Cyrus the Great
[Please be warned that this blog post contains explicit descriptions of ancient barbarian sex practices, marriage markets, and gratuitous, nay, lurid descriptions of violence and desecration of corpses. Not me. Herodotus. The Histories.]
The first of “The Great’s” in history and conqueror and ruler of the largest empire up to that point in history; the Achaemenid Dynasty.
Cyrus the Great (ca.600 – 529 BCE) was a towering figure in the history of mankind. As the “father of the Iranian nation”, he was the first world leader to be referred to as “The Great”. Cyrus founded the first world empire – and the second Iranian dynastic empire (the Achaemenids). http://cyrusthegreat.net/
196. … The customs which are established among them are as follows, the cleverest in our opinion being this, … In every village once in each year they did this: – When maidens grew to the age for marriage, they gathered these all together and brought them in a body to one place, and a crowd of men stood round. The crier caused each one severally to stand up, and proceeded to sell them, first the most comely of all, and afterwards, when she had been sold and had fetched a large sum of money, he would put up another who was the most comely after her. They were sold for marriage. Now all the wealthy men of the Babylonians who were ready to marry vied with one another in bidding for the most beautiful maidens; those however of the common sort who were ready to marry did not require a fine form, but they would accept money together with less comely maidens.For when the crier had made an end of selling the most comely of the maidens, then he would cause to stand up that one who was least shapely, or any one of them which be crippled in any way, and he would make proclamation of her, asking who was willing for least gold to have her in marriage, until she was assigned to him who was willing to accept least.The gold came in from the sale of the comely maidens, and so those of beautiful form provided dowries for those which were unshapely or crippled; but to give in marriage one’s own daughter to whomsoever each man would, was not allowed, nor to carry off the maiden after buying her without a surety; for it was necessary for the man to provide sureties that he would marry her, before he took her away; and if they did not agree well together, the law was laid down that he should pay back the money.
Anyhow, more descriptions of quaint ancient mating customs later – after he either burns Croesus to death, or spares him and keeps him around as a sort of talking house pet as has already been related, Cyrus conquers the rest of Asia minor, all the mid-east up to India, including Babylon which in those days was an enormous powerful place. While battling some people up around modern-day Uzbekistan (we all know about where that is right? Pretty close to GhafAniStan…) he tangles with a certain Queen Tomryis of the Massagetai. And who are these Massagetai?
215. The Massagetai dress similarly to the Scythians, and they have a manner of life which is also like theirs’ and they have horsemen and also men who do not ride on horses, and moreover there are both archers and spear-men, and their custom is to carry battle-axes. For everything they use either gold or bronze. They use bronze for all spear-points or arrowheads or battle-axes, but for head-dresses and girdle and shoulder-belts they employ gold as ornament. They likewise put breast-plates of bronze about their horses’ chests, but on their bridles and bits and cheek-pieces they employ gold. Iron however and silver they use not at all, for they do not have them in their land, but gold and bronze in abundance.216. These are the customs which they follow: – Each man marries a wife, but they have their wives in common; for that practice which the Hellenes say that the Scythians have, is not in fact done by the Scythians but by the Massagetai, that is to say, whenever a man of Massagetai may desire a woman he hangs up his quiver in front of her wagon and has sex with her freely. They have no precise limit of old age laid down for their life, but when a man grows very old, his nearest of kin come together and slaughter him ceremoniously and cattle also with him; and then after that they boil the flesh and banquet upon it. This is considered by them the happiest lot; but him who has ended his life by disease they do not eat, but cover him in earth, counting it a misfortune that he did not obtain ceremonious slaughter…
212. She then, when she heard that which had come to pass concerning the army and also the things concerning her son, sent a herald to Cyrus and said: “Cyrus, insatiable of blood, do not celebrate too much what has come to pass, namely because with that fruit of the vine, with which you fill yourselves and become so mad that as the wine descends into your bodies, wicked words float up upon its stream, – because setting a snare, I say, with such a drug as this you overcame my son, and not by valour in fight. Now therefore hear this my word, giving you good advice: – Restore to me my son and depart from this land without penalty, triumphant over a third part of the army of the Massagetai. If you shall not do so, I swear to you by the Sun, who is lord of the Massagetai, that surely I will give you your fill of blood, blood-thirsty as you are.“213. These words were reported to him, but Cyrus disregarded them; and the son of of the queen Tomyris, Spargapises, when he sobered up and he realized his plight, entreated Cyrus that he might be loosed from his chains and gained his request. So soon as his hands were free, he put himself to death.214. He ended his life in this manner; but Tomyris, as Cyrus had not listened to her, gathered together all her power and joined battle with Cyrus. This battle I judge to have been the fiercest of all the battles fought by Barbarians… The greater part of the Persian army was destroyed on the spot, and Cyrus himself died there, after he had reigned twenty-nine years. Then Tomyris filled a skin with human blood and had search made among the Persian dead for the corpse of Cyrus. When she found it, she let his head down into the skin and doing outrage to the corpse she said this over it: “Though I yet live and have overcome you in fight, nevertheless you have destroyed me by taking my son with craft. I nevertheless according to my threat will give you your fill of blood.“There are many tales told about the end of the life of Cyrus, but this one is to my mind the most worth of belief.
As Johnny Carson used to say ‘ this is wild stuff’!!!!!— guess Cyrus did not have the last laugh after all— after being SO CLEVER— still got it in the end!!!!! it’s appreciated that you can distill this information- which is pretty terse reading for us ‘average’ readers!!!!!
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Thanks for taking me out of classical antiquity and the Western perspective. I’ve read translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey and what sticks with me is the bloody battle scenes choreographed by the gods to be played out in the mortal world. Queen Tomryis dunking of Cyrus’ head in a bloody bag of skin. Awesome. Better than a good horror movie. More fascinating than watching a train wreck. So, do you think Queen Tomryis and Queen Boudica, if they had been born in the same place and time, would be besties or frenemies?
All joking aside, I very much enjoyed reading about Cyrus and going off on tangents via Wikepedia.
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