What makes a battle from the history of the Ancient civilisation of Sparta part of queer history? Take a seat, class – today we’re taking a look back at the Battle of Thermopylae.
What happened at the Battle of Thermopylae?
History tells us that the Battle of Thermopylae took place in the year 480 BC. It was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states – led by King Leonidas of Sparta – and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I. The battle lasted for three days.
This was during the second Persian invasion of Greece.
How many men were involved in the battle?
The Greek force numbered approximately 7,000. They were vastly outnumbered by the Persian army of around 100,000 but they initially managed to prevent the Persians from passing through the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae . Eventually, the Persians used the mountain paths to outflank the Greek defenders.
King Leonidas, upon becoming aware that the Persians had outflanked him, dismissed the bulk of the Greek army and remained to guard their retreat with a small force of around 1,500 men – including 300 Spartans – most of whom were killed.
The Battle of Thermopylae in popular culture
The Battle of Thermopylae quickly became one of the most popular stories across western culture. It was has been re-told and celebrated in songs, poems, books, articles, television programs, and video games.
There have been two key movies that have showcased the stories.
In this story, a small force of 300 Spartans fights against a limitless Persian army. Despite the odds, the Spartans will not flee or surrender, even if it means their deaths.
Written by George St. George and directed by Rudolph Mate, the film stars Richard Egan (King Leonidas); Ralph Richardson (Themistocles); David Farrar (Xerxes); Diane Baker (Ellas); and Barry Coe (Phylon).
At the time of its release, it was interpreted as a commentary on the Cold War of that era.
The primary source material for this film was the graphic novel – of the same name – by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Miller is reported as saying that he took his inspiration from the 1962 film The 300 Spartans. Zack Snyder adapted a screenplay from the graphic novel, and directed the film - using a super-imposition chroma key technique to replicate the imagery of the source material.
The cast includes: Gerard Butler, David Wenham, Lena Headey, Dominic West, and Michael Fassbender.
As a gay man, there’s a lot to love about this movie - a male dominated, hyper-masculine world, where everyone pretty much just wears a loin-cloth and a cloak. Homo-erotic subtext abounds. Muscular bodies are oiled up and shimmering, and the camera lingers over every inch. Even in death, the soldiers’ six-pack abs are sharply defined – it’s implausible, but good to look at.
This is a movie that is sexy, stylish, and very watchable.
Based on the success of Snyder’s 300, Frank Miller wrote a follow-up. Zack Snyder helped with the script, and the sequel – 300: Rise of an Empire - was directed by Noam Murro.
The sequel sticks faithfully to the formula established in the original movie - heavy use of narration to tell you exactly what’s happening, graphic styling, and plenty of Sunday matinee movie swords and sandals historical drama. I love this stuff, but in many ways it’s just thinly disguised soft-core gay porn.
Eva Green does a brilliant job of chewing up the scenery, Lena Headey provides most of the narration and gets to chop a few heads off towards the end, and the rest are an international cast of actors – although it’s the Australian and New Zealand accents that seem to stand out the most.
Favourite line from the movie was Eva Green’s Artemisia to Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles: “You fight much harder than you fuck!”
This is how history should be taught.
Fuelling our spartan warrior fantasies
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how the sexed-up homoeroticism of movies such as 300 lead to our fap fantasies being fuelled by images of the warriors of Sparta.
Our fantasies don’t have to be particularly historically accurate – as long as they’re oiled up and ready for action, we’re good to go!
The After Dark edition
If the stories of the Battle of Thermopylae are the kind of thing that fuels your fantasies, check out the gallery below for some visual motivation.