In the fall of 480 BC, Xerxes, avenging his fathers loss to the greeks at Marathon, invaded the greek peninsula again. Various political factors left the city-states unable to field their main armies in a timely manner, so Leonidas, one of two Spartan Kings, took his personal guard of 300 men, their supply train, and in conjunction with some other forces, arrived at, and began fortifying the narrow pass between the cliffs and the sea. Roughly 7000 men faced an army often described in the millions, and even at more modern estimates of 150,000 faced staggering odds. The only hope they had to hold was superior training, superior equipment, and superior position.
In the end, a treacherous farmer led a contingent of the Persian army behind the force. About to be surrounded, Leonidas sent most of the forces away, keeping a force of 400 Thebans, 700 Thespians, and his 300 men. They fought to the bitter, bloody end. The battle lost, the Persians were nevertheless delayed long enough for Athens to be evacuated, and the city-states to gather their forces, turning the tide at the battle of Platea.
Two famous quotes that stay with me are of course, Molon Labe – “Come, then take” in response to a request for the Greeks to lay down their weapons. You want them? Then you come over here and take them from us. The other of course was the famous reply when the greeks were told the arrows of the Persian army would blot out the sun. “Then we shall fight in the shade.”
This battle is immortalized. Cheesy as it is, I love the Frank Miller inspired 300 (Victor Davis Hanson has an interesting take…), and there is the outstanding, lyrical, and solidly written “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield. It’s also inspired countless other stories, including some aspects of Ringo’s “Troy Rising” series.
So of course, Sabaton, continuing their practice of writing about war and warriors, could open their new album with nothing else, but “Sparta”
It’s a great track and a great opener to the album. If I have a complaint, it’s that the story of Thermopylae is a bit too complex for the time allowed, and so some of the quotes and images feel wedged in, without context. As it is, it’s a nit.
(And thanks to the Didact for clueing me in to a new Sabaton album coming out, and to Sabaton in general…)