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

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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(Vol. II) Herodotus

 p77  Book III: chapters 61‑88

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. II, with valuable notes),
and to the running commentary by How and Wells.

61 Rawlinson p459 H & W Now after Cambyses son of Cyrus had lost his wits, while he still lingered in Egypt, two Magians, who were brothers, rebelled against him.1 One of them had been left by Cambyses to be steward of his house; this man now revolted from him, perceiving that the death of Smerdis was kept secret,  p79 and that few persons knew of it, most of them believing him to be still alive. Therefore he thus plotted to gain the royal power: he had a brother, his partner, as I said, in rebellion; this brother was very like in appearance to Cyrus' son, Smerdis, brother of Cambyses and by him put to death; nor was he like him in appearance only, but he bore the same name also, Smerdis. Patizeithes the Magian persuaded this man that he, Patizeithes, would manage the whole business for him; he brought his brother and set him on the royal throne; which done, he sent heralds to all parts, one of whom was to go to Egypt and proclaim to the army that henceforth they must obey not Cambyses but Smerdis the son of Cyrus.

62 Rawlinson p460 So this proclamation was everywhere made; the herald appointed to go to Egypt, finding Cambyses and his army at Agbatana in Syria, came out before them all and proclaimed the message given him by the Magian. When Cambyses heard what the herald said, he supposed that it was truth, and that Prexaspes, when sent to kill Smerdis, had not so done but played Cambyses false; and he said, fixing his eyes on Prexaspes, "Is it thus, Prexaspes, that you did my behest?" "Nay," said Prexaspes, "this is no truth, sire, that your brother Smerdis has rebelled against you; nor can it be that he will have any quarrel with you, small or great; I myself did your bidding, and mine own hands buried him. If then the dead can rise, you may look to see Astyages the Mede rise up against you; but if nature's order be not changed, assuredly no harm to you will arise from Smerdis. Now  p81 therefore this is my counsel, that we pursue after this herald and examine him, to know from whom he comes with his proclamation that we must obey Smerdis as our king."

63 Cambyses thought well of Prexaspes' counsel; the herald was pursued and brought; and when he came, Prexaspes put this question to him: "Sirrah, you say that your message is from Cyrus' son Smerdis; tell me this now, and you may go hence unpunished: was it Smerdis who himself appeared to you and gave you this charge, or was it one of his servants?" "Since King Cambyses marched to Egypt," answered the herald, "I have never myself seen Smerdis the son of Cyrus; the Magian whom Cambyses made overseer of his house gave me the charge, saying that it was the will of Smerdis, son of Cyrus, that I should make it known to you." So spoke the herald, telling the whole truth; and Cambyses said: "Prexaspes, I hold you innocent; you have done my bidding right loyally; but who can this Persian be who rebels against me and usurps the name of Smerdis?" Prexaspes replied, "I think, sire, that I understand what has been done here; the rebels are the Magians, Patizeithes whom you left steward of your house, and his brother Smerdis."

64 Rawlinson p462 At the name of Smerdis, Cambyses was smitten to the heart by the truth of the word and the fulfilment of his dream; for he had dreamt that a message had come to him that Smerdis had sat on the royal throne with his head reaching to heaven; and perceiving that he had killed his brother without cause, he wept bitterly for Smerdis. Having wept his fill, in great grief for all his mishap,  p83 he leapt upon his horse, with intent to march forthwith to Susa against the Magian. As he mounted, the scabbard knob of his sword slipped off, and the naked blade struck his thigh, wounding him in the same part where he himself had once smitten the Egyptian god Apis; and believing the blow to be mortal, Cambyses asked what was the name of the town where he was. They told him it was Agbatana. Now a prophecy had ere this come to him from Buto, that he would end his life at Agbatana; Cambyses supposed this to signify that he would die in old age at the Median Agbatana, his capital city; but as the event proved, the oracle prophesied his death at Agbatana of Syria. So when he now enquired and learnt the name of the town, the shock of his wound, and of the misfortune that came to him from the Magian, brought him to his senses; he understood the prophecy and said: "Here Cambyses son of Cyrus is doomed to die."

65 H & W At this time he said no more. But about twenty days later, he sent for the most honourable of the Persians that were about him, and thus addressed them: "Needs must, Persians! that I declare to you a matter which I kept most strictly concealed. When I was in Egypt, I saw in my sleep a vision that I would I had never seen; methought a messenger came from home to tell me that Smerdis had sat on the royal throne, his head reaching to heaven. Then I feared that my brother would take away from me my sovereignty, and I acted with more haste than wisdom; for (as I now  p85 see) no human power can turn fate aside; fool that I was! I sent Prexaspes to Susa to slay Smerdis. When that great wrong was done I lived without fear, for never did I think that when Smerdis was taken out of my way another man might rise against me. So did I wholly mistake what was to be; I have slain my brother for no cause, and lost my kingship none the less; for the rebel foretold by heaven in the vision was Smerdis the Magian. Now I have done the deed, and I would have you believe that Smerdis Cyrus' son no longer lives; you see the Magians masters of my royal estate, even him that I left steward of my house, and his brother Smerdis. So then he that especially should have avenged the dishonour done me by the Magian lies foully slain by his nearest kinsman; and he being no longer in life, necessity constrains me, in his default, to charge you, men of Persia, with the last desire of my life. In the name of the gods of my royal house I charge all of you, but chiefly those Achaemenids that are here, not to suffer the sovereignty to fall again into Median hands; if they have won it by trickery, trick them of it again; if they have wrested it away by force, then do you by force and strength of hand recover it. And if you so do, may your land bring forth her fruits, and your women and your flocks and herds be blessed with offspring; but if you win not back the kingdom nor essay so to do, then I pray that all may go  p87 contrariwise for you, yes, that every Persian may meet an end such as mine." With that Cambyses wept bitterly for all that had befallen him.

66 Rawlinson p464 When the Persians saw their king weep, they all rent the garments which they wore and lamented loud and long. But after this the bone became gangrened and the thigh rotted; which took off Cambyses son of Cyrus, who had reigned in all seven years and five months, and left no issue at all, male or female. The Persians present fully disbelieved in their hearts that the Magians were masters of the kingdom; they supposed that Cambyses' intent was to deceive them with his tale of Smerdis' death that so all Persia might be plunged into war. So they believed that it was Cyrus' son Smerdis who had been made king. For Prexaspes stoutly denied that he had killed Smerdis, since now that Cambyses was dead, it was not safe for him to say that he had slain the son of Cyrus with his own hands.

67 Cambyses being dead, the Magian, pretending to be the Smerdis of like name, Cyrus' son, reigned without fear for the seven months lacking to Cambyses' full eight years of kingship. In this time he greatly benefited all his subjects, in so much that after his death all the Asiatics except the Persians wished him back; for he sent hither and thither to every nation of his dominions and proclaimed them for three years freed from service in arms and from tribute.

68 Such was his proclamation at the beginning of his reign; but in the eighth month it was revealed who  p89 he was, and this is how it was done: — There was one Otanes, son of Pharnaspes, as well-born and rich a man as any Persian. This Otanes was the first to suspect that the Magian was not Cyrus' son Smerdis but his true self; the reason was, that he never left the citadel nor summoned any notable Persian into his presence; and in his suspicion — Cambyses having married Otanes' daughter Phaedyme, whom the Magian had now wedded, with all the rest of Cambyses' wives — Otanes sent to this daughter, asking with whom she lay, Smerdis, Cyrus' son, or another. She sent back a message that she did not know; for (said she) she had never seen Cyrus' son Smerdis, nor knew who was her bedfellow. Then Otanes sent a second message, to this effect: "If you do not yourself know Cyrus' son Smerdis, then ask Atossa who is this that is her lord and yours; for surely she knows her own brother."

69 Rawlinson p467 To this his daughter replied: "I cannot get speech with Atossa, nor can I see any other of the women of the household; for no sooner had this man, whoever he is, made himself king, than he sent us to live apart, each in her appointed place." When Otanes heard that, he saw more clearly how the mt the stood; and he sent her this third message: "Daughter, it is due to your noble birth that you should run any risk that your father bids you face. If this man be not Smerdis son of Cyrus, but  p91 another whom I think him to be, then he must not go unscathed, but be punished for sharing your bed and sitting on the throne of Persia. Now, therefore, when he lies with you and you see that he is asleep, do as I bid you and feel his ears; if you see that he has ears, then you may think that it is Smerdis son of Cyrus who is your lord; but if he has none, it is Smerdis the Magian." Phaedyme answered by messenger that she would run very great risk by do doing; for if it should turn out that he had no ears, and she were caught feeling him, he would surely make an end of her; nevertheless she would do it. So she promised to achieve her father's bidding. It is known that Cyrus son of Cambyses had in his reign cut off the ears of this Magian, Smerdis, for some grave reason — I know not what. So Phaedyme, daughter of Otanes, performed her promise to her father. When it was her turn to visit the Magian (as a Persian's wives come in regular order to their lord), she came to his bed, and felt the Magian's ears while he slumbered deeply; and having with much ease assured herself that he had no ears, she sent and told this to her father as soon as it was morning.

70 Rawlinson p468 Otanes then took to himself two Persians of the highest rank whom he thought worthiest of trust, Aspathines and Gobryas, and told them the whole story. These, it would seem, had themselves suspected that it was so; and now they readily believed what Otanes revealed to them. They resolved that each should take into their fellowship that Persian whom he most trusted; Otanes brought in Intaphrenes,  p93 Gobryas brought Megabyzus and Aspathines Hydarnes;2 so they were six. Now came to Susa Darius son of Hystaspes, from Persia, of which his father was vice-gerent; and on his coming the six Persians resolved to make Darius too their comrade.

71 The seven then met and gave each other pledges and spoke together; and when it was Darius' turn to declare his mind, he spoke as follows: "I supposed that I alone knew that it was the Magian who is king and that Smerdis son of Cyrus is dead; and it is for this cause that I have made haste to come, that I might compass the Magian's death; but since it has so fallen out that you too and not I alone know the truth, my counsel is for action forthwith, no delay; for evil will come of delay." "Son of Hystaspes," Otanes answered, "your father is a valiant man, and methinks you declare yourself as valiant as he; yet hasten not this enterprise thus inconsiderately; take the matter more prudently; we must wait to set about it till there are more of us." To this Darius answered: "Sirs, if you do as Otanes counsels, I tell you that you will perish miserably; for someone will carry all to the Magian, desiring private reward for himself. Now, it had been best for you to achieve your end yourselves unaided; but seeing that it was your pleasure to impart your plot to others and that so you have treated me with it, let us, I say, do the deed this day; if we let to‑day pass, be assured that none will accuse you ere I do, for I will myself lay the whole matter before the Magian."

 p95  72 Rawlinson p470 H & W To this Otanes replied, seeing Darius' vehemence, "Since you compel us to hasten and will brook no delay, tell us now yourself how we shall pass into the palace and assail the Magians. The place is beset all round by guards; this you know, for you have seen or heard of them; how shall we win past the guards?" "Otanes," answered Darius, "very many things can be done whereof the doing cannot be described in words; and sometimes a plan easy to make clear is yet followed by no deed of note. Right well you know that the guards who are set are easy to pass. For we being such as we are, there is none who will not grant us admittance, partly from reverence and partly too from fear; and further, I have myself the fairest pretext for entering, for I will say that I am lately come from Persia and have a message for the king from my father. Let lies be told where they are needful. All of us aim at the like end, whether we lie or speak truth; he that lies does it to win credence and so advantage by his deceit, and he that speaks truth hopes that truth will get him profit and greater trust; so we do but take different ways to the same goal. Were the hope of advantage taken away, the truth-teller were as ready to lie as the liar to speak truth. Now if any warder of the gate willingly suffer us to pass, it will be better for him thereafter. But if any strives to withstand us let us mark him for an enemy, and so thrust ourselves in and begin our work."

73 Then said Gobryas, "Friends, when shall we  p97 have a better occasion to win back the kingship, or, if we cannot so do, to die? seeing that we who are Persians are under by a Mede, a Magian, a man that has no ears. Those of you that were with Cambyses in his sickness cannot but remember the curse which with his last breath he laid on the Persians if they should not essay to win back the kingship; albeit we did not then believe Cambyses, but thought that he spoke to deceive us. Now therefore my vote is that we follow Darius' plan, and not quit this council to do aught else but attack the Magian forthwith." So spoke Gobryas; and they all consented to what he said.

74 While they were thus planning, matters befell as I will show. The Magians had taken counsel and resolved to make a friend of Prexaspes, because he had been wronged by Cambyses (who had shot his son to death) and because he alone knew of the death of Cyrus' son Smerdis, having himself been the slayer; and further, because Prexaspes was very greatly esteemed by the Persians. Therefore they summoned him and, to gain his friendship, made him to pledge himself and swear that he would never reveal to any man their treacherous dealing with the Persians, but keep it to himself; and they promised to give him all things in great abundance. Prexaspes was persuaded and promised to do their will. Then the Magians made this second proposal to him, that they should summon a meeting of all Persians before the palace wall, and he should go up on to a tower and declare that it was Smerdis son of Cyrus and no other who was king of Persia. They gave him this charge, because they thought him to  p99 be the man most trusted by the Persians, and because he had oftentimes asserted that Cyrus' son Smerdis was alive, and had denied the murder.

75 Rawlinson p472 Prexaspes consented to do this also; the Magians summoned the Persians together, and brought him up on to a tower and bade him speak. Then, putting away from his mind all the Magians' demands, he traced the lineage of Cyrus from Achaemenes downwards; when he came at last to the name of Cyrus, he recounted all the good which that king had done to Persia, after which recital he declared the truth; which, he said, he had till now concealed because he could not safely tell it, but was now constrained by necessity to reveal: "I," said he, "was compelled by Cambyses to kill Smerdis son of Cyrus; it is the Magians who now rule you." Then, invoking a terrible curse on the Persians if they failed to win back the throne and take vengeance on the Magians, he threw himself headlong down from the tower; thus honourably ended Prexaspes' honourable life.

76 The seven Persians, after counsel purposing to attack the Magians forthwith and delay no longer, prayed to the gods and set forth, knowing nothing of Prexaspes' part in the business. But when they had gone half way they heard the story of him; whereat they went aside from the way and consulted together, Otanes' friends being wholly for waiting and not attacking in the present ferment,  p101 but Darius' party bidding to go forthwith and do their agreed purpose without delay. While they disputed, they saw seven pairs of hawks that chased and rent and tore two pairs of vultures; seeing which all the seven consented to Darius' opinion, and went on to the palace, heartened by the sight of the birds.

77 When they came to the gate, that happened which Darius had expected; the guards, out of regard for the chief men of Persia, and because they never suspected their design, suffered them without question to pass in under heaven's guidance. Coming into the court, they met there the eunuchs who carry messages to the king; who asked the seven with what intent they had come, at the same time threatening the gate-wards for letting them pass, and barring the further passing of the seven. These gave each other the word, drew their daggers, and stabbing the eunuchs who barred their way, ran into the men's apartment.

78 Rawlinson p474 It chanced that both the Magians were within, consulting together on the outcome of Prexaspes' act. Seeing the eunuchs in confusion and hearing their cries they both sprang back: and when they saw what was afoot they set about defending themselves; one made haste to take down his bow, the other seized his spear; so the seven and the two met in fight. He that had caught up the bow found it availed him nothing, his enemies being so close and  p103 pressing him hard; but the other defended himself with his spear, smiting Aspathines in the thigh and Intaphrenes in the eye; Intaphrenes was not slain by the wound, but lost his eye. So these were wounded by one of the Magians; the other, his bow availing him nothing, fled into a chamber adjoining the men's apartment and would have shut its door. Two of the seven, Darius and Gobryas, hurled themselves into the chamber with him. Gobryas and the Magian grappling together, Darius stood perplexed by the darkness, fearing to strike Gobryas; whereat Gobryas, seeing Darius stand idle, cried to know why he did not strike; "For fear of stabbing you," quoth Darius. "Nay," said Gobryas, "thrust with your sword, though it be through both of us." So Darius thrust with his dagger, and by good luck it was the Magian that he stabbed.

79 Having killed the Magians and cut off their heads, they left their wounded where they were, by reason of their infirmity and to guard the citadel; the other five took the Magians' heads and ran with much shouting and noise, calling all Persians to aid, telling what they had done and showing the heads; at the same time they killed every Magian that came in their way. The Persians, when they heard from the seven what had been done and how the Magians had tricked them, resolved to follow the example set, and drew their daggers and slew all the Magians they could find; and if nightfall had not stayed them they would not have left one Magian alive. This day is  p105 the greatest holy day that all Persians alike keep; they celebrate a great festival on it, which they call the Massacre of the Magians; while the festival lasts no Magian may come abroad, but during this day they remain in their houses.

80 Rawlinson p476 When the tumult was abated, and five days had passed, the rebels against the Magians held a council on the whole state of affairs, at which words were uttered which to some Greeks seem incredible; but there is no doubt that they were spoken. Otanes was for giving the government to the whole body of the Persian people. "I hold," he said, "that we must make an end of monarchy; there is no pleasure or advantage in it. You have seen to what lengths went the insolence of Cambyses, and you have borne your share of the insolence of the Magian. What right order is there to be found in monarchy, when the ruler can do what he will, nor be held to account for it? Give this power to the best man on earth, and his wonted mind must leave him. The advantage which he holds breeds insolence, and nature makes all men jealous. This double cause is the root of all evil in him; he will do many wicked deeds, some from the insolence which is born of satiety, some from jealousy. For whereas an absolute ruler, as having all that heart can desire, should rightly be jealous of no man, yet it is contrariwise with him in his dealing with his countrymen; he is jealous of the safety of the good, and glad of the safety of the evil; and no man is so ready to believe calumny. Nor is any so hard to please; accord him but just honour, and he is displeased that you make him not your first care; make him such, and he damns  p107  for a flatterer. But I have yet worse to say of him than that; he turns the laws of the land upside down, he rapes women, he puts high and low to death. But the virtue of a multitude's rule lies first in its excellent name, which signifies equality before the law; and secondly, in that its acts are not the acts of the monarch. All offices are assigned by lot, and the holders are accountable for what they do therein; and the general assembly arbitrates on all counsels. Therefore I declare my opinion, that we make an end of monarchy and increase the power of the multitude, seeing that all good lies in the many."

81 H & W Such was the judgment of Otanes; but Megabyzus' counsel was to make a ruling oligarchy. "I agree," said he, "to all that Otanes says against the rule of one; but when he bids you give the power to the multitude, his judgment falls short of the best. Nothing is more foolish and violent than a useless mob; to save ourselves from the insolence of a despot by changing it for the insolence of the unbridled commonalty — that were unbearable indeed. Whatever the despot does, he does with knowledge; but the people have not even that; how can they have knowledge, who have neither learnt nor for themselves seen what is best, but ever rush headlong and drive blindly onward, like a river in spate? Let those stand for democracy who wish ill to Persia; but let us choose a company of the best men and invest these with the power. For we ourselves shall be of that company; and where we have the best men, there 'tis like that we shall the best counsels."

82 Rawlinson p478 Such was the judgment of Megabyzus.  p109 Darius was the third to declare his opinion. "Methinks," said he, "Megabyzus speaks rightly concerning democracy, but not so concerning oligarchy. For the choice lying between these three, and each of them, democracy, oligarchy and monarchy being supposed to be the best of its kind, I hold that monarchy is by far the most excellent. Nothing can be found better than the rule of the one best man; his judgment being like to himself, he will govern the multitude with perfect wisdom, and best conceal plans made for the defeat of enemies. But in an oligarchy, the desire of many to do the state good service sometimes engenders bitter enmity among them; for each one wishing to be chief of all and to make his counsels prevail, violent enmity is the outcome, enmity brings faction and faction bloodshed; and the end of bloodshed is monarchy; whereby it is shown that this fashion of government is the best. Again, the rule of the commonalty must of necessity engender evil-mindedness; and when evil-mindedness in public matters is engendered, bad men are not divided by enmity but united by close friendship; for they that would do evil to the commonwealth conspire together to do it. This continues till someone rises to champion the people's cause and makes an end of such evil-doing. He therefore becomes the people's idol, and being their idol is made their monarch; so his case also proves that monarchy is the best government. But (to conclude the whole matter in one word) tell me, whence and by whose gift came our freedom — from the commonalty or an oligarchy or a single  p111 ruler? I hold therefore, that as the rule of one man gave us freedom, so that rule we should preserve; and, moreover, that we should not repeal the good laws of our fathers; that were ill done."

83 Having to judge between these three opinions, four of the seven declared for the last. Then Otanes, his proposal to give the Persians equality being defeated, thus spoke among them all: "Friends and partisans! seeing that it is plain that one of us must be made king (whether by lot, or by our suffering the people of Persia to choose whom they will, or in some other way), know that I will not enter the lists with you; I desire neither to rule nor to be ruled; but if I waive my claim to be king, I make this condition, that neither I nor any of my posterity shall be subject to any one of you." To these terms the six others agreed; Otanes took no part in the contest but stood aside; and to this day his house (and none other in Persia) remains free, nor is compelled to render any unwilling obedience, so long as it transgresses no Persian law.

84 Rawlinson p480 H & W The rest of the seven then consulted what was the justest way of making a king; and they resolved, if another of the seven than Otanes should gain the royal power, that Otanes and his posterity should receive for themselves specially a yearly gift of Median raiment and all such presents as the Persians hold most precious. The reason of this resolve was that it was he who had first contrived the matter and assembled the conspirators. To Otanes, then, they gave this peculiar honour; but with regard to all of  p113 them alike they decreed that any one of the seven should, if he so wished, enter the king's palace unannounced, save if the king were sleeping with a woman; and that it should be forbidden to the king to take a wife saving from the households of the conspirators. As concerning the making of a king, they resolved that he will be elected whose horse, when they were all mounted in the suburb of the city, should first be heard to neigh at sunrise.

85 Now Darius had a clever groom, whose name was Oebares. When the council broke up, Darius said to him: "Oebares, in the matter of the kingship, we are resolved that he shall be king whose horse, when we are all mounted, shall first neigh at sunrise. Now do you devise by whatever cunning you can that we and none other may win this prize." "Master," Oebares answered, "if this is to determine whether you be king or not, you have no cause to fear; be of good courage; no man but you shall be king; trust my arts for that." "Then," said Darius, "if you have any trick such as you say, set about it without delay, for to‑morrow is the day of decision." When Oebares heard that he did as I will show. At nightfall he brought a mare that was especially favoured by Darius' horse, and tethered her in the suburb of the city; then bringing in Darius' horse, he led him round her near, so as ever and anon to touch her, and at last let the stallion have his way with the mare.

86 At dawn of day came the six on horseback as they had agreed. As they rode out through the  p115 suburb and came to the place where the mare had been picketed in the past night, Darius' horse trotted up to it and whinnied; and as he so did there came lightning and thunder out of a clear sky. These signs given to Darius were thought to be foreordained and made his election perfect; his companions leapt from their horses to do obeisance to him.

87 Rawlinson p482 Some say that this was Oebares' plan; but there is another story in Persia besides this: that he touched the mare with his hand, and then kept it hidden in his breeches till the six were about to let go their horses at sunrise; when he took his hand out and held it to the nostrils of Darius' horse, which forthwith snorted and whinnied.

88 So Darius son of Hystaspes was made king,3 and the whole of Asia, which Cyrus first and Cambyses after him had subdued, was made subject to him, except the Arabians; these did not yield the obedience of slaves to the Persians, but were united to them by friendship, as having given Cambyses passage into Egypt, which the Persians could not enter without the consent of the Arabians. Darius took wives from the noblest houses of Persia, marrying Cyrus' daughters Atossa and Artystone; Atossa had been wife of her brother Cambyses and afterwards of the Magian, Artystone was a virgin. He married also Parmys, daughter of Cyrus' son Smerdis, and that daughter of Otanes who had discovered  p117 the truth about the Magian; and the whole land was full of his power. First he made and set up a carved stone, whereon was graven the figure of a horseman, with this inscription: "Darius son of Hystaspes, aided by the excellence of his horse" (here followed the horse's name) "and of Oebares his groom, won the kingdom of Persia."

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The story dropped at ch. 38 is now taken up again.

2 The names in the Behistun inscription (the trilingual inscription set up by Darius at Behistun, after he had crushed the revolts in his empire) are: Vindapana, Utana, Gaubaruwa, Vidarna, Bagabukhsa, Ardumanis; all but the last corresponding with Herodotus' list.

3 521 B.C.

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