The 300 Spartans is a 1962 Cinemascope film depicting the Battle of Thermopylae. Made with the cooperation of the Greek government, it was shot in the village of Perachora in the Peloponnese. It starred Richard Egan as the Spartan king Leonidas, Ralph Richardson as Themistocles of Athens and David Farrar as Persian king Xerxes, with Diane Baker as Ellas and Barry Coe as Phylon providing the requisite romantic element in the film. In the film, a force of Greek warriors led by 300 Spartans fights against a Persian army of almost limitless size. Despite the odds, the Spartans will not flee or surrender, even if it means their deaths.
When it was released in 1962, critics saw the movie as a commentary on the Cold War, referring to the independent Greek states as "the only stronghold of freedom remaining in the then known world", holding out against the Persian "slave empire".Xerxes I of Persia leads a vast army of soldiers into Europe to crush the small city-states of Greece to fulfill not only the idea of "one world ruled by one master", but also to avenge the defeat of his father, Darius I of Persia at the battle of Marathon 10 years earlier. Accompanying him are Artemisia I, the Queen of Halicarnassus who beguiles Xerxes with her feminine charm, and Demaratus, an exiled king of Sparta whose warnings Xerxes pays little heed toIn Corinth, Themistocles of Athens wins the support of the Greek allies and convinces both the delegates and the Spartan representative, Leonidas I, to grant Sparta leadership of their forces. Outside the hall, Leonidas and Themistocles agree to fortify the pass at Thermopylae until the rest of the army arrives. After this, Leonidas learns of the Persian advance and travels to Sparta to spread the news.
View of the Thermopylae pass at the area of the Phocian Wall. In ancient times the coastline was where the modern road lies, or even closer to the mountain
In Sparta, fellow king Leotychidas is fighting a losing battle with the Ephors over a festival that is due to take place, and that the army should wait until after the festival is over to march, by which time the Persians will have conquered Greece. Leonidas secretly decides to take his personal bodyguard of 300 men to the pass, who are exempt from the decisions of the Ephors and the Gerousia. They are reinforced by Thespians led by Demophilus and other Greek allies.
After days of fighting, Xerxes grows angry as his army is "slaughtered like sheep" by the Greeks, with the Spartans in the forefront. Leonidas further pressures his men after receiving word that the remainder of the Spartan army will only fortify the isthmus in the Peloponnese and will advance no further. The Greeks constantly beat back the Persians, and Xerxes begins to consider withdrawing to Sardis until he can equip a larger force at a later date. Just then, he receives word from Ephialtes of a goat-track through the mountains. Rewarding Ephialtes greatly, Xerxes sends his army onward.