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This webpage reproduces a section of
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

 p199  Book IV: chapters 1‑15

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.
Cartouches are links to in‑depth articles at Livius.Org or LacusCurtius.

[link to original Greek text] 1 Rawlinson p1 H & W After the taking of Babylon, Darius himself marched against the Scythians. For seeing that Asia abounded in men and that he gathered from it a great revenue, he became desirous of punishing the Scythians for the unprovoked wrong they had done him when they invaded Asia and defeated those who encountered them. For the Scythians, as I have before shown, ruled the upper country of Asia​1 for twenty-eight years; they invaded Asia in their pursuit of the Cimmerians, and made an end of the power of the Medes, who were the rulers of Asia before the coming of the Scythians. But when the Scythians had been away from their homes for eight and twenty years and returned to their country after so long a time, there awaited them another task as hard as their Median war. They found themselves encountered by a great host; for their husbands being now long away, the Scythian women consorted with their slaves.

[link to original Greek text] 2 Rawlinson p2 Now the Scythians blind all their slaves, by reason of the milk​2 whereof they drink; and this is  p201 the way of their getting it: taking pipes of bone very like flutes, they thrust these into the secret parts of the mares and blow into them, some blowing and others milking. By what they say, their reason for so doing is that the blowing makes the mare's veins to swell and her udder to be let down. When milking is done, they pour the milk into deep wooden buckets, and make their slaves to stand about the buckets and shake the milk; the surface part of it they draw off, and this they most value; what lies at the bottom is less esteemed. It is for this cause that the Scythians blind all prisoners whom they take; for they are not tillers of the soil, but wandering graziers.

[link to original Greek text] 3 So it came about that a younger race grew up, born of these slaves and the women; and when the youths learnt of their lineage, they came out to do battle with the Scythians in their return from Media. First they barred the way to their country by digging a wide trench from the Tauric mountains to the broadest part of the Maeetian lake;​3 and presently when the Scythians tried to force a passage they encamped over against them and met them in battle. Many fights there were, and the Scythians could gain no advantage thereby; at last one of them said, "Men of Scythia, see what we are about! We are fighting our own slaves; they slay us, and we grow fewer; we slay them, and thereafter shall have fewer slaves. Now therefore  p203 my counsel is that we drop our spears and bows, and go to meet them each with his horsewhip in hand. As long as they saw us armed, they thought themselves to be our peers and the sons of our peers; let them see us with whips and no weapons of war, and they will perceive that they are our slaves; and taking this to heart they will not abide our attack."

[link to original Greek text] 4 Rawlinson p4 This the Scythians heard, and acted thereon; and their enemies, amazed by what they saw, had no more thought of fighting, and fled. Thus the Scythians ruled Asia and were driven out again by the Medes, and by such means they won their return to their own land. Desiring to punish them for what they did, Darius mustered an army against them.

[link to original Greek text] 5 The Scythians say that their nation is the youngest in all the world, and that it came into being on this wise. There appeared in this country, being then desert, a man whose name was Targitaus. His parents, they say — for my part I do not believe the tale, but it is told — were Zeus and a daughter of the river Borysthenes.​4 Such (it is said) was Targitaus' lineage; and he had three sons, Lipoxaïs, Arpoxaïs, and Colaxaïs, youngest of the three. In the time of their rule (so the story goes) there fell down from the sky into Scythia certain implements, all of gold, namely, a plough, a yoke, a sword, and a flask. The eldest of them, seeing this, came near with intent to take them; but the gold began to burn as he came, and he ceased from his essay; then the second approached, and the gold did again as before; when these two had been driven away by the burning of the gold, last came the youngest brother,  p205 and the burning was quenched at his approach; so he took the gold to his own house. At this his elder brothers saw how matters stood, and made over the whole royal power to the youngest.

[link to original Greek text] 6 H & W Lipoxaïs, it is said, was the father of the Scythian clan called Auchatae; Arpoxaïs, the second brother, of those called Katiari and Traspies; the youngest, who was king, of those called Paralatae. All these together bear the name of Skoloti, after their king; "Scythians" is a name given them by Greeks.

[link to original Greek text] 7 Such then is the Scythians' account of their origin; they reckon that neither more nor less than a thousand years in all passed between their first King Targitaus and the crossing over of Darius into their country. The kings guard this sacred gold most jealously, and every year offer to it solemn sacrifices of propitiation. Whoever at this festival sleeps in the open air, having with him the gold, is said by the Scythians not to live out the year; for which reason​5 (they say) there is given him as much land as he can himself ride round in one day. Because of the great size of the country, the lordships established by Colaxaïs for his sons were three, one of which, where they keep the gold, was the greatest. Above and northward of the neighbours of their country none (they say) can see or travel further, by reason of showers of feathers;​6 for earth and sky are overspread by these, and it is this which hinders sight.

 p207  [link to original Greek text] 8 Rawlinson p6 Such is the Scythians' account of themselves and the country north of them. But the story told by the Greeks is as follows. Heracles, driving the kine of Geryones, came to this land, which was then desert, but is now inhabited by the Scythians. Geryones dwelt westward of the Pontus,​7 being settled in the island called by the Greeks Erythea, on the shore of the Ocean near Gadira, outside the pillars of Heracles. As for the Ocean, the Greeks say that it flows from the sun's rising round the whole world, but they cannot prove that this is so. Heracles came thence to the country now called Scythia, where, meeting with wintry and frosty weather, he drew his lion's skin over him and fell asleep, and while he slept his mares, that were grazing yoked to the chariot, were marvellously spirited away.

[link to original Greek text] 9 When Heracles awoke he searched for them, visiting every part of the country, till at last he came to the land called the Woodland, and there he found in a cave a creature of double form that was half damsel and half serpent; above the buttocks she was a woman, below them a snake. When he saw her he was astonished, and asked her if she had anywhere seen his mares straying; she said that she had them, and would not restore them to him before he had intercourse with her; which Heracles did, in hope of this reward. But though he was fain to take the horses and depart, she delayed to restore them, that she might have Heracles with her for as long as might be; at last she gave them back, saying  p209 to him, 'These mares came, and I kept them safe here for you, and you have paid me for keeping them, for I have three sons by you. Do you now tell me what I must do when they are grown big: shall I make them to dwell here (for I am queen of this country), or shall I send them away to you?" Thus she inquired, and then (it is said) Heracles answered her: "When you see the boys grown to man's estate, act as I bid you and you will do rightly; whichever of them you see bending this bow thus and girding himself with this girdle, make him a dweller in this land; but whoever fails to achieve these tasks which I lay upon him, send him away out of the country. Thus do and you will yourself have comfort, and my bidding will be done."

[link to original Greek text] 10 Rawlinson p8 So he drew one of his bows (for till then Heracles ever bore two), and showed her the girdle, and delivered to her the bow and the girdle, that had a golden vessel on the end of its clasp; and, having given them, so departed. But she, when the sons born to her were grown men, gave them names, calling one of them Agathyrsus and the next Gelonus and the youngest Scythes; moreover, remembering the charge, she did as she was commanded. Two of her sons, Agathyrsus and Gelonus, not being able to achieve the appointed task, were cast out by their mother and left the country, but Scythes, the youngest, accomplished it and so abode in the land. From Scythes son of Heracles comes the whole line of the kings of Scythia; and it is because of the  p211 vessel that the Scythians carry vessels on their girdles to this day. This alone his mother contrived for Scythes. Such is the tale told by the Greek dwellers in Pontus.

[link to original Greek text] 11 There is yet another tale, to the tradition whereof I myself do especially incline. It is to this purport: The nomad Scythians inhabiting Asia, being hard pressed in war by the Massagetae, fled away across the river Araxes​8 to the Cimmerian country (for the country which the Scythians now inhabit is said to have belonged of old to the Cimmerians), and the Cimmerians, at the advance of the Scythians, took such counsel as behoved men threatened by a great host. Their opinions were divided; both were strongly held, but that of the princes was the more honourable; for the commonalty deemed that their business was to withdraw themselves and that there was no need to risk their lives for the dust of the earth; but the princes were for fighting to defend their country against the attackers. Neither side would be persuaded by the other, neither the people by the princes nor the princes by the people; the one part planned to depart without fighting and deliver the country to their enemies, but the princes were resolved to lie slain in their own country and not to flee with the people, for they considered how happy their state had been and what ills were like to come upon them if they fled from their native land. Being thus resolved they parted asunder into two equal bands and fought with each other till they  p213 were all slain by their own hands; then the commonalty of the Cimmerians buried them by the river Tyres, where their tombs are still to be seen, and having buried them departed out of the land; and the country being empty, the Scythians came and took possession of it.

[image ALT: A slightly damaged cylindrical pillar of rough much-weathered stone, about a meter and a half tall. It is a Cimmerian tombstone, as further captioned in the text of this webpage.]

A Cimmerian tombstone from Belogradets.

Archaeological Museum, Varna.
Photo © Livius.Org | Ab Langereis, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 12 Rawlinson p10 And to this day there are in Scythia Cimmerian walls, and a Cimmerian ferry, and there is a country Cimmeria​9 and a strait named Cimmerian. Moreover, it is clearly seen that the Cimmerians in their flight from the Scythians into Asia did also make a colony on the peninsula where now the Greek city of Sinope has been founded; and it is manifest that the Scythians pursued after them and invaded Media, missing their way; for the Cimmerians ever fled by the way of the coast, and the Scythians pursued with the Caucasus on their right till where they came into the Median land, turning inland on their way. I have now related this other tale, which is told alike by Greeks and foreigners.

[link to original Greek text] 13 H & W There is also a story related by Aristeas son of Caÿstrobius, a man of Proconnesus and a poet. This Aristeas, being then possessed by Phoebus, visited the Issedones; beyond these (he said) dwell the one‑eyed Arimaspians, beyond whom are the griffins that guard gold, and beyond these again the Hyperboreans, whose territory reaches to the sea. Except the Hyperboreans, all these nations (and first the Arimaspians) ever make war upon their neighbours; the Issedones were pushed from their lands  p215 by the Arimaspians, and the Scythians by the Issedones, and the Cimmerians, dwelling by the southern sea, were hard pressed by the Scythians and left their country. Thus neither does Aristeas' story agree concerning this country with the Scythian account.​a

[link to original Greek text] 14 Rawlinson p14 Whence Aristeas came who wrote this I have already said; I will now tell the story which I heard concerning him at Proconnesus and Cyzicus. It is said that this Aristeas, who was as nobly born as any of his townsmen, went into a fuller's shop at Proconnesus and there died; the fuller shut his workshop and went away to tell the dead man's kinsfolk, and the report of Aristeas' death being now spread about in the city, it was disputed by a man of Cyzicus, who had come from the town of Artace,​10 and said that he had met Aristeas going towards Cyzicus and spoken with him. While he vehemently disputed, the kinsfolk of the dead man had come to the fuller's shop with all that was needful for burial; but when the house was opened there was no Aristeas there, dead or alive. But in the seventh year after that Aristeas appeared at Proconnesus and made that poem which the Greeks now call the Arimaspea, after which he vanished once again.

[link to original Greek text] 15 Such is the tale told in these two towns. But this, I know, befell the Metapontines in Italy, two hundred and forty years after the second disappearance of Aristeas, as reckoning made at Proconnesus and Metapontium shows me: Aristeas, so the Metapontines say, appeared in their country and bade them set up an altar to Apollo, and set  p217 beside it a statue bearing the name of Aristeas the Proconnesian; for, he said, Apollo had come to their country alone of all Italiot lands, and he himself — who was now Aristeas, but then when he followed the god had been a crow — had come with him. Having said this, he vanished away. The Metapontines, so they say, sent to Delphi and inquired of the god what the vision of the man might be; and the Pythian priestess bade them obey the vision, saying that their fortune would be the better; having received which answer they did as commanded. And now there stands beside the very image of Apollo a statue bearing the name of Aristeas; a grove of laurels surrounds it; the image is set in the market-place. Suffice it then that I have said thus much of Aristeas.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 That is, the eastern highlands of the Persian empire.

2 Herodotus means that the slaves are blinded to prevent them stealing the best of the milk. Probably the story of blind slaves arises from some Scythian name for slaves, misunderstood by the Greeks.

3 The Sea of Azov. It is not clear where the τάφρος was. Some think that Herodotus may have had in his mind the so‑called "Putrid Sea," the narrow stretch of water between the Arabat isthmus and the Crimea. This at least corresponds with the "point of greatest breadth" of the Sea of Azov.

4 The Dnieper.

5 The "reason" is obscure; perhaps the gift of land is a compensation for his shortness of life.

6 See ch. 31 for Herodotus' explanation.

7 Very far west, Gadira being identified with Cadiz.

8 Herodotus' idea of the course of this river is uncertain; cp. I.202. He appears to extend the Araxes, which flowed from the west into the Caspian, into regions east of that sea.

9 The name survives in "Crimea." The "Cimmerian ferry" is probably the narrow entrance of the Sea of Azov.

For some notice of geographical difficulties here and elsewhere in this Book, see the introduction to this volume.

Thayer's Note: The derivation of the modern name of the part of Ukraine called Crimea is in fact uncertain. For my part, I view the similarity between Crimea and Cimmeria as merely accidental.

10 A Milesian colony, the port of Cyzicus.

Thayer's Note:

a In sum, Aristeas used Scythia as the canvas for his literary fables, rather like Plato's 'Atlantis'. Strabo (XIII.1.16) is less charitable to him.

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Page updated: 15 Jan 22