Film Review: the 300 Spartans

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Updated: Aug 17, 2022
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Between my choices of doing a book review or movie review, I chose to watch the film, The 300 Spartans; it was directed by Rudolph Mate. The producers was also Rudolph Mate and George St. George and was released in August 1962. The film goes on to show the audience the history of the 300 Spartans and other Greek city states like, Phokians and Thespians, that fought against the Persian army at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.

The Persians were conquering over the Greek city states, and Xerxes wanted to avenge his father’s defeat; but 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 it is a time for celebration not battle as the council decided. King Leonidas continues with his army of 300 men; knowing this could even be his last fight to 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 out numbered 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, 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 that had taken her in to get better. She goes to tell Leonidas and her father at the camp. Leonidas has people look for the path, and then 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 to Leonidas if he surrenders Spartans will be spared; Leonidas replies, “come and take them.” In the second-round men on chariots charge towards Greeks, again though arrows and spears keep these Persians away, the third round the elite Immortals are sent in to take down the Greeks. The Immortals did no better than the rest of the men and were 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 the 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 and Ephialtes can be made rich for his information. Gellus, the father of Phylon, separates himself from the Persians to find Ellas to go warn Leonidas that the Persians have now learned about this secret path. This is where all begins to go do hill for Leonidas. He sends Thespians to the secret path to hold off the Persians and sent all other troops to retreat, aside from him and his 300 Spartans. With being out numbered this is where the Spartan men all fall being encircled by the Persians and their archers take aim; but Xerxes offers one last chance for Spartans to be spared, they deny it and no man survives.

Comparing the film to the actual event in history, a reader and/or movie viewer can see the errors and likeness in the two. I am no expert in history or being a movie critic, but there are moments in the film I did notice that were not 100 percent accurate. Though for myself personally, because I am neither a historian or film critic the director’s errors to history did not change my thought about the film. I still felt he captured the idea of the Spartans well enough to give a person an idea of how these men were to their way of life.

In the film, director Rudolph notes that Thermopylae is about 200 miles north of Athens. As I read though in Gary Rashba writing, Thermopylae, Greece, “Thermopylae (Greek for ‘hot gates,’ in reference to nearby springs) lies some 120 miles north of Athens on Greece’s National Highway.” It is understandable to round a number up or make it slightly larger to have a greater impact, but geological distances do not change that dramatically. The film goes on and during the council meeting they speak of Athens prediction; in which the city state is doomed. Which does fall true from what is gathered from Mark Cartwright’s writing, Thermopylae. He wrote how Greece was about to face its greatest threat, and that the oracle at Delphi suggested that Athenians “fly to the world’s end.” The same can be said for the other prediction presented in the film about Leonidas and Sparta; that it can be compared to what David Frye wrote in Spartan Stand at Thermopylae, “Received an oracle that Sparta must either lose a king or see the city destroyed.” This prediction was stated in both film and history, basically word for word.

A flaw from the film where the director left out a respectable decision from Leonidas is when he gathered his 300 Sparta men. Noted by Gary L. Rashba, that Leonidas did handpick his troop of 300 spartan men; this way a family line would not end because of the loss at this battle. Which seems like an important fact to even side note in a film, indicating how these people truly did have family values.

Referring to the small size of the Spartan army that went to battle was because of a festival that was going on. That the council wanted to wait until the festival was over before they would send more troops out to fight. Once again, the director keeps this fairly accurate as well. “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 strip the truth completely away to keep it as precise and entertaining for the audience.

The traitor of the film is a man working for an elder couple at their farm close to the battle site, his name is Ephialtes. He attempts to take Ellas away and have her be his wife, but she refuses his offer. Thus, seemingly leads him to go to Xerxes with the information about the secret goat path to gain money from this king. Though Cartwright wrote, “Ephialtes, son of Eurydemos, a local shepherd from Trachis, seeking reward from Xerxes, informed the Persians of an alternative route…Leonidas had stationed the contingent of Phokian troops to guard this vital point.” Here we have a mix up of information, the film never showed Ephialtes was the son of anyone and over exaggerated the scene with him and Ellas; she was never mentioned to be around him in the findings I have gathered. Also, Cartwright mentioned that the Phokian people were the troop to be at the secret path defending off Persian warriors if they were to find out about this weakness. In the film, the director had Leonidas send Thespians to defend the path, because Gellus separated from the Persians to find Ellas to warn the Greeks that there was a traitor in the middle of the night. All in all, it makes a more fascinating story to twist up the tale a little bit.

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 Persian army. As it is seen in film and known they did not survive and lost the battle to the Persians. But as I already mentioned it was the Phokians that went to the old goat path but failed to defend this area. Though, “Standing by them were the loyal Thespians, who considered it an honor to die fighting beside the Spartans. Leonidas also kept as hostages some 400 Thebans whom he suspected of having Persian sympathies” (Frye). It was not acknowledged in the film how Leonidas kept the Thebans there as soldiers or technically hostages since he did not trust these men. However, from the last scene it appeared it was only Spartans that 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 rather die fighting than surrender to their enemy.

The film, the 300 Spartans, was well done for its time, and stayed more accurate to the facts compared to the remake, 300. I felt the battle scenes were executed suitably in demonstrating the strength and military intelligence that Spartans had. Staying truer to each wave of attack that Xerxes tried to throw at the Greeks, providing the audience a close enough reenactment of how the battle went. The director Rudolph Mate did not try to twist history up too much, he stayed as precise as he could with adding a little bit of romance into the story, like Phylon and Ellas. They were young and in love, but more in likely not a real story at all. Spartan boys do not spend their youth with girls since they are sent away to boot camp until they are 19 years old. During this film you will see this young couple together, and Phylon saying how he has loved her since he was a boy; which made it difficult to believe knowing the truth of the boot camp system. Although there were some errors, it was not bad. I personally did enjoy the film and could watch it again. That if I needed a brief, entertaining summary of what happened to the Spartan men at the battle of Thermopylae I would recommend this film.

Work 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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