It was, um, a lot of years ago today (480 B.C., to be exact) that King Leonidas and the Spartans were defeated by Xerxes’ army at Thermopylae. Well, that’s according to some accounts. Some historians say that we can’t be sure exactly what day in late summer the Battle of Thermopylae happened, but for our purposes today (namely, a timely Quick 10) we’ll stick with the ones who have agreed on August 11.
10 Things 300 Didn’t Tell You
1. We often hear the epic battle called the Battle of Thermopylae, but the truth is, there were lots of Battles of Thermopylae, including one in WWII. In 1941, the British Commonwealth set up their defenses in the same pass that was used in 480 B.C.
2. However, that pass is a lot bigger than it used to be. At the time of the historic stand against the Persians, the pass is estimated to have been no bigger than 30 meters. Now, due to silt deposited by rivers over time, the coastline of the Gulf has grown by at least three miles.
3. Another reason this Quick 10 is particularly fitting right now: according to “The Father of History”, Herodotus, the Battle occurred while the Olympic Games were going on. Of course, Herodotus also earned the nickname “The Father of Lies”, so you may want to take that with a grain of salt.
4. We don’t really know how many warriors there were on either side, but if you agree with Herodotus, there literally millions of Persians vs. 7,100 Greeks. It’s pretty widely agreed that his estimation is ridiculous – it was probably closer to 200,000 Persians total (including warriors who didn’t make it to the battle at all).
5. Some of those perfect quotes from the movie are the real thing. If you’ve seen 300, you no doubt remember a Persian warrior telling a Spartan warrior that the Persian arrows would be so numerous they would blot out the sun. “Then we will fight in the shade!” was the Spartan’s response. Supposedly, this is a real quote from a Spartan named Dienekes.
6. Likewise, Leonidas was thought to have really said “Come and get them!” when the Persians told the Spartans to surrender their weapons.
7. Those Spartans sure are quotable. Another quote that has perhaps lasted thousands of years is the Queen’s response to the messenger who asked why Spartan women were allowed to speak amongst men. “Because only Spartan women give birth to real men,” she said. Plutarch, a Greek historian, recorded this memorable line in the Moralia under “Sayings of the Spartans”.
8. The poet Simonides wrote an epitaph for the 300; it was engraved on a stone and placed at the point of the Spartans’ last stand. The original no longer exists, but a copy was made. It has been translated many different ways – here are a few of them:
• Stranger! To Sparta say, her faithful band
Here lie in death, remembering her command.
• Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.
• Stranger, tell the Spartans that we behaved as they would wish us to, and are
• Go, stranger, and to Lacedaemon tell
That here, obeying her behests, we fell.
9. Literally, Thermopylae means “hot gates”. It was so named becaues of the sulfurous springs there; the narrow pass served as a gateway to them.
10. The person buried in Leonidas’ tomb may or may not be Leonidas. While most of the Spartans were buried where they fell, it was custom to bring the King home and give him a proper burial. However, they didn’t get the body until 40 years later (the Persians got to him first). Obviously, the body was just bones at that point, so it was impossible to know if they actually belonged to Leonidas or not.