I recently saw a clip of the final battle of the movie 300 (2006). All the Spartans left are facing Xerxes and his real guard, and one of the servants ask Leonidas to kneel and surrender with all his men.

Of course he didn't do it, and instead they begin to fight. During this fight, Leonidas takes an opportunity to throw his spear.

We see that Leonidas was completely able to make a clean throw, even though arrows were flying everywhere, but still he only hurt Xerxes in the face. I think this was intentional, since for what we see in the entire movie, he has very good skills.

Why didn't Leonidas throw the spear directly at Xerxes' head/chest?

  • 28
    I think throwing a heavy weapon is a vastly less precise activity than you realize. Consider how hard it is to throw a baseball 60 feet to the catcher during a game. Even professionals who practice every day mess this up sometimes. It's just not that easy.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 6:27
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    @jpmc Also a spear is not something designed for throwing. It is a very heavy weapon that works because you can thrust it into enemies, while keeping them conveniently far from you. The longer the spear the further away the enemies can be kept, so they are made as heavy as it is practical. It is not as if it was a javelin, which is a completely different weapon.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 8:50
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    I think your bar for good skills may be a little high.
    – Misha R
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 13:40
  • 1
    BTW, although "real" in Spanish can mean "true" or "royal", in English in just means "true". Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 21:08
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    @jpmc26 the movie itself is rather unrealistic...
    – HorusKol
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 6:55

8 Answers 8


Because Leonidas and Xerxes were actual historical figures that have well documented histories. Xerxes lived through the battle.

Also The Battle of Thermopylae is a well-documented event. Taking artistic license, like having a spear graze Xerxes’ face is one thing. Changing historical fact like having Leonidas’ spear kill Xerxes would simply draw laughter from people that know how the battle went.

In the context of the movie only: Leonidas did try to kill Xerxes, but it was a long, difficult throw. The (artistic) tragic part to this is that, if Leonidas had thrown a slight bit softer, the spear would have plunged a few inches lower, and the throw would have gotten Xerxes in the chest (and probably kill him). And so Leonidas dies having missed because he “tried too hard” to get distance on his throw.

The following clip explains why Leonidas knelt (to shed his equipment in a passive manner) as preparation to make a difficult spear shot.

  • 8
    I applaud your sense of history, especially since this battle has pivotal importance with regard to the origins of democracy (and ultimately resistance to tyranny).
    – John
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 22:54
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    I think killing Xerxes is the last thing that people would notice when it comes to the film's historical accuracy. Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 1:20
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    "Changing historical fact like having Leonidas’ spear kill Xerxes would simply draw laughter from people that know how the battle went." The entire movie already draws laughter from those people, which is fine for stylized over-the-top historical fiction. Oh, how I wish more people knew enough to laugh, or that Hollywood cared if they do.
    – Schwern
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 2:15
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    You should understand that in 300 the movie you are watching is not a historical drama, or an alternate view of true events, or even an epic myth. 300 is an enactment of the inspirational speech given by Dilios to the unified Greek army before the battle of Plataea. It is not in Dilios's interest to be accurate; he is attempting to convince his audience that the Persian horde is neither invincible nor indefatigable. Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 5:44
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    Keep in mind, however, that the film "300" is NOT based on the historical battle or characters. It is based on the 1998 graphic novel by Frank Miller, which presented the narrative as Dilios telling the story to other Spartans.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 23:09

Because Xerxes believed himself to be a god, immortal and immune to physical injury, and his army believed it as well. Leonidas intentionally injures Xerxes, rather than killing him, to serve a major blow to Xerxes' own belief of being a god, and to eventually weaken the resolve in those that follow him and to strengthen the resolve of those that will come to fight the Persians.

If Leonidas had killed Xerxes, there's no guarantee that those that followed him wouldn't make him a martyr and continue the war effort, picking the most zealous leader and moving forward. Leonidas, despite his arrogance, was looking at the long game.

  • 2
    This is the conclusion I remember coming to at the time. Though it does seem like speculation now that I think back and see these other answers. I still like it though.
    – Nacht
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 3:53
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    It's backed up by a quote from earlier in the film, too: Leonidas says something like "Before this battle is over, we will show that even a god-king can bleed". And that's exactly what he does.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 10:33
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    It's hard to argue that bleeding Xerxes would be a more effective deterrent to the notion of "Xerxes is an immortal god immune to physical injury" than killing him with a simple spear. Were Xerxes to get hit with a spear in the chest or face, he would bleed just like he did with the spear hitting the side of his face. But he would also keel over in pain and agony, his entrails spewing forth, dying a very human death. That would be a much more convincing display of his mortality.
    – TylerH
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 17:21
  • I think this is the reason combined with the actual historical reference mentioned above and @F1Krazy's comment to this answer. The scene probably only exists because of what Leonidas said to Xerxes. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 13:14
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    @TylerH. This seems to be a common trope in Hollywood (can't find the exact link ATM). "We can't kill him because it will make him a martyr and only make his followers fight harder". History of course shows that to be quite the opposite to the truth in most cases. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 21:39

While I agree with other users that the throw was in fact very hard, and that Leonidas pulled an impressive stunt even with that minor injury, I think there's a point in particular that needs to be considered, from a narrative point of view.

The movie is narrated by Dilios, the only Spartan soldier that left the battle. He was specifically asked by Leonidas to leave so that he could tell the story of the battle: his precise mission was to inspire others so that the war could still rage on after Leonidas's defeat.

Dilios is telling the story one year after it took place, as the Greek allied army was going to fight the Persians once more. Xerxes was leading that army too: everybody knew that he lived through the battle of Thermopylae, so it was evident that Leonidas could not manage to take his life.

Also, Dilios left the place before the final showdown happened. He never saw the spear throw, he never saw Xerxes bleed, he never even saw Leonidas die. Speaking from an in-universe perspective, the entire final scene is just a glorification of Leonidas that Dilios completely made up. Dilios was still alive because he had to inspire the Greek people, and he did that fairly well :)

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    Exactly. The depiction we see on film is essentially a propaganda film created by Dilios. Proving Xerxes can bleed is some inspiring propaganda.
    – justing
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 20:25
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    Suppose it really happened. Who cared? A man who got to smile less than one minute before dying? The Persian soldiers, who were going to get beaten anyway if they didn't throw themselves at the enemy? None of that mattered. We can rightfully say that Dilios made it up. Inflicting a wound to Xerxes only matters for the "one-year-later" Greeks.
    – Simone
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 8:44

Because it's a spear, manually thrown from a great distance, affected by wind, how well the spear was built, etc. It's not a round fired from a scoped and adjusted sniper rifle on a mounted stand, with a spotter with binoculars.

To hit Xerxes, at all, was a tremendous throw. Even someone shooting a sniper rifle would be unable to shoot with the kind of precision to just graze like that, so clearly, "just" winging him was not intentional. Even though it's fiction, you probably take your suspension of disbelief concerning their prowess with weapons a bit too far.

Leonidas was trying to kill him with an impossible spear throw.... and he almost pulled it off.

  • To be honest, given the 'depth' of the writers' interest, this is probably the most accurate and realistic answer.
    – Möoz
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 21:30

Simply, because Xerxes survived that battle. The movie was based on actual events; The Hot Gates existed, the Greeks (Spartans) were betrayed by a resident (Ephialtes) who told the Persians about the path that led behind their lines, and Leonidas died in that battle. These are all historical facts. Why would they have Leonidas kill Xerxes if that didn't actually happen?

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    And more importantly, how would they continue the franchise, if the first real battle won everything? :P
    – Luaan
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 14:38
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    @Luaan. Yes, nothing like "Too Three, Too Hundred" Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 21:42

Leonidas did not miss the shot. Instead Leonidas did not kill Xerxes because he had to respect the Carnea - the ancient greek festival during which Sparta wages no war (Recall the scene where he goes to talk with Ephors and they consult the Oracle).

If killing Xerxes was the aim, he would have taken the entire army to war but he could not do that as that would be disrespectful to the Carnea. After talking with Ephors, he was disturbed in his palace that night. That's when before their sex scene, his queen told him that he should not think like a king or a husband or a Spartan citizen, but as a free man. As a king he cannot wage a war during Carnea but as a free man he can absolutely take a stroll to stretch his legs and take a few (300) bodyguards with him. And that is exactly what he did - issued no order for taking the army and took a "stroll" up North - towards the Hot Gates. This way Carnea was respected and he too could do something to save Sparta.

Finally, he did not kill Xerxes because that would be an act of war, but he did stamp his wisdom and courage by showing that even the God King can bleed, implying that Spartan king was no less. Not killing Xerxes and stopping after only making him bleed, he let the enemy arrows kill him and the rest of his 300 men. With that he respected Spartan tradition and at the same time also showed that not only the Spartan king did not submit, but also would have made Xerxes and his army bite the dust - had there been a war. In the process he laid down his life for his people and his country.

(This answer was provided by @displayname in the comments section. Due to the question being protected, @displayname gave me full permission to post it as an answer. All credit to him/her)


Because that would have changed history.

While the movie takes creative license, the characters involved were in fact real characters and the movie is based on real events. Killing Xerxes in the movie would be changing the facts about history.

  • 3
    While your probably right, somebody else provided this answer, which is currently sitting at the top with a +91 score. We appreciate the effort, we generally seek answers that add new content, rather then rehashing existing answers.
    – Gnemlock
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 1:19
  • @Gnemlock, thanks. However, just because an answer is voted up doesn't mean it's the most correct. While I agree with your general sentiment that we don't have to answer twice, the answer you cite provides information which is superfluous to the real question, in my opinion, and opened the door for a shorter, full answer. Great minds can disagree, though, and I appreciate your comment. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 16:13

His helmet was stifling, it narrowed his vision, and he must see far.

His shield was heavy, it threw him off balance, and his target is far away.

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