SHADOW OF THE LION: Book 1 “Blood On the Moon” begins in Babylon on the day of Alexander the Great’s death. I researched as much as I could about that ancient city because, being a ‘visual’ writer, I like to get the details as correct as possible. The British Museum in London had some of the old walls and other artifacts on display and from my research I was able to visualize what it may have looked like.
A month after Alexander’s death, his Soghdian wife, Roxana, gave birth to a son, Alexander’s only legal heir. In the novel, he is called by his Persian name “Iskander” although the Macedonians refer to him as “little Alexander”. The infant is named joint-king with Alexander’s mentally deficient half-brother, Arridaios. A year later the journey of the royals begins, from Babylon across the country on the Persian Royal Road, back to Macedonia. It takes them to the Mediterranean coast, up to the city of Ephesus and eventually back down the coast to Egypt where Ptolemy, Alexander’s illegitimate half-brother has established the city of Alexandria.
Temple of Artemis, Ephesus
Returning up the coast they proceed north to the ancient city of Troy (Ilium). I’ve been lucky to travel up part of that coast to Ephesus and Troy, so it gave me a good visual image of the landscape, though at the time of the story, the sea came right up to the cities making them both important ports. Today they are about 5 kms from the sea.
Eventually, the travelers crossed the Hellespont, stopping to make offerings at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on the island of Samothraki. This is a beautiful little island, not often on the tourist trail, but I’ve been lucky enough to visit there twice. Then, on to Thrace (the Macedonian garrison at Doriskos) which is near the location of today’s Alexandropoulis.
The Lion of Amphipolis
On my travels across the country to the archaeological sites I made careful notes of all the sensory details and the flora and fauna so that I could include them in the narrative of the story. On my first visit to Amphipolis, a remarkable thing happened that I took to be an ‘omen’. As I walked up the road headed toward the hill where the old fort was, past the famous stone lion (a grave tribute to one of Alexander’s generals), a sudden bolt of forked lightening came down right over the hill. I didn’t go any farther that day but on another trip I went right up to the archaeological site where they were digging for finds dating to Alexander’s time. As I explored the site, mentally calculating where there might be a route down from the old fortress, a snake slithered across in the dust of the road in front of me. Another omen!
Amphiplolis (remains of gates)
From Amphipolis, the royal entourage would have taken more than a week or two to reach Macedonia because of the lumbering elephants that were escorting them and the carts and baggage they had accumulated. And when they finally arrived at Pella, it would be quite a sight and relief for the weary travelers. The journey had taken them well over a year. But at last they were there, in Alexander’s royal city!
I’ve made three trips to Pella but each time I wasn’t able to visit the actual palace site. In the little museum there is a model of what it looked like so it gave me a good idea of the structure. The palace was built on a hillside overlooking the city. It was the administrative centre as well as a grand royal residence. The monumental palatial complex covered an area of 60,000 meters and was decorated with fabulous mosaics and paintings by the famous painter Zeuxis. The city itself had the biggest agora of the ancient world. The ruins of the main avenue which connected with the city’s port, are still visible today.
Mosaic of Alexander and Hephaestion Lion Hunting (Pella)
There are other locations in the novel that I visited as well, including Dodona in Epirus where Alexander’s mother lived in exile, the old palace at Aigai and the theatre where Alexander’s father was assassinated, Vergina where the royal tombs are located, and Dion, the Macedonians sacred city near Mount Olympus. At Pydna, a military fortress on the coast, I met the archaeologist who had discovered the trench that had been built around the fort and was searching for Olympias’ burial site. This location, as well as Amphipolis, is important in the second book of SHADOW OF THE LION , subtitled “The Fields of Hades”. It covers much of the area of Thessaly and Attika, including Athens and the Peloponnese, where I have spent a great deal of time during my research trips to Greece.
Just as the journey from Babylon was an arduous and long journey for the characters of the novel, so it was for me too. I tried to be as accurate as I could with locations and descriptions to place the readers right in the scene so they could imagine what the world of my characters in SHADOW OF THE LION might have been like.