Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven PressfieldGates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield

Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

bySteven Pressfield

Mass Market Paperback | August 31, 1999

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER - "An incredibly gripping, moving, and literate work of art, rarely does an author manage to re-create a moment in history with such mastery, authority, and psychological insight." - Nelson DeMille

At Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Theirs was a suicide mission, to hold the pass against the invading millions of the mighty Persian army.

Day after bloody day they withstood the terrible onslaught, buying time for the Greeks to rally their forces. Born into a cult of spiritual courage, physical endurance, and unmatched battle skill, the Spartans would be remembered for the greatest military stand in history--one that would not end until the rocks were awash with blood, leaving only one gravely injured Spartan squire to tell the tale....

"A novel that is intricate and arresting and, once begun, almost impossible to put down." - Daily News 

"A timeless epic of man and war... Pressfield has created a new classic deserving a place beside the very best of the old." - Stephen Coonts
Steven Pressfield is the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance. a mystical golf novel currently under option with Robert Redford and Jake Eberts (Dances with Wolves, Driving Miss Daisy) for feature film adaptation.  He makes his home in Malibu, California.
Title:Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of ThermopylaeFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:480 pages, 6.85 × 4.17 × 1 inPublished:August 31, 1999Publisher:Random House Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0553580531

ISBN - 13:9780553580532

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book Overall a great story and easy to read after the first few pages. One morning I thought that was a great movie I watched last night, I didn`t watch a movie I read that book! Love that type of writing! All the Greek names are a bit difficult to get used to and I`m quite sure I wasn`t pronouncing them right in my head but that`s okay :)
Date published: 2017-09-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really Interesting The movie 300 was based on this book. The book itself delves deeper into the Spartans' lives - their discipline, their way of living and their philosophy of war and life. Their training is described in detail and so is war with its gore and muck. You can almost feel the heavy armour and the superhuman effort that the 300 made at the Hot Gates.
Date published: 2012-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from New Author Challenge #4 This was the final book in my New Author Challenge, and it was worth the time. Even though I found the beginning of this book to be a bit slow, things certainly picked up when the Spartans left for the Hot Gates to make their final stand. Pressfield's description of the battle scenes is feral, gory and intense. He deftly mixes fiction with fact and portrays the Spartans in a very realistic way. I can easily imagine his description of Leonidas as being accurate; as if he based it on a photo and an official biography from the Discovery Channel. He even does Xerxes justice by making him a lot more "human" (as much as a king can be) than the Xerxes portrayed in the film "300". Not that I didn't like that movie, but if you want to really experience the Battle of Thermopylae, Pressfield's novel is the way to do it.
Date published: 2010-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Read this book! Steven Pressfield delivers one of the best descriptions of ancient battlefields. After several chapters, your arm feels weary from battle fatigue, sweat forms on your skin from the pure intensity of the story. As you read this book, you are there, fighting side by side with the greatest warriors this world has ever seen. His tale of the brave Spartan stand at Thermopylae stands in the halls of great works which envoke a new (however fictional) ideal of the ancient warrior, and the courage and bravery and sacrifice committed to this battle. Pressfield uses the best descriptions of camaraderie, friendship, and the prime life of a warrior. The way Pressfield writes fictional second, third, even fourth hand accounts along with his extreme descriptions make this novel seem as much as a historical document as Herodotus' "The Histories."
Date published: 2007-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greatest historical novel of all time! Bought the book prior to the release of '300' and thought Pressfield's account of the battle to save Westerrn Civilization was better than the cinematic visual representations. This book carries the reader back to 480 BC, smack in the middle between the warring armies of Xerxes and King Leonidas. Upon reading the book one realizes how tough and skilled a Spartan Peer had to be. All of us owe a great debt to King Leonidas and his brave army. Awesome book!
Date published: 2007-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing I'm a 13 year old boy and I absolutely loved it. I also loved the word choice; it really described what was happening and made it feel like you were right there.
Date published: 2007-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Buy it, Read it, Love it, Read it again. It takes an amazing author to write a novel and keep an audience deeply intrigued when the audience knows how the story ends, and Steven Pressfield does that. Pressfield not only keeps you intrigued, but keeps you on the edge of your seat and plays with your emotions as he turns the main characters in this novel into your best friends. The battles and friendships are strikingly vivid and one can't help but feel more than sorry for them at their lows and ecstatic for them at their highs. My heart reached out for the characters in this story as i came to respect and revere them more than any person I know. I was reminded of honour and chivalry and was honestly inspired to be a better person because when i compared myself to the men in this story i found myself sorely lacking. Before i go into another personal rant i would just like to say that Steven Pressfield's, "Gates of Fire," may perhaps be one of the best books ever written. Ps. for lovers of battle and war, and sometimes gore, this is also a great read as the battles are more intense and brilliantly described than any other book I have ever read. .... Just read it.
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Friggin Fantastic This book was one of the best I have read in a very long time. The history was blended very well with the 'story' that accompanied it - making the reader truly feel what the author was trying to convey. I really enjoyed the characters and their interactions with eachother. READ THIS BOOK. It is now one of my fav's...after I finished the last page i couldn't wait to read it again.
Date published: 2003-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I havn't read a better book in my life!!! What more can you ask for. It is action packed and teaches everybody something new, interresting and different. Nobody has ever reconstructed ancient Sparta and battles like that. It gave me goosebumps. Pressfield should definately write more of these!!!!!!!
Date published: 2001-04-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Hmmm, . . . not bad While Prescott combined the improbable with the stupid, he nevertheless managed to tell the tale of the actual battle in an exciting manner. Overall, as a soft diversion, I quite enjoyed reading the book.
Date published: 2000-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gates of Fire is fantastic An absolute must read. I read this book in one day. I just couldn’t put it down, it was like I was watching an epic film.
Date published: 2000-06-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from "And I alone escaped to tell you" Job 1 In 480 BC 300 Spartans, charged with defending the Pass at Thermopylae (the "Gates of Fire") against the advancing Persian army, made a heroic stand in the face of overwhelming odds and certain death. They held out for 6 days before they were massacred to a man. Their story of courage and self-sacrifice is a moving and inspiring tale. It would be difficult for any author to make this story boring. Sadly, Steven Pressfield managed. Gates of Fire is narrated by the sole survivor, a slave at Sparta, who recounts not only the battle but also the circumstances which brought him to Sparta and his life in Sparta. His motivation for moving to and remaining at Sparta is unbelievable, the story of his lost love trite, and the ending of the novel hackneyed. The account of the battle itself does have some exciting scenes, most of which were written by the original sources which, to his credit, Pressfield did consult. Readers would be better off reading the primary sources as well.
Date published: 2000-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Peter Great story. Excellent potrayal of battle field tatics in the ancient greek world. Makes you feel like you are standing in the shield wall with the Spartans.
Date published: 2000-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply awesome This book was simply great. As a 2nd year history student at Nipissing university I really enjoyed this "soldier-eye" account of a battle I have studied many times. It was also great to be able to see the inner workings of the Spartan system. The characters, settings, politics and situations are all incredibly well researched and written. Simply amazing.
Date published: 1999-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gates of Fire This novel was well researched and is realistic. Narrated by Xeones, a survivor of the Battle of Thermopylae, who recounts his story to the court historian of Persia's King Xerxes. Xeones' story is one of an outsider, who as a young boy fled to Sparta after his own city was sacked. Through his eyes, we see what life was like in Sparta, not only for an outsider, but also for its own men and women. The battle accounts - especially the final narrative of Thermopylae - are very well done. The author has chosen not to candy-coat them, showing war in all its horrors. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
Date published: 1999-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gates of Fire A historical novel which takes the reader into the life of an ancient Spartan. There was no doubt that the Spartans would perish in the battle of Thermopylae, with only 300 soldiers against massive forces of Xerxes, King of Persia. But by going into great detail about the battles, and even having a sense of humour, the author makes the story suspenseful nonetheless. I really enjoyed this book, even though it was a little slow at the beginning, and would recommend it to anybody who enjoys reading ancient history.
Date published: 1999-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gates of Fire Possibly the best book released in 1998! Narrated by the fictitious sole survivor of the 480 BC battle of Thermopylae, where three-hundred Spartans and their allies held off the Persians, who outnumbered them two-thousand to one for an amazing seven days. Highly recommended for those who like the historical fiction of Christian Jacq, Colleen McCullough, Margaret or Wilbur Smith. Like watching Titanic, you know how it will end, but the characters are so compelling you can't stop.
Date published: 1999-03-19

Read from the Book

I had always wondered what it felt like to die.There was an exercise we of the battle train practiced when we served as  punching bags for the Spartan heavy infantry. It was called the Oak  because we took our positions along a line of oaks at the edge of the  plain of Otona, where the Spartiates and the Gentleman-Rankers ran their  field exercises in fall and winter. We would line up ten deep with  body-length wicker shields braced upon the earth and they would hit us,  the shock troops, coming across the flat in line of battle, eight deep, at  a walk, then a pace, then a trot and finally a dead run. The shock of  their interleaved shields was meant to knock the breath out of you, and it  did. It was like being hit by a mountain. Your knees, no matter how braced  you held them, buckled like saplings before an earthslide; in an instant  all courage fled our hearts; we were rooted up like dried stalks before  the ploughman's blade.That was how it felt to die. The weapon which slew me at Thermopylae was  an Egyptian hoplite spear, driven in beneath the plexus of the ribcage.  But the sensation was not what one would have anticipated, not being  pierced but rather slammed, like we sparring fodder felt beneath the  oaks.I had imagined that the dead would be detached. That they would look upon  life with the eyes of objective wisdom. But the experience proved the  opposite. Emotion ruled. It seemed nothing remained but emotion. My heart  ached and broke as never it could on earth. Loss encompassed me with a  searing, all-mastering pain. I saw my wife and children, my dear cousin  Diomache, she whom I loved. I saw Skamandridas, my father, and Eunike, my  mother, Bruxieus, Dekton and "Suicide," names which mean nothing to His  Majesty to hear, but which to me were dearer than life and now, dying,  dearer still.Away they flew. Away I flew from them.I was keenly conscious of the comrades-in-arms who had fallen with me. A  bond surpassing by a hundredfold that which I had known in life bound me  to them. I felt a sense of inexpressible relief and realized that I had  feared, more than death, separation from them. I apprehended that  excruciating war survivor's torment, the sense of isolation and  self-betrayal experienced by those who had elected to cling yet to breath  when their comrades had let loose their grip.That state which we call life was over.I was dead.And yet, titanic as was that sense of loss, there existed a keener one  which I now experienced and felt my brothers-in-arms feeling with me. It  was this.That our story would perish with us.That no one would ever know.I cared not for myself, for my own selfish or vainglorious purposes, but  for them. For Leonidas, for Alexandros and Polynikes, for Arete bereft by  her hearth and, most of all, for Dienekes. That his valor, his wit, his  private thoughts that I alone was privileged to share, that these and all  that he and his companions had achieved and suffered would simply vanish,  drift away like smoke from a woodland fire, this was unbearable.We had reached the river now. We could hear with ears that were no longer  ears and see with eyes that were no longer eyes the stream of Lethe and  the hosts of the long-suffering dead whose round beneath the earth was at  last drawing to a period. They were returning to life, drinking of those  waters which would efface all memory of their existence here as  shades.But we from Thermopylae, we were aeons away from drinking of Lethe's  stream. We remembered.A cry which was not a cry but only the multiplied pain of the warriors'  hearts, all feeling what I, too, felt, rent the baleful scene with  unspeakable pathos.Then from behind me, if there can be such a thing as "behind" in that  world where all directions are as one, came a glow of such sublimity that  I knew, we all knew at once, it could be nothing but a god.Phoebus Far Darter, Apollo himself in war armor, moved there among the  Spartiates and Thespaians. No words were exchanged; none were needed. The  Archer could feel the men's agony and they knew without speech that he,  warrior and physician, was there to succor it. So quickly that surprise  was impossible I felt his eye turn toward me, me the last and least who  could expect it, and then Dienekes himself was beside me, my master in  life.I would be the one. The one to go back and speak. A pain beyond all  previous now seized me. Sweet life itself, even the desperately sought  chance to tell the tale, suddenly seemed unendurable alongside the pain of  having to take leave of these whom I had come so to love.But again, before the god's majesty, no entreaty was possible.I saw another light, a sicklier, cruder, more coarse illumination, and  knew that it was the sun. I was soaring back. Voices came to me through  physical ears. Soldiers' speech, in Egyptian and Persian, and  leather-gauntleted fists pulling me from beneath a sheaf of corpses.The Egyptian marines told me later that I had uttered the word  lokas, which in their tongue meant "fuck," and they had laughed  even as they dragged my shattered body out into the light of day.They were wrong. The word was Loxias--the Greek title of respect  for Apollo the Cunning, or Apollo Crabwise, whose oracles arise ever  elusive and oblique--and I was half crying to him, half cursing him for  laying this terrible responsibility on me who had no gift to perform  it.As poets call upon the Muse to speak through them, I croaked my  inarticulate grunt to the Striker From Afar.If indeed you have elected me, Archer, then let your fine-fletched arrows  spring from my bow. Lend me your voice, Far Darter. Help me to tell the  tale. Thermopylae is a spa. The word in Greek means "hot gates," from the  thermal springs and, as His Majesty knows, the narrow and precipitous  defiles which form the only passages by which the site may be  approached--in Greek, pylae or pylai, the East and West  Gates.The Phokian Wall around which so much of the most desperate fighting took  place was not constructed by the Spartans and their allies in the event,  but stood in existence prior to the battle, erected in ancient times by  the inhabitants of Phokis and Lokris as defense against the incursions of  their northern neighbors, the Thessalians and Macedonians. The wall, when  the Spartans arrived to take possession of the pass, stood in ruins. They  rebuilt it.The springs and pass themselves are not considered by the Hellenes to  belong to the natives of the area, but are open to all in Greece. The  baths are thought to possess curative powers; in summer the site teems  with visitors. His Majesty beheld the charm of the shaded groves and pool  houses, the oak copse sacred to Amphiktyon and that pleasantly meandering  path bounded by the Lion's Wall, whose stones are said to have been set in  place by Herakles himself. Along this in peacetime are customarily arrayed  the gaily colored tents and booths used by the vendors from Trachis,  Anthela and Alpenoi to serve whatever adventurous pilgrims have made the  trek to the mineral baths.There is a double spring sacred to Persephone, called the Skyllian  fountain, at the foot of the bluff beside the Middle Gate. Upon this site  the Spartans established their camp, between the Phokian Wall and the  hillock where the final tooth-and-nail struggle took place. His Majesty  knows how little drinking water is to hand from other sources in the  surrounding mountains. The earth between the Gates is normally so parched  and dust-blown that servants are employed by the spa to oil the walkways  for the convenience of the bathers. The ground itself is hard as  stone.His Majesty saw how swiftly that marble-hard clay was churned into muck  by the contending masses of the warriors. I have never seen such mud and  of such depth, whose moisture came only from the blood and terror-piss of  the men who fought upon it. When the advance troops, the Spartan rangers, arrived at Thermopylae  prior to the battle, a few hours before the main body which was advancing  by forced march, they discovered, incredibly, two parties of spa-goers,  one from Tiryns, the other from Halkyon, thirty in all, men and women,  each in their separate precincts, in various states of undress. These  pilgrims were startled, to say the least, by the sudden appearance in  their midst of the scarlet-clad armored Skiritai, all picked men under  thirty, chosen for speed of foot as well as prowess in mountain fighting.  The rangers cleared the bathers and their attendant perfume vendors,  masseurs, fig-cake and bread sellers, bath and oil girls, strigil boys and  so forth (who had ample intelligence of the Persian advance but had  thought that the recent down-valley storm had rendered the northern  approaches temporarily impassable). The rangers confiscated all food,  soaps, linens and medical accoutrements and in particular the spa tents,  which later appeared so grimly incongruous, billowing festively above the  carnage. The rangers reerected these shelters at the rear, in the Spartan  camp beside the Middle Gate, intending them for use by Leonidas and his  royal guard. The Spartan king, when he arrived, refused to avail himself of this  shelter, deeming it unseemly. The Spartiate heavy infantry likewise  rejected these amenities. The tents fell, in one of the ironies to which  those familiar with war are accustomed, to the use of the Spartan helots,  Thespaian, Phokian and Opountian Lokrian slaves and other attendants of  the battle train who suffered wounds in the arrow and missile barrages.  These individuals, too, after the second day refused to accept shelter.  The brightly colored spa tents of Egyptian linen, now in tatters, came as  His Majesty saw to protect only the beasts of transport, the mules and  asses supporting the commissariat, who became terrorized by the sights and  smells of the battle and could not be held by their teamsters. In the end  the tents were torn to rags to bind the wounds of the Spartiates and their  allies.When I say Spartiates, I mean the formal term in Greek,  Spartiatai, which refers to Lakedaemonians of the superior class,  full Spartans--the homoioi--Peers or Equals. None of the class  called Gentleman-Rankers or of the perioikoi, the secondary  Spartans of less than full citizenship, or those enlisted from the  surrounding Lakedaemonian towns, fought at the Hot Gates, though toward  the end when the surviving Spartiates became so few that they could no  longer form a fighting front, a certain "leavening element," as Dienekes  expressed it, of freed slaves, armor bearers and battle squires, was  permitted to fill the vacated spaces.His Majesty may nonetheless take pride in knowing that his forces  defeated the flower of Hellas, the cream of her finest and most valiant  fighting men.As for my own position within the battle train, the explanation may  require a certain digression, with which I hope His Majesty will be  patient.I was captured at age twelve (or, more accurately, surrendered) as a  heliokekaumenos, a Spartan term of derision which means literally  "scorched by the sun." It referred to a type of nearly feral youth, burned  black as Ethiopians by their exposure to the elements, with which the  mountains abounded in those days preceding and following the first Persian  War. I was cast originally among the Spartan helots, the serf class that  the Lakedaemonians had created from the inhabitants of Messenia and Helos  after they in centuries past had conquered and enslaved them. These  husbandmen, however, rejected me because of certain physical impairments  which rendered me useless for field labor. Also the helots hated and  mistrusted any foreigner among them who might prove an informer. I lived a  dog's life for most of a year before fate, luck or a god's hand delivered  me into the service of Alexandros, a Spartan youth and protege of  Dienekes. This saved my life. I was recognized at least ironically as a  freeborn and, evincing such qualities of a wild beast as the  Lakedaemonians found admirable, was elevated to the status of  parastates pais, a sort of sparring partner for the youths enrolled  in the agoge, the notorious and pitiless thirteen-year training  regimen which turned boys into Spartan warriors.Every heavy infantryman of the Spartiate class travels to war attended by  at least one helot. Enomotarchai, the platoon leaders, take two.  This latter was Dienekes' station. It is not uncommon for an officer of  his rank to select as his primary attendant, his battle squire, a freeborn  foreigner or even a young mothax, a noncitizen or bastard Spartan  still in agoge training. It was my fortune, for good or ill, to be  chosen by my master for this post. I supervised the care and transport of  his armor, maintained his kit, prepared his food and sleeping site, bound  his wounds and in general performed every task necessary to leave him free  to train and fight.My childhood home, before fate set me upon the road which found its end  at the Hot Gates, was originally in Astakos in Akarnania, north of the  Peloponnese, where the mountains look west over the sea toward Kephallinia  and, beyond the horizon, to Sikelia and Italia.The island of Ithaka, home of Odysseus of lore, lay within sight across  the straits, though I myself was never privileged to touch the hero's  sacred soil, as a boy or later. I was due to make the crossing, a treat  from my aunt and uncle, on the occasion of my tenth birthday. But our city  fell first, the males of my clan were slaughtered and females sold into  slavery, our ancestral land taken, and I cast out, alone save my cousin  Diomache, without family or home, three days before the start of my tenth  year to heaven, as the poet says.

From Our Editors

This gripping novel by Steven Pressfield tells the breathtaking battle story of the Persians and Greeks. Two million Persian invaders came to the mountain pass of Thermopylae in eastern Greece in 480 BC There to meet them were 300 of Sparta’s finest warriors. For six days, the Greek loyalists fought to the death of the last man and because of them, their countrymen were able to defeat the Persians later that year. Gates of Fire is their glorious and terrifying story. Historically accurate, powerful, beautifully written, this epic work transports you to another time.

Editorial Reviews

"Steven Pressfield brings the battle of Thermopylae to brilliant life, and he does for that war what Charles Frazier did for the Civil War in Cold Mountain."--Pat Conroy"Gripping and exciting, romantic, star-crossed story."--The New York Times"An incredibly gripping, moving, and literate work of art. Rarely does an author manage to re-create a moment in history with such mastery, authority, and psychological insight."--Nelson DeMille"A novel that is intricate and arresting and, once begun, almost impossible to put down."--Daily News"A timeless epic of man and war...Pressfield has created a new classic deserving of a place beside the very best of the old."--Stephen Coonts