Tales From Herodotus XI. Captures of Babylon

Translated from Tales From Herodotus

A. First Capture, by Cyrus

Cyrus captures Babylon by draining off the Euphrates into the empty basin of a lake.

Cyrus was marching upon Babylon, and the Babylonians marched out for battle and awaited him. And when he came marching near the city, the Babylonians joined battle, but they were defeated and forced into the town, where they had enough provisions for many years.

These people, therefore, had no regard for a siege. So finally he did the following. He stationed an army where the river flowed into the city, and behind the city he stationed another again, where the river flowed out of the city, and he proclaimed to the army, if they should see the stream become crossable, to enter the city by this [route]. And having so stationed and advised, he marched away with a useless [remnant] of his army. He arrived at a lake, a marsh really, and by leading the river into it by means of a trench, he made the ancient stream crossable by lowering it. And once such a thing happened, the Persians, those very men appointed for this very purpose, when the Euphrates river lowered to about the middle of a man’s thigh, they entered into Babylon along the stream.

Now if the Babylonians had learned or had discovered the doings of Cyrus, they would have seen the Persians entering the city and they would have killed the worst. For they would have closed all the gates that led to the river and, mounting those walls of loose stone that had been built by the bank of the river, they would have shot them like fish in a barrel.* But now the Persians stood by them unexpectedly. For beyond the borders of the city, those around the edges of the city had been captured, and so they dwelling in central Babylon did not learn this, but instead (since it happened to be a festival) they were dancing and making merry the whole time, until they learned the truth.

* The Greek is so close to this expression that I felt no guilt using it.  ἔλαβον ἂν αὐτους ὡς ἐν κύρτῃ, “they would have taken them as if in a κύρτη“. A kurte is a special basket for catching fish (or, a bird-cage).

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