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Thermopylae 480 BC: Last Stand of the 300

By Nic Fields; illustrated by Steve Noon
Osprey Publishing

443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806
New York, NY 10016

Thermopylae 480 BC is the newest title in Osprey Publishing's "Campaign" series. This series highlights several of history's greatest conflicts, and the 96-page Thermopylae fits in perfectly with this theme. When I first opened the book, I thought, "OK, another great resource for students to glance through while looking for report material. Not a book to be read from cover to cover."

Boy, was I wrong! This authoritative retelling of one of the greatest tales of heroism of all time drew me in from the first page, and I found myself wanting to learn more. Leonidas and the 300 Spartans fought for three days in the little rocky pass of Thermopylae in order to delay the overwhelming army of the Persians. It was a fight to the death, and they knew it. Yet they took their stand to allow the rest of the Greeks to escape. When their spears shattered, they used their swords; when their swords were broken, they went after the Persians with their bare hands. But they died--to the last man.

Thermopylae 480 BC is lavishly illustrated with full-color artwork, detailed maps, and dramatic battle scenes. The author gives plenty of background information surrounding the campaign: a timeline, descriptions of the opposing commanders and their motives, and the details of what happened after the battle. The reader is not left wondering where the Battle of Thermopylae comes into the grand scheme of things in the ancient world. I appreciated the reference to King Xerxes (the Persian commander) as being another name for King Ahasuerus from the book of Esther. This reference allowed me to put everything into a biblical timeline. Homeschoolers studying world history could easily include this battle in their curriculum and discover how the people and events in the Bible relate to extrabiblical events and people. (I found myself wondering what Esther was doing while her husband-king was out chasing after the Greeks.)

There are a few things to be aware of when using this excellent resource book. A small number of pictures of ancient statues and carvings show nude men. The goddess Aphrodite is also nude. In addition, there is a casual reference to the Theban Sacred Band (an all-homosexual unit of the Greek army). However, it is not dwelt upon, only mentioned in passing.

Thermopylae gives the junior- and senior-high (as well as adult) reader a wonderful, eye-opening glimpse into the ancient world. I came away admiring the Spartans for their loyalty, their self-discipline, and their willingness to die for a cause. Is it any wonder that this true-life battle remains the stuff of legend?

Product review by Susan K. Marlow, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, January 2008

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