300: They Left Out the Helots!

According to historian Ephraim Lytle, the graphic novel and movie “300” have little to do with the facts, as we know them, regarding Sparta and Persia in general and the Battle of Thermopylae in particular.

For example:

We know little of King Leonidas, so creating a fictitious backstory for him is understandable. Spartan children were, indeed, taken from their mothers and given a martial education called the agoge. They were indeed toughened by beatings and dispatched into the countryside, forced to walk shoeless in winter and sleep uncovered on the ground. But future kings were exempt.

And had Leonidas undergone the agoge, he would have come of age not by slaying a wolf, but by murdering unarmed helots in a rite known as the Crypteia. These helots were the Greeks indigenous to Lakonia and Messenia, reduced to slavery by the tiny fraction of the population enjoying Spartan “freedom.” By living off estates worked by helots, the Spartans could afford to be professional soldiers, although really they had no choice: securing a brutal apartheid state is a full-time job, to which end the Ephors were required to ritually declare war on the helots.

Yeah, the Spartans weren’t obsessive warriors because they might have to defend the noble West from the swarthy Persians at any moment… but because they might have to put down an uprising from their brutalized slaves at any moment.  That’s worth knowing.