), king of Sparta, 17th of the Agids, was one of the sons of ANAXANDRIDES by his first wife, and, according to some accounts, was twin-brother to Cleombrotus (Hdt. 5.39
; Paus. 3.3
He succeeded on the throne his half-brother Cleomenes I., about B. C. 491,his elder brother Dorieus also having previously died [DORIEUS]. When Greece was invaded by Xerxes, the Greek congress, which was held at the Isthmus of Corinth, determined that a stand should be made against the enemy at the pass of Thermopylae, and Leonidas had the command of the force destined for this service.
The number of his army is varionsly stated: according to Herodotus, it amounted to somewhat more than 5000 men, of whom 300 were Spartans; in all probability, the regular band of (so called) ἱππεῖς
selected by the Hippagretae, τοὺς κατεστεῶτας τριηκοσίους
, as Herodotus calls them (comp. Müller, Dor.
The remainder of the Lacedaemonian force was to follow after the celebration of the festival of the Carneia. Plutarch affirms that funeral games were celebrated in honour of Leonidas and his comrades, before their departure from Sparta; according also to him and Diodorus, it was said at the same time by the self-devoting hero, that the men he took with him were indeed few to fight, but enough to die; and, when his wife, Gorgo, asked him what his last wishes were, he answered, " Marry a brave husband and bear brave sons." All this, however, has very much the air of a late and rhetorical addition to the story; nor is it certain that Leonidas and his band looked forward to their own death as the inevitable result of their expedition, though Herodotus tells us that he selected for it such only as had sons to leave behind them, and mentions an oracle besides, which declared that Sparta could not be saved from ruin but by the death of her king. When the Greek army was assembled at Thermopylae, there was a prevalent desire on the part of the Peloponnesians to fall back on the Isthmus, and make their stand against the Persians there; and it was mainly through the influence of Leonidas that the scheme, selfish at once and impolitic, was abandoned.
The sayings ascribed to him before the battle by Plutarch are well-known and characteristic enough of a Spartan, but are probably the rhetorical inventions of a later age. When it was known that the treachery of the Malian Epbialtes had betrayed the mountain path of the Anopaea to the Persians, after their vain attempts to force their way through the pass of Thermopylae, Leonidas, declaring that he and the Spartans under his command must needs remain in the post they had been sent to guard, dismissed all the other Greeks, except the Thespian and Theban forces. Then, before the body of Persians, who were crossing the mountain under Hydarnes, could arrive to attack him in the rear, he advanced from the narrow pass and charged the myriads of the enemy with his handful of troops, hopeless now of preserving their lives, and anxious only to sell them dearly.
In the desperate battle which ensued, Leonidas himself fell soon. His body was rescued by the Greeks, after a violent struggle. On the hillock in the pass, where the remnant of the Greeks made their last stand, a lion of stone (so Herodotus tells us) was set up in his honour; and Pausanias says that his bones were brought to Sparta forty years after, by one named Pausanias; but if he was the same who commanded at the battle of Plataea, " forty" must be an erroneous reading for " four" (see Larcher, ad Herod.
The later story of Leonidas and his followers perishing in a night-attack on the Persian camp is unworthy of credit. (Hdt. 7.175
; Paus. 3.4
; Diod. 11.4
; Plut. de Herod. Mal.
32, Apoph. Lac.; Strab. i. p.10
, ix. p. 429; Ael. VH 3.25
; Just. 2.11
; C. Nep. Them.
3; V. Max. 3.2
, Ext. 3; Cic. de Fin.
2.19, 30, Tusc. Disp.
1.42, 49; Simon. xv. Anthol. Graec.
vol. i. p. 61, ed. Jacobs.)
In the reign of Leonidas we arrive at an exact chronology (says Clinton, F. H.
vol. ii. p. 209), which we have gradually approached in the two preceding reigns of Anaxandrides and Cleomenes I.