The action/fantasy movie "300," released in 2006, was based on a famous stand taken by Spartan soldiers at the Battle of Thermopylae, fought in 480 B.C., between the Spartans and the Persian army. The movie "300" brings to life a graphic novel by Frank Miller of the same name, more than it does the exact details of the actual historic encounter.
In "300," the invading Persian army, under Xerxes, who considers himself god-like, offers Spartan king Leonidas and his fellow Spartans life under Persian rule. As an independent city-state whose citizenry exist with a battle mentality, living mainly to fight, Sparta and Leonidas reject the offer to submit. Assembling 300 Spartan soldiers, Leonidas travels to encounter and fight Xerxes' massive army, knowing that victory is basically an insurmountable dream. The victory that Leonidas seeks is a moral one, to inspire his fellow Spartans and other Greek allies by drawing a line in the sand at Thermopylae, offering his life as a sacrifice in the fight of democracy against Persian tyranny. For two days, Leonidas and his men hold off and frustrate Xerxes' men. Then, betrayed to Xerxes by a Spartan cripple that Leonidas labeled unfit to fight, the Spartan soldiers find themselves surrounded, and ultimately slaughtered together, Leonidas included.
An early difference between the movie "300" and the historic events is the reason why Leonidas takes 300 of his men to fight Xerxes. In the movie, Leonidas marches his men to fight an unsanctioned battle, claiming that the troops are only his bodyguards as he takes a walk. In reality, Leonidas and his men were reacting to the decision of a combined Greek council to send a collective of Greek forces to encounter Xerxes. Also, Leonidas is believed to have only 300 men at his disposal because of a religious festival occurring during this same time in Sparta. These 300 were joined by men from several other city-states, with higher numbers, including 700 Thespians and 500 Tegeans, bringing the total Greek land force to just under 5,000.
Final Stand Differences
In the movie "300," Leonidas and his Spartan men were the only Greek fighters left on the final day of the Battle of Thermopylae, surrounded, defiant and awaiting annihilation. The other Greeks have fled beforehand. Leonidas has also sent one injured Spartan home to tell the tale of what happened. In reality, other Greeks outside of the Spartans were allowed to return home when it was learned they had been betrayed. The idea was that they would be alive to fight the Persians later. The Spartans were, however, joined on the battlefield to the end by fellow Greeks from Thespiae and Thebes.
In 480 B.C., Leonidas and the combined Greek forces were not betrayed by a hunchbacked, limping, would-be Spartan warrior, although this was their Judas in the movie. He betrays Leonidas and his native Sparta for vengeance after Leonidas denied him entry into the fighting ranks. In reality, while waging their defensive stand against the huge Persian army at Thermopylae's narrow pass, the Greeks were indeed betrayed by a fellow Greek named Ephialtes, who led Xerxes and his men to a secret mountain route because of his own greed.