The second character seen in 300: Rise of an Empire trailer is nobody else than the first movie’s protagonist: King Leonidas, always portrayed by Gerard Butler. In the trailer, he’s not very much in shape…actually, he’s lying dead among his men, after the events of 300, and is beheaded without too many compliments by Xerxes, who uses his severed head as a warning for all his future enemies. In the first movie, we saw him heroically fighting the infinite army of Xerxes with just a bunch of loyal warriors, managing to buy time for the rest of Greece to gather their forces and prepare for the real war, while he was sacrificing his life (he wouldn’t have had to, if not for a traytor in his ranks). Now, let’s see together who is the man who was remembered as King Leonidas the Brave.
Leonidas was the son of Anaxandridas II, the king of Sparta. When the king thought he couldn’t have any son from his first wife, he married a second woman, who gave birth to Cleomenes, the elder son and the future king. From his first wife, however, Anaxandridas later had other three sons: Dorieus, Leonidas and Cleombrotus. Prince Leonidas was raised without privileges, among his own people, as a normal boy, since he wasn’t the heir to the throne. He underwent the agogè, the Spartan public school, a harsh training to become a full citizen and a true man, according to Sparta’s standards. He received a hard military training, as he was left alone to survive on the snowy mountain of Taygetus during winter. During his test, Leonidas was among the few who made it, and took back home the skin of a great grey wolf he killed with a pointy stick. His strength and military skills became evident when he was still a young man, and he had gained the respect of all his city much before his father died. At Anaxandridas’ death, Cleomenes was chosen as his successor, and Dorieus, enraged, chose exile for himself, and retired in Sicily, where he died. Leonidas stayed, and followed his king as a simple soldier. He married Cleomenes’ daughter, his half-niece Gorgo, a strong woman who compensated with her cunning intelligence the impulsive nature of her husband. Leonidas lived his life as a common, even if extraordinary, man, until Cleomenes went mad and was deposed. As his younger brother, and the elder among his peers after Dorieus’ death, he was chosen by the people as the new king.
Strong but simple, Leonidas was more a military leader than a political one. When the former king Demaratus warned Sparta that Xerxes, king of Persia, was about to move war to the entire Greece, Leonidas immediately refused submission to the enemy, killing Xerxes’ ambassador and breking the international rules of that time. He seeked advice from the Oracle of Delphi, a sacred priestess who was said to speak with Apollo‘s voice, but the response wasn’t favourable to a war, since the priests had been bribed. In order to buy time for his reticent allies to organize their forces, Leonidas chose to try and stop the immense Persian army at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, accompanied by his personal guard only: 300 chosen soldiers from the Spartan army. The task was desperate, but the nature of the territory and the superior military proficiency of the Spartans went against all odds, and the mighty Xerxes found himself unable to pass through a bunch of men who prevented him to set foot in Greece. Unfortunately, Ephialtes, a deformed man who Leonidas himself had sharply expelled from his army, feeling betrayed by the king, sold his peers revealing a secret way through the Thermopylae. Leonidas and his men were attacked by the rear, and annihilated in a matter of hours, after a week of strenuous resistance. Leonidas’ corpse was beheaded by Xerxes, and his body crucified as a warning to whoever dared challenge the Persian king. Leonidas’ sacrifice, however, had inflamed the spirit of the Greek cities, who were now ready to fight and defeat Xerxes and his army.
King Leonidas is a strong and determined man, hardened by a harsh education and used to the most difficult tasks. As all Spartans who underwent the agogè, he’s extremely proficient in both armed and unarmed combat, especially with sword and spear. He’s also a tactician born, and a charismatic leader, whose speeches convinced 300 men (almost 5000 in real history) to die with him to protect Greece from Persia’s expansionism. A hard man for hard times, Leonidas is the embodiment of the militaristic values of Sparta.