| "Counting Potsherds" |
POD: 483 BCE;
Relevant POD: 480 BCE
|Type of Appearance:||Direct POV|
|Occupation:||Diplomat, Court eunuch|
Mithredath was a eunuch servant of Khsrish IV, the King of Kings of Persia who lived in the second century BC. He was tasked by Khsrish to learn more of the conquest of the Yauna by the King of Kings' ancestor Khsrish I, the "Conqueror". Mithredath proceeded to search out all relevant documents in Babylon but the information gleaned would not suffice. He needed to sail for Yauna Province.
Mithredath arrived in Peiraieus and set out immediately for the satrap's residence. It was dinnertime and so he was invited to join the satrap Vahauka along with his secretary Rishi-kidin, the ganzabara or financial officer Hermippos and the general of the santrap army Tadanmu. After refreshing himself with supper, he explained his mission. The others looked relieved and Hermippos suggested the best place to find more information was the ruins of Athens. Hermippos also offered the services of a secretary who knew both Aramaic and Greek since any inscriptions would be in the Hellenic tongue. Mithredath had not considered this but thought it sensible and agreed.
The next day, Mithredath was approached by a young Hellene named Polydoros who introduced himself as the secretary promised by Hermippos. Polydoros informed him that the distance to the ruins of Athens was a two hour walk so Mithredath elected to camp at the site since too much of the day would otherwise be taken up with travel. The two agreed to set out in two days time.
Two days later, on the way to the ruins, Polydoros pointed out the remains of the temple on the Akropolis or citadel at the top of a hill. Given its height, less stone had been salvaged by peasants and so they were more intact. Mithredath decided to go there first.
On reaching the top, Mithredath immediately spotted a marble stele in the Persian style. On it was an inscription in Aramaic and in the ancient script once used by the Persians and still employed by the Babylonians. It described how Khsrish had pulled down the city, which was the center of rebel Yauna, and how he decreed it remain a wilderness forevermore. He copied it onto papyrus but was dissatisfied since it did not mention the name of the king of Athens who had been defeated.
Mithredath asked Polydoros if he knew the name of this defeated king. Polydoros replied that he did not, that the legends of his people indicate that Kodros was the last king of Athens and he was from a time long before the conquest. Still dissatisfied, Mithredath then sacrificed a sheep to the Persian god Ahura Mazda in honor of Khsrish the Conqueror and to assist in his own search for knowledge of his deeds.
The next day, Mithredath searched though copies of records he had made and found one which indicated Khsrish had lead Demos of Athens into captivity. However, Polydoros informed him that Demos was not a king but the people. Mithredath sighed and then said he also found references to Boule of Athens which he had taken to be Demos' wife. Polydoros indicated that that meant council. Mithredath was disappointed but then asked where the city would have kept it's records. Polydoros replied at the citadel and down in the agora or marketplace.
Since they were at the citadel, Mithredath decided to search there first and then the marketplace. He also sent his servants Tishtrya and Raga searching for inscriptions on the walls, more because he did not want them idle than because he expected anything from them. To his surprise, they found writing on the walls in several places but Polydoros translated them as graffiti such as "Arkhias is beautiful" praising a pretty boy.
After several such false alarms, Polydoros suggested the two of them take a more systematic approach by making a circuit of the walls first since that was where decrees were usually posted. Mithredath agreed and they soon found a long inscription carved into a smooth section of wall. It was a declaration beginning with "It seemed good to the council and the people..." and went on to describe improving fortifications against Khsrish (called Xerxes) as a proposal by Aristeides. It also mentioned Leostratos by name. Mithredath wondered if one was the king and the other his minister or the other way around? Polydoros replied the inscription made no mention of anax or basileus, the usual words for king which suggested neither were the king.
They searched for two more days. In that time, they found a good number of long inscriptions but most were unhelpful. They were either broken or worn to almost illegibility. Twice Polydoros found the formula "It seemed good to the council and the people..." but neither helped since in one case most of the rest of the stone was buried under masonry or and in the other was was missing. On the evening of the second day, Mithredath decided to try the marketplace next morning.
The agora had far fewer structures than the Akropolis with only one prominent wrecked building. Mithredath elected to wander around the rest of the field first and save the building for last. The party encountered the base of a statue which celebrated Harmodios and Aristogeiton for slaying the tyrant Hipparkhos. Polydoros explained that a tyrant was a ruler of a city who was not of a kingly line. Mithredath thought it was madness for a city to honor the slayers of a ruler in this way.
After finding nothing further, they headed back to the ruins. Mithredath heard a crunch underfoot, looked down and saw he had stepped on a potsherd. Looking closer, he saw there was writing on it. Polydoros translated it as a name: Themistokles, son of Neokles. Neither could explain why and so they started off again. Mithredath stepped on another potsherd which also had written on it "Themistokles, son of Neokles". As they stood wondering why this was done twice, Polydoros stepped on a third potsherd with the same message. Mithredath ordered his servants to tear up the undergrowth to find as many potsherds as they could. In under an hour they found ninety-two all with Themistokles' name written on them.
Not understanding this further madness of the men of Athens, Mithredath left the rubbish behind and headed to the ruined building. It turned out to be the Stoa Basileios or Royal Portico. Surely they would find a list of kings here and the last would be the one Khsrish defeated. The party began searching for inscriptions and Raga found a big flat stone covered in letters. Polydoros translated the first sentence as "It seemed good to the council and the people..." which did little good for Mithredath's temper. However, the rest of the inscription described sending one Athenian a year into exile if more than 6000 potsherd are counted in favour. It included a list of names of those exiled including the name Themistokles. The final name on the list was Xerxes or Khsrish as a gesture of defiance.
It appeared the legends were true, that there was no king in Athens for Khsrish to defeat and the city was ruled by counting potsherds.