Gates of Fire is a historically fictional description through the eyes of a man named Xeones that led him to be a squire in the battle of Thermopalye. He was one of three Greeks that survived the battle at the Hot Gates against the Persian army. The accounts were recorded by Xerxes’ historian, Gobartes, while Xeones himself retold his tale. Eventually befriending Orontes, Captain of the Immortals, and the historian Gobartes, Xeones died of his injuries, and his remains were returned to his cousin Diomache by Orontes.
The story begins with the Persian army recovering the Greek Xeones who was clinging to life. Xerxes ordered his surgeons to revive the man so he can tell the story of how the Spartans and Thespians held off the Persian army. Upon regaining consciousness, the man began his story, starting with his days in Astakos with his cousin Diomache. He explains the morning the Argives attacked his city and burned it to the ground, leaving him, his cousin, and their servant Bruxieus to wander the countryside.
After Bruxieus’ death, the two eventually happened upon the Three Corner Way, where they parted ways, Diomache headed toward Athens, and Xeones headed toward Sparta. Throughout the book, Xeones recalls the struggles of life in Sparta, including being assigned as a squire to a boy by the name of Alexandros who was in the agoge, the military program all children of Sparta must complete to become Spartan Peers. He describes seeing Spartans in battle for the first time, eventually being reassigned to a Spartan Peer named Dienekes, who was a Spartan Officer and platoon commander.
As squire to Alexandros and later Dienekes, Xeones was introduced to Lady Arete, wife of Dienekes. Lady Arete not only treated Xeones with respect, but also assisted him in finally getting into contact with his cousin Diomache, who had taken refuge in the Shrine of Persephone in the wake of the incoming Persian invasion.
The final chapters are intertwined with not only accounts from Xeones about the battle at the Hot Gates, but also accounts from Gobartes and Xerxes after the defeat of the Greek army at the Hot Gates. Xeones explained how the Persian army failed the first two days of the battle due to the narrow battlefield and their small shields making them easily susceptible to the Spartans and Thespians “8 footers” or spears. The turning point was deserters and traitors, sneaking over to the Persians side and giving them information to sneak around and flank the army from behind. In the last hours of the battle, Leonidas freed all living squires that had fought from their servitude to the Spartans, as well as told the other armies of Greece to got back to their cities, knowing they faced defeat from the never-ending warriors of the Persian army coming from the front and the rear. The only other army to stay with the remaining one hundred Spartans were the three hundred remaining Thespians. Together they sacrificed their lives to stop the Persians long enough for the other armies to escape. After the battle of Thermopalye and the destruction of Xerxes’ fleet north of Greece, Gobartes explained that the culminating battle for Greece was against an army of one hundred thousand Greeks and the remaining four hundred thousand Persians. Being out skilled and out matched the Persian army was utterly defeated, causing Gobartes to come in contact with the Spartan Dekton, who Xeones had mentioned by name as Rooster. After Gobartes had explained of his experience with Xeones, he was forced into servitude for over two years before being allowed to return to the Persian army, who no longer attempted to invade Greece.
I believe the purpose of this book is to show that true leadership is fighting and training alongside others, through thick and thin, and never backing down from a challenge. I also believe that even in numbers, skill and leadership can win battles thought to be impossible to win. The superior leadership and training the Spartans underwent from boyhood lead to victory in many battles, and is the reason the three hundred Spartans are talked about to this day.