Rise of an Empire

I saw a trailer today for a sequel to 300.

To be honest; it looks lame.

One thought I did have though, relates to the title:  ‘Rise of an Empire’.  It seems to me that this would be a great title for a film about Athens, telling the history of the Delian league.

Starting in the aftermath of the Battle of Plataea it could tell of the formation of the league, the early successes, the refusal of Athens to let people leave, the wars to oppress their allies, the harsh terms placed on their allies.In effect, the transformation of the league into the Athenian empire.

Clearly it would be more political and less of an action movie, but I think it could be a great film, or even a great mini-series, which spans three generations of Athenians.

If anyone is feeling inspired, then why not take on such a project?


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.


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: http://www.penultimateharn.com/history/medievalfarmingyear.html

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 : http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_farming.htm

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.

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.


Alexander the not-as-great-as-his-dad

A question on whether Alexander deserved the title of Alexander the Great prompted me to reply that in my mind there was no doubt that he fully deserved the title of Alexander the third.

Alexander tends to get a lot of attention from people who don’t know much about classical warfare, but amongst people who have studied his campaigns at a post-graduate level, I have yet to meet anyone who thinks that Alexander was as good a king or commander as his father Philip.

The trouble is that Alexander was a self absorbed egomaniac who only cared about his own glory and did not consider the welfare of his troops or his country.

Josephus: Confessions of an evil tyrant

It is often said that history is written by the winners.  Josephus, who wrote the history of the Jewish war, is perhaps the most striking exception.  As the high priest of Galilee Josephus led an army to war against the Romans and commanded the defence of Jotapata.  He lost, he surrendered to Vespasian, he served Vespasian and he wrote a history of the events involved in the war.

My natural expectation was that Josephus would try to present himself in a good light and whilst he praises his own ability he describes the most deplorable actions which he himself took.  He lied, stole, cheated, decieved, tortured and murdered and boasted about how clever he was for doing it, and these are only the things which he admits to is his history.

When a large mob, many of whom were from Taricheae, were stirred up against Josephus, accusing him of using the ill gotten gains of the people of Dabaritta for his own ends he claimed to have deluded them by saying that he had intended to spend it for the benefit of the town of Taricheae, thus splitting the mob into two factions and turning them against each other.

When a mob of 2,000 men descended on his house he claimed to be unable to understand what their demands were because of the confused noise of the crowd and promised that if they sent him some spokesmen he would comply with their demands.  The spokesmen, on entering his house, were captured whipped until every one of their inner parts was showing and then cast out from the house, to terrify the crowd.

Since he maintained his power through fear and lies it is hardly surprising that his forces deserted him as soon as the Roman legions appeared.  During the siege of Jotapata he tried to make plans to flee and save himself, but the populace refused to allow him to abandon them and did not believe his claim that by leaving he would draw off the Romans and raise an army to lift the siege.

When at last the city fell and his hiding place was located the men with him wanted to die rather than surrender and would not allow him to betray them by surrendering to the Romans.  He talked them into drawing lots to take turns killing each other, because of the need to cut off their hands if they were to commit suicide, and somehow arranged to be one of the last two allive, at which point he ran away and surrendered to the Romans.

Without doubt Josephus was an extremely evil, manipulative, cowardly tyrant and it is through his eyes that we get the most detailed insight into the Biblical lands in the years after Jesus, outside of the New testament.