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Beyond the Gates of Fire (ePub)

New Perspectives on the Battle of Thermopylae

Ancient History Military

By Christopher Matthew, Matthew Trundle
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 1.3 MB (.epub)
Pages: 228
ISBN: 9781783469109
Published: 8th May 2013


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The Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC is one of the most famous battles in history. The heroism of the 300 Spartans who opted to remain behind to face the full might of the Persian host while their Greek allies made good their escape has become the stuff of legend. The story still inspires novelists and film-makers today (Frank Miller's fanciful 300 was a huge hit in 2007 and the film rights to Steven Pressfield's more historical novel Gates of Fire were bought by George Clooney, the film expected to finally surface in 2011 or 2012). But what is the truth behind the legends and why was this bloody defeat immediately accorded a halo of glory that has endured for nearly two-and-a-half millenia?

Beyond the Gates of Fire brings together experts on the classical period from Australia, New Zealand and the United States to take a fresh look at various aspects of the battle. A substantial introductory section by the editors outlines the background to the conflict as well as the arms, armour and fighting styles of the opposing sides. The following chapters (9 of them) then discuss such questions as whether the defence of the pass really was a suicide mission; the exact topography of the battlefield itself in 480 BC, using the latest geological research and core samples; the impact of the battle on the Greek psyche; commemoration of the war dead; the impact of the original battle on the conduct of later battles in the pass, right up to the German invasion of 1941. For the classical scholar or the general reader whose interest has been piqued by the popular books and films, this book is sure to shed refreshing new light on the most famous last stand in history.

“Beyond the gate of Hell has eight chapters and as the subtitles indicates, several offer ‘New perspectives’ on the vents leading up to the battle and afterwards”


In Beyond the Gates of Fire, which evokes the title of the popular Steven Pressfield novel, co-editor Matthew quotes a 1958 article by the eminent historian, W. Kendrick Pritchett, which states that “the battle of Thermopylai of 480 BC is such a well-worn subject that no fresh approach seems possible.” To which Matthew counters fifty-five years later, “yet such a statement seems far from likely.” In the last decade alone we’ve seen several additions to the Thermopylai (Gr.) canon, such as Paul Cartledge’s Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World; Nic Fields’ Thermopylae 480 BC: Last Stand of the 300; and Dimitris Belezos and Ioannis Kotoulas’ Thermopylae 480 BC: The Most Unequal Battle in History. Therefore, do we need another publication about the iconic conflict at the ‘Hot Gates’ - the answer is an unequivocal yes.

Several disciplines, which include geological and topographical analyses, have evolved since Pritchett’s statement over half a century ago. They have contributed to a better understanding of the physiographic terrain in the chapter entitled The Topography of the Pass of Thermopylae Circa 480 BC. The findings by George Rapp and his colleagues, along with the accompanying maps and images, refute the exaggerated appearance of the battlefield in Warner Bros.’ movie 300 and its follow-up 300: Rise of an Empire. One of the divisive topics covered by Matthew is whether or not the Greek defense led by King Leonidas and the Spartans was a suicide mission.

Beyond the Gates of Fire has eight chapters and, as the subtitle indicates, several offer new perspectives on the events leading up to the battle and afterwards. The content in a few of these essays may seem familiar, while in others the most recent scholarship provides new insight into one of antiquity's greatest battles.

John Trikeriotis

Provides new insight into one of antiquity's greatest battles.

Strategy Page

This is a new perspective on the Battle of Thermopylae. It sheds new light on one of the most famous battles in history and reveals the true legend behind the legend portrayed in the hit film '300'.

Forces Pension Society

By their nature, such collections tend to be mixed bags, but there is more than enough of worth in the book to merit the interest of students and enthusiasts of ancient Greek warfare.

Ancient Warfare

Written by very respectable authors.

Ango-Hellenic Review

About Christopher Matthew

Christopher Matthew has just completed his doctoral thesis on hoplite warfare at MacQuarie University in Sydney, where one of his assessors has said he 'singlehandedly advanced the whole field'. He has also been invited to lecture on the subject at other Australian universities. This book, closely based on his doctoral thesis, will be his first, although he has already had several articles published in academic journals. 'He is currently working on a new translation of Aelian's work on tactics and co-editing (with Dr Matthew Trundle) Beyond the Gates of Fire: New Perspectives on the Battle of Thermopylae, both of which will be published by Pen & Sword.

About Matthew Trundle

Dr Matthew Trundle (Editor) of Wellington University (New Zealand)

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