Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO final thoughts

So, wow!  Clio sure was something, huh guy?  It starts off with Herodotus’s extremely digressive story of Croesus, King of the Lydians, and how he invented “invading Hellenic territory” as a practice.  Then it moves into Herodotus’s extremely digressive account of the life of Cyrus the Persian, from his improbable childhood to his disgusting death.  Along the way Herodotus stops many times to fill us in on important details about temple prostitutes, Athenian politics, and how much the Massagetai liked milk.  Plus multiple accounts of cannibalism!

Neither of the two main characters, Croesus and Cyrus, came across as sympathetic.  I’d like to root for Croesus, I would!  But even aside from the misogynistic rant with which he exits Clio, Croesus as hero is problematic.  He had that odd dialogue with Tellos about the happiest man, wherein Croesus came across as crass and insecure.  He ignored all the warning signs at sent Adrastos the cursed royal fratricide off hunting with his son.  He had another son whom he just ignored his whole life, because he was mute.  He decided to invade Syria for basically no reason, after bribing an endless line of priests and ignoring all the warning signs again.  Then he half-invaded Pteria, turned around, and was shocked when Cyrus’s army followed him back to Sardis and conquered Lydia.  He didn’t plan things through!  He was like the Gob Bluth of Clio.

After Cyrus captured him Croesus suddenly shifted from being a king who made poor choices into being an advisor who was manifestly smarter than all of Cyrus’s other advisors. It’s a bit of character development I don’t find terribly plausible, but the world-weary and wise Croesus definitely improved on the reckless and overconfident Croesus… at least up until the bit at the end where Croesus asserted Cyrus shouldn’t fulfill Tomyris’s wishes because she was a woman and women were garbage.

Of Cyrus goes along with that, which costs him some points in my eyes, too.  Cyrus’s motivations for the conquests he carried out weren’t explored, and in fact I’d say we don’t get as good a sense of who Cyrus is, compared to Croesus.  He’s apparently a very bratty kid, and he passively follows Harpagos’s lead until such time as Harpagos vanishes from the narrative (nice one there, Herodotus).  But other than that he’s a blank slate, through his conquests of Lydia and Babylon and his final ill-fated Massagetai campaign.

One last note: Herodotus seems very credulous when it comes to fanciful explanations of irrigation systems.  “Oh, Cyrus the Persian had his army dig those irrigation canals, because he was angry at the river.”  “Oh, Queen Nitocris laid out those oxbows for defense against brown-water naval assault.”  “Oh, if you’re married among the Massagetai you can just grab another man’s wife and take her, no questions asked!”  That last one isn’t about irrigation, but still.  C’mon.

After the first book of the Histories, Clio, Herodotus continues on with Euterpe.  Euterpe, the second of the muses!  Euterpe Well-Wisher!  The Giver of Delight!  Inventor of the double-flute and a big pile of other musical instruments as well!  Euterpe who granted us the art of the dialectic; she taught us to love to learn.  Learn, and laugh, and love along with Euterpe, because the second book of the Histories is where it gets weird.

Taking Friday off for Thanksgiving; Euterpe begins on Monday.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 29

In the morning Operation SITTING DUCK sprang into action!  In what I consider a totally blown opportunity for a stunning ironic reversal, Croesus’s plan worked perfectly!  Remember, Croesus told Cyrus to basically let his army get outflanked in unknown territory by an army fighting on its home turf.  Somehow that worked out for them.  About a third of Tomyris’s army, led by her son Spargapises, swang around Cyrus.  As soon as they saw those sundae bars and martini stations, they gorge and drank and passed out drunk or high.

Cyrus turned back and his soldiers just mopped up, murdering some of the Massagetai while they slept it off.  A little over half Spargapises’s expeditionary force was captured, including Spargapises himself.  The rest were killed.

The next morning a Massagetai messenger delivered another diplomatic missive to Cyrus from Tomyris.

“Dear Jerk,” she wrote.  “I bet you’re real pleased with yourself.  Well, you shouldn’t be!  Be not elated with pride by this which has come to pass, namely because with that fruit of the vine, by which I mean liquor, you and all your Persian jerk friends have been poisoning yourselves for years.  Us Massagetai don’t drink, and you’re wicked for drinking.  If it had been a fair fight my Spargy would have kicked you back to Babylon.  Nevertheless, you jerk, I’m going to give you a chance to redeem yourself.  Return my son, let all your prisoners go, agree not to return, and leave.  You get to tell people that you beat a third of the Massagetai army, and since the Massagetai army will no doubt be sung of three thousand years from now, that’s not nothing!  ‘As tough as a Massagetai warrior,’ that’s how the expression will go.  Future historians will know all kinds of things about our culture, and there definitely won’t be a total lack of consensus on exactly who we were and where we lived and how populous our nation was and the only thing anybody’s really sure of is that we liked milk!

“But if you don’t let my son go and then leave, then I swear by all that is holy (probably we worship the Sun?  That’s just the kind of thing future historians will be totally clear on, our religious practices) that I will drown you in the blood of your soldiers.  Love, Tomyris.  PS you’re still a jerk.”

“Feh,” said Cyrus.  “Go wake up Spargapises, if he’s still out.  Tell him that his mother tried to ransom him but forgot to offer any money.”

One of Cyrus’s men headed over to Spargapises in his makeshift tiger cage, and prodded the poor hungover Massagetai prince until he woke up.

“Where am I?”

“Cyrus’s camp.  We totally captured you while you were passed out.  Also you aren’t getting released.”

“Screw that!” cried Spargapises, and killed himself as soon as someone let him out of his manacles so he could reach his own throat.

Then, long story short, Tomyris slaughtered Cyrus and all his men in what Herodotus calls the fiercest of all the battles fought by Barbarians.  Afterwards Tomyris was pissed because Cyrus died of multiple stab wounds, not of drowning in the blood of his own soldiers like she’d promised.  So she went out and filled a wineskin with blood she drained from dead Persian soldiers, found Cyrus’s shattered corpse on the battlefield, and forced the blood into his lungs.  “My son is dead because of you!” she shouted, then dropped a deuce on Cyrus’s face before departing the Histories forever.

The moral of this story is DO NOT F**K WITH TOMYRIS QUEEN OF THE MASSAGETAI.  Forunately it’s a moral the rest of history seems to have learned, because no one ever screwed with the Massagetai afterwards. As far as we know at least.

What with Cyrus dead, we’re wrapping up Clio.  It’s pretty tonally jarring, but before we move on to Euterpe Herodotus wants to lay some QUICK MASSAGETAI FACTOIDS down for us.

1) The Massagetai were kind of like the Scythians!  Except they were different.  They used horses and axes and bronze, which are qualities worth mentioning for some reason.

2) The Massagetai had marriage, but they did it differently!  When a Massagetai man married a woman, that woman became the wife of all the married Massagetai; all the married women belonged to all the married men, as a group.  If a man wanted one he just grabbed her for for a while.  Herodotus’s source for this was definitely not some horny teenager.

3) When a Massagetai got old (no particular age, just generically old, it varied from person to person) their family got together and held a feast in which they they honored and also ate the old person. (CANNIBALISM REFERENCE #3!)

4) When a Massagetai died of disease, they didn’t get eaten, they got buried instead.

5) They really liked milk.

6) And maybe they were into Sun-worship and sacrificed horses to the sun on the grounds that horses are fast and the sun moves quickly across the sky?

7) Milk, though, definitely.  They were crazy for milk.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 28

Short one today.

So Cyrus hands over Croesus, his prisoner-vizier, to his son.  His son is Cambyses, about whom we’ll have a fair bit to say, but not for a while.

“Go rule the Persian Empire until I get back, all right son?  And listen to Croesus!” Cyrus waggled his paternal finger, Polonius style. “Although of course Operation SITTING DUCK will go off smoothly I have no doubt. I’ll be done subduing the Massagetai and their so-called queen before the end of the month.”

The first night over on the other side of the river, while they were still setting Operation SITTING DUCK up, Cyrus got some shut-eye and had a terrible dream.  He dreamed that one of his generals, Hystaspes, had a son who was a giant winged monster and rampaged Mothra-style across the civilized world!

When he woke up he called for Hystaspes.  “Hystaspes,” he said, “I had a dream where you Mothra’s father.”

Hystaspes nodded, slowly.  “Okay, sire.”

“It kind of freaked me out.”

Hystapes held up his hands in mock surrender.  “You got me!  I’m Mothra’s father!”  He laughed, in hopes of breaking the tension, but it was a hollow laugh because Cyrus just glared at him.

“The dream was a metaphor, you idiot.  It means your son Dareios is planning to rebel against me.”

Hystapes was nonplussed.  “I don’t think that follows.  My son is… heck, my whole family!  We’re all of us completely loyal to you!”

“I wish I could believe that.  I really do.  But I had this dream, so, you know.”

“I am absolutely certain my son is not plotting against you.”

“Don’t care what you think.  Go to Babylon and check in on him.”

“Okay then.” Hystapes knew better than to argue when Cyrus got like this.  “He’ll be fine, you’ll see.  If he is treasonous I’ll execute him myself,” he added over his shoulder as he turned to walk away.  “But he won’t be treasonous.  I promise!”

“Whatever,” grumbled Cyrus.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 27

Having conquered the crazy rich, awesome city-state of Babylon, Cyrus’s next move was to march his army up towards the Black Sea and fight the Massagetai.  The Massagetai were some people, who were in a place.  They liked milk.  It’s not important.  There was a river and they were on the far side of it, that’s all you need to know.

What is maybe important is that their ruler was another ruling queen, a widow named Tomyris.  At first Cyrus tried for a political marriage, which I would think would have to be a pretty big deal.  And Cyrus had just conquered Babylon, so I would think it would have had to have been a pretty sweet deal, too.  However Tomyris wasn’t having any of it; she was not into Cyrus at all.  Talks broke down almost immediately.

Cyrus hit on a two-step plan:  first, pontoon bridge across the river.  Second, army marches across river and conquers Massagetai.

However as he was setting this plan into motion, Tomyris sent him one last angry diplomatic missive. “Dear Jerk,” she wrote.  “I see what you’re doing with your stupid pontoon bridge!  Just so you know I’ve evacuated the area on my side of the river, going like forty miles back, because I don’t want to fight you on my side of the river.  If you’re not too much of a jerk, pull your army back away from the river.  Then I’ll cross the river with my army, and we can fight and finally settle this.  Or are you too much of a jerk?  Love, Tomyris.  PS you’re a jerk.”

“Sounds reasonable,” said Cyrus.  “Can’t think of a reason not to let my enemy dictate the terms of our coming battle!”

Croesus was also there, but don’t worry, this is pretty much Croesus’s last scene.  He alone among Cyrus’s advisors was willing to point out the flaws in Cyrus’s thinking, which given that he was Cyrus’s prisoner/slave/vizier was kind of crazy.  “Listen, Cyrus.  If you defeat her in battle it doesn’t really matter where you do it.  But if you lose, it does matter.  Lose to her on the far side of the river and we can retreat back across the river.  Lose to her on this side of the river and us retreating means the Massagetai get to rampage around and loot this nebulous countryside.”

“Makes sense,” mused Cyrus.

“Also you may not have noticed by Tomyris is a woman.  If she wants you to do a thing, you should do the opposite!  That’s the manly way!”  Croesus accentuated his point by pounding his fist, almost knocking loose his fedora, he was so worked up.

“Heh, women.”  Cyrus shook his head.  “They’re basically terrible, am I right?”

“So first you march over the river,” suggested Croesus. “Then you make camp and you leave out all of the liquor and red meat and I don’t know, do we have any opium?  In the morning you abandon camp but, whoops, you forgot to pack all your opium back up. There’s the sundae bar, still ready to go!”

“I don’t get where you’re going with this.”

“You push further into Massagetai territory.  Tomyris’s army will circle around you to ambush you, but when they see all the hamburgers and scotch and heroin, they’re freak out because they don’t have any of that stuff.  The whole army will collapse into a big orgy of steak-eating and vodka-swilling and hot fudge sundaes.  Then you mop ‘em up, no trouble!”

“I like this plan!  Especially the part where I deliberately lead my army into an ambush.  So we’ll do it, then.  I’m going to lead my army over the river into Massagetai territory in what we’ll call Operation SITTING DUCK.  That’s an ironic name because no way are we going to get ambushed.  It’s them who will be the sitting ducks! This is a woman we’re talking about, after all!”

(See, Cyrus dies at the end of Clio, so I’m making him cartoonishly unlikable such that you won’t feel bad when that happens.  You’re welcome!  Also, spoilers.)

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 26

As I hinted before, Cyrus invaded Babylon through careful application of a clever trick.  Back in Nitocris’s time, when she was doing all of her earthworking and wallmaking, she diverted the Euphrates river (which ran right through/under Babylon, in a special channel Nitocris had dug for it) into an artificial wetland.  Cyrus simply reused her river-diverting system, which caused the water level in the Euphrates to drop until it was low enough that an army could wade down it into the city.

You might think that Nitocris might have thought of this, and that the Babylonians would therefore have grates and locks and stuff, blocking the Persians from invading.  They did in fact have such grates!  However everyone in the city was drunk on the traditional Wall Appreciation Nog, so they weren’t paying attention.  No one noticed when the river dried up, until the riverbed was just choked with Persian soldiers.

So Cyrus conquered Babylon.  He didn’t stick around, though; he put some guy in charge and rode off to make more war on a whole different group of people.  We’ll get to that in a bit.  Right now Herodotus has some FAST BABYLON FACTOIDS to lay on us!

1) In Babylon people were crazy rich!  Babylonian taxes paid for literally one third of the Persian Empire’s military budget!

2) In Babylon the land was crazy dry but they had a lot of irrigation.  Ditches and things.  It would take a scientist to explain, says Herodotus.  Just trust him on this one.

3) In Babylon the land was also crazy fertile thanks to all those ditches and whatnot.  Sesame, barley, wheat, dates, if it’s a grain you could get it in Babylon.

4) In Babylon they had this crazy awesome portage system.  Cargo went downstream on these light leather barges, which Herodotus describes pretty vaguely.  The awesome part is that once the workers had taken their cargo downstream and sold it, they disassembled their barges and loaded the leather and frames onto donkeys, and walked back home.  Herodotus thinks this was awesome.

5) In Babylon if you got sick, you’d go down to the market and chill.  Passersby would diagnose you, amateur-style, and you’d medicate based on the consensus.

6) In Babylon when that didn’t work out and you died, they entombed you by burying you in honey.

7) In Babylon some folks ate a lot of fish that they dried in the sun.  Less interesting, sure, but more probable than some of these supposed facts.

8) Like, for instance, in Babylon every spring they’d gather up all the single girls of marriageable age in each village.  They’d sort the girls in order of prettiness, and auction them off.  Pretty girls were expensive, ugly girls sometimes had to be attached to cash-prize dowries to get someone to take them.

9) But women weren’t treated entirely like livestock, in Babylon!  If you bought a girl and married her and she hated you, she could leave you, although you would be entitled to a full refund.

10) Actually by Herodotus’s time they’d stopped with the woman-auctioning thing, and just had prostitutes like everybody else.

11) Speaking of prostitutes, in Babylon every single woman had to go to the temple of Aphrodite and be a prostitute!  For one night, at least.  This was mandatory; you weren’t allowed out until someone had paid for sex with you.  Rich women would do it, just as though they were dirty poors, and bring servants and luxury goods in with them.  Women who couldn’t get a man to sleep with them for money would be stuck in the temple; some ended up staying for years.

I have no idea how Factoid #8 and Factoid #11 are supposed to be compatible.  Maybe the system in #11 replaced the one in #8, which Herodotus called out as archaic.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 25

On the way to Babylon Cyrus and his army crossed a river, the Gyndes.  One of Cyrus’s favorite horses drowned in an accident, and supposedly Cyrus was so angry at that mean ol’ river that he paused his march on Babylon, ordering his troops to spend several months digging what sound suspiciously like irrigation channels.  Herodotus, though, claims they were for river punishment.

Anyway, Babylon.  Funny story about Babylon.  It had all of these crazy-go-nuts walls and defenses and maybe you think that Herodotus is blowing smoke, well, he isn’t but he doesn’t have to prove anything to you, it’s his book, and anyway once upon a time (a generation before Cyrus’s invasion) Babylon was ruled by this queen, Nitocris, who was the first ruling queen that Herotodus has mentioned so far.  She was apparently very cunning and far-thinking and dedicated to her city’s defense.  For instance, she had the river channeled into a winding path with a lot of oxbows, such that if someone invaded Babylon by the river, she would be able to play it like a tower defense game, arrows from a single central point raining down on the hapless invaders as they passed close by the tower once, twice, thrice.  This is definitely why the river’s channel was laid out like this, Herodotus says.  No way was it because of irrigation or anything!

I’m starting to think Herodotus doesn’t know as much about irrigation and earthworks as he thinks he does.

Nitocris, in addition to her city defense via river, also focused on city defense via walls.  Those impossibly huge walls Herodotus was talking about in the last entry?  Nitocris created them.  She loved walls!  She was so in love with walls that when she died she had herself entombed inside the walls, over one of the eighty-eight gates we’re all going to pretend we believe existed.  She also played a funny prank on her successors: inscribed on her tomb was the assertion that it contained great riches, which had been sealed up with her body. If some future lord of Babylon broke in and stole the cash, this inscription warned, then one of two things would happen.  If the cash was needed to resolve some citywide fiscal calamity or budget shortfall, then boom, riches.  But if someone broke into the tomb just to steal the money and be rich, with no intention of using it to save the city, then that tomb-robber would be a total jackass, future king of Babylon or no future king of Babylon.

A guy who was king a generation or two after Cyrus’s invasion, Dareios, decided to go ahead and break into the tomb.  He wasn’t as wealthy as he could possibly be, he said, and wasn’t that crisis enough?  But within the tomb was nothing but Nitocris’s corpse and a short note about what kind of jackass would break into a tomb.  I guess Nitocris figured the over-under on one of her successors being a greedy jackass made it a safe bet.  Nitrocris was pretty cool.

But that wasn’t until later.  In the quasi-present of Cyrus’s invasion, Nitocris’s son Labynetos was king of Babylon.  His strategy: ignore Cyrus.  He declared it National Wall Appreciation Day, and go around teaching everyone wall carols, that was how confident he was that Cyrus would just dash himself harmlessly against those walls.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 24

Herodotus kind of loses interest in this particular narrative thread, the one about Harpagos rampaging across Anatolia and Ionia and the various refugees escaping his wrath.  He spends a little time talking about some of the other peoples Harpagos conquered, but then shifts gears and never gets back to it.

Interesting groups whose cities Harpagos sacked!

The Carians!  These guys invented putting crests on helmets!  Also shields were their idea!  Before the Carians came up with holding a shield, the state of the military art was to wear two breastplates, a close-fitting one and a loose one that you just hung around your neck.  The Carian innovation was moving the second breastplate off your neck and into your hand.

The Lykians!  The Lykians were crazy, says Herodotus.  They actually — get this, you are not going to believe it — they actually trace their ancestry through the mother!  Like, if you were to ask a Lykian whose son he was, he would say that he was so-and-so’s son, where so-and-so was some woman!  And if you pressed him further he’d add that so-and-so was the daughter of such-and-such, but such-and-such wouldn’t be a person, she’d be another woman!  “Crazy, right?” asks Herodotus.  “Their women are even allowed to own property!  Women can inherit!”

The Cnidians!  They were Spartan colonists in what’s now the Datca Peninsula, which is just south of Ionia.  The peninsula was and is about fifty miles long but very narrow, just a half-mile wide at its narrowest point; the Cnidians came up with the idea of digging a trench there.  They tried to cut themselves off from the mainland, making an island, but then the Oracle at Delphi told them to quit screwing around trying to play God.  “If Zeus had wanted Datca to be an island instead of a peninsula, then it would have already been an island,” the oracle said, except she said it in iambic trimeter.  So the Cnidians surrendered to Harpagos instead.

And the Pedasians!  The Pedasians lived up in the mountains and weren’t very interesting, except that they worshipped Athena.  Whenever a great disaster was about to befall them or their neighbors, the priestess of Athena would spontaneously grow a massive beard, Saint Wilgefortis style.  Didn’t protect them from Harpagos, though.

While Harpagos rampaged through Ionia and environs, Cyrus conquered most of the rest of the region.  His triumphant rolling over of most of Assyria doesn’t interest Herodotus, who would prefer to skip ahead to Babylon.  Eventually Cyrus came to Babylon.

“You may not believe me,” says Herodotus, “but Babylon was, like, huge.  It was walled, right?  And the walls were, like, fifteen miles on a side.  The walls were ten stories high and more than twenty feet thick, and there were, like, a hundred different gates.”

That doesn’t sound right, you might think.  The famously massive walls of Constantinople, constructed a thousand years later, give or take several centuries, were under four miles long and barely eight stories high.  But Herodotus is insistent.  “It was huge!  And Constantinople only had nine gates.  Babylon had eighteen.. I mean, eighty.  Eighty-eight!  Eighty-eight gates.  Yes.  That is exactly right.”

How could Cyrus hope to conquer such a citadel?  Answer: through a trick!

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 23

Mazares’s death left a power vacuum in Lydia, one immediately filled by none other than Harpagos, the guy who masterminded Cyrus’s rise to power and the rebellion against Cyrus’s father Astyages.  Did Harpagos murder Mazares via knife in the gut or thallium in the drinking water?  Herodotus doesn’t speculate.  But one way or another, Mazares was out and Harpagos was sitting on the still-warm throne.  He sent a quick note to Cyrus, politely informing his protege/liege that he was going to go ahead and attack Ionia, but waited for Cyrus’s go-ahead before going ahead.

Once again  in case you missed it, Ionia was a region in Turkey which was in Herodotus’s day more or less Hellenic; not part of Greece but inhabited by Greeks, right across the Aegean Sea from Greece.  Trading partners, cultural ties, blah blah blah.

Rather than screw around with Lydia or Kyme or Branchidai or Mytilene, Harpagos went right for the Ionians!  First stop, the city of Phocaia.  Harpagos marched a chunk of the Persian army to just outside the city, and lay siege.  However he didn’t besiege the back of the city, where the harbor was.  The Phocaeans pretty quickly up and departed in boats, swearing oaths to never return.

While Harpagos looted their homeland, the Phocaeans considered their options.  An oracle told them to fix up Kyrnos, but instead for some reason they sailed to Chios.  You may remember it as the city-state that had abducted Pactyas to kiss up to the Persians.  Unsurprisingly, the Chians refused to let the Phocaeans in.  “It would spoil our plans to kiss up to the Persians,” they explained.

“Fair enough,” said the Phocaeans, and sailed back to Phocaea with their heads held low.  Sad music played.

By the time they returned to Phocaea, Harpagos’s army had already looted the place pretty much out, and moved on to the next city-state.  Harpagos didn’t have a lot of troops to spare, so left only a skeletal garrison in the looted city.  The Phocaians had little trouble retaking their home, but then they were in a quandary.

“Didn’t we swear an oath never to return?” asked one.

“Shut up,” suggested another.

“No no, she’s right,” said a third.  “We should go to Kyrnos like I wanted to in the first place!”

“Screw that, I’m staying!”

And so the Phocaeans split into two groups.  Half stayed in their ancestral home, while the other half settled the island of Kyrnos.  Funny story, says Herodotus.  The folk of Kyrnos became infamous pirates, who were eventually caught and put to the sword.  By then they’d amassed a great deal of pirate loot, which went unrecovered for years until the folk of another island, Agylla, found it.  Of course, it was cursed (having belonged to pirates) but the Agyllans came up with a method to ritually purify the loot: athletic contests and horse-racing!

“That makes sense, right?” asks Herodotus.

“Of course,” we all assure him.  “It makes perfect sense.”

It turned out, actually, that the Phocaeans who became the pirates from Kyrnos had misunderstood the oracle’s instructions.  They hadn’t been supposed to settle the island of Kyrnos, says Herodotus.  They had been supposed to build a temple to the demigod Kyrnos, whom the island was named for.  Ironic trombone sound here!

Meanwhile Harpagos was rolling down the coast, sacking Ionian city-states as he went.  Teos, for instance, which was on the site of the modern-day city of Izmir, he attacked right after Phocaea, and its people responded in a very similar fashion.  They fled, they did some banditry, they settled a different island.  It wasn’t a very interesting story.  Anyway, one by one the Ionians fell or surrendered, until Harpagos controlled the whole of the Ionian mainland.  As he turned his eyes to the islands (packed with refugees from his conquests) one of the Ionians, Bias from Priene, had an idea.

“Let’s all move to Sardinia and start a band or found a city-state together!”

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 22

Cyrus didn’t want to bother with this Lydian revolt himself; he was a big powerful emperor!  He had better things to do!  Instead he put his man Mazares in charge.  “Do Croesus’s thing,” he told Mazares.  “Pass out flutes to everybody, and enslave anyone who looks at you cock-eyed.  And bring me Pactyas alive!  He’s the leader of the rebellion I’m told.”

“You got it, boss!” cried Mazares, and waved goodbye to Cyrus and Croesus and the bulk of the Persian army, as they left Lydia for Babylon.  He started on the campaign of flute-disbursement, but his capture of Pactyas was stymied when the rebel leader fled to the neighboring state of Kyme.

“I’ll get you, Pactyas!” Mazares shook his fist in irate fashion.  “But first, more flutes for everyone!”

Once the flutes were all passed out and the rebellion quelled, Mazares turned his attention to Kyme, where Pactyas was living in exile on the largesse of the city as a refugee.

“Dear Citizens of Kyme,” he wrote in a telegram, “Bring me the head of Pactyas, or face ruination.  Love, Cyrus the Persian (signed by Mazares the Mede on behalf of Cyrus).”

The citizens of Kyme were pretty nonplussed.  On the one hand, they didn’t know Pactyas from Adam, and Mazares made some good points in his threatening telegram.

“On the other hand, it feels like kind of a dick move to just kick out this guy pleading for asylum,” said Aristodicos (the most charismatic of Pactyas’s friends in Kyme).  “C’mon, guys.  Let’s let him stay here.  What’s the worst that could happen?”

“The worst that could happen is that the army of Cyrus could raze our city.”

“Okay, I admit that’s bad.  But it’s the worst-case scenario!  Maybe Cyrus would be impressed by our pluck, and then, perhaps gifts!”

Aristodicos talked the citizens of Kyme into punting the issue to a local oracle, the Oracle at Branchidai.  You probably haven’t heard of this oracle; Branchidai was basically just an off-brand Delphi.

After a quick consult the Oracle declared that Pactyas was a jerk and that Kyme would be better off without him.  “Just turn him over to Mazares already,” was the official pronouncement.

Aristodicos tried to intercept the message from the Oracle before it spread, but the word got out.  All Kyme debated the meaning of the oracle’s gnomic utterings!  Aristodicos, angry, stomped off to Branchidai and started murdering birds and smashing their nests.

“Dude!” cried the oracle’s priests.  “What the hell?”

“Apparently we’re just killing helpless innocent birds and political refugees now!” Aristodicos shouted.

“Dick!” The oracle then banned Aristodicos in particular and Kyme in general from receiving further oracular wisdom.

Herodotus doesn’t explain exactly why, but Aristodicos was desperate to keep Pactyas out of Mazares’s hands.  He arranged in secret for Pactyas to relocate from Kyme to another nearby city, Mytilene.  Everyone in Kyme breathed a sigh of relief.

But then the Mytilenes got some threatening letters from Mazares, and immediately they caved and announced that they didn’t want any trouble and that Pactyas would be turned over to the Persians post-haste.  Aristodicos then led a daring commando raid on Mytilene, in which they rescued Pactyas back from the people they’d given him to!

But then yet another city-state got in on the act: the Chians decided that they had a chance to win brownie points with the up-and-coming Persian empire, and they stole Pactyas away from Kyme again.  They sent word to Mazares that they had him, and that Mazares could collect him whenever.

All of Kyme, Mytilene, and Chios held their collective breaths waiting for Mazares’s response!  Would he be pleased, or angered?  Would the Persian army fall upon them?

Answer: neither, because Mazares abruptly died of an unspecified disease. Pactyas got off scott-free.

“Isn’t life a funny thing?” asks Herodotus.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 21

The Spartan emissaries invited themselves over to Cyrus’s, strolled right into his pancake breakfast.  No hesitation in getting the big man’s attention!  “Yo!” Finger snaps. “So you get that you’re not allowed to invade Greece, right?  Including those regions which in the future will be considered part of Turkey?”

Cyrus looked up from his pancakes, nonplussed. “I’m sorry, who are you?  Did you need more syrup, or…?” Cyrus didn’t know what to make of them, until an underling whispered a quick explanation in his ear.  “One city-state?  Really?”

The underling nodded.

Cyrus scoffed as he turned back tot he emissaries.  “What are you and your one city-state going to do to stop me?  What makes you think you can talk like that without having any military might to back it up?  You people are idiots!  You have — I’ve seen this.”  He leaned forward conspiratorially.  “You people have these places, ‘markets’ you call them…”


“Special lying-zones, right there, in your cities, for lying to one another at!  ‘Hello fellow Greek,’ he said in a mocking tone, “‘is this item you are selling fairly priced?’ ‘Yes it is, fellow Greek!’ ‘Ha ha, actually it is not! I am cheating you!’” He made some nasty hand gestures. “I mean, come on!  I’m supposed to respect that?”  Cyrus had a good long laugh about that, and kicked the Spartan emissaries out of Sardis.  “C’mon,” he told his army afterwards.  “We’re going to go invade Greece.  But first, let’s invade Babylon real quick!  Then, I don’t know, maybe I’ll hold a raffle and the winner gets to conquer Greece.  I don’t need to do it myself, place practically conquers itself.  Markets.”  He snorted derisively.

Unfortunately for Cyrus, as soon as he left Lydia, the Lydians revolted, led by this guy Pactyas, and he had to turn back around.  As he started his army back to Sardis, he pulled Croesus out of whatever portable hole he was kept in, for some advice.

“Should I just save time and murder every single Lydian, or are they eventually going to stop revolting?  I’ve got you, their king, as my prisoner, yet they continue to make trouble!  Have I inadvertently made a martyr of you, such that ‘for Croesus!’ is the war cry on every Lydian’s lips?”

“Okay, yeah, I can see how you’d consider slaughtering the entire population of Lydia,” admitted Croesus.  “But really it’s the fault of your viceroy, right?  The guy who couldn’t stop them from revolting?  Put someone else in charge.  The Lydians, you don’t want to execute them, you want to take away their weapons and give them musical instruments and the whole country will overnight become peace loving and docile.  They’ll quit their violence-gangs and start musical bands. That sounds plausible, right?  Yes.  It all hangs together.”

“Not a bad idea,” mused Cyrus, and long story short he had that done.

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