The Original Greek Olympics and Ancient History's Coolest Facts
The Original Greek Olympics and Ancient History’s Coolest Facts

The Original Greek Olympics and Ancient History’s Coolest Facts

Khalid Elhassan - July 31, 2021

The Original Greek Olympics and Ancient History’s Coolest Facts
Map of King Xerxes’ invasion route when he tried to subdue the ancient Greeks, 480 BC. Wikimedia

3. The Ancient Greeks’ Most Reviled Man?

Ephialtes son of Eurydemos, better known to history as Ephialtes of Trachis, was a member of ancient Greece’s Malian tribe, after whom the Malian Gulf in the northwestern Aegean Sea is named. He became one of the most – or perhaps the most – reviled Greek of his era. When King Xerxes of Persia invaded Greece in the fifth century BC, Ephialtes showed the Persians a path that allowed them to bypass and surround a Spartan force that had halted the invaders at Thermopylae.

Xerxes’ invasion of Greece was launched after decades of steadily mounting tensions, spurred by Athens’ support during the reign of Persia’s King Darius I of a failed rebellion by his Ionian Greek subjects in Asia Minor. That led to a Persian punitive expedition against Athens, which was defeated at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. In 480 BC, Darius’ son and successor, King Xerxes, gathered forces for a massive campaign to conquer and subdue the Greeks once and for all.

The Original Greek Olympics and Ancient History’s Coolest Facts
The Spartans at Thermopylae. Greek City Times

2. The Greek World’s Greatest Feat of Heroism

When they were faced with the approach of a vast Persian army, the Malians, at the northeastern juncture of the Greek Peninsula with the rest of the Balkans, were among the many Greeks who chose discretion over valor. They “Medised” – that is, submitted to and collaborated with King Xerxes of Persia against other Greek polities. Along the Persian army’s route through Malian lands was a narrow pass known as Thermopylae, or the “Hot Gates”, situated between mountains to the south and the cliff-lined shore of the Malian Gulf to the north.

King Leonidas of Sparta commanded a small Spartan-led Greek force, that occupied and fortified the pass at Thermopylae. The Persians, who greatly outnumbered Leonidas’ men, were forced to attack directly up the pass and on a narrow front. That negated and neutralized their numerical superiority. The Persians were bested by the more heavily armed and armored Greeks, especially the elite core of superbly trained Spartans. For three days, the Persians launched futile attacks, but could not make the Greeks budge.

The Original Greek Olympics and Ancient History’s Coolest Facts
The Battle of Thermopylae, the ancient Greeks’ most heroic last stand. Wikimedia

1. A Betrayal That Undid a Heroic Stand

King Leonidas and the Greeks under his command kept the vastly superior Persian army bottled up in front of the pass at Thermopylae until Ephialtes struck. He informed King Xerxes that he knew of a track through the mountains that bypassed Thermopylae, and reemerged to join the road behind the Greek position. In exchange for the promise of rich rewards, Ephialtes showed the Persians the way. When he discovered that he was about to be outflanked, Leonidas sent his Greek allies away.

The Original Greek Olympics and Ancient History’s Coolest Facts
When Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks, Leonidas sent his allies away, and stayed behind to guard the pass at Thermopylae with his surviving Spartans. Greece High Definition

He stayed behind with what remained of a 300-strong contingent of Spartans, who fought to the death until they were wiped out. Ephialtes was reviled from the ancient era to the present, and his name came to mean “nightmare” in Greek. He never collected his reward: the Persian invasion collapsed when their fleet was defeated at Salamis later that year, and their army was crushed at Platea the following year. Ephialtes fled, with a bounty on his head. He was killed ten years later over an unrelated matter, but the Spartans rewarded his killer anyhow.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Ancient Origins – The Brutal Draconian Laws of Ancient Greece

Bleacher Report – MMA History: How Pankration Champion Arrichion Won Olympic Crown After His Death

Chrystal, Paul – In Bed With the Ancient Greeks (2016)

Daily Beast – Things You Probably Don’t Know About the Olympics

Encyclopedia Britannica – Ancient Greek Olympic Games

Encyclopedia Britannica – Milo of Croton

Encyclopedia Britannica – Philitas of Cos

Garland, Robert – Celebrity in Antiquity: From Media Tarts to Tabloid Queens (2006)

Herodotus – The Histories

History Collection – Antiquity’s Greatest Warriors

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Empedocles

Gizmodo – Can You Laugh Yourself to Death?

Miller, Stephen G. – Ancient Greek Athletics (2004)

Sherwood, Andrew N., et al Greek and Roman Technology, a Sourcebook of Translated Greek and Roman Texts (2019)

History Collection – Dramatic and Bizarre Ways People Died in Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic World

Suetonius – Lives of the Caesars: Life of Nero

Swaddling, Judith – The Ancient Olympic Games (1984)

Unbelievable Facts – 10 People Who Died From Laughing Too Hard

Vine Pair – The Pythagorean Cup Will Keep You From Drinking Too Much

Wikipedia – Ephialtes of Trachis

Wikipedia – Kynodesme