weeks ago, the 20th Century Fox release 'Meet the Spartans' debuted in
the #1 position as it spoofed last year's movie ‘300’ which had grossed
over $400 million worldwide. While a completely different movie than
the former, ‘Meet the Spartans’ is in essence a parody, as it pokes fun
and imitates several of today’s tabloid celebrities such as Britney
Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, etc., however, its main focus
is the 2007 blockbuster ‘300’.
remembered, the ‘300’ movie created quite a furor last year as it was
adapted from the Frank Miller comic book series of the same name. Essentially,
it was a fictionalized account of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE,
which had Greece and Persia battling against each other in a clash of
Western vs. Eastern civilizations. Interspersed
within the movie were factual elements, however, due to its
revisionism, Warner Bros. and all those involved with the movie stated
that it was 'loosely based on historical events'. These statements
didn't pacify the critics from the academic community, scholars of the
battle, nor many who are of Greek & Persian heritage. Movies are
an extremely powerful medium and the concerns by the aforementioned
groups were that the perception of these distorted events and
characters would somehow become pervasive to those who were unfamiliar
with the battle.
‘300’ was based on the
Greek defense of the Pass of Thermopylae in 480 BCE against the Persian
army of King Xerxes. The historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote
that the Persian army numbered in the millions, however, contemporary
historians after several analyses have concluded that the numbers of
Persian combatants were conservatively estimated to be in the 200,000
range. The Spartan contingent which marched to Thermopylae numbered
300 and was the king of Sparta’s personal bodyguard, therefore, they
were representative of the elite warriors of this militaristic
society. They were led by their king, Leonidas, who commanded a
garrison of approximately 7,000 hoplites in total at Thermopylae, which
included warriors from several other Greek city-states, including those
The monument to King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae
King Xerxes & Hydarnes as portrayed by David Farrar and Donald Houston, respectively (c) 20th Century Fox
King Xerxes - Persepolis, Rodrigo Santoro ('300'), Ken Davitian ('Meet the Spartans) (c) Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox
pass of Thermopylae, translated as 'Hot Gates' due to the hot sulfuric
springs which were indigenous to the area, was approximately 50 feet
wide at that time with the Kallidromos Mountains on one side and the
body of water known as the Malian Gulf on the other. This offered a
strategic advantage for the Greek force as it negated the strength of
the numerically superior Persian army. Combined with the weaponry,
armor and their tactics that were designed and perfected for close
quarters fighting, the Spartans and their allies inflicted heavy losses
on the Persian army for two days. To paraphrase the author Ernle
Bradford who wrote, 'Courage is not enough and that is what the
Persians, Medes and the Immortals displayed against the superior
weaponry of the Greeks. Their shorter spears were no match against the
bronzed shields of the Spartan elite whose whole life since childhood
had been to prepare for battle'.
it seemed that the Greek position was impenetrable, a local named
Ephialtes revealed a path that would lead behind the Greek army. It
was this moment on the third day that defined Sparta's finest hour as
it became apparent from several sources that they would soon be
surrounded. Rather than surrendering or retreating before the pincer
movement would encircle the Greek position, the warriors of Sparta,
Thespiae and Thebes who originally numbered, 300, 700 and 400,
respectively, fought a delaying action so that the remaining Greek
allies could withdraw safely before the encirclement was completed.
After a furious battle on this third and final day, many warriors from
both Greece and Persia died, including King Leonidas and two of King
Xerxes half-brothers. The Thebans then surrendered as the Spartans and
Thespians had converged to a hillock to fight to the death. It was on
Kolonos Hill where they were killed in a last stand, overwhelmed by the
Persian arrows that it is said 'were so numerous that they would blot
out the sun'. Many of these facts contrast with what was shown in the
version of the ‘300’ movie, however, it was based on a comic book
series and meant to be entertaining, not truthful.
Gerard Butler as King Leonidas in Frank Miller's 300
'Gates of Fire' (c) Steven Pressfield
'The 300 Spartans' (c) 20th Century Fox
is the self-sacrifice of the Greek warriors which was glorified, in the
very powerful movie from 1962, entitled 'The 300 Spartans' starring
Richard Egan, David Farrar and Sir Ralph Richardson. Released
by 20th Century Fox and which for the most part a historically accurate
version of the events of 480 BCE, it was seen by a young Frank Miller.
It became the inspiration behind
his creation of his comic book series which in turn evolved into the
adaptation of these comics into the hit movie '300'. This in turn
resulted in the parody and imitation of 2008’s ‘Meet the Spartans’.
unfortunate by-product of these movies, is very apparent and
contradictory. The most accurate depiction of Xerxes was by David
Farrar whose portrayal of one of the most famous kings of the
Achaemenid Dynasty mirrored the stele in Persepolis. From the flowing
robes to the regal headwear, Farrar's Xerxes is the antithesis of the
most recent versions as can be evidenced by Rodrigo Santoro in '300'
and Ken Davitan in 'Meet the Spartans'.
It has been said that 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery', a quote which first appeared in the book entitled 'Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words' written by the English cleric and author Reverend Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832). Unfortunately,
an imitation or parody, if you will, of the ‘300’ movie wasn’t needed,
as a more historically accurate version needed to be produced. Ironically,
'Lacon' is a derivative of the word 'laconic' which means 'of few
words' and whose linguistic genesis originated and became synonymous
with the Greek city-state of Sparta. The
Spartans who inhabited the region of Laconia were known not only for
their military prowess, they were also known throughout Greece for
their brevity of speech. Perhaps when it comes to the movies about the
Battle of Thermopylae, less would be better, unless it is a version
closer to the truth.
had been talk over the last several years prior to the release of '300'
that there would be an adaptation of Steven Pressfield's 'Gates of
Fire' or even a remake of the 1962 version of 'The 300 Spartans'.
Hopefully we won't have to wait another 45 years before we get to see
John Trikeriotis is a financial consultant in the USA and maintains the website 300 Spartan Warriors.
As a member of the Leonidas Expeditions which is comprised of
academics, authors and scholars, he will be traveling to the
battlefield of Thermopylae to locate several areas pivotal to the