Part One. Thermopylae
Our story begins in Ancient Greece almost 2500 years ago in 480BC, when a band of three hundred warriors from the city-state of Sparta, backed by allied forces, fought desperately to defend the mountain pass of Thermoplyae, the ‘Gate of Fire’ and gateway to the Greek heartland, from the invading Persian army of the Emperor Xerxes. In the face of overwhelming odds, believed to have been almost 30-1, the Spartans held out for three crucial days, by which time the Greeks were able to amass an army destined to halt, and eventually vanquish, the previously indestructible Persians. The Spartans paid a high price for their savage bravery, however – all 300 warriors were thought massacred over the course of the battle.
Subsequently, the Spartans, and the warrior society they embodied, have come to signify standards of military excellence and valour which has echoed down the centuries. The inscription on their monument at Thermoplyae sums up the simple nobility of the Spartans’ cause:
Go tell the Spartans
Stranger passing by
That here, obedient to their laws
However, contrary to popular theories, recent work has shown that perhaps not all of the three hundred perished at Thermopylae. Fresh translations of contemporaneous Persian and Greek authors have revealed the possible survival of eleven warriors, initially captured in the early stages of battle, who evaded their captors and fled into the hills. Their story is emerging only now, after more than two millenium lost in the wilderness of time…
Part Two. The Origins of the ‘Eleven’.
Archaeologists and Greek historians have agreed, through such writings and artefacts found on the field of battle, that the capture of the ‘Eleven’ as they became known, was effected not through Persian cunning or overwhelming odds but was instead caused by sheer ineptitude on the part of the Spartans. Persian scribe Besiktas, writing fifty years after Thermoplyae in 430BC, reported that, on the first day of battle, Persian scouts had happened upon a small number of Spartans who were:
“…incapacitated by the effects of wine, drunk freely from large silver jugs cast wantonly to the grass… they (the Spartans) caroused and cursed freely, either unaware of, or untroubled by, the danger at hand…when surprised, they attempted to embrace the horrified scouts, who could not bring themselves to lay waste to such pitiful examples of the Spartan creed…’*
Thus captured, the Spartans were presented to the Emperor Xerxes, who was said to have commented–
‘ If these be our enemy, let Athens beware!’ Reports are rare of the whereabouts of the shamed Eleven both during the remainder of the battle and immediately thereafter. We next hear of them from Fenerbahce, a Turkish emissary at the court of Xerxes, who spoke of ‘Eleven Men of the West, bedraggled and beaten’ who were pilloried by the citizens of Alexandria early in 479BC. Subsequently, members of the as-yet-unnamed Spartan band were said to have developed ‘diseases of…unspeakable natures’, thought to have been acquired through sexual congress with disreputable females provided for them by their captors. This taste for women of loose morals would, as we shall see, echo down the centuries for their descendants…
*This account is backed by the noted German archaeologist, Gunther Netzer, whose most recent dig at Thermopylae has revealed a number of silver wine jugs scattered around an area no larger than five square metres.