The World of Christian Cameron

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Other Greeks



Gentle and priestly Agis is a Megaran, from a town that was, in this period, generally pro-Spartan. Megarans were renowned in antiquity as founders of colonies and builders of temples, Achilles and Hectorand they were said to “build as if they are to live forever; they live as if they are to die tomorrow.” I chose to make Agis a pious man and a poet, who can quote vast parts of the Iliad and Odyssey.

It is worth noting that the Iliad was the textbook of male behavior and virtue in the Hellenistic Age. Alexander carried a copy in a golden casket on campaign, and desired above all things to be a modern Achilles. Classical Greek men with any degree of education would quote the Iliad on a daily, even hourly basis; and it was often the subject of debate, or used to cap an argument, even about military tactics (not unlike some people’s modern use of the Bible.)


Ajax is a young man from the colonial town of Tomis. He is both provincial and immature, but he has the spark of greatness—the spark that Greeks thought was god-given, or even suggested descent from a god.

Tomis was a small town founded in the late 7th or early 6th century BC, probably by Greeks, although the 6th century AD historian Jordanes claimed that the town was founded by Queen Tomyris of the Massagetae after her victory over Cyrus the Great. Modern historians suspect that the town was founded by the Getae to trade with the Greek cities on the Black Sea, and taken over by Greeks, possibly from Heraclea. Ancient Tomis has become modern Constanta, the largest port on the Black Sea.

Ajax’s father is Isokles, a native of the town, and his sister is Penelope. Many Greek parents named their children after characters in Homer, and I felt free to use those familiar Homeric names in my books to alleviate the confusion of Greek names.

Greeks of the Euxine were very rich compared to their counterparts at home, at least in the mercantile classes. However, Greece, and Attica, continued to be the home of culture and learning, and a young man of Ajax’s age would probably be sent to Athens or Corinth or Thebes (or even Sparta) for finishing. In addition, the cities of the Euxine usually avoided conflict with their neighbors (although not always) and opportunities to test oneself in combat were probably fewer than in Greece. Isokles has no intention that his son follow a career in arms, but he wants him to understand war before he goes back to the family grain trade.

Andronicus and Antigonus

Both Andronicus and Antigonus are Gauls from the south of France. Thousands of Gauls were enslaved by Greek and Carthaginian merchants in the fourth century, and traded freely throughout the Mediterranean. In addition, Syracuse (still a city in modern Sicily) under Dionysius the Elder and under Timoleon, hired Gaulic cavalrymen as mercenaries. Some were sent to Sparta in the mid-fourth century BC, and by the time of Tyrant there were Gaulic mercenaries serving throughout the Mediterranean.

I wanted several of my core characters to be “aliens” to the Greek world. The message I wanted the Gauls to send was that the armies of Alexander and Macedon, of Athens and Sparta, even of Persia, were not “national” armies in the modern sense. Alexander’s phalanx probably had men of twenty nations marching in it, and any army that had mercenaries (and that includes every major force of the period) would have a polyglot mass of men from every race and religion.

I have distinguished between the Gauls of southern France (in the persons of Andronicus and Antigonus) and the Keltoi, who are proto-Galatians just beginning to filter down into the Danube and the Scythic plains in this period. Leucon, the Tyrant of Olbia, has a bodyguard of Keltoi. They have enough words in common with the Gauls to communicate, but their cultures are already growing distinct.

How can you tell them apart? Well, Antigonus is a former slave. He’s smaller, dark haired, and far more Hellenized. Andronicus is larger, a little older, and still carries a La Tene style longsword (see page 116 of Connolly’s “Greece and Rome at War” for a discussion of types). Andronicus is blond. He is a former phylarch in the cavalry of Syracuse, and served at Crimissus, Timoleon’s greatest victory. Antigonus has been with Kineas since the siege of Tyre in 332 BC, whereas Andronicus only joined Kineas in the Ectabana campaign of 330 BC. The two are both “chieftain’s sons,” or so they claim.


Arni is a Bastarnae slave, probably a hill Thracian taken young and sold on to the Greeks of the coast. Like many slaves, he has a hazy memory of life as a free person, but slavery has its advantages — regular meals and a place to sleep, for instance. However, slavery, however gentle, is still slavery, and Arni leaps at the opportunity to be a free man.

Artemis the Hetaera

In Classical and Hellenistic Greek society, hetaerae were often slaves, but some – a few in the elite – could purchase their freedom and rise to become independent and influential women. All hetaerae were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes. Composed mostly of slaves and foreigners, these courtesans were renowned for their achievements in dance and music, as well as for their physical talents. There is evidence that, unlike most other women in Attic society at the time, hetaerae were educated. It is worth noting that in Sparta, for instance, all women were encouraged to perform dance and athletics and to learn, whereas in “liberal” Athens and Corinth, such pastimes were reserved for the elite of the sex trade.

Among the most famous hetaerae were Thargelia, a renowned Ionian hetaera of ancient times, Aspasia, long-time companion of the Athenian politician Pericles, Archeanassa, companion of Plato, the famous Neaera, and Thaïs, a concubine of Ptolemy, general on the expedition of Alexander the Great and later king of Egypt, who accompanied Alexander’s armies and gave me the idea for Artemis.

Hetaerae appear to have been regarded as distinct from pornê or simple prostitutes, and also distinguished from mistresses or wives. In the oration Against Neaera, Demosthenes said:

“We have hetaerae for pleasure, pallakae to care for our daily body’s needs and gynaekes to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.”

In this same oration, Demosthenes mentions that Neaera’s purchase price (both at her original purchase by Timanoridas of Corinth and Eucrates of Leucas and her own subsequent purchase of her freedom) was 30 minas. Since the mina was equal to 100 drachmae and the drachma can be thought of as equivalent to the daily wage of a skilled worker, this would make her purchase price over 8 years salary—obviously beyond the means of the average person.

Artemis aspires to such value, but in 330 BC she is simply an attractive girl with a tough mind who has learned to survive as a prostitute in an army of hard men. However, her talent for dance (inspired by a line in Xenophon) and her attraction to men of education has started her on the path to achieve her ambition to be one of those gilded and educated women who shaped Greek society.


Calchus is a big fish in a small pond, an exiled Athenian aristocrat who has achieved power and riches in a small Euxine (Black Sea) town.

Exile was a powerful tool in the ancient world, as most men and women had no safety and no rights at all outside their homeland, and could easily be sold into slavery or killed. However, by the fourth century, the complex ties of guest friendship and trade guaranteed most Athenians of any social status some places to go and live, retaining freedom and even improving their fortunes. This widening of the social and political horizon was an important part of the Hellenistic world, and it was a good thing, because the hothouse politics of Greece in the 4th century BCE led to a great many exiles roaming about — many of them aristocrats and failed tyrants. Alexander ordered all of the exiles restored to their cities in 324 BC. His intention was to put the conservative rich in power, as they were, generally, friendlier to his tyranny than the democrats.

Calchus is one such, a rich man, a conservative man, and a bit of a pompous twit. Nonetheless, he also shows the bonds of guest friendship, maintaining a dozen dangerous mercenaries for a month on his farms, and welcoming Kineas, a boyhood friend. However pompous Calchus seems, the reader should remember that he is behaving very well towards his friend — in fact, he is a model of piety and hospitality. I tried to base him a little bit on Xenophon.


Coenus is another Greek character who owes something to the character of Xenophon, whose works Coenus can quote at length. Coenus is another penniless aristocrat; not an exile, but one of those men who so lacks ambition that he has taken to soldiering as the easiest way to live and remain, at least in his own eyes, a gentlemen. He’s big and tough, good at games, a superb hunter and outdoorsman (Greek aristocrats preserved outdoors skills better than the city-living middle class).

He is well educated, and his friendship with Kineas dates to the Academy in Athens, which both attended.

Eumenes of Olbia

Eumenes is a typical young man, seventeen years old and with little more to worry about than the source of his wine and his next conquest before Zopryon’s armies threaten his homeland. His father is Cleomenes, one of the richest and most powerful men on the Euxine, and he himself is already a fully equipped member of the hippeis.

I.G. Spence’s Cavalry of Classical Greece was an indispensable source in explaining the training of a young man like Eumenes, teaching me what Kineas would have experienced as a trainee Greek cavalryas well as the value of Greek cavalry in the age of the hoplite and the phalanx.

Eumenes is quite bitter over the path chosen by his father, and it changes him; forcing maturity on the young man and some consequent bitterness that informs his character. His self-imposed exile will take him to greatness — and beyond it. And it is through characters like Eumenes that we will see the long-term consequences of having been formed by Kineas.


Another of Kineas’s boyhood friends.

Graccus is dead before you get to know him in Tyrant, but he will recur as a set of memories for Kineas and for his lover, Niceas, in future books. Graccus is a middle-class boy whose father is probably a business associate of Kineas’s father, and through that connection receives the same education and ends up in the same exile. Friendship had real consequences in the ancient world.


Laertes is another exile — a Theban. Alexander destroyed Thebes. It has become popular for Alexander apologists to insist that the Allies supported the decision, or even made it. This is the sort of sophistry that would make a fourth century Greek proud. Alexander was, after the defeat of Thebes, the military overlord of Greece, but neither Athens nor Sparta was down or out, and Alexander needed to make an example to prevent revolt. Despite the destruction of Thebes (about which Alexander may actually have felt remorse for the rest of his life) Sparta revolted against Antipater and Athens revolted — quite successfully, in fact — in the Second Lamian War.

Laertes is a sad man — weaker, in fact, than Sappho, as he has endured less horror and yet has less resolve. In fact, Laertes has been serving Alexander for four years at the start of Tyrant. He is a soldier, and he knows no other life.

Alexander’s empire existed on the back, not of his Macedonian Phalanx (a few thousand men) but on the backs of a hundred thousand Greek mercenaries who manned his garrisons, fought his battles, and served on the frontiers, often doing the dirty work of empire. Many of them would have been men who, if not displaced, would have been Alexander’s enemies — Spartans, Athenians, and Thebans.

The fact is that Greece by 330 BC had seen almost continuous mass warfare since the third decade of the fifth century — nearly a hundred years. Manpower constraints had pushed the requirements of the hoplite class down and down, as is best shown in the lack of armour of the later hoplites. As a consequence, after Chaeronea in 338 BC, Alexander and his father Phillip became the only employers for a mass of young men who knew no trade but war — a situation that recurs in history over and over.

Leucon, Archon of Olbia (The Tyrant)

Leucon is actually based loosely on the great Spartokid king of the Bosporus who successfully made war on Heraclea and forged the fourth century BC Kingdom of the Bosporus. Certainly, with his Getae alliance and family connections, my Leucon is a Spartokid, and his ties to Athens and to the rest of the Hellenic world are emblematic of the way that power politics operated in the Hellenistic era. Leucon has more friends in the world than Diodorus, and he receives news from everywhere. Men like Leucon arranged to be made citizens of Athens through grain donations; they hosted games, gave great sums of money to the major temples, and arranged to participate in every part of Greek life from fairly remote colonies.

One of the ironies of the books is that Leucon is not a “bad” man. He’s a man who has lost the will to be ruthless while still having his ambition for power. Quite early he understands what a threat Kineas will offer to him, but after one attempt to murder him, Leucon chooses to use him instead.

Tyranny was not always a bad thing in the ancient world, as any reader can see by reading Plutarch, especially about Timoleon of Corinth. However, when a Greek referred to a man as a tyrant — especially Alexander — it wasn’t meant as a compliment.

The title of the book Tyrant has more to do with the tyranny of war in the Hellenistic Age than the tyranny of Leucon the Spartokid. If any person is the “Tyrant” it would be Alexander, who, despite all his good press, murdered his friends, made aggressive war, and lied when he lost — the very picture of a modern tyrant.

The day I first set finger to keyboard to test the idea I had that ended up as this series, I listened to Donald Rumsfeld draw some parallel between Bush and Alexander on the radio, and the title was born.


Lykeles is another aristocratic Athenian, the best horseman of the lot, a good scout and a better javelin man. He’s neither intellectual nor particularly ethical, and Kineas makes the grave mistake of leaving him as (in effect) the military governor of Olbia in Tyrant: Storm of Arrows. However, he’s not willfully dishonest, just in over his head.

Lykeles is also a boyhood friend of Graccus and Kineas, as well as Diodorus and Coenus. He did not, however, go to the Academy, which perhaps explains his lack of ethics.


If Diodorus is Kineas’s best friend, Niceas must be his “other” best friend, although there is a firm dividing line of social class. Niceas is a free Athenian, a citizen, but of the poorest kind, and he has been a prostitute in a brothel without being a slave. However, Niceas was rescued from this life by Kineas’s family (in a story that is recounted in Tyrant: Storm of Arrows) and becomes, in effect, Kineas’s squire.

In addition to being something like a servant, Niceas is the hyperetes of the Olbian hippeis, having served in that capacity with the Allied Cavalry. It is possible that the word hyperetes refers to military servants, as it does in Thucydides, but it is also possible that these paid attendants of cavalry officers were the equivalent of troop Sergeant-Majors. These men would be responsible for horse care and the thousands of details that keep a troop of cavalry operational; responsible also, perhaps, for the training cycle that the “young gentlemen” would probably avoid if they could. I give Niceas the trumpet, although that office was called the salpingtes.


Nicomedes is a rich man of the highest class in Olbia, a man so rich that he would be welcome anywhere and can “play politics” in his home city, hire a fleet, buy expensive foreign slaves, and equip his troop of hippeis to be better than the other troops.

Nicomedes is certainly a type who can be found in the pages of Classical literature. He is an aesthete, a literate man who likes fine things and can afford them. In our modern world, we often assume that a man of refined taste is effeminate — the more so if that man is obviously homosexual (which Nicomedes obviously is). In the Greek world, however, such men were still expected to take their place in the Phalanx or the hippeis, to fight at sea or on land, to wrestle and box and fight like lions. I enjoyed creating a character to defy the conventional characterization of such men.

But Nicomedes is not a simple man, or a particularly good one. Despite being a good friend to Kineas and a loyal subordinate, he is also a bad master to Leon and takes pleasure in debauching the young Ajax. And yet, in the end, he falls in love with Ajax, and then must live up to his lover’s heroic ideals…