The Story Behind the Name "Shade of Arrows" This
is a brief recollection of the epic Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.)
between defending Greek forces and the invading Persian army.
One of history's most famous quotes comes from this event and serves as
the mother concept for the guild name. The Greek force of fewer than
5,000 is led by the Spartan King Leonidas and his contingent of
300 fellow Spartans. The invading Persian army is around 250,000 strong
and led by King Xerxes.
The following excerpt is from- Cartledge, P. (2003). The spartans: the world of the warrior-heroes of ancient greece. New York: The Overlook Press. (p. 127-129).
defence, effectively, was seen by the Spartans as a suicide mission, a sort of
kamikaze exercise undertaken in an entirely rational frame of mind. This is
confirmed by the story of Xerxes scout reporting that the Spartans had been seen
oiling themselves as if for an athletic contest and combing their
exceptionally long tresses. As interpreted for Xerxes by Demaratus, this
behavior symbolized the Spartans resolution to fight to the death if required as they knew they would be. By the other Greeks, the Thermopylae
operation was no doubt seen very differently. A brave resistance would be
followed, for the survivors, by an honourable retreat in order to fight or die
another day. Hence the very normal reaction of panic among most of them, as
reported by Herodotus, when the Persian horde first approached the pass of Thermopylae.
Another factor causing alarm was the locals knowledge that the pass could be
turned by a single path called Anopaea through the mountains to the south of
them. Leonidas naturally attempted to seal this potential gap with a force of
1,000 Phocians, men familiar with the terrain and conditions and who had
immediately the most to lose.
After the Persian forces had arrived, there was a delay of three or four days
before the actual assault commenced. This was perhaps intended to pile psychological
pressure on the Greeks until it became intolerable, or, more mundanely, to
enable Xerxes to make a link with his storm-tossed fleet that was finally
safely in harbour at nearby CapeSepias.
When the assault was at last launched, it was on Day One of what was remembered
as an epic three-day encounter. The Greeks had rebuilt an old wall at the
Middle Gate, behind which they resisted by fighting in relays. Their spears
were longer than those of the enemy, who were also unable to make their sheer
superiority of numbers tell in the confined space available. The Spartans added
to the Persian forces discomfort by deploying the sort of tactics that only
the most highly trained and disciplined force would have been capable of even
contemplating a series of feigned retreats followed by a sudden about-turn
and murderous onslaught on their over-confident pursuers.
Day Two went pretty much as Day One, though one can well imagine the increasing
frustration and irritation of Xerxes, but then he had his lucky break. A Greek
traitor, a local Judas who knew all about the Anopaea path, opportunely made
his presence known to Xerxes. His name has gone down in infamy (Ephialtes), at
the time a cauldron of boiling hot condemnation motivated at least in part by a
desire to obscure the fact that so many whole cities or peoples of the Greeks
had already medized (to pledge loyalty to the Great King of Persia), or soon
would. Thanks to him, on the night of Day Two and early morning of Day Three,
the Persians outflanked the defenders of Thermopylae
and, coming at them from the rear as well as the front, bound them in an
unbreakable pincer grip. Xerxes had taken no chances. He confided the special
night mission to his personal bodyguard of 10,000 Immortals (as the Greeks
called them: they liked to imagine, falsely, that they took their name from the
fact that immediately one of them fell in battle he was replaced by a reserve,
thereby maintaining at all times the maximum effective of 10,000).
Perhaps Leonidas is to be blamed for not reinforcing the Anopaea path with a
larger or at any rate a more effectively determined defence force. Perhaps on
appreciating the desperate situation of encirclement for what it was, he could
have asserted his authority more unambiguously (it was said that he dismissed
most of his remaining troops, but a more cynical view holds that this was just
a cover-up for the fact that most of them simply melted away). What is not in
question to even the very tiniest degree is the extraordinary resolution and
courage with which he, his Spartans and the few thousands of other Greeks who
chose to remain with him to the end fought on Day Three.
A truly laconic
quip emblemized the quality of the Spartans final stand. When told that there
were so many archers on the Persian side that their arrows would blot out the
sun, the Spartan Dieneces, one of the 300, promptly replied:
So much the better, we shall fight them in the shade!
Since arrows were
regarded by the Spartans as the weapons of the weak, in contrast to the spear
and sword of the face-to-face, hand-to-hand hoplite fighter, this was a neat
way of evading in words the point, both literally and metaphorically, of the
deadly host of arrows that would shortly overwhelm them.