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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
published in Vol. III
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. III) Herodotus

 p3  Book V: chapters 1‑27

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. III, 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 p215 H & W Those Persians whom Darius had left in Europe under command of Megabazus, finding the Perinthians unwilling to be Darius' subjects, subdued them before any others of the people of the Hellespont. These Perinthians had already been roughly handled by the Paeonians. For the Paeonians from the Strymon had been bidden by an oracle of their god to march against Perinthus, and if the Perinthians being encamped over against them should call to them, crying out their name, then to attack them, but, if there were no such call, then not to attack. Thus the Paeonians did; and the Perinthians being encamped in front of their city, the armies challenged each other to a threefold duel, wherein man was matched against man, horse against horse, and dog against dog. The Perinthians won the victory in two of the combats and raised the cry of "Paean" in their joy. The Paeonians reasoned that this was that whereof the oracle spoke; they said to each other, as I suppose, "This is surely the fulfilment of the prophecy; now here is work for us"; and with that, the Perinthians having cried "Paean," the Paeonians set upon them and won a great victory, leaving few of their enemies alive.

 p5  [link to original Greek text] 2 Rawlinson p216 The Perinthians had already been thus treated by the Paeonians; and now they fought like brave men for their liberty, but Megabazus and the Persians overcame them by weight of numbers. Perinthus being taken, Megabazus marched his army through Thrace, subduing to the king's will every city and every people of that region. For this was the charge given him by Darius, even the conquest of Thrace.

[link to original Greek text] 3 The Thracians are the biggest nation in the world, next to the Indians; were they under one ruler, or united, they would in my judgment be invincible and the strongest nation on earth; but since there is no way or contrivance to bring this about, they are for this reason weak. They have many names, each tribe according to its region. All these Thracians are alike in all their usages, save the Getae, and the Trausi, and those that dwell above the Crestonaeans.

[link to original Greek text] 4 As for the Getae who claim to be immortal, I have already told​1 what they do; the Trausi, who in all else fulfil the customs of other Thracians, do as I will show at the seasons of birth and death. When a child is born, the kinsfolk sit round and lament for all the tale of ills that it must endure from its birth onward, recounting all the sorrows of men; but the dead they bury with jollity and gladness, for the reason that he is quit of so many ills and in perfect blessedness.

[link to original Greek text] 5 Rawlinson p218 Those who dwell above the Crestonaeans have a custom of their own: each man having many wives,  p7 at his death there is great rivalry among his wives, and eager contention on their friends' part, to prove which wife was best loved by her husband; and she to whom the honour is adjudged is praised by men and women, and then slain over the tomb by her nearest of kin, and after the slaying she is buried with the husband. The rest of the wives take this sorely to heart, deeming themselves deeply dishonoured.

[link to original Greek text] 6 Among the rest of the Thracians, it is the custom to sell their children to be carried out of the country. They take no care of their maidens, allowing them to have intercourse with what men they will: but their wives they strictly guard, and buy them for a great price from the parents. To be tattooed is a sign of noble birth; to bear no such marks is for the baser sort. The idler is most honoured, the tiller of the soil most contemned; he is held in highest honour who lives by war and foray.

[link to original Greek text] 7 H & W These are the most notable of their usages. They worship no gods but Ares, Dionysus, and Artemis.​2 But their princes, unlike the rest of their countrymen, worship Hermes above all gods and swear only by him, claiming him for their ancestor.

[link to original Greek text] 8 Among those of them that are rich, the funeral rites are these: — They lay out the dead for three days, then after killing all kinds of victims and first making lamentation they feast; after that they make away with the body either by fire or else by burial in the earth, and when they have built a barrow they set on foot all kinds of contests, wherein the greatest prizes are offered for the hardest fashion  p9 of single combat. Such are the Thracian funeral rites.

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

Golden torque bracelets, used as funeral gifts, from Skrebatno in the area of Blagoevgrad (Bulgaria); they were made in the period described by Herodotus.

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

[link to original Greek text] 9 Rawlinson p220 For what lies north of this country none can tell with certainty what men dwell there; cross the Ister and you shall see but an infinite tract of deserts. I can learn of no men dwelling beyond the Ister save certain that are called Sigynnae, and wear Median dress. Their horses are said to be covered all over with shaggy hair​3 five fingers' breadth long, and to be small and blunt-nosed and unable to bear men on their backs, but very swift when yoked to chariots; wherefore to drive chariots is the usage of the country. These men's borders, it is said, reach nigh as far as the Eneti on the Adriatic Sea. They call themselves colonists from Media. How this has come about I myself cannot understand; but all is possible in the long ages of time. However that be, we know that the Ligyes who dwell inland of Massalia use the word "sigynnae" for hucksters, and the Cyprians use it for spears.

[link to original Greek text] 10 H & W But the Thracians say that all the land beyond the Ister is full of bees, and that by reason of these none can travel there. This is no credible tale, to my mind; for those creatures are ill able to bear cold; but it appears to me that it is by reason of the cold that the northern lands are not inhabited. Such, then, are the stories about this region. Whatever be the truth, Megabazus made its sea‑coast subject to the Persians.

[link to original Greek text] 11 Rawlinson p228 As soon as Darius had crossed the Hellespont and come to Sardis,​4 he remembered the good service  p11 done him by Histiaeus of Miletus and the counsel of Coes the Mytilenaean; and he sent for them to come to Sardis and offered them the choice of what they would. Then Histiaeus, seeing that he was despot of Miletus, desired no further sovereignty than that, but asked for Myrcinus​5 in the Edonian land, that he might there build a city. This was Histiaeus' choice; but Coes, inasmuch as he was no despot but a plain citizen, asked that he might be made despot of Mytilene.

[link to original Greek text] 12 The desire of both being granted, they went their ways to the places of their choice; but Darius, as it fell out, saw a sight which put it in his mind to bid Megabazus take the Paeonians and carry them from their homes out of Europe into Asia. There were two Paeonians, Pigres and Mantyes; these would themselves be rulers of their countrymen, and when Darius had crossed into Asia came to Sardis, bringing with them their sister, a woman tall and fair. There, waiting till Darius should be sitting in the suburb of the Lydian city, they put on their sister the best adornment they had, and sent her to draw water, bearing a vessel on her head and leading a horse by the bridle on her arm and spinning flax the while. Darius took note of the woman as she passed by him; for what she did was not in the manner of the Persians or Lydians or any of the peoples of Asia. Having taken note of the thing, he sent certain of his guard, bidding them watch what the woman would do with the horse. So they followed behind her; and she, coming to the river, watered the horse; then, having so done, and filled her vessel with the water, she passed back again by  p13 the same way, bearing the water on her head and leading the horse on her arm and plying her distaff.

[link to original Greek text] 13 Marvelling at what he heard from his watchers and what he saw for himself, Darius bade the woman be brought before him. When she was brought, her brothers, who watched all this from a place near by, came too; and Darius asking of what nation she were, the young men told him that they were Paeonians, and she their sister. "But who," he answered, "are the Paeonians, and where dwell they, and with what intent are you come to Sardis?" They showed him, that they were come to be his men; that the towns of Paeonia were on the Strymon, a river not far from the Hellespont; and that they were colonists from the Teucrians of Troy. So they told him all this; and the king asked them if all the women of their country were as notable workers. To this too they very readily answered (for it was for this very purpose that they had come), that it was indeed so.

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

Tales of girls being used to get kings interested in conquest are just that: tales. The exploitation of metal mines in Thrace must have been a more serious motive for Persian imperialism. These copper ingots are from Kamenovo.

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

[link to original Greek text] 14 Rawlinson p224 Then Darius wrote a letter to Megabazus, whom he had left as his general in Thrace, bidding him take the Paeonians from their houses, and bring them to him, men, women, and children. Immediately a horseman sped with this message to the Hellespont, and crossing it gave the letter to Megabazus; who, having read it, took guides from Thrace and led his army to Paeonia.

[link to original Greek text] 15 When the Paeonians learnt that the Persians were coming against them, they gathered themselves  p15 together and marched away to the sea, thinking that the Persians would essay to attack them by that way. So the Paeonians were ready to stay the onset of Megabazus' army; but the Persians, learning that the Paeonians had gathered their forces and were guarding the sea‑coast way into their country, got them guides and marched instead by the highland road, whereby they took the Paeonians unawares and won entrance into their cities, which were left without men; and finding these empty at their onfall they easily gained them. The Paeonians, learning that their towns were taken, straightway broke and went each his own way and yielded themselves up to the Persians. Thus of the Paeonians the Siriopaeones and Paeoplae and all that dwelt as far as the Prasiad lake were taken away from their homes and carried into Asia.

[link to original Greek text] 16 But those near the Pangaean​6 mountains and the country of the Doberes and the Agrianes and the Odomanti and the Prasiad lake itself were never subdued at all by Megabazus; albeit he tried to take the lake-dwellers,​7 whose dwellings were such as I shall show: — There is set in the midst of the lake a platform made fast on tall piles, whereto one bridge gives a narrow passage from the land. The piles which support the platform were set there in old times by all the people working together, but by a later custom this is the manner of their setting: the piles are brought from a mountain called Orbelus,​8 and every man plants three for each woman that he weds; and each has many wives. For the manner  p17 of their dwelling, each man on the platform owns the hut wherein he lives and a trap-door in the platform leading down into the lake. They make a cord fast to the feet of their little children, lest the children fall into the water. They give fish for fodder to their horses and beasts of burden; and of fish there is such abundance, that a man opens his trap-door and lets an empty basket down by a line into the lake, and it is no long time before he draws it up full of fish. There are two kinds of these, some called "paprakes," some "tilones."

[link to original Greek text] 17 Rawlinson p228 H & W So those of the Paeonians who were taken were carried into Asia. Then Megabazus, having made the Paeonians captive, sent as messengers into Macedonia9 the seven Persians who (after himself) were the most honourable in his army; these were sent to Amyntas to demand earth and water for Darius the king. Now there is a very straight way from the Prasiad lake to Macedonia; for first and near to the lake is that mine wherefrom later Alexander​a drew a daily revenue of a talent of silver, and when he has passed the mine a man need but cross the mountain called Dysorum​10 to be in Macedonia.

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

Persian influence on Thracian art: a fight between a lion and a bull on a silver jar chased with gold from the Rogozen Treasure, more or less contemporaneous with Herodotus. The motif is also known from Persepolis.

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

[link to original Greek text] 18 These Persians then who were sent, coming to Amyntas and being in his presence, demanded earth and water for Darius the king; which he gave, and invited them to be his guests; and he prepared a dinner of great splendour and received them hospitably. But after dinner, the Persians said to Amyntas as they sat drinking together, "Macedonian,  p19 our host, it is our Persian custom after the giving of any great banquet to bring in also the concubines and wedded wives to sit by the men. Do you then (since you have received us heartily and are nobly entertaining us, and are giving Darius our king earth and water) follow our custom." To this Amyntas replied: "No such custom, Persians, have we ourselves; with us, men and women sit apart; but seeing that you are our masters and would have this too, it shall be as you desire." With that, Amyntas sent for the women; they came at call, and sat down over against the Persians. Then the Persians, seeing comely women before them, spoke to Amyntas and said that there was no sense in what he had done; it were better (they said) that the women had never come at all than that they should come and not sit beside the men, but sit opposite them to torment their eyes. Amyntas then, as needs must, bade the women sit beside them; which when they did, at once the Persians, flushed as they were with excess of wine, laid hands on the women's breasts, and one or another would essay to kiss them.

[link to original Greek text] 19 Rawlinson p230 This Amyntas saw, but held his peace for all his anger, because he greatly feared the Persians. But Amyntas' son Alexander, in his young and ignorance of ill deeds, could by no means bear it longer, but said to Amyntas in great wrath: "My father, do you do as befits your age; leave us and take your rest, and continue not at the drinking; but I will stay here and give our guests all that is needful." At this Amyntas saw that Alexander had some wild  p21 deed in mind, and, "My son," he said, "you are angered, and if I guess your meaning aright you would send me away that you may do some violent deed; for my part, then, I entreat you — act not rashly by these men, lest you undo us, but bear patiently the sight of what they do. But if you would have me depart, to that I consent."

[link to original Greek text] 20 Amyntas with this request having gone his ways, Alexander said to the Persians, "Sirs, you have full freedom to deal with these women, and may have intercourse with all or any of them. As to that, you will yourselves declare your pleasure; but now, as the hour of your rest draws nigh and I see that you are all well and truly drunk, suffer these women, so please you, to depart and wash; and when they have washed, look for them to come to you again." Having so said, the Persians consenting thereto, he sent the women, when they had gone out, away to their apartment; Alexander then took as many smooth-chinned men as there were women and attired them in the women's dress and gave them daggers; these he brought in, and so doing he said to the Persians: "Methinks, men of Persia, you have feasted to your hearts' content; all that we had and all besides that we could find to give you has been set before you; and now we make you a free gift of our best and choicest possession, our own mothers and sisters. Learn thereby that we accord you the full meed of honour that you deserve, and tell your king who sent you how his Greek viceroy of Macedonia has received you hospitably to board and bed." With that, Alexander made his Macedonians to sit each next to a Persian, as though they were women; and when the Persians began to  p23 lay hands on them, they were despatched by the Macedonians.

[link to original Greek text] 21 This was the fate whereby they perished, they and all their retinue; for carriages too had come with them, and servants, and all the great train they had; the Macedonians made away with all that, as well as with all the envoys themselves. No long time afterwards the Persians made a great search for these men; but Alexander had cunning enough to put an end to it by the gift of a great sum and his own sister Gygaea to Bubares, a Persian, the general of those who sought for the slain men; by this gift he made an end of the search.

[link to original Greek text] 22 Rawlinson p232 Thus was the death of these Persians suppressed and hidden in silence. Now that these descendants of Perdiccas​b are Greeks, as they themselves say, I myself chance to know and will prove it in the later part of my history; and further, the Hellenodicae​11 who have the ordering of the contest at Olympia determined that it is so. For when Alexander chose to contend and entered the lists for that purpose, the Greeks who were to run against him were for barring him from the race, saying that the contest should be for Greeks and not for foreigners; but Alexander proving himself to be an Argive, he was judged to be a Greek; so he contended in the furlong race and ran a dead heat for the first place.

[link to original Greek text] 23 H & W In some such wise these things fell out. But Megabazus came to the Hellespont, bringing with him the Paeonians; thence he crossed it and came to Sardis. Now as Histiaeus the Milesian was by  p25 this time fortifying the place which he had asked of Darius as his reward for guarding the bridge (this was a place called Myrcinus by the river Strymon), Megabazus had learnt what Histiaeus was about, and no sooner had he come to Sardis with the Paeonians than he said to Darius: "Sire, what is this that you have done? You have given a clever and cunning Greek a city to build in Thrace, where are forests in plenty for ship-building, and much wood for oars, and mines of silver, and much people both Greek and foreign dwelling around, who when they have a champion to lead them will do all his behests by day or by night. Do you then stay this man from these his doings, lest you have a war on hand with your own subjects; but to this end bring him to you by gentle means; and when you have him safe, see to it that he never return to Hellas."

[link to original Greek text] 24 Darius was readily persuaded by this, for he thought that Megabazus foresaw the future aright; and presently he sent this message to Myrcinus: "These to Histiaeus from Darius the king: — My thoughts can show me no man who is a truer friend to me and mine; not words but deeds have proved this to me. Now therefore let nothing hinder you from coming to me, that I may disclose to you certain great purposes which I have in mind.' Trusting these words, and proud, moreover, that he should be the king's counsellor, Histiaeus came to Sardis; and when he had come Darius said to him, "Histiaeus, I will tell you wherefore I sent for you.  p27 As soon as I returned from Scythia and you were gone from my sight, there was nothing whereof I had so immediate a desire as the seeing and speaking with you; for I knew that the most precious of all possessions is a wise and loyal friend; and I can witness of my own knowledge that you have dealt both wisely and loyally with me. Now therefore, seeing that you have done well in coming hither, I make you this proposal: — leave Miletus and your newly founded Thracian city, and follow me to Susa, to have there all that is mine and to share my table and my counsels."

[link to original Greek text] 25 Rawlinson p234 So said Darius; and appointing Artaphrenes his father's son to be viceroy of Sardis, he rode away to Susa, taking Histiaeus with him. But first he made Otanes governor of the people on the sea‑coast. Otanes' father Sisamnes had been one of the royal judges;​12 Cambyses had cut his throat and flayed off all his skin because he had been bribed to give an unjust judgment; and he had then cut leather strips of the skin which had been torn away and covered therewith the seat whereon Sisamnes had sat to give judgment; which having done, Cambyses appointed the son of this slain and flayed Sisamnes to be judge in his place, admonishing him to remember what was the judgment-seat whereon he sat.

[link to original Greek text] 26 This Otanes then, who sat upon that seat, was now made successor to Megabazus in his governor­ship; he took Byzantium and Calchedon, and Antandrus in the Troad, and Lamponium; and he conquered with ships that he got from the Lesbians Lemnos and Imbros, both then still inhabited by Pelasgians.

 p29  [link to original Greek text] 27 The Lemnians fought well and defended themselves, till at last they were brought to evil plight, and the Persians set a governor over those that were left of them, Lycaretus the brother of Maeandrius who had been king of Samos. This Lycaretus came to his end while ruling in Lemnos; this was because he strove to enslave and subdue all the people, accusing some of shunning service against the Scythians, and others of plundering Darius' army on its way back from Scythia.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 IV.94.

2 Herodotus as usual identifies foreign with Greek deities: v. How and Wells ad loc.

3 Strabo says much the same of the Sigynni, according to him a Caucasian tribe.

Thayer's Note: Geog. XI.11.8.

4 Cp. IV.143.

5 A district rich in timber and precious metals; cp. 23.

6 East of the Strymon.

7 Dwellings of a similar kind have been found in North Italy, Ireland, and other parts of Western Europe.

Thayer's Note: Most notably, several hundred "lake dwellings" — more neutrally, "pile dwellings" since there is controversy as to whether they were built on full-blown lakes or just in marshy areas — in and around what is now Switzerland; a few have been reconstructed. A very good page on them, with illustrations, is provided by the Pfahlbaumuseum at Unteruhldingen.

8 Between the Strymon and the Nestus.

9 i.e. the country as extended by Alexander I east of the Axius to the Strymon.

10 Apparently not far from the lower Strymon.

11 Elean citizens, usually ten, who presided at the Olympic games.

12 Cp. III.31.

Thayer's Notes:

a No, not Alexander the Great, who was born about seventy years after Herodotus died; an ancestor, Alexander the son of Amyntas mentioned a bit further on.

b Perdiccas has not been mentioned by Herodotus yet: he probably expected his Greek reader to know that Perdiccas was an ancestor of Alexander. The "later part" of his history, in which he tells the story of Perdiccas and the establishment of his dynasty, and gives Alexander's genealogy, is VIII.137‑139.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 18