Book Review: Beyond the Gates of Fire: New Perspectives on the Battle of Thermopylae

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by Christopher Matthew & Matthew Trundle, editors

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2013. Pp. xxii, 192. Maps, notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1848847912

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. 

Our Reviewer:  John Trikeriotis is a lecturer on ancient Greek warfare and a member of the archaeological group, “The Leonidas Expeditions”.  He is also the adviser to “The Hellenic Warriors” living history association, which appears at schools, museums and universities presenting the armor, weapons, tactics and formations used by the ancient Greeks during the Graeco-Persian and Peloponnesian Wars.  In addition, he maintains the website www.300spartanwarriors.com , which provides a more authoritative summation of the events as they happened during the Battle of Thermopylae, in comparison to their depiction by Hollywood.  Trikeriotis can be followed on Twitter and Google.  His previous reviews for StrategyPage, include After Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian War and The End of Sparta: A Novel .  

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Reviewer: John Trikeriotis   


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