Thursday, May 17, 2012

Herodotus’ “Histories” of the Persian Wars (very liberally ‘translaparaphrased’): Book I sections 72 -74

We continue the story of the run-up to Croesus' campaign against Cappadocia, his family relationships, and a nasty bit of revenge Scythian style, which set off a six year war between the Lydians and Medes, which was halted only due to an eclipse (which Thales knew all about).


Now, these Cappadocians are called, by the Greeks,‘Syrians.’ Before they came under Persian rule, they were subject to the Medes. At this period of time, they were ruled by Cyrus. The boundary between the Median and Lydian realms was along the river Halys, which flows out of the mountainous region of Armenia, through Cilicians territory, and then between the Matieni, on the right, and Phrygians on the other side. Passing through this area, it continues its course northward, and separates the Cappadocian Syrians on its right, from the Paphlagonians to its left. In essence the Halys cuts off the entirety of Asia Minor, from the Cyprian to the Euxine seas. This is where the neck of the peninsula is located. On foot, a man carrying no burden can cross it in five days.


Croesus had several motivations for invading Cappadocia: He desired to gain territory. Additionally, (and these were the primary reasons) he trusted the oracle as well as harboring a desire to avenge Cyrus on the behalf of Astyages. For, Cyrus, son of Cambyses had subdued Astyages. This Astyages was King of the Medes, the son of Cyaxares, and the brother in law of Croesus. How this came to be is as follows:

A nomadic tribe of Scythians had separated from the rest and had made its way into Median territory. At the time this land was ruled by Cyaxares, who was son of Phraortes, who in turn was son of Deioces. At first Cyaxares treated the Scythians well; they having placed themselves at his mercy. In fact, he held them in such high esteem that he entrusted boys to them, in order to allow them to learn the Scythian language and archery by their tutelage. Eventually it happened that the Scythians, who frequently hunted, and were generally successful, nevertheless, on one expedition returned empty-handed. Cyaxares, who had a reputation of being ill-tempered, treated them badly, with insult and abuse. The Scythians, taking umbrage, plotted to take satisfaction by taking one of the boy pupils and killing him. They would then dress and cube his flesh, as if it were animal flesh from a hunt. They would then offer it to Cyaxares, after which they would then make their way to Sardis with all haste. Alyattes, son of Sadyattees ruled there. The Scythian plan succeeded. Cyaxares and his guests consumed the boy’s flesh, and the Scythians fled to Alyattes.

Consequent to all this, Alyattes would not give over the Scythians as Cyaxares demanded. War ensued. The Lydian and Mede fought for five years. Each claimed victory in battles over the other. Once, they fought at night. Thus was the balanced state of affairs during the sixth year of the war. At this time it happened that during a battle, day suddenly turned to night. Thales of Miletus had, in fact predicted this eclipse some time previous, determining that it would happen within the very year of that battle. He had made this prediction to the Ionians.

So, when the warring parties saw this happen they ceased fighting and made great efforts at forging a peace. Mediating were one Syennesis a Cilician and Labynetus a Babylonian. They forged a sworn agreement cemented with an exchange of marriage between the two peoples. The mediators persuaded Alyattes to give his daughter Aryenis to Astyages, son of Cyaxares, for without such a strong connection, an agreement would fall apart. These nations make sworn oaths much as the Greeks do. They also have the additional ceremonial of cutting the skin of their arms and licking each other’s blood.