'300' Is More Historically Accurate Than Most Films

Category: 300 News | Posted by: DaisyMay
Article Date: March 27, 2007 | Publication: The Student Printz | Author: Joseph Hughbanks
Publication/Article Link:The Student Printz

The film "300" is based on the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.E between a Greek and a Persian force led by King Leonidas and King Xerxes, respectively. This isn't a review.

What follows is a historically accuracy assessment for those interested in which parts of the film are true and which parts are fabricated liberties taken by the filmmakers.

The movie opens with a narration about Spartan culture claiming infants judged to be unfit would be killed. Boys from age seven would be taken from their families and immersed into Agoge, a training unit teaching them to become warriors. Both of these facts are surprisingly accurate.

As the movie proceeds, Leonidas returns home to become king. From here, the movie leaps forward to his confrontation with a Persian emissary where he refused Xerxes' demand of complete submission. This part strays from history as Leonidas was not the king who kicked a Persian emissary into a well. That act was done by the king of Macedon, a city-state north of Sparta.

In the film, as Leonidas anticipates the inevitable battle with Persia, the movie emphasizes the solitary actions of Sparta. In truth, the whole Hellenic League, which encompassed many Greek city-states, deliberated about how to defend against attack. Later in the movie, Leonidas is seen to seek advice from wretched-looking Ephors on a mountaintop. An oracle, half-naked, is solicited for council and warns against going into battle during the full moon festival of Carneia.

This depiction is mostly inaccurate. The Ephors were nothing more than Spartan town officials, and they would not have been on a mountaintop with an oracle. They would not have been in-bred or deformed, but older, wiser men. As for the oracle, it would have been a woman, but she would have been at Delphi, and she would not have been consulted before plans were devised to defend Greece.

This problem leads to the biggest departure from truth. Leonidas was not warned to keep an army at home during Carneia. This actually happened 10 years before at the Battle of Marathon when the Spartans yielded to this council and missed the battle completely. The movie, however, would have you believe this happened at Thermopylae. In reality, Leonidas took a force of thousands to defend the pass in order to give the navy time to gather strength and face the Persians at sea at the near simultaneous battle of Artemisium.

The movie correctly showed a storm wrecked a huge chunk of the Persian fleet, but in reality, this was followed by a naval battle. Back on land, once Leonidas realized he could hold the Hot Gates (Thermopylae) with only 300 of his best men, he sent the rest of his forces back. Their duty was to defend further south and help evacuate cities.

As for the Persian king, Xerxes, he would never have claimed to be a god-king. His was a Zoroastrian, and it would have been blasphemy for him to claim such. The sequence of Leonidas slicing Xerxes' cheek to prove he was human is also false.

For those dazzled by the rhinoceros, the elephants, and the Chinese explosives, I am afraid those were also fabrications by the filmmakers. The rhino and the elephants were not used, and the Chinese had not invented the explosive yet.

As for the apparel of the Spartans, they would never have entered battle with bare chests and stomachs, because they used breastplates that protected this vulnerable area of the body. Sorry girls, but the real Spartans would not have shown off those abs and pectoral muscles.

As for the betrayal of the pass that flanked the Spartans, this was accurate, but as with most films, the dramatic effect of a deformed Spartan is untrue. In reality, a goat herder was bribed for the information.

On the whole, "300" was far more accurate than most history-based movies. "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Braveheart" are perfect examples of films going way out in left field to tell a compelling story. "300," on the other hand, did a much better job of sticking closer to the truth, at least some of the time. Also, it kicked ass.