When Leonidas found out that he was betrayed and that Persians were coming behind their backs, he sent his Greek allies back home so they could fight in later battles. He kept 300 Spartans and 400 Thebans with him to hold off Persian advance. Of their own free will, 700 Thespians stayed as well, refusing to abandon Leonidas. Herodotus wrote this about Thespians “Hence they lived with the Spartans and died with them.“
After Leonidas was killed, Xerxes I ordered for his body to be crucified and his head cut off. But Spartans managed to protect the body of their dead king and bury it on the battlefield. About forty years later his remains were exhumed and returned to Sparta.
After Leonidas martyr death in defense of Greece, a hero cult around him was created in Sparta and a hero-shrine was built in his honor. His cult lasted until the 2nd century AD.
On the site of the Thermopylae battle, ancient Greeks placed a monument in memory of Leonidas and his men. Under a stone lion, which was a clear homage to his name which meant “a son of the lion“, stood an epitaph that stated: “Go tell the Spartans, you who read: We took their orders and here lie dead.“
Even though Holywood depicts Leonidas as no negotiations type, he was actually rather a good diplomat. During his short reign, he managed to form a coalition of Greek states to oppose the Persian threat. Considering how deeply divided Greeks were up to that point, that could be considered as quite the achievement.
Leonidas and his wife Gorgo are actually blood relatives. Her father, Cleomenes I, ruled Sparta before Leonidas and he was his half-brother. Meaning that Gorgo married her half-uncle. They married even before Leonidas came to power, while she was still in early teens.
Leonidas was highly regarded over the whole Greece even during his lifetime. Proof of this is the fact that he was chosen to personally lead allied Hellenic armies against Persian invasion. After his death, even though Spartan military reputation and power were at their peak, allies decided that an Athenian general should lead them.
Even though in modern depictions of the battle of Thermopylae Leonidas is shown as a strong and muscly middleaged man, at the time he was actually in his sixties. Whit that in mind we can be sure beyond a doubt that he was a skilled general with a lot of experience.
According to the prophecy of the Oracle at Delphi either the city of Sparta would fall, or the Spartans would grieve for a dead king, from Heracles’ line. With the death of Leonidas at Thermopylae, it has been said that prophecy came true.
Even though the myth tells us about Leonidas going to the Thermopylae with only 300 brave soldiers, Spartans also brought auxiliary perioikoi troops and some helots as well, totaling in about 1200 men. And they had allies from other Greek cities waiting for them at the battlefield, with the entire army numbering about 7000 Greek hoplites.
Before the battle of Thermopylae Persian emperor Xerxes I waited for four days. He believed that the Greeks led by Leonidas would withdraw in front of his huge army. As the Spartan king was determined to slow down Persian advance, he didn’t budge, and on the fifth day the famous battle started and lasted for 3 days.
At the battle of Thermopylae Xerxes I offered Spartans to spare their lives if they give up their arms. Leonidas replied in a laconic fashion with simple “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” (“Come and take them“). That phrase became a symbol of stubborn defiance.
Shortly after Leonidas coronation, someone told him that he besides his title, he was not at all superior to other Spartans. Leonidas replied: “But were I not better than you, I should not be king.” He wasn’t referring just to his bloodline, but to his proven abilities he had shown during his training and battles he was involved in. He thought that made him more qualified to rule than his ancestry.
As third in line to the throne, it was unlikely that Leonidas would ever become a king. But his eldest brother Cleomenes I was considered insane and was dethroned even before he died. And his second brother Dorieus, who had left Sparta when Cleomenes I was chosen to be king, died during his adventures in Sicily years before the Spartan throne was left empty. That left the youngest of three brothers, Leonidas, as the only heir of the crown.
As third child of King Anaxandridas II Leonidas was the last in the line for the throne. Because of that, he went to Agōgē, a Spartan public school in which the young boys trained to become fearless Spartan warriors. The firstborn sons of the ruling families didn’t have to attend there. That made Leonidas one of the few Spartan kings who had undergone the infamously unrelenting training of Spartan youth.
King Leonidas belonged to the Agiad dynasty of Sparta, the rulers of which claimed to be from the bloodline of Heracles, the demigod and mortal son of Zeus, the King of Olympian Gods.
Leonidas was the son of the Spartan king Anaxandrides. He became king when his older half-brother Cleomenes I died under violent, and slightly mysterious, circumstances in 490 B.C. Leonidas achieved lasting fame for his personal sacrifice at the Battle of Thermopylae. Forty years after the battle, Sparta retrieved Leonidas’ remains, and a shrine was built in his honor.