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Darius the Great by  Jacob Abbott

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[144] THE city of Babylon, originally the capital of the Assyrian empire, was conquered by Cyrus, the founder of the Persian monarchy, when he annexed the Assyrian empire to his dominions. It was a vast and a very magnificent and wealthy city; and Cyrus made it, for a time, one of his capitals.

When Cyrus made this conquest of Babylon, he found the Jews in captivity there. They had been made captive by Nebuchadnezzar, a previous king of Babylon, as is related in the Scriptures. The holy prophets of Judea had predicted that after seventy years the captives should return, and that Babylon itself should afterward be destroyed. The first prediction was fulfilled by the victory of Cyrus. It devolved on Darius to execute the second of these solemn and retributive decrees of heaven.

Although Darius was thus the instrument of divine Providence in the destruction of Babylon, he was unintentionally and unconsciously so. In the terrible scenes connected with the [145] siege and the storming of the ill-fated city, it was the impulse of his own hatred and revenge that he was directly obeying; he was not at all aware that he was, at the same time, the messenger of the divine displeasure. The wretched Babylonians, in the storming and destruction of their city, were expiating a double criminality. Their pride, their wickedness, their wanton cruelty toward the Jews, had brought upon them the condemnation of God, while their political treason and rebellion, or, at least, what was considered treason and rebellion aroused the implacable resentment of their king.

The Babylonians had been disposed to revolt even in the days of Cyrus. They had been accustomed to consider their city as the most noble and magnificent capital in the world, and they were displeased that Cyrus did not make it the seat and center of his empire. Cyrus preferred Susa; and Babylon, accordingly, though he called it one of his capitals, soon fell to the rank of a provincial city. The nobles and provincial leaders that remained there began accordingly to form plans for revolting from the Persian dominion, with a view of restoring their city to it ancient position and renown.

They had a very favorable opportunity for [146] maturing their plans, and making their preparations for the execution of them during the time of the magian usurpation; for while the false Smerdis was on the throne, being shut up and concealed in his palace at Susa, the affairs of the provinces were neglected; and when Darius and his accomplices discovered the imposture and put Smerdis to death, there was necessarily required, after so violent a revolution, a considerable time before the affairs of the empire demanding attention at the capital could be settled, so as to allow the government to turn their thoughts at all toward the distant dependencies. The Babylonians availed themselves of all these opportunities to put their city in the best condition for resisting the Persian power. They strengthened their defenses, and accumulated great stores of provisions, and took measures for diminishing that part of the population which would be useless in war. These measures were all concerted and carried into effect in the most covert and secret manner; and the tidings came at last to Susa that Babylon had openly revolted, before the government of Darius was aware even of the existence of any disaffection.

The time which the Babylonians chose for [147] their rebellion at last was one when the movable forces which Darius had at command were at the west, engaged in a campaign on the shores of Asia Minor. Darius had sent them there for the purpose of restoring a certain exile and wanderer named Syloson to Samos, and making him the monarch of it. Darius had been induced thus to interpose in Syloson's behalf by the following very extraordinary circumstances.

Syloson was the brother of Polycrates, whose unhappy history has already been given. He was exiled from Samos some time before Darius ascended the throne, and he became, consequently, a sort of soldier of fortune, serving, like other such adventurers, wherever there was the greatest prospect of glory and pay. In this capacity he followed the army of Cambyses into Egypt in the memorable campaign described in the first chapter of this volume. It happened, also, that Darius himself, who was then a young noble in the Persian court, and yet of no particular distinction, as there was then no reason to imagine that he would ever be elevated to the throne, was also in Cambyses's army, and the two young men became acquainted with one another there.

[148] While the army was at Memphis, an incident occurred in which these two personages were actors, which, though it seemed unimportant at the time, led, in the end, to vast and momentous results. The incident was this:

Syloson had a very handsome red cloak, which, as he appeared in it one day, walking in the great square at Memphis, strongly attracted the admiration of Darius. Darius asked Syloson if he would sell him the cloak. Syloson said that he would not sell it, but would give it to him. He thought, probably, that Darius would decline receiving it as a present. If he did entertain that idea, it seems he was mistaken. Darius praised him for his generosity, and accepted the gift.

Syloson was then sorry that he had made so inconsiderate an offer, and regretted very much the loss of his cloak. In process of time, the campaign of Cambyses in Egypt was ended, and Darius returned to Persia, leaving Syloson in the west. At length the conspiracy was formed for dethroning Smerdis the magian, as has already been described, and Darius was designated to reign in his stead. As the news of the young noble's elevation spread into the western world, it reached Syloson. He was [149] much pleased at receiving the intelligence, and he saw immediately that there was a prospect of his being able to derive some advantage, himself, from the accession of his old fellow-soldier to the throne.

He immediately proceeded to Susa. He applied at the gates of the palace for admission to the presence of the king. The porter asked him who he was. He replied that he was a Greek who had formerly done Darius a service, and he wished to see him. The porter carried the message to the king. The king could not imagine who the stranger should be. He endeavored in vain to recall to mind any instance in which he had received a favor from a Greek. At length he ordered the attendant to call the visitor in.

Syloson was accordingly conducted into the king's presence. Darius looked upon him, but did not know him. He directed the interpreters to inquire what the service was which he had rendered the king, and when he had rendered it. The Greek replied by relating the circumstance of the cloak. Darius recollected the cloak, though he had forgotten the giver. "Are you, indeed," said he, "the man who made me that present? I thought then that [150] you were very generous to me, and you shall see that I do not undervalue the obligation now. I am at length, fortunately, in a situation to requite the favor, and I will give you such an abundance of gold and silver as shall effectually prevent your being sorry for having shown a kindness to Darius Hystaspes."

Syloson thanked the king in reply, but said that he did not wish for gold and silver. Darius asked him what reward he did desire. He replied that he wished Samos to be restored to him: "Samos," said he, "was the possession of my brother. When he went away from the island, he left it temporarily in the hands of Mĉandrius, an officer of his household. It still remains in the possession of this family, while I, the rightful heir, am a homeless wanderer and exile, excluded from my brother's dominions by one of his slaves."

Darius immediately determined to accede to Syloson's request. He raised an army and put it under the command of Otanes, who, it will be recollected, was one of the seven conspirators that combined to dethrone Smerdis the magian. He directed Otanes to accompany Syloson to Samos, and to put him in possession of the island. Syloson was particularly earnest [151] in his request that no unnecessary violence should be used, and no blood shed, or vindictive measures of any kind adopted. Darius promised to comply with these desires, and gave his orders to Otanes accordingly.

Notwithstanding this, however, the expedition resulted in the almost total destruction of the Samian population, in the following manner. There was a citadel at Samos, to which the inhabitants retired when they learned that Otanes had embarked his troops in ships on the coast, and was advancing toward the island. Mĉandrius was vexed and angry at the prospect of being deprived of his possessions and his power; and, as the people hated him on account of his extortion and tyranny, he hated them in return, and cared not how much suffering his measures might be the means of bringing upon them. He had a subterranean and secret passage from the citadel to the shore of the sea, where, in a secluded cove, were boats or vessels ready to take him away. Having made these arrangements to secure his own safety, he proceeded to take such a course and adopt such measures as should tend most effectually to exasperate and offend the Persians, intending to escape, himself, at the last moment, by this subterra- [152] nean retreat, and to leave the inhabitants of the island at the mercy of their infuriated enemies.

He had a brother whom he had shut up in a dungeon, and whose mind, naturally depraved, and irritated by his injuries, was in a state of malignant and furious despair. Mĉandrius had pretended to be willing to give up the island to the Persians. He had entered into negotiations with them for this purpose, and the Persians considered the treaty as in fact concluded. The leaders and officers of the army had assembled, accordingly, before the citadel in a peaceful attitude, waiting merely for the completion of the forms of surrender, when Charilaus, Mĉandrius's captive brother, saw them, by looking out between the bars of his window, in the tower in which he was confined. He sent an urgent message to Mĉandrius, requesting to speak to him. Mĉandrius ordered the prisoner to be brought before him. The haggard and wretched-looking captive, rendered half insane by the combined influence of the confinement he had endured, and of the wild excitement produced by the universal panic and confusion which reigned around him, broke forth against his brother in the boldest and most [153] violent invectives. He reproached him in the most bitter terms for being willing to yield so ingloriously, and without a struggle, to an invading foe, whom he might easily repel. "You have courage and energy enough, it seems," said he, "to make war upon an innocent and defenseless brother, and to keep him for years in chains and in a dungeon, but when an actual enemy appears, though he comes to despoil you of all your possessions, and to send you into hopeless exile, and though, if you had the ordinary courage and spirit of a man, you could easily drive him away, yet you dare not face him. If you are too cowardly and mean to do your duty yourself, give me your soldiers, and I will do it for you. I will drive these Persians back into the sea with as much pleasure as it would give me to drive you there!"

Such a nature as that of Mĉandrius can not be stung into a proper sense of duty by reproaches like these. There seem to have been in his heart no moral sensibilities of any kind, and there could be, of course, no compunctions for the past, and no awakening of new and better desires for the future. All the effect which was produced upon his mind by these bitter denunciations was to convince him that [154] to comply with his brother's request would be to do the best thing now in his power for widening, and extending, and making sure the misery and mischief which were impending. He placed his troops, therefore, under his brother's orders; and while the infuriated madman sallied forth at the head of them to attack the astonished Persians on one side of the citadel, Mĉandrius made his escape through the under-ground passage on the other. The Persians were so exasperated at what appeared to them the basest treachery, that, as soon as they could recover their arms and get once more into battle array, they commenced a universal slaughter of the Samians. They spared neither age, sex, nor condition; and when, at last, their vengeance was satisfied, and they put the island into Syloson's hands, and withdrew, he found himself in possession of an almost absolute solitude.



It was while Otanes was absent on this enterprise, having with him a large part of the disposable forces of the king, that the Babylonians revolted. Darius was greatly incensed at hearing the tidings. Sovereigns are always greatly incensed at a revolt on the part of their subjects. The circumstances of the case, whatever they may be, always seem to them to con- [157] stitute a peculiar aggravation of the offense. Darius was indignant that the Babylonians had attempted to take advantage of his weakness by rebelling when his armies were away. If they had risen when his armies were around him, he would have been equally indignant with them for having dared to brave his power.

He assembled all the forces at his disposal, and advanced to Babylon. The people of the city shut their gates against him, and derided him. They danced and capered on the walls, making all sorts of gestures expressive of contempt and defiance, accompanied with shouts and outcries of ridicule and scorn. They had great confidence in the strength of their defenses, and then, besides this, they probably regarded Darius as a sort of usurper, who had no legitimate title to the throne, and who would never be able to subdue any serious resistance which might be offered to the establishment of his power. It was from these considerations that they were emboldened to be guilty of the folly of taunting and insulting their foes from the city walls.

Such incidents as this, of personal communications between masses of enemies on the eve of a battle, were very common in ancient [158] warfare, though impossible in modern times. In those days, when the missiles employed were thrown chiefly by the strength of the human arm alone, the combatants could safely draw near enough together for each side to hear the voices and to see the gesticulations of the other. Besiegers could advance sufficiently close to a castle or citadel to parley insultingly with the garrison upon the walls, and yet be safe from the showers of darts and arrows which were projected toward them in return. But all this is now changed. The reach of cannon, and even of musketry, is so long, that combatants, approaching a conflict, are kept at a very respectful distance apart, until the time arrives in which the actual engagement is to begin. They reconnoiter each other with spy-glasses from watch-towers on the walls, or from eminences in the field, but they can hold no communication except by a formal embassy, protected by a flag of truce, which, with its white and distant fluttering, as it slowly advances over the green fields, warns the gunners at the battery or on the bastion to point their artillery another way.

The Babylonians, on the walls of their city, reproached and taunted their foes incessantly. [159] "Take our advice," said they, "and go back where you came from. You will only lose your time in besieging Babylon. When mules have foals, you will take the city, and not till then."

The expression "when mules have foals" was equivalent in those days to our proverbial phrase, "when the sky falls," being used to denote any thing impossible or absurd, inasmuch as mules, like other hybrid animals, do not produce young. It was thought in those times absolutely impossible that they should do so; but it is now well known that the case is not impossible, though very rare.

It seems to have added very much to the interest of an historical narrative in the minds of the ancient Greeks, to have some prodigy connected with every great event; and, in order to gratify this feeling, the writers appear in some instances to have fabricated a prodigy for the occasion, and in others to have elevated some unusual, though by no means supernatural circumstance, to the rank and importance of one. The prodigy connected with this siege of Babylon was the foaling of a mule. The mule belonged to a general in the army of Darius, named Zopyrus. It was after Darius had been prosecuting the siege of the city for a year and [160] a half, without any progress whatever toward the accomplishment of his end. The army began to despair of success. Zopyrus, with the rest, was expecting that the siege would be indefinitely prolonged, or, perhaps, absolutely abandoned, when his attention was strongly attracted to the phenomenon which had happened in respect to the mule. He remembered the taunt of the Babylonian on the wall, and it seemed to him that the whole occurrence portended that the time had now arrived when some way might be devised for the capture of the city.

Portents and prophecies are often the causes of their own fulfillment, and this portent led Zopyrus to endeavor to devise some means to accomplish the end in view. He went first, however, to Darius, to converse with him upon the subject, with a view of ascertaining how far he was really desirous of bringing the siege to a termination. He wished to know whether the object was of sufficient importance in Darius's mind to warrant any great sacrifice on his own part to effect it.

He found that it was so. Darius was extremely impatient to end the siege and to capture the city; and Zopyrus saw at once that, if he could in any way be the means of accom- [161] plishing the work, he should entitle himself, in the highest possible degree, to the gratitude of the king.

He determined to go himself into Babylon as a pretended deserter from Darius, with a view to obtaining an influence and a command within the city, which should enable him afterward to deliver it up to the besiegers; and, in order to convince the Babylonians that his desertion was real, he resolved to mutilate himself in a manner so dreadful as would effectually prevent their imagining that the injuries which he suffered were inflicted by any contrivance of his. own. He accordingly cut off his hair and his ears, and mutilated his face in a manner too shocking to be here detailed, inflicting injuries which could never be repaired. He caused himself to be scourged, also, until his whole body was covered with cuts and contusions. He then went, wounded and bleeding as he was, into the presence of Darius, to make known his plans.

Darius expressed amazement and consternation at the terrible spectacle. He leaped from his throne and rushed toward Zopyrus, demanding who had dared to maltreat one of his generals in such a manner. When Zopyrus re- [162] plied that he had himself done the deed, the king's astonishment was greater than before. He told Zopyrus that he was insane. Some sudden paroxysm of madness had come over him. Zopyrus replied that he was not insane; and he explained his design. His plan, he said, was deliberately and calmly formed, and it should be steadily and faithfully executed. "I did not make known my design to you," said he, "before I had taken the preliminary steps, for I knew that you would prevent my taking them. It is now too late for that, and nothing remains but to reap, if possible, the advantage which may be derived from what I have done."

He then arranged with Darius the plans which he had formed, so far as he needed the co-operation of the king in the execution of them. If he could gain a partial command in the Babylonian army, he was to make a sally from the city gates on a certain day, and attack a portion of the Persian army, which Darius was to leave purposely exposed, in order that he might gain credit with the Babylonians by destroying them. From this he supposed that the confidence which the Babylonians would repose in him would increase, and he might consequently receive a greater com- [163] mand. Thus he might, by acting in concert with Darius without, gradually gain such an ascendency within the city as finally to have power to open the gates and let the besiegers in. Darius was to station a detachment of a thousand men near a certain gate, leaving them imperfectly armed, on the tenth day after Zopyrus entered the city. These Zopyrus was to destroy. Seven days afterward, two thousand more were to be stationed in a similar manner at another point; and these were also to be destroyed by a second sally. Twenty days after this, four thousand more were to be similarly exposed. Thus seven thousand innocent and defenseless men would be slaughtered, but that, as Zopyrus said, would be "of no consequence." The lives of men were estimated by heroes and conquerors in those days only at their numerical value in swelling the army roll.

These things being all arranged, Zopyrus took leave of the King to go to Babylon. As he left the Persian camp, he began to run, looking round behind him continually, as if in flight. Some men, too, pretended to pursue him. He fled toward one of the gates of the city. The sentinels on the walls saw him coming. When [164] he reached the gate, the porter inside of it talked with him through a small opening, and heard his story. The porter then reported the case to the superior officers, and they commanded that the fugitive should be admitted. When conducted into the presence of the magistrates, he related a piteous story of the cruel treatment which he had received from Darius, and of the difficulty which he had experienced in making his escape from the tyrant's hands. He uttered, too, dreadful imprecations against Darius, and expressed the most eager determination to be revenged. He informed the Babylonians, moreover, that he was well acquainted with all Darius's plans and designs, and with the disposition which he had made of his army; and that, if they would, in a few days, when his wounds should have in some measure healed, give him a small command, he would show them, by actual trial, what he could do to aid their cause.

They acceded to this proposition, and furnished Zopyrus, at the end of ten days, with a moderate force. Zopyrus, at the head of this force, sallied forth from the gate which had been previously agreed upon between him and Darius, and fell upon the unfortunate thousand [165] that had been stationed there for the purpose of being destroyed. They were nearly defenseless, and Zopyrus, though his force was inferior cut them all to pieces before they could be re-enforced or protected, and then retreated safely into the city again. He was received by the Babylonians with the utmost exultation and joy. He had no difficulty in obtaining, seven days afterward, the command of a larger force, when, sallying forth from another gate, as had been agreed upon by Darius, he gained another victory, destroying, on this occasion, twice as many Persians as before. These exploits gained the pretended deserter unbounded fame and honor within the city. The populace applauded him with continual acclamations; and the magistrates invited him to their councils, offered him high command, and governed their own plans and measures by his advice. At length, on the twentieth day, he made his third sally, at which time he destroyed and captured a still greater number than before. This gave him such an influence and position within the city, in respect to its defense, that he had no difficulty in getting intrusted with the keys of certain gates—those, namely, by which he had agreed that the army of Darius should be admitted.

[166] When the time arrived, the Persians advanced to the attack of the city in that quarter, and the Babylonians raffled as usual on the walls to repel them. The contest had scarcely begun before they found that the gates were open, and that the columns of the enemy were pouring in. The city was thus soon wholly at the mercy of the conqueror. Darius dismantled the walls, carried off the brazen gates, and crucified three thousand of the most distinguished inhabitants; then establishing over the rest a government of his own, he withdrew his troops and returned to Susa. He bestowed upon Zopyrus, at Susa, all possible rewards and honors. The marks of his wounds and mutilations could never be effaced, but Darius often said that he would gladly give up twenty Babylons to be able to efface them.

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