Military historian says Spartans weren't so tough… and usually LOST

Were the Spartans as fearsome as Gerard Butler made them look? Military historian says famous warriors – whose battle against the Persians was immortalised in 300 – weren’t so tough… and usually LOST

  • Myke Cole claimed Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC has been spun into legend
  • The historian said the Spartans were warriors who often lost against amateurs
  • Mr Cole said there were not 300, but 1,000 Spartans and others at Thermopylae
  • The battle and Spartan warriors inspired the movie 300, starring Gerard Butler

A military historian has claimed the famous Spartan warriors were not as fearsome as Gerard Butler made them appear in the movie 300 and said they usually lost battles.

According to legend, King Leonidas I of Sparta led 300 warriors to fight hundreds of thousands of Persian invaders under Great King Xerxes in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

Although the Persians won the battle with just one Spartan surviving, Thermopylae boosted moral and helped the Greeks drive the Persians away the next year. Their courage and self-sacrifice saw Thermopylae become one of the bloodiest and most influential battles of the ancient world.

From then on, the 300’s actions have gone down in history as a model of courage in adversity. It has inspired poets and artists down the centuries, and was immortalised in 2006 movie 300, which saw Gerard Butler star as the brave King Leonidas.

But military historian Myke Cole has claimed the tale of the famous battle, which took place 2,500 years ago, is simply a ‘myth’, according to the Express.

King Leonidas I of Sparta led a group of 300 warriors who held off thousands of Persian invaders in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. Pictured: Spartan warriors in movie 300


Mr Cole, whose book The Bronze Lie claims to expose the truth about the Spartans, told the publication the fighters’ reputation as ‘history’s toughest warriors’ was a lie made up by the Spartans to ‘incite fear into their enemies’.

The Spartans are known as some of the greatest warriors in history and are remembered for putting the survival of Sparta above everything else, heroically fighting in 480 BC to become the 300 ‘champions’ spoken of today. 

But Mr Cole has instead claimed: ‘The truth is that they lost more battles than they won, often put their own lives first, and wouldn’t fight to the death if they could retreat or negotiate a treaty.’

He claimed that at the battle of Thermopylae, the 300 Spartans had help fighting the Persian invasion forces by around 7,000 Greeks, up to 900 Spartan servants, and around another 700 Spartan warriors.

He alleged the three-day battle, which has been remembered as a mission of self-sacrifice which saw just one of 300 warriors survive, was not a ‘suicide mission’.

The former US military intelligence officer, who served three tours in Iraq, claimed King Leonidas cleverly chose to fight in the bottleneck Thermopylae Pass to level the odds, as he would only need around 30 to 35 men to hold the centre.

But military historian Myke Cole has claimed the famous battle, which took place 2,500 years ago, is all a ‘myth. Pictured: Gerard Butler starring in 300

Mr Cole has claimed that the fighters’ reputation as ‘history’s toughest warriors’ was a lie made up by the Spartans to ‘incite fear into their enemies’

He claimed that at the battle of Thermopylae, the 300 Spartans had help fighting the Persian invasion forces by around 7,000 Greeks and up to 900 Spartan servants

Mr Cole continued: ‘Leonidas had every expectation of winning, and expected to be reinforced by a larger army, they didn’t expect to die.’

But he claimed 1,000 Phocian fighters were uanble to hold the Anopaia Path and allowed the Persians to cut off the Spartans to their rear, which saw their Greek allies flee from the battle, leading to the bloody defeat.

He claimed the Spartans are, in reality, famous for an ’embarrassing’ and ‘disastrous defeat’, describing the battle as a ‘military disaster’ which was spun into the legend of self-sacrifice. 

Mr Cole said: ‘The truth is the Spartans were flawed and human, not superheroes.’

The historian claimed the Spartans were self-serving and cowardly and often took bribes, urging people to remember that they are famous for a battle which they lost.

Further dissolving the Spartan legend, he claimed the warriors often lost against amateur armies and retreated and surrendered at the battle of Sphacteria, saying their talents lay in their incredible PR.

Speaking about the Zack Snyder film 300, which retells the battle of Thermopylae with a chiseled Gerard Butler playing King Leonidas, Mr Cole said the movie is ‘racist, xenophobic’ and perpetuates the Spartan myth.

Mr Cole claimed he is speaking about the truth surrounding the Spartan myth to show their flaws and humanity, as well as their well-recognised bravery.

According to the legend of Thermopylae, the Persian invasion force under Great King Xerxes swept down from the north to the narrow, rocky pass of Thermopylae in central Greece, where a makeshift army awaited them.

The Greek defenders had accepted that they would fight bravely before retreating in good order, but the Spartans’ apparent courage saw the battle go down in history as one of the most influential battles of the ancient world. 

Speaking about the Zack Snyder film 300 (pictured Gerard Butler in the film), Mr Cole said the movie is ‘racist, xenophobic’ and perpetuates the Spartan myth

He claimed the Spartans are, in reality, famous for an ’embarrassing’ and ‘disastrous defeat’, describing the battle as a ‘military disaster’ which was spun into the legend of self-sacrifice

Mr Cole claimed he is speaking about the truth surrounding the Spartan myth to show their flaws and humanity, as well as their bravery. Pictured: Gerard Butler and Lena Headey in 300

The 300 Spartan warriors, young men who had been trained for a single purpose in life – to fight and kill their many enemies – were selected for the battle because they all had sons, so their family line would not die out if they were slaughtered.

Only the Spartans who had excelled in their boyhood training and were chosen to serve as knights in the king’s bodyguard were said to be selected for the battle of Thermopylae. 

The famous story says the 300 Spartans fended off the Persians for the first two days of the three-day battle at the pass of Thermopylae, but on the third day a Greek traitor showed the Persians another path, allowing them to encircle the Spartans.

King Leonidas was killed while his troops fought on to defend their King, with historian and Greek writer Herodotus claiming the Spartans slaughtered the Persians in droves.

‘The Spartans, reckless with their own safety and desperate, since they knew their destruction was nigh at hand, exerted themselves with the most furious valour against the barbarians,’ wrote Herodotus.

After the three-day long bloody battle, just one of the 300 Spartans survived and the warriors were defeated in an act of fearless self-sacrifice.

But Thermopylae boosted Greek morale and allowing the warriors to drive the Persians out of Greece the following year.

The Romans were said to have admired the Spartans and what became the first all-Greek Olympic Games was first established in Sparta in 776 BC. 

Sparta’s apparent astonishing military success, which has now been rebuked by Mr Cole, depended on tactics which aroused terror in its enemies.

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