Under the guidance of Leonidas, one of the Spartan kings, three hundred Lacedaemonian soldiers and six thousand allies marched thither, and undertook to guard the pass. This was a very small army; but it was impossible to get more soldiers at the time, as all the Greeks were more anxious to attend the Olympic games, which were just then being celebrated, than to defend their country and homes.

Many of them said they were afraid the gods would be angry if they did not keep the feast as usual, and declared that it was against the law to bear arms or make war during that time. This was perfectly true; but Xerxes did not care at all for the Greek gods, and the country would have been defenseless had it not been for Leonidas and his handful of men.

While this little army traveled northwards, the rest of the people thronged to Olympia, promising to come and fight as soon as the games were ended, and they could again bear arms without offending the gods.

The Persian fleet, as you have seen, had passed behind Mount Athos, instead of rounding it as before, and Xerxes intended landing part of his army just below Thermopylae. Unfortunately for him, however, the four hundred vessels bearing his troops were wrecked by a sudden storm.

Another fleet was immediately prepared; but, before it was ready, the Olympic games came to an end, and the Greeks, flying to arms as they had promised, hastily embarked upon their own vessels, and came and took up their position at Artemisium, to hinder the advance of the Persian fleet.

From: H. A. Guerber, The Story of the Greeks; edited for this online publication, by ELLOPOS BLOG