Stories of the East From Herodotus - Alfred J. Church

The City of Babylon, Cyrus Taketh It

When Cyrus had overthrown the kingdom of the Lydians, and had conquered also such countries and cities as had appertained thereto, he made war in the next place against the Assyrians. Now the Assyrians have many other great and famous cities, but the greatest and famous of all is BABYLON, for there, when Nineveh was destroyed, was set up the palace of the King. The city of Babylon is built foursquare, and the measure of each side is one hundred and twenty furlongs. Round about the walls there is a ditch, very deep and broad and full of water; and after the ditch there is a wall, of which the breadth is seventy and five feet, and the height three hundred feet. On the top of the wall, at the sides thereof, are built houses of one story, being so much apart that a chariot with four horses may turn in the space. And in the wall there are a hundred gates, of brass all of them, with posts and lintels of the same. The city is divided into two parts, between which floweth the river. Now the name of this river is Euphrates, and it cometh out of the land of Armenia, and floweth into the Red Sea.

On either side the wall is pushed forward into the river; also along each bank of the river there runneth a wall of baked brick, The city is built with houses of three stories or four, these being ordered in straight streets that cross each other. And wheresoever a street goeth down to the river there are gates of brass in the walls of brick that is by the riverside, gates for each street. Also over and above the outer wall of the city there is an inner wall, of well nigh equal strength, but in thickness not so great.

In each part of the city there was a great building, of which one was the King's palace and the other the temple of Belus. This temple hath brazen gates, and is foursquare, being two furlongs every way. In the midst there is a tower which is solid throughout and of the bigness of a furlong each way; and on this tower is built another tower, and yet another upon this, and so forth, seven in all. Round about these towers are built stairs; and for one who hath climbed halfway a landing-place and chairs where he may rest; and in the topmost tower there is a temple very splendidly furnished, and a couch and a table thereby, but no image.

There is another temple below, and in it a statue of Zeus sitting, and before it a table of gold; the throne and the steps are also of gold; and the weight of all is eight hundred talents. Outside is a golden altar, on which a thousand talents of frankincense were wont to be burnt at the great feast. Here also was a great statue of gold, twelve cubits high, and solid throughout. This statue Darius was minded to take, but dared not; yet did Xerxes take it, and slew the priest that would have hindered him.

Of this city of Babylon there have been many kings, and two queens. Of these queens the first made for the river great banks, for before her day it used to overflow all the plain of Babylon. The name of this Queen was Semiramis, and the name of the second Queen was Nitetis. This Nitetis, seeing that the kingdom of the Medes increased daily, and that they were not content with what they had, but sought to subdue others, and had conquered many cities, among which was Nineveh, devised a defence against them. For first she caused that the river Euphrates, which before had flowed in a straight course, should now fetch a compass; and this she did by making for it new channels. And now one that saileth on this river cometh thrice in three days to the self-same village, and the name of this village is Ardericca. Also she made a great lake, digging it out by the side of the river; and the circuit of this lake is four hundred and twenty furlongs. Now both these things she did for the same end, that the stream of the river might be the slower and the voyage to Babylon a voyage of many windings, and that when the voyage on the river should be ended, then there should be the voyage on the lake. All this was done on that side of the city which looketh towards the country of the Medes; for she would not that the Medes should come into her dominion and learn her affairs. Also she did this great work for the city. There being two parts, and the river flowing between them, the citizens had been wont in days of former kings to cross, if they had need, from the one part to the other in boats; and this was a toil to them. She caused her servants to cut very large stones, and when these were finished, she commanded that they should turn the river into the lake which she had dug. And while this was a-filling, the old stream being now dry, she embanked with brick the side of the river, and the ways also that led thereto from the gates. But in the middle part of the city she built a bridge with the stones which she had caused to be cut, binding them together with iron and lead. On this bridge there were laid, so long as it was day, four-cornered timbers, on the which the men of Babylon crossed the bridge. But at nightfall the timbers were taken away, so that the people of the city might not steal from each other. And when this was finished she brought the river again into his channel.

This queen devised this deceit. She made for herself a tomb over that one of the gates by which the people were chiefly wont to go forth. On this tomb she wrote certain words of which the significance was this: "IF ONE OF THE KINGS AFTER ME LACK MONEY, LET HIM OPEN THIS TOMB AND TAKE WHAT HE WILL. BUT LET HIM NOT OPEN IT UNLESS HE NEED, FOR IT WILL BE THE WORSE FOR HIM." This tomb no man would meddle with till Darius came to the kingdom. Now it seemed a grievous thing to Darius that no man should use the gate, and that money should be there, and that it should call men to take it, yet should not be taken. For no one used the gate because there was a dead body above his head as he went out. Wherefore he opened the tomb; but having opened it, found no money therein, but only the dead body of the queen and these words, saying, "IF THOU WERE NOT INSATIATE OF MONEY AND A LOVER OF GAIN, THOU HADST NOT OPENED THE RESTING-PLACE OF THE DEAD."

Now the king against whom Cyrus made war was the son of this woman, and his name was Labynetus; and this had been the name of his father also. Now when the Great King, the King of the Persians, marcheth any whither he is well provided with food and cattle, and also with water from the river Choaspes, which floweth by the city of Susa; for the King drinketh not of any other river save this only. And many four-wheeled waggons, drawn by mules, follow the army whithersoever it goeth, bearing vessels of silver wherein is the water, having been first boiled. But when Cyrus came in his march to the river Gyndes (this river floweth into the Tigris) there befell this thing. While he was seeking to cross the river, which is of such bigness that ships can sail thereon, one of the white horses which are sacred would have crossed the river by swimming, and in so doing was drowned. Then Cyrus was very wroth with the river that had done him this wrong and swore that he would make it so weak that a woman should be able to cross it without wetting her knee. When he had sworn this oath he divided his army into two parts, and commanded each part that it should dig long trenches by the side of the river—one part working on each side—and the number of the trenches should be one hundred and eighty for each part. And as there was a great multitude of men the work was accomplished in no great space of time; nevertheless they consumed the whole summer in this work. So the river, Gyndes was made to flow into these trenches, three hundred and sixty in all. And when this was done, and the winter was over, together with the next spring Cyrus led his army to Babylon. And when he came near to the city, the Babylonians came forth to meet him; and when the battle was joined, the Babylonians fled before Cyrus, and were shut up in their city. Now they had gathered provisions for many years, for they knew that Cyrus was a man of war, and sought to conquer all the nations round about. So, therefore, their walls also being very strong, they took no account of the siege; but Cyrus was much troubled, for even after a long time he had done nothing in the matter of taking the city. And whether he himself devised the device, or another devised it for him, cannot be said; but this he did. He divided his army into two portions; and of these he set one above the city where the river floweth into it, and the other he set below it where the river floweth out. To these he gave commandment that when they should see the river so shallow that a man could cross it they should enter the city by it. And when he had thus ordered things, he himself departed with such of the army as were of no account for war, and when he came to the lake which Nitetis, Queen of Babylon, had made by the riverside, then did he thus. He made a great trench, and turned the river into the lake, which in those days was a marsh only and not filled with water. And when this had been done the river became shallow, so that a man might cross it, and the Persians to whom the commandment had been given, perceiving what had happened, and that the water now came but up to the middle of a man's thigh, entered the city of Babylon by way of the river. Now if the men of Babylon had known beforehand or perceived the thing that Cyrus was doing, then all these Persians had perished miserably, for they would have shut all the gates leading clown to the river, and would have gone up themselves on to the walls that were built along the banks of the river, and so would have had the Persians as it were in a fish-trap. But in truth the Persians came upon them unawares. Now the bigness of the city was such that they who dwelt in the middle parts knew not that the ouside parts had been taken; but played and danced and delighted themselves, till indeed they were made to know it in such fashion as they liked not.

This land of Babylon is a very good land. For while all the rest of Asia nourisheth the Great King and his army for eight months, this alone nourisheth him for four months. And there cometh to him that holdeth this province under the King, a measure of silver containing twelve gallons day by day. Rain falleth not often, but the plain is watered by the river a is also the land of Egypt; and it beareth wheat as doth no other country in the whole earth, even two hundrefold, and when the harvest is of the best, three hundredfold.



The have this law about marriage. In every village and town they gather together such maidens as are of a marriageable age into one place, the multitude of men standing in a circle round about them. Then there standeth up a herald in the midst and selleth them, one by one; and the manner of selling them is this. First he taketh her that is counted the fairest in the whole company, and when she has been sold for a great sum of money, then her that is the next in fairness. Then all the wealthy men among the Babylonians, being minded to marry, contend with each other who shall buy those that excel in beauty; but such of the common folk as are minded to marry care not at all for beauty, but take the maidens that are less comely to look upon, and money with them. For when the herald hath finished his selling of the beautiful maidens, then he taketh her that is worst favoured in the company, or, it may be, maimed of a limb, and offereth her. And the men say for how much money they will take her to wife; and to him that saith the least is she given. And the gold that the rich men pay for the well-favoured among the maidens, this do the poor men receive with the ill-favoured. Nor is it lawful for a man to give his daughter in marriage to any that he will.

Another excellent custom have they with them that are sick. These they carry forth from their houses into the market-place; for they have no physicians in their country. Then all that come near give their counsel about the sick man, if any one hath himself endured such disease as the sick man hath, or hath seen any other enduring it. And they tell each of them in their turn how they were cured of such disease, or may have seen others cured. But it is not lawful for any to pass by the sick man till he shall have made enquiry what his disease may be.