"Counting Potsherds"  
Amazing 198903
Author Harry Turtledove
First Appearance Amazing
Collected Departures
Genre(s) Alternate History
Publication date March, 1989

"Counting Potsherds" is an alternate history short story first published in Amazing Science Fiction Magazine in March, 1989. It was reprinted in Alternate Empires, edited by Gregory Benford & Martin H. Greenberg in 1989 and in the Harry Turtledove collection Departures in 1993.

The Point of Divergence appears to be in about 483 BCE, with the failure of Athens to discover a rich lode of silver in the mines at Laurium. In OTL, the Athenians used the lode to be build 200 triremes which proved crucial to the defeat of the Persians in 480 BCE. In the story's timeline, without the silver, Athens does not have the triremes, and falls to Persia. Further, in this timeline, Themistokles was ostracized in 482 BCE, rather than Aristides, ensuring that Athens developed purely as a land power.

The story takes place four centuries later. Mithredath, a eunuch servant of Khsrish IV, the current King of Kings of Persia, travels to Yauna (aka Greece) to learn more of the conquest by Khsrish I, the Conqueror, specifically to ascertain the name of the last Athenian king. As part of his mission to gather facts to spin into propaganda, he explores the ruins of Athens and soon must grapple with the concepts of democracy in Athens.