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I.141‑177

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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II.1‑98

(Vol. I) Herodotus

Book I: chapters 178‑216

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.

 p221  [link to original Greek text] 178 Rawlinson p313 H & W When Cyrus had brought all the mainland under his sway, he attacked the Assyrians. There are in Assyriaα many other great cities; but the most famous and the strongest was Babylon, where the royal dwelling had been set after the destruction of .1 Babylon was a city such as I will now  p223 describe.β It lies in a great plain, and is in shape a square, each side an hundred and twenty furlongs in length; thus four hundred and eighty furlongs make the complete circuit of the city. Such is the size of the city of Babylon; and it was planned like no other city whereof we know. Round it runs first a fosse deep and wide and full of water, and then a wall of fifty royal cubits' thickness and two hundred cubits' height. The royal cubit is greater by three fingers' breadth than the common cubit.2


[image ALT: zzz. It is a modern reconstruction of the walls of ancient Babylon, further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

A small portion of the walls of Babylon built by king Nebuchadnezzar: a late‑20c reconstruction, on their original site.

Photo © Livius.Org | Marion Verburg, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 179 Rawlinson p315 H & W Further, I must show where the earth was used as it was taken from the fosse and in what manner the wall was wrought. As they dug the fosse, they made bricks of the earth which was carried out of the place they dug, and when they had moulded bricks enough they baked them in ovens; then using hot bitumen for cement and interposing layers of wattled reeds at every thirtieth course of bricks, they built first the border of the fosse and then the wall itself in the same fashion. On the top, along the edges of the wall, they built houses of a single chamber, facing each other, with space enough between for the driving of a four-horse chariot. There are an hundred gates in the circle of the wall, all of bronze, with posts and lintels of the same. There is another city, called Is,3 eight days' journey from Babylon, where is a little river, also named Is, a tributary stream of the river Euphrates; from the  p225 source of this river Is rise with the water many gouts of bitumen; and from thence the bitumen was brought for the wall of Babylon.

[link to original Greek text] 180 Rawlinson p317 Thus then was this wall built; the city is divided into two parts; for it is cut in half by a river named Euphrates, a wide, deep, and swift river, flowing from Armenia and issuing into the Red Sea. The ends of the wall, then, on either side are built quite down to the river; here they turn, and hence a fence of baked bricks runs along each bank of the stream. The city itself is full of houses three and four stories high; and the ways which traverse it — those that run crosswise towards the river, and the rest — are all straight. Further, at the end of each road there was a gate in the riverside fence, one gate for each alley; these gates were also of bronze, and these too opened on the river.

[link to original Greek text] 181 These walls are the city's outer armour; within them there is another encircling wall, well-nigh as strong as the other, but narrower. In the midmost of one division of the city stands the royal palace, surrounded by a high and strong wall; and in the midmost of the other is still to this day the sacred enclosure of Zeus Belus,4 a square of two furlongs each way, with gates of bronze. In the centre of this enclosure a solid tower has been built, of one furlong's length and breadth; a second tower rises  p227 from this, and from it yet another, till at last there are eight. The way up to them mounts spirally outside all the towers; about halfway in the ascent is a halting place, with seats for repose, where those who ascend sit down and rest. In the last tower there is a great shrine; and in it a great and well-covered couch is laid, and a golden table set hard by. But no image has been set up in the shrine, nor does any human creature lie therein for the night, except one native woman, chosen from all women by the god, as say the Chaldeans, who are priests of this god.


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

Archaeologists have identified this site as the remains of the sanctuary known as Etemenanki, the House of the Foundation of Heaven on Earth, called the "temple of Zeus" by Herodotus and the "tower of Babel" in the Bible.

Photo © Livius.Org | Marion Verburg, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 182 Rawlinson p320 H & W These same Chaldeans say (but I do not believe them) that the god himself is wont to visit the shrine and rest upon the couch, even as in Thebes of Egypt, as the Egyptians say (for there too a woman sleeps in the temple of Theban Zeus,5 and neither the Egyptian nor the Babylonian woman, it is said, has intercourse with men), and as it is likewise with the prophetess of the god6 at Patara in Lycia, whenever she be appointed; for there is not always a place of divination there; but when she is appointed she is shut up in the temple during the night.

[link to original Greek text] 183 H & W In the Babylonian temple there is another shrine below, where is a great golden image of Zeus, sitting at a great golden table, and the footstool and the chair are also of gold; the gold of the whole was said by the Chaldeans to be of eight hundred talents' weight.  p229 Outside of the temple is a golden altar. There is also another great altar, whereon are sacrificed the full-grown of the flocks; only sucklings may be sacrificed on the golden altar, but on the greater altar the Chaldeans even offer a thousand talents' weight of frankincense yearly, when they keep the festival of this god; and in the days of Cyrus there was still in this sacred demesne a statue of gold twelve cubits high. I myself have not seen it, but I tell what is told by the Chaldeans. Darius son of Hystaspes purposed to take this statue but dared not; Xerxes his son took it, and slew the priest who warned him not to move the statue. Such is the adornment of this temple, and there are many private offerings besides.

[link to original Greek text] 184 Now among the many rulers of this city of Babylon (of whom I shall make mention in my Assyrian history),γ who finished the building of the walls and the temples, there were two that were women. The first of these lived five generations earlier than the second, and her name was Semiramis: it was she who built dykes on the plain, a notable work; before that the whole plain was wont to be flooded by the river.

[link to original Greek text] 185 Rawlinson p322 The second queen, whose name was Nitocris, was a wiser woman than the first. She left such monuments as I shall record; and moreover, seeing that the rulers of Media were powerful and unresting, insomuch that Ninus itself among other cities had fallen before them, she took such care as she could  p231 for her protection. First she dealt with the river Euphrates, which flows through the middle of her city; this had before been straight; but by digging canals higher up she made the river so crooked that its course now passes thrice by one of the Assyrian villages; the village which is so approached by the Euphrates is called Ardericca. And now those who travel from our seas to Babylon must as they float down the Euphrates spend three days in coming thrice to the same village. Such was this work; and she built an embankment along either shore of the river, marvellous for its greatness and height. Then a long way above Babylon she dug the basin of a lake, a little way aside from the river, digging always deep enough to find water, and making the circuit of the lake a distance of four hundred and twenty furlongs; all that was dug out of the basin she used to embank either edge of the river; and when she had it all dug, she brought stones and made therewith a coping all round the basin. Her purpose in making the river to wind and turning the basin into a marsh was this — that the current might be slower by reason of the many windings that broke its force, and that the passages to Babylon might be crooked, and that next after them should come also the long circuit of the lake. All this work was done in that part of the country where are the passes and the shortest road from Media, that the Medes might not mix with her people and learn of her affairs.

[link to original Greek text] 186 H & W So she made the deep river her protection; and from this work grew another which she added to  p233 it. Her city was divided into two portions by the river which flowed through the centre. Whenever in the days of the former rulers one would pass over from one part to the other, he must cross in a boat; and this, as I suppose, was troublesome. But the queen also provided for this; when the digging of the basin of the lake was done, she made another monument of her reign out of this same work. She had very long blocks of stone hewn; and when these were ready and the place was dug, she turned the course of the river wholly into it, and while it was filling, the former channel being now dry, she bricked with baked bricks, like those of the wall, the borders of the river in the city and the descents from the gates leading down to the river; also about the middle of the city she built a bridge with the stones which had been dug up, binding them together with iron and lead. She laid across it square-hewn logs each morning, whereon the Babylonians crossed; but these logs were taken away for the night, lest folk should be ever crossing over and stealing from each other. Then, when the basin she had made for a lake was filled by the river and the bridge was finished, Nitocris brought the Euphrates back to its former channel out of the lake; thus she had served her purpose, as she thought, by making a swamp of the basin, and her citizens had a bridge ready for them.

[link to original Greek text] 187 Rawlinson p324 There was a trick, moreover, which this same queen contrived. She had a tomb made for herself and set high over the very gate of that entrance of  p235 the city which was most used, with a writing graven on the tomb, which was this: "If any king of Babylon in future time lack money, let him open this tomb and take whatso money he desires: but let him not open it except he lack; for it will be the worse for him." This tomb remained untouched till the kingship fell to Darius. He thought it a very strange thing that he should never use this gate, nor take the money when it lay there and the writing itself invited him to the deed. The cause of his not using the gate was that the dead body must be over his head as he passed through. Having opened the tomb, he found there no money, but only the dead body, with this writing: "Wert thou not insatiate of wealth and basely desirous of gain, thou hadst not opened the coffins of the dead." Such a woman, it is recorded, was this queen.

[link to original Greek text] 188 Cyrus, then, marched against Nitocris' son, who inherited the name of his father Labynetusδ and the sovereignty of Assyria. Now when the Great King marches he goes well provided with food and flocks from home; and water from the Choaspes which flows past Susaε is carried with him, whereof alone, and of none other, the king drinks. This water of the Choaspes7 is boiled, and very many four wheeled waggons drawn by mules carry it in silver vessels, following the king whithersoever he goes at any time.

[link to original Greek text] 189 When Cyrus on his way to Babylon came  p237 to the river Gyndes,8 was rises in the mountains of the Matieni and flows thru the Dardanean country into another river, the Tigris, which again passes the city of Opis and issues into the Red Sea — when Cyrus, I say, essayed to cross the Gyndes, it being there navigable, one of his sacred white horses dashed recklessly into the river that he might winº through it, but the stream whelmed him and swept him under and away. At this violent deed of the river Cyrus was very wroth, and he threatened it that he would make it so weak that women should ever after cross it easily without wetting their knees. Having so threatened he ceased from his march against Babylon, and dividing his army into two parts he drew lines planning out a hundred and eighty canals running every way from either bank of the Gyndes; then he arrayed his army along the lines and bade them dig. Since a great multitude was at the work it went with all speed; yet they spent the whole summer there before it was finished.

[link to original Greek text] 190 Rawlinson p327 H & W Then at the opening of the second spring, when Cyrus had punished the Gyndes by parting it among the three hundred and sixty canals, he marched at last against Babylon. The Babylonians sallied out and awaited him; and when in his march he came near to their city, they joined battle, but they were worsted and driven within the city. There, because they knew already that Cyrus was no man of peace, and saw that he attacked all nations alike, they had  p239 stored provision enough for very many years; so now they cared nothing for the siege; and Cyrus knew not what to do, being so long delayed and gaining no advantage.

[link to original Greek text] 191 Rawlinson p328 Whether, then, someone advised him in his difficulty, or he perceived for himself what to do, I know not, but this he did: he posted his army at the place where the river enters the city, and another part of it where the stream issues from the city, and bade his men enter the city by the channel of the Euphrates when they should see it to be fordable. Having so arrayed them and given this command, he himself marched away with those of his army who could not fight; and when he came to the lake, Cyrus dealt with it and with the river just as had the Babylonian queen: drawing off the river by a canal into the lake, which was till now a marsh, he made the stream to sink till its former channel could be forded. When this happened, the Persians who were posted with this intent made their way into Babylon by the channel of the Euphrates, which had now sunk about to the height of the middle of a man's thigh. Now if the Babylonians had known beforehand or learnt what Cyrus was planning, they would have suffered the Persians to enter the city and brought them to a miserable end; for then they would have shut all the gates that opened on the river and themselves mounted up on to the walls that ran along the river  p241 banks, and so caught their enemies as in a trap. But as it was, the Persians were upon them unawares, and by reason of the great size of the city — so say those who dwell there — those in the outer parts of it were overcome, yet the dwellers in the middle part knew nothing of it; all this time they were dancing and making merry at a festival which chanced to be toward, till they learnt the truth but too well.

[link to original Greek text] 192 Thus was Babylon then for the first time taken. There are many proofs of the wealth of Babylon, but this in especial. All the land ruled by the great King is parcelled out for the provisioning of himself and his army, besides that it pays tribute: now the territory of Babylon feeds him for four out of the twelve months in the year, the whole of the rest of Asia providing for the other eight. Thus the wealth of Assyria is one third of the whole wealth of Asia. The governorship, which the Persians call "satrapy," of this land is by far the greatest of all the governorships; seeing that the daily revenue of Tritantaechmes son of Artabazus, governing this province by the king's will, was an artaba full of silver (the artaba is a Persian measure, containing more by three Attic choenixes than an Attic medimnus),9 and besides war chargers he had in his stables eight hundred stallions, and sixteen thousand brood mares, each stallion serving twenty mares. Moreover he kept so great a number of Indian dogs  p243 that four great villages of the plain were appointed to provide food for the dogs and eased from all other burdens. Such were the riches of the governor of Babylon.

[link to original Greek text] 193 Rawlinson p331 There is but little rain in Assyria. It is this which nourishes the roots of the corn;º but it is irrigation from the river that ripens the crop and brings the grain to fulness: it is not as in Egypt, where the river itself rises and floods the fields: in Assyria they are watered by hand and by swinging beams.10 For the whole land of Babylon, like Egypt, is cut across by canals. The greatest of these is navigable: it runs towards where the sun rises in winter, from the Euphrates to another river, the Tigris, by which stood the city of Ninus. This land is of all known to us by far the most fertile in corn. Trees it does not even essay to grow, fig, vine, or olive, but its corn is so abundant that it yields for the most part two hundred fold, and even three hundred fold when the harvest is best. The blades of the wheat and barley there are easily four fingers broad; and for millet and sesame, I will not say, though it is known to me, to what a height they grow; for I am well aware that even what I have said respecting corn is wholly disbelieved by those who have never visited  p245 Babylonia. They use no oil save what they make from sesame.11 There are palm trees there growing all over the plain, most of them yielding fruit, from which food is made and wine and honey. The Assyrians tend these like figs, and chiefly in this respect, that they tie the fruit of the palm called male by the Greeks to the date-bearing palm, that so the gall‑fly may enter the dates and cause them to ripen, and that the fruit of the palm may not fall; for the male palms, like unripened figs, have gall-flies in their fruit.

[link to original Greek text] 194 Rawlinson p334 H & W I will now show what seems to me to be the most marvellous thing in the country, next to the city itself. Their boats which ply on the river and go to Babylon are all of skins, and round. They make these in Armenia, higher up the stream than Assyria. First they cut frames of willow, then they stretch hides over these for a covering, making as it were a hold; they neither broaden the stern nor narrow the prow, but the boat is round, like a shield. They then fill it with reeds and send it floating down the river with a cargo; and it is for the most part palm wood casks of wine that they carry down. Two men standing upright steer the boat, each with a paddle, one drawing it to him, the other thrusting it from him. These boats are of all sizes, some small, some very great; the greatest of them are even of five thousand talents12 burden. There is a live ass in each boat, or  p247 more than one in the larger. So when they have floated down to Babylon and disposed of their cargo, they sell the framework of the boat and all the reeds; the hides are set on the backs of asses, which are then driven back to Armenia, for it is not by any means possible to go up stream by water, by reason of the swiftness of the current; it is for this reason that they make their boats of hides and not of wood. When they have driven their asses back into Armenia they make more boats in the same way.a

[link to original Greek text] 195 H & W Such then are their boats. For clothing, they wear a linen tunic, reaching to the feet; over this the Babylonian puts on another tunic, of wool, and wraps himself in a white mantle: he wears the shoes of his country, which are like Boeotian sandals. Their hair is worn long, and covered by caps; the whole body is perfumed. Every man has a seal and a carven staff, and on every staff is some image, such as that of an apple or a rose or a lily or an eagle: no one carries a staff without a device.

[link to original Greek text] 196 Rawlinson p337 Such is the equipment of their persons. I will now speak of their established customs. The wisest of these, in my judgment, is one which as I have heard is also a custom of the Eneti in Illyria. It is this: once a year in every village all the maidens as they came to marriageable age were collected and brought together into one place, with a crowd of men standing round. Then a crier would display and offer them for sale one by one, first  p249 the fairest of all; and then when she had fetched a great price he put up for sale the next comeliest, selling all the maidens as lawful wives. Rich men of Assyria who desired to marry would outbid each other for the fairest; the commonalty, who desired to marry and cared nothing for beauty, could take the ill‑favoured damsels and money therewith; for when the crier had sold all the comeliest, he would put up her that was least beautiful, or crippled, and offer her to whosoever would take her to wife for the least sum, till she fell to him who promised to accept least; the money came from the sale of the comely damsels, and so they paid the dowry of the ill‑favoured and the cripples. But a man might not give his daughter in marriage to whomsoever he would, nor might he that bought the girl take her away without giving security that he would indeed make her his wife. And if the two could not agree, it was a law that the money be returned. Men might also come from other villages to buy if they so desired. This then was their best custom; but it does not continue at this time; they have invented a new one lately [that the woman might not be wronged or taken to another city]; since the conquest of Babylon made them afflicted and poor, everyone of the commonalty that lacks a livelihood makes prostitutes of his daughters.

 p251  [link to original Greek text] 197 Rawlinson p338 I come now to the next wisest of their customs: having no use for physicians, they carry the sick into the market-place; then those who have been afflicted themselves by the same ill as the sick man's, or seen others in like case, come near and advise about his disease and comfort him, telling him by what means they have themselves recovered of it or seen others so recover. None may pass by the sick man without speaking and asking what is his sickness.

[link to original Greek text] 198 The dead are embalmed in honey for burial, and their dirges are like to the dirges of Egypt. Whenever a Babylonian has had intercourse with his wife, they both sit before a burnt offering of incense, and at dawn they wash themselves; they will touch no vessel before this is done. This is the custom also in Arabia.

[link to original Greek text] 199 The foulest Babylonian customζ is that which compels every woman of the land once in her life to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to consort with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and there stand with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the stranger men pass and make their choice.  p253 When a woman has once taken her place there she goes not away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, "I demand thee in the name of Mylitta" (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It matters not what be the sum of money; the woman will never refuse, for that were a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects none. After their intercourse she has made herself holy in the goddess's sight and goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfil the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like to this in some parts of Cyprus.

[link to original Greek text] 200 Rawlinson p341 These are established customs among the Babylonians. Moreover, there are in the country three tribes that eat nothing but fish, which they catch and dry in the sun; then after casting them into a mortar they bray them with pestles and strain all through linen. Then whoever so desires kneads as it were a cake of it and eats it; others bake it like bread.

[link to original Greek text] 201 Rawlinson p342 When Cyrus had conquered this nation also, he desired to subdue the Massagetae. These are  p255 said to be a great people and a mighty, dwelling towards the east and the sunrise, beyond the Araxes and over against the Issedones; and some say that they are a Scythian people.

[link to original Greek text] 202 H & W The Araxes is by some said to be greater and by some less than the Ister. It is reported that there are many islands in it as big as Lesbos, and men thereon who in summer live on roots of all kinds that they dig up, and in winter on fruit that they get from trees and store when it is ripe for food; and they know (it is said) of trees which have a fruit whereof this is the effect: assembling in companies and kindling a fire, the people sit round it and throw the fruit into the flames, then the smell of it as it burns make them drunk as the Greeks are with wine, and more and more drunk as more fruit is thrown on the fire, till at last they rise up to dance and even sing. Such is said to be their way of life. The Araxes13 flows from the country of the Matieni — as does the Gyndes, which Cyrus divided into the three hundred and sixty channels — and empties itself through forty mouths, whereof all except one issue into bogs and swamps, where men are said to live whose food is raw fish, and their customary dress sealskins. The one remaining stream of the Araxes flows in a clear channel into the Caspian sea.


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

Herodotus' account of the river Araxes confuses the Aras on the border of Iran and Nakhichevan, shown here, and the Jaxartes in Uzbekistan.

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

[link to original Greek text] 203 This is a sea by itself, not joined to the other sea. For that whereon the Greeks sail, and the sea  p257 beyond the pillars of Heracles, which they call Atlantic, and the Red Sea, are all one: but the Caspian is separate and by itself. Its length is what a ship rowed by oars can traverse in fifteen days, and its breadth, where it is broadest, is an eight days' journey. Along its western shore stretches the range of Caucasus, which has more and higher mountains than any other range. Many and all manner of nations dwell in the Caucasus, and the most of them live on the fruits of the wild wood. Here, it is said, are trees growing leaves that men crush and mix with water and use for the painting of figures on their clothing; these figures cannot be washed out, but last as long as the wool, as if they had been woven into it from the first. Men and women here (they say) have intercourse openly, like beasts of the flock.

[link to original Greek text] 204 Rawlinson p344 This sea called Caspian is hemmed in to the west by the Caucasus: towards the east and the sunrise there stretches from its shores a boundless plain as far as sight can reach. The greater part of this wide plain is the country of the Massagetae, against whom Cyrus was eager to lead his army. For there were many reasons of weight that heartened and encouraged him so to do: first, his birth, whereby he seemed to be something more than mortal man, and next, his victories in his wars; for no nation that Cyrus undertook to attack could escape from him.

[link to original Greek text] 205 Now at this time the Massagetae were ruled  p259 by a queen, called Tomyris, whose husband was dead. Cyrus sent a message with a pretence of wooing her for his wife, but Tomyris would have none of his advance, well understanding that he wooed not her but the kingdom of the Massagetae. So when guile availed him nothing Cyrus marched to the Araxes and openly prepared to attack the Massagetae; he bridged the river that his army might cross, and built towers on the pontoons that should carry his men over.

[link to original Greek text] 206 But while he was at this work Tomyris sent a herald to him with this message: "Cease, king of the Medes, from that on which you are intent; for you cannot know if the completion of this work will be for your advantage. Cease, and be king of your own country; and be patient so see us ruling those whom we rule. But if you will not take this counsel, and will do all rather than remain at peace, then if you so greatly desire to essay the strength of the Massagetae, do you quit your present labour of bridging the river, and suffer us to draw off three days' journey from the Araxes; and when that is done, cross into our country. Of if you desire then to receive us into your country, do you then yourself withdraw as I have said." Hearing this, Cyrus assembled the chief among the Persians and laid the matter before them, asking them to advise him which he should do. They all spoke to the same purpose, urging him to suffer Tomyris and her army to enter his country.

 p261  [link to original Greek text] 207 But Croesus the Lydian, who was present, was displeased by their counsel and spoke against it. "Sire," said he, "you have ere now heard from me that since Zeus has given me to you I will to the best of my power turn aside whatever mischance I see threatening your house. And disaster has been my teacher. Now if you deem yourself and the army that you lead to be immortal, it is not for me to give you advice; but if you know that you and those whom you rule are but men, then I must first teach you this: men's fortunes are on a wheel, which in its turning suffers not the same man to prosper for ever. Then, if that be true, I am not of the same mind on the business in hand as these your other counsellors. This is the danger if we agree to suffer the enemy to enter your country: if you lose the battle you lose your empire also, for it is plain that if the Massagetae win they will not retreat but will march against your provinces. And if you conquer them it is a lesser victory than if you crossed into their country and routed the Massagetae and pursued them; for I balance your chances against theirs, and suppose that when you have worsted your adversaries you will march for the seat of Tomyris' power. And besides what I have shown, it were a thing shameful and not to be borne that Cyrus the son of Cambyses should yield and give ground before a woman. Now therefore it is in my mine that we should cross and go forward as far as they go back, and that then we should endeavour to overcome them by doing as I shall show. As I learn, the Massagetae have no experience of the good things of Persia, nor have they ever fared well in respect of what is greatly desirable. For these men, therefore,  p263 I counsel you to cut up the flesh of many of your sheep and goats into portions unstintingly, and to cook it and serve it as a feast in our camp, providing many bowls of unmixed wine withal and all manner of food. Then let your army withdraw to the river again, leaving behind that part of it which is of least account. For if I err not in my judgment, when the Massagetae see so many good things they will betake them to feasting thereon; and it will be for us then to achieve mighty deeds."

[link to original Greek text] 208 Rawlinson p347 So these opinions contended; and Cyrus set aside his former plan and chose that of Croesus; wherefore he bade Tomyris draw her army off, for he would cross (he said) and attack her; so she withdrew as she had promised before. Then he gave Croesus to the care of his own son Cambyses, to whom he purposed to leave his sovereignty, charging Cambyses to honour Croesus and entreat him well, if the crossing of the river against the Massagetae should not prosper. With this charge he sent the two back to Persia, and crossed the river, he and his army.

[link to original Greek text] 209 Then, being now across the Araxes, he dreamt at night while sleeping in the country of the Massagetae, that he saw the eldest of the sons of Hystaspes wearing wings on his shoulders, the one wing overshadowing Asia and the other Europe. (Hystaspes son of Arsames was an Achaemenid, and Darius was the eldest of his sons, being then about twenty years old; this Darius had been left behind in Persia, being not yet of an age to follow the army.) So when  p265 Cyrus awoke he considered his vision, and because it seemed to him to be of great import, he sent for Hystaspes and said to him privately, "I find, Hystaspes, that your son is guilty of plotting against me and my sovereignty; and I will tell you how I know this for a certainty. I am a man for whom the gods take thought, and show me beforehand while that is coming. Now this being so, I have seen in a dream in the past night your eldest son with wings on his shoulders, overshadowing Asia with the one and Europe with the other; wherefore it is from this vision most certain that he is plotting against me. Do you therefore go with all speed back to Persia, and so act that when I come thither after subduing this country you shall bring your son before me to be questioned of this."

[link to original Greek text] 210 Rawlinson p348 So spoke Cyrus, thinking that Darius was plotting against him; but in truth heaven was showing him that he himself was to die in the land where he was, and Darius to inherit his kingdom. So then Hystaspes answered him thus: — "Sire, the gods forbid that any Persian born should plot against you! but if such there be, may he speedily perish; for you have made the Persians freemen instead of slaves and rulers of all instead of subjects. But if your vision does indeed tell that my son is planning aught to your hurt, take him; he is yours to use as pleases you."

[link to original Greek text] 211 H & W Having so answered, Hystaspes returned across the Araxes to Persia to watch Darius for Cyrus; and Cyrus, going forward a day's journey from the Araxes, did according to Croesus' advice. After this Cyrus and the sound part of the Persian  p267 army marched away back to the Araxes, leaving behind those that were useless; whereupon a third part of the host of the Massagetae attacked those of the army who were left behind and slew them despite resistance; then, seeing the banquet spread, when they had overcome their enemies they sat down and feasted, and after they had taken their fill of food and wine they fell asleep. Then the Persians came upon them and slew many and took many more alive, among whom was the son of Tomyris the queen, Spargapises by name, the leader of the Massagetae.

[link to original Greek text] 212 When Tomyris heard what had befallen her army and her son, she sent a herald to Cyrus with this message: — "Bloodthirsty Cyrus, be not uplifted by this that you have done; it is no matter for pride if the fruit of the vine — that fruit whereof you Persians drink even to madness, so that the wine passing into your bodies makes evil words to rise in a flood to your lips — has served you as a drug to master my son withal, by guile and not in fair fight. Now therefore take this word of good counsel from me: give me back my son and depart unpunished from this country; it is enough that you have done despite to a third part of the host of the Massagetae. But if you will not do this, then I swear by the sun, the lord of the Massagetae, that for all you are so insatiate of blood, I will give you your fill thereof."

[link to original Greek text] 213 This message was brought to Cyrus, who cared nothing for it. But Spargapises, the son of the queen Tomyris, when his drunkenness left him and he knew his evil plight, entreated Cyrus that he might be loosed from his bonds; and this was granted  p269 him; but no sooner was he loosed and had the use of his hands, than he made away with himself.

[link to original Greek text] 214 Such was the end of Spargapises. Tomyris, when Cyrus would not listen to her, collected all her power and joined battle with him. This fight I judge to have been the stubbornest of all fights that were ever fought by men that were not Greek; and indeed I have learnt that this was so. For first (it is said) they shot at each other from a distance with arrows; presently, their arrows being all shot away, they rushed upon each other and fought at grips with their spears and their daggers; and for a long time they battled foot to foot and neither would give ground; but at last the Massagetae had the mastery. There perished the greater part of the Persian army, and there fell Cyrus himself, having reigned thirty years in all save one. Tomyris filled a skin with human blood, and sought for Cyrus' body among the Persian dead; when she found it, she put his head into the skin, and spoke these words of insult to the dead man: "Though I live and conquer thee, thou hast undone me, overcoming my son by guile; but even as I threatened, so will I do, and give thee thy fill of blood." Many stories are related of Cyrus' death; this, that I have told, is the worthiest of credence.

[link to original Greek text] 215 Rawlinson p351 These Massagetae are like the Scythians in their dress and manner of life. They are both horsemen and footmen (having some of each kind) and spearmen and bowmen; and it is their custom to carry battle-axes. They ever use gold and bronze;  p271 all their spear-points and arrow-heads and battle-axes are of bronze, and gold is the adornment of their headgear and belts and girdles. They treat their horses in like manner, arming their forehands with bronze breastplates and putting gold on reins, bits, and checkplates. But iron and silver they never use; for there is none at all in their country, but gold and bronze abounds.

[link to original Greek text] 216 Rawlinson p352 Now, for their customs: each man marries a wife, but the wives are common to all. The Greeks say this is a Scythian custom; it is not so, but a custom of the Massagetae. There, when a man desires a woman, he hangs his quiver before her waggon, and has intercourse with her, none hindering. Though they set no certain term to life, yet when a man is very old all his kin meet together and kill him, with beasts of the flock besides, then boil the flesh and feast on it. This is held to be the happiest death; when a man dies of sickness they do not eat him, but bury him in the earth, and lament that he would not live to be killed. They never sow; their fare is their live-stock and the fish which they have in abundance from the Araxes. Their drink is milk. The sun is the only god whom they worship; to him they sacrifice horses; the reason of it is that he is the swiftest of the gods and therefore they give him the swiftest of mortal things.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 606 B.C. Ninus = Nineveh.

2 Common cubit, 18¼ inches: royal, 20½.

3 The modern Hit or Ait, where the Euphrates enters the alluvial plain.

4 Bel or Baal, the greatest of Assyrian gods.

Lendering's Note: Scholarship has refined this statement. It is better to write that this is the Babylonian supreme god Marduk, who was called Bel, "lord."

5 Amon-Api (Greek Ἀμένωφις); cp.  II.42.

6 Apollo.

7 Modern Kerkha.

8 Modern Diala.

9 The Attic medimnus = about 12 gallons; it contained 48 χοίνικες.

10 That is, by the "shadoof," a familiar object to travellers on the Nile; a lever with a bucket attached, revolving on a post.

Thayer's Note: For an illustration and a few other details, see the article Antlia in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

11 Sesame‑oil or "Benre‑oil" is still in common use in the East.

12 The Attic talent = about 58 lbs. avoirdupois; the Aeginetan = about 82.

13 The Araxes of this chapter appears to be, from the description of its course, the modern Aras. But the Araxes of ch. 205, separating Cyrus' kingdom from the Massagetae, must be either the Oxus (Jihon) or Jaxartes (Sihon), both of which now flow into the Aral Sea. For a full discussion of the question the reader is referred to Essay IX in the Appendix to Book I of Rawlinson's Herodotus.


Thayer's Note:

a Until made unnecessary by steamboats, a very similar system was used on the larger rivers of the midwestern United States, especially the Mississippi: rafts, often very large — see these amazing first-hand testimonies — were constructed in the far north out of logged timber lashed together, then loaded with other goods for sale downriver; upon arrival at their destination, they were broken up and the wood sold as well: the pilots would then make their way upriver by land to repeat the cycle.


Lendering's Notes:

α Herodotus uses the name Assyria for what we call Babylonia. See note at I.106.

β The description is inaccurate. Note that Herodotus suggests that he has visited the city ("I am well aware that even what I have said respecting corn is wholly disbelieved by those who have never visited Babylonia", I.193) but does not explicitly make this claim.

γ An indication that the Histories are incomplete: either this part was never written or it has been lost.

δ Nabonidus, as noted on the linked page, was the son of Nabû-balâssi-iqbi and Adad-Guppi. He was the father of the Belshazzar who is mentioned in the Biblical book of Daniel.

ε Incorrect. Susa is situated on the east bank of the Shaour, which is a tributary of the Karkheh or Choaspes.

ζ Although we have hundreds of thousands of cuneiform tablets from Babylonia, there is no evidence for this custom.


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