Leonidas, and the last stand at Thermopylae

28mm Spartan King by Gorgon Miniatures
Leonidas (c. 530-480 B.C.) a king of Sparta from about 490 B.C.

Gorgon Miniatures released a set of Spartans sculpted by Steve Saleh a while back.
They are typical of Mr. Saleh's work, clean and nicely posed. I felt the drapery on this one was very nice indeed.

The figure is a bit large scale (jumbo) 28mm but is compatible with my
Wargames Foundry "World of the Greeks" and other older figures. I changed out the oversized
sword and added a spear from a Vendel hoplite. It is a bit thick but it is sturdy.

Painting the Gorgon shield design is kind of fun, for a one-off! Leonidas is
depicted with a Gorgon design on the statue at Sparta- so that's good enough for me, although he might have used the scorpion (see below).
Sometime later, during the Peloponnesian Wars, the Spartans began switching to the lamda symbol to reduce
confusion against other Greeks. Blue on blue casualties happened.

I just drew the design on with a micron pen then painted over that, it's a little rough when blown up and zoomed into...
but I prefer this to transfers, some of the Greek transfers available today are far too gaudy for my tastes. 

I changed this figure by exchanging a spear for the sword, since I'm fickle about such things.

Here are some of the figures (above) in progress. After priming with white, I block in the armor with a dark brown tint shade
(mixed paint and matt Modge Podge, which makes a contrast color tint). Then the flesh base and tunic color is applied.
The bronze is painted last after the figures are sprayed with matt varnish. Some prefer to use the matt varnish to

dull the metallic look. That has the effect of scaling back the metal. I tend to go with bright and shiny at least for Greeks.

            Unlike the movies, and graphic novels, Leonidas was at least fifty and
maybe older at Thermopylae.

Gorgon Studios Etruscan range is excellent  as well, and can also be used as early Greeks
Which I did for my Thermopylae Spartans with bronze bell armor.

Here's where you can get this and Gorgon Studios other Spartans and Etruscans:


Another Leonidas version, this time in 60mm. From the multi-pose Conte Toy set.
Some say Leonidas may have used the Scorpion symbol, others say Gorgon.
This is a cool toy set, and fun to paint. I had to scrape off the lambda from the shield,
but I kept the (slightly) over done edging details. This dramatic daylight setting (backyard) works well
for this larger model.

Inspiring Thermopylae artwork

The Glory That Was Greece

This painting was one of my first exposures to the Thermopylae story as a child, and it is from a National Geographic issue,
which was on my dad's shelf. This painting was is by H.M. Herget, a prolific illustrator for National Geographic  in the 1930's and 1940's.
This appeared in the March 1944 National Geographic Magazine "The Glory That Was Greece."
The caption is the famous quote: "Go tell the Spartans, oh stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie."
Here Leonidas on the left is telling the great majority of the Greeks to retreat, since the pass has been outflanked.
His bodyguard of 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians (plus their helots and attendants), made preparations to act as a
rear guard to allow the rest to escape. 400 Thebans also stayed behind but we are told they surrendered to Xerxes' Persians.

The Last Stand at Thermopylae

This painting by Louis S. Glanzman "The Battle of Thermopylae" is also from a National Geographic issue. Most folks remember fondly (as I do) from the brilliant compilation book:
"Greece and Rome: Builders of Our World (The Story of Man)" which was printed in 1977 and has never left my library since.
This is my favorite painting of Thermopylae because it captures the sense of the dominance of the terrain, the Persian overwhelming
odds over the Spartans, and the fierce resistance of the armored and trained Greek hoplites, bolstered by the small force of Spartans.

Despite their overwhelming numbers the Persians were unable to break through the 7000 Greeks ensconced in the pass for days. The defensive area was so narrow that the Greeks
took shifts and rotated the defense. Fresh hoplites were available to stop each wave of Persians dashing themselves
against the Greek shield walls. Eventually, as the well told story goes, a local man told the Persian King how to navigate a narrow pass around the
Greeks, and their position was outflanked. The painting captures the dramatic scene when the Spartans
were surrounded by the Immortals, while other Persian forces are pushing along the coast.
The Spartans retreated to higher ground and made their last stand. Leonidas was eventually killed and his Spartans fought to the last man.

Feigned flight

This painting of "Leonidas at Thermopylae " is a modern work by Giuseppe Rava. I have it on my wall.
It is an inspiring print and very much captures the fury as the Spartans deliberately fell back and lured the Persians into pursuing them.
Then the disciplined Spartans halted, about faced, locked shields, and charged back into the surprised and disordered Persian ranks scattering them,
even forcing some to fall over the cliff's edge. Mr. Rava captures the violence and fury of the massed bronze armored phalanx
unleashed on the lesser armored Persians whose wicker shields were no match for the longer Greek spears, and bronze covered shields.


Thermopylae today, is next to a major highway. The ocean has receded hundreds of yards since 480 BC. The scrub covered hills remain,
and the rocks, and one can get an idea of the ground. It looks so much like my native California. A lot of rocks, grasses, dust, and chaparral.
This area is somewhere close to the Phocian wall, which was the Greeks rallying point.
(Photos from the web: attribution needed).

The 1962 version of 300 Spartans, my favorite movie about Thermopylae.
Spartans were not on steroids.

Don't forget the helots! They were the equivalent of feudal serfs and backbone of the Spartan army.
Helots carried the load, and food, so the Spartan hoplite could march and fight.
They also served as psiloi (skirmishers) with rocks, javelins, and occasional bows. Their numbers
and their dead are never recorded, each Spartan would have at least one attendant.

"Gates of Fire" a novel  by Steven Pressfield is an excellent work of historical fiction, and great inspiration.

"In ''Gates of Fire,'' Steven Pressfield gives the reader a perspective no ancient historian offers, a soldier's-eye view.
The story is told by a witness to the battle... even after he has been given permission to return home.
He survives the battle, but only long enough to dictate his account to a Persian historian."

Mary Lefkowitz, a professor of classics at Wellesley


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