Leonidas and the 300: died August 11, 480 B.C.


300 popped up on some channel last night, and we got a time delay recording to watch it, which I did, mostly.  Interesting stylization.  Cartoonish characterizations, which one should expect from a movie intended as homage to the graphic novel that directly spawned it.

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, Molon Lave, which roughly translates to Come and get it!

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, "Molon Lave," which roughly translates to "Come and get it!"

Several sources dated the climax of the battle as August 11, 480 B.C. — 2488 years ago yesterday. (The battle is said to have occurred during the Olympics that year, too.)

World history classes dig through that period of history in the first semester.  Teachers, it’s time to think about how we’re going to facilitate this history this year.  As always, some bright student will wave a hand in the air and ask, “Mr. Darrell!  How do they know what happened if no one survived, and nobody had their Sony videocorder?”

At least one other student in the course of the day will be surprised to discover the movie wasn’t a filmed-on-the-spot documentary.  But apart from that, how do we know the events well enough to pin it down to one day?  And, since the Greeks surely didn’t use the Gregorian calendar, since it wasn’t invented until the 18th century — how do we know the date?

The short answer is “Herodotus.”  The longer answer may resonate better:  This is one dramatic battle in a year-long fight for the history of the world.  The Greeks were understandably and justifiably proud that they had turned back Xerxes’s armies and navy (The Battle of Salamis, a bit after Thermopylae).  So, these events were preserved in poetry, in the chronicles, in song, in sculpture, and in every other medium available to the Greeks.  Your AP English students will probably tell you the movie reminds them of The Iliad.  There’s an entré for discussion.

Turning points in history:  Had Xerxes succeeded in avenging his father’s, Darius’s, defeats, and subjugated the Greeks, history would be much different.  The culture the Romans built on, the trading patterns from east to west and around the Mediterranean, the technologies, the myths, and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern Olympics.)

How do we know?

How do you handle that question?  Tell us in comments, please.

Resources and commentary on Thermopylae, Leonidas, and the 300:

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2 Responses to Leonidas and the 300: died August 11, 480 B.C.

  1. Frank says:

    My whole life I heard that Leonidas died August 11, 480B.C. …..Now wikipedia and others have change that to the 9th of August……Why??

    Like this

  2. Nimish Batra says:

    Well I always wished I got alternative history assignments to read (and write).

    I hope that’s not too stupid/impractical an idea :D

    Like this

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