Thursday, March 20, 2008

300: What really happened at Thermopylae ? - Part 1

300 was one of the controversial movies of year 2007. This movie was technically brilliant, terrific graphics, spell-bounding action scenes and my favorite movie of all times. This movie portrayed the saga of Spartan King Leonidas and his 300 body guards who fought to death against the invading Persians at Thermopylae or the Hot Gates. Lot of people had taken serious offense to this movie. This movie was banned in Iran. Some believed the movie had political intentions. Some complaints against this movie were: Portraying Persians in bad light, Glorifying Spartans and inaccuracies in history to name a few.


My friend Sridhar was very obsessed with this movie which motivated him to do some indepth research to know what really happened at Thermopylae. This post is a conglomeration of his observation and thoughts -

I've read the original book "Gates of Fire", the comic by Frank Miller, History channel episodes, and multiple websites. I've been fascinated every bit by the movie and the actual happenings. I want to share my thoughts...

Darius, the persian king was defeated 10 years prior to Thermopylae by a smaller Greek force around 490 B.C. So his son Xerxes marches one of the largest armies (numbers close to a million) assembled in 480 B.C to conquer Greece. It was during the festival of Karnea which is supposedly sacred. King Leonidas of Sparta is chosen as the commander in chief of a army 5000 (or 7000, I am not sure) men strong (300 Spartans, 500 from Tegea, 500 from Mantinea, 700 Thespians, 1000 hop lites from Phokis and Lokris, and 2000 from Mycenae, Orchomenos, Arkadia, Corinth, and Phlius). ["Gates of Fire"]. This unit was drafted in to buy some valuable time to Athens to mobilize the army for the bigger battle. The 300 Spartans were an all-sire unit. They had a son to continue their lineage.

The mountain pass of Thermopylae was chosen for two reasons: The terrain geographic, and the Persian navy was countered effectively at Artemesium by a Greek officer Themistocles. The mountain pass was supposed to be very narrow. It probably had enough width for two chariots to traverse at the same time. The Spartans rebuilt the phocian wall which would effectively mean facing the Persian ranks in the narrow pass where numbers would mean nothing. Spartans were known for their valor and accompanied sense of humor. Dienekes, a spartan officer says one of the most famous laconic statements "We will have our battle in the shade" when a persian emissary warns about the Persian archers. Dienekes was considered one of the bravest Spartans.

The Concluding parts of the war can be found in these links - Part2 Part3