Aegean and Ionian Seas
Knossos and Crete
The southernmost part of the Greek homelands, Crete is the largest Greek island and separates the Aegean Sea from the Mediterranean. It was once the home of the Minoans who built the grandest palaces, sailed the biggest fleet and controlled the largest empire in hundreds of years. No-one knows what brought the Minoans to their knees but there are stories about earthquakes, thunder and flooding by massive waves. Clearly they offended the gods through an act of hubris.
That was centuries ago and now the island is a mess of small town-states and its people are a spent force. Lacking any central government, the small states fight each other for primacy. Poverty has driven the populace to piracy and banditry and the area is now lawless.
The Minoan capital city was Knossos, an opulent city of pale stone built around its palace. Centred on a square courtyard with a fountain, the palace started out as small collection of buildings. Over the years it grew outwards and engulfed the rest of the city, turning Knossos into one huge tangled building. That proved to be its downfall when a fire swept through hundreds of years ago and forced its abandonment. Now Knossos is one massive ruin that looms over the landscape, the pale stone turned dark with moss and soot. Rooms have collapsed and fallen into the famous labyrinth beneath. A handful of locals live in the ruin and prey on travellers.
Travellers and adventurers are still drawn to the city to explore the labyrinth built by Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, born from the Minoan queen and a bull. That monster was slain long ago by the Athenian hero Theseus but stories persist of other things living down there and of the lost treasures of the Minoans.
Sitting on a natural harbour on the southern entry to a large bay in Anatolia, Miletus is built around its port and the mouth of the Maeander River. High mountains rise on either side of the river and a small island protects the harbour. From the port the city stretches inland and up into the surrounding hills in a grid pattern. Having the major port in the region has made Miletus the richest Greek city in Anatolia, rivalling Corinth and Athens in wealth.
Miletus is under Persian occupation and has been for a decade. Authority is wielded by a governor appointed by the local satrap who maintains a small garrison to hold the city. The population are still strongly Greek and they wait for an opportunity to throw the Persians out. In the meantime they are left alone by the invaders and are allowed to worship Greek gods. Only a little trade now flows through Miletus and there is an air of laziness in the city with citizens reputed to enjoy debauched parties.
The polis is made up of six cities which merged a few years ago. The unification treaty includes the construction of a new capital city named Rhodes on the northern tip of this island. A grand artificial harbour forms the city's heart and the harbour walls are part of the city. The landward side of the city is protected by a wall and the harbour's mouth is guarded by a chain which is raised to keep enemies at bay.
The new polis is democratic and has suffered no major political splits between the constituent cities. Its diplomatic position is strong since Rhodes counts Athens as an ally, having together driven Persians off the island a generation ago. Rhodes has strong trade links with the eastern powers due to its location and much of the Greece-Egypt grain trade passes through. The big threat to Rhodes is Persia itself, since the island is closer to Anatolia than Greece.
Standing by the new harbour is a true wonder. The cult of Helios has always been strong in Rhodes and the polis has just built a massive statue of him. Made of bronze it stands over a hundred feet tall and is the greatest work of the sculptor Chares.
Commanding a headland on the south-east coast of Sicily, Syracuse is one of the largest and most powerful Greek colonies. Originally founded by Corinthians and Teneaens it gained its independence centuries ago. The city has grown wealthy from a strong trading position and the fertile soil of the island itself. It is in direct competition with Carthage and the two are locked in a bitter war over Sicily. Carthage invaded a generation ago and now controls roughly a third of the cities on the island.
Power in Syracuse has changed hands multiple times between despots and democracy. At present the city is ruled by the tyrant Dionysius. He overthrew a democratic government and rules with an iron fist, his sole policy being to drive the Carthaginians off Sicily. To do this, Dionysius has established a large standing army of mercenaries and a navy equipped with the most powerful ships ever seen, quinqueremes with five sets of rowers instead of three.
Syracuse is focused around the little island of Ortygia which has a causeway leading to the mainland, creating two natural harbours. The city started on the little island but has since spread inland and now Dionysius is building a massive fortress there to protect the city and cement his power.
Whilst the city has become highly militarised, Dionysius has pushed cultural growth. The massive ancient theatre in the city rings with poetry and plays attracting many famous artists and poets to the city. The tyrant himself writes many poems, but they are badly received and draw hisses at the Olympic games. Philosophers and poets live in Dionysius' court, such as Philoxenus and the famous Plato. At one time he arrested Philoxenus for criticising his poetry and sent him to slave in the quarries. Later, Dionysius had him brought back to court so he could read him his latest poem. He asked how he liked it and the poet replied "Take me back to the quarries."