Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Thermopylae 490b - The Immortals attack

It would now have been about mid-afternoon on that hot August day. Sitting up on his throne near the West Gate, Xerxes was losing patience. He must have expected to have taken the wall within a couple of hours of the attack starting. Even if there had been additional defences behind the Middle Gate, Xerxes must have been confident that he would have overcome all resistance by this time. He had even given his men orders to bring him some live Greeks for interrogation before supper.

Yet here he was no further forward. The cautious and sensible move would have been to withdraw the Medes and send in the Hyrkanians or Kashshites. These men, like the Medes, were as well armoured as men in the Persian army were likely to be. They came from wealthy lands that could afford rudimentary training for their young men and were experienced, reliable troops.

But Xerxes seems to have lost his temper – or at least his patience. He called for Hydarnes and sent in the Immortals.

These 10,000 men were the elite of the entire Persian army. They were professional, full time soldiers who underwent detailed training and remorseless drilling. If anyone could brush aside these impudent Greeks, Xerxes must have thought, it was the Immortals. But although superbly trained veterans, the Immortals carried only the same weaponry as the Medes. Like them they suffered from having short spears and broad-bladed arrows that made little impact on the Greek armour and from having wicker shields and light armour that collapsed under the heavy Greek spears.

Brave and determined, the Immortals pushed forward to the attack. They shot their arrows and assaulted the wall, but to no effect. Their discipline made them less vulnerable to Spartan sallies than had been the Medes so they lost fewer men, but they could not take the wall. After some furious fighting these men too were withdrawn.

from "The Battle of Thermopylae" by Rupert Matthews.

Buy your copy HERE

Book Description

30 Sep 2008 Campaign in Context
Tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie. One of the most remarkable actions in ancient or modern military history took place at Thermopylae in 480BC. Rupert Matthews has personally examined the battlefield in order to try to explain how 300 Spartans could hold at bay the hordes of the Persian Emperor Xerxes. This was no vain sacrifice; the delay gave breathing space for the Greek states to organise their defence, and ultimately defend successfully their homelands. Among other intriguing revelations the author explains the importance of the half-ruined wall that sheltered the Spartans against the onslaught. With concise diagrams and maps of the entire campaign, the reader can begin to understand the extraordinary, apparently impossible outcome of the war.

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