Zack Snyder’s 2006 fantasy historical film, 300, has probably made the Battle of Thermopylae one of the most famous battles of the ancient world. Although the film has more fantasy than history in it King Leonides portrayed by Gerad Butler was a very real king of Sparta, the 17th of the Agiad line, Leonidas (c. 530-480 BCE) was one of the sons of King Anaxandridas II of Sparta, who was believed in mythology to be a descendant of Heracles, possessing much of the latter’s strength and bravery.
He was king of the ancient city-state of Sparta from 490 BCE until his death at the Battle of Thermopylae against the Persian army in 480 BCE. Although Leonidas lost the battle, his death at Thermopylae was seen as a heroic sacrifice because he sent most of his army away when he realized that the Persians had outmaneuvered him. Three hundred of his fellow Spartans stayed with him to fight and die.
It is thought that the number of Greeks was closer to 7,000 io the Battle of Thermopylae. The size of the Persian army is also disputed. 5th-century Herodotus claimed there were over two million but it was more likely to be between 100,000 and 300,000, so the Greeks were still against overwhelming odds.
Like all male Spartan citizens, Leonidas had been trained mentally and physically since childhood in preparation to become a hoplite warrior. Hoplites were armed with a round shield, spear, and iron short sword. In battle, they used a formation called a phalanx, in which rows of hoplites stood directly next to each other so that their shields overlapped with one another. Almost everything that is known about Leonidas comes from the work of the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-c. 425 BCE).
The role of King Leonides is one of action star Gerard Butler’s most famous characters. The historical epic 300 (2006) was a massive moment in Gerard Butler’s career, pushing him into the A-list and making him a bonafide action hero.
The movie was based on the 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Both are fictionalized retellings of the Battle of Thermopylae within the Persian Wars. The film was directed by Zack Snyder, while Miller served as executive producer and consultant. The plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. The story is framed by a voice-over narrative by the Spartan soldier Dilios (David Wenham). Through this narrative technique, various fantastical creatures are introduced, placing 300 within the genre of historical fantasy.
300 is an ultraviolent stylized tale of the Spartans – trained war machines – that defend their land against Xerxes’ massive Persian army. Battlefield valor and violence are glorified by the Spartans, who take no prisoners and show no mercy. It is blood galore, with heads literally rolling, blood splattering, exotic animals, all sliced and speared. Watching the movie is like watching a live-action oil painting. Every scene looks like it has been “painted” digitally. The sets are not real, they are all artistic, fake, and over-the-top. It is as cheesy as it is great.