Fans of “300” may find it hard to think of Leonidas as a diplomat. In the Hollywood cartoon, Leonidas is portrayed as the brutal antithesis of a diplomat: he personally throws a Persian ambassador down a well. But there is no more historical evidence that Leonidas committed this crime than that Xerxes was a monster. The historical record, foggy and imprecise as it is, suggests that far from being a tactless brut, Leonidas was probably a very savvy diplomat.
The evidence for Leonidas’ diplomatic talent is indirect rather than explicit. It is evident in what he did, rather than what is said about him. Quite simply: During his brief reign, Leonidas managed to forge a coalition of Greek states willing to oppose the Persian invasion and to convince this loose coalition of independent and proud city-states to agree to a unified command. The significance of such an achievement can be measured by the fact that ten years earlier Athens didn’t place her army even under the unified command of a single Athenian; no less than ten generals shared command of the Athenian army at Marathon. Equally notable, while Leonidas’ brother Cleomenes alienated Lacedaemon’s Peloponnesian allies to the point of provoking revolt, Leonidas won over new Allies such as Mycenae and Tiryns.
Leonidas' sophisticated diplomacy is an important theme in the third book of my three part biographical novel of Leonidas: A Heroic King.
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