With so many years of Classical History and Archaeology training under my belt, my stomach turns at the thought of Hollywood telling the story of some of the most important events of the ancient world.
I know The 300 is based off a ‘graphic novel’. But I was surprised, it wasn’t half bad.
The filming of the movie was well done, I liked the colors they used, it gave it a very surreal look and the costumes were creative and the choreography excellent.
The acting was OK, sadly Leonidas’ Scottish accent would sneak through now and then and too many of the actors in the army were pasty white Brits, who looked like they just got out of filming Braveheart.
The movie does capture Spartan society well. Yes what they did would amount to Child abuse these days, but the Spartans had to do it. The Spartans did not farm or make anything. Why? Because they had a massive slave population to do all that work. It also meant that the Spartans had to be on their guard at all times, for a revolt was always possible.
The movie is essentially an exaggerated story loosely based on the battle of Thermopylae. In point of fact however, it tells the basic story quite well.
The movie takes places during the Second Persian War (480/79 BCE), or 10 years after Darius’ failed invasion of Greece (In the first war the Persians army were stopped at Marathon and the Spartans were jerks then too). Xerxes wanted to out do his father and conquer the rest of Greece (he had already taken over Ionia, what is today Western Turkey). Most of Xerxes army was Greek, not Persian. On the battlefield it would have been very difficult to tell who was who, but that wouldn’t work for a movie now would it?
Much like the first War, the Persians sent a massive land force of likely 100,000 troops through Turkey and into Northwestern Greece. They also sent a massive navy, just in case. The Greeks who by this point were separating into two factions anyway, the Eastern Greeks and the Islands supporting Athens, with the mainland supporting Sparta, spent more time trying to figure out who should lead the alliance against Persia than actually doing anything about it.
There were probably religious reasons why none of the Greek cities sent their full armies, but the Spartans in particular were very skimpy. No doubt their thinking was they would worry about really fighting the Persians later, perhaps after Athens had been burned to the ground, they were also likely miffed that Athens was leading the alliance.
But as fighters go in Greece there was none better than the Sparta. King Leonidas, lead his troops into the ‘Hot Gates’, along with about 6,000 of his closest friends. Contrary to the movie, there were about 6-7 thousand Greek troops in the pass. But Leonidas was an idiot. He didn’t defend his flank. He knew about the paths through the hills, but just hoped the Persians were never find out. A local Greek, not this strange Quasimodo character, sold out to the Persians and the Persian archers were able to get the high ground and Greeks were up the creek with out a paddle.
Realizing his mistake, Leonidas and his 300 Spartans (and a few others) really shined. Knowing he could no longer hold the pass, Leonidas sent the rest of his army back towards Athens, while he lead his Spartans in a brilliant rear guard action. He delayed the Persians long enough for the main army to escape, but his force was slaughtered to a man. As was traditional in ancient culture, you mutilated the bodies, especially the leaders, which usually involved cutting off of the ears, eyes, nose, tongue and genitals. This was to make sure you had a crappy after life.
The Persian army would sweep south and burn the empty City of Athens (like they did 10 years earlier). All the Athenians had moved to the Island of Salamis right off the Athenian coast. The Greeks would defeat the Persian navy (Athens gets a win!) at the Battle of Salamis, one of the most important naval battles in history. It was then that the Persians realized that Greece held nothing for them and what was there wasn’t the cost of trying to invade a country with difficult terrain.
Athens would rebuild and many would consider the post war era Athens as the height in Ancient Greek culture. Philosophy, art, pottery, poetry were the best in the Greek world, in Athens at least. Sparta wasn’t into to all that pansy stuff. Even as culture flourished the rift between the two city states and their allies grew to a chasm. By 430 BCE the two sides would get into a 30 year no holds back brutal fight, which would end with Sparta finally taking Athens. But the victory was also a defeat in many ways, though Sparta won, she did not have the strength to control Greece and a new power would rise to north…
The movie though captures the idea of the battle and of Spartan society, but it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The violence is actually pretty muted and there are a lot of ‘yeah right’ moments. Still its amazingly filmed and the movie is worth watching just for that.