LET'S GET the obligatory post on "300" out of the way, since the movie seems to be everywhere these days.
1. I haven't seen it.
2. Yet, based on the previews alone, I am willing to endorse the thesis of Andrew Sullivan's respondant.
3. The stand at Thermopylae was the only good thing that Sparta ever did. I'm not kidding: there's very little to like about Spartan society, particularly when compared with Athenian democracy (the competing model); the standard Spartan army was no better than the army of any other Greek state (as clearly demonstrated in later conflicts); and the best way to explain the Spartan foreign policy of the age is that it included equal parts pride, greed and envy -- sometimes with a healthy dose of stupidity as well. Moreover, only a few decades after Thermopylae, Sparta was making common cause with the Persians in Sparta's wars against Athens. Defender of the Greeks? Only when it suited Sparta's interest.
4. The stand of the 300, while an important rearguard action, was not the critical battle in this particular campaign. Rather, the crucial battles occured at sea, when an Athens-led navy took on a much-larger Persian fleet. The Athenian navy both (1) saved Leonidas' ass for days by denying the much-larger Persian fleet safe harbor to land marines directly behind him and (2) eventually destroyed the much-larger Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis, effectively (although not immediately) ending the campaign against Greece by severing Persia's supply lines.* (Did I mention that the Persian fleet was much larger than the Athenian one?) Themistocles, the Athenian general who commanded the naval fleet and masterminded the victory, gets no love.
5. Oh, and it wasn't "300" anyway. It was 300 Spartans supported by about 700 Thespians -- or 1000 Greeks total. The Thespians also get no love.
6. The foregoing is Exhibit 1,204,995,231 in support of the thesis that there is no justice.
*Yes, credit for final victory is usually given to the Spartans at the Battle of Plataea, but that was simply the last battle in the Persian war -- it was not the turning point.
UPDATE: Best comment so far is from Togolosh: "In fact, I think it's likely that there were *no* Spartans at Thermopylae, but rather 700 regular Thespians and 300 Master Thespians who were pretending to be Spartans. Acting!"
Also, Jesurgislac rightly notes that Spartan women had an easier go of it than Athenian women. That's one reason I wrote "there's very little to like about Spartan society" rather than there's nothing to like about Spartan society, but I should do a better job pointing out that Sparta is closer to modern norms on at least this issue. Still, given that (1) Sparta's armies really were not the shiznit of the ancient world, but, by and large, were only a notch-or-two above ordinary; (2) until Sparta bribed Athens' best rowers over to its side at the end of the PP war, a Spartan naval victory was defined as "Sparta flees (successfully)"; and (3) Sparta tried to sell out the rest of the Greeks to the Persians about 80 years after Thermopylae, it's pretty stunning how Sparta is regarded today.