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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,
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(Vol. II) Herodotus

 p317  Book IV: chapters 118‑144

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] 118 Rawlinson p100 H & W The kings then of these aforesaid nations being assembled, the Scythian messengers came and laid all exactly before them, telling how the Persian, now that the whole of the other continent was subject to him, had crossed over to their continent by a bridge thrown across the gut of the Bosporus, and how having crossed it and subdued the Thracians he was now bridging the Ister, that he might make all that region subject like the others to himself. "Do you, then," said they, "by no means sit apart and suffer us to be destroyed; rather let us unite and encounter this invader. If you will not do this, then shall we either be driven perforce out of our country, or abide and make terms. For what is to become of us if you will not aid us? And thereafter it will be no  p319 light matter for you yourselves; for the Persian is come to attack you no whit less than us, nor when he has subdued us will he be content to leave you alone. We can give you full proof of what we say: were it we alone against whom the Persian is marching, to be avenged on us for our former enslaving of his country, it is certain that he would leave others alone and make straight for us, thus making it plain to all that Scythia and no other country is his goal. But now, from the day of his crossing over to this continent, he has been ever taming all that come in his way, and he holds in subjection, not only the rest of Thrace, but also our neighbours the Getae."

[link to original Greek text] 119 Such being the message of the Scythians, the kings who had come from their nations took counsel, and their opinions were divided. The Greeks of the Geloni and the Budini and the Sauromatae made common cause and promised to help the Scythians; but the kings of the Agathyrsi and Neuri and Man‑eaters and Black-cloaks and Tauri made this answer to the messengers: "Had it not been you who did unprovoked wrong to the Persians and so began the war, this request that you proffer would seem to us right, and we would consent and act jointly with you. But now, you and not we invaded their land and held it for such time as the god permitted; and the Persians, urged on by the same god, are but requiting you in like manner. But we did these men no wrong in that former time, nor will we essay to harm them now unprovoked; natheless if the Persian come against our land too and do the first act of  p321 wrong, then we will not consent to it; but till we see that, we will abide where we are by ourselves. For in our judgment the Persians are attacking not us but those at whose door the offence lies."

[link to original Greek text] 120 Rawlinson p102 This answer being brought back and made known to the Scythians, they resolved not to meet their enemy in the open field, seeing that they could not get the allies that they sought, but rather to withdraw and drive off their herds, choking the wells and springs on their way and rooting up the grass from the earth; and they divided themselves into two companies. It was their will that to one of their divisions, over which Scopasis was king, the Sauromatae should be added; this host should, if the Persian marched that way, retire before him and draw off towards the river Tanais, by the Maeetian lake, and if the Persian turned to depart then they should attack and pursue him. This was one of the divisions of the royal people, and it was appointed to follow the way aforesaid; their two other divisions, namely, the greater whereof the ruler was Idanthyrsus, and the third whose king was Taxakis, were to unite, and taking to them also the Geloni and Budini, to draw off like the others at the Persian approach, ever keeping one day's march in front of the enemy, avoiding a meeting and doing what had been resolved. First, then, they must retreat in a straight course towards the countries which refused their alliance, so that these too might be compelled to fight; for if they would not of their own accord enter the lists against the Persians, they must be driven to war willy-nilly; and after that, the host must turn back to its own country, and attack the enemy, if in debate this should seem good.

 p323  [link to original Greek text] 121 Being resolved on this plan, the Scythians sent an advance guard of the best of their horsemen to meet Darius' army. As for the waggons in which their children and wives lived, all these they sent forward, charged to drive ever northward; and with the waggons they sent all their flocks, keeping none back save such as were sufficient for their food.

[link to original Greek text] 122 This convoy being first sent on its way, the advance guard of the Scythians found the Persians about a three days' march distant from the Ister; and having found them they encamped a day's march ahead of the enemy and set about clearing the land of all growing things. When the Persians saw the Scythian cavalry appearing, they marched on in its tracks, the horsemen ever withdrawing before them; and then, making for the one Scythian division, the Persians held on in pursuit towards the east and the river Tanais; which when the horsemen had crossed the Persians crossed also, and pursued till they had marched through the land of the Sauromatae to the land of the Budini.

[link to original Greek text] 123 As long as the Persians were traversing the Scythian and Sauromatic territory there was nothing for them to harm, as the land was dry and barren. But when they entered the country of the Budini, they found themselves before the wooden-walled town; the Budini had deserted it and left nothing therein, and the Persians burnt the town. Then going still forward in the horsemen's tracks they passed through this country into the desert, which is inhabited by no men; it lies to the north of the Budini and its  p325 breadth is a seven days' march. Beyond this desert dwell the Thyssagetae; four great rivers flow from their country through the land of the Maeetians, and issue into the lake called the Maeetian; their names are Lycus, Oarus, Tanais, Syrgis.

[link to original Greek text] 124 Rawlinson p104 When Darius came into the desert, he halted in his race and encamped on the river Oarus, where he built eight great forts, all at an equal distance of about sixty furlongs from each other, the ruins of which were standing even in my lifetime. While he was busied with these, the Scythians whom he pursued fetched a compass northwards and turned back into Scythia. When they had altogether vanished and were no longer within the Persians' sight, Darius then left those forts but half finished, and he too turned about and marched westward, thinking that those Scythians were the whole army, and that they were fleeing towards the west.

[link to original Greek text] 125 But when he came by forced marches into Scythia, he met both the divisions of the Scythians, and pursued them, they keeping ever a day's march away from him; and because he would not cease from pursuing them, the Scythians, according to the plan they had made, fled before him to the countries of those who had refused their alliance, and first to the land of the Black-cloaks. Into their land the Scythians and Persians burst, troubling their peace; and thence the Scythians led the Persians into the country of the Man‑eaters, troubling them too; whence they drew off with a like effect into the country of the Neuri, and troubling them also, fled to the Agathyrsi. But these, seeing their very neighbours fleeing panic-stricken at the Scythians' approach,  p327 before the Scythians could break into their land sent a herald to forbid them to set foot on their borders, warning the Scythians that if they essayed to break through they must first fight with the Agathyrsi. With this warning they mustered on their borders, with intent to stay the invaders. But the Black-cloaks and Man‑eaters and Neuri, when the Persians and the Scythians broke into their lands, made no resistance, but forgot their threats and fled panic-stricken ever northward into the desert. The Scythians, being warned off by the Agathyrsi, made no second attempt on that country, but led the Persians from the lands of the Neuri into Scythia.

[link to original Greek text] 126 All this continuing long, and there being no end to it, Darius sent a horseman to Idanthyrsus the Scythian king, with this message: "Sir, these are strange doings. Why will you ever flee? You can choose which of two things you will do: if you deem yourself strong enough to withstand my power, wander no further, but stand and fight; but if you know yourself to be the weaker, then make an end of this running to and fro, and come to terms with your master, sending him gifts of earth and water."

[link to original Greek text] 127 Rawlinson p106 To this Idanthyrsus the Scythian king made answer: "Know this of me, Persian, that I have never fled for fear of any man, nor do I now flee from you; this that I have done is no new thing or other than my practice in peace. But as to the reason why I do not straightway fight with you, this too I will tell you. For we Scythians have no towns or planted lands, that we might meet you the sooner  p329 in battle, fearing lest the one be taken or the other be wasted. But if nothing will serve you but fighting straightway, we have the graves of our fathers; come, find these and essay to destroy them; then shall you know whether we will fight you for those graves or no. Till then we will not join battle unless we think good. Thus much I say of fighting; for my masters, I hold them to be Zeus my forefather and Hestia queen of the Scythians, and none other. Gifts I will send you, not earth and water, but such as you should rightly receive; and for your boast that you are my master, take my malison for it." This was the speech returned by the Scythians.

[link to original Greek text] 128 So the herald went to carry this message to Darius; but the Scythian kings were full of anger when they heard the name of slavery. They sent then the division of Scythians and Sauromatae, which was led by Scopasis, to speak with those Ionians who guarded the bridge over the Ister; as for those of the Scythians who were left behind, it was resolved that they should no longer lead the Persians astray, but attack them whenever they were foraging for provision. So they watched for the time when Darius' men were foraging, and did according to their plan. The Scythian horse ever routed the Persian horse, and the Persian horsemen falling back in flight on their footmen, the foot would come to their aid; and the Scythians, once they had driven in the horse, turned about for fear of the foot. The Scythians accounted in this fashion by night as well as by day.

 p331  [link to original Greek text] 129 Most strange it is to relate, but what aided the Persians and thwarted the Scythians in their attacks on Darius' army was the braying of the asses and the appearance of the mules. For, as I have before shown, Scythia bears no asses or mules; nor is there in the most of Scythia any ass or mule, by reason of the cold. Therefore the asses, when they waxed wanton, alarmed the Scythian horses; and often, when they were in the act of charging the Persians, if the horses heard the asses bray they would turn back in affright or stand astonished with ears erect, never having heard a like noise or seen a like creature.

[link to original Greek text] 130 This then planned some small part in the war. When the Scythians saw that the Persians were shaken, they formed a plan whereby they might remain longer in Scythia and so remaining might be distressed by lack of all things needful: they would leave some of their flocks behind with the shepherds, themselves moving away to another place; and the Persians would come and take the sheep, and be uplifted by this achievement.

[link to original Greek text] 131 Rawlinson p108 H & W This having often happened, Darius was in a quandary; which when they perceived, the Scythian kings sent a herald bringing Darius the gift of a bird, a mouse, a frog, and five arrows. The Persians asked the bringer of these gifts what they might mean; but he said that no charge had been laid on him save to give the gifts and then depart with all speed; let  p333 the Persians (he said), if they were clever enough, discover the signification of the presents.

[image ALT: missingALT. They are Scythian zzz.]

Scythian art: golden birds.

Antikensammlung, Munich.
Photo © Livius.Org | Marco Prins, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 132 The Persians hearing and taking counsel, Darius' judgment was that the Scythians were surrendering to him themselves and their earth and their water; for he reasoned that a mouse is a creature found in the earth and eating the same produce as men, and a frog is a creature of the water, and a bird most like to a horse;º and the arrows (said he) signified that the Scythians surrendered their weapon of battle. This was the opinion declared by Darius; but the opinion of Gobryas, one of the seven who had slain the Magian, was contrary to it. He reasoned that the meaning of the gifts was, "Unless you become birds, Persians, and fly up into the sky, or mice and hide you in the earth, or frogs and leap into the lakes, you will be shot by these arrows and never return home."

[link to original Greek text] 133 Thus the Persians reasoned concerning the gifts. But when the first division of the Scythians came to the bridge — that division which had first been appointed to stand on guard by the Maeetian lake and had now been sent to the Ister to speak with the Ionians — they said, "Ionians, we are come to bring you freedom, if you will but listen to us. We learn that Darius has charged you to guard the bridge for sixty days only, and if he comes not within that time then to go away to your homes. Now therefore do that whereby you will be guiltless in his eyes as in ours: abide here for the days appointed, and after that depart." So the Ionians promised to do this, and the Scythians made their way back with all speed.

 p335  [link to original Greek text] 134 But after the sending of the gifts to Darius, the Scythians who had remained there came out with foot and horse and offered battle to the Persians. But when the Scythian ranks were arrayed, a hare ran out between the armies; and every Scythian saw it gave chase. So there was confusion and shouting among the Scythians; Darius asked what the enemy meant by this clamour; and when he heard that they were chasing the hare, then said he (it would seem) to those wherewith he was ever wont to speak, "These fellows hold us in deep contempt; and I think now that Gobryas' saying concerning the Scythian gifts was true. Seeing therefore that my own judgment of the matter is like his, we need to take sage counsel, whereby we shall have a safe return out of the country." To this said Gobryas: "Sire, reason showed me well enough how hard it would be to deal with these Scythians; and when I came I was made the better aware of it, seeing that they do but make a sport of us. Now therefore my counsel is, that at nightfall we kindle our camp-fires according to our wont, that we deceive those in our army who are least strong to bear hardship, and tether here all our asses, and so ourselves depart, before the Scythians can march straight to the Ister to break the bridge, or the Ionians take some resolve whereby we may well be ruined."

[link to original Greek text] 135 Rawlinson p110 This was Gobryas' advice, and at nightfall Darius followed it. He left there in the camp the men who were weary, and those whose loss imported least to him, and all the asses too tethered. The reason of his leaving the asses, and the infirm among his soldiers, was, as regarding the asses, that they  p337 might bray; as to the men, they were left by reason of their infirmity, but his pretext was, forsooth, that they should guard the camp while he attacked the Scythians with the sound part of his army. Giving this charge to those who were left behind, and lighting camp-fires, Darius made all speed to reach the Ister. When the asses found themselves deserted by the multitude, they brayed much the louder for that; and the Scythians by hearing them were fully persuaded that the Persians were still in the same place.

[link to original Greek text] 136 But when day dawned the men left behind perceived that Darius had played them false, and they held out their hands to the Scythians and told them the truth; who, when they heard, gathered their power with all speed, both the two divisions of their host and the one division that was with the Sauromatae and Budini and Geloni, and made straight for the Ister in pursuit of the Persians. But seeing that the Persian army was for the most part of footmen and knew not the roads (these not being marked), whereas the Scythians were horsemen and knew the short cuts, they kept wide of each other, and the Scythians came to the bridge much before the Persians. There, perceiving that the Persians were not yet come, they said to the Ionians, who were in their ships, "Now, Ionians, the numbered days are past and you do wrongly to remain still here. Nay — for it is fear which has ere now kept you from departing — now break the bridge with all speed and go your ways in freedom and happiness, thanking the gods and the Scythians. As for him that was once your master, we will leave him in such  p339 plight that never again will he lead his army against any nation."

[link to original Greek text] 137 Rawlinson p112 Thereupon the Ionians held a council. Miltiades the Athenian, general and despot of the Chersonesites of the Hellespont, gave counsel that they should do as the Scythians said and set Ionia free. But Histiaeus of Miletus held a contrary opinion. "Now," said he, "it is by help of Darius that each of us is sovereign of his city; if Darius' power be overthrown, we shall no longer be able to rule, neither I in Miletus nor any of you elsewhere; for all the cities will choose democracy rather than despotism." When Histiaeus declared this opinion, all of them straightway inclined to it, albeit they had first sided with Miltiades.

[link to original Greek text] 138 Those standing high in Darius' favour who gave their vote were Daphnis of Abydos, Hippoclus of Lampsacus, Herophantus of Parium, Metrodorus of Proconnesus, Aristagoras of Cyzicus, Ariston of Byzantium, all from the Hellespont and despots of cities there; and from Ionia, Strattis of Chios, Aiaces of Samos, Laodamas of Phocaea, and Histiaeus of Miletus who opposed the plan of Miltiades. As for the Aeolians, their only notable man present was Aristagoras of Cymae.

[link to original Greek text] 139 Rawlinson p114 These then chose to follow Histiaeus' counsel, resolved to make it good by act and word: to break as much of the bridge as reached a bowshot from the Scythian bank, that so they might  p341 seem to do somewhat when in truth they did nothing, and that the Scythians might not essay to force a passage across the Ister by the bridge; and to say while they broke the portion of the bridge on the Scythian side, that they would do all that the Scythians desired. This resolve they added to their decision; and presently Histiaeus answered for them all, and said, "You have brought us good, Scythians, and your zeal is well timed; you do your part in guiding us aright and we do ours in serving your ends as need requires; for as you see, we are breaking the passage, and will use all diligence, so much do we desire our freedom. But while we break this bridge, now is the time for you to seek out the Persians, and when you have found them to take such vengeance on our and your behalf as they deserve."

[link to original Greek text] 140 So the Scythians trusted the Ionians' word once more, and turned back to seek the Persians; but they mistook the whole way whereby their enemies passed. For this the Scythians themselves were to blame, inasmuch as they had destroyed the horses' grazing-grounds in that region and choked the wells. Had they not so done, they could readily have found the Persians if they would. But as it was, that part of their plan which they had thought the best was the very cause of their ill‑success. So the Scythians went searching for their enemies through the parts of their own country where there was provender for horses and water, supposing that they too were aiming at such places in their flight; but the Persians ever kept to their own former tracks, and so with much ado they found the passage of the river. But inasmuch as they  p343 came to it at night and found the bridge broken, they were in great terror lest the Ionians had abandoned them.

[link to original Greek text] 141 There was with Darius an Egyptian, whose voice was the loudest in the world; Darius bade this man stand on the Ister bank and call to Histiaeus the Milesian. This the Egyptian did; Histiaeus heard and obeyed the first shout, and sent all the ships to ferry the army over, and made the bridge anew.

[link to original Greek text] 142 Thus the Persians escaped. The Scythians sought the Persians, but missed them again. Their judgment of the Ionians is that if they are free men they are the basest cravens in the world; but if they are to be reckoned as slaves, none would love their masters more, or less desire to escape. Thus have the Scythians taunted the Ionians.

[link to original Greek text] 143 Rawlinson p118 H & W Darius marched through Thrace to Sestos on the Chersonesus; thence he crossed over with his ships to Asia, leaving as his general in Europe Megabazus, a Persian, to whom he once did honour by saying among Persians what I here set down. Darius was about to eat pomegranates; and no sooner had he opened the first of them than his brother Artabanus asked him of what thing he would wish to have as many as there were seeds in his pomegranate; whereupon Darius said, that he would rather have that number of men like Megabazus than make all Hellas subject to him. By thus speaking among Persians the king did honour to Megabazus; and  p345 now he left him behind as his general, at the head of eighty thousand of his army.

[link to original Greek text] 144 This Megabazus is for ever remembered by the people of the Hellespont for his saying — when, being at Byzantium, he was told that the people of Calchedon had founded their town seventeen years before the Byzantines had founded theirs — that the Calchedonians must at that time have been blind; for had they not been so, they would never have chosen the meaner site for their city when they might have had the fairer. This Megabazus, being now left as general in the country, subdued all the people of the Hellespont who did not take the side of the Persians.

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