Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

I started this one on the way home from Italy, but I was already reading a book on the train (my previous blog entry), so this one had to wait a few days.

With the release of 300 (which I’ve read and seen), it seems there’s lots of interest in Thermopylae (Hot Gates in ancient Greek), a battle between around 10,000 Greeks led by the famous 300 knights of Sparta against the hordes (perhaps 300,000) of Persian King Xerxes (who a famous XML parser is named after). The Greeks held off the Persians for three days of intense fighting. All the Spartans save one died in the battle (his story is good for another entry some time).

This book is actually a story of the life of a typical Greek of the day, who barely survives the battle and tells Xerces the story of his life and the way the Spartans fight in hopes that Xerces will learn some useful information. The book actually only spends a small part of its pages on the battle, which is good – I think the author paints an authentic picture of ancient Greece, including despair, hunger, longing, brutality, and the rest of the adjectives that could describe ancient life.

By being a non-Spartan, a lot of the issues around the laws of Lycurgus and the Messenians (also called helots, slaves of the Spartans) were brought forward.

This is an engaging and interesting read, especailly if you’d like to learn more about Sparta in a very accessible format.


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