The Trojan Horse is iconic and legendary, yet it is not mentioned even once in Homer's Iliad. In fact, in the entire eight texts of the Epic Cycle , it is only mentioned once and in passing in Odyssey, which tortures us with just a single line:
“A single horse captured Troy...
We have no firm idea what this ‘horse’ actually was. The traditional narrative is probably most well known, and the sequence of events is:
However, the notion of men hiding within the horse first appears only in the Roman age with Virgil's Aeneid. It does seem like a poetic invention.
There are many more theories, wide and varied:
There are even other theories, and the one makes most sense to me as a historian is that the horse was a siege device. Later writers Pausanius and Pliny the Elder were both convinced that this was the case, the former stating:
“Anyone who doesn't think the Trojans utterly stupid will have realized that the horse as really an engineer's device for breaking down the walls.
Siege technology in this age was advanced. Some devices were often named after animals – The Assyrian Horse, the Wild Ass, The Wooden One-Horned Animal.
Assyrian tablets depict the first of these as a ram shed with a ‘neck and head’, the head containing a drillbit used to pick apart walls. One can see in it the visual resemblance with a horse.
The siege engine theory is just one of many that I write of in my latest novel The Shadow of Troy!
What are your thoughts and theories? Please do leave your ideas in the comments section, below :)
The Trojan War. Everyone knows at least the kernel of the story: Prince Paris of Troy abducted Helen, Queen of Sparta. Incensed, the Greeks gathered a giant army, landed at Troy and besieged the city for 10 years. You might know of the legendary characters: Hektor, Achilles, Priam, Odysseus. Or the factions - the Amazons, the Myrmidons, the Elamites and many, many more. But there is one almighty whopper of a 'faction' that is not mentioned at all in Homer's Iliad. The Hittite Empire - not just an ally of Troy, but her behemoth overlord.
You see, the Trojans, plus many of her allies, were for centuries in the Late Bronze Age, merely vassal kingdoms, serving the Hittite Emperor. The near east map of the Late Bronze Age, below, puts some perspective on this. Note: 'Ahhiyawa' was the Hittite name for Homer's Greeks/Achaeans.
So where were the Hittites in Troy's hour of desperate need?
Homer's Iliad does not even contain a passing reference to them. This is akin to Latvia and Estonia going to war and nobody ever mentioning Russia. However, The Iliad covers just a few months in the 10th and final year of the Trojan War, ending with Hektor's funeral. The things that happened between then and the actual end of the war – the coming of the Amazons and the Elamites, the deaths of Paris and Achilles, the horse, the sacking of the city et al – survive only in the tantalising fragments of the other ancient texts that make up what is known as The Epic Cycle.
Regardless, as fragmentary as those texts may be, none of them mention the Hittites either!
What’s going on there? One theory is that the Hittite Empire had collapsed by the time of the Trojan War. However, we know that the Greek world collapsed before or at roughly the same time as the Hittite world, so if the Hittites were gone, then so too must be the Greeks, and how could there be a Trojan War then?
And even if the end of the Hittite Empire preceded the fall of Homeric Greece by several years, one would expect there to be at least an echo of the Hittites in The Iliad - successor or splinter empires, that kind of thing
Most likely, I think, we are looking too hard and too literally at The Epic Cycle texts for a mention of the Hittites. After all, the name ‘Hittite’ didn’t actually exist in the Late Bronze Age. The Hittite people actually referred to themselves as ‘The People of the Land of Hatti’. More, Egypt knew them as ‘The Khetti’. And that’s where one theory arises: Odyssey, the tale of the Greek hero Odysseus’ tumultuous and circuitous voyage home, contains a passage of exposition about the war which mentions the arrival at Troy of a small force known as ‘The Keteioi’ who came to help the defenders..
In the final year of the war, following the death of Hektor, these 'Keteioi' turned up and became one of Troy’s last hopes. Could these Keteioi be the Hittites? It is a frustratingly flimsy deduction but intriguing nonetheless. Certainly, it seems more plausible at least than other wilder theories – that the Amazons were in fact the Hittites (owing to the Hittites' long, dark ‘feminine’ hair and shaved chins), or that a minor Trojan ally, the Halizones, were the Hittites.
“Now as we have come to an agreement on Wilusa over which we went to war.”
Onomastic similarities (similar-sounding names) aside, there is another compelling piece of evidence that the Hittites could have been at the Trojan War in some capacity.
It stems from an excavated Hittite tablet known as the 'The Tawagalawa Letter', named after the brother of the Greek King to whom it was addressed. This tablet is dated to the reign of the Hittite King Hattusilis III (1267-1237 BC), and mentions a conflict over Troy between The Greeks and the Hittite Empire, roughly dating to 1260 BC. Could the 'Keteioi' of Odyssey and this 'Tawagalawa Letter' conflict be evidence that the Hittites took part in the legendary war? Perhaps. It is certainly not concrete evidence, but definitely intriguing.
Now, if we work on the assumption that they were at the war, we must then ask why they made so little impact. The Hittite Empire was - only a generation earlier in 1274 BC - the greatest military power in the world, having just turned the mighty Pharaoh Ramesses and his Egyptian armies away from Kadesh in another of the Bronze Age's famous clashes.
Surely the Hittite armies should have turned up at Troy and been able to steamroller the Greeks? To understand why this apparrently didn't happen, we must look a little closer into the goings-on in the Hittite Empire during the short gap between the wars at Kadesh and Troy...
Around the time of the Trojan War, King Hattusilis III had only recently claimed the Hittite throne from his nephew, Urhi-Teshub. He decided to exile rather than kill the previous incumbent, though he must quickly have realised that this was a huge mistake. Many of the vassal kingdoms, sensing that the exile might be on the brink of returning in an effort to reclaim the throne – bringing war and retribution with him – wavered in their loyalty to King Hattusilis’ rule. Hattusilis was also plagued by jibes of illegitimacy from mocking foreign rulers. The Great King of Assyria – a rival empire – sent neither envoys nor gifts to Hattusilis coronation ceremony, and went as far as to label him as ‘A substitute for the real Hittite King’.
Sensing trouble, Hattusilis sought new allies. The greatest agreement of this kind was that which he struck with Ramesses II of Egypt. He and his erstwhile sparring partner from Kadesh agreed what is known as ‘The Eternal Treaty’ or ‘The Silver Treaty’, which laid out the conditions of a defensive alliance between the Hittites and the Egyptians. This effectively mitigated the huge threat posed by Assyria, and plausibly would have freed Hattusilis and his Hittites up to tend to the long unanswered call for help from Troy. Yet any force he might have taken to Troy would have been likely been severely depleted from the recent war to oust his nephew. This could tally with the attested small contingent that the Keteioi brought to the Trojan War.
The Odyssey does not describe what the Keteioi went on to do upon their arrival. So I have taken up the challenge to tell the story on the premise that they were, in fact the Hittites.
The Shadow of Troy tells the tale of the epic climax to the greatest war of all time.
Quickie blog this time - just wanted to shout out about an article I wrote about the historical background to The Shadow of Troy, in the autumn '21 edition of Antiquus magazine.
Nice to see my ramblings in glossy format! Also, it was great to work with the team there, and to discover all the other historical content they cover.
The legend of the Trojan War has held the attentions of countless generations - from those who lived in its aftermath right through to the present day. Why the eternal fascination? Personally, I have never been able to leave along the thought of what might have been had Hektor beaten Achilles. Could it have tilted the balance of the war in Troy's favour? Then again, if it had played out like that, perhaps the epic tale might never have been born. Troy had to fall in order to become the legend that it is. Had King Priam's army and those of his allies staved off the Greeks and sent them scuttling back to their homeland*, would that tale of a failed siege have been as worthy of lore? Maybe, but it would have a very different spin on it and would be composed by a Trojan bard no doubt**.
*There are theorists out there who speculate this might actually have happened, and that the tale of Greek victory is a huge piece of fabrication.
**Tantalizingly, Calvert Watkins of Harvard University suggested that some as-yet untranslated Hittite texts might contain the remnants of what he called a possible "Wilusiad". This would have been, he hypothesized, another historical epic about the Trojan War but one written from the perspective of the Trojans or the Hittites rather than the Greeks. Imagine!
Thinking on this for the thousandth time put me in the mood to have a look at the attested forces who waged the war. For it was they, not just Hektor and Achilles, who fought out this conflict. What follows is an attempt to put a plausible shape and size to the two forces who battled over the city some 3,200 years ago.
The Greek Forces
The armies of the Greeks ('Ahhiyawans' to the Hittites or 'Achaeans' in Homeric parlance) were led by Agamemnon, the warrior king of Mycenae.
Greece of this era was not in any way a nation. Instead, the rocky peninsulas and archipelagoes housed a number of small but powerful city-states, each of whom considered themselves proudly independent. So it was no mean feat when Agamemnon managed to bind them together into a unified force for the assault on Troy.
Legend has it that he achieved this by citing the Oath of Tyndareus - when Queen Helen of Sparta chose to marry Menelaus, all of her rejected suitors swore to protect the marriage, so when she absconded with Prince Paris of Troy, they were obliged to unite and act.
But in reality, without such a glittering prize as Troy, it is highly unlikely that the joining of the many city-states could have occurred or held for as long as it did (the Trojan War supposedly lasted some ten years).
Agamemnon's forces gathered at the port of Aulis for the expedition to Troy. What kind of army would this have been?
Given the largely mountainous terrain in Greece, their style of warfare is likely to have been something akin to that of sea raiders. Thus, the gathered forces are likely to have been largely composed of spear and sword infantry with a small number of elite royal chariots.
Homer's Iliad has a very famous scene in it known as 'The Catalogue of Ships' in which he slavishly details every single faction involved in the Greek effort. We also hear of the Greeks attacking Troy with 'one thousand black boats'. Given a warship of the age might cary 30-50 men, this would equate to an army of up to 50,000. Quite simply this is highly unlikely. A force of a few thousand, maybe up to 10,000, is more plausible and for that age and region, still represents a colossal military expedition.
There were some major and many minor factions involved. The following graphic (click to enlarge) aims to put some kind of proportional shape to the expedition force.
The Armies of Troy and her Allies
Priam was the King of Troy, but the most powerful man in the city was most likely his son and heir, Hektor. Hektor was in his prime, something of a battle-hero and talisman to the Trojan forces and citizens. He, along with his most senior princely brothers Paris, Deiphobus and Scamandrios, would have led the native Trojan army. This would have been a small but elite force, composed of infantry spearmen, archers and a crack wing of war-chariots (such as those who aided the Hittites at The Battle of Kadesh). The bowmen and chariots in particular would have distinguished the Trojan forces from the Greeks: Anatolia (unlike the Greek mainland) sports many flat and sweeping plains - perfect country for the chariot, and a land with a millennia-old archery tradition.
As soon as they got wind of the Greek invasion, Priam and Hektor sent a call for help to their allies, a call that stretched far and wide. Friendly states all along the western Anatolian coastal regions arrived, so too did further flung allies - from across the Hellespont and even as far away as Elam (roughly modern Iran). An outline of the known allies is depicted in the graphic below (click to enlarge).
The Trojans were most likely outnumbered by the Greeks, but with Troy's walls and highly-defensible position on a coastal mound, they had more than enough soldiery to frustrate the besiegers - indeed, that is probably why the Greeks were forced to employ trickery in the form of the Trojan Horse to finally take the city.
One outstanding question remains, however: Just look at the 'world' map of the time (below) - Troy was but one vassal city on the edge of the huge Hittite Empire. And the Trojans had only a generation earlier supported the Hittite army at the Battle of Kadesh, so surely it was time for the Hittites to repay the favour? With the Hittite emperor and his armies - probably the most feared force in the world at the time - Troy need not have been outnumbered.
So where were the Hittites, the mighty overlords and supposed protectors of Troy?
It just so happens that that's the topic of my next blog - read it here :)
Thanks for reading! If you like the history, you might be interested in my fictional take on the war - Hittites included! THE SHADOW OF TROY is available at all good online stores.
The legend of the Trojan War is recounted in Homer’s Iliad – a revered text, arguably the crux of classical literature and foundational to the history of Western civilization. In that previous sentence, you might notice two words that sit somewhat at odds: history and legend.
Most of us are familiar with at least the kernel of the legend: Prince Paris of Troy abducts Helen, Queen of Sparta. Incensed, the Greeks under the leadership of Agamemnon of Mycenae, gather a giant army, land at Troy and besiege King Priam’s city for ten years. After the death of the Trojan hero, Prince Hektor, the city finally falls thanks to the trickery of Odysseus and his Trojan Horse. Yet how much of the narrative can we confidently align with or attribute to history?
Perhaps more than you might think...
Firstly, Troy was a very real city.
For a long time we had only the oral tradition of the Iliad to ‘prove’ the existence of a Bronze Age city called Troy. In the 19th century, Heinrich Schliemann directed digs at the mound of Hisarlik (near the Aegean coast of northwestern Anatolia) to investigate the theory that the mound was the site of ancient Troy. His archaeological findings tantalised, but proved inconclusive. There was nothing to definitively identify the site as the Troy of legend.
However, in the same era, the French archaeologist-adventurer Charles Texier was roving across central Anatolia in search of the Roman city of Tavium. In fact, he instead stumbled across mysterious ruins in the high, rugged lands east of Ankara – ruins that were not Roman or Greek... but much, much older. He had found the city of Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittite Empire – a great power contemporaneous with Bronze Age Troy and one forgotten by history for thousands of years.
The Hattusa excavations began soon after, and in the early 20th century, the historian-archaeologist Hugo Winckler unearthed a huge cache of some 30,000 clay tablets, etched with cuneiform writing. After years of trying, it was Archibald Sayce and Bedrich Hrozny who finally deciphered these Hittite texts. Lo and behold, these spoke of a vassal city – allied and bound to the Hittite throne – known to the Hittites as Taruisa. More, it transpired that this Taruisa was the major settlement in a region called Wilusa. This was striking because, in the world of Homer’s Greeks, Troy was known as Troia, and the region as Ilios. It doesn’t take a philologist to spot the similarity in the names.
Take the Greek region name ‘Ilios’, add the Hittite-style ‘w’ prefix and ‘sa’ (pronounced 'sha') suffix and the similarity is clear. Equally, if you add the ‘sa’ suffix alone to Troia, the match is there.
Even better, further studies of the Hittite tablets began to indicate strongly that this Taruisa lay smack bang in the region of northwestern Turkey where Schliemann had been digging. In other words we had our first historical attestation of Troy.
Secondly, there was a war over Troy in the Late Bronze Age.
Thirdly, the Trojan War might well have happened around 1260 BC.
While the war has been ‘dated’ to various decades around the end of the Bronze Age, with estimates spanning 1280-1180 BC, I believe that the war from which the legend derives occurred in the earlier part of that range. My rationale is threefold:
Fourthly, Troy was not a 'Greek' style city.
Priam's capital has been depicted in countless works of art, film and literature as a golden city of palaces and orchards, and most often Aegean Greek or even anachronistically classical in style & culture. This is understandable given that the The Iliad is told from a Greek perspective, and was rewritten time and again in the much later classical period.
Historically, the city of Troy was almost certainly a cosmopolitan hub – a Singapore of the Bronze Age, a crossroads between east, west, north and south. The city’s markets and in particular her trade ports would have been constantly clogged with merchants – from Mycenae, Egypt, Babylon… even tin traders from distant Britain! Underneath this current of passing trade, I believe that the people of Troy were more likely to have been culturally Anatolian than Greek. Why? The practices detailed in The Iliad – such as Hektor’s funeral ritual with first a pyre then the cleaning and burial of his bones, plus his brother Deiphobus’ immediate marriage to the widowed Helen – are very strikingly Anatolian and specifically Hittite customs.
Supporting this angle is the one and only writing find from Troy - a seal, marked not with Linear B Greek language, but with Luwian (Hittite) heiroglyphs.
The army of Troy was another thing which would have distinguished the Trojans from their attackers. Agamemnon’s forces – from the mountainous regions of Greece – appear to have been largely composed of spear and sword infantry with a small number of elite royal chariots. In contrast, the Trojan military would have been trained on the sweeping plains of Anatolia – perfect country for archery and horse breeding – and would have comprised more of both bowmen and chariots.
Walking in Homer's Footsteps
It was with the above historical foundation that I set out to write my story of the Trojan War 'The Shadow of Troy'
I assumed I'd fly through the story, what with so much drama and detail to draw upon. But it wasn't as easy as I'd hoped! My first draft turned out to be something of a slavish regurgitation of The Iliad. The Gods weren't present, but almost everything else was: every cut to the hand, every turn of weather and all the most famous poetic lines were in there. So… I tore it up and started again.
My goal, you see, was never to simply recount the tale that Homer had already told so well. I wanted to get under the skin of the legend, to understand how things might have been in the pauses between the verses of The Iliad... to match up the poetry against the historicity of the excavated tablets and finds.
I thus opted to omit and truncate many events and minor characters in order for The Shadow of Troy to be the story I wanted it to be. This allowed me great freedom to write about the grimier, guerrilla-style military necessities which surely must have accompanied the heroic one-on-one duels, to portray more plausibly the likely numbers of troops on each side, and to examine the primal trauma such a brutal war must have caused the individuals involved - the painting ‘Ulysses and the sirens’ by Herbert Draper, captures this theme with haunting perfection.
'Ulysses and the Sirens' by Herbert Draper. In it we see Odysseus on the way home from the Trojan War. He has tied himself to the ship's mast so that he will not be lured into the waves by the Sirens. But all is not as it seems. Just look at the torment wrought across the hero's face, the eyes glazed with madness. Is it really the Sirens who are driving him from his wits... or is it memories of the war just gone, of things seen and deeds done?
In 'The Shadow of Troy' I also:
The Shadow of Troy is my take on the Trojan War. Regardless of how you choose to interpret the legendary story – as a poetic symbol or as a historical record – the outcome of the tale is a sorry one: the Trojans lost everything; King Priam’s line was wiped out and his city was never the same again.
Worse, the conquering armies soon discovered that their victory was fleeting, for their realm across the sea quickly fell into the dust of history too. One theory is that they were consumed by a storm of change. But that is another story...
The war at Troy has raged for ten years. Its final throes will echo through eternity…
1258 BC: Surrounded and outnumbered by the army of Agamemnon, King Priam and his Trojan forces fight desperately to defend their city. In the lulls between battle, all talk inevitably turns to the mighty ally that has not yet arrived to their aid. Agamemnon will weep for mercy, the Trojans say, when the eastern horizons darken with the endless ranks of the Hittite Empire.
King Hattu has endured a miserable time since claiming the Hittite throne. Vassals distance themselves while rival empires circle, mocking him as an illegitimate king. Worst of all, the army of the Hittites is but a memory, destroyed in the civil war that won him the throne. Knowing that he must honour his empire’s oath to protect Troy, he sets off for Priam’s city with almost nothing, praying that the dreams he has endured since his youth – of Troy in ruins – can be thwarted. All the way, an ancient mantra rings in his head: Hittites should always heed their dreams.
Another excerpt from The Shadow of Troy. Warning: contains gore!
Agamemnon’s war-car surged through and ahead of the enemy infantry charge – the Great King wearing a lion hood and banded armour and his team of brightly-caparisoned horses braying. Sliding out either side of him came the chariots of Diomedes and old feather-crowned Nestor. Behind them, these three kings’ elite charioteers fanned out in a skein – a combined squadron of thirty.
‘Spears, level!’ Hattu echoed the command, he and his Hittite guards Bulhapa and Zupili bringing up their shields like interlocking tiles and training the tips of their lances. On their right, Masturi had his Seha Riverlanders did likewise, adjoining with the trio. But on his left the Ascanians simply stood in a swaying, disordered mass, holding short swords and cudgels – a hopeless defence against a chariot strike. Likewise many of the other allies. Only Prince Hektor and his Trojan Guardians and Sarpedon and his Lukkans presented a solid spear wall.
‘Spears!’ Hattu cried again, desperate. As the Ahhiyawan chariot front surged to within strides, Hattu saw the whites of their steeds’ eyes and the red wetness at the backs of the yelling charioteers’ throats. He had never been this close to meeting an enemy chariot charge in battle in such a disordered state. He had seen plenty of foes ruined by it though.
‘Yaaa!’ Agamemnon roared gleefully, guiding his chariotry towards Hattu and the weak spot of the Ascanians.
Hattu’s mouth dried to sand and his stomach twisted like a sack of snakes. He clung to his shield and spear just as the Ahhiyawan war-cars slammed against what should have been an allied wall.
His world turned upon its head. The breath leapt from his lungs as he tumbled backwards, his shield almost caving in, Agamemnon’s spear streaking down to stab into the earth a finger’s-width from where he landed.
Shadows, dust, chaos.
Cruel slashes of light shone down to reveal Zupili falling under the enemy king’s chariot wheel, his body and head crushed before the chariot ploughed on into the allied masses. He heard Ascanians behind him roar and scream, bodies punctured by charioteer’s javelins or burst under wheels. He had no sooner struggled to his feet than a chorus of roars washed over him, and the wall of Ahhiyawan infantry rushing in the wake of the chariots slammed into the allied lines.
With a deafening clatter of shields and scream of swords meeting, he found himself flailing backwards, he and Bulhapa almost surrounded. Cretan spear elites drove at him, shrieking, shouldering, stabbing. Hattu ducked back from one such, spearing the foe up through the soft tissue under the jaw, the tip raking through his grimacing teeth, severing the tongue then bursting out of the skull just behind the hairline. The man’s wild expression faded into an eternal, emotionless gaze, his eyes crying blood as death’s dark cloud closed around him.
Hattu pulled his spear back, a shower of blood and brain matter soaking him as the man’s face collapsed. As the warm, stinking mess ran in runnels down across his lips, forcing him to taste it, the Goddess Ishtar hissed in his mind: 𝘋𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘬 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘯𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘣𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦, 𝘒𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘏𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘶. 𝘈 𝘵𝘰𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘴 𝘢𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘥…
Hope you liked! THE SHADOW OF TROY is out now in all formats!
A wee excerpt from my forthcoming novel The Shadow of Troy, in which King Hattu finds himself in a rather tricky situation within the Ahhiyawan camp...
The nobles before and around Hattu parted with a clatter of leather and bronze, opening up a short corridor to the throne and the warrior king upon it.
Agamemnon was younger than he had imagined, chiselled with a dimpled, beardless chin and jet-black tresses of oiled hair, one lock curled on his forehead, the rest swept back and hanging in a thick cascade behind his shoulders. He wore a tasselled leopard pelt kilt. Hattu could smell a perfume of pine resin emanating from him, stark against the odour of unwashed nether regions elsewhere in the shack. Agamemnon stared back at him, head dipped menacingly. ‘Who… and what… are you?’
A moment of silence passed, broken only by the crash of waves on the shore outside and the cry of gulls. ‘I am a travelling peddler, 𝘞𝘢𝘯𝘢𝘹,’ Hattu lied. ‘I came here to this bay to provide you with whatever you might need.’
Agamemnon looked him up and down a few times. ‘Need? An explanation, perhaps. In the early years of this war, traders flocked to this beach camp. They would come to buy and sell wool, ingots, gems, spices, wine. But soon the war became fraught, resources stretched. Now, ships stay in port, merchants remain at home.’ His top lip quirked in disdain. ‘We have not had a trader here for over five years…’ one of his eyes narrowed, ‘then you arrived.’
Hattu’s mind flooded with ideas and explanations – all felt flimsy at best. At last, like the glint of a precious metal in the sunlight, he thought of something… the most precious metal. ‘None who came here before, nor any of those who have stayed away since, would have been in possession of what I can offer. Weapons.’
Agamemnon sucked his cheeks in and slumped back on his throne, resting his chin on one palm. ‘Oh?’ he said dismissively, glancing around the shields and crossed spears fixed to his hut walls.
Hattu’s lips twitched at one end. ‘Weapons… of iron.’
Agamemnon arched one disdainful eyebrow. He made a noise in his throat, somewhere between a grunt and a laugh. ‘Take him away,’ he said with a lazy swish of the hand, gazing outside through the doorway, ‘beat him and throw him outside the camp.’
The two guards moved for him.
‘… 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 iron,’ Hattu added.
Agamemnon’s eyes snapped back round. He perched forward on the throne, snapping his fingers to still his guards. All around Hattu, faces fell agape. After a pregnant silence, Agamemnon clapped his hands. The council is over. Everyone, leave me.’
The place drained, the council members helped on their way by the two elite guards.
Alone with Hattu, Agamemnon looked over him again. ‘Nobody knows the secret of good iron. It is an impossibility. A myth.’
Hattu simply smiled. If it was to be a game of bluff, then he was well-practiced. ‘I dare not contest the assertions of a Great King. Thank you for your time, Wanax,’ he quarter-bowed. ‘Now, I will take my leave.’ He turned to depart.
Hattu slowed and halted, turning back to the Ahhiyawan King.
‘How many such weapons?’
‘Racks filled with swords and spears,’ he lied. ‘Hundreds of them. Enough to help win you this war.’
Agamemnon licked his lips. ‘What do you ask in return? Silver? Spice?’
‘I have no need for such things. I would gladly give you the blades for free.’
Agamemnon looked at Hattu askance for a moment, then rocked on his throne, laughter pealing freely. ‘You have been out in the sun too long, my friend.’
‘All I want to know is that I am giving this gift to the right side in this war.’
Agamemnon’s laughter stuttered to a halt. ‘The right side?’ he said, leaning forward again. ‘What do you know of war, Peddlar?’
𝘛𝘰𝘰 𝘮𝘶𝘤𝘩, Hattu thought. ‘On my way here, on the plain before Troy, I saw shells of men, cages of ribs and armies of flies. I heard rumours that this conflict was started by one woman, and waged by the Ahhiyawan Great King, hungry to extend his territory.’
Agamemnon slapped a hand on the arm of his throne. ‘Ha!’ he forced a laugh that was terse and dripping with fury. Hattu knew he had riled the king: enough to elicit information, hopefully. ‘And did they tell you about the Trojan ships, confiscating huge tolls from our grain fleets that sail to and from the Hellespont strait? The northerly winds blow all vessels either here into the Bay of Boreas or into the Bay of Troy. Like two webs with Priam’s city crouching on the edge like the hungry spider. Meanwhile the harvests of Ahhiyawa – meagre at the best of times – grow dangerously light with every passing year of this damned drought.’
Hattu felt an unexpected flicker of sympathy. The story was the same all across Hittite lands. A world drying up, the parched crust cracking with every earth tremor.
‘These weapons… give them to me,’ Agamemnon demanded, ‘and I will finish this war before the summer is out.’
Hattu spread his palms. ‘I do not carry such precious goods with me – I’m sure you understand. I will take leave of your camp, and return with the weapons tomorrow,’ he lied.
‘I will provide an escort for you,’ Agamemnon said, eyes growing hooded.
Hattu smiled, masking his frustration. ‘That would not be good. At my hideout, I have a band of archers who have sworn to shoot on sight anyone they see approaching, unless it is me alone.’ He slid his satchel from his shoulder and left it on the floor, the simple goods within partly-visible. ‘Keep my belongings as assurance.’
Agamemnon scowled at the satchel then scrutinised him for a time, before flicking his fingers towards the hut door. ‘Go, and return here by dawn… or I will have my dogs track you down.’
Hattu, head full of the things he had heard and seen, bowed and turned towards the hut door. In his way stood two of
Agamemnon’s bodyguards, spears crossed, granite faces glowering at him. They slid their spears apart to let him leave, but before he could do so, a scrawny figure entered. The Sherden pirate who had watched him closely on the shoreline. ‘Do not let him go, 𝘞𝘢-𝘯𝘢𝘹,’ he said in that awkward accent. ‘He is a Hitt-ite!’
Hattu’s blood ran cold.
Agamemnon’s lips peeled back to reveal clenched teeth and gums. ‘A 𝘏𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘪𝘵𝘦?’
‘I heard them talking in the Hittite tongue, I have seen their like before. I know it, Wa-nax, I do!’ the Sherden gushed like a child trying to impress its parent.
‘I know many tongues,’ Hattu waved a dismissive hand. ‘That does not mean that I am-’
‘You are a spy,’ Agamemnon hissed. ‘A Hittite spy for Troy. How many of your kind are there here?’ he said, his face growing ashen. ‘Where are your armies?’
𝘐𝘧 𝘰𝘯𝘭𝘺, Hattu thought, 𝘪𝘧 𝘰𝘯𝘭𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘥𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘪𝘵𝘦 𝘌𝘮𝘱𝘪𝘳𝘦 𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦, 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘸𝘢𝘳 𝘸𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘣𝘦 𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘪𝘯 𝘥𝘢𝘺𝘴.
‘I am a mere peddler,’ Hattu persisted.
‘After he came into the camp, the archers advanced to the brow of the hills, Wanax,’ one of the guards advised. ‘There are no signs of a new army in the vicinity.’
Agamemnon drummed his fingers on his bottom lip. ‘Whoever you are, you have heard too much in this hut. Perhaps you are a Hittite, perhaps not. At dawn tomorrow, when we advance to fight the Trojans again, you will come with us… and you will be impaled on the hills as a pre-battle sacrifice.’ He clicked his fingers. ‘Seize him, bind him in the prisoner tents, then prepare a stake.’
The guards’ hands slapped down on Hattu’s shoulders.
Hope that tantalises! THE SHADOW OF TROY is available worldwide in eBook and print formats, now!
Thanks to writing and its many circles, I've met countless lovely individuals over the years. Recently, I made friends with the multi-talented Mark McLaughlin.
Not only has Mark authored the 'Throne of Darius' series - a unique take on the age of Alexander the Great - but he is also something of a master wargamer, having designed, prototyped and launched numerous games covering vital points throughout history.
I was particularly chuffed when he told me he had even tailored one gaming session to include elements of my depiction of The Battle of Kadesh (read more about my take and Mark's gaming sesh)!
So with our shared interest in books, battles and bundles of history, I reckoned it would be good to explore Mark's work a little further in a Q&A!
Here we go:
Q & A
Gordon: I find it most intriguing that in your 'Throne of Darius' series, you tell the story of Alexander the Great's conquests from the point of view of his opponents. Did you look at Alexander - one of history's giants, well covered as a protagonist by many novelists - and actively seek an alternative viewpoint from which to tell the story of this epic era, or did the viewpoint naturally strike you?
Mark: Just like everyone else in the West for the last 23 centuries, I was fed the Alexander legend. I was told his side - and only his side - of the story for as long as I can remember - right through military school and university... but after 60 years of that, I'd had enough of the propaganda. Alexander certainly was not 'great' to the peoples he fought, slaughtered, enslaved and conquered - and that included first and foremost the Greeks. The first battle he fought in was against Greeks (Chaeronea, where he led his father's cavalry to destroy the Theban Sacred Band) and the first city he sacked was Greek (Thebes - where he killed 6,000 Greeks, sold 30,000 Greeks into slavery and quite literally razed it to the ground - except for the House of Pindar, the poet, and two temples, lest he anger the gods).
That Greeks fought against first Philip and then Alexander is so often ignored. That Greek kings, generals and soldiers fought against Alexander at the Granicus, the Issos, and at Gaugemala is similarly glossed over.... or at best they are treated as 'mercenaries' or 'rebels' against him - which they were not. They fought against him as they saw him as a foreign tyrant (Macedonians were thought of as 'barbarians' by most Greeks). Even while Alexander was going east, at home Greeks were fighting his viceroy, Antipater - notably the "war of the mice" as Alexander so disdainfully called it, when King Agis of Sparta led a coalition against the Macedonians.
In 50 years as a journalist I covered a great deal of war, terror and politics in the Middle East and Central Asia - in many parts of which Alexander is seen as a destroyer of worlds and a foreign invader. He slaughtered tens of thousands, sacked dozens of cities, and destroyed a great empire - and culture. True, he built cities - all of them which he named after himself - but the empire he built broke apart immediately after his death. He doomed that part of the once united world to 300 years of internecine warfare.
So, as you can see, I began to see Alexander not as a hero or 'great,' but as a warmonger - and a savage one at that.
Gordon: You live over in the United States, so getting to the sites of Classical Greece can't be too easy, I guess? Do you manage to get over here to Europe and Asia Minor for research visits? I guess visits or not, all writers must become experts at armchair research too - how do you go about this side of things?
Mark: Unfortunately, I have never been able to visit Greece or the sites of Alexander's battles. On the other hand, I read a lot, and always have, and have friends who have traveled to some of those areas, and of course we can all go there virtually (thank you Sir Michael Wood for 'In the Footsteps of Alexander' book and video in particular). And, my editor is in Athens - a lovely, highly-educated Greek woman whose husband grew up outside of Thebes (and whose summer cottage is located on the site of the first battle in the first book!)
Gordon: You are something of a wargaming guru! Have you ever stumbled across a scenario while gaming, and realised it would work well in your writing projects? or vice versa - an idea while writing which influenced your approach in a subsequent gaming sesh?
Mark: My readings often spur me to design games - I have had 25 published over the last 40 years, and have four more in various stages of production. My reading, research, and gaming (board and miniatures - I have painted THOUSANDS of miniatures) often all come together. Alexander's campaigns, for example, can be fought in two of my games: Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea (where you can fight his western campaigns) and the upcoming Ancient Civilizations of the Middle East (where you can fight all of his campaigns - and those of his 'Successors.') And, of course, that research spurred me to finally write these novels (and, of course, to fight out the battles in board and computer games and on the tabletop with hundreds of painted miniatures)
Gordon: I think I know the Alexander era 'fairly' well, as in I can recall the high level timeline of his father's exploits, then his march of conquest, then the successor states. But in writing 'Throne of Darius', I bet you have found some really interesting details - a comedy moment in the normally-haughty Persian courtroom or some blood-curdling torture technique?
Mark: When it comes to torture, never underestimate the value of a European education (or a Persian one, for that matter). They always have been and still are masters at it. As for haughtiness, well, I had a Persian roommate at Georgetown one year - his father was one of the court physicians to the Shah of Iran. After a year with him, I understood why the Iranians revolted. Unfortunately, the ayatollahs are no better than the shahs. I tend to treat the Persians as far more civilized and enlightened than the Macedonians - who, even to the Greeks, were 'barbarians.' Still, hubris knows no borders, and their own pride only hastened their fall. (I put a lot of that into the section in the first book leading up to the battle of the Granicus).
Gordon: Finally, in fifteen words or less, tell anyone reading this interview who hasn't already jumped off to buy the 'Throne of Darius' books why they are amongst the best historical fiction romps out there?
Mark: This is not your grandfather's Alexander; this is history written from the other side, to whom Alexander was anything but 'great.'
Thank you, Mark! Some really eye-opening detail in there, and I just love the fact that you see writing, gaming and research as different facets of the same core thing - storytelling!
It's been great to talk to you. Keep up the brilliant work.
So I went for a research donder (Scottish for walk/excursion) down to the site of Trimontium, where once Roman and tribal forts stood proud. Here's a short docuvid of my findings:
Gordon Doherty, writer, history fan, explorer.
Empires of Bronze: The Shadow of Troy - a blistering new take on the legendary war from the dawn of history.