Saturday, 28 November 2015

Adventure in the Vernian Underworld


When I was selecting the next lot of books that I was planning to read (I generally grab about five or six and put them on a pile on my dining room table so I don't have to spend time working out my next book after my last one, and so that I always have at least two or three books in my bag in case I finish one while I am out) my eyes passed over this old Jules Verne book. To say that I'm a fan of the father of science fiction is a bit of an understatement, and since I hadn't read this book in a while I decided to grab it. I really enjoyed it the first time I read it, and when that Brendan Fraser film came out I have to say that I enjoy it every time I watch it (I also own a copy). Actually, isn't it funny that films are characterised more by the main actors than they are by the directors, unless that director happens to be Quentin Tarrantino (among others), but that is just a side note. 

Anyway, here is a trailer:



Anyway, as I was reading this classic for a second time my mind suddenly began to race - what if this actually happened, and what if Verne's cold underworld were a reality? How would this change the world in which we live. Anyway, before I go on, for those who may not know, here is a brief synopsis of the story.

An Extraordinary Adventure

Basically a scientist, Otto Lidenbrock and his nephew Alex, discover a piece of parchment in an old book. It turns out that not only is it written in ancient Icelandic runes, but it is also heavily encypted. So, after many sleepless nights Alex suddenly works out the key and they discover that it is a message written by a medieval Icelandic explorer Arne Saknussemm giving them directions to a cave that leads to the centre of the Earth. So, wasting no time (as they needed to be there on one particular day for the entrance to be revealed) they jump on a ship and head off to Iceland.



The story pretty much runs as an adventure into an extraordinary world; one of caves and lost monsters. It is purely an adventure story - there is no antagonist, unless one considers the underworld to be the antagonist that they must over come, and as is typical with many of Verne's books there is a very heavy dose of scientific exposition. However Verne does this in a way that still makes the book incredibly enthralling. While he talks about geological formations, the nature of rock strata, and of course volcanic lava, we are dragged into this magical world. While he does talk about these things he does not let the detail undermine the story itself.

Of course the theory of the cold Earth is one that isn't accepted, but it is a theory that has been hanging around with us for centuries. One could argue that the idea of a hot earth is a conspiracy theory that has been made up to prevent us from digging too deep and the only evidence that people point to is the lava that comes out of the volcanoes. Mind you, as far as I'm concerned, that lava is pretty good evidence to convince me that the deeper you go, the hotter the world becomes, and travelling into the depths of a volcano may not be all that inducive of a long and fruitful life.


Anyway, enough of the book, and the science (however flawed) behind it, since I have already written a review on Goodreads (and Booklikes, depending on which site you prefer). Rather, let us go into the magical realm of the Vernian underworld, beginning with what happened to Otto and Axel upon their return to the surface world.


Challenging the Consensus

Well, we do learn a few things about Arne Sakmussemm (though for some reason when I think of Arne I sort of think of another Arne - anyway, we don't actually know what he looks like so lets just say he looked like some body building Austrian that likes pretending to be a killer robot) in the story, and other than the fact that he originally made the perilous journey, it is not until our intrepid heroes arrive in Iceland they discovered that the guy was a hero. However, when Liddenbrock asks if he can read some of his books we discover that there are none - in fact they were all destroyed because Sakmussemm was considered a heretic.

It is an interesting thought, and one wonders why Verne suggests that (though it may simply have been a plot device). Anyway, since Sakmussemm lived in the 16th century hereabouts, there is probably a much more logical explanation than just a simple plot device. Scientific exploration was only just beginning at the time and there was still a lot of superstition. Now, people believed that hell existed beneath the Earth (no doubt thanks to the Greeks) so when somebody travelled into the centre of the Earth and came back telling everybody what he had seen, no doubt the reaction would have been  "This guy's gone to hell". Well, he could have explained that when he went down there he didn't see any hell, but I doubt anybody would have listened. Instead they probably were already building the bonfire before he could even begin to tell his story.

So, fast forward to the end of the 19th century and another crazy scientist, who was last seen boarding a ship to Iceland, appears in Italy claiming that he has just made this amazing journey through the centre of the Earth and had just been spat out of Etna. Well, Verne suggests as he wraps up the story that his tale was met with derision and curiosity. However what didn't happen to him was to discover what being the main attraction at a witch burning was like. In fact his nephew ends up going and marrying his high school sweet heart (or thereabouts).

So, Liddenbrock, not only having survived the perils of the centre of the Earth, has also brought back evidence of his adventure (and while nothing is mentioned in the book, the movie suggests that this evidence included a bunch of diamonds), So, the first thngs that most explorers would do when they return with tales of grand adventure is to immediately prepare for their next adventure. Well, Axel decides to bail out of this one (he's just got married, and his wife isn't all that keen on letting him go gallivanting off to all corners of the Earth again), but there are a number of prominent geologists and zoologists (who are interesting in learning about the life beneath the Earth), as well as some hearty adventurers.

 

So, with a fully funded expedition, they head off to the volcano and establish a base in the crater. Liddenbrock now knows which tunnel is the correct tunnel, so there is no need to time the journey correctly. Instead the scientists establish a base camp, as well as a route back to Reykjavik. With a supply line established they then begin their descent. At the bottom a group of engineers remain to establish a much easier return route than the route Liddenbrock took on the way out, and Liddenbrock then leads his team deeper into the caverns where they establish a second base at Port Grauben. While initially a temporary settlement, they intend to make this a permanent base of operations. With the supply lines established, Liddenbrock is then able to complete his quest to reach the centre of the Earth.


The Fledgling Colony

Liddenbrock never returns to the surface, spending the rest of his life based at Port Grauben and exploring the countless caverns that spread out across the region. However, upon his death, his body is returned to Hamburg where he is laid to rest. He is honoured as a hero in Iceland and is commemorated with numerous statues. He is also commemorated in his home city of Hamburg. Liddenbrock's discoveries end up changing the scientific community's understanding of geology, and his writings end up becoming the standard texts throughout Western Europe. As for the world beneath the surface, his name begins to appear everywhere, with the sea being named the Liddenbrock sea.

However, things aren't all that easy for the fledgling colony. While a supply route has been established, the colony has a lot of difficulties being self-sufficient. Since there is no light down there they must constantly generate power to produce artificial light. Also, crops are not able to be grown so much of the staples need to be brought from the surface, and this turns out to be a very expensive process. However the mineral wealth beneath the Earth is extra-ordinary, so food is paid for through precious gems and other minerals. However, once again the route is difficult. Meat isn't a problem as the Liddenbrock Sea is teaming with life, and quickly a fishing community begins to evolve. Also the scientists begin to study the plant and animal life in the depths and soon discover alien plants that are able to meet their needs.

The world under the earth isn't a safe place though, as Liddenbrock discovered in his first foray. Not only is there an absence of light, but many of the prehistoric creatures that once roamed the Earth now exist down here. However they have evolved. The lack of light means that they no longer rely upon their eyes, and instead rely upon sonar. This puts the colonists at a disadvantage, at least at the beginning. While Port Grauben is safe from incursions, when they journey out across the Liddenbrock Sea they suddenly discover a wild and untamed land. As such further expansion, at least at this stage, is not possible.


As technological innovation expands on the surface, these developments, in particular the electric light, and the machine gun, begin to make their way down here. The problem is that this region lies below the coal fields,and as such coal and oil need to be brought down to be able to provide electric power. However, the need for such power means that such technology begins to develop much quicker. Yet there is one major problem - the smoke has nowhere to go. Then World War I breaks out.

Cut Off

When war breaks out on the continent the people beneath the Earth suddenly discover that their supplies lines, while not cut, are not bringing as much in as previously. The supplies are needed much more above ground than they are down here, so they are diverted. The colony has grown, and there are now a number of first generation Deep Earthers (as they are known, and the region has now been given the name Deep Earth) have reached adulthood, some of them having never seen the surface. By this time the route between Iceland and Port Grauben has been firmly established and is regularly travelled. In fact a form of train line has been built along the route (as well as another line connecting Rekjevik and the volcano, though there is also a port at its base).


World War I turns out to be a very trying time for the colony, and food begins to be rationed. Grains and other surface foods simply stop arriving, forcing the colonists to rely upon what they can gather from the local region. However there is something that they are able to produce - and produce in quantity - gunpowder. This proves to be a boon (as well as the machine gun), as they are now equipped to attempt to move into other parts of Deep Earth. The problem is that their adversaries do not rely on sight, but this also means that they are very susceptible to sound. The Deep Earther's deal with this by making lots of sound when they start heading into uncharted territory. This has the effect of scrambling the natives' senses and thus giving the Deep Earthers an advantage.

The war drags on for four years, and the Deep Earthers are forced to become more self sufficient. The first couple of years saw the onset of famine, as well as diseases arising due to lack of certain dietary requirements. However once the war comes to an end, and the armistice is signed, trade resumes. Despite this, interest in Deep Earth has begun to wane with other interests beginning to take the fore up on the surface. In a way the Deep Earthers, while acknowledged, simply become the norm. However the colony continues to grow.

The Great Migration

On of the problems that the Deep Earthers discovered was that producing power through the use of coal-fired plants was not so much inefficient, but it would quickly result on fouling up the limited atmosphere. In fact it quickly became evident that burning coal in the Deep Earth was simply unsustainable, however they needed electricity to be able to produce light. As such the scientists and engineers began to experiment with other forms of electrical generation, and ended up settling on hydro-power. With a number of underground rivers rushing through the caverns the Deep Earthers realised that they could harness the water to generate power. While the power being generated wasn't huge amounts, it was enough to provide them with their immediate needs. However they continued their research into ways of generating clean energy.

On the surface the 1920s went into full swing and economic prosperity swept the west (with the exception of Germany). Unfortunately, being somewhat cut off from the rest of the world, Deep Earth, while going through its own prosperity, didn't enjoy the benefits as much as those on the surface. What this period did bring about were huge advances in technology, in particular engineering. The route between Port Grauben and the surface was electrified and a new rail-line was installed. The trip would now take only two hours. The settlement at the base of  the volcano, as well as the one in the crater, has also grown somewhat, having now become essential to trade with the Deep Earthers. However another event was about to strike the modern world, one which would have further impact upon the inhabitants under the Earth - the stock market crash.


All of a sudden the world is plunged into a decade long economic depression, and many have been left out of work. The turmoil hits the Deep Earth, but not as hard as other parts of the world since its economy was not as heavily tied into the world economy. In a way Deep Earth is still very much a fledgling colony, though it is slowly growing in size and importance. What does happen is that they discovered that there isn't a huge need for their resources as there was previously, yet there was still a great need down there for food. However the colony has capacity for employment, which means that word begins to spread and a period known as the Great Migration begins.

Hearing of opportunities in this new world many began to book passage across the ocean to Iceland in the hope of finding fortune beneath the Earth (and at this stage there was only one entrance to Deep Earth, which was to prove very important in the years to come). The flood of migrants hit the docks of Rekjavik and many of them began to move along the coast to the entrance. However shanty towns began to form on the outskirts of the Icelandic Capital, as well as at the two towns on the volcano. Also being hit by the depression, the Icelanders began to show ever increasing resentment towards these foreigners, and soon the borders were closed and ships were being sent away.


As these towns began to grow in size, and as Iceland simply did not have the capacity to be able to deal with the huge influx of people, the government began to look for ways to deal with the problem, and the solution was to encourage them to migrate into the Deep Earth. However there was a problem for the Deep Earthers as well - they simply could not absorb the population. Like the surface, a huge shanty town began to form below as well. However one thing that Deep Earth did have was space, and many of the migrants began to move out to find their own patch of land.

This wasn't to prove all that successful though since the lack of light, and the hostile environment, meant that life in Deep Earth was in fact much harsher than was life in the slums on the surface. However the government of Iceland, who had already anticipated that many of the migrants would want to return, closed the border between Deep Earth and the surface so only those with special permission were allowed to traverse to the surface. This started causing significant problems in Port Grauben as food shortages began to hit.

Not everything was that bad as the region was still developing and the influx of new skills meant that development continued to grow at a significant rate. As previously mentioned, electricity generation was proving to be a significant problem, and people were hesitant to head out into the darkness from Port Grauben (due mainly to the lack of light). Some migration occurred and explorers begun to move out to other parts of the realm, creating maps and forming settlements where hydro-electric generators could be established.


However as the citizens (for want of a better word) began to expand out to the corners of Deep Earth they began ever more to come into conflict with the original inhabitants. The dinosaurs and giants who lived down here resented the incursions and began to fight back resulting in clashes on the fringes of the colony. It was when a major mining settlement, Jorgansburg (named after the first colonial governor of Deep Earth) was attacked and practically destroyed, that the citizens of Deep Earth realised that something needed to be done.

Europe Ablaze

As tensions began to rise between the natives of Deep Earth and the colonists, on the surface Hitler and Japan had begun their relentless campaigns to conquer the world. Iceland, fortunately, was spared the relentless onslaught of the Nazi war machine, and having closed its borders due to the huge influx of migrants, pretty much remained isolated from the rest of the world. This in turn created problems for the Deep Earthers, since weaponry was suddenly quite hard to come by. As such they were forced to begin to produce their own weaponry, notably machine guns and rocket launchers, due to the size and ferocity of the creatures below the surface.


The war wasn't going all that well for the Deep Earthers due to the problems generating light. As such many of the inhabitants were forced to retreat to fortified cities where they could use the light to their advantage, and they discovered that when they ventured out into the darkness they would inevitably be ambushed and attacked. Realising that they needed an advantage to be able to claim this world as their own their scientists began to work on another development - air power.

Planes simply were not practicable in the caverns of the Deep Earth, so working on the technology that had been developed in the world above, they managed to fast track the development of the helicopter. Helicopters have already been developed, however they were not yet in mass production. Needing an advantage over the native Deep Earthers, the colonists began to funnel a lot of resources into their development, with success. Yet there was still significant problems with using these machines in the caverns beneath the Earth - it was still dark and even with lights they would usually discover obstacles, such as the roof or walls, when it was too late. As such they needed a way to be able to detect such obstacles much easier.


Alongside the development of the helicopter, the Deep Earthers also funnelled resources into radar technology. At that time radar was incredibly bulky, but they needed a way of using the technology on the helicopter. In addition to radar they also developed sonar technology, managing to bring it down to a decent size to be able to fit on the helicopter. The technology wasn't perfect, but it began to give them an advantage, particularly in making the dangerous treks between the fortified towns. While this didn't solve all of their problems, it began to make life easier.

Nuclear Revolution

Two massive explosions in Japan marked the end of one of the bloodiest wars in history, but also the start of a new era - the Nuclear Age. While it had come to the realisation that humanity now had the power to completely eradicate themselves, there was also a new way of generating electricity without needing to resort to burning fossil fuels - Nuclear Power. Now that the war was over, and the trade routes once again open (and the government of Iceland had also reopened its borders), scientists travelled to the United States and Britain to discover this new technology.


At first the Western powers were hesitant to share this technology with them, fearing that it might end up being used against them, however when the Russians began to court the Deep Earthers, President Truman immediately signed a treaty of mutual co-operation. They would provide them with the technology to produce nuclear power in return for their rotor craft, radar, and sonar technology. As such, with a new clean form of energy, the Deep Earth was finally about to move out of their dark age.

The first nuclear power plant came on line in Port Grauben in 1950, with a number of others coming about soon after. However this started to concern the Russians, fearing that the Deep Earthers could assault them from beneath the ground. The Deep Earthers' technology suddenly began to grow at an extraordinary rate, particularly with minaturisation of sonar and radar systems, as well as helicopters. The Deep Earthers, with their new technology, began to move out across the caverns once again. Along with the technology, knowing that fuel resources would be difficult to come by, also began to develop electric powered vehicles, though many of them at first were quite large, to compensate for the batteries required to power the vehicles. However, with the rather dangerous creatures below, this was necessary, and through the use of tanks and armour columns, they began to forge highways between Port Grauben and the outlying colonies.


Suddenly the cold war began to move up a notch, and the Russians became concerned that the Deep Earthers could pose a threat to their national security. Explorers had continued to map out the caverns beneath the Earth, and despite the hostile environment, began to look for other possible entrances and exits. These maps were considered top secret, however security wasn't has tight as it could be as a number of these maps came into possession of both the Americans and the Russians. The Americans began to look for ways of connecting Deep Earth with their own continent, and were also considering a direct route to Port Grauben. The Russians, who were much closer, also considered this, and both powers began to drill holes.

This forced the Deep Earthers to become quite concerned, particularly since for most of their existence there was only one entrance into their world. Security over the maps of Deep Earth was tightened significantly, and the region became ever more militarised. The Icelandic entrance was considered to the the only entrance to the colony, so the government began to seek out other parts where potential entrances could exist and establishing secure border posts. However they were unaware of where the Russians where drilling, despite knowing that they were doing so.

The Americans were the first to break through into the caverns, however they had sent delegates to the Deep Earthers to arrange trade agreements so that they could use their entrance. This incised the Russians who then sent a fleet to Iceland in an attempt to force the Americans to back down. As the Russian fleet steamed across the North Sea, Iceland cried out to it's allies in the West, and suddenly ships were moving out from harbours across Europe and America to confront the Russian fleet. As a result there was a tense standoff that lasted three months, before the Russians backed down.


The initial reason for this military action was to force Iceland, and the Deep Earth, to declare neutrality, however a show of force off the coast of Iceland suddenly became no longer necessary - the Russians had broken through into Deep Earth. Now there were three entrances, at least known, to enter the underworld, and the advantage that the Americans had was now nullified. However, instead of launching an invasion of Port Grauben and the Deep Earth colonies, the Russians simply established their own colony.

The Prison Pit

Upon breaking through into the Deep Earth the Russians immediately established a forward military base and began to explore the immediate region. They soon discovered that the route to Port Grauben was not direct, and that they had their own, mostly uninhabited, region to explore. They immediately declared everything down to the Earth's core to be Russian territory, and the Americans quickly followed suit. As such a military build up in the depths of the Earth began, with the United States also establishing a colony and a military base.

The Russians also realised that Deep Earth would prove a much better place to send prisoners than Siberia, particularly since these prisoners could be put to work building the colony. The Americans also saw this potential, however at this stage their prisons had yet to be overflowing. However, the world under the ground proved to be a great place to send people serving long prison sentences, and could also be put to work establishing colonies. As such the era of prisoner transportation began again.


Deep Earth Today

In many ways the events on the surface world continued in much the same was as they did in our world. The Cuban Missile Crisis still occurred, as did Vietnam. The Soviet Union still collapsed, however Russia still retained control of their underground possessions. As the Chinese economic miracle took off, China also began to descend into the depths of the Earth, however that did have an impact upon the rest of the world - the China driven resource boom did not last as long as it did. While China was beginning to dig into the Earth, they still required resources.

There were two major events that had a significant impact upon the world below - Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. These nuclear incidents (Three Mile Island was nowhere near as bad as Chernobyl) suggested that further research was needed to produce safe and reliable nuclear energy. The Deep Earthers had already worked to protect their plants from tectonic activity, but they realised that they needed stronger fail safe systems to prevent a catastrophic accident. In fact they were so reliant upon nuclear power that simply moving to a new form of energy was not feasible. There was also the problem of waste, and huge caverns suddenly began to be set aside to dump used fuel rods.



Realising the danger of fission power, and also the problems of disposing of nuclear waste, meant that the Deep Earthers put much more resources into the development of fusion power. As such they became the first country to build a working fusion plant. Immediately they began to decommission their fission plants to replace them with fusion plants. This resulted in greater power output and much less waste. Along side this they also developed much better food production techniques - the energy produced by nuclear power meant that they could now begin to grow produce under the ground. Suddenly large underground farms began to develop, and the nation began to expand. This, of course, led to conflicts with the current inhabitants, but they were slowly pushed further and further out.

As for the United States - well, as was suggested above, their burgeoning prison population was replaced with what came to be known as 'The Prison Pit'. People sentenced to long years in prison weren't sent to prisons on the surface, but thrown into what has effectively become a lawless underworld. When one is sent into the pit, one can never expect to return. This is what also happened as the War on Terror began, especially once the CIA had finished with their interrogations. This in turn had the result of creating a large group of radical Islamists. Of course this was in the prison pit, and numerous factions arose to fight amongst themselves. Other countries also began to follow suit, transporting their most notorious criminals (and many political prisoners) deep into the Earth to be forgotten about.

Mind you, the original Deep Earthers really didn't like this, but they ended up sealing tunnels that would lead to these prison pits, and relegated themselves to claiming and settling areas that could not be claimed by any surface nation.


Creative Commons License
Adventure in the Vernian Underworld by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

"Earth poster" by Kelvinsong - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
"Arnold Schwarzenegger February 2015" by Koch / MSC. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 de via Commons 
"Snaefellsj√∂kull" by wolfgangbeyer at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons  

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Persian War - Salamis

Xerxes

I would open this post by saying that I'm sure every school boy has heard the story of how 300 battle hardened warriors held a tiny pass against a foe whose numbers literally dwarfed them for three days before being betrayed by a shepherd and then fighting valiantly to the last man. However, thanks to Zac Snyder and Frank Miller, this story that was once relegated to the high school and university classes was released to the world in the form of a graphic novel and one awesome movie.

Sure, Herodotus is credited for greatly exaggerating the size of Xerxes' army, as well as Leonidas after being told that the arrows from Xerxes' archers will block out the sun replied with "that's okay, we will fight in the shade" - probably one of histories greatest comeback lines. However, this pales into comparison with the line from Zac Snyder's film:

This is Sparta

And just in case you are interested:

This is .... where Sparta is.

In fact, I've even been there:

Here in Sparta
This is Sparta!

Though I couldn't find the bottomless pit.

Anyway, I don't want to carry on about the movie (I can do that another time) but rather continue on with my theorising as to what would have happened if the Persians had conquered Greece. However I won't go into the background too much because I have already done that in my previous post. Rather I will give a brief run down of what happened, and then speculate on what might have been if Xerxes had succeeded.

Third time lucky

When Darius launched his second invasion of Greece (remember the first one didn't make it past the peninsula of Athos) he simply wanted to prevent another Ionian revolt, especially since much of the support had come from Athens. However after his rather embarrassing defeat at Marathon it had become personal. Unfortunately for Darius he didn't live to launch another invasion - that task had fallen to his son Xerxes.  As the two naval attempts had failed, Xerxes decided that he would launch a combined land and sea assault, and just to make sure that he succeeded he raised what Herodotus had termed 'the greatest army the world had ever seen'. Since he didn't want to risk another sea assault, he decided that he would march on Athens by going the long way around, however due to the size of the army (though it is debatable whether it was as large as Herodotus claimed) he still needed naval support.

Since he was making the move by land this wasn't going to be a quick invasion, and he also had to cross the Hellespont, which he did by creating a pontoon bridge. Herodotus remarks that the first attempt at a bridge failed, and in response Xerxes ordered the Hellespont whipped for daring to challenge his might. This obviously worked  because the second pontoon bridge survived and he managed to get his army across into Europe. Unfortuately moving such a large army wasn't going to go unnoticed, which is why the Greeks ended up staging their defence at Thermoplyae. The reason for that was because, at the time at least, it was a really narrow pass and could be defended with minimal force. Also the Persian fleet had come down through the straights of Euboea which could also be held by a small naval force.

Thermopylae

As you can see, I've also been to Thermopylae (useless fact - it means 'Hot Springs') and the one thing that struck me was that it didn't look like a place where three hundred men dressed in red cloaks and black underpants could easily hold off an invading army. Okay, the mountains were pretty steep, but the coast was a fair distance away. However let us consider this map:

Thermopylae - Ancient Shoreline

Still, I'm a little baffled as to why Xerxes didn't ferry his troops across the gulf of Malia to get behind Leonidas and his forces, but that may have something to do with his fleet being held by by the Athenians in the straights of Euboea.

Anyway, as the story (and the movie) goes, the Spartans valiantly defend the pass for three days before a shepherd tells Xerxes of a narrow pass through the mountains, of which he takes advantage. The Spartans are then surrounded and killed to the last man, while the Persians continue their march into Greece. In fact, after their victory at Thermopylae, there is nothing stopping Xerxes from getting into Attica and burning Athens to the ground, which he does. However the people of the city flee to the nearby island of Salamis, and the Athenian ships await for the approach of the Persian Navy.

The Persian Invasion

All I can say is that the sequel to 300 is nowhere near as good as the original movie (though the fight scenes are still pretty cool) and the authors have taken a lot more liberties in the story that they did in the original film. Granted, the Athenians were once again facing a vastly superior foe, and granted, they lured the Persians into the body of water between the island of Salamis and the mainland. However, they were not holding out in desperation for the Spartan fleet to arrive (the Spartans didn't have a navy - in fact not many of the Greek city-states, other than Athens, had a navy), but rather took the Persian fleet head on, and won. The reason for that is simply because the size of the Persian ships meant that they had a lot of difficulty manoeuvring in that body of water while the Athenian ships were able to take advantage of that. With his fleet destroyed Xerxes was no longer able to support such a large army and fled back to Persia in disgrace.

It was suggested that they destroy the pontoon across the Hellespont, however that was quickly voted down as they realised that if Xerxes did not have a clear route back to his own territory then he would be much more dangerous, as he would be like a wild animal trapped. As such they allowed him to return, leaving a much smaller army, led by his general Mardonius, to attempt to salvage what remained. Mind you, adding to the embarrassment, Xerxes sat on a throne overlooking Salamis expecting to see a glorious victory only to be presented with a humiliating defeat (much like when you watch, with horror, from the football stadium, your team being decisively thrashed by the team at the bottom of the ladder - an experience I am quite familiar with).

Bay of Salamis
Xerxes was probably sitting atop one of those hills
Golden Age of Athens
So, the question is, what happened after the Persian's were defeated? Well firstly the naval defeat at Salamis was swiftly followed by a military defeat at Platea, which resulted in the Persians being driven out of Greece. However the Greeks didn't leave it at that and pressed their advantage by not only driving the Persians out of Europe, but regaining control of Anatolia and then moving further into Asia Minor. After securing Europe, the Spartans and the rest of the Peloponesians decided to call it a day, however Athens wanted to continue pressing the advantage so set up an alliance called the Delian League (named after the holy island of Delos - which I have yet to visit) and continued to press the advantage. The victories continued until they decided to support an Egyptian revolt, where they were finally defeated by a Persian counter attack. It was then that the Athenians decided to call it a day and returned to Greece and govern their newly found empire. However this empire wasn't to last because very soon they were going to come to blows with their old ally - Sparta. However the story of the Peloponesian War is a story to be told at another time.

Wars of the Delian League
Wars of the Delian League
It was during this period that Athens experienced what is considered her Golden Age. While the democratic institution had existed prior to the wars, the defeat of the Persians demonstrated that a democratic government actually was quite a strong government. It is also during this time that the great playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were writing. We also had the rise of the Sophists - what could be consider the ancient version of the lawyer, as well as the schools of philosophy, with Socrates being one of the most famous. The foundations of politics, art, philosophy, and science would filter down through the ages to have a huge impact upon our modern culture. If the Persians that won at Salamis no doubt the world in which we live would be a vastly different place.

What if ....
In my previous post I have outlined how a Persian victory would have had a significant impact upon our cultural foundations, and that would be no different if the Persians had lost at Marathon and won at Salamis. However a victory at Salamis would have brought further changes to the world in which we live. I have suggested that a Marathon victory would have resulted in the Persians establishing a beachhead, but would have probably let the Greeks continue to be Greeks after establishing overlords (or Satraps) in the region. However the third Persian Wars were different namely because to Xerxes this was personal.

We must remember that he had raised a huge army to completely annihilate the Greeks because of the major embarrassment that his father has suffered at Marathon. An empire could not easily remain strong after such a resounding victory. As such Xerxes was out for blood, and if he had defeated the Athenians the rest of the Greeks would have known about it.

Xerxes had already torched Athens, and after defeating the Athenian Navy he would have proceeded to kill all of the males and the elderly, and sent the women and children back to Persia as slaves. There was going to be no light touch letting the Greeks remain Greeks in this scenario. After decimating Attica he would have turned his eyes towards the Peloponese, and in particular Sparta. The Spartans had secured the Isthmus, but this was going to be no problem for a king with a powerful navy. While part of his army would prepare for an assault against the fortifications on the Isthmus, troops would be ferried across the gulf and strike out at Argos, Epidaurus, and then Cornith. He would then surround the garrison at the Isthmus and slaughter them. Once he had secured the Isthmus, his army would then march on Sparta.

Ancient SpartaOkay, an assault on Sparta was not going to be easy, but Xerxes had an advantage - he had control of the Peloponese, as well as numerous victories behind him. Three hundred of Sparta's best warriors had been killed at Thermopylae, and a large number had also been killed at the Isthmus. This was Sparta's last stand, and once again a victory was going to result in the annihilation of the city. Xerxes simply was not willing to give such a threat the chance to rebuild and launch another attack against his army. As such with the defeat of Sparta Xerxes takes control of Greece and then decides to call it a day. However, as with Athens, he does not leave the Greeks alone in Greece, but rather kills all of the males, and the elderly, and takes the women and children back to Susa where they are turned into slaves. In return he resettles people from other parts of the empire turning Greece not just into a Persian protectorate, but a Persian colony.

The Greek Exodus
Greek Colonies
Greek Colonies
Xerxes' invasion wouldn't be the end of Greek civilisation namely because they were experts in establishing colonies. In fact when the Greeks established colonies they had the extraordinary habit of not only surviving but prospering. There are many cities around today, Naples for instance, that originally started out as Greek colonies. As such, when Xerxes invaded the Greek peninsula and pretty much conquered the entire region, there were places where survivors could flee, namely to Italy, Sicily and North Africa. This, in my opinion, would have had a significant effect upon history as it unfolded in our timeline. In our timeline the Greeks were centred around Greece and expanded out to these colonies, however in this alternate timeline Xerxes' invasion meant that there would have been quite a few refugees fleeing to the West (namely because to the east was Persia). As such these colonies would have had a population explosion, as well as having new colonies established. This, I suspect, would have had an effect upon two other powers that were developing at the time - Carthage and Rome.

In our timeline the Sicilian city of Syracuse and Neapolis (Naples) were large and important Greek cities, however in this alternate timeline both of these cities become the centre of Greek culture due to the influx of refugees from the now conquered Greek peninsula. As such Greek culture shifts decidedly to the west and these two cities become the centre for a possible reconquest of the old lands. As such they end up becoming major states in themselves and are able to resist attacks against them by the Cartheginians and the inhabitants of the Italian Peninsula. In fact, in an attempt to secure their territories they end up subjugating the regions around them with the intention of preserving the Greek culture.

With this turn of events the history of the Mediterranean turns out somewhat differently, with a large Greek presence right at the heart of what would become the Roman Empire. It also works to provide a buffer between the two rising powers of the Mediterranean. In fact, with the Greeks being very accomplished sailors, they are able to dominate this portion of the Mediterranean. The Romans only really developed a navy to counter the rising power of Carthage, and the first Punic War was a war for control over the island of Sicily. In fact the empire that controlled Sicily controlled the Mediterranean, which in this alternate timeline were the Greeks.

This does not necessarily mean that the region became static, but rather that there was a new major player in Mediterranean politics. In our timeline the Greeks had generally been looking to the East, however with the conquest of Xerxes the Greeks instead went to the west. As with all major powers there is inevitably going to be conflicts at the fringes, this is what happened in this timeline. However the Greeks were always looking back at their original homeland, and were always seeking to attempt to return. Even with the gradual collapse of the Persians (there was no Alexander in this timeline) the culture of the Greek peninsula had forever changed. Even with Greeks striking at the cities from Sicily and Neapolis, the culture on the peninsula was never going to be the same.


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The Persian War - Salamis by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you  wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Inverted War Hero - Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man

Arms & the Man - A comedy by George Bernard Shaw

Okay, this may not be the first Bernard Shaw play that I have seen performed, however the previous one, Man and Superman, was a performance by the National Theatre that was filmed and then distributed to various cinemas around the world. Okay, while it may not have been live, it was close enough, and seeing Ralph Fiennes performing on stage was an experience to say the least. However, earlier in the year I was perusing the website of the Sydney Theatre Company, namely because I have visited their studios, or at least their bar, and discovered that they had had some interesting plays, such as Waiting for Godot, that I would have wanted to see. With this in mind I decided to check out what was on offer in 2015.

It turned out that one of the plays was Arms and the Man. Well, I knew what I was going to be doing mid-September.

Okay, they are also showing King Lear, my all time favourite Shakesperian play, however I think I am going to have to give it a miss, even though Geoffrey Rush plays the leading roll. Anyway I saw an awesome performance of it by the National Theatre last year so I'll be happy with that (I so love King Lear).

A Young Bernard ShawAnyway Arms and the Man was Bernard Shaw's first commercial success, and also when he discovered that people will see the play differently than what he intended it to be. Mind you, it doesn't matter how much subtlety you put into a play most of the ideas will end up going over the audience's heads. He did attempt a play earlier that was much more forceful with his ideas, but it was a complete flop, so when he created Arms and the Man he obviously decided to make it a lot more light hearted, even though he was mocking the idea of the war hero.

It turns out the Bernard Shaw was actually one of the most popular playwrights of the early 20th Century, and the only playwright who had more plays performed during that time was Shakespeare himself (which I must admit is quite a feat - for Bernard Shaw that is). However it seems that people began to lose interest in his plays around the 1960s and these days you may see the odd one or two performed, if you're lucky (and I've seen two this year, which I'm quite happy about).

The thing is that Shaw wasn't without controversy. He was quite politically outspoken, as one can quickly pick up from his plays, and a strident critic of society at the time. He was a socialist, an atheist, and a supporter of eugenics (though his idea, unlike Hitlers, would come about through selective breeding and his belief, much like Darwin's, was that there is an innate biological urge for a species to mate and produce offspring with the best of the species - which is why beautiful women and jocks seem to pair off in highschool - though as the 20th Century has taught us it is the geeks who become the billionaires, unless of course they are born into it, but then again I would hardly consider those specimens to be a prime example of the human race).

Of his early works prior to this one, The Widower's House, as mentioned, was a complete flop because it was just way too political. The next two - The Philanderer and Mrs Warren's Profession - were censored out of existence (such was the nature of Victorian society - No sex please, we're British). Actually, I probably should also mention that Shaw was a bit (or should I say lot) of a philanderer himself, though it sounds as if his wife was pretty okay with it. If you don't know what a philanderer is (and I have to say that is a heaps cool word, though I won't be running around making a claim to that title myself, no matter how much I would like to) look it up. Mind you, not everybody appreciates the antics of such a person.

A Play Out of Time

The problem with approaching this play is that many of us don't actually realise that it was written prior to World War I which exposed the horrors of war in the industrialised age. At the time war was still the province of the heroes (and in a way it is still drummed up as such, despite the horrors of the Great War sitting in the back of our mind). When this play was written participating, and even leading, a cavalry charge was still considered glorious, even if it was against a machine-gun bunker. In many cases war was seen as a gentleman's game, at least where the generals were concerned. Okay, in the modern world generals still bunker down in tents behind the lines, directing their forces against the enemy, but to participate, and to lead, such a charge was seen as heroic. Mind you, when the play was written the machine gun was still quite a new invention, though fortunately for Shaw there had been a war (the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885) where there was a cavalry charge against a machine gun. What made it even more impressive was that the cavalry prevailed.

Mind you, to us in the modern world the idea of cavalry prevailing against a machine gun bunker is nothing short of absurd, but back in those days it was literally a given. This was cavalry and nothing could defeat a good horseman on the back of a sturdy horse. Sure, they had machine guns, but they were no match against the glorious cavalry. However World War I completely changed that - in fact the cavalry were forced to jump off their horses and to dive into the trenches when the true force of the machine gun came to the fore. Mind you, we still have cavalry regiments these days, however they tend to be tank columns as opposed to people on horses. Just consider the glamour of the United States Cavalry as portrayed in the old Westerns.

As we shall discover as we move further into this play we will begin to see how Shaw turns the idea of the heroic soldier on it's head. In those days a soldier with victories under his belt was considered a hero, and the higher up the ranks you were the more glorious you would become with every victory. Sure, the general would sit in his tent watch the battle from afar while the soldiers and their immediate commanders faced the dangers, but it wasn't the willingness to face the enemy head on that brought them the glory, it was their tactical genius that was the key. However tactics is pointless in Von Clausewitz's Fog of War. In truth many of these victories did not come about through the smart use of tactics, but rather through pure luck. Yet if we consider generals like Napoleon, who would fight with his men as opposed to sitting behind the lines, it may have been his brilliant tactics on one hand, but it was the morale that fighting with his troops generated that brought him the victories. Despite being the Emperor of France, Napoleon still led his troops into Russia (which is more than could be said of the King of England at the time).

The Birth of the Technological Age

The play is set in a nobleman's house in Bulgaria. Bulgaria, in may ways, was still a backward country in those days, but Shaw is showing us how the times are beginning to change and how the world of technology is beginning to change our lives. For instance the characters marvel at this concept of a buzzer. They press a button and shortly the butler arrives to do their bidding. To the nobility this is not only quaint, it is nothing short of magical. As General Petkoff says, he normally summons the butler simply by screaming his name.


This was the age of the industrial revolution, and the technological developments were about to change people's lives dramatically. For instance the invention of the telephone meant that we could speak to people without being in the same room, though the telegraph had been around for a while before that. The development of radio meant that we could transmit messages without wires being needed to connect the two points. This changed the way shipping worked as they could now communicate over much larger distances, and coded messages could be sent quickly and easily to the troops at the front.

Of course there is also the machine gun, which is played up a lot in this play. However to many of the characters, like the buzzer, it is a quaint invention that isn't actually going to change things all that much. In a way they seem to be content with the ways they have done things for ages, however they seem to be oblivious to the horrors that are just around the corner. In a way Shaw is somewhat prescient to this because he seems to paint these conservatives are being, well, rather silly. To us, in the modern world, this is actually quite amusing - as I have said charging a machine gun bunker on horseback is nothing short of stupid - but it was done and it succeeded, not due to skill, but due to luck.

The Undoing of Class

One thing we begin to see here is the change in the way the class system is structured. We have the butler, and the maid, both at the end of the play going off and doing their own thing. While technology is making the life of the upper class easier, what it is doing to the lower classes is that it is giving them the ability to move and to forge their own destiny. This had already happened in England during the 18th century, but we are beginning to see this take shape all over Europe. While Napoleon scoffed at England being a nation of shopkeepers, the French had only just thrown off the chains of absolutism. What England's nation of shopkeepers had made it was an economic power house - the class system was changing, and it was becoming undone.

In the earlier days there was no movement - if you were born into a family of blacksmiths you would always remain a blacksmith. If you had a job as a butler, you would always have that job. There was no such thing as a career change in those days, no freedom to leave your employer and go and look for a new job. However technology meant that the lower classes suddenly had freedom of movement, and we continue to see these changes happen before our eyes. It was only twenty years ago that if you wanted to invest in the stock market you either needed a lot of money, or had to go through an intermediary, however these days, with the rise of the internet and automation, many of these professional jobs are now beginning to disappear. Sure, stockbrokers still exist, but complex programs mean that people can trade the market directly without having to place an order with a human,



The Art of Staying Alive

It is interesting that a lot of the posters I see promoting Arms and the Man have a gun (or other weapon) with a love heart, flowers, or even a box of chocolates. Of course the chocolates play a very important part of the play, particularly since Bluntchsi says that the most important thing that he carries with him when he goes to war is a box of chocolates (the play has nothing to do with love conquering violence). This is one again an inversion of the heroic soldier. To many the soldier's greatest tool is his weapon, however to Bluntchsi it is not his gun - he doesn't care less about his gun - it is the fact that he has food. In reality this is true: food does much more to keep you alive than does a gun - when all of the enemy is dead, or has retreated, you can't eat your gun.

The key point to this play is a line that Bluntchsi says: the art of being a good soldier is not how many of the enemy you have killed, but rather not being killed yourself. In many cases this is true, though we still celebrate those who died in war, in particular World War I, every year. In the Commonwealth countries 11 November is known as Remembrance Day (I believe it is Veteran's Day in the US), and at 11:00 pm every year everybody is supposed to stop working, to stop talking, and to remember the dead of World War I. However things are beginning to change. These days we have people challenging the legitimacy of ANZAC Day (which is also similar to Veterans Day in the US) because we are not remembering those who died in war, but rather celebrating what is little more than an imperialist massacre. Of course, it doesn't matter how many war memorials we erect, or how many years we commemorate a minutes silence, we as a race still seem to want to pick up our guns and start killing each other.

Buntchsi is referred to throughout the play by Rania as her 'chocolate cream soldier'. She is actually engaged to Sergius Saranoff, the commander who led the successful charge against the machine gun nest. However on the night of the battle, while Sergius was off fighting, Buntchsi climbs in through the window and hides for the night. It is not that he is a coward, even though many would see him as such, but rather he is practising the ethic of what a good soldier does - staying alive. The thing with Bluntchsi is that he is a professional soldier. However he is not a Serb, he is Swiss. The only loyalty that he has is to whoever is paying him. What is of interest is that he isn't a part of the poorer classes - he is actually quiet wealthy - he is a soldier not because he has to, but because he wants to - in a way he seeks a life of adventure.

Bluntchsi is the inverted soldier - sure he is dashing, charming, attractive, but he is on the losing side, and Rania meets him when he is hiding in her room from the enemy. However she falls for him - he is her chocolate cream soldier - a soldier that does not measure his success based on his kill ratio, but on the fact that he himself has not been killed. One may be able to kill a lot of the enemy, but one can only die once, and once one is dead that is it. So much for the life of adventure. Bluntchsi is not seeking glory, far from it, he is seeking adventure, and to be able to seek adventure one must stay alive, even if it means running away and hiding.


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The Inverted War Hero - Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me


Saturday, 7 November 2015

Marathon - A Persian Victory

Darius the Great


Once again on my explorations of Youtube I came across a video produced by the Alternate History Hub (and I must admit that they produce some really interesting videos that inspire me to explore much deeper) speculating what would have happened if Persia had managed to invade Greece. The problem that I find with a lot of their productions is that their conclusions tend to be 'this was so long ago it is impossible to know what would have happened'. Well, there is a whole field of counter-factual history where historians explore the 'what might have been' with regards to these particular historical events.

Okay, to speculate on how the world would have changed if history turned out differently, especially with regards to events that occurred so long ago, can produce so many different scenarios that it would be impossible to explore every single one, particularly since history has this ability to then throw up other events which has the effect of changing its course even further. In fact any conceptual 'what might have happened' scenario really cannot logically look at how events would have unfolded if that one particular event had turned out differently namely because if there is one thing that history is not and that is logical. However, the thing about counter-factual history is that we are not so much speculating on what might have occurred, but rather what effects these particular events had on our history.

Anyway, before I go on, here is the video that I was referring to:


The Ionian Revolt
The thing with the Persian Wars is that there are actually two major events that can be considered to be turning points in history - the Battle of Marathon and the Battle of Salamis. I will look at Salamis in a subsequent post, however before I before I start talking about Marathon and its consequences, I feel that a bit of background is in order.

The Persian Empire came about through the unification of two tribes that arose in modern day Iran. At times the empire is actually referred to as the Medeo-Persian Empire. The empire came to prominence when King Cyrus unified the tribes and made war, quite successfully, against the Babylonian, which was the Middle Eastern superpower of the time. Much of what we know about the empire comes from two sources (excluding archaeological digs), and that is Herodotus and The Bible. Okay, there is a debate as to whether the Biblical account is accurate or not, but considering that Herodotus is referred to as The Father of Lies, I feel that some credence should be given to the Biblical account. Anyway, if you are interested in reading Herodotus' account you can easily find it on the Internet.


The Persians and the Greeks initially came into conflict when the Persians conquered Asia Minor and set up garrisons in the Greek cities along the Aegean Coast (otherwise known as Anatolia). However due to logistical difficulties they didn't expand any further to the west. The many of the colonies along the coast were well established cities (though there were some non-Greek regions as well, such as Lydia). Anyway, since the Greeks generally didn't like being ruled by foreign powers the city states ended up rebelling in an event known as the Ionian Revolt. The Persians pretty quickly crushed the revolt but since the rebellion was being supported and funded by Athens and her allies, the Persians realised that something had to be done. Initially Darius, the current king of Persia, sent a fleet around the coast of the Aegean Sea however a storm off of Athos put paid to that plan (though this event is generally ignored by most scholars, our history lecturer referred to this as the first Persian War).

Battle of Marathon
Greek HoplitesOut of all the battles of the Greco-Persian Wars I must admit that Marathon would have to be my favourite. Basically, realising that sending the fleet around the coast wouldn't work, Darius tried another tactic - he sent his army directly across the Aegean Sea and made a beach head at Marathon. Unfortunately for him, when he got there he discovered that the Athenian forces were waiting for him. Despite him having a numerical advantage the Athenians ended up winning the day and drove his army, and his fleet, off the Greek peninsula. Darius wasn't going to leave it at that though because, despite being defeated in the context of things this was little more than a minor setback. However, he had suffered a defeat and as such he needed to rebuild his army, and his fleet, for his next shot at the title. Unfortunately for him a revolt in Egypt put paid to his plans, and before he could launch a third invasion he died.

There are probably a few reasons as to why Darius was defeated, one of them being that he was relying on securing the beachhead at Marathon. In fact the entire invasion rested on him being able to secure that beachhead. The Greeks also realised this and were going to do the best to prevent that from happening. However in the end it all came down to tactics. The tactics that the Greeks used is actually the exact same tactics that Hannibul used in the Battle of Cannae to utterly annihilate the Roman forces. Anyway, the tactic that was used was known as Double Envelopment (or the Pincer Move). Basically the centre of the line would be the weakest point while each end forms the stronger points. The enemy is then enticed to attack the centre, at which point the troops retreat drawing the enemy with them. As they are drawn back the flanks then move in to envelop the enemy army shifting the advantage. This is a particularly useful tactic when you are facing an army that significantly outnumbers you.


I won't go into any further details about the battle here, but you can always check out Wikipedia, or even Herodotus. However, if you are wondering why the long distance race is referred to as the marathon, it is because after the Persians had been defeated an Athenian, Phidipides, ran from Marathon back to Athens to announce the victory.

Significant of the Battle
Okay, one might be tempted to suggest that the Battle of Marathon cannot be taken in isolation from the third Persian War, however I suspect that if the Greeks had lost here as opposed to losing when Xerxes returned for a re-enactment of 300 then there would have been some noticeable differences. However, it let us consider what could have happened in a general sense.

Government
Athens was a democracy prior to the Persian invasions, and it is possible that despite a defeat at Marathon it would have maintained its government. However it would not have been free. In fact it is quite likely that if the Athenians had been defeated and Athens seized then the Persians would have installed a puppet government. Mind you, Athens would have simply been the start of a larger invasion, but Darius had secured a foothold from which he could then move out to deal with the other city states. While it is possible that he could have began a slow subjugation of the Greek peninsula, we must also remember the Egyptian revolt. There is no indication that this would not have occurred. However the Athens that was considered as the birthplace of democracy would have been no more. A Satrap would have been left behind with a garrison and any government decisions would have had to have been approved by him. While it is possible that the democratic institutions may have survived, it would be unlikely. The more feasible scenario would be that the city would be run by a tyrant.

Persian Soldiers
Despite capturing Athens, Darius would still have difficulties in securing the entire peninsula. The Greeks were a fiercely independent people and the capture of one city would not necessarily mean the subjugation of the entire peninsula. In fact you would probably find that while Attica would be under Persian Rule the regions to the north and the south would still be independent. As well as being a collection of city states, Greece is also very mountainous. Attica is bordered by a mountain range to the north, and the gulf of Corinth to the south. As such expanding his control beyond Attica would have been quite difficult. The most likely scenario would be that the Persians would be in control for a time but would soon face attacks from other city-states seeking to liberate Athens. However, the catch is that Athens would unlikely become the powerhouse that it did. Also, having achieved a victory, Darius, and his son Xerxes, would not have seen the need to launch the third Persian War. Sure, they might eventually take all of Greece, but it is also possible that by this time the Empire would have become so stretched out that it would slowly begin to decay.

Culture
The thing about Greek culture is that most of the significant pieces of literature arose after the defeat of the Persians. The great philosophers and playwrights weren't writing until after the war. While we do have some writings prior to the wars, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, as well as a handful of poems and philosophical texts, most of the major pieces didn't come about until later. As such it is quite possible that if the Persians had been victorious our culture would not have been as heavily influenced by the Greeks as it currently is. In fact our culture would be vastly different (so different that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to even imagine what it would be like). Everything from language to literature, and even to the theatre, has been shaped by Greco-Roman thought. If anything, our literature and culture would have much more Persian influence than it currently does.

PlatoIt has also been suggested that our political thought has been shaped by the Greeks, and in many cases that is true. One of the roles that philosophers played in the ancient world was drafting constitutions and speculating on the idea of state-craft. Plato's Republic is all about the idea of the perfect state. Sure, his idea was a from of Tyranny, but for Plato to have reached this point he needed to have seen a democracy function. Okay, the Persians, at least during Darius' reign, took a light touch approach in relation to ruling conquered territories (they would install a Satrap who would govern the region), however that did not necessarily mean that the city-states could operate independently. Rather they were subject to the Satrap, who could install and remove rulers as he saw fit.

Athenian Revolt
I'll finish off with a possible counter-factual scenario because, well, I find them fun. So, Darius, having secured a victory in Attica discovered that the Egyptians have revolted, however since he does not want to give up his recent gains he sends his son Xerxes into Egypt to attempt to subdue them while consolidating his gains in Greece. He strikes a treaty with the Thebans to the north, but also secures the mountain passes since he has a much greater threat to the south - Sparta.

Spartan Army

Darius has a significant advantage over the Spartans - they are a land power whereas Darius has a fleet at his disposal. The Spartans rally a force to attempt to liberate Athens however Darius effectively holds them off at the Ithmus. While the Persians and the Spartans are fighting Darius sends troops across the gulf to attack them from behind. This results in a victory for Darius who them moves in and conquers the entire Peloponese. However his victory is short lived because Xerxes has been defeated in Egypt forcing Darius to return to Persia to raise some more troops. Leaving Satraps in Greece he travels to Egypt in an attempt to clean up his son's mess; however he dies on the way back.

Darius' successor isn't Xerxes as he was killed in Egypt leaving the throne to another king, whom we will call Cyrus. Cyrus isn't actually all that effective and under his reign the empire begins to break apart. The Persians are quickly kicked out of Greece after a Theban general raises an army and attacks Attica. This has the effect of uniting Greece under Theban rule. The Thebans then move across the Aegean and reclaim territory lost to the Persians while the Egyptians move up north and claim the Levant. However the Greeks, who don't have a huge army, don't penetrate much further inland, and with a weakened Persia don't see the need to secure their borders. This new Greek state isn't a tyranny, but isn't the philosophical powerhouse that we have in our time. Instead it is a fairly backward merchantile state that doesn't develop much in a cultural sense.

The middle east isn't Helenised because there is no need for Alexander the Great to arise. The Persians have already been defeated and are no longer a threat. Instead the fertile crescent maintains it's Persian identity, while the Levant develops a distinctly Egyptian flavour. Greek never becomes the common tongue of the east, rather it is Persian. However, one thing that still happens is the rise of Rome. Rome still ends up conquering Greece, and in turn the entire Mediterranean seaboard. However, I will leave it at that and will talk about the third Persian Wars next time.


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The Persian War - Marathon by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you  wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.