From a purely tactical perspective, last stands are desperate acts that sometimes buy a bit of time. But in the imagination, they have effects that, in certain cases, echo for thousands of years. (Which make them exciting review topics, history teachers.)
Perhaps the most famous of the last stands is the Battle of Thermopylae, immortalized most recently by the movie 300. Legends about the battle were widespread even in ancient times. Alexander the Great, fighting 100 years later, sent 300 Persian uniforms to Sparta as homage after he defeated the Persians. The phrase “Molon Labe,” or “Come and Get Them,” which was King Leonidas’s laconic response to an order to surrender his weapons, has become a motto of numerous military and police forces around the world. Many gyms feature “Spartan” workouts. It is important to note that Sparta essentially disappeared two thousand years ago.
The Fall of Constantinople captured European imaginations for centuries. Constantine XI (pictured), who many historians now regard as the final Roman Emperor, tore off his imperial garments and charged with his infantry at the invading Ottomans. His body was never recovered, but he was immortalized as the “Sleeping King.” Stories of his imminent return circulated around Europe along with claims to being the Third Rome.
That claim was surprisingly widespread: Ivan the Great, in Russia, married Constantine XI’s niece. His office would become known as the “czar” after Caesar. The Bulgarians also started calling their ruler Czar. The German Empire staked a claim, calling their leader Kaiser, also after Caesar. The Italian Renaissance was a conscious attempt, with the help of the Greek scholars that fled Constantinople, to regain the glory of Rome. Hundreds of years later, Mussolini would talk about “Terza Roma.”
We often forget that our founding fathers, when establishing a legislative branch, could have named it “parliament,” but instead found calling the upper house the "Senate” more appropriate. Were they inspired by the idea of a Third Rome?
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