This page contains a list of historical inaccuracies I'm aware of in my book The Wine-Dark Death. It's full of spoilers, so I urge you not to read further if you haven't read the book yet.
I think of this book not as “the way it happened” but as “a way it could have happened.” The evidence we have for ancient Greek history is astonishingly sparse, especially for the time period during which The Wine-Dark Death is set. The Greeks were all too busy philosophizing about the good life and sending each other into exile to bother keeping decent records of anything; it took the Romans, who just wanted to conquer the world and then pave it, to do that. So, for example, the only reason we date Thales’ life when we do in the sixth century B.C. is that Diogenes Laertius, a historian in the third century A.D., says that Apollodorus, a historian in the second century B.C., says—in a work lost to us—that that’s when he lived. This would be like somebody in the year 3714 reading something I wrote about what Martin Luther said, all in an effort to find out when the Second Crusade took place, in a world without the printing press and the Internet. So here’s a list of recorded historical events that might not match the events of The Wine-Dark Death—heavy emphasis on “might.”
Thales of Miletus, the world's first philosopher, was most likely born some time around 624 B.C. and died in around 546, which would make it difficult for him to have raised Aspasia, since she was born at the earliest in 470. The odds that the two were related are extremely low, especially since, between his death and her birth, the Persians slaughtered most of the male citizens of Miletus and enslaved the women and children, and the city was repopulated with whoever else happened to be around.
Though ancient historians credited Thales with predicting the date of first eclipse, that feat was probably first accomplished by his student Anaximander’s student Anaximenes’ student Anaxagoras, a century or so later.
The phrase “Whom the gods love dies young” was coined in a play about Trophonius and Agamedes by the playwright Menander, who wasn’t born until 342 B.C. The idea itself, however, had long been associated with the story of the two brothers.
The atomic theory Aspasia propounds to Socrates is first recorded by Leucippus and Democritus, a few decades after The Wine-Dark Death is set, but I see no reason they couldn’t have gotten it from her.
I have Aspasia explaining that bodies were laid out at funerals with their feet toward the door to make sure the soul left in the right direction, but we actually have no record of why this was done. I also invented the explanation of rigor mortis as the body’s attempt to keep the soul from leaving.
I have Kimon married to Old Thucydides’ sister. In fact, it was probably the other way around—Old Thucydides was probably married to Kimon’s sister. I changed this because making Sotiria Kimon’s sister along with Elpinice would have complicated things in unhelpfully problematic ways.
I’ve named Kimon’s son “Sparta,” but he was actually named “Lacedaemonius.” The Athenians called the Spartans “Lacedaemonians” (or occasionally “Laconians,” whence the English word “laconic”), but I figured that about four people who read this book were going to have any idea what that meant. Kimon had at least two other sons, and possibly as many as five.
If Little Thucydides was Old Thucydides’ grandson (which scholars suspect is the case), it was probably by Old Thucydides’ daughter, not by his son—which means that Little Thucydides would have grown up not in his maternal grandfather's house but in his father's house.
The lie detector with which Aspasia interrogates her slaves actually comes from ancient China, where they used dry rice instead of wheat.