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300 and 300: Rise of an Empire are obviously not meant to reflect true history. In fact, historical records of the event are already believed to be rather sensationalized and greatly embellished. Zack Snyder and Frank Miller also drew inspiration from ancient artwork, which, much like Hollywood, glamorizes battles of the past. Audiences have loved muscle-bound, half-naked supermen kicking the snot out of each other for a while, after all.

The embellishment is also heavily implied to be part of the Greek propaganda even during the first film, since Dilios verges on Unreliable Narrator.


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    Culture 
  • Firstly of all, the Spartans were far from a rural, freedom-loving society they are portrayed as, and they definitely weren't against "mysticism and tyranny". In reality, they were a deeply religious, militaristic, desigual society where a minority lived by continually and ruthlessly repressing the majority of the population. The latter, called helots, were essentially slaves in all but name who worked the land to produce the food so that the former could spend all their time fighting wars and oppressing them (during some periods, a Spartan had the right to murder helots with impunity). At the end of the day, the Spartans fought the Persian empire not out of any altruistic or progressive political goal, but basically because they were in Xerxes's path just like the rest of the Greek states. Frank Miller himself acknowledged he omitted the nastiest aspects of Sparta in order to make easier for the reader to root for them.
  • Leaving aside the debate about whether Xerxes was a tyrant, the films' contrast between the "freedom-loving" Greece and the "proslavery" Persia is an unrealistic coup of Black and White Morality, if not a literal inversion of their historical policies. In reality, both countries supported and allowed for slavery in one form or another, just like every other nation in the world at the time, so that topic was the least of the Greek's moral worries. If anything, the Persians were the most freedom-loving of the two on the paper, as official slavery was forbidden in the Achaemenid Empire, except for war prisoners, and their governors generally disliked the concept (there's a reason Xerxes' ancestor Cyrus The Great is revered in Judaism: he freed its people from the much more shackle-happy Babylonians). However, all Persian subjects were formally called "slaves" of the king (bandaka) and the latter had several of the rights a Greek master had over his slaves, so this, along with some military policies of the Achaemenid Empire, might have helped to place the Greeks under the wrong impression they were fighting an enemy much more proslavery than themselves.
  • As listed in the Characters entry below, the Achaemenid Empire was one of the first secular societies that stuck for centuries. The god-like characterization of Xerxes is entirely inaccurate as such belief would be blasphemous to Zoroastrianism. The King and the ethnic Persians venerated Ahura Mazda and the other subjects whatever divinity they liked, which was another reason why Hebrews quite liked the Persian Empire.
  • Dilios and the Spartan soldiers show an utter disdain for the Ephors and the supernatural in general. However, by ancient Greek standards, Spartans were exceptionally religious; they obeyed Carnea to a fault and would have never dared to mock Hellenic priests or festivals.
  • The real Ephors weren't priests or any kind of oracular staff as portrayed in the film, but a council of secular Senators who ran the Spartan government. They were also citizens elected by popular assembly, not an endogamic caste as Dilios labels them as.
  • Sparta was run by two hereditary kings who held equal power and were in turn judged by the Ephors. There were two royal families descended by the twin brothers Evrysthenes and Proklis, who were the leaders of the Dorians, a Greek tribe, who had invaded Sparta some 600 years before the Persian wars. Going to just one of them is pointless, and even if he did accede, he'd probably be branded a traitor and thrown out of the city immediately.
  • In the scene after Leonidas was born, the film shows an elder examining on a clifftop him while the narrator states that he would have been discarded if he was "small, or puny, or sickly", and then pans to the bottom and shows a number of baby bones. While Ancient Sparta did commit eugenic infanticide, they tested the baby by bathing him in wine and exposing him to the elements on a mountain, and babies that failed the test would be left to die there rather than being thrown off a cliff. Some children didn't even die, and instead were adopted by and raised as Helots.
  • The film shows Leonidas having his agoge hunting alone in the mountains as a young boy. In real life, boys in the Spartan training regime weren't sent alone to hunting trips, but in small groups, as they were expected to care for each other and learn how to function as an organized team just like they would do on the battlefield.
  • The fact that a Spartan used "boy lover" as an insult against an Athenian (as in the first film) or vice versa (as in the second) would be ironic at least, as both cities were solidly into the Greek concept of boy love. The main difference is that Spartans apparently saw it in a more spiritual light (according to Xenophon, they believed that relationships between men and boys should be based in love and friendship, not only in physical attraction or political interest) while Athenians considered it an educational and political tool (they enforced the "erastes" and "eromenos", a homoerotic form of Student and Master Team). However, sources like Plutarch and Aelian state young male lovers were legal in Sparta regardless of the city's opinion about it, and it is even believed that Sparta was actually one of the first cities to formalize this, so it is kind of a moot point.
  • The second film features a fistfight in midst of the Athenian senate, something that would have been disgraceful to both parties in real life and not casually dismissed as in the film.
  • The Persian army has black officials, sub-Saharan tribes and what seem to be Chinese gunpowder grenadiers, but none of those regions was a part of the Achaemenid Empire. The Africans might actually be a clever Genius Bonus, though, as at the time the Greeks were simultaneously in another war with the African-Phoenician power of Carthage, who did reach sub-Saharan Africa through the travels of their navigator Hanno, and a possible secret alliance between Carthaginians and Persians has been discussed through the years. However, it would not be any less of an artistic license in case of being so, because Carthage operated mainly in Berber Africa and probably had few to no sub-Saharans on its payroll. (Portraying Carthaginians as having plenty of black men among them is an error that many, many other historical productions commit as well.)
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    Military 
  • The film's treatment of Greek military tactics is inconsistent at the best and fantastic most of the time. The portrayed Spartans occasionally do execute their historical phalanx formation, most notably at the first moments of the battle, when pushing the Persians off the cliff, or when extracting the maddened Artemis from the battlefield. However, barring these instances, they usually break formation completely and engage their opponents in stylized individual duels with yards of space between each other. In real life, phalangic teamwork was not only the Greeks' main strength in Thermopylae (aside from the natural terrain), but also one of the lead factors of their victory at the Greco-Persian Wars. Had they chosen to fight the way it is choreographed, the Battle of Thermopylae would have lasted a single day and guess who would have won.
  • Gerard Butler, Sullivan Stapleton and company fight in leather underwear, while the historical Greeks didn't step on the battlefield without several kilograms of bronze body armor. This is actually Adaptational Modesty from the comic book, where the Spartans occasionally fight completely naked except for their cape and helmet. Miller took this from Greco-Roman art, where gods and heroes were often depicted nude to symbolize their inherente power, beauty and badassery.
  • All the Spartan helmets sported plumes in real life, not only Leonidas's. This was another deliberate stylistic choice done by Miller in the graphic novel, as he wanted them to be easily distinguishable from each other (which is also why he had them losing their helmets very often).
  • While the historical Spartan soldiers did have their reasons to be derisive towards the rest of the Greek armies (most of them were neither professional nor as disciplined as theirs) the films give the impression that they were the only Greek nation skilled at frontal war: out of the rest, the Arcadians are lightly armed skirmishers only good for ambushes, while the Athenian soldiers are tough but decidedly inferior to their Spartan homologues. Actually, most Hellenic nations were capable to form competent phalanges, and some of them, like Thebes and Macedonia, were or became better at it than Sparta. In fact, Leonidas was happy to trust the front lines to their many allies at Thermopylae in a rotating movement, as by doing so they avoided attrition and he allowed for some rest for his own troops.
  • The Spartans are shown fighting with a falcata-like sword probably meant to be the historical Greek kopis. In real life, Greek soldiers used a small, straight sword called xiphos, which was more useful behind a shield wall than a curved saber, and Spartans were notable for using xiphos smaller than other Greeks for increased practicality.
  • The dory spear, the primary weapon of Greek hoplites, was NOT thrown. Despite Leonidas and his men shown throwing theirs with ease, these spears were too heavy and too long to be thrown. They did use regular javelins, but those were shorter and lighter.
  • Greeks did have a kind of double-headed battle axe, the labrys, as it is shown at the Battle of Marathon in the second film. However, it seems that its usage was mostly ceremonial and limited to the Minoan territory; it had no place in the tight formation warfare used by Greek hoplites.
  • The aspis shield was not a single piece of bronze as portrayed in the film. It was composed of a wooden base merely coated in metal. Ironically, the Athenian aspis from the sequel are surely shown to be made of wood, only without the metal coating.
  • Athenian shields are portrayed as very plain wooden pieces in contrast to the lambda-decorated Spartan ones. In real life, Athenians used the same kind of shield and were way more artistic in their decorations than Spartans: they often painted Athena's little owl or Medusa's head on them in order to symbolize their city and scare enemies away.
  • The films portray the Greek ships as smaller and more maneuverable than their Persian equivalents, which in reality was exactly the opposite: the Greeks ships were big, cumbersome and manned by unexperienced sailors, so they typically put their trust more in their ship-borne hoplite marines to board and capture the enemy ships than in any inherent sailing advantage.
  • While Persia did use war elephants (though not war rhinos), these were never deployed at Thermopylae, among other things because the narrow terrains would have screwed them the exact way it is shown in 300 shortly after their arrival.
  • The Immortals weren't disfigured masked men who dressed in black and fought with dual sabers. According to historians, they were just better armored versions of the regular sparabara infantry, that is, dudes wielding wicker shields and spears (among other many weapons) and clad in the Persian empire's clear colors. Sources don't mention any mask, although they might have worn a Persian tiara that covered their faces. (This point is less blatant in the graphic novel, where the Immortals at least wield shields and spears.)
  • The Athenians running into Marathon in a Gaul-style open field charge is just as jarring as the Spartans dueling freely in the Thermopylae. In real life, they did charge in a sort of previously unseen move in order for their slow-moving phalanx to not be picked apart by Persian archers, but it was a tight, controlled march in formation and not a wild individual race. As a result, the heavy phalanx-based Atehian hoplites overpowered the light Persian infantry and provided no room for the Persian cavalry to maneuver on the crowded beach. Had the actual battle been fought like the one in the movie, the Athenian forces would have likely been swarmed and obliterated by the defenders. (It's somewhat justified by the narration saying that Themistocles has the Greeks charge while the Persians are still unloading their troops, leaving them without their horses and without a lot of their troops being able to get off.)
  • In the film version of the Battle of Artemisium, the Athenian fleet executes an interesting-looking wheel formation to cut with their agile prows any frontal enemy advance. Considering that Greeks ships were actually the least experienced and maneuverable ones in real life, this tactic would have probably been suicidally complex for them to attempt, and would have only got them tangled and turned into easy targets for the expert Persian navy. Herodotus describes the Greek formation as a side-to-side crescent or circle, not a wheel, and they apparently broke it quickly in order to charge. The Greek defense was not as wickedly efficient as shown in the film, either; even although they did repel the Persians for the duration of the battle, the Greeks got technically the shorter end of the stick because the losses were happening in even numbers despite the vastly different sizes of their armies (the Persian navy was so numerically superior that it could afford much more losses than the small Greek fleet).

    Characters 
  • Leonidas was around 60 when he died in Thermopylae, almost twice Gerard Butler's 37 at the time of the shooting.
  • Gorgo's role is amped up in both films, particularly in the second, where she leads personally the Spartan fleet. Historical examples of Greek women assisting in wars do exist, like Hydna, who helped to sabotage the Persian fleet before Artemisium, but most Greeks didn't like females getting directly involved with warfare. They even offered a prize of 10,000 drachmas for Artemisia's capture only because she was a woman general.
  • While Themistocles was really the mastermind of the war effort against Xerxes as portrayed in the second film, he was not in charge of the Greek allied fleet. The commander in charge was actually a Spartan representative, Eurybiades, who was an infamous Obstructive Bureaucrat and only followed Themistocles's orders kicking and screaming.
  • Themistocles wasn't single as he says to Artemisia in the films; by the time of those events, he was already married and had ten children. She, also, was a widow and had at least a son.
  • Although the legendary tragedian Aeschylus did serve under Themistocles, he wasn't his second-in-command or anything more than a mere soldier. Him saving Themistocles's life in Artemisium is funny too, as Artemisium was the only major battle of the conflict Aeschylus didn't fight in (he was present in Marathon, Salamis and even Plataea, but not Artemisium, or at least he never mentioned it among his battle exploits).
  • Scyllias was a real life person, apparently the father of the aforementioned Hydna, and his own swimming feat apparently happened as well, but his character and circumstances were a bit different. He wasn't an Athenian lieutenant in an undercover mission as portrayed in the film, but a mercenary from Scione who deserted from the Persian army and brought information about their fleet to the Greek camp. Sources did say he was a renowned diver who swam all the way from a Persian ship in Aphetae to the coast of Artemisium, which amount to ten miles, nothing less (although Herodotus believed he actually came on a stolen boat). Him having a male son named Callisto is another addition.
  • The real Xerxes was a Zoroastrian, meaning that he would have considered the idea of declaring himself god-king blasphemy. Similarly, his court of magi and priests being ordered to "turn him into a god" would have been even more shocked, if not downright offended at the request. The idea of Xerxes being a god was actually born of a misunderstanding of the process of proskynesis, which the Greeks viewed as only being acceptable for a deity. In other words, the Persians didn't treat their ruler as a god, but the Greeks thought they did.
  • The historical Xerxes is depicted in ancient artwork as having a long beard and hair and wearing elaborate royal robes, as Zoroastrian tradition demanded. Making public appearances while shaven of face and head, nearly naked and wearing body piercings would have been savagely offensive.
  • The real Ephialtes was neither a Spartan nor deformed, but just a greedy Malian who sold out the Greeks out of opportunism. He wasn't even a warrior, but a shepherd or a farm worker.
  • Artemisia wasn't a warrior brought up from slavery, but the queen of the Persian colony of Caria. Also, while she really served at Artemisium and Salamis and was in charge of a relatively huge part of the Persian fleet (the forces of Cos, Nysiros, Calyndos and her own personal ships), she was not the fleet's supreme commander: she shared command with Xerxes's younger brothers, Achaemenes and Ariabignes.
  • Most of Xerxes's court was Adapted Out, including his field general Mardonius, his adviser and future murderer Artabanus, the Immortal commander Hydarnes, the vengeful exiled Spartan king Demaratus, and Xerxes's other brothers Abrocomes and Hyperanthes, who fell at Thermopylae. Their roles in 300 were all given to either Artemisia or Ephialtes. Still, those omissions are odd considering that the 1964 film The 300 Spartans, in which Frank Miller based 300, did feature Mardonius, Hydarnes and Demaratus in rather important roles.
  • Another important character from The 300 Spartans that gets Adapted Out, this time on the Greek side, is Demophilus, the leader of a contingent of 700 Thespians (more than twice than Leonidas's forces) who refused to retreat and died there along with the Spartans. This point is somewhat of a filmic deviation from the 300 graphic novel, though, as a small Thespian force appears in it guarding the mountain pass before being butchered.
  • Artemisia of Caria didn't die during the Battle of Salamis. In fact, she escaped from the battle by attacking the ship of a Persian king under her command who was a personal enemy to her, which tricked the Greeks into letting her sail away in the belief she was deserting from Xerxes's army (fortunately for Artemisia, the ally ship sunk and its entire crew drowned, leaving no one behind to tell Xerxes). Ironically, this would have been perfectly in-character for her portrayal in the film.

    Events 
  • Darius didn't invade Athens because he was "annoyed by Greek freedom"; he did it because Athens and Eretria had supported a revolution (the Ionian Revolt) in territories of his empire that were formerly Greek colonies, like Aeolis, Cyprus and Caria. The Athenians' reason to oppose Darius came from some years before, when they had asked the Persians for help to get rid of the tyrant Hippias only for the Persians to tell them to suck it up.
  • Neither Darius nor Xerxes were personally present at the Battle of Marathon, and the former certainly was not killed by Themistocles. He died well after it and in different circumstances, so Xerxes didn't invade Greece by the desire to avenge his father, but merely to follow up with his campaign.
  • The incident in which the Spartans threw their Persian emissaries to a well did happen, at least according to Herodotus, but not during Xerxes's reign. It happened during his father Darius's, and its outcome was hardly limited to Sparta, as Athenians did the same, although they were characteristically delicate enough to judge the messengers before tossing them to the pit (speaking of which, the Spartans realized they had gone a bit overboard, so they sent two of their people to be executed in Persia as a reparation). As Xerxes knew these events, he omitted Athens and Sparta when he sent messengers to the Greek cities.
  • The Battle of Thermopylae happened during the Carnea just as portrayed in the film, but the Ephors weren't secretly working for Xerxes and had the right priorities, so they allowed Leonidas to send a military expedition; it was Leonidas himself who choose to take only his 300-man hippei force and a support team of helots. That said, they did forbid him once to do so due to the Carnea, although it happened during the Battle of Marathon, not Thermopylae.
  • In the film, the strategy to defend Greece through the Thermopylae pass is Leonidas' idea, who shows it to the corrupt Ephors before meeting with any other Greek ally. In real life, it was Themistocles' idea, and it came up after all the allied Greek cities had gathered to discuss the war.
  • The storm that destroys part of the Persian fleet did happen, but it took place in the coast of Magnesia, which crosses into Artistic License – Geography for being just too far to be watched from Thermopylae as in the film. Said fleet had nothing to do with the battle, either, because the Persian army that attacked the pass actually came from land after crossing Macedonia and Thessalia, not from the sea, which was blocked by the Greek navy in Artemisium. In fact, this deviation could be considered a Plot Hole between 300 and Rise of an Empire: the presence of Persian ships in the Malian gulf would mean Themistocles's defense in Artemisium had been bypassed, but this never happens in the films, as Themistocles only loses his blockade the same day Leonidas and his people are killed.
  • The only forces depicted for Greece at the films's Thermopylae are the 300 Spartan hoplites, an Arcadian skirmisher contingent that contributes for a small part of the battle, and some Phocian forces that are referred to but never shown. In reality, the battle featured over 4000 troops on the Greek side (according to Herodotus, which is almost surely a lower estimate). Aside from Leonidas and his 300 hippei, their army included large masses of Mycenaeans, Corinthians, Thespians and people from around Thermopylae. To be fair, several of those peoples are mentioned to have joined Leonidas and company in the graphic novel, but only the Thespians are ever shown on page.
  • Surprisingly to some, the now famous "then we will fight in the shade" line is real, though the Spartan soldier that said it was named Dienekes instead of Stelios. Also, he wasn't replying to a Persian emissary, but joking with an allied explorer from Trachis. This was Herodotus's version, at least; according to Plutarch, it was Leonidas himself who said the line when one of the soldiers became upset at the sheer number of Persian arrows.
  • For what we know, Xerxes and Leonidas never had a face-to-face talk; most of Xerxes's lines from said scenes are recorded by Herodotus as coming from a simple Persian messenger. Similarly, Themistocles and Artemisia never met each other on the battlefield, although they could have possibly met in Artaxerxes I's court after Themistocles and his family were exiled from Greece.
  • Leonidas's Last Stand happened historically, but under different circumstances. He didn't sacrifice himself to inspire the rest of Greek states to mobilize to war like in the film, as they were already fighting along with him. Instead, when Leonidas realized the Persians would flank them thanks to Ephialtes, he ordered the other city-states' armies to retreat while his own forces and Demophilus's (along with an extra Theban contingent that wanted to surrender) remained behind to give them more time to escape. The trope played there, thus, wasn't a Thanatos Gambit, but a You Shall Not Pass!. However, it's recorded in sources that the Oracle of Delphi told the Spartans their king's death would be necessary to win the war, so it's possible that Leonidas decided to offer his life at least partially out of religious fervor.
  • There were actually two Spartan survivors of the 300: Aristodemus and Pantites. The former had an eye infection and was sent home along with another soldier suffering the same illness, Eurytus, while the latter was on an embassy to Thessaly and did not return in time for battle. Both were disgraced upon their return to Sparta, Aristodemus because Eurytus decided to return and fight despite his own blindness (he went to battle guided by a Helot) and Pantites because he didn't hurry up enough. Aristodermus regained some degree of honor by dying in the Battle of Plataea in a berserk charge, while Pantites preferred to hang himself. Nothing of this happens in the film, where the only survivor is Dilios; he could be considered a Composite Character of Aristodemus and Pausanias, Leonidas's nephew and leader of the Greek forces in Plataea.
  • The second day of the Battle of Artemisium saw the Greeks attacking, not defending deep into the strait. Themistocles's tactic of running aground ships sideways to form sea barricades is entirely fictitious.
  • The film shows the Greek fleet destroyed in Artemisia's bombing tactics the third day of the battle, and they only avoid a Persian victory because Artemisia's own fleet is affected too by the attack. It is underlined by this way that both Leonidas and Themistocles fail at containing the Persian invasions in their respective terrains. In real life, although suffering hard losses, the Greeks actually held at the straits of Artemisium while Leonidas failed at the Hot Gates. They only retreated when the Thermopylae pass was taken and thus defending the nearby sea became irrelevant. (That said, Themistocles and company did realize the much larger Persian fleet would end up overpowering them by sheer attrition sooner or later, so they were already considering the option of retreating when they heard of Leonidas's defeat.) The Greek fleet then sailed to Athens and helped to evacuate it.
  • The film version of Xerxes burns Athens to the ground after his victory at Thermopylae and Artemisium, which is in historical sources, but modern historians greatly theorize that it might have been Greek propaganda, as Xerxes had no reason to destroy a city of significant strategic value (which is noted by Artemisia herself in the film). On the other hand, Herodotus himself claimed that burning the city was the entire objective of the campaign, a punitive action over Athenian's role in the aforementioned Ionian Revolt, which is why Xerxes preferred to withdraw with most of his forces after losing at Salamina (leaving Mardonius to continue the effort) instead of risking himself.
  • The scene with Artemisia insisting that she be allowed to pursue the Greeks to Salamis, with Xerxes trying to dissuade her and noting that it's tactical suicide, portrays both characters exactly backwards from how it was recorded in history. It was Xerxes and his general Mardonius who wanted the big push to crush the Greeks, as they had been deceived by a Greek emissary named Sicinnus (actually a spy working for Themistocles) into believing the allied fleet was imminently breaking up. The wary Artemisia proposed to wait for such breakup to happen in order to be sure, but she was ignored, and the result was history.
  • In real life, Sparta didn't save the day in a huge Big Damn Heroes moment at Salamis. Not only they had been a part of the allied fleet since the beginning, they had almost no navy at the time and their contribution to the Greek fleet had been less than 5% of the forces present according to Herodotus (ironically, Sparta wouldn't have a proper fleet until the Persian themselves gave them one in order to fight the Athenians during the Peloponnesian Wars). The victory at Salamis was a team effort, and it was accomplished by capitalizing on the Persian Attack! Attack! Attack! approach to lure their ships into the straits. Xerxes's admirals believed they were cornering the Greeks by blocking the straits's exits, but they were really getting into a trap where they were pinned and destroyed.
  • The first film ends with the impression that the Battle of Plataea will be a Curb-Stomp Battle for the Greeks, but the reality was almost the opposite: the Greek side screwed it big time and only won because the Persians screwed it even more. To explain, Pausanias and his army had started forming a defensive line on the field, but some skirmishes convinced them to retreat to higher terrains. However, their retreat maneuver was so awkward that their army broke down in several uncoordinated masses, which from away looked like they were disbanding. Believing the Greeks were running away, Mardonius charged carelessly with all his forces in an attempt to finish them, a decision that naturally became a Mass "Oh, Crap!" when they discovered the Greeks were simply repositioning and not forfeiting the battle. With the Persians having placed themselves in an inferior position, Pausanias and company hacked the way through them, and when Mardonius himself was killed by a Spartan slinger, the battle was over.

Alternative Title(s): Three Hundred Rise Of An Empire

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