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I.1‑44

This webpage reproduces a section of
Herodotus
published in Vol. I
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,
1920

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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I.141‑177

(Vol. I) Herodotus

 p51  Book I: chapters 45‑140

The flags in the text are links to the Greek as printed on facing pages in the Loeb edition.
In the left margin, links to Rawlinson's translation (Vol. I, with valuable notes),
and to the running commentary by How and Wells.
Cartouches are links to in‑depth articles at Livius.Org or LacusCurtius.

[link to original Greek text] 45 Rawlinson p185 H & W Soon came the Lydians, bearing the dead corpse, with the slayer following after. He then came and stood before the body and gave himself wholly into Croesus' power, holding out his hands and praying the king to slay him where he stood by the dead man: "Remember," he said, "my former mischance, and see how besides that I have undone him who purified me; indeed, it is not fit that I should live." On hearing this, Croesus, though his own sorrow was so great, took pity on Adrastus and said to him, "Friend, I have from you all that justice asks, since you deem yourself worthy of death. But it is not you that I hold the cause of this evil, save in so far as you were the unwilling doer of it: rather it is the work of a god, the same who told me long ago what was to be." So Croesus buried his own son in such manner as was fitting. But Adrastus, son of Gordias who was son of Midas, this Adrastus, slayer of his own brother and of the man who purified him, when the tomb was undisturbed by the presence of men, slew himself there by the sepulchre, seeing now clearly that he was the most ill‑fated wretch of all men whom he knew.

[link to original Greek text] 46 Rawlinson p186 Croesus, after the loss of his son, sat in deep  p53 sorrow for two years. After this time, the destruction by Cyrus son of Cambyses of the sovereignty of Astyages son of Cyaxares, and the growth of the power of the Persians, caused him to cease from his mourning; and he resolved, if he could, to forestall the increase of the Persian power before they grew to greatness. Having thus determined, he straightway made trial of the Greek and Libyan oracles, sending messengers separately to Delphi, to Abae in Phocia, and to Dodona, while others again were despatched to Amphiaraus and Trophonius,1 and others to Branchidae in the Milesian country. These are the Greek oracles to which Croesus sent for divination; and he bade others go to inquire of Ammon in Libya.a His intent in sending was to test the knowledge of the oracles, so that, if they should be found to know the truth, he might send again and ask if he should take in hand an expedition against the Persians.

[link to original Greek text] 47 And when he sent to make trial of these shrines he gave the Lydians this charge: they were to keep count of the time from the day of their leaving Sardis, and on the hundredth day inquire of the oracles what Croesus, king of Lydia, son of Alyattes, was then doing; then they were to write down whatever were the oracular answers and bring them back to him. Now none relate what answer was given by the rest of the oracles. But at Delphi, no sooner had the Lydians entered the hall to inquire of the god and asked the question with which they were charged, than the Pythian priestess uttered the following hexameter verses:

 p55  Grains of sand I reckon and measure the spaces of ocean,

Hear when dumb men speak, and mark the speech of the silent.

What is it now that I smell? 'tis a tortoise mightily armoured

Sodden in vessel of bronze, with a lamb's flesh mingled together:

Bronze thereunder is laid and a mantle of bronze is upon it."

[link to original Greek text] 48 H & W Having written down this inspired utterance of the Pythian priestess, the Lydians went away back to Sardis. When the others as well who had been sent to divers places came bringing their oracles, Croesus then unfolded and surveyed all the writings. Some of them in no wise satisfied him. But when he heard the Delphian message, he acknowledged it with worship and welcome, considering that Delphi was the only true place of divination, because it had discovered what he himself had done. For after sending his envoys to the oracles, he bethought himself of a device which no conjecture could discover, and carried it out on the appointed day: namely, he cut up a tortoise and a lamb, and then himself boiled them in a caldron of bronze covered with a lid of the same.

[link to original Greek text] 49 Rawlinson p188 Such then was the answer from Delphi delivered to Croesus. As to the reply which the Lydians received from the oracle of Amphiaraus when they had followed the due custom of the temple, I cannot say what it was, for nothing is recorded of it, saving that Croesus held that from this oracle too he had obtained a true answer.

 p57  [link to original Greek text] 50 After this, he strove to win the favour of the Delphian god with great sacrifices. He offered up three thousand beasts from each kind fit for sacrifice, and he burnt on a great pyre couches covered with gold and silver, golden goblets, and purple cloaks and tunics; by these means he hoped the better to win the aid of the god, to whom he also commanded that every Lydian should sacrifice what he could. When the sacrifice was over, he melted down a vast store of goldb and made of it ingots of which the longer sides were of six and the shorter of three palms' length, and the height was one palm. These were an hundred and seventeen in number. Four of them were of refined gold, each weighing two talents and a half; the rest were of gold with silver alloy, each of two talents' weight.c He bade also to be made a figure of a lion of refined gold, weighing ten talents. When the temple of Delphi was burnt, this lion fell from the ingots which were the base whereon it stood; and now it lies in the treasury of the Corinthians, but weighs only six talents and a half, for the fire melted away three and a half talents.

[link to original Greek text] 51 Rawlinson p190 When these offerings were fully made, Croesus sent them to Delphi, with other gifts besides, namely, two very great bowls, one of gold and one of silver. The golden bowl stood to the right, the silvern to the left, of the temple entrance. These too were removed about the time of the temple's burning, and now the golden bowl, which weighs eight talents and a half, and twelve minae,2 lies in the treasury of the Corinthians, and the silver bowl at the corner of the forecourt of the temple. This  p59 bowl holds six hundred nine-gallon measures: for the Delphians use it for a mixing-bowl at the feast of the Divine Appearance.3 It is said by the Delphians to be the work of Theodorus of Samos, and I believe them, for it seems to me to be of no common workmanship. Moreover, Croesus sent four silver casks, which stand in the treasury of the Corinthians, and dedicated two sprinkling-vessels, one of gold, one of silver. The golden vessel bears the inscription "Given by the Lacedaemonians," who claim it as their offering. But they are wrong, for this, too, is Croesus' gift. The inscription was made by a certain Delphian, whose name I know but will not reveal, out of his desire to please the Lacedaemonians. The figure of a boy, through whose hand the water runs, is indeed a Lacedaemonian gift; but they did not give either of the sprinkling-vessels. Along with these Croesus sent, besides many other offerings of no great mark, certain round basins of silver, and a golden female figure three cubits high, which the Delphians assert to be the statue of the woman who was Croesus' baker. Moreover he dedicated his own wife's necklaces and girdles.

[link to original Greek text] 52 H & W Such were the gifts which he sent to Delphi. To Amphiaraus, having learnt of his valour and his fate, he dedicated a shield made entirely of gold and a spear all of solid gold, point and shaft alike. Both of these lay till my time at Thebes, in the Theban temple of Ismenian Apollo.

[link to original Greek text] 53 The Lydians who were to bring these gifts to the temples were charged by Croesus to inquire of the oracles, "Shall Croesus send an army against the Persians: and shall he take to himself any allied  p61 host?" When the Lydians came to the places whither they were sent, they made present of the offerings, and inquired of the oracles, in these words: "Croesus, king of Lydia and other nations, seeing that he deems that here are the only true places of divination among men, endows you with such gifts as your wisdom merits. And now he would ask you, if he shall send an army against the Persians, and if he shall take to himself any allied host." Such was their inquiry; and the judgment given to Croesus by each of the two oracles was the same, to wit, that if he should send an army against the Persians he would destroy a great empire. And they counselled him to discover the mightiest of the Greeks and make them his friends.

[link to original Greek text] 54 Rawlinson p192 When the divine answers had been brought back and Croesus learnt of them, he was greatly pleased with the oracles. So, being fully persuaded that he would destroy the kingdom of Cyrus, he sent once again to Pytho and endowed the Delphians with two gold staters4 apiece, according to his knowledge of their number. The Delphians, in return, gave Croesus and all Lydians the right of first consulting the oracle, freedom from all charges, the chief seats at festivals, and perpetual right of Delphian citizenship to whosoever should wish.

[link to original Greek text] 55 Then Croesus after his gifts to the Delphians made a third inquiry of the oracle, for he would use it to the full, having received true answers from it; not question which he asked in his inquest was whether his sovereignty should be of long  p63 duration. To this the Pythian priestess answered as follows:

"Lydian, beware of the day when a mule is lord of the Medians:

Then with thy delicate feet by the stone-strewn channel of Hermus

Flee for thy life, nor abide, nor blush for the name of a craven."

[link to original Greek text] 56 When he heard these verses Croesus was pleased with them above all, for he thought that a mule would never be king of the Medians in place of a man, and so that he and his posterity would never lose his empire. Then he sought very carefully to discover who were the mightiest of the Greeks whom he should make his friends. He found by inquiry that the chief peoples were the Lacedaemonians among those of Doric, and the Athenians among those of Ionic stock. These races, Ionian and Dorian, were the foremost in ancient time, the first a Pelasgian and the second an Hellenic people. The Pelasgian stock has never yet left its habitation, the Hellenic has wandered often and afar. For in the days of king Deucalion5 it inhabited the land of Phthia, then in the time of Dorus son of Hellen the country called Histiaean, under Ossa and Olympus; driven by the Cadmeans from this Histiaean country it settled about Pindus in the parts called Macednian; thence again it migrated to Dryopia, and at last came from Dryopia into Peloponnesus, where it took the name of Dorian.6

 p65  [link to original Greek text] 57 H & W What language the Pelasgians spoke I cannot accurately say. But if one may judge by those that still remain of the Pelasgians who dwell above the Tyrrheni7 in the city of Creston — who were once neighbours of the people now called Dorians, and at that time inhabited the country which now is called Thessalian — and of the Pelasgians who inhabited Placia and Scylace on the Hellespont, who came to dwell among the Athenians, and by other towns too which were once Pelasgian and afterwards took a different name: — if (I say) one may judge by these, the Pelasgians spoke a language which was not Greek. If then all the Pelasgian stock so spoke, then the Attic nation, being of Pelasgian blood, must have changed its language too at the time when it became part of the Hellenes. For the people of Creston and Placia have a language of their own in common, which is not the language of their neighbours; and it is plain that they still preserve the fashion of speech which they brought with them in their migration into the places where they dwell.

[link to original Greek text] 58 Rawlinson p194 But the Hellenic stock, as to me seems clear, has ever used the same alongside since its beginning; yet being, when separated from the Pelasgians, but few in number, they have grown from a small beginning to comprise a multitude of nations, chiefly because the Pelasgians and many other foreign peoples united themselves with them. Before that, as I think, the Pelasgic stock nowhere increased greatly in number while it was of foreign speech.

[link to original Greek text] 59 Now, of these two peoples, Croesus learned that the Attic was held in subjection and divided  p67 into factions by Pisistratus son of Hippocrates, who at that time was sovereign over the Athenians. This Hippocrates was but a private man when a great marvel happened to him as he was at Olympia to see the games: when he had offered the sacrifice, the vessels, standing there full of meat and water, boiled without fire till they overflowed. Chilon the Lacedaemonian, who chanced to be there and saw this marvel, counselled Hippocrates not to take into his house a childbearing wife, if so might be: but if he had one already, then at least to send her away, and if he had a son, to disown him. Hippocrates refused to follow the counsel of Chilon, and presently there was born to him this Pisistratus aforesaid. In course of time there was a feud between the Athenians of the coast under Megacles son of Alcmeon and the Athenians of the plain under Lycurgus son of Aristolaïdes. Pisistratus then, having an eye to the sovereign power, raised up a third faction. He collected partisans and pretended to champion the hillmen; and this was his plan. Wounding himself and his mules, he drove his carriage into the market place with a tale that he had escaped from his enemies, who would have slain him (so he said) as he was driving into the country. So he besought the people that he might have a guard from them: and indeed he had won himself reputation in his command of the army against the Megarians, when he had taken Nisaea and performed other great exploits. Thus deceived, the Athenian people gave him a chosen guard of citizens, of whom Pisistratus made not spearmen but clubmen: for the retinue that followed him bore wooden clubs. These  p69 with Pisistratus rose and took the Acropolis; and Pisistratus ruled the Athenians, disturbing in no way the order of offices nor changing the laws, but governing the city according to its established constitution and ordering all things fairly and well.

[link to original Greek text] 60 Rawlinson p196 H & W But after no long time the faction of Megacles and Lycurgus made common cause and drove him out. Thus did Pisistratus first win Athens, and thus did he lose his sovereignty, which was not yet firmly rooted. Presently his enemies who had driven him out began once more to be at feud together. Megacles then, being buffeted about by faction sent a message to Pisistratus offering him his daughter to wife and the sovereign power besides. This offer being accepted by Pisistratus, who agreed on these terms with Megacles, they devised a plan to bring Pisistratus back, which, to my mind, was so exceeding foolish that it is strange (seeing that from old times the Hellenic has ever been distinguished from the foreign stock by its greater cleverness and its freedom from silly foolishness) that these men should devise such a plan to deceive Athenians, said to be the cunningest of the Greeks. There was in the Paeanian deme8 a woman called Phya, three fingers short of four cubits in stature,d and for the rest fair to look upon. This woman they equipped in full armour, and put her in a chariot, giving her all such appurtenances as would make the seemliest show, and so drove into the city; heralds ran before them, and when they came into the town made proclamation as they were charged, bidding the Athenians "to give a hearty welcome to Pisistratus, whom Athene  p71 herself honoured beyond all men and was bringing back to her own citadel." So the heralds went about and spoke thus: immediately it was reported in the demes that Athene was bringing Pisistratus back, and the townsfolk, persuaded that the woman was indeed the goddess, worshipped this human creature and welcomed Pisistratus.

[link to original Greek text] 61 Rawlinson p198 H & W Having won back his sovereignty in the manner which I have shown, Pisistratus married Megacles' daughter according to his agreement with Megacles. But as he had already young sons, and the Alcmeonid family were said to be under a curse, he had no wish that his newly wed wife should bear him children, and therefore had wrongful intercoursee with her. At first the woman hid the matter: presently she told her mother (whether being asked or not, I know not) and the mother told her husband. Megacles was very angry that Pisistratus should do him dishonour: and in his wrath he made up his quarrel with the other faction. Pisistratus, learning what was afoot, went by himself altogether away from the country, and came to Eretria, where he took counsel with his sons. The counsel of Hippias prevailing, that they should recover the sovereignty, they set to collecting gifts from all cities which owed them some requital. Many of these gave great sums, the Thebans more than any, and in course of time, not to make a long story, all was ready for their return: for they brought Argive mercenaries from Peloponnesus, and there came also of his own free will a man of Naxos called Lygdamis, who was most zealous in their cause and brought them money and men.

 p73  [link to original Greek text] 62 So after ten years they set out from Eretria and returned home. The first place in Attica which they took and held was Marathon: and while encamped there they were joined by their partisans from the city, and by others who flocked to them from the country demes — men who loved the rule of one more than freedom. These, then, assembled; but the Athenians in the city, who, while Pisistratus was collecting money and afterwards when he had taken Marathon, made no account of it, did now, when they learnt that he was marching from Marathon against Athens, set out to attack him. They came out with all their force to meet the returning exiles. Pisistratus' men, in their march from Marathon toward the city, encountered the enemy when they had reached the temple of Pallenian Athene, and encamped face to face with them. There (by the providence of heaven) Pisistratus met Amphilytus the Acarnanian, a diviner, who came to him and prophesied as follows in hexameter verses:

"Now hath the cast been thrown and the net of the fisher is outspread:

All in the moonlight clear shall the tunny-fish come for the taking."

[link to original Greek text] 63 Rawlinson p200 H & W So spoke Amphilytus, being inspired; Pisistratus understood him, and, saying that he received the prophecy, led his army against the enemy. The Athenians of the city had at this time gone to their breakfast, and after breakfast some betook themselves to dicing and some to sleep: they were attacked by Pisistratus' men and put to flight. So they fled, and Pisistratus devised a very subtle plan to keep  p75 them scattered and prevent their assembling again: he mounted his sons and bade them ride forward: they overtook the fugitives and spoke to them as they were charged by Pisistratus, bidding them take heart and depart each man to his home.

[link to original Greek text] 64 This the Athenians did; and by this means Pisistratus gained Athens for the third time, where, that his sovereignty might be well rooted, he made himself a strong guard and collected revenue both from Athens and from the district of the river Strymon, and took as hostages the sons of the Athenians who remained and did not at once leave the city, and placed these in Naxos. (He had conquered Naxos too and given it in charge to Lygdamis.) Moreover, he purified the island of Delos according to the bidding of the oracles, and this is how he did it: he removed all the dead that were buried in ground within sight of the temple and carried them to another part of Delos. So Pisistratus was sovereign of Athens: and as for the Athenians, some had fallen in the battle, and some, with the Alcmeonids, were exiles from their native land.

[link to original Greek text] 65 Croesus learnt, then, that such at this time was the plight of the Athenians: the Lacedaemonians, as he had heard, had escaped from great calamities, and had by this time got the upper hand of the men of Tegea in their war; for in the kingship of Leon and Hegesicles at Sparta, the Lacedaemonians were victorious in their other wars, but against Tegea alone they met with no success. And not only so, but before this they were the worst governed of well nigh all the Greeks, having little intercourse among themselves or with strangers.  p77 Thus then they changed their laws for the better: — Lycurgus, a notable Spartan, visited the oracle at Delphi, and when he entered the temple hall, straightway the priestess gave him this response:

"Dear to Zeus thou hast come to my well-stored temple, Lycurgus,

Dear to Zeus and to all who dwell in the courts of Olympus.

Art thou a man or a god? 'Tis a god I deem thee, Lycurgus."

Some say that the priestess moreover declared to him the whole governance of Sparta which is now established; but the Lacedaemonians themselves relate that it was from Crete that Lycurgus brought these changes, he being then guardian of Leobotes his nephew, king of Sparta. As soon as he became guardian he changed all the laws of the country and was careful that none should transgress his ordnances, and afterwards it was Lycurgus who established all that related to war, the sworn companies, and the bands of thirty, and the common meals: and besides these, the ephors, and the council of elders.

[link to original Greek text] 66 Rawlinson p203 H & W So they changed their bad laws for good ones, and when Lycurgus died they built him a shrine and now greatly revere him. Then, since their land was good and their men were many, very soon they began to flourish and prosper. Nor were they satisfied to remain at peace: but being assured that they were stronger than the Arcadians, they inquired of the oracle at Delphi, with their minds set on the whole of Arcadia. The Pythian priestess gave them this reply:

 p79  "Askest Arcadia from me? 'Tis a boon too great for the giving.

Many Arcadians there are, stout heroes, eaters of acorns, —

These shall hinder thee sore. Yet 'tis not I that begrudge thee:

Lands Tegeaean I'll give thee, to smite with feet in the dancing,

Also the fertile plain with line I'll give thee to measure."

When this was brought back to the ears of the Lacedaemonians, they let the rest of the Arcadians be, and marched against the men of Tegea carrying fetters with them; for they trusted in the quibbling oracle and thought they would enslave the Tegeans. But they were worsted in the encounter, and those of them who were taken captive were made to till the Tegean plain, wearing the fetters which they themselves had brought and measuring the land with a line.9 These fetters, in which they were bound, were still in my time kept safe at Tegea, where they were hung round the temple of Athene Alea.

[link to original Greek text] 67 Rawlinson p204 H & W In the former war, then, the Lacedaemonians were unceasingly defeated in their contest with Tegea; but in the time of Croesus, and the kingship of Anaxandrides and Ariston at Sparta, the Spartans had now gained the upper hand; and this is how it came about. Being always worsted by the Tegeatae, they sent inquirers to Delphi and asked what god they should propitiate so as to gain the mastery over Tegea in war. The Pythian priestess declared that they must bring home the bones of Orestes son of Agamemnon. Being unable to discover Orestes'  p81 tomb, they sent their messengers again to the god10 to ask of the place where Orestes lay: and the priestess said in answer to their question:

"There is a place, Tegeē, in the level plain of Arcadia,

Where by stark stress driven twain winds are ever a‑blowing,

Shock makes answer to shock, and anguish is laid upon anguish.

There in the nourishing earth Agamemnon's son lies buried:

Bring him, and so thou slight be the lord of the land of thy foemen."

When the Lacedaemonians heard this too, they were no nearer finding what they sought, though they made search everywhere, till at last Lichas, one of the Spartans who are called Benefactors, discovered it. These Benefactors are the Spartan citizens who pass out of the ranks of the knights, the five oldest in each year; for the year in which they pass out from the knights they are sent on divers errands by the Spartan state, and must use all despatch.

[link to original Greek text] 68 Lichas, then, one of these men, by good luck and cleverness found the tomb at Tegea. At that time there was free intercourse with Tegea; so, entering a smithy, he watched the forging of iron and marvelled at the work which he saw. When the smith perceived that he was much astonished, he ceased from working, and said, "Laconian, you wonder at the working of iron, but had you seen what  p83 I have seen you would have indeed had somewhat to marvel at. For I was making me a well in this courtyard, when in my digging I chanced upon a coffin seven cubits long. As I could not believe that there had ever been men taller than those of our time, I opened the coffin, and found within it the corpse as long as itself; I measured it, and buried in earth again." So the smith told what he had seen; Lichas marked what he said, and argued from the oracle that this must be Orestes, reasoning that the Smith's two bellows which he saw were the winds, the anvil and hammer the shock and counter-shock, and the forged iron the anguish upon anguish. What led him so to guess was that the discovery of iron has been to men's hurt. Thus he reasoned, and returning to Sparta told all the matter to the Lacedaemonians. They made pretence of bringing a charge against him and banishing him; so he went to Tegea, where he told the smith of his misfortune, and tried to hire the courtyard from him. The smith would not consent, but at last Lichas over-persuaded him, and taking up his abode there, opened the tomb and collected the bones and went away with them to Sparta. Ever after this time the Lacedaemonians got much the better of the men of Tegea in all their battles; and they had already subdued the greater part of the Peloponnesus.

[link to original Greek text] 69 Rawlinson p207 Croesus, then, being made aware of all this sent messengers to Sparta with gifts, to ask an alliance in words with which he charged them. They came, and said: "Croesus, King of Lydia and other  p85 nations, has sent us with this message: 'Lacedaemonians! the god has declared that I should make the Greek my friend; now, therefore, as I learn that you are the leaders of Hellas, I do so invite you, as the oracle bids; I would fain be your friend and ally, without deceit or guile.' " Thus Croesus proposed by the mouth of his messengers: and the Lacedaemonians, who had already heard of the oracle given to Croesus, welcomed the coming of the Lydians and swore to be his friends and allies; and indeed they were bound by certain benefits which they had before received from the king. For the Lacedaemonians had sent to Sardis to buy gold, with intent to use it for the statue of Apollo which now stands on Thornax11 in Laconia; and Croesus, when they would buy it, made a free gift of it to them.

[link to original Greek text] 70 Rawlinson p208 H & W For this cause, and because he had chosen them as his friends before all other Greeks, the Lacedaemonians accepted the alliance. So they declared themselves ready to serve him when he should require, and moreover they made a bowl of bronze, graven outside round the rim with figures, and large enough to hold twenty-seven hundred gallons, and brought it with the intent to make a gift of requital to Croesus. This bowl never came to Sardis, and for this two reasons are given: the Lacedaemonians say that when the bowl was near Samos on its way to Sardis, the Samians descended upon them in warships and carried it off; but the Samians themselves say that the Lacedaemonians who were bringing the bowl, being too late, and learning that Sardis and Croesus were taken, sold it in Samos to certain private  p87 men, who set it up in the temple of Here. And it may be that the sellers of the bowl, when they returned to Sparta, said that they had been robbed of it by the Samians. Such are the tales about the bowl.

[link to original Greek text] 71 Croesus, mistaking the meaning of the oracle, invaded Cappadocia, thinking to destroy Cyrus and the Persian power. But while he was preparing to march against the Persians, a certain Lydian, who was already held to be a wise man, and from the advice which he now gave won great renown among the Lydians, thus counselled him (his name was Sandanis): "O King, you are making ready to march against men who wear breeches of leather and their other garments of the same, and whose fare is not what they desire but what they have; for their land is stony. Further they use no wine, but are water-drinkers, nor have they figs to eat, nor aught else that is good. Now if you conquer them, of what will you deprive them, seeing that they have nothing? But if on the other hand you are conquered, then see how many good things you will lose; for once they have tasted of our blessings they will cling so close to them that nothing will thrust them away. For myself, then, I thank the gods that they do not put it in the hearts of the Persians to march against the Lydians." Thus spoke Sandanis; for the Persians, before they subdued the Lydians, had no luxury and no comforts; but he did not move Croesus.

[link to original Greek text] 72 Now the Cappadocians are called by the Greeks Syrians, and these Syrians before the Persian rule were subjects of the Medes, and, at this time, of Cyrus. For the boundary of the Median  p89 and Lydian empires was the river Halys; which flows from the Armenian mountains first through Cilicia and afterwards between the Matieni on the right and the Phrygians on the other hand; then passing these and flowing still northwards it separates the Cappadocian Syrians on the right from the Paphlagonians on the left. Thus the Halys river cuts off wellnigh the whole of the lower part of Asia, from the Cyprian to the Euxine sea. Here is the narrowest neck of all this land; the length of the journey across is five days, for a man going unburdened.12


[image ALT: A small river, varying from 5 to 10 meters wide, two bends of which are seen before it disappears behind a hill in the background. Along the banks, grass and greenery, and two conspicuous poplars; the rest of the scenery is barren rocky hills rising to mountains in the background. It is the Kızılırmak River in modern Turkey.]

The Halys River, today's Kızılırmak, near Kırıkkale.

Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 73 Rawlinson p210 The reasons of Croesus' expedition against Cappadocia were these: he desired to gain territory in addition to his own share, and (these were the chief causes) he trusted the oracle, and wished to avenge Astyages on Cyrus; for Cyrus, son of Cambyses, had subdued Astyages and held him in subjection. Now Astyages, king of Media, son of Cyaxares, was Croesus' brother-in‑law: and this is how he came to be so. A tribe of wandering Scythians separated itself from the rest, and escaped into Median territory. This was then ruled by Cyaxares, son of Phraortes, son of Deioces. Cyaxares at first treated the Scythians kindly, as being suppliants for his mercy; and as he held them in high regard he entrusted boys to their charge to be taught their language and the craft of archery. As time went on, it chanced that the Scythians, who were wont to go hunting and ever to bring something back, once had taken nothing, and when they returned  p91 empty-handed, Cyaxares (being, as hereby appeared, prone to anger) treated them very roughly and despitefully. The Scythians, deeming themselves wronged by the usage they had from Cyaxares, plotted to take one of the boys who were their pupils and cut him in pieces, then, dressing the flesh as they were wont to dress the animals which they killed, to bring and give it to Cyaxares as if it were the spoils of the chastise; and after that, to make their way with all speed to Alyattes son of Sadyattes at Sardis. All this they did. Cyaxares and the guests who feasted with him ate of the boy's flesh, and the Scythians, having done as they planned, fled to Alyattes for protection.

[link to original Greek text] 74 After this, seeing that Alyattes would not give up the Scythians to Cyaxares at his demand, there was war between the Lydians and the Medes for five years; each won many victories over the other, and once they fought a battle by night. They were still warring with equal success, when it chanced, at an encounter which happened during the sixth year, that during the battle the day was suddenly turned to night. Thales of Miletus had foretold this loss of daylight to the Ionians, fixing it within the year in which the change did indeed happen.13 So when the Lydians and Medes saw the day turned to night they ceased from fighting, and both were the more zealous to make  p93 peace. Those who reconciled them were Syennesis the Cilician and Labynetus the Babylonian;α they it was who brought it about that there should be a sworn agreement and an exchange of wedlock between them: they adjudged that Alyattes should give his daughter Aryenis to Astyages, son of Cyaxares; for without a strong bond agreements will not keep their strength. These nations make sworn compacts as do the Greeks; moreover, they cut the skin of their arms and lick each other's blood.

[link to original Greek text] 75 Rawlinson p214 H & W This Astyages then was Cyrus's mother's father, and was by him subdued and held subject for the reason which I shall presently declare. Having this cause of quarrel with Cyrus, Croesus sent to ask the oracles if he should march against the Persians; and when a quibbling answer came he thought it to be favourable to him, and so led his army to the Persian territory. When he came to the river Halys, he transported his army across it, — by the bridges, as I hold, which then were there; but the general belief of the Greeks is that the army was carried across by Thales of Miletus. This is the story: As the bridges aforesaid did not then yet exist, Croesus knew not how his army should pass the river: then Thales, being in the encampment, made the river, which flowed on the left hand, flow also on the right of the army in the following way. Starting from a point on the river higher up than the camp, he dug a deep semicircular trench, so that the stream, turned from its ancient course, should flow in the trench to the rear of the  p95 camp, and, again passing it, should issue into its former bed, so that, as soon as the river was thus divided into two, both channels could be forded. Some even say that the ancient channel was altogether dried up. But I do not believe this; for how then did they pass the river when they were returning?

[link to original Greek text] 76 Croesus then passing over with his army came to the part of Cappadocia called Pteria (it is the strongest part of this country and lies nearest to the city of Sinope on the Euxine sea), where he encamped, and laid waste the farms of the Syrians; and he took and enslaved the city of the Pterians, and took also all the places about it, and drove the Syrians from their homes, though they had done him no harm. Cyrus, mustering his army, and gathering to him all those who dwelt upon his way, went to meet Croesus. But before beginning his march he sent heralds to the Ionians to try to draw them away from Croesus. The Ionians would not be persuaded; but when Cyrus had come, and encamped face to face with Croesus, the armies made trial of each other's strength with might and main in the Pterian country. The battle was stubborn; many on both sides fell, and when they were parted at nightfall neither had the advantage. With such fortune did the two armies contend.

[link to original Greek text] 77 Rawlinson p216 Croesus was not content with the number of his force, for his army which had fought was by far smaller than that of Cyrus; therefore, seeing that on  p97 the day after the battle Cyrus essayed no second attack, he marched away to Sardis, intending to invite help from the Egyptians in fulfilment of their pledge (for before making an alliance with the Lacedaemonians he had made one also with Amasis king of Egypt), and to send for the Babylonians also (for with these too he had made an alliance, Labynetus being at this time their sovereign), and to summon the Lacedaemonians to join him at a fixed time. It was in his mind to muster all these forces and assemble his own army, then to wait till the winter was over and march against the Persians at the beginning of spring. With such intent, as soon as he returned to Sardis, he sent heralds to all his allies, summoning them to assemble at Sardis in five months' time; and as for the soldiers whom he had with him, who had fought with the Persians, all of them who were not of his nation he disbanded, never thinking that after so equal an issue of the contest Cyrus would march against Sardis.

[link to original Greek text] 78 H & W Thus Croesus reasoned. Meantime it chanced that snakes began to swarm in the outer part of the city; and when they appeared the horses would ever leave their accustomed pasture and devour them. When Croesus saw this he thought it to be a portent, and so it was. Forthwith he sent to the abodes of the Telmessian interpreters,14 to inquire concerning it; but though his messengers came and learnt from the Telmessians what the portent should signify, they could never bring back word to Croesus, for he was  p99 a prisoner before they could make their voyage back to Sardis. Howbeit, this was the judgment of the Telmessians — that Croesus must expect a foreign army to attack his country, and that when it came it would subdue the dwellers in the land: for the snake, they said, was the child of the earth, but the horse was a foe and a foreigner. Such was the answer which the Telmessians gave Croesus, knowing as yet nothing of the fate of Sardis and the king himself; but when they gave it Croesus was already taken.

[link to original Greek text] 79 Rawlinson p218 When Croesus marched away after the battle in the Pterian country, Cyrus, learning that Croesus had gone with intent to disband his army, took counsel and perceived thereby that it was his business to march with all speed against Sardis, before the power of the Lydians could again be assembled. So he resolved and so he did speedily; he marched his army into Lydia and so himself came to bring the news of it to Croesus. All had turned out contrariwise to Croesus' expectation, and he was in a great quandary; nevertheless, he led out the Lydians to battle. Now at this time there was no nation in Asia more valiant or warlike than the Lydian. It was their custom to fight on horseback, carrying long spears, and they were skilled in the management of horses.

[link to original Greek text] 80 So the armies met in the plain, wide and bare, which is before the city of Sardis: the Hyllus and other rivers flow across it and rush violently together into the greatest of them, which is called Hermus (this flows from the mountain sacred to the Mother Dindymene15 and issues into the sea near the city of Phocaea). Here when Cyrus saw the Lydians arraying  p101 their battle, he was afraid of their horse, and therefore did as I will show by the counsel of one Harpagus, a Mede. Assembling all the camels that followed his army bearing food and baggage, he took off their burdens and set men upon them equipped like cavalrymen; having so equipped them he ordered them to advance before his army against Croesus' horse; he charged the infantry to follow the camels, and set all his horse behind the infantry. When they were all arrayed, he commanded them to kill all other Lydians who came in their way, and spare none, but not to kill Croesus himself, even if he should defend himself against capture. Such was his command. The reason of his posting the camels to face the cavalry was this: horses fear camels and can endure neither the sight nor the smell of them; this then was the intent of his device, that Croesus' cavalry, on which the Lydian relied for the winning of some glory, might be of no use. So when battle was joined, as soon as the horses smelt and saw the camels they turned to flight, and all Croesus' hope was lost. Nevertheless the Lydians were no cowards; when he saw what was happening they leaped from their horses and fought the Persians on foot. Many of both armies fell; at length the Lydians were routed and driven within their city wall, where they were besieged by the Persians.β


[image ALT: zzz. It is the plain of Sardis in modern Turkey, further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

The plain of Sardis, where Cyrus and Croesus clashed. It is called Bin Tepe, "thousand hills", after the large tumuli. The one to the left was the final resting place of King Alyattes.

Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 81 Rawlinson p221 So then they were beleaguered. But Croesus, supposing that the siege would last a long time, sent  p103 messengers again from the city to his allies; whereas his former envoys had been sent to summon them to muster at Sardis in five months' time, these were to announce that Croesus was besieged and to entreat help with all speed.

[link to original Greek text] 82 So he sent to the Lacedaemonians as well as the rest of the allies. Now at this very timeγ the Spartans themselves had a feud on hand with the Argives, in respect of the country called Thyrea; for this was a part of the Argive territory which the Lacedaemonians had cut off and occupied. (All the land towards the west, as far as Malea, belonged then to the Argives, and not the mainland only, but the island of Cythera and the other islands.) The Argives came out to save their territory from being cut off; then after debate the two armies agreed that three hundred of each side should fight, and whichever party won should possess the land. The rest of each army was to go away to its own country and not be present at the battle; for it was feared that if the armies remained on the field, the men of either party would render help to their comrades if they saw them losing. Having thus agreed, the armies drew off, and picked men on each side were left and fought. Neither could gain advantage in the battle; at last, of six hundred there were left only three, Alcenor and Chromios of the Argives, Othryades of the Lacedaemonians: these three were left alive at nightfall. Then the two Argives, deeming themselves victors, ran to Argos; but Othryades, the Lacedaemonian,  p105 spoiled the Argive dead, bore the armour to his own army's camp and remained in his place. On the next day both armies came to learn the issue. For a while both claimed the victory, the Argives pleading that more of their men had survived, the Lacedaemonians showing that the Argives had fled, while their man had stood his ground and despoiled the enemy dead. At last the dispute so ended that they joined battle and fought; many of both sides fell, but the Lacedaemonians had the victory. Ever after this the Argives, who before had won their hair long by fixed custom, shaved their heads, and made a law, with a curse added thereto, that no Argive should grow his hair, and no Argive woman should wear gold, till they should recover Thyreae; and the Lacedaemonians made a contrary law, that ever after they should wear their hair long; for till now they had not so worn it. Othryades, the one survivor of the three hundred, was ashamed, it is said, to return to Sparta after all the men of his company had been slain, and killed himself on the spot at Thyreae.

[link to original Greek text] 83 Rawlinson p223 All this had befallen the Spartans when the Sardian herald came to entreat their help for Croesus, now besieged; yet for all that, when they heard the herald they prepared to send help; but when they were already equipped and their ships ready, there came a second messenger which told that the fortress of the Lydians was taken and Croesus held a prisoner. Then indeed, though greatly grieved, they ceased from their enterprise.

[link to original Greek text] 84 Now this is how Sardis was taken. When  p107 Croesus had been besieged for fourteen days, Cyrus sent horsemen about in his army to promise rewards to him who should first mount the wall. After this the army made an assault, but with no success. Then, all the rest being at a stand, a certain Mardian16 called Hyroeades essayed to mount by a part of the citadel where no guard had been set; for here the height on which the citadel stood was sheer and hardly to be assaulted, and none feared that it could be taken by an attack made here. This was the only place where Meles the former king of Sardis had not carried the lion which his concubine had borne him, the Telmessians having declared that if this lion were carried round the walls Sardis could never be taken. Meles then carried the lion round the rest of the wall of the acropolis where it could be assaulted, but neglected this place, because the height was sheer and defied attack. It is on the side of the city which faces towards Tmolus. So then it chanced that on the day before this Mardian, Hyroeades, had seen one of the Lydians descend by this part of the citadel after a helmet that had fallen down, and fetch it; he took note of this and considered it, and now he himself climbed up, and other Persians after him. Many ascended, and thus was Sardis taken and all the city like to be sacked.

[link to original Greek text] 85 Rawlinson p224 H & W I will now tell what befell Croesus himself. He had a son, of whom I have already spoken, a likely youth enough save that he was dumb. Now in his past days of prosperity Croesus had done all that he could for his son; and besides resorting to other plans he had sent to Delphi to inquire of the  p109 oracle concerning him. The Pythian priestess thus answered him:

"Lydian, of many the lord, though know'st not the boon that thou askest.

Wish not nor pray that the voice of thy son may be heard in the palace;

Better it were for thee that dumb he abide as aforetime;

Luckless that day shall be when first thou hearest him speaking."

So at the taking of the fortress a certain Persian, not knowing who Croesus was, came at him with intent to kill him. Croesus saw him coming, but by stress of misfortune he was past caring, and would as soon be smitten to death as not; but this dumb son, seeing the Persian coming, in his fear and his grief broke into speech and cried, "Man, do not kill Croesus!" This was the first word he uttered; and after that for all the days of his life he had power of speech.

[link to original Greek text] 86 So the Persians took Sardis and made Croesus himself prisoner, he having reigned fourteen years and been besieged fourteen days, and, as the oracle foretold, brought his own great empire to an end. Having then taken him they led him to Cyrus. Cyrus had a great pyre built, on which he set Croesus, bound in chains, and twice seven Lydian boys beside him: either his intent was to sacrifice these firstfruits to some one of his gods, or he desired to fulfil a vow, or it may be that, learning that Croesus was a god‑fearing man, he set him for this cause on the pyre, because he would fain know if any deity would save him from being burnt alive.δ It is related  p111 then that he did this; but Croesus, as he stood on the pyre, remembered even in his evil plight how divinely inspired was that saying of Solon, that no living man was blest. When this came to his mind, having till now spoken no word, he sighed deeply and groaned, and thrice uttered the name of Solon. Cyrus heard it, and bade his interpreters ask Croesus who was this on whom he called; they came near and asked him; Croesus at first would say nothing in answer, but presently, being compelled, he said, "It is one with whom I would have given much wealth that all sovereigns should hold converse." This was a dark saying to them, and again they questioned him of the words which he spoke. As they were instant,º and troubled him, he told them then how Solon, an Athenian, had first come, and how he had seen all his royal state and made light of it (saying thus and thus), and how all had happened to Croesus as Solon said, though he spoke with less regard to Croesus than to mankind in general and chiefly those who deemed themselves blest. While Croesus thus told his story, the pyre had already been kindled and the outer parts of it were burning. Then Cyrus, when he heard from the interpreters what Croesus said, repented of his purpose. He bethought him that he, being also a man, was burning alive another man who had once been as fortunate as himself; moreover, he feared the retribution, and it came to his mind that there was no stability in human affairs; wherefore he gave command to quench the burning  p113 fire with all speed and bring Croesus and those with him down from the pyre. But his servants could not for all their endeavour now master the fire.

[link to original Greek text] 87 Rawlinson p226 H & W Then (so the Lydians relate), when Croesus was aware of Cyrus' repentance and saw all men striving to quench the fire but no longer able to check it, he cried aloud to Apollo, praying that if the god had ever been pleased with any gift of his offering he would now come to his aid and save him from present destruction. Thus with weeping he invoked the god: and suddenly in a clear and windless sky clouds gathered and a storm burst and there was a most violent rain, so that the pyre was quenched. Then indeed Cyrus perceived that Croesus was a good man and one beloved of the gods; and bringing him down from the pyre, he questioned him, saying, "What man persuaded you, Croesus, to attack my country with an army, and be my enemy instead of my friend?" "O King," said Croesus, "it was I who did it, and brought thereby good fortune to you and ill to myself: but the cause of all was the god of the Greeks, in that he encouraged me to send my army. No man is so foolish as to desire war more than peace: for in peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons. But I must believe that heaven willed all this so to be."

[link to original Greek text] 88 So said Croesus. Then Cyrus loosed him and set him near to himself and took much thought for him, and both he and all that were with him were astonished when they looked upon Croesus. He for his part was silent, deep in thought. Presently he  p115 turned and said (for he saw the Persians sacking the city of the Lydians), "O King, am I to say to you now what is in my mind, or keep silence?" Cyrus bidding him to say boldly what he would, Croesus asked, "Yonder multitude, what is this whereon they are so busily engaged?" "They are plundering," said Cyrus, "your city and carrying off your possessions." "Nay, Croesus answered, "not my city, nor my possessions; for I have no longer any share of all this; it is your wealth that they are ravishing."

[link to original Greek text] 89 Rawlinson p228 Cyrus thought upon what Croesus said, and bidding the rest withdraw he asked Croesus what fault he saw in what was being done. "Since the gods," replied the Lydian, "have given me to be your slave, it is right that if I have any clearer sight of wrong done I should declare it to you. The Persians are violent men by nature, and poor withal; if then you suffer them to seize and hold great possessions, you may expect that he who has won most will rise in revolt against you. Now therefore do this, if what I say finds favour with you. Set men of your guard to watch all the gates; let them take the spoil from those who are carrying it out, and say that it must be paid as tithe to Zeus. Thus shall you not be hated by them for taking their wealth by force, and they for their part will acknowledge that you act justly, and will give up the spoil willingly."

[link to original Greek text] 90 When Cyrus heard this he was exceedingly pleased, for he deemed the counsel good; and praising him greatly, and bidding his guards to act as Croesus  p117 had counselled, he said: "Croesus, now that you, a king, are resolved to act and to speak aright, ask me now for whatever boon you desire forthwith." "Master," said Croesus, "you will best please me if you suffer me to send these my chains to that god of the Greeks whom I chiefly honoured, and to ask him if it be his custom to deceive those who serve him well." Cyrus then asking him what charge he brought against the god that he made this request, Croesus repeated to him the tale of all his own intent, and the answers of the oracles, and more especially his offerings, and how it was the oracle that had heartened him to attack the Persians; and so saying he once more instantly entreated that he might be suffered to reproach the god for this. At this Cyrus smiled, and replied, "This I will grant you, Croesus, and what other boon soever you may at any time ask me." When Croesus heard this, he sent men of the Lydians to Delphi, charging them to lay his chains on the threshold of the temple, and to ask if the god were not ashamed that he had persuaded Croesus to attack the Persians, telling him that he would destroy Croesus' power; of which power (they should say, showing the chains) these were the firstfruits. Thus they should inquire; and further, if it were the manner of the Greek gods to be thankless.

[link to original Greek text] 91 When the Lydians came, and spoke as they were charged, the priestess (it is said) thus replied: "None may escape his destined lot, not even a god. Croesus hath paid for the sin of his ancestor of the fifth generation: who, being of the guard of the Heraclidae, was led by the guile of a woman to slay his master, and took to himself the royal state of that master, whereto he had no right. And it was the desire of Loxias that the evil hap of Sardis should  p119 fall in the lifetime of Croesus' sons, not his own, but he could not turn the Fates from their purpose; yet did he accomplish his will and favour Croesus in so far as they would yield to him: for he delayed the taking of Sardis for three years, and this let Croesus know, that though he be now taken it is by so many years later than the destined hour. And further, Loxias saved Croesus from the burning. But as to the oracle that was given him, Croesus does not right to complain concerning it. For Loxias declared to him that if he should lead an army against the Persians he would destroy a great empire. Therefore it behoved him, if he would take right counsel, to send and ask whether the god spoke of Croesus' or of Cyrus' empire. But he understood not that which was spoken, nor made further inquiry: wherefore now let him blame himself. Nay, when he asked that last question of the oracle and Loxias gave him that answer concerning the mule, even that Croesus understood not. For that mule was in truth Cyrus; who was the son of two persons not of the same nation, of whom the mother was the nobler and the father of lesser estate; for she was a Median, daughter of Astyages king of the Medians: but he was a Persian and under the rule of the Medians, and was wedded, albeit in all regards lower than she, to one that should be his sovereign lady." Such was the answer of the priestess to the Lydians; they carried it to Sardis and told it to Croesus; and when he heard it, he confessed that the sin was not the god's, but his own. And this is the story of Croesus' rule, and of the first overthrow of Ionia.

[link to original Greek text] 92 Rawlinson p230 Now there are many offerings of Croesus in Hellas, and not only those whereof I have spoken.  p121 There is a golden tripod at Thebes in Boeotia, which he dedicated to Apollo of Ismenus; at Ephesus17 there are the oxen of gold and the greater part of the pillars; and in the temple of Proneïa at Delphi, a golden shield.18 All these yet remained till my lifetime; but some other of the offerings have perished. And the offerings of Croesus at Branchidae of the Milesians, as I have heard, are equal in weight and like to those at Delphi. Those which he dedicated at Delphi and the shrine of Amphiaraus were his own, the firstfruits of the wealth inherited from his father; the rest came from the estate of an enemy who had headed a faction against Croesus before he became king, and conspired to win the throne of Lydia for Pantaleon. This Pantaleon was a son of Alyattes, and half-brother of Croesus: Croesus was Alyattes' son by a Carian and Pantaleon by an Ionian mother. So when Croesus gained the sovereignty by his father's gift, he put the man who had conspired against him to death by drawing him across a carding-comb, and first confiscated his estate, then dedicated it as and where I have said. This is all that I shall say of Croesus' offerings.

[link to original Greek text] 93 Rawlinson p232 H & W There are not in Lydia many marvellous things for me to tell of, if it be compared with other countries, except the gold dust that comes down from Tmolus. But there is one building to be seen there which is more notable than any, saving those of Egypt and Babylon. There is in Lydia the tomb of Alyattes the father of Croesus, the base  p123 whereof is made of great stones and the rest of it of mounded earth. It was built by the men of the market and the artificers and the prostitutes. There remained till my time five corner-stones set on the top of the tomb, and on these was graven the record of the work done by each kind: and measurement showed that the prostitutes' share of the work was the greatest. All the daughters of the common people of Lydia ply the trade of prostitutes, to collect dowries, till they can get themselves husbands; and they offer themselves in marriage. Now this tomb has a circumference of six furlongs and a third, and its breadth is above two furlongs;f and there is a great lake hard by the tomb, which, say the Lydians, is fed by ever-flowing springs; it is called the Gygaean lake. Such then is this tomb.


[image ALT: zzz. It is the plain of Sardis in modern Turkey, further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

The grave mound of Alyattes.

Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 94 Rawlinson p235 The customs of the Lydians are like those of the Greeks, save that they make prostitutes of their female children. They were the first men (known to us) who coined and used gold and silver currency; and they were the first to sell by retail. And, according to what they themselves say, the pastimes now in use among them and the Greeks were invented by the Lydians: these, they say, were invented among them at the time when they colonised Tyrrhenia.g This is their story: In the reign of Atys son of Manes there was great scarcity of food in all Lydia. For a while the Lydians bore this with what patience they could; presently, when there was no abatement of the famine, they sought for remedies, and divers plans were devised by divers men. Then it was that they invented the games of dice and knuckle-bones and  p125 ball, and all other forms of pastime except only draughts, which the Lydians do not claim to have discovered. Then, using their discovery to lighten the famine, they would play for the whole of every other day, that they might not have to seek for food, and the next day they ceased from their play and ate. This was their manner of life for eighteen years. But famine did not cease to plague them, and rather afflicted them yet more grievously. At last their king divided the people into two portions, and made them draw lots, so that the one part should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed. Then one part of them, having drawn the lot, left the country and came down to Smyrna and built ships, whereon they set all their goods that could be carried on shipboard, and sailed away to seek a livelihood and a country; till at last, after sojourning with many nations in turn, they came to the Ombrici,19 where they founded cities and have dwelt ever since. They no longer called themselves Lydians, but Tyrrhenians, after the name of the king's son who had led them thither.

The Lydians, then, were enslaved by the Persians.

[link to original Greek text] 95 Rawlinson p237 H & W But it is next the business of my history to inquire who this Cyrus was who brought down the power of Croesus, and how the Persians came to be rulers of Asia. I mean then to be guided in what I write by some of the Persians who desire not to make a fine tale of the story of Cyrus but to tell  p127 the truth, though there are no less than three other accounts of Cyrus which I could give.

When the Assyrians had ruled Upper Asia for five hundred and twenty years20 their subjects began to revolt from them: first of all, the Medes. These, it would seem, proved their valour in fighting for freedom against the Assyrians; they cast off their slavery and won freedom. Afterwards the other subject nations too did the same as the Medes.

[link to original Greek text] 96 All of those on the mainland were now free men; but they came once more to be ruled by monarchs as I will now relate. There was among the Medians a clever man called Deioces: he was the son of Phraortes. Deioces was enamoured of sovereignty, and thus he set about gaining it. Being already a notable man in his own township (one of the many townships into which Media was parcelled), he began to profess and practise justice more constantly and zealously than ever, and this he did although there was much lawlessness in all the land of Media, and though he knew that injustice is ever the foe of justice. Then the Medes of the same township, seeing his dealings, chose him to be their judge, and he (for he coveted sovereign power) was honest and just. By so acting he won no small praise from his fellow townsmen, insomuch that when the men of the other townships learned that Deioces alone gave righteous judgments (they having before suffered from unjust decisions) they, then, on hearing this, came often and gladly to plead before Deioces; and at last they would submit to no arbitrament but his.

[link to original Greek text] 97 Rawlinson p238 The number of those who came grew ever greater, for they heard that each case ended as  p129 accorded with the truth. Then Deioces, seeing that all was now entrusted to him, would not sit in his former seat of judgment, and said he would give no more decisions; for it was of no advantage to him (he said) to leave his own business and spend all the day judging the cases of his neighbours. This caused robbery and lawlessness to increase greatly in the townships; and the Medes gathering together conferred about their present affairs, and said (here, as I suppose, the chief speakers were Deioces' friends), "Since we cannot with our present manner of life dwell peacefully in the country, come, let us set up a king for ourselves; thus will the country be well governed, and we ourselves shall betake ourselves to our business, and cease to be undone by lawlessness." By such words they persuaded themselves to be ruled by a king.

[link to original Greek text] 98 The question was forthwith propounded: Whom should they make king? Then every man was loud in putting Deioces forward and praising Deioces, till they agreed that he should be their king. He bade them build him houses worthy of his royal power, and arm him with a bodyguard: the Medes did so; they built him great and strong houses at what places soever in the country he showed them, and suffered him to choose a bodyguard out of all their people. But having obtained the power, he constrained the Medes to make him one stronghold and to fortify this more strongly than all the rest. This too the Medes did for him: so he built the great and mighty circles of walls within walls which are now called Agbatana.21 This fortress is so planned that each  p131 circle of walls is higher than the next outer circle by no more than the height of its battlements: to which end the site itself, being on a hill in the plain, somewhat helps, but chiefly it was accomplished by art. There are seven circles in all; within the innermost circle are the king's dwellings and the treasuries; and the longest wall is about the length of the wall that surrounds the city of Athens.22 The battlements of the first circle are white, of the second black, of the third circle purple, of the fourth blue, and of the fifth orange: thus the battlements of five circles are painted with colours; and the battlements of the last two circles are coated, these with silver and those with gold.


[image ALT: zzz. It is a view of the ziggurat of Choga Zanbil, further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

The tale of the construction of the walls of Ecbatana is largely legendary, but it is possible that Herodotus' source had a ziggurat in mind, which may indeed be interpreted as a series of walls, like the ones at Choga Zanbil, seen here.

Photo © Livius.Org | Marco Prins, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 99 Rawlinson p243 Deioces built these walls for himself and around his own palace; the people were to dwell without the wall. And when all was built, it was Deioces first who established the rule that no one should come into the presence of the king, but all should be dealt with by the means of messengers; that the king should be seen by no man; and moreover that it should be in particular a disgrace for any to laugh or to spit in his presence. He was careful to hedge himself with all this state in order that the men of his own age (who had been bred up with him and were as nobly born as he and his equals in manly excellence), instead of seeing him and being thereby vexed and haply moved to plot against him, might by reason of not seeing him deem him to be changed from what he had been.23

[link to original Greek text] 100 Rawlinson p244 Having ordered all these matters and strongly armed himself with sovereign power, he was a hard  p133 man in the observance of justice. They would write down their pleas and send them in to him; then would he adjudge upon what was brought him and send his judgments out. This was his manner of deciding cases at law, and he took order too about other matters; for when he heard that a man was doing violence he would send for him and punish him as befitted each offence: and he had spies and eavesdroppers everywhere in his dominions.

[link to original Greek text] 101 Deioces, then, united the Median nation, and no other, and ruled it. The Median tribes are these — the Busae, the Paretaceni, the Struchates, the Arizanti, the Budii, the Magi: so many are their tribes.

[link to original Greek text] 102 H & W Deioces had a son, Phraortes, who inherited the throne at Deioces' death after a reign of fifty-three years.24 Having so inherited, he was not content to rule the Medes alone: marching against the Persians, he attacked them first, and they were the first whom he made subject to the Medes. Then, with these two strong nations at his back, he subdued one nation of Asia after another, till he marched against the Assyrians, to wit, those of the Assyrians who held Ninus. These had formerly been rulers of all; but now their allies had dropped from them and they were left alone, yet in themselves a prosperous people: marching then against these Assyrians, Phraortes himself and the greater part of his army perished, after he had reigned twenty‑two years.

[link to original Greek text] 103 At his death he was succeeded by his son Cyaxares. He is said to have been a much greater  p135 warrior than his fathers: it was he who first arrayed the men of Asia in companies and set each kind in bands apart, the spearmen and the archers and the horsemen: before this they were all blended alike confusedly together. This was the king who fought against the Lydians when the day was turned to night in the battle, and who united under his dominion all Asia that is beyond the river Halys. Collecting all his subjects, he marched against Ninus, wishing to avenge his father and to destroy the city. He defeated the Assyrians in battle; but while he was besieging their city there came down upon him a great army of Scythians, led by their king Madyes son of Protothyes. These had invaded Asia after they had driven the Cimmerians out of Europe: pursuing them in their flight the Scythians came to the Median country.25

[link to original Greek text] 104 Rawlinson p246 It is thirty days' journey for an unburdened man from the Maeetian lake26 to the river Phasis and the land of the Colchi; from the Colchi it is an easy matter to cross into Media; there is but one nation between, the Saspires; to pass these is to be in Media. Nevertheless it was not by this way that the Scythians entered; they turned aside and came by the upper and much longer road, having on their right the Caucasian mountains. There the Medes met the Scythians, who worsted them in battle and deprived them of their rule, and made themselves masters of all Asia.

 p137  [link to original Greek text] 105 Thence they marched against Egypt: and when they were in the part of Syria called Palestine, Psammetichus king of Egypt met them and persuaded them with gifts and prayers to come no further. So they turned back, and when they came on the way to the city of Ascalon in Syria, most of the Scythians passed by and did no harm, but a few remained behind and plundered the temple of Heavenly Aphrodite.27 This temple, as I learn from what I hear, is the oldest of all the temples of the goddess, for the temple in Cyprus was founded from it, as the Cyprians themselves say: and the temple on Cythera was founded by Phoenicians from this same land of Syria. But the Scythians who pillaged the temple, and all their descendants after them, were afflicted by the goddess with the "female" sickness: insomuch that the Scythians say that this is the cause of their disease, and that those who come to Scythia can see there the plight of the men whom they call "Enareis."28

[link to original Greek text] 106 Rawlinson p248 H & W The Scythians, then, ruled Asia for twenty-eight years: and all the land was wasted by reason of their violence and their pride, for, besides that they exacted from each the tribute which was laid upon him, they rode about the land carrying off all men's possessions. The greater number of them were entertained and made drunk and then slain by Cyaxares and the Medes: so thus the Medes won back their empire and all that they had formerly possessed; and they  p139 took Ninus (in what manner I will show in a later part of my history),h and brought all Assyria except the province of Babylon under their rule.ε

[link to original Greek text] 107 Afterwards Cyaxares died after a reign of forty years (among which I count the years of the Scythian domination): and his son Astyages reigned in his stead.

Astyages had a daughter, whom he called Mandane: concerning whom he had a dream, that enough water flowed from her to fill his city and overflow all Asia. He imparted this vision to those of the Magi who interpreted dreams, and when he heard what they told him he was terrified: and presently, Mandane being now of marriageable age, he feared the vision too much to give her to any Median worthy to mate with his family, but wedded her to a Persian called Cambyses, a man whom he knew to be well born and of a quiet temper: for Astyages held Cambyses to be much lower than a Mede of middle estate.

[link to original Greek text] 108 Rawlinson p250 But in the first year of Mandane's marriage to Cambyses Astyages saw a second vision. He dreamt that there grew from his daughteri a vine, which covered the whole of Asia. Having seen this vision, and imparted it to the interpreters of dreams, he sent to the Persians for his daughter, then near her time, and when she came kept her guarded, desiring to kill whatever child she might bear: for the interpreters declared that the meaning of this dream was that his daughter's offspring should rule in his place. Wishing to prevent this, Astyages on the birth of Cyrus summoned to him a man of his household called Harpagus, who was his  p141 faithfullest servant among the Medes and was steward of all his possessions: then he said, "Do not mishandle this command of mine, Harpagus, nor forsake me for the service of others, lest hereafter it be the worse for yourself. Take the boy whom Mandane has borne, and carry him to your house and kill him: and then bury him in what manner you yourself will." "King," Harpagus answered, "never yet have you seen me do aught unpleasing to you; and I will ever be careful not to offend against you. But if it is your will that this should so be done, then it behoves that for my part I render you fitting service."

[link to original Greek text] 109 Thus answered Harpagus. The child was then given to him, adorned for its death, and he went to his house weeping. When he came in he told his wife all the command given him by Astyages. "Now, therefore," said she to him, "what purpose you to do?" "Not," he answered, "to obey Astyages's behest, no, not though he lose his wits and be more frantic than now he is: even so I myself will not serve his purpose, nor be his instrument for such a murder. There are many reasons why I will not kill the child: he is akin to myself, and further, Astyages is old, and has no male issue: now if after his death the sovereignty passes to this daughter of his, whose son he is now using me to slay, what is left for me but the greatest of all dangers? Nay, for my safety I must see that the boy dies, but the deed must be done by some one of Astyages' own men and not of mine."

 p143  [link to original Greek text] 110 Rawlinson p252 So saying, he sent forthwith a messenger to that one of Astyages' cowherds whom he knew to pasture his herds in the likeliest places and where the mountains were most haunted of wild beasts. The man's name was Mitradates, and his wife was a slave like him; her name was in the Greek language Cyno, in the Median Spako: for "spax" is the Median name for a dog. The foothills of the mountains where this cowherd pastured his kine are to the north of Agbatana, towards the Euxine sea: for the rest of Media is everywhere a level plain, but here, on the side of the Saspires,29 the land is very high and mountainous and covered with woods. So when the cowherd came with all speed at the summons, Harpagus said: "Astyages bids you take this child and lay it in the most desolate part of the mountains, that it may thus perish as soon as may be. And he bids me say, that if you kill not the child, but in any way save it alive, you shall die a terrible death: and it is I who am ordered to see it exposed."

[link to original Greek text] 111 Hearing this, the cowherd took up the child and returned by the same way and came to his steading. Now it chanced that his wife too had been expecting her time every day, and providence so ordained that she was brought to bed while her man was away in the city. Each of them was anxious for the other, the husband being afraid about his wife's travail, and the wife because she knew not why Harpagus had so unwontedly sent for her husband. So when he returned and came before her, she was startled by the unexpected sight and asked him before  p145 he could speak why Harpagus had so instantly summoned him. "Wife," he said, "when I came to the city, I saw and heard what I would I had never seen, and what I would had never happened to our masters. All the house of Harpagus was full of weeping; and I was astonished, and entered in; and immediately I saw a child laid there struggling and crying, decked out with gold and many-coloured raiment. And when Harpagus saw me, he bade me take the child with all speed and bear it away and lay it where there are most wild beasts in the mountains: it was Astyages, he said, who laid this command on me, and Harpagus threatened me grievously if I did not do his will. So I took up the child and bore him away, supposing him to be the child of someone in the household; for I could never have guessed whose he was. But I was amazed at seeing him decked with gold and raiment, and at hearing moreover the manifest sound of weeping in the house of Harpagus. Very soon on the way I heard all the story from a servant who brought me out of the city and gave the child into my charge: to wit, that it was the son of Mandane the king's daughter and Cambyses the son of Cyrus, and that Astyages bade him slay the child. And now, here is the child."

[link to original Greek text] 112 Rawlinson p254 And with that the cowherd uncovered it and showed it. But when the woman saw how fine and fair the child was, she fell a‑weeping and laid hold of the man's knees and entrusted him by no means to expose him. But the husband said he could do no other; for, he said, there would be comings of spies from Harpagus to see what was done, and he must die a terrible death if he did not obey. So then being unable to move her husband, the woman said next: "Since I cannot move you from your  p147 purpose to expose, then do you do this, if needs must be that a child be seen exposed. Know that I too have borne a child, but it was dead; take it now and lay it out, but, for the child of the daughter of Astyages, let us rear it as it were our own; so shall you escape punishment for offending against our masters, and we shall have taken no evil counsel. For the child that is dead will have royal burial, and he that is alive will not lose his life."

[link to original Greek text] 113 H & W Thinking that his wife counselled him exceeding well in his present strait, the cowherd straightway did as she said. He gave his wife the child whom he had brought to kill him, and his own dead child he put into the chest wherein he carried the other, and decked it with all the other child's adornment and laid it out in the most desolate part of the mountains. Then on the third day after the laying out of the child, the cowherd left one of his herdsmen to guard it and went to the city, where he came to Harpagus' house and said he was ready to show the child's dead body. So it was buried: and the cowherd's wife took and reared the boy who was afterwards named Cyrus; but she gave him not that but some other name.

[link to original Greek text] 114 Now when the boy was ten years old, it was revealed in some such wise as this who he was. He was playing in the village where these herdsmen's quarters were: there he was playing in the road with others of his age. The boys in their  p149 play chose for their king that one who passed for the son of the cowherd. Then he set them severally to their tasks, some to the building of houses, some to be his bodyguard, one (as I suppose) to be the King's Eye; to another he gave the right of bringing him messages; to each he gave his proper work. Now one of these boys who played with him was son to Artembares, a notable Median; as he did not obey the command Cyrus gave him, Cyrus bade the other boys seize him, and when they did so he dealt very roughly with the boy and scourged him. As soon as he was loosed, very angry at the wrong done him, he went down to his father in the city and complained of what he had met with at the hands of the son of Astyages' cowherd, — not calling him Cyrus, for that name had not yet been given. Artembares went with his anger fresh upon him to Astyages, bringing his son and telling of the cruel usage he had had: "O King," said he, "see the outrage done to us by the son of your slave, the son of a cowherd!" and with that he showed his son's shoulders.

[link to original Greek text] 115 When Astyages heard and saw, he was ready to avenge the boy in justice to Artembares' rank: so he sent for the cowherd and his son. When they were both present, Astyages said, fixing his eyes on Cyrus, "Is it you, then, the son of such a father, who have dared to deal so despitefully with the son of the greatest of my courtiers?" "Nay, master," answered Cyrus, "what I did to him I did with justice. The boys of the village, of whom he was one, chose me  p151 in their play to be their king: for they thought me the fittest to rule. The other boys then did as I bid them: but this one was disobedient and cared nothing for me, till he got his deserts. So now if I deserve punishment for this, here am I to take it."

[link to original Greek text] 116 Rawlinson p256 While he spoke, it seemed to Astyages that he recognised Cyrus; the fashion of the boy's countenance was like (he thought) to his own, and his manner of answering was freer than customary: and the time of the exposure seemed to agree with Cyrus' age. Being thereby astonished, he sat awhile silent; but when at last with difficulty he could collect his wits, he said (for he desired to rid himself of Artembares and question the cowherd with none present), "I will so act, Artembares, that you and your son shall have no cause of complaint. So he sent Artembares away, and the servants led Cyrus within at Astyages' bidding. Then, the cowherd being left quite alone, Astyages asked him whence he had got the boy and from whose hands. The cowherd answered that Cyrus was his own son and that the mother was still in his house. "You are ill advised," said Astyages, "desiring, as you do, to find yourself in a desperate strait," — and with that he made a sign to the guard to seize him. Then under stress of necessity the cowherd declared to him all the story, telling all truly as it had happened from the beginning: and at the last he prayed and entreated that the king would pardon him.

[link to original Greek text] 117 When the truth had been so declared Astyages took thereafter less account of the cowherd, but  p153 he was very wroth with Harpagus and bade the guard summon him. Harpagus came, and Astyages asked him, "Harpagus, in what manner did you kill the boy, my daughter's son, whom I gave you?" Harpagus saw the cowherd in the house, and did not take the way of falsehood, lest he should be caught and confuted: "O King," he said, "when I took the boy, I thought and considered how I could do you pleasure, and not offend against you, yet not be held a murderer by your daughter or yourself. This then I did: I called to me yonder cowherd, and gave over the child to him, telling him that it was you who gave the command to kill it. And that was the truth; for such was your command. But I gave the child with the charge that the cowherd should lay it on a desolate mountainside, and wait there and watch till it be dead; and I threatened him with all punishments if he did not accomplish this. Then, when he had done what he was bid, and the child was dead, I sent the trustiest of my eunuchs and by them I saw and buried the body. This, O king, is the tale of the matter, and such was the end of the boy."

[link to original Greek text] 118 So Harpagus spoke the plain truth. Astyages hid the anger that he had against him for what had been done, and first he related the story again to Harpagus as he had heard it from the cowherd, then, after so repeating it, he made an end by saying that the boy was alive and good had come of it all. "For," so he said in his speech, "I was greatly afflicted by what had been done to this boy, and it weighed  p155 heavily on me that I was estranged from my daughter. Now, therefore, in this lucky turn of fortune, send your own son to the boy who is newly come, and come hither to dine with me, for I am about to make sacrifice for the safety of my grandson to the gods to whom this honour is due."

[link to original Greek text] 119 Rawlinson p258 When Harpagus heard this he did obeisance and went to his home, greatly pleased to find that his offence had served the needful end and that he was invited to dinner in honour of this fortunate day. Coming in, he bade his only son, a boy of about thirteen years of age, to go to Astyages' palace and do whatever the king commanded, and in his great joy he told his wife all that had happened. But when Harpagus' son came, Astyages cut his throat and tearing him limb from limb roasted some and boiled some of the flesh, and the work being finished kept all in readiness. So when it came to the hour for dinner and Harpagus was present among the rest of the guests, dishes of sheep's flesh were set before Astyages and the others, but Harpagus was served with the flesh of his own son, all but the head and hands and feet, which lay apart covered upon in a basket. And when Harpagus seemed to have eaten his fill, Astyages asked him, "Are you pleased with your meal, Harpagus?" "Exceeding well pleased," Harpagus answered. Then those whose business it was brought him in the covered basket the head and hands and feet of his son, and they stood before Harpagus and bade him uncover and take of them what he would. Harpagus did so;  p157 he uncovered and saw what was left of his son: this he saw, but he mastered himself and was not dismayed. Astyages asked him, "Know you what beast's flesh you have eaten?" "Yea," he said, "I know, and all that the king does is pleasing to me." With that answer he took the rest of the flesh and went to his house, purposing then, as I suppose, to collect and bury all.

[link to original Greek text] 120 Thus did Astyages punish Harpagus. But, to aid him to resolve about Cyrus, he called to him the same Magians who had interpreted his dream as I have said: and when they came Astyages asked them how they had interpreted his vision. They answered as before, and said that the boy must have been made king had he lived and not died first. Then said Astyages, "The boy is saved and alive, and when he was living in the country the boys of his village made him king, and he did duly all that is done by true kings: for he assigned to each severally the places of bodyguards and sentinels and messengers and all else, and so ruled. And to what, think you, does this tend?" "If the boy is alive," said the Magians, "and has been made king without foreknowledge, then fear not for aught that he can do but keep a good heart: he will not be made king a second time. Know that even in our prophecies it is often but a small thing that has been foretold, and the perfect fulfilment of the dream is but a trifling matter." "I too, ye Magians," said Astyages, "am much of your mind — that the dream came true when the boy was called king, and that I  p159 have no more to fear from him. Nevertheless consider well and advise me what shall be safest both for my house and for you." The Magians said, "King, we too are much concerned that your sovereignty should stand: for in the other case it goes away from your nation to this boy who is a Persian, and so we Medes are enslaved and deemed of no account by the Persians, being as we are of another blood, but while you are established king, who are our countryman, we have our share of power, and great honour is paid us by you. Thus, then, it behoves us by all means to take thought for you and your sovereignty. And at the present time if we saw any danger we would declare all to you: but now the dream has had but a trifling end, and we ourselves have confidence and counsel you to be like-minded. As for this boy, send him away from your sight to the Persians and to his parents."

[link to original Greek text] 121 Rawlinson p260 Hearing this, Astyages was glad, and called Cyrus, "My lad," he said, "I did you wrong by reason of the vision I had in a dream, that meant naught, but by your own destiny you still live; now therefore, get you to the Persians, and good luck go with you; I will send those that shall guide you. When you are there you shall find a father and mother of other estate than Mitradates the cowherd and his wife."

[link to original Greek text] 122 So said Astyages and sent Cyrus away. When he returned to Cambyses' house, his parents received him there, and learning who he was they welcomed him heartily, for they had supposed that long ago he had straightway been killed, and they asked him how his life had been spared. Then he told them, and said that till now he had known  p161 nothing but been greatly deceived, but that on the way he had heard all the story of his misfortune; for he had thought, he said, that Astyages' cowherd was his father, but in his journey from the city his escort had told him all the tale. And he had been reared, he said, by the cowherd's wife, and he was full of her praises, and in his tale he was ever speaking of Cyno. Hearing this name, his parents set about a story that Cyrus when exposed was suckled by a bitch, thinking thereby to make the story of his saving seem the more marvellous to the Persians.

[link to original Greek text] 123 This then was the beginning of that legend. But as Cyrus grew to man's estate, being the manliest and best loved of his peers, Harpagus courted him and sent him gifts, wishing to be avenged on Astyages; for he saw no hope of a private man like himself punishing Astyages, but as he saw Cyrus growing up he sought to make him an ally, for he likened Cyrus' misfortune to his own. He had already brought matters so far that — since Astyages dealt harshly with the Medians — he consorted with each of the chief Medians and persuaded them to make Cyrus their leader and depose Astyages. So much being ready and done, Harpagus desired to make known his intent to Cyrus, then dwelling among the Persians; but the roads were guarded, and he had no plan for sending a message but this — he artfully slit the belly of a hare, and then leaving it as it was without further harm he put into it a paper on which he wrote what he thought fit. Then he sewed up the hare's belly, and sent it to Persia by the trustiest of his servants,  p163 giving him nets to carry as if he were a huntsman. The messenger was charged to give Cyrus the hare and bid him by word of mouth cut it open with his own hands, none other being present.

[link to original Greek text] 124 Rawlinson p262 All this was done. Cyrus took the hare and slit it and read the paper which was in it; the writing was as follows: "Son of Cambyses, seeing that the gods watch over you (for else you had not so prospered) do you now avenge yourself on Astyages, your murderer; for according to his intent you are dead; it is by the gods' doing, and mine, that you live. Methinks you have long ago heard the story of what was done concerning yourself and how Astyages entreated me because I slew you not but gave you to the cowherd. If then you will be counselled by me, you shall rule all the country which is now ruled by Astyages. Persuade the Persians to rebel, and lead their army against the Medes; then you have your desire, whether I be appointed to command the army against you or some other notable man among the Medians; for they will of themselves revolt from Astyages and join you and endeavour to pull him down. Seeing then that all here is ready, do as I say and do it quickly."

[link to original Greek text] 125 When Cyrus heard this, he considered how most cunningly he might persuade the Persians to revolt; and this he thought most apt to the occasion, and this he did: writing what he would on a paper, he gathered an assembly of the Persians, and then unfolded the paper and declared that therein Astyages appointed him leader of the Persian armies. "Now,"  p165 said he in his speech, "I bid you all, men of Persia, to come each of you with a sickle." (There are many tribes in Persia: those of them whom Cyrus assembled and persuaded to revolt from the Medes were the Pasargadae, the Maraphii, and the Maspii. On these hang all the other Persians. The chief tribe is that of the Pasargadae; to them belongs the clan of the Achaemenidae, the royal house of Persia. The other Persian tribes are the Panthialaei, the Derusiaei, and the Germanii, all tillers of the soil, and the Dai, the Mardi, the Dropici, the Sagartii, all wandering herdsmen.)

[link to original Greek text] 126 Rawlinson p265 H & W So when they all came with sickles as commanded, Cyrus bade them clear and make serviceable in one day a certain thorny tract of Persia, of eighteen or twenty furlongs each way in extent. The Persians accomplished the appointed task; Cyrus then commanded them to wash themselves and come on the next day; and meanwhile, gathering together his father's goats and sheep and oxen in one place, he slew and prepared them as a feast for the Persian host, providing also wine and all foods that were most suitable. When the Persians came on the next day he made them sit and feast in a meadow. After dinner he asked them which pleased them best, their task of yesterday or their present state. They answered that the difference was great: all yesterday they had had nought but evil, to‑day nought but good. Then taking their word from their mouths Cyrus laid  p167 bare all his purpose, and said: "This is your case, men of Persia: obey me and you shall have these good things and ten thousand others besides with no toil and slavery; but if you will not obey me you will have labours unnumbered, like to your toil of yesterday. Now, therefore, do as I bid you, and win your freedom. For I think that I myself was born by a marvellous providence to take this work in hand; and I deem you full as good men as the Medes in war and in all else. All this is true; wherefore now revolt from Astyages with all speed!"

[link to original Greek text] 127 Rawlinson p266 The Persians had long been ill content that the Medes should rule them, and now having got them a champion they were glad to win their freedom. But when Astyages heard that Cyrus was at this business, he sent a messenger to summon him; Cyrus bade the messenger bring back word that Astyages would see him sooner than he desired. Hearing this, Astyages armed all his Medians, and was so infatuated that he forgot what he had done to Harpagus, and appointed him to command the army. So no sooner had the Medes marched out and joined battle with the Persians than some of them deserted to the enemy, but most of them of set purpose played the coward and fled; those only fought who had not shared Harpagus' counsels.

[link to original Greek text] 128 Thus the Median army was foully scattered. Astyages, hearing this, sent a threatening message to Cyrus, "that even so he should not go unpunished"; and with that he took the Magians who interpreted dreams and had persuaded him to let Cyrus go free, and impaled them; then he armed  p169 the Medes who were left in the city, the youths and old men. Leading those out, and encountering the Persians, he was worsted: Astyages himself was taken prisoner, and lost the Median army which he led.ζ

[link to original Greek text] 129 He being then a captive, Harpagus came and exulted over him and taunted him, and with much other bitter mockery he brought to mind his banquet, when Astyages had fed Harpagus on his son's flesh, and asked Astyages what it was to be a slave after having been a king. Fixing his gaze on Harpagus, Astyages asked, "Think you that this, which Cyrus has done, is your work?" "It was I," said the other, "who wrote the letter; the accomplishment of the work is justly mine." "Then," said Astyages, "you stand confessed the most foolish, in giving another the throne which you might have had for yourself, if the present business be indeed your doing; most unjust, in enslaving the Medes by reason of that banquet. For if at all hazards another and not yourself must possess the royal power, then in justice some Mede should enjoy it, not a Persian: but now you have made the Medes, who did you no harm, slaves instead of masters and the Persians, who were the slaves, are now the masters of the Medes."

[link to original Greek text] 130 Rawlinson p268 Thus Astyages was deposed from his sovereignty after a reign of thirty-five years: and the Medians were made to bow down before the Persians by reason of Astyages' cruelty. They had ruled all Asia beyond the Halys for one hundred and twenty-eight years,30 from which must be taken the time when the Scythians held sway. At a later  p171 time they repented of what they now did, and rebelled against Darius;31 but they were defeated in battle and brought back into subjection. But now, in Astyages' time, Cyrus and the Persians rose in revolt against the Medes, and from this time ruled Asia. As for Astyages, Cyrus did him no further harm, and kept him in his own house till Astyages died.

This is the story of the birth and upbringing of Cyrus, and thus he became king; and afterwards, as I have already related, he subdued Croesus in punishment for the unprovoked wrong done him; and after this victory he became sovereign of all Asia.

[link to original Greek text] 131 As to the usages of the Persians, I know them to be these. It is not their custom to make and set up statues and temples and altars, but those who make such they deem foolish, as I suppose, because they never believed the gods, as do the Greeks, to be in the likeness of men; but they call the whole circle of heaven Zeus,j and to him they offer sacrifice on the highest peaks of the mountains; they sacrifice also to the sun and moon and earth and fire and water and winds.k These are the only gods to whom they have ever sacrificed from the beginning; they have learnt later, to sacrifice to the "heavenly"32 Aphrodite, from the Assyrians and Arabians. She is called by the Assyrians Mylitta, by the Arabians Alilat, by the Persians Mitra.

[link to original Greek text] 132 Rawlinson p272 H & W And this is their fashion of sacrifice to the aforesaid gods: when about to sacrifice they neither build altars nor kindle fire, they use no libations, nor music, nor fillets, nor barley meal; but to whomsoever of the gods a man will sacrifice, he leads the  p173 beast to an open space and then calls on the god, himself wearing a wreath on his cap, of myrtle for choice.η To pray for blessings for himself alone is not lawful for the sacrificer; rather he prays that it may be well with the king and all the Persians; for he reckons himself among them. He then cuts the victim limb from limb into portions, and having boiled the flesh spreads the softest grass, trefoil by choice, and places all of it on this. When he has so disposed it a Magian comes near and chants over it the song of the birth of the gods,θ as the Persian tradition relates it; for no sacrifice can be offered without a Magian. Then after a little while the sacrificer carries away the flesh and uses it as he pleases.

[link to original Greek text] 133 H & W The day which every man most honours is his own birthday. On this he thinks it right to serve a more abundant meal than on other days; before the rich are set oxen or horses or camels or asses, roasted whole in ovens; the poorer serve up the lesser kinds of cattle. Their courses are few, the dainties that follow are many and not all served together. This is why the Persians say of the Greeks, that they rise from the table still hungry, because not much dessert is set before them: were this too given to the Greek (say the Persians) he would never cease eating. They are greatly given to wine; none may vomit or make water in another's presence. This then is prohibited among them. Moreover it is their custom to deliberate about the gravest matters when they are drunk; and what they approve in their counsels is proposed to them the next day by the master of the house where they deliberate, when they are now sober  p175 and if being sober they still approve it, they act thereon, but if not, they cast it aside. And when they have taken counsel about a matter when sober, they decide upon it when they are drunk.

[link to original Greek text] 134 H & W When one man meets another in the way, it is easy to see if the two are equals; for then without speaking they kiss each other on the lips; if the difference in rank be but little, it is the cheek that is kissed; if it be great, the humbler bows down and does obeisance to the other.ι They honour most of all those who dwell nearest them, next those who are next farthest removed, and so going ever onwards they assign honour by this rule; those who dwell farthest off they hold least honourable of all; for they deem themselves to be in all regards by far the best of all men, the rest to have but a proportionate claim to merit, till those who dwell farthest away have least merit of all. Under the rule of the Medes one tribe would even govern another; the Medes held sway over all alike and specially over those who dwelt nearest themselves; these ruled over their neighbours, and the neighbours again those who came next to them, on the same plan whereby the Persians assign honour; for according as the Median nation advanced its dominion farther from home, such was the measure of its rule and suzerainty.33

[link to original Greek text] 135 Rawlinson p276 But of all men the Persians most welcome foreign customs. They wear the Median dress, deeming it more beautiful than their own, and the Egyptian cuirass in war. Their luxurious practices  p177 are of all kinds, and all borrowed; the Greeks taught them unnatural vices.l Every Persian marries many lawful wives, and keeps still more concubines.

[link to original Greek text] 136 H & W After valour in battle it is most reckoned as manly merit to show the greatest number of sons: the king sends gifts yearly to him who can show most. Numbers, they hold, are strength. They educate their boys from five to twenty years old, and teach them three things only, riding and archery and truth-telling. A boy is not seen by his father before he is five years old, but lives with the women: the reason of this is that, if the boy should die in the time of his rearing, the father may suffer no dolour.

[link to original Greek text] 137 Rawlinson p278 This is a law which I praise; and it is a praiseworthy law too which suffers not the king himself to slay any man for one offence, nor any other Persian for one offence to do incurable hurt to one of his servants. Not till reckoning shows that the offender's wrongful acts are more and greater than his services may a man give vent to his anger. They say that none has ever yet killed his father or mother; when suchlike deeds have been done, it cannot be but that on inquest the doer is shown to be a child falsely substituted or born of a concubine; for it is not to be believed (say they) that a son should kill his true parent.

[link to original Greek text] 138 Moreover of what they may not do neither may they speak. They hold lying to be foulest of all and next to that debt; for which they have  p179 many other reasons, but this in especial, that the debtor must needs (so they say) speak some falsehood. The citizen who has leprosy or the white sickness may not come into a town or consort with other Persians. They say that he is so afflicted because he has sinned in some wise against the sun. Many drive every stranger, who takes such a disease, out of the country; and so they do to white doves, for the reason after this. Rivers they chiefly reverence; they will neither make water nor spit nor wash their hands therein, nor suffer anyone so to do.

[link to original Greek text] 139 There is another thing which always happens among them; we have noted it though the Persians have not: their names, which agree with the nature of their persons and their nobility, all end in the same letter, that which the Dorians call san, and the Ionians sigma; you shall find, if you search, that not some but all Persian names end in this letter.

[link to original Greek text] 140 Rawlinson p274 H & W So much I can say of them of my own certain knowledge. But there are other matters concerning the dead which are secretly and obscurely told — how the dead bodies of Persians are not buried before they have been mangled by bird or dog. That this is the way of the Magians I know for a certainty; for they do not conceal the practice. But this is certain, that before the Persians bury the body in earth they embalm it in wax. These Magians are much unlike to the priests of Egypt, as to all other men: for the priests count it sacrilege to kill aught that lives, save what they sacrifice; but the Magians kill with their own hands every creature, save only dogs  p181 and men; they kill all alike, ants and snakes, creeping and flying things, and take much pride therein. Leaving this custom to be such as it has been from the first,34 I return now to my former story.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 That is, to the oracular shrines of these legendary heroes.

2 μνᾶ = about 15 oz. Troy weight.

3 The Theophania was a festival at Delphi, at which the statues of gods were shown.

4 The stater was the common gold coin of the Greek world. The value of Croesus' stater was probably about twenty-three shillings of our money.

5 Deucalion and Pyrrha were the survivors of the Deluge as known to Greek legend.

6 The localities mentioned in the story of the migration into the Peloponnese are all in northern Greece.

7 If these are the Etruscans, then Creston may = Cortona: but the whole matter is doubtful.

8 Local division of Attica.

9 That is, mapping the land out for cultivation.

10 τὴν ἐς θεόν, explained as = τὴν ἐς θεὸν ὁδόν. τὴν ἔνθεον (= the inspired one: after ἐπειρησομένους) would be an easy correction. But all MSS. have ἐς θεόν.

11 A mountain north-east of Sparta, overlooking the Eurotas valley.

12 τῆς Ἀσίης τὰ κάτα means here and elsewhere in Hdt. the western part of Asia, west of the Halys (Kizil Irmak). The width from sea to sea of the αὐχήν is obviously much under estimated by Hdt., as also by later writers; the actual distance at the narrowest part is about 280 miles as the crow flies; much more than a five days' march.

13 All evidence, historical and astronomical, fixes the date of this eclipse as May 28, 585 B.C. There was another eclipse of the sun in Alyattes' reign, on Sept. 30, 610; but it appears that this latter was not total in Asia Minor: and Pliny's mention of the phenomenon places it in the 170th year from the foundation of Rome. Thales died at an advanced age in 548 B.C.

14 These were a caste of priests of Apollo at Telmessus or Telmissus in Lycia. τῶν ἐξηγητέων Τελμησσέων is contrary to Greek usage, ἐξηγ. being a substantive: Stein suggests that the true reading may be Τελμησσέων τῶν ἐξηγητέων.

15 Identified with the Phrygian and Lydian goddess Cybele.

16 The Mardi were a nomad Persian tribe.

17 The temple at Ephesus was founded probably in Alyattes' reign, and not completed till the period of the Graeco-Persian War.

18 The temple of Athene Proneïa (= before the shrine) was situated outside the temple of Apollo.

19 In northern and central Italy; the Umbria of Roman history perpetuates the name.

20 From 1229 to 709 B.C., as Deioces' reign began in 709.

21 Modern Hamadân, probably: but see Rawlinson's note.


[image ALT: zzz. It is Tepe Nush‑e‑Jan in modern Turkey, further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

Tepe Nush‑e‑Jan is an example of a Median settlement. The real Ecbatana must have been something like this and has so far not been identified by archaeologists, although a palace from the Parthian age has been found in Hamadan.

Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

22 About eight miles, according to a scholiast's note on Thucyd. II.13: but this is disputed.

23 Or, perhaps, different from themselves.

24 Deioces died in 656 B.C.

25 This is the same story as that related in the early chapters of Book IV. The Scythians, apparently, marched eastwards along the northern slope of the Caucasus, turning south between the end of the range and the Caspian. But Herodotus' geography in this story is difficult to follow. — The "Saspires" are in Armenia.

26 The Maeetian lake is the Sea of Azov.

Thayer's Note: "Maeotian" will be more familiar to most of us, thanks in part to Purcell; but the translator has retained the Greek form.

27 The great goddess (Mother of Heaven and Earth) worshipped by Eastern nations under various names — Mylitta in Assyria, Astarte in Phoenicia: called Heavenly Aphrodite, or simply the Heavenly One, by Greeks.

28 The derivation of this word is uncertain; it is agreed that the disease was a loss of virility. In  IV.67 ἐναρήςἀνδρόγυνος.

29 In the north-western part of Media: modern Azerbaijan.

30 687 to 559 B.C. The Scythians ruled 634‑606 B.C.

31 In 520 B.C.; the event is recorded in a cuneiform inscription.

32 See note on ch. 105.

33 This appears to mean, that the farther off a subject nation is, the less direct is the control exercised by the Medes; on the same principle as that which makes the Persians hold their subjects in less and less estimation in proportion to their distance from the seat of empire.

34 Lit. "let matters stand concerning this custom as it was first instituted": i.e., apparently, "let us be content with knowing that this custom is as it has been from its origin."


Thayer's Notes:

a All the oracles mentioned are in Greece except the one in Libya: Rawlinson is quite right that Herodotus doesn't write "the Greek and Libyan oracles" but rather "the oracles in Greece and the one in Libya". It doesn't matter, on the other hand, in what continent Herodotus felt the Egyptian oracles to be — he lists them in II.83 — since Croesus didn't send to them.

See Delphi, Abae, Dodona, Amphiaraus (uncertainly located), Trophonius, Branchidae (Didyma).

b Pace Rawlinson's commentary in his note, and his translation, followed by Godley here, Beloe's rendering — of just this one passage, mind you — makes much more sense. If Croesus set all these gold and silver objects on the pyre, they would have melted, and there was no need to melt down other gold and silver. What is clearly meant (and, to the extent of my Greek, actually written by Herodotus) is that, as Beloe saw, the puddled metal of the burnt-out pyre was collected and formed into ingots. This also explains why most of the ingots should have been mixed gold and silver, with just some few of pure gold.

c The palm, since it was one-quarter of a foot, was in the range of roughly 7 to 9 cm, varying (as most measurements until fairly recently) from place to place. Calling it 7.5 cm, these ingots then measured 45 cm × 22.5 cm × 7.5 cm, for a volume of just under 7600 cm3. Since the specific gravity of gold is 19.32, each ingot of gold, assuming absolute purity, weighed 146.8 kg — for the metrically challenged, that's nearly 325 pounds.

The talent, however, was a similarly varying unit of weight in the range of 25 to 30 kg; our translator for example, in his note to the paragraph that follows these ingots, puts the mina at about 15 ounces Troy (= 16.5 ounces avoirdupois or 467 g) and the talent therefore at almost exactly 28 kg. So two and a half such talents is thus about 60 to 75 kg, or less than half what pure gold ingots of the above measurements would have weighed. Even taking the talent at the upper end of its range — 30 kg — a 75‑kg ingot of the same proportions would only have measured 36 cm × 18 cm × 6 cm, putting the palm at 6 cm and the foot at 24 cm, below any scholarly estimate of their lengths. Or, to figure it differently, if Herodotus gives both the measurements and the weight of the ingots correctly, 2½ talents must be 146.8 kg and therefore the talent has to be reckoned at 58.7 kg (nearly 130 pounds), far higher than the estimates usually seen.

We can only conclude that something is the matter with the text as we have it here. And indeed it is: Rawlinson's note to "two talents and a half" (p189) points us in something like the right direction. It is as follows:

The reading τρίτον ἡμιτάλαντον suggested by Matthiae, and adopted by Schweighaeuser, Gaisford, and Bähr, seems to be required into the τρία ἡμιτάλαντα of the MSS., not only because Herodotus must have known pure gold to be heavier than alloyed, but also because he is not in the habit of reckoning by half talents. He would not be more likely to say of a thing, "it weighed three half-talents," than a modern to say, "it weighed three half-pounds." With respect to the weight of these ingots, it has been calculated (Bähr in loc.) from their size, that those of pure gold weighed 325 lbs. (French), and therefore those of pale or alloyed gold 260 lbs. To this result it is objected that it produces a talent not elsewhere heard of, viz. one of 130 lbs. (French). Herodotus, however, would be a better judge of the size of the ingots than of their weight. He probably measured them with his own hand, but he must have taken the word of the Delphians as to what they weighed. The Delphians are not unlikely to have understated their value.

Now if the manuscripts put the weight of these ingots at 1½ talents rather than 2½, the discrepancy between the weight and the dimensions is even greater: the talent would have to be reckoned at 88 kg, which is completely out of the question. Some emendation is clearly required then, but, as we have seen, τρίτον ἡμιτάλαντον does not go far enough, requiring us to indulge with Rawlinson in speculative gymnastics as to what Herodotus did or did not get right, and why. It might be noted that 5 talents (πέντε τάλαντα) would make the talent a little over 29 kg, "close enough for government work" as they say, whether Greek talents or Babylonian; but the emendation is a stretch.

d Roughly 1m78 (5′10″).

e The euphemism is not the translator's, as readers of the Loeb Classical Library editions may have come to expect, but really is in Herodotus' Greek: ἐμίσγετό οἱ οὐ κατὰ νόμον.

f Herodotus' Greek gives the measurements precisely, as Rawlinson also translates them. At any rate, the tomb's circumference is six stades and two plethra, its breadth thirteen plethra. Since there are six plethra to a stade, the figures are 6⅓ stades and 2⅙ stades respectively — figures which, strictly speaking, are impossible since, even assuming the tomb to be perfectly circular (thus having the minimum ratio of circumference to width) a width of 2⅙ stades would make it 6.8 stades in circumference; or alternatively, a diameter of 6⅓ stades would make the diameter 2.02 stades. This mathematical impossibility may be why Prof. Godley chose not to give a strict translation of the measurements.

A tomb, or more properly a tumulus mound, very close in dimensions to those given by Herodotus, is still to be seen among other smaller ones not very far from the site of old Sardis, and has therefore been identified as that of Alyattes. Its central core, or some of it at least, was excavated in the 19c. Further information and photos can be found at Sardis Expedition and at Livius.Org (which also includes a map).

g Today the Tyrrhenians are usually referred to as Etruscans. An important nation in north central Italy, they have left many interesting and sometimes beautiful monuments and artifacts, mostly funerary, as well as a few fragments of their language, but are still not well understood. The 19c antiquarian George Dennis produced a very readable book on them, with many illustrations and maps, which is onsite: Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. Dennis's scholarship, never cutting-edge even in his own time, has naturally long been superseded though, and today's reader can find a useful updated introduction here: Etruscans.

h The taking of Nineveh is not told in the Histories of Herodotus as we have them. He may have written about it in another book: Rawlinson's note (p249) is interesting.

i The translator has bowdlerized the text slightly. The Greek reads "from the private parts of his daughter".

j Herodotus has "translated" the name of the supreme god. He is the Persian Ahura-Mazda.

k The reader will notice that after the sun and moon, we have the four Greek elements: earth, fire, water, air.

l The phrase is the translator's, not that of Herodotus, who merely writes ἀπ’ Ἑλλήνων μαθόντες παισὶ μίσγονται: "having learned from the Greeks to have intercourse with boys".


Lendering's Notes:

α Labynetus the Babylonian: Perhaps the same as Nabonidus, who would in 556 B.C. become the last king of Babylonia.

β There's more about the battle of Sardis here; with a map.

γ The date, usually assumed to be 547 B.C., is based on the cuneiform text known as ABC 7. There is indeed a reference to a northern campaign of the army of Cyrus, but the name of his enemy cannot be read and it may in fact be a reference to Urartu. The matter is discussed here.

δ The Greek poet Bacchylides writes that when the last king of Lydia wanted to burn himself alive, a god intervened and took him away to the mythical Hyperboreans in the extreme north. This is another way of saying that the god had pity and gave Croesus a tranquil death - he was not tortured but quietly brought to a better place.

ε The fall of Nineveh (the Ninus mentioned by Herodotus) is the subject of the Babylonian chronicle known as ABC 3. This happened in 612 B.C. Herodotus' statement that all Assyria was subject except for the province of Babylonia is misleading: in fact, the Babylonians took over the Assyrian Empire after the Medians had sacked Nineveh.

ζ The disintegration of the Median army and captivity of Astyages is also mentioned in the Babylonian chronicle known as ABC 7. It happened in 550/549 B.C.

η Mitra or Mithra was in fact a male god, responsible for the light, the sun, and justice.

θ The "song of the birth of the gods" is a reference to Yasna liturgy.

ι The custom, called proskynesis by the Greeks, was viewed by them as characteristically Persian; and often, as a barbarian usage not to be endured by free Greeks. In particular, it would raise the hackles of Alexander the Great's companions when he required it of them.


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Page updated: 18 Nov 18