I just finished the book Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield and the book did not disappoint.
From the character development to the way Pressfield is able to vividly portray the fight scenes, this book truly was a page-turner. And this was despite the fact that I “knew the end outcome” from having seen the movie 300 + from being familiar with the Battle of Thermopylae which is all the more reason, at least to me, that this was a phenomenally written book.
It is very easy to find many inspirational quotes or moments in this story but the lessons on leadership demonstrated by King Leonidas really stood out to me, and I’ve highlighted some of my favorite passages below. Also, I had no clue Leonidas was over 60 years old in this battle which only adds to his “legend.”
“What’s the difference between a Spartan king and a mid-ranker?” One man will lob this query to his mate as they prepare to bed down in the open in a cold driving rain. His friend considers mock-theatrically for a moment. “The king sleeps in that shithole over there,” he replies. “We sleep in this shithole over here.”
“This, and other like incidents, endeared Leonidas universally to the men, not just the Spartiate Peers but the Gentleman-Rankers and perioikoi as well. They could see their king, at nearly sixty, enduring every bit of misery they did. And they knew that when battle came, he would take his place not safely in the rear, but in the front rank, at the hottest and most perilous spot on the field.”
“They marched not rigidly nor in grim silent lockstep, but at ease, talking and joking with one another and their families and friends along the roadside. Leonidas himself, were it not for his years and station of honor, could easily have been mistaken for a common infantryman, so unprepossessing was his armament, so nonchalant his demeanor.”
“As he had done at every engagement at which it had been my privilege to observe him, the king stripped and worked alongside his warriors, shirking nothing, but pausing to address individuals, calling by name those he knew, committing to memory the names and even nicknames of others heretofore unknown to him, often clapping these new mates upon the back in the manner of a comrade and friend. It was astonishing with what celerity these intimate words, spoken only to one man or two, were relayed warrior-to-warrior down the line, filling the hearts of all with courage.”
“Leonidas sought to instill courage not by his words alone but by the calm and professional manner with which he spoke them. War is work, not mystery. The king confined his instructions to the practical, prescribing actions which could be taken physically, rather than seeking to produce a state of mind, which he knew would evaporate as soon as the commanders dispersed beyond the fortifying light of the king’s fire.”
A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them. He serves them, not they him.”
“A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.”