There are many long-winded articles across the net that detail the many alterations and exaggerations that the Graphic Novel and Film makes to history. However, after reading several of these I am left wanting a clear breakdown of the differences.

What are the differences between Frank Miller's visions of the Battle of Thermopylae and the historical accounts? What are simply fictitious? What are exaggerations of reality, but have a grain of truth?

I would strongly prefer a plain list of these differences, rather than adding more breezy prose to the already full internets. :)

  • I realize this isn't an easy thing to answer. Miller's vision is one that reflects the mythological leanings of the Greeks at the time. It is not an historical text, but rather a myth inspired by an historical event.
    – DampeS8N
    May 2, 2011 at 13:49
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    Frank Miller's version is to history as the A-team is to real special forces teams. May 2, 2011 at 14:47
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    @Mark Rogers: LOL. Yes yes. But there is probably value in knowing that info about A-team too. ;)
    – DampeS8N
    May 2, 2011 at 14:54
  • While interesting, this question to me looks like it's asking for a list which is off-topic. meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/16/… May 2, 2011 at 17:33
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    @DVK it is a specific listing of information. This isn't the same as a 'list all the stories that have X in them' because this list would be concrete, specific and need to be complete to be a valid answer. It is like asking for a list of all the titles in a series that is complete. It is immutable.
    – DampeS8N
    May 2, 2011 at 17:48

3 Answers 3


The Persian army wasn't composed of monsters, to start. In the movie, many of the enemy soldiers are deliberately made to be monstrous and non-human.

Additionally, the movie pays only lip service to the thousands of non-Spartan soldiers who fought (and died) there.

The battle scenes are complete fabrications - the Spartans pay lip service to their proper formation, but abandon it for individual heroics at the earliest opportunity.

Essentially, it would be easier to ask what is correct about the movie than to list the differences.


I've found an interesting PDF which discusses the differences (link is to actual PDF). There are important differences in Spartan motivation, the reason such a small force was sent, Persian army size, chronology (especially the well incident), and equipment.

Cracked says the movie was saved by its inaccuracies.

This page takes my advice (in advance) and lists the accuracies instead.

Summary of the PDF: Athens caused the war by supporting a rebellion against Persia. Sparta HAD thrown a diplomat down a well, but it was a decade before the war. The Persian army was at most 200,000 men strong. The Spartans only took the front line the first day, each following day that spot was taken by another group of soldiers. 700 men from other cities stood beside the 300 to fight a delaying battle so the majority of the force could escape the betrayal. The tactics employed in the movie are entirely inaccurate, and the spartans wore a LOT more armor, as well as far more frequently wore helmets, all of which were plumed.

The Cracked article points out that the discrepencies were made intentionally, to create a more engaging film. Any person in a full Spartan outfit was essentially identical to every other Spartan, which would have made character identification harder.

The final article gave a simple list of bullets that were correct, quoted here:

7,000 Greeks were led by King Leonidas to fight against the Persian Empire's 100,000 to 2,000,000 in the narrow pass of Thermopylae (Greek estimates).

Before the battle began, there were approximately 200 Persian ships destroyed by a violent storm.

The Spartans yelled "come and take them" when the Persians ordered them to throw down their weapons.

The battle lasted for three days with the Greeks stopping several waves of attacks.

The goat path behind the Spartans was betrayed by a Greek traitor named Ephialtes.

At this point, all troops fled or surrendered except for the 300.

A Spartan did say, "Then we will fight in the shade" in response to someone saying that the Persians arrows will hide the sky.

The Spartans fought until the last man was slain in a sea of arrows.

4,500 Greeks died including the 300 and 20,000 of the Persian Empire died (Greek estimates).

  • This answer seems more that you don't like 300, and not like a serious answer.
    – DampeS8N
    May 2, 2011 at 13:48
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    @DampeS8N: No, I liked the movie. It's a fun popcorn flick. It's just terribly inaccurate, historically. That's even in-universe for the movie: it's explicitly being told by one of the 300, who puts his own spin on the entire thing. We're seeing a visual representation of the survivor's propaganda piece.
    – Jeff
    May 2, 2011 at 13:53
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    @Jeff: Exactly, and it is a point-for-point expose of those inaccuracies that I am after. :) Think: numbers, size/usage of creatures, tactics, societal details. Not so much the obvious things such as that Xerxes wasn't a 12 foot tall fetishist.
    – DampeS8N
    May 2, 2011 at 13:54
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    @DampeS8N: I doubt anyone here is an expert on the socio-economics of ancient Greece, and there's no actual record of the tactics used (though there's not much in the way of tactics required here, they were holding a choke point). For what it's worth, I don't believe either side had animal combatants, though there were certain to be 'camp' animals - pack beasts, dogs, etc. A point-by-point refutation of the movie is beyond the scope of SE, though if someone has one on the 'tubes, I'm sure you'll get a link.
    – Jeff
    May 2, 2011 at 14:34
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    @Jeff: I don't think that it is beyond the scope of SFF. This is a fantasy story, and I have a question about it. :)
    – DampeS8N
    May 2, 2011 at 14:40

The main difference is the numbers. The actual numbers for the Greeks are closer to 1000 (300 Spartans and possibly 1000+ other Greeks). The other looming difference is that most modern scholars debate Herodotus' (the only primary source for the the Battle of Thermopylae) estimate of the Persian forces, putting the number between 100,000 - 300,000

The other big difference is that the Greeks had a much larger force up to the point that they realized they were being flanked by the Persians. Leonidas dismissed the majority of this army at this point and then made his last stand.

There's a lot of debate about many details of the historical account, so it's safe to say that we probably don't have the exact truth of what happened.


The entire strategic position was in reality much different. The position at Thermopylae did not exist alone, but was paired with the Greek navy holding back the Persian fleet at Atemisium. So part of the delay was just the Persians waiting for their fleet to catch up.

Once the Persians drove off the Greek fleet, Thermopylae could be turned by the navy and was worthless militarily. Still, the Greeks stayed in this false position until the Persians quickly found a way around the pass to flank them. This required a rear guard and the Spartan 300 with about 1000 others stayed to guard the retreat of the rest, and were dispatched by the Persians.

This action left all of Greece open to the Peloponnese, and Athens was abandoned and evacuated to the island of Salamis. The Greek fleet destroyed the Persian fleet there and without naval support the invasion could not continue.

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