The weird things that worry an historicals writer.

This has been driving me mad. Part of the book I'm writing takes place in Magnesia-on-the-Maeander circa 460B.C. or thereabouts. Great. Now, what did the damned place look like? A map would be useful.

For a city like Athens, the problem is too much information. I've had to sift through piles of stuff to work out what's up, what's down, and what doesn't exist yet for my date. I honestly believe if you planted me blindfolded at one corner of the Athenian agora of 461BC, I could walk to the opposite corner, and if I couldn't do it without running into something, I'd at least know what I'd just tripped over.

The problem of Magnesia is the exact opposite. The first confusion is there are two Magnesias within walking distance of each other: Magnesia-on-the-Maeander, and Magnesia-on-the-Sipylum. Some genius thought this was a great idea.

No, make that three Magnesias. When I began researching the book I discovered a reference that said my Magnesia, the one on the Maeander, had been moved wholesale by the citizens to somewhere up the road in about 399B.C., which is a bit over 60 years after my story.

I found this reference, and then I promptly lost it. But I remembered the information. When it came time to describe the city in the story, I was in a quandary. There are known, excavated ruins of a Magnesia-on-the-Maeander with a decent map, but I was pretty sure it wasn't my Magnesia, it was the later one. However without that reference I couldn't prove it. Should I describe my city as per the known ruins, and then have some sharp-eyed reader point out I'd used the wrong city? Or should I make up my own Magnesia and then have some sharp-eyed reader point out I should have used the known city? Or maybe I was imagining that I'd ever read the city had moved?

If only I could recover that accursed reference. Extensive googling couldn't find it. Even querying real professional archaeologists drew a blank.

By sheer luck I rediscovered it tonight. Dear old Diodorus Siculus says, from the Loeb Library edition: Thibron [a Spartan General with an army] ... came to Magnesia which was under the government of Tissaphernes; taking this city at the first assault, he then advanced speedily to Tralles in Ionia and began to lay siege to the city, but when he was unable to achieve any success because of its strong position, he turned back to Magnesia. And since the city was unwalled and Thibron therefore feared that at his departure Tissaphernes would get control of it, he transferred it to a neighbouring hill which men call Thorax...



D.A. Riser said...

The worst part about these is that they suck away your writing time. Trying to wade through conflictings sources (or no sources!) is frustrating. My sympathies.

The places are bad in Greece but the family histories are just as tough. I attribute the frightful state of both to too many ancient writers being too free with too many facts.

Alex Moore said...

time suckers, indeed! sometimes they're black holes of time suckers -- esp when it's a rabbit trail of entertaining and possibly pertinent information that leads you on a merry chase, seducing you down dark alley ways that cannot help but glimmer with possibility... Yes, I've wasted many hours "researching" only to come away with very little I actually use. But it's generally a delightful endeavor nonetheless :P