Historical Typing: King Leonidas of Sparta
The ground shakes as hordes of Persian soldiers stomp the cracked earth in unison, marching toward the Hot Gates. There, a small group of elite soldiers — 300 Spartans — and a handful of Grecian platoons, await their fate. They are led by a man, now nearly 60, who commands the type of loyalty that emboldens his men to stare into the pit of death, and embrace it as if it were a gift.
Having deftly outmaneuvered the politicians and holding only to the deep patriotism he has for his home, Leonidas plants his feet and crouches behind his shield. Shields overlapping with his warrior brothers, they each become a cog in the impenetrable Spartan frontline.
Leonidas does not shake or shiver. There is no doubt in his mind. He does not doubt he will die. His courage is resolute. But it is more than courage that motivates him — it is his purpose. He is convinced that this impossible resistance against the Persian hoards, which he knows will claim his life, will save his country for generations to come — just as the Oracle had predicted. If his death is the price to pay, so be it.
And little did Leonidas know that his selfless example would be remembered again and again, not just by his own countrymen, but by cultures and nations everywhere, for thousands of years to come.
Intro to Historical Typing
This is our first article in an experimental typing series focused on psychoanalyzing influential figures of the past. The article-length analysis gives us the opportunity to dig into the psyches of historical figures with more depth, precision, and respect for narrative than in other mediums. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
The Challenge of Historical Typing
The first challenge of historical typing is, of course, accuracy. Particularly with figures whose stories reach far into the past, and in some cases disappear behind the horizon of myth and legend, accurately analyzing the person behind the historical figure becomes difficult.
Leonidas proves especially challenging because of the sparse information we have on his personal life, his internal conversation, and the things he might have written or said. We have fragments of information to work with, but all of this is subservient to the gravitational pull of the single event at Thermopylae, and his proceeding legend.
However, despite this challenge, any figure we choose to examine is done with the belief that we can provide a meaningful psychological analysis of how their life can be better understood, and more deeply appreciated, by examining their type.
Some of these figures may be narrowed down to two types and, mixed with the facts of their life and legend, further analysis will be left up to you to decide for yourself what you believe.
The point of this exercise of historical typing is not to die on the hill of what we believe their psychological type is, but to provide the facts and the narrative to frame the figures’ type through and draw conclusions that illuminate their souls.
And, at the end of the day, our other motivation remains to demonstrate the reach of the application of the 4 Sides Dynamics. It reshapes many of our perspectives on life and rejuvenates the past — and the dead — in unexpected and, shall we say, exhilarating ways.
The Cultural View of Leonidas’ Type
Why is it important to discuss what other people think Leonidas’ type is? As we’ve seen with our fictional typing series or Chase’s monthly typing of famous people, most people are wrong most of the time when it comes to others’ types. However, in the case of figures whose influence has spread throughout history and culture, understanding the context of our collective perspective proves vital.
Often, our perceptions of a person may be valid. To perceive Leonidas as a brave, selfless, dangerous, and convicted battle leader is valid from the historical sources we understand him through. But when we draw conclusions based on our perceptions, that is where the inaccuracies start to pile up.
Why is this? Because an action can be brave, but as we know, any action can have two, sometimes more, reasons behind it. To analyze behavior accurately, we have to understand the why behind an action. Revealing the “intent” becomes a tool to understand a person’s type.
Further, there are times when our culture is correct about someone’s type. And some of these figures will accurately reflect the culture’s belief. But even then, there is much left unsaid. As those who study the 4 Sides of the Mind know, someone’s psychological type is just the beginning of understanding who they are.
Leonidas as a Global Legend
As Paul Cartledge (PHD), points out in his account of Thermopylae, Leonidas’ legend has taken an unusual turn. He is not only remembered thousands of years after his death, but he is deeply celebrated globally.
We see examples of this in popular media, first of the 300 graphic novel by Frank Miller, which then became the epic, 300, film by Zach Snyder. Later, one of the most prolific video game anthologies to date, Assassins Creed, debuted a stunning, albeit brief, portrait of Leonidas (appropriately with gray hair!) in Assassins Creed: Odyssey. And there’s even a Belgian chocolate company named Leonidas, emblemed with the head of a spartan soldier!
It is further the author’s opinion that portrayals of Leonidas, whether it be in comic book, film, video game, or even chocolate should be responded to with a measure of respect.
Why? Because if we study Jungian Analytical Psychology, and regard Jung’s teachings with any validity, we cannot ignore one of his most famous concepts of all: the Collective Unconscious. The Collective Unconscious permits us to believe that we may find truths about historical figures who are tucked away deep in the past when we express them through the power of our imagination. We tap into something greater than simply our own memory or research.
All these expressions of Leonidas in game, book, and film have captured something within our culture. And, very likely, they’ve captured a piece of Leonidas as well. They can, with prudence, be inserted into the puzzle of Leonidas’ psychology. The Collective Unconscious, then, allows us to understand things about Leonidas that have never been explicitly recorded by the history books.
Leonidas as an ENTJ or ESTP?
A quick Google search and you’ll see that the cultural conclusion of Leonidas’ type reveals two possibilities: ENTJ or ESTP.
Intuitively, these make sense. And from a cultural perspective, the “intuitive” sense is about as far as you will get. Seeing a bold, charismatic, and skilled leader “intuitively” leads us to ENTJ as a first choice, and ESTP — a great warrior, skilled in tactical combat, and leading his small group of soldiers — a close second.
But here, we do not deal in mere “intuition” when it comes to type. Intuition, even cultural, is a starting point. But it is not the way home.
Psychological Threads of Spartan Society
To Type Leonidas properly we’re going to go on a bit of a journey, laying out vital principles of Spartan culture, then moving our way up to Leonidas’ life circumstance, then specifically to the man himself. We need more context to utilize the little we do know of Leonidas to maximize precision.
The Influence of Spartan Culture
Spartan society was a ruthless, demanding place. Spartan culture demonized weakness and inability as akin to a death sentence. Literally. The legend of newborn babies seen as “unfit” — who were thrown to the wilderness to die — is not a legend. It is historical fact.
What we can draw from this fact is that Spartan culture was extremely performance-based. Perhaps it was the most performance-based society in history! What does this mean? If someone was to survive, especially men who were all sent to school to become warriors, then their Cognitive Development would be very likely to push them toward the side of their mind where they were most physically competent.
- For a higher Se user, their Ego becomes a comfortable home base for performance. However, they experience pressure in their Shadow to obtain more strength and discipline through habitual repetition. Spartan warriors of the four SP types would likely be Shadow Developed.
- For a lower Se user, Se Child or Inferior, it would push them to extreme development in their Subconscious, where their Se grows into an Se Parent or Hero in their SP Subconscious. Spartan warriors of the four NJ types would likely be Subconscious developed.
- The discipline of the high Si user would need to be balanced with tactical skill and overall performance in their SP Shadow. Much like the SJ warriors we have today in our military, the SJ Spartan warriors would likely be Shadow focused as well.
- A lower Si user would be more likely to develop in their Subconscious than Shadow, as having a higher expression of Si could be sufficient to function as a disciplined, strong, and practiced soldier. Also, any of the NPs, when developing their affiliative, SJ Subconscious, would learn to be more comfortable as part of a unit.
These are not hard and fast rules. But if a male citizen wanted to thrive in the ever-demanding society of Sparta, their psyche would be forced develop into whichever side gave them the greatest tools as a warrior. Did Leonidas follow the same pattern? Yes, he did.
Culture of Death
“The Spartans — uniquely in all Greece — took the view that death in itself was nothing to be feared but rather something to be literally lived with and daily stared in the face … The searing relevance of this attitude and behavior to the Thermopylae campaign becomes almost painfully apparent.” — Paul Cartledge, Thermopylae
For the Spartans, death in battle was the most honorable way to pass. The famous Spartan maxim, regarding a Spartan’s shield and return from battle — “With it – or on it!” — further clarifies the Spartan ethic: Victory or death!
Leonidas, the Man
We’ve said that history has recorded very little of Leonidas, the man. But from that small pile of notes, we can construct portions of a profile. Leonidas’ profile begins before he was even born.
Leonidas was never supposed to be King. He had a brother who was in line for the throne before him. Cleomenes I took the throne, but later died unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances.
Because he was not the direct heir, Leonidas was sent to warrior school — the Agoge — from an early age. The Agoge was a twenty-plus year education regarding all the skills to be an effective warrior: physically, intellectually, and relationally.
When Cleomenes I died, Leonidas became King just ten years before the Battle of Thermopylae. Being a warrior his whole life before taking the throne, Leonidas was no doubt a non-traditional ruler. But the warrior never left him, and history thanks him for it to this day.
1) Spartan Brotherhood
“[The Spartans] are the equal of any man when they fight as individuals; fighting together as a collective, they surpass all other men.” — Demaratus’ to Xerxes.
The fact that Leonidas was not raised as a normal Spartan King, and that he trained in the Agoge leads us to a vital insight. Of the several thousand available Spartan warriors, he took 300 with him. The question is: Why those 300?
History tells us that Leonidas only took soldiers who already had sons to carry on their family’s lineage. But of the thousands of available Spartan troops, it’s likely Leonidas has a lot to pick from. Why is this important? Because it’s likely that Leonidas chose the specific 300, in part, because he trusted them and was closer to them than other soldiers Leonidas could have chosen.
Spartan culture was set up so that the lives of their warriors were more focused and entangled with the other soldiers than with their families. In fact, Spartan men were not permitted to live with their wives until the age of 30.
For the Spartan warriors, the focus was on their growth as elite soldiers. If they were not immediately permitted the time and space to bond deeply with their families, who would be left to bond with but the fellow soldiers?
Leonidas, having gone through the Agoge before becoming King, would be able to relate to the Spartans on a personal level. He was not just revered as a figure of authority, he was a brother to his soldiers. Leonidas didn’t just want any of the 300 Spartans, he wanted those 300 — those closest and most loyal to him. And he ensured the doomed 300 had lineage to carry on their name.
The Spartan senate was not in support of Leonidas taking any of the soldiers to meet Xerxes head-on. It was also the time of a sacred festival — the Carneia — which severely limited the amount of soldiers Leonidas could take.
Leonidas conceived of his men as brothers — perhaps his true family — and his own “wolfpack” that would be loyal to him to the bitter end. But it was not bitter, was it? It was glorious.
“For the Thermopylae three hundred were to be in effect a suicide squad, of a peculiarly Spartan kind — entirely consistently with their upbringing and with the way in which Leonidas had conceived and pitched his own role.” — Paul Cartledge, Thermopylae
And we must ask, what type of person is able to cultivate such loyalty that 300 men would willingly sign up for a walk into certain death?
2) The Oracle’s Prophecy
Before going to battle, Leonidas was said to have visited the Delphic Oracle who prophesied to him. She told Leonidas that either the Persian army would overtake Sparta or a Spartan King would die.
It is possible that the Oracle’s prophecy was a primary factor for Leonidas’ willingness to confront the Persians head-on, particularly under such dire circumstances. He took the Oracle’s words seriously — perhaps even as a divine truth — which gave his mission heftiness, as if his orders to meet Xerxes’ head on were stamped by the gods themselves.
3) What Numbers?
From Plutarch: A comrade asked the King: “Leonidas, are you here to take such a hazardous risk with so few men against so many?’”
Leonidas replied: “If you men think that I rely on numbers, then all Greece is not sufficient, for it is but a small fraction of their numbers; but if on men’s valor, then this number will do.”
Leonidas not only didn’t bother with the numbers, he outright ignored them. The fact that his Spartan brotherhood was so disastrously outnumbered didn’t faze him in the least. If anything, it heightened his conviction and his resolve in mounting his brutal defense.
What can we say about Leonidas? A man, nearly 60, hair grayed, almost beginning to feel the wear of his age, marches out against the world power of his time with a small batch of men. Leonidas’ story is a David and Goliath story, and arguably even more impressive.
We’ve established three main pieces of evidence. 1) The brotherhood, 2) The Oracle, and 3) The numbers. Let’s see what we can do with them.
The emphasis on the Spartan brotherhood, with Leonidas unquestionably being their leader, points, at the very least, to Extraverted Sensing. Se users are seeking to command loyalty from others — none more so than the four Templars.
And Leonidas, aware of how psychologically taxing his soldier’s direct confrontation with death would be, did not stand in the back behind his soldiers. As the tip of the spear in the Spartan’s formation, he risked more than the rest.
In a message he sent to dispatchers to other Greek magistrates, he said, simply: “I will not be behind these, but first in the fight.”
Leonidas was an Extraverted Sensing (Se) user.
Which types would take the words of an Oracle as seriously as Leonidas did? The Pragmatic + Concrete types, skeptical of authority and the unseen, would be the least likely to even visit the Oracle. But Leonidas sought the Oracle out, as if it were a tradition, and as if Leonidas was looking for some wisdom — for a path, forward.
It is the Affiliative + Abstract types who are most likely not only to be open-minded to a figure like the Oracle, but actively seek her out. The Oracle was accepted by the Spartan society as a figure of insight. And Leonidas heard her words with great care. Her words ultimately became his conviction.
For you, inhabitants of wide-wayed Sparta,
Either your great and glorious city must be wasted by Persian men,
Or if not that, then the bound of Lacedaemon must mourn a dead king, from Heracles’ line.
The Oracle gave Leonidas a choice: enslavement to the Persians, or the sacrifice of a King to maintain Sparta’s independence. Leonidas did not even have to ponder which choice he would make, and which path he would take. It was as if his fate was revealed to him, and all he had to do was say, “Yes.”
Leonidas was most likely an Abstract + Affiliative type.
The numbers meant nothing to Leonidas. Leonidas did not wage war based on the statistics or logistics alone — especially in what he knew would be a death sentence against the Persians. He knew that there would be no returning from the Battle at Thermopylae.
The choice then, in choosing his men, was about who could help him make the biggest impact — sound the biggest horn to wake up the Spartan officials — and cut deepest into the Persian lines before his time came.
The consensus of Leonidas’ being an ESTP or ENTJ fails the test on many accounts, but especially here. The impossibility of him being an ENTJ is almost laughable in light of Leonidas’ priorities.
The ENTJ — with their Extraverted Thinking Hero — makes decisions through data, research, and statistics. Of all the types, especially because the ENTJ is pragmatic, no one cares more about the numbers than the ENTJ.
What about the ESTP? Some of the evidence leads us to see ESTP as a possibility. But there are two things wrong with Leonidas as an ESTP. ESTPs care about numbers too — they have Extraverted Thinking in their Critic slot. They don’t care nearly as much as the ENTJ, but an ESTP within their Te Critic — and Ni Inferior — would be much more likely to take one look at the sheer magnitude of how much they were outnumbered and say: That’s not possible.
Further, ESTPs thrive as leaders of small, tribal societies, which Sparta was most certainly not. How many leaders of countries were ESTPs? Likely not many.
Both the ENTJ and the ESTP are Outcome types. This means that if they can’t see a good outcome, there is next to zero motivation to embark on the journey. Leonidas, with his willingness to go on the journey of preparation, battle, and ultimately death, reveals that he was a Progression type.
And as seemingly suicidal as the Thermopylae campaign was, it’s likely that Leonidas hoped his men could survive, even if he could not. Still, he was willing to embrace the journey to see how his life would end, and who would be left.
An ENTJ or ESTP may not have even marched to meet Xerxes in the first place. Neither of them would be likely to take the Oracle’s words seriously, either. And it would take a lot for either of them to walk into the jaws of death so willingly as Leonidas did. Leonidas was NOT an ENTJ or an ESTP.
Closing In On Leonidas’s Type
Another look at his quote: “If you men think that I rely on numbers, then all Greece is not sufficient, for it is but a small fraction of their numbers; but if on men’s valor, then this number will do.”
Did you notice that? Did you see what Leonidas revealed about his Cognitive Function preference through this quote alone?
If you recall the Cognitive Battlegrounds, first introduced by Chris Taylor (Part I, Part II), then you will remember that there is a constant tension in our minds over which functions we prefer. This tension is through the Cognitive Functions known as Reflectors — or mirror functions. In the above quote, which functions do you think are in tension with each other? And which functions win in that tension?
The fact that Leonidas doesn’t care about the Te data means that Extraverted Thinking is likely in the lower half of his mind. Also, Leonidas knew from his years of his experience as a king and warrior, that the quantity of soldiers was subservient to the quality of them.
“But if on men’s valor, then this number will do.” This is an elevation of Extraverted Feeling in the Ego over Extraverted Thinking. In the Cognitive Battlegrounds, Fe wins over Te in Leonidas’ psyche.
Further, the complete disregard of Te means that Te is most likely very low in his mind — either in the Trickster or Demon slot — meaning that Fe is very high — either in the Hero or Parent slot.
And in the quote itself, you see two full cycles of “If, then” statements — revealing a preference for Ti over Fi. Leonidas was an Ti/Fe user.
Further, again through the Cognitive Battlegrounds, we see Leonidas repressing his own safety as he willingly sacrifices his own life. In the Cognitive Battleground between the Reflectors of Introverted Intuition and Introverted Sensing, Ni clearly wins out. And this further confirms our case, earlier, of Leonidas being an Se user.
Leonidas was a high Fe user Templar: ENFJ or INFJ.
We must return one last time to this vital quote for our analysis: “If you men think that I rely on numbers, then all Greece is not sufficient, for it is but a small fraction of their numbers; but if on men’s valor, then this number will do.”
If you’ve been following S7, P2 with the Deadly Sin content, or S18 with the Temple content, you’ll know that we can now use the Temples and the accompanying Deadly Sins, Living Virtues, Temple Origins (or Vehicles), and Poles to type.
If it’s between the INFJ and ENFJ, we know it’s between the Soul Temple (which the INFJ is part of), and the Mind Temple (which the ENFJ is part of). The above quote is a clear example of a Soul Temple perspective — with character being the overarching theme of the Soul Temple’s purpose and motivation.
His warriors’ “valor” — their courage, their character, and their substance — wins over anything else. Further, if Leonidas is a Progression type, he can’t be an ENFJ. Leonidas was an INFJ.
For those who want a little more, including Leonidas’s Cognitive Focus and Superego influence, in addition to a sneak peek analysis using the content in the Membership lectures regarding the Deadly Sins, we will analyze a little deeper.
There is a lot of talk about how the Demon function can be used “Angelically.” Superego Integration is covered in S19 and especially in S29, where Chase goes in-depth on how each type can master their Demon function, and develop their Superego.
The narrative of the Demon function remains the same. If someone can develop enough to access their Superego in an orderly way, then they can change the default energy of Hate within the Superego, and transform it to Love.
Leonidas’ sacrifice — preceded by days of brutal, bloody battle — which culminated as he spectated a sky full of arrows rushing down upon him, was not about hate. He loved his country. He loved Sparta’s independence and would do all he could to preserve it.
But the Love of the Angel and the orderly access of the Superego is a complicated matter. Si Demons are self-destructive by nature. Deep within every Si Demon is an itch for self-destruction. This itch stirs for the destruction of their past, their memory, and ultimately, their life. There are ways to stave this off but all Si Demons feel pressure to damage their existence.
What does it mean then to use the Demon angelically? It could mean one of two things — and in Leonidas’ case, likely both.
The first meaning is that Si Angel can learn to love its experience, to respect itself so that the INJ takes care of themselves and develops healthy habits and routines to achieve health and strength.
And the second option? The second option for Si Angel means that their Si keeps it’s self-destructive properties, but uses those self-destructive drives for a worthy sake — and leave an impact for a better future.
It is in the opinion of the author that both expressions of the Demon turned Angelic — 1) a reversal of the Demon’s energy and/or 2) a repurposing of that self-destructive tendency— are both valid uses of an “Angelic” Demon.
What about Leonidas? For Leonidas, he used his ISTJ Superego, and his Si Demon, Angelically, in both ways. How do we know? The fact that Leonidas could not only fight but be the leader of arguably the most lethal battalion of soldiers on the face of the earth — at the age of 60 — concretely proves that Leonidas went through immense measures to care for his body. Leonidas possessed the strength, training, health that greatly contributed his effectiveness as warrior. His Si Demon was happy with the consideration he gave to his body.
His ability as a deadly warrior, as well as what we must assume was a comfortable place in leadership, also confirms that Leonidas was ESTP developed in his Subconscious. He is portrayed as possibly the most ESTP-developed INFJ in all of history, and his resume makes the case.
But then there is the second use of Si Demon gone Angelic. Leonidas didn’t have to confront the Persians then. But his love for his country — and Si Demon’s capacity for total loyalty — was manifest in Leonidas’ actions to take the initiative and walk with a small battalion of warriors into the gates of hell.
There was never an escape plan for Leonidas himself. He used his body — his Si Demon — and repurposed it to leave behind an impact. This impact, he hoped, would be so large that the entire Spartan nation would be forced not only to notice, but to take immediate action in retaliation against one of the most daunting forces on earth. He wanted his body to be destroyed — and it was, and was later mutilated at the behest of Xerxes — to inspire something greater.
The hope of his Ni Hero was carried through his death, and sparked a fire that lead to the Persians’ defeat. He used his Si Demon to achieve what his Ni Hero wanted.
Temples & Deadly Sins
In S7, P2, Chase has been discussing the Deadly Sins of each of the types. Within those lectures, however, are deeper concepts that go much further than just the Deadly Sins. He discusses the Living Virtues and, more importantly to our discussion, the two side poles that carry how the Deadly Sin or Living Virtue is expressed.
The two side poles for Leonidas’s type, the INFJ, are “Idolatry” and “Objectification.” INFJs either Idolize or Objectify themselves and others.
Chase has described Leonidas’ actions as a clear case of “Objectification.” He objectified himself, making himself a sacrificial object — and nothing more — in order to shake lose the scales that had formed over the Spartans’ eyes. In the moment of his death, Leonidas viewed his death as just a means to an end — his body merely the object of said means.
Leonidas accomplished his objective. The irony, however, is in the aftermath. What has happened to Leonidas after he objectified — and sacrificed — himself through his Si Demon? What do you and I think of Leonidas … today? Do we still objectify him? Or is Leonidas’ legacy met with the exact opposite energy which he used to create it? We do not objectify Leonidas, we idolize him.
And that, psychologically, is the beauty of his sacrifice. We know that his death kicked Sparta into action and soon lead them to defeat the Persians. Of course, Leonidas and his men slaying some 20,000 Persians before perishing didn’t hurt.
The other layer of analysis is the Temples. The Deadly Sins are part of the Temples but, at a macro level, Leonidas’ Ego was in the Soul Temple — focused on character, moral integrity, and connection with others. But his ISTJ Superego existed in the Body Temple — the Body Temple is looking to perform concrete actions that leave a legacy.
The force of Leonidas’ Si Demon, as it reverberated with an Angelic expression, created a lasting impact through the Body Temple whose force is still felt thousands of years later. That is Legacy, and that is the power of Si Demon turned Angelic.
Chase has also said that Leonidas’ sacrifice, as he took out 20,000 Persians, was an example of “making God bleed.” God is Xerxes in this analogy. And, as the leader of one of the most feared armies in history, other countries and nations bowed down to Xerxes and swore their allegiance before Persian swords were even drawn.
But not Sparta, and certainly not Leonidas. This is why, when Xerxes asked for the Spartan’s weapons, Leonidas simply responded, “Come and take them!” Leonidas would be no slave.
Leonidas openly defied Xerxes, slew 20,000 Persians with a minuscule force, and sparked the courage — his stand ignited hope where there was previously none — to show the Spartan nation that this fake God, Xerxes, was JUST a man. Despite Xerxes likely avoiding any physical wounds at Thermopylae, his blood was spilled, nonetheless.
And that bite of 20,000 men and the extraction of Persian morale that Leonidas inevitably took? It proved to be more fatal than Xerxes would ever dream.
Leonidas lost the Battle at Thermopylae and with it, his life. The day he died was a day of defeat. But the Persian victory was short-lived. The Spartan’s ferocious defense made the Persian’s victory seem hollow; and what should’ve been an easy campaign cost them dearly in the months to come.
It is the nature of a sacrifice as profound as Leonidas’ to take on its opposite characteristic when enough time has passed. What is this opposite characteristic? In response to Leonidas’s defeat, Sparta won the war, and, most of all, Leonidas gained the status as an eternal Legend who you and I are still talking about 2500 years later. If you ask me, Leonidas was never more alive than he is today.
- “Thermopylae” — Paul Cartledge (Book)
- Leonidas I | Encyclopedia.com (Article)
- Leonidas I of Sparta – World History Encyclopedia (Article)
- Quotations from Leonidas of Sparta (Article)
- King Leonidas of Sparta and the Battle at Thermopylae (Article)