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 24 — No Comments

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