Leonidas I

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Leonidas (Λεωνίδας Leōnidas, d. 7 August 480 BC[1]) was a hero-king of Sparta, the 17th of the Agiad line, one of the sons of King Anaxandridas II of Sparta, who was believed in mythology to be a descendant of Heracles, possessing much of the latter's strength and bravery.

He is notable for his leadership at the Battle of Thermopylae.



According to Herodotus Leonidas' mother was his father's niece and had been barren for so long that the ephors, the five annually elected administrators of the Spartan constitution, tried to prevail upon King Anaxandridas to set aside his wife and take another. Anaxandridas refused, claiming his wife was blameless, whereupon the ephors agreed to allow him to take a second wife without setting aside his first. This second wife, a descendent of Chilon the Wise, promptly bore a son, who was named Cleomenes. However, one year after Cleomenes' birth, Anaxandridas' first wife also gave birth to a son, Dorieus.[2] Leonidas was the third son of Anaxandridas' wife, and either the elder brother or twin of Cleombrotus.[3] Because Leonidas was not heir to the throne, he was not exempt from attending the "agoge," the public school that the sons of all Spartans had to complete in order to qualify for citizenship.[4] Leonidas was thus one of the few Spartan kings to have ever undergone the notoriously harsh training of Spartan youth.

Cleomenes I succeeded to his father's throne somewhere between 520 and 516 BC.[5] Dorieus was so outraged that the Spartans had preferred his half-brother over himself that he found it impossible to remain in Sparta. He made one unsuccessful attempt to set up a colony in Africa and, when this failed, sought his fortune in Sicily, where after initial successes he was killed.[6] Leonidas' relationships with his bitterly antagonistic elder brothers is unknown, but he married to Cleomenes' daughter, Gorgo sometime before coming to the throne in 490 BC.[7]

Leonidas was clearly heir to the Agiad throne and a full citizen at the time of the Battle of Sepeia against Argos (c. 494 BC). Likewise, he was a full citizen when the Persians sought submission from Sparta and met with vehement rejection in or around 492/491 BC. His brother had already gone mad and fled into exile when Athens sought assistance against the Persian invasion that ended at Marathon (490 BC).

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