There’s an Alternate Version of What Happened at the Battle of Thermopylae

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It’s almost certain that everyone reading this learned everything they known about the Battle of Thermopylae from the movie, 300 and that’s okay, that movie was rad. However, what a surprising number of people fail to realise is that, that movie and indeed most every other story about the battle is just the best guess of what happened that day.

So we’re clear, because we seem to be getting an awful lot of hurtful comments recently telling us that we’re stupid, there’s only a smattering of facts that support what we’re about to tell you. The thing to keep in mind though is that when it comes to the Battle of Thermopylae, a smattering of facts is all we have supporting either version of events. It just so happens that history seems to have decided that what happened in 300 is basically exactly how things went down.

Not that we have a problem with that.
Not that we have a problem with that.

Now practically everything we know about the Battle of Thermopylae comes from information recorded by the Greek historian, Herodotus. Herodotus is the guy who mentioned such key details as the Spartan’s guarding the ever-loving shit out of the pass of Thermopylae and them finally being killed by a barrage of arrows and javelins. 

However, that isn’t to say Herodotus is the only source on what went down that day, another Greek historian called Diodorus Siculus has posited an alternate version of events, a deleted scene from history if you will.

According to the Diodorus, the Spartan’s actually decided to try and sneak into Xerxes’ camp at night and stab him in the face in an attempt to end the war right then and there. The Spartan’s supposedly made it as far Xerxes’ tent, but were unable to find him, leaving them with no choice but to indiscriminately slaughter as many of his men as they could until they were finally killed by a barrage of arrows and javelins when the sun rose and they realised that there were only a few hundred Spartans attacking their camp of 500,000 men!

Cowards
This is how King Leonidas took a shower.

A lot of the battle’s key details are the same, Leonidas knew he was going to die and wanted to go out killing as many Persian’s as he could, hell he even died in exactly the same way. The only difference is that according to Diodorus, Leonidas actually tried to kill Xerxes instead of standing still while being peppered with arrows. Hell, Diodorus even went as far as criticising Herodotus because he “obscured also the bravest act of Leonidas” referring to the assassination attempt.

So why is it everyone accepts Herodotus’ explanation instead of Diodorus’, the answer is, fuck if we know. Both accounts are somewhat credible and are equally as supported by the few bits of actual physical proof archaeologists have managed to dig up from that area of the world (mostly arrow heads, javelin tips and the dent Leonidas’ balls made in the ground when he died). Though Herodotus’ account came from a date that was closer to the actual battle of Thermopylae, the number of men he claims were present and their allegiances is inconsistent with the reports of other historians. Likewise, while Diodorus lived a few hundred years after the actual battle took place and some of his facts have been discredited, his most likely source, the historian Ephorus, was more accurate than Herodotus in some areas. Mostly with his description of exactly how many men fought alongside the Spartans, suggesting that he, or at least his source had some intimate knowledge of what happened. 

The most likely explanation for what happened that day is probably a combination of the accounts of both historians mingled with a bunch of stuff we’ll probably never know because it was too awesome to be recorded. All that said, we just think it’s cool that there’s possibly a version of this story where Leonidas tried to stab Xerxes in the face.

For a more reliable tale of Spartan badassery, why not read about that one time a Spartan soldier painted a life-size portrait of a fly on his shield.