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Jean Foy Vaillant could not endure another four months of slavery in the hands of Algerian pirates, so he took matters into his own mouth. The desperate Vaillant was in the midst of a dangerous numismatic journey when, about to be captured again, he swallowed his cargo of ancient gold coins. This gallant French physician had developed an insatiable interest in old Greek and Roman medals soon after he was shown a hoard freshly dug from a farm near Beauvais. Vaillant quickly became famous as one of the first savants to demonstrate the value of coins for the illumination of history.

His erudition attracted the attention of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's finance minister, who commissioned Vaillant to expand the king's collection by searching abroad for rare specimens.


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In , while on the second of his several Mediterranean voyages, this intrepid numismatist and his fellow shipmates fell into the clutches of an Algerian corsair. The French government negotiated Vaillant's release, and the return of the twenty gold and two hundred silver coins he had painstakingly gathered for the royal collection. It was on his way back to the port of Marseilles that Vaillant, his ship laboring to outrun yet another pirate attack, gobbled down his twenty gold treasures to keep them safe.

The French vessel ran aground, and the numismatist escaped, though he suffered miserably from the gold still lodged in his gut. Well-meaning acquaintances suggested various purgatifs and vomitifs to speed the process of recovery. When an avid collector heard a description of what had been swallowed, he immediately purchased one of the pieces and then patiently waited with Vaillant for the hoard's final passage so that he could claim his prize.

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Such were the perils and payoffs of numismatics in its heroic age, at a time when-as Vaillant himself said-a collector could not always lounge comfortably in his study far from the dangers of shipwreck and slavery. He also traveled to nearly all the major collections of Europe, where he gathered material for his extensive and often groundbreaking publications on the coinages of ancient Rome, Seleucid Asia, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Arsacid Parthia. Vaillant's work answered the strong antiquarian impulses of his age.

Men and women of means-kings, queens, nobles, ministers, merchants-collected and studied artifacts as a matter of personal pleasure, enlightenment, and profit.

Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian Empires

Private cabinets of curiosities, the nuclei of future museums, could be found all over Europe. These were fed by feverish methods of acquisition, sometimes destructive, since there were as yet no professional standards of education or ethics for would-be archaeologists and numismatists; the material remains of the ancient world lay at the mercy of these well-meaning amateurs. In those times, Vaillant and his contemporaries acted the part of pioneers whose courage, energy, and genius are not to be slighted simply because their methods do not exactly square with practices not yet invented.

To borrow a remark of Sir Mortimer Wheeler's: "One may as well condemn Napoleon for not using nuclear submarines at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Vaillant pursued a kind of numismatics that we might now describe, but not disparage, as checklist numismatics. This approach to coins, still popular today, tends to satisfy the concerns of collectors and art connoisseurs; it treats coins as individual objects, using them to validate or illustrate some list derived from other sources. In the early stages of studying any ancient topic, this straightforward methodology can be productive even if quite rudimentary.

Vaillant and his patrons aimed first and foremost to match the rulers of ancient empires to the coins they minted, checking off each member of a given dynasty as his or her money came to hand. In Vaillant's last great opus, his Arsacidarum Imperium, which appeared posthumously in , he devoted two seminal volumes to the Parthian empire. He set forth a detailed chronology of the dynasty, followed by a reign-by-reign history, all supported by quotations from ancient texts.

Pulling together these scattered Greek and Latin sources was itself a task of commendable erudition, marking Vaillant as an historian and philologist as well as a numismatist. For each Parthian ruler, Vaillant tried to provide drawings of a portrait coin taken either from his own collection or from that of another antiquarian such as the French king.

This simple checklist approach illustrated the line of Parthian dynasts, without elaborate commentary on the coins themselves, much as some collectors still endeavor to own one coin representing each of the Twelve Caesars or to fill every slot in a notebook of U. This proved to be an important beginning, even though it relegated coins to a secondary role subservient to the texts.

Money did not write the story; it merely put faces to the names found in dynastic lists derived independently from ancient literature. Among the kings discussed by Vaillant were a few from Bactria whose histories touched in some way upon his treatment of neighboring Parthia.

Vaillant worked these shadowy figures into his narrative, although he naturally did not illustrate any of them since no coins from Bactria were yet known. The posthumous publication of Vaillant's book in returned these monarchs to the realm of scholarly inquiry for the first time in centuries.

Alexander the Great (All Parts)

Ten years later, on May 1, , another numismatist posthumously gave new life to the lost world of the Bactrian kings. Born in Moscow the son of a Scottish mercenary, Bruce rose to fame as a military and scientific adviser to Peter the Great. An expert in all manner of practical pursuits, Bruce associated with Sir Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley; he assembled a vast personal library to support his overlapping careers as a soldier, collector, scholar, and diplomat.

No foreigner anywhere in the Russian empire outranked him until he quietly retired in order to spend his remaining hours in uninterrupted study.

Indo-Scythians

Count Bruce died on the last day of April , with one remaining good deed to perform. By prior arrangement, on the day after his death the count's considerable accumulation of antiquities passed into the collections of the Imperial Museum, in St. Bruce had made preparations for this bequest only a few days earlier, while meeting with a brilliant scholar named Theophilus Siegfried Bayer One small item in this benefaction profoundly impressed Bayer, and from it he derived at once the bold plan to find what he could of the vanished Bactrians.

This work was perhaps the most important of Bayer's career, and it would not have been undertaken but for the fortuitous bequest of Bruce. The catalytic discovery in the dead count's collection was a unique silver coin that set Bayer on his mission fig. Bruce had acquired the tetradrachm some years earlier in either Astrakhan or Kasan, and Bayer had no doubts about its authenticity.

The coin showed in profile the bust of a king wearing a diadem and a plumed helmet adorned with a bull's horn and ear. The monarch also wore a Greek cavalry cloak. On the other side the reverse , Bayer identified two cavalrymen on galloping horses, each soldier armed with a long Macedonian lance called a sarissa; Bayer failed to recognize in these figures the mythological heroes Castor and Pollux, twin sons of Zeus who were savior gods among the Greeks.

Theophilus Bayer consulted the work of Vaillant to guide him toward the scattered ancient sources for the history of Bactria. Building on the basic king list and chronology compiled by Vaillant, Bayer expanded the topic into a richly documented treatise that reached back to the legendary travels of the god Dionysus and included considerable detail on geography and languages.

For the period following Alexander's death, the so-called Hellenistic Age a term not yet invented in Bayer's lifetime , Bayer found evidence of eight Greek kings who ruled in Bactria and neighboring India from about to B. Like Vaillant, Bayer argued that Bactria gained its independence from Alexander's successors through the agency of a rebellious regional governor named Theodotus Diodotus I, who was succeeded by his son, Theodotus Diodotus II. In about B. During the war between Euthydemus and Antiochus, Euthydemus's son Demetrius impressed the invading king and was promised a Seleucid princess as his bride.

This Demetrius, it was believed, never ruled Bactria. Instead, he governed in India for many years. Meanwhile, the Bactrian throne allegedly passed directly to Euthydemus's supposed brother Menander in B. About fifteen years later, the warlike Eucratides took power in both Bactria and India, but he was eventually assassinated in B.

Bayer put Eucratides II's death in about B. Bayer's numismatic contribution lay in checking off a coin issued by one of these kings from Vaillant's list. In his zeal to mark off another, Bayer illustrated a second specimen, which he erroneously attributed to Diodotus fig.

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This overpowering compulsion is one of the inherent dangers of checklist numismatics. As a result, the association of this coin with King Diodotus has rarely been accepted by other numismatists. One scholar writing more than a century after Bayer's death dared briefly to place this specimen alongside the name of Menander on the Bactrian king list but soon thought better of it. King Eucratides, on the other hand, at last had a portrait to accompany his name, in spite of the many unfortunate factors that had conspired against the survival of either.

Living as we do in a world drowning in documents and computer data, we too often forget how easily history loses track of things. In the premodern world, essential written sources could not be mass-produced or instantly replicated; every copy of every volume had to be penned by hand, often at great expense.

Papyrus, the paper of the day, was furthermore a frail custodian of the written word, because it was constantly threatened by fire, flood, decay, and-because of its rarity-relentless recycling. Thus, only a sampling of ancient literature was ever handwritten in sufficient copies to escape total eradication over time. For example, only seven of the plays crafted by the wildly popular Sophocles of Athens managed to survive this winnowing effect.

Weighty historical works, some of them longer than a hundred volumes i. Compounding these risks was the tendency over time to abridge long works to make them cheaper and more palatable for less dedicated readers. The success of this strategy often doomed the original versions, which were essentially replaced by an abbreviated product. This practice created an inevitable historical shrinkage, with less and less useful information trickling down to later generations. The history of a king like Eucratides had to endure these caprices of man and nature, plus another major obstacle specific to his realm: the obvious remoteness of Bactria from the main centers of classical civilization.

Even the pettiest of princes living close to Greece and Rome stood a better chance of being noticed by historians working there than did a great king reigning thousands of miles away in Central Asia. Thus, even now Eucratides the Great makes no appearance in the index of one standard history of the Hellenistic Age, whereas every Ptolemy in Egypt down to the nonentity brothers of Cleopatra VII rates attention. We might call this survival by association: persons entangled in any way with a Cleopatra or Caesar are more likely to be mentioned than the mightiest who were detached from the main dramas of the Mediterranean world.

Whatever may or may not have been written about the Bactrian kings for their own sake, their continued literary existence depended largely on their connections to neighboring Parthia and India. In fact, if not for Eucratides' association with Mithridates and the Parthians, who in turn were important to Roman history, Vaillant and Bayer might never have found the name Eucratides surviving anywhere in ancient literature. In the first century B.

Sadly, this work no longer exists, but it was occasionally quoted in other ancient works for the relevance of its subject matter. The geographer Strabo 64 B. Strabo complains:. Not many who have written about India in recent times, or who sail there now, report anything that is accurate. In fact, Apollodorus who wrote the Parthica, when referring to the Greeks who broke Bactria free from the Syrian kings descended from Seleucus Nicator, does say on the one hand that they grew in power and attacked India as well; but, on the other hand, Apollodorus discloses nothing new, and even contradicts what is known by reporting that these Greeks conquered more of India than the Macedonians [under Alexander].

He actually says that Eucratides ruled a thousand cities. They also annexed part of Bactria, having overpowered the Scythians and, still earlier, those around Eucratides. At present, the Parthians rule so much territory and so many peoples that they have become, so to speak, rivals of the Romans. Strabo adds that the earlier independence of Parthia coincided with the rebellion of Diodotus against the Seleucids, and that Bactria soon prospered:. Because of the excellence of the land, the Greeks who rebelled in Bactria grew so powerful that they conquered both Ariana and India as well, according to Apollodorus of Artemita.

And so they subdued more peoples than Alexander had done, especially Menander if indeed he crossed the Hypanis River toward the east and advanced as far as the Imaus; for some were subdued by Menander himself, and some by Demetrius son of Euthydemus, the king of Bactria. They took over not only Patalene but also the rest of the coast, which is called Saraostus and the kingdom of Sigerdis. In sum, Apollodorus says that Bactria is the jewel of all Ariana, and moreover its authority stretched all the way to the Seres and Phryni.

Bactra, which they also call Zariaspa and through which flows a river of the same name that empties into the Oxus, plus the city of Darapsa, and others more. Among these was a city called Eucratidia, named after its ruler. The Greeks who took possession of the region divided it into satrapies [provinces], of which the Parthians took away from Eucratides both Turiva and Aspionus.

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The linkage of Bactria with Parthia is obvious in the works of Strabo and his now-lost source Apollodorus. The same may be said of the world history published in Greek by Strabo's contemporary Pompeius Trogus, which survives only in a Latin abridgment epitoma made centuries later by Marcus Junianus Justinus Justin. Pompeius Trogus was a Romanized Gaul who apparently relied upon the Parthica of Apollodorus of Artemita when, in volume 41 of his history, Trogus recounted the conjoined affairs of Parthia and Bactria.

For his part, Justin later condensed that narrative even further into a bare-bones recitation of selected parallel events in Parthia and Bactria, namely those that would interest a Roman audience in the third century C. Justin therefore summarized the origins of the Bactrian kingdom under Theodotus Diodotus , linked to the foundation of the Parthian kingdom under Arsaces, and then the decline of the Bactrians under Eucratides, linked to the simultaneous aggrandizement of Parthia under Mithridates.

About Eucratides, Justin wrote:. At about the same time that Mithridates began his reign in Parthia, Eucratides rose to power in Bactria.

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Both men became great, but the Parthians were more fortunate and succeeded brilliantly under their leader, whereas the Bactrians were troubled by endless wars and lost not only their lands but also their liberty. Exhausted by conflicts with the Sogdians, Arachosians, Drangians, Arians, and Indians, the Bactrians bled themselves dry and succumbed at last to the weaker Parthians. Eucratides nevertheless waged many wars with great valor. Although weakened by so much fighting and besieged by Demetrius, king of the Indians, who commanded sixty thousand troops, Eucratides with only three hundred soldiers triumphed by continual sallies.

And so, after five months he freed himself from the siege and conquered India. But when Eucratides was returning to Bactria, he was killed along the way by his own son, with whom he had shared the throne. The murderer made no effort to conceal the patricide, acting instead as though he had slain an enemy rather than his father. He drove a chariot through his victim's blood and ordered the corpse to be cast aside unburied.

This summary of Eucratides' reign accounts for most of what we know about the king, depending on what we can trust in it. A bronze chisel and an iron Scythian sword pictured were found in the tomb with the warrior. The researchers also found the remnants of a leather belt, a belt made with several types of metal and other iron fragments.

The Scythians became incredibly wealthy and often fashioned intricate jewellery like the neckpiece found in Tolstaya Mogila, Ukraine, pictured which is thought to date from around BC. The site of the grave had been almost obliterated by decades of farming which had ploughed over the burial mound, or kurgan. However, Professor Kazakov said the remains were found protected by a stone ring beneath the barrow. He said that the fact the man had been buried with his horse at least years before the birth of Christ showed how greatly horses were valued.

The archaeologists from the Barnaul Law Institute of the Russian Interior Ministry pictured spent several days excavating the site. The burial mound had almost been obliterated by decades of ploughing by farmers. The Scythians were a nomadic culture who developed a huge empire between China and Eastern Europe. The archaeologist added that such a tomb was extremely rare and was yielding valuable insights into the little-known nomadic culture that left few records other than the spectacular jewelled creations of their master craftsmen.

He added: 'Until now we have very little details about how they went about the burial process which is why this tomb is so valuable. One of the students, Alyona Naumova, who took part in the research, told local media that he felt privileged to be able to take part in the spectacular find. He said: 'As a student of history this was a rare opportunity of experiencing it first hand and being in direct touch with our ancestors. Share this article Share. Most watched News videos Brawl erupts in chicken shop after customer launches item at staff Michael Winner's former lover leaves his home after robbing property Former Malaysia King's ex-wife tells how marriage collapsed Australian comedian creates Greta Thunberg hotline for adults Saudi Arabian slaps baby daughter because she struggles walk Russian woman shares video with model sister before her brutal murder Jackie O responds to Kyle's backlash over Virgin Mary comments Portsmouth fan gets reined in after 'punching a police horse' Baby Archie meets the Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town Woman allegedly grabbed by the neck and thrown onto the pavement Racist man tells woman to speak English at McDonald's in Georgia Goofy Great Dane puppy has fun with a leaf blower.

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