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Bill Thayer

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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

 p185  Book III: chapters 150‑160

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.

150 Rawlinson p530 H & W When the fleet had gone to Samos, the Babylonians revolted;1 for which they had made very good preparation; for during the reign of the Magian, and the rebellion of the seven, they had taken advantage of the time and the disorders to prepare themselves against the siege; and (I cannot tell how) this was unknown. At the last they revolted openly and did this: — sending away all the mothers, they chose each one woman from his own household, whom he would, as a bread-maker; as for the rest, they gathered them together and strangled them, that they should not consume their bread.

151 When Darius heard of this he mustered all his power and led it against Babylon, and he marched to the town and laid siege to it; but the townsmen cared nothing for what he did. They came up on to the bastions of the wall, and mocked Darius and his army with gesture and word; and this saying came from one of them: "Why sit you there, Persians, instead of departing? You will take our city when mules bear offspring." This said the Babylonian, supposing that no mule would ever bear offspring.

152 A year and seven months passed and Darius and all his army were vexed by ever failing to take Babylon. Yet Darius had used every trick and  p187 every device against it. He essayed the stratagem whereby Cyrus took the city,a and every other stratagem and device, yet with no success; for the Babylonians kept a marvellous strict watch and he could not take them.

153 But in the twentieth month of the siege a miraculous thing befell Zopyrus, son of that Megabyzus who was one of the seven destroyers of the Magian: one of his food-carrying mules bore offspring. Zopyrus would not believe the news; but when he saw the foal for himself, he bade those who had seen it to tell no one; then taking counsel he bethought him of the Babylonian's word at the beginning of the siege — that the city would be taken when mules bore offspring — and having this utterance in mind he conceived that Babylon might be taken; for the hand of heaven, he supposed, was in the man's word and the birth from his own mule.

154 Being then persuaded that Babylon was fated to fall, he came and inquired of Darius if he set great store by the taking of the city; and when he was assured that this was so he next looked about for a plan whereby the city's fall should be wrought by himself alone; for good service among the Persians is much honoured, and rewarded by high preferment. He could think of no way of mastering the city but to do violence to himself and then desert to the Babylonians; so he accounted it but a little thing to mishandle himself past cure; cutting off his nose and ears, shaving his head for a disfigurement, and scourging himself, he came in this guise before Darius.

 p189  155 Rawlinson p532 The king was greatly moved at the sight of so notable a man thus mishandled. Leaping up with a cry from where he sat he asked Zopyrus who had done him this outrage and why. "There is no man," answered Zopyrus, "save yourself, who could bring me to this plight; this, O King! is the work of none other but myself; for I could not bear that Persians should be mocked by Assyrians. Darius answered, "Hardhearted man; if you say that it is to win the city that you have mistreated yourself past cure, you do but give a fair name to a foul deed. Foolish man! think you that our enemies will yielded the sooner for this violence done to you? Nay, you were clean out of your wits to destroy yourself thus." "Had I told you," said Zopyrus, "what I was minded to do, you would have forbidden it; as it is, I have considered with myself alone and done it. Now, then, matters so stand that if you but play your part Babylon is ours. I will in my present plight desert into the city, pretending to them that you have done this violence upon me; and I think that I shall persuade them that this is so, and thus gain the command of an army. Now, for your part, on the tenth day from my entering the city do you take a thousand men from that part of your army whereof you will least rue the loss, and post them before the gate called the gate of Semiramis; on the seventh day after that, post me again two thousand before the gate called the gate of the Ninevites; and when twenty days are past after that seventh, yet four thousand again before the Chaldean gate, as they call it; suffering neither these, nor the others that have come before them, to carry any weapons of war  p191 save daggers; leave them these. But immediately after the twentieth day bid the rest of your army to assault the whole circuit of the walls, and post the Persians before the gate of Belus and the gate called Cissian. For I think that I shall have achieved such exploits that the Babylonians will give into my charge the keys of their gates, and all else besides; and it will thenceforward be my business and the Persians' to do what is needful."

156 H & W With this charge, he went towards the city gate, turning and looking back as though he were in truth a deserter. When the watchers posted on the towers saw him, they ran down, and opening half the gate a little asked him who he was and for what purpose he was come; he told them that he was Zopyrus, come to them as a deserter. Hearing this the gate-wardens brought him before the general assembly of the Babylonians, where he bade them see his lamentable plight, saying of his own work that it was Darius' doing, because that he had advised the king to lead his army away, seeing that they could find no way to take the city. "Now," said he in his speech to them, "I am come greatly to aid you, men of Babylon, and greatly to harm Darius and his army and the Persians; not unpunished shall he go for the outrage he has wrought upon me; and I know all the plan and order of his counsels." Thus he spoke.

157 Rawlinson p534 When the Babylonians saw the most honoured man in Persia with his nose and ears cut off and all bedabbled with blood from the scourging, they were fully persuaded that he spoke truth and was come to be their ally, and were ready to grant him all that he asked, which was, that he  p193 might have an army; and having received this from them he did according to his agreement with Darius. On the tenth day he led out the Babylonian army, and surrounded and put to the sword the thousand whom he had charged Darius to set first in the field. Seeing that his deeds answered his words, the Babylonians were overjoyed and ready to serve him in every way. When the agreed number of days was past, he led out again a chosen body of Babylonians, and slew the two thousand men of Darius' army. When the Babylonians saw this second feat of arms, the praise of Zopyrus was in every man's mouth. The agreed number of days being again past, he led out his men to the place he had named, where he surrounded the four thousand and put them to the sword. After this his third exploit, Zopyrus was the one man for Babylon: he was made the captain of their armies and the warden of their walls.

158 So when Darius assaulted the whole circuit of the wall, according to the agreed plan, then Zopyrus' treason was fully revealed. For while the townsmen were on the wall defending it against Darius' assault, he opened the gates called Cissian and Belian, and let in the Persians within the walls. Those Babylonians who saw what he did fled to the temple of that Zeus whom they call Belus; those who had not seen it abode each in his place, till they too perceived how they had been betrayed.

159 Thus was Babylon the second time taken. Having mastered the Babylonians, Darius destroyed  p195 their walls and reft away all their gates, neither of which things Cyrus had done at the first taking of Babylon; moreover he impaled about three thousand men that were chief among them; as for the rest, he gave them back their city to dwell in. Further, as the Babylonians, fearing for their food, had strangled their own women, Darius provided that they should have wives to bear them children, by appointing that each of the neighbouring nations should send a certain tale of women to Babylon; the whole sum of the women thus collected was fifty thousand; these were the mothers of those who now inhabit the city.

160 Rawlinson p536 There never was in Darius' judgment any Persian before or since who did better service than Zopyrus, save only Cyrus, with whom no Persian could compare himself. Many times Darius is said to have declared that he would rather have Zopyrus whole and not foully mishandled than twenty more Babylons. Very greatly the king honoured him; every year he sent Zopyrus such gifts as the Persians held most precious, and suffered him to govern Babylon for all his life with no tribute to pay, giving him many other things besides. This Zopyrus was father of Megabyzus, who was general of an army in Egypt against the Athenians and their allies; and Megabyzus' son was that Zopyrus who deserted from the Persians to Athens.

The Loeb Editor's Note:

1 According to the course of Herodotus' narrative, this revolt would seem to have taken place some considerable time after Darius' accession (521 B.C.). But the Behistun inscription apparently makes it one of the earliest events of his reign.

Thayer's Note:

a This seems to mean the diversion of the Euphrates told in I.191.

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Page updated: 25 Jul 18