Zack Snyder’s 2007 fantasy historical film, 300, has probably made the Battle of Thermopylae one of the most famous battles of the ancient world. However, the film has more fantasy than history in it. Most people are aware that the leader of the Greeks during the battle was Leonidas of Sparta. Yet, how much do we actually know about King Leonidas, and what happened with ‘the 300’ during the Battle of Thermopylae?
Who was King Leonidas?
According to ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Leonidas was the son of King Alexandridas and his first wife, an unnamed woman who was also the king’s niece. Leonidas, however, was not the first child, as his father’s second wife bore a son, Cleomenes. Soon after this, Alexandridas’ first wife bore a son as well, Dorieus, who was Leonidas’ elder brother.
After Dorieus was born, the king’s first wife was pregnant with Leonidas, and he was followed by Cleombrotus; although Herodotus suggests that there was an account stating that Leonidas and Cleombrotus were twins.
Leonidas’ ascension to the throne of Sparta in 489 BC was, as described by Herodotus, ‘a result of an unforeseeable situation’. As the third son of Alexandridas, Leonidas’ chances of obtaining the throne were rather slim, and he had no designs on the kingship. Upon the death of Alexandridas, the Spartan throne went to Cleomenes.