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Great Battles

Chris Carey

Publication Date - 24 June 2022

ISBN: 9780198754114

272 pages
8.5 x 5.3 inches

In Stock


The story of Thermopylae, the battle that helped define the identity of the ancient Greeks: how it was fought, how it has been remembered, and what it means for us today.

During the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, a Greek force of approximately 7,000 faced the biggest army ever seen in the Greek peninsula. For three days, the Persians—the greatest military force in the world—were stopped in their tracks by a vastly inferior force, before the bulk of the Greek army was forced to retreat with their rear guard wiped out in one of history's most famous last stands.

In strict military terms it was a defeat for the Greeks. But like the British retreat from Dunkirk or the massacre at the Alamo, this David and Goliath story has taken on the aura of success. Thermopylae has acquired a glamour exceeding the other battles of the Persian Wars, passing from history into myth, and lost none of that appeal in the modern era.

In Thermopylae, Chris Carey analyses the origins and course of this pivotal battle, as well as the challenges facing the historians who attempt to separate fact from myth and make sense of an event with an absence of hard evidence. Carey also considers Thermopylae's cultural legacy, from its absorption into Greek and Roman oratorical traditions, to its influence over modern literature, poetry, public monuments, and mainstream Hollywood movies. This new volume in the Great Battles series offers an innovative view of a battle whose legacy has overtaken its real-life practical outcomes, but which showed that a seemingly unstoppable force could be resisted.


  • The Great Battles Series. The story of the world's most important battles—how they were fought, how they have been commemorated, and the long historical shadows that they have cast
  • The story of Thermopylae—the famous last stand of the severely outnumbered Greek army, which went on to be immortalised in myth and in Hollywood
  • Considers the events of the battle itself, as well as the difficulty of approaching the evidence of a classical event from a modern standpoint
  • How the battle has been remembered, from the immediate aftermath to the present day—and what this tells us

About the Author(s)

Chris Carey, Professor Emeritus of Greek, University College London

Chris Carey was born in Liverpool and educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. He has worked at the University of Cambridge, University of Minnesota, Carleton College, St Andrews, Royal Holloway, and UCL, and taught in the Netherlands, Hungary, Greece, and Serbia. He has worked on Greek lyric poetry, epic, drama, oratory, and law, and is currently working on a commentary on book 7 of Herodotus' History. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2012.


"The book's best contribution: showing the impact Thermopylae had even in its own time-how its meaning resonated with ancient observers and how it helped both self perpetuate, and shaped the development of ancient culture. Carey then seamlessly connects this with the meaning the battle has to modern people and connects it firmly to the present day, tracing its lineage carefully through modern history. Carey shows Thermopylae's legend came to dominate our understanding of it nearly as soon as Xerxes fixed Leonidas's head to a pole and had it paraded before his cheering troops, a fact that greatly complicates efforts to interpret this critically important battle. Fortunately for readers, it's a complication Carey is well equipped to tackle." -- Myke Cole, United States Commission of Military History, International Journal of Military History and Historiography

Table of Contents

    1. Reading Thermopylae: The Problems
    2. The Pass
    3. The Persians
    4. The Greeks
    5. The Battle
    6. Thermopylae Refought
    7. Thermopylae in the Ancient World
    8. The Myth in the Modern Era
    9. And Finally...
    Further Reading

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