What does that club symbol on the shield on the cover of the novel mean?
The shield on the cover is typical of that carried by hoplites – the spear-carrying heavy infantry of the Greek city states. The first battle in Throne of Darius occurs just outside of Thebes, near Lake Copais, where a group of such hoplites led by the Captain of Thebes of the subtitle confront Alexander and his invading Macedonians.
Such Theban soldiers frequently embossed their shield with a symbol of the club carried by the legendary demi-god Hercules (or, more properly in Greek, Heracles). In mythology, Heracles wielded just such a massive club when he fought the Nemean lion (one of the 12 labors of which this son of Zeus was tasked). Heracles used the club to knock the beast senseless. He then killed it and wore the lion skin to prove his victory – and to honor the noble animal.
Theban hoplites painted this club on their shields for two reasons. The first was because the cult of hero-worship of Heracles was particularly strong among the men of Thebes. They hoped that by bearing his symbol that he would give them some of his legendary strength in battle. The second was to mark their city’s affiliation with the half-god hero. According to the legend, Heracles fell in love with and married Megara, the daughter of King Creon of Thebes. Their union was, quite literally, a Greek tragedy. Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera, inflicted Heracles with a madness that caused the mighty warrior to murder his wife and their children. As a penance for his crime Heracles was given 12 seemingly impossible tasks (the first of which was to kill the Nemean lion). Only by accomplishing all of these labors would his sins be expiated.
The hoplite shield is called an “aspis.” It is a key part of the hopla (armament) of a city-state foot soldier. It is made of strips of light wood which are bent and glued together and fitted into a rim. It’s shallow saucer shape is designed so that enemy weapons will glance off. The inside is fitted with a leather sling and a left-hand grip that is are riveted into the wood. The upper lip of the shield is notched to allow for it to rest upon the shoulder, thus distributing its weight. While a wealthy veteran might have a thin layer of bronze hammered onto the front of the shield, most soldiers either covered the front in leather, linen or paint. They then had personal, familial, religious or other designs, such as the club of Heracles, painted on the face of the shield.