This article was originally written for publication in the Alamo
Journal, the official quarterly publication of the Alamo Society,
of which the author is a member.
"Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat-the
Alamo had none."
-Thomas Jefferson Green
(inscription on the first Alamo monument in Austin, Texas)
THE TYRANT APPROACHED, an overpowering
army at his command. Before him, a freedom-loving but fractious
and disunited people feared for their lives and their homes. Deliberately,
a small band of resolute defenders prepared to fight the invaders
and stop them at the frontier. They chose the best defensive spot
they could and sent for help. But the help never arrived, and the
few cannot defy the many forever. Even strong positions have their
weak points, and despite heroic efforts, the gallant defenders were
ultimately surrounded and destroyed to the last man. (Or almost.)
But their example inspired their countrymen to continue resistance,
despite setbacks, and in the end a stunning victory was won. The
autocratic ruler returned to his faraway capital, his mighty army
humbled, and liberty (by the definitions of the day) was guaranteed
for the poor but valiant citizen-soldiers and their land.
Isn't this a stirring story to every reader of the
Alamo Journal? Yet it describes not the Texas Revolution, but events
from twenty-five centuries ago-at the Pass of Thermopylae, where
300 Spartans laid down their lives for Greece.
"Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat; the
Alamo had none." How many Alamo enthusiasts around the world
understand the meaning of this famous (if only half-true) epigram?
Part of the reason why the appeal of the Alamo cuts across national
boundaries is its universality. Most people can point to an "Alamo"
in their own mythic or historic past. Images of valorous last stands
appear again and again-sometimes these take the form of simple military
disasters, such as the Little Bighorn, Isandhlwana, Teutoberg Forest,
or the British retreat from Kabul in 1842. Others embody a nobler,
self-sacrificial quality: Roland at Roncesvalles, the Swiss at St.-Jacob-en-Birs,
the French Foreign Legion at Camerone, or even, in its own way,
the story of the 47 Loyal Ronin from feudal Japan. The battle of
Thermopylae presents a clear parallel to the saga of Travis and
his Texians, a comparison that was obvious immediately to observers
in 1836, who dubbed the Alamo "America's Thermopylae."
It is not surprising that when Stephen Harrigan was immersing himself
in research for The Gates of the Alamo, one of the books he consulted
for some perspective on how to capture the feel of a struggle against
all odds was Steven Pressfield's vivid (but woefully inferior) novel
Gates of Fire, the most recent recasting of the Thermopylae legend.
Those who have "crossed the line" of the Alamo Society
will recognize many familiar elements in the tale told below.
The King with half the East at heel is marched
from lands of morning;
Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air.
And he that stands will die for nought, and home there's no returning.
The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.
-A.E. Housman, from "The Oracles"
At the beginning of the fifth century B.C., the Empire of the Medes
and Persians welded together with blood and iron by Cyrus the Great
scarcely two generations before was the most powerful state in the
Mediterranean world. All the old civilizations of the Near East
from Egypt to the Indus paid tribute to imperial satraps and furnished
levies for the Great King's army. From their homeland in the Iranian
plateau, the Persian nobility were unchallenged masters of a vast
kingdom. Now Europe beckoned. Only the trifling waters of the Aegean
Sea blocked the Persian advance from Asia Minor, and directly across
the Aegean lay the small, squabbling city-states of mainland Greece.
And the Greeks patently needed a lesson in manners. Mainlanders
had already lent support to revolts against royal authority in the
ethnic Greek cities of western Asia Minor, Persian ambassadors had
been treated with contempt, and King Darius had sworn particular
vengeance against the city of Athens, which had proved especially
meddlesome. The other chief Greek power was Sparta-"the shining
city by the reedy banks of Eurotas"-in the south. Where Athens
was bristling with civic energy birthed by its new experiment with
demokratia and popular government, Sparta was conservative and isolationist.
Sparta's era of expansionism had ended in the previous century,
and it was now satisfied to dominate its southern Greek allies and
maintain the status quo at home. Sparta also had a form of representative
government, with a system of checks-and-balances that was widely
admired by some outsiders, but Sparta maintained a more rigid social
hierarchy than Athens and its minority of full citizens were permitted
no other occupation than the profession of arms-a permanently trained
and mobilized militia. Both states were fiercely independent and
were looked to by other Greek cities for leadership. When Persian
envoys demanded submission from all Greeks, many cities dithered
and others quietly offered surrender ("Medized" the Greeks
called it), but the Athenians and Spartans determined to resist,
and their example stiffened the backbone of Greek patriots.
King Darius' seaborne thrust in 490 B.C. was blunted soon after
landing in Athenian territory, on the coastal plain of Marathon.
For the first time, a major clash was fought between soldiers speaking
Greek and soldiers speaking Persian-a conflict that was to last
over a thousand years. In close combat, the heavy-armored Greek
infantryman (hoplite), fighting in a dense formation called a phalanx,
proved a match for the tough but lighter-armed Easterners. The Persians,
caught unawares and unable to deploy their superior cavalry and
bowmen, were mauled by a smaller army of Athenians and a few allies
and forced to abandon their expedition. A Spartan army, arriving
just too late for the engagement, visited the battlefield and examined
the Persian dead with professional interest. Everyone knew the contest
It took ten years for Persia to gather its might for the rematch.
By this time, Darius' son Xerxes ruled. He carefully marshaled the
largest army to ever enter Europe up until that time-over 200,000
men by modern estimates, drawn from all the peoples of the empire-and
a correspondingly massive fleet of perhaps 1,300 ships (including
transports and the pontoon vessels used to bridge the Hellespont
(Dardanelles)). In the spring of 480 B.C., Xerxes set forth.
All Greece held its breath. The oracle of Apollo at Delphi, consulted
on all matters of import, issued ambivalent advice, suggesting that
even the Greek gods could not save their holy temples or their followers.
An assembly was held at the central city of Corinth to discuss war
options. Athens had built itself into a formidable naval power since
the battle of Marathon, while Sparta's reputation as a military
juggernaut among amateurs ensured its authority on land. What the
Greeks needed was time-time to raise and organize their forces,
time to deal with the quislings in their midst-and a place to fight
in which the overwhelming numbers of the Persians could not brought
to bear. It was also necessary to meet the invader as far as possible
from the major Greek cities, and after some false starts, the pass
of Thermopylae on the northern border of central Greece offered
the last and best chance to hold the host of Xerxes at bay. By late
summer, with the Persians having crossed Thrace and Macedonia and
skirted the shoulder of Mount Olympus, a Greek advance guard reached
Thermopylae and made ready to take a stand.
Thermopylae ("the hot gates"), sheltering beneath the
mountains overlooking the Malian Gulf, was the logical place to
mount a defense. About four miles in length, it is still the main
avenue from north to south in eastern Greece and was fought over
as recently as 1941. The narrow passage between the cliffs and the
sea has widened from silt deposits over the millennia, but the warm
sulfur springs for which it is named are still there. The legendary
Heracles had died near here, consumed by poison and fire upon Mount
Oeta, and this thought must have been in the mind of the Spartan
king-purportedly descended in a direct line from the great son of
Zeus-who came to the Hot Gates that summer.
I am the most valiant of beasts,
And most valiant of men is he
Whom I guard standing on this stone tomb.
-Simonides of Ceos
name was Leonidas, "the lion's son," and we know very
little about him, not even his age in 480 B.C., although it is likely
he was in his fifth decade or even older. He had been king in Sparta
for ten years, more or less, and left behind a young son as his
heir. Plutarch wrote a biography that does not survive (as have
perished most ancient Greek and Roman works). Herodotus, the nearly
contemporary chronicler of the Persian Wars, is our main source
of information, plus a few fragments preserved in tradition or by
later historians. The head and torso of a helmeted warrior found
near the site of his tomb in Sparta that is often labeled as depicting
Leonidas is probably true to type but scarcely a reliable portrait.
We do not know what he looked like or how he felt. We only know
what he did.
Sparta's kings, holdovers from its archaic, tribal past, held little
direct political power but were by law the generals of the army
and held enormous influence and prestige. By taking command of the
ad hoc Greek forces scraped together and sent ahead to the pass,
Leonidas demonstrated a clear commitment to the cause of resistance.
Apart from political dissension, the Olympian games and a sacred
religious festival in Sparta hampered immediate Greek mobilization,
and the Greek leaders may have underestimated the speed of the Persian
advance. Leonidas could take only his personal bodyguard of 300
picked Spartans with him, plus small contingents from other cities
collected en route. All told, Leonidas probably had about 7,000
men at his disposal once he encamped at the Hot Gates, but these
would have included lightly armed skirmishers, untrained locals,
and servants. We can expect that not all the allied troops came
willingly-the Theban government was suspected of "Medizing,"
some southern companies preferred to fight closer to home, and some
of the local levies may have been reluctant combatants pressed into
service. In any event, the Spartan king set about deploying and
preparing his small army and established communications with the
collective Greek fleet that guarded the wasp-waisted passages off
Cape Artemisium. In the narrow confines of land and sea, the Greeks
hoped to blunt the Persian hordes and buy precious time for Greece
to fully rally to arms.
King Xerxes and his myriads wound through prostrate Thessaly and
reached the vicinity of Thermopylae in mid-August. Finding his progress
blocked by Greek soldiers and ships, the Great King encamped just
beyond the western reaches of the pass and brought his strung-out
troops forward. Persian scouts probed toward the enemy and returned
with strange news. The Greeks, in their position at the middle of
the pass where the Zastano rock rose tall and sheer, had rebuilt
an old wall across the passage to screen their camp. But in front
of the wall, the Spartan outposts (who must have been recognizable
in their distinctive scarlet tunics and cloaks) were taking their
ease; exercising, and dressing their hair, habitually worn long.
It made an unmartial impression on the invaders, but a Spartan exile
explained that it was customary for the Spartans to take elaborate
care with their appearance when they were about to put their lives
in peril. Meanwhile, Xerxes sent a demand to Leonidas that he should
surrender his arms forthwith. The Spartan king made a "laconic"
reply that rings out like Travis' defiant cannon shot: "Molòn
lábe"-"Come and take them."
As Leonidas prepared for the attack he knew was coming, he had
fresh cause for worry. The cliffs and slopes hedging Thermopylae
were laced with tracks and goat paths, and a route had been discovered
that could conceivably be used to outflank the Greek position in
the pass below. Leonidas stationed a garrison on this track, local
men who knew the terrain. He also sent messages south, informing
the Spartan council of his situation and urging them and the other
loyalist cities to send the expected reinforcements without delay.
Whatever the mood in the other divisions, morale among the Spartans
was high. Trained as warriors all their lives, expected to live
hardily, speak plainly, endure pain without flinching, and to die
rather than retreat, they could still find a humorous quip to relieve
the tension of waiting. When camp gossip spread that the Persian
archers were so numerous that when they shot, their arrows would
hide the sun, the Spartan Dieneces joked, "So much the better;
we will have our fight in the shade."
bravado masked deep anxiety. Leonidas appreciated the reality of
the odds he faced. Only Spartans with living sons had been admitted
to his bodyguard for this mission; the king did not want any Spartan
line to die out. He may have been tempted to gamble on a bold stroke
to bring the war to a sudden end. Some ancient historians describe
a commando-style raid on the Persian camp during this time with
the objective of killing Xerxes, or at least sowing confusion and
destruction among the invaders. Xerxes, however, was providentially
absent from his tent on this occasion. It is difficult to decide
how much credence to place in such reports. One thing at least is
certain-the Spartans did not sabotage Persian artillery (catapults,
say) by loading them with mud!
Xerxes delayed four days while his fleet, battered by the seasonal
mistral winds, was similarly bottled up. At last he ordered the
pass taken by storm. The battle began August 18, 480 B.C.
Let each man spread his legs, rooting them in
Bite his teeth into his lips, and hold.
-Tyrtaeus of Sparta
The Persians came in waves beginning in the early morning. The
Greeks met them in tight ranks before the repaired wall, in the
narrow Middle Gate of Thermopylae. It was no fit terrain for horsemen
or archers. There was only room for the savage push of close combat,
face to snarling face, and the din of metal striking metal echoed
from the slanting cliffs and across the lapping waters.
The heavy bronze armor-crested helmet, cuirass, greaves covering
the lower leg, and large round shield-and longer thrusting spears
of the Greeks gave them all the advantages in this melee. The imperial
infantry were equipped for mobility and rapidity, neither of which
was useful here. In their loose formations, with shorter weapons,
flimsy shields, and no room to concentrate missile fire, they were
methodically bowled over and slaughtered by the impenetrable phalanx.
Leonidas committed his units in relays, one relieving another, so
his hoplites stayed fresh. The Spartans used one of their stock
maneuvers, a feigned retreat, with great success against this unsuspecting
enemy, turning as one man on the disorganized pursuers and cutting
them to bits. At length, the shattered Persian divisions withdrew,
to be replaced by the army's elite, the crack Immortals. Serving
as the royal guard and primary shock troops, the Immortals numbered
10,000 footsoldiers and were so named because losses were always
made up so that the corps never fell below its authorized strength.
They are on parade still, in silent bas-relief on the ruined palaces
of Persepolis and Susa, holding their spears and rigidly posed in
their brightly colored robes. But here in the scrum of the Hot Gates
they met their match. Herodotus claims that Xerxes, who watched
the entertaining spectacle from a throne set up on a hilltop, lept
to his feet three times that day in fear for his army.
When dusk approached, the defeated Persians gave up the attack.
On the Greek side there must have been rejoicing. They had met the
best troops Xerxes could throw at them and hurled them back again.
Greek losses were very few, but Persian casualties must have been
enormous. At the same time, the Persian and Greek armadas battled
to a stalemate near Cape Artemisium, on Thermopylae's seaward flank.
The Persian fleet finally retreated to their base, giving the Greeks
more cause for optimism. Leonidas must have sent a fresh round of
dispatches south, reporting the good news but stressing again the
need for reinforcements. There was a storm that night, and the rain
washed the blood from pale corpses that still lay where they had
On the next day the Persian onslaught was renewed. Xerxes sent
forward picked men in specially formed units, promising rich rewards
to any who succeeded in breeching the Greek defenses. The Great
King held some hope that his badly outnumbered foes were too exhausted
or debilitated by wounds to offer the same level of resistance.
But he was badly mistaken. Leonidas continued to maintain his reserves
and was able to repeat the triumphs of the previous day. The Greeks
appear to have been so fired up, in fact, that some battalions would
not willingly give up their positions when it was time to be relieved.
Sweat and blood mingled as the hoplites stood shoulder to shoulder
in the lengthening shadows cast by the 1,000-yard-tall heights of
Zastano and stabbed over their interlocked shields. The Persians
fell in heaps, and they finally had to be forced into combat under
the lash. At the end of the day, their energies spent, they limped
away. It was a ringing victory for Leonidas and his men, while Xerxes
faced the gloomy prospect of deadlock and acute supply shortages
should his vast army become pinned down, laying siege, in effect,
to the Hot Gates. And another day's naval engagement at the straits
of Artemisium had produced no better results. The Persian invasion
hung on a knife's edge.
And then, as author William Golding puts it, "the inevitable
traitor appeared from the wings." A man of the area-who as
a traitor deserves to be remembered by no name-who knew of the hidden
paths through the mountains went to Xerxes' tent and sold the information;
moreover, he offered to act as a guide to show the way. The Great
King was only too glad to make use of this veritable "diabolus
ex machina," as historian Peter Green calls him, and ordered
the brigade of Immortals to carry out the strenuous task of navigating
the steep, winding, and frequently narrow track. This outflanking
move would place the Immortals in Leonidas' rear by morning, cutting
him off and guaranteeing his destruction.
The Immortals under their commander Hydarnes set out as night fell,
and their way was made easier by a full moon. The Carneian festival
of Apollo in Sparta and the games at Olympia would have been reaching
their climax at this time, and Leonidas may have been thinking that
the massed armies of Sparta and other cities must surely be soon
on the march, even as Hydarnes led his men across the gorge of the
river Asopus and up into the hills.
Narrow is our way of life
And necessity is pitiless.
-Alcman of Sparta
Cold moonlight glinted from the silvered spears and slung bow cases
of the Immortals as they filed along the spine of the Callidromus
mountains. Near dawn, they reached the plateau where Leonidas had
placed the men of Phocis to watch over the route. The Phocians were
caught unawares, perhaps only guessing the enemy was near by the
rustling of fallen oak leaves that lay thick along the track. They
were outnumbered ten to one and hastily fell back to higher ground
after the Persians unleashed a barrage of arrows. Once Hydarnes
assured himself that these were not the feared Spartans, he let
them be. The Immortals pushed on.
Warning came to Leonidas before daylight, probably from Greek deserters
from Xerxes' camp and then confirmed by lookouts posted in the mountains.
Tradition holds that the army's seer, an Acarnanian named Megistias,
also foretold the coming catastrophe in the morning sacrifice. When
panting Phocian runners brought word that the Persians had broken
through and would soon begin their descent, Leonidas knew that time
was short. A last war council was called, and scholars have debated
ever since over what exactly was said or decided. That there was
a division of opinion seems obvious; some commanders favored retreat,
others felt they could not abandon Thermopylae and leave an open
door to Greece. The Spartans evidently felt honor-bound to remain
at their post. But if the pass itself was untenable, a withdrawal
in the face of the enemy, with his superior firepower and unhindered
cavalry, was also an invitation to massacre. There may have been
a rancorous argument among the Greek leadership, or it may have
come down to individual choice. We do not know if Leonidas drew
a line in the sand per se-but what happened was that the Greek army
split. The Spartans would remain at Thermopylae and hold it to the
last. With them stayed the units from Thespiae and Thebes, whose
districts would be the first overrun if Thermopylae fell. The rest
of the army prepared to leave. They would later claim that Leonidas
had ordered them to depart and save their lives for another day,
and this may be true or it may be ex post facto justification for
abandoning the Spartan king. It is also possible that Leonidas intended
to divide his forces and contest both ends of the pass simultaneously,
but the other division lost its nerve. What is most likely is that
the Spartans stayed as a willing rearguard and that Leonidas accepted
the Thespian and Theban volunteers but was not able or inclined
to sacrifice the whole of the Greek army. The Delphic oracle had
earlier hinted that Sparta might be saved at the cost of a king,
and contemporary Greeks had no trouble believing that Leonidas,
carrying this prophecy in the back of his mind, was prepared to
offer his life as the price of his city's salvation.
A quick communique was sent to the Greek fleet, since the loss
of Thermopylae would leave them isolated without a secure landward
flank. The ships, too, must survive to fight again. The retreating
hoplite contingents made their farewells and decamped, taking with
them perhaps Leonidas' lesson that the Persians could be beaten.
Those who remained made a hearty last meal to give them strength.
Plutarch has preserved Leonidas' grim words: "Breakfast well,
for we shall dine in Hades."
The Immortals would arrive in the Spartans' rear in a matter of
hours. At about nine o'clock the army of Xerxes moved forward and
Leonidas' command advanced to meet them, this morning venturing
beyond the Middle Gate to a wider part of the pass where the Greek
phalanx might deploy with a longer frontage and bring more weapons
to bear. The Spartans would have marched in step slowly to the sound
of their flute-players, the shrill, twin-tubed aulos that droned
and skirled like a bagpipe. Their servants and skirmishers came,
too, helping the walking wounded. Although it is the 300 Spartans
of the king's bodyguard who are best remembered, Leonidas may have
led perhaps 2,000 men in this final battle.
death-struggle of the Greeks at Thermopylae was long celebrated
by ancient historians, and there is no reason to doubt that it was
a particularly desperate and merciless contest. The Spartans flung
themselves at their enemies with reckless courage. Fighting with
the foremost, Leonidas fell early, and a struggle worthy of Homer
erupted around his body. Four times the furious Spartans drove the
Persians back, and at last succeeded in dragging their king out
of the churning fray. Two half-brothers of Xerxes were killed in
the tumult. Then the news came that Hydarnes had seized the eastern
end of the pass and was approaching from the rear. The remaining
Greeks gathered themselves and broke free, falling back in good
order past their wall and taking a stand in a circle on a small
hillock (identified in this century by scores of excavated Eastern-style
arrowheads). Sometime during this withdrawal the surviving Thebans
became separated and surrendered-just how willingly is still debated.
The Spartans and Thespians, now beset on all sides, continued to
fiercely resist. When their spears were broken, they drew their
short swords and hacked and stabbed at close quarters, and when
these were lost or dulled, they used stones, or bare hands and teeth.
Finally the Persians finished the last remnant with a shower of
By midday the dust was settling on the slain, and in time the battlefield
was safe enough for the Great King to inspect his triumph. Only
the Theban prisoners and a presumed handful of the Spartans' servants
had survived the carnage. Herodotus tells us that 20,000 Persians
died at the hands of the Greeks at Thermopylae, and that their bodies
had to be concealed in hurriedly dug ditches lest Xerxes' army grow
disheartened. The Persian ruler viewed the Spartan dead and was
shown the body of Leonidas, which he ordered be crucified and the
head struck off and fixed on a pole. It was meant as a warning of
what the enemies of Persia could expect.
A token few Spartans are reported to have survived-a soldier who
was nearly blind with an eye infection and chose to make his escape
with the refugees; an envoy away on diplomatic business who could
not return in time-but others in similar straits had refused to
forsake Leonidas, including the priest Megistias, who sent his son
away while remaining with the Spartans. The two Spartan survivors
found themselves official pariahs in their hometown, subjected to
a sort of "silent treatment." One hanged himself in shame
and the other sought death in the ranks the following year at Plataea.
Greece shuddered, shocked at the sudden loss of a Spartan king
and several thousand soldiers, no matter how dearly bought Xerxes'
victory had been. Recriminations and reproaches colored the histories
of the time and continue to bedevil the scholar today. The stand
at Thermopylae had been inspiring, but it was still a calamity and
Greece lay in mortal danger for the next year. Central Greece was
lost and Athens occupied and sacked. The southern Greeks were loathe
to risk further action beyond their borders. Only good fortune,
Xerxes' blundering, and the wiliness of the Athenian leader Themistocles
prevented the smothering of classical Greek civilization, with all
that it has given to the Western world, before it was fully grown.
The Greek navy, under Themistocles' direction, won a decisive action
at Salamis, forcing Xerxes and the bulk of his army to return to
Asia. The following summer a united Greek army led by the Spartan
regent Pausanias and fully 5,000 Spartan hoplites crushed the remaining
Persian land forces at Plataea. Another victory in Asia Minor secured
the freedom of Greek cities there. The threat to Greece was over.
Like the roll call of the defenders of the Alamo, the name of every
individual Spartan who died at Thermopylae was remembered for as
long as ancient Sparta endured. They were engraved on a stone tablet
in Sparta that could still be read over seven centuries later. Will
the Alamo still stand in 700 years? Would it matter? It is what
the Alamo represents that is immortal, not the tangible remains
of the buildings. Heroism, once achieved and honored, is never forgotten
A monument was set up on the mound of the last stand-it has long
since disappeared, but the recorded epitaph survives. One translation
Go, stranger, and to the Spartans tell
That here, obedient to their laws, we fell.
William Golding, who wrote about his pilgrimage to the site in
the essay "The Hot Gates," summarized best why the Spartans
and Travis' command are remembered together:
I knew now that something real happened here. It is not just
that the human spirit reacts directly and beyond all argument
to a story of sacrifice and courage, as a wine glass must vibrate
to the sound of the violin. It is also because, way back and at
the hundredth remove, that company stood in the right line of
history. A little of Leonidas lies in the fact that I can go where
I like and write what I like. He contributed to set us free.
Destiny assigned the same role to Travis-and he seems to have welcomed
the part-and he and Leonidas have much to discuss in some mutual
Valhalla. Simonides of Ceos, a contemporary poet, eulogized the
Spartan dead at Plataea in words that might just as well have been
penned in 1836, underscoring again how Thermopylae and the Alamo
are truly inseparable; reflections of each other in the mirror of
These men left an altar of glory on their land,
Shining in all weather,
When they were enveloped by the black mists of death.
But though they died
They are not dead, for their courage raises them in glory
From the rooms of Hell.
Willis Barnstone (trans.), Greek Lyric Poetry (Schocken, 1972)
Ernle Bradford, The Battle for the West: Thermopylae (McGraw-Hill,
John Burke, The 300 Spartans (Signet, 1961)
A.R. Burn, Persia and the Greeks: The Defense of the West, 546-478
B.C. (Minerva, 1962)
Peter Connolly, Greece and Rome at War (Prentice-Hall, 1981)
W.G. Forrest, A History of Sparta, 950-192 B.C. (Norton, 1968)
William Golding, The Hot Gates (Harcourt-Brace, 1966)
Peter Green, The Greco-Persian Wars (UC Press, 1996)
Victor Davis Hanson, The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in
Herodotus, The Histories (Penguin, 1972)
J.F. Lazenby, The Spartan Army (Aris & Phillips, 1985)
Alan Lloyd, Marathon (Mentor, 1975)
Roderick Milton, Tell Them in Sparta (Methuen, 1962)
Plutarch on Sparta (Penguin, 1988)
Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire (Doubleday, 1998)
Nicholas Sekunda, The Spartan Army (Osprey, 1998)
The author is also slowly co-constructing a Spartan history website
Legio XIIII, a professional, mainly Roman UK-based reenactor group,
pays some attention to Sparta as well: http://www.legion-fourteen.com/
Another UK group has formed just for philhellenes: http://www.hoplites.co.uk/
"The Spartan March" from The 300 Spartans movie soundtrack
(composed by Manos Hadjidakis) is available in a recording by the
City of Prague Philharmonic on the CD Classic Greek Film Music (Silva
SSD 1052, 1995) and also on Warriors of the Silver Screen (Silva
SSD 1081, 1997). Authentic reproductions of some of what fragments
of ancient Greek music survive can be heard on period instruments
on Musique de la Grèce Antique (Gregorio Paniagua/Atrium
Musicae de Madrid, reissued on Musique d'Abord HMA1951015, 2000).
Ancient Greece documentaries occasionally surface on cable television;
these vary wildly in quality and interest. The Spartan army was
briefly profiled in an episode of Ancient Warriors from the mid-1990s
that featured some respectable reenactor footage using Legio XIIII.
Finally, the only cinematic treatment of the battle of Thermopylae
remains 1962's The 300 Spartans (20th Century Fox; dir. Rudolph
Maté), starring Richard Egan, Barry Coe, Diane Baker, David
Farrar, Anne Wakefield, John Crawford, and Sir Ralph Richardson.
This is considerably more faithful to history than John Wayne's
The Alamo but strikes a similar Cold War heroism note and lapses
into occasional woodenness. Still, as one reviewer wrote, "a
lively epic with some dignity." Filmed on location in Greece
with the Greek army drafted as extras. The 300 Spartans has never
been released commercially to home video, but it is broadcast intact
on cable channel AMC once in a while and is available in pirated
copies from the underground market (see eBay et al.).