Rudolph Maté's 1962 CinemaScope film, The 300 Spartans, tells the story of one of the most famous military engagements in history, the land and sea battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium, respectively.

Plot and Historicity Edit

The film's primary focus is on the memorable Battle of Thermopylae where King Leonidas I of Sparta led his personal guard of 300 Spartans and a volunteer unit of around 7,000-20,000 Thespians, Thebians and a number of other Greek volunteers from around a dozen smaller city-states (modern estimate, Herodotus estimated 5200 Greeks) led by Demophilus of Thespiae against a force of Persians led by King Xerxes I of Persia, Mardonius of Persia and Hydarnes II of Persia estimated by the Greek historian Herodotus to be a force of over a 1,000,000 men (though later estimates put the force size at around 100,000-200,000 men). The Spartans historically, and in the film, are able to use the narrow geography of the pass of Thermopylae, and the hoplite Phalanx formation as force multipliers allowing the outnumbered Greeks to hold the Persians at bay for 3 days until they were outflanked by the Persians and slaughtered with a barrage of arrows due to a betrayal by the Greek citizen Ephialtes of Trachis. Xerxes I famously beheaded the corpse of Leonidas I despite the tradition of most Persians to honor or be respectful of great, or formidable warriors.

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For the most part the film maintains a level of accuracy and inaccuracy common to the films of the time. The Spartan two-king system, the rights of women in Sparta compared to the rest of Greece, the history before and after the battles, are all addressed with accuracy. However the films maintaining of the linguistic paradigm (British bad, American good), the lack of beard or classical hairstyles for Leonidas I or his Spartans, and the much less controlled Phalanx maneuvering in the films pitched battles compared to the later Troy and 300 films all bare the mark of inaccuracy for the sake of style or capability.

Production Edit

The films was largely shot in the Greek village of Perachora in the Peloponnese. Around 5000 members of the Hellenic army were loaned to the production by the Greek Ministry of National Defense to serve as both Spartan and Persian extra's and stand-ins. Indeed the linguistic and ethnic paradigm of the Hollywood sword and sandal tradition appear to be at play, with the majority of Greeks played by Americans and the majority if not all of the Persian soldiers being played by Greeks.

The 300 Spartans

The film itself fails in many ways to distinguish itself, technically, from other more important or influential sword and sandal films. The films utilization of compelling imagery involving the costuming and the battle sequences, and the final sequence in which the Spartans are slaughtered by a hail of seemingly hand-drawn arrows is interesting and possibly innovative, but not enough to distinguish the film from its predecessors and successors.

Technical Notes Edit

The film was shot with CinemaScope lenses[1] at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It was shot on 35mm film and at 114 minutes uses 3,155m of film. To get the shots of dozens of arrows flying through the sky without employing an actual army of archers, Special Effects Supervisor Fred Etchberry oversaw 20 compressed air arrow shooters. Each shooter could contain 100 arrows, launching them out of a tube aimed at the sky. The film makes extensive use of its widescreen, showcasing the scale of its armies with wide shots that depict marching and movement across battlefields. In some cases, the filmmakers used a camera sled on tracks to follow the marching Spartans.[2]

Themes and Interpretations Edit

The linguistic paradigm of the film extends to its interpretations. As a product of the Cold War, the Spartans and their allies are representative of coalitions such as the United States, or more broadly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.[3] Persia is an effective stand-in as an evil Eastern empire that commands legions of enemies that lack personality and individuality. Throughout the film, the Spartans value democracy (Leonidas only takes his personal guard of 300 men because his government wouldn't allow more) and unity (Leonidas and others successfully unify the Greek states against the Persians), while the Persian ruler Xerxes is an outright authoritarian. The narrator proclaims at the end of the film that the 300 Spartans were an example to all free people, and their standing up to the Persians' tyranny rallied the remaining Greek forces to defeat the invading army.

Legacy Edit

The film is indeed, much less memorable than many of its counterparts and is ultimately overshadowed by the more successful 300 and 300 Rise of An Empire, directed by Zack Snyder and Noam Murro, respectively. However, these films are best viewed in conjunction with one another, as Frank Miller has noted his inspiration for his Eisner Award-winning graphic novel 300 was the film The 300 Spartans.

Fair Use Justification: There are no apparent public domain images readily available for either The 300 Spartans, the 300 graphic novel, Zack Snyder's 300 or 300: Rise of Empire, therefore these images are being posted under fair use:


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Edited by Chris Blackard, Chloe Ellar, and Andre Villaplana 

References Edit

  1. [1][2]
  3. Santas, Constantine, James M. Wilson, Maria Maddalena Colavito, and Djoymi Baker. "The 300 Spartans." The Encyclopedia of Epic Films. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. 501-04. Print.