Leonidas at Thermopylae (1814) by Jacques-Louis David.
Forgan Smith (building 1), The University of Queensland, St Lucia
Venue: Forgan Smith (building 1), The University of Queensland, St Lucia.

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Memory, History and the Double Burial of Leonidas

In 480 BC, Leonidas, Agiad king of the Spartans at the time of Xerxes' invasion of Greece, fell on the battlefield of Thermopylai. According to Herodotus (7.225), there ensued a Homeric struggle over the body of Leonidas, in which his men retrieved his remains from their Persian foe, but ultimately, to no avail. Soon they, too, perished at the Hot Gates, and could defend their dead king no longer. Xerxes ordered the decapitation of the corpse, and the head of Leonidas was fixed on a stake. As Pausanias informs us, it was not until some decades later – the exact amount of time is open to dispute - that Leonidas' remains were recovered by the Spartans. At this time, Leonidas' bones were transferred to central Sparta where they received a rite of secondary burial, interred in a tomb alongside that of Pausanias, the victorious general of Plataia. This paper will investigate the fate and treatment of Leonidas' remains in terms of the challenge faced by the Spartans when negotiating the memory of the events of Thermopylai both in the immediate aftermath of, and decades following, the Persian Wars.