Romulus and Cyrus: A tale of two bitches.

You have probably heard the story of Romulus and Remus.

Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of Rhea Silvia, daughter to Numitor king of Alba Longa. Before their conception, Numitor’s brother Amulius seizes power, kills Numitor’s male heirs and forces Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, sworn to chastity. Rhea Silvia conceives the twins by the god Mars (Although other versions suggest it was by the demi-god Hercules). Once the twins were born, Amulius has them abandoned to die in the river Tiber. They are saved by a series of miraculous interventions: the river carries them to safety, a she-wolf finds and sucklest hem. A shepherd and his wife find them and foster them to manhood, as simple shepherds. The twins, still ignorant of their true origins, prove to be natural leaders. Each acquires many followers. When they discover the truth of their birth, they kill Amulius and restore Numitor to his throne. Rather than wait to inherit Alba Longa, they choose to found a new city.

Interestingly the word Lupa, meaning she-wolf, is also a Roman slang for a prostitute.  Livy mentions this, saying that some believe they were raised by a prostitute, possibly the shepherd’s wife.  It is a well known myth and one that is inherently Roman

Yet Herodotus, in book one, tells a similar story of Cyrus.  His grandfather had a dream foretelling that he was going to take over his kingdom and decided to have the baby Cyrus killed.  A herdsman was ordered to take the baby out and expose it on a remote hilltop to die.  His wife Spaco (which means bitch in Medean) had just lost her baby and so they decided to raise the child Cyrus as their own son and leave their stillborn baby on the hilltop, so that they could pretend that it’s corpse was Cyrus’

When Cyrus was 10 he came to the attention of his grandfather, who decided that the boy was no longer a threat to his kingdom and allowed him to be reunited with his parents.  They decided to spread the story that he was found on the mountain by a bitch, which has suckled him and raised him in the wild (which was sort of true).

This seems to be borrowing directly from the myth of Romulus and Remus, and it appears that several heroic myths were being adopted by Cyrus, to add mystique to his reign.  However, the myth of Romulus and Remus is not that old.  Herodotus was writing in the mid 5th century BC about events in the 6th century BC.  The character of Remus did not exist in the Roman origin myths until some time in the 4th century BC.

Since Remus was not part of the initial myth, let us look at them again.  Both children were of royal birth, exposed to die, suckled by a human “bitch” and raised by shepherds.

It was in the early 4th century that the Romans first started recording their historical myths and legends.  The character of Romulus was mentioned in earlier art and inscriptions, but Remus was invented around this time to help endorse the idea that Rome should have two leaders, the two consuls.  If the myth was being extensively rewritten around this time, how much of it existed before Cyrus’ reign?  Was Cyrus borrowing the myths of Romulus, the founder of a pretty insignificant tribe that had achieved nothing of any significance, or were the Romans borrowing the myths surrounding the ruler of one of the greatest empires to have ever existed?

It think it seems more likely that Romulus’ origin was copied from Cyrus.  The Roman she wolf was really a Persian bitch.


about the enemy

Bogdan shifted nervously from foot to foot, feeling the cold faceless gaze of the armored women flanking the door.  He didn’t like being summoned to talk to the High priestess.  She could be quite capricious, given to the sort of sudden violent outbursts for which priestesses of the goddess of storms were famed.  Bogdan hadn’t served her for long and could not read her moods.  Whenever she wanted to discuss matters in private he had come to expect the worst.

“Send him in.” came Hicran’s voice from beyond the door.

The two armoured women, members of the fearsome Thunder Guard, shifted their stance, raising their tridents from their crossed position in front of the doors and bringing them vertical.

“Enter.” One of them said.  Her voice was surprisingly feminine and quite at odds with the heavy armour and the monstrous visage in which shape the face plate of her helm had been grafted.

Bogdan turned the handle of the door and stepped into the high priestess’ office.  Hicran was seated at her desk.  Several scrolls were laid out in front of her.  The top one seemed to be a map of the Vale of Glas.  She didn’t move to acknowledge him, but continued to look at the map.

She was very young for a high priestess; still under 30.  Her long red hair was tied back in a pony tail.  She was slim and shapely, but with a very full bosom.  Her face was beautiful, although the word handsome somehow seemed more appropriate for her aquiline features.  She wore a simple while gown, rather than elaborate ceremonial robes, but one of pure silk which showed her figure off to good effect.  Bogdan realised that he had been staring at her cleavage when she raised her head and looked at him with her piercing green eyes.  Hicran bridged her fingers and looked thoughtful.

“Tell me about the Glasians.” She said.

“Maam!” Bogdan came smartle to attention before giving his answer. “The main pass through the mountains is guarded by a garrison of thirty men at the fort of Riben.  Our latest intelligence reports suggest that the enemy numbers…”

“No.” Hicran cut him of, dismissing his report with an offhand wave. “Tell me about the people.  I want to understand them better.”

“Oh… erm.  Well, they’re quite insular.”  He began, a bit unsure where to start. “The respect all the major gods, but their main patron deities are the earth goddess, Gaia, and the War god, Mars.  They are patriarchal…”

Hicran gave a contemptuous snort at the word ‘patriarchal’.  Bogdan paused to allow her to comment, but when no comment was forthcoming he continued.

“Yes.  erm.  Any wealth they have belongs to the male head of the family.  Women don’t have any political rights.  They can’t vote or hold office, except as clerics of Gaia.  Their marriage customs are quite unusual.  Different from the rest of the Golden Empire.”

Hicran lent forward, seeing interested in what he had to say, which made Bogdan feel a bit more relaxed.  He continued talking, getting enthusiastic as he went along.

“It is traditional in the valley for women to get married on the festival of furrows.  It is the most important holy day for followers of Gaia, during which the furrows are blessed to make them fertile, in preparation for the sewing of their crops.  It is thought by the Glasians that a marriage made on this day would also be blessed by Gaia and that their seeds would also be blessed when they… plough their furrows, as it where…”

Hicran gave a disapproving look at the coarse innuendo and then sighted, but gave no indication that Bogdan should stop.

“The women of marriagable age gather in the town or village square and the men bid on them in auction.”

“They auction their women?” Hicran said, apalled at the hipocracy of the act.

“Well, yes.  But not as slaves.  As wives.  The Glasian marriage laws put a lot of responsibility on a husband, but make divorce quite easy for any woman who wants it.  The amount that they pay for their wife is seen as a mark of respect to the wife and is used as part of their welfare system.”  He was a bit flustered, concerned that he had offended the high priestess.

“Go on.” Hicran told him, “Tell me more of these barbaric customs.”

“Well, they start with the prettiest of the girls.  The men bid on how much they are willing to pay to have her as their wife.  Half the money is given to the family of the bride and the other half goes to welfare fund.  They then continue with the next prettiest girl, and so on.  When they get to the ugly girls, or the crippled ones that nobody would want to marry they offer them up as brides to whoever is willing to accept the least money in order to take the woman as a bride.  The money raised by those paying to marry the attractive women is used to pay for people to take the others as brides.  In this way every woman is married off and finds a husband.”

“Hmmm…” Hicran seemed to be thinking about what she had heard, but Bogdan couldn’t tell whether she thought that the Glasian custom was a good thing or a bad thing.

“As I said before.  Divorce is quite easy.  If a woman wishes to leave her husband she need only petition a priestess of Gaia and tell her in what way her husband has failed in his duties as a husband.  If the priestess thinks she has good reason to leave her husband and that she is telling the truth, then she is free to leave.  If the husband is found to have been deliberately cruel in his treatment of her, then she also gets half his wealth.  It does sometimes make it harder for her to find such a good price from a husband, and so she is unlikely to get such a high status marriage, but she has no reason to stay with an abusive husband.  Also a woman has the right to refuse to marry whoever bid highest for her, but in that case she is not allowed to marry at all that year.  She can’t just reject potential suitors until she gets to the one she wants.  It is the mans choice; not the woman’s.”

“I forgot to say; a single divorced or widowed woman can own money, but as soon as she marries her money goes to her next husband.  Divorced women are allowed to marry outside of the festival of furrows.  I think this is so that they aren’t left without anyone to provide for them, but it also allows them the freedom to arrange their own marriages to whoever they want.  Now, should a man want a divorce then he has to either prove that his wife has been unfaithful or else he has to give half of his wealth to his wife.  If his wife has been unfaithful the husband also has the legal right to kill her lover, so women aren’t going to try to get divorced in order to be with a lover.  There isn’t any law that allows a man to divorce an overbearing and bullying wife, without her getting a share of his wealth, but as the law gives complete power over a woman’s welfare to her husband, a man is allowed to discipline and punish a wife in whatever way he sees fit.  Her only recourse is to either win her husband over, change her ways or file for divorce.”

“Sounds barbaric.” said Hicran in disgust.

“It’s… different.” replied Bogdan, a bit defensively.  “They also have quite an interesting welfare system.”

“Go on.”

“Well, they have a system in place to ensure that everybody in the country can have a job. If you don’t have a trade or land to support yourself you are guaranteed work doing something.  It’s not usually very well paid, but everyone is given work.”

“How does that work?” Hicran asked, puzzled by how such a thing could be possible.  She had heard that some countries had welfare systems, but other than temples taking in widows she had never been in a country which had some form of public welfare system.  There were always people out of work and it seemed impossible to guarantee everyone work.

“The army hire a lot of the more able bodied ones.  Then the royal estates employ a lot of paid laborers.  If you want to register for work you simply tell an overseer what skills you have and what you are capable of.  You then get given paid work doing whatever you can.  If you don’t have any useful skills they have training farms where people are taught how to become farmers.  You get food, accommodation and a small salary whilst working there for a single year.”

“How do they make sure they work?  Surely there must be shirkers?”

“Oh, probably.  The royal estates also have a lot of slaves on them.  No distinction is made between paid employees and slaves.  You work like a slave and get treated like a slave.  Most people stay just long enough to earn enough to get them started in their own business or until they can find someone else willing to hire them.  The shirkers get flogged and beaten, just the same as lazy slaves.  It is not intended to be a handout.  It is intended as a last resort, so that nobody needs to starve.  since everyone is expected to be able to get work or somehow support themselves, they have some pretty harsh vagrancy laws.  They also brand the farming school graduates at the end of the year, so that nobody tries to go through that system twice.”

“And the cripples?  What happens if you aren’t able to work?”

“If you are born crippled it is up to your parents whether they want to raise you.  If you can’t find work they continue to be responsible for your welfare.  I think the idea is that if they want to raise someone completely useless then it is their fault and should never be a burden to the state.  If a person is crippled whilst working for an employer then it is the responsibility of their employer to find work that they can do as a cripple.  The army has a lot of crippled ex-soldiers working in stores and training recruits.  If a free person is crippled but has no employer and is below the 500 Li tax bracket then the state will pay for a slave to be given to them, to look after all their needs and work for them.”

“That does seem quite… considerate.” Hicran spoke slowly, puzzled by what she had heard. “I thought these people were meant to be evil.  Wasn’t Cassander some terrible tyrant?”

“Erm… yes maam.  Some of their customs may seem nice but it is all quite self serving.  It is easier to put people in work than to deal with lots of thieves and bandits.  It also increases productivity.  The Dragon blood kings really only ultimately care about their kingdoms wealth.  Cassander taxed the people heavily and made them suffer.  If people can’t pay their taxes the Glasian practice was to exempt them for taxes for that year, but at a price.  The early kings were quite kind to their people, wanting them to be loyal to the throne.  Outside of the vale they taxed their subjects through the nose.”

“Ah, yes.”  Said Hicran, “I’ve seen the poor devils in the streets.”

“Yes.  Outside of the valley, if you failed to pay your taxes then you were given tax exemption for the year, to allow you to be able to keep your farm running and hopefully build up the needed wealth by the next year, but they would cut off your nose as punishment for the lost taxes.  If you failed to pay on the second year, then your wife and children were sold into slavery to cover your debts.  If you were not married, then everything you own was taken and you would be enslaved.  Cassander raised the taxes higher than most people could afford and after mutilating his subjects for their poverty he bought the more attractive wives and daughters for his harem.”

“Inside the Vale of Glas people were still given the one year tax exemption, but did not usually have their noses cut off.  Cassander was the first to extend the practice to there.”

“And the harem?”

“Oh, that has been going on a long time.  Most of the Dragon blood kings had large harems.  By tradition the king has to be chosen from the closest male relatives to the last king, so it was considered a royal obligation to have a lot of children.  A king might name a preferred successor, but it was up to the council of nobles to choose who should rule them as king.  In theory it makes it more likely that they will have a competent ruler.  When the concubines get older the kings would usually arrange marriages for them to some of his loyal followers.  The more he liked his concubine, the higher status marriage he would arrange for her.  Usually there were financial incentives.  It’s because of this that there are so man sorcerors in the Vale of Glas.  The royal dragon bloodline is virtually everywhere.”

“Cassander was famed for the cruelty with which he treated his concubines.  When he was bored of them he usually had them fight to the death in gladiatorial exhibitions in order to earn their freedom.  The performances were perverse, often involving the women fighting convicted murderers and rapists and being brutally raped before being killed.  Brutality, murder and rape was encouraged in his solders.  He treated the army well, using it to oppress the rest of the kingdom.”

“And now that he has gone?  Are you telling me that the Glasians are really not such a bad bunch and that they were just led astray by a cruel tyrant?”  There was a cruel, cold edge to her voice.  She leant forward and her arms seemed to tense.

“Not at all.  Cassander was a monster,” said Bogdan quickly, keen to try to appease her notorious temper, “but he surrounded himself with monsters and psychopaths.  Anyone who opposed him was either framed and executed or assassinated.  The country has been ruled by the most evil of men for about a generation now.  You can be certain that everyone in a position of authority is going to be ruthless and self serving.  The nation has been filled with evil for too long for it not to have influenced people at every level.  You can be sure that the new king of Glas and his advisers are also evil men.  The common folk haven’t been suffering for as long or as badly as in other parts of the Golden Empire, so I’m not sure if we can expect the same popular uprisings, but I doubt they will have any great love for their kings.”

Hicran sat back in her seat, her body no longer as tense.  The threatened storm seemed to have died down without coming to pass.

“Leave me.” she told him, “I have much to think about.”

Bogdan gladly turned and left her room, pleased that the meeting had gone so calmly.


The following story comes from Herodotus. 3.153-8.

A year and seven months went by, and Darius and his army began to chafe at their inability to make any progress towards taking the city. Every trick of strategy, every possible device, had been tried; but to no purpose. The town could not be taken, not even when Darius, after all else had failed, attempted to repeat the method which Cyrus had previously used with success. The Babylonians were always on the watch with extraordinary vigilance, and gave the enemy no chance.

At last in the twentieth month of the siege, a marvelous thing; happened  to Zopyrus, son of the Megabyzus who was one of the seven conspirators who killed the Magus: one of his sumpter-mules foaled. When Zopyrus was told of this, he refused to believe it till he had seen the foal with his own eyes; then, forbidding the others who had seen it to say a word to anyone of what had occurred, he began to think hard, and came to the conclusion that the time had come when Babylon could be taken -for had not that Babylonian, at the beginning of the siege, said that the city would fall when mules foaled? That the man should have used the phrase, and that the miracle should actually have happened – surely that meant that the hand of God was in it.

Convinced, therefore, that Babylon was now doomed to destruction, he went to Darius and asked him if the capture of the city was really of supreme importance to him, and, on being told that it was, set himself to devise a way of bringing it about by his own sole act and initiative; for in Persia any special service to the king is very highly valued. Accordingly he passed in review every scheme he could think of, and finally decided that there was one way only in which he could bring the place under, namely by maiming himself and then going over to the enemy as a deserter. Taking this dreadful expedient as a mere matter of course, he at once put it into practice, and there were no half-measures in the way he set about it: he cut off his nose and ears [3], shaved his hair like a criminal’s, raised weals on his body with a whip, and in this condition presented himself to Darius.

Darius was shocked at the sight of a man of Zopyrus’ eminence so fearfully mutilated, and springing from his chair with an exclamation of horror, asked who it was that had inflicted this punishment upon him, and what Zopyrus had done to deserve it. ‘My lord,’ Zopyrus answered, there is no one but yourself who has power enough to reduce me to this condition. The hands that disfigured me were none other than my own, for I could not bear to heat the Assyrians of Babylon laugh the Persians to scorn.’

‘You speak like a madman;’ said Darius; to say you did this horrible thing because of our enemies in the beleaguered city, is merely to cloak a shameful act in fine words. Are you fool enough to think that the mutilation of your body can hasten our victory?’ When you did that to yourself; you must have taken leave of your senses.’

‘Had I told you of my intention,’ Zopyrus answered, ‘you would not have allowed me to proceed. So I acted upon my own initiative. And now -if you too will play your part – we will capture Babylon. I will go as I am to the city walls, pretending to be a deserter, and I will tell them that it was you who caused my misery. They will believe me readily enough – and they will put their troops under my command. Now for your part: wait till the tenth day after I enter the town, and then station by the gates of Semiramis a detachment of a thousand men, whose loss will not worry you. Then, seven days later, send 2000 more to the Nineveh gates and, twenty days after that, another 4000 to the Chaldaean gates. None of these three detachments must be armed with anything but their daggers – let them carry daggers only. And then, after a further interval of twenty days, order a general assault upon the city walls from every direction, taking care that our own Persian troops have the sectors opposite the Belian and Cissian gates.[4] It is my belief that the Babylonians, when they see that I have done them good service, will increase my responsibility – even to trusting me with the keys of the gates. And after that – I and our Persians will see what must be done.’

Having given these directions to the king, Zopyrus fled towards the gates of Babylon, glancing over his shoulder as he ran, like a deserter in fear of pursuit. When the soldiers on watch saw him, they hurried down from the battlements, and opening one of the gates just a crack, asked him his name and business. Saying he was Zopyrus and had deserted from the Persian army, he was let in, and conducted by the sentries to the magistrates. Here he poured out his tale of woe, pretending that the injuries he had done to himself had been inflicted upon him by Darius, and all because he had advised him to abandon the siege, as there appeared to be no means of ever bringing it to a successful conclusion. ‘And now,’ he added, ‘here I am, men of Babylon; and my coming will be gain to you, but loss – and that the severest – to Darius and his army. He little knows me if he thinks he can get away with the foul things he has done me – moreover, I know all the ins and outs of his plans,’

The Babylonians, seeing a Persian of high rank and distinction in such a state – his nose and ears cut off and his body a mess of blood from the lash of whips – were quick to believe that he spoke the truth and had really come to offer them his services, and in this belief were prepared to give him whatever he asked. At once he asked for the command of some troops, and, when the request was granted, proceeded to put into practice the plan he had arranged with Darius. The tenth day after his arrival he marched his force out of the city, and surrounded and killed the first detachment of a thousand men which he had instructed Darius to send. This was enough to show the Babylonians that his deeds were as good as his words; they were in high glee and ready to put themselves under his orders in anything he might propose. After waiting, therefore, the agreed number of days, he picked another party from the troops in the city, marched out, and made mincemeat of the two thousand Persians which Darius had posted by the Nineveh gates. As a result of this second service, the reputation of Zopyrus went up with a jump and his name was on everybody’s lips. The same thing happened with the four thousand – once more after the agreed interval, he marched his men out through the Chaldaean gates, surrounded the Persians there, and cut them down to a man. This was his crowning success; Zopyrus was now the one and only soldier in Babylon, the city’s hero, and was created General in Chief and Guardian of the Wall.

And now Darius did not fail to do his part: as had been agreed, he ordered a general assault upon the walls from every direction which was the signal for Zopyrus to reveal the full extent of his cunning. Waiting till the Babylonian forces had mounted the battlements to repel Darius’ onslaught, he opened the Cissian and Belian gates and let the Persians in. Those of the Babylonians who were near enough to see what had happened, fled to the temple of Bêl[5]; the rest remained at their posts until they, too, realized that they had been betrayed.

Thus Babylon was captured for the second time, and Darius after his victory – unlike Cyrus, its previous conqueror – destroyed its
defenses, pulled down all the city gates, and impaled the leading citizens to the number of about three thousand. The rest he allowed to remain in their homes. I mentioned at the beginning of my account how the Babylonians strangled their women to save food, and it was in consequence of this that Darius, in order to prevent the race from dying out, compelled the neighboring peoples each to send a certain stated number of women to Babylon. In all, as many as fifty thousand were collected there. It’s from these that the present inhabitants descend.

In the judgment of Darius no Persian surpassed Zopyrus, either before his time or after, as a benefactor of his country, except only Cyrus – with whom nobody in Persia has ever dreamt of comparing himself. We are told that Darius often said that he would rather have Zopyrus without his frightful wounds than twenty more Babylons. He rewarded him with the highest honors, giving him every year the sort of gifts which are most prized amongst the Persians, and, amongst much else, the governorship of Babylon [6], free from tax, for as long as he lived.

I recounted this story here because I intend to use the same idea in my story.  After all, in a setting in which people can be healed by magic and missing body parts regenerated, who shouldn’t someone do this.  However, I intend to make the mutilation more serious and to find a way to deal with their ability to detect lies my magic.

Wheat harvest, wine harvest, war.

There was a traditional Greek saying which I remember reading, which translated as “Wheat harvest, wine harvest, war.”

The idea was that in an agrarian society warfare was often seasonal.  In Greece the summer was too hot and the warfare was mostly in the winter and spring, starting just after the wine harvest.

In order to give the calendar for my fantasy setting an interesting and agrarian feel I intend to give each month a name based on what should be done within that month.

Thus there is the wine harvest month, but also a wheat sewing month, a livestock slaughtering month etc.  I will note down a vague timeline of seasonal activities here and then decide which activity the month should be named after.

a useful link is here:

By Thys Fyre

I first encountered this poem on the blog above. It seems to be an anonymous English poem of the 14th or 15th century (Raymond Oliver, Poems without names: the English Lyric 1200-1500).

Januar: By thys fyre I warme my handys

Februar: And with my spade I delfe my landys

Marche: Here I sette my thynge to sprynge

Aprile: And here I here the fowlis synge

Maii: I am as lught as burdie in bowe

Junii: And I wede my corn well mow

Julii: With my sythe my mede I mowe

Auguste: And here I shere my corne full lowe

September: And with my flaylle I erne my brede

October: And here I sawe my whete so rede

November: At Martynesmasse I kylle my syne

December: And at Chritemasse I drynke redde wyne

another useful link is here :

January: the hedge moon

Febuary: The manure moon

March: Birthing moon

April: plough moon

May: the harrow moon

June: Haymaking moon

July: Possibly the war moon.

August: Harvest moon

September: Threshing moon

October: Wine moon

November: Blood moon (slaughter of livestock)

December: The feasing moon

13th month: The hidden moon.

They use a lunar callendar of 13 months, each 28 days long, so that any illiterate can easily tell when it is in the year.  This gives 364 days in the year.

Every generation, 22 years, there is an extra month, called the passing of the age.  This month follows after the war month and helps to bring the callendar in line with the seasons of the lunar cycle.  This is not a perfect correction, but the system has not been in place for long enough for it to cause any great problem.

Dark Lords setting

The Vale of Glas is a temperate region.  The Glas river flows through the region, opening into a wide, shallow valley.  The valley floods every year.  The towns are either raised on stilts, or settled in the foothills of the surrounding mountains.  Because of its geographic isolation, it was easy for whoever controlled the region to hold it against outside invasion.  The main economy comes from fishing, rice farming and goats (in the hills).  The area has an unusual geology, which causes sheer rock cliffs to rise up out of the flat valley (much like the Guilin region of China)


Guilin 2HK-L-361

On one of those isolated peaks a fortress was carved into the rock.  It is known as The Wyrm’s Head and was the stronghold of the Dragonblood Throne.

For centuries the region was ruled by a family of warrior sorcerors, allegedly descended from a golden dragon.  Because many of the kings have taken servants to their beds the region has an unusually high number of people with the potential to be sorcerors.  By tradition the king should be the son with the best potential as a sorceror, so as to keep the bloodline strong.

Italians in the Roman Republic

A friend of mine put together this database, listing all known Italians in the Roman Republic and saying where they lived.  It allows searches of names, to show the distribution of families and is all fully referenced.  I think it is a great research tool.