Megabyzus was one of the most colourful figures of the 5th century BC in Persia, and has become one of my historical heroes. His real story is a long way from the slimy general imagined by Metastasio in his libretto for Artaserse. A Persian nobleman, Megabyzus was the grandson and namesake of one of the ‘Seven’: the conspirators who deposed the imposter Gaumata and put Darius I on the throne of Persia. After a fairly dramatic youth, Megabyzus was distinguished enough to be chosen as one of the six overall commanders of Xerxes’ Greek campaign in 480 BC (when he must have been in his mid-thirties). Xerxes also made him satrap in Syria and the Levant, and gave him his daughter Amytis to marry. Megabyzus was already a member of the royal family – he was cousin to both the king and queen – but this new bond would draw him ever deeper into the heart of court politics. He became one of the empire’s greatest generals, admired (even by the Greeks) for his honour but feared (by the king) for his popularity. This much is historical fact. In the Lion Hunter, he’s a self-contained but resourceful man, happiest when far away from the machinations of court, on campaign or with his household in Syria.