The Histories by Herodotus – Book I, “Clio”
X – Cyrus Meets His End Against the Messagetae [201-216]
- After conquering Babylon made for the Massagetae eastward beyond the River Araxes.
- The Araxes is about the size of the Danube with fairly large islands. Their inhabitants mostly ate roots and tree fruit. They burnt parts of a tree and sat around the fire. They’d act drunk, sing and dance. The river was divided into channels by Cyrus, creating bogs and swamps. The people mostly ate raw fish and wore seal skins. The River ended in the Caspian Sea (Herodotus was wrong about this).
- That’s the only connection to the Caspian Sea, which takes 15 days to row across and 8 days up and down. The Caucus Mountains are at its shore and the largest mountain range on earth (to Herodotus’s time). Many different tribes live there. They have dyes from trees, which they used to dye clothes and paint pictures on their clothes that won’t fade. Cyrus wanted the Massagetae had a queen, Tomyris, who had inherited the throne after her husband died. Cyrus sent envoys, asking for her marriage. She was hip to his plan and sent them away. He marched there with an army, built a bridge across the river and made for the city.
- While Cyrus was preparing, Tomyris sent a messenger to him, telling him to stop fighting and be happy with peace in his own kingdom. Since she knew he wouldn’t stop, she said “Meet us at the river in 3 days. Which side of the river you’ll be on will tell us your intentions.” Cyrus wanted to cross the river.
- Croesus didn’t like the idea. “If you think you’re immortal and a king, remember that you won’t always have good luck. If you lose, you lose everything – your throne, your kingdom, your life. If you win, you don’t win very much. You’ll have to chase them around, catch them and beat them. You shouldn’t have to bow to a woman. Just cross the river, if they choose to interpret that as aggression, so be it. But we’ll set up a Persian feast, one like they’ve never seen before. We’ll get them drunk and full and then kill them.
- Cyrus liked the idea and told her he’d cross the river. His son, Cambyses would go back to Persia with Croesus. He was told to treat him well if things ended badly. Then he crossed the river.
- He spent the night on the other side of the river and had a dream about Hystaspes’s son with wings, 1 over Europe and 1 over Asia. He woke up, borthered that Hystaspes’s son, Darius, was plotting against him, the founder of the Persian Empire, giving them a great life. But Hystaspes should go back to Persia and they’ll discuss it later.
- The dream wasn’t a plot by Darius but a vision that one day Darius would be king. Hystaspes couldn’t imagine any Persian plotting against Cyrus. But if he insisted, he’ll handover Darius.
- Cyrus set up a camp with bad soldiers and set up the feast. Tomyris’s men saw this and joined. Once a sleep, the Persians killed most of them and imprisoned the rest. When Tomyris heard the news, she sent a messenger, “You took my son, Spargapises. Bring him back to me unharmed and I’ll give you land. If you don’t, I’ll kill you.”
- Spargapises begged for freedom and when he was freed, he killed himself.
- Tomyris head and sent the army into battle. They were much tougher than other opponents. Archers and warriors fought and fought, and the Massagetae won. Cyrus died and most of his army did with him. Tomyris found his body and dunked his head in blood, to give him more of the taste of blood he wanted.
- The Massagetae were like the Scythians – fought on horseback and foot, used arrows, lances and battleaxes, all of either brass or gold.
- The wines were held in common but each man has only one wife. Old people were sacrificed and eaten. If he died of disease, nobody ate him and he’d be buried sadly because he didn’t have the honor of sacrifice. They didn’t eat grains but fish, herds and milk. They worshiped the sun and sacrificed horses to it.
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