted in vain to hold the pass against the Romans under Manius Acilius Glabrio.


Balkan invasion by the Heruli

At an uncertain date in the mid 3rd century AD, the Germanic tribe of
Heruli The Heruli (or Herules) were an early Germanic people. Possibly originating in Scandinavia, the Heruli are first mentioned by Roman authors as one of several " Scythian" groups raiding Roman provinces in the Balkans The Balkans ( ), ...
were defeated by a Roman force sent to stop them.


Byzantine-Bulgarian Wars

In 997, the Bulgarian
Tsar Tsar ( or ), also spelled ''czar'', ''tzar'', or ''csar'', is a title used by East Slavs, East and South Slavs, South Slavic monarchs. The term is derived from the Latin word ''Caesar (title), caesar'', which was intended to mean "emperor" i ...
Samuel Samuel ''Šəmūʾēl'', Tiberian Hebrew, Tiberian: ''Šămūʾēl''; ar, شموئيل or صموئيل '; el, Σαμουήλ ''Samouḗl''; la, Samūēl is a figure who, in the narratives of the Hebrew Bible, plays a key role in the transit ...
invaded Greece and advanced as far as the
Peloponnese The Peloponnese (), Peloponnesus (; el, Πελοπόννησος, Pelopónnēsos,(), or Morea is a peninsula and geographic regions of Greece, geographic region in southern Greece. It is connected to the central part of the country by the Isthmu ...
. On his return, he was met by a
Byzantine The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survi ...
army under Nikephoros Ouranos at Spercheios. As the river was flooded, both sides encamped on opposite sides without action. Confident that the Byzantines could not cross the river, the Bulgarians relaxed their guard and were taken by surprise when Byzantine scouts discovered a ford further upriver.


Greek War of Independence

In 1821, a force of Greek fighters led by Athanasios Diakos made a stand near the pass to stop a force of 8,000 Turks from marching down from
Thessaly Thessaly ( el, Θεσσαλία, translit=Thessalía, ; ancient Aeolic Greek#Thessalian, Thessalian: , ) is a traditional geographic regions of Greece, geographic and modern administrative regions of Greece, administrative region of Greece, co ...
to put down revolts in Roumeli and the
Peloponnese The Peloponnese (), Peloponnesus (; el, Πελοπόννησος, Pelopónnēsos,(), or Morea is a peninsula and geographic regions of Greece, geographic region in southern Greece. It is connected to the central part of the country by the Isthmu ...
. Diakos, after making a last stand at the bridge of Alamana with 48 of his men, was captured and killed.


World War II

In 1941 during World War II the ANZAC forces delayed the invading Nazi forces in the area enough to allow the evacuation of the British expeditionary force to
Crete Crete ( el, Κρήτη, translit=, Modern: , Ancient: ) is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, ...
. This conflict also became known as the Battle of Thermopylae. The
sabotage Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening a polity, effort, or organization through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. One who engages in sabotage is a ''saboteur''. Saboteurs typically try to conceal their identitie ...
of the Gorgopotamos bridge in 1942 was referred in German documents of the era as "the recent sabotage near Thermopylae".


See also

* Battle of Thermopylae in popular culture *
Amphictyonic League In Archaic Greece, an amphictyony ( grc-gre, ἀμφικτυονία, a "league of neighbors"), or amphictyonic league, was an ancient religious association of tribes formed before the rise of the Greek ''poleis''. The six Dorians, Dorian cities o ...


Notes and references


Further reading

* * *


External links


Maps of Attica and ThermopylaeGoogle Earth view
{{Authority control Battle of Thermopylae Hot springs of Greece Mountain passes of Greece Canyons and gorges of Greece Landforms of Phthiotis Landforms of Central Greece Spa towns in Greece Populated places in Phthiotis