From the Author
The first book inthe trilogy, A Boy of the Agoge,dealt with Leonidas' boyhood, and APeerless Peer looked at Leonidas as an ordinary Spartan ranker. In thisfinal book of the series, I turn to Leonidas' years of greatest influence. Itdescribes him as a diplomat as well as a soldier, and above all as a king.
I realize that fans of the film 300 may find it hard to think of Leonidas as a diplomat. In theHollywood cartoon, Leonidas is portrayed as the brutal antithesis of adiplomat: he personally throws a Persian ambassador down a well. But there is no more historical evidence thatLeonidas committed this crime than that Xerxes was a monster. The historicalrecord, foggy and imprecise as it is, suggests that far from being a tactlessbrute, Leonidas was a savvy diplomat.
Leonidas' accomplishments as king were even moresignificant, if harder to document. It is clear from looking at Spartan historyfrom the Messenian wars to Sparta's dismal and ignominious end under Rome thatLeonidas' reign was a turning point. Archaic Sparta not only saw theestablishment of a new, revolutionary form of government (arguably the firstdemocracy in history), but also a significant flourishing of the art and trade.Sparta's most significant monuments were built in the Archaic age, and her mostfamous poets lived then too.
Incontrast, Sparta in the Classical Period is characterized by artisticstagnation and a dramatic end to Sparta's competitiveness in trade andmanufacturing. In this period, Spartans disdained all forms of luxury, and byinference, art itself. In short, Spartansociety underwent a radical, indeed revolutionary, change in the mid-fifthcentury BC, immediately after Leonidas' death.
Leonidas was the last of thearchaic kings not just in terms of timing, but in terms of policy. DuringLeonidas' lifetime Sparta took an active interest in world affairs, and led aninternational coalition opposing Persia. Even more significant is thepossibility that Leonidas' domestic policies were tolerant and liberal.
As in the earlier two books in this series, I have mademaximum use of the available ancient sources, relying as much as possible onHerodotus and the sayings attributed to Leonidas and his wife Gorgo by Plutarchand other ancient scholars. This book also reflects extensive secondaryresearch on ancient Sparta as well as a dozen trips to Greece to visit Sparta,Athens, Corinth, Delphi, Argos, Messenia, Olympia and Thermopylae.
Over theyears this research has led me to an understanding of Spartan society thatstands in sharp contrast to the often simplified, sometimes fantasizedportrayals found in other works. Spartawas a complex and far from static society, and readers interested in asystematic discussion of my interpretation of Spartan society should refer tomy essays on Sparta on my website SpartaReconsidered andmy blog of the same name.
About the Author
Her novel set in the 7th Crusade, St. Louis' Knight,won the 2014 Chaucer Award for the Best Historical Fiction set in the HighMiddle Ages, and also placed third in the 2014 Feathered Quill LiteraryAwards for both Historical and Spiritual Fiction. All three books in her Balian d'Ibelin biography, Knight of Jerusalem, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree.
Helena is a career diplomat currently serving in Africa.