Film Review: the 300 Spartans

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Film Review: the 300 Spartans

This review will critically analyze the film “The 300 Spartans,” focusing on its portrayal of the historic Battle of Thermopylae. The essay will examine the film’s historical accuracy, character development, thematic elements, and cinematic techniques. It will discuss how the movie contributes to the popular narrative of Spartan valor and resilience, and its impact on the audience’s perception of ancient Greek history. The review aims to offer a balanced perspective on the film’s strengths and weaknesses as a historical epic. Also at PapersOwl you can find more free essay examples related to Film.

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Between my choices of doing a book review or a movie review, I chose to watch the film, The 300 Spartans, directed by Rudolph Mate. The producers were also Rudolph Mate and George St. George, with the film being released in August 1962. The film goes on to show the audience the history of the 300 Spartans and other Greek city-states, like the Phokians and Thespians, that fought against the Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.

The Persians were conquering the Greek city-states, and Xerxes wanted to avenge his father’s defeat.

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However, Sparta and Athens did not want to bow down to an empire that had a god-king. These men wanted to keep their ways of life and freedom and were willing to fight for it. As the film continues, only about 300 Spartans can join this battle at Thermopylae because, during that time, there was a religious festival going on and the council had decided it was a time for celebration, not battle. King Leonidas continues with his army of 300 men, knowing this could be his last fight. The men of Sparta travel with the other Greek men able to fight in this battle at Thermopylae, about 200 miles north of Athens. The Greeks were outnumbered by a 6:1 ratio. Shortly after King Leonidas and all the troops have arrived at the camp at Thermopylae, Leonidas receives a message hidden in wax from Gorgo, stating that the rest of the troops are not going to join or help the 300.

That does not stop Leonidas from leading these men into battle, for this is honor and what they live for. Before the Greeks and the Persians begin their battle, Ellas has learned of the secret goat path from the countrymen who had taken her in to recover. She goes to tell Leonidas and her father at the camp. Leonidas has people look for the path, and soon enough, the battle begins. In the first round, Spartans are charged by the Calvary and men on foot, but they are easily pushed back to the sea. This is when Hydranes offers Leonidas a deal: if he surrenders, Spartans will be spared. Leonidas replies, “Come and take them.” In the second round, men on chariots charge towards the Greeks, but again, arrows and spears keep these Persians away. In the third round, the elite Immortals are sent in to take down the Greeks. The Immortals fare no better than the rest of the men and are either sent back or slaughtered by the Greeks.

This strikes fear into Xerxes, but thankfully for him, there was a traitor among the Greeks. Ephialtes was a man assisting an elder couple at their farm, and he tried to persuade Ellas to go away with him. She denies him, and that’s when he makes his way to Xerxes to offer a way to destroy the Greeks. Ephialtes can be made rich for his information. Gellus, the father of Phylon, separates himself from the Persians to find Ellas, to warn Leonidas that the Persians have now learned about this secret path. This is where everything begins to go downhill for Leonidas. He sends Thespians to the secret path to hold off the Persians and orders all other troops to retreat, aside from him and his 300 Spartans. Being outnumbered, this is where the Spartan men all fall, being encircled by the Persians, and their archers take aim. However, Xerxes offers one last chance for the Spartans to be spared. They deny it and no man survives.

Comparing the film to the actual events in history, a reader or movie viewer can see the errors and similarities between the two. I am no expert in history or film criticism, but there are moments in the film I noticed that were not 100% accurate. However, because I am neither a historian nor a film critic, the director’s historical inaccuracies did not change my opinion about the film. I still felt he captured the spirit of the Spartans well enough to give a person an idea of their way of life.

In the film, director Rudolph notes that Thermopylae is about 200 miles north of Athens. However, according to Gary Rashba’s writing on Thermopylae, Greece, “Thermopylae (Greek for ‘hot gates,’ in reference to nearby springs) lies some 120 miles north of Athens on Greece’s National Highway.” While it is understandable to round up a number or make it slightly larger for a greater impact, geological distances do not change that dramatically. The film continues, citing a council meeting prediction of Athens’ doom. This aligns with Mark Cartwright’s writing in Thermopylae, where he reveals an oracle from Delphi advising Athenians “fly to the world’s end.” The film also presents a prediction regarding Leonidas and Sparta which parallels David Frye’s account in Spartan Stand at Thermopylae. He wrote, “Received an oracle that Sparta must either lose a king or see the city destroyed.” This prediction was mirrored, practically word for word, in the film.

A flaw in the film, where the director omitted a key decision by Leonidas, occurred when he assembled his 300 Spartan men. As noted by Gary L. Rashba, Leonidas handpicked his troop of 300 Spartan men. He did this so that a family line would not end due to the losses in the battle. This appears to be an important fact to even mention in the film, showing that these people truly did have family values.

The small size of the Spartan army that went to battle was due to a festival that was going on. The council wanted to wait until the festival was over before they would send more troops out to fight. Once again, the director’s depiction of this proved to be fairly accurate. “For it was the period of the sacred games at Olympia and the most important Spartan religious festival, the Karneia, and no fighting was permitted during these events” (Cartwright). I believe the director of this film did not want to completely strip away the truth, aiming to keep it as precise and entertaining for the audience as possible.

The traitor in the film is a man who works for an elderly couple at their farm, close to the battle site. His name is Ephialtes. He attempts to take Ellas away and have her become his wife, but she refuses his offer. This, seemingly, leads him to approach Xerxes with information about the secret goat path in hopes of gaining money from the king. Yet, as Cartwright wrote, “Ephialtes, son of Eurydemos, a local shepherd from Trachis, seeking a reward from Xerxes, informed the Persians of an alternative route… Leonidas had stationed a contingent of Phokian troops to guard this vital point.” Here, we have a mix-up of information. The film never asserts that Ephialtes is the son of anyone, and it exaggerates the scene with him and Ellas; she is never mentioned to be around him in the findings I have gathered. In addition, Cartwright mentioned that the Phokian people were the troops stationed at the secret path to fend off Persian warriors if they were to discover this weakness. In the film, however, the director has Leonidas send Thespians to defend the path because Gellus separated from the Persians to find Ellas and warn the Greeks of a traitor in the midst of the night. All in all, twisting the tale a bit makes for a more fascinating story.

The last conflicting part I will share in this film is when Leonidas sends all other Greek troops away, leaving only the Thespians and the Spartan men to defend Thermopylae from the Persian army. As seen in the film and known historically, they did not survive and lost the battle to the Persians. But as I have already mentioned, it was the Phokians who went to the old goat path but failed to defend this area. However, “Standing by them were the loyal Thespians, who considered it an honor to die fighting beside the Spartans. Leonidas also kept some 400 Thebans as hostages whom he suspected of having Persian sympathies” (Frye). The film does not acknowledge how Leonidas kept the Thebans there as either soldiers or technically hostages, as he did not trust these men. However, from the last scene, it appeared that it was only the Spartans who were encircled by the Persians and shot down by arrows. The ending of the film does give the emotional and dramatic effect of how Spartan men were brave and would rather die fighting than surrender to their enemy.

The film “The 300 Spartans” was well done for its time, and it stayed more accurate to the facts compared to the remake, “300.” I felt the battle scenes were executed suitably, demonstrating the strength and military intelligence of the Spartans. They stayed truer to each wave of attack that Xerxes tried to throw at the Greeks, providing the audience with a close enough reenactment of how the battle went. The director, Rudolph Mate, did not try to twist history too much; he stayed as precise as he could, adding just a little bit of romance into the story. This was done through the characters of Phylon and Ellas. They were young and in love, but the story is likely not based on real events. Spartan boys did not spend their youth with girls as they were sent away to boot camp until they were 19 years old. During this film, you will see this young couple together, with Phylon saying how he has loved her since he was a boy. This made it difficult to believe, given the known facts of the boot camp system. Despite these minor errors, the film wasn’t bad. I personally enjoyed it and could watch it again. Therefore, if you need a brief, entertaining summary of what happened to the Spartan men at the Battle of Thermopylae, I would recommend this film.

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Thermopylae.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 16 Apr. 2013,
Frye, David. “Spartan Stand at Thermopylae.” Military History, vol. 22, no. 10, Jan. 2006, p. 38. EBSCOhost,
Rashba, Gary L. “Thermopylae, Greece.” Military History, vol. 24, no. 8, Nov. 2007, p. 76. EBSCOhost,

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Film Review: The 300 Spartans. (2022, Aug 17). Retrieved from