Stories of the East From Herodotus - Alfred J. Church

King Croesus is Defeated and the City of Sardis is Taken

King Crœsus, being steadfastly purposed to make war with the Persians, marched into the land of the Cappadocians, wherein is the river Halys, being the boundary between his kingdom and the kingdom of Cyrus. Now the reasons that King Crœsus had for making war were these. First, he desired to enlarge the borders of his dominion, adding thereto the land of the Persians; and next, he had it in his heart to avenge upon Cyrus his sister's husband Astyages; for Cyrus had subdued him, and taken from him his kingdom, as shall be told hereafter. But how it came to pass that Crœsus was brother-in-law to Astyages shall be told at this present. Certain families of the wandering Scythians, being at variance with their own people, fled into the land of the Medes, the king of the Medes in those days being Cyaxares, the son of Phraortes. This Cyaxares at the first dealt kindly with these Scythians, as being men who were suppliants for his grace. And indeed he made so much of them that he put with them certain children who should learn their language and the art of shooting with the bow, in which they excel. Now the Scythians were wont to go hunting every day, and failed not to bring home venison; but after a while, on a certain day it chanced that they brought home nothing. And when King Cyaxares saw them returning with empty hands he was wroth with them, and entreated them shamefully, being indeed a man of violent temper. Then the Scythians bethought them how they might avenge themselves for this dishonour; whereupon they took one of the children whom they were teaching, and cut him into pieces, and dressed the flesh as they were wont to dress the venison which they took in hunting, and gave it to the King as if it were some wild beast which they had slain. But so soon as they had given it they fled to Alyattes at Sardis; and Cyaxares and his guests eat of the meat which had been prepared in this fashion. Now when the King heard how the Scythians had dealt with him, he sent to Alyattes and demanded that they should be given over to him for punishment, but Alyattes would not. After this there was war between the Lydians and the Medes for five years; and in this war the Lydians oftentimes had the advantage, and the Medes also oftentimes. But when they had fought against each other with equal fortune for five years, it so befell that in the sixth year, when they joined battle for the first time, the day became dark as the night. And this change of day into night Thales of Miletus had foretold, and indeed that appointed for it the selfsame year wherein it happened. But when the Lydians and the Medes saw what had befallen, they were the more eager to make peace the one with the other; and they that brought about this agreement were Syennesis of Cilicia, and Labynetus of Babylon. These caused that the two kings should make a treaty the one with the other, and should confirm it with an oath. Moreover, they made a covenant that Alyattes should give his daughter Aryenis to the son of Cyaxares to wife, and this son was Astyages; for they knew that such treaties stand not firm without there be some bond by which they that make them are bound. As for these nations they make oaths in the same fashion as do the Greeks; only they add this, that they make a cutting upon their arms, and they lick up the blood each man from the arm of the other.

When Crœsus with his army was come to the river Halys, he was in great doubt how he should cross it. But Thales of Miletus, who chanced to be in the camp of the King, contrived a device by which it was done. For he caused that the river, which before had flowed on the left hand of the army, should flow upon the right hand, And this he did by digging a deep ditch into which the river was turned before it came to the place where the army was encamped; and this, being made of the shape of a crescent, was carried in the rear of the army, and so was brought again into the river. Thus was the stream of the Halys divided between the river and the ditch; and being divided it could easily be crossed. Some stories say that the river was wholly dried up, all the water flowing into the ditch. But this is altogether incredible, for if the whole river had been turned into the ditch, how could King Crœsus with his army have crossed it when he returned from the battle with Cyrus to Sardis? And indeed it is scarcely to be believed that the river was so turned, though this story be commonly told among the Greeks, who say that there were no bridges over the Halys in those days, but rather it is to be believed that there were bridges, and that the King led his army across by them.

When Crœsus had crossed the Halys he came to a city of Cappadocia that was called Pterium; and this Pterium was the biggest and strongest city of those parts, lying as near as may be over against Sinope, which is on the Black Sea. This city Crœsus took by assault, and sold all the dwellers therein for slaves, and took also all the towns thereof, and removed out of the place where they dwelt all the people, though indeed they had done him no wrong. When Cyrus heard that King Crœsus was come against him, he also gathered his army together and went to meet him, taking with him as many as dwelt on the way by which he marched. But before that he set out he sent out heralds to the Ionians, bidding them revolt from Crœsus, whom indeed they served unwillingly; but the Ionians would not hearken to him. Cyrus therefore came up and pitched his camp over against the camp of the Lydians, which was near to the city of Pterium; and after a while the two kings joined battle. And the battle waxed hot, and many were slain on both sides, but neither gained the advantage; and when it was night they separated perforce. But Crœsus was ill content with the number of his army, for it was less by many thousands than the army of Cyrus. For which reason on the next day, seeing that Cyrus came not forth from his camp to assail him, he departed with all haste, returning to Sardis, for he had it in his mind to call the Egyptians to his help, according to his covenant with them, for he had made alliance with Amasis king of Egypt before he made alliance with the Lacedæmonians. Also he would send for help to the men of Babylon, for with these also he had alliance; and in those days Labynetus was king of Babylon. Lastly he sent a summons to the Lacedæmonians that they should send an army to him at the appointed time. For his purpose was that he should gather together all these his allies, and should also collect as great an army as might be of his own people, and so, when the winter was past, and the spring was come again, should march against the Persians. Having therefore these thoughts in his heart, so soon as he came to Sardis he sent heralds to Babylon, and to Egypt, and to Sparta, saying that they should send each of them an army to him at Sardis in the fifth month from that time; but as for the soldiers that he had hired with money, these he sent away, suffering them to be altogether scattered, for it did not so much as enter his thoughts that Cyrus, seeing that he had not done more than fight with him on equal terms, would march against Sardis. Now while he was busy considering these things there befell this marvel, that the whole space before the city was filled with serpents, and that so soon as the serpents were seen there the horses, leaving their accustomed pasture, fell to and devoured them. This thing Crœsus held to be a portent, as indeed it was; and straightway he sent messengers to Telmessus, where there are those that interpret such things. But these messengers, though indeed they went to Telmessus and heard from the interpreters what the meaning of this portent might be, were not able to show the matter to the King; for before that they came back to Sardis King Crœsus had been vanquished and taken prisoner. But the meaning of the portent according to the interpreters of Telmessus was this, "Let Crœsus look to see an army of strangers in his land; and let him know that when this army is come to his land it will subdue the inhabitants thereof; for the serpent is a son of the land, but the horse is a stranger and an enemy." This was the answer of the interpreters of Telmessus; and they made it when Crœsus was already vanquished, but they knew nothing of that which had befallen Sardis and the king thereof.



But so soon as Crœsus had departed after the battle at Pterium, Cyrus, knowing that he had it in his thought to scatter his army, judged that he should do well if he marched straight- way against Sardis before that the Lydians could gather themselves together against him a second time. And this thing he did without delay. For he marched into the land of Lydia with all haste; nor did Crœsus receive any message of his coming before that he saw the King himself with his army. Then was Crœsus sorely perplexed, for the matter had turned out wholly against his expectations. Nevertheless he took heart and led out the Lydians to battle. And indeed in those days there was not in the whole land of Asia any nation that was more stalwart and valiant than the nation of the Lydians. The people were accustomed to fight from horseback, carrying long spears, nor were there any horsemen more skilful. The Lydians therefore and the Persians were arrayed one against the other in the plain that lieth before Sardis, and this plain is very great and wholly bare of trees. But when Cyrus saw the array of the Lydians he was afraid of their horsemen, so many and well equipped were they. Then a certain Mede, Harpagus by name, counselled him what he should do, and Cyrus hearkened to him. He took all the camels that followed his army, carrying victuals and baggage, and taking their burdens from them, set riders upon them, arming all of them as horsemen. And having so furnished the camels, he commanded that they should go before his army against the horsemen of Crœsus. And behind the camels he put the foot soldiers, and behind the foot soldiers the horsemen. And when the whole army was drawn up in battle array, he straightway commanded them that they should slay all else of the Lydians, who might fall in their way, but that Crœsus himself they should not slay, not even if he should defend himself when they laid hands upon him. Now the reason why he set the camels in array against the horsemen was this. The horse is sore afraid of the camel, and cannot endure to look upon the shape of the beast or to smell the smell. For this cause therefore he used this device, that the King of the Lydians might find no gain from his horsemen, by whom he hoped that he should win a great victory. And indeed so soon as ever the two armies had joined battle, and the horses smelled the smell of the camels and saw them, they turned and fled. So was Crœsus utterly disappointed of his hope. Nevertheless the Lydians bare themselves bravely; for when they saw what had befallen them, they leapt from their horses and fought with the Persians on foot. But after a while, when many had been slain on both sides, the Lydians were driven into their city, and were besieged therein by the Persians.

Now it seemed to Crœsus that the siege would be of many months. Therefore he sent again other messengers to his allies saying that, whereas he had before bidden them to assemble themselves at Sardis in the fifth month, there was now need that they should come with all the speed that might be, for that the King was besieged. Now of the other allies nothing need be said; but as to the Lacedæmonians, when the messengers of Crœsus came to them, they were at variance with their neighbours, the men of Argos. Notwithstanding, they made all haste to come to the help of the King; and were indeed ready to set forth, with ships duly furnished, when there came to them tidings that the city of Sardis was taken and Crœsus led into captivity. When they heard this they changed their purpose and went not; nevertheless they thought it a grievous thing.

Now the taking of Sardis was in this wise. On the fourteenth day after the beginning of the siege, Cyrus sent horsemen throughout his army, saying that he would give great gifts to the man who should first mount upon the wall. But when the whole army had attacked the city, and prevailed nothing, a certain Mardian, whose name was Hyrœades, desisted not as did the others, but made his attempt on a certain part of the citadel where no sentinels were set. And none were set because no man had any fear that the citadel could be taken from this quarter, for the place was very steep. And this indeed was the only part of the citadel to which Meles, who had been king of Sardis in old time, had not caused the lion's cub to be carried. Now the story of the lion's cub is this. A woman in Sardis brought forth a young lion, and the interpreters of Telmessus said, "If thou carry the young lion round about its wall, no man shall take Sardis." So Meles caused them to carry the cub round about the wall wherever it could be attacked, but of this place he took no account, so steep was it and hard of access. Now Hyrœades had seen on the day before that a certain Lydian had come down by this place after a helmet that had rolled down from the top, and had fetched the helmet, and so returned. And having seen this thing he bare it in mind; and the next day he climbed up the same way, and many Persians after him. So Sardis was taken and all the city plundered. As to the King himself, there befell this thing that shall now be told. He had a son, of whom indeed mention has been made before. A goodly youth he was in all other respects, but he was dumb. Now in the days of his prosperity Crœsus, having done many other things that the youth might be healed of his infirmity, sent also messengers to the oracle of Delphi to enquire of the god. To these the Pythia made answer in these words—

"O king of many lands, the thought

Thou keepest in thy heart is vain:

The help with many prayers besought

Think not to ask of heaven again;

For ill the day and full of fear

That first thy dumb child's voice shall hear."

Now it came to pass that when the Persians were taking the citadel, one of them made as if he would have slain Crœsus, not knowing who he was. And Crœsus, though he saw the man coming against him, heeded him not, so great was his trouble; for he thought that it would be well for him to die. But the youth, that had been dumb all his days, when he saw the Persian about to strike, by reason of his fear and of the instant necessity of the thing, cried out, saying, "Fellow, slay not King Crœsus." Thus did he speak for the first time; but afterwards, for the rest of his life, he spake even as other men.