History has always fascinated me and ancient history even more so. This is where held melds in with fantasy, where facts get mixed up with mythology. This is the realm of legends, and still it is about the lives of people who once lived and breathed and walked our earth.
I grew up in Pakistan near an ancient city called Taxila which once inhabited by ancient Greeks. In my high school in England, my favorite subject was Ancient Greek and Roman History. I enjoyed the ‘Histories’ of Herodotus who is called the “Father of History” – but also the “Father of Lies.”
Herodotus wrote about this great Persian invasion of Greece which was stopped by a group of mutually antagonistic and bickering Greek states. There was the sacrifice of the 300 at Thermopylae, the great naval victory at Salamis and the destruction of the Persian army at Plataea. My question, when I first read Herodotus at 16, was how did the Greeks pull it off? How could this rag tag bunch of apparently disorganized Greeks beat a Persian Army that was allegedly 2 million strong? First, the Persian Army was probably a faction of this figure. Second, there must have been some organizing the Greek resistance. So I started looking for candidates. Leonidas, the heroic Spartan King died very early in the war and could not have seen through the final victory. Themistocles, the Athenian hero of Salamis was a brilliant tactician but while he could defeat the Persian navy he had no clue of how to stop the invading army. So after eliminating all other candidates – who were all men, I stumbled on the only person who could have done it, Queen Gorgo of Sparta.
Herodotus describes Gorgo as a precocious child. She can see through the machination of politicians when she is eight, she can crack a code which no one else can when she is a teen. She is astute, insightful, brilliant. During the time of the Persian Wars she was only in her late twenties and the real power behind the throne of her husband, Leonidas. But Gorgo’s real strength came from her father, Cleomenes.
Cleomenes is not well known in popular culture, but historians from Herodotus down to our present era find him fascinating. He was the man who turned Sparta from a middling regional state into a major military power in Greece. Though a product of Sparta’s military society, he preferred diplomacy. But Cleomenes was a man who also walked the fine line between genius and madness. Yet, there was method to his madness when it came to politics. It was ideas that Gorgo inherited and put to good effect to defeat the Persian invasion.
I have been a diplomat and I have worked on and in war zones as far apart as Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia, among others. I know a little about the nature of politics and conflict, much of it has not changed for almost three millennia. While technology may have changed much, the essentials remain the same. From my own experience I could thought I could put together a plausible story around the war and politics of the Persian invasion. And I linked that to my adolescent idea that Gorgo being the organizer of the Greek victory.
The Queen of Sparta is an essentially a political novel. It explores the limits of politics and its interplay with morality and asks the question what is the price of doing the right thing. This comes very much from my own experience in looking at politics and conflict up close.
In writing this novel, I have deliberately eschewed the one-sided hagiography that has characterized this period in both film and fiction. I wanted to move away from this one-sidedness and present, as much as possible, a more balanced viewpoint. For that reason, I created Sherzada, the enemy Prince captured by Gorgo’s Spartans. He is here foil in many ways but also the only one who truly appreciates her genius.
I also wanted to tell a broader story not only about Greece at that time but about the ancient world itself. So whilst the story starts and ends in the Indus Valley, the journey takes us not only to Greece but also to Italy and Baltic coast. I have in the process, presented an alternative “historically plausible” explanation of what happened at the time without changing any of the known facts.
T.S. Chaudhry was born in Karachi, Pakistan. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, a master’s degree from Harvard University, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Formerly a Pakistani diplomat, Chaudhry currently works for the United Nations on peace and security issues in Africa.
THE QUEEN OF SPARTA is Chaudhry’s first novel. He came up with the idea to write a story about Queen Gorgo being the architect of the Greek resistance against the Persian invasion while reading Herodotus for his A-Level examination in England several decades ago. “As a lover of history, or a ‘history-buff,’ I have always enjoyed reading both fiction and nonfiction about this period.”
Chaudhry is currently working on a “prequel” to THE QUEEN OF SPARTA based on events leading up to the Battle of Marathon, called Fennel Field.
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