After growing up being bullied, the Battle of Thermopylae has become a great inspiration to me. King Xerxes was a bully, and the courage of the 300 Warriors of Sparta under King Leonidas to stand up against the entire Persian army of Xerxes is remarkable. They were out-numbered by over 100 to 1. They had marched hundreds of miles with virtually no chance of victory. And even though they eventually were defeated after days of fighting, their bravery and sacrifice united all of Greece to stand up to the King Xerxes’ army and stop the invasion in the months that followed.
How can we stand up to adversity when the odds seem almost overwhelming? Sparta had three key elements that allowed them to stop an immensely larger and more powerful enemy:
When you realize that you and your dreams are worth fighting for, and when you’re willing to prepare and train yourself, and when you pay attention to and use the terrain around you to your advantage, you can overcoming almost any odds.
I’m standing here on the actual battlefield of the famous Battle of Thermopylae where the 300 Spartan warriors under Kind Leonidas took their stand against tens of thousands and by some estimations over 100,000 and some even hundreds of thousands of Persian warriors as the Persian army under Xerxes I attempted to invade Greece.
We’re standing in a place called Thermopylae. The translation means “the hot gates”. You can see in the background here, you can see the steam rising from the thermal springs that gave this place its name. We’re literally standing on the battlefield. We’re looking toward the north as the Persian army, around the bend there in the plains, had amassed their tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Behind you is where King Leonidas with his 300 Spartan warriors and a few other Greek city states, their warriors had joined forces and came. It was here that the 300 Spartans over a 3 day period made their final stand against the Persians.
Even though militarily the battle was a defeat for the Spartans, because all of the 300 Spartans were pretty much killed and annihilated in that battle, yet because of their courage, because of their bravery, because of their ability and their willingness to take a stand here at this place, it not only disheartened the Persians but it also unified the Greeks to come together as a united nation almost, even though they were all individual city states and many times warring with each other all the time, but because of the courage of Leonidas and the Spartan warriors and battle that they fought here, the last stand that they took here against the Persians, it just rallied the entire nation of Greece, the entire country of Greece, to come together and eventually were able to stop the Persian invasion and maintain their freedom.
As I’m standing here, it’s just amazing. We’ve been here for, I don’t know, a long time, and our tour guide is probably wondering … To him this was a place to come for five minutes and he’s not understanding why to me this is a sacred place. This is a hallowed place because what it means to me is the power of someone who is willing to stand up and fight for something. As a kid who grew up being bullied because I was taught to never fight back, I was taught to not stand up for myself, to not take a stand and spent most of my life running from any kind of conflict or confrontation, running from bullies, symbolically to me the courage of the Spartans and of King Leonidas is very, very meaningful to me.
If you’ve ever been in that place in your life where you weren’t willing to stand up and fight for something and you allowed fear to stop you, and whether it was the internal demons, the internal bullies or bullies from the outside, the adversity that you allowed to stop you, to me this is one of the most powerful symbols of courage and of the importance of being willing to stand up for yourself and fight for what you believe in. I was thinking about it, of what was it about this that made … What made the Spartans able to make such a stand here and that literally 300 Spartan warriors could stand up and for 3 days stop tens of thousands of Persia’s fighting forces including their best, their most elite troops the immortals that came on day 2 and just tried to take them out. The king, King Xerxes, totally couldn’t figure out why his army was still, after two days, still not able stop this little bitty force of fighting warriors.
As I think about it, I think there are three things that made the Spartans such an example of what it takes to win, to fight and stand up and win.
Their passion, just that they had a cause. They were free men fighting for their own freedom, fighting for themselves. They weren’t fighting for anyone else. They weren’t fighting for money or glory. They were fighting for their lives. It was just having that purpose, having that cause, that was more than just for themselves. They were willing to fight and die here to save their freedom, to fight for their rest of their countrymen. Whenever you have a cause worth fighting for that makes you willing to say, “I will not be defeated. I will not ever surrender. I will never quit. I will never give up.” When Xerxes sent his emissaries with a message, “Surrender your arms,” and King Leonidas and the famous says, “Come and take them,” that sense of courage that comes from having a purpose worth fighting for is absolutely inspiring to me.
The second thing that was inspiring is preparation. That is, that the Spartan warriors were able to fight and defend, literally have waves of thousands of enemy troops coming at them and to stand and defeat them one after another after another because of their preparation, because of the training. The famous Spartan warrior saying was that “He who sweats more in training bleeds less in battle.” I’m getting attacked by a mosquito. I didn’t know they had mosquitoes in Greece but I just got attacked by one on my nose.
“He who sweats more in training bleeds less in battle.” It was their preparation that they prepped, trained fro childhood. They trained to be the most elite fighters, the most elite warriors in the world, physically, mentally. Their equipment, the fact that their shields and their long spears or javelins, that they could come together in the phalanx, which means they all fit together as a unit and fought. They stood as a unit because of the preparation, because of the training to not be able to bow down or give into or get defeated by almost an irresistible force. Yet when that irresistible force met the Spartans they met an immovable object. They literally slaughtered thousand of thousands and probably tens of thousands of Persians because of that.
Then the final thing that I think made this such a great moral victory for the Spartans was the fact that they knew the terrain and they knew how to use the terrain. They knew how to use the space. Strategically, what they had here is you have Persia coming from the north and you have the sea over this direction to the west. To the east you’ve got these steep, rugged mountains that are impassable. The only thing they could do is you have this very narrow strip of level ground. They said at the time it was probably less than 100 meters wide. Some of the stories say it was just a little trail, but whatever it was there is no way that they could go any other way than to come right through this space. Literally 300, it got so narrow here from the marshes and from the coming down from the mountains so steep and rugged, and you can’t really see it here but there’s no way you could go up and around it. There’s solid, thorny bushes and they had no choice but to come right around that bend and right in here.
The Spartans couldn’t get surrounded. Xerxes hordes couldn’t do anything but just have to face 300 men. Here they came. It just funneled them right into all the might and the courage and the fierceness of the Spartan warriors.
It’s pretty amazing. Just learning how to understand your terrain of your world, of learning how to be prepared and just having the courage and the cause to stand up and fight for your dreams, to fight for what you believe in and never, never, never, ever give up. I think it’s just an amazingly amazing sacred place right here in this moment. I just wanted to share it with you. I wanted to share with you the inspiration that I’m feeling. It’s pretty cold as you can tell by the way I’m dressed, but I don’t feel any of that. All I feel is just the power and the inspiration and just knowing the courage, all the blood that was spilled right here because someone was willing to stand up and fight for what they believed in. It’s amazing.
If you like this, if it’s inspired, I hope you’ll give it a thumbs up. Share it with some other people. Be ready to fight the battle for what you believe in every single day.