This is the war handwavium score card for the movie “300“: (total= +602 points).
First, a chronological history lesson of the events that are the context in which the battle of Thermopylae took place:
522 BC: Darius becomes King of the Persian Empire.
511 BC: Sparta is an oligarchy, ruled by a small number of kings. Athens is ruled by a single tyrant, Hippias.
511 BC: with the help of Sparta’s King, Cleomenes, Athens expells its tyrant ruler, Hippias. Hippias flees to Sardis, the Persian Satrap (capital) across the Agean Sea. Hippias promises the Persians control of Athens if they would restore him to power. The Athenians demanded the Persians expell Hippias. The Persians suggested that Athens restore Hippias to power.
507 BC: Two Athenian aristocrats, Isagoras and Cleisthenes, vie for power in the vacuum created by Hippias’s removal. Isagoras asks the Spartan King Cleomenes to expel Cleisthenes. Cleisthenes is expelled. Isagoras begins stripping people of their homes, and the people oppose Isagoras. The Spartan King Cleomenes assembled an army in Sparta and marches to Athens to attempt to install Isagoras as tyrant. Sparta suggests restoring Hippias back to power in Athens. Neither plan gets sufficient support from the Peloponesian league.
The Athenians rise up against Isagoras and he is banished and Cleisthenes is recalled. He starts a government that is based on a system of limited democracy. Only one in ten Athenians will be allowed to vote. Land owning males whose father and grandfather were also Athenian are given the power to vote. About one third of the people in Athens are slaves.
502 BC: The island of Naxos revolts against its Persian masters.
499 BC: Ionia, a city on the coast of the Agean sea and held under the Persian empire, revolted against it’s Persian masters. The cities of Athens and Eretria sent troops to help (20 ships from Athens). The armies marched to the city of Sardis, the Persian capital for the area, and burned the city to the ground. Darius is so infuriated with the Athenians that he has a servant remind him three times a day that he must exact his vengeance on the city.
492 BC: Darius sends his army overland and conquers Thrace, north of the Agean. Darius also sends a fleet of 300 ships and 20,000 men to attack Athens, but the entire fleet is sunk in a storm. His army must retreat from Thrace.
490 BC: Darius sends heralds to various Greek city states asking them to submit to avoid war and asking for “earth and water”. The Athenians responded by throwing the herald into a pit. The Spartans threw them down a well.
490 BC: Darius sends 30,000 troops via 600 triremes across the Agean sea to attack Athens. 9,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans fight the Persians on the plains of Marathon. Athens asks Sparta for help, but Sparta says it can’t send troops until the Carneian festival ended on the full moon. The Spartans would not arrive until two days after the battle was over. 10,000 Athenians and Plataens fight 40,000 Persians. The Greeks inflict 6,000 casualties and only lose 192 men. The Persians retreated to Asia.
After the battle, a number of Greek city states renounce their submission to Persia and joined with the Athenians and Spartans.
The Athenians build the Parthenon
485 BC: Darius dies. His son Xerxes becomes King.
481 BC: Xerxes gathers a massive army to attack the Greek city states. They winter in Sardis.
480 BC: Spring, Xerxes builds a mile long floating bridge across the Hellespont and his army takes three and a half months to march to Therme. There he prepares his army and navy,
480 BC: Xerxes sends heralds around to the various city states asking them to submit to avoid war, asking them for “earth and water”. Because of his father’s experience in 490 BC, Xerxes does not send heralds to Athens or Sparta.
480 BC: Athens has been watching Xerxes’ army approach and asks its neighbors for help. 70 of the 700 Greek city-states form a military and political alliance.
Sparta, being extremely religious, consults the Oracle of Delphi, who tells the Spartans “Either Sparta will be taken by Persia, or Sparta must mourn the loss of a king”. King Leonides takes this to mean he must die if Sparta is to be saved.
480 BC: While Xerxes is in Therme, 10,000 Athenian and Spartan hoplites attempt to engage the Persians. The Persians move before the Greeks arrive. The Greek alliance decides that the next choke point is the pass at Thermopylae.
King Leonides gathers an army from the Greek Alliance and marches to Thermopylae.
August 490 BC: The Greek army at Thermopylae consisted of the following:
The Greeks on the ground at Thermopylae were supported by 270 Athenian Triremes, led by the Athenian General Themistocles. Themistocles had been a general at the Battle of Marathon. The Athenians blocked the Atemesian Strait and prevent 800 Persian Triremes from sailing around Thermopylae and landing troops behind Leonides and his land army.
Xerxes takes 2 weeks to march his army to Thermopylae. Many Greek cities north of Thermopylae defect to the Persians when the realize that help would not arrive in time.
Ephialtes, the man who tells Xerxes of the goat path that goes around the pass at Thermopylae, was a local to Thermopylae and his city had submitted to Leonides. He was not a former Spartan mutant as portrayed in the movie.
1,000 phocians were stationed by Leonidas to guard the path. When the Persians approached, the Persians rained arrows down on them, and the Phocians pulled back to the crest of a mountain to make their stand. However, the Persians did not engage them and instead turned down the trail and headed towards Leonides.
When Leonides learns that the Persians are going around his army, he orders the armies to retreat. Leonides along with 2,000 Thespians and Thebans remain to guard the pass while the rest of the army retreats to the Ismuth of Corinth, another choke point on the other side of Athens.
The Persians wiped out the remaining army. Total causualties were 3,300 Greeks killed, 20,000 Persians killed.
3 Spartans survive. Aristodemus and Eurytus are both striken with eye infections. Eurytus was was rendered blind. Leonides ordered them both to return home. However, Eurytus returned and charged into battle, blind, and was killed. Because Aristodemus was not blind but did not do the same, he was called a coward and suffered disgrace and humiliation from the people of Sparta. The third Spartan survivor of the battle was Pantites, whom Leonides had sent to an an embassy to Thessalia and did not return in time for the battle. On returning to Sparta, he hanged himself.
During the Battle of Atemisium, occuring the same day as the Battle of Thermopylae, the Greek navy lost 90 ships, the persians lost 30 ships. 200 Persian ships had attempted to sail completely around the island, but were lost in a storm. The Greek navy had managed to keep the Persian ships from going around King Leonides, but upon hearing that Themopylae had fallen, the Greek navy retreated to Salimis.
The Persians moved south and burned and sacked the cities which did not surrender, including Plataea, Thespiae, and Athens. Many Greeks had retreated to Salimis. There, they discussed using the Isthmus of Corinth as another choke point and holding off the Persians there.
However, Themistocles argued that the Persian Navy could simply transport the Persian infantry by sea and bypass the wall. Themistocles argued that his navy needed to stop the Persian fleet. Themistocles hides his fleet in the straits near Salamis and lures the Persian fleet in with false intelligence.
370 Greek ships attack 720 Persian ships. The Greeks lose 40 ships. The Persians lose 200 ships. The Persians suffer a massive loss. Without a navy to supply his army, Xerxes cannot maintain his army in Greece. He marches his army around the Agean sea and crosses the bridge at the Hellespont before the Greeks try to destroy it.
Xerxes returns to Persia, leaving his General, Mardonius, in charge of the occupation in Greece. Mardonius offers Athens a truce. Athens refuses. Athens, Megara, and Plataea send emissaries to Sparta asking for troops. Sparta is busy building a wall along the Ismuth of Corinth to defend themselves. Sparta first claims that they cannot send help because of the religious festival of Hyacinthia, but they are eventually swayed to fight.
479 BC: Battle of Plataea. About 40,000 Greeks from various city-states fight the Persian army of 60,000 at Plataea. The Persian army included Greeks from several cities north of Athens, including Thebans and Thessilia. The King of Macedon warned the Greeks the night before the Persians attacked.
The Greeks lost 10,000 men. The persians lost 20,000 men and retreated from Plataea. The Persian force of 43,000 men made their way back to Persia via the land route around the Aegean Sea. As they neared Macedon, the King of Macedon attacked the Persian force and wiped them out.
During the Battle of Plataea, Aristodemus, the Spartan who had survived the Battle of Thermopylae and was called a coward for it, fought with a suicidal recklessness and was killed. The Spartans removed the black mark against his name, but would give him no special honors, saying the considered it more valorous to fight while wanting to live.
This was the last time the Persians invaded Greece with the intention of conquering the nation. Persia interfered with Greek politics until they were conquered by Alexander the Great in 320 BC.
478 BC: THe Delian League (The Athenian Empire) is founded. Members must either supply troops to the empire or pay a tax in compensation for the protection of the military power.
477 BC: The island of Naxos (the island to revolt against Persia in 502 BC) revolts against the Delian League (Athenian empire). Athens enslaves the island, tears down the city walls, takes its fleet, and removes its vote from the league.
476 BC: Themistocles, the Athenian general who fought at the Battle of Marathon and who defeated the Persian fleet at Salimas is ostracized from Athens for allegedly taking bribes. He moves to Argos, but Spartans accuse him of committing treason with Persia. He flees Asia Minor.
465 BC: Thasos revolts against the Delian League (Athenian Empire). After two years it surrenders. Its walls are torn down. Its land and ships are confiscated by Athens. The mines of Thasos are turned over to Athens, and Thasos had to pay yearly tributes and fines.
465 BC: Xerxes dies. Araxerxes replaces him as King.
461 BC: Cimon is ostracized from Athens. Athenian foreign policy drops its alliance with Sparta and allies itself with former enemies, Argos and Thessaly. Megara leaves the Pelopnnesian league with Sparta and allies itself with Athens.
460 BC: King Araxerxes offers Thermistecles asylum. Themistocles dies 549 BC.
458 BC: Athens blockades the island of Aegina and sends an army to defend Megara from the Corinthians.
457 BC: Sparta sends an army to Boeotia, reviving the Thebes, to help hold the Athenians in check.
431-404 BC: Peloponnesian War. The Athenian empire and the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta) fight for power. Sparta receives support from Persia, which supports rebellions in states controlled by the Athenian empire along the Aegean Sea and Ionia. Athens sends a massive ground force to attack Sicily and the entire force is wiped out. Athens’s fleet was destroyed at Aegospotami, ending the war with Athens surrendering to Sparta.
Athens became almost completely subjugated. Sparta became the strongest power in area. All of Greece suffered economic costs of the war. All the states in Greece became poor, but Athens was economically devastated. The Peloponnesian War marked the end of the Golden Age of Greece.
All chapters and times are from the DVD:
+3 points: Chapter 2: Narrator (Dilios) says that Persia is coming and is going to “snuff out the world’s one hope for reason and justice.” (Historically, Sparta was involved only for military/strategic reasons and self-preservation. Sparta had considered returning Hippias to be Tyrant of Athens and had attempted to install an Athenian as Tyrant. Sparta was an Oligarchy ruled by a small number of kings. Sparta was not known for its “reason” or its “justice”. Sparta was known for being a warrior cult.) Whitewashing.
+3 points: Chapter 2: Narrator says “It was King Leonides himself who provoked it.” (Historically, in 490 BC, Darius had sent heralds to several cities, demanding “Earth and Water” and both Athens and Greece killed the messenger. Also, the reason Persia was attacking, was because Athens had helped Ionia revolt from its Persian masters back in 499 BC. Athens had provoked Persia. Not Sparta. Although Sparta would now likely be attacked if Persia were to conquer Athens.) Whitewashing.
+3 points: Chapter 2: Leonidas’s wife is shown as a near equal to the King. Historical whitewashing.
+3 points: Chapter 3: Leonidas refers to Athenians as “Boy lovers”. Historically, Spartan pederasty was practiced at the time of the Battle of Thermopylae. Whitewashing.
+6 points: Chapter 4: Priests for the Oracle of Delphi are shown to be corrupt. Leonidas is said to not believe the oracle. The narrator refers to them as “priests of the old gods. Inbred swine. More creature than man.” Priests are shown to be physically ugly. Historically, Leonidas believed the prophecies of the Oracle and Sparta was very strict in its religious observations. Whitewashing. Othering.
+3 points: Chapter 5: Narrator: (about priests) “Diseased old mystics. Worthless remnants of a time before Spartas asscent from darkness. Remnants of a senseless tradition. Needs of men, and souls as black as hell.” “Pompus, inbred, swine. Worthless. Diseased. Rotten. Corrupt.” (Historically, Sparta respected the Oracle. Observed the religous practices.) Othering. Whitewashing.
+3 points: Chapter 6: Leonidas refers to Oracle as “drunken, adolecent, girl”. Whitewashing.
+10 points: Chapter 6: Leonidas asks “What must a king do to save his world, when the very laws he is sworn to protect force him to do nothing.”Historically, the Sparta council votes to lead a multi-city army of 7,000 Greek soldiers to Thermopylae. Movie represents law as an encumbrance that needs to be disobeyed with brute force, when in fact, the law was no such encumbrance. A league of several Greek cities had formed and had voted to attack at the choke points at Therme, Themopylae, and the Ismuth of Corinth. Violence over social structure.
+3 points: Chapter 7: Narrator: “Goodbye, my love. He doesn’t say it. There’s no room for softness. Not in Sparta. No place for weakness.” (Then he wouldn’t have thought it, either.) Whitewashing to appeal to modern audience.
+3 points: Chapter 8: Leonidas meets up with Arcadians. They act surprised that there are only 300 Spartans. (War council would have known this already.) Leonides makes fun of Arcadians for being potters, sculpters, and blacksmiths. Says “I brought more soldiers than you did.” (Historically, there were 300 Spartans and 7,000 other Greek soldiers from many different cities. Movie attempts to portray the fight as 300 Spartans and one other group of wimps.) Othering. Whitewashing.
+3 points: Chapter 11: Older councilman trying to help the Queen. “Many on our concil would vote to give all we have and follow Leonidas, but you must show them favor.” (Historically, Sparta was operating on self preservation. They had sent a group to Therme with some Athenians. The second choke point was Thermopylae. And Sparta was quite ready to fall back to the Ismuth of Corinth, let Persia sack Athens, and try and hold off the Persians at Corinth. The Spartan council had sent everything they wanted to send.) Whitewashing.
+3 points: Chapter 11: Queen says “Freedom isn’t free. It comes with a highest of costs. The cost of blood.” (Historically, Sparta was an oligarchy, a system of rule by kings. The term “freedom” isn’t in their lexicon.) Whitewashing.
+4 points: Chapter 13: Ephialtes, the Spartan traitor, is shown to be hideous. He tries to join Leonidas, but is shown to be too weak. He will later betray Leonidas to King Xerxes. (Historically, Ephialtes was from the city of Trachis, not Sparta. And he looked normal.) Othering.
+186 Points: Chapter 14: First wave of ligth infantry. Paper targets: 47 hand to hand. plus 15 pushed off the cliff. (47+15)*3=186. Paper targets.
+5 points: chapter 14: Persian arrows are shown killing a wounded Persian. Lethal Rube Goldberg Machine.
42 points: Chapter 15: Second wave, cavalry: 14 paper targets.
48 points: Chapter 17: Spartans are killing wounded Persians. 16 paper targets. Leonidas says “There’s no reason we can’t be civil” Whitewashing.
+4 points. Chapter 17: King Xerxes is introduced as effeminant, alien, bisexual, creepy guy with a weird Darth Vader kind of voice. +4 points. Othering.
+5 points. Chapter 18,19: Attack by Immortals. Narrator calls them “Eyes black as night. Teeth filed to fangs. Soulless.” Othering.
+5 points. Chapter 18, 19: Giant Ogre is held by chains. Othering.
+75 points: Chapter 18,19: Attack by immortals: Paper targets: 31. Paper Spartans: 6. (31-6)*3 = 75 points
+5 points. Chapter 19: 2:56: Dilios knocks mask off Immortal. Looks like a monster underneath. Othering.
+15 points: Chapter 20: Day 2 of Battle: Rhino kills 3 Persians. LRGM
+5 points. Rhino is alien. (Historically didn’t happen.) Othering.
+5 points. Chapter 20: Persian executioner looks like a monster, has swords for arms. Othering.
+5 points. Chapter 20: elephants. (historically didn’t occur.) Othering.
+108 points: Chapter 21: Persian paper targets: 37. Spartan paper targets: 1 total: (37-1) * 3 = 108 points
+5 points: Chapter 21: One minute into chapter. Persian appears to have scissors for hands or something. othering.
+36 points: Chapter 21: after captain sees his son die, he goes on rampage, 12 persian paper targets.
+5 points. Chapter 22: At Xerxes camp, in his ‘harem’ or something, a goat-like thing plays a flute. Othering.
+2 ponts. chapter 22: in Harem: armless person. Othering.
+3 points. Chapter 22: Harem: Woman with half her face scarred or deformed.
+5 points: Chapter 24: Daxos arrives to inform Leonidas that the hunchback has betrayed them, that the 1,000 Phocians who were supposed to guard the trail have disappeared, and that they should retreat. Leonidas says he will never retreat. Daxos says he will. (Historically, Leonidas most likely ordered most of the multi-city armies to retreat while he stayed to delay the Persians. 2,000 Non-spartan Greeks stayed with Leonidas.) Whitewashing.
+3 points. Chapter 26: Queen gives speech to council. “We must send the entire Spartan army for the preservation of liberty, justice, law & order, reason. Send the army for the hope that 300 have not been wasted.” Whitewashing history.
-36 points. Chapter 28: Final stand: Persian Paper Targets: 5. Spartan paper targets: 17. total = (5-17) * 3 = -36 points. othering.
+3 points: Narrator at Battle of Plataea says Leonidas gave his life not just for Sparta, but for all Greece, and the promise this country (Greece) holds. Historically, Leonidas fought for Sparta. Sparta was willing to turn Athens back into a tyranny. Sparta will withdraw from the persian-grecco wars soon after the Battle of Plataea. Athens will begin to form it’s own empire, which will compete directly with Sparta. in 40 years, the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens will erupt and leave all of Greece devastated. whitewashing.
+3 points: Final Narration: “We rescue the world from mysticism and tyranny” Whitewashing to appeal to modern audience.
+10 points: Ommission of fact: The movie never mentions the contribution of the Athenian navy in preventing the Persian navy from bypassing King Leonidas at Thermopylae. Instead portrays the entire battle as being won by the Spartans by themselves. Whitewashing.
+602 points subtotal
The movie “300″ is the epitome of War handwavium.
It portrays the protagonists, the King of Sparta and his 300, as people wearing perfectly white hats, fighting a battle for altruistic reasons, for glory, honor, justice, freedom, liberty, and to fight against mysticism and tyrranny. But the fact of the matter is, historically, Sparta was its own form of tyranny, was willing to install a tyrant in Athens, and was fighting for self preservation. Not that there’s anything wrong with self-preservation, but Sparta was a warrior cult, not a center of idealism and altruistic motives.
The movie also portrays King Leonidas as having to do an end run around Spartan Law to fight the Persians, when in fact the council of Sparta approved the sending of 300 spartans to Thermopylae. Classic war handwavium plot token is to require the hero rise above the stupid restrictions of the law to do what’s right. Except, it didn’t happen that way historically.
Not to mention that historically, Sparta refused to help Athens during the Battle of Marathon, and Athens fought most of that battle alone. Sparta showed up two days after the battle was over, claiming they had to wait till their religious period was over.
The movie also portrays Leonidas and the 300 as the only warriors to the battle. Everyone else is bunch of potters, sculptors, and blacksmiths, who are playing dress up at being a warrior. Except that historically, the Athenians fought the Battel of Marathon without any Spartan help, and won a decisive victory. And the Athenian navy and other greek ships were the only reason that the choke point at Thermopylae wasn’t something that Xerxes could simply sail around with his 1,000 ships. The Battle of Thermopylae was a combined arms exercise. land and sea. And it was a multi-national effort with military contributions from many, many Greek cities.
Last, but not least, the enemy, the persians are portrayed as inhuman, beastly, effeminate, creepy, ugly, alien, and whatever else it would take to make sure the audience knew who they should hate, and to make it that much more easier for Spartans to kill persians without making the audience flinch or squirm at the loss of life. We are told flat out that they have no souls.
Finally, all the frailties of the protagonists are glossed over and rewritten by the movie. The narrator for the movie (Dilios) is based on a real person (Aristodemus), but the facts are all rearranged to hide any ugliness from the audience. Aristodemus was wounded at Thermopylae. He had an eye wound that became infected, and Leonidas sent him home. However, Sparta received him as a coward. For a year, he was subjected to Spartan shame and guilt for having lived when everyone else at that battle died. A year later, at the Battle of Plataea, Aristodemus is suicidal and fights recklessly and gets himself killed. For that, Sparta removes the blackmark from his name, but they refuse to honor him for his action at Plataea because they felt he was too reckless.
The narrator in the movie at the final scene doesn’t reflect any of this reality, the year of shame that Sparta held towards him, or his suicidal tendancies at the Battle of Plataea. And the movie ends and the credits roll before we can see him killed or could see how Sparta would respond to his death.
The movie also ends just in time to avoid showing the rise of the Athenian Empire, the Delian League, which would certainly cast the events into a different light. The first island to revolt against Persia was Naxos, in 502 BC. In 477 BC, after the Greeks defeat the Persians, Naxos rebels against the Athenian Empire, and the Athenians crush them. The Athenians and Spartans begin to maneuvar against one another, and this culminates in the Peloponnesian War 40 years later. The Peloponnesian war is between the Spartan league and the Athenian Empire, it lasts about thirty years, leaves all of Greece in economic ruin, and is considered the end of the Greek Golden Age.
No, the protagonist is dressed up in a pure white hat, the people around him are weak, the laws are stopping from doing what’s right, the bad guys are soulless ghouls, and we get to watch the whole thing, including the deaths of 150 paper targets, with an easy conscience.