I have no idea why this popped into my head today.
Xerxes I otherwise know as Xerxes the Great is remembered by history for some great accomplishments, mostly because of various building projects. Xerxes inherited the Persian Empire built by his father Darius. Darius had conquered large tracts of land and most of the eastern Mediterranean world was under his influence if not his direct control. He completed his fathers building projects, maintained an impressive road system and was known for his grandeur.
Xerxes ruled over large tracts of land. He had many impressive construction projects. He was famous for crushing revolts in Egypt and Babylon. Xerxes was an able executive, builder, and warrior. He was far more successful as a king than any number of men who have held that honor. Depending on how you rank such men, he is definitely in the top 20 of such rulers in oriental history.
However 2,500 years after Xerxes lived, reigned and died, the world remembers and honors one of his enemies the son of Anaxandridas. This other man was a king too. He ruled a small city state that was unnoticeable in terms of land mass and population, compared to Xerxes.
The son of Anaxandridas had no major accomplishments as a builder, administrator or conquer. This king wasn't even his father's or his countrymen's first choice as king. As a boy he was sent off to public school just like the other boys in his town. He wasn't groomed to be a ruler or regent. He is best known and probably only remembered because he defied and was defeated by Xerxes. Two words that he uttered are remembered by mortals, "ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ".
Leonidas was the looser and Xerxes the winner. Despite what you may have heard it wasn't just 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. Originally there were between 7,000 to 9,000 in the combined Greek army. Leonidas and the Greeks stood off the Persians for week. Probably because Leonidas knew the defense of Thermopylae was hopeless, and wanting to preserve the bulk of the men, and maybe he believed the rest of the army was coming behind him, he ordered a retreat. Being a man of honor he commanded the rear guard. Also not generally known is the fact that two other groups were present for the last stand. There were about 900 helots (a group of people enslaved by the Spartans) and about 700 Thebans.
The Thebans surrendered at the start of the battle. Nothing is known of how the slaves conducted themselves. They are assumed to have been killed early on. The battle accomplished nothing for Greece militarily. Yet Leonidas and his little band of 300 are held in honor.