Gregory Kirschling
March 16, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

When the vast Persian army met 300 furious Spartans at Thermopylae back in 480 B.C., they didn’t bring along any charging elephants or rhinos. Their leader, Xerxes — who sported a ZZ Top beard rather than a sexually ambiguous, hairless physique — probably sat on his throne and stayed away from the front lines entirely. And Ephialtes, the Spartan who played a key role late in the showdown, was likely not a deformed hunchback.

Such liberties aside, 300 stays true to historical accounts of the battle. The titular number of Spartans, joined by other Greeks, really did hold off Xerxes’ swarms for three days at Thermopylae. Several catchphrases in the movie, such as ”Tonight we dine in hell!!,” are taken from the Greek historian Herodotus and other sources. The Spartans held off the Persians long enough for the Greek forces to regroup and ultimately topple Xerxes. And while the Spartans likely did not fight in slomo with abs rippling, a historical consultant on the movie argues that 300‘s beefcake would have pleased the Greeks. ”Their vases and literature were not realistic,” says Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, an expert on ancient warfare at Stanford. ”’Heroic nudity,’ they called it. They made people bigger and more buff too.”

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