At the Hot Gates : An Account of the Battle of Thermopylae
Overview - Twelve-year old Agis runs away from his training barracks to follow the 300 Spartan companions that King Leonidas is leading north to stop the Persian advance. He tracks the marching hoplites, always keeping out of sight of their scouts. Then one day, he lets his guard down and two Spartan soldiers manage to capture him. Read more...
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More About At the Hot Gates by Donald Samson
Twelve-year old Agis runs away from his training barracks to follow the 300 Spartan companions that King Leonidas is leading north to stop the Persian advance. He tracks the marching hoplites, always keeping out of sight of their scouts. Then one day, he lets his guard down and two Spartan soldiers manage to capture him. At first they suspect he is a spy, but when he opens his mouth to speak, they realize that he is one of their own. They march him back to camp and present the boy to Leonidas for judgment. Leonidas tests the boy to determine that he is freeborn and not an escaped slave, a helot. Once the king is satisfied, he summons his companions to pass judgment upon the boy who has left his barracks and abandoned his "loyalty group," his agela. Strict obedience is a virtue among the Spartans, and breaking rules is severely punished. However, when the Spartan warriors hear of the boy's resolve to join them to fight the Persians and his feat of having tracked them undetected for so many days and surviving off the land, they approve of his high spirits. Leonidas, however, reminds them he has broken the law, and proclaims the lenient punishment of a single lash, to remind him that a Spartan never turns his back in battle. One man steps forward from the collected troops to deliver the punishment. It is the one man Agis has come to see, yet the one man he dreads being disgraced before: his father. Agis had followed the Spartan contingent as much to be with his father as to give battle to the Persians. His father, Nikandros, delivers the lashing, breaking the stick on his son's back with one blow. Then Leonidas, guessing their relationship, tells Nikandros to take the boy back to his companions and look after him. In this way, Agis is folded into his father's band of friends, warriors who defend one another's backs in battle. The following day, they encounter another troop of warriors from the town of Thespiae, also on route to stand against the Persians. Leonidas welcomes their support, but points out that the Thespian hoplites all make their living as farmers, stone-carvers, weavers and the like, yet every one of the Spartans is trained only to be a warrior. Leonidas makes it clear that his troops will take on the brunt of the fighting, and will keep the other Greeks in reserve. They reach the Hot Gates, a narrow pass between the mountains and the cliffs overlooking the waters of the gulf. It is one of the "choke points" of Greece, a narrow passage around the mountains that anyone traveling south must pass through. It is here that the Persian forces will have to pass, and here where the Greeks will make their stand. The name given to the pass has its origins in the hot springs that flow there. The Greeks find remnants of a wall that had once been built to defend this site. Leonidas puts the Greek reserves to work to rebuild the wall, and his Spartans take over the area before it to stretch, exercise and rest while awaiting the Persians. It does not take long before riders approach the pass, scouts looking to see what resistance they will find. Leonidas banters with the scouts, who scorn the paltry number of Spartans intending to hold back the irresistible force of the Persian army. The Spartans are unimpressed. They prepare for the Persian attack at next dawn. Although his father wants him safely away from the battle, Leonidas places Agis in a protected lookout so he can watch the road ahead and give warning. In this way, Agis watches the battle unfold and the tactics of the Spartans without putting himself into harm's way. For two days the Spartans hold the pass. The Persian king throws his personal elite forces, the Immortals, against them, but to no avail. The Spartans suffer loses, but the Persian dead are piled so high that battle has to be repeatedly halted to drag them out of the way so that they can continue fighting. Then word comes that the Greeks have been betrayed. A traitor has revealed a goat path over the mountain and the Persian forces are already crossing so they can attack the Greeks from behind. Realizing that he cannot hold the pass when attacked from before and behind, Leonidas sends all the Greek reserves away, resolved that his Spartans will stand to the last man. He orders Agis to lead one of the hoplites who had been blinded in battle back to Sparta. They are to return and report that those who remained have been true to the common law of Sparta, never to retreat from battle. With a heavy heart, Agis obeys this last order from his king, departs from his father, and leads the wounded hoplite back to Sparta.