The Greeks and the Persians were at war for much of their early history. The Persians were especially aggressive in attacking the city states of Greece. In 480 BC the Persian leader Xerxes raised an army of over 100,000 soldiers to attack the leading Greek city of Athens.
At that time Athens and Sparta were allies, therefore, the two powers drew up a plan with other Greek cities to defeat the Persians. Athens was a great naval power, so they would try to stop the Persians by sea. Sparta and other Greek allies would fight the Persians on land.
The Spartans were known for their prowess in combat. Their soldiers were very harshly trained from the time of their childhood. Many Spartans would even die in the brutal fighting mandated in their military training. Even today the word Spartan is used to refer to strong and rugged people or harsh living conditions. If someone is said to live a Spartan lifestyle, we assume that person has few luxuries and is able to survive in harsh conditions.
The Spartans decided to send 300 of their best soldiers to meet the Persians at a narrow pass on the Greek coast. The Spartans knew that the Persians would have to go through the pass in order to attack Athens. The Spartan force also included 7,000 soldiers from other Greek cities.
Although the Spartan force was terribly outnumbered, they were able to hold out against Xerxes' much bigger force. However, a Greek traitor told the Persians about a secret path and the Persians were able to out flank the Spartans. Knowing that his army would be surrounded, the Spartan leader, King Leonidas, dismissed most of his force. However, Leonidas remained to fight with his 300 Spartans and a small force of other soldiers. It was a fierce fight, but the 300 Spartans were eventually overcome and killed by Xerxes army.
The brave 300 Spartans have been an inspiration to military leaders and soldiers throughout history. These men had the courage to fight to the death in order to save their civilization. Also, throughout history, many soldiers and civilians have followed the example of the 300 and have chosen to give up their lives to defend their country.
After the defeat of the 300 Spartans, the Greek navy was able to defeat Xerxes ships in a great sea battle, and the Persian invasion came to an end.