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 26 — 1 Comment

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