Herodotus – The Histories, Book 4, “Melpomene” [83-144] – Darius’s Campaign against the Scythians

Herodotus – The Histories, Book 4, “Melpomene” [83-144] – Darius’s Campaign against the Scythians


83. Darius began preparations for his invasion of the Scythians. He put out orders to get troops, ships & supplies to build a bridge across the Thracian Bosphorous. Ardabanus, his brother, tried to convince him not to invade Scythia but Darius wouldn’t be persuaded otherwise. They left Susa.
84. A Persian, Oebazus, had 3 sons due to go with the army. He asked Darius if just one could stay back with him. Darius all 3 would remain in Persia – he had all 3 brought out & killed in front of the man. They would not be going on the trip.
85. Darius marched through the area of the Chalcedon on the shores of the Bosphorous. He sailed to the Cyanean islands & surveyed the area. They put up a bridge to cross the strait from Asia into Europe – 120 furlongs (15 miles) from the Euxine to the Propontis.
86. They measured out the distances by the general distance a boat can do – 70000 fathoms (79.5 miles) in the day & 60000 fathoms in the night (68.2 miles).
87. After Darius’s survey, he went back to the bridge built by Madrocles, a Samian. They built 2 pillars describing the purpose of the bridge written in Greek & Assyrian. The army had 700000 men, 600 ships in the navy. The pillars were later taken down. The actual location of the bridge was halfway between the city of Byzantium & the temple at the mouth of the strait.
88. Darius was so pleased with the bridge that he showered him with 10x the normal amount presents big tasks usually merit. He had a painting made of him sent down to the temple to Hera in Samos, Mandrocles’s homeland.
89. Darius was now in Europe & ordered the Ionians to sail up to the mouth of the Ister River to build him a bridge there & wait for the army to arrive. It took them 2 days to sail there & they built the bridge. With the army now completely in Thrace, they marched to the Tearus River & stayed for 3 days.
90. They say that the water from the Tear us can heal scabs. It has 38 sources. It’s a tributary of the Contadesdus, which goes into the Agrianes, which goes into the Hebrus, which empties into the sea near the city of Aenus.
91. Darius like the Tearus so much that he put up another pillar describing how beautiful the area was & that “Darius wuz here”.
92. They moved up to the Artiscus River in the area of the Odrysians. He found a spot where he had each soldier throw a stone in the river as he passed to leave behind several mounds in the river.
93. The first group the Persians subdued was the Getae who believe they are immortal. Despite that notion, the Persians defeated them & enslaved them. The Thracians of Salmydessus gave up without a fight & spared. But the Getae were force to join the Persian army on its march.
94. The Getae believe they don’t really die but go off to Zalmaxis. Every 5 years, they choose a messenger to send to Zalmaxis. They tie his hands & feet, & swing him around in the air. If he lands on the points of nearby weapons & dies, the God is smiling on them. If he doesn’t die, they conclude that the man is wicked. The messages are given to him while he’s alive. When it thunders or lightnings, they shoot arrows at the sky & curse the god.
95. Greeks say that Zalmaxis was a man who got rich in Samos and took all his money back home. He saw how all the people there were ignorant & made himself a house to inform the local lords of the wonders of knowledge. He built an underground chamber & disappeared for 3 years. Afterwards, he sprouted up from the room, making them believe all his talk of immortality.
96. I never fully believed or disbelieved the story. But the Getae did. Now they have become Persian slaves.
97. When Darius arrived at the Ister, he ordered troops to cross & then the Ionians were to break the bridge up & follow him on foot. Coës, the Mytilenaean general, told him it was a bad idea because the Scythians had no cities. While he believed that they’d ultimately win, they ought to be prepared for the worst – a loss or getting lost. Plus it was already built. Darius thanked him for the wisdom & changed his mind about building the bridge.
98. The king took a thin strip of leather & tied 60 knots on it. He told the Ionians to untie a knot each day the army was gone. If they weren’t back in 60 days, the Ionians were free to go home. Until then, they were to stay there & guard the bridge.
99. Before Scythia is Thrace. Once you cross the Ister, you get to a city, Carcinitis, & mountains projecting into the Pontis – all inhabited by the Tauri.
100. The Scythians had the territory above the Tauri, west of the Cimmerian Bosphorus & the Palus Maeotis. The tribes enclosing the area are: Agathyrsi, Neuri, Androphagi, Melanchlaeani.
101. Scythia is square shaped, with 2 sides on the sea. It’s 10 days from the Ister to the Borysthenes & 10 more to the Palus Maeotis. The Melanchlaeni live 20 days to the north. A day’s journey is 200 furlongs (25 miles)
102. The Scythians weren’t strong enough to fight the Persians on their own. So, they enlisted the help of neighbors – Tauri, Agathyrsi, Neuri, Androphagi, Melanchlaeni, Gelôni, Budini & Sauromatae.
103. The Tauri sacrifice all shipwrecked people or Greeks forced into their ports due to bad weather. Their sacrifices start by bonking the victim on the head & throwing the body over a cliff. They take the head & nail it to a cross & place it by the temple. Some say they bury the bod. The goddess they do this for is Iphigenia – Agamemnon’s daughter. Prisoners of war are decapitated & their heads are put on poles & put on roofs or chimneys for protection.
104. The Agathyrsi wore gold on everything & had wives in common to prevent jealousy.
105. The Neuri were like the Scythians. They ran off from their usual territory because of a snake problem. They stayed with the Budini until it passed. They say the Neuri become werewolves for a few days out of the year.
106. The Androphagi have no sense of justice or law. They are nomads who dress like Scythians but have their own language. They are cannibals.
107. The Melanchlaeni were black robes & have Scythian customs.
108. The Budini are very large. They all have blue eyes & red hair. Their city is called Gelônus which is surrounded by a large 30 furlong long wall made of wood. Their temples & house are also of wood. They celebrate a festival every 3 years to the Greek god, Bacchus. The Gelôni are said to have been previously Greeks. Their language is half Greek & half Scythian.
109. The Budini don’t speak the same language as the Gelôni & have different ways of living. They are the aboriginals of the land & are nomads. They eat lice. The Gelôni are farmers, eat bread, have gardens & look different to the Budini. However the Greeks lump both of them together.
110. The Sauromatae are the result of the Greek battle of Thermôdon with the Amazons. They took 3 boats full of prisoners, who mutinied. However, they had no idea how to sail & drifted to the shores of the Palus Maeotis at the Cremni (“The Cliffs”). They took horses from the locals & plundered Scythia.
111. The Scythians thought they were all young men & looked at them after the battle, realizing they were all women. They sent their youngest men to the area where the Amazons lived. When the Amazons approached, the men withdrew. Then when the Amazons stopped, the young men approached.
112. The Amazons realized that the men didn’t mean them any harm & told the Scythians they lived the same lives, so the 2 ought to join up to hunt & pillage.
113. An incident brought them together. A man caught the eye of a woman, who made signs that he ought to bring a friend back to where they were & she’d bring a friend of hers. The rest of the youths heard about this & both sides became very friendly.
114. The 2 camps joined up to live as husbands & wives. The women learned the Scythian language. The men said they didn’t want to wander around anymore. They all had nice inheritances coming their way & wanted to go home. The Amazons didn’t want to leave the life they had been living because they’d have to be super-feminine like the Scythian women. They proposed that the men go get their inheritances & come back.
115. The men went, got their inheritances, & came back like was planned. The women, however, were ashamed by all the ravaging they’d been doing & by tearing the men from their families. They wanted to leave the area & start over beyond the Tanais River. So, they all left.
116. Crossing the Tanais, they went east for 3 days & then 3 days to the north from Palus Maeotis where they live today. The women of the Sauromatae still have their old customs, hunting & wearing men’s clothes.
117. The Sauromatae speak Scythian with an accent because the Amazonians never learned it properly. Their laws say no girl can marry until she has killed a man in battle. Sometimes women die unmarried because of this.
118. The Scythians assembled to talk with their neighbors & allies. The Persians had conquered Egypt, Asia & now Thrace. They were the next target. They ought to leave, make peace with the invaders or prepare to fight.
119. The leaders deliberated & were divided. The Gelôni, Budini & Saumormatae agreed & offered to help the Scythians. The Agathyrsians, Neuri, Androphagi, Melanchlaei & Tauri blamed the Scythians for agitating the Persians in the first place. They would stay at home during the fighting.
120. The allies decided that they would not engage the Persians openly in battle. They would take their herds away & deny the Persians the opportunity to forage. They divided into 3 parts that would act to bait the Persians into following them into ambushes. When the Persians approached any army, they would cause them to chase them until they got to another zone where another of the 3 armies would do the same thing…
121. The Scythians went out to meet Darius. The wagons of women & children left early.
122. Scythian scouts found the Persians 3 days from the Ister & led them from one day in front. The Scythians destroyed anything the Persians might use for provisions. The Scythians led the Persians into the territory of the Sauromatae & the Budini.
123. The Persians found nothing they could use or destroy. In the Budini region, they found wooden fortresses deserted by their inhabitants. The Persians burnt these to the ground & pursued the Scythians into Budini territory but other than retreating Scythians, they found no one to fight & nothing to take.
124. When the Persians reached the desert, Darius paused. He built forts & continued to chase the Scythians. When he went back to the forts, they were gone. He went west.
125. The Persians sped up & ran into 2 divisions of the Scythian army, who instantly ran away according to their original plan. Again, the Scythians led the Persians into territories, even ones who didn’t want to fight – Melanchlaeni, Androphagi, Neuri, Agathyrsi. Some of these tribes panicked in seeing 2 armies marching nearby. The Agathyrsi forbade the Scythians to enter. They went into Neuri territory.
126. This chase went on. Darius sent a messenger to the Scythian king. Idanthyrsus – “Why do you keep running away? Let’s fight. You must realize how much stronger we are than you. Come & meet me.”
127. The King answered that this was the Scythian way of life. If Darius needed to fight, he ought to dug up old Scythian graves & fight those men. The living army would continue. No tributes, go away!
128. When Scythians heard Persians threaten slavery, they called the Sauromatae to join. They also wanted to talk to the Ionians – still positioned at the Ister Bridge. Now the Scythians decided not to run away but to attack the Persians during their meals. This strategy worked. They also attacked at night.
129. One thing going for Persia was that the Scythian horses weren’t used to braying mules causing them to panic whenever they heard them.
130. The Scythians left out some cattle to encourage the Persians to continue chasing around the Scythian countryside. They wanted the Persian to take them.
131. They did this a few times, driving Darius crazy. The Scythians sent a messenger with presents to the king – a bird, a mouse, a frog & 5 arrows. The Persians sat around wondering what the meaning behind these gifts were.
132. Darius thought it was a form of surrender. Gobyras figured it was saying that unless you turn into birds & fly away, turn into mice & burrow into the ground, turn into frogs & hid in the swamps, you will die from our arrows.
133. The Scythians left to guard the Palus Maeotis were now sent to talk to Ionians to offer them freedom. They secured a positive response from Ionians & the Scythians went back to their post.
134. After sending the gifts to Darius, the Scythians set up for battle. As both sides lined up, a hare ran in the middle of the 2 sides, causing some Scythians to chase it. Darius was angry that they’d rather hunt hares than fight us. Gobyras advised they should make like they were leaving in the middle of the night & get out of there before the bridge on the Ister was destroyed.
135. Darius agreed, leaving sick soldiers behind. He also left asses there to make noise to give the appearance that the army was still there, while most of the army moved south.
136. The men left behind spoke to the Scythians. The Scythians joined forces with the Sauromatae, Budini & Gelôni while the Persians moved on. The Persians had no idea where they were going. The armies missed each other. The Scythians were waiting at the Ister Bridge. They spoke to the Ionians saying it was a bad idea to stick around. We only want to repel Persian invasion. They ought to stay out of it.
137. Most Ionians wanted to leave but Histiaeus told them they only held their power because Darius allowed them to do so. The Ionians changed their minds.
138. Men from all over the Greek & Ionian world voted on it.
139. They wanted to be seen by the Scythians to be doing something & still stop the Scythians from crossing the Ister Bridge, they broke up the half of the bridge on the Scythian side, a bowshot’s distance from the shore. They told the Scythians they were breaking up the bridge to get their own freedom.
140. The Scythians believed the Ionians & went off to find the Persians. The Persians did their best to stay on track toward the Ister Bridge. When they arrived the found the bridge broken.
141. Darius had a loud-mouthed Egyptian to stand & the banks to call the Ionians to use their fleet to transport the army across the army.
142. The Persians got out of Scythia while the Scythians were looking for them. They say Scythians are the most loyal slaves but the most treacherous freemen.
143. Darius went through Thrace into Sestos, crossing back into Asia, with Megabazus to command the European side. Darius said he wished that he had as many men like Megabazus as a pomegranate had seeds.
144. While staying in Byzantium, he remarked that the Chalcedonians must have been blind to build their city where they did when the area where Byzantium was was available at the time.

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