King of Sparta
In Power 489–480 BC
Born c. 540 BC
Died 480 BC
Nationality Greek
Royal House Agiad
Religion Greek Polytheism

Leonidas is considered one of the legendary rulers of Sparta, who led the Greek Empire in the Thermopylae Battle. The battle is considered to be one of the legendary and brilliant events in the history of Greece, and shows a leader that was willing to self-sacrifice in order to lead the empire and his army to victory.

The battle and Leonidas became quite an inspiration to many that followed, not only as leaders of the empire and army, but also religious leaders, poets, and other high authority figures, in the Greek Empire.

Early Life

Prior to the battle that he led the army in, there is not much documented about Leonidas and his early life. Most historians have the belief that he was born in 540 B.C., and that he was the son of the King Anaxandrius II from Sparta, who was Hercules’ descendant. He was married to his wife Gorgo and they had a son.

It is believed that Leonidas succeeded his half-brother, who held the throne around 488 B.C., and held hold of the throne until he died in 480 B.C. The meaning of his name is son of a lion, or translates to like a lion, depending on the interpretation and context.


During the summer of 480 B.C., when the battle initiated, Xerxes and his Persian army had been planting attacks on Greece; Xerxes had a large army, and what seemed to be a more powerful army at the time that these attacks and the battle actually began.

While Leonidas ruled northern Greece, the northern and southern sides decided to unite forces and to put up a central front and block off Xerxes and his army from central Greece. As the Persian army was entering through southern Greece, the armies united and decided to meet them at Thermopylae, which was a small, central passage that went through the central portion of Greece.

Leonidas and the established army that he had of 300 men made their way to this central passage in order to meet up with the Greek armies that had already begun the battle and were attempting to stop the Persian front. This only gave the Greeks an army of about 4,000 soldiers, which was a meager number in comparison to the army that Xerxes had built in Persia that was 80,000 soldiers strong, and had a much larger arsenal at their disposal to fight during this war.

Xerxes Plan of Attack

During the attack, Xerxes planned to wait a period of 4 days, prior to moving his army forward and attacking the Greek army. He was under the impression that the Greek army would surrender, due to the sheer size difference, and the much larger arsenal Xerxes had to fight with during the war. His belief the Greek army would surrender and give up proved to be one that would not hold true.

King Xerxes sent heralds out to Leonidas and other Greek leaders, in an attempt to collect their weapons, and put an end to the war. When this happened, Leonidas made the famous statement of telling them to come and take them and this was what began the war. Although Leonidas had a much smaller army to fight with, and did not have nearly as many weapons or power as Xerxes and the Persians. This fearless act is what made him one of the great leaders, and one of the most celebrated leaders of the Greek army.

Setup against the Leader and his Army

During the early stages of the war, the Greek army fought hard, and resisted the persistence of the Persian army. It was only a few days into the war that a local man, named Ephialtes, revealed a hidden passage to Xerxes, allowing him to corner and traps the Greek army; and, due to mass size of the Persian army, he believed the Greeks would have no choice but to surrender to this attack.

When Leonidas learned about this and saw the Persian army going to circle them, without giving them a passage out, he requested the other Greek armies to leave from the battlefield prior to the Persians’ circling maneuver. His proposal was that his army would remain back to fight off the Persians, and the remaining Greek soldiers would return to protect Greece from the invasion of the Persians.

Defeat of the Army

Once this occurred, Leonidas and his 300 Spartan soldiers, along with the 700 Thespians, who had refused to leave his side, remained to fight the Persian army that had circled, and cornered his much smaller arsenal. This brought the total from 4,000, only down to 1,000 soldiers fighting with Leonidas, in comparison to the 80,000 strong that Xerxes had brought with him, in order for the Persian army to defeat the Greek army. All of the men that remained on the Greek side died on the battlefield, due to the trap they had been set up in by a Greek citizen.

The fact that he and his army stayed behind displayed his loyalty and the value of the Greek people. Under his belief system, the belief was that it was disgraceful for Spartans to return home during a war, so, either they returned with a victory for their empire or not return at all.

There is a Leonidas memorial site where the Thermopylae Battle took place to this day. It was built to commemorate the heroic sacrifice he made for the Greeks, and the fact that he did not back down even though he was greatly outnumbered by a far more powerful arsenal in the Persian army. The legendary leader’s tomb lies in Sparta, which is where he was originally from, and this commemorates the land that he was fighting for, as he led the Greek army up against the Persians.