Many people would scoff immediately after reading this title, but the almost ten year old movie 300 really does have a lot to contribute to understanding and appreciating history. When looking at the movie 300, most people with a knowledge of history look at it like any other Hollywood history movie such as Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven and pick it apart with complaints that the Spartan’s never wore leather speedos and the Persians didn’t have war rhinos. The problem is that 300 is not at all meant to transport a viewer to another time, it is meant to tell a story. Most importantly of all, the movie 300 is intended to be the story as the Spartans of that time would tell it.
For those familiar with the film, huge amounts of the story are narrated by a Spartan soldier who was sent back to Sparta by Leonidas after losing an eye. At the end of the movie we see this soldier finishing his story to thousands of Greek troops at the battle of Plataea. This character is based off of the historical Spartan Aristodemus, who left Thermopylae with some eye infection and was actually the subject of ridicule until he redeemed himself at Plataea.
When looking at the film through the narrator’s storytelling, everything changes. Firstly, Leonidas was 60 years old by the time of the battle but for the sake of a glorious story he is presented as an older, but still physically fit soldier. Not all Spartan kings historically went through the agoge training but Leonidas actually did, hence making it worthy of mention in the film.
Another main aspect of the movie that makes perfect sense is the look of the Spartans. Their appearance makes them look more like models than soldiers as they lack body armor. In ancient warfare many warriors fought without armor to show their daring and bravery, and while the Spartans were smart enough to wear full armor, they would not have thought twice about presenting a story where they bravely fought with no armor. To go along with this, the Spartans would certainly have been incredibly fit with large muscles. Their training built up their strength and speed far more than any other fighters of the time.
Their casual bravado before and during the battle was excellently portrayed by the movie. lines such as “Persian arrows will blot out the sun… then we shall fight in the shade” and “tonight we dine in hell” are pulled straight from historical sources and does a great job showing how unafraid and ready for battle the Spartans actually were. The Persian scouts were actually unnerved by the site of the Spartans relaxing and combing their hair at the eve of battle.
While it is true that the Spartans held Thermopylae with the help of around 7,000 Greek allies and many hundreds of slaves, the glory certainly went to the Spartans. The thousands of Greeks fought the Persians along the narrow pass just as was shown in the first actual charge in the movie. It is impossible to know if this tight phalanx was utilized throughout the battles and there are theories that suggested that hoplites did occasionally engage in looser “Homeric” styles of warfare so the widening of the formation to push through the Persians is unlikely but certainly not impossible when looking at all of the possibilities of hoplite warfare. Throughout the battle the fresh units of Hoplites rotated into the battle and the Spartans consistently proved their quality on every outing.
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