THE GATES OF ATHENS by Conn Iggulden

From the publisher:

Evoking two of the most famous battles of the Ancient World—the Battle of Marathon and the Last Stand at Thermopylae—The Gates of Athens is a bravura piece of storytelling by a well acclaimed master of the historical adventure novel.

In the new epic historical novel by New York Times bestselling author Conn Iggulden, in ancient Greece an army of slaves gathers on the plains of Marathon . . .

Under Darius the Great, King of Kings, the mighty Persian army—swollen by 10,000 warriors known as The Immortals—have come to subjugate the Greeks. In their path, vastly outnumbered, stands an army of freeborn Athenians. Among them is a clever, fearsome, and cunning soldier-statesman, Xanthippus. Against all odds, the Athenians emerge victorious.

Yet people soon forget that freedom is bought with blood.

Ten years later, Xanthippus watches helplessly as Athens succumbs to the bitter politics of factionalism. Traitors and exiles abound. Trust is at a low ebb when the Persians cross the Hellespont in ever greater numbers in their second attempt to raze Athens to the ground.

Facing overwhelming forces by land and sea, the Athenians call on their Spartan allies for assistance—to delay the Persians at the treacherous pass of Thermopylae . . .

The current book by Iggulden is another of his well written excursions into novelized history.  His extensive research into the period covered is delineated in an afterward in which he discusses the principal persona and events that actually took part in the era covered. The events took place in Greece and Persia during the period between the battle at Marathon and the stand of King Leonidas at the pass known as Thermopylae in 480 BC.

The opening of the book is at the battle at Marathon. King Darius of Persia led a huge army into Greece intending to conquer and rule over the collection of city states that encompassed the Hellenic world of the day. The Persian army included what was considered the finest group of soldiers existing in the known world. They were known as the immortals and considered invincible in battle.     

A great leader from Athens named Xanthippus led the Greeks in achieving a victory over the Persians. The author attributes the win to the spirit of Athenians who were in process of forming one of the first democracies in the world. The laws of the city were formulated to ensure that all citizens would have an equal voice in their government and allowed to vote in situations calling for a majority opinion. No noble or other high ranked individual would have any more say than the poorest of the citizens in their own government. There were slaves who of course had no say in government but all citizens regardless of economic class did vote.       

After the victory at Marathon, Athens did slip into a period of political factionalism which caused divisions in the city. Fate intervened again when Xerxes the son of Darius began attempting to do what his father had failed in doing. He led a huge army and a gigantic navy into Greece with the objective of finally taking over the country just ten years after Marathon.  Opposition to the Persian advances focused on the Athenian navy attempting to stop the Persian fleet. On land a small force of Spartans and willing allies led by their war king Leonidas held off the Persian forces at Thermopylae allowing the remainder of the Spartan army and other soldiers to join the war. 

Xanthippus is again the man that is the guiding light of the Greek resistance. The author touches on his private life and problems in his marriage but leaves the fact that he was the father of Pericles who later became one of the most influential men in Athens. He was termed by one of his contemporaries as the “First Citizen of Athens.” That surely will become part of Iggulden’s next venture into early Greek democracy. 

4/2021 Paul Lane

THE GATES OF ATHENS by Conn Iggulden. Pegasus Books (January 5, 2021). ISBN: 978-1643136660. 464 pages.







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