It’s kind of unfair to fact-check “300: Rise of an Empire,” the new swords-and-sandals blockbuster that raked in $45 million in its opening weekend and makes no pretensions towards accuracy of any kind. But it’s also undeniably fun, too, so here goes.
This new “300” movie is a sequel to the massively successful “300” from 2006. It’s nominally about a fight for control of ancient Greece, between Persia, led by god-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), and an unidentified Grecian opponent (perhaps the soon-to-be ascendant Athenian Empire?) led by the hero Themistokles (whose name in the historical record is more frequently spelled with a “c,” not a “k”).
On the Oxford University Press blog, University of Cambridge historian Paul Cartledge, who's in on the gratuitousness of the exercise, points out five major errors in a movie he terms, “at best un-historical, at worst anti-historical.” They range from exaggerations to elisions to complete fabrications—all of which, of course, serve to amplify the drama and spectacle of the movie (which, so far, is polling predictable badly with critics).
One exaggeration concerns the role another regional power played in deciding the outcome of the climactic battle, and I won’t specify it here because it would give away the ending of the movie. A more central, and less-spoilery, exaggeration, has to do with Artemisia’s historical significance. The movie casts her and her brawny sidekicks as leaders of the entire 600-ship Persian fleet. Cartledge, playing the party-pooper, says in fact she had just a handful of ships to her name.
In the realm of fabrications, the movie opens with Xerxes’s father, Great King Darius I, getting killed on the battlefield by a long-distance javelin, thrown by Themistokles. More likely, Darius was speared to death in less cinematic fashion, in the scrum of phalanx-enabled combat.
The movie also features an apparently lurid encounter between Themistokles and Artemisia, battlefield enemies who, in director Noam Murro’s telling, found time to copulate between conflicts.
Cartledge thinks not, which, if word gets out, could undermine “300” at the box office: We all know audiences demand historical veracity in their sex scenes.
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