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VII.138‑174

This webpage reproduces a section of
Herodotus
published in Vol. III
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,
1922

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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VIII.1‑39

(Vol. III) Herodotus

 p491  Book VII: chapters 175‑239

The flags in the text are links to the Greek as printed on facing pages in the Loeb edition.
In the left margin, links to Rawlinson's translation (Vol. III, with valuable notes),
and to the running commentary by How and Wells.
Cartouches are links to in‑depth articles at Livius.Org or LacusCurtius.

[link to original Greek text] 175 Rawlinson p150 H & W Being come to the Isthmus, the Greeks consulted together how and where they should stand to fight, having regard to what was said by Alexander. The counsel that prevailed was, that they should guard the pass of Thermopylae; for they saw that it was narrower than the pass into Thessaly and moreover nearer home; and for the path which brought about the fall of those Greeks at Thermopylae, they knew not even that there was one till they came to Thermopylae and learnt of it from the men of Trachis. This pass then they were resolved to guard, and so stay the foreigners' passage into Hellas, while their fleet should sail to  p493 Artemisium in the territory of Histiaea. These places are near together, so that each force could be informed of the other's doings; and their nature is as I will now show.

[link to original Greek text] 176 H & W As touching Artemisium first: the wide Thracian sea draws in till the passage between the island of Sciathus and the mainland of Magnesia is but narrow; and this strait leads next to Artemisium, which is a beach on the coast of Euboea, with a temple of Artemis thereon. The pass through Trachis into Hellas1 is at its narrowest fifty feet wide. Yet it is not here but elsewhere that the way is narrowest, namely, in front of Thermopylae and behind it; at Alpeni, which lies behind, it is but the breadth of a cart‑way, and the same at the Phoenix stream, near the town of Anthele. To the west2 of Thermopylae rises a high mountain inaccessible and precipitous, a spur of Oeta; to the east of the road there is nought but marshes and sea. In this pass are warm springs for bathing, called by the people of the country The Pots, and an altar of Heracles stands thereby. Across this entry a wall had been built, and formerly there was a gate therein; it was built by the Phocians3 for fear of the Thessalians, when these came from Thesprotia to dwell in the Aeolian land which they now possess; inasmuch as the Thessalians were essaying to subdue them, the Phocians made this their protection, and in their  p495 search for every means to keep the Thessalians from invading their country they then turned the stream from the hot springs into the pass, that it might be a watercourse. The ancient wall had been built long ago and time had by now laid most of it in ruins; it was now built up again, that the foreigners' way into Hellas might thus be barred. Very near the road is village, called Alpeni, whence the Greeks reckoned that they would get provender.

[link to original Greek text] 177 Rawlinson p152 H & W These places, then, were thought by the Greeks to suit their purpose; for after due survey they reckoned that the foreigners could not make use of their multitude, nor of their horsemen; and therefore they resolved, that here they would encounter the invader of Hellas. Then, hearing that the Persian was in Pieria, they broke up from the Isthmus and set out with their army to Thermopylae and their fleet to Artemisium.

[link to original Greek text] 178 So with all speed the Greeks went their several ways to meet the enemy. In the meantime, the Delphians, being sore afraid for themselves and for Hellas, enquired of the god, and the oracle was given them, That they should pray to the winds; for these would be potent allies of Hellas. Having received the oracle, the Delphians first sent word of it to such Greeks as desired to be free, for which message in their mortal fear of the foreigner these were for ever grateful; and next, they made an altar to the winds at Thyia, where is now the precinct of Thyia the daughter of Cephisus; and they offered sacrifices to them.

 p497  [link to original Greek text] 179 So the Delphians offer to the winds sacrifice of propitiation to this day by the oracle's bidding. But Xerxes' fleet set forth from the city of Therma, and the ten swiftest of the ships laid their course straight for Sciathus, where there lay an advance guard of three Greek ships, a Troezenian and an Aeginetan and an Attic. These, when they sighted the foreigners' ships, took to flight.

[link to original Greek text] 180 Rawlinson p154 The ship of Troezen, whereof Prexinus was captain, was pursued and straightway taken by the foreigners, who thereupon brought the goodliest of its fighting men and cut his throat on the ship's prow, so making a common sacrifice4 of the first and goodliest of their Greek captives. The name of him that was thus offered up was Leon; and mayhap it was his name that he had to thank for it.

[link to original Greek text] 181 But the Aeginetan trireme, whereof Asonides was captain, did even give them some trouble. There was a fighting man aboard, Pytheas son of Ischenous, who that day bore himself very gallantly; for his ship being taken, he would not give over fighting till he was all hacked about with wounds; and when he fell, yet was not slain but had life in him, the Persian soldiers on the ships were at great pains to save him alive for his valour, tending his wounds with ointments and wrapping him in bandages of linen cloth;5 and when they returned back to their own station, they showed him to the whole host in admiration, and made much of him and kindly entreated him. But the rest they took in that ship they used as slaves.

 p499  [link to original Greek text] 182 So two of the ships were thus made captive; the third trireme, whereof Phormus an Athenian was captain, ran ashore in her flight at the mouth of the Peneus, and the foreigners got the hull of her, but not the crew; for the Athenians, as soon as they had run their craft aground, leapt out of her and made their way through Thessaly to Athens.

[link to original Greek text] 183 The Greeks that had their station at Artemisium were informed of these matters by beacons from Sciathus; whereupon, being affrighted, they changed their anchorage from Artemisium to Chalcis, purposing to guard the Euripus, and leaving watchmen on the heights of Euboea. Three of the ten foreign ships ran foul of the reef called the Ant, between Sciathus and Magnesia. The foreigners then brought a pillar of stone and set it on the reef; and presently, when their course was plain before them, the whole fleet set forth and sailed from Therma, eleven days after the king had marched thence. Pammon of Scyros it was who showed them where the reef lay, in the strait itself. Voyaging all day, the foreign fleet made Sepias in Magnesia and the beach between the town of Casthanaea and the Sepiad headland.

[link to original Greek text] 184 Rawlinson p156 H & W Until the whole host reached this place and Thermopylae it suffered no hurt; and calculation proves to me that its numbers were still such as I will now show. The ships from Asia being twelve hundred and seven, the whole multitude of all the nations, which was in them from the first, was two  p501 hundred and forty‑one thousand and four hundred men, two hundred being reckoned for each ship.6 On board of all these ships were thirty fighting men of the Persians and Medes and Sacae, over and above the company which each had of native fighters; the sum of this added multitude is thirty‑six thousand two hundred and ten. But to this and to the first number I add the crews of the ships of fifty oars reckoning each at eighty men, be they more or fewer. Now seeing that, as has already been said,7 there were collected three thousand of these craft, the number of men in them must be on that showing two hundred and forty thousand. These then were the ships' companies from Asia, and the total sum of them was five hundred and seventeen thousand, six hundred and ten. The footmen were shown to be seven hundred thousand and one hundred in number, and the horsemen eighty thousand; to whom I add the Arabian camel-riders and Libyan charioteers, reckoning them at twenty thousand men. Thus if the forces of sea and land be added together their total sum will be two millions, three hundred and seventeen thousand, six hundred and ten. Thus far I have spoken of the armament that came from Asia itself, without the service-train that followed it and the cornº‑bearing craft and the companies thereof.

[link to original Greek text] 185 But I must still take into account, besides all the host I have numbered, the armament brought from Europe, speaking to the best of my belief.  p503 For ships, then, the Greeks of Thrace and the islands off Thrace furnished one hundred and twenty; the companies of these ships must then be twenty-four thousand men; and of the land army supplied by all the nations — Thracians, Paeonians, Eordi, Bottiaei, Chalcidians, Brygi, Pierians, Macedonians, Perrhaebi, Enienes, Dolopes, Magnesians, Achaeans, dwellers on the seaboard of Thrace — of all these I suppose the number to have been three hundred thousand. These numbers being added to the numbers from Asia, the full tale of fighting men is seen to be two millions, six hundred and forty‑one thousand, six hundred and ten.

[link to original Greek text] 186 Rawlinson p158 H & W Such was the sum of the fighting part of the whole; as for the service-train that followed them, and the crews of the light corn-bearing vessels and all the other craft besides that came by sea with the armament, these I suppose to have been no fewer but more than the fighting men. But put the case that they were as many, neither more nor fewer: then if they were equal to the fighting part they make up as many tens of thousands as the others; and thus the number of those whom Xerxes son of Darius led as far as the Sepiad headland and Thermopylae was five millions, two hundred and eighty-three thousand, two hundred and twenty.

[link to original Greek text] 187 That is the number of Xerxes' whole armament: but none can say what was the exact sum of cooking women, and concubines, and eunuchs; nor  p505 of the beasts of draught and burden, and the Indian dogs that were with the host, could any one tell the number, so many they were. Wherefore it is to me no marvel that some of the streams of water ran dry; rather I marvel how there were provisions sufficient for so many tens of thousands; for calculation shows me, that if each man received one choenix of wheat a day and no more, there would be every day a full tale of eleven hundred thousand and three hundred and forty bushels;8 and in this I take no account of what was for the women and eunuchs and beasts of draught and dogs. Of all those tens of thousands of men, for goodliness and stature there was not one worthier than Xerxes himself to hold that command.

[link to original Greek text] 188 Rawlinson p160 The fleet having put to sea and come to the strand of Magnesia which is between the town of Casthanaea and the Sepiad headland, the first comers of the ships lay close to the land, and others outside them at anchor; for the strand being of no great length, they lay eight ships deep, their prows pointing seaward. So it was with them for that night; but at dawn, after clear and calm weather, the sea began to boil, and there brake upon them a great storm and a strong east wind, that wind which the people of that country call the Hellespontian. As many of them as noted the wind's rising, or so lay that this could be done, hauled their ships ashore ere the storm came, and thereby saved themselves  p507 and the ships; but the ships the were caught at sea were driven some on the rocks of Pelion called Ovens, and some on the beach; others were wrecked on the Sepiad headland itself, and others cast up at the town of Meliboea, or at Casthanaea. In truth the storm was past all bearing.

[link to original Greek text] 189 H & W There is a tale that the Athenians at an oracle's bidding prayed to Boreas to aid them, another divination having been sent them that they should call for help to their son-in‑law; the Greek story makes Boreas the husband of an Attic wife, Orithyia daughter of Erechtheus; because of which kinship the Athenians, if the tale current is to be believed, inferred that Boreas was their son-in‑law, and when at their station of Chalcis they perceived that the storm was rising, then (or mayhap before that) they offered sacrifice and called on Boreas and Orithyia to aid them and destroy the foreigners' ships, even as before on the coast of Athos. Now if this was the cause that the wind Boreas assailed the foreigners, I cannot tell; however it be, the Athenians say that Boreas came to their aid before and that the present effect was of his achieving; and when they went home they built a temple of Boreas by the river Ilissus.

[link to original Greek text] 190 Rawlinson p162 In that stress there perished by the least reckoning not fewer than four hundred ships, and men innumerable and a great plenty of substance; insomuch, that Aminocles son of Cretines, a Magnesian who held land about Sepias, was greatly benefited by that shipwreck; for he presently gathered many drinking-cups of gold and silver that were cast ashore, and he found Persian treasures,  p509 and won unspeakable wealth besides. Yet though luck greatly enriched him he was not in all things fortunate, for even he was afflicted by a grievous mischance in the slaying of his son.

[link to original Greek text] 191 The corn-bearing ships of merchandise and other craft destroyed were past all counting; wherefore the admirals of the fleet, fearing lest the Thessalians should set upon them in their evil plight, built a high fence of the wreckage for their protection. For the storm lasted for three days; and at last the Magians, by using victims and wizards' spells on the wind, and by sacrificing also to Thetis and the Nereids, did make it to cease on the fourth day, or mayhap it was not of their doing but of itself that it abated. To Thetis they sacrificed after hearing from the Ionians the story how that it was from this country that she had been carried off by Peleus, and all the Sepiad headland belonged to her and the other daughters of Nereus.

[link to original Greek text] 192 So on the fourth day the storm ceased; and the watchers ran down from the heights of Euboea on the second day after its beginning and told the Greeks all the story of the shipwreck; who, hearing this, offered prayer and libation to Poseidon their deliverer, and made all speed back to Artemisium, supposing that they would find but few ships to withstand them.

[link to original Greek text] 193 Rawlinson p164 So they came back once more and lay off Artemisium; and ever since then to this day they have called Poseidon by the title of Deliverer. The foreigners, when the wind ceased and the waves no more ran high, put to sea and coasted along the  p511 mainland, and turning the headland of Magnesia ran straight into the gulf that stretches toward Pagasae. There is a place on this gulf in Magnesia, where, it is said, Heracles was sent for water and so left behind by Jason and his comrades of the Argo, when they were sailing to Aea in Colchis for the fleece; for their purpose was to draw water thence and so launch out to sea; and thence that place has been called Aphetae.9 Here Xerxes' men made their anchorage.

[link to original Greek text] 194 H & W Fifteen of those ships had put to sea a long time after all the rest, and it chanced that they sighted the Greek ships off Artemisium. Supposing these to be their own fleet, the foreigners held on their course into the midst of their enemies. Their captain was the viceroy from Cyme in Aeolia, Sandoces son of Thamasius; he had once before this, being then one of the king's judges, been taken and crucified by Darius because he had given unjust judgment for a bribe. But Sandoces having been hung on the cross, Darius found on a reckoning that his good services to the royal house were more than his offences; whereat the king perceived that he had acted with more haste than wisdom, and so set Sandoces free. Thus he escaped with his life from being put to death by Darius; but now that he was borne into the midst of the Greeks he was not to escape a second time; for when the Greeks saw the Persians bearing down on them they perceived their mistake, and put to sea and easily took them captive.

[link to original Greek text] 195 They took in one of these ships Aridolis, the despot of Alabanda in Caria, and in another the  p513 Paphian captain Penthylus son of Demonous; of twelve ships that he had brought from Paphos he had lost eleven in the storm off the Sepiad headland, and was in the one that remained when he was taken as he bore down on Artemisium. Having questioned these men and learnt what they desired to know of Xerxes' armament, the Greeks sent them away to the isthmus of Corinth in bonds.

[link to original Greek text] 196 Rawlinson p166 So the foreign fleet, all but the fifteen ships whereof, as I have said, Sandoces was captain, came to Aphetae. Xerxes and his land army journeyed through Thessaly and Achaea, and it was three days since he had entered Malis. In Thessaly he made a race for his own horses, wherein he also tried the mettle of the Thessalian horse, having heard that it was the best in Hellas; and the Greek horses were far outpaced. Of the Thessalian rivers, the Onochonus was the only one that could not give water enough for his army's drinking. But in Achaea, even the greatest river there, the Apidanus,10 gave out, all but a sorry remnant.

[link to original Greek text] 197 When Xerxes was come to Alus in Achaea, his guides, desiring to inform him of all they knew, told him the story that is related in that country concerning the worship of Laphystian Zeus: how Athamas son of Aeolus plotted Phrixus' death with Ino, and further, how the Achaeans by an oracle's bidding compel Phrixus' posterity to certain tasks: namely, they bid the eldest of that family forbear to enter their town hall (which the Achaeans call the People's House),11 and themselves keep watch there;  p515 if he enter, he may not come out, save only to be sacrificed; and further also, how many of those that were to be sacrificed had fled away in fear to another country, but if they returned back at a later day and were taken, they had been brought into the town hall; and the guides showed Xerxes how the man is sacrificed, with fillets covering him all over and a procession to lead him forth. It is the descendants of Phrixus' son Cytissorus who are thus dealt with, because when the Achaeans by an oracle's bidding made Athamas son of Aeolus a scapegoat for their country and were about to sacrifice him, this Cytissorus came from Aea in Colchis and delivered him, but thereby brought the god's wrath on his own posterity. Hearing all this, Xerxes when he came to the temple grove forbore to enter it himself and bade all his army to do likewise, holding the house and the precinct of Athamas' descendants alike in reverence.12

[link to original Greek text] 198 H & W These were Xerxes' doings in Thessaly and Achaea; whence he came into Malis along a gulf of the sea, in which the tide ebbs and flows daily.13 There is low‑lying ground about this gulf, sometimes wide and sometimes very narrow; and about it stand mountains high and inaccessible, enclosing the whole of Malis, called the Rocks of Trachis.α Now the first town by the gulf on the way from Achaea is Anticyra, near to which the river Spercheus flows from the country of the Enieni and issues into the sea. About  p517 twenty furlongs from that river is another named Dyras, which is said to have risen from the ground to aid Heracles against the fire that consumed him; and twenty furlongs again from that there is another river, called the Black river.

[link to original Greek text] 199 Rawlinson p169 H & W The town of Trachis is five furlongs distant from this Black river. Here is the greatest width in all this region between the sea and the hills whereon Trachis stands; for the plain is two million and two hundred thousand feet in extent.14 In the mountains that hem in the Trachinian land there is a ravine to the south of Trachis, wherethrough flows the river Asopus past the lower slopes of the mountains.

[link to original Greek text] 200 There is another river south of the Asopus, the Phoenix, a little stream, that flows from those mountains into the Asopus. Near this stream is the narrowest place; there is but the space of a single builded cart‑way. Thermopylae is fifteen furlongs distant from the river Phoenix. Between the river and Thermopylae there is a village named Anthele, past which the Asopus flows out into the sea, and there is a wide space about it wherein stands a temple of Amphictyonid Demeter, and seats withal for the Amphictyons15 and a temple of Amphictyon himself.

[link to original Greek text] 201 Rawlinson p170 King Xerxes, then, lay encamped in that part of Malis which belongs to Trachis, and the Greeks in the midst of the pass:16 the place where  p519 they were is called by most of the Greeks Thermopylae, but by the people of the country and their neighbours Pylae. In these places, then, they lay encamped, Xerxes being master of all that was north17 out of Trachis, and the Greeks of all that lay southward towards this part of the mainland.18

[link to original Greek text] 202 Rawlinson p172 The Greeks that awaited the Persian in that place were these: — Of the Spartans, three hundred men-at‑arms; a thousand Tegeans and Mantineans, half from each place; from Orchomenus in Arcadia a hundred and twenty, and a thousand from the rest of Arcadia; besides these Arcadians, four hundred from Corinth, two hundred from Phlius, and eighty Mycenaeans. These were they who had come from Peloponnesus: from Boeotia, seven hundred Thespians and four hundred Thebans.

[link to original Greek text] 203 Besides these the whole power of the Opuntian Locrians and a thousand Phocians had been summoned, and came. The Greeks had of their own motion summoned these to their aid, telling them by their messengers that they themselves had come for an advance guard of the rest, that the coming of the remnant of the allies was to be looked for every day, and that the sea was strictly watched by them, being guarded by the Athenians and Aeginetans and all that were enrolled in the fleet; there was nought (they said) for them to fear; for the invader of Hellas was no god, but a mortal man, and there was no mortal, nor ever would be, to whom at birth some admixture of misfortune was not allotted; the greater the man, the greater the misfortune; most surely then he that marched against them, being but mortal,  p521 would be disappointed of his hope. Hearing that, the Locrians and Phocians marched to aid the Greeks at Trachis.

[link to original Greek text] 204 H & W All these had their generals, each city its own; but he that was most regarded and was leader of the whole army was Leonidas of Lacedaemon, whose descent was from Anaxandrides, Leon, Eurycratides, Polydorus, Alcamenes, Teleclus, Archelaus, Hegesilaus, Doryssus, Leobotes, Echestratus, Agis, Eurysthenes, Aristodemus, Aristomachus, Cleodaeus, Hyllus, Heracles; who was king at Sparta, yet had not looked to be such.


[image ALT: zzz. It depicts an ancient Greek warrior, possibly the Spartan general Leonidas, as further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

Statue of a Greek hoplite, thought to be Leonidas, dated to 480‑479 B.C. It was found in 1925 just outside the precinct of the sanctuary of Athena Chalcioecos in Sparta; the crest is a modern restoration.

Archaeological Museum, Sparta.
Photo © Livius.Org | Jan van Vliet, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 205 For since he had two elder brothers, Cleomenes and Dorieus, he had renounced all thought of the kingship. But when Cleomenes died without male issue, and Dorieus was dead too (having met his end in Sicily), so it came about that the succession fell to Leonidas, because he was older than Anaxandrides' youngest son Cleombrotus, and moreover had Cleomenes' daughter to wife. He now came to Thermopylae, with a picked force of the customary three hundred,19 and those that had sons; and he brought with him too those Thebans whom I counted among the number, whose general was Leontiades son of Eurymachus. Leonidas was at pains to bring these Thebans more than any other Greeks, because they were constantly charged with favouring  p523 the Persian part; therefore it was that he summoned them to the war, because he desired to know whether they would send their men with him or plainly refuse the Greek alliance. They sent the men; but they had other ends in view.

[link to original Greek text] 206 Rawlinson p174 These, the men with Leonidas, were sent before the rest by the Spartans, that by the sight of them the rest of the allies might be moved to arm, and not like the others take the Persian part, as might well be if they learnt that the Spartans were delaying; and they purposed that later when they should have kept the feast of the Carnea,20 which was their present hindrance, they would leave a garrison at Sparta and march out with the whole of their force and with all speed. The rest of the allies had planned to do the same likewise; for an Olympic festival fell due at the same time as these doings; wherefore they sent their advance guard, not supposing that the war at Thermopylae would so speedily come to an issue.

[link to original Greek text] 207 Such had been their intent; but the Greeks at Thermopylae, when the Persian drew near to the entrance of the pass, began to lose heart and debate whether to quit their post or no. The rest of the Peloponnesians were for returning to the Peloponnese and guarding the isthmus; but the Phocians and Locrians were greatly incensed by this counsel, and Leonidas gave his vote for remaining where they were and sending messages to the cities to demand aid, seeing that he and his were too few to beat off the Median host.

[link to original Greek text] 208 While they thus debated, Xerxes sent a mounted watcher to see how many they were and  p525 what they had in hand; for while he was yet in Thessaly, he had heard that some small army was here gathered, and that its leaders were Lacedaemonians, Leonidas a descendant of Heracles among them. The horsemen rode up to the camp and viewed and overlooked it, yet not the whole; for it was not possible to see those that were posted within the wall which they had restored and now guarded; but he took note of those that were without, whose arms were piled outside the wall, and it chanced that at that time the Lacedaemonians were posted there. There he saw some of the men at exercise, and others combing their hair. Marvelling at the sight, and taking exact note of their numbers, he rode back unmolested, none pursuing nor at all regarding him; so he returned and told Xerxes all that he had seen.


[image ALT: zzz. It is a Greek warrior trimming his hair in preparation for battle, as further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

A Greek warrior tending to his hair before battle; "the cheapest of ornaments". Further details are given in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, s.v. Coma.

Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Photo © Livius.Org | Marco Prins, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 209 Rawlinson p176 When Xerxes heard that, he could not understand the truth, namely, that the Lacedaemonians were preparing to slay to the best of their power or be slain; what they did appeared to him laughable; wherefore he sent for Demaratus the son of Ariston, who was in his camp, and when he came questioned him of all these matters, that he might understand what it was that the Lacedaemonians were about. "I have told you already," said Demaratus, "of these men, when we were setting out for Hellas; but when you heard, you mocked me, albeit I told you of this which I saw plainly would be the outcome; for it is my greatest endeavour, O king, to speak truth in your presence. Now hear me once more: these men are come to fight with us for the passage, and for that they are preparing; for it is their custom to  p527 dress their hair whensoever they are about to put their lives in jeopardy. Moreover I tell you, that if you overcome these and what remains behind at Sparta, there is no other nation among men, O king! that will abide and withstand you; now are you face to face with the noblest royalty and city and the most valiant men in Hellas." Xerxes deemed what was said to be wholly incredible, and further enquired of him how they would fight against his army, being so few. "O king," Demaratus answered, "use me as a liar, if the event of this be not what I tell you."

[link to original Greek text] 210 Yet for all that Xerxes would not believe him. For the space of four days the king waited, ever expecting that the Greeks would take to flight; but on the fifth, seeing them not withdrawing and deeming that their remaining there was but shamelessness and folly, he was angered, and sent the Medes and Cissians against them, bidding them take the Greeks alive and bring them into his presence. The Medes bore down upon the Greeks and charged them; many fell, but others attacked in turn; and though they suffered grievous defeat yet they were not driven off. But they made it plain to all and chiefly to the king himself that for all their number of human creatures there were few men among them. This battle lasted all the day.

[link to original Greek text] 211 Rawlinson p178 The Medes being so roughly handled, they were then withdrawn from the fight, and the Persians whom the king called Immortals attacked in their turn, led by Hydarnes. It was thought that they at least would make short and easy work of the Greeks; but when they joined battle, they fared neither better nor worse than the Median soldiery, fighting  p529 as they were in a narrow space and with shorter spears than the Greeks, where they could make no use of their numbers. But the Lacedaemonians fought memorably. They were skilled warriors against unskilled; and it was among their many feats of arms, that they would turn their backs and feign flight; seeing which, the foreigners would pursue after them with shouting and noise; but when the Lacedaemonians were like to be overtaken they turned upon the foreigners, and so rallying overthrew Persians innumerable; wherein some few of the Spartans themselves were slain. So when the Persians, attacking by companies and in every other fashion, could yet gain no inch of the approach, they drew off out of the fight.


[image ALT: zzz. It depicts an ancient Greek warrior, possibly the Spartan general Leonidas, as further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

Thermopylae today.

Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 212 H & W During these onsets the king (it is said) thrice sprang up in fear for his army from the throne where he sat to view them. Such was then the fortune of the fight, and on the next day the foreigners had no better luck at the game. They joined battle, supposing that their enemies, being so few, were now disabled by wounds and could no longer withstand them. But the Greeks stood arrayed by battalions and nations, and each of these fought in its turn, save the Phocians, who were posted on the mountains to guard the path.21 So when the Persians found the Greeks in no way different from what the day before had shown them to be, they drew off from the fight.

[link to original Greek text] 213 The king being at a loss how to deal with the present difficulty, Epialtes son of Eurydemus, a Malian, came to speak with him, thinking so to receive a great reward from Xerxes, and told him of  p531 the path leading over the mountain to Thermopylae; whereby he was the undoing of the Greeks who had been left there. This Epialtes afterwards fled into Thessaly, for fear of the Lacedaemonians; and he being so banished a price was put on his head by the Pylagori22 when the Amphictyons sat together in their council at Thermopylae; and a long time after that, having returned to Anticyra, he was slain by Athenades, a man of Trachis. It was for another cause (which I will tell in the latter part of my history)23 that this Athenades slew Epialtes, but he was none the less honoured for it by the Lacedaemonians.

[link to original Greek text] 214 Such was the end of Epialtes at a later day, There is another story current, that it was Onetes son of Phanagoras, a Carystian, and Corydallus of Anticyra, who spoke to the king to this effect and guided the Persians round the mountain; but I wholly disbelieve it. For firstly, we must draw conclusion from what the Pylagori did; they set a price on the head of the Trachinian Epialtes, not of Onetes and Corydallus; and it must be supposed that they used all means to learn the truth; and secondly, we know that Epialtes was for this cause banished. I do not deny that Onetes might know the path, even though not a Malian, if he had many times been in that country; but the man who guided them by that path round the mountain was Epialtes, and on him I here fix the guilt.

[link to original Greek text] 215 Rawlinson p180 Xerxes was satisfied with what Epialtes promised to accomplish; much rejoicing thereat, he sent Hydarnes forthwith and Hydarnes' following; and  p533 they set forth from the camp about the hour when lamps are lit. Now this path24 had been discovered by the Malians of the country, who guided the Thessalians thereby into Phocis, at the time when the Phocians sheltered themselves from attack by fencing the pass with a wall; thus early had the Malians shown that the pass could avail nothing.25

[link to original Greek text] 216 Now the path runs thuswise. It begins at the river Asopus which flows through the ravine; the mountain there and the path have the same name, Anopaea; this Anopaea crosses the ridge of the mountain and ends at the town of Alpenus, the Locrian town nearest to Malis, where is the rock called Blackbuttock and the seats of the Cercopes; and this is its narrowest part.26

[link to original Greek text] 217 H & W Of such nature is the path; by this, when they had crossed the Asopus, the Persians marched all night, the Oetean mountains being on their right hand and the Trachinian on their left. At dawn of day they came to the summit of the pass. Now in this part of the mountain‑way a thousand Phocians were posted, as I have already shown, to defend their own cocu and guard the path; for the lower pass was held by those of whom I have spoken, but the path over the mountains by the Phocians, according to the promise that they had of their own motion given to Leonidas.

 p535  [link to original Greek text] 218 Rawlinson p182 Now the mountain-side where the Persians ascended was all covered by oak woods, and the Phocians knew nothing of their coming till they were warned of it, in the still weather, by the much noise of the enemy's tread on the leaves that lay strewn underfoot whereupon they sprang up and began to arm, and in a moment the foreigners were upon them. These were amazed at the sight of men putting on armour for they had supposed that no one would withstand them, and now they fell in with an army. Hydarnes feared that the Phocians might be Lacedaemonians, and asked Epialtes of what country they were; being informed of the truth he arrayed the Persians for battle; and the Phocians, assailed by showers of arrows, and supposing that it was they whom the Persians had meant from the first to attack, fled away up to the top of the mountain and prepared there to perish. Such was their thought; but the Persians with Epialtes and Hydarnes paid no regard to the Phocians, but descended from the mountain with all speed.

[link to original Greek text] 219 The Greeks at Thermopylae were warned first by Megistias the seer; who, having examined the offerings, advised them of the death that awaited them in the morning; and presently came deserters, while it was yet night, with news of the circuit made by the Persians; which was lastly brought also by the watchers running down from the heights when day was now dawning. Thereupon the Greeks held a council, and their opinions were divided, some advising that they should not leave their post, and some being contrariwise minded; and presently they parted asunder, these taking their departure and  p537 dispersing each to their own cities, and those resolving to remain where they were with Leonidas.

[link to original Greek text] 220 It is said indeed that Leonidas himself sent them away, desiring in his care for them to save their lives, but deeming it unseemly for himself and the Spartans to desert that post which they had first come to defend. But to this opinion I the rather incline, that when Leonidas perceived the allies to be faint of heart and not willing to run all risks with him he bade them go their ways, departure being for himself not honourable; if he remained, he would leave a name of great renown, and the prosperity of Sparta would not be blotted out. For when the Spartans enquired of the oracle concerning this war at the very beginning, the Pythian priestess had prophesied to them that either Lacedaemon should be destroyed of the foreigners, or that its king should perish: which answer was given in these hexameter verses:

Fated it is for you, ye dwellers in wide-wayed Sparta,

Either your city must fall, that now is mighty and famous,

Wasted by Persian men,β or the border of fair Lacedaemon

Mourn for a king that is dead, from Heracles' line descended.

Yea, for the foe thou hast nor bulls nor lions can conquer;

Mighty he cometh as Zeus, and shall not be stayed in his coming;

One of the two will he take, and rend his quarry asunder.

 p539  Of this (it is my belief) Leonidas bethought himself, and desired that the Spartans alone should have the glory; wherefore he chose rather to send the allies away than that the departure of those who went should be the unseemly outcome of divided counsels.

[link to original Greek text] 221 Rawlinson p184 H & W In which matter I hold it for one of my strongest proofs, that Megistias the Acarnanian (reputed a descendant of Melampus), who advised the Greeks from the offerings of what should befal them, was past all doubt bidden by Leonidas to depart, lest he should perish with the rest. Yet though thus bidden Megistias himself would not go; he had an only son in the army, and him he sent away instead.

[link to original Greek text] 222 So those of the allies who were bidden to go went their ways in obedience to Leonidas, and the Thespians and Thebans alone stayed by the Lacedaemonians; the Thebes indeed against their will and desire, and kept there by Leonidas as hostages; but the Thespians remained with great goodwill. They refused to depart and leave Leonidas and his comrades, but remained there and died with him. Their general was Demophilus son of Diadromes.

[link to original Greek text] 223 Xerxes, having at sunrise offered libations, waited till about the hour of marketing and then made his assault, having been so advised by Epialtes; for the descent from the mountain is more direct and the way is much shorter than the circuit and the ascent.27 So the foreigners that were with Xerxes attacked; but the Greeks with Leonidas, knowing  p541 that they went to their death, advanced now much farther than before into the wider part of the strait. For ere now it was the wall of defence that they had guarded, and all the former days they had withdrawn themselves into the narrow way and fought there; but now they met their enemies outside the narrows, and many of the foreigners were there slain; for their captains came behind the companies with scourges and drove all the men forward with lashes. Many of them were thrust into the sea and there drowned, and more by far were trodden down bodily by each other, none regarding who it was that perished; for inasmuch ass the Greeks knew that they must die by the hands of those who came round the mountain, they put forth the very utmost of their strength against the foreigners, in their recklessness and frenzy.

[link to original Greek text] 224 Rawlinson p186 H & W By this time the spears of most of them were broken, and they were slaying the Persians with their swords. There in that travail fell Leonidas, fighting most gallantly, and with him other famous Spartans, whose names I have learnt for their great worth and desert, as I have learnt besides the names of all the three hundred.28 There too fell, among other famous Persians, Abrocomes and Hyperanthes, two sons of Darius by Phratagune daughter of Artanes. This Artanes was brother to king Darius, and son of Hystaspes who was the son of Arsames; and when he gave his daughter in marriage to Darius he dowered her with the whole wealth of his house, she being his only child.

 p543  [link to original Greek text] 225 So two brothers of Xerxes fell there in the battle; and there was a great struggle between the Persians and Lacedaemonians over Leonidas' body,γ till the Greeks of their valour dragged it away and four times put their enemies to flight. Nor was there an end of this mellay till the men with Epialtes came up. When the Greeks were aware of their coming, from that moment the face of the battle was changed; for they withdrew themselves back to the narrow part of the way, and passing within the wall they took post, all save the Thebans, upon the hillock that is in the mouth of the pass, where now stands the stone lion in honour of Leonidas. In that place they defended themselves with their swords, as many as yet had such, ay and with fists and teeth; till the foreigners overwhelmed them with missile weapons, some attacking them in front and throwing down the wall of defence, and others standing around them in a ring.

[link to original Greek text] 226 Rawlinson p188 Thus did the men of Lacedaemon and Thespiae bear themselves. Yet the bravest of them all (it is said) was Dieneces, a Spartan, of whom a certain saying is reported: before they joined battle with the Medes, it was told Dieneces by a certain Trachinian that the enemies were so many, that when they shot with their bows the sun was hidden by the multitude of arrows; will have been being no whit dismayed, but making light of the multitude of the Medes, "Our friend from Trachis," quoth he, "brings us right good news, for if the Medes hide the sun we shall fight them in the shade and not in the sunshine."


[image ALT: zzz. It zzz, as further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

A few of the many arrowheads found at Thermopylae, of the same type as those found in Marathon and Persepolis.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Photo © Livius.Org | Marco Prins, by kind permission.

 p545  [link to original Greek text] 227 This and other sayings of a like temper are recorded of Dieneces, whereby he is remembered. The next after him to earn the palm of valour were, it is said, two Lacedaemonian brothers, Alpheus and Maron, sons of Orsiphantus. The Thespian who gained most renown was one whose name was Dithyrambus, son of Harmatides.

[link to original Greek text] 228 All these, and they that died before any had departed at Leonidas' bidding, were buried where they fell, and there is an inscription over them, which is this:

Four thousand warriors, flower of Pelops' land,

Did here against three hundred myriads stand.

This is the inscription common to all; the Spartans have one for themselves:

Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by,

That here obedient to their words we lie.

That is for the Lacedaemonians, and this for the seer:

Here fought and fell Megistias, hero brave,

Slain by the Medes, who crossed Spercheius' wave;

Well knew the seer his doom, but scorned to fly,

And rather chose with Sparta's king to die.

The inscriptions and the pillars were set there in their honour by the Amphictyons, except the epitaph of the diviner Megistias; that inscription was made for him for friendship's sake by Simonides son of Leoprepes.29

[link to original Greek text] 229 There is a story told concerning two of these three hundred, Eurytus and Aristodemus. Leonidas  p547 had suffered them both to leave the camp, and they were lying at Alpeni, very sick of ophthalmia; they might have both made common cause and returned in safety to Sparta, or if they had no desire to return have died with the rest; but though they might have done one thing or the other, they could not agree, and each followed his own plan. Eurytus, when he learnt of the Persians' circuit, called for his armour and put it on, and bade his helot lead him into the battle; the helot led him thither and then himself fled; and Eurytus rushed into the press and was slain. But Aristodemus' heart failed him, and he stayed behind. Now if Aristodemus alone had been sick, and so returned to Sparta, or if they are done betaken themselves home together, then to my thinking the Spartans would have shown no anger against them; but as it was, when one of the two was slain, and the other had the selfsame pretext to rely upon, yet would not die, they could not but be very wroth with Aristodemus.

[link to original Greek text] 230 Rawlinson p190 Some, then, say that it was thus and with such an excuse that Aristodemus came safe back to Sparta; according to others he had been sent on a message from the camp, and might have come back in time for the battle's beginning, yet would not, but lingered on the way and so saved his life; whereas his fellow-messenger returned for the battle and was there slain.

[link to original Greek text] 231 H & W When Aristodemus returned to Lacedaemon, he was disgraced and dishonoured; this was the manner of his dishonour, that no Spartan would give  p549 him fire, nor speak with him; and they called him for disgrace, Aristodemus the coward.

[link to original Greek text] 232 But he repaired all that was laid to his charge in the fight at Plataeae. It is said too that another of the three hundred, whose name was Pantites, was saved alive, charge a message into Thessaly; he also returned to Sparta, but being there dishonoured hanged himself.

[link to original Greek text] 233 As for the Thebans, whose general was Leontiades, they were for a while with the Greeks and constrained by necessity to fight against the king's army; but as soon as they saw the Persians gaining the upper hand, then, when the Greeks with Leonidas were pressing towards the hillock, the Thebans separated from them and drew nigh to the foreigners, holding out their hands and crying that they were the Persians' men and had been among the first to give earth and water to the king; it was under constraint (they said) that they had come to Thermopylae, and they were guiltless of the harm done to the king; which was the truest word ever spoken; so that by this plea they saved their lives, the Thessalians being there to bear witness to what they said. Howbeit they were not wholly fortunate; for when the foreigners caught them coming, they even slew some of them as they drew near; the most of them were branded by Xerxes' command with the king's marks, from their general Leontiades downwards. This is he whose son Eurymachus long afterwards30 put himself at the head of four hundred Thebans and seized the citadel of Plataeae, but was slain by the Plataeans.

[link to original Greek text] 234 Thus did the Greeks at Thermopylae contend.  p551 Xerxes then sent for Demaratus and questioned him, saying first, "Demaratus, you are a right good man. I hold that proved by the plain truth; for the event has been none other than what you foretold. Now, tell me this: how many are the Lacedaemonians that are left, and how many of them are warriors like these? or is it so with them all?" "O king," said Demaratus, "the Lacedaemonians altogether are many in number, and their cities are many. But what you would know, I will tell you: there is in Lacedaemon a city called Sparta, a city of about eight thousand men, all of them equal to those who have here fought; the rest of the Lacedaemonians are not equal to these; yet they are valiant men." "And how, Demaratus," answered Xerxes, "shall we with least ado master those men? Come, make that plain to me; for you have been their king, and know the plan and order of their counsels."

[link to original Greek text] 235 Rawlinson p192 "O king," Demaratus replied, "if you do in sincerity ask my counsel, it is but right that I should point out to you the best way. It is this: that you should send three hundred ships of your fleet to the Laconian land. There is an island lying off their coasts called Cythera, whereof it was said by Chilon, a man of much wisdom among us, that for the Spartans' advantage Cythera were better beneath the sea than above it; for he ever looked that some such business should spring from thence as I now set before you; not that he had any foreknowledge of your armament, but he dreaded all men's armaments alike. Let them then make that island their station and issue thence to strike fear into the Lacedaemonians; if these have a war of their own on their borders, you will have no cause to fear lest they send  p553 men to save the rest of Hellas from being overrun by your armies: and the enslavement of the rest of Hellas must weaken Laconia, if it be thus left to stand alone. But if you will not do this, then look for that whereof I tell you: a narrow isthmus leads to the Peloponnese; all the Peloponnesians will be there banded together against you, and you may expect battles more stubborn than those that you have fought already. But if you do as I have said, then you may have that isthmus and all their cities without striking a blow."

[link to original Greek text] 236 Next spoke Achaemenes, Xerxes' brother and admiral of the fleet; it chanced that he was present at their converse, and he feared lest Xerxes be over-persuaded to follow Demaratus' counsel. "O king," said he, "I see that you are hearkening to a man who is jealous of your good fortune or perchance is even a traitor to your cause. These are the ways that are dear to the hearts of all Greeks; they are jealous of success and they hate power. Nay, if after the late calamity which has wrecked four hundred of your ships you send away three hundred more from your fleet to sail round the Peloponnese, your enemies will be enough to do battle with you; but while your fleet is united, it is thereby invincible, and your enemies will not so much as be enough to fight; moreover, all your navy will be a help to your army and your army to your navy, both moving together; but if you separate some from yourself, you will be of no use to them, nor they to you. My counsel is rather that you lay your own plans well, and take no account of the business of your adversaries, what battlefields they will choose, and what they will do, and how many they be. They are well able to think  p555 for themselves, and we likewise for ourselves. As for the Lacedaemonians, if they meet the Persians in the field, they will in nowise repair their late hurts."

[link to original Greek text] 237 Rawlinson p194 H & W "Achaemenes," Xerxes answered, "methinks you say well, and I will do as you counsel. But Demaratus, albeit your advice is better than his, says what he supposes to be most serviceable to me: for assuredly I will never believe that he is no friend to my cause; I judge that he is so by all that he has already said, and by what is the truth, namely, that if one citizen prosper another citizen is jealous of hm and shows his enmity by silence, and no one (except he have attained to the height of excellence; and such are seldom seen) if his own townsman asks for counsel will give him what he deems the best advice. But if one stranger prosper, another stranger is beyond all men his well-wisher, and will if he be asked impart to him the best counsel he has. Wherefore I bid you all refrain from maligning Demaratus, seeing that he is a stranger and my friend."

[link to original Greek text] 238 Having thus spoken, Xerxes passed over the place where the dead lay; and hearing that Leonidas had been king and general of the Lacedaemonians, he bade cut off his head and impale it. It is plain to me by this especial proof among many others, that while Leonidas lived king Xerxes was more incensed against him than against all others; else had he never dealt so outrageously with his dead body; for the Persians are of all men known to me the most wont to honour valiant warriors. So they who were thus charged did as I have said.


[image ALT: zzz. It zzz, as further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

Persian cylinder seal from the age of Darius or Xerxes (left) and the modern impression taken from it, showing a Persian king killing a Greek hoplite.

Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Photo © Livius.Org | Marco Prins, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 239 I return now to that place in my history  p557 where it lately left off.31 The Lacedaemonians were the first to be informed that the king was equipping himself to attack Hellas; with this knowledge it was that they sent to the oracle at Delphi, where they received the answer whereof I spoke a little while ago; and the way of their being so informed was strange. Demaratus son of Ariston, being an exile among the Medes, was, as I suppose (reason being also my ally), no friend to the Lacedaemonians, and I leave it to be imagined whether what he did was done out of goodwill or despiteful triumph. Xerxes being resolved to march against Hellas, Demaratus, who was then at Susa and had knowledge of this, desired to send word of it to the Lacedaemonians. But he feared to be detected, and had no other way of acquainting them than this trick: — taking a double tablet, he scraped away the wax from it, and then wrote the king's intent on the wood; which done, he melted the wax back again over the writing, so that the bearer of the tablet thus left blank might not be troubled by the way‑wardens. When the tablet came to Lacedaemon, the Lacedaemonians could not guess its meaning, till at last (as I have been told) Gorgo, Cleomenes' daughter and Leonidas' wife, discovered the trick of herself and advised them to scrape the wax away, when they would find writing on the wood. So doing, they found and read the message, and presently sent it to the rest of the Greeks. This is the story, as it is told.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Hellas in the narrower sense, not including Thessaly.

2 Herodotus' points of the compass are wrong throughout in his description of Thermopylae; the road runs east and west, not north and south as he supposes; so "west" here should be "south" and "east" "north." "In front" and "behind" are equivalent to "west" and "east" respectively.

3 It is to be noted that in 480 the pass of Thermopylae was no longer in Phocian territory.

4 διαδέξιον has been otherwise translated, as meaning "of good augury"; Stein derives it rather from διαδέχεσθαι, supposing the meaning to be "a sacrifice where the portions of the victim are handed round among the sacrificers."

5 Commonly used for mummy-wrappings in Egypt; cp. II.86.

6 200 was the usual complement for a Greek trireme — 170 rowers, 30 fighters.

7 In 97. But Herodotus' total of 3000 there is only partly composed of fifty-oared ships.

8 The figure is wrong. Reckoning 48 choenixes to the medimnus, Herodotus has of course divided 5,283,220 by 48. The right quotient is 110,067¹⁄₁₂. 5,280,000 divided by 48 produces 110,000; 3220 divided by 48 leaves a dividend, after the first stage of division, of 340, and this for some unexplained reason Herodotus has added to the quotient. The medimnus is the chief Attic unit for dry measure; said to be the equivalent of six gallons.

9 More probably, the name (from ἀφίημι, to send off or launch) gave rise to the legend.

10 The Apidanus and Enipeus unite; the whole stream, a tributary of the Peneus, is sometimes called Apidanus and sometimes Enipeus.

11 From λεώς or ληός.

12 The legend, in its main features, originates in the cult of "Zeus Laphystius," a tribal god who, like the Jehovah of the O. T. and the Moloch and Melqart of the Phoenicians, has a right to all first-born, especially of the priestly house. In time human sacrifice is avoided by the substitution of a ram; but even then the first-born child must leave the country.

13 Tidal movement is rare in the Mediterranean. But there is a strong ebb and flood in the Euripus, which is not far from the Malian gulf.

14 This must be a measure not of length but of superficial extent: more than 5000 acres.

15 Lit. dwellers around: neighbouring tribes forming a league, and sending representatives (Pylagori) to a conference held twice a year.

16 In the space between the eastern and western narrow ἔσοδοι.

17 West, properly speaking; "southward" below should be "eastward."

18 That is, Greece.

19 The regular number of the royal body-guard, the so‑called ἱππεῖς. No other translation of this sentence than what I have given is possible; but if "those that had sons" are added to the 300, this is inconsistent with the received tradition that there were only 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. There seems to be no explanation of the matter, except Dr. Macan's theory that Herodotus made a mistake. Of course if ἐπιλεξάμενος could mean "selecting from," the difficulty might be removed; but I do not think it can.

20 The national festival in honour of Apollo, held in September.

Thayer's Note: Full details in the article Carneia in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

21 For which see below, ch. 215, 216.

22 Cp. 200 (note).

23 The expression proves Herodotus' intention of continuing his history beyond 479, the year with which Book IX ends.

24 Plutarch in his life of Cato (13) describes the difficulty which troops under Cato's command encountered in trying to follow it.

25 This is Stein's interpretation; others make οὐδὲν χρηστὴ refer to the ἀτραπός, meaning there "pernicious."

26 The Cercopes, mischievous dwarfs, had been warned against a "μελάμπυγος" enemy. Heracles, to rid the country of them, carried off two on his back, hanging head downwards, in which pose they had every opportunity of observing his title to the above epithet; until their jests on the subject moved him to release them.

27 So that the Persians who came by the Anopaea path, leaving the top of the pass at dawn (cp. 217), could reach the low ground by the early forenoon.

28 Leonidas' body was brought to Sparta and there buried in 440; a column was erected on his grave bearing the names of the three hundred, which Herodotus probably saw.

29 As a matter of fact Simonides composed all three inscriptions; but the epitaph of Megistias was the only one which he made at his own cost.

30 In 431; cp. Thucyd. II.2 ff.

31 220, where Herodotus mentioned the bare fact of the Spartans getting early intelligence of Xerxes' plans against Greece. Now he completes the story.


Lendering's Notes:

α We have now reached the area where the battle of Thermopylae will be fought. For photos of the region, see the article Thermopylae; for an illustrated account of the battle see Thermopylae (480 BCE).

β The Greek word, Περσεΐδῃσι, actually means "descendants of Perseus" and may also refer to the inhabitants of Argos (see  7.150) with whom the Spartans had been at war. In other words, the oracle may very well be authentic.

γ In his account of the fight for the body of Leonidas, Herodotus was clearly inspired by the Iliad, in which we hear about the fight for that of Patroclus.


[image ALT: zzz. It zzz, as further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

This black-figure crater depicts the fight for possession of Patroclus' body in the Trojan war.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Photo © Livius.Org | Marco Prins, by kind permission.


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