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Tom Holland (Secondary Source)

Tom Holland is a modern British author and historian from the

University of Cambridge. The following is an excerpt from his award-
winning history of the Persian War called Persian Fire, written in 2005.

Historians always like to argue that their work is significant. In Herodotus case,
his claim that the great war between the Greeks and Persians was of unequaled
importance (the most important) has been easily confirmed over the last two
thousand years.
There was much more at stake during the Persian attempt to conquer the Greek
mainland than the simple independence of the Greek states. As subjects of the
Persian king, the Athenian Greeks never would have had the opportunity to
develop their unique democratic government. The legacy of democracy passed on
to modern Europe and America would have vanished (disappeared). It is likely,
had the Greeks been conquered during Xerxes invasion, that there never would
have been such a thing as Western Civilization at all.
One event above all, the doomed (fateful) defense of the pass of Thermopylae by a
tiny Spartan holding force, is to thank for this. The glory of their end only added to
the fame of the battle and helped ensure that Thermopylae, for generations
afterwards, would serve as the model (best example) of sacrifice for liberty.
Source: British historian Tom Holland. Persian Fire. Published in 2005.
Credit for this document, including all edits, goes to the Los Altos High School History Department

Cyrus Kar (Secondary Source)

Cyrus Kar is a filmmaker and college professor of Persian descent. The
following is an excerpt from an article he wrote for an Iranian magazine
in 2007. The article was in response to the immense popularity of the
then-recently released film 300.

The accepted story of the Battle of Thermopylae was written by the classical
Greek author, Herodotus. However, his story became part of Western folklore only
recently. It wasn't until about 1850, just after two bloody revolutions fought
by America and France to liberate themselves from their own monarchies, that his
version of the Battle of Thermopylae came to symbolize (represent) the West's
struggle for democracy against the powerful forces of monarchy.
It is easy to want to believe this story: 300 brave Spartans saved Western
democracy from 2 million evil Persians. But aside from the unlikely numbers of
the armies, our view of the Spartan saviors themselves needs to change. The
Spartans were Greek extremists who lived only to die. They were by all accounts
ruthless savages who murdered Greek slaves known as Helots just for sport,
developed a culture of thievery (stealing) and rape, and often times killed their
own children if they seemed too weak to be Spartan.
Sparta was not even democratic. It was an oligarchy (rule by a small group of
people) at best, and a cruel tyranny at worst. Despite knowing all this, the West
continues to praise the Spartans as the saviors of Western democracy. Yes, the
Spartans died fighting a foreign invader, but in truth that was all they did. Let us
not forget that the Battle of Thermopylae was, after all, a Persian victory.
Source: Cyrus Kar, The Truth Behind the 300,Payvand Iran News, 2007

Credit for this document, including all edits, goes to the Los Altos High School History Department
Herodotus (Primary Source)

Herodotus was a Greek historian who wrote about the causes of the
Greco-Persian Wars. He got most of his information about the war from
veterans, who he interviewed following the events he described. He also
used official records from both Greece and Persia, although most of it
came from Greek accounts. Sometimes, his accounts include major
inaccuracies, but it is generally considered one of the more realistic
Greek accounts of the war. Below, he describes why the Persians tried
to conquer Greece.

After Egypt was subdued, Xerxes, being about to take in hand the expedition against Athens, called
together an assembly of the noblest Persians to learn their opinions, and to lay before them his own
plans. So, when the men were met, the king spoke thus to them:

'Persians, I am not bringing in and establishing a new custom, but following one which has come down
to us from our ancestors. Our old men say that has our race has never rested ever since the time when
Cyrus overcame [his grandfather] King Astyges and we conquered the Medes.
Now in all this [the Persian god] Ahura Mazda guides us; and we, obeying his guidance, prosper greatly.
No one needs to tell you which nations Cyrus and [his son] Cambyses and my father Darius subdued and
added to our kingdom. You already know them well.
Ever since I came to the throne, I have considered how I might equal the greatness of the kings who
came before me and increase the power of Persia as much as any of them. At last, I have found out a
way that we may both win glory and get possession of a land which is as large and as rich as our own.
Actually, the land well get is even more varied in the fruits it bears- while at the same time we obtain
satisfaction and revenge. For this cause I have now called you together, that I may make known to you
what I intend to do.

My intent is to throw a bridge over the Hellespont [the narrow gap between Greece and Persia] and
march an army through Europe against Greece, that so that I may obtain punish the Athenians for what
they have done to the Persians and to my father.'

Xerxes I (Primary Source)

King Xerxes I was an emperor of Persia who tried to conquer Greece.
He came from the same royal family (dynasty) as Cyrus, who you read
about earlier. He had the words below carved into the steps of his
massive palace in the royal city of Persepolis. It was originally written
in three different languages so that everyone could read it.

A great god is Ahura Mazda, who created this earth,
who created that heaven, who created humankind, who
created happiness for humankind, who
made Xerxes king, sole ruler of many, sole sovereign
of many.
I am Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings, the king
of all kinds of people, the king of this earth great and
wide, the son of King Darius, from the Achaemenid
The great king Xerxes says: By the grace of Ahura
Mazda, I built this palace. May Ahura Mazda and the
gods protect me, my kingdom, and what I did!

Translated text and image of text (left) provided by the team at (

Above: Historical recreation of Ancient Persian clothing and people based on local traditions and art

Above: Persian soldiers as they appear in 300. Mask is based on ninjas from Japan.
Below: Persian soldiers as they actually looked.

Above and below: Emperor Xerxes I in the film and comic versions of 300.