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Greeks vs Goths at Thermopylae in AD 262

A recently rediscovered fragment of an ancient Greek text indicates that in AD 262 there was another battle at Thermopylae that essentially saved Greece from the Goths.

Greeks vs Goths at Thermopylae
Relief panel of the Great Ludovisi sarcophagus, with battle scene between 
Roman soldiers and Germans, Rome. ca. 251/252 CE 
[Credit: Ludovisi Collection/WikiCommons]
In 2007, Jana Gruskova, PhD, of Masaryk University discovered a manuscript fragment containing a piece of lost ancient Greek history. The fragments date to the 13th century and went unnoticed for centuries because the pages were palimpsests — manuscripts where the original writing was washed or scraped away in order to write something new on the same page.

Technology now enables historians to read the fragments that pertain to a 3rd century text, which describes a battle at the Thermopylae mountain pass, place of the famous battle where Leonidas and his brave 300 fought against the almighty Persian army.

The fragments are from a time period where there are few trustworthy historical sources—the decades following the beginning of the Germanic invasions of Roman territory in AD 238. The palimpsest fragments appear to be lost passages from a third-century historical work detailing wars between Rome and the Goths, a Germanic people known as the Scythica. The author of this work, moreover, is seen as Athenian historian Publius Herennius Dexippus, a reliable source according to today’s historians.

The fragment concerning the battle at Thermopylae details events that probably took place in AD 262, according to a paper in the Journal of Roman Studies.

Greeks vs Goths at Thermopylae
Spectral imaging used for deciphering the fragment 
[Credit: Vienna, Austrian National Library]
The fragment says that an army of Goths was making its way through Thrace and Macedonia plundering the countryside. But when they attempted to pillage the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia, Thessalonica, (modern-day Thessaloniki), they were rebutted.

The Goths then set their sights for Athens and Achaia, envisioning the gold and silver votive offerings and the many processional goods in the Greek sanctuaries, according to Dexippus.

The Greeks, however, caught wind of the plan, and chose to stop the Goths in the access point to Athens from the north — the mountain pass of Thermopylae. “Some carried small spears, others axes, others wooden pikes overlaid with bronze and with iron tips, or whatever each man could arm himself with. And when they came together, they completely fortified the perimeter wall and devoted themselves to its protection with haste,” reads the fragment.

The Greek army was located on the site of one of the most famous battles in history, so the clever generals used this to their advantage: “It seemed that the most prudent course was to encourage the men with a speech, and to recall the memory of their ancestors’ valor, so that they would undertake the entire war with greater heart and not give up…”

The fragment records part of the speech given by Marianus, the leader of the Greek army:

“O Greeks, the occasion of our preservation for which you are assembled and the land in which you have been deployed are both truly fitting to evoke the memory of virtuous deeds. For your ancestors, fighting in this place in former times, did not let Greece down and deprive it of its free state…So perhaps it may be good fortune, in accordance with the daimonion [heavenly power], that it has been allotted to the Greeks to do battle against the barbarians in this region (indeed your own principles of fighting the wars have turned out to be valid in the past).”

According to historians, the Goths were turned back by Marianus and his army. “Thermopylae saved Athens from a darker fate once more,” the story concludes.

Author: Philip Chrysopoulos | Source: The Greek Reporter [March 22, 2016]

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