Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Herodotus’ “Histories” of the Persian Wars (very liberally ‘translaparaphrased’): Book I sections 13 - 22

13 (Wherein Herodotus taxes our patience by continuing his rather long digression into the history of the family of Croesus. Just wait.  It's worth it. We left off with Gyges killing Candaules and taking the Lydian throne..)

Later, Gyges had his power legitimized by Delphic oracle. The Lydians were outraged at the death of Candaules and were prepared to raise up in arms. However, the followers of Gyges managed to get them to agree to allow Gyges to retain power if the oracle declared him King. If, on the other hand the oracle were to have declared against Gyges, he was to return the throne to the Heraclids.

The answer returned by the Oracle was indeed in favor of Gyges, and his reign became firmly established. Nevertheless, the Pythia also forewarned that the Heraclids would have satisfaction on the Mermnadae in the fifth generation. At the time neither the Lydians nor King Gyges paid the prophecy any mind. None paid it mind until it was fulfilled at that later time.


Now, this is the way that the Mermnadae were able to assume power and topple the Heraclids. As soon as he had taken the throne Gyges made quick work of sending a great many presents to the shrine at Delphi. In fact, most of the silver at that shrine is from the Lydian. Additionally a great many golden vessels are his, the most noteworthy being a set of six golden mixing bowls. The set weighs nearly 2500 pounds and stands in the Corinthian treasury; though in actuality this treasury should not be referred to as Corinthian, but rather as that of Cypselus, son of Eëtion.

Gyges was the first barbarian we know of, other than Midas of Phrygia, son of Gordias, to dedicate offerings at Delphi. Midas made a gift of the throne from which he sat in judgment. This throne is housed with Gyges’ mixing bowls, and is itself well worth seeing. Not unexpectedly, the Delphians refer to Gyges’ gold and silver offerings as ‘the Gygean treasure’ in honor of the donor.


Once these things were done, and he was secure in his power, Gyges sent a military expedition against the cities of Miletus and Smyrna. In the process, he also captured the citadel at Colophon. This venture being the only thing of significance undertaken during his 38 year reign, I will move on in my account giving no further comment on Gyges. We next examine his son Ardys, successor on the Lydian throne.

Ardys’ military exploits were as follows: He took Priene, and attacked Miletus. During his reign the Cimmerians were driven from their homeland by nomadic Scythian tribes. They moved into Asia and captured all of Sardis save for its citadel.


Next to inherit the throne was Sadyattes, son of Ardys. He reigned twelve years and was succeeded by Alyattes. Alyattes fought the Medes under Cyaxeres who was grandson of Deioces. He also expelled the Cimmerians from Asia, managed to capture Smyrna, a city that had originally been founded by people from Colophon, and attached Clazomanae. Here he did not have the success he hoped for, but met with disaster.

17 (Alyattes employs 'scorched-earth-lite' against Miletus)

Some more memorable events during the reign of Alyattes; He carried on the war against the Milesians which he had inherited from his father. His strategy each year was to invade Milesian territory just as the crops were ripening, marching to much fanfare, accompanied by pipes harps and oboes. He never burnt or laid waste to houses in the country, nor did he pull off doors. He left these structures unmolested. He did take pains to destroy the trees and crops. After doing this, he would retire out of the country. The rationale for this was that the Milesians had command of the sea, which made it useless for Alyattes to attempt a traditional siege. The Lydians refrained from destroying housing so the Milesians would continue to have dwelling places. They would thus continue to work the land and sow seed, with the result that the Lydians would have something to plunder each time they invaded.


The Lydians employed this strategy for eleven straight years. During this time the Milesians suffered two serious defeats, one in the neighborhood of Limeneium, in their own country, the other on the plain of the river Maeander.

For six of the eleven years Sadyattes, the person who initiated the campaign held the throne of the Lydians. For the remaining five years his son Alyattes, as has already been noted, carried the enterprise forward with great vigor.

During this time the Milesians received no aid from any Ionians except the Chians, who fought by their side in order to pay a debt they felt honor bound to meet. The Milesians had previously assisted them throughout the entirety of the Chian war with the Erythraeans.


In the twelfth year of the fighting between the Lydians and Milesians, the burning of the crops was the cause of an accidental conflagration. No sooner had the flames taken than a strong wind drove them on to the temple of Athena at Assesus. It burned to the ground. Great notice of this was not immediately taken, but on the Lydian army’s return to Sardis Alyattes fell ill. He did not recover for some time. So, either on advice or because he thought it was wise, he sent for advice from Delphi. He asked the God about his health. When the messenger arrived at Delphi the Pythia refused to give any sort of answer until the Lydians had rebuilt the temple of Athena at Assesus.


I know this as a fact, for I heard the tale first hand from the Delphians. The Milesians, however, have nothing to add on this point. They say that Periander, son of Cypselus, who was a very close friend of the tyrant at Miletus, one Thrasybulus, got wind of what the Pythia had said in response to Alyattes’ messengers, and had quickly sent the information to Thrasybulus, believing that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.


As soon as he received the reply of the Pythia, Alyattes sent a herald to Miletus, hoping to initiate a truce so the temple could be rebuilt. The herald was underway and as he was in transit, Thrasybulus who knew the intent of the message hatched a scheme. On the strength of the intelligence he had received, he surmised what Alyattes had in mind. So, he gathered all the grain in the city, both from the public store under his direct control, and from private stores. The grain was collected in the great public square of the city. He ordered that everyone in the city, on a signal was to make a great show of drinking and revelry.


His object was to impress the messenger from Sardis so he would relay to Alyattes that the Milesians had an enormous quantity of grain, poured without a care on the public street, and that the dwellers of the city were very much enjoying themselves.

This is indeed precisely what happened. The messenger sufficiently impressed with the merry-making, delivered his master’s message to Thasybulus, and made his way back to Sardis. So far as my information goes, peace was quickly brokered for no other reason than because Alyattes, firmly expecting the Milesians to be in direst circumstances, was told by his messenger that this was decidedly not so; that the Milesians were in fact not hungry at all, but quite the opposite, sated.

By the terms of the peace, the two peoples became allies. Alyattes built two temples to Athena at Assesus to replace the one that had been destroyed. He recovered his health. This then is the story of Alyattes and his war with Thrasybulus who led the Milesians.

The Pythia at Delphi