The famous last stand of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan hoplites against the massed forces of Xerxes I is the stuff of legend. A Greek force of some 5,000 men, commanded by King Leonidas of Sparta, was prepared to fight to the death to stop the Persian advance at Thermopylae. By the time Xerxes I and his Persian army, which is estimated to have comprised 100,000–150,000 men, reached the narrow cliff pass of Thermopylae, the Greeks were guarding the 49-foot-wide (15-m) pass, fortified by the Phocian wall at its narrowest point, making it difficult for Xerxes’ troops to progress. Leonidas’s 300 hand-picked elite Spartan troops spearheaded the defence of the narrow pass, doggedly turning back wave upon wave of Persian archers, over two days. On the third day the Persians learned of a mountain track, which allowed them to climb above the Greeks and then descend on the defenders. Leonidas decided that his elite Spartans, supplemented by 700 loyal Thespians, would make a last stand, allowing the other Greek defenders to retreat. The Greeks fought to the death; the Persian dead were said to number 20,000.
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