As an archaeologist and as the author of one of the petitions against the movie 300, I would like to shed some light on some of the aspects of the movie 300. At the time of this publication the petition that started on March 4th, 2007 has exceeded 38,000 signatures.
Briefly, the movie portrays the famous battle of Thermopylae between the Persians and the Greeks that occurred in 480 B.C. During that battle, the Persian Imperial army had to cross a narrow gorge in order to reach the Greek mainland. The gorge was held by almost 300 Spartans backed by 4000-7000 Greek soldiers, and they managed to hold Persian army for few days.
Although there have been claims that the Persian soldiers numbered more than1 million, in actuality the correct number would have been somewhere around 200,000 since at that time, it would have been logistically impossible to mobilize 1 million army.
The movie demonstrates both Persians and Spartans on the eve of the battle. Interestingly enough, the way the film depicts the Spartans is more or less historically accurate, especially when it comes to their clothing, attitude, and internal historical political issues. However, when it comes to the Persian side, the film portrays an army of beasts, monsters and demons whose leader is a naked gender-confused King wearing a ridiculous number of piercing and chains!
There have been numerous claims pointing out that this movie is in a science fiction genre; therefore, these petitions are too passionate and needlessly serious. Science fiction by definition means “a genre (of literature, film, etc.) in which the setting differs from our own world (e.g. by the invention of new technology, through contact with aliens, by having a different history, etc.)”(Prucher, 2006).
According to this definition one might ask, how can we call the movie a fiction while it shows the actual events, places, and characters with their real names? And why is this so-called fiction only applied to demonize the Persian side? Everybody agrees that the battle of Thermopylae did happen, Leonidas was the name of the Spartan king, and Xerxes was indeed the Persian king. In the movie Persians were called by their actual names, and the only fictional part is to show the Persians as monstrous savages!
For these reasons, I am hesitant to call the movie 300, just a fictional movie. Insulting Persians by twisting the historical facts is as unjust as making a movie about Dr. Martin Luther King, picturing him as something different and calling it just “science fiction!”
Calling Persians barbarians and slave drivers is another unethical aspect of the movie 300. It is a proven scholarly fact that the Persian Empire in 480 B.C was the most magnificent and civilized empire. Persia was established by the Cyrus the Great, the author of the first human rights declaration. By pursuing a policy of generosity instead of repression, and by favoring local religions, the Persian Empire was able to inspire its newly conquered subjects to become enthusiastic supporters.
Frankly, it is fair to say that given the historical evidence, Persians were among the few nations who did not have slaves especially when it came to building their magnificent palaces. Clay tablets discovered by University of Chicago scholars in 1947 demonstrate that these royal palaces were built by workers who compensated based on their skills. This was in contrast to Egyptian and Roman architecture built on the backs of thousands of slaves.
While I’m certainly not a conspiracy theorist, I must say that Warner Brothers could not have found a worse time in history to release movie like 300. Given the conflict going on between Iran and some western countries, this could be translated as more support for inaccurate generalizations about Iran, and anything but a message of love between the West and Iran.
Dr. Hamed Vahdati Nasab is an Archaeologist at the Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.