What Is the Thermopylae in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, Thermopylae was a narrow pass located between the mountains and the sea in central Greece. It was a strategic location that guarded the entrance to southern Greece from invaders coming from the north. The word “Thermopylae” means “hot gates” in Greek, referring to the natural hot springs that were located in the area.

The Battle of Thermopylae

The most famous event associated with Thermopylae is the Battle of Thermopylae which took place in August 480 BC. This battle was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states led by King Leonidas I of Sparta and a massive invading army of Persian soldiers led by King Xerxes I.

The Spartan Stand

The Persians had a significant numerical advantage, with estimates ranging from 100,000 to over 1 million soldiers compared to the Greeks’ force of around 7,000 soldiers. However, Leonidas and his men were able to hold off the Persians for three days at Thermopylae, thanks in part to their superior training and military tactics.

The Betrayal

On the third day of battle, however, a local resident named Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks by showing Xerxes a secret path that allowed him to outflank and surround them. Realizing they were about to be overwhelmed, Leonidas dismissed most of his troops while he and a small group of Spartans remained behind to fight to their deaths.

The Legacy of Thermopylae

Despite being outnumbered and ultimately defeated, the Battle of Thermopylae has become legendary for its demonstration of courage and sacrifice in defense of one’s homeland. The story has been retold countless times throughout history as an example of bravery against overwhelming odds.

Modern Interpretations

The battle has also been interpreted in modern times as a symbol of resistance against tyranny and oppression. The phrase “molon labe,” which means “come and take them,” was reportedly spoken by Leonidas in response to Xerxes’ demand that the Greeks surrender their weapons. It has since become a popular motto among gun rights activists in the United States.


In conclusion, Thermopylae was an important location in ancient Greece due to its strategic position guarding the entrance to southern Greece. The Battle of Thermopylae, fought there in 480 BC, has become legendary for its demonstration of courage and sacrifice against overwhelming odds. Despite being ultimately defeated, the Greeks’ stand at Thermopylae has inspired countless retellings and interpretations throughout history.