Tales From Herodotus XI. Captures of Babylon

The Ishtar Gates of Babylon, not mentioned in this story.

Translated from Tales From Herodotus.

B. Second Capture, by Darius

§1. Revolt of the Babylonians from Darius.

The Babylonians revolted, very well prepared for it. And when they revolted, they did this: with the exception of their mothers, each man chose for himself one woman whom he wanted from his own household; and then they brought together all the rest and throttled [them]; thus each took for himself one woman [to be] the breadmaker and they throttled the others so that they would not consume their supplies.

When Darius learned of this, he gathered all of his forces and he campaigned against them. But although he marched against the city and besieged the Babylonians, they thought nothing of a siege; indeed, they mounted the ramparts of the wall and danced defiantly and mocked Darius and his army. One of them said these words, “Why have you sat there, dear Persians, and not departed instead? For you will capture us just as soon as mules bear young.” One of the Babylonian said this in no way believing that a mule would bear young.

Seven months and a year soon passed by. Darius and his entire army both were vexed that they were unable to capture the Babylonians. And further, Darius had been using all his tricks and all his contrivances on them and even so he was unable to capture them, and he even attempted it by other tricks too, including that by which Cyrus captured them. But the Babylonians were fiendishly on guard, and it was not possible to capture them.

§2. The Persian Zopyrus, encouraged by an omen, determines to deceive the Babylonians by feigning desertion, after first mutilating himself.

But then on the twentieth month, for Zopyrus, son of Megabyzus, this marvel came to pass: one of his grain-carrying mules gave birth. When this was reported to him, Zopyrus, due to disbelief, went to see the newborn for himself. And then, after he forbade those who saw it from telling anyone of the occurrence, he formed a plan. In relation to the words of [that] Babylonian, it seemed to Zopyrus that Babylon was ready for capture; for he believed both that man’s speech and his mule giving birth [stood] with god.

And since it seemed to him to be fated that Babylon be captured, he approached Darius and inquired whether he valued highly the capture of Babylon. And when learned just how much he valued this, he planned so that he himself would be her captor and it would be his own deed. So then he did not consider it to be otherwise possible to bring her under their power unless he mutilated himself and deserted to them. Thereupon, and bearing it easily, he mutilated himself by irreversible mutilation; after he cut off his nose and ears, and badly chopped away his hair, and whipped himself, he went to Darius.

Darius bore it heavily to see that a man so honourable had been mutilated. He jumped up from his throne and he shouted out and asked him who the mutilator was. And he said, “Such a man does not exist (except you) in whom there is power to treat me so; it was not some foreigner, my king, that accomplished this, but I myself [did such upon] myself, so indignant [am I] that the Assyrians laugh at the Persians.”

And he answered, “Oh most wretched of men, by saying that you harmed yourself irreversibly because of those besieged, you place the noblest name upon the most shameful deed. And for what [reason], foolish man, with you mutilated, will our enemies surrender? How can you not have taken sail of your senses to so destroy yourself?”

And he said, “If I had told you what I intended to do, you would not have allowed me. But now, having taken it upon myself, I have done it. And so now, unless your part is lacking, we shall capture Babylon.”

§3. Zopyrus discloses to Darius the plan by which he hopes to effect the capture of Babylon.

“For I, as I am, shall desert to the wall and I shall say to them that I suffer this by your hand; and I believe that, having persuaded them that these things are so, an army shall be obtained. And you, on the tenth day, must marshal a thousand against those gates named for Semiramis; and again, on the seventh and tenth day, marshal another two-thousand for my benefit against the gates named for the Ninevites. And then, after twenty days have passed, station four-thousand others, after you have led them against the gates named for the Chaldeans. And let neither the former have arms nor the latter, except daggers. And then, at once after the twentieth day, order the other army to attack the wall all around. And marshal my Persians against the gates named for Baal and Cissia. For so I believe, since I will have displayed a great deed, the Babylonians will turn over to me assorted things but especially the keys to the gates. As to what follows, it is up to me and the Persians both to do what must be done.”

§4. The Babylonians receive Zopyrus, who pretends that he will reveal to them all Darius’ plans of attack. Elated by his apparent successes over the Persian troops, they invest him with the chief command, and he is thus enabled to betray the gates to the Persians.

Having given these orders, he went to the gates, looking over his shoulder as if he were truly a deserter. The men stationed along the gates, seeing him, ran down and opened one of the gates a little and they asked who he was and what he had come for. And he said to them that he was Zopyrus and he was deserting to them. When they heard this, the gate-keepers led him to the assembly of Babylon, and standing before them, he lamented, saying the he had suffered at the hand of Darius that which he had suffered by his own hand, that he suffered this because he advised him to withdraw his army, since no-one could point out any means of capturing [the city]. “And now,” he continued, “For you, good Babylonians, I have come for the greatest good, and for Darius and his army and the Persians, the greatest misfortune. For surely he who mutilated me thus shall not go unpunished; for I know all the ins and outs of his plans.”

He told [them] these sorts of things, and the Babylonians, when they saw that a man so highly honoured among the Persians had been deprived of his nose and ears, and had been marked with a whip and also by blood, they completely believed that he spoke the truth and had come to them an ally, and they were ready to entrust [to him] everything that he needed; and he needed an army.

When he received this from them, he did the very thing that he had agreed upon with Darius; for, on the tenth day, he led out the army of the Babylonians and surrounded the thousand which he first commanded Darius to marshal, slaughtering them. And when the Babylonians learned that he furnished deeds similar to his words, they were certainly very glad, and they were perfectly ready to serve [him] in every way. And after he let pass the agreed upon [number of] days, he again chose some of the Babylonians and led them out and slaughtered two-thousand soldiers of Darius. And when they saw this deed, all the Babylonians had [the name] of Zopyrus on their lips, praising him. And he again let pass the agreed upon [number of] days, and then led [men] out to the fore-ordained [spot], and surrounded and slaughtered the four-thousand. And when he accomplished this, the Babylonians thought that Zopyrus really was all that,* and he was appointed as commander of the army and sentinal of the walls.

And when Darius made an attack, as had been agreed upon, all around the wall, thereupon Zopyrus brought to light the entire deceit. For when the Babylonians mounted the walls and resisted the attacking army of Darius, Zopyrus opened up the gates named for Cissia and Baal, and let the Persians in to the wall. Those of the Babylonians who saw what had been done fled to the temple of the god Baal, while each of those who had not seen remained in his own rank, until they learned that they were betrayed.

§5. Punishment inflicted on the Babylonians and honours heaped upon Zopyrus.

Babylon was thus captured a second time. And Darius, once he had prevailed over the Babylonians, pulled down the wall and tore away all the gates (for previously, when Cyrus captured Babylon, he did neither of these). The leaders of the men, almost three-thousand, he impaled on stakes, and the remaining Babylonians he gave back the city to dwell in.

And in the judgement of Darius, no Persian born before or since ever surpassed the good service of Zopyrus, except Cyrus alone (for no Persian was yet worthy to compare himself to that man).** And Darius is often said to make known this opinion, that he would have wanted Zopyrus to be unscathed by outrage more than have twenty Babylons be added to the original. And he honoured him greatly, for he gave gifts to him every year which were the most highly valued by the Persians, and he gave Babylon to him to be ruled exempt from taxes for the length of that man’s life, and he gave him much else besides.

* This amuses me and it’s not too far off from the Greek. The original Greek idiom reads, literally, “Zopyrus was, indeed, everything amongst the Babylonians.”

** I changed the word order of this sentence almost completely from the Greek. The Greek reads more like, “And the good service of Zopyrus, none of the Persians surpassed, in the judgement of Darius, neither of those born since, nor of those before, except Cyrus alone (for to that man none of the Persians was yet worthy to compare himself).”

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6 Responses to Tales From Herodotus XI. Captures of Babylon

  1. Jonathan Neill says:

    Awesome Translation!

  2. Mark Mueller says:

    I hope that no one is using this to cheat on their school assignments.

  3. Connor Bunten says:

    Is there somewhere where I can find the original Greek?

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