Tag Archives: Hellas

The Wandering King: Book 3 Begun

phalanx

 

Those that have been enjoying The Wandering King series will be happy to hear that I’ve started work on book 3.  I used the year’s hiatus to work on a contemporary novel.  After spending 5 years immersed in the ancient world, I needed to spend some time writing about today’s world.

The subtitle for book 3 hasn’t been selected yet.  If you’d like to weigh in on the subtitle or suggest one of your own, feel free to do so in the comments section.  Here are a couple that I’m mulling over…

  • Glorious Fall the Valiant
  • Black Hulled Ships
  • Perils of War
  • Land of Brave Men
  • The Sworn Band
  • Victory or Death

The lines “glorious fall the valiant” and “land of brave men,” come from the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus.  “Black hulled ships,” comes from Homer.  The “perils of war” comes from Thucydides.  “Sworn band” is a translation of the Spartan smallest military unit, the enomotia.  A variation for the subtitle could be “Sworn Band Leader,” which was an enomotarch, which is comparable to the modern title of lieutenant.

Where Book 3 is Going

In book 1, Summer, Harvest, War, you journeyed with Euryanax south to Libya and north to Corinth and Delphi.  In book 2, With This Shield, you followed him west to Italy and Sicily.

In book 3, you’ll venture east with our hero to Thrace, Scythia and Asia Minor (modern Turkey) where he’ll take part in a 6-year struggle called the Ionian Revolt.  Though not written about in any novels that I’m aware of, the Ionian Revolt is covered in Herodotus.  It was a revolt by the Greek cities in Asia Minor against the High King Darius of Persia, and is seen as the precursor to the more famous Persian War.a82f442a443b716d8ffa57bc15e88771

Before Eury goes east, he has some unfinished business to take care of at home in Sparta.  When we last left him, he was marching away from Athens with the Spartan army after they had just ousted the Athenian tyrant Hippias.  His uncle Leonidas had put him in charge of a handful of young Athenian boys, who we are told are hostages, but King Cleomenes wants to disguise this fact by having Eury train them in the agoge.

Book 3 opens with us learning that Eury has been given the responsibility of training a group of young boys from all over Hellas.  Cleomenes has expanded upon his original idea, and offered to teach the sons of his allies in Boeotia, Arcadia and Macedon the Spartan way of war.  Like many of the innovative things Cleomenes did in history, this is not a popular idea among his fellow, conservative Spartans.

Among Eury’s students are some young, historical personages, such as Alexandros son of King Amnytas (Alexander the Great’s great-great-great grandfather), Alcibiades of the Alcaemonids (grandfather of his famous namesake), and Leontiades, the future Theban commander at the Battle of Thermopylae.  Several others are based on minor characters mentioned by Herodotus in The Histories, some of whom, like Attaginus, end up allied with the Persians during the Persian War.

Eury’s cousin and chief rival and antagonist, Pausanias, is also training a ‘herd’ of boys, the salamanders.  As they have a 8-year head start on Eury’s ‘turtles,’ Pausanias’ salamanders are  a lean, mean pack of wolves, whose main goal in life is to kill Eury’s charges, of which they’ve already done away with 3 at the start of the story.

How Eury manages to help the turtles survive the agoge and one of Sparta’s most brutal rites of passage, the Festival of Artemis Orthia, make up the first two chapters of book 3, which I am working on now.

Diversion to Athens

If you’ll recall from book 2, after the Spartans overthrew the Athenian tyrant Hippias they left one of their puppets, a rich nobleman named Isagoras in charge.  Isagoras promptly exiled ‘the father of democracy’ Cleisthenes from Athens.  If you’ve read Herodotus, you know that Cleisthenes eventually returns and “took the common people into his party” enabling him to oust Isagoras.

Although I admire the Spartans, one of the things that is not so admirable about them is their aversion to democracy.  In defense of the Spartans, philosophers like Aristotle and Plato were not exactly keen on the Athenians version of ‘pure’ democracy either.  Many during the age (particularly wealthy landowners) viewed it as ‘rule by the unwashed, uneducated rabble.’  Cleomenes attempted to interfere in Athenian politics, where he wanted to get rid of Cleisthenes and reinstate Isagoras.

As the Athenian democracy survived, you can probably guess that Cleomenes’ plans backfire on him.  Once the Peloponnesian League and his co-King Demaratus learned what he was up to, they walked out on him.  Cleomenes had cleverly planned to have Sparta, Thebes and Chalcis attack Athens from three sides, but once the Spartans left with Demaratus, the Athenians rallied and beat the Thebans and men of Chalcis in two separate battles.

What role will Eury play in all of this?  You’ll see.

Reunited with Miltiades

Hopefully I’m not giving away too much of the story  by saying Euryanax is forced to leave Sparta.  When Eury does, he returns young Cimon to his father Miltiades, who as we learned at the end of book 2 was returning to the Thracian Chersonese to reclaim his lands there.

Why did I introduce Miltiades in book 2?  Readers familiar with Greek history will recognize him as the key strategos of the Athenian forces at the famous Battle of Marathon.  If there is a book 4 in the series, it’ll cover Marathon, where Miltiades has his historic day in sun.

For purposes of book 3, Herodotus also records that Miltiades was involved in some adventures prior to Marathon.  He captured the islands of Lemnos, Imbros and Tenedos in the Aegean Sea, taking them away from the Persian Empire.  Miltiades also has a part to play in …

The Ionian Revolt

hoplite3The last thing I’ll say about book 3 is that the same way that Eury was reunited with Theokles during the Battle at Phalerum in book 2, his friend will reappear in time for the Ionian Revolt’s famous Battle of Lade.  There will be some surprises regarding Theo and his mistress Stesilaus, so I’ll close here before I give anyway any spoilers.

The important thing to know is that book 3 is begun and I am excited to be working on it.  Don’t want to promise a completion date as that just adds the pressure of a deadline.  Will only say that it took three years to write book 1 and two years to complete book 2.  It’ll take a few years to deliver the story to you, but for me, this is the fun part.  Just like you, I’m curious to see what happens next to our hero, Euryanax.

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The Story of a Mysterious Spartan Royal Son

A Little Known Son of Sparta

The main character in my book, The Wandering King, is a Spartan of the royal Agiad house named Euryanax. He also provides the name of the book, the first lines of which begin:

I am called Euryanax and I am a Spartan. In the Dorian tongue, ‘eury’ means wandering and ‘anax’ means king. The Wandering King. From my name comes my story.

Euryanax is based on a real person. He is briefly mentioned in Herodotus as the second-in-command of the allied Greek army at the decisive battle of Plataea which saw the defeat of the Persians and the end of the first great war between East and West.

Herodotus states in The History:

Pausanias chose as commander in addition to himself Euryanax the son of Dorieus, a man of the same house.

Herodotus mentions Euryanax again before the battle, but for the most part almost nothing is known about him other than he is the son of Dorieus, a member of the royal family, and he had an important leadership role at the historic battle of Plataea.

Euryanax’s Family: A Royal Mess

His father Dorieus was one of four sons of King Anaxandridas of Sparta, born in this order: Cleomenes, Dorieus, Leonidas and Kleombrotus. As Pausanias was the son of Kleombrotus, that made he and Euryanax cousins.

If Dorieus was older than Kleombrotus, how did Pausanias end up in the role of supreme commander and his cousin Euryanax as his second-in-command? As the more senior of the two cousins, why wasn’t Euryanax chosen by the Spartans to serve as ‘strategos’ at Plataea?

The laws of royal succession at Sparta are clear. The first in line, the heir to the throne, is the king’s first born son. If the king has no sons, the inheritance falls on his next oldest male relative.

Here’s where the succession among King Anaxandridas’ sons gets tricky. Early in Anaxandridas’ reign he was without children and as there were no other males in the Agiad house (which claimed descent from the mythical hero Herakles), the royal line was in danger of extinction. According to Herodotus, the Spartans thought Anaxandridas’ wife was barren, so the ephors, or overseers, who had power over the kings, demanded that Anaxandridas take a second wife to produce an heir.

Herodotus tells us Anaxandridas was happy with his first wife, so initially refused, but eventually succumbed to political pressure and ‘against all custom’ took a second wife who bore Cleomenes.

Here’s where the plot thickens. Shortly after Cleomenes’ birth, Anaxandridas’ first wife turns up pregnant and bears him three sons in a row: Dorieus, Leonidas and Kleombrotus. As Anaxandridas loved his first wife and was resentful at having been forced to take a second, it’s not hard to imagine that he probably favored Dorieus as his legitimate heir.

After King Anaxandridas’ death, Herodotus tells us:

Cleomenes, it is said, was not quite in his right mind, but on the verge of madness, while Dorieus was the first of all the Equals his age, and felt assured that he would obtain the kingdom by merit. However, when Anaxandridas died, the Spartans kept to the law and established the eldest, Cleomenes, upon the throne. Dorieus had imagined that he should be chosen and could not bear the thought of having such a man as Cleomenes rule over him, so he asked the Spartans to give him a body of men and left Sparta in order to found a colony without either inquiring of the oracle at Delphi to what land he should go to make a settlement, or doing any of the things which are usually done; but being vexed he sailed away with his ships to Libya.

Royal Sibling Rivalry

One of the oddities in Herodotus is his statement that Cleomenes was mad, which makes little sense as Herodotus reports a number of instances where Cleomenes acted quite brilliantly, such as trouncing Sparta’s chief Dorian rival in the Peloponnese, the Argives, at the battle of Sepeia (494 BC). Cleomenes beat them so soundly Argos would not be a factor in Greek politics for a generation. Historians think Herodotus’ comment about Cleomenes was the product of gathering the details for The History from sources unfriendly to Cleomenes, of which there were probably many.

Another interesting thing about the snippet from Herodotus above is Dorieus’ behavior. He stormed off to build his own city in Libya without ‘doing any of the things which are usually done’ like consulting the oracle. Dorieus either did not share the superstitions of his fellow Spartans or he was an impulsive fool. Considering what happens to him on his adventures, I prefer to believe the former. We also learn that Dorieus was ‘first’ of all the men his age, which considering the amount of training the Spartans went through as Greece’s only professional soldiers, we are given the portrait of a hot-headed, practical man with great combat skills.

While Cleomenes is on the throne, Dorieus spends years fighting overseas in Libya, Italy and Sicily, possibly winning one of the greatest battles of his age at Sybaris in Italy (511 BC), where his forces may have been outnumbered by as many as 8 to 1. Eventually Dorieus dies in Sicily (510 BC) in a battle against Persia’s allies Phoenicia and Carthage.

Cleomenes rules for thirty years (520 BC – 490 BC) leaving behind a daughter named Gorgo, but no sons. On Cleomenes’ death therefore the kingship falls to his next oldest male relative, his brother Leonidas. As Herodotus states Leonidas and Kleombrotus may have been twins, why was Leonidas chosen over Kleombrotus? More than likely it was because Leonidas married his niece Gorgo, giving him a better claim to the throne than his twin brother.

Leonidas dies fighting at Thermopylae (480 B.C.) leaving his son Pleistarchus as his heir, but as his son was just a child at the time of Plataea (479 B.C.), command of the army should have fallen to the last of Anaxandridas’ four sons, Kleombrotus, but Herodotus tells us Leonidas’ twin dies only months after him of unknown causes. With the male line of the Agiad house dwindling and their choices limited, the Spartans select Kleombrotus’ son Pausanias as regent till Pleistarchus comes of age.

Royal Cousins: Pausanias and Euryanax

Which meant Pausanias would lead the allied Greek army against Persia at Plataea. Why Pausanias? Dorieus’ son would have been more senior. Why wasn’t Euryanax selected?

As Dorieus was never king at Sparta, some historians postulate that his heirs were therefore excluded from the royal line of succession. One historian, Heinrich Stein, suggests that Dorieus may have forfeited his family’s rights to the succession by leaving Sparta, which could be further explained by Euryanax’s being overseas and failing to complete the Spartan educational system called the agoge. Stein says, perhaps Euryanax, for reasons unknown, simply surrendered his right to the throne.

Historian Reginald Walter Macan states,

Strange the jealous traditions which… make so little of the Herakleid captain Euryanax associated with Pausanias in the supreme command. Such an arrangement was not an infrequent device in Sparta for reinforcing or controlling the probable shortcomings of a youthful commander placed by conservative custom in a position which was likely to prove to be too much for him. Had we merely to choose between the probable merits of Pausanias and Euryanax, we might be sorely tempted to invest the older Herakleid with the laurels of Plataea; nor would the discreet and ungenerous silence in Sparta be difficult to explain, even if the disappearance of Euryanax from the scene were to suggest a domestic tragedy. But the transcendent abilities of Euryanax, son of Dorieus, are after all an unknown quantity, even if his association in the supreme command is pro tanto in his favor.

Macan’s comments are colored by the fact that after Plataea, Pausanias did not fare well as the allied commander. He was accused of taking bribes from the Persians, accidently killed the woman he loved and seems to have gone a bit mad himself. Ultimately Pausanias died by walling himself up inside one of Sparta’s temples where he starved himself to death rather than being put on trial for treason.

So it’s easy to see why Macan would prefer an unknown quantity like Euryanax, the son of a fighting general, over a man who was consorting with the enemy.

Considerations

In this post, you’ve read all the background material I have on my main character Euryanax. It may not seem like a lot, but what I do have I find fascinating. Here is a man who but for a few twists of fate, might have been King of Sparta instead of his famous uncle Leonidas.

Something happened to Euryanax for him to lose his position in the line of royal succession. What? The possibilities are tantalizing. Conversely his years fighting Persia’s allies Phoenicia and Carthage with his father Dorieus must have made the Spartans realize he was the most experienced military commander they had, so they placed him in second-in-command to help counter balance Pausanias’ inexperience and possible incompetence. The Spartans snubbed him by not making him supreme commander, yet they included him in the command structure in a position of importance where he could help ensure the allied Greek army was victorious.

Factor in too, the meaning of Euryanax’s name, the ‘wandering king.’ Why was he given that name? Did his father Dorieus expect to set himself up as a king in Libya or Sicily and reasoned that one day his son would follow him as king? Or did his father’s men dub him with the nickname Euryanax because they spent years wandering all over the Mediterranean and they considered him and his father kings without a throne?

Could there have been elements within Sparta that believed that if the ephors had not meddled in Anaxandridas’ affairs, Cleomenes would have never been born and Dorieus would have been king and Euryanax his heir? If Cleomenes was deemed mad, isn’t it possible that some of the Spartans on the home front hoped that the son of Dorieus would one day return home and claim his throne?

For the answers to these questions, you’ll have to read the book. Stay tuned. When The Wandering King goes up on Amazon I’m going to offer it for free for five days. Those faithful readers who have been following my blog will get a chance to read Euryanax’s story with my compliments.

Why the Fascination with Ancient Greece?

When I was twelve years old I was flipping through our family’s Golden Encyclopedia when I found an entry for the Trojan War.  Beneath it was a captivating illustration of two warriors doing battle with shield and spear.  The caption read, “The heroes Achilles and Hector dueling before the walls of Troy.”  Sadly, the accompanying article said nothing about the outcome of their fight.  So I took that volume to school, showed the picture to our librarian and asked, “Who won?”

She took me to the 880 section of the library and pulled an old book down from the shelves.  She handed me a copy of Homer’s Iliad and as librarians must be trained to do, she said, “You’ll have to read the book to find out.”  I did, and when the anger of Achilles slew the family man Hector, I cried.  Never before had a book had such a profound effect on me.  I daresay it changed my life.  The Iliad led to the Odyssey, then Virgil’s Aeneid and eventually in college to Herodotus’ The History, which provides the framework for The Wandering King.

My main character Euryanax meets Herodotus in the book and I have some fun poking fun at ‘The Father of History,’ which comes out of some of the gross inaccuracies in The History noted by modern historians.  For instance, Herodotus places Xerxes’ Persian army at over a million soldiers.  Historians say it would have been impossible to feed that large a force and tend to agree it was more along the lines of 250,000 men.  Too, Herodotus mentions things like flying snakes and giant ants that dig up gold, which probably come from folklore rather than actual, historical events.

Though I have some fun at his expense, without Herodotus, we wouldn’t know about the existence of Leonidas and Euryanax or the events in my story, so my debt to him is great.

The idea for The Wandering King story grew out of reading Herodotus and a book by the now deceased author Richard Powell, who wrote a wonderful novel about the Trojan War epic entitled, Whom the Gods Would Destroy.  As a 17-year old it was my favorite book of all time and is still at the top of my list.  If I manage to give a reader the experience Powell gave to me, I will have succeeded in my task.  If the opening line of The Wandering King sounds familiar to fans of Whom the Gods, it is my homage to Powell’s brilliant novel.

For the record, the word ‘Greek’ is never used in my book as it is the European word for the Hellenic people.  Originally the name ‘Graeki’ was given by the ancient Italians to the first Hellene colonists in Italy as they came from a village called Graia.  Afterwards the Italians called all Hellenes, Graeki or Greeks, which worked its way into Western tradition.  While most of the world considers them Greeks, the people of Hellas to this day call themselves Hellenes. For purposes of the book, the characters consider themselves Dorians, Ionians, Achaeans, etc, as that is the way they thought of themselves.  When I refer to them as a collective group, I use the word Hellene, as it is in keeping with their national identity.

The ‘Triumph of Achilles’ by Franz Matsch (1892)

Why Blog?

Because I want to share my experience in writing a novel about ancient Sparta.

Why a book about ancient Spartiates, men known in their own language as homoioi or Equals?  Didn’t we see enough of their ripped abs in the movie 300?  Well, if you’ve read anything about the real Spartans, you know they didn’t look anything like the Hollywood version.  One of the reasons they kicked Xerxes’ ass at Thermopylae is because they were the only professional heavily armored infantry of the time, sort of the knights on steriods of their age.  The homoioi didn’t run around bare-chested, they wore a bronze, iron, leather or boiled linen cuirass to protect them from getting skewered.

The thing is, if you thought 300 was a good movie, you’ve only heard half of the story.  The real plot is much better than the video.  The tale of Thermopylae comes from ‘The Father of History,’ Herodotus, and although the movie does contain a few accurate scenes, unfortunately the really juicy facts in the original have never gotten any press.

For instance, Leonidas.  He didn’t look a thing like Gerard Butler.  Hardly.  Historians think Leonidas was probably around 65 years old when Xerxes and the Persians gunned him down in the pass.  Even the 1962 movie, The 300 Spartans, used a young Richard Egan in the role of King Leonidas. The story plays better that way.  We want to believe that a brave, young hero sacrificed his life and the lives of his men for lofty ideals like freedom, but if you really knew the truth, Leonidas may have decided to stay and die at Thermopylae for other reasons.  What reasons?  Well, because if he’d returned home to Sparta he might have been put on trial for murder. The murder of his own brother Cleomenes, whose death made Leonidas king.

Do you remember Leonidas’ wife Gorgo in the movie? Hollywood left out the fact that she was Cleomenes’ daughter, or rather, Leonidas’ niece. Marrying Gorgo cemented Leonidas’ claim to the throne. Why might Leonidas have to take such a firm hold on the royal scepter? Well, because his twin brother Kleombrotus probably thought he deserved to be king too. What, you didn’t know Leonidas had a twin? Oh yeah, I guess the movie left that part out. Ah well, what do you want, you can’t exactly jam Herodotus’ 700 page book into a 2-hour digital effects swords ‘n sandals extravaganza.

The best part of 300, and it came straight from the pages of Herodotus, is when Xerxes demanded Leonidas lay down his weapons. Leonidas replied, “Molon la’be!” or “Come and take them!” That part was real. The stuff about the rhino’s charging the Spartan lines, Xerxes wearing nose rings and the Persian Immortals dressing like ninja turtles, well, those parts came out of Frank Miller’s comic book.

Herodotus’ story, or at least my version of it, centers around King Anaxandridas’s four sons, the royal princes: Cleomenes, Dorieus, Leonidas and Kleombrotus, each of whom fought with Shakespearean zeal over the kingship.

Stop back.  More to come.

Possibly a bust of King Leonidas, located in the musuem at Sparta.