Stone Washington
Thermopylae: The battle for the West vs. America – The battle for impeachment, Part I
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By Stone Washington
February 22, 2020


"We are following in the footsteps of our fathers. We are marching to war at the ideal season of the year. We shall conquer all Europe and, without either being starved or suffering any other unpleasant circumstance, we shall return in triumph to our homeland."

~Xerxes, on the Second invasion of Greece

Background to the Greatest Historians of Western Civilization

Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), the iconic earliest Greek historian writing the narrative of the Battle of Thermopylae was born four years after the infamous Battle of Salamis in the Halicarnassus of Asia. Herodotus was born in the Greek colony while under Persian occupation and would remain so for roughly half of his life. While enjoying a status of respect as a Greek, Persian tyranny made political freedom nearly impossible, prompting Herodotus to focus on reading and traveling after his elementary education. Herodotus held a great understanding of Homer's famous works (the Iliad, and the Odyssey) and a thorough acquaintance with all of Greek literature. Herodotus's most famous work, "The Histories" (440 B.C.), is widely considered to be the foundational work for history in all of Western literature. In addition to examining the Persian Wars, The Histories contains many of the languages, traditions, governance, and cultures of the ancient known world: Greece, West Asia, and North Africa.

Thucydides (460-395 B.C.) was an Athenian historian and general born in Halimous, Athens (modern day municipality of Alimos). He was noted to have survived the devastating Plague of Athens, which killed an estimated 75,000-100,000 people. Despite his preeminence as a historian, relatively little is known about Thucydides outside of his most prominent work, "History of the Peloponnesian War," of which he served as an Athenian general. He may have also played a role in Athens quelling the Samian Revolt (440-439 B.C.). Thucydides was greatly inspired by his immediate predecessor Herodotus, who both laid the foundation for Western historiography.

Thermopylae: The Battle that Transformed the Western World

The battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. represents the greatest turning point in the Greco-Persian Wars (499-449 B.C.). The battle was waged by the legendary King Leonidas I of Sparta leading an allied Greek force of 7,000 men, later minimized to his 300 Spartans and 700 allied Thespians to defend the narrow pass of Thermopylae (known as the "Hot Gates") against King Xerxes commanding a massive Persian army ranging between about 100,000 and 150,000 soldiers. Thermopylae was the only known road by which Xerxes's forces could march from Persia to Greece on dry land, thus this narrow mountain was most coveted and held in the heat of intense battle for three whole days by Leonidas and his small band of men in the most incredible last stand of all recorded history. The Battle of Thermopylae took place at the beginning of the second Persian invasion of Greece, as retaliation for the humiliating defeat Persian forces received from the Athenian navy 10 years earlier at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the mighty Spartans held their ground to prevent the massive Persian army from advancing through the only road in Thermopylae for three days, battling heroically to the death. While many ancient and modern historians alike have viewed the glorious battle to be a prime portrayal of patriotism and the defense of an independent nation against foreign invasion, no one has surpassed the acclaim of British historian Ernle Bradford's 1980 book, "Thermopylae: The Battle for the West". This masterpiece of Greek warfare and stratagem provides an in-depth look into nearly every major encounter, strategy, motivation and struggle culminating the three-day battle at Thermopylae. The book provides a comprehensive timeline of every landmark encounter spanning the entirety of the Greco-Persian conflicts, beginning with rise of King Darius prior to the Battle of Marathon and ending with the final Battle of Plataea (479 B.C.) ending the Persian invasion of Greece. Bradford's reliable expertise on the subject dispels many myths and misconceptions regarding Thermopylae and the series of battles that followed, including providing more accurate assessments of army sizes on both the Greek and Persian sides than previous assumptions.

Even several major films have been produced to honor the glorious achievements in battle by both Spartan and Athenian forces, most notably, 300 (2006), showcasing Leonidas and his army of 300 Spartans' fearless last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae, and 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), portraying the glorious naval victories against the Persian fleet achieved by Athenian general Themistocles during the same period. While both movies masterfully portray the warfare, horrors, strategies, and bold decisiveness within the Greco-Persian conflict, this article series will plunge deeper into the lessons of History to transcend the cinematic depiction of this period and incorporate a modern depiction to the warring political disputes transpiring in the United States government. Particularly, my series will connect the glorious final stand of the Spartan lead allied Greek ground forces at Thermopylae and the Athenian lead Greek naval fleet at Salamis (including the battles that followed) to the valiant stand that President Trump has taken against an onslaught of opposition from Congressional Democrats in what has been the modern impeachment war for control over American governance.


Book 1: The Great King

The march by the mighty King Xerxes begins, as he gives the order to all of Persia to begin the second invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. The ambitious 38-year-old Xerxes was the eldest son of King Darius, who fell after the first invasion of Greece failed with Persia's defeat at the Battle of Marathon. Xerxes vowed to finish what his father began. Tens of thousands of men, both Greek and Persian, are armed in preparation for the invasion. Xerxes ordered the construction of the massive bridge of boats to cross the Hellespont, a distance of about seven furlongs or 1,400 yards, constructed by Egyptian and Phoenician workmen. One of the most astonishing mechanical achievements during the process was the tensile strength and weight of the cables that held each of the boats together, partially made of flax (Phoenician) and papyrus (Egyptian). Such a sheer magnitude of the materials used and architectural ingenuity of the engineers causes author Ernle Bradford to doubt that anything in Europe could match this, until Alexander the Great during the Siege of Tyre (332 B.C.) built a causeway from the mainland of Lebanon to the island of Tyre).

Book 2: The Glory of the hour

The massive bridge across the Hellespont was completed by the Spring of 480 B.C., ready for an army to cross. It is here that Xerxes sends his emissaries to negotiate terms of paying Persian tribute with various Greek states, all of whom comply, minus Athens and Sparta. Both nations responded by throwing the Persian representatives into "The Pit," a place for condemned criminals, which Herodotus affirms actually happened. Thus, the iconic scene from the movie 300 where King Leonidas kicked such an emissary into The Pit, after famously yelling, "This is Sparta!!" and telling them to "get earth and water for their king from down there," is historically accurate. Xerxes was aware of the two mightiest Greek nations, Sparta representing the military muscle of Greece, while Athens formed the greater portion of its naval arm. In assessing Herodotus's numbers and other Greek historians, the size of Persia's forces was approximately: "170,000 infantrymen, 8,000 cavalry, 2000 camel corps and charioteers, and 30,000 Greeks and Thracians." Xerxes often allowed for spies into his territory to intimidate the Greeks in witnessing the propaganda display of his massive army and navy. The Persian army soon begins to cross the upper bridge to the Hellespont.

Book 3: The Persians

The Achaemenid Empire which Xerxes now rules, was initially created by his grandfather, Cyrus the Great in 550 B.C. The event that originally triggered the Greco-Persian wars was a major revolt against Persian hegemony in the Greek city-state of Ionia in 500 B.C. Ionian citizens were discontent from the economic sufferings they faced under King Darius's taxation, lack of trade and loss of liberty by the Persian satraps. The revolt was backed by small contingents from the naval fleets of Athens and Eretria, but the rebellion was eventually quashed. Soon afterwards, in mid-August of 490 B.C., the story of the classic battle of Marathon emerges as an unforgettable triumph by the 10,000 Athenians and 600 allied Plataeans over a much larger Persian army, the Athenians of which only lost 200, while the Persians lost 6400. This battle would become a humiliating memory and burning inspiration for revenge by the Persians who vowed to never lose in this way again. The battle was also notable for inspiring the Spartan army to march to Athens and view the slain Persians, assessing their armor and appearance.


Book 4: The Athenians

The Athenians are endowed with a heightened sense of optimism. They alone (with the minor help of the small city of Plataea), were miraculously successful in defeating the seemingly invincible Persian army; which had conquered Ionia and most of the Aegean islands. Adding to this sense of triumph was the fact that the Athenians conquered Persian troops on ground, instead of their accustomed domain in the sea, done without the help of Spartans, the typical masters of land warfare. Miltiades, the Strategos (general) of the Athenian army, was heroically credited with Marathon's victory, having made the bold decision to march his forces away from Athens to engage Persia at Marathon. He nonetheless was accused of making a reckless decision in battle and fined fifty talents, shortly before he died from gangrene, thus extending the crippling debt to his sons. This harsh political climate would extend to Miltiades's successor Themistocles (524-460 B.C.), who would become the most prominent figure in Athenian politics during a pivotal period in which Europe's fate was decided. Such a man who was destined to thwart the even greater threat that Xerxes posed, Themistocles, was a radical visionary, who often saw beyond the rigidity of his educated counterparts who despised him for it. Having assembled a new fleet since Marathon, Themistocles was particularly invested in Athens' true potential: its naval might. In Bradford's book, Thucydides described Themistocles in part as:

"A man who most presets the phenomenon of natural genius...to a quite extraordinary and exceptional degree. By sheer personal intelligence, without either previous study or special briefing, he showed both the best grasp of an emergency situation at the shortest notice, and the most far-reaching appreciation of probable further developments."


Book 5: The Spartans

Bradford describes the Spartans as being something of an enigma to the rest of Greece. Tradition holds that Sparta was founded by Lacedaemon, a son of the chief Greek god, Zeus. Separate from the Ionians, they descended from the Greek Dorians, who invaded the Peloponnese in 1000 B.C. The Spartans conquered the neighboring Eurotas valley but chose not to intermarry and maintain separation. At the top of the three-tier societal hierarchy, were the "Spartiates," regarding themselves as the "Master Race," who were the only ones with the power to vote and who resided in military barracks in the capital. Below them came the Perioikoi ("Neighbors") who were free men that marched alongside the Spartiates but lacked the right to vote. The third sphere were the Helots, most likely the descendants of the original inhabitants indigenous to the area prior to the Dorian conquest, who worked on the farms owned by the Spartiates as indentured servants. Helots often fought in major battles like Thermopylae and Plataea. Spartiates were prohibited in engaging in trade and owning gold or silver. Other strict rules prohibited a Spartiate from engaging in craft or agriculture, as they were only allowed to take up arms in battle. Such rules were created by the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, Lycurgus (800 B.C.-730 B.C.), who ensured that every child was examined shortly after birth by the ruling Elders, seniors of the city. Infants were either passed on to live if they were deemed suitably fit or thrown off a cliff if deemed week. The whole life of all boys was devoted to the state, taken from group to group beginning as young as seven or eight with rigged conditions and minimal food. They underwent rigorous exercises to toughen bodies, engage in military drills, weapon training and athletics. Two kings ruled Sparta at all times, similar to the two equal consuls that governed the Roman Republic and overshadowed by the Ephors ("Overseers"), five annual magistrates elected by ballot.

Book Six: Arms and the Man

It is here that Bradford remarks on the Greek's superiority in arms over the Persians. This was due to their greater advancements in weapon technology and the type of warfare they had experienced inspired the heavily armored hoplites (foot soldiers). Whereas Persia incorporated multiple types of weapons from a wide range of cultures, spanning from the Neolithic Ethiopians to the reinforced armor of the Persian Immortals. Greeks were masters at using the mountainous terrains to their advantage, employing early guerrilla warfare tactics with lightly armored men holding massive areas where heavy troops cannot properly maneuver. The concept of the Spartan phalanx is particularly ingenious, effectively able to defend the Hot Gates with an immovable solidity and weighted guard. Spartans stood in close, nearly unbreakable wall of armor, with the shield being held by the left arm and each man protecting the right side of his neighbor with spear. Thermopylae proved to nullify the phalanx's one weakness: the right-hand side of the defense, by being guarded by the sea to the right. Along with the spear, most of the Spartans under Leonidas wielded a shorter sword with a slightly curved blade. Meanwhile, the most sufficient weapon wielded by the Eastern peoples in warfare was the composite bow. The typical Persian soldier wore relatively minimal armor, with only the Persian Immortals possessing anything close to the Greek hoplite armor. After the bow, the javelin was the personal weapon of choice for Persian soldiers, followed by the dagger for up-close battle.


Book 7: Ships of War

The bireme, known as the two-banked oared vessel, had long been used as the principal warship in the Mediterranean for centuries, only to be replaced in the 6th century B.C. by the superior trireme ship. Thucydides, the first writer to provide information about this sea vessel, informs us that the Corinthians were the first to construct triremes in Greece. The total crew of a trireme consisted of 200 men, 170 of whom were oarsmen, almost entirely dependent on manpower. The primary weapon of the trireme was the ship itself, propelled at enemy vessels to be used as a giant arrow or battering ram; the ship's keel specially designed out of oak to absorb the shocks. Powerful attacks include the trireme utilizing its ram to cleave off the oars on either side of the enemy ships, like snapping a matchstick, subsequently killing or injuring the rowers inside from a whiplash effect, followed by ramming a hole into the vulnerable enemy vessel like a torpedo.

Book 8: Dispositions

From his illustrious marble throne, Xerxes watched over his Immortals as they began crossing the Hellespont in May 480 B.C. The Greek city states were in a period of disarray and disunity. The oracle at Delphi preached prophecies of demise and Persian victory, encouraging neutrality or friendship with the enemy. The semblance of truth in their predictions was that a king of Sparta would indeed have to die in an effort to check the seemingly invincible Persian march. Political infighting affected both Sparta and Athens alike. In Athens, Themistocles, leader of the navy party – representing the poorer classes, triumphed in a bitter political struggle over Aristeides, leader of the Hoplite Party – representing the wealthier armor affording men who had fought in Marathon.

Book 9: Action and Reaction

A grand total of 46 nations, guided by 30 Persian generals, who were commanded by 6 chief marshals, were all assembled to invade Greece. It took an entire week for the assembled Persian army to cross the bridges, with Xerxes himself being carried in his ivory throne by a group of servants following his royal guard. Bradford finds it improbable that the servants were lashed into traveling as depicted by Xerxes when speaking to Leonidas for the first encounter in the movie 300; the 75,000 animals (including horses, mules and camels) crossing the bridge were those most likely whipped into submission. As the Persian navy advances toward Greek waters, Bradford has this to say about Themistocles's naval strategy regarding the island of Salamis, "he saw the island as not only the place to which the government and army must withdraw if their city was captured, but also the area in which his new navy might best take on the Persian fleet in constricted waters, where the greater numbers of the enemy might well prove of no advantage but even a hindrance." Having convinced the people of Athens with his Churchillian demeanor, Themistocles now faced difficulty persuading other Greek countries that a forward defense of Greece was necessary. For the first time in history, the Greek city states had to rely upon one another.

Book 10: Ultimate Decisions

Athens made the unexpected decision of allowing a Spartan, Euainetos the Lacedaemonian, lead the naval fleet, since the other Greek states would not accept an Athenian controlling the naval contingent (despite wielding the greatest navy). Themistocles accepted this only because he predicted that the Greek forces would be forced to adopt his naval strategy in the end. The most advantageous strategy for the allied Greeks was to build a defensive line on land to hold off the advancing Persian hordes, while the main force engaged the enemy at sea in an area more suitable for their fleet. The small pass of Thermopylae proved to be the ideal place for the small Greek defense to have the advantage over the massive Persian advance on land, while at the same time Artemisium would be the key to the Greek's naval victory. In the heat of June, Xerxes and his army marched from Doriscus westward to the Athos canal, eventually reaching the River Strymon (known as the Nine Ways) and later Therma at the head of the Thermaic Gulf by July. The Persians hiked through the inhospitable mountains, harsh terrain and violent northerly winds as they advanced further inland.


Book 11: March to the North

The Athenians had readily prepared 100 new triremes and combined with another 100 ships from Peloponnesian allies, moving to hold the sea line between Artemisium and Thermopylae against the incoming Persian invasion of roughly 650 ships. The Spartans prepared to leave for battle, despite planning to miss the most holy Spartan festival of Carneia, due to take place in the third week of August. Leading the small contingent of Spartiates (to where the rest would commit to the struggle after Carneia) was King Leonidas, a man in his early fifties, who had previously been involved in a grim power struggle over the kingship of his land. Among the 300 Spartans were close to 1,000 other soldiers, consisting of either Helots who had been emancipated, or perioikoi, "friendly neighbors." Understanding that the mission to hold Thermopylae may spell certain doom for many or all of his contingent, Leonidas selected only his corps d'elite – men who had living sons at home. The professionalism and ability of the Spartan army stood out from other Greek nations, having trained all men aged between 20-60 for nothing but the military art of warfare since they were boys. The Spartans bore scarlet cloaks by Lycurgus's decree because they bore the least resemblance to clothes worn by women, and marched throughout the land with an iron discipline. Arcadia provided the bulk of the additional forces for the Spartans as they passed through various city states. The important city of Thebes only sent a small amount of 400 men, to which even Herodotus joked about them having sympathy with the enemy. Upon passing through many towns, the entire force which Leonidas brought with him to Thermopylae amounted to 7000.

Book 12: Land and Sea

Bradford describes the formidability of the battlefield of destiny: Thermopylae, as the Spartiates arrive. Flanked by the sea to their right-hand facing north and the heights of Mount Kallidromos stood tall and stark as a defensive wall, both lit by the summer sun. The chosen point for the defensive line stretched only 20 yards wide. The Persians were described by Bradford as a very mountainous accustomed ban of warriors, used to fighting on rugged terrain. The Spartans being aware of this, chose a path that was wider than two other choices, so as, "in a massive assault, such as was to be expected, their left flank might well be turned." Where they stood was the "Middle Gate," at a distance from the sulfurous springs at the base of the mountain where the pass derives its name, "Hot Gates," from.

In the first engagement, the allied Greek navy sent three scouting ships, one from Athens, one from Troezen and another from Aegina to purvey the Persian fleet. But the three triremes were progressively overwhelmed by the speed of the lighter-built Phoenicians. Xerxes and his forces predicted a 2-week land march to Thermopylae and advised his ships to wait for his arrival before sailing out. All seemed to be going fairly well for the Persian fleet until out of the blue, a massive northern wind hits as they make landfall. Herodotus describes that it was "a storm of the greatest violence," with the Persians who were fortunate enough to dock their ships and move to land were able to withstand the winds, while those still off at sea were all lost, ran off course to nearby Greek cities, or driven into Cape Saepias itself. The Greeks watching the massive amount of wreckage and disarray from the nearby mountainsides thanked Poseidon for the miraculous winds. 15 straggler Persian ships mistook the Greek fleet for their own and were as a result captured, providing Themistocles with even more fortunate events. The movie 300 provides a very vividly dramatic look into the Spartans' reaction to the massive destruction of the Persian ships at sea during the gust of wind, adding a lightning storm for even greater effect.


Book 13: First Encounters

Leonidas immediately sought to his primary two objectives: "first, to secure his supply-lines and, secondly, to deny the land immediately to the north of Thermopylae to the enemy. To achieve this, Leonidas and his forces raided the small nearby farmland of Lamia filled with granaries, livestock, and fertile plains. Decimating the area for its resources greatly enabled the Spartans to have more abundant supplies. Bradford views that the historical depiction of the deformed hunchback Ephialtes as the Judas who betrayed the Spartans position to the invading Persians after he was rejected by Leonidas to join his army, was overly harsh. Bradford questions if Ephailtes existed and notes that many local shepherds or farmers could have alerted the Persians about the hidden goat path leading behind the Spartans position at Thermopylae. Suspecting this, Leonidas chose a faithful watchman over the path that out-flanked his position; in the movie he chose Dilios, a Spartan soldier, who eventually was allowed to leave the battlefield to tell the tale of the Spartans' heroic final stand. In addition, Leonidas had the 1000 Phoenecian contingent take up a position to deny the any incoming enemy from the secret path. Xerxes was likely aware of the Spartans holding the pass before him leading a mixed group of Greek warriors, smiling in arrogance upon hearing the small number of Spartans and stone wall constructed to defend the pass.

Conclusion for Today: Thermopylae vs. America

The grand preparations and build-up to the glorious battle of Thermopylae intersects with a major political war over the control of the U.S. Presidency, namely the recent impeachment attempt of President Donald J. Trump (2017-present). The nearly 7-month long scheme was launched by various House Democrats shortly after the anti-climactic conclusion of the Mueller investigation ended, after no evidence was discovered connecting President Trump to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. In what was a proto failed impeachment attempt with the falsified Steele dossier, FISA court abuse by corrupted FBI and DOJ officials, and a politically motivated investigation by Mueller's crew of vengeful Democrat prosecutors, the perfect fuel was prepared to light a fire for what was hoped to be an even greater impeachment coup attempt at removing President Trump from office. In connection to the Greco-Persian wars, Leonidas and his 300 Spartiates represent to first wave of defense against the impeachment onslaught, namely key House Republicans who bravely stood up for the President against what was the most unorthodox and unfairly driven impeachment process in American history, having disallowed the President the right to call witnesses and present a legal defense throughout the infamous House hearings. Key figures like Representatives: Jim Jordan (R-OH), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Doug Collins (R-GA), Mark Meadows (R-NC), John Ratcliffe (R-TX), Steve Scalise (R-LA), Devin Nunes (R-CA), and Elise Stefanik (R-NY), among many others. These Congressmen and women boldly stood in defense of the legality of President's perfectly appropriate phone conversation with newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky.


Similar to their defense as a minority in the House of Representatives, the Spartans represented a vastly outnumbered minority to the massively assembled Persian army, whose radical pursuit for control resembles the arrogant pursuit for power by the majority Democrat faction in the House. House Democrats like Representatives: Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jerry Nadler (D-NJ), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Hakeem Jefferies (D-NJ), Val Demings (D-FL), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) were pivotal in pushing the two articles of impeachment: "abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" (none of which are mentioned in the Constitution) against President Trump in both the House, where it passed along party lines, and the Senate where it ultimately failed. The radically misguided second attempt by Xerxes (who failed to learn from the mistakes of his father Darius) to invade Greece is perfectly symbolic of the House Democrats' second attempt at removing President Trump from office, despite lacking proper evidence or reasoning to do so. Where the land army Spartans represented the first line of the defense by House Republicans, the seaborn Athenians represent the second and final line of defense for the President: Senate Republicans, as the Athenians would wage a victorious battle against the Persian fleet around the island of Salamis, which will be further revealed and explained in Part II.

The Senate Republicans' penchant for reason, balanced democracy, and a sharper understanding of the truth (aware of the Biden-Ukraine scandal) behind the impeachment farce that propelled the non-existent Trump-Ukraine scandal, is representative of the Athenian's embrace/creation of democracy, brains over Spartan brawn, genius in strategic naval warfare and even mastery in land battles to a comparable degree to the hardy Spartan soldiers. My next article will explore the pivotal battles of Thermopylae, Salamis and Platea, concluding the epic struggle between the allied Greek forces vs. massive Persian army/fleet, and how this glorious struggle for freedom compares so profoundly compares with America's impeachment war for control of the Presidency in 2020 and America as a whole.


*N.B: This essay is based in part on a synopsis of Ernle Bradford's work, Thermopylae: The Battle for the West, republished by De Capo Press in 1980, and Great Books of the Western World vol. 6: Herodotus – Thucydides, written by Robert Maynard Hutchins and published in 1952 by Encyclopedia Britannica.

© Stone Washington

 

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Stone Washington

Stone Washington is a JM student at Emory University School of Law and a recent graduate of Clemson University with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Minor in Political Science. Stone is the website administrator for Ellis Washington Report and a contributing writer. He recently completed a journalism fellowship at The Daily Caller, is an alumnus of the Young Leader's Program at The Heritage Foundation, and a former intern/Editor-in-chief for Decipher Magazine. Many of Stone's articles can also be found at EllisWashingtonReport.com, which offer a critical analysis on prominent works of classical literature and its correlations to American history and politics. Some of Stone's most popular articles include: 1915-2015-100th Anniversary of Booker T. Washington, Atlas Shrugged, America Slouched-The Galt/Trump Revolution, and Justice Clarence Thomas, Generation Z, and Me. Stone also wrote for his school newspaper, the Tiger Town Observer, and the higher education news websites: Campus Reform, The College Fix, and Red Alert Politics. Friend him on his Facebook page, also Twitter: @StoneWashingto2 and Instagram. Contact Stone at his email: Stonebone20@att.net.

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