I.201: When Cyrus had achieved the conquest of the Babylonians, he conceived the
desire of bringing the Massagetai under his dominion. Now the Massagetai are said to be a
great and warlike nation, dwelling eastward, toward the rising of the sun, beyond the
river Araxes, and opposite the Issedonians. By many they are regarded as a Scythian race.
I.215: In their dress and mode of living the Massagetai resemble the Scythians.
They fight both on horseback and on foot, neither method is strange to them: they use bows
and lances, but their favorite weapon is the battle-axe. Their arms are all either of gold
or brass. For their spear-points, and arrow-heads, and for their battle-axes, they make
use of brass; for head-gear, belts, and girdles, of gold. So too with the caparison of
their horses, they give them breastplates of brass, but employ gold about the reins, the
bit, and the cheek-plates. They use neither iron nor silver, having none in their country;
but they have brass and gold in abundance.
I.216: The following are some of their customs: Each man has but one wife, yet
all the wives are held in common; for this is a custom of the Massagetai and not of the
Scythians, as the Hellenes wrongly say. Human life does not come to its natural close with
this people; but when a man grows very old, all his kinsfolk collect together and offer
him up in sacrifice; offering at the same time some cattle also. After the sacrifice they
boil the flesh and feast on it; and those who thus end their days are reckoned the
happiest. If a man dies of disease they do not eat him, but bury him in the ground,
bewailing his ill-fortune that he did not come to be sacrificed. They sow no grain, but
live on their herds, and on fish, of which there is great plenty in the Araxes. Milk is
what they chiefly drink. The only god they worship is the sun, and to him they offer the
horse in sacrifice; under the notion of giving to the swiftest of the gods the swiftest of
all mortal creatures.
I.205: At this time the Massagetai were ruled by a queen, named Tomyris, who at
the death of her husband, the late king, had mounted the throne. To her Cyrus sent
ambassadors, with instructions to court her on his part, pretending that he wished to take
her to wife. Tomyris, however, aware that it was her kingdom, and not herself, that he
courted, forbade the men to approach. Cyrus, therefore, finding that he did not advance
his designs by this deceit, marched towards the Araxes, and openly displaying his hostile
intentions; set to work to construct a bridge on which his army might cross the river, and
began building towers upon the boats which were to be used in the passage.
I.206: While the Persian leader was occupied in these labors, Tomyris sent a
herald to him, who said, "King of the Medes, cease to press this enterprise, for you
cannot know if what you are doing will be of real advantage to you. Be content to rule in
peace your own kingdom, and bear to see us reign over the countries that are ours to
govern. As, however, I know you will not choose to hearken to this counsel, since there is
nothing you less desirest than peace and quietness, come now, if you are so mightily
desirous of meeting the Massagetai in arms, leave your useless toil of bridge-making; let
us retire three days' march from the river bank, and do you come across with your
soldiers; or, if you like better to give us battle on your side the stream, retire
yourself an equal distance." Cyrus, on this offer, called together the chiefs of the
Persians, and laid the matter before them, requesting them to advise him what he should
do. All the votes were in favor of his letting Tomyris cross the stream, and giving battle
on Persian ground.
I.207: But Croesus the Lydian, who was present at the meeting of the chiefs,
disapproved of this advice; he therefore rose, and thus delivered his sentiments in
opposition to it: "Oh! my king! I promised you long since, that, as Zeus had given me
into your hands, I would, to the best of my power, avert impending danger from your house.
Alas! my own sufferings, by their very bitterness, have taught me to be keen-sighted of
dangers. If you deem yourself an immortal, and your army an army of immortals, my counsel
will doubtless be thrown away upon you. But if you feel yourself to be a man, and a ruler
of men, lay this first to heart, that there is a wheel on which the affairs of men
revolve, and that its movement forbids the same man to be always fortunate.
"Now concerning the matter in hand, my judgment runs counter to the judgment of
your other counselors. For if you agree to give the enemy entrance into your country,
consider what risk is run! Lose the battle, and therewith your whole kingdom is lost. For,
assuredly, the Massagetai, if they win the fight, will not return to their homes, but will
push forward against the states of your empire. Or, if you win the battle, why, then you
win far less than if you were across the stream, where you might follow up your victory.
For against your loss, if they defeat you on your own ground, must be set theirs in like
case. Rout their army on the other side of the river, and you may push at once into the
heart of their country. Moreover, were it not disgrace intolerable for Cyrus the son of
Cambyses to retire before and yield ground to a woman?
"My counsel, therefore, is that we cross the stream, and pushing forward as far as
they shall fall back, then seek to get the better of them by stratagem. I am told they are
unacquainted with the good things on which the Persians live, and have never tasted the
great delights of life. Let us then prepare a feast for them in our camp; let sheep be
slaughtered without stint, and the wine cups be filled full of noble liquor, and let all
manner of dishes be prepared: then leaving behind us our worst troops, let us fall back
towards the river. Unless I very much mistake, when they see the good fare set out, they
will forget all else and fall to. Then it will remain for us to do our parts
I.208: Cyrus, when the two plans were thus placed in contrast before him,
changed his mind, and preferring the advice which Croesus had given, returned for answer
to Tomyris that she should retire, and that he would cross the stream. She therefore
retired, as she had engaged; and Cyrus, giving Croesus into the care of his son Cambyses
(whom he had appointed to succeed him on the throne), with strict charge to pay him all
respect and treat him well, if the expedition failed of success; and sending them both
back to Persia, crossed the river with his army.
I.209: The first night after the passage, as he slept in the enemy's country, a
vision appeared to him. He seemed to see in his sleep the eldest of the sons of Hystaspes,
with wings upon his shoulders, shadowing with the one wing Asia, and Europe with the
other. Now Hystaspes, the son of Arsames, was of the race of the Achaimenidai, and his
eldest son, Darius, was at that time scarce twenty years old; wherefore, not being of age
to go to the wars, he had remained behind in Persia. When Cyrus woke from his sleep, and
turned the vision over in his mind, it seemed to him no light matter. He therefore sent
for Hystaspes, and taking him aside said, "Hystaspes, your son is discovered to be
plotting against me and my crown. I will tell you how I know it so certainly. The gods
watch over my safety, and warn me beforehand of every danger. Now last night, as I lay in
my bed, I saw in a vision the eldest of your sons with wings upon his shoulders, shadowing
with the one wing Asia, and Europe with the other. From this it is certain, beyond all
possible doubt, that he is engaged in some plot against me. Return you then at once to
Persia, and be sure, when I come back from conquering the Massagetai, to have your son
ready to produce before me, that I may examine him."
I.210: Thus Cyrus spoke, in the belief that he was plotted against by Darius;
but he missed the true meaning of the dream, which was sent by God to forewarn him, that
he was to die then and there, and that his kingdom was to fall at last to Darius.
Hystaspes made answer to Cyrus in these words: "Heaven forbid, sire, that there
should be a Persian living who would plot against you! If such an one there be, may a
speedy death overtake him! You found the Persians a race of slaves, you have made them
free men: you found them subject to others, you have made them lords of all. If a vision
has announced that my son is practicing against you, I resign him into your hands to deal
with as you will." Hystaspes, when he had thus answered, recrossed the Araxes and
hastened back to Persia, to keep a watch on his son Darius.
I.211: Meanwhile Cyrus, having advanced a day's march from the river, did as
Croesus had advised him, and, leaving the worthless portion of his army in the camp, drew
off with his good troops towards the river. Soon afterwards, a detachment of the
Massagetai, one-third of their entire army, led by Spargapises, son of the queen Tomyris,
coming up, fell upon the body which had been left behind by Cyrus, and on their resistance
put them to the sword. Then, seeing the banquet prepared, they sat down and began to
feast. When they had eaten and drunk their fill, and were now sunk in sleep, the Persians
under Cyrus arrived, slaughtered a great multitude, and made even a larger number
prisoners. Among these last was Spargapises himself.
I.212: When Tomyris heard what had befallen her son and her army, she sent a
herald to Cyrus, who thus addressed the conqueror: "You bloodthirsty Cyrus, pride not
yourself on this poor success: it was the grape-juice---which, when you drink it, makes
you so mad, and as you swallow it down brings up to your lips such bold and wicked
words---it was this poison by which you ensnared my child, and so overcame him, not in
fair open fight. Now hear what I advise, and be sure I advise you for your good. Restore
my son to me and get you from the land unharmed, triumphant over a third part of the host
of the Massagetai. Refuse, and I swear by the sun, the sovereign lord of the Massagetai,
bloodthirsty as you are, I will give you your fill of blood."
I.213: To the words of this message Cyrus paid no manner of regard. As for
Spargapises, the son of the queen, when the wine went off, and he saw the extent of his
calamity, he made request to Cyrus to release him from his bonds; then, when his prayer
was granted, and the fetters were taken from his limbs, as soon as his hands were free, he
I.214: Tomyris, when she found that Cyrus paid no heed to her advice, collected
all the forces of her kingdom, and gave him battle. Of all the combats in which the
barbarians have engaged among themselves, I reckon this to have been the fiercest. The
following, as I understand, was the manner of it: First, the two armies stood apart and
shot their arrows at each other; then, when their quivers were empty, they closed and
fought hand-to-hand with lances and daggers; and thus they continued fighting for a length
of time, neither choosing to give ground. At length the Massagetai prevailed. The greater
part of the army of the Persians was destroyed and Cyrus himself fell, after reigning nine
and twenty years. Search was made among the slain by order of the queen for the body of
Cyrus, and when it was found she took a skin, and, filling it full of human blood, she
dipped the head of Cyrus in the gore, saying, as she thus insulted the corpse, "I
live and have conquered you in fight, and yet by you am I ruined, for you took my son with
guile; but thus I make good my threat, and give you your fill of blood." Of the many
different accounts which are given of the death of Cyrus, this which I have followed
appears to me most worthy of credit.