Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 29
In the morning Operation SITTING DUCK sprang into action! In what I consider a totally blown opportunity for a stunning ironic reversal, Croesus’s plan worked perfectly! Remember, Croesus told Cyrus to basically let his army get outflanked in unknown territory by an army fighting on its home turf. Somehow that worked out for them. About a third of Tomyris’s army, led by her son Spargapises, swang around Cyrus. As soon as they saw those sundae bars and martini stations, they gorge and drank and passed out drunk or high.
Cyrus turned back and his soldiers just mopped up, murdering some of the Massagetai while they slept it off. A little over half Spargapises’s expeditionary force was captured, including Spargapises himself. The rest were killed.
The next morning a Massagetai messenger delivered another diplomatic missive to Cyrus from Tomyris.
“Dear Jerk,” she wrote. “I bet you’re real pleased with yourself. Well, you shouldn’t be! Be not elated with pride by this which has come to pass, namely because with that fruit of the vine, by which I mean liquor, you and all your Persian jerk friends have been poisoning yourselves for years. Us Massagetai don’t drink, and you’re wicked for drinking. If it had been a fair fight my Spargy would have kicked you back to Babylon. Nevertheless, you jerk, I’m going to give you a chance to redeem yourself. Return my son, let all your prisoners go, agree not to return, and leave. You get to tell people that you beat a third of the Massagetai army, and since the Massagetai army will no doubt be sung of three thousand years from now, that’s not nothing! ‘As tough as a Massagetai warrior,’ that’s how the expression will go. Future historians will know all kinds of things about our culture, and there definitely won’t be a total lack of consensus on exactly who we were and where we lived and how populous our nation was and the only thing anybody’s really sure of is that we liked milk!
“But if you don’t let my son go and then leave, then I swear by all that is holy (probably we worship the Sun? That’s just the kind of thing future historians will be totally clear on, our religious practices) that I will drown you in the blood of your soldiers. Love, Tomyris. PS you’re still a jerk.”
“Feh,” said Cyrus. “Go wake up Spargapises, if he’s still out. Tell him that his mother tried to ransom him but forgot to offer any money.”
One of Cyrus’s men headed over to Spargapises in his makeshift tiger cage, and prodded the poor hungover Massagetai prince until he woke up.
“Where am I?”
“Cyrus’s camp. We totally captured you while you were passed out. Also you aren’t getting released.”
“Screw that!” cried Spargapises, and killed himself as soon as someone let him out of his manacles so he could reach his own throat.
Then, long story short, Tomyris slaughtered Cyrus and all his men in what Herodotus calls the fiercest of all the battles fought by Barbarians. Afterwards Tomyris was pissed because Cyrus died of multiple stab wounds, not of drowning in the blood of his own soldiers like she’d promised. So she went out and filled a wineskin with blood she drained from dead Persian soldiers, found Cyrus’s shattered corpse on the battlefield, and forced the blood into his lungs. “My son is dead because of you!” she shouted, then dropped a deuce on Cyrus’s face before departing the Histories forever.
The moral of this story is DO NOT F**K WITH TOMYRIS QUEEN OF THE MASSAGETAI. Forunately it’s a moral the rest of history seems to have learned, because no one ever screwed with the Massagetai afterwards. As far as we know at least.
What with Cyrus dead, we’re wrapping up Clio. It’s pretty tonally jarring, but before we move on to Euterpe Herodotus wants to lay some QUICK MASSAGETAI FACTOIDS down for us.
1) The Massagetai were kind of like the Scythians! Except they were different. They used horses and axes and bronze, which are qualities worth mentioning for some reason.
2) The Massagetai had marriage, but they did it differently! When a Massagetai man married a woman, that woman became the wife of all the married Massagetai; all the married women belonged to all the married men, as a group. If a man wanted one he just grabbed her for for a while. Herodotus’s source for this was definitely not some horny teenager.
3) When a Massagetai got old (no particular age, just generically old, it varied from person to person) their family got together and held a feast in which they they honored and also ate the old person. (CANNIBALISM REFERENCE #3!)
4) When a Massagetai died of disease, they didn’t get eaten, they got buried instead.
5) They really liked milk.
6) And maybe they were into Sun-worship and sacrificed horses to the sun on the grounds that horses are fast and the sun moves quickly across the sky?
7) Milk, though, definitely. They were crazy for milk.
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