The "300" Movie vs. the Historical 300 at Thermopylae. Real Historical Facts and Narrative Fact Based Stories

Essay, 2011

13 Pages, Grade: A


"The events are ninety percent accurate...I've shown this movie to world-class

historians who have said it's amazing. They can't believe it's as accurate as it is.” stated Zack Snyder director of the movie300, based on the historical battle of Thermopylae. Albeit, the movie does have a lot of truth to it, it also has many fallacies. It is true that there was an epic battle at Thermopylae where King Leonidas of Sparta took 300 soldiers, all with a male heir at home, into the ‘Hot Gates’ where they held the Persian army at bay for three days. Xerxes did have an army of 10,000 men called the Immortals. A man name Ephialtes did betray Greece by showing Xerxes men through the Anopaia path allowing them to surround the Greek forces. At the age of seven, young boys were taken away from their parents and sent to the Agoge in order to become a Hoplite soldier. Even with the minor truths portrayed in the movie; upon deeper inspection of the history of Thermopylae, it becomes apparent that the movie is nowhere near ninety percent accurate. The genre of the film itself is ‘fiction.’ It was not made to be a ‘documentary.’ Therefore, to make the assertion Mr. Snyder made is misleading the audience to believe that the filmmaker’s interpretation of the history of Thermopylae is fact. When in truth, the film loosely portrays the history of the battle and ends up being nothing more than pure entertainment.

The first fictional piece of this film is depicted in the very opening scene when the narrator discusses the ‘discarding’ of the boy if he were “sickly or misshapen” (Wenham, David). The massive pile of skulls that sit at the base of the ravine where the Elder stands atop of the mountain inspecting the baby symbolizes the bones of the ‘discarded’. This act of throwing a baby off of the cliff is completely false. It is understood that films, even those based on true stories embellish the facts so as to engage the audience, but historically, “At birth a boy was inspected by the elders, and if he appeared too weakly for future military service, he was taken into the mountains and abandoned” (Columbia). However, this historical fact proves to be theoretical as there has yet to be any concrete proof to confirm that the Spartan babies were abandoned in the woods and certainly, no bones or skulls have ever been found of any of the ‘discarded’ children. This example of the opening scene shows some exaggeration on the part of the filmmakers, but it is a small misrepresentation of the truth; there are more important perversions that need to be addressed in the film300. While it is true that the character “Delios”, the only surviving soldier of the battle of Thermopylae is narrating the film as he retells the events to the remaining warriors that will continue the campaign at Plataea. The fallacies of the film; regardless that the story is being told from the perspective of a ‘narrators’ point of view, are too grand not to refute. It is understood that people tend to stretch the truth when retelling of events in order to make the situation more impressive than it might have been. This concept may even allow the audience to accept the fallacies as entertainment, but to pass off the events as accurate is deceitful and careless on the part of the filmmakers.

When Delios states to his eager brethren that “A beast approaches, it was king Leonidas himself who provoked it” (Wenham, David), the filmmakers maintain that the battle of Thermopylae was brought upon by King Leonidas’ act of kicking a Persian Herald into a well. That is nowhere near historical fact. According to Ernle Bradford in his bookThe Battle for the West- Thermopylae, there was a Herald that was sent to Persia byKing Darius Ito seek Sparta’s submission to Persia. The Herald requested a token of “earth and water’, but was thrown down a well. Bradford states that there is evidence to suggest the discarding of the Herald actually occurred and the Spartan’s, upon throwing the Persian Ambassador in the well said to the Herald, “get earth and water from down there” (Bradford, 31). Nevertheless, this act was not done by Leonidas or even during Xerxes rule, nor was it the cause of the Persian invasion. In fact, it kept Xerxes from sending Heralds to Sparta during his reign to ask for submission, as he did not trust the Spartan’s to adhere to International law, which regarded the Heralds as ‘sacred and inviolable’ because they had already killed a Persian Ambassador.

The Persian invasion and the Battle of Thermopylae began in 546 BCE when Persia conquered Lydia and all its subject states. All citizens were required to pay hefty taxes and serve in the Persian army. Aristagoras, a Tyrant placed in power by the Persians to rule Miletus, seeking change began a rebellion in 499 BCE. He requested the help of Sparta, but they declined. He then sought out the help of the Athens. They agreed to join forces and promised Aristagoras twenty ships for the battle. In 498 BCE, the Athenians conquered and burned Sardis, which was the capital of Lydia. Looking to punish Athenians for their part in the rebellion, in 490 BCE Darius I, Persian king and father of Xerxes invaded Greece. At the Battle of Marathon, ten thousand Athenian Hoplites slaughtered the Persian army causing Darius and his men to retreat back to their ships. Six thousand Persians were dead compared to just two hundred Greeks. This defeat was the precursor to the Persian invasion. According to the historian Herodotus, Mardonius convinced his cousin Xerxes to invade Greece. “Master, it is not fitting that they of Athens escape scot-free, after doing the Persians such great injury. Complete the work which thou hast now in hand, and then, when the pride of Egypt is brought low, lead an army against Athens” (Herodotus and Rawlinson, 263). This was a convincing argument, and it gave Xerxes an opportunity to complete unfinished family business by punishing the Athenians for their impedance in the rebellion at Marathon, but what really pushed Xerxes to take two hundred thousand or more Persian soldiers into Greece were two popular minerals, Silver and Gold. Mardonius advise Xerxes that there were mines in Greece waiting to be consumed. Word had spread of the Persian threat to Athens; they in turn requested the help of Sparta, Arcadia, Thespiae and other city-states to stand against the enemy. This alliance would prove to be a changing moment in Greece as most city-states fought amongst one another, especially Athens and Persia. These two dominant societies were constantly battling for complete control over Greece and all of its city-states. Sparta had previous wars with Messenia, Argolis, and Tegea, while Athens had previously attacked Thebes. Civil war was constant in Greece, but being that Xerxes wanted to add Greece to his empire the choice to come together to fight and put their own issues aside was necessary. The total number of soldiers that ventured into the ‘Hot Gates’ to face the Persian Army was 7000. During the battle, the alliance fell apart and most of the Greeks retreated except Leonidas and his men, but they were not the only group of men to stay, 700 Thespians willingly stayed behind and stood beside the 300 Spartans to fight the onslaught of Persians. There were also 400 Thebes still in attendance and, according to Herodotus, they were forced to stay and kept as Hostages by Leonidas, “very much against their will” (Herodotus and Rawlinson 314). The movie makes reference to the retreat and it also makes reference that a small number stayed behind to face the enemy. This small number is the 300 Spartans that the movie is based upon, hence the name 300. The movie, however, does not mention that the 700 Thespians willingly and 400 Thebes unwillingly stayed and risked their lives as well. The filmmakers glorify the battle of Thermopylae and make the Spartans out to be ‘honorable’ people. It is true that the Spartans were very diligent in regard to their military training and their stand at Thermopylae should be seen as courageous, but aside from that, Spartans were no more than barbaric people. For example, “When a man wanted to marry a woman in ancient Sparta, he abducted her forcefully and had her head shaved” (O’Conner, K). When the young males were sent to the Agoge, they were beaten severely on a daily basis. Some of the boys were killed in training. Also, they were fed such small portions that they were forced to go out and steal food. If they were caught they were beaten, but not because they stole the food, rather because they got caught. This type of brutal training was necessary to create strong Hoplite soldiers that would be ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

Spartan’s felt the need to be ready for war because they were outnumbered 10 to 1 by a group of Messenians that lived amongst them. “The world will know thatfree men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle was over, even a god-king can bleed.” Stated king Leonidas to Xerxes in the film 300. A powerful statement that gripped the audience, but unfortunately it is false as well. The previous quote leads the audience to believe that Sparta was a state free of Slavery and that only ‘free men’ fought at the battle of Thermopylae, but that is entirely untrue. In 725 BCE, the Spartans conquered Messenia. The conquered people became “Agriculture” slaves for Sparta called Helots. They served the Hoplite soldiers also known as the ‘Spartiate’, the male population of Sparta that was considered ‘a citizen.


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The "300" Movie vs. the Historical 300 at Thermopylae. Real Historical Facts and Narrative Fact Based Stories
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Star Smith (Author), 2011, The "300" Movie vs. the Historical 300 at Thermopylae. Real Historical Facts and Narrative Fact Based Stories, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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