Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 18

Cyrus called for an assembly of all the Persians, and although he had no official standing of any kind, they flocked to his banner.  Once they were all together, he unfurled a freshly-forged writ and read off of it that Astyages had appointed him Head Persian in Charge.  “Now everybody mow my lawn!”

Herodotus takes a moment here to explain that Cyrus’s lawn was overgrown with thorns, extending some eighteen or twenty furlongs in each direction.  So that’s a lot to mow!  Herodotus also wants to explain that when he says ‘Persians’ he means just the main tribes, the Pasargadai, the Maraphians, and the Maspians.  The other Persian tribes, of which he rattles off a list of seven, were of no account.

The Persians mowed Cyrus’s lawn in a single day!  Then the next morning everyone got together, freshly showered, and enjoyed a feast on the newly-mowed lawn, Cyrus’s treat.

“Pretty nice spread, boss,” said the Persians.  “You’ve got wine and goat and mutton and beef and other provisions of the most agreeable kind.  Really nice picnic.”

“Which did you prefer, the picnic or the day of backbreaking labor?” asked Cyrus.

“Is this a trick question?”

It was!  Cyrus proceeded to lay bare his whole design. “Let’s rebel!  If we rebel, then it’s picnics all day every day!  If we don’t, then you’ll have to mow so many lawns!”

The Persians readily agreed to revolt, partly because of Cyrus’s picnic gambit and partly because they all hated Astyages and had been waiting for an excuse to revolt for years.

Astyages soon heard about this, and sent a messenger summoning Cyrus to court to explain himself.  The messenger came back empty-handed; Cyrus had told him that he’d be right there, he just needed to finish equipping his army first.  Panicked, Astyages mobilized his own army, and put his old lickspittle Harpagos in charge.  This was of course just what Harpagos wanted; he collected all the Medes’ spears and armor and passed out cream pies and iPhones instead.  When the Persians marched in, the Medes offered them pie and apps.  Astyages tried to draft a last-minute replacement army of youths and old men, but it didn’t work out.  Next thing you knew, Cyrus was in charge, Astyages was imprisoned, and Harpagos was outside Astyages’s prison cell, doing a little dance and gloating.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 17

Harpagos, the guy whom Astyages forced to eat his own son as punishment for not properly arranging for Cyrus’s death, eventually decided to make Cyrus the instrument of his vengeance, like you do.  Fortunately for Harpagos, Astyages was cruising for a bruising: despite being a Mede himself, the Medes in his empire felt downtrodden and oppressed.  Harpagos capitalized on this by convincing various Mede mavens and thought leaders that Cyrus the Persian, despite being only half-Mede, would be a much better emperor for the Medes than his grandfather Astyages the Ethnicity Traitor.

Step two of Harpagos’s plan to put Cyrus on the throne was to inform Cyrus of his intentions.  However Cyrus was out in the countryside and Harpagos couldn’t travel or risk sending a messenger to Cyrus, for fear of tipping off Astyages.  Instead Harpagos killed a hare and sliced it open without otherwise cleaning it.  He stuffed a message scroll into the hare’s belly, sewed it up, and wrapped it in a net.

“Take this net,” he told a servant.  “Carry it into Persia and give it to Cyrus.”

“Won’t people be suspicious, me coming from your household with a message for Cyrus?” asked the servant.

“Ah, but that’s just it!  You don’t have a message!  You just have a hare!”

“Sounds legit!”

“Be sure to tell Cyrus about the message inside the hare.  I don’t want him getting confused and thinking he should just cook and eat it.”


This then was accomplished, says Herodotus, and we shouldn’t question it.  Cut to Cyrus reading Harpagos’s note.

“Son of Cambyses, blah blah blah, take vengeance on Astyages, blah blah blah, gods are on my side, blah blah blah,” read Cyrus.  “Get the Persians to revolt, march on the Medes, and my mysterious benefactor will arrange for the Medes to defect from Astyages’s rule and come under my banner, that’s the gist of the plan.”  He considered this.  “Sounds legit!  I should do what this letter I found inside the stomach of a dead hare tells me to do, most definitely!”

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 16

Meantime Astyages had a problem: Young Cyrus.  Back when Cyrus had been born, Astyages had a terrible prophetic dream he’d interpreted as meaning that Cyrus would usurp his throne and become king.  He’d been helped in this by his magi, who prided themselves on solid dream-interpretation; they’d assured him that if his grandson wasn’t killed, then one day Cyrus would be king.  And so Astyages called in the magi to chew them out for failing to predict this latest confusion.

“Hey hey hey,” said the lead magus, sweating and tugging at his collar.  “Nothing we said has at all been contradicted by current events!  Young Cyrus is, like, the boy king of his village, even!”

Astyages was, in a word, skeptical.  “So you’re saying that because he played a king game, that invalidates your prophecy?”

“Not at all!” The magus struggled to come up with a rationale.  “See, the thing is, he’s basically been the king of his village and the boys there, right?  So that’s what we predicted, and it happened.  So we spoke, so it was!  And now definitely he’s not going to become king of anybody else, I mean, then he’d be a double-king, and how often do you see that?”

“Hmm.  I think I’m going to decide that he’s not a threat to my rule, and accept him as my grandson,” announced Astyages.  “Now, advise me, my magi!”

The magi exchanged glances.  “He’s definitely not a threat to your rule,” said one.

“You could accept him as your grandson,” suggested another.  “And you can trust us, because we’re Medes like you, not like your half-Persian grandson.”

“Wise advice indeed!  Let’s make it happen!” Astyages clapped his hands together.  “Dismissed!”

So he sent the magi away without executing any of them, and called Young Cyrus back in.  “Grandson,” he said without preamble, “I have done you very slightly wrong.  Mistakes were made. Not by me of course, but still, it happened on my watch and even though I’m not responsible, I must claim responsibility.  You’re allowed to live.  In fact, I’ll tell you who your real parents are, and send you to meet them.”

“Uh…“ Young Cyrus was somewhat at a loss for words.

“Say, ‘thank you, sire,’” suggested Astyages.

“Thank you, sire?”

“Don’t mention it!” Astyages clapped his hands together. “Dismissed!”

And so Young Cyrus traveled to Persia, where he met his father Cambyses and his mother Mandane, who were legit surprised to learn that they had a son.  It was a happy reunion, of course, marred by only one unpleasant fact.

“Your adoptive mother was named Spaca, which we say as Kyno?” asked Mandane.  “No offense, but you know what that word means, right?”

Cambyses nodded.  “I can’t go around telling all my Persian friends that my long-lost son was raised by a woman named Kyno.  They’d think I was making some kind of terrible misogynistic joke.”

“Here’s what we can do, let’s tell people you were raised by wolves,” suggested Mandane.  “Much classier!”

“Ooh, that’s good.  People will also hold his table manners to a lower standard, and be impressed by his ability to speak eloquently and walk upright!”

And so Cambyses and Mandane told people that their son had been raised by wild animals, definitely not by Mede slaves with obscene words for names, no sir.  Young Cyrus grew up into Cyrus, out in Persia, where the sky was blue and the grass was green and everything was find and dandy, an idyllic life never to be spoiled.


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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 15

Ten years passed.  Baby Cyrus grew up into Young Cyrus, a typically typical Persian village boy whose only claim to fame was that whenever all the kids in his village got together to play King & Spearmen & Laborers & Etc, Young Cyrus always insisted on playing the part of the King.  One day one of Young Cyrus’s little friends, the son of Artembares (just some guy, don’t worry about it) refused to obey Young Cyrus.

“I wanna be king!” he said.

Young Cyrus’s response came quickly.  “Usurper!  Guards, seize this would-be regicide and hold him down while I horsewhip him!”

And for whatever reason, the other boys played along.  The whipped boy then ran home and cried and complained to his parents about Young Cyrus.  “The slaveboy whose parents belong to King Astyages was mean to me!”

“Well, clearly the thing to do is to march down to the palace with Young Cyrus, holding him by the ear like you see people do, and complain to Astyages about how one of his slaves’ sons is a little shit!” cried Artembares, because that makes sense.

And of course that happened, just like so.  Herodotus observes that it would make no sense for people to be calling Young Cyrus by his official royal name, Cyrus, and so surely he had some lame slave name, but Herodotus doesn’t know what it was.

When Astyages found out that one of his (hundreds if not thousands of) slaves’ sons had arranged for the brutal whipping of another boy, naturally he dropped everything to form a special committee to investigate.  He summoned Young Cyrus’s alleged father, Mitradates, and chewed him out for having such an unruly boy who didn’t instinctively defer to his social betters the way a good slave should.

“But I was kiiiiing!” insisted Young Cyrus, who refused to accept that he’d done anything wrong.

Something about Young Cyrus’s sense of entitlement struck a chord with Astyages.  After getting rid of Artembares with some empty words, Astyages sits Mitradates down.  “This isn’t your boy, is he?”

Mitradates insisted he was, and held to that story right to the point where Astyages signaled to the Royal Torturer to bring in the Royal Torture Pliers.  Then he broke down sobbing and confessed everything.

“There, there,” said Astyages.  “You’re right to feel so bad, yes, you’re a bad slave.  But if I execute you for your sins, will you truly have learned anything?  No, for as a slave you’re incapable of learning anything.  I’m wasting my time talking to you.  Harpagos!”

Thus Astyages turned his attention abruptly to Harpagos, who admitted it was true: rather than kill Baby Cyrus as he’d promised, he turned the baby over to Mitradates and accepted an in-retrospect suspiciously fetal corpse.

“Hmm, I think I’ll have one of my trademark sudden changes of heart,” said Astyages.  “It’s good that my grandson is alive, because my daughter hasn’t spoken to me in ten years and I’ve been starting to feel a little guilty about it.”  He clapped his hands together.  “Celebratory disco party!  Young Cyrus and your son, Harpagos, shall be guests of honor!”

However Astyages was still scheming.  When Harpagos’s son showed up for his disco cake, Astyages smiled and led him back to the kitchen and then came out a little later with a big platter of meat and some clothes Harpagos’s son wasn’t going to be needing any longer.  Astyages served Harpagos a slice of this meat, and then just to make sure literally everyone understood what was happening, he also proffered Harpagos’s son’s severed head and hands and feet.  (CANNIBALISM COUNT: 2)

Because Harpagos was some kind of sociopath, when he saw his son’s severed head and looked down and realized he’d been eating a piece of his son, Harpagos didn’t scream or retch or anything.  Instead he sat quietly, thanked Astyages for the meal, said that it was all so delicious, and then he quietly gathered up all the uneaten portions of his son and carried them home.  Herodotus theorizes that Harpagos wanted to bury his son, or as much of him as he could, but for all Herodotus actually knows, Harpagos took a doggie bag and ate leftovers for days.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 14

At this point things get a little weird.  Kyaxares’s son Astyages becomes king of the Medes.  He has no son, but instead a daughter named Mandane, about whom he dreamed a dreadfully prophetic dream.  In the dream, Mandane peed and the pee flooded the capital and then flooded all Media and then all of Asia!  I said it gets weird.  Astyages was thus extremely reluctant to allow Mandane to marry and have children, in case the children should turn out to be horrible pee-elementals who would rampage across the world.  However he couldn’t stop her from marrying forever, so he turned her over to a nice quiet Persian who wouldn’t make any trouble, Cambyses.

After Mandane married Cambyses, Astyages had another bad dream.  In this one, Mandane gave birth to kudzu, which soon covered all of Asia.  Astyages thought this a pretty bad sign, and when Mandane and Cambyses’s son Cyrus was born, he ordered his cousin and chief henchman, Harpagos, to steal his grandson and kill it and bury it somewhere.

“Seems like a terrible idea to me,” said Harpagos.  “But you’re the boss, boss.”

Cut to Harpagos and his wife sitting down for dinner, with little Baby Cyrus in a baby-caddy on the kitchen table.

“I can’t help but notice you’re sobbing,” Harpagos’s wife said.  “Is something the matter?”

“This is just a shitty situation.”  Harpagos puts his head in his hands.  “Astyages ordered me to murder his grandson, but he doesn’t have a son and so this baby is his heir and also I’m his cousin and I’d be next in line for the throne if not for this baby and if I murder the baby then it’s going to come out eventually and people will be like, he can’t be king, he murdered the heir!”

“Hmm.”  Harpagos’s wife considered.  “That does sound shitty.”

Rather than kill Baby Cyrus, Harpagos and his wife decided to mail him out to the boonies.  They sent him to a slave-shepherd they knew, Mitradates, and his slave-wife, whose name Herodotus is very apologetic to say is Spaca, because she was a slave and somebody thought that was funny.  And yes, “Spaca” translates to an extremely derogatory name for a woman which was just as offensive twenty-five hundred years ago as it is now, but Herodotus is trying to give it to us straight.

Harpagos turned Baby Cyrus over to Mitradates without explaining that he was the heir.  “King Astyages commands you to murder this baby,” he told Mitradates.  “If anybody comes along and this baby is alive, then you’ll be punished!  Don’t think you won’t!”

Mitradates took Baby Cyrus away to Spaca, who, Herodotus didn’t mention this before but it’s about to become plot-relevant, she was barren and had just miscarried and also she really wanted a baby.  (Maybe you can see where this is going.)  “Check it out,” Mitradates told Spaca.  “I was given this baby and told to murder it, but I’m not sure if I should, since it’s the heir.”

“It’s the heir?”

“Yeah, you can tell because it’s dressed in finery and also because back in town everybody’s talking about how the heir was stolen and is presumed dead.  And Harpagos, who gave me this baby, told me that Astyages demanded it be murdered.  So, yeah.  Putting two and two together, it’s pretty plainly the heir.”

Spaca of course fell in love with Baby Cyrus immediately.  “We are not murdering this baby!”  She got an idea, which she cajoled Mitradates into carrying out, which involved swapping her recently-miscarried dead fetus for Baby Cyrus, and telling people that Mitradates had killed the heir as ordered, and Spaca raising Baby Cyrus as their own.  The dead child will obtain a royal burial and the surviving one will not lose his life,” she said.  “It’s a compelling argument!”

So that happened, says Herodotus.  No way was all this made up after the fact to justify the son of two slaves (one of whom was given the worst name) later becoming ruler of the Persian Empire.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 13

Herodotus warns us that he’s done his best to reconstruct Cyrus’s origin story from contemporary accounts, but that most of those accounts were pretty clearly written with the goal of flattering the Persians, so, who knows?  Also for some reason he feels he needs to start a few centuries before Cyrus’s birth.  Flashback to the collapse of the Assyrian Empire, which apparently spanned much of the Middle East out towards India and Ukraine for centuries!  Eventually the Medes revolted, triggering the empire’s fall.  When the Medes successfully kicked out the Assyrians, all their other subjugated peoples were like, hey, we can do that, and next thing you know the Assyrian Empire was over and the region was a sprawl of squabbling successor countries, failed states, and anarchic war zones.  But then Deïokes son of Phraortes, a Mede, had the idea of getting himself named king!  Which he accomplished through the novel method of being really good at ruling his farm, until his admiring neighbors starting coming to him with problems and recruiting him to rule their farms too, and then his village was so well-ruled that nearby villages wanted to be ruled by him also, and next thing you knew he was king of the Medes!  Herodotus tsk-tsks this dastardly plot to seize power.

Deïokes had the Medes build him a palace and a small army, and then around the palace he had them construct a walled city, his capital Agbatana.  Agbatana’s walls were really cool, Herodotus has to admit: there were seven concentric walls, with each wall slightly higher than the next wall out, making a sort of cone.  Inside the central wall was Agbatana’s rich district, the palace and the treasuries and such, and the real estate value went down as you went further out.  Each wall was painted a different color: from outermost in, they were white, black, crimson, blue, red (not the same as crimson apparently), silver, and gold.

Deïokes was also the first king to pronounce that it was illegal to laugh at him or bug him; he wanted all his business done through a small cadre of stone faced messengers.  His thinking, Herodotus speculates, was that if the Medes never saw him, they would forget that he was just a regular guy and ascribe holy and/or magical powers to him, such that they wouldn’t dare rebel against him.  After fifty-three years of this (plus there was a whole secret police thing that Herodotus doesn’t have time to get into detail about) Deïokes passed away, and the throne went to his son Phraortes, named after his grandfather.  Phraortes set about conquering the old Assyrian Empire, but after twenty-two years of inconclusive campaigning fell in battle.  His son Kyaxares, another war-king, invented the idea of organizing troops into battalions and platoons and you guys train with horses and you other guys with bows; before him armies were more sort of unruly mobs than anything else.  Kyaxares conquered the bulk of the old Assyrian Empire, but when his forces were scattered and exhausted after the long campaign, the Scythians came in from the north and conquered them, and the Scythians obtained rule over all Asia.

The Scythians almost invaded Egypt, but then Pharaoh bribed them to not invade instead, so they didn’t.  Instead they looted the city of Ascalon, in Syria, and plundered the temple to Aphrodite there.  Herodotus is given to understand that this particular temple to Aphrodite was the oldest in the world, and so it’s only natural that the Scythians who looted it were struck by a divine curse, transforming them and all their descendants into women.  This was just typical Scythian behavior: they pretty much ran the Middle East into the ground, in the relatively short time they ruled it.  After almost thirty years of increasingly erratic behavior from their Scythian overlords, the Medes decided they’d had enough, and poisoned them all at a feast.  Kyaxares took over as king again, and everything was hunky-dory.

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 12

Croesus shouted exhortations at the heavens, reminding the gods that he wasn’t the worst guy ever, and begging them to save him.  Apollo or someone took pity on him, and sent a freak rainstorm that allowed the Persians to extinguish the fire.

“So, Croesus, got anything to say for yourself?” Cyrus asked him afterwards.

“Just one question.  What are your soldiers doing in Sardis, right now?”

Cyrus let out a booming laugh.  “They’re looting your city and plundering your treasure!  Duh!”

“A heh, sire, well…”  Croesus snickered.  “I’m standing here in manacles.  I don’t have a city and I don’t have any treasure.”

“…I don’t follow you.”

“They’re looting your city and plundering your treasure.”

“Crap,” said Cyrus.  “That makes sense.”  He ordered his troops to stand down and cease with the pillaging, which they weren’t thrilled about.  On Croesus’s advice, he stationed guards at the exit of Sardis, whose job it was to examine Persian troops as they left the city, determine how much loot they were taking out, and seize some so that while the soldiers would get the loot they deserved, no one would end up with enough loot to fund a rebellion against Cyrus.  The pretext Croesus suggested was claiming it was a tithe for Zeus, since “Croesus demands the loot you looted” was a hard sell.

In exchange Croesus requests, and receives, permission to write an angry letter to the Oracle of Delphi, complaining about a bum prophecy that cost him his empire.  However the Pythia had a whole counterargument ready, which she laid out to rebut his assertions that her prophecy had been flawed.

1) Croesus is a descendent of Gyges, who was cursed, as related earlier.

2) If the gods hadn’t intervened, Croesus’s empire would have fallen, like, three whole years earlier.

3) And Croesus would have been killed then, instead of having his life spared by a freak rainstorm.

4) So he should be happy to just be alive!

5) Croesus asked what would happen if he invaded Syria; the Pythia said that he would destroy an empire.  He destroyed his own empire.  Prophecy complete!

6) If he’d thought about it Croesus should have sent more bribes and a follow-up question about which empire, but instead Croesus decided to be chintzy.

7) Don’t blame the Pythia for the choices Croesus chose to choose.

8) Cyrus was a mule, which is to say, a half-breed; his mother was a Median princess, and his father a Persian.  So that checked out, too.

Pretty audacious to claim Croesus was being a cheapskate, the guy who sent so many bribes to so many temples (Herodotus could just go on listing them all day, there’s a tripod of gold and golden cows and a golden shield and on and on).  And that wraps up the first big story in the Histories, all about the riches of Croesus!  But before Herodotus moves on to another topic, he wants to lay down some QUICK LYDIA FACTOIDS for us.

QUICK LYDIA FACTOIDS!  Information about Croesus’s homeland!

1) They got a little gold dust down from Tmolos but otherwise weren’t any great shakes, natural resources wise. No telling where Croesus got all his celebrated riches.

2) Croesus’s father, Atyattes, had a huge tomb rivaling the Pyramids of Eygpt in size and scope.

3) The tomb was built of stones donated by various craft guilds; the largest contribution came from the guild of prostitutes.

4) Lydian girls were super slutty, is what Herodotus is saying.

5) Lydians invented coinage as a concept, little slugs of precious metal you trade and use as a currency. Before that, people settled debts by shouting.

6) They also invented dice, to amuse themselves during a famine.  Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they played dice, and Tuesdays and Thursdays they ate food.

7) That famine wasn’t resolved until half of the Lydians got on boats and relocated to central Italy.

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I’m the listener sponsor of this week’s War Rocket Ajax

Woo! As the title of this post says, I’m the listener sponsor of this week’s War Rocket Ajax, or, more properly, Arthur Dies at the End is.  I really should have come up with some better ad copy, but Matt and Chris do yeoman’s work in attempting to describe the books.  You know B to the F, Ryan North’s book about the novelization of Back to the Future?  No?  Well, it’s a lot like that, only instead of being a detailed and chatty review of a confusingly-written novelization of an all-time great movie, it’s a detailed and chatty review of one of the foundational books of the Western fantasy canon: Le Morte D’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory.  If you’re reading this, of course, you very probably knew that already, but if not, let me invite you to click on the handsome link up on the header there!

Also Matt and Chris got one thing wrong; the first volume of Arthur Dies at the End is on sale for $0.99, but the other four are not.  I invite you to read Something about a Sword and a Stone? which covers King Arthur’s secret origin and a lot of Merlin being a jackass, at a price so low it should probably be raised!  Up in that header you can get a link to the first few sections of Something About a Sword and a Stone? as a page here, to try before you buy.  Or heck, here’s the link right now!

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 11

So let me remind you where we are in the narrative: Croesus, king of Lydia, had decided to invade Syria with the aid of his allies the Lacedemonians, better known to us as the Spartans.  Syria or maybe southern Turkey, actually; it’s hard to say without consulting sources more obscure than are worth delving into.  The modern city of Kayseri, in Turkey, is where I’d guess we’re talking, if I had to guess.  Herodotus knows the area as Pteria.  Croesus entered Syria at Pteria, where he lit the whole place on fire.  He rounded up all the citizens and stole everything they had, then sold them into slavery.

Cyrus the Persian, emperor of the land Croesus had invaded, launched a counterattack, which was inconclusive but bloody. Croesus, feeling overextended, retreated to Sardis to wait for Spartan reinforcements.  He figured it would take almost half a year to get everything together, so he disbanded the bulk of his army for the winter.  Then a plague of serpents befell Sardis.

“That’s probably not a good sign,” said Croesus.

Then Cyrus arrived!  Rather than turn around and go home, like Croesus had expected him to, Cyrus pulled the totally cheaty move of following him to Sardis!

“Whoops!” said Croesus.

“Guess who’s conquered?” asked Cyrus.  “Hint: it’s you!”  Cyrus easily defeated Croesus’s cavalry by taking advantage of a little-known fact that Herodotus is willing to clue us in on: Camels scare the living bejeezus out of horses.  Cyrus had all his camels go up to the front of the army, and all Croesus’s horsemen were totally, immediately neutralized.  This crippling defect in the capacity of horses to wage war is why cavalry hasn’t been fielded by any nation on Earth since 300 BC.

Croesus, behind Sardis’s city walls, figured he could maybe wait out a siege, so he went word to the Spartans asking for rescue and settled in to wait.  The Spartans never showed, for reasons that we’ll get to in a bit, and Sardis fell.

Sardis fell because one of Cyrus’s troops, Hyroidaes, wanted the cash bonus Cyrus had promised to the first man inside the city.  Incentivized by the power of market forces, Hyroidaes noticed that while most of Sardis’s walls were well-patrolled, there was a whole section that was abandoned, because the popular perception was that part of the wall was unscalable.  However Hyroidaes saw a Lydian soldier drop his helmet there, and after it rolled all the way to the bottom of the wall, the soldier had hopped down, scurried along a secret path, retrieved his helmet, and scurried back up.  Hyrodiaes investigated, found hidden handholds, and next thing you knew, no more Croesus.

They almost killed Croesus when they got into the city, but then Croesus’s other son (the deaf-mute one) miraculously gained the power of speech and begged for his father’s life, so they enslaved him instead.  Then they decided to burn him alive anyway, along with a dozen Lydian boys and a lot of fruit, as an offering to the gods, but while he was about to be lit on fire, Croesus started complaining about Solon’s warning at such length and with such vehemence that Cyrus put the execution/sacrifice on hold to ask what the deal was.

Croesus told Cyrus all about his exchange with Solon, about how he’d claimed to be the happiest man alive and Solon had been all “call no man happy until he is dead,” and Cyrus found this story so hilarious he cancelled Croesus’s execution altogether.  But then!  Croesus, though spared by Cyrus, was still in the middle of a big pile of flammable materials which were in the midst of self-converting into a bonfire.  Cyrus shouted for the execution to be cancelled, but none of his soldiers could get the fire out in time!  Was this the untimely end of Croesus?

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Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 10

And now the Spartans!  A while back, they’d had just a terrible code of laws, total bull, but then Lycurgos (no relation to the Lycurgos who was Peisistratos’s political enemy) visited the Oracle of Delphi and they proclaimed him to just be tops, loved by Zeus.  Lycurgos, thus inspired, rewrote all of Sparta’s laws, which he could do because he was the uncle of the underage king and brother of the late king. His legal reforms were so popular that after he died, the Spartans erected a temple to him and worshipped him as a god. This part of the story isn’t connected to anything; Herodotus just thinks it’s neat.

In the generation before Croesus, the Spartans had been feeling their oats and they cast about looking for some other city to fight.  They went to Delphi and asked the Oracle there whether they should conquer Tegea, and the Oracle gave them the run-around and told them to dance in Tegea and measure its fields into plots.

Naturally the Spartans assumed this meant they would defeat Tegea easily.  But then, spoiler alert, they didn’t!  Instead the bulk of their army was captured and enslaved and Herodotus claims that the bit about dancing and the dividing of the land into plots were poetic references to the field-work they did as slaves.  The refugees from this abortive invasion returned to Delphi and demanded better advice!  The Oracles told them to find the bones of Orestes, the classical hero, which was just more runaround as they had no idea where to even start looking.  So they pestered the Pythia some more, and finally she sent them to a smooth placewhere there do blow two blasts by strong compulsion together.  The Spartans threw up their hands in frustration and scattered, vowing to regroup.

Lichas, one of the Spartans, was hanging out by a forge just staring at the smooth anvil and the way the two bellows pumped the fire in two blasts, like you do, when he got to talking to the smith there, who for whatever reason told him about this one time the smith found a coffin about ten feet long, which he’d assumed to be some kind of novelty prank coffin, until he’d opened it up and discovered a giant skeleton inside.

“Orestes!” thought Lichas, because apparently Orestes was a giant?  I do not recall that from the Libation Bearers.  Neither had the other Spartans, since when he went to tell them about it they’d laughed in his face and then exiled him when he pressed the point.  Bitter, he returned to to the smith and demanded the giant skeleton.  The smith didn’t want to hand it over, but Lichas beat it out of him.  Then Lichas took the skeleton back to Sparta, and everyone apologized, and then they invaded Tegea again, this time defeating them handily.  They were just resting from this victory when they received word Croesus wanted to ally with them.

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