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The soldiers, then, in accordance with the orders given them, forming in a compact body fell by night upon the encampment of the Persians, Leonidas leading the attack1; and the barbarians, because of the unexpectedness of the attack and their ignorance of the reason for it, ran together from their tents with great tumult and in disorder, and thinking that the soldiers who had set out with the Trachinian had perished and that the entire force of the Greeks was upon them, they were struck with terror. [2] Consequently many of them were slain by the troops of Leonidas, and even more perished at the hands of their comrades, who in their ignorance took them for enemies. For the night prevented any understanding of the true state of affairs, and the confusion, extending as it did throughout the entire encampment, occasioned, we may well believe, great slaughter; since they kept killing one another, the conditions not allowing of a close scrutiny, because there was no order from a general nor any demanding of a password nor, in general, any recovery of reason. [3] Indeed, if the king had remained at the royal pavilion, he also could easily have been slain by the Greeks and the whole war would have reached a speedy conclusion; but as it was, Xerxes had rushed out to the tumult, and the Greeks broke into the pavilion and slew almost to a man all whom they caught there. [4] So long as it was night they wandered throughout the entire camp seeking Xerxes—a reasonable action; but when the day dawned and the entire state of affairs was made manifest, the Persians, observing that the Greeks were few in number, viewed them with contempt; the Persians did not, however, join battle with them face to face, fearing their valour, but they formed on their flanks and rear, and shooting arrows and hurling javelins at them from every direction they slew them to a man. Now as for the soldiers of Leonidas who guarded the passes of Thermopylae, such was the end of life they met.

1 Hdt. 7.223 knows nothing of this assault by the Greeks upon the Persian camp, and it is of course altogether incredible; he says that the fighting began about the time "when the market-place is crowded," i.e. in the forenoon, on the initiative of the Persians.

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    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.223
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