Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Persian Massacre of Samos

Previously in Herodotus

147. Then Otanes the Persian commander, seeing that the Persians had suffered greatly, purposely forgot the commands which Darius gave him when he sent him forth, not to kill any one of the Samians nor to sell any into slavery, but to restore the island to Syloson free from all suffering of calamity,—these commands, I say, he purposely forgot, and gave the word to his army to slay every one whom they should take, man or boy, without distinction. So while some of the army were besieging the fortress, others were slaying every one who came in their way, in sanctuary or out of sanctuary equally.

148. Meanwhile Maiandrios had escaped from Samos and was sailing to Lacedemon; and having come thither and caused to be brought up to the city the things which he had taken with him when he departed, he did as follows:—first, he would set out his cups of silver and of gold, and then while the servants were cleaning them, he would be engaged in conversation with Cleomenes the son of Anaxandrides, then king of Sparta, and would bring him on to his house; and when Cleomenes saw the cups he marveled and was astonished at them, and Maiandrios would bid him take away with him as many of them as he pleased. Maiandrios said this twice or three times, but Cleomenes herein showed himself the most upright of men; for he not only did not think fit to take that which was offered, but perceiving that Maiandrios would make presents to others of the citizens, and so obtain assistance for himself, he went to the Ephors and said that it was better for Sparta that the stranger of Samos should depart from Peloponnesus, lest he might persuade either himself or some other man of the Spartans to act basely. They accordingly accepted his counsel, and expelled Maiandrios by proclamation.

149. As to Samos, the Persians, after sweeping the population off it, delivered it to Syloson stripped of men. Afterwards however the commander Otanes even joined in settling people there, moved by a vision of a dream and by a disease which seized him, so that he was diseased in the genital organs.

150. After a naval force had thus gone against Samos, the Babylonians made revolt, being for this exceedingly well prepared; for during all the time of the reign of the Magian and of the insurrection of the seven, during all this time and the attendant confusion they were preparing themselves for the siege of their city: and it chanced by some means that they were not observed to be doing this. Then when they made open revolt, they did as follows:—after setting apart their mothers first, each man set apart also for himself one woman, whosoever he wished of his own household, and all the remainder they gathered together and killed by suffocation. Each man set apart the one who has been mentioned to serve as a maker of bread, and they suffocated the rest in order that they might not consume their provisions.

151. Darius being informed of this and having gathered together all his power, made expedition against them, and when he had marched his army up to Babylon he began to besiege them; but they cared nothing about the siege, for the Babylonians used to go up to the battlements of the wall and show contempt of Darius and of his army by gestures and by words; and one of them uttered this saying: "Why, O Persians, do ye remain sitting here, and not depart? For then only shall ye capture us, when mules shall bring forth young." This was said by one of the Babylonians, not supposing that a mule would ever bring forth young.

152. So when a year and seven months had now passed by, Darius began to be vexed and his whole army with him, not being able to conquer the Babylonians. And yet Darius had used against them every kind of device and every possible means, but not even so could he conquer them, though besides other devices he had attempted it by that also with which Cyrus conquered them; but the Babylonians were terribly on their guard and he was not able to conquer them.

153. Then in the twentieth month there happened to Zopyros the son of that Megabyzos who had been of the seven men who slew the Magian, to this Zopyros, I say, son of Megabyzos there happened a prodigy,—one of the mules which served as bearers of provisions for him produced young: and when this was reported to him, and Zopyros had himself seen the foal, because he did not believe the report, he charged those who had seen it not to tell that which had happened to any one, and he considered with himself what to do. And having regard to the words spoken by the Babylonian, who had said at first that when mules should produce young, then the wall would be taken, having regard (I say) to this ominous saying, it seemed to Zopyros that Babylon could be taken: for he thought that both the man had spoken and his mule had produced young by divine dispensation.

154. Since then it seemed to him that it was now fated that Babylon should be captured, he went to Darius and inquired of him whether he thought it a matter of very great moment to conquer Babylon; and hearing in answer that he thought it of great consequence, he considered again how he might be the man to take it and how the work might be his own: for among the Persians benefits are accounted worthy of a very high degree of honor. He considered accordingly that he was not able to make conquest of it by any other means, but only if he should maltreat himself and desert to their side. So, making light esteem of himself, he maltreated his own body in a manner which could not be cured; for he cut off his nose and his ears, and shaved his hair round in an unseemly way, and scourged himself, and so went into the presence of Darius.

- Herodotus, Book III

More Information: from the New Yorker Magazine, Herodotus's Book.

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