Grossing over 70 million dollars in
its first week of release, the movie "300" is set to crash into the list of
The producers of the movie (as well as the actors) are honest in stating that they did not consult primary historical sources. The writer of the comic book appears to have relied on the writings of Greek historian Herodotus, whose works, though valuable, inevitably contain an element of bias, as do any historical works from any culture.
My article will not discuss the cinematography (a job best left to the film critics), nor is it a criticism of the cast and crew. There has been no agenda on the part of the original novelist, movie director, cast and crew to promote an anti-Iranian agenda. The movie however (no matter how sincerely it was intended as entertainment), is nevertheless purveying messages; messages most certainly unintended by Miller or the film producers.
The following commentary is
specifically directed against the very human biases and distortions that
currently pervade against ancient
Though perhaps trivial, I feel my
background gives me a unique perspective. Born of Iranian parents in
"I watched the movie 300...and I was totally disappointed...The movie demonized the Persians, everything that was depicted in the movie about the Persians was untrue. The movie demonized also the Greeks and through some words of Leonidas Greek philosophers and Athenian civilization were downrated...I wonder why I should watch demons and Spartans with a false image...there was no showing of glorious brave and smart people from both sides. I have learned that what Spartans did in Thermopyles was magnificent, that they did not match any enemy but what they did there was really magnificent because it was achieved against a very brave, worthy and glorious enemy. ...very few understand it."
In the course of their historical
This review will focus on eight items for discussion:
1) The Notion of Democracy and Human Rights
2) What really led to War
3) The Military Conflict: Separating Fact from Fiction
4) The Error of Xerxes: The
5) The "West" battling against the "Mysticism" of "the East"
6) The Portrayal of Iranians and Greeks
7) A Note on the Iranian Women in Antiquity
8) "Good" versus "Evil"
1) The Notion of Democracy and Human Rights.
What struck me about the movie was
its portrayal of the Greco-Persian Wars in binary terms: the democratic,
good, rational "Us" versus the tyrannical, evil and irrational,
"other" of the ever-nebulous (if not exotic) "
"300 men stood between victory and the collapse of Western civilisation.... If the barbarian hordes...overran these defenders, Greek democracy and civilisation would fall prey to alien forces whose cruelty was a byword."
[Christopher Hudson, "The
Greatest Warriors Ever", Daily Mail,
Note the key words "collapse
of Western civilization", "barbarian hordes",
"democracy and civilisation" and "alien forces whose cruelty
was a byword". These key words are reminiscent of political
sloganeering, targeting the "other" with slanderous propaganda. These
simplistic (and patronizing) statements are a clear indication that the general
media and much of the audience is seeing "300" as much more than just a movie of
a "graphic novel". This has been astutely observed by Tomas Engle, a student at
The citations from popular media outlets (such as The Daily Mail) are yet another vivid demonstration of the gross prevailing ignorance as to the actual origins of the notions of human rights, democracy and freedom, as well as the complex factors that led to the Greco-Persian wars.
The origins of democracy and human rights are not as simple as we are led to believe. As we will see below, these notions share both Greek and Iranian origins.
Meanwhile, the Greeks (the Athenians and their Ionian kin in particular), created the notion of "Demos" (the people) and "Kratus" (government). This government by the people is what excites the imagination of the contemporary "western world". However, few acknowledge the role of "the East" in helping place modern democracy as we know it today, within the context of racial, religious and cultural equality, or (more succinctly), human rights.
The founder of the Achaemenid
Empire, Cyrus the Great, was the world's first world emperor to openly declare
and guarantee the sanctity of human rights and individual
Cyrus the Great as reconstructed by Tim Newark, 2000, p.21
(Ancient Armies, Concord Publications, painter Angus McBride)
Cyrus was a follower of the teachings of Zoroaster (Zarathustra), the founder of one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions.
Portrait of Zarathustra as depicted in a
Dura Europus (in modern
Zoroaster taught that good and evil resides in all members of humanity, regardless of racial origin, ethnic membership or religious affiliation. Each person is given the choice between good and evil - it is up to us to choose between them. It is that goodness, and a firm belief in its divinity, that is the key to human liberty, according to Zoroaster. As a consequence, every individual is entitled to liberty of thought, action and speech. This is enshrined in Zoroaster's guidelines: Good Thoughts (Pendar Nik), Good Deeds (Kerdar Nik) and Good Speech (Goftar Nik).
As a result, freedom of thought,
action and speech are laden with the awesome responsibility of wielding these
for the good of all mankind. Zoroaster taught that there is no such thing as
a "bad race" or "bad religion". The only divide is that between good and bad
people, both within one's own community and those outside of one's
community. Zoroastrians often referred to ancient
Zoroaster preached the concept of an
all-powerful single god known as Ahura-Mazda (the Supreme Angel), who stood for
all that is good. However, the acceptance of Ahura-Mazda was a personal choice.
There were to be no forced conversions and the gods of all nationalities were
fully respected: Cyrus prostrated himself in front of the statue of Babylonian
god Marduk after his conquest of
The Greek warrior-historian
Xenophon, spoke highly of Cyrus in his Cyropaedia. Cyrus is described as
being void of deceit, arrogance, guile or selfishness. Cyrus is the first "one
world hero" in history, namely the ruler who sought to unite all the peoples
into one empire while according full respect to all languages, creeds and
religious practices. Alexander the Great, who greatly admired Cyrus, adopted his
mantle of the "world hero" after his conquests of
Cyrus' system of government has been
forever immortalized by the Cyrus Cylinder. This is a clay cylinder of a decree
that was issued by Cyrus the Great in 538 BC shortly after his conquest of
The Cyrus Cylinder. This is the first human rights charter in history.
A facsimile of the Cyrus Cylinder is present at the United Nations
There three main premises in the decrees of the Cyrus Cylinder were:
1) the institution of racial, linguistic and religious equality
2) all exiled peoples were to be allowed to return home
3) all destroyed temples were to be restored.
When Cyrus defeated King Nabonidus
A more humane 1962 Hollywood picture of ancient
(played by Richard Egan) and his Jewish queen Esther (played by
Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in
Professor Victor Davis
Hanson (Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution,
"If critics think that 300 reduces and simplifies the meaning of Thermopylae into freedom versus tyranny, they should reread carefully ancient accounts and then blame Herodotus, Plutarch, and Diodorus - who long ago boasted that Greek freedom was on trial against Persian autocracy...in almost all wars, one side is defending its freedom. The Greeks were not the first human beings to defend their freedom...monarchy is not something Eastern...when these 'freedom-defender' Greeks were united under Alexander, they did the same thing...they invaded Persia, Egypt and India and created their own empire...so did their Roman successors..."
[For full text see: http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson101106.html]
2) What Really led to War: The Untold Story
As noted above, Western popular
opinion and academic historiography portrays the Greco-Persian wars as being an
epic contest between liberty, as represented by
Yes, indeed it is true that the Ionian revolt on the west Anatolian coast and the support of the Athenians for their Hellenic ethnic kin against the Persian Empire was a major factor that led Darius the Great (549-486 BC), the father of Xerxes, to invade Greece in 490 BC. But this is only a part of the story. Very few western historians have discussed the role of economic rivalry as a factor in the Greco-Persian wars.
By this time, the Greeks had
established a powerful maritime economic empire in the
The Achaemenid Empire became a
marine empire as soon as it reached the
Reconstruction of Achaemenid ships in 1971.
3) The Military Conflict: Separating Fact from Fiction
There are very few historians who doubt the tenacity and military skill of the Greek defenders who faced the invading army of Xerxes. The 300 movie displayed the equipment of the Spartans relatively well, considering that the producers were intent on reproducing the images of a comic book, leaving little room for consultation with modern scholarship. If the portrayal of the Greek side was adequate, that of "the Persians" was pure fantasy. This being said, there are already a large number of viewers who have taken these images in a very "literal" and historical context - the human mind is indeed a very impressionable organ.
The discussion here is a very quick
and overall analysis of the actual military factors that were in place during
Xerxes' invasion of Greece in 480 BC - however we will digress into the
post-Alexandrian eras, notably the evolution of the Persian knights during the
Parthian (238 BC- 224 AD) and Sassanian (224-651 AD) eras. I will closely
scrutinize the veracity of whether Xerxes actually wielded 1,700,000 troops
during his invasion of
Greek spears and swords were longer than their Achaemenid counterparts. This meant that in hand to hand combat, the Spartans held the advantage and were able to "outrange" their opponents with their swords and spears, which were primarily used for thrusting (see Farrokh, Shadows in the Desert, 2007, Chapters 4-5). The swords of "the Persians" in the movie are of no historical relevance - many of the Iranian swords of that era were short and dagger-like. These were known as the "Akenakes".
Scythian (left) and Mede (right)
Saka Tigrakhauda (Tall-capped
Scythian to the left) and a Mede (round cap to the right) appearing before the
Achaemenid kings at the Imperial
For a thorough examination of the Akenakes daggers, as well as all Iranian military gear from the Bronze Age to the 19th century, consult Manoucher Moshtagh Khorasani's comprehensive book on the subject:
Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to end of the Qajar Period
Greek troops were far better armored
than their opponents, although it is not clear if all the Spartans wore heavy
The Martial Arts Tradition of
The 300 movie did capture the
camaraderie, zeal and "esprit de corps" of the Spartans very well, and
represented the contemporary military culture of ancient
As shown in the movie, the boys of
Greek warriors engaged in martial arts
"kick boxing" training - note "coach"
to the right.
Training and drills were at least as
brutal as combat situations.
The Greek Phalanx System.
The Greeks in general had developed
the phalanx system, where soldiers fought as one unit in a single formation.
Central to this system was the use of overlapping shields which formed an
impenetrable barrier against javelins, spears and arrows. The Macedonians
The Chiqi vase which shows a Greek Phalanx
The Greeks often engaged in close quarter combat and had been doing so for centuries before the Achaemenid invasions. Suffice it to say that when it came to hand to hand combat, the Spartans held the advantage. Thanks to their training, the Spartans were os disciplined that they were able to collectively maneuver the phalanx at a single command. With their shields locked together, the phalanx was able to march and put forward all of their spears simultaneously. There was no breaking of formation in acts of battlefield individualism - all warriors were expected to adhere strictly and steadfastly to the phalanx. The spears protruded in deadly fashion towards the onrushing enemy, with deadly results. The Greeks testify to the bravery of the lightly armored Iranians who tried to break the spears of the Spartans with their bare hands in an endeavor to get close to the warriors within the phalanx.
The Evolution of cavalry.
The portrayal of "Persian cavalry" was totally wrong in the movie with respect to weapons, equestrian gear and uniforms. Superficially, these resembled more the Arab horsemen seen during the Arabo-Islamic conquests over a thousand years after the Battle of Thermopylae and bore little resemblance to either the Iranian cavalry of the Achaemenid era (559-333 BC), or the armored knights of the later Parthian and Sassanian eras of Persia (238 BC - 651 AD). Below is a reconstruction of Iranian heavy cavalry of the Achaemenid period.
Mede Cavalryman of the later Achaemenid era
Despite their formidable armor, Achaemenid cavalry had yet to solve the problem of rider stability, especially against well-trained, heavily armored, lance/spear wielding infantry fighting in phalanxes (see Farrokh, Shadows in the Desert, 2007, Chapters 4-5). This is mainly because the Iranians had not yet invented saddle technology advanced enough to keep the rider stable enough as he fought on horseback. As a result, Iranian cavalry during the Achaemenid period was vulnerable to unseating by Greek heavy infantry, a fact that was duly observed by Xenophon in the early 400s BC.
Nevertheless, Iranian cavalry
continued to evolve, even after the Alexandrian conquests of the
Very few are aware of the positive references to the military skill of the later Persian knights. One example is Libianus who, referring to the Sassanian knights, notes that Roman troops "prefer to suffer any fate rather than look a Persian in the face" [Libianus, XVIII , pp.205-211; Consult also Farrokh, Sassanian Elite cavalry, 2005, p.5]
Pushtighban Heavy Knights of the Royal Guard (left) and
Jyanavspar-Peshmerga (right engaged against Roman troops during
the failed invasion of Emperor Julian in 363 AD (Farrokh, Sassanian
Elite Cavalry, 2005, Plate D; Paintings by Angus McBride).
Much of the armor of these knights appears very "European"; the warriors wear mail, plate armor, riveted Spangenhelm helmets, broadswords, maces and battle-axes. Yet these warriors predate their European counterparts by centuries (see Farrokh, Sassanian Elite Cavalry, 2005).
Though the Spartans (and indeed the
Greeks as a whole) are rightfully remembered as magnificent warriors whose
exploits and heroism resonate across time,
This bias is not confined to the
entertainment media. The academic community (mainly in northwest European and
English-speaking world) has until recently continued to champion ancient
Professor John Keegan
Keegan's interpretation is
essentially rejected by a large number of historians such as Herrmann, Michalak,
Inostrancev, Nickel and
"...there is no need for
academics to denigrate
The Immortal Units.
Perhaps most interesting was the portrayal of the Immortal units of the Achaemenids. Superficially, they resembled Hollywood-style "ninjas", dressed in black. Black and dark clothing were not featured among any of the standard Achaemenid troops. The superficially "Oriental" looking iron face masks were never used by the elite troops, and as noted above, Iranian units (in general) were more lightly armed and armored than their Greek counterparts. The paintings below provide a more accurate reconstruction of the uniforms, weapons and armor of the Achaemenid troops.
Achemenid Persian officers as they would have appeared during
Xerxes' invasion of
These were reconstructed by historians, researchers as well as professional army officers in 1971. Suffice it so say, that the movie portrayal and historical veracity are widely divergent. Note the colors on the uniforms as well as the equipment (and virtually no armor). But at least the creators of the 300 picture admit that they are basing their "Persians" on cartoon-like demon characters.
The Size of Xerxes' Invasion Force.
Few question the fact that Xerxes' army was huge and that the Greeks were outnumbered. The question is "by how much"? The trailer of the movie states:
"They [the Spartans] were 300 men against a Million".
The main source of these accounts for modern European scholarship is Herodotus, who actually cites 1,700,000 invaders (Herodotus, VII, 60). Herodotus, who wrote after the Greco-Persian wars of Darius and Xerxes had ended, and before the age of Alexander.
Herodotus (484-425 BC)
Herodotus lists a total of 46
nations mustered by Xerxes in his invasion of
Nevertheless, it is unfair to pin these quantitative citations solely on Herodotus. The Greek tragedy by Aeschylos, The Persians, describes the Greeks facing Xerxes' armies as facing "a great flood of humans...a wave of the sea that cannot be contained by the most solid dikes (The Persians, lines 87-90)..." and "...a rash ruler of populous Asia [Xerxes] pushes a human herd to the conquest of the entire world" (The Persians, 73-75).
It was from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries when a number of European scholars began to question the fantastic numbers cited by Herodotus. European researchers such as Gobineau and Delbrueck began to seriously doubt the numerical claims made by Classical sources. The table below cites
some of the researchers of the period who provided the following estimates as to the actual size of Xerxes' invading armies:
Citation and Year
Estimated number of Xerxes' Troops
As cited in William Kelly
100,000 plus an equal number of non-combat support personnel
Der Feldzug des Xerxes
Comte de Gobineau
Histoire des Perses [History of the Persians], Volume II, 1869 p. 191
Reginald Walter Macan
Herodotus, The Seventh, Eighth
and Ninth Books,
William Woodthorpe Tarn
"The Fleet of Xerxes", The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 28, 1908, p. 208
Die Perserkriege und die
Robert von Fischer
"Das Zahlenproblem in Perserkriege 480-479" Klio, N. F., vol. VII, p. 289
Most modern scholarship appears to
accept the figure of 100,000-200,000 invading troops, a figure consistent with
the population base of the Achaemenid Persian Empire at the time (Farrokh,
Shadows in the Desert, 2007, Chapter 5). Even if the
Few have addressed the engineering
feats that Xerxes' engineers accomplished in building the world's first true
bridge between Asia and
"Engineering an Empire: The Persians"
The show is also available in 5
parts on youtube - part 4 narrates the engineering aspect of Xerxes' invasion of
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKN-gZuSH2o&mode=related&search=
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdqmdB_Sbtc&mode=related&search=
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bykHGRD_BZ4&mode=related&search=
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNWmaMTTesI&mode=related&search=
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFPoe06ThRU&mode=related&search=
A Final Note: The
There are other inaccuracies in the
movie as well, especially with regards to the Greek perspective. First, the
Spartans were not exactly "democratic" in the Athenian sense; theirs was a
hierarchical and militaristic society. To argue that the Spartans were "fighting
for Democracy" is somewhat simplistic. It is correct however that the Spartans
fought for the glory of
Second, the 300 Spartans were not
alone in their last stand - they were accompanied to the death by at least 300
Thessapian Hoplites, who fought shoulder to shoulder beside them. The fact
is that Xerxes finally won at Thermopylae and pushed through into
Typical of the drama of Greek
politics, Themistocles, the man who had rescued
4) The Error of Xerxes: the Burning
The greatest blunder committed by
Xerxes in his invasion of
The Acropolis in
Xerxes' troops destroyed many towns,
villages, farms and temples. These actions stiffened the Greek determination to
resist and expel the invader from their soil. As I have previously noted,
the statues of sacred Greek gods were confiscated and brought to
Xerxes soon realized the error of
his actions, but it was too late. His offers to rebuild
5) The "West" battling against the "Mysticism" of "the East"
Towards the end of the
movie, there is a statement to the effect that the war is against "the
Mysticism and Tyranny" of
Few would question the
fact that the Greeks pioneered much of what we cherish today with respect to
logic and philosophy: Greeks (like all great peoples of history) are integral to
world civilization. But any type of assumption that ALL of learning has been
historically confined to
While outside the scope of this discussion, it may surprise some readers to know that a number of the greatest Greek minds of the Classical era, Pythagoras, Plato, Thales, and Democritus, traveled to the Persian Empire to take advantage of the centers in learning in Persis, Babylon and Egypt, notably in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, physical sciences, geometry and theosophy (see Farrokh, Shadows in the Desert, 2007, Chapter 4).
Plato (4th century BC)
The Greeks, like many
other of the learned and civilized peoples of antiquity, also had their share of
superstitions as well. Very few are aware that the study of Astronomy was actually
prohibited in ancient
The evolution of learning very much resembles the evolution of human rights in history: it is organic and is ultimately achieved by the synthesis and sharing of ideas between nations, cultures and peoples, whether they are engaged in trade, cultural relations or war.
For further references consult the reference list of discussion item (1).
6) The Portrayal of Iranians and Greeks
What struck me most vividly in this movie was the following question:
Where are the Greek actors in this
movie? After all, is this movie not narrating a story about ancient
The straight forward answer would be that the movie producers were depicting the characters of a graphic novel, which may explain their casting decisions. There still remains the question however of why not at least consider utilizing Greek actors to portray Greek historical characters?
The Alexander Movie: How are Greeks and Iranians Portrayed?
When it comes to the portrayal of
the Iranians and the Greeks, I find the following observation by Dr. Ahmad Sadri (College Professor of Islamic World Studies,
"Snyder's Persians - I am not talking about the disposable extras covered up to their eyes in male burqas - are predominantly black and by implication of mannerism and affect, homosexual. Allowing the widest berth for the genre and medium one still marvels at Snyder's audacity in demonizing the "Asiatic hordes" while morphing the Spartan warrior into the typical white American survivalist. Snyder's Spartans are white guys fighting a sea of racially inferior blacks, yellows and browns. "
As I walked out of the theater during the closing credits, I heard the following comment by one of the viewers in the audience:
"This movie chose really excellent Eye-ranian [Iranian] actors - they showed them so accurately - just what you would expect them to be..."
It is very interesting that in this
movie (and its comic book original) insists on portraying the "Persians"
(especially the elites) as black Africans. In the movie trailer, King Leonidas
is shown kicking the "Persian messenger" into a bottomless pit and shouting
Movie Trailer for 300
The "Persian messenger" is black. Other Persians in the film are also black, including a "Persian" general executed by Xerxes and a "Persian" emissary sent to communicate with Leonidas - the latter role being played by talented actor Tyrone Benskin (Marked Man, 1996; Sci-Fighters, 1996, etc.):
Interestingly, the recent movie,
Alexander (starring Colin Farrell), featured (with few exceptions) Arabic
speaking North Africans instead of Iranians in the role of "the Persians",
whereas the 300 book and movie portrays Iranians as Africans. As we
shall see later below, there are indications that
There are NO Greek or Roman references to black "Persians" and Greco-Roman sources also CLEARLY distinguish between the Arabs of antiquity and "the Persians." Greek vase art from the Classical period show "the Persians" as remarkably similar to the Greeks - their differences are in wardrobe and equipment:
In this discussion, I will make use of the term "Iranian" as opposed to "Persian" as the former is more inclusive and includes Kurds, Azeris, Persians and other peoples of Iranic origin. The term "Persian" was used by the Greeks to designate all Iranian peoples of the time, when in fact, the Medes and the Scythians (Saka) were also partners in empire alongside the Persians.
There is a dearth of primary sources
to help archeologists, anthropologists and historians reconstruct the ancient
Iranians contemporary to Xerxes' invasion of
levy in Achaemenid service (left) and Iranian troops (right)
as portrayed in Greek art. The Greeks clearly distinguished between
the Iranians (portrayed as Caucasians) and Africans in their
artistic works (Nick Sekunda, The Persian Army, Osprey
Publishing, 1992, p.16-17).
As a Classical historian, Sekunda has reconstructed King Xerxes, Iranian warriors as well as their African contingents:
Ethiopian marine (left), Iranian warrior (centre) and Iranian spearbearer
(Nick Sekunda, The Persian Army, Osprey Publications, 1992, Plate C;
Paintings by Simon Chew). Note how these re-constructions differ from how
Iranians have been portrayed in the "Alexander" and "300" movies.
The Iranians shown in the centre and
right would not look unusual in today's
Roman depiction of Iranian nobles depicted here as the three wise men.
It is clear that the Romans were objective in their portrayal of their enemies,
the Parthians and the Sassanians.
The cultural and linguistic legacy
of the Indo-European or "Aryan" arrivals on the Iranian plateau since at least
the 2nd millennium BC continues to resonate in modern
However what makes
Genetic researchers have conducted a
number of detailed genetic studies on
Put simply, the results show a very high incidence of U5 lineages - genes common among modern Europeans as a whole. The results are aptly summarized as such:
"...many Armenian and Azeri types are derived from European and northern Caucasian types (p.1263)...The U5 cluster... in Europe... although rare elsewhere in the Near east, are especially concentrated in the Kurds, Armenians and Azeris...a hint of partial European ancestry for these populations - not entirely unexpected on historical and linguistic grounds (p.1264)"
[Richards et al., (2000). Tracing European founder lineages in the Near Eastern mtDNA pool. American Journal of Human Genetics, 67, p.1263-1264, 2000]
There were no genetic links between
the Iranian groups cited and the Arabs of that study. Interestingly, a number of
Turks from western
Photograph taken in 1971 by Ali Massoudi of a girl from
(Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings,
Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971, p.116).
There seems to be very little international motivation to understand the multifaceted nature of the Iranians themselves as well as their history and culture. A survey by Jack Shaheen (author of "The TV Arab", 1984) in the early 1980s found that over 80 percent of North Americans wrongly believe Iranians to be Arabs and to speak Arabic. This may explain in part the persistence of the "Hollywood Persian" image in the entertainment industry.
Addendum: Is there a Case of
Institutionalized Discrimination against Iranians in
There are disturbing indications
that a subtle form of racism has at times been applied in
A portion of the filming took place
Many of the "Iranians" who showed up
on the set proved to be a major disappointment to Norris. This is because, far
from fitting into the popularized "Hollywood Persian" stereotype, the potential
Iranian extras displayed a variety of phenotypes. The group included Iranians
from the northern regions (Gilan, Mazandaran, Semnan, Talesh), the northwest
"...the directors came to the set and were upset to see us. Among us were Mashadis of Turcomen background [with Central Asian/Far eastern appearance], Baluchis and more blondish types from the north and west...Norris and the directors said 'what are these Caucasians doing on the set? I said I want 'Iranian extras' not Caucasians...Americans like to see real Iranians..."
The recruiters then explained that
the "Caucasian" extras were natives of
If the portrayal "the Persians" is fictional, that of Xerxes has set new parameters for creativity. For a thorough analysis of the actual appearance of Xerxes, kindly consult Daniel Pourkesali's article:
Movie 300: A Tale of Pure Fantasy
As noted astutely by Daniel
Pourkesali, the movie's portrayal of Xerxes is based faithfully on the graphic
novel, but widely divergent with historical depictions of Xerxes. Below is his
portrait as he appears in
An Iranian portrait of Xerxes
Below is another reconstruction by
Professor Sekunda of Xerxes as he would have appeared in
Court Eunuch (left), King Xerxes (centre) and Royal Spearbearer (right)
(Nick Sekunda, The Persian Army, Osprey Publications, 1992, Plate B;
Paintings by Simon Chew).
Below is a Classical Greek depiction of Xerxes when he was still a prince in the court of his father, Darius the Great:
Greek depiction of Darius the Great (seated on throne in top row at centre)
debating with his advisors as to whether he should invade
Prince Xerxes is seen on the top row, second from the right.
The Miller/Warner Brothers portrayal
of Xerxes and the way he would have historically appeared are literally as
different as day and night. Professor Ephraim
Lytle, a Hellenistic historian at the
"300's Persians are ahistorical monsters and freaks. Xerxes is eight feet tall, clad chiefly in body piercings and garishly made up, but not disfigured. No need - it is strongly implied Xerxes is homosexual which, in the moral universe of 300, qualifies him for special freakhood."
7) A Note on the Iranian Women in Antiquity
I received the following e-mail from "Pedram" which aptly summarizes this segment of our discussion: "Have you seen the movie? I have heard that it was so insulting to Persian women... "
The 300 movie certainly portrayed Iranian women as shallow, mindless "harem girl-objects". This is even testified to in the trailer:
The portrayal of Iranian women in this movie is not only grossly inaccurate in historical terms, but also degrading, insulting to women in general. Again, this seems to be derived from a massive sense of ignorance regarding the role of Iranian women in history.
The women of ancient
Roman sources are very clear in referring to women among the ranks of the Iranian cavalry in the Sassanian era: "in the Persian army...there are said to have been found women also, dressed and armed like men..." [Zonaras (XII, 23, 595, 7-596, 9) in reference to forces of Shapur I]
King Shapur receives the surrender of Emperor Valerian at Barbalissos. Female
Iranian cavalry officer (left), nobleman of the Suren clan (with tall "beaked" hat),
Emperor Valerian (kneeling), Roman Senator (man with toga) and King
Shapur I (right)(Farrokh, Elite Sassanian Cavalry, 2005, Plate A; Paintings by
organized resistance against the Arabian invaders of the Ummayad and later
Abbassid caliphates after the fall of Sassanian
continued to play leadership roles well after the fall of Sassanian
Governess of Rayy (Farrokh, Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005, p.60)
The equality of women with men in enshrined in the Zoroastrian religion itself. One the Zoroastrian fables refers to a conversation between Zoroaster and his daughter Freyne highlighting the fact that it is up to women to choose their mates for courtship and marriage.
8) "Good" versus "Evil"
A short and final point has to do with the portrayal of "the Persians" as "evil". In one of the earlier scenes, King Leonidas holds a dying boy who, in reference to the invading host, states softly that the Persians "...came from the blackness...". It is very clear that "the Persians" are literally portrayed as "evil".
The retort to this is that the movie is only faithfully reproducing the characters of a harmless comic book. But is it?
How would members of other ethnic communities worldwide feel if their ancestors were being portrayed as monsters, troglodytes, degenerates, and demons? These same producers would probably think twice if they were to portray other nationalities in the manner that they have done with the "Persians". If my logic (flawed as it may be) is not mistaken, portraying Iranians as monsters, troglodytes, degenerates, and demons is "artistic entertainment", but other nationalities are exempt from this "art form" as this would be "tasteless and politically incorrect" and would be regarded as a "hate crime".
The targeting of specific ethnic
groups with negative attributes in the name of entertainment dollars is
dangerously misinformed and irresponsible. As noted earlier in this
commentary, viewers and media outlets (especially in the English-speaking world)
are already interpreting much of the movie in a "historical" light. The
Greco-Persian wars evoke very intense emotions in northwest European culture, in
some ways even more so than in modern-day
It is at this juncture of the discussion, where we must remind ourselves of one of Zoroaster's chief teachings: Zoroaster taught that good and evil resides in all members of humanity, regardless of racial origin, ethnic membership or religious affiliation. Each person is given the choice between good and evil - it is up to us to choose between them.
Having discussed the issues at length, it is hoped that the reader will appreciate the multifaceted and organic nature of human history. Nations, peoples and cultures have had a symbiotic relationship with one another through trade, cultural exchanges and war. It is these very processes that have shaped our identities and who we perceive ourselves to be today. As the size of our world diminishes daily due to the breathtaking leaps in technology and communications, it is all the more important to make the endeavor to understand history, not in terms of "east" versus "west", but with the appreciation of human civilization being a collective.
Dr. Kaveh Farrokh is
the author of "Sassanian Cavalry" (Osprey Publishing, 2005). He has
lectured at the
Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War
buy from amazon
buy from amazon
Notions of Democracy and Human Rights/What Really Led to War
Farrokh, K. (2007). Shadows in
Frye, R.N. (1962). The Heritage
Frye, R.N. (1984). History of
Moorey, P.R.S. (1975). Ancient
Spatari. N. (2003).Calabria, L'enigma Delle Arti Asittite:
The Greco-Persian Wars
Cartledge, P. (2004). The Spartans. Random House
Cook, J.M. (1962). The Greeks in
Farrokh, K. (2005). Elite
Farrokh, K. (2007). Shadows in
Head, D. (1992). The Achaemenid
Khorasani, M.M. (2006).Arms and
Sekunda, N. (1992). The Persian
Wallinga, H.T. (2005). Xerxes'
Greek Adventure: The Naval Perspective.
The Portrayal of Iranians and Greeks
Ewen, S. & Ewen,
E. (2006). Typecasting: On the Arts and
Sciences of Human Inequality.
Parenti, M. (1992). Make-Believe
Media: The Politics of Entertainment.
Shaheen, J. (1984). The TV
McChesney, R.W. (1997). Corporate Media and the Threat to
See also on-line posting by Darius Kadivar:
Sword and Sandals: Films about
Interested readers may consult the following sources for further reading:
Brosius, M. (1998). Women in Ancient
Davis-Kimball, J. (2002). Warrior
Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines.
Farrokh, K. (2005). Elite
Farrokh, K. (2007). Shadows in
Note: This article was first posted on Iranscope
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