Archaeological Museum, Sparta, 5th century B.C.
Leonidas was a fifth century Spartan military king whose stand against the invading Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae in central Greece is one of the enduring tales of Greek heroism, invoked throughout Western history as the epitome of bravery exhibited against overwhelming odds. After the Persian army of Xerxes invaded Greece, the Spartan army prepared to joint the armies of the other Greek states and march to face the Persians, but a religious festival delayed the departure of the army, so Leonidas bravely led a small force of Greeks, mostly his Spartan royal guard of 300 soldiers, but also Thespian and Thebans, against the much larger Persian army, at the pass of Thermopylae (Pillars of Fire) in 480 B.C. There, Leonidas and his men held the pass for 3 days (Their tight phalanx wall and discipline were no match for the Persians) and was defeated only after a Greek traitor revealed to the Persians the existence of a mountain trail that allowed them to outflank and attack the Greeks from the rear. All the Spartans and Thespians died, including Leonidas. Those 3 days gave valuable time to the Greek armies to prepare for battle and later defeat the Persians.