Herodotus – The Histories, Book 3, “Thalia”: Coups of the Magians & Darius (61-119, 126-141, 150-160)
61. Cambyes remained in Egypt. At this time, 2 Magi brothers revolted against him. One was a comptroller of his household. They knew Smerdis was dead but most Persians did not. The other brother resembled the royal Smerdis & his name just happened to be Smerdis. Having convinced enough people of this, they sent out messengers to people telling them they were only to obey Smerdis, & not Cambyses.
62. Word got to Cambyses in Egypt. The messenger delivered it in the middle of the army. Cambyses thought that Prexaspes had lied about killing Smerdis. Prexaspes denied the report. He asked if they could question the messenger in private.
63. Cambyses agreed. They asked who gave him orders to deliver this message & if he had actually seen Smerdis. The Magus had told him this & he hadn’t seen Smerdis in ages. Cambyses saw what was going on & told Prexaspes that he didn’t have anything to worry about. The 2 Magi were to blame & one was name Patizeithes & the other Smerdis.
64. Cambyses recalled his dream that Smerdis took his throne. He didn’t realize that it was going to be another Smedis on the throne. He regretted killing his brother. They had to go back to Persia to get this imposter of the throne. Cambyses jumped on his horse but his sword was loose & stabbed him in the same spot where he had stabbed the Egyptian God, Apis. This happened in Agbatana, where the Oracle of Buto told him where he’d die. But he had though ti was the Agbatana in Media, not in Syria.
65. 20 days later, he called in his men, telling him of his visions & the Oracle’s prophecies. He also told them that he had Prexaspes kill Smerdis. But now there was trouble at home. Patizeithes & his brother, Smerdis had taken over. He made them swear to rectify the situation one way or another.
66. Seeing the king in such a sad state upset the men. Cambyses died of a gangrenous leg. He had no children & ruled 7 years & 5 months. However, the men didn’t believe his story about the Magus named Smerdis. They thought the man in Persia was Cyrus’s son & since Prexaspes denied killing him, the matter went no further.
67. The Magus ruled safely for 7 months. The reign of Cambyses enriched the Persians greatly because they didn’t have to serve in the army & lived tax-free for 3 years.
68. Finally, Otanes, a high-ranking Persian, realized what was going on. The “King” never left the citadel & never called in any nobleman. To confirm his suspicious, he came up with a plan. His daughter was married to Cambyses & now married to “Smerdis”. He asked if she knew if this was the real Smerdis. She had never met Smerdis before. He told her to ask if the other women had me him before. She never saw any other women – they were all kept separate.
69. Otanes’s suspicions grew. He told her he didn’t think this was the real Smerdis. & the next time she saw him, when he was asleep, she was to check his ears. If they’re there, it’s the real Smerdis. If he has no ears, he’s the Magus. The Magus had no ears because he had them cut off by Cambyses in some temper tantrum of his. She checked – he had no ears!!
70. Otanes got some men together & explained himself. They got more men together to go to Susa to speak with another man, Darius, about the situation.
71. Darius spoke saying – “I thought I was the only one sure that the man on the throne was a Magus imposter. Since we’re all here, let’s kill him & let’s do it fast.” Otanes warned them to proceed with caution. Darius – “Someone’s likely to sell one of you out for money. We have to act quickly.
72. Otanes said to Darius that his temper would force them into action even if unready. He asked how they planned on entering the palace with guards everywhere. Darius know that their high rank would allow them entrance without question. All they had to do was make something up about delivering a message. The doorkeepers didn’t ask too many questions.
73. Gobyras said that Darius was right. The moment was perfect to strike & thy needed to relieve Persia of an unjust, illegitimate ruler.
74. Meanwhile, the Magi decided to make Prexaspes a friend because they knew Cambyses has killed his son & he had killed the real Smerdis. He was the only one who knew he was really dead. They wanted to bribe him to keep his silence. Prexaspes even wanted to address the public by the palace walls, assuring Smerdis, son of Cyrus, was in power.
75. The Magi gathered the people for him to address them. He talked about his service to Persia but he had one confession to give. He was forced by Cambyses to kill his brother, Smerdis & now he needed to tell everyone because Persia was being ruled by the Magi. The Persians would be cursed if they didn’t recover the country. He jumped off the tower to his death.
76. The 7 Persian nobles showed up to attack the Magi. They had no idea that Prexaspes exposed the Magi to the people. When they were near to the Magi’s rooms, the news arrived. Otanes said they shouldn’t attack when things were so chaotic. Darius was against any change of plan. Now was the moment to strike with the crowd behind them.
77. The guards had no clue anything bad would happen & let the group of nobles pass through. The Eunuchs stopped them & asked them what their business was. The 7 threatened them with daggers. A fight broke out as they moved towards the Magi’s quarters.
78. The Magi were having a meeting about the Prexaspes situation when they heard all the noise out in the hallway. They knew the jig was up & rushed to arms. One grabbed a bow – absolutely useless for close-in fighting. Another grabbed a lance & wounded 2 of the 7. It got Aspathines in the leg & took out Intaphernes’s eye. Darius & Gobyras got a hold of the Magus in the dark. Darius took a stab in the dark & was luck that he got only the Magus.
79. The 7 cut off the heads of the Magi. They announced to the people what had happened. They encouraged the crowd to hunt down any magi they could find & kill them. They turned this day into a national holiday – Magophonia.
80. After 5 days, the 7 nobles got together to discuss the future of the country. Otanes didn’t like the idea of one man ruling over others. He would let the power get to his head & it would corrupt him to the point of wickedness & violence. He’d turn against his subjects, be cruel to them & only listen to liars. He supported a form of government called “isonomy”, free of any king’s abuse & giving power to the people.
81. Megabyzus spoke & proposed an oligarchy. Common people don’t know much. While they want to avoid a tyrant, the people have their own forms of tyranny as an unbridled mob. They have no sense of what’s right & fit. The worthiest among the citizens should hold the power of government.
82. Darius spoke in favor of monarchy. It puts the best man at the head of the government. He has advisors for gaps in his knowledge & plans are more secret. Oligarchs usually have in-fighting & rivalries. In a democracy, no man can single-handedly wield the power of the state in time to handle direct threats to the state.
83. The other 4 noblemen sided with Darius in supporting monarchy. Otanes spoke again. The question remained if the king were to be chosen by lots or by a vote. He asked neither to rule nor be ruled & he withdrew himself from consideration.
84. The 6 remaining decided that whoever was chosen king would give free access to the others, except when he was with one of his wives. The king could only marry from the families of the others.
85. They chose the king like this – The men would mount their horses & the first one whose horse neighed would be king. Darius sent his servant with a mare to the meeting place to approach Darius’s horse to cause it to neigh.
86. That morning, they all showed up & Darius’s horse neighed according to the plan. Then a flash of lighting & roll of thunder seemed to be heavenly proclamations that he’d be king.
87. Others say that Darius’s servant stroked a mare & held his hands in his pants & when the men met up, the horse smelled the scent of the mare & neighed.
88. Darius was king of all of Asia, except Arabia. They were friendly with the Persians. Darius married 2 of Cyrus’s daughters & one daughter of Smerdis, & one daughter of Otanes.
89. Darius set up 20 governments within Persia called Satrapies, giving them governors & fixing tributes to be paid to the King. Some paid in silver, some in gold, some in both. When Cambyses was seen as harsh & a master, Cyrus was seen as a gentle father, Darius looked to make money anyway he could.
90. – 94. List of Satrapies.
95. Darius pulled in 14560 talents (unit of weight/currency) from his 20 satrapies per year.
96. He increased this from domination of islands & places in Europe. Whenever he felt like he needed money, he didn’t hesitate to demand it.
97. Persia itself was not a part of the tributaries because it paid no tax. Some other places didn’t pay tax but occasionally offered the King gifts, including the Ethiopians, Colchians & Arabs.
98. Indians had a lot of gold but the people were of many unrelated tribes.
99. The Indian tribe of the Padaeans ate raw flesh & was nomadic. If a man was sick, he was removed & put death because his flesh was spoiled. If a woman was sick, she’d suffer the same fate. If a man grew old, he’d be offered as a sacrifice to the gods & eaten.
100. Another group of Indians refused to kill any animal. They didn’t eat grains & didn’t live in houses. They only ate vegetables. If one got sick, he’d go out into the wilderness, lie down & die, so no one would have to look after him.
101. These tribes live together like wild animals do. They have a darker color of skin, closer to the Ethiopians. They were so far away from Darius that he had no control over them.
102. Another tribe, near the city of Caspatyrus – these people live like the Bactrians. They’re more warlike than others. Their men mostly go & look for gold in the desert where giant ants live. They’re smaller than dogs but larger than foxes & live underground. The sand of their dwelling is loaded with gold. The men take 2 male camels & 1 female camel into the desert when looking for gold.
103. Camels – I won’t go into detail. They have 4 thigh bones & 4 knee joints.
104. Once these people are equipped, they go looking for gold. The mornings in the desert are hot but not as bad as the afternoons – much hotter than Greece but the nights are frigid.
105. Where they reach the place where they find gold, they fill their bags up with sand & ride away quickly. The ants smell them & chase them away. They’re so fast that the Indians have to act very quickly just to get away. Male camels are slower than females & the Indians take that into account too.
106. The extreme regions of the earth usually have the best products. In India, the birds & animals are much bigger than in Greece, except the horses, which are small. Gold is also highly abundant. You can dig it up or pan it from rivers. The trees bear the best wool, even better than that of sheep.
107. Arabia is the only place that produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia, cinnamon & ledanum. Every one of them except myrrh is hard to come by. Frankincense is made from a gum called styrax. The trees that produce this are guarded by winged snakes.
108. Timid animals, prey to others, produce young in large numbers because so many will get eaten. Savage & dangerous animals are unfruitful. E.g. Hares are hunted by many animals & are super fertile. But a lioness will have 1 cub because it will be so violent in the womb that it’ll rip the lioness’s womb out as it’s born.
109. Winged snakes of Arabia have the female biting the male in the neck during sex. The male dies. The babies break through the mother’s belly. Unlike other snakes, she never gets the chance to lay eggs. Fortunately the winged serpents are only in Arabia.
110. They collect cassia like this – they cover themselves in ox hides except their eyes & go down to where it grows, where there are bat-like animals to collect the cassia.
111. They collect cinnamon in a land where Bacchus was from (?). Giant birds collect cinnamon bark & make nests of it. So the Arabians take the meat of oxen & asses & leave it out near the nests. When the birds leave the nests, they bring back the meat whose excessive weight breaks the nests & the cinnamon falls.
112. Ledanum is collected from billy goat beards stuck like gum, coming from the bushes they chew on. The Arabs burn it like an incense.
113. All of Arabia smells of spices. There are 2 kinds of sheep. One has a tail so long, shepherds have to build a special bag to carry it around. The other has a broader but shorter tail.
114. To the south is Ethiopia, with lots of gold, elephants, trees. The people are tall, long-lived & handsome.
115. In the extreme parts of Europe are the Tin Islands. I don’t know anyone who’s been there but that’s where all our tin & amber come from.
116. In the Northern parts of Europe, they have lots of gold & stories say a one-eyed monster stole it. It’s true that extreme places make rare & beautiful things.
117. The Asian plain is surrounded by a mountain range with 5 openings. The River Aces flows by it. The Persian kings conquered the region but its Great Kings controlled all passages in & out. He blocked up the river flooding the plain. Local tribes no longer had a source of water & begged the king for help.
118. Of the 7 nobles that rose up against the Magus, only Intaphernes died soon afterward because of an act of insolence. He burst in on the king unannounced, as was allowed according to their agreement, but the king was with his wife. The guards said the king was with his king. Intaphernes didn’t believe it. He cut off the guards’ nose & ears.
119. The guards showed the king what had happened & told him how it had happened. Darius conferred with other noble who disapproved of the action. Darius took Intaphernes, his kids & family because he suspected a revolt, & imprisoned them. Intaphernes’s wife wept by the palace gates. Darius felt bad & let her choose one of the prisoners to let free. She chose her brother because she could remarry & have other kids but not another brother. Darius allowed it & also let her have her eldest son.
126. It wouldn’t be long until Oroetes paid for his murder of Polycrates. While the Magus was on the throne, Oroetes remained in Sardis & did nothing to fix the matter. In fact, he murdered the satrap of Dascyleium & his son, both popular among the Persians. H even later killed a messenger who delivered news from Darius that he didn’t like.
127. As soon as Darius became king, he exacted revenge on Oroetes for the murders. It wasn’t a good idea to send a full force because he Oroetes had over 1000 guards. Darius devised a plan. He met with about 30 Persian chiefs. He asked who would do the deed.
128. They drew lots & the job fell to Bagaeus. Bagaeus had many letters written up to deliver sealed with the king’s signet. He went to Sardis to meet Oroetes. He gave one letter at a time to feel out the secretary & the guards. The letters tested their loyalty to the Persian king or to Oroetes. When he saw that the guards showed loyalty to the king, he read them a letter telling them not to guard Oroetes. The soldiers obeyed, allowing Bagaeus to give the secretary the letter telling all loyal Persians to kille Oroetes. The guards did so on the spot.
129. The treasures of Oroetes were delivered to Darius. Seeing them, he jumped out of his saddle & sprained his ankle. The Egyptian doctors made it even worse. He had heard of a Greek named Democêdes, up until recently a slave of Oroetes & had him brought to him.
130. Darius asked him if he knew medicine. He said “No.” Darius knew he was lying & had the guards bring out the whips. Democêdes said he only knew a little. He treated Darius with Greek techniques, much gentler than the Egyptians did. Eventually Darius was able to sleep & shortly after he was back to normal. He was given 2 golden slave chains as a “thank you”. Darius’s wives showered Democêdes with gold.
131. Democêdes became the royal doctor. He had become Polycrates’s doctor earlier. He was from Crotona – a Greek colony in Italy. His father was abusive, so he left to Egina & within a year, he became the best doctor of the area, even without instruments. The State of Egina hired him. The he went to Athens & then on to Samos.
132. Democêdes had a very nice life. He ate regularly with the King. He had everything he wanted except the ability to go home. Because he had cured the king, nobody was higher in Darius’s eyes.
133. In time, Darius’s wife, Atossa, had a boil on her chest that burst & spread. She tried to hide it but it became so unbearable that she sent for Democêdes. He said he would fix it so long as she granted him one wish.
134. He cured the abscess & she heard his request & then spoke to Darius one night. She said to him that he ought to do something for the Persians to show them what a great man he was. The Persians needed war to keep them busy & loyal to authority.
135. She told Darius everything Democêdes asked her to. Darius agreed & picked Scythia as a good place to start. She said Scythia could be conquered at any time. She wanted Greek lady servants. Plus, Darius already had a Greek in his employ who could tell him what he needed to know. Darius said – “Ok. We’ll send some Persians out to spy & come back with a report to plan the war.” He summoned 15 Persians to take Democêdes. They weren’t to let him run off. He was made to swear to come back to Persia. He was to take presents to his family & Darius promised him lots of money once he came back. I don’t think Darius had any tricks up his sleeve but Democêdes was suspicious & was reluctant to accept, but eventually did.
136. They went down to Phoenicia, to Sidon. They had 2 triremes & a trading vessel to haul around all the money they’d spend on the trip. They hugged the shoreline & took notes. They went all the way to Tarentum in Italy. The king there, Aristophilides, in favor of Democêdes, detained the Persians long enough to let him get away to Crotona. After Democêdes was gone, the king let them free.
137. The Persians went to Crotona, where they found Democêdes in a marketplace. Some locals tried to stop them. The Persians threatened them with the power of Darius. But the Crotoniats ignored them, rescued Democêdes & took their trading ship. The Persians stopped their recon mission & prepared to go back to Asia. As they left, Democêdes begged them to tell Darius that the daughter of Milos, the wrestler, was his fiancée. Democêdes paid a large amount of money to make sure the marriage would happen.
138. The Persians left Crotona but were shipwrecked in Iapygia & enslaved. They were rescued by a banished Tarantine who took them back to Darius. Darius offered him a large sum of money, but the man just wanted to be restored to his home. It was too much to send forces to Italy to make it happen, so Darius asked the Cnidians if they could persuade the Tarantines. They couldn’t.
139. Afterwards, Darius besieged & conquered Samos – his first conquest as king. The reason for this was because when Cambyses invaded Egypt, large numbers of Greeks went down there either trying to join the Persian army or sell their wares to the Persians. Syloson, Polycrates’s exiled brother, went down there. One day, he was walking around in a red cloak in the Memphis marketplace. Darius, Cambyses’s bodyguard, saw it & offered to buy it off him. Syloson refused to sell it but just gave it to him instead.
140. Syloson felt like he’d been had. Many years later, Syloson learned that the man he’d given the cloak to was now the Persian king. So, he went all the way to the king’s palace, claiming to be the King’s benefactor. Darius didn’t think he had Greek benefactors. Syloson repeated the story of the cloak in Memphis. Darius exclaimed how generous that was & would give him gold for the act. But Syloson only wanted the throne of his homeland, Samos. When Oroetes took over, he gave the throne to a slave from the household of Syloson & Polycrates.
141. Darius sent an army with Otanes to deliver Samos to Syloson.
150. Meanwhile, the Babylonians were revolting. They had started during the reign of the Magus. They knew a siege would come one day, so they prepared for it. Other than mothers, men could choose to save one woman each & the rest were strangled to have fewer mouths to feed who did not participate in the army. The surviving women were made to make bread.
151. When news reached Darius, he had his army march down there & law siege to the city. The Babylonians weren’t bothered, they had plenty of food.
152. After a year & 7 months, Darius & the army were out of ideas.
153. Zapyrus, son of Megabyzus (one of the 7 nobles), had a prophetic occurrence of birth of a mule foal. This was a sign that they’d win.
154. Darius really wanted a win. Zapyrus cut off his ears & nose, shaved his head & had himself whipped. Then he went to Darius.
155. Darius was upset. But when Zapyrus said it was to get the Babylonians to surrender, he was very confused. Zapyrus couldn’t have presented the idea without doing all the damage ahead of time because Darius would never have agreed to it. He was going to present himself to the Babylonians as a victim of Darius. They’d let him in & he’d ask for command of some troops. Darius would allow him to defeat forces so Zapyrus would win their confidence. Eventually he’d have control over the gates & when the time was right, he’d let the Persians into the city.
156. He presented himself to the Babylonian magistrates. They loved the idea of having a Persian to defeat Darius. He also knew how the Persians thought.
157. He asked for the command of troops. 10 days later, he slaughtered 1000 Persians in a fake battle. Babylonians began to trust him. Later he killed 2000 Persians & even later, he killed 4000 Persians. They gave him control of the city gates.
158. During a Persian attack, Zapyrus opened the gates to let the Persians in. Most Babylonian soldiers were either killed or ran off.
159. Darius had the wall destroyed & crucified 3000 Babylonians as an example. He also encouraged people to move there after the Babylonians had killed so many of their own women.
160. Zapyus, afterwards, was seen as a Persian hero. He had an enormous salary & was governor-for-life of Babylon.