300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae: Herodotus's Real History

Students may be familiar with this famous battle from its depiction in Zack Snyder's movie 300, based on Frank Miller's graphic novel. In this lesson students learn about the historical background to the battle and are asked to ponder some of its legacy, including how history is reported and interpreted from different perspectives. They will read from Herodotus's account of the battle at Thermopylae, the narrow pass where 300 Spartans and their Greek allies made their last-ditch stand against tens of thousands of Xerxes's invading army. Although the Spartans were defeated and annihilated at Thermopylae, the battle played an important part in the Greek resistance to this second and final Persian invasion.

Guiding Questions

Why was the battle at Thermopylae important?

Learning Objectives

Trace major events of the battle at Thermopylae and understand the significance of the conflict.

Compare the leaders and the armies of the Greeks and the Persians and understand what they reveal about ancient Greek and Persian culture.

Become familiar with the version of the story told by the ancient historian Herodotus, the father of history.

Understand that historical events can be interpreted from more than one perspective.

Recognize the geography of ancient Persia and ancient Greece.

Understand how ancient people overcame the challenges of the natural world without the benefits of modern technology (through the construction of an ancient pontoon bridge).

Reflect on the enduring lessons of Thermopylae.