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Lots of man abs, naval battles, an Eva Green in badass armor, and one gigantic Rodrigo make this a must-see for action and adventure fans.

The sequel to “300” stars Sullivan Stapleton (“Gangster Squad”) as Themistokles, Eva Green (“Casino Royale”) as Artemisia, and (reprising their roles from “300”) Lena Headey as the Spartan Queen, Gorgo, and Rodrigo Santoro in the role of the Persian God-King, Xerxes.

Directed by Noam Murro, from a screenplay by Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad, "300: Rise of an Empire" is based on the graphic novel Xerxes by Frank Miller. Despite his failure to deliver the graphic novel before the film’s release, Miller has called Xerxes “a more complex story” than its predecessor, with a story that extends outward in contrast to "300‘s" more inward progression.

“300: ROAE” follows the Persian emperor both before and after “300‘s” Battle of Thermopylae, as events elsewhere in Greece lead to conflict that engulfs the whole nation in the wake of Leonidas and his Spartans’ sacrifice at the Hot Gates.

Here are 8 facts and trivia juxtaposing the movie’s story with historical facts during the war between Persia and the Greek city-states.






8. ARTEMISIA










 

The Persian armada in this movie is commanded by Artemisia, a Greek woman who has vowed vengeance upon her country of origin and who has no use for diplomacy.

Born Greek, Artemisia was betrayed as a young girl by her own countrymen who, in their cruelty, unknowingly sowed the seeds for the death and destruction to come in their own land.

“That explains why she harbors such hatred for Greece,” says Eva Green. “What I like about Artemisia is that she’s ballsy and utterly fearless. Her tragic flaw is her obsessive need for revenge. I was able to do some research on her because she actually existed, although she’s quite a bit different in our film. But a woman commander all those years ago was rather unusual, so she had to have been exceptionally strong.”

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Green has stated that she embraced her character’s dark side, noting, “I love playing evil characters, but especially those who are complex and have a reason to behave in such a way. It’s always more interesting.”

With the death of Persia’s King Darius at the hands of Themistokles, Artemisia sees her opportunity for vengeance by twisting Darius’ deathbed warning that “only the gods can defeat the Greeks” to her own ends, convincing their son and Darius' heir, Xerxes, that he must now become a God-King.

In history, Herodotus describes Artemisia’s story as the queen of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor. In 480 Artemisia led a small squadron of eastern Greek ships in Xerxes' invasion force against the Greek mainland states. Herodotus presents her as a remarkable woman, the shrewdest of Xerxes' commanders. The Greeks offered a reward of 10,000 drachmas for capturing Artemisia, but no one succeeded.

Herodotus writes: “I consider her to be a particular object of admiration because she was a woman who played a part in the war against Greece. She took power on the death of her husband, as she had a son who was still a youth. Because of her courage and spirit, she went to war although she had no need to do so. Her name was Artemisia. . .”






7. THE INVASION OF GREECE, THE BIGGER PICTURE










Since all the Spartans were dead at the end of “300,” there couldn’t really be a sequel in the traditional sense, but that didn’t mean there were no more stories to be told.

“300’s” director Zack Snyder (who also produced and co-wrote the screenplay for “Rise of an Empire”) recalls that “Frank Miller contacted me and said he was working on an idea about an Athenian general named Themistokles, who led the Greek Navy against the Persian Navy, which was commanded by this amazing woman named Artemisia.

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When he told me it took place during the same three days as Thermopylae, where Leonidas faced the Persians at the Hot Gates, and with an equally significant outcome, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s very intriguing.’ The next thing I knew, he sent me an outline and some drawings and I said, ‘Okay, we’re doing this.’”






6. THE GREEK CITY-STATES








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In “Rise of an Empire” it has become undeniable that war is finally coming to Greece. The only question is whether the individual city-states will unite in time to defend their borders against the Persian God-King Xerxes and his monstrous, million-strong forces. Sparta’s King Leonidas is already marching his 300 best men to meet the enemy on what can only be called a suicide mission.

But Athens is not Sparta. In ancient Greece there were hundreds of city-states, or polis, some small and some really big ones with large populations. Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Megara, Argos were five of the biggest, and although each city-state had its own form of government and its own army, sometimes its own navy, and certainly its own way of doing things, they all spoke the same language, they all believed in the same gods, they all worshiped in the same way, and they all thought of themselves as Greeks.

While these city-states banded together against invaders and outsiders, they were quite active in waging war against each other for territory and political power, as well. The polis were not like in other primordial ancient city-states which were ruled by a king or a small oligarchy, but rather a political entity governed by its body of citizens.

“Democracy” was a particular ideal cherished and promoted by Athens, something that the tribalistic and monarchic warrior society of Sparta scoffed at.






5. XERXES










Rodrigo Santoro again portrays the magnificently adorned Persian ruler. He says, “in the first film, you had no idea where he came from, so seeing his transformation brings more dimension to this character, and you understand the power behind his throne.”

“Rise of an Empire” reveals how Xerxes became a God-King, a metamorphosis in which Themistokles and Artemisia each played a significant part.

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The historical Xerxes, known as Xerxes the Great (519–465 BC), was the fourth king of the kings of Achaemenid Empire, the son of King Darius I of Persia and Queen Atossa, a daughter of Cyrus the Great.

It’s true that Xerxes’ father King Darius died while in the process of preparing a second army to invade the Greek mainland, as vengeance for their interference in the Ionian Revolt, the burning of Sardis and their victory over the Persians at Marathon. Xerxes eventually went to war against Greece in 480 to 479 B.C.E.






4. THE GREEK NAVY








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Much of the action in this movie takes place in a new battlefield—the sea. With plenty of ship vs ship combat and boarding battles, the filmmakers wanted the old Athenian ships, or triremes, to be as historically accurate as possible. These three-banked oar ships played a vital role in the Persian Wars and the creation of the Athenian maritime empire that for long years ruled the Aegean Sea.

Interestingly, the rise of Athens as a naval power can be traced to the decision to create a substantial navy to counter the Persian incursion by sea. This was a big deal in a city where traditions of personal combat and soldiery were held in the highest esteem. The navy allowed Athens to see off the Persian invasion and to take the lead in a defensive alliance, called the Delian league.






3. ATHENIANS (WHEN BOY LOVERS GO TO WAR)








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In ancient Greece, Athens was considered the center of culture and free thought; a fact that that the King of Sparta, Leonidas, in the first movie brusquely refers to as Athenians being “boy lovers.”

It’s true that the most widespread and socially significant form of same-sex sexual relations in ancient Greece was between adult men and young boys (hello, pederasty). Though homosexual relationships between adult men did exist, at least one member of each of these relationships flouted social conventions by assuming a passive sexual role.

In antiquity, Athenians had a lot of sex decorating their city, especially carving in stone of phalluses. Male sexual organs were frequently included in art, literature, drama and even the streets of Athens. Stone pillars called herms, featuring a bust of the god Hermes at their top and an erect phallus at their base, were placed outside houses for good luck.

Nudity was perfectly acceptable. Athletic competitions and other sports were also usually done in the buff. Nude Olypmics? Sounds great to me.






2. THEMISTOKLES








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Themistokles is part soldier and part politician in this movie. Aussie actor Sullivan Stapleton stars as the Athenian general. He remarks, “whereas Leonidas rules Sparta in a very authoritative, military style, Themistokles must be a great speaker to rally all of Greece to fight as one. He knows, even then, they may be no match for the Persians, but he loves his country and believes in this new idea of democracy. The script gave me insight into what was at stake at that time.”

The historical Themistocles (yes, with a “C”) was also an Athenian politician and general, one of a new breed of non-aristocratic politicians who rose to prominence in the early years of the Athenian democracy. During the first Persian invasion of Greece, he fought at the Battle of Marathon, and was possibly one of the 10 Athenian generals fighting hand-to-hand in that battle.






1. ATHENS BURNING








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When Xerxes conquers Greece we see Athens fall and put to the torch. In truth, the decline of Athens was because of a war against its own fellow Greeks, the Spartans.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

In the Peloponnesian War, again essentially a conflict between Sparta and Athens and their allies, Athenian rule ended ironically because Sparta eventually received support from Persia.

The rebellions that the Persians foisted in Athens' subject states in the Aegean Sea and Ionia undermined Athens' empire and eventually deprived the city of its naval supremacy. So, Sparta won that war. Athens never again regained its political leadership, yet it still remained Greece's artistic and intellectual center.

The Peloponnesian War also sadly marked the end to the golden age of Greece.






“300: Rise of an Empire” is rated R-16 by the MTRC and is now screening in theaters in IMAX 3D, Digital 3D, 2D and 35mm format. Share your rants and raves in the Comments Section.

Karl R. De Mesa

Karl R. De Mesa is the author of the books of horror fiction "Damaged People" and "News of the Shaman." He's also a journalist and editor. His latest book is "Report from the Abyss," a collection of non-fiction. He plays guitar for the drone metal band Gonzo Army.

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