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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

 p285  Book IV: chapters 83‑98

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.

83 Rawlinson p75 H & W While Darius was making preparations1 against the Scythians, and sending messengers to charge some to furnish an army and some to furnish ships, and others again to bridge the Thracian Bosporus, Artabanus, son of Hystaspes and Darius' brother, desired of him by no means to make an expedition against the Scythians, telling him how hard that people were to deal withal. But when he could not move the king for all his good counsel, Artabanus ceased to advise, and Darius, all his preparations being now made, led his army from Susa.

84 Then Oeobazus a Persian, who had three sons, all with the army, entreated Darius that one might be left behind. "Nay," said the king, "you  p287 are my friend, and your desire is but reasonable; I will leave all your sons." Oeobazus rejoiced greatly, supposing that his sons were released from service; but Darius bade those whose business it was to put all Oeobazus' sons to death.

85 So their throats were cut, and they were all left there; but Darius, when in his march from Susa he came to that place in the territory of Calchedon where the Bosporus was bridged, took ship and sailed to the Dark Rocks2 (as they called) which the Greeks say did formerly move upon the waters; there he sat on a headland and viewed the Pontus, a marvellous sight. For it is of all seas the most wonderful. Its length is eleven thousand one hundred furlongs, and its breadth, at the place where it is widest, three thousand three hundred.3 The channel at the entrance of this sea is four furlongs broad; and the length of the channel, the narrow neck called Bosporus, across which the bridge was thrown, is as much as an hundred and twenty furlongs. The Bosporus reaches as far as to the Propontis; and the Propontis is five hundred furlongs wide and fourteen hundred long; its outlet is the Hellespont, which is no wider than seven furlongs, and four hundred in length. The Hellespont issues into a gulf of the sea which we call Aegaean.

86 Rawlinson p77 H & W These measurements have been made after  p289 this manner: a ship will for the most part accomplish seventy thousand fathoms in a long day's voyage, and sixty thousand by night.a This being granted, seeing that from the Pontus' mouth to the Phasis (which is the greatest length of the sea) it is a voyage of seven days and eight nights, the length of it will be an hundred and ten thousand and one hundred fathoms, which make eleven thousand one hundred furlongs. From the Sindic region to Themiscura on the river Thermodon (for here is the greatest width of the Pontus) it is a voyage of two days and three nights, that is of thirty thousand and thirty fathoms, or three thousand and thirty furlongs. Thus have I measured this Pontus and the Bosporus and Hellespont, and they are such as I have said. Moreover there is seen a lake issuing into the Pontus and not much smaller than the sea itself; it is called the Maeetian lake, and the mother of the Pontus.

87 Rawlinson p80 Having viewed the Pontus, Darius sailed back to the bridge, of which Mandrocles of Samos was the chief builder; and when he had viewed the Bosporus also, he set up by it two pillars of white stone, engraving on the one in Assyrian and on the other in Greek characters the names of all the nations that were in his army; in which were all the nations subject to him. The full tale of these, over and above the fleet, was seven hundred thousand men, reckoning therewith horsemen, and the number of ships that mustered was six hundred. These pillars were afterwards carried by the Byzantines into their city and there used to build the altar of Orthosian4  p291 Artemis, save for one column covered with Assyrian writing that was left beside the temple of Dionysus at Byzantium. Now if my reckoning be true, the place where king Darius bridged the Bosporus was midway between Byzantium and the temple at the entrance of the sea.

88 H & W After this, Darius, being well content with his bridge of boats, made to Mandrocles the Samian a gift of ten of every kind;5 wherefrom Mandrocles took the firstfruits and therewith had a picture made showing the whole bridge of the Bosporus, and Darius sitting aloft on his throne and his army crossing; this he set up in the temple of Here, with this inscription:

"This Picture Mandrocles to Here gives,

Where for ever his Achievement lives;

A Bridge of Boats o'er Bosp'rus' fishful Flood

He built; Darius saw, and judg'd it good;

Thus for himself won Mandrocles a Crown,

And for his isle of Samos high Renown."

89 This then was done to preserve the name of the builder of the bridge. Darius, having rewarded Mandrocles, crossed over to Europe; he had bidden the Ionians to sail into the Pontus as far as the river Ister, and when they should come thither to wait for him there, bridging the river meanwhile; for the fleet was led by Ionians and Aeolians and men of the Hellespont. So the fleet passed between the Dark Rocks and made sail straight for the Ister, and, having gone a two days' voyage up the river from the sea, set about bridging the narrow channel  p293 of the river where its divers mouths part asunder. But Darius, having passed over the Bosporus on the bridge of ships, journeyed through Thrace to the sources of the river Tearus, where he encamped for three days.

90 Rawlinson p82 The Tearus is said in the country round to be the best of all rivers for all purposes of healing, but especially for the healing of the scab in men and horses. Its springs are thirty-eight in number, some cold and some hot, all flowing from the same rock. There are two roads to the place, one from the town of Heraeum near to Perinthus, one from Apollonia on the Euxine sea; each is a two days' journey. This Tearus is a tributary of the river Contadesdus, and that of the Agrianes, and that again of the Hebrus, which issues into the sea near the city of Aenus.

91 Having then come to this river and there encamped, Darius was pleased with the sight of it, and set up yet another pillar there, graven with this inscription, "From the sources of the river Tearus flows the best and fairest of all river waters; hither came, leading his army against the Scythians, the best and fairest of all men, even Darius son of Hystaspes and king of Persia and all the mainland." Such was the inscription.

92 Thence Darius set forth and came to another river called Artescus, which flows through the country of the Odrysae; whither having come, he marked a place for the army to see, and bade every  p295 man as he passed by lay one stone in this place which he had shown. His army having so done, he made and left great hillocks of the stones and led his army away.

93 Rawlinson p84 But before he came to the Ister, he first subdued the Getae, who pretend to be immortal. The Thracians of Salmydessus and of the country above the towns of Apollonia and Mesambria, who are called Cyrmianae and Nipsaei, surrendered themselves unresisting to Darius; but the Getae, who are the bravest and most law‑abiding of all Thracians, resisted with obstinacy, and were enslaved forthwith.

94 As to their claim to be immortal, this is how they show it: they believe that they do not die, but that he who perishes goes to the god Salmoxis, or Gebeleïzis, as some of them call him. Once in every five years they choose by lot one of their people and send him as a messenger to Salmoxis, charged to tell of their needs; and this is their manner of sending: Three lances are held by men thereto appointed; others seize the messenger to Salmoxis by his hands and feet, and swing and hurl him aloft on to the spear-points. If he be killed by the cast, they believe that the god regards them with favour; but if he be not killed, they blame the messenger himself, deeming him a bad man, and send another messenger in place of him whom they blame. It is while the man yet lives that they charge him with the message. Moreover when there is thunder and lightning these same  p297 Thracians shoot arrows skyward as a threat to the god, believing in no other god but their own.

95 For myself, I have been told by the Greeks who dwell beside the Hellespont and Pontus that this Salmoxis was a man who was once a slave in Samos, his master being Pythagoras son of Mnesarchus; presently, after being freed and gaining great wealth, he returned to his own country. Now the Thracians were a meanly-living and simple-witted folk, but this Salmoxis knew Ionian usages and a fuller way of life than the Thracian; for he had consorted with Greeks, and moreover with one of the greatest Greek teachers, Pythagoras; wherefore he made himself a hall, where he entertained and feasted the chief among his countrymen, and taught them that neither he nor his guests nor any of their descendants should ever die, but that they should go to a place where they would live for ever and have all good things. While he was doing as I have said and teaching this doctrine, he was all the while making him an underground chamber. When this was finished, he vanished from the sight of the Thracians, and descended into the underground chamber, where he lived for three years, the Thracians wishing him back and mourning him for dead; then in the fourth year he appeared to the Thracians, and thus they came to believe what Salmoxis had told them. Such is the Greek story about him.

96 Rawlinson p86 For myself, I neither disbelieve nor fully believe the tale about Salmoxis and his underground chamber; but I think that he lived many years before Pythagoras; and whether there was a man called  p299 Salmoxis, or this be a name among the Getae for a god of their country, I have done with him.

97 H & W Such were the ways of the Getae, who were now subdued by the Persians and followed their army. When Darius and the land army with him had come to the Ister, and all had crossed, he bade the Ionians break the bridge and follow him and the men of the fleet in their march across the mainland. So the Ionians were preparing to break the bridge and do Darius' behest; but Coës son of Erxander, the general of the Mytilenaeans, having first enquired if Darius were willing to receive counsel from any man desiring to give it, said, "Seeing, O king! that you are about to march against a country where you will find neither tilled lands nor inhabited cities, do you now suffer this bridge to stand where it is, leaving those who made it to be its guards. Thus, if we find the Scythians and accomplish our will, we have a way of return; and even if we find them not, yet at least our way back is safe; for my fear has never yet been lest we be overcome by the Scythians in the field, but rather lest we should not be able to find them, and so wander astray to our hurt. Now perchance it may be said that I speak thus for my own sake, because I desire to remain behind; but it is not so; I do but declare before all that counsel which I judge best, and for myself would not be left here but will follow you." With this counsel Darius was greatly pleased, and he answered Coës thus; "My good Lesbian, fail not to show yourself to me when I return safe to my house, that so I may make you a good return for your good advice."

98 Having thus spoken, he tied sixty knots in a  p301 thong, and calling the despots of the Ionians to an audience he said to them: "Ionians, I renounce the opinion which I before declared concerning the bridge; do you now take this thong and do as I command you. Begin to reckon from the day when you shall see me march away against the Scythians, and loose one knot each day: and if the days marked by the knots have all passed and I have not returned ere then, take ship for your own homes. But till then, seeing that my counsel is thus changed, I bid you guard the bridge, using all zeal to save and defend it. This do, and you will render me a most acceptable service." Having thus spoken, Darius made haste to march further.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The date of Darius' expedition is uncertain. Grote thinks it probable that it took place before 514 B.C.

2 Rocks (the "Wandering" or "Clashing" Rocks of Greek legend) off the northern end of the Bosporus.

Thayer's Note: Properly, Dark Blue Rocks, where "Clashing" is a literal translating of Symplegades. "Wandering", on the other hand, is a translation of Planctae — a different set of rocks, not near the Bosporus at all, but somewhere off the SW coast of Italy. The Symplegades and the Planctae have a long history of being confused with each other, dating back to Antiquity: a confusion sorted out in Am. J. Phil. VIII.433‑440 (by the translator of the Loeb Classical Library edition of the Argonautica from which the Symplegades are best known).

3 Herodotus is wrong. The Black Sea is 720 miles long (about 6280 stades), and, at the point of Herodotus' measurement, about 270 miles broad; its greatest breadth is 380 miles. His estimates for the Propontis and Hellespont are also in excess, though not by much; the Bosporus is a little longer than he says, but its breadth is correctly given.

4 A deity worshipped especially at Sparta; the meaning of the epithet is uncertain.

5 Apparently a proverbial expression for great abundance; cp. a similar phrase in IX.81.

Thayer's Note:

a The question of the sailing speed of ships in Antiquity is a very complex one. An excellent orientation to the topic is Lionel Casson's "Speed Under Sail of Ancient Ships" (TAPA 82:136‑148, 1951). Herodotus' statement by the way, though fairly precise, is one of the ancient testimonies Casson doesn't take into account, and he explains why, p143, note.

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