Casting Through Ancient Greece

Episode 25: 300, Rise of an Empire Against the Sources

February 24, 2021 Mark Selleck Season 1 Episode 25
Casting Through Ancient Greece
Episode 25: 300, Rise of an Empire Against the Sources
Show Notes Transcript

In 2014 the sequel to the movie 300 was release, 300: Rise of an Empire. This time around the film would move away from the Spartans as its primary focus and put the spot light on Athens. Rise of an Empire would all have at the centre of its story the battles of Artemisium and Salamis which were both fought at sea and Artemisium occurring on the days as the battle of Thermopylae. Though how much of what is depicted in the movie is based on historical examples?

I will once again explore the main story line and themes that the film puts across while comparing what the ancient sources tell us about the events taking place over the period. This way we can see what the film has put across with fairly accurate historical context. While also seeing where its creators have stretched the historical record to fit their version of events. And of course, where they have basically written their own version of history.

By the end of the episode, hopefully you should have a pretty good understanding of what in the movie has a good grounding in history according to our ancient sources. Hopefully you have also been following the rest of the series where we have covered much of the events depicted from a historical point of view, helping further understanding the film historicity. So sit back and relax as we cast our way through 300: Rise of an Empire.   

This episode was brought to you by PODGO,
Visit to see how you can monetise your podcast, be sure to say Casting Through Ancient Greece sent you when filling out the application.

Support the show (

Episode 25

300: Rise of an Empire Against the Sources



“It begins as a whisper, a promise, the lightest of breezes dances above the death cries of 300 men. That breeze became a wind. A wind that my brothers have sacrificed. A wind of freedom, a wind of justice, a wind of vengeance.”

Lena Headey who plays the part of Queen Gorgo


Hello, I’m Mark Selleck and welcome back to Casting Through Ancient Greece, episode 25, 300: Rise of an Empire Against the sources.



We are back again with another look at a movie depicting events of the Greek and Persian wars. This time we will be looking at the follow up to 300, 300: Rise of an Empire. So once again we will take a short break from the narrative, we have been following to look at how this 2nd film compares to what is found in the Greek sources. Just about all of what is presented in this film we have so far covered in our historical episodes, with a large part of it focused on the last 3 I have done. I must admit I was a little unsure if I was going to look at this film as, personally I found it no where as good as the first 300 film. But you the listeners wanted to see it covered so here we are, plus we are not looking at doing a film review but looking at how much of the Greek sources were pulled upon to depict the historical events in the movie. 

I will take much the same approach as I did with our look at 300, moving through the film as events unfold, while also taking general themes and discussing those when appropriate. This movie covers events over a larger expanse of time but that should not affect the flow of the episode. I’m going to say up front, that this film really stretches a lot of the accounts in the historical record and even completely ignores some of them. This will see me spending more time trying to set the record straight than what had to be done last time around. But, again for someone who has a limited knowledge of Greek history and wondering how accurate the depiction is, this will hopefully give you a better understanding of the battles and events surrounding them. My hope is also to help show how interesting the actual history behind this period is and motivate people to pick up a copy of Herodotus’ Histories and hear it from someone who was living a generation after the fact. Though, I would encourage anyone with a slight interest in Greek history to pick up Herodotus’ work.

My aim:  

My aim with the episode is pretty much the same as with the first 300 film. I am going to focus on the events depicted in the movie and compare how they are presented to what is found in the ancient Greek sources. I will also look at certain themes that seemed to be followed throughout the film and how accurately depicted they are based on what comes through in the sources or are they presented more for the benefit of a modern day audience. I want to avoid focusing on small things such as equipment and how historical the dress is as I think there is already a huge amount to cover by just focusing on the events and themes.

Hopefully by the end, for those who are not well versed with this period of history, you will walk away with a better understanding of what unfolded according to the historical account. Though, I will also be pointing out what aspects in the film have been carried over from the historical accounts and put to good use. In addition I would encourage those who have not been following my series to go back and listen to the episodes covering the Greek and Persian wars, as this will also give you a good grounding in the events this film is going to cover. 

The Film:

So, let’s now take a look at the film we are going to be focusing on for this episode. Like the title suggests this is 300: Rise of an Empire, it was released in 2014 and directed by Noam Murro, with Zack Snyder, the director of the last 300 movie as a producer and writer this time around.

Rise of an Empire is the sequel to the first 300 movie, so there will be some characters from that film that will be making an appearance once again, such as Xerxes, Gorgo and Dillios. This time around though, the naval battles of Artemisium and Salamis will be the main focus of the film, while also travelling back to the battle of Marathon for some back story. The Naval battle of Artemisium is thought to have occurred on the same days that the fighting at Thermopylae. The Rise of an Empire subtitle also points to this movie being focused on the Athenians rather than the Spartans. The Athenians would after the Persian wars go on to established what would be known as the Athenian Empire as a consequence of the Greek and Persian wars. Their power being established in the navy they produced and their successes at sea during the war against the Persians. The movie will also be focused on a main character throughout the story much like 300 was with King Leonidas. This time around it will be the leader of the Athenian forces, the general Themistocles. 

Once again the main inspiration for the movie has come from one of Frank Millers comics, Xerxes. But we will be focusing on the film compared to the sources. Also, The film takes the same approach as 300, with the story being narrated by a Spartan, this time though by Queen Gorgo as she address a group of Spartans aboard a trireme, that being a Greek war ship. 

The Sources:

Like I have said we will be comparing the depiction of the film against what can be found in the Ancient Greek sources in much the same manner as last time. For the most part we will be dealing with the same Historians, with Herodotus being our most cited sources since his Histories deal with this entire period in greater detail than any other source. Though, we will also be turning to Plutarch, drawing upon his biographies of Themistocles and Aristides who were leading figures during these battles. We will also draw on Diodorus Sicilus who composed a history dealing with Greece from mythical times through to the successors of Alexander. Though he was writing between 60 and 30BC, nearly 500 years after the battles and in less detail on the particular events we are looking at. To supplement these we will also call on Thycididies and Xenophon who make references to this period when dealing with later conflicts. Other writers, not of history but of plays and poetry will also make an appearance as we move through the story line also.

So, with all of that out of the way lets now dive into the film and see how it compares against our sources.

Opening Scene (Gorgo addressing Spartans):  

300: Rise of an Empire begins with its opening scene where 300 pretty much finished up, at the pass of Thermopylae. We see the Spartans lying dead with Leonidas’ lifeless body in the centre of the shot. Xerxes, on horse back rides up with a large double headed axe, bringing it down onto Leonidas just as the shot ends. We also hear our narrator for this film, Gorgo, Leonidas’ wife saying:

“The Oracles words stand as a warning, a prophecy. Sparta will fall, all of Greece will fall. And Persian fire will reduce Athens to cinder”.  


This then takes us to a burning Athens with Xerxes standing on the Acropolis holding Leonidas’ severed head. 

And Gorgo’s words continue:

“For Athens is a pile of stone and wood, cloth and dust. And as dust will vanish into the wind, only the Athenians themselves exits”

“Only stout wooden ships can save them”.

This then closes out with shipbuilders working on triremes before then bringing the scene to Gorgo addressing the Spartans aboard a ship, which will later be revealed as her address before the battle of Salamis, the climax of the film. But here we are getting some context to the film as she describes what started the war and how it was 10 years ago by Xerxes’ farther, Darius. This is also setting up the film to focus not on Sparta as much this time around but on the Athenians, but do keep in mind we still have a Spartan narrator telling the story to other Spartans. 

We have a bit in the opening here to deal with, so lets start from the top. As we saw in our look at 300 Leonidas had not died fighting in the last stand back within the pass, rather he had been killed in the fighting outside the pass.[1] Granted, the Spartans had been able to recover his body[2] and could have brought it back into the pass. But the movie had presented Leonidas as being the last Spartan to have died fighting in the last stand. We also hear that after the battle, Xerxes had Leonidas’ head cut off, with Herodotus saying 

“Xerxes went over the battlefield to see the bodies, and having been told that Leonidas was king of Sparta and commander of the Spartan force, ordered his head be cut off and fixed on a stake.” [3]

The lines that Gorgo narrates over the scene, referring to the Oracle seem to be mashing up the Oracles both Athens and Sparta received into a very simple couple of lines. We have gone over what these both said in both the historical episodes and our episode on 300. But, firstly the Oracle received by the Spartans basically gave an ultimatum, either a king of Sparta would die or Sparta itself would be destroyed.[4] So, with Leonidas dead it would now appear, according to Apollo Sparta was safe. The first Oracle Athens would receive painted a very dark picture which gave the impression that all was lost and Athens would burn.[5] 

Athens would in fact be captured and burnt to the ground which we see happening in the opening scenes, though we have no account of Xerxes standing on the burning Acropolis holding Leonidas’ decapitated head.

Gorgo’s words then talking of Athens itself being an object that can be destroyed, but the Athenians themselves will live on, seems to be tied up in a notion that appears in the sources just before the battle of Salamis. Herodotus has, during a debate on the course of action the Greeks should take, the Corinthian commander suggesting the Athenians should not have a say in matters, as they no longer had a city. In the account Themistocles is then to retort “…that so long as Athens had two hundred warships in commission, she had both a city and country much stronger than theirs”.[6] We find much the sentiment also presented in Plutarch’s work when doing his biography on Themistocles when describing the same incident.[7] This is also probably also trying to drawn on the point that the ideals the Athenians would be recognised with, freedom and democracy are far larger than the structures of a city.

Finishing the sequence off with the construction of Triremes and how these were Greece’s only hope makes no mistake that this time around 300 will be focusing on naval battles. These being the only thing that can save them is also tied up in the second Oracle Herodotus reports Athens received which has the line “That the wooden wall only shall not fall, but help you and your children”.[8] The Athenian leader Themistocles would go on to argue that the wooden wall referred to was the fleet of triremes Athens possessed, of which he had been the major advocate of Athens ship building policy.[9] 

Lastly, Gorgo being present on a Trireme before a battle addressing the Spartan soldier’s dose not make an appearance in any of our sources. After Thermopylae and the death of Leonidas we do not hear of her in any context again. Though, for this film she is to be our narrator and she now takes us back 10 years to the battle of Marathon where she says “Ten years ago this war began with a grievance. Darius, annoyed at the notion of Greek freedom, has come to bring us to heel”.  Here we are on pretty good ground as Marathon was in fact ten years earlier, amazing that a stylised Hollywood movie can get its time lines right, yet a history channel documentary on Marathon can’t. Anyway, also Darius was the king of Persian at this stage and had ordered a campaign against Greece. I also find it interesting the words she uses ring closely to the opening of Herodotus’ work where he tries to explain the origins of the quarrels between the Greeks and barbarians leading up to the Greco-Persian wars.[10] Though, with that said lets see how the battle of Marathon is treated.


As the scene begins we see a storm raging over the bay of Marathon, we hear that the Persian forces outnumber the Greek force three to one. The Greeks are charging down to the shore where the Persian ships are and we are told they attack them as they disembark and before they can establish a camp. We also see the commander and architect of the victory at Marathon as being the Athenian leader Themistocles.

Ok, let’s straighten out what we have here before we continue on with the scene. A storm at the time of the battle is not brought up anywhere and it seems like it would be something unlikely omitted from the accounts as storms were often the sign of some sort of omen, especially before a battle. As for the disparity in numbers this is pretty close to what most modern historians suggest with the Greeks around 10 to 11 thousand against some 26 000 Persians. The ancient sources though, are a little more out there, Herodotus doesn’t give us an actual figure but the Poet Simonides reportedly puts the Persian force at 200,000.  

Though, this is where the film departs from the historical account. Herodotus who is one of our only source or at least gives us the most complete account on the battle, tells us that the Persians had disembarked and been assembled into position.[11]. Once the Greeks arrived in force at Marathon both the armies faced one another for a number of days before the decision was taken by the Greeks to attack.[12] With the Persians having been in the field at Marathon for a number of days it would be most likely that they would have set up a camp to support the forces, which seems to have been a normal practice when the Persian deployed in the field. The Greeks being depicted as charging down at the Persians would seem to be drawing on what appeared to be an unusual practice in hoplite warfare, or enough so for Herodotus to have commented on it. He says at the opening of the battle, “…the word was given to move, and the Athenians advanced at a run towards the enemy not less than a mile away”.[13] Now for the question of leadership on the side of the Athenians, as you can probably tell already, this film is focusing on the figure of Themistocles. Though, the only reference in the sources on him being at the battle of Marathon exist in Plutarch’s work on the life of Aristides.[14] It is hard to believe that Herodotus would have left out his role at Marathon since he dose write a fair bit about him in his Histories. With this said, it is thought that it is most likely that he would have been present as he would have been of the right age and class in society. He may have held a position of command as Plutarch suggests but it is difficult to confirm with this only source being some 600 years after the battle. Our sources record two Athenian leaders who take the leading role at Marathon. The first was Callimachus who was the overall leader or polymarch and would end up being killed in the battle.[15] The other is a man name Miltiades who, in Herodotus account is presented as the architect of the Athenian victory at Marathon. He ends up convincing the rest of the Greek generals to give battle when decision had been divided and importantly convincing Callimachus to come down on his side.[16]   

Back in the film, the battle is joined down at the shore line as the Persians are still disembarking men and horses from the ships. Gorgo’s voice continues over the top of the fighting, “Thousands dead, hundreds of their own. For an Idea; an experiment, Athenian Democracy”.

With the fight continuing we are then shown the Persian King Darius aboard a trireme just off the bay, accompanied by his son Xerxes. Themistocles is presented with an opportunity and picks up a bow and arrow firing it from the shore and striking Darius in the chest. Darius falls back into Xerxes arms with him glaring across the water at Themistocles with rage in his eyes, setting up the story for Xerxes desire to conquer Greece and gain revenge. 

I feel the depiction of the battle in the film is taking inspiration from the latter stages of how its is described in the Histories. The movie doesn’t depict a typical hoplite formation, but has the Greeks charging as individual warriors. Herodotus says, “Here again they were triumphant, chasing the routed enemy, and cutting them down until they came to the sea, and men were calling for fire and taking hold of the ships”.[17]  The casualties that Gorgo relates are for the most part technically correct according to the ancient sources. The Greeks are reported to have lost 192 Athenians and 11 Plataeans giving us our hundreds. While to Persians are supposed to have had 6,400 men killed, giving us our thousands.[18] The sacrifice is presented as being for Democracy, which is what Athens has come down to us as being famous for, it being one of the first places this new idea emerged. Although, Democracy would evolve over a number of decades as it didn’t just spring up as a ready formed idea. Though, its beginnings are seen to have gone back to an Athenian named Solon who introduced reforms. Though perhaps a more recognisable form had started to take place under the leader Cleisthenes only 18 years earlier. [19]

For the closing part of this scene, Darius had not even accompanied the forces for the campaign against Greece.[20] He had remained in the Persian Empire and was most certainly not aboard a Trireme during the battle of Marathon. Themistocles would not be responsible for the death of Darius as we hear that he would die some 4 years later back in the empire, though from unknown causes. The last know letter he wrote dates to late 486BC and we are aware through Herodotus and documents originating from Babylon that he reigned for 36 years, which takes us back to when he overthrew a pretender on the throne in 522 BC.[21]


With the battle of Marathon now fought and the Athenians victorious, we are now taken back to the Persian Empire at Persepolis, the Persian capitol. Darius is lying on his death bed with the arrow Themistocles struck him with still in his chest. We hear that he now summons his greatest generals and advisors from across the empire presumably to take revenge on the Greeks. We are now also introduced to our main villain of the film, Artemisia who is presented as the greatest naval commander. Darius now takes his final words with his son Xerxes, warning him not to make the same mistake he did, as only a god can defeat the Greeks. Artemisia is viably annoyed at this advice as she want revenge on the Greeks, which we will see the reason for a bit when we discuss her in more detail. Once Darius dies she convinces Xerxes that his fathers words were not a warning but a challenge, he must become a god king to challenge the Greeks, giving birth to Xerxes god like persona that was presented in the first 300 film.

Xerxes then embarks on a journey where he goes through a transformation from a man to a god, embracing the darkness within. Artemisia takes it upon herself to cleanse the palace of all Xerxes trusted allies so that she will be the only one he can turn to for advice. We then end with Xerxes announcing war to his army, with Artemisia mouthing the exact same words implying she was pulling the strings and manipulating Xerxes.

As we have already pointed out Darius had remained in the empire during the first invasion of Greece. He is thought to have died of an illness while preparing to launch a campaign against Egypt who had revolted against Persian rule. Though, we do find reference that he was also preparing forces for another invasion of Greece. [22] This would imply that commanders and advisors would have been summoned to prepare in the planning, though the planning probably focused on quelling the troubles in Egypt, an extremely important region for the Persian Empire. But Herodotus dose indicate these preparations were intended for revenge against Greece too. 

The character of Artemisia is introduced to us as being Persia’s greatest naval commander. Artemisia is well attested to as a historical figure in the Histories but the film blows her roll in the Greek and Persian wars way out of proportion. Herodotus is our main source regarding  her and for a good reason, one of the main reasons she exists in the historical record was the fact she was the Queen, or probably more accurately the Tyrant of the polis of Halicarnassus. This, also being the home town of Herodotus, who would have grown up hearing of her exploits as she was presented as the local hero of the past. Halicarnassus was in Anatolia and was subject to the Persians, so would have had to provide men and ships when called upon. [23] I think I will deal with Artemisia more fully when we reach her back story in the film where we can look at her as a whole, and how she is presented compared to what we actually know about her. I will just say for now, for someone who is presented as the greatest naval commander, we never see her placed in command of any of the Persian fleets at their battles. She would command the five ships she brought with her from Halicarnassus as well as some other cities in the region that provided ships. She would be one of many contingent commanders under the command of the Persian fleet commanders and ultimately Xerxes. Though importantly she stood out as a major break from tradition being a woman commanding men at war in these times, also being another reason she enters the historical record. 

We also have here the theme once again of Xerxes presented as a god king which we explored in the episode on 300. It would appear the Persian rulers didn’t see themselves as gods, but great men given the divine right to rule over other men, so placing them above their subjects but subject themselves to the gods namely Ahura Mazda. But again remember this is a story told by a Greek to other Greeks. What they saw was a king who represented the greatest crisis the Greeks had faced. He would in their eyes attempt to defy the natural world and therefore the gods. He would bridge the Hellespont[24] and alter Greek lands, cutting a canal through the peninsular of Mount Athos so he could launch an invasion on Greek lands.[25] In the Greeks eyes, Xerxes would be seen to be committing one of the biggest crimes, that of Hubris, that notion found all throughout Greek culture of excessive pride and defiance of the gods, which would lead to ones downfall.

In this film we are seeing the beginnings of Xerxes transformation to a god king, while also seeing Artemisia representing all of the powerful and influential woman the Greeks saw occupying the Persian court, a constant notion presented in most Greek works relating to Persia. Herodotus talks of some of these women such as Atossa, Xerxes mother who is explained to have great influence in court and the main reason Xerxes succeeded the throne over his other siblings.[26] While later on we hear of the violence Xerxes wife Amestris would wield around court intrigue.[27] How accurate these stories are is hard to tell but we still have accounts that come down to us that seemed to have been drawn upon to associate with the female villain within the Persian court. 

Athens Assembly:

The film now moves to Athens where news of another Persian invasion is being argued over, with emotions running high. Themistocles steps in to bring order and attempt the assembly to commit Athens ships to the defence of Greece. He talks of the Persians attacking from the north and south and pointing it out on a map. Others argue that Athens should negotiate with Persia with Themistocles referring to Persia as a tyranny and proposing Greece should fight as one nation. With his argument seeming to sway opinion he then says all Athens’ ships should be sent to the northern coast of Euboea while he goes and seeks the help of Sparta.

Herodotus’ account shows that much debate was at hand on the question of how Athens should defend the city based off of the prophecy’s they received.[28] It wouldn’t be until later where we hear of open talk of an Athenian suggesting submission to Persia be contemplated, this being after the Battle of Salamis but before the battle of Plataea a year later. Though, things didn’t end well for the individual and his family who made this suggestion, with them being stoned to death for contemplating this course of action.[29] Themistocles is presented as focusing on Athens navy as being the key to the defence of Greece, which was one of the interpretations of “the wooden wall” in the prophesy they received. Themistocles had also been the driving force behind Athens building a navy after the first Persian invasion and the reason they now possessed one of the largest fleets in Greece.[30] His pointing out of the Persian attack coming from the north and south align more with the Persians first invasion rather than Xerxes. Xerxes forces would march and sail following the coast north of Greece before descending into central Greece. The first invasion had a northern expedition coming through Thracian lands[31] which ended in disaster after much of the Persian fleet being dashed against Mount Athos in a storm. Two years later another expedition was sent island hoping across the Aegean culminating in the battle of Marathon.[32] 

Themistocles now travels to Sparta after we see a short scene of Xerxes and Artemisia at the bridges of the Hellespont. Here we are seeing Athens attempting to gain the Support of Sparta in the coming struggle with them sending their ships. It comes across that Sparta has already decided to defend the pass at Thermopylae while Themistocles has already decided to send Athens navy to Euboea, all of his negotiation being held with Gorgo.  

This notion of city states taking their independent actions just as Xerxes was marching on Greece is not aligned with what is found in the sources. Once it was known that another invasion of Greece was in the works, all of the city states that were willing to defend Greece met at what is called the conference of Corinth, on the Isthmus.[33] This group of city states would latter be known as the Hellenic league, of where there would end up being 31 different city states and islands that would be members. They would set their difference aside while attempting to arrange more allies. As a group they had initially decided to send a force to defend the Tempe pass at Mount Olympus. But, abandoned the position once it was discovered it was untenable. This then saw a more thought-out strategy with a land force of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans along with 7000 other Greeks sent to defend the Thermopylae pass. While a combined naval force, that would be commanded by the Spartan Eurybiades and which included Spartan ships would be sent to Artemisium on the northern coast of Euboea, at least the film gets it location correct.[34]

As for Themistocles travelling to Sparta, we have no account of this until after the battle of Salamis where he is awarded for his role in the battle. Though, even if someone were to go to Sparta and seek council to discuss plans for war, it is almost certain Gorgo would not have been the one to talk to. Even though Leonidas is presented as being away the second Spartan king Leotycadies would have been present and even then it would be the ephors who would be listening to the proposal.

Spy on Artemisia’s’ ship:

As we move closer to the first naval battle scene I want to first deal with two characters from the film, the first is Scyllias and then we will look closer at Artemisia herself. We are first introduced to Scyllias in his role as a Greek spy aboard Artemisia’s ship where he is acting as one of the crew. Before he is revealed, another Greek who had been taken captive is brought before Artemisia and described as being the bravest of the Greek captives. After a small exchange Artemisa decapitates him before then shifting her focus to Scyllias. Once his true identity is revealed he then makes his escape jumping from the ship, where he returns to Athens and meets Themistocles at his house to reveal what he learnt, which then gives us Artemisia’s back story. Though before looking at that lets look at what took place on Artemisia’s ship. 

Even though the scene as depicted doesn’t appear in any record there are a few things present here that we can look at that seem to be drawn upon that do appear in our sources. The Greek captive seems to be drawn from an episode taking place just before the battle of Artemisium where a couple of Greek ships acting as lookouts are captured by the Persians. We hear of 2 notable Greeks from this action, one being described as the most handsome aboard the ship so was taken forward and his throat slit as a sacrifice. This supposedly was though to bring the Persians good fortune for the coming campaign. The second fought with great tenacity and even after his ship was captured he continued to resist until collapsing. The Persians though, did not kill him but treated him and showed great respect because of his bravery.[35] So it would seem the Greek captive is depicted as one of the men but suffers the fate of the other.

Next we have Scyllias, his inspiration seems to be drawn from a man named Sicinnus who is Themistocles’ most trusted servant and attends to his children. While also using Herodotus’ description of spies being sent to Sardis to gather information of the forces assembling. Sicinnus though, doesn’t make an appearance in the historical account until just before the battle of Salamis, where Themistocles has him deliver a message to Xerxes so as to try and force the battle of Salamis to take place.[36] We also see from Herodotus that after the conference at Corinth some men were sent on a mission to report on Xerxes force, but they were captured in the process. They were not executed though, but were given a tour of the Persian army to report back to the Greeks on what was about to bare down on them.[37]  

Ending this scene we also get reference to a storm approaching. This Is the storm that Leonidas and his Spartans presumably saw in the first 300 movie as they arrived at the pass. Though as we saw the storm wrecking many of the ships took place much further north where they would not have seen it. Though in this film it is depicted as taking place around the time it is presented in the sources, just before the Persian fleet arrives opposite the Greeks at Artemisium.[38]  

Artemisia Back Story:

We are now told Artemisia’s reason for wanting war against Greece.  Scyllias returns from his spying mission and meets Themistocles where he reveals her past. She watched her family raped and killed by Greek hoplites, before being taken captive herself. She was kept as a prisoner on a slave ship before being discarded on the streets, where a Persian emissary finds her and takes her in. We then see her being trained up where she is shown to have become one a Darius most trusted commanders, with the scene closing with her bringing him the heads of a number of Kings and rulers.

So let us now look at Artemisia and what the sources say about her. Herodotus is the main source here with others seemingly to have borrowed from his work. As we already pointed out, her appearance in the record most probably comes from the fact she was the Tyrant in Herodotus’ home town. Though, how close is the films depiction of her life compared to what he has to say? Firstly we don’t have any account of her family being murdered in front of her by “Greek” Hoplites. On this point to, it seems a little too generic to put her desire for revenge over Greece in this event. As we have seen throughout the series Greece was not a nation, and to those if having experienced violence what would have been important is what polis the perpetrators were from. This is where revenge would have laid, after all the people of           Halicarnassus were Greeks too. Herodotus says that she inherited the Tyranny of Halicarnassus from her father after the death of her husband. She is then supposed to have, on her own free will, embarked on the campaign into Greece on account of her courage and sense of adventure since she had a grown up son who could have gone in her stead. Herodotus also points out the respect she held with Xerxes, but this seems to be a result of her performance in Xerxes invasion, there is no reference to her during Darius’ reign.[39] Something I find interesting though in this scene is where Artemisia comes to Darius with the heads of other rulers. The historical records do not have her doing this act but it seems to be drawing on when Darius first came to power. He had defeated the so called pretender on the throne, but then had to defeat various other men claiming to rule their regions before restabilising the empire. This can be found in Herodotus account as well as on the rock face at Behistun in an inscription Darius had completed.[40]

So, it seems in Artemisia we have the stereotypes of the powerful women in the Persian court all embodied within her character, while also drawing on the reputation given to her in Herodotus account though taking it beyond what is reported. After all we never hear of her been given command over the entire fleet at any stage, just the contingent she was responsible for. 

The Battle of Artemisium

Day 1:

We now approach the first naval battle scene of the film, but first we see the preparations Themistocles is making with his Athenians on the shore of Euboea. We are given the impression that the engagement at Artemsisum had been planned out, with land forces having been arranged for the second day. We also hear of the Greeks only have just over 50 ships and the Persians referred to as having thousands. Artemisia is then shown as sending in her ships against the Greeks with them reacting to the Persians’ advance. Artemisia then retorting “Look at their excuse for a navy”.

The sources that we have do not give us the impression that the Greeks had a clear preconceived plan of battle for the engagement at Artemsisium. They probably wouldn’t have even envisaged that the battle would last multiple days. Herodotus’ and Plutarch’s writing give the impression of the Greeks reacting to the developments unfolding before them. As there was much discussion of withdrawing before the start of the battle as the vast numbers of Persian ships had come somewhat of a surprise. Also, they were reacting to news of a Persian detachment being sent to try and attack them in the rear.[41] Even if the Greeks had a clear plan for the battle of Artemisium, which we don’t hear about, it would have quickly changed. To paraphrase the German military commander Helmuth Von Moltke the elder, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”.[42] Regarding the numbers of ships given in the film, the Persian numbers are over exaggerated while the Greeks under represented of what is found in the sources. Who themselves are accused of doing the same to the figures. Herodotus gives figures on all of the different contingents fighting on the Greek side ending up with a total figure of 271 ships. Though, the film is also implying the Athenians to be the only Greeks at Artemesisum, even so, the figure given on record for the triremes the Athenians manned was 127.[43] We are even told there were 10 ships there from Sparta, who we are told in the film were being convinced by Themistocles to join them and had not yet come to the party. For the Persians, Herodotus tells us that, 1207 ships, not including transport ships set out on the campaign.[44] This figure has been thought to be too high by modern historians, though it is unclear if Herodotus thought all of these took part in the battle. But as we can see it is a bit of a far cry from the “thousands” the film suggests. And finally just before the battle commences the comment Artemisia makes, “Look at their excuse for a navy” seems to be lifted straight out of Herodotus’ Histories when he says:

“When the officers and men of Xerxes’ fleet saw the Greeks moving to the attack with such a small force, they thought they were mad and at once got under way themselves, in confident expectation of making an easy capture…”[45] 

The first day of battle of Artemisium is about to begin and Themistocles gives a motivating speech to his men invoking Greek freedom. During this speech we are shown scenes of the Persians oarsmen rowing their ships while being chained to their oars, contrasting the two sides. As the Persians advance they are shown to be riding monstrous waves while a storm is also about. We then see the Greeks in a circular formation with Themistocles reminding his men “Persian ships are strong at the front, but weak in the centre”. He then gives the signal for the Greeks to turn and row towards the Persian ships where they now begin ramming them. He is also heard saying “Go through them”. 

This contrast between the Greeks freedom and Persians slavery was a theme we dealt with in our look at 300. Again, this is a Greek story being narrated by a Spartan so it would be expected the propaganda of the Greek freedom fighting against Persian subjugation would shine through on a grand level, this theme comes up over and over in this film also. As I said in the first 300 episode the ancient sources can also been seen to be contrasting this freedom against the Persians tyrannical rule. The opening stages of the battle show the Persians making the initial advance onto the Greeks but it seems to be the other way around in the sources. The Persians were surprised to see such a small force advancing on them and in their contempt for them, then went out to meet them. With regards to the rough seas and storms that are depicted in just about all the naval scenes, reality would have been quite different. If a storm was about and seas this rough, both sides would not have deployed their fleets as they would have taken more losses from the conditions rather than the enemies, as a trireme was quite an unstable vessel. Perfect weather, with blue skies and calm seas would have been common for naval battles in ancient times. 

The formation depicted that was taken up by the Greeks and its subsequent action seems to draw pretty closely on what Herodotus describes,

“At the first signal for action the Greek squadron formed into a close circle, bows outwards, sterns to the centre, then, at the second signal, with little room to manoeuvre and lying as they were, bows on to the enemy, they set to work, and succeeded in capturing thirty Persian ships”.[46]

Themistocles’ advice to the men is also echoing what was common practice for triremes in battle, the main goal was to direct the heavy bronze ram on the front of one ship towards the weaker stern of the enemy. This would give a much greater change of sinking or capturing the enemy ship. Also the Diekplous was a tactic which roughly translates to “sailing through and out”. The manoeuvre consisted of ships, rowing through gaps between the enemy's ships. After the triremes successfully crossed the opponent's line, the ships would turn around and attack the susceptible side of the opponent's vessel. Though, it would appear the Greeks with their formation were attempting to guard against the Persians employing this tactic on them. 

The Greeks are shown as victorious for the fist day back on shore, Themistocles saying, “Not bad for a group of farmers”. This, being a reference to the Athenian fighting men being a militia, soldiering being their secondary function unlike the Spartan hoplites. There is also talk of being prepared for the next days action, with the preparation they had made in advance being referred to. Though, as we have seen the Greeks were reacting to developments as the battle of Artemisium unfolded and as we will see the second day of battle would unfold very differently in the sources to what we see in the film. On the Persian side the commander who had been responsible for the first day’s failure is then executed. We don’t hear of any executions taking place on the Persian side at Artemisium, though, Herodotus does reports some Phoenician commanders being executed at Salamis for failing in their duties, while trying to blame others for their failure. Also we hear of threats of execution at Thermopylae in Diodourus’ account where he says, 

“…if they (the Persians) should storm the approaches he (Xerxes) would give them notable gifts, but if they fled, the punishment would be death”.[47]   

So, we can see the accounts do talk of executions for poor performance taking place and would appear to be the inspiration of the punishment dished out at Artemisium. But again we need to keep in mind all the scenes with Artemisia have a heavy dose of artistic licence since we don’t hear about her involvement until the battle of Salamis and with just a vague reference to Artemisium, where Herodotus has her saying,

“I, whose courage and achievements in the battles at Euboea were surpassed by none”. 

But I guess this can also let the films creators’ minds run wild to attempt to fill in the details. 

Day 2:

The second day of battle now dawns and Artemisia sends in another of her generals to complete the task of previous failure. As the Persian fleet approaches, the Greeks begin to back water, seeing their ships disappear into the mist. This backing of water is found in the description Herodotus gives but when talking about the battle of Salamis. Instead of disappearing into the mist they then row on at the Persians.[48] The film then shows the Persians being lured into a trap, with many of the Persian ships now smashing into the cliffs and rocks in a narrow strait. From here the Greek land force that had been arranged earlier now attacks jumping from the cliffs onto the Persian ships where another stylised fight scene develops. The fight on the second day here seems to be far more eventful than what occurs in the historical record. Where, the Persians waiting for news of their flanking force do not take up positions to challenge the Greeks. The Greeks seeing the chance for another quick victory attack Persian patrols in the afternoon so as to avoid a decisive engagement. Though, perhaps the depiction of the Persians crashing into the cliffs is tying into another event that took place that day. The night before the second day of battle saw another storm brewed up which would wipe out the Persians sent to flank the Greeks. News of their destruction arrived on this second day and we might be seeing this merged into the engagement in the straits. I also wonder if at a stretch the land forces that attack on the second day are representing the reinforcements that are reported in the sources, Herodotus telling us 50 more Athenian ships arrived.[49] Eventually the Persian attacking force is defeated with the end of the second days fighting brought to an end with the killing of the Persian commander in charge of the attacking force. Artemisia is then heard saying “you see how Themistocles employs deception with such grace”. This being a reference to the events he is involved in and how he as a figure is represented in just about all the sources that talk of him. 

Once back on shore at the Greek side on the evening of the second day’s battle, a small row boat is seen approaching. A Persian commander has come ashore to extend an invitation to Themistocles to meet Artemisia. Themistocles accompanies the Persians and is taken to Artemisia’s ship. Here again we have an event that is taking what is in the historical record and stretching it somewhat. Artemisia’s intention here was to lure Themistocles to the Persian side and to fight by her side, where we then get an intense sex scene develop and Themistocles refuses the offer to betray the Greeks. What we see actually reported that this scene seems to drawing from are missions that Sicinnus, Themistocles’ most trusted servant, was sent on. The first time was when the Greek fleet was at Salamis and Themistocles was attempting to draw the Persians into a fight to keep the Greek fleet intact as they were on the verge of dispersing. Sicinnus is supposed to have rowed over to the Persian shore where he delivers a message that looked as if Themistocles was aiding Xerxes.[50] The second time was where again Sicinnus was used by his master Themistocles to deliver a message regarding the Greeks desire to destroy the Bridges at the Hellespont. This took place after the battle of Salamis when Xerxes was looking at withdrawing with some of his forces. Sicinnus is meant to have sailed acrossing into Attica with some others, delivering the message. These episodes have been treated with some scepticism, in particular regarding the last mission. Never the lest they can be found in the historical record and appear to have provided some inspiration for the scene in the film. I think we might leave day two there as we have much more to still cover. Overall though, for a day of battle that only takes up a few lines in the ancient accounts, a fair bit of inspiration has been taken from other events surrounding the naval battles.

Day 3:

We now see Artemisia means business after the first two days of piecemeal attacks. The Persian ships now move in on mass, with a particularly large ship spewing oil into the sea. Artemisia also orders that her personal guard be sent in, where we see men diving into the sea swimming towards the Greek ships with oil filled backpacks. We also now see the fantasy type creatures that we saw in the first 300 film such as the ogres. With the battle joined, oil amongst the ships and frog men climbing onto the Greek ships, the Persians now begin launching various types of blazing missiles at the Greek ships. In this scene we also see Scyllias hit with arrows being fired by Artemisia and he will later die on shore after the battle. The climax of the battle now has Greek triremes being engulfed in flames, while the trireme Themistocles is aboard is blown up as one of the oil carrying frogmen is struck with a flaming arrow. We are then taken under water with Themistocles where he sees large sea monsters preying on the men in the sea. One of the creatures notices him but then he wakes up on shore with the battle over. The Greeks are shown as having suffered huge losses and it implied that the Persians had won the fighting for the 3rd day. We also now get the sense of despair on the Greek shore, with it particularly focused on Themistocles.

Our ancient sources do indicate that this day would be the largest engagement of the battle, with the Persians taking the initiative this time around. Herodotus seems to be indicating that the whole Persian fleet was employed as they moved in attempting to surround the Greek fleet awaiting their approach.[51] As for all of the oil and fire in the scene, there are no accounts of anything of the sort taking place. It would appear this is drawing on the weapon known as Greek fire which was used for the first time over a thousand years later. Though having said that I think the Persian frog men have taken inspiration from Herodotus telling us of a story he had heard. A deserter from the Persian side apparently swam under water without coming up for air until reaching the Greeks with news of the Persians detaching their flanking force before the battle at Artemisium developed.[52] The sea monsters we see are left as an ambiguous element with it unclear if they were there in in Themistocles unconscious mind. Herodotus gives us a reference to sea monsters, though when talking of the Persian fleet’s disaster twelve years earlier when they were caught in a storm at Mount Athos. He says “The sea in the neighbourhood of Athos is full of monsters, so that those of the ship’s companies who were not dashed to pieces on the rocks, were seized and devoured”.[53] The scene being shown as a massive Greek defeat with all hope fading seems to be stretching the historical reality a little. It is true that we hear that the Greeks suffered badly on the third day but we also hear that the Persians had a much tougher time of it.[54] Though due to the result of the engagement the Athenians wanted to fall back. Presumably, although the Persians took heavier casualties, they could afford it, while the Greeks could not hope to win a battle of attrition. You can probably see so far, many of the events depicted seem to be found in the historical record somewhere, but with a much looser connection that what we found with the first 300 film. 

To help add to the desperate position the Greeks are in after the 3rd day at Artemisium, we are then taken to Thermopylae and see the Persians marching through the pass, with all of the dead Spartans in the foreground. Xerxes hands Ephilaties Leonidas’ sword and tells him to take it to Athens with the message he is coming to raise their city to the ground.

The framing of the 3rd day at Artemisium with the fall of Thermopylae also ties in with what the ancient sources tell us. The fall of Thermopylae also took place on the 3rd day of engagements there with Herodotus saying, “It so happened that these battles at sea took place on the same days as the battles at Thermopylae”.[55]  Though, after Ephialties betrayal of the Greeks position at Thermopylae he dose not enter the story again like here in the film. 

Back on the shore of Artemisium, Daxos, who represented the leader of the other Greeks at Thermopylae rides up to Themistocles to bring the news of the fall of the pass. Themistocles now has some life injected back into him as he sees their sacrifice as being the event that will unite all of Greece. He tells Daxos to spread the news to all the cities he passes through, while he will take to news back to Athens. He also orders that the Athenian fleet to move back to the safety of Salamis. 

Here the depiction stands on fairly solid ground as a messenger arrived at Artemisium to deliver the news of the defence at Thermopylae being overcome. But, the sources make it clear that there were 2 men who were in command of a galley each, their role was to keep communications open with the respected Greek positions. Ambronicachs was in command of the galley that was stationed at Thermopylae and would sail to Artemisium to inform the Greeks at Artemisium of the bad news. [56] This notion of the sacrifice of the men at Thermopylae uniting the Greeks to resist the Persians seems to develop as a popular line after the war with hindsight of the Greeks victory over the invasion. Throughout most of the campaign the Greeks would struggle to unite and individual city states would argue for strategy that tended to favour their cities rather than all of Hellas. Also it is hard to ignore that out of all of the Greek city states only 31 would make up the Hellenic league that would defend Greece, almost as many or more would fight and assist on the side of the Persians. 

The Greeks would indeed make their way back to Salamis after withdrawing from Artemisium, though this doesn’t appear to be the initial plan. Greek reinforcements had been collecting off Troezen, on the Peloponnese, this looking to be the most likely location for the fleet to fall back to. Though, apparently at the request of the Athenians and a plea from the city the fleet would alter its course to Salamis so that the Athenian ships could evacuate their citizens across to Salamis before the Persians arrived. Herodotus also indicates that The Athenians had expected the Peloponnesians to have marched north. With no army developing north of the Isthmus they were also looking to find the next safe harbour where they could discuss their next moves. [57] We need to remember that it wasn’t just the Athenians in the fleet at Artemisium like what the film suggests, but many of the city states who made up the Hellenic league. 

Athens and Sparta:

Themistocles arrives back in Athens where Ephialtes has brought Leonidas’ sword. He passes on Xerxes intention of destroying Athens once his army reaches it. Ephialtes, wallowing in his shameful betrayal is expecting to be executed but Themistocles spares his life and tells him to go back to Xerxes and tell him the Greeks are gathering at Salamis.

As we saw in the episode on 300, the last action we are aware of from the sources to do with Ephialtes was when he accompanied the Immortals on the path to out flank the position at Thermopylae.[58] Then we only hear of him after the war when he now attempted to flee his home to avoid answering for his crime.[59] So, seeing him at Athens is not something we can find from our sources. I feel the message Themistocles sends Ephialtes back to Xerxes with is drawing from his ruse that he would play at Salamis. The Greeks were just about ready to split and go their own ways, so Themistocles came up with a plan to try and keep the Greek fleet united and challenge the Persians. At Salamis he informed Xerxes through Sicinnus of the Greeks planned departure hopping it would force him to act and bring the Persians into the straits.[60] And here in the film we are seeing him making the Persians fully aware of the Greeks’ position. We find in most of our sources also that Themistocles time back in Athens was in assisting in evacuating its citizens and convincing those wanting to stay to leave.[61]

Themistocles then travels to Sparta where he meets with Gorgo who has learnt of her husband, Leonidas’ death. He seeks the aide of Sparta in reinforcing the Greek fleet at Salamis and uniting all of Greece. Gorgo rebuffs Themistocles, as the idea of a united Greece has cost her and Sparta greatly. Themistocles before leaving hands Leonidas’ sword over urging her to avenge him. This looking to appeal to the Spartan warrior society mentality instead.  

We don’t have an account of Themistocles travelling to Sparta during the naval battles, we only hear of him going there after the victory at Salamis and to be honoured for his role.[62] This scenes purpose is to present the plea for the Spartans to send their fleet to Salamis and join in the defence there. As we have said before the Spartans were already with the fleet, had fought at Artemisium and had withdrawn with the rest of the fleet to Salamis. So there was no need to convince Gorgo to send the Spartan fleet to help out in the defence of Greece. Also, something I also brought up briefly earlier was the fact the Greek fleet was already under the command of a Spartan as it was. Eurybiades had been put in command of the fleet before the second Persian invasion began, he wasn’t one of the kings, as only one could be on campaign at a time. Back in Sparta would have been the second King Leotychidas, which also raises the issue that Gorgo would not have been the person one would have sought out when seeking an audience. At a stretch I guess we can see later pleas for the Spartans to stay united or to unite in the ancient accounts when hearing about the contingents deciding what to do at Salamis and also later in the campaign before the battle of Platea when the Athenians are trying to convince the Spartans to march north. At Salamis the contingents from the Peloponnese were arguing to leave Salamis and sail back to the Peloponnese to mount a defence there. There would be much debate and Themistocles would resort to the action involving Siccunus that we brought up earlier to prevent this from taking place. Before Platea, the Spartans remained in the Peloponnese behind the defensive wall at Corinth even after assurances they would march north. We hear of multiple delegations being sent to Sparta to get them to act, which they finally would. But as we have said, there was no need for this to take place before Salamis since the Spartans were already there, with one of them in command of the entire Greek fleet.

Sack of Athens:

We are now brought back to the scene of Athens being sack and which the film had in the opening sequence. We already covered the issue about Xerxes standing on the burning acropolis with Leonida’s head. But we are now shown the rest of the slaughter taking place and the extent of the destruction, with the toppling of the statue of Athena to cap things off. The destruction taking place seems pretty consistent with what can be found in the sources, with Herodotus’ account probably painting the most vivid picture. He first has the Persians arriving and laying siege to the Acropolis, where they are able to undermine the wooden palisade and eventually breach the walls of the Acropolis. He then describes what took place, “When the Athenians saw them on the summit, some leapt from the wall to their death, others sought sanctuary in the inner shrine of the temple; but the Persians who had got up first made straight for the gates, flung them open and slaughtered those in the sanctuary. Having left not of them alive, they stripped the temple of its treasures and burnt everything on the Acropolis”.[63] The toppling of the statue of Athena, although not specifically mentioned provides a good metaphor for the taking of the city that was dedicated to her.

We then now see Xerxes sitting on a throne and deliberating with Artemisia while the ruins of Athens are still smouldering. Ephialtes makes an appearance to inform Xerxes of the Greeks at Salamis which also reveals to Artemisia that Themistocles is still alive. This sees her wanting to attack the Greeks at once with the entire fleet. Xerxes though, advises a probing force should be sent instead. Artemisia now challenges Xerxes authority in matters of war and reminds him how he came to be sitting on the throne. The scene then ends with Artemisia walking away with it pretty obvious she will be attacking the Greeks as she wishes. This scene is setting up the showdown between Artemisia and Themistocles, with her learning of his survival. Though, this portrayal is different to what is presented in the sources as it is not Artemisias’ thirst for revenge that motivates the battle of Salamis. Having said that, there are a couple of historical references that are being used in the scene though that we can take a look at. Although we don’t hear anymore about Ephialtes after Thermopylae, he seems to be presenting the news of the Greeks position and a sort of here we are, come and get us, which we find in the account where Themistocles sends his servant Siccious with his message to encourage the Persians to attack the Greeks in the Straits.[64] We also hear that Artemisia was able to put forward a suggestion before Salamis on how the Persians should deal with the Greeks. This was not directly to Xerxes but through one of his generals, though she would get a private audience with him after the battle on her opinions on how to proceed. Artemisia in the historical record is shown to advise against attacking the Greeks at sea, but allowing time for their fractured unity to break apart and then attack them on land. Xerxes was in fact the one who decided that the naval battle would take place and all of his contingent commanders had also suggested this course, Artemisia was the only one to advise against it.[65]      


Themistocles at Salamis:

Back with Themistocles at Salamis, he is talking to the other Athenians looking at the fire on the horizon coming from Athens. He is still holding out hope that the Spartans will come to their aide, but it seems his men are not so sure with them blaming him for the position they are in. We see Themistocles in his lowest point of the film telling his men that he has failed them but is determined to still fight. He allows anyone not wanting to stay with him to leave if they wish, which sees him move into a motivational speech, including some words that I think are important from the historical record’s point of view, “A story that will be told for a thousand years, let our final stand be recorded to the histories”. None of his men abandon the position and they now set out to engage the Persians.

Again, how the film presents this scene is not found in the sources but we can still find some accounts that have been used to draw inspiration from to tell the story as they do here. For starters, I have pointed out a number of times that the Athenians were not at Artemisium and Salamis alone, other Greeks plus the Spartans were also there. Though, the accounts do show that the decision to fight at Salamis was divided, with the Peloponnesian contingents wanting to head back to the Peloponnese and the others wanting to make a stand at Salamis.[66] We also see one time in Herodotus’ account where it seems Themistocles is at a loss with what to do but not for the reason shown in the film. He instead is almost in a state of despair after a meeting of the Greek commanders on Salamis and it seeming like the Peloponnesians had made a decision that they would set sail home.[67] The words that Themistocles uses in his motivational speech are now drawing upon Herodotus directly and what he announces as the purpose of his work, and by extension what history would come to do for others since he was the father of History. Herodotus in his opening lines of his histories says, “Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his inquiry, so that human achievements may not be forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds, some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians, may not be without their glory; and especially to show why these two peoples fought each other”.[68]

Also seeing the Athenians heading out to meet the Persian fleet also dose not align with the accounts of how the battle of Salamis opened, but let’s get to this issue as we look at the next scene which is the battle of Salamis itself.

The Battle of Salamis:

So, now we get the final scene of the movie and the battle of Salamis. Beginning this scene we see the small Athenian fleet of 6 ships heading towards the Persians lines of hundreds of triremes. Xerxes is seen from a cliff top over looking his vast fleet as the Greeks approach, while Artemisia is aboard her ship leading the battle.

If you have been following along with what we have covered so far and listened to the last 3 episodes you would have seen that in reality the Greeks had been in discussions on Salamis for days regarding what action they were going to take. There were far more than 6 Athenian triremes at Salamis and far more than just the Athenians present. Herodotus records that the Greeks had 378 ships at Salamis, though if we add up the contingent numbers he gives,  we end up with 371.[69] I wonder if the ships that fled after hearing of Athens sacking that Herodotus reports, accounts for the differences in numbers. One thing in this scene that can be found in the sources is Xerxes taking up a position on the hill tops to over look the straits and the battle. Herodotus also saying he had scribes present with him so as to record those who distinguished themselves in battle.[70]

The Greeks now close with the Persian line and the battle begins with ships now ramming and being rammed. With the ships now tangled with one another the Greeks start boarding the Persian ships to fight hand to hand. Themistocles now jumps on the back of a horse which had been prepared below deck for him and jumps from ship to ship fighting on Horseback. He then sees Artemisia and makes his way towards her ship when he is unhorsed and fights off her personal guards. Themistocles and Artemisia now duel it out until finally they come to a stalemate with swords at each others throats.

The film has the opening moves of the battle unfolding differently to how we read about them in the ancient accounts. Herodotus reporting that the Persians made the first move and had entered the straits by the morning, forming a crescent formation around the Greek position. The Greeks then begin with backing water; bring their ships almost up onto their shore, until finally getting underway to where the battle was joined.[71] Though, with Plutarch we can see him hinting at the initiative laying with Themistocles, but his account of the battle is very vague and lacking detail.[72] As for Themistocles on horseback, I don’t think I really need to point out this to be a creation of the film and not found in the sources. When it come to Artemisia being spotted, events in the histories don’t portray what is shown on screen but we can probably see what Herodotus reports about her coming through. It was known that she was serving in the Persian fleet and it was resented that Artemisia being a Greek and especially a woman would oppose the Greeks. Apparently a bounty had been placed on her for her capture. We even hear that when being perused in battle, she had rammed another Persian ship to make her escape. This then saw her pursuer break off the chase thinking her ship was either actually a Greek ship or had defected to their side.[73] But we do not hear of her engaging in any hand to hand combat with anyone especially Themistocles. The Ionians were deployed on the opposite end to that of the Athenians, but we do hear of events that would suggest Ionian ships and Athenians ship did engage. Though remember the film here only represents 6 Athenians ships against the Persian at this stage. 

Its now, with the Athenians in a hopeless position that Greek ships can be seen on the horizon making their way to the Persian lines. Gorgo is at he head of this reinforcing fleet with the ships dropping their sails, revealing the distinctive Spartan lambda. Themistocles then says to Artemisia, “All of Greece has united against you, Delphi, Thebes, Olympia, Arcadia and Sparta. Artemisia refuses to surrender and Themistocles is forced to kill her. The Greek reinforcements now start ramming the Persian line and the marines flood onto the Persian ships engaging in close quarters fighting. Gorgo is seen cutting down Persians before meeting up with Themistocles, where they both then join forces, symbolising Greek unity, before then leading the Greeks against the rest of the Persian force, then roll credits. 

So here we go again, the Spartans and other Greeks did not come charging over the horizon to save the day by joining the Athenians at Salamis. As we have said a number of times there were some 378 Greek triremes lined up to take part in the battle of Salamis from many Greek city sates, in all 31 polies and Islands would take an active part in the defence of Greece against the Persians. As for Gorgo leading the reinforcing fleet, we do not hear about her in the Historical record after Leonidas’ death. The leadership in Sparta would have rested with the King, Leotychidas and the regent Cleombrotus who was acting as regent for Leonidas’ son at this stage. Also the Ephors who were the council of elders would have also have performed much of the decision making in Sparta. The Spartan’s as well as the entire Hellenic league fleet already had a commander, as we also pointed out earlier the Spartan Eurybiades had been placed as the overall commander of the Fleet before Xerxes forces had marched into Greece. We have also touched on the lambda being used as the Spartans symbol when we looked at 300. There I pointed out that the first time we can perhaps attribute to it being used was during the Peloponnesian war over a generation later.

When Themistocles rattles off the names of some of the cities that have united against Persia, he includes one that a causal reading of the Greek and Persians wars would have one raise an eyebrow at. That one is Thebes, all the ancient sources make it pretty clear that Thebes was one of the largest city states in Greece that had medized and assisted Persia all throughout their campaign. Even after Salamis they would be one of the largest contributors in Greece of men and supplies at the battle of Plataea a year later.

Lastly to finish up the scene and the film lets deal with the death of Artemisia herself before we end the episode looking at the main themes of the film, freedom and the sense of a united Greece. Artemisia was not killed at the battle of Salamis, though a number of Persian commanders who had higher leadership roles than she did were, including one of Xerxes brothers. We have already addressed that she was not in command of the entire Persian fleet, but just a contingent from the region around Halicarnassus. In Herodotus’ histories we hear more about her when Xerxes asks for her advice on a proposal put forward by the Persian commander Mardonius. Then when Xerxes decides to make his way back to the empire, Artemisia is trusted with accompanying his children back across the Aegean to the Ionian coast.[74] Artemisia would return to Halicarnassus and continue to rule as Queen or tyrant unit her death in 460BC, 20 years after the battle of Salamis.





The movie 300 Rise of an Empire ends with Gorgo and Themistocles joining together and then taking on the Persian forces, representing a united Greece which Themistocles had been seeking throughout the film. This also shows freedom conquering an outside power coming to enslave them, with their cooperation in banding together to protect their individual freedoms. 

Granted we find many passages in the ancient sources that show the Greeks are extremely proud of their freedom and disgust of becoming a slave to an outside power. Though, the Greeks had slaves too, in fact only a small portion of a city states population were consider citizens with the full rights this entailed. There were other peoples that were considered free but without voting rights and unable to hold public positions. While then there was a large proportion of people who were considered slaves. For the most part throughout Greece slaves were non Greeks and we hear, especially regarding Athens that the practice of Greeks being reduced to slavery was outlawed under Solon, also known as the shaking off of burdens.[75] Though, we have one big exception to the rule here. We brought this up in the last 300 episode and this revolves around the Spartans ideas of freedom when they themselves enslaved large populations of Greeks. Their economy was built on their helot system which saw them not only defending their way of life, and as they saw it, their freedoms, against invaders, but they had to also worry about threats from within their boarders. So when talking of Greek freedoms we are talking of the small portions of the populations that were considered citizens who had a say in their cities direction to some degree, the rest of the people living in Greece were along for the ride.

The idea of a united Greece is also at the forefront during the film. It is true that the Hellenic league was a response to bring together those city states wanting to resist Xerxes invasion. Though the film, although not depicting the Hellenic league as its presented in the ancient accounts, seems to infer that the goal was to create a united Greece to challenge the Persians which is eventually achieved in the final scene. To put it mildly, this is a massive over simplification of the reality.

The Greek city states were for the most part, individual political entities and before the Persian Invasions they had many more quarrels with each other rather than with foreign powers. Though, the coming together of city states to co operate in diplomacy or war can be seen also. This would be done against other Greek city states or foreign powers, it was a matter of the threat that was faced and the interests of the aligning polies. The creation of a united Greece, never seems to be an idea pushed forward until much later in Greece history. 

Another interesting point is out of the thousand odd Greek city states and Islands only 31 would come together to unite in what we call the Hellenic league. More Greek city states and Island would assist and even fight on the side of the Persian Empire, while many more would stay on the side lines waiting to see how things would play out. So for a united Greece to occur there would need to be many more Greek city states cooperating, the reality of the situation makes this the Greek and Persians wars only due to the fact the Persian Empire was invading into geographical Greece, the make up of the forces makes this title quite generalised.  

Describing the Hellenic league as a united Greek force is also somewhat of an over simplification, as there were multiple times where individual city state’s circumstances were driving their policies and motivations within the league. This would see the league become very unstable throughout Xerxes invasion and almost break apart on a number of occasions. I think the reality of the league was down to the fact that a larger threat had been identified that came from outside Greek lands. The Cities that came together had enough general mutual interests to come together to oppose the threat, but had to deal with their own personal interests within the league environment. They still had different governing systems and economical considerations which would make it difficult for them to all agree on the same path forward. After all, there was the future to also think of, once the Persian threat was defeated domestic rivalries would return and no one wanted to be in a weak position. As the series continues and we move past the Greek and Persian wars we will start to see and delve into the interactions that would take place within Greece and where it would lead history.

I think I will wrap up the episode here, but as you can probably see there is much within the film that can be discussed. I decided to skip over some elements otherwise this episode would have blown out much more than it already has. I found there was much more in this movie as opposed to 300 that required the historical record to be stretched so more explanation required to see how it fits into the story line. Though, I trust if you have been listening to the series you would have picked up on many of the issues with how 300 Rise of an Empire presents the events. We will be picking back our narrative of the Greek and Persian Wars next episode, where we will look at the aftermath of the battle of Salamis and how the Greco- Persian war would continue into the next year.


Thank you for your continued support, If you have been enjoying the series please consider leaving a review at Itunes or your favourite podcast platform, they go along way to supporting the show.

To receive updates and to be notified of new episodes you can subscribe at Also, you can follow the series on facebook and instagram at casting through ancient Greece or on Twitter at casting Greece.

I hope you can join me next time for Episode 26: The War Continues.


[1] Herodotus 7.224
[2] Herodotus 7.225
[3] Herodotus 7.238
[4] Herodotus 7.220
[5] Herodotus 7.140
[6] Herodotus 8.61
[7] Plutarch’s Lives, Themistocles p154-155
[8] Herodotus 7.141
[9] Herodotus 7.142-143 / Plutarch’s Lives, Themistocles p148-149
[10] Herodotus 1.1-5
[11] Herodotus 6.107
[12] Herodotus 6.110-111
[13] Herodotus 6.112
[14] Plutarch’s Lives, Aristides p438
[15] Herodotus 6.114
[16] Herodotus 6.109 - 110
[17] Herodotus 6.113
[18] Herodotus 6.117
[19] Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution 21-22
[20] Herodotus 6.94-95 / 7.1
[21] Herodotus 3.76-79
[22] Herodotus 7.1
[23] Herodotus 7.99
[24] Herodotus 7.33-36
[25] Herodotus 7.22 - 24
[26] Herodotus 7.2-3
[27] Herodotus 9.109-112
[28] Herodotus 7.142-143
[29] Herodotus 9.5
[30] Plutarch’s Lives, Themistocles p148 / Herodotus 7.144
[31] Herodotus 6.43-44
[32] Herodotus 6.94-95
[33] Herodotus 7.145
[34] Herodotus 7.173-175
[35] Herodotus 7.179-181
[36] Herodotus 8.75
[37] Herodotus 8.145-147
[38] Herodotus 7.188
[39] Herodotus 7.99
[40] Herodotus 3.118-119 / 126
[41] Herodotus 8.4-9 / Plutarch’s Lives, Themistocles p151
[42] Kriegsgechichtliche Einzelschriften (1880) “No plan of operations reaches with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main force”
[43] Herodotus 8.1
[44] Herodotus 7.89
[45] Herodotus 8.10
[46] Herodotus 8.11
[47] Diodorus 11.8
[48] Herodotus 8.84
[49] Herodotus 8.14
[50] Herodotus 8.75
[51] Herodotus 8.16
[52] Herodotus 8.8
[53] Herodotus 6.44
[54] Herodotus 8.16
[55] Herodotus 8.15
[56] Herodotus 8.21
[57] Herodotus 8.40
[58] Herodotus 7.213
[59] Herodotus 7.218
[60] Herodotus 8.75 / Plutarch’s Lives Themistocles p155
[61] Herodotus 8.41 / Plutarch’s Lives Themistocles p153
[62] Herodotus 8.124
[63] Herodotus 8.53
[64] Herodotus 8.75 / Plutarch’s Lives Themistocles p155
[65] Herodotus 8.68-69
[66] Herodotus 8.49
[67] Herodotus 8.57
[68] Herodotus 1.1
[69] Herodotus 8.43-48
[70] Herodotus 8.90
[71] Herodotus 8.76 / 84
[72] Plutarch’s Lives, Themistocles p157
[73] Herodotus 8.87
[74] Herodotus 8.103
[75] Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution, 6