Thursday, October 15, 2015

Themistocles - The Wow Factor

When it comes to history there are doubtless many things we could aspire to like Themistocles, a zenith of fame and heros, during one of the greatest wars of all time, involving two of the greatest empires of all time, at the battle of Marathon and Salamis. An Athenian general with superlative skill and foresight, he fought against the Persians at the great battle of Marathon while a young man, and distinguished himself as the savior of all Greece by persuading Athens to build a navy which went on to defeat Persian at Salamis in 480 bc.

You might be asking yourself why a science fiction author has so much interest in history but the truth is, even though I have a distinct preoccupation for the future, I still have a fascination and love for history, and believe the greatest of all these legacies still influences us, even today.

A famous quote by Edmond Burk says, 'In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind."  And of all the empires that arose and thrived on the face of this planet, it's hard to forget the story of Themistocles. History tends to come to mind as well, when you're hired to help design a board game involving ancient naval battles between the Romans and Carthaginians. Called "Hands In The Sea," the game will be published later this year. In any case, halfway during writing Phobos, I was also researching these specialized wars, with the past and the future practically converging on my desktop. History became just as relevant as the future.

Themistocles was somewhat of a loner, nothing much is known of his youth or his parents. Rumors that his mother was a slave or a prostitute are probably nothing more than propaganda spread by his enemies he managed to make during his lifetime. But one thing is for sure; he was in the right place at the right time. By 493 he was elected to the post of archon, one of the city's most important elected officials, helping ready Greece fight against Darius, a ruthless Persian king who was busy sending envoys to the Greek city states seeking 'earth and water" - tokens of submission to Persian authority. Both Athens and Sparta defied these envoys and threw them their death into a pit, just as the movie "300" depicts. Themistocles was already in the picture lobbying to have them executed just on the grounds of defiling the Greek language and their barabaric demands.

In September 490, Persian forces landed at the sandy harbor of Marathon, with an invasion force of 600 ships, 20,000 or more soldiers and 800 calvary. Outnumbered by 2;1 the Athenians advanced against the Persians and won, doing the impossible. Over 6,000 Persians lay dead. In contrast only 192 hoplites had perished. But it wasn't over. Persia was still a threat and he knew it. Soon afterwards Themistocles faced his own inner battles in Athens against dangerous political enemies, but eventually won to build 200 ships at breakneck speed. He spent years preparing for another fateful confrontation with Persia and his moment finally did arrive. Fighting Xerxes -Darius's son at Salamis, Xerxes was convinced Athens had given up, and prepared to relish his victory over the defiant greeks. But Themistocles stepped in with his navy. In the narrow straits of Salamis, Themistocles once again beat the odds  and pushed back the Persians in a battle often described as one of the greatest naval victories of all time. A key event that shaped the entire future of European civilization. I'll skip past the rest of his surviving records, but it's hard not to see this man or his place in history as considerable.