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I'm thrilled to say this episode of history, it is brought to you by Vodafone, Curiosity has no limits of Vodafone. You can follow your curiosity with unlimited data on Ireland's best performing mobile network. Like I am old enough to remember the world before unlimited data.
But I just still to this day, don't really know what we did. I guess we had to. I thought we had to prepare things better to use books and like have dossiers with us. I got a question for you. You can find out the answer in the break that comes in this podcast. But this is one that you can try and look up using your Vodafone Unlimited data. I'd Professor Bartlett on the podcast the other day, and he's identified 27 female monarchs in medieval Europe, 27 queen pregnant women actually ruled in their own right in medieval Europe, but none of them were from Ireland.
None of them appear in the list of high kings mind or any of the other kings, I guess. Why find out during the break? The other day, I drove from Cork to Dublin, right. And on the fly, using my Vodafone Unlimited data, I was able to plot this itinerary. We checked out these amazing castles, would it? Kahir Castle. We checked out the Rock of Cashel. I mean, that place is unbelievable. And then we went to Dunhams and then my family went completely mad and didn't let me stop anywhere else.
But I mean, that was all just done in the passenger seat of a car as my wife was driving and my kids were all screaming in the back. And I was able to do that with the supercomputer in my hand connected to the World Wide Web, thanks to Vodafone. You know what? You people are fans of history. That's why I listen to this podcast. You've got to get the best performing network. I don't one of those networks, there's good in the cities.
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We need to separate myth from reality here. These are not superhuman, militarily indestructible. These are not the human equivalents of the 2000 Terminator. No, they bled just like you and me. They had politics, that culture. They were a bit neach agreed and they were pretty fierce on the battlefield. But we shouldn't fall for all of the myths of their subsequent fanboys. Andrew Baylis, the senior lecturer in Greek history at University of Birmingham. He's such an engaging speaker.
You're going to love this episode. And we talked about Spartan, particularly talked about the Battle of Thermopylae. Now, yeah, I'm terrible at maths, but I think it's the big anniversary because we think the battle from Uplay was in for eighteen B.C. It is now 2020 and therefore I think that's 2500. So that is pretty. That's a big kind of history. 2500 years ago, a Spartan led coalition took on the Persians at the hot gates in northern Greece.
The battle that resulted from the first attested battles in European history was bloody and lasted for days and has become one of the most celebrated battles, one of the most written about in European military history. It was, of course, a crushing defeat. But from that defeat came the legend of the Spartans. This is a great episode. It's a big anniversary, 2500 years. If you want to watch more ancient documentaries, you can do so. History hit TV.
It's my Netflix for history. You go and check it out. You're going to love it. Documentaries on there, hundreds of audio podcasts. We've find more and more documentaries on their all the time. Thank you. Thanks to you. Thanks to the subscribers for all the support. We're building it better. Better all the time. And we've also launched a new podcast with the brilliant Tristan Hughes. The podcast is called The Ancients. I mean, this is a podcast.
So listlessness of ancient history. If you love ancient history, listen to this. There's not realize, hey, this is a podcast for all those people that didn't think they like the subject. No, this is a podcast. If you don't like ancient history, don't listen. This podcast, you've got to be into it, man. But if you are, it's got everything you need. It's going to hit all your buttons. So check out the Ancients new history podcast.
In the meantime, let's hear Andrew Baylis enjoy.
Andrew, thank you very much for coming on the podcast. Well, thank you for inviting me. Is hailed as one of the great battles in the Western military historiography. First of all, did it happen as we kind of understand it, like a small group of Spartans and their allies holding back a giant tide of Persians until they were betrayed is like, let's just get the facts straight back, then ask about how important it was.
Okay, brilliant. So when you said it didn't happen, as we understand it, I was instantly going to ask you, what do you mean as we understand it, as in popular film and television or as we understand it from reading our sources, someone who's watched our film a few times, you know, with all the supernatural beasts.
And no giant war rhinos or anything like that on the inside, that's for sure. So it's definitely amplified even the sources that we consider to be reliable. Herodotus was writing 50 years after the events. Clearly, by then, stories had been elaborated, blown out of proportion. Clearly, the number of Persians is a massive exaggeration of Herodotus gives two and a half million men and no modern scholar would ever suggest it was anything even approaching that modern estimates total guesses, but they're sort of 100000 to 300000.
So the basic story of 300 Spartans plus several thousand other allies who are often overlooked, holding off massive numbers of Persians. Yes, the more elaborate side of things, no less.
Let's talk about its importance, because as a fan of the history of the Persian invasions, I can never understand why you don't get more Platania.
Why do we all talk about not being able to I mean, Solemnis, I get it. I love naval history. But Pelletiere, is this like crushingly decisive battle surely, isn't it? And it's the one we never hear about.
We should talk about lithium more. We should talk about lithium much more because the Persian invasion is ended by political. Salomon's gets the ball rolling, but without plotty, the Persian invasion would potentially have been a success. So you're 100 percent right to focus on Pelletiere and someone who works on Sparta. I want us to focus on Platania more because that's where you really get the Spartan Army in action. There's 5000 Spartan citizens. There's 5000 periodically. There's 35000 Helots.
According to Reuters, this is the biggest army that Sparta ever puts in the field. And the way Herodotus describes it, the Spartans and their allies from Taji are almost on their own against the Persians. So that's the great success. But we focus on the heroic failure because it's so much more dramatic in that way, 300 men holding off, millions in a narrow pass. It just sounds so much better. And I think people can get into a hero worshipping kind of thing of the Spartans sacrificing themselves when the odds are so much against them.
Whereas Patea Well, it's a win. I always make a joke and say you can't make a good film about Alexander the Great because he wins. You need the heroic failure to get that dramatic effect.
Okay, let's just wind back a bit. We've got Persians decide to Persians, Asia's great superpower first, I suppose, and they decide to invade these troublesome Greeks in 80 B.C. They cross that spot. Their first contact is a battle at Thermopolis. Tell us what happens.
Well, their first contact is technically at Thermopolis. The Greeks try to hold them off Tempy in facilely before that. But they realize that while they're warned, they're going to be too easily surrounded. So that block in the narrow pass isn't going to work. So then they plan B is block them at Thermopylae, where it's 15 and a half meters wide at its most narrow. So it makes sense as a bottleneck opportunity to hold the Persians up. And the Greeks are allied under Spartan leadership, which is why you have Leonhard ask the king of Sparta commanding the allied Greek force.
But it coincides with the Olympic Games and the festival of the car near where the Greeks or all the Greeks have a truce for the Olympic Games. But most of the Peloponnesian Greeks have a strict truce for the month of the Kanayo, so they can't go out en masse. So that's it's described that are 300 Spartans is a force designed to delay the Persians until the rest of the Spartans can come in full numbers.
So we have this narrow road between the cliffs and the sea. There's an important naval aspect, but we can come onto that a bit. Let's get to the heart of your work of part of these super warriors that Reuters makes out of a kind of stretching and relaxing, because for them, a day of battle is frankly preferable to a day of training because their training is so hard, they like to relax into the battles.
Well, if we trust the latest sources, yes, the Spartan regime upbringing is the most brutal training regime imaginable. And the Spartans spend every all of every day brutally exercising and strictly monitored and controlled. But when you look at the earlier sources, the more contemporary sources, it's not a lot less clear than that. Certainly in modern scholarship, there's definitely a. The Ring of the Spartans happening right now where people are starting to argue, well, come on, look at how much time the Spartans actually spend fighting.
Given that there's almost no description of them doing any form of actual military training, their lifestyle was probably significantly less restrictive than the latest sources certainly paint them as and certainly much less restrictive than popular culture. Visions of Sparta, but Spartan citizens are not allowed or not expected to do other forms of work. So they have the time and leisure to spend time exercising, hunting, engaging in communal activities which will be useful when it comes to military performance later on.
So where is all the other Greek hoplites are amateurs who have day jobs, even if their day job is just being a man of leisure, if they're particularly rich. The Spartans are all citizens and soldiers. At the same time, there is a worldwide professionalism to them that does make them different.
And it's that multinational, if that's not quite the right word. But that composite force is under Spartan leadership at some regards the Spartans as sort of the leaders when it comes to war.
They definitely have the reputation of being the best, and they have over the preceding generations pretty much seized control of the Peloponnese and they run a league for want of a better term that modern scholars refer to as the Peloponnesian League, where basically most of the Peloponnesian Greeks are accepting of Spartan leadership. So when the Greeks decided on a joint strategy of fighting against Xerxes, they were the natural choice. And Herodotus says that the Peloponnesian War refused to serve under Athenian leadership.
They would only choose the Spartans, so they recognized as the dominant force in the Peloponnese. And the Peloponnese is the sort of the dominant land based forces at the time under alienage as they fight this tough battle.
I mean, is it regarded, you say later scholars come to sort of celebrate it? Was it a particularly savage holding action? Was it impressive? Was it dramatic?
If it's anything like how Corroborators and other media sources describe it, it will have been a brutal battle. There are so many numbers of Persians, there's so few defenders, but rather to say it's 20000 Persians died and the best part of 4000 Greeks died. In terms of casualties, it's massive. They're holding out for several days. It will not have been a gentle affair. There will have been a lot of brutal acts that will have been a lot of injuries.
I mean, just sort of imagining what it would have been like. They must have been a lot of the Greek defenders must have been injured quite early on from Persian arrows and just from hand-to-hand fighting. So on the second day when the Persians expected the Greeks would have been sort of unable to resist them, they turned up again. And this was something that shocked the Persians, according to Reuters. But one of the reasons they would have been shocked, as they just must have assumed that they would have had too many casualties to try and fight again.
I think the reason why we pay so much attention to the Mobli in some ways is something the Dinosaurus who was riding in the 1st century BCE, first century B.C., depending on where you place died, or as he said that after the battle, it was more significant even than Salamah split because the Greeks, who fought at some limits on the flotilla, were inspired by the achievements of the Greeks and fought at the Thermopylae, and that the Persians remembered the monopoly with a sense of terror because these small number of men had fought against them and held them up for so long and the Greeks themselves remembered we'd held up the Persians with such a small force.
So now there's 40000 of us. What can we not achieve now?
So the question I posed at the start of this podcast was why in the whole of Europe are there Quin's regnant during the medieval period, but not in Ireland? And the answer Professor Bartlett gave me is because it was customary for Irish kings take many wives. So there was never a shortage of sons, whereas over in England, over in France, elsewhere, those those kings, they just had one wife. I mean, the old mistress, like can the first and a lot of illegitimate children, but they were excluded from the line of succession is an island.
Plenty of wives, plenty of sons, no shortage. Amalia's fascinating. You know what? Use your Vodafone unlimited data. Have a little Google. Prove me wrong. Send me a tweet. I'd love to know if there are any queens. Let your whole family follow their curiosity when you bring everyone's plans together on our multi mobile read family plan. So Vodafone read family for more. I guess, of course, tragically, we just don't know enough about what the Persians made of these opposition, do we know?
Well, there's a wonderful poem called The Persian Version, and I can't remember when it was written, but it's not really puts it at times to take the Persian perspective and the Persian perspective of the Battle of Thermopylae in the Battle of the Day, in the battle of silence and the battle of Marathon is events in the fringes of the world of no great significance. So we in the West sort of imagine ourselves as the Greeks. We take the role of the Greeks.
But really, as far as the Persians were concerned, this was very much on the fringes of their world. This could have been written off as a minor inconvenience rather than a disastrous defeat.
See the British Empire in Afghanistan further imperfect historical parallels to the plateau where the Spartans do appear. And that was an extraordinary battle going on for days, wasn't it? Proved irresistible?
Yeah, that is not a short campaign. There's a lot of skirmishing around the sides and it's a big flat plain where the Persian cavalry that's the part of the Persian army is able to inflict very heavy casualties on the Greeks. The Greek approach ends up being so disordered that the army effectively ends up splitting. And there's a wonderful moment when poisonous who is Leonid ass's nephew who's in charge of the Greek army orders the Spartans and the rest of the allies to withdraw.
And the Athenians don't withdraw because they don't trust the Spartans and don't believe them. And one of the Spartan commanders actually refuses to go. He won't go. He throws down a rock and says, this is my vote and I'm voting to stay here. And eventually he is encouraged to move off because the rest of the Spartans just go and leave him and his forces because he's in command of a regiment. And eventually he realized it's going to be on his own and he follows eventually.
So it's a very disordered campaign before it actually gets to the full on pitched battle, which will have been brutal and an extraordinary long event. By the way Herodotus describes it, because you got 40000 plus Greek hoplites, plus a large number of lightly armed troops, including the 35000 helots and modern estimates for Modernises Army A is about 100000, and almost all of them are killed if we trust a lot of us. So this is not going to be a short battle by any means.
Spartans emerge from the Persian wars with this military reputation. You're now saying we need to be cautious about. A generation later they fight the Peloponnesian War, Athens and Sparta. It does feel like Athens can win every battle except the ones where they meet the Spartans in the open field of battle. So there is something there must be something going on with these Spartan armies until the other Greeks really develop any sense of professionalism themselves.
The Spartans in full club are going to be able to defeat most of their opponents. There is something about that degree of I'll call it quasi professionalism. There is something about when they actually have the numbers. One of the things that happens in the latter part of the fifth century, in the first part of four centuries, but consider the numbers plummet. So not only are their opponents started to become more professional, the number of professionals in the Spartan army is reduced quite significantly to begin with a leveling off.
But then ultimately the Spartans are defeated on numerous occasions. But yet the big land battles where there's not an asterisk alongside it, I think when the Spartans surrendered that the battle on Pylos, on the on the factory around four to five, you have a big asterisk there. It's a small number of Spartans, effectively a desert island besieged by Athenians, and eventually they give up. But big pitched battles. The Spartans have an advantage over the Athenians.
Definitely the man has made a lot out of that surrender of the Pylos as well.
My goodness, they did indeed. Yes. One of my favorite, because you don't get that many Spartan artifacts. One of my favorite Spartan artifacts is the shield that you can see in the museum at the Athenian Agora, which was taken from one of the Spartans at Pylos. And it has well, you can barely see it, but it has inscribed on it, taken from the Spartans at Pylos. And the Athenians were obviously extremely proud of the fact that the Spartans had surrendered to them.
So if the Spartans weren't quite the sort of insane martial race of legend, how did they organize themselves? I mean, I find I always find that constitution a bit confusing.
Yeah, it is an unusual constitution to say the they so to royal houses. So two kings at the same time, early phases. They appear to have sent both kings together in charge of campaigns. But there's one that I wanted to describe where it went very, very wrong because the two kings disagreed with each other. So after that, they imposed a new rule that said only one king could command an army. At the same time, they have a council of elders with 28 elders plus the two kings.
And then they have a. Is an assembly, which effectively is a yes no kind of assembly, so you could describe it as sort of democratic, but only just in that way. And what about women?
Because there's an interesting debate about women compared to other states, isn't it?
Yes. The reputation of Spartan women email primary sources, which are mostly what the majority of them are Athenian, is that Spartan women are extremely different. So the stereotype of Athenian women is that they are very much cloistered. They're very seldom educated. The more wealthy they are, the less likely they are to be outside at the scene, whereas Spartan women are very much more Spartan girls. So Spartan girls have mandatory exercise. The primary sources say that so that they would be strong enough to be as strong as children, they scantily clad for their exercises in playwrite Euripides, even suggests they exercise naked, which is probably an exaggeration, but it emphasizes how different Spartan women would seem to be.
And Spartan women have a reputation for telling their men what to do. There are sort of 40 recorded sayings by Spartan women, and the vast majority of them are rebuking their sons or their brothers for not living up to Spartan ideals. So Spartan women stood out because you could see them and you could hear them come back with your shield or on it.
Yes, that's the one there in the film, 300. They give that line to Gorgonio. Plutarch just gives it to a random Spartan woman. It's the saying that many modern experts on Sparta reject as historically accurate because Spartans didn't come back home when they died in battle. They were buried near enough to the battle site, a battle site of buried in a communal burial. So it's one that you have to work hard to try and rescue.
Okay, well, that's good to know. What about the fall of Sparta, if you like? I mean, I always think, like, we don't pay attention to Platero. I always think we don't pay enough attention to the dominance of Thebes and the way they take on and overturned Spartan to Germany, to Sparta. A victory as a success. It just breeds, as is the way with military warfare. Their enemies eventually learn the Spartan ways and simply overcome them, turning their own methods against them.
Other states start to introduce what you could call more professional elements. So themes which you mentioned produces an elite corps of 300 soldiers, the so-called sacred band, allegedly one hundred and fifty pounds of lovers who were fiercely loyal to each other but also had the time to devote themselves to warfare properly. The Athenians use volunteers rather than just ordinary soldiers. In some battles, it's just more money spent on things, buying some of the bigger cities states. But where it really goes wrong for Sparta is the system of Sparta itself, where you have to have a certain amount of wealth to be a Spartan citizen.
And inequality grows in Sparta. And one of the problems is there is almost certainly universal female inheritance in Sparta. So wealth that would have naturally passed on to male heirs elsewhere in the Greek world ends up concentrated in female hands. So by the time of Spotter's collapse, two fifths of spanton territory is owned by women rather than men who would have needed that wealth to be Spartan citizens because there was effectively a wealth criterion for citizenship. So Spartan numbers go from 5000 hoplites at the battle to Patea.
By the time of the battle Leukotrienes 370, when the Spartans are defeated by the Thebans, there's only 1500 Spartans citizens, so there's just not enough of them to go around on the subject of citizens.
Tell me the exposing the children that appear to be it all children and the ones without, is that true?
Our only source for the inspection and then rejection of disabled or weak babies is Plutarch, and he is writing significantly later than the majority of our sources. And with only him mentioning it, it's a source that is increasingly being rejected. There is a site in Laconia where it was identified as a potential spot for the place of rejection. There's a nice sort of brown sign telling from the Greek archaeological service, telling you that it's the place of rejection. There were human remains found there.
They then looked at the human remains and found there wasn't that many of them. And very few of them were actually children. Most of them were adults. So there's no place that's been found that goes where the source is late. So probably not would be the answer. But infanticide was quite normal in the ancient world. You only need to look at the myth of Oedipus. They're trying to expose him to see that it's quite normal. So it probably happened.
But the idea that the state organized it is probably something that is not true.
Okay, so babies won't all automatically left out for a night. So like, what about the all young boys out to kill a harlot on their kind of crazy military training week or whatever it was? Camp. Yeah, so there's the idea of the term that Spartans had for this was the cryptid, which means the secret thing. And in popular culture, you have the idea that all Spartan citizens going through the upbringing have this time in the wilds where they kill Helots.
But that's not actually what the primary sources tell us. The primary sources only say some of the youths did this and some of the primary sources leave out the helos killing part. So either it's something that changed over time or it's something that the sources that don't mention it don't want to talk about it. But it's the idea that every Spartan had to go out and kill a whole lot. That's definitely not the case. Some probably terrorization of the helots is going to have been the reality of the Spartan world.
Well, puncturing myths all over the place. Thank you very much indeed. The book is called The Spartans is called the Spartans.
Yes, it's appropriately laconic.
Oh, tell us. Well, I love that story about where laconic comes from.
They're particularly famous for the dislike of too many words and they happily rebuke other Greeks for using too many words. And probably my favorite story of the Spartan laconic speech is the one where envoys come from Samos off the coast of Turkey and asked for Spartans for help. And they make a long, impassioned speech. And the Spartan response, he spoke for so long that we forgot the beginnings that we didn't understand the end. And when the envoys have another go, they hold up a bag and they say this bag needs filling with grain.
And the Spartan response was you didn't need to say the words the bag. So they were particularly blunt with outsiders for being too wordy. They would have hated me. I always tell my students because I use far too many words and the Spartans would have criticized me immensely for that. Obviously, I love the one.
Is it later? Is it Philip Mustard? Oh, yes. When Philip of Macedon supposedly said, If I come, there'll be trouble for you in the Spartan response was just a one word, if that's almost certainly apocryphal. But it gives you a good flavor of what the Spartan attitude to limiting your speech was like.
My kids, probably another apocryphal, but my kids, every time I told them the battle of stories of Thermopylae, when Leonida is told this person so numerous that the arrows will block out the sun. And then he said, Oh, we'll fight in the shade.
Robert just gives that line to a few of the Disney kids. And he says he had a reputation amongst the other Greeks for a particular way. It is it is a wonderful line. I'd love it to be true. The fact that Herodotus mentions that it is good in that he's the earliest source. So it's one of those earlier Spartan's sayings. But you could argue that even then the passage of time has maybe elaborated that one. But it is a wonderful one liner.
Well, it's all it is after all. Thank you so much. Good luck with the book.
Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure talking to you. Did you find in the history of our country. Hope you enjoyed the podcast just before you go a bit of a favor to ask. Totally understand. If you don't become a subscriber or pay me any cash, money makes sense. But if you just do me a favor, it's for free. Go to iTunes or have your podcast. If you give it a five star rating and give it an absolutely glowing review, perjure yourself, give it a glowing review.
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