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Novelist Nick Brown on ‘The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae’

Nick Brown’s latest novel, The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae

Jan van der Crabben, CEO & Founder of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), recently sat down with Nick Brown, a teacher of archaeology and now novelist, to discuss his latest title: The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae. Brown’s book is a work historical fiction centred on the battle of Thermopylae, as told from the perspective of a foot soldier.

AHE: Mr. Nick Brown, thank you for granting AHE this interview. In a few sentences, what is the basic plot of The Wooden Walls of Thermopylae ?

NB: Wooden Walls follows on from Luck Bringer and is a research-based novel. I wanted to fill in the gaps with evidence based conjecture to flesh out a great narrative. The Athenians have won their battle at Marathon and Athens is a city seething with fear and treachery as it awaits the revenge of Xerxes, king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. It tells the story of the desperate alliance between Sparta and Athens, and how it led to Thermopylae and the destruction of the city of Athens. It also gives a flavour of the experience of the men and women who lived through these years, providing an answer as to how the three hundred Spartans came to die in the pass of the Hot Gates.

AHE: What is it that fascinated you so much about this particular period in history?

NB: I cannot understand why this period with its range and excitement is neglected in fiction when compared to Rome. I have been fascinated by this period since studying ancient history at university. Early on, I had to produce a piece of work on the Athenian general, Miltiades, who led the Athenians at Marathon. I found it amazing that a renegade like Miltiades managed to persuade the hostile Athenian politicians to leave their city and face what looked like certain death on the beach at Marathon. Within two years the Athenians tried and convicted Miltiades for acts against the city.

What happened? This period of Greek history is the foundation of Western culture, but in 490 BCE this nascent democracy looked unlikely to survive.  And yet in a period of about fifty years, modern politics, philosophy, architecture and drama were born. The story of those years is one of sacrifice, courage and innovation unrivalled by any other time.