Tuesday, October 31, 2006

movie posters

Monday, October 30, 2006

Analyzing the trailer

In the previous post you can watch the movie trailer of “300”, in this post I will try to interpret/analyze the main scenes of the short film.

At the beginning of the trailer, we have a brief scene of Greeks pushing Persians down a cliff into the sea. This may have some historical base, since, according to all accounts of the battle, the right flank of the Greeks was indeed “protected” by the sea, which made it impossible for the Persian to overrun them. In some stage of the battle the well armed Greek infantry could have driven the barbarians into the sea.

A second later we see a young Spartan fighting a (particularly evil looking) wolf with a stick. I guess that at the beginning of the graphic novel and the film, Frank Miller is giving some information about Sparta and the military training young Spartans received since a very early age. Spartan kids were probably tough enough to fight a wolf with a stick. However this scene is a bit “too much”.

The Persian King, Xerxes sitting on this golden throne appears in the early moments of the trailer, looking rather aloof and wicked. Xerxes was indeed carried on a golden throne from which he observed the battleground. The luxury surrounding the Persian King is not surprising, all historical sources agree that the Persian Empire was the richest kingdom of its time and was controlling the wealthiest lands of the ancient world. The Persian Kings literary lived in Gold and, unlike the Greek leaders, unless it was an absolute necessity, they would not be present in the battlefield. Occasionally, if it was an important campaign, they would follow the battle from a safe distance.
The appearance, however, of Xerxes, is very different from how he probably looked like in reality. In the movie he appears as a young man in his 30’s, half naked, covered with jewels and completely shaved. The real Xerxes, was somewhat older, wore a long tunic and a simple crown, and had a beard.

Spartans!! Tonight we dine in Hell”... Leonidas knew he would die a long time before the battle (I will explain this in detail in another post), and the morning of the third day of the battle of Thermopylae, when it was known that the Persians were descending from the secret mountain path and would soon encircle the Greeks, he most certainly was aware that this was the end. He had the opportunity to withdraw and save his life, but it was an obligation for him to fight to the end, “Never to retreat”. It is reputed, that on that morning, he suggested to his men to eat a hearty breakfast, because “Tonight we will dine in Hades”.
Spartan loyalty to their country was demonstrated in every occasion. It is described that when Spartan men left for war, their women (whether wives or mothers) were handing them over their shields with an order: to return with the shield or (dead) on the shield, “ή ταν ή επί τας” (I TAN I EPI TAS). Spartan women were instructing their men to fight bravely and either win the war and return home with their shield, or die fighting. They were prohibited to run away from battle leaving their shield behind. That would be a great disgrace for their family and a stigma forever. Spartan women were very proud if their husbands or sons died in battle, it was the greatest honor a Spartan could achieve in his life.

When the four horsemen arrive at Sparta to meet the king, we can feel a changing mood in the trailer. This scene is loosely based in history. Two years prior to the first Greco-Persian war (in 492 B.C), while the Persians were planning to conquer Greece, they sent two emissaries/ambassadors (call them as you wish) to each Greek city-state and demanded “land and water” (“γη και ύδωρ”), literally, a handful of soil and water from the city-state as a symbolic submission to Persian rule. When the emissaries reached Sparta and went to the assembly of the citizens, the Apella, demanding “land and water”, the Spartans were so enraged that they killed them by throwing them down a well, where as they said “you may find plenty of soil and water”. The Athenians, since they didn’t have a well around, pushed the Persians down from the hill of the Acropolis.
This assault to diplomats, even in ancient times, was considered unacceptable and the Spartans soon regretted their act. In return they sent to Darius (father of Xerxes) two young men, among the finest of Sparta, allowing him to avenge for the loss of his diplomats. Darius considered this an act of honor and dignity and let the Spartans return home.
At this point I should note that the possibility of a black African Persian ambassador is completely false. The Persians probably had been in contact with sub-Saharan Africans, but in the best case they used them as slaves.

The next notable picture is the assault of masked Persian warriors to the Greek lines. If I was able to understand it correctly, the producers are trying to illustrate the elite Persian troops, known as the Immortals. They were considered the best fighting force of the Persian army, Persian princes, including brothers of Xerxes, served with the Immortals. They had never lost a battle and their presence alone would bring terror to the enemy. Of course, since “This is Sparta”, Leonidas and his 300 were not really scared. They annihilated most of the Immortals, killing 2 brothers of Xerxes. The masks were invented by Frank Miller. Persians did not need mask to terrify their opponents.

At the same time of the Battle of Thermopylae, an allied Greek fleet fought the Naval Battle of Artemisium. A glimpse of this event is shown in the trailer, the Battle of Artemisium was held at the straits between mainland Greece and the island of Evvoia, a location parallel to Thermopylae, but not visible from Thermopylae. It is therefore not probable that the defenders of Thermopylae could see the naval battle. Just for the record, Artemisium was an undecided battle, and the defending Greeks withdrew when they were informed that Thermopylae had fallen.

Later, a Persian emissary, or prisoner of war, informs the Greeks about the strength of the Persian army. He mentions that “A thousand nations of the Persian Empire descend upon you… Our arrows will blot out the sun!!”… It is true that Xerxes had assembled a huge army. He had forced all nations under Persian rule to contribute in men and supplies. He had enlisted Phoenicians, Arabs, Babylonians, Egyptians, even Greeks from Asia Minor to fight on his side. In all, Herodotus mentions 46 nations. The absolute size of this army remains a discussion topic to this day. Herodotus estimates the total number of troops around 1.7 million (!!!), and together with the supporting personnel concluded that for the massive invasion of Greece, the Persians had mobilized about 5 million people!! According to Ctesias of Cnedus, a Persian historian, contemporary of the Battle, the army of Xerxes exceeded 800,000 fighting men. More moderate figures assess the Persian expedition force to a number between 100 and 250 thousand soldiers. A number around half a million troops could easily be assembled by the Persian King. I believe that this is a number closer to reality.

I owe credit to the filmmakers for, accurately, presenting an amazing quote: “Then we will fight in the shade”… this was the remark of a brave Spartan warrior, probably the bravest to fight at Thermopylae, Dienekes. When the Greek army arrived at the site of the battle, an anonymous local visited the camp and warned that he had seen the Persians and they were so many that “their arrows could hide the sun”… Dienekes responded: “These are cheerful news you bring stranger, if the Persians hide the sun, we will fight in the shade!!”

I don’t know if it is necessary to point out that a fighting rhino, as the one seen in the trailer, is an absurd idea. It may make the graphic novel or the movie more impressive, but it’s just too unreasonable.

I should comment however, that the Greeks did not fight half-naked with just a helmet and a shield. The “hoplite” (heavy Greek infantry soldier) was the best equipped individual fighter of his era. Besides the long spear, and standard sword and shield, he wore heavy armor protecting his head, body and lower legs (more about the hoplite soon).

At the end of the trailer, we see Leonidas standing among mountains of broken weapons, shields, arrows and corpses, while the narrator says: “Before this battle is over, the world will know that few stood against many”. Thermopylae was probably the first recorded battle in history where such a minute number of men, stood bravely against an invincible army, one of the greatest, if not the greatest army ever to be assembled.

Herodotus wrote… “The Battle of Thermopylae proved that there may be many individuals, but only very few MEN”

Friday, October 27, 2006

300 - Movie Official Trailer

This is the official movie trailer,you can already see in theatres around the world. In the above post you will find a detailed historical interpretation of what you see.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ancient Lacedaemon

The Ancient Greek/Hellenic World

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

About Spartans (and a bit about ancient Greeks in general)

Historical and archeological evidence strongly indicate that Greeks had inhibited the Balkanic Peninsula (the Peninsula of Hemos) since the third millennia before Christ. Pre-historic settlements have been found throughout the Aegean Sea islands and mainland Greece. “Grammical Alpha” a written alphabet found in the Minoic settlements of Crete dating back between the 16th and 18th centuries B.C. has been identified as the earliest alphabet of the ancient Greek world.

The Greeks entered the Balkans in separate waves, each wave consisting of a different Greek tribe: the Pelasgian tribe (Proto-Greeks), the Achaeans (Homer’s Greeks), the Ionians, the Aeolians, and finally the Dorians. The Doric invasion (around the 10th century B.C.) was undoubtedly the most violent and significant (from a historical point of view) migration wave, and marked the transition from the Bronze age to the age of Iron. At the same time the Greeks begun massive campaigns to explore and colonize the Mediterranean and expanded the Hellenic world to Asia Minor, the Black Sea, Southern Italy and Sicily (also referred to as Magna Grecia, Great Greece), Cyprus, Northern Africa, South France and Iberia.

Doric Greeks in the Greek mainland were settled to the North, establishing the Kingdom of Macedonia, and to the South, establishing the second Kingdom of Sparta. The first Kingdom of Sparta, described by Homer in the Iliad flourished during the Mycenaic period (Bronze age) and its most famous King was Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon King of Mycenae, and husband of Helen (the cause of the Trojan war). The Mycenaic Kingdom of Sparta was conquered by the Dorians (self-proclaimed descendants of Mythical Hercules), who at around 900 B.C. found the Doric state of Sparta. It was a strict militaristic state, governed be two Kings and a complicated Oligarchy (rule of the few). The every-day lives of Spartans, the political and economical systems were regulated by the laws of Lycurgus. The total dedication of Spartans to the traditions settled be the legendary lawmaker kept the Spartan society stable and, to a very large degree, unchanged for centuries. The assembly of citizens, the Apella, where only full Spartan citizens or the Equals (Homioi) could participate, was another source of power, which together with the council of the elders (the Senate or Gerousia), and the 5-member council of the Ephors (citizens elected by the Apella every year) consulted the Kings and played a major role in decision- and policy making.

Unlike most independent ancient Greek states or “city-states”, Sparta was not restricted to the limits of the city itself. It is characteristic that until the years of decay, during the Hellenistic period, Sparta did not even have a wall to protect it from enemy attacks. Actually, the state of Sparta comprised of the greater periphery of Lacedaemon and later, when the Spartans attacked, defeated and enslaved their Western neighbors, it included Messinia. Thus, two centuries after their appearance in the region, Doric Spartans effectively ruled the Southern half of Peloponesse.

The country of the Spartans was referred to as “Lacedaemon” by most Greeks, and the letter lamda “Λ” was engraved on the shields of Spartans when they marched to war. Full Spartan citizens were actually a minority group in their own country. They lived in the plains of the Eurotas river, in the four neighboring settlements which comprised the City of Sparta and a fifth settlement: Amykles, a few kilometers to the South. Full Spartan citizens were not required to work. They were professional soldiers and were mostly occupied with educating young Spartans and preparing for war.

In Lacedaemon (the eastern half of the Kingdom), the majority of the residents were Perioikoi, also Doric Spartans, who however did not have full political rights, and served as a national guard in case of war. They were occupied with more humble professions like farming, merchandising or craftsmanship. The largest ethnic group of the entire Kingdom were the Messinians, who were enslaved be the Spartans and were referred to as Helots. They were the cornerstone of the Spartan economy, providing almost all agricultural and farming goods for Sparta. They lived under the provision of either individual Spartans or the state itself. They were forced to follow the Spartans to military campaigns usually fighting as light infantry or assisting personnel.

Full Spartan citizens and the Perioikoi had a sense of individual freedom and co-existed in harmony, occasionally members of one class could move to the other and vice versa. On the other hand, the Helots were always held as an inferior race by the Spartans and hated their masters. They revolted whenever given the opportunity, usually to be crushed under Sparta’s military supremacy. The constant internal threat of the Helots is thought to be one of the most important reasons why the Spartan society was so insisting in intense military education and keeping all citizens alert at all times.

This is only an introduction… We will discuss the Spartan society in more details soon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Thermopylae 2005

downloaded from http://www.hoplites.net

The annual ceremony held every August at the battleground of Thermopylae commemorating the heroic stand of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Was the Battle of Thermopylae a real event?

Recently, while browsing the net for information about the upcoming movie “300”, I found a message written by a guy, claiming to be a history professor from Russia, who went as far as to question whether the Battle of Thermopylae was an actual event!! He did admit that there was some kind a conflict between Greeks and Persians, at which the Greeks eventually prevailed, but he considered the specific event as largely exaggerated and, as he said, possibly forged as part of the “Hellenic propaganda”. He therefore refuses to teach it and remains very critical towards the generally accepted approach of the Greco-Persian Wars. Well, I really feel sorry for his students and the history they are learning...

The Battle of Thermopylae (literary meaning: “Hot Gates”) is undoubtedly one of the best and most accurately recorded conflicts of ancient times. There are not only ancient texts describing it by also archeological evidence to support it. The names of all Spartans who fell on the side of their King were recorded and are well know today. The exact conditions of the battle and the number of casualties suffered, quotes from Greeks and Persians before the battle begun, even the negotiations between the army leaders have been written down and saved for future generations. Testimonies from contemporary Greeks and Persians have been recorded and monuments dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives for the survival of their country have been excavated in both Thermopylae and Sparta. Furthermore, the battleground of Thermopylae because of the tactical advantage it offers to an outnumbered defending army has been the site of a number of battles throughout history. Most recently, the Greek Chef of staff during the World War II was planning to delay the advancing German forces fighting a desperate battle at the exact same place where Leonidas and Sparta’s finest shed their blood 2,500 years ago (fortunately he changed his mind considering the air supremacy of the Germans which cancelled any tactical advantage of the retreating Greeks and British).

Our main source of the Greco-Persian Wars is no other than the father of history, Herodotus of Halicarnassus. As his name indicates, he was born in the Greek city of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor (modern-day Bodrum on the Southern coastline of the Aegean Sea in Turkey) around 484 B.C. and lived until the age of 60, witnessing first hand the classical era of ancient Greece with Athens and Sparta at the peak of their glory. He was an enlightened man, a true scholar as people in the renaissance characterized him when they re-discovered his texts. He traveled around the entire known world trying to uncover historical events by interviewing eye-witnesses and fellow historians. He also recorded his trips to exotic destinations as far as Babylon or Egypt. He wrote nine books titled “Istories” or “The Histories” (simply meaning “stories” is Greek). The word was later borrowed by the Romans and ended up in all Western languages with its current etymology.

As I mentioned in my introduction, the Battle of Thermopylae took place in 480 B.C., when Herodotus was only about 4 years old, which, logically, makes his account of the events less credible. However, the scientific method he used to record his stories, secure to the maximum degree that his descriptions are as objective and as close to the actual events as possible. He went around the Greco-Persian world trying to find survivors of the recent Great War and talk with them about the events, with as much detail as possible. He interviewed Greeks and Persians, Greeks who fought with the Persians, allies of the Persians, such as Egyptians and Babylonians, even the personal biographers of the Persian Kings. Actually in his first six books Herodotus deals almost exclusively with the growth and expanse of the Persian Empire, providing more details about his contemporary superpower than any Persian historian. In his texts one can clearly observe that although a Greek himself, and an admirer of Athens and its Democracy, he treats the Persians with the outmost respect and tries to be objective in his judgment and the way he presents the story to his reader. Many may say he is biased or inaccurate, especially in the figures he provides about the size of the Persian armies. Herodotus is not only trying to collect stories from all available resources but also to balance them and come up with a realistic and objective account of events that happened years before he even begun his research. In some cases he gives more than one version of the same event, in order to avoid giving a false story. I strongly recommend to everyone to read Herodotus’ original texts and create a personal opinion about his credibility.

The accounts of Herodotus are confirmed by all his contemporary scholars, including Greeks and Persians. Their main disagreement concerns the size of the armies which took part in the various campaigns. From the Battle of Marathon run by Darius to the massive expedition of Xerxes, each historian and each witness give a different figure. However, this is not important since they all agree that in all battles the Greeks were heavily outnumbered, and their eventual triumph was a result of their superior battle tactics and the motivation of their cause. The Greeks were fighting to “liberate your motherland, your children, your women, the altars of the Gods of your fathers and the graves of your forebears”.*

The Battle of Thermopylae was a historical event. It did happen and it marked history forever. It continues to inspire men who fight for a righteous cause, even when desperately outnumbered by an invincible enemy. It was the turning-point of probably the most important war of ancient times. A war which literary saved the Greek world, and let it flourish for centuries to come. The Greco-Persian Wars gave birth to classical Greece and, therefore, the ideas of Freedom, Democracy, Individual human rights and Humanism as we understand them today. Scientific thinking, Medicine, Physics, Mathematics, Philosophy, Theology, the foundations of Western civilization were invented in classical Greece. All these would have never happened if a handful of brave men had not stood on the “Hot Gates” in a summer day, 480 years before Christ, and sacrificed their lives to unite the Greeks and eventually halt the Asiatic hordes from invading and conquering the whole of Europe.

* verse from the “Paean” (war song) the Greeks were singing at the dawn of the Naval Battle of Salamis (more about it on this blog soon).

Thursday, October 19, 2006


this is the unofficial (longer) version of the movie trailer

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Hello and welcome to my blog!! My name is Constantinos, I am Greek and a HUGE history fan. Especially Greek history, of course. A couple of days ago I received a mail from a Belgian friend, Mathias, with the link to a new movie: "300". Based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City), the movie which will hit the theatres on March 9 2007, is inspired by a real historical event of the Greco-Persian wars: the Battle of Thermopylae which took place in central Greece in the summer of 480 B.C..

A handful of Greek hoplites (infantry soldiers) stood against an invading army of over 100,000 (according to Herodotus, the Persians and their allies exceeded 1,500,000 troops, or 5 million people including supporting personnel; slaves, craftsemen, even prostitutes). The defenders chose a narrow passage and fought a tactically brilliant battle for 3 days, only to be defeated after a local traitor showed to the Persians a mountain pass taking them behind the Greek lines. The heroic Greeks, led by one of the Kings of Sparta, Leonidas, fought to the last man inflicting great loses to the Asian horde. The Battle offered a moral boost and inspiration to the rest of the Greeks who after centuries of civil struggle united against the advancing Persians and defeated them in the naval Battle of Salamis, saving their country and Western civilization as we know it today.

The perspective of a Hollywood movie about an event of Greek history is always exciting for any Greek. However, the way the story will be presented is always a bit "fishy"... for example, "Troy" was by all means a disaster, totally different from the original version of Homer's "Iliad" and offending to anyone who has actually read the book. The "Iliad" by the way, is considered to be the oldest literature work in the history of the Western world, and has been taught to kids as an epic tale for at least 3000 years!! "Alexander", a movie directed by Oliver Stone, on the other hand, focused too much on the debatable sexual preferences of Alexander the Great, rather than the actual contribution of such an extraordinary personality to the world.

The good part about "300" is that it clearly states that it is a fictional movie, only loosely based upon a historical episode. Inspired by a comic book, the creators take full advantage of the "poetic freedom" offered and present the ancient Spartan society, the events around the Battle, and the Battle itself in a surreal background with fictional elements. It certainly looks like a great epic with a lot of exaggerations compared to the actual incidents.

In future posts I will give more information about the real events and what we will see on the big screen in March. I actually ordered the graphic novel from amazon.com today, and hope to receive it as soon as possible and will present more details about it.
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