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Darius the Great by  Jacob Abbott




[99] SEVERAL of the events and incidents which occurred immediately after the accession of Darius to the throne, illustrate in a striking manner the degree in which the princes and potentates of ancient days were governed by caprice and passionate impulse even in their pubic acts. One of the most remarkable of these was the case of Intaphernes.

Intaphernes was one of the seven conspirators who combined to depose the magian and place Darius on the throne. By the agreement which they made with each other before it was decided which should be the king, each of them was to have free access to the king's presence at all times. One evening, soon after Darius became established on his throne, Intaphernes went to the palace, and was proceeding to enter the apartment of the king without ceremony, when he was stopped by two officers, who told him that the king had retired. Intaphernes was incensed at the officers' insolence, [100] as he called it. He drew his sword, and cut off their noses and their ears. Then he took the bridle off from his horse at the palace gate, and tied the officers together; and then, leaving them in this helpless and miserable condition, he went away.

The officers immediately repaired to the king, and presented themselves to him, a frightful spectacle, wounded and bleeding, and complaining bitterly of Intaphernes as the author of the injuries which they had received. The king was at first alarmed for his own safety. He feared that the conspirators had all combined together to rebel against his authority, and that this daring insult offered to his personal attendants, in his very palace, was the first outbreak of it. He accordingly sent for the conspirators one by one, to ask of them whether they approved of what Intaphernes had done. They promptly disavowed all connection with Intaphernes in the act, and all approval of it, and declared their determination to adhere to the decision that they had made, by which Darius had been placed on the throne.

Darius then, after taking proper precautions to guard against any possible attempts at resistance sent soldiers to seize Intaphernes and [101] also his son, and all of his family, relatives, and friends who were capable of bearing arms; for he suspected that Intaphernes had meditated a rebellion, and he thought that, if so, these men would most probably be his accomplices. The prisoners were brought before him. There was, indeed, no proof that they were engaged in any plan of rebellion, nor even that any plan of rebellion whatever had been formed; but this circumstance afforded them no protection. The liberties and the lives of all subjects were at the supreme and absolute disposal of these ancient kings. Darius thought it possible that the prisoners had entertained, or might entertain, some treasonable designs, and he conceived that he should, accordingly, feel safer if they were removed out of the way. He decreed, therefore, that they must all die.

While the preparations were making for the execution, the wife of Intaphernes came continually to the palace of Darius, begging for an audience, that she might intercede for the lives of her friends. Darius was informed of this, and at last, pretending to be moved with compassion for her distress, he sent her word that he would pardon one of the criminals for her sake, and that she might decide which one it [102] should be. His real motive in making this proposal seems to have been to enjoy the perplexity and anguish which the heart of a woman must suffer in being compelled thus to decide, in a question of life and death, between a husband and a son.

The wife of Intaphernes did not decide in favor of either of these. She gave the preference, on the other hand, to a brother. Darius was very much surprised at this result, and sent a messenger to her to inquire how it happened that she could pass over and abandon to their fate her husband and her son, in order to save the life of her brother, who was certainly to be presumed less near and dear to her. To which she gave this extraordinary reply, that the loss of her husband and her son might perhaps be repaired, since it was not impossible that she might be married again, and that she might have another son; but that, inasmuch as both her father and mother were dead, she could never have another brother. The death of her present brother would, therefore, be an irreparable loss.

The king was so much pleased with the novelty and unexpectedness of this turn of thought, that he gave her the life of her son in addition [103] to that of her brother. All the rest of the family circle of relatives and friends, together with Intaphernes himself, he ordered to be slain.

Darius had occasion to be so much displeased, too, shortly after his accession to the throne, with the governor of one of his provinces, that he was induced to order him to be put to death. The circumstances connected with this governor's crime; and the manner of his execution, illustrate very forcibly the kind of government which was administered by these military despots in ancient times. It must be premised that great empires, like that over which Darius had been called to rule, were generally divided into provinces. The inhabitants of these provinces, each community within its own borders, went on, from year to year, in their various pursuits of peaceful industry, governed mainly, in their relations to each other, by the natural sense of justice instinctive in man, and by those thousand local institutions and usages which are always springing up in all human communities under the influence of this principle. There were governors stationed over these provinces, whose main duty it was to collect and remit to the king the tribute which the province was required to furnish him. These gov- [104] ernors were, of course, also to suppress any domestic outbreak of violence, and to repel any foreign invasion which might occur. A sufficient military force was placed at their disposal to enable them to fulfill these functions. They paid these troops, of course, from sums which they collected in their provinces under the same system by which they collected the tribute. This made them, in a great measure, independent of the king in the maintenance of their armies. They thus intrenched themselves in their various capitals at the head of these troops, and reigned over their respective dominions almost as if they were kings themselves. They had, in fact, very little connection with the supreme monarch, except to send him the annual tribute which they had collected from their people, and to furnish, also, their quota of troops in case of a national war. In the time of our Savior, Pilate was such a governor, intrusted by the Romans with the charge of Judea, and Matthew was one of the tax gatherers employed to collect the tribute.

Of course, the governors of such provinces, as we have already said, were, in a great measure, independent of the king. He had, ordinarily, no officers of justice whose jurisdiction [105] could control, peacefully, such powerful vassals. The only remedy in most cases, when they were disobedient and rebellious, was to raise an army and go forth to make war upon them, as in the case of any foreign state. This was attended with great expense, and trouble, and hazard. The governors, when ambitious and aspiring, sometimes managed their resources with so much energy and military skill as to get the victory over their sovereign in the contests in which they engaged with them, and then they would gain vast accessions to the privileges and powers which they exercised in their own departments; and they would sometimes overthrow their discomfited sovereign entirely, and take possession of his throne themselves in his stead.

Oretes was the name of one of these governors in the time of Darius. He had been placed by Cyrus, some years before, in charge of one of the provinces into which the kingdom of Lydia had been divided. The seat of government was Sardis. He was a capricious and cruel tyrant, as, in fact, almost all such governors [106] were. We will relate an account of one of the deeds which he performed some time before Darius ascended the throne, and which sufficiently illustrates his character.

He was one day sitting at the gates of his palace in Sardis, in conversation with the governor of a neighboring territory who had come to visit him. The name of this guest was Mitrobates. As the two friends were boasting to one another, as such warriors are accustomed to do, of the deeds of valor and prowess which they had respectively performed. Mitrobates said that Oretes could not make any great pretensions to enterprise and bravery so long as he allowed the Greek island of Samos, which was situate at a short distance from the Lydian coast, to remain independent, when it would be so easy to annex it to the Persian empire. "You are afraid of Polycrates, I suppose," said he. Polycrates was the king of Samos.

Oretes was stung by this taunt, but, instead of revenging himself on Mitrobates, the author of it, he resolved on destroying Polycrates, though he had no reason other than this for any feeling of enmity toward him.

Polycrates, although the seat of his dominion [107] was a small island in the Ægean Sea, was a very wealthy, and powerful, and prosperous prince. All his plans and enterprises had been remarkably successful. He had built and equipped a powerful fleet, and had conquered many islands in the neighborhood of his own. He was projecting still wider schemes of conquests, and hoped, in fact, to make himself the master of all the seas.

A very curious incident is related of Polycrates, which illustrates very strikingly the childish superstition which governed the minds of men in those ancient days. It seems that in the midst of his prosperity, his friend and ally, the King of Egypt—for these events, though narrated here, occurred before the invasion of Egypt by Cambyses—sent to him a letter, of which the following is the purport.

"Amasis, king of Egypt, to Polycrates.

"It always gives me great satisfaction and pleasure to hear of the prosperity of a friend and ally, unless it is too absolutely continuous and uninterrupted. Something like an alternation of good and ill fortune is best for man; I have never known an instance of a very long, continued course of unmingled and uninter- [108] rupted success that did not end, at last, in overwhelming and terrible calamity. I am anxious, therefore, for you, and my anxiety will greatly increase if this extraordinary and unbroken prosperity should continue much longer. I counsel you, therefore, to break the current yourself, if fortune will not break it. Bring upon yourself some calamity, or loss, or suffering, as a means of averting the heavier evils which will otherwise inevitably befall you. It is a general and substantial welfare only that can be permanent and final."

Polycrates seemed to think there was good sense in this suggestion. He began to look around him to see in what way he could bring upon himself some moderate calamity or loss, and at length decided on the destruction of a very valuable signet ring which he kept among his treasures. The ring was made with very costly jewels set in gold, and was much celebrated both for its exquisite workmanship and also for its intrinsic value. The loss of this ring would be, he thought, a sufficient calamity to break the evil charm of an excessive and unvaried current of good fortune. Polycrates, therefore, ordered one of the largest vessels in [109] his navy, a fifty-oared galley, to be equipped and manned, and, embarking in it with a large company of attendants, he put to sea. When he was at some distance from the island, he took the ring, and in the presence of all his attendants, he threw it forth into the water, and saw it sink, to rise, as he supposed, no more.

But Fortune, it seems, was not to be thus outgeneraled. A few days after Polycrates had returned, a certain fisherman on the coast took, in his nets, a fish of very extraordinary size and beauty; so extraordinary, in fast, that he felt it incumbent on him to make a present of it to the king. The servants of Polycrates, on opening the fish for the purpose of preparing it for the table, to their great astonishment and gratification, found the ring within. The king was overjoyed at thus recovering his lost treasure; he had, in fact, repented of his rashness in throwing it away, and had been bitterly lamenting its loss. His satisfaction and pleasure were, therefore, very great in regaining it; and he immediately sent to Amasis an account of the whole transaction, expecting that Amasis would share in his joy.

Amasis, however, sent word back to him in reply, that he considered the return of the ring [110] in that almost miraculous manner as an extremely unfavorable omen. "I fear," said he, "that it is decreed by the Fates that you must be overwhelmed, at last, by some dreadful calamity, and that no measures of precaution which you can adopt will avail to avert it. It seems to me, too," he added, "that it is incumbent on me to withdraw from all alliance and connection with you, lest I should also, at last, be involved in your destined destruction."

Whether this extraordinary story was true, or whether it was all fabricated after the fall of Polycrates, as a dramatic embellishment of his history, we can not now know. The result, however, corresponded with these predictions of Amasis, if they were really made; for it was soon after these events that the conversation took place at Sardis between Oretes and Mitrobates, at the gates of the palace, which led Oretes to determine on effecting Polycrates's destruction.

In executing the plans which he thus formed, Oretes had not the courage and energy necessary for an open attack on Polycrates, and he consequently resolved on attempting to accomplish his end by treachery and stratagem.

The plan which he devised was this: He sent [111] a messenger to Polycrates with a letter of the following purport:

"Oretes, governor of Sardis, to Polycrates of Samos.

I am aware, sire, of the plans which you have long been entertaining for extending your power among the islands and over the waters of the Mediterranean, until you shall have acquired the supreme and absolute dominion of the seas. I should like to join you in this enterprise. You have ships and men, and I have money. Let us enter into an alliance with each other. I have accumulated in my treasuries a large supply of gold and silver, which I will furnish for the expenses of the undertaking. If you have any doubt of my sincerity in making these offers, and of my ability to fulfill them, send some messenger in whom you have confidence, and I will lay the evidence before him."

Polycrates was much pleased at the prospect of a large accession to his funds, and he sent the messenger, as Oretes had proposed. Oretes prepared to receive him by filling a large number of boxes nearly full with heavy stones, and [112] then placing a shallow layer of gold or silver coin at the top. These boxes were then suitably covered and secured, with the fastenings usually adopted in those days, and placed away in the royal treasuries. When the messenger arrived, the boxes were brought out and opened, and were seen by the messenger to be full, as he supposed, of gold and silver treasure. The messenger went back to Polycrates, and reported that all which Oretes had said was true; and Polycrates then determined to go to the main land himself to pay Oretes a visit, that they might mature together their plans for the intended campaigns. He ordered a fifty-oared galley to be prepared to convey him.

His daughter felt a presentiment, it seems, that some calamity was impending. She earnestly entreated her father not to go. She had had a dream, she said, about him, which had frightened her excessively, and which she was convinced portended some terrible danger. Polycrates paid no attention to his daughter's warnings. She urged them more and more earnestly, until, at last, she made her father angry, and then she desisted. Polycrates then embarked on board his splendid galley, and sailed away. As soon as he landed in the dominions of Ore- [113] tes , the monster seized him and put him to death, and then ordered his body to be nailed to a cross, for exhibition to all passers by, as a public spectacle. The train of attendants and servants that accompanied Polycrates on this expedition were all made slaves, except a few persons of distinction, who were sent home in a shameful and disgraceful manner. Among the attendants who were detained in captivity by Oretes was a celebrated family physician, named Democedes, whose remarkable and romantic adventures will be the subject of the next chapter.

Oretes committed several other murders and assassinations in this treacherous manner, without any just ground for provocation. In these deeds of violence and cruelty, he seems to have acted purely under the influence of that wanton and capricious malignity which the possession of absolute and irresponsible power so often engenders in the minds of bad men. It is doubtful, however, whether these cruelties and crimes would have particularly attracted the attention of Darius, so long as he was not himself directly affected by them. The central government, in these ancient empires, generally interested itself very little in the contentions and [114] quarrels of the governors of the provinces, provided that the tribute was efficiently collected and regularly paid.

A case, however, soon occurred, in Oretes's treacherous and bloody career, which arrested the attention of Darius and aroused his ire. Darius had sent a messenger to Oretes, with certain orders, which, it seems, Oretes did not like to obey. After delivering his dispatches the bearer set out on his return, and was never afterward heard of. Darius ascertained, to his own satisfaction at least, that Oretes had caused his messenger to be waylaid and killed, and that the bodies both of horse and rider had been buried, secretly, in the solitudes of the mountains, in order to conceal the evidences of the deed.

Darius determined on punishing this crime. Some consideration was, however, required, in order to determine in what way his object could best be effected. The province of Oretes was at a great distance from Susa, and Oretes was strongly established there, at the head of a great force. His guards were bound, it is true, to obey the orders of Darius, but it was questionable whether they would do so. To raise an army and march against the rebellious govern- [115] or would be an expensive and hazardous undertaking, and perhaps, too, it would prove that such a measure was not necessary. All things considered, Darius determined to try the experiment of acting, by his own direct orders, upon the troops and guards in Oretes's capital, with the intention of resorting subsequently to an armed force of his own, if that should be at last required.

He accordingly called together a number of his officers and nobles, selecting those on whose resolution and fidelity he could most confidently rely, and made the following address to them:

"I have an enterprise which I wish to commit to the charge of some one of your number who is willing to undertake it, which requires no military force, and no violent measures of any kind, but only wisdom, sagacity, and courage. I wish to have Oretes, the governor of Sardis, brought to me, dead or alive. He has perpetrated innumerable crimes, and now, in addition to all his other deeds of treacherous violence, he has had the intolerable insolence to put to death one of my messengers. Which of you will volunteer to bring him, dead or alive, to me?"

This proposal awakened a great enthusiasm [116] among the nobles to whom it was addressed. Nearly thirty of them volunteered their services to execute the order. Darius concluded to decide between these competitors by lot. The lot fell upon a certain man named Bagæus, and he immediately began to form his plans and make his arrangements for the expedition.

He caused a number of different orders to be prepared, beginning with directions of little moment, and proceeding to commands of more and more weighty importance, all addressed to the officers of Oretes's army and to his guards. These orders were all drawn up in writing with great formality, and were signed by the name of Darius, and sealed with his seal; they, moreover, named Bagæus as the officer selected by the king to superintend the execution of them. Provided with these documents, Bagæus proceeded to Sardis, and presented himself at the court of Oretes. He presented his own personal credentials, and with them some of his most insignificant orders. Neither Oretes nor his guards felt any disposition to disobey them. Bagæus, being thus received and recognized as the envoy of the king, continued to present new decrees and edicts, from time to time, as occasions occurred in which he thought the guards [117] would be ready to obey them, until he found the habit, on their part, of looking to him as the representative of the supreme power sufficiently established; for their disposition to obey him was not merely tested, it was strengthened by every new act of obedience. When he found, at length, that his hold upon the guards was sufficiently strong, he produced his two final decrees, one ordering the guards to depose Oretes from his power, and the other to behead him. Both the commands were obeyed.

The events and incidents which have been described in this chapter were of no great importance in themselves, but they illustrate, more forcibly than any general description would do, the nature and the operation of the government exercised by Darius throughout the vast empire over which he found himself presiding.

Such personal and individual contests and transactions were not all that occupied his attention. He devoted a great deal of thought and of time to the work of arranging, in a distinct and systematic manner, the division of his dominions into provinces, and to regulating precisely the amount of tribute to be required of each, and the modes of collecting it. He divided his empire into twenty great districts [118] each of which was governed by a ruler called a satrap. He fixed the amount of tribute which each of these districts was to pay, making it greater or less as the soil and the productions of the country varied in fertility and abundance. In some cases this tribute was to be paid in gold, in others in silver, and in others in peculiar commodities, natural to the country of which they were required. For example, one satrapy, which comprised a country famous for its horses, was obliged to furnish one white horse for every day in the year. This made three hundred and sixty annually, that being the number of days in the Persian year. Such a supply, furnished yearly, enabled the king soon to have a very large troop of white horses; and as the horses were beautifully caparisoned, and the riders magnificently armed, the body of cavalry thus formed was one of the most splendid in the world.

The satrapies were numbered from the west toward the east. The western portion of Asia Minor constituted the first, and the East Indian nations the twelfth and last. The East Indians had to pay their tribute in ingots of gold. Their country produced gold.

As it is now forever too late to separate the [119] facts from the fiction of ancient history, and determine what is to be rejected as false and what received as true, our only resource is to tell the whole story just as it comes down to us, leaving it to each reader to decide for himself what he will believe. In this view of the subject, we will conclude this chapter by relating the manner in which it was said in ancient times that these Indian nations obtained their gold.



The gold country was situated in remote and dreary deserts, inhabited only by wild beasts and vermin, among which last there was, it seems, a species of ants, which were of enormous size, and wonderful fierceness and voracity, and which could run raster than the fleetest horse or camel. These ants, in making their excavations, would bring up from beneath the surface of the ground all the particles of gold which came in their way, and throw them out around their hills. The Indians then would penetrate into these deserts, mounted on the fleetest camels that they could procure, and leading other camels, not so fleet, by their sides. They were provided, also, with bags for containing the golden sands. When they arrived at the ant hills, they would dismount, and, gathering up the gold which the ants had discarded, would [120] fill their bags with the utmost possible dispatch, and then mount their camels and ride away. The ants, in the mean time, would take the alarm, and begin to assemble to attack them; but as their instinct prompted them to wait until considerable numbers were collected before they commenced their attack, the Indians had time to fill their bags and begin their flight before their enemies were ready. Then commenced the chase, the camels running at their full speed, and the swarms of ants following, and gradually drawing nearer and nearer. At length, when nearly overtaken, the Indians would abandon the camels that they were leading, and fly on, more swiftly, upon those which they rode. While the ants were busy in devouring the victims thus given up to them, the authors of all the mischief would make good their escape, and thus carry off their gold to a place of safety. These famous ants were bigger than foxes!

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