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300: Rise of a Genre – Where History and Fantasy (And Warrior Queens) Meet

300: Rise of an Empire - and a new genre: historical fantasy
300: Rise of an Empire - and a new genre: historical fantasy
Courtesy, Warner Bros. Pictures

Naked breasts attract much more attention than armored breastplates, apparently even if most (but by no means all) of them belong to men. That at least is one of the guiding theories behind 300: Rise of an Empire, which like its predecessor, 300, quite literally strips down its heroes and heroines and sends them to battle wearing nothing more than jock straps and snarls. This is not history or even historical fiction, but a new genre – historical fantasy, where movie makers make some of mankind’s bloodiest and most desperate battles even bloodier and more dramatic, as they toss in beasts and brutes and beauties by the bundle.

Sometimes it works, and with an opening weekend of $45 million domestic and twice that abroad, 300: Rise of an Empire has hacked and slashed and 3-D CGI’d the way not just for itself but for a whole new genre in filmmaking. Zack Snyder got this genre off the ground seven years ago when he brought Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 to the big screen. While he had to turn over the director’s chair to the sequel to Noam Murro because of other projects (including last year’s Man of Steel Superman movie), he was on hand to help write the screenplay. Snyder’s influence is readily apparent in almost every scene of 300: Rise of an Empire, from the blood-soaked and bare-breasted brave Greek warriors to the gold-dipped if delusional Persian king who believes himself a god.

300: Rise of an Empire is not entirely without historical merit. The main characters are named for some of the real people who lived and fought and led armies, nations and fleets n the 5th Century B.C. world depicted in the film. The Persian invasion of Greece was a real campaign, the Greek infantry did uncharacteristically run full tilt across the plain of Marathon to catch their enemies off guard and they applied a similar tactic at sea, rowing their ships at full speed to ram into and sink their Persian foes. There was even a female admiral in the Persian navy, a queen from a wealthy allied state who brought her own squadron to the fight and who was held in such renown that the Persian king of kings sought her counsel.

In 300: Rise of an Empire Eva Green plays that admiral-queen, Artemisia of Caria, and while the real queen was not a ninja-type assassin with gladiatorial skills and a maniacal thirst for revenge, she was not a woman to be ignored or trifled with. Green is perhaps best known for being Bond’s lover in Casino Royale, and is the closest thing to a big name star in the film. The only other readily recognizable face is also a woman, Lena Headey of Game of Thrones fame, who reprises her role as the Spartan queen from 300. Then again, the film does not need an A-List actor to fill the seats, as the genre itself is the big box office draw.

Those who prefer their history real will of course note that Greek hoplites did not go into battle in Speedos but instead carried big shields (hoplons) and covered their man-boobs with breastplates of leather or metal. That is but one spear-carrier in the phalanx of historical inaccuracies that Snyder, Murro, Miller and company have packed into the film. That they have taken liberties with history as they let their imaginations run wild is kind of the whole point of the movie and the genre. 300: Rise of an Empire does have a thin thread of history running through it, but it makes no pretense to have any more than that. This is not history or even historical fiction, but historical fantasy, and even if it is damn bloody, it is damn bloody good fun.


Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer, columnist, historian and game designer. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at
…or his blog at
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at

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