From the IHT:

There's a shortage of swords in Sparta. Greek merchants from Athens to Thermopylae are also concerned about a scarcity of spears as they prepare for summer visitors obsessed with the hit film "300," the gory story of the 480 B.C. clash between King Leonidas of Sparta and his archenemy, King Xerxes of Persia.

"My Spartan sword maker died a few weeks before the movie opened," laments Theodoros Tzamalas, whose shop, Greek Souvenirs, has been the main retail outlet for Spartan battle gear in Athens since 1940.

"Until '300' there was no rush for Spartan swords," Tzamalas says from behind a counter cluttered with strap-on sandals and miniature-soap Parthenons. "Our Leonidas sword was lightweight steel, cost €15 and was archaeologically correct," he adds. "Now hundreds of people are specifically asking for them and I don't have any."

The Greek deputy finance minister, Petros Doukas, the highest-ranking Spartan in the government of Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis, says he's aware of the "300" weaponry crisis and its cascade effect on Greece's economy.

"The movie's lesson is: Fight for your country, even if it's a losing battle, and have enough swords and hotel rooms on hand for tourists," says Doukas, squeezing lemon on a clearly un-Spartan lunch of broccoli spears in his office.

Diplomacy dictates that Doukas remain a noncombatant in the war of words between "300" fans - who so far have spent more than $435 million on tickets - and Iranian hard-liners who argue that the film is part of a wider Western agitprop campaign that smears their country's Persian heritage.

The Iranian poet Bahram Bahrami, who translated Samuel Beckett's play "Happy Days" into Farsi, has called the film an exercise in "blood libel." The British historian Tom Holland, whose book "Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West" recounts the events that led to Thermopylae, described the battle as "the model of a martyrdom for liberty."

"The Greek government takes no position and offers no official criticisms of the film," Doukas says, picking up a photo of his father, a World War II fighter pilot in North Africa.

"It's not like the old days," he recalls.

"Until the late 1950s, Spartans acted exactly like the ancients: laconic, aristocratic, with a class structure that didn't care about money. Pedigree was everything."

As was widespread public support for sword ownership.

"That's now gone, too," frets the historian Despoina Stratigis, owner of Synergies, a Sparta-based cultural tour company. "Last season, I put visitors in touch with Spartan cheese makers," she says between slicing wild asparagus in her home and fielding calls from U.S. and European families seeking to retrace Leonidas's march from Sparta to Thermopylae.

"Now everyone wants a sword maker. We don't even have an original sword in our museum, and there's only one sword maker left in Sparta."

That would be Costas Menegakis, a 42-year-old Greek-Canadian blacksmith who specializes in horseshoes and hasn't made a sword since 2005.

"It was a Viking sword," Menegakis says, sitting atop an anvil alongside his charcoal-fired forge and brandishing a homemade French rapier.

"I'm ready to make Spartan swords, €80," he adds. "I pound swords and spear tips from steel, but if someone wants an original poured in bronze, I can do that."

No matter the model, Menegakis guarantees that his hilts are the real deal. "Many were made from goat horns," he says. "We have lots of goats in Sparta. The hills are filled with them."

Global interest in Spartan swords has also caught the eye of a local police inspector, Panayiotis Skaras. He has spent the past eight months trying to discover who hacked off the 11-kilogram, or 25-pound, sword measuring 1.5 meters, or 5 feet, from Sparta's towering bronze 20th-century statue of King Leonidas.

There are no leads, though Menegakis says he suspects a "band of Gypsies." Café gumshoes suggest that the robber was an Athenian envious of Sparta going to Hollywood or Persian pranksters out for revenge.

Whoever the culprit was, Sparta's deputy mayor, Metaxia Papapostolou, recently had a replacement sword fitted in Leonidas's hand - before the onslaught of tourist buses reaches the southern Greek city. She says the perpetrator won't be shoved into a pit, unlike in the movie.

"Sparta doesn't plan on launching any invasions over this," Papapostolou promises. Instead, the city is investing €8 million, or $10.9 million, to refurbish the crumbled tourist sites.

"Our big attractions are the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia and the olive-oil museum," Papapostolou says. "We're staging ancient Greek plays in the ruins of the outdoor theater.

"Trouble is, Spartans weren't theatergoers; the Athenians went to plays," she bemoans. "We Spartans did things for real, and many other Greek cities are jealous about what the movie's popularity has brought us."

Back on the warpath between Sparta and Thermopylae, Shelagh Meade, an 84-year-old British archaeologist, says the 162-kilometer, or 101-mile, walk she recently completed with a few dozen other Sparta buffs along Route Leonidas obliged reflection upon her decades of studying the region.

"I didn't particularly like the Spartans," Meade says. "I'm afraid the movie will make young people more violent. Of course, I didn't like 'The Charge of the Light Brigade,' either."