Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 9
Once upon a time, Croesus said (Herodotus says), a group of Scythian refugees came to the land of Medes, at the time ruled by Kyaxares son of Phraortes son of Deïokes. Kyaxares initially was a great host to these refugees: he offered them asylum and sanctuary in his household, and all they had to do was teach some of the Median boys how to speak Scythian and use a bow properly. Scythians were renowned for their archery.
Things went on pretty well for a while, until one day the Scythian group went out hunting and returned empty-handed. This was totally unusual; the Scythians normally hauled in a big pile of boar or mammoths or saber-toothed tigers or whatever. Kyaxares thought the Scythians were holding out on him, and chewed them out for their ingratitude.
“How dare he talk to us like that!” the Scythians said to one another, and vowed to get revenge, prank war style. Prank number one: murder one of the boys they were teaching archery, skin him, cut him up, prepare him as if he were a boar, and give the basket of meat to Kyaxares! Then before Kyaxares could figure out why his sausages tasted a little off, the Scythians relocated to Sardis in Lydia, where they sought all-new asylum with the local king, Alyattes (Croesus’s father, you may recall). (CANNIBALISM COUNT: 1)
For whatever reason, Atyattes went to war to protect his Scythian guests, even after he found out that they’d tricked Kyaxares into cannibalism. The Lydians and the Medians fought inconclusively for six years, until in the middle of a battle they experienced a total solar eclipse, which freaked both sides the hell out and led to peace talks post-haste. Herodotus has some names to go with these peace talks: Syennesis the Kilikian and his comrade-in-diplomacy Labynetus the Babylonian. They arranged for Aryenis, Croesus’s sister and Atyattes’s daughter and I think the second named female character so far, to marry Kyaxares’s son Astyages, drawing the two nations together.
Croesus’s brother-in-law Astyages eventually became the king of Medes, and eventually Cyrus conquered Medes and imprisoned him, which is a story that Herodotus thinks should wait for another time.
Instead I’m going to rewind and give you a quick blow-by-blow as to that story about the Athenians that I mentioned before. If I put it off any longer I’m going to forget about it.
In Croesus’s day, the despot of Athens was Peisistratos son of Hippocrates, whose birth was marked by ill omens Hippocrates chose to ignore. Peisistratos became despot during a time of political upheaval in Athens: the beach-dwelling Athenians, led by Megacles son of Alcmaion, were locked in mortal combat with the plains-dwelling Athenians, led by Lycurgus son of Aristolaïdes. Peisistratos, a minor war hero, declared himself the leader of the hitherto-unknown mountain-dwelling Athenians. He faked an attack on his life, and used public sympathy to incite a riot that led to his seizing power in the Acropolis. As a brutal dictator who seized power by force, he was actually pretty okay, though: he didn’t upset the apple-cart, leaving existing laws and judges and so on in place.
Megacles and Lycurgus teamed up to kick him out of Athens, but then they fell back into their internecine fighting. Megacles recruited Peisistratos over to his side, by swearing fealty provided Peisisatros married Megacles’s daughter. He was amenable, but they still needed to disenfranchise Lycurgus. Their solution: Megacles and Peisistratos threw a parade! They recruited Phya, an exceptionally lovely Athenian giantess, to dress up like Athena and lead a pro-Peisistratos parade through the streets of the city. She shouted that she was Athena, come to deliver the rightful ruler of Athens to his throne.
The Athenians loved street theater, so they ate this up with a spoon. Next thing you knew, Peisistratos was back in power! Until his new wife, Megacles’s daughter, got tired of how he refused to have sex with her, and complained to her mother about him. Megacles found out, and next thing you knew, another insurrection in the streets and Peisistratos deposed. Moral of the story: have sex with your wife.
Peisistratos fled to Eretria, and then ten years later returned at the head of a mercenary army. Third time was the charm: this time Peisistratos kept a bunch of mercenaries around, paid with city funds, and also he sent the sons of some of his political enemies out of Athens to live as hostages in Naxos.
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