Behind the buzz of the movie 300 lies the history which wrote the plot. Victor Davis Hanson, a historian, talks of both the history of the movie, as well as its enduring message of the few holding off the many. Here is a a summary of the history of 300. Click through for his entire article.
In 480, an enormous force of more than a quarter-million Persians under their King Xerxes invaded Greece, both to enslave the free city-states, and to avenge the Persian defeat a decade earlier at Marathon. The huge force of ships and soldiers proved unstoppable on its way west and southward until it reached the narrow pass at Thermopylae (“The Warm Gates”) in northern Greece. There a collection of 7,000 Greeks had blocked the way. They hoped to stop Xerxes’ horde outright — or at least allow enough time for their fellow countrymen to their rear to mobilize a sufficient defense of the homeland.
Among the many Greek contingents was a special elite force of 300 Spartans under their King Leonidas — a spearhead that offered the other Greeks at Thermopylae some promise that they could still bar the advance of the vastly superior invader. And that hope proved real for two days of hard fighting. The vastly outnumbered, but heavily-armed Greek infantrymen in their phalanx — taking advantage of the narrow terrain and their massed tactics — savagely beat back wave after wave of advancing Persian foot soldiers and cavalry.
But on the third day of battle, Leonidas’s Greeks were betrayed by a local shepherd Ephialtes, who showed the Persians an alternate route over the mountains that led to the rear of the Greek position. When he realized that he was nearly surrounded, Leonidas nevertheless made a critical decision to stay and fight, while ordering most of the other various allies to flee the encirclement to organize the growing Greek resistance to the south.
Meanwhile the King and his doomed 300 Spartans, together with other small groups of surrounded Thespians and Thebans, would indeed battle to buy the Greeks time. They ranged further out from the pass on this third and last day of battle — at first with spears and swords, finally with teeth and nails —killing scores more of Persians. The last few Spartan survivors were buried under a sea of Persian arrows. The body of Leonidas was found among the corpses, his head soon impaled on a stick as a macabre reminder of the wages of resistance to the Great King of Persia.
The Greeks took encouragement from the unprecedented sacrifice of a Spartan King and his royal guard on their behalf. And so a few weeks later at the sea battle of Salamis near Athens — and then again the next year at the great infantry collision on the plains of Plataea — the Greeks defeated, and eventually destroyed, the Persian invaders. The rallying cry of the victors was Thermopylae, the noble sacrifice of the final stand of the outnumbered Greeks, and especially the courage of the fallen Three Hundred Spartans under King Leonidas.