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Rise of an Empire Myths and Facts

Updated on February 13, 2017

This article is to examine in a little more detail the historical facts behind the movie myths of 300 Rise of an Empire and its participants.

Themistocles: Man and Myth

Themistocles was a man of the people who came from a merchant class family, he spent his career rising through the ranks in an effort to serve his people, people he was later betrayed by.

Myth:In the movie Rise of an Empire he is portray'd as the main general and a hero of the battle of Marathon.

Fact: While it is believed he was one of the 10 general's (the strategoi) who voted to fight, many experts do not agree that he was at the battle or if he was in fact on the battlefield to what the existent his involvement was. In the movie 300: Rise of an Empire he replaces General Miltiades, the general who historically led the Athenian army as the main battle commander at Marathon.

Myth: Themistocles killed King Darius who ordered the attack on Athens by shooting him at the Battle of Marathon while Xerxes who was with his father looked on.

Fact: The Persian commander at Marathon was an admiral named Datus, neither Darius nor Xerxes were present for the battle and Darius in fact died of natural causes four years after the events at Marathon. The historical records tell us nothing more about Datus, he is never mentioned again after his return to Persia and one has to assume as many historians do that he was executed for his failure at Marathon which was the typical punishment for failure of that magnitude in the Persian Empire at that period in time.

Despite a thankless career trying to aid his people he was later voted out of Athens in a process called ostracizing. Essentially he was banished for the crime of being too popular, other politicians saw his successes as a threat to their own careers and expelled him.

Despite having fought the Persians in vicious combat many times, most notably at Marathon, Artemisium and Salamis, after his exile from Athens he became understandably rather bitter and appealed to Persia for asylum, Persia was only too happy to have one of Athens finest minds/warriors join up.

Gorgo: Queen of Sparta

Gorgo was queen of the Spartans by right of rule not marriage, she was the daughter and sole heir of a king, the wife of a second king ( Leonidas who was her uncle) and the mother of a third king.

Gorgo is known to have been very politically astute and wise, she was often seen at counsel meetings and her words often heeded.

Myth: In the movie 300 Rise of an Empire Gorgo a grieving and rather ticked off queen leads the 10,000 into battle across boats to wipe out the Persians.

Fact: While most Spartan women were strong and expected to know how to defend themselves, they did not go into battle, this includes Gorgo whose responsibility legally and for the good of her nation would have been to mourn her loss and then get over it and select a new husband/king and continue having children (preferably sons) for Sparta.

There is no historical evidence to support that Gorgo was at the Battle of Salamis let alone participated in it but rather this is interesting theatrical license taken to make the end of the movie more interesting than it really was.

In addition to being politically active Gorgo is also considered by many historians and Cryptologists to have been one of the first female Cryptanalyst and is actually recorded as such for deciphering hidden messages and is considered an ancient codebreaker.

Artemisia : Woman and Myth

Myth: Artemisia was betrayed by fellow Greeks and used as a sex slave for about 10 years from the time she was around 7 years old till she was in her late teens or very early 20's before being rescued from a gutter by a Persian warlord.

FACT: Little is known about Artemisia other than that she was Queen of Caria (Anatolia in Modern day Turkey) and was Persian born not Greek as the movie implies.

Artemisia was a skilled warrior woman and adventurer who successfully commanded her own fleet and had a fierce loyalty for Xerxes. Artemisia was a brave and highly skilled warrior but not as shown in the movie.

Myth: Artemisia forces Xerxes to become the God king and launch several ill advised attacks by boat while he watched from an out cropping after she gets tired of his ineptness and takes over pretty much making him a puppet king with her in control

Fact: Xerxes was very much in charge of his military, he was not basically held hostage by Artemisia while she ran the show.

Myth: During the Battle at Salamis (The Artemisiem Straights) between the Athenian and Persian fleets we see Artemisia making one emotionally driven bad call after another losing more men and more ships and getting crazier as time went on.

Fact: In reality the real Artemisia was the only advisor of Xerxes that was exercising caution and implored him to not engage the Greek fleet firmily believing that it was a bad idea.

Myth: Artemisia died fighting Themistocles

Fact: Artemisia and Themistocles did not have an epic throw down as described by the movie or a sexual encounter, it is in fact questionable whether or not Themistocles and Artemisia ever even met and I have never seen any historical evidence to support the belief that there ever was any meeting between them in their lifetimes even after Themistocles was exiled and joined the Persian Empire.

Artemisia lived on long after the war, rejoined her King/Husband in Caria and even had a son, when her husband died she was regent for her son until he came of age to claim his father's throne and was even the caretaker/military trainer of Xerxes illegitimate children.

Reproductions of the Greek Trireme
Reproductions of the Greek Trireme

The Naval Battle

In the movie the Greek coalition had just FIVE ships.

Present day calculations by military historians say that the Persian's may have been able to field about 900 ships while the Greek coalition fielded 370 of which only 16 of those belonged to the Spartan’s unlike the movie where the Spartan’s showed up at the end with a huge fleet to rival the Persian's.

In ancient Greece the Athenian's were the naval power while the Spartan's were primarily ground power.

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