Stories of the East From Herodotus - Alfred J. Church

King Darius Maketh War Upon the Scythians

King darius, being lord of all Asia, wherein were great multitudes of men and much wealth, purposed to make war against the Scythians, desiring also to punish them for their wrong-doing in time past. Now their wrong-doing had been this. They had invaded Asia in the days of the Medes, and had ruled it for twenty and eight years, and when the years were ended had gone back to their own land. About which going back there is this to be told. When they were come to the border of the land, they found an army drawn out in battle array against them; and this army was of their own slaves. But when they had fought with the slaves many times and could not prevail, one of them said to his fellows, "Men of Scythia, we do ill, fighting against these slaves. Come, let us cast aside our spears and take each one of us his whip. For so long as they see us with arms in our hands they count themselves to be our equals, but when they shall see the whips they will remember that we are their masters." Thus the Scythians did, and it was so with the slaves, that when they saw the whips they fled.

King Darius therefore prepared to make war against the Scythians, requiring soldiers from some nations, and from some ships, and commanding others that they should make a bridge over the Thracian Bosphorus. But in the meantime Artabanus, that was brother to the King, would have persuaded him not to go against the Scythians, as being men that had no possessions; but he could not prevail. And when the King was now about to depart from Susa, which is the chief city of Persia, there came to him one îobazus, entreating of him that he would suffer one of his sons to tarry at home, for he had three sons and all were in the army. Then the King said that because îobazus was his friend and asked but a small thing, all his sons should tarry at home. Whereat the man was greatly rejoiced; but the King sent his executioners and slew them all. In this fashion did they tarry at home.

When the King was come to the Bosphorus he set up two pillars of white marble, whereon he inscribed the names of all the nations as many as were in his army; and indeed of all that he ruled none were absent. The writing on the one pillar was Persian and on the other Greek. Now the number of the men was seven hundred thousand, besides those that were in the ships, and of ships there were six hundred. After this he crossed by the bridge, which MŠandrius of Samos had made over the Bosphorus, commanding the Ionians that they should sail along the shore to the river Danube and should make a bridge across the river, and so tarry till he should come. Then he went on his way through the land of Thrace till he came to the river Tearus. Of this river they say that the water thereof healeth diseases both of men and beasts beyond all others. It has thirty and eight springs flowing from one and the same rock, of which some are cold and some are hot. Here the King pitched his camp, and beside the river he set up a pillar by it, whereon was written, "To the Tearus which is the best and fairest of all rivers came Darius, son of Hystaspes, King of the Persians, being the best and fairest of all men." At this time the GetŠ, that are called Immortal, submitted themselves to him. This they did without fighting, though they are counted the most valiant and righteous of all the Thracians. The cause wherefore they are called Immortal is this. They believe that they die not, but that such as seem to die go to their god Zalmoxis. And every fifth year they send a messenger to Zalmoxis with a message concerning the things which they need. They cast lots who shall be this messenger; and their manner of sending him is this. Some of them stand in order holding up three spears; and others take the messenger whom they would send to Zalmoxis by the hands and the feet, and throw him from above on to the spears. If the man die they hold that Zalmoxis is gracious to them; but if he die not, they blame the messenger, saying that he is a wicked man; and then they look for another. But the message they give him while he is yet alive. These Thracians shoot arrows into the sky when there is thunder and lightning, and threaten the Gods, holding that there is in truth no god but this Zalmoxis. As for this Zalmoxis, some say that he was a slave in Samos, and that his master was Pythagoras, and that when he had gathered much wealth he went back to his country; and that he affirmed that neither he nor they that were his disciples should die, but should come to a country full of all manner of all good things; and that while he taught these things he made for himself a dwelling under the earth; and that when this dwelling was finished he vanished out of the sight of the Thracians and dwelt therein for three years; and that afterwards he showed himself again to the Thracians, so that they believed all that he had taught them.

After this the King came to the Danube; which when he had crossed, he said to the Ionians that they should loose the bridge and follow him. But when the Ionians were now about to loose it, a certain CoŰs, who was captain of the men of Mitylene, spoke thus to the King, having first heard that the King would willingly hear his opinion: "This land into which thou goest, O King, hath in it neither fields nor cities; for which reason I would have thee leave this bridge, and leave also them that made it to guard it. For if we prosper in this journey and find the Scythians, then shall we have a way of return, and if we find them not, we shall also have a way. For that we shall turn our backs before the Scythians in battle, I fear not; but only, that not being able to find them, we may wander a long time, and so suffer many things. And I say not this that I may myself be left behind, only I set forth the opinion that I hold to be best for thee, O King; but as for myself I will go with thee, and will not be left behind." These words pleased Darius very much; and he said to CoŰs, "Man of Lesbos, if I return in peace, come to my house, that I may recompense thee for thy good counsel." After this he took a thong, and tied in it sixty knots, and calling the kings of the Ionians, said to them, "My former purpose concerning the bridge is changed. Take, therefore, this thong, and do thus with it. Loose one knot every day, from the day when I shall depart hence to fight with the Scythians. And if I come not back when all these knots shall have been loosed, then sail back to your own land; but for sixty days, according to the number of the knots, keep this bridge with all the care that ye may." And when he had said this, he went on his way searching for the Scythians.

Now the Scythians, knowing that they could not stand against the Persians in battle, sent messengers to the nations round about that they should help them, for that the Persians had it in their mind to conquer the whole country. And when the Kings of these nations had met in council together, eight Kings in all, the assembly soon divided, for three were willing to help the Scythians, but five were not willing, saying that the Scythians had invaded the land of Asia and were now suffering punishment for their misdeeds. When this was told to the Scythians they considered what they might best do; and it seemed best that they should not join battle with the Persians, but should flee before them, filling the springs and the wells, and destroying the pasture. For this end they divided themselves into two armies; whereof one, being one third part of the whole, having with them also the SauromatŠ, should go towards the river Tanais, if the Persians should pursue them, but if the Persians turned back, should pursue in their turn; and the remainder, having with them the Geloni and the Budini, should go towards the country of the five nations that would not help them, that the Persians might lay waste the country of these nations. But their waggons, wherein their wives and their children are wont to live, and their flocks and herds, save such only as they needed for food, they sent away, bidding them go northwards. After this, the swiftest of their horsemen went forth to meet the Persians, and found them encamped at a place that is three days' journey from the Danube. And when the Persians saw the Scythian horsemen they followed on their track, and pursued them a very long way till they came to the desert. Here Darius halted and made his camp by the river Oarus, and began to build eight great forts. But as the Scythians could nowhere be seen he left the forts unfinished, and marched towards the west. And as he marched he came upon the greater army of the Scythians, and these also gave way before him, having always a day's journey between them and the Persians; and they led them to the towns of those nations that were not willing to help them. All these countries the Persians wasted, save only the country of the Agathyrsi; for these came down armed to their borders, and were ready to fight with the Scythians. And when this had been done many days, Darius, being now weary, sent a horseman to Idanthyrsus, King of the Scythians, saying, "Why flyest thou ever in this fashion? If thou thinkest thyself able to meet me in battle, stay from thy wanderings and fight with me; but if thou confessest thyself to be not worthy, cease from this running, and send gifts as to thy master, even earth and water, and let us talk together." To this Idanthyrsus, King of the Scythians, made answer: "I never feared any man that I should flee before him; and I fear not thee, nor indeed do I now any other thing than that which I am wont to do in peace. But if thou wilt know why we do not fight with thee, hearken: we have neither city nor field for which we should fear, lest they should be taken or plundered, and so join battle with thee. Yet, if thou art minded by all means to fight with us, we have the tombs of our fathers. Find ye these, and seek to destroy them, and ye shall know right soon whether we will fight for the tombs of our fathers or no. But till thou do this we will not fight with thee till we be so minded. And as to what thou sayest of a master, know that our masters are Zeus only, whose son I am, and Vesta, that is Queen of the Scythians. As to these gifts of earth and water, I will not send them; but I will send such as is meet for thee to receive."

This answer the herald brought back to Darius; but when the Kings of the Scythians heard this talk of masters and slaves they were very wroth, and they sent the smaller part of their army to treat with the Ionians at the bridge; but with the larger part they determined not to give way any more before the Persians, but to attack them while they were gathering food. This the Scythians did; and the horsemen of the Persians always fled before their horsemen; but when the foot-soldiers came to the help of the horsemen, then the Scythians gave place. Also they made many attacks on the Persians by night. One thing indeed there was that hindered them. There is neither ass nor mule in the whole land of Scythia; and it often fell out that when the horsemen of the Scythians were pursuing the Persians, the asses in their camp would bray; and when the horses heard it they would be astonished and stand still, pricking up their ears, for they had not heard such sound before nor seen the shape of an ass.

Now the Persians were troubled at what befell them; and when the Scythians saw this, they sought to keep them in their country that they might come utterly to want. For this end they left some of their flocks with the shepherds behind them when they themselves departed to some other place. And the Persians coming upon the flocks and laying hold of them, were much encouraged, and so were the more willing to tarry in the country. But when this had been done many times at last King Darius was in sore straits and knew not what he should do. Then the King of the Scythians knowing this sent a herald with gifts to Darius, and the gifts were these: a bird, and a mouse, and a frog, and five arrows. And the Persians enquired of the herald that brought the gifts what they might signify; but the man made answer that of this he knew nothing, but that it had been commanded him to give the gifts to the King and then depart straightway, but that the Persians might themselves discover if only they were wise, what the gifts signified. And King Darius judged that the purpose of the Scythians was this, to give themselves up to him (which is commonly done by the giving of earth and water), for he considered that the mouse liveth in the earth, and eateth the fruits thereof even as doth a man, and that the frog liveth in the water, and that the bird is most like to the horse, and that as to the arrows these signified their arms which they gave up to him. This indeed was the opinion of King Darius; but the judgment of Gobryas about the matter was widely different. (This Gobryas was one of the seven who slew the Magian.) He indeed interpreted the gift after this fashion: Unless ye become as birds and fly up into the air, or as mice and burrow in the earth, or as frogs and leap into the water, ye shall not go back, but shall be smitten with these arrows that ye die. Thus Gobryas judged about the gifts. But in the meanwhile one of the armies of the Scythians, that which had gone eastward to the Tanais, having returned by the way by which they went, came to the Danube and had speech with the Ionians that guarded the bridge, saying, "Men of Ionia, we come to you offering freedom if only ye will hearken unto us. We hear that Darius when he departed bade you guard the bridge for sixty days only, and that if he came not back within these sixty days, ye should loose the bridge and so depart to your own country. Now if ye do after these words ye shall have no blame either from him or from us. Tarry therefore for the appointed days and afterwards depart." And when the Ionians said that they would do so the Scythians went their way. Then this army of the Scythians departed; and the other army set themselves in battle array against Darius, having both horse and foot, and purposing to fight against him. And it so fell out when the two armies were drawn up the one over against the other, that a hare ran through the midst of the army of the Scythians, and when the Scythians saw it they left care of the battle and pursued after the hare. And Darius seeing that the Scythians were in much confusion and shouted aloud, enquired what this might mean that the enemy were so disturbed. And when he knew that they were busy pursuing the hare he turned to them to whom he was wont to speak at other times also, and said to them, "Surely these men have a great scorn for us; and surely also Gobryas interpreted the gifts and their signification aright. Seeing then that these things are so, we need good counsel that we may return in safety." And Gobryas said, "O King, I knew before that these men were hard to deal with; and now I know it the more certainly when I see how they scoff at us. My judgment therefore is this: so soon as it shall be night, let us light the fires in the camp, as we are wont to do at other times, and let us tie up the asses in their place, and let us so depart, leaving behind us such as be least able to endure hardship. And let us do this before that the Scythians go to the Danube and loose the bridge, or that the Ionians themselves consider that they may do us this hurt." This was the counsel of Gobryas; and so soon as it was night Darius followed it. He left such of the soldiers as were sick, and such as were of least account, if they should perish, and he caused them to tie up the asses in their places in the camp, and so departed. And the cause why he left the asses and the sick men behind was this: the asses he left that they might make a noise, and the men because they could not make haste in marching. But to these he said that his purpose was to attack the Scythians with the better part of his army, and that they in the meanwhile should guard the camp. This Darius said to them that were left, and having caused the camp fires to be lighted he so departed, and made with all the speed that he could for the Danube. And the asses, missing the noise of the multitude about them, made themselves the more noise, which when the Scythians heard they made no doubt but that the Persians were yet in their camp. But when the day was come they that had been left behind of the Persians, judging that they had been betrayed by King Darius, surrendered themselves to the Scythians, and told what had been done. And the Scythians, so soon as they heard it, pursued after the Persians with both their armies, and with the nations also that had come to their help; and they pursued, going straight to the Danube. But the Persians and the Scythians fell not in with each other for this cause, namely, that the army of the Persians was for the most part of foot soldiers, and they knew not the way, for indeed in the land of Scythia there are not roads duly made; but the Scythians were horsemen, and they knew the shortest ways. For this cause they fell not in with each other; but the Scythians came to the bridge of the Danube by a long time the first. And when they found that the Persians were not yet come to the bridge, they spoke to the Ionians that were in the ships, saying, "Men of Ionia, the days that were numbered to you are now passed, and ye do wrong still tarrying here by the bridge. And if ye have done this heretofore in fear, fear ye no longer; but leave the bridge with all speed, and go on your way rejoicing, and be free, thanking the Gods and the Scythians for these benefits. And as for the man that was your master, we will so order things with him that he shall not make war against any man hereafter for ever." When they heard this the Ionians took counsel together. Then Miltiades the Athenian, who was King of the Chersonese that is near the Hellespont, advised that they should do according to the saying of the Scythians, and so set the Ionians free. But the advice of HistiŠus of Miletus was contrary to this, for he said, "Each one of us is king in his own city by reason of the power of Darius; and if this power be overthrown, then shall we be overthrown also, and neither he nor any man will be King in Miletus, or indeed in any of the cities, seeing that they would all of them wish to be governed by the people rather than be governed by a king." When the other Kings heard this they turned straightway to the opinion of HistiŠus, though before they had followed the opinion of Miltiades. And as they judged it most expedient for themselves, so they did forthwith. For they loosed that part of the bridge which was towards the Scythians, and they loosed it for the length of a bow shot. And this they did in order that, though they did nothing, they might yet seem to be doing something, and that the Scythians might not take the bridge by force, and so cross the Danube. And while they were loosing the bridge on the side of the Scythians they affirmed that they were about to do as the Scythians had counseled them. For HistiŠus came forward in the name of all, and spoke, saying, "Ye men of Scythia, ye have come to us with counsel that is right welcome, and are zealous on our behalf to good purpose. And as ye have advised us well, so will we serve you faithfully. For we will loose this bridge, even as ye now see us do, and we will work with all our might that we may have the freedom which we desire. Do ye, therefore, while we are loosing the bridge, go and seek for these oppressors, and when ye have found them, avenge yourselves and us also upon them in such manner as they deserve." When the Scythians heard these words they believed a second time that the Ionians spoke the truth, and so departed, seeking the Persians. Yet did they miss them altogether, and for this cause, for which indeed they were themselves to blame, namely, that they had destroyed the pastures and filled up the wells. For if they had not done this thing they could easily have found the Persians. But now the counsel that seemed to have been most excellently devised turned out ill for them. For the Scythians indeed went through their country seeking the Persians where there was food for their horses and wells of water, for they thought that of a surety the enemy would return by this way. But the Persians did not so, but kept to their own trail which they had made marching from the Danube; and so at last, after many things suffered, they came to the river and the bridge. But as they came in the night-time, and the one end of the bridge had been loosed, they were for a while in great fear lest the Ionians should have left them. Now there was with Darius a certain Egyptian, whose voice was louder than the voice of all other men; and Darius commanded this man that he should go down to the edge of the river, and call to HistiŠus of Miletus. This he did, and HistiŠus heard him call the first time, and straightway brought the ships and joined the bridge, so that the army of the Persians passed over and escaped.

But when the Scythians came again to the river, having missed the Persians a second time, they had great wrath against the Ionians. And from that day they are wont to say of the Ionians, that if they be called freemen then be they the most cowardly and vile of all the nations upon earth, and if they be counted slaves then there are no slaves more mean and worthless.