What If the 300 spartans beat the Persians at Thermopolae?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by torek, Mar 12, 2009.

  1. torek Member

    Mar 4, 2009
    How would this change the course of history? Leonidas Forever!
  2. Admiral Matt Member

    Jan 18, 2004
    And by extension, what if Luxembourg had defeated the Nazis?
  3. Atreus Deceased

    All the other greeks who were at thermopylae get rather annoyed that the Spartans take all the credit?
  4. Geekhis Khan I'm Not Dead Yet...

    Dec 15, 2008
    The vast cubicle steppes of Delmarvastan
    What if the Les Bos had lost to the Persian redecorators? Mrs. Garrison forever! :D

    Sorry...that episode was on again last night and I couldn't resist... :eek:
  5. von Adler Generallöjtnant

    Jun 21, 2005
    Stockholm, Sweden
    The Thebans probably do not switch sides. Spartan prestige is not as high as it would be (the heroic death meant more to rally Greece than a victory would), in all, I think the Persians would still be defeated at Plataiai.
  6. Deadtroopers Well-Known Member

    Mar 12, 2009
    With a little thought...

    I get the impression that only von Adler takes this thread seriously.
    A couple of points - 1) The battle was lost when Hydarnes' Immortals outflanked the Hellenic position via the Anopia track and attack in Leonidas' rear. 2) It was a Hellenic force numbering between 4 and 8 thousand hoplites under the overall command of the Spartans that was conducting the defence,which was a holding action undertaken while the rest of central and southern Greece mobilised. This mobilisation was delayed by religous priorities.

    Let's explore an alternative outcome in more detail.

    Leonidas had posted the 1000 Phokian hoplites to protect his flank on the Anopia track - it was their home ground: there were several Phokian defensive works in the pass, one of which, the Middle Gate, had been renovated by Leonidas and was the position he chose to anchor the defence.

    A small alteration would prolong the holding action - Leonidas dispatching Spartan officers to direct the Phokians. Instead of retiring to a hill thinking they were the Persian objective and being masked and bypassed, the Phokians form phalanx and dish out similar casualties to the Immortals as had already been inflicted by the main force. La Gaurde recule.

    The defence is prolonged enough for the Karneia religous festival to be completed. The Spartan army would arrive at the pass 4 days later, based on their rate of march to Marathon 10 years earlier. We can expect similar deployments by the other Hellenic states as took place for the Plataea campaign the following year, with the addition, as von Adler points out, of perhaps 10,000 Thebans. There was already an advance force of 400 Thebans with Leonidas, probably the Sacred Band and auxilliaries.

    Leonidas is now in a position to undertake an offensive, in restricted ground unsuitable for cavalry, with 45-50,000 hoplites. The stage is set for
    a slaughter greater than Cannae, Carrhae and Adrianople; perhaps of all of them together if we take the highest reasonable estimate of Persian numbers.

    What happens thereafter depends on the fate of the Hellenic fleet covering
    Leonidas' flank at Artemesion. If events unfolded as OTL, they would be forced to retire. If this happens before the completion of the Karneia, landings take place behind the East Gate' Leonidas is assailed from the rear and is destroyed as OTL but leaving an even greater legend. If after the Karneia but before the arrival of the main forces, there is a chance - and I put it no more than that - of a succesful back to back defence followed by the destruction of the Persian army. More likely Leonidas is overwhelmed and 'Plataea' brought forward to that years campaign season, probably at
    Chaeronea, the next choke point on Xerxes' line of advance.

    Having retired down the Euboean channel in a post Karneia scenario, the Hellenic fleet would be presented with an opprtunity to hammer the Persian
    fleet in restricted waters carrying out a landing. Note Leonidas will still probably be overwhelmed.

    In both post Karneia scenarios I would think Xerxes, seeing the possibilty of an almighty cock up would turn over command to Mardonius and get the hell out of Dodge. This time however, minus a fleet to cover or carry him, he would have to withdraw by land to the Hellespont with Greeks, Macedonians and Thessalians rising on the news of Hellenic victories. He could well be cut down on the way.

    In the instances of Leonidas being killed at the pass, history might proceed pretty much as it did. There might have been a change of monarch and revolts across the empire, but this was pretty much what happened every time there was a succession. If Leonidas and the fleet had held on until relieved and gained a massive victory? All that was holding the Greeks together was fear of Persia, the most that would have happened I think would have been a campaign or campaigns to liberate the cities of Ionia, the Greek Isles and Cyprus, after which normal service would be resumed.

    Minus the Athenian Empire. The Delphic League was again a consequence of fear of Persia, that and Athenian prestige for Salamis, which of course doesn't happen. No League - no empire, No empire - no Peloponnesian War.

    I think this is a long enough post. I can sketch further possibilities, but to do a proper time line justice I'll have to recall some loans and aquire more material. I have established however, I hope, that a Laconic victory is feasible with one small alteration to reality.

    Cheers, this is fun.
  7. Leistungsfähiger Amerikan Angry American with Guns

    Nov 27, 2008
    America City(Washington DC)
    Nice first post and welcome to the site!
  8. Deadtroopers Well-Known Member

    Mar 12, 2009
    Leistungsfähiger Amerikan, I thank you!
    Must get some sleep, but I will post some more when I have refreshed my overview of OTL.
  9. bernard patton Banned

    Jan 30, 2009
    London, UK
    Wouldn't the Greeks eventually die of exaustion? As I understand it the Persians lost about 20,000 men in 3 days. With modern estimates of 250,000 and ancient estimates of up to 2,500,000 Persians, and if Xerxes is willing to win no matter what the cost, we're looking at a battle that could potentially last anywhere between a month and a year.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2009
  10. Atreus Deceased

    Not necessisarily, although I can see exhaustion setting in sooner or later. But history is filled with examples of long, active sieges. And, for reasons that Deadtroopers outlined rather well, the battle is not going to stay in the same stage indefinitly. Relativly soon, the Spartan main army will arrive (as long as they are interested in doing so; IIRC there were many who favored a stand at the Isthmus of Corinth), and with them reinforcements from various other greek states. Sooner or later, the battle is going to be decided one way or another. In addition, the Greeks made a habit of rotating the forces engaged in activly holding the pass, which will ease the burden of exhaustion and attrition.

    And this assumes that Xerxes is willing to keep pouring men into the breech irregardless of the cost, for as long as it takes to win, and that no parts of his army mutiny at this idea.

    One other note: Xerxes himself may be dead by the time that the Greeks show up to aid the pass's defenders. IIRC, the Greeks at thermopylae inflicted substantial casualties on the Persian leadership. As I recall, their defense of Thermopylae resulted in the deaths of many generals, including two brothers of Xerxes, and at one point almost broke through to the king of kings himself. So a prolonged battle of Thermopylae may lead to more of the Persian leadership dying before the issue is decided. Obviously, it is hard to be sure whether or not any specifc people would die, but it is not unimaginable to see Mardonius, Hydarnes (especially if the Phocians fight off the Immortals), Artabazus, or even Xerxes himself falling to the Hellenic spears.