Kings and Tyrants
Dr Duane March
For the entire book in chapters, see the menu to the right of this blog.
Kings and Tvrants is the first book of a planned, multi-volume historical novel (Empire of the Medes) telling the story of ancient Greece, culminating in its epochal confrontation with the Persian Empire, which the Greeks - against all odds - won.
This novel series covers a number of dramatic events and persons which leading historical novelists - including Mary Renault, Steven Pressfield, Colleen McCullough, etc. - have avoided or only incidentally treated:
- The Great Kings Cyrus, Darius, etc. of the Persian Empire
- The tyrants of Greece and the rise of democracy in Greece
- The "Persian Wars", incl. the epic battles of Marathon, Salamis and Plateia
Had the Greeks been reduced to Persian subjects, the development of "Classical Greece" would have been aborted and such vital contributions to western civilization as democracy, Greek literature and drama, and the philosophies of Socrates and Aristotle might not have occurred. The phenomenon of Alexander the Great would never have been, and the entire development of Rome and its legacy to western civilization would have taken a very different turn. Even the development of Christianity could have taken a very different form.
The author, Duane A. March, is a Ph.D. graduate of the University of California Berkeley in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology. It is his ambition to make the epoch of history treated by this novel one which has fascinated him since boyhood better known to the general public.
The first novel focuses on three venues and four personalities: Athens, its leading families, and especially Megakles and Peisistratos; Lydia and its famous king Kroisos (Croesus); and Persia and its founding monarch Kyros (Kourvash, Cyrus the Great). This synopsis will deal with Book One in some detail and summarize subsequent books.
Kings and Tvrants (Book One) covers events involving events at Athens, Lydia and Persia down to Kyros’ conquest of Lydia (ca. 546 BCE). In particular, it tells of the rise to power of Peisistratos as tyrant of Athens and of the Persian king’s conquests establishing the world’s largest empire.
The story begins with the birth of Kyros. His destiny has been foretold: mastery over the Persians and Medes. His overlord and own grandfather, the King of the Medes, desires to foil the prophecy. Yet the man he sends to kill the boy preserves him instead.
The scene next switches to Greece and the wedding of Agariste. Her father, ruler of Sikyon, entertains suitors from all over the Greek world for one year in order to choose a husband for Agariste. Agariste falls in love with Megakles and, together with her maidservant, schemes to convince her father to choose him, despite his preference for another. Megakles of Athens thus unexpectedly wins her hand and establishes the fame of his family.
Yet the two newlyweds have made an implacable enemy among one of the suitors – Diaktorides. On their way back to Athens, Megakles and Agariste are ambushed by Diaktorides but survive the attack. Soon after, Agariste bears a son – named Kleisthenes – who will eventually establish democracy at Athens.
In Athens Megakles leads a fight against Athens’ rival city Megara – an invasion commanded by the ambitious Peisistratos, who thereby wins great notoriety. He reorganizes Athens’ national festival - the Panathenaia - endowing it with new events and splendour. Solon, Athens’ great lawgiver, suspects Peisistratos’ motives and ambitions: he suspects him of aiming at becoming master of Athens.
In the course of the festival, Diaktorides gains entry to Megakles’ house and rapes Agariste, who keeps this secret from her husband. About nine months later she gives birth to a boy of whose parentage she is uncertain.
The scene switches briefly to Sardeis, the capital of the Lydian Empire in Asia Minor. Alyattes the king has just died and his son Kroisos has succeeded him. Kroisos needs to put down a rebellion raised by his half-brother among his Greek subjects on the coast. He leads his army against Ephesos, a city he captures by subterfuge, and then receives the submission of the remaining rebel cities. We learn about the Lydians and their dominion over the Greeks of Asia Minor, his own fascination for the Greeks and his ambitions, which will eventually lead to catastrophe.
Back at Athens, Peisistratos plots for power and aims at tyranny. He arranges a bogus attack upon his person and then demands a bodyguard from the Athenian assembly, with which he comes to dominate the city. Despite initial success, he is forced to retire from the city for a time.
We now go to Persia where a young Kyros (Kourvash, Cyrus) becomes king of the Persians and faces the hostility of their overlords, the Medes. Now Kyros contemplates rebellion against his Median overlord.
At Athens, Megakles decides to run for the supreme office of archon, but his bitter rival, Lykourgos, humiliates him in public; Megakles withdraws from the city to Delphi, intending to return only when he can avenge his humiliation. He therefore agrees to an alliance with Peisistratos by marrying his daughter to him.
Peisistratos thus returns to power, but – since he already has sons – he never consummates the marriage properly and mistreats his bride in the marriage bed. Megakles finds out, allies with his erstwhile enemies and turns against him. Peisistratos flees Athens with his sons and begins preparations for his return by forming ties with other Greeks in Thessaly and Thrace. Diaktorides, also joins him in order to gain power over Megakles and Agariste.
In Asia Kyros leads his forces against his grandfather and establishes himself as overlord over the Medes by defeating their king, his own grandfather, in battle. Not long afterwards he faces a challenge from Kroisos the Lydian and considers his options.
Meanwhile, Megakles’ sons grow to manhood: the eldest, Kleisthenes, grows aware of the awesome responsibility he will have as heir and is resented as his mother’s favorite by his youngest brother (Hippokrates, whom his mother suspects is Diaktorides’ bastard). Kleisthenes becomes friends with Hippias, the son of Peisistratos. Both youth are nevertheless aware that fate might make them enemies.
The stage moves to Delphi site of the famous oracle. Kroisos the King of the Lydians is now in conflict with Kyros of Persia and sends an embassy to the oracle in order to find out if he should attack the Persian. The sanctuary and legends of Delphi are described. Shortly after Kroisos receives the oracle’s response the Temple of Apollo mysteriously burns down.
Kroisos interprets the ambiguous oracle as favourable to war with Kyros. He moves against the Persians, fights an inconclusive battle and then withdraws to his capital for the winter. Contrary to expectation, instead of waiting for the spring, Kyros invades Lydia, besieges Sardis the capital (where the novel could end) and overthrows the Lydian king (an event Book One could either include or save for the start of the next book).
* In addition to the novel manuscript, an extensive glossary, chronological table, tables of reigns, family trees and appendices dealing with the historical background have also been completed. In addition, maps and drawings could be included – similarly as in Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series.
Book Two begins as Peisistratos invades Attika and seizes control of Athens permanently. Events at Athens continue with the death of Peisistratos and the fall of his sons, as well as the scheming of Kleisthenes the Athenian. Events involving Persia include the death of Kyros, the succession of Kambyses his son, the conquest of Egypt, and the rise of Darius the Great. This book introduces the Spartans as a third main story line.
Book Three covers events at Athens, including the defeat of Spartan incursions, the establishment of democracy and the young life of Aeschylus, the great dramatist; and events in Asia including the great revolt of Greek cities against the Persians and the effect of these events in Greece.
Book Four covers Athenian domestic events, including political manoeuvrings and the first ostracisms; Persian moves towards Greece beginning with Mardonius’ campaign in Thrace and culminating in their invasion of Attika and defeat at the hands of the Athenians at Marathon and the subsequent death of Darius the Great.
Book Five focuses on the Xerxes’ great invasion of Greece and preparations for this, including Xerxes’ march, Athenian political upheavals, the first official panhellenic alliance against Persia and culminating in the great battles of Thermopylai, Salamis and Plataea.