Spartan Warriors; History versus Mythology: Historical Illustrations and a brief introduction to the legendary warriors of Ancient Greece.  Thermopylae & the 300 Spartans:   A fun and informative multi-media presentation in word paintings, music, and visual art... Featuring exciting new scientific & historical illustrations with word paintings by Contemporary American Visual Artist Howard David Johnson.

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"Return with your shield or on it" (Mixed Media) Was every Spartan woman's wartime farewell to her lover or even her son... Not even a Spartan MOTHER could forgive cowardice, the heavy shield made flight impossible...






  In the early days of history the Greeks differed vastly from the other two great civilized systems on the Nile and the two rivers of Mesopotamia. Persian King Darius was displeased with Greek settlements in Asia and attacked Greece directly in 490 B.C. 

   A great naval force fashioned to carry horses and entire armies was long and carefully prepared to subdue all of Greece, beginning with Athens. The Athenians hoped to delay battle until elite reinforcements from Sparta should join them, but the landing of the invasion force at Marathon being reinforced by Persian sympathizers nerved them to attack first. The two pronged attack was designed to lure the Athenian army away from Athens. 

   The Greeks advanced their phalanx (a wall of shields & spears) slowly until they came within range of the Persian archers, when they broke into a run. The arrows were ineffective at close range compared to the Greek spears. Soon they retreated, but the Greeks ran them down them from behind and killed them and war as we know it was born. After Pheidippides made his famous run from  Marathon to Athens he cried out the news; "Rejoice! we conquer!" and then he died from exhaustion. The Greek City-states had proven that they could fight and win even without the elite Spartans.


So Greece, united for a while by fear, gained her first victory over Persia. According to Herodotus the Persians lost 6,400 men, the Athenians only 192. The decisive victory gave Athenians confidence in the future of their city and their civilization. Darius received the news of this and of a rebellion in Egypt and died while planning his response.  Xerxes, his son and heir quickly dealt with Egypt and then set out to re-invade Greece.

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The Battle of THERMOPYLAE and the 300 SPARTANS

     Legendary in the annals of history are the Spartan Warriors of Ancient Greece. Fearless defenders of liberty, they followed a strict military way of life. In 480 B.C. three hundred Spartans under King Leonidas stood alone at the end against the enormous Persian army under the tyrannical King Xerxes who was sweeping southward into Greece. 

The 300 Spartans fought to the death against these impossible odds in the narrow mountain pass at Thermopylae (Gates of Fire ). The Persians took shocking casualties. Their narrow lines of wicker shields and short javelins were no match for the highly disciplined Spartan lines with their large bronze shields and long spears who slaughtered the Sea of Persians wave after wave.

        It was only after a betrayal of a secret path and the 700 Greek allies were ordered home to warn Greece that the 300 Spartans were finally overcome. Although the Spartans contributed little to the artistic and intellectual development of Greece, ironically, without them Democracy and Freedom would have been wiped out in their infancy...

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Earlier Spartan legends: Helen of Troy ( circa 1194 B.C. ) was often called"the face that launched a thousand ships" and "the most beautiful woman who ever lived". The Trojan War resulted when Paris, the prince of Troy carried her off during the reign of her husband the Spartan King Menelaus.

 Here Helen has just seen the sea lights of her husband's enormous amphibious  invasion fleet on the horizon. To recover Helen, the Acheans under Agamemnon, brother of Menelaus lay ferocious siege to Troy to no avail for ten years until Troy's champion Hector  was killed by Achilles, the bravest, handsomest, and swiftest of the army of Agamemnon, and he by in turn by Paris with a poisoned arrow guided by Apollo to his one vulnerable spot - the classic Achilles' heel while he rode in his chariot parading Hector's corpse...

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"Let us make an armed reconnaissance round the city and find out what the Trojans mean to do next, whether they will abandon their fortress now that their champion has fallen, or make up their minds to hold it without Hector's help." ~Homer

At last a wooden horse was contrived. Odysseus had masterminded a strategy to break the stalemate...

The Trojan Horse...

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In whose hollow interior many elite Achean Warriors hid themselves... leaving Their Giant Gift outside the city and withdrawing their army and fleet to Tenedos, feigning to have raised the siege. The Trojans conveyed the wooden horse into the city. Later that night the Greeks stole out and opened the gates, and Troy was taken. The Spartan King Menelaus recovered Helen and  forgave her. She was long thought to be merely a part of mythology - partly because of lack of evidence and partly because of the colorful portrayals of the Olympian gods as real beings in  Homer's "The Iliad"- prejudiced the scientific and academic communities to disregard the testimony of our surviving ancient histories

- until Archaeologists excavated Troy.

Also from Homer's The Iliad- "Achilles and Patroclas" MMVII mixed media

 Now, The Trojan War is one of the Legends of History as well...  Herodotus and Thucydides, like ancient pagan writers generally, accepted the Trojan War as historical, but criticized what they politely called "epic statements" in detail. Traditional genealogies, collated by Hecataeus of Miletus and others , enabled  Eratosthenes to date the fall of Troy to 1194 B.C. This is consistent with the accounts of the Roman scholar Pliny the elder and Egyptian records from Rameses' time as well.

Alexander the Great, Conqueror of the World

Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) conquered the known world. When Alexander saw the breadth of his kingdom he wept, "for there were no more new worlds to conquer". Although he built the city of Alexandria with it's legendary lighthouse, he was not a great builder or statesman like other notables of history. The real creator of this Legend of History is his father, Phillip of Macedonia. Just as a great playright does not bask in the limelight, but the actors, so it was with Phillip and his son Alexander the Great. Phillip conceived and planned everything, building the army and beginning the Persian expedition before his death. For a time the whole world, from the Adriatic to the Indus, was under one ruler; realizing the dreams of his father.  He and 90 of his generals and friends married Persian brides. This was called the marriage of Europe and Asia. At 31, he had been in possession of the Persian empire for six years and wore the robes and tiara of a Persian monarch. He broke with Greek tradition by shaving his face, becoming notoriously violent, vain, and egotistical in his last days. His career marks an epoch in human history and he remains a controversial figure to this day.

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This gallery is dedicated to our modern day defenders of freedom - serving in our armed forces

   The belief in Olympian gods and monsters was as commonplace then as our superstitions are today and some people are still prone to embellish true events with "epic statements".

Artist's Statement:


A portrait of the artist in his painting studio .

       "Did you know that many of the breathtaking works Pre-Raphaelites were doing in oils in the 1800’s were declared not to be Art? Not only not fine art, but not art at all! In London the Royal Academy had a very narrow view as to what qualified. No wonder Rossetti led a rebellion against them. How about other styles? Impressionism is a great example; It was not enough that these institutions rejected the work, but they felt the need to destroy the person’s reputation and livelihood. Of course collectors pay millions for these Impressionistic paintings now, and Curators, Historians and Professional Art Critics all hail them as sensitive works of fine art. When Monet submitted his work to the Salon in Paris, they said" A monkey has gotten a hold of a set of paints" and would paint huge "R"s for "rejected on the back canvas. Rejecting him was not enough for them. They wanted to be sure he never sold another picture. They wanted to hurt him and his family for sick sadistic pleasure. He got really good at re-stretching his canvas with a double layer to cover up their hateful defacement of his original art. They saw themselves as powerful as the deadly committee for public safety in the French Revolution as far as the Art World went and delighted in "sending artists to the guillotine", so to speak. 


      These hateful little petty tyrants were unable to keep his name out of the history books or to keep his paintings for selling for millions of dollars. This is the treatment someone who creates a new style gets, but developments in applied technology like manufactured tube paints as opposed to hand mixed paints were violently rejected by these types as well and they forcefully proclaimed anyone who used paints from a tube was not a "real artist". Actually, masters had several apprentices that would mix their paints for them. Well, tube paints are pretty well accepted now. So will photography and digital media in time. Today artists have computers instead of indentured servants. You probably  know how bad Photographers were treated, but now it is a respected Art Form.I read about the hateful things they said about Pastels and Mary Cassat, and now Pastel Paintings are considered Fine Art and Mary Cassat’s works are regarded as masterpieces. Now that snobs have Digital Artists to look down on, Colored Pencils are actually starting to get some respect. Digital artists- Our day too will come."

~Howard David Johnson 2006

By Popular Demand! So many have written asking how to tell the various media apart~ But friends! That's JUST my point! Left Digital Montage, Center: Prismacolor Painting, Right Oil on canvas


With a background in traditional media including oils, pastels & colored pencils, Howard David Johnson embraces leading edge digital media in the creation of his depictions of fantasy, folklore, mythology, legend, religion, and heroic history. He works in and mixes a wide variety of media * Oil paintings * Acrylic Paintings * Prismacolor Paintings * Drawings * Chalk & Oil Pastel Paintings * Photography * Digital Artistry & Mixed Media * 


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All  these images & text are legally copyrighted & were registered with the U.S. Library of Congress Office of Copyright by the author, Howard David Johnson All rights reserved worldwide. Permission for many legal non-commercial uses is freely available by simply contacting the author or visiting

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This Gallery is dedicated to our modern day Spartans ~ Our Men and Women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces

Thank you for visiting The Spartan Warriors of Ancient Greece Art Gallery...

an educational multi- media presentation in visual art, music, prose, and essay.