King Leonidas I
The historic King Leonidas I was, in his time, purported to be a descendant of the Greek demi-God Heracles (more commonly known as Hercules). Leonidas was actually second-born (or third if you count a half-brother) and as he was not heir to the throne, was subject to the harsh training other young Spartan men had needed to endure to gain citizenship. After his blood brother died and after his half-brother was deposed as king, Leonidas would rise to the throne. Due to his harsh training as a youth, Leonidas went on to become a great military leader and was chosen to lead the collected Greek forces at the Battle of Thermopylae (the main focus of “300”). While it is true that the Spartan delegation of these troops was relatively small (about 300 men), they were joined by about 4,000 to 7,000 other Greek soldiers. Even when the tides turned and the battle was lost, 300 Spartans, 400 Thebans, 700 Thespians, 900 Helots, and 1,000 Phocians made their last stand alongside Leonidas there.
Queen Gorgo was actually the daughter of Leonidas’s half-brother, and as such would eventually be known for being the daughter, mother, and wife of a Spartan king. Her role in the comics is incredibly miniscule in comparison to her role in the film, although history has shown that the sort of diplomacy and leadership she exhibited in the film would not be uncharacteristic because she was known for having both advised her father and husband during their respective reigns. Even though Gorgo appeared in “Rise of an Empire”, there was no historical evidence to support her involvement in the events of the film.
Dienekes, renamed “Stelios” in both the graphic novel and film, was among the 300 Spartans who would die alongside Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae. His famous line—“Then we will fight in the shade!”—is historically accurate although the circumstances in which he spoke it is different from those depicted.
Aristodemus, renamed “Dilios” in both the graphic novel and film, was among the initial regiment of Spartans that would join Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae. He was one of two soldiers who lost their sight due to an eye infection and was dismissed by Leonidas before the final battle. The other would eventually go back to join the last stand at Thermopylae while Aristodemus would return to Sparta. Unlike “Dilios”, Aristodemus did not go on to become a great storyteller; instead, he was regarded as a coward and ostracized from Spartan society.
Ephialtes of Trachis
In the graphic novel and film, Ephialtes was Spartan born but was raised outside the city because of his deformities. He is known for betraying the Spartans after Leonidas refused his request to join them in battle. Historically, it is believed that Ephialtes betrayed his fellow Greeks in exchange for some reward. However, these promises were never fulfilled after the Persian’s defeat and Ephialtes was forced to flee Greece after a bounty was placed on his head.
Xerxes’s father, Darius I, led the first Persian invasion of Greece which ended in Persia’s defeat at the Battle of Marathon. Darius returned to Persia to gather a larger force to strike back at Athens but died of old age before he could lead a second campaign. Xerxes succeeded his father as king and went on to lead the forces gathered in the second Persian invasion of Greece. Persia’s army at the time was reported at being over 1,000,000 strong, but modern historians believe it was actually closer to 60,000. Among their number was Persia’s elite—the “10,000 Immortals”—who served as Xerxes’s royal guard. Unlike in the films, these Immortals were not beastly but simply men.
Our new protagonist, Themistocles was an Athenian politician and general who is noted for his naval prowess. He fought at the Battle of Marathon during the first Persian invasion and during the second Persian invasion, led the Greek naval forces in the Battle of Artemisium (which was being fought concurrently with the Battle of Thermopylae) and the Battle of Salamis. Though Themistocles would live to see Greece defeat the second Persian invasion, he would eventually be ostracized from Athenian society and go on to live in Asia in the service of King Artaxerxes — the son and heir of Xerxes I.
Artemisia I of Caria
Artemisia I was a Persian queen who fought alongside Xerxes during the second Persian invasion of Greece. As Persia’s only female commander, she played a major role as a naval commander in the Battle of Artemisium and Battle of Salamis. A skilled tactician and leader, she was known for hoisting Persian colors while on the attack and Greek colors when in retreat so as to avoid pursuit. Upon watching her in battle, Xerxes was said to have commented “My men have become women, and my women men.”