Monday, January 22, 2007

The Battle of Thermopylae

Normally I don't get excited about movies concerning war and containing massive violence, gruesome creatures and, apparently, nudity. However, I might give an exception to the movie 300.
Many of you have probably already seen the trailers for this, and whether you have or haven't, you should know that this is a battle based on some pretty interesting history. I won't take all the time to relate the history here, but will give a little background.

Around the time that the Jews were returning from their Babylonian/Persian exile in the Mesopotamian area, the Persians were creating an empire larger than the world had known up until that point. It stretched from Asia Minor (Turkey), Egypt down to Thebes and east to the Indus River. The warriors were effective and numerous, and their kings were proficient administrators.

The one nut they couldn't seem to crack was the Greeks. This was early in the time of Grecian democracy, where city states were ruled by councils appointed by the people themselves. They were also pretty good warriors and seamen. The Spartans were the best of the best, you might say, and it ended up being them who faced the onslaught of the Persian forces as they worked their way south on the Grecian peninsula (having already taken Macedonia).

In order to get to the southern parts of Greece (Athens and such) the Persian army needed to pass a range of low mountains at a pass near Thermopylae. The king of Sparta at the time, Leonidas, led his army on a last stand at the pass. He sent the majority of his army of Spartans and slaves back to regroup while he and 300 Spartan warriors did their best to keep the Persians from getting through. The movie, and several sources, seem to want you to believe that there were millions of Persians, which is the legend. However many historians place the army's size at a more reasonable 300,000 to 500,000 (which is still pretty big).

All 300 soldiers eventually died, but the casualties on the Persian side so alarmed King Xerxes that he pulled back many of his troops, and eventually the diminished army fell to the Greeks at the battle of Plataea.
Very soon after this, Philip of Macedonia united the city states of Greece with an eye on Asia Minor. His son, Alexander the Great, carried his vision forward.
The movie 300 attempts to tell the story from Leonidas' point of view. There was another movie made in 1962 called The 300 Spartans, which tells the same story.

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