The Persian Wars: Greece's Finest Hours

The Battle of Thermopylae

In 480, 10 years after the disastrous defeat at Marathon, the Persians were back, this time with even more men. They met a combined force of Greeks at Thermopylae, a small mountain pass that controlled access to most of the rest of Greece. A group of 7,000 soldiers easily held off the Persians for two days. But a Greek traitor showed the Persians a secret passageway that allowed them to strike the Greek army from the rear. Seeing this, most of the defenders retreated. A group of 300 Spartans stayed on the battlefield, fighting to the death and covering their fellow Greeks' retreat. This heroic act allowed the rest of the Greek army, which was made up of soldiers from all over Greece, to escape capture or certain death.

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