You know, it amazes me that riding on the back of the excellent film ‘300’ we were yet to see the next instalment; “300: Rise of an Empire” – at which, when I heard it mentioned a year or so ago, I vexed; “They can’t call it that! Three hundred of what? Of who? What’s next? ‘300 – Man goes to the supermarket to buy bread’!!??
Well after all that, I watched the film and it was pretty decent. Okay, Artemisia – as played by the sultry Eva Green was in truth a bit dowdy-looking and Themistocles – as played by the hunky Sullivan Stapleton was a bit round-faced and over-beardy, but then these things can be forgiven in terms of decent action. But there was no ‘300’ of anything.
The first film, which we all remember, was the tale of the 300 Spartans of Leonidas who took on the might of Xerxes at the pass of Thermopylae (neatly forgetting about 7,000 Arcadians and other Greek allies) – but at least there were three hundred of them. The clue was kind of in the name wasn’t it?
Well, I have scoured the history books and have come up with the only other story I can about 300 Spartans as told by Herodotus. A fascinating tale, it recounts the story of Sparta and Argos and a tale over a disputed piece of land whereupon the two sides decided to settle a war relatively bloodlessly with a small scale battle of 300 men on either side and winner takes all.
Sounds like a decent idea, much akin to those who say; “Why go to war? Let the politicians fight it out in a boxing match.” – Well this was Ancient Greece…in short, it was never going to work, but here’s the story of the ‘real 300’:
“It happened that just at this time, the Spartans were engaged in a quarrel with Argos over Thyreae, a place in Argive territory which the Spartans had cut off and occupied. The Argives marched to recover their stolen property, and agreed in conference with the Spartans that three hundred picked men a side should fight it out, and that Thyreae should belong to the victors; the rest of the two armies were to go home without staying to watch the fight, lest either side, seeing its champions getting the worst of it, might be tempted to intervene. On these terms they parted, leaving behind the men chosen to represent them, and the battle began. So closely was it contested that of the six hundred men only three were left alive – two Argives, Alcenor and Chromios, and one Spartan, Othryades – and even these would have been killed had not darkness put an end to the fighting. The two Argives claimed the victory and hurried back to Argos; but the Spartan Othryades remained under arms and, having stripped the bodies of the Argive dead, carried their equipment to his own camp.
Both parties met again on the following day, when they had heard the result of the battle. For a while both Argives and Spartans maintained that they had won, the former because they had the greater number of survivors, the latter because the two Argives had run away, whereas their own man had remained on the battlefield and stripped the bodies of the dead. The argument ended in blows, and a fresh battle began, in which after severe losses on both sides the Spartans were victorious. From that day the Argives, who were previously compelled by custom to wear their hair long, began to cut it short, and made it an offence against religion for any man to grow his hair, and for any woman to wear gold, until Thyreae was recovered. The Spartans also adopted a new custom, but in precisely the opposite sense: They used not to grow their hair long, but from that time they began to do so. It is said that Othryades, the sole survivor of the three hundred, was ashamed to return to Sparta after the death of his companions, and killed himself at Thyreae.”