Book VIIReturn to Herodotus Index
Translation by G.C. Macauley
The Seventh Book of the Histories, Called Polymnia
1. Now when the report came to Dareios the son of Hystaspes of the battle which was fought at Marathon, the king, who even before this had been greatly exasperated with the Athenians on account of the attack made upon Sardis, then far more than before displayed indignation, and was far more desirous of making a march against Hellas. Accordingly at once he sent messengers to the various cities and ordered that they should get ready a force, appointing to each people to supply much more than at the former time, and not only ships of war, but also horses and provisions and transport vessels; and when these commands were carried round, all Asia was moved for three years, for all the best men were being enlisted for the expedition against Hellas, and were making preparations. In the fourth year however the Egyptians, who had been reduced to subjection by Cambyses, revolted from the Persians; and then he was even more desirous of marching against both these nations.
2. While Dareios was thus preparing to set out against Egypt and against Athens, there arose a great strife among his sons about the supreme power; and they said that he must not make his expeditions until he had designated one of them to be king, according to the custom of the Persians. For to Dareios already before he became king three sons had been born of his former wife the daughter of Gobryas, and after he became king four other sons of Atossa the daughter of Cyrus: of the first the eldest was Artobazanes, and of those who had been born later, Xerxes. These being not of the same mother were at strife with one another, Artobazanes contending that he was the eldest of all the sons, and that it was a custom maintained by all men that the eldest should have the rule, and Xerxes arguing that he was the son of Atossa the daughter of Cyrus, and that Cyrus was he who had won for the Persians their freedom. 3. Now while Dareios did not as yet declare his judgment, it chanced that Demaratos also, the son of Ariston, had come up to Susa at this very same time, having been deprived of the kingdom in Sparta and having laid upon himself a sentence of exile from Lacedemon. This man, hearing of the difference between the sons of Dareios, came (as it is reported of him) and counselled Xerxes to say in addition to those things which he was wont to say, that he had been born to Dareios at the time when he was already reigning as king and was holding the supreme power over the Persians, while Artobazanes had been born while Dareios was still in a private station: it was not fitting therefore nor just that another should have the honour before him; for even in Sparta, suggested Demaratos, this was the custom, that is to say, if some of the sons had been born first, before their father began to reign, and another came after, born later while he was reigning, the succession of the kingdom belonged to him who had been born later. Xerxes accordingly made use of the suggestion of Demaratos; and Dareios perceiving that he spoke that which was just, designated him to be king. It is my opinion however that even without this suggestion Xerxes would have become king, for Atossa was all-powerful. 4. Then having designated Xerxes to the Persians as their king, Dareios wished to go on his expeditions. However in the next year after this and after the revolt of Egypt, it came to pass that Dareios himself died, having been king in all six-and-thirty years; and thus he did not succeed in taking vengeance either upon the revolted Egyptians or upon the Athenians.
5. Dareios being dead the kingdom passed to his son Xerxes. Now Xerxes at the first was by no means anxious to make a march against Hellas, but against Egypt he continued to gather a force. Mardonios however, the son of Gobryas, who was a cousin of Xerxes, being sister's son to Dareios, was ever at his side, and having power with him more than any other of the Persians, he kept continually to such discourse as this which follows, saying: "Master, it is not fitting that the Athenians, after having done to the Persians very great evil, should not pay the penalty for that which they have done. What if thou shouldest at this present time do that which thou hast in thy hands to do; and when thou hast tamed the land of Egypt, which has broken out insolently against us, then do thou march an army against Athens, that a good report may be made of thee by men, and that in future every one may beware of making expeditions against thy land." Thus far his speech had to do with vengeance, and to this he would make addition as follows, saying that Europe was a very fair land and bore all kinds of trees that are cultivated for fruit, and was of excellent fertility, and such that the king alone of all mortals was worthy to possess it. 6. These things he was wont to say, since he was one who had a desire for perilous enterprise and wished to be himself the governor of Hellas under the king. So in time he prevailed upon Xerxes and persuaded him to do this; for other things also assisted him and proved helpful to him in persuading Xerxes. In the first place there had come from Thessaly messengers sent by the Aleuadai, who were inviting the king to come against Hellas and were showing great zeal in his cause, (now these Aleuadai were kings of Thessaly): and then secondly those of the sons of Peisistratos who had come up to Susa were inviting him also, holding to the same arguments as the Aleuadai; and moreover they offered him yet more inducement in addition to these; for there was one Onomacritos an Athenian, who both uttered oracles and also had collected and arranged the oracles of Musaios; and with this man they had come up, after they had first reconciled the enmity between them. For Onomacritos had been driven forth from Athens by Hipparchos the son of Peisistratos, having been caught by Lasos of Hermion interpolating in the works of Musaios an oracle to the effect that the islands which lie off Lemnos should disappear under the sea. For this reason Hipparchos drove him forth, having before this time been very much wont to consult him. Now however he had gone up with them; and when he had come into the presence of the king, the sons of Peisistratos spoke of him in magnificent terms, and he repeated some of the oracles; and if there was in them anything which imported disaster to the Barbarians, of this he said nothing; but choosing out of them the most fortunate things he told how it was destined that the Hellespont should be yoked with a bridge by a Persian, and he set forth the manner of the march. He then thus urged Xerxes with oracles, while the sons of Peisistratos and the Aleuadai pressed him with their advice.
7. So when Xerxes had been persuaded to make an expedition against Hellas, then in the next year after the death of Dareios he made a march first against those who had revolted. Having subdued these and having reduced all Egypt to slavery much greater than it had suffered in the reign of Dareios, he entrusted the government of it to Achaimenes his own brother, a son of Dareios. Now this Achaimenes being a governor of Egypt was slain afterwards by Inaros the son of Psammetichos, a Libyan. 8. Xerxes then after the conquest of Egypt, being about to take in hand the expedition against Athens, summoned a chosen assembly of the best men among the Persians, that he might both learn their opinions and himself in the presence of all declare that which he intended to do; and when they were assembled, Xerxes spoke to them as follows: (a) "Persians, I shall not be the first to establish this custom in your nation, but having received it from others I shall follow it: for as I am informed by those who are older than myself, we never yet have kept quiet since we received this supremacy in succession to the Medes, when Cyrus overthrew Astyages; but God thus leads us, and for ourselves tends to good that we are busied about many things. Now about the nations which Cyrus and Cambyses and my father Dareios subdued and added to their possessions there is no need for me to speak, since ye know well: and as for me, from the day when I received by inheritance this throne upon which I sit I carefully considered always how in this honourable place I might not fall short of those who have been before me, nor add less power to the dominion of the Persians: and thus carefully considering I find a way by which not only glory may be won by us, together with a land not less in extent nor worse than that which we now possess, (and indeed more varied in its productions), but also vengeance and retribution may be brought about. Wherefore I have assembled you together now, in order that I may communicate to you that which I have it in my mind to do. (b) I design to yoke the Hellespont with a bridge, and to march an army through Europe against Hellas, in order that I may take vengeance on the Athenians for all the things which they have done both to the Persians and to my father. Ye saw how my father Dareios also was purposing to make an expedition against these men; but he has ended his life and did not succeed in taking vengeance upon them. I however, on behalf of him and also of the other Persians, will not cease until I have conquered Athens and burnt it with fire; seeing that they did wrong unprovoked to me and to my father. First they went to Sardis, having come with Aristagoras the Milesian our slave, and they set fire to the sacred groves and the temples; and then secondly, what things they did to us when we disembarked in their land, at the time when Datis and Artaphrenes were commanders of our army, ye all know well, as I think. (c) For these reasons I have resolved to make an expedition against them, and reckoning I find in the matter so many good things as ye shall hear:--if we shall subdue these and the neighbours of these, who dwell in the land of Pelops the Phrygian, we shall cause the Persian land to have the same boundaries as the heaven of Zeus; since in truth upon no land will the sun look down which borders ours, but I with your help shall make all the lands into one land, having passed through the whole extent of Europe. For I am informed that things are so, namely that there is no city of men nor any race of human beings remaining, which will be able to come to a contest with us, when those whom I just now mentioned have been removed out of the way. Thus both those who have committed wrong against us will have the yoke of slavery, and also those who have not committed wrong. (d) And ye will please me best if ye do this:-- whensoever I shall signify to you the time at which ye ought to come, ye must appear every one of you with zeal for the service; and whosoever shall come with a force best equipped, to him I will give gifts such as are accounted in our land to be the most honourable. Thus must these things be done: but that I may not seem to you to be following my own counsel alone, I propose the matter for discussion, bidding any one of you who desires it, declare his opinion."
Having thus spoken he ceased; 9, and after him Mardonios said: "Master, thou dost surpass not only all the Persians who were before thee, but also those who shall come after, since thou didst not only attain in thy words to that which is best and truest as regards other matters, but also thou wilt not permit the Ionians who dwell in Europe to make a mock of us, having no just right to do so: for a strange thing it would be if, when we have subdued and kept as our servants Sacans, Indians, Ethiopians, Assyrians, and other nations many in number and great, who have done no wrong to the Persians, because we desired to add to our dominions, we should not take vengeance on the Hellenes who committed wrong against us unprovoked. (a) Of what should we be afraid?--what gathering of numbers, or what resources of money? for their manner of fight we know, and as for their resources, we know that they are feeble; and we have moreover subdued already their sons, those I mean who are settled in our land and are called Ionians, Aiolians, and Dorians. Moreover I myself formerly made trial of marching against these men, being commanded thereto by thy father; and although I marched as far as Macedonia, and fell but little short of coming to Athens itself, no man came to oppose me in fight. (b) And yet it is true that the Hellenes make wars, but (as I am informed) very much without wise consideration, by reason of obstinacy and want of skill: for when they have proclaimed war upon one another, they find out first the fairest and smoothest place, and to this they come down and fight; so that even the victors depart from the fight with great loss, and as to the vanquished, of them I make no mention at all, for they are utterly destroyed. They ought however, being men who speak the same language, to make use of heralds and messengers and so to take up their differences and settle them in any way rather than by battles; but if they must absolutely war with one another, they ought to find out each of them that place in which they themselves are hardest to overcome, and here to make their trial. Therefore the Hellenes, since they use no good way, when I had marched as far as the land of Macedonia, did not come to the resolution of fighting with me. (c) Who then is likely to set himself against thee, O king, offering war, when thou art leading both all the multitudes of Asia and the whole number of the ships? I for my part am of opinion that the power of the Hellenes has not attained to such a pitch of boldness: but if after all I should prove to be deceived in my judgment, and they stirred up by inconsiderate folly should come to battle with us, they would learn that we are the best of all men in the matters of war. However that may be, let not anything be left untried; for nothing comes of itself, but from trial all things are wont to come to men."
10. Mardonios having thus smoothed over the resolution expressed by Xerxes had ceased speaking: and when the other Persians were silent and did not venture to declare an opinion contrary to that which had been proposed, then Artabanos the son of Hystaspes, being father's brother to Xerxes and having reliance upon that, spoke as follows: (a) "O king, if opinions opposed to one another be not spoken, it is not possible to select the better in making the choice, but one must accept that which has been spoken; if however opposite opinions be uttered, this is possible; just as we do not distinguish the gold which is free from alloy when it is alone by itself, but when we rub it on the touchstone in comparison with other gold, then we distinguish that which is the better. Now I gave advice to thy father Dareios also, who was my brother, not to march against the Scythians, men who occupied no abiding city in any part of the earth. He however, expecting that he would subdue the Scythians who were nomads, did not listen to me; but he made a march and came back from it with the loss of many good men of his army. But thou, O king, art intending to march against men who are much better than the Scythians, men who are reported to be excellent both by sea and on land: and the thing which is to be feared in this matter it is right that I should declare to thee. (b) Thou sayest that thou wilt yoke the Hellespont with a bridge and march an army through Europe to Hellas. Now supposing it chance that we are worsted either by land or by sea, or even both, for the men are reported to be valiant in fight, (and we may judge for ourselves that it is so, since the Athenians by themselves destroyed that great army which came with Datis and Artaphrenes to the Attic land),--suppose however that they do not succeed in both, yet if they shall attack with their ships and conquer in a sea-fight, and then sail to the Hellespont and break up the bridge, this of itself, O king, will prove to be a great peril. (c) Not however by any native wisdom of my own do I conjecture that this might happen: I am conjecturing only such a misfortune as all but came upon us at the former time, when thy father, having yoked the Bosphorus of Thracia and made a bridge over the river Ister, had crossed over to go against the Scythians. At that time the Scythians used every means of entreaty to persuade the Ionians to break up the passage, to whom it had been entrusted to guard the bridges of the Ister. At that time, if Histiaios the despot of Miletos had followed the opinion of the other despots and had not made opposition to them, the power of the Persians would have been brought to an end. Yet it is a fearful thing even to hear it reported that the whole power of the king had come to depend upon one human creature. (d) Do not thou therefore propose to go into any such danger when there is no need, but do as I say:--at the present time dissolve this assembly; and afterwards at whatever time it shall seem good to thee, when thou hast considered prudently with thyself, proclaim that which seems to thee best: for good counsel I hold to be a very great gain; since even if anything shall prove adverse, the counsel which has been taken is no less good, though it has been defeated by fortune; while he who took counsel badly at first, if good fortune should go with him has lighted on a prize by chance, but none the less for that his counsel was bad. (e) Thou seest how God strikes with thunderbolts the creatures which stand above the rest and suffers them not to make a proud show; while those which are small do not provoke him to jealousy: thou seest also how he hurls his darts ever at those buildings which are the highest and those trees likewise; for God is wont to cut short all those things which stand out above the rest. Thus also a numerous army is destroyed by one of few men in some such manner as this, namely when God having become jealous of them casts upon them panic or thundering from heaven, then they are destroyed utterly and not as their worth deserves; for God suffers not any other to have high thoughts save only himself. (f) Moreover the hastening of any matter breeds disasters, whence great losses are wont to be produced; but in waiting there are many good things contained, as to which, if they do not appear to be good at first, yet one will find them to be so in course of time. (g) To thee, O king, I give this counsel: but thou son of Gobryas, Mardonios, cease speaking foolish words about the Hellenes, since they in no way deserve to be spoken of with slight; for by uttering slander against the Hellenes thou art stirring the king himself to make an expedition, and it is to this very end that I think thou art straining all thy endeavour. Let not this be so; for slander is a most grievous thing: in it the wrongdoers are two, and the person who suffers wrong is one. The slanderer does a wrong in that he speaks against one who is not present, the other in that he is persuaded of the thing before he gets certain knowledge of it, and he who is not present when the words are spoken suffers wrong in the matter thus,--both because he has been slandered by the one and because he has been believed to be bad by the other. (h) However, if it be absolutely needful to make an expedition against these men, come, let the king himself remain behind in the abodes of the Persians, and let us both set to the wager our sons; and then do thou lead an army by thyself, choosing for thyself the men whom thou desirest, and taking an army as large as thou thinkest good: and if matters turn out for the king as thou sayest, let my sons be slain and let me also be slain in addition to them; but if in the way which I predict, let thy sons suffer this, and with them thyself also, if thou shalt return back. But if thou art not willing to undergo this proof, but wilt by all means lead an army against Hellas, then I say that those who are left behind in this land will hear that Mardonios, after having done a great mischief to the Persians, is torn by dogs and birds, either in the land of the Athenians, or else perchance thou wilt be in the land of the Lacedemonians (unless indeed this should have come to pass even before that upon the way), and that thou hast at length been made aware against what kind of men thou art persuading the king to march."
11. Artabanos thus spoke; and Xerxes enraged by it made answer as follows: "Artabanos, thou art my father's brother, and this shall save thee from receiving any recompense such as thy foolish words deserve. Yet I attach to thee this dishonour, seeing that thou art a coward and spiritless, namely that thou do not march with me against Hellas, but remain here together with the women; and I, even without thy help, will accomplish all the things which I said: for I would I might not be descended from Dareios, the son of Hystaspes, the son of Arsames, the son of Ariaramnes, the son of TeÃ¯spes, or from Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, the son of TeÃ¯spes, the son of Achaimenes, if I take not vengeance on the Athenians; since I know well that if we shall keep quiet, yet they will not do so, but will again march against our land, if we may judge by the deeds which have been done by them to begin with, since they both set fire to Sardis and marched upon Asia. It is not possible therefore that either side should retire from the quarrel, but the question before us is whether we shall do or whether we shall suffer; whether all these regions shall come to be under the Hellenes or all those under the Persians: for in our hostility there is no middle course. It follows then now that it is well for us, having suffered wrong first, to take revenge, that I may find out also what is this terrible thing which I shall suffer if I lead an army against these men,--men whom Pelops the Phrygian, who was the slave of my forefathers, so subdued that even to the present day both the men themselves and their land are called after the name of him who subdued them."
12. Thus far was it spoken then; but afterwards when darkness came on, the opinion of Artabanos tormented Xerxes continually; and making night his counsellor he found that it was by no means to his advantage to make the march against Hellas. So when he had thus made a new resolve, he fell asleep, and in the night he saw, as is reported by the Persians, a vision as follows:--Xerxes thought that a man tall and comely of shape came and stood by him and said: "Art thou indeed changing thy counsel, O Persian, of leading an expedition against Hellas, now that thou hast made proclamation that the Persians shall collect an army? Thou dost not well in changing thy counsel, nor will he who is here present with thee excuse thee from it;[13a] but as thou didst take counsel in the day to do, by that way go." 13. After he had said this, Xerxes thought that he who had spoken flew away; and when day had dawned he made no account of this dream, but gathered together the Persians whom he had assembled also the former time and said to them these words: "Persians, pardon me that I make quick changes in my counsel; for in judgment not yet am I come to my prime, and they who advise me to do the things which I said, do not for any long time leave me to myself. However, although at first when I heard the opinion of Artabanos my youthful impulses burst out, so that I cast out unseemly words against a man older than myself; yet now I acknowledge that he is right, and I shall follow his opinion. Consider then I have changed my resolve to march against Hellas, and do ye remain still." 14. The Persians accordingly when they heard this were rejoiced and made obeisance: but when night had come on, the same dream again came and stood by Xerxes as he lay asleep and said: "Son of Dareios, it is manifest then that thou hast resigned this expedition before the assembly of the Persians, and that thou hast made no account of my words, as if thou hadst heard them from no one at all. Now therefore be well assured of this:--if thou do not make thy march forthwith, there shall thence spring up for thee this result, namely that, as thou didst in short time become great and mighty, so also thou shalt speedily be again brought low." 15. Xerxes then, being very greatly disturbed by fear of the vision, started up from his bed and sent a messenger to summon Artabanos; to whom when he came Xerxes spoke thus: "Artabanos, at the first I was not discreet, when I spoke to thee foolish words on account of thy good counsel; but after no long time I changed my mind and perceived that I ought to do these things which thou didst suggest to me. I am not able however to do them, although I desire it; for indeed, now that I have turned about and changed my mind, a dream appears haunting me and by no means approving that I should do so; and just now it has left me even with a threat. If therefore it is God who sends it to me, and it is his absolute will and pleasure that an army should go against Hellas, this same dream will fly to thee also, laying upon thee a charge such as it has laid upon me; and it occurs to my mind that this might happen thus, namely if thou shouldst take all my attire and put it on, and then seat thyself on my throne, and after that lie down to sleep in my bed." 16. Xerxes spoke to him thus; and Artabanos was not willing to obey the command at first, since he did not think himself worthy to sit upon the royal throne; but at last being urged further he did that which was commanded, first having spoken these words: (a) "It is equally good in my judgment, O king, whether a man has wisdom himself or is willing to follow the counsel of him who speaks well: and thou, who hast attained to both these good things, art caused to err by the communications of evil men; just as they say that the Sea, which is of all things the most useful to men, is by blasts of winds falling upon it prevented from doing according to its own nature. I however, when I was evil spoken of by thee, was not so much stung with pain for this, as because, when two opinions were laid before the Persians, the one tending to increase wanton insolence and the other tending to check it and saying that it was a bad thing to teach the soul to endeavour always to have something more than the present possession,--because, I say, when such opinions as these were laid before us, thou didst choose that one which was the more dangerous both for thyself and for the Persians. (b) And now that thou hast turned to the better counsel, thou sayest that when thou art disposed to let go the expedition against the Hellenes, a dream haunts thee sent by some god, which forbids thee to abandon thy enterprise. Nay, but here too thou dost err, my son, since this is not of the Deity; for the dreams of sleep which come roaming about to men, are of such nature as I shall inform thee, being by many years older than thou. The visions of dreams are wont to hover above us in such form for the most part as the things of which we were thinking during the day; and we in the days preceding were very much occupied with this campaign. (c) If however after all this is not such a thing as I interpret it to be, but is something which is concerned with God, thou hast summed the matter up in that which thou hast said: let it appear, as thou sayest, to me also, as to thee, and give commands. But supposing that it desires to appear to me at all, it is not bound to appear to me any the more if I have thy garments on me than if I have my own, nor any more if I take my rest in thy bed than if I am in thy own; for assuredly this thing, whatever it may be, which appears to thee in thy sleep, is not so foolish as to suppose, when it sees me, that it is thou, judging so because the garments are thine. That however which we must find out now is this, namely if it will hold me in no account, and not think fit to appear to me, whether I have my own garments or whether I have thine, but continue still to haunt thee; for if it shall indeed haunt thee perpetually, I shall myself also be disposed to say that it is of the Deity. But if thou hast resolved that it shall be so, and it is not possible to turn aside this thy resolution, but I must go to sleep in thy bed, then let it appear to me also, when I perform these things: but until then I shall hold to the opinion which I now have." 17. Having thus said Artabanos, expecting that he would prove that Xerxes was speaking folly, did that which was commanded him; and having put on the garments of Xerxes and seated himself in the royal throne, he afterwards went to bed: and when he had fallen asleep, the same dream came to him which used to come to Xerxes, and standing over Artabanos spoke these words: "Art thou indeed he who endeavours to dissuade Xerxes from making a march against Hellas, pretending to have a care of him? However, neither in the future nor now at the present shalt thou escape unpunished for trying to turn away that which is destined to come to pass: and as for Xerxes, that which he must suffer if he disobeys, hath been shown already to the man himself." 18. Thus it seemed to Artabanos that the dream threatened him, and at the same time was just about to burn out his eyes with hot irons; and with a loud cry he started up from his bed, and sitting down beside Xerxes he related to him throughout the vision of the dream, and then said to him as follows: "I, O king, as one who has seen before now many great things brought to their fall by things less, urged thee not to yield in all things to the inclination of thy youth, since I knew that it was evil to have desire after many things; remembering on the one hand the march of Cyrus against the Massagetai, what fortune it had, and also that of Cambyses against the Ethiopians; and being myself one who took part with Dareios in the campaign against the Scythians. Knowing these things I had the opinion that thou wert to be envied of all men, so long as thou shouldest keep still. Since however there comes a divine impulse, and, as it seems, a destruction sent by heaven is taking hold of the Hellenes, I for my part am both changed in myself and also I reverse my opinions; and do thou signify to the Persians the message which is sent to thee from God, bidding them follow the commands which were given by thee at first with regard to the preparations to be made; and endeavour that on thy side nothing may be wanting, since God delivers the matter into thy hands." These things having been said, both were excited to confidence by the vision, and so soon as it became day, Xerxes communicated the matter to the Persians, and Artabanos, who before was the only man who came forward to dissuade him, now came forward to urge on the design.