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Counting Potsherds

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"Counting Potsherds"  
Amazing 198903
Author Harry Turtledove
First Appearance Amazing
Collected Departures
Genre(s) Alternate History
Publication date March, 1989

"Counting Potsherds" is an alternate history short story first published in Amazing Science Fiction Magazine in March, 1989. It was reprinted in Alternate Empires, edited by Gregory Benford & Martin H. Greenberg in 1989 and in the Harry Turtledove collection Departures in 1993.

The Point of Divergence appears to be in about 483 BCE, with the failure of Athens to discover a rich lode of silver in the mines at Laurium. In OTL, the Athenians used the lode to be build 200 triremes which proved crucial to the defeat of the Persians in 480 BCE. In the story's timeline, without the silver, Athens does not have the triremes, and falls to Persia.

The story takes place four centuries later. Mithredath, a eunuch servant of Khsrish IV, the current King of Kings of Persia, travels to Yauna (aka Greece) to learn more of the conquest by Khsrish I, the Conqueror. As part of his mission to gather facts to spin into propaganda, he explores the ruins of Athens. Khsrish I had ordered the city razed and left as a wilderness as a warning, since the city was the leader in opposition to him.

Editorial NoteEdit

The anthology Alternate Generals, edited by Turtledove, includes the story "The Craft of War" by Lois Tilton, which shares the basic premise of "Counting Potsherds", i.e. a Persian victory and conquest of Greece. However, in Tilton's version Athens is not destroyed. Rather, after an initial stout resistance the Athenians submit, become loyal subjects of the Persian Great King, and actively participate in the Persian destruction of Sparta. Tilton's story is written as a dialogue between the philosopher Socrates and his pupil Alcibiades, when the latter is about to travel to the Persian court in Susa and seek an appointment as a general in the Persian army.

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