All Greece was in danger. A mighty army, led by the great King of Persia, had come from the east. It was marching along the seashore, and in a few days would be in Greece. The great king had sent mes-sen-gers into every city and state, bidding them give him water and earth in token that the land and the sea were his. But they said,--
"No: we will be free."
And so there was a great stir through-out all the land. The men armed themselves, and made haste to go out and drive back their foe; and the women staid at home, weeping and waiting, and trembling with fear.
There was only one way by which the Per-sian army could go into Greece on that side, and that was by a narrow pass between the mountains and the sea. This pass was guarded by Le-on´i-das, the King of the Spartans, with three hundred Spartan soldiers.
Soon the Persian soldiers were seen coming. There were so many of them that no man could count them. How could a handful of men hope to stand against so great a host?
And yet Le-on-i-das and his Spartans held their ground. They had made up their minds to die at their post. Some one brought them word that there were so many Persians that their arrows dark-ened the sun.
"So much the better," said the Spartans; "we shall fight in the shade."
Bravely they stood in the narrow pass. Bravely they faced their foes. To Spartans there was no such thing as fear. The Persians came forward, only to meet death at the points of their spears.
But one by one the Spartans fell. At last their spears were broken; yet still they stood side by side, fighting to the last. Some fought with swords, some with daggers, and some with only their fists and teeth.
All day long the army of the Persians was kept at bay. But when the sun went down, there was not one Spartan left alive. Where they had stood there was only a heap of the slain, all bristled over with spears and arrows.
Twenty thousand Persian soldiers had fallen before that handful of men. And Greece was saved.
Thousands of years have passed since then; but men still like to tell the story of Leonidas and the brave three hundred who died for their country's sake.