Famous Dead Person of the Week: King Leonidas
Life: 540s B.C. – 480 BC
Occupation: King of Sparta
Claim to Fame: The Movie 300 was apparently not too far off the mark from Leonidas’ life.
Fun Fact: According to HistoryOrb.com, died on my birthday.
(Note: Obviously, I’m taking a bit of creative license with this one; it’s tough to nail down the exact exit date of people that lived 2500 years ago.)
Sometimes, you meet someone and instantly realize they are superior to you in just about every way. Stronger, faster, smarter, better with words, a bon vivant… it’s impossible to compete with. Odds are, you want to hate this person but can’t help but have a grudging respect for them; clearly, fate awarded them a gift that you and I didn’t receive.
I suspect Spartan King Leonidas was one of those superior people.
Since he was not the original heir to the Spartan throne, Leonidas was one of few Spartan kings to ever attend the agoge, the brutally tough ‘Spartan Finishing School’ that makes prison sound like a tickling contest. Left with little clothing, starved and left to his own devices from the age of seven, Leonidas developed toughness, bravery and intelligence rivaled by few of his time.
It’s hard to quantify levels of toughness throughout history. Could Leonidas beat the crap out of some jacked-up UFC dude? Hard to say; I believe he would through skill and smarts as opposed to raw power. Someday, technology will evolve to the point that we can recreate the digital likenesses of guys from different eras (a little like that Deadliest Warrior show on SpikeTV) and then we may have our answer.
(Whoops. Forgot nobody cares about my far-flung conspiracies. Sorry.)
Anyway, so when Xerxes (you might remember him as the mostly naked guy with the chains and the gold platform from 300) invaded Greece, Leonidas was chosen to lead. And lead he did, taking around 7,000 troops (300 were Spartans, but it’s a bit silly to think 300 would have held out long by themselves) down to the ‘Hot Gates’ to meet anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 Persians.
Some quick math informs me that Leonidas was probably screwed from the beginning, and he may have even known it. However, he and his troops held out for three days and laid waste to at least 20,000 Persians before being overtaken in a hail of arrows.
So impressed and outraged was Xerxes at Leonidas that he had him posthumously beheaded and crucified. Not that it’s any comfort, but you’ve probably really ruined someone’s day when they decide it’s fit to kill, behead and crucify you.
Monuments – which bear the phrase ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ, or literally “Come and get them” – were erected in Leonidas’ honor in Greece. Obviously, Leonidas went on to a very successful (albeit posthumous) career as a cultural icon, first in a Frank Miller comic and then as depicted by Gerard Butler in 300. While I very much doubt Leonidas would’ve cared much for comic books and ripped action heroes in loin cloths, they are a testament to the man’s body of work. 2500 years later, Leonidas is still recognized as a badass.