The Battle of Thermopylae and its Consequences

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The Battle of Thermopylae and its Consequences

Grade Level: 9th


Following this activity, students will be able to:

  1. Recognize how the 300 Spartans and their allies were able to hold the much larger Persian army for three days

  2. Explain how the Spartan’s actions affected the morale of both sides of the Greco-Persian War

  3. Be able to draw up battle plans based on their experiences in the “game”


Traffic Cones

Water Balloons

A Picnic Table


  1. Before beginning this activity, students should have the following background information:

    • The Greco-Persian War was important in that it settled the notion of Greek independence from outside empires for several centuries.

    • The time following the war was one of great cultural progress. This progress would affect Western civilization profoundly even into the present.

    • The battle of Thermopylae while debatable in it’s practical contribution to the Greeks in the war, served to bolster the morale of the Greek armies.

  2. Ask students how they think battles were fought in Classical times and with what weapons.

  3. Make certain the students know what was at stake in this war. Make certain they know the differences in the size and scope of both armies. Explain the setup of Thermopylae but not its outcome.

  4. Take the class outside and divide them into two groups, one group being much smaller than the other.

  5. Explain to the students that they will be recreating the battle of Thermopylae using water balloons. The traffic cones outline the narrow path and the picnic should be turned on its side to simulate the wall the Spartans used for defense. Explain to the students that they cannot leave the “pass”, one side is a sheer cliff while the other drops off into the water.

  6. Explain that the Persians can not get out. This simulates the overwhelming odds the Spartans faced. The Spartan team can get hit 3 times before they are dead. This simulates their superior equipment.

  7. Divide the battle into three short rounds, each one simulating a day. Be sure to limit each round’s water balloons or the students will go through them in one round. Between the second and third round tell the students that a secret path around the wall has been found. Allow them to take a small group of “Persians” to ambush the Spartans on the third day.

  8. If all goes as it should the Spartan team should lose on the third day. After everyone is cleaned up, discuss with the students how the Persian army would feel when a relatively small army could hold them off and inflict terrible casualties over a three day period. Furthermore, how might they feel when confronting a much larger army made up of the same type of soldiers? Might this have had an effect on the Persian’s willingness to fight?

  9. Put the students into groups and have them prepare a battle plan using resources on the web. Then have them create a graphic design detailing their plan and strategy.


You can evaluate groups on their charts using the following three-point rubric:

Three points: well designed; clear and carefully prepared plans adequately defending their position.

Two points: adequately designed plans; legible and satisfactorily prepared; some data missing

One point: inadequately designed plans; carelessly prepared; significant data missing


Bradford, Ernle. Thermopylae: Battle for the West (March 2004)

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