Baltimore's City Paper interview - 3/7/07 - Photo by Jefferson J. Steele
The movie adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book 300 premieres this week, and few people will be watching it as closely as Monkton's John Trikeriotis. The 47-year-old financial consultant who lives north of Baltimore with his wife and two kids knows a thing or two about the movie's story--the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held off a vastly larger Persian army long enough for other Greeks to escape to fight again. Trikeriotis runs the web site 300SpartanWarriors.com and TheLeonidasExpeditions.com, devoted to all things Thermopylae, and can also sell you, for instance, an "adult-size Corinthian helmet with a genuine horsehair crest which can be used for display or reenactment purposes." Born in Australia, the son of a Greek tailor, Trikeriotis became interested in the battle at an early age, when he saw the 1962 movie The 300 Spartans with his father in the late '60s. Since, he has amassed an extensive collection of books, replicas, and facts from the battle. He corresponds with Greek war re-enactors around the world, and next year he is going to Greece with the Leonidas Expedition, named for the Spartan leader, hoping to find the locations of the events of the battle. Last week, he was gearing up for the Baltimore premiere of the movie.
John Trikeriotis: Due to the geography, the only way the Persian army could come from the north, they had to come through this pass, about 50 feet wide. [The Spartans] knew that there was no way their army was going to match the Persian army, [but] they knew they would be able to put up a pretty stiff defense there. And that's what they did.
CP: How many defenders are we talking about?
JT: All together it was probably a little over 7,000. You know Hollywood, The 300 Spartans, now you've got the movie 300. There were other guys there. But because these guys were the best soldiers and these guys fought to the end, that's why everybody's like, "Hey, 300 Spartans." But here's something that's not really addressed: There were 700 guys from the city of Thespiae. Those guys also fought to the death.
But they were fighting for two days, they just can't break through. On the third day, and this is part of the fascination of the story, the third day there's a shepherd who says [to the Persian army], "Look, there's a goat track, I can lead you the way that will take you around, and you can surround the [Spartans]." And this is the part that's admirable: The [Spartans] knew what was going down, and they said, "We're going to stay here and stick it out." You had these warriors who stayed to the end, and the reason they did that was it gave the remaining Greek forces another chance to leave. It was self-sacrifice.
CP: Was it just the Spartans who stayed behind?
JT: It was the Spartans and the Thespians, yeah. There were 400 other warriors from Thebes who decided to stay behind also, but when they saw that the going was getting tough they laid down their arms and capitulated. And they got branded for it--the Persian army put a brand on their forehead.
CP: Did it make you nervous when you first heard about 300? Sometimes when you're really interested in something and you hear someone's making a movie you think, They could really screw that up.
JT: The way I try to explain it to some of the guys that e-mail me--there's a lot of hard-core guys, you know, the purists, [who say] they're messing around with the history of it. [The filmmakers] said up front [that] they've taken liberties with it. That's fine by me. If they were to say this is [historically accurate], I would've had a problem with that. Because the movie is taking Frank Miller's original vision and maybe expanding it a little, I've got no problem with that. Here's the way I look at it: You're going to get people who want to learn about this stuff--the real stuff--that's why I've got the web site up, and there's other web sites, probably more education. If you get just a percentage of those people to learn about the actual battle, that's cool. That never would have happened if this movie hadn't come out.
CP: I never realized before that there was such a large community of Greek war re-enactors.
JT: Oh yeah. There's quite a few in Europe, several here in the United States. They're paying homage not only to the Spartans or the warriors of Thermopylae, there were other battles of the Peloponnesian War. Greece was pretty warlike during that golden age there, and you had a lot of great warriors come out of it. I think that's what these guys are doing--they're paying homage to the Greek warriors and they're bringing awareness to these guys that maybe history has glossed over now. Now we're so focused on the present. They're bringing the past back, which is nice.
CP: Is Herodotus' the main account of Thermopylae? Are there others?
JT: Yeah, Herodotus, "the father of history." He was the first guy to write about it. Of course, you had other guys who wrote about it 50-100 years after his account. His is probably the most accurate because he had a chance to talk to several of the survivors of the battle. That's where the problem is--they might've been biased. Did he get both sides of the story?
CP: Tell me about the Leonidas Expedition.
JT: I just posted the roster on the web site. We've got several authors who have written books on the subject and we're going to Thermopylae in 2008. We're going to try to locate several areas of the battlefield. There's been a lot of speculation as to where parts of the battle took place. We're going to have a lot of equipment with us--satellite imaging, mine detectors. We're going to try to locate some arrowheads, and if we can locate them at one place, we're pretty sure that's where one segment of the battle happened. Because it happened in this goat track, there's so many different routes and stuff like that. That's the tough part, trying to pinpoint the exact area. You've had guys who walk through there--these other guys from 100 years ago, these British archaeologists--and they needed the local people to help them out. It's like a labyrinth in there.
CP: Have people tried to find it before?
JT: Oh yeah. There are all different kinds of theories. The prior expeditions have eliminated some of the conclusions drawn by other authors, but I think we've got about six possible routes mapped out right now.
CP: How did this hobby start out for you? You don't just run out and buy a bunch of helmets.
JT: It's not like I woke up one morning and said I want to do it. I had seen the movie, and when I was a kid I did a book report on this battle, and I liked it. When I went to Greece in the '70s I picked up a book on this battle. It was written in Greek, but I bought it--it had some great illustrations. It sort of picked up as the years went on. It sort of snowballed, that's it. My wife is like, "When's it going to end?" She's Greek, too, but she doesn't get it. I think it's a guy thing.
CP: Is there anything else you want to say?
JT: I can't wait for the movie to come out. The underlying theme of this whole publicity thing is that when somebody sees the movie they're going to say, "Look, there were guys that tried to defend their country, and there were some that died for it, and we're honoring those guys that did that." If somebody takes that away with them, mission accomplished, right?