Stories of the East From Herodotus - Alfred J. Church

Cyrus Maketh War against the Massagetæ, and Dieth

When Cyrus had conquered the Babylonians and taken their city, it came into his heart to make war against the Massagetæ and to subdue them. This is a very great and valiant nation, dwelling towards the sunrising, beyond the river Araxes. This Araxes is a great river, having in it islands that are of the bigness of Lesbos. In these islands, which are, they say, many in number, there dwell men who eat in the summer all manner of roots, but for the winter they store up such fruits as they have found to be good for food. They have among them one tree that beareth fruits of a very wonderful kind. The men assemble in companies and light a fire, and sit round the fire in a circle; then they throw upon this fire of the fruit of the tree; and when they smell the savour of the fruit that is thrown upon the fire, they grow drunken with the smell thereof, even, as the Greeks grow drunken with wine; and more fruit being thrown upon the fire they grow yet more drunken, till at the last they come to dancing and singing. In the marshes of this river where it floweth into the sea—and it floweth, they say, through forty mouths—there dwell men that have fish only for food, eating them raw, and for clothing they have the skins of seals.

Now the cause wherefore Cyrus had it in his mind to make war against the Massagetæ was, this: that his spirit was puffed up and exalted with many things, as with his birth, from which he judged that he was above the measure of a man, and with his good luck that had followed him in his wars; for of all the nations against whom he had been minded to make war not one had been able to escape. Now the ruler of the Massagetæ in those days was a woman, whose husband was dead, and the name of this woman was Tomyris. Cyrus therefore sent messengers to her, saying that he would fain take her to wife. But Tomyris, knowing that he wished not for her but for the kingdom of the Massagetæ, denied herself to him. Then Cyrus, when he could not prevail by craft, marched to the river Araxes, and made war openly against the Massagetæ, for he began to make bridges of ships over the river by which his army might be able to cross, and to build also towers for defence upon the ships. But while he was busying himself with these things, Queen, Tomyris sent to him, saying, "O King of the Medes, cease from doing these things that thou, art doing; for thou canst not know whether they will be to thy profit. Cease from them therefore, and rule thy own people, and be content also to see me ruling over my people. Yet, as I know that thou wilt not follow this my counsel, and that there is nothing that is less to thy mind than to be at peace, I offer thee this. If thou greatly desirest to make trial of the strength of the Massagetæ, then cease from this thy labour of making bridges across the Araxes, and when we have gone back three days' march from the river, then take thy army across; or, if thou wouldst rather have it so, do thou on thy part go back three days' journey from the river, and abide our coming."

When Cyrus heard this, he called together the chief men of the Persians, and laid the whole matter before them, enquiring of them which of these two things he should rather do. For the mast part the counsel of the Persians agreed together that he should suffer Tomyris and her army to enter his country. But Crœsus the Lydian, being present in the council, agreed not with this opinion, but gave contrary advice, saying, "I have said to thee aforetime, O King, that from the day when Zeus made thee lord over me, I cease not to turn away, if it may be, any evil that I may perceive coming upon thy house. And, indeed, my own troubles have been hard teachers to me. Now, therefore, if thou countest thyself to be immortal and the army which thou rulest to be immortal also, there shall be no need that I should show forth my opinion. But if thou knowest thyself to be a man only, and thine army to be of men only, then consider that there is as it were a wheel of the fortunes of men, and that this wheel turneth round always, and suffereth not the same man to be always in prosperity. Now, my opinion is contrary to the opinion of these. If thou sufferest these men to come into thy country, there is this peril. If thou fleest before them, then thou losest thy whole kingdom. But if, on the contrary, thou comest into their country and they flee before thee, then thou wilt conquer them altogether. Also, it doth not become thee, being such an one as Cyrus the son of Cambyses, to give place before a woman. But hearken now unto me, and I will tell thee what thou shalt do. These Massagetæ have no knowledge of the good things of the Persians. Do thou, therefore, kill for these men great store of sheep, and cause their flesh to be cooked, and furnish a feast for them in our camp. Forget not also to fill bowls with wine without stint, and to set out all manner of good things. Which when thou hast done, leave there in the camp that which is of least account in thy army, and go back again with that which remains to the river. For I am persuaded that these Men, when they see these good things, will fly forthwith upon them, and that we shall find occasion to do great things against them."

Then Cyrus rejected the former counsel, and chose the counsel of Crœsus. Wherefore he sent a message to Queen Tomyris, that she should depart from the river, for that he was resolved to cross over into her country. After this he called his son Cambyses, to whom also he had left the kingdom after him, and committed Crœsus into his hands, bidding him deal kindly with him and honour him, if he should not prosper in battle with the Massagetæ. And when he had sent these two away into the land of Persia, he himself crossed the river Araxes with his army.

In the night after he had crossed the river he saw a vision in his sleep, and the vision was this. He saw the eldest of the sons of Hystaspes, having wings upon his shoulders, with one whereof he shadowed the whole land of Asia, and with the other the whole land of Europe. Now, the eldest of the sons of Hystaspes, who was of the house of Achæmenes, was Darius, being then about twenty years of age; and he had been left in the land of Persia as not being of age to go with the host. And Cyrus, when he woke from sleep, considered with himself what this vision might mean; and because it seemed to him a very great matter, he called Hystaspes, and taking him apart by himself, said to him, "Hystaspes, thy son is manifestly proved to be laying plots against me and my kingdom. And how I know this thing thou shalt hear. The Gods have great care for me, and show me beforehand all things that shall come to pass. Now, therefore, in this night past I saw a vision in my sleep—even the eldest of thy sons with wings upon his shoulders, with one whereof he shadowed the land of Asia, and with the other the land of Europe. Seeing then that I have had this vision, it must needs be that he is laying plots against me. Do thou, therefore, depart with all speed into the land of Persia, and see that when I shall have subdued this country and am returned, he shall be brought to the trial." This said Cyrus thinking that Darius was laying plots against him. But in very truth the Gods showed him by this vision that he should die in that land, and that his kingdom should be given to Darius. Then Hystaspes made answer, "My lord the King, the Gods forbid that there should be any Persian who would plot against thee, and if such there be, may he be brought to nought. For thou hast made the Persians free who were slaves before, and to be the rulers of all men in place of being ruled by others. If, therefore, it be signified by this vision that my son is plotting against thee, be sure that I will deliver him to thee to do with him as thou wilt." When Hystaspes had said this, he crossed the Araxes and went his way into the land of Persia, that he might keep Darius his son against King Cyrus should return. And when Cyrus had gone a day's march from the river Araxes, he did according to the word of Crœsus, For he returned with the better part of his army to the river and left the worse part behind. Then there came a third part of the army of the Massagetæ, and fought with those that Cyrus had left behind, and slew them. And when they had vanquished their enemies, seeing the feast that had been prepared, they sat down and feasted; and having filled themselves with food and wine, they lay down to sleep. But while they slept the Persians came upon them, and slew many of them, and took yet more of them alive. And among them that they took was the captain of the host of the Massagetæ, being a son of Queen Tomyris, whose name was Spargapises. And when the queen knew what had befallen the army and her son also, she sent unto Cyrus, saying, "Be not puffed up, O Cyrus, thou that never canst be satisfied with blood, by reason of this thing that thou hast done. For thou hast taken of the fruit of the vine, with which ye are wont to fill yourselves to madness, so that when the wine enters into you, there come forth from you all manner of evil words; this, I say, you hast taken, and with it hast prevailed over my son, vanquishing him by craft, and hot by strength. Now, therefore, I give thee this counsel. Give back to me my son, and go thy way out of this land unhurt, having worked thy will upon the third part of the army of the Massagetæ. But if thou wilt not do according to my words, then I swear by the Sun, who is the lord of the Massagetæ, that though thou canst not be satisfied with blood, yet will I satisfy thee." But Cyrus, when this message was brought to him, took no heed of it. After this, Spargapises, the son of Queen Tomyris, when the wine had left him, and he knew into what trouble he had come, made entreaty to Cyrus that he might be loosed awhile from his bonds. But so soon as ever he was loosed, he slew himself.

After this Queen Tomyris, seeing that Cyrus would not listen to her counsel, gathered together all her army, and joined battle with the Persians. And of all battles that have ever been fought among barbarians was never one fiercer than this battle. First they stood apart and shot at each other with bows; and when their arrows were spent, they fell upon each other with spears and swords, and so fought.. For a long time they contended against each, other, and neither the one nor the other would give place. But at the last the Massagetæ prevailed over the Persians. And the greater part of the army of the Persians perished on that day, and Cyrus himself also was slain, having reigned, twenty and eight years. Then Queen Tomyris, having first filled a skin with man's blood, commanded that they should search among the dead bodies for the body of Cyrus. And when they had found it, she cut off his head and thrust it into the skin, and scoffed at the dead body, saying, "Thou didst take my son by craft when I could have prevailed over thee in battle; and now, as I sware, I will satisfy thee with blood."

Thus Cyrus the son of Cambyses the Persian died in the land of the Massagetæ, and Cambyses his son reigned in his stead.