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.