Now is the Battle for Everything

The trailer for the new 300 movie, Rise of an Empire, was released yesterday, and I was so pumped to watch it. I loved the first 300 — I’d probably rank it in my top five movies of all time — so I was really looking forward to seeing what they were going to do with the sequel. And so far it looks like the creators aren’t going to disappoint:

Not only does it look like another well crafted and awesome movie, with the same appealing cinematography as the original, it appears to tell the story of one of the most fascinating battles in all of history — the Battle of Salamis.

No, not that kind of salami…

The first movie told the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, where a Spartan king and a few hundred of his bodyguards, along with a spattering of soldiers from surrounding city-states, valiantly and heroically fought for freedom against the massive Persian army. Of course, ultimately the Greeks give way to reality and fall at the hand of King Xerxes’ empire… Prior to the Battle of Thermopylae, the Persians had more or less taken over all of Greece, with the exception of Athens and Sparta. Now that they had slain the king of Sparta, they reasoned, Greece was theirs for the taking.

300: Rise of an Empire appears to be the remarkable tale of what happened next.

The Battle of Salamis was the major turning point in western civilization. In fact, the culture shift which resulted from that battle was so great I wrote about it in my manuscript exploring major culture shifts, Torn Wineskins. Here’s what I wrote about this battle a couple years ago… enjoy it, and enjoy the movie when it comes out next March!

With the Greek land forces decimated or captured at Thermopylae, the Persians had a straight shot through the heart of Greece to the city of Athens. Recognizing this, the Greek naval fleet assisted the evacuation of Athenian civilians to the island of Salamis. And there the Greeks sat waiting – counting on the Persian pride and desire for complete and total revenge to draw them to Salamis as well.

It didn’t take long for the Persian army to reach the now-empty city of Athens, and when they did, Xerxes was predictably furious and ordered them to attack and kill all the survivors at Salamis. It wasn’t enough to own a large swath of Greece now; the people had to be made aware of what happened when defiance was so brazenly shown to the king. The Persian navy, outnumbering the Greek fleet nearly four to one by some accounts, drew near the island, confident of an easy victory.

Neither side of this battle could have possibly known at that time the importance of what was about to occur. Historians call it the battle that saved western civilization as well as one of the most significant battles in human history. Why?

It was more than a clash of two armies – it was a clash of two cultures. It was the old versus the new, with a Greek way of life still in its infancy. If the Greek navy was defeated at Salamis, Persia would likely easily conquer the rest of Greece and strengthen its empire – extinguishing what would come to be known as Hellenic culture before it had a chance to begin. That Greek culture would eventually spread throughout the known world and be the basis for the entirety of western civilization.

It can be safely assumed that nobody on those naval ships off the coast of Salamis was thinking about anything quite so grandiose while they were anchored there, waiting for a fight. For the Greeks, many believed it would be their last battle and they were determined to go down fighting. At best, perhaps they could delay the inevitable and prevent being conquered – extending their freedom for a little while longer. For the Persians, they wanted to crush this puny opposition so others would think twice about challenging the power of their empire.

The Persian navy arrived in the waters southeast of Salamis at night and pulled back to begin their attack in the morning. As the sun rose, the Greek warriors began singing a war hymn that included the lyric “Now is the fight for everything” as the massive Persian fleet entered the narrow straits to finish them off.

They had no idea how prophetic those words were.

Entering that narrow strip of water turned out to be a tactical error of enormous proportions for the Persians. Their ships were unable to maneuver and got jammed together in the small space, allowing the smaller Greek fleet the perfect opportunity to decimate them.

And decimate them they did – they sunk or captured hundreds of Persian ships that day and forced Xerxes back to Persia once again. Things would never be the same after that battle. Persia would come back and attack Greece in the future, but they would never again enjoy any sort of widespread success. The Battle of Salamis marked the beginning of the end of the Persian Empire and the beginning of the rise of the Greeks.

The Greeks, for their part, would suffer through several civil wars between varying factions of city-states for awhile (including some major battles between the allies of Sparta and the allies of Athens), but eventually they would come together as a nation and an empire themselves. And then the world was defined by their Hellenic culture.