Gateway to the Classics: Cyrus the Great by Jacob Abbott
Cyrus the Great by  Jacob Abbott

The Conquest of Lydia

There were, in fact, three inducements which combined their influence on the mind of Crœsus, in leading him to cross the Halys, and invade the dominions of the Medes and Persians: first, he was ambitious to extend his own empire; secondly, he feared that if he did not attack Cyrus, Cyrus would himself cross the Halys and attack him; and, thirdly, he felt under some obligation to consider himself the ally of Astyages, and thus bound to espouse his cause, and to aid him in putting down, if possible, the usurpation of Cyrus, and in recovering his throne. He felt under this obligation because Astyages was his brother-in-law; for the latter had married, many years before, a daughter of Alyattes, who was the father of Crœsus. This, as Crœsus thought, gave him a just title to interfere between the dethroned king and the rebel who had dethroned him. Under the influence of all these reasons combined, and encouraged by the responses of the oracle, he determined on attempting the invasion. The first measure which he adopted was to form an alliance with the most powerful of the states of Greece, as he had been directed to do by the oracle. After much inquiry and consideration, he concluded that the Lacedæmonian state was the most powerful. Their chief city was Sparta, in the Peloponnesus. They were a warlike, stern, and indomitable race of men, capable of bearing every possible hardship, and of enduring every degree of fatigue and toil, and they desired nothing but military glory for their reward. This was a species of wages which it was very easy to pay; much more easy to furnish than coin, even for Crœsus, notwithstanding the abundant supplies of gold which he was accustomed to obtain from the sands of the Pactolus.

Crœsus sent embassadors to Sparta to inform the people of the plans which he contemplated, and to ask their aid. He had been instructed, he said, by the oracle at Delphi, to seek the alliance of the most powerful of the states of Greece, and he accordingly made application to them. They were gratified with the compliment implied in selecting them, and acceded readily to his proposal. Besides, they were already on very friendly terms with Crœsus; for, some years before, they had sent to him to procure some gold for a statue which they had occasion to erect, offering to give an equivalent for the value of it in such productions as their country afforded. Crœsus supplied them with the gold that they needed, but generously refused to receive any return.

In the mean time, Crœsus went on, energetically, at Sardis, making the preparations for his campaign. One of his counselors, whose name was Sardaris, ventured, one day, strongly to dissuade him from undertaking the expedition. "You have nothing to gain by it," said he, "if you succeed, and every thing to lose if you fail. Consider what sort of people these Persians are whom you are going to combat. They live in the most rude and simple manner, without luxuries, without pleasures, without wealth. If you conquer their country, you will find nothing in it worth bringing away. On the other hand, if they conquer you, they will come like a vast band of plunderers into Lydia, where there is every thing to tempt and reward them. I counsel you to leave them alone, and to remain on this side the Halys, thankful if Cyrus will be contented to remain on the other."

But Crœsus was not in a mood of mind to be persuaded by such reasoning.

When all things were ready, the army commenced its march and moved eastward, through one province of Asia Minor after another, until they reached the Halys. This river is a considerable stream, which rises in the interior of the country, and flows northward into the Euxine Sea. The army encamped on the banks of it, and some plan was to be formed for crossing the stream. In accomplishing this object, Crœsus was aided by a very celebrated engineer who accompanied his army, named Thales. Thales was a native of Miletus, and is generally called in history, Thales the Milesian. He was a very able mathematician and calculator, and many accounts remain of the discoveries and performances by which he acquired his renown.

For example, in the course of his travels, he at one time visited Egypt, and while there, he contrived a very simple way of measuring the height of the pyramids. He set up a pole on the plain in an upright position, and then measured the pole and also its shadow. He also measured the length of the shadow of the pyramid. He then calculated the height of the pyramid by this proportion: as the length of shadow of the pole is to that of the pole itself, so is the length of the shadow of the pyramid to its height.

Thales was an astronomer as well as a philosopher and engineer. He learned more exactly the true length of the year than it had been known before; and he also made some calculations of eclipses, at least so far as to predict the year in which they would happen. One eclipse which he predicted happened to occur on the day of a great battle between two contending armies. It was cloudy, so that the combatants could not see the sun. This circumstance, however, which concealed the eclipse itself, only made the darkness which was caused by it the more intense. The armies were much terrified at this sudden cessation of the light of day, and supposed it to be a warning from heaven that they should desist from the combat.

Thales the Milesian was the author of several of the geometrical theorems and demonstrations now included in the Elements of Euclid. The celebrated fifth proposition of the first book, so famous among all the modern nations of Europe as the great stumbling block in the way of beginners in the study of geometry, was his. The discovery of the truth expressed in this proposition, and of the complicated demonstration which establishes it, was certainly a much greater mathematical performance than the measuring of the altitude of the pyramids by their shadow.

But to return to Crœsus. Thales undertook the work of transporting the army across the river. He examined the banks, and found, at length, a spot where the land was low and level for some distance from the stream. He caused the army to be brought up to the river at this point, and to be encamped there, as near to the bank as possible, and in as compact a form. He then employed a vast number of laborers to cut a new channel for the waters, behind the army, leading out from the river above, and re-joining it again at a little distance below. When this channel was finished, he turned the river into its new course, and then the army passed without difficulty over the former bed of the stream.

The Halys being thus passed, Crœsus moved on in the direction of Media. But he soon found that he had not far to go to find his enemy. Cyrus had heard of his plans through deserters and spies, and he had for some time been advancing to meet him. One after the other of the nations through whose dominions he had passed, he had subjected to his sway, or, at least, brought under his influence by treaties and alliances, and had received from them all re-enforcements to swell the numbers of his army. One nation only remained—the Babylonians. They were on the side of Crœsus. They were jealous of the growing power of the Medes and Persians, and had made a league with Crœsus, promising to aid him in the war. The other nations of the East were in alliance with Cyrus, and he was slowly moving on, at the head of an immense combined force, toward the Halys, at the very time when Crœsus was crossing the stream.

The scouts, therefore, that preceded the army of Crœsus on its march, soon began to fall bank into the camp, with intelligence that there was a large armed force coming on to meet them, the advancing columns filling all the roads, and threatening to overwhelm them. The scouts from the army of Cyrus carried back similar intelligence to him. The two armies accordingly halted and began to prepare for battle. The plane of their meeting was called Pteria. It was in the province of Cappadocia, and toward the eastern part of Asia Minor.

A great battle was fought at Pteria. It was continued all day, and remained undecided when the sun went down. The combatants separated when it became dark, and each withdrew from the field. Each king found, it seems, that his antagonist was more formidable than he had imagined, and on the morning after the battle they both seemed inclined to remain in their respective encampments, without evincing any disposition to renew the contest.

Crœsus, in fact, seems to have considered that he was fortunate in having so far repulsed the formidable invasion which Cyrus had been intending for him. He considered Cyrus's army as repulsed, since they had withdrawn from the field, and showed no disposition to return to it. He had no doubt that Cyrus would now go back to Media again, having found how well prepared Crœsus had been to receive him. For himself, he concluded that he ought to be satisfied with the advantage which he had already gained, as the result of one campaign, and return again to Sardis to recruit his army, the force of which had been considerably impaired by the battle, and so postpone the grand invasion till the next season. He accordingly set out on his return. He dispatched messengers, at the same time, to Babylon, to Sparta, to Egypt, and to other countries with which he was in alliance, informing these various nations of the great battle of Pteria and its results, and asking them to send him, early in the following spring, all the re-enforcements that they could command, to join him in the grand campaign which he was going to make the next season.

He continued his march homeward without any interruption, sending off, from time to time, as he was moving through his own dominions, such portions of his troops as desired to return to their homes, enjoining upon them to come back to him in the spring. By this temporary disbanding of a portion of his army, he saved the expense of maintaining them through the winter.

Very soon after Crœsus arrived at Sardis, the whole country in the neighborhood of the capital was thrown into a state of universal alarm by the news that Cyrus was close at hand. It seems that Cyrus had remained in the vicinity of Pteria long enough to allow Crœsus to return, and to give him time to dismiss his troops and establish himself securely in the city. He then suddenly resumed his march, and came on toward Sardis with the utmost possible dispatch. Crœsus, in fact, had no announcement of his approach until he heard of his arrival.

All was now confusion and alarm, both within and without the city. Crœsus hastily collected all the forces that he could command. He sent immediately to the neighboring cities, summoning all the troops in them to hasten to the capital. He enrolled all the inhabitants of the city that were capable of bearing arms. By these means he collected, in a very short time, quite a formidable force, which he drew up, in battle array, on a great plain not far from the city, and there waited, with much anxiety and solicitude, for Cyrus to come on.

The Lydian army was superior to that of Cyrus in cavalry, and as the place where the battle was to be fought was a plain, which was the kind of ground most favorable for the operations of that species of force, Cyrus felt some solicitude in respect to the impression which might be made by it on his army. Nothing is more terrible than the onset of a squadron of horse when charging an enemy upon the field of battle. They come in vast bodies, sometimes consisting of many thousands, with the speed of the wind, the men flourishing their sabers and rending the air with the most unearthly cries, those in advance being driven irresistibly on by the weight and impetus of the masses behind. The dreadful torrent bears down and overwhelms every thing that attempts to resist its way. They trample one another and their enemies together promiscuously in the dust; the foremost of the column press on with the utmost fury, afraid quite as much of the headlong torrent of friends coming on behind them, as of the line of fixed and motionless enemies who stand ready to receive them before. These enemies, stationed to withstand the charge, arrange themselves in triple or quadruple rows, with the shafts of their spears planted against the ground, and the points directed forward and upward to receive the advancing horsemen. These spears transfix and kill the foremost horses; but those that come on behind, leaping and plunging over their fallen companions, soon break through the lines and put their enemies to flight, in a scene of indescribable havoc and confusion.

Crœsus had large bodies of horse, while Cyrus had no efficient troops to oppose them. He had a great number of camels in the rear of his army, which had been employed as beasts of burden to transport the baggage and stores of the army on their march. Cyrus concluded to make the experiment of opposing these camels to the cavalry. It is frequently said by the ancient historians that the horse has a natural antipathy to the camel, and can not bear either the smell or the sight of one, though this is not found to be the case at the present day. However the fact might have been in this respect, Cyrus determined to arrange the camels in his front as he advanced into battle. He accordingly ordered the baggage to be removed, and, releasing their ordinary drivers from the charge of them, he assigned each one to the care of a soldier, who was to mount him, armed with a spear. Even if the supposed antipathy of the horse for the camel did not take effect, Cyrus thought that their large and heavy bodies, defended by the spears of their riders, would afford the most effectual means of resistance against the shock of the Lydian squadrons that he was now able to command.

The battle commenced, and the squadrons of horse came on. But, as soon as they came near the camels, it happened that, either from the influence of the antipathy above referred to, or from alarm at the novelty of the spectacle of such huge and misshapen beasts, or else because of the substantial resistance which the camels and the spears of their riders made to the shock of their charge, the horses were soon thrown into confusion and put to flight. In fact, a general panic seized them, and they became totally unmanageable. Some threw their riders; others, seized with a sort of phrensy, became entirely independent of control. They turned, and trampled the foot soldiers of their own army under foot, and threw the whole body into disorder. The consequence was, that the army of Crœsus was wholly defeated; they fled in confusion, and crowded in vast throngs through the gates into the city, and fortified themselves there.

Cyrus advanced to the city, invested it closely on all sides, and commenced a siege. But the appearances were not very encouraging. The walls were lofty, thick, and strong, and the numbers within the city were amply sufficient to guard them. Nor was the prospect much more promising of being soon able to reduce the city by famine. The wealth of Crœsus had enabled him to lay up almost inexhaustible stores of food and clothing, as well as treasures of silver and gold. He hoped, therefore, to be able to hold out against the besiegers until help should come from some of his allies. He had sent messengers to them, asking them to come to his rescue without any delay, before he was shut up in the city.

The city of Sardis was built in a position naturally strong, and one part of the wall passed over rocky precipices which were considered entirely impassable. There was a sort of glen or rocky gorge in this quarter, outside of the walls, down which dead bodies were thrown on one occasion subsequently, at a time when the city was besieged, and beasts and birds of prey fed upon them there undisturbed, so lonely was the place and so desolate. In fact, the walls that crowned these precipices were considered absolutely inaccessible, and were very slightly built and very feebly guarded. There was an ancient legend that, a long time before, when a certain Males was king of Lydia, one of his wives had a son in the form of a lion, whom they called Leon, and an oracle declared that if this Leon were carried around the walls of the city, it would be rendered impregnable, and should never be taken. They carried Leon, therefore, around, so far as the regular walls extended. When they came to this precipice of rocks, they returned, considering that this part of the city was impregnable without any such ceremony. A spur or eminence from the mountain of Tmolus, which was behind the city, projected into it at this point, and there was a strong citadel built upon its summit.


The Seige of Sardis.

Cyrus continued the siege fourteen days, and then he determined that he must, in some way or other, find the means of carrying it by assault, and to do this he must find some place to scale the walls. He accordingly sent a party of horsemen around to explore every part, offering them a large reward if they would find any place where an entrance could be effected. The horsemen made the circuit, and reported that their search had been in vain. At length a certain soldier, named Hyræades, after studying for some time the precipices on the side which had been deemed inaccessible, saw a sentinel, who was stationed on the walls above, leave his post and come climbing down the rocks for some distance to get his helmet, which had accidentally dropped down. Hyræades watched him both as he descended and as he returned. He reflected on this discovery, communicated it to others, and the practicability of scaling the rock and the walls at that point was discussed. In the end, the attempt was made and was successful. Hyræades went up first, followed by a few daring spirits who were ambitious of the glory of the exploit. They were not at first observed from above. The way being thus shown, great numbers followed on, and so large a force succeeded in thus gaining an entrance that the city was taken.

In the dreadful confusion and din of the storming of the city, Crœsus himself had a very narrow escape from death. He was saved by the miraculous speaking of his deaf and dumb son—at least such is the story. Cyrus had given positive orders to his soldiers, both before the great battle on the plain and during the siege, that, though they might slay whomever else they pleased, they must not harm Crœsus, but must take him alive. During the time of the storming of the town, when the streets were filled with infuriated soldiers, those on the one side wild with the excitement of triumph, and those on the other maddened with rage and despair, a party, rushing along, overtook Crœsus and his helpless son, whom the unhappy father, it seems, was making a desperate effort to save. The Persian soldiers were about to transfix Crœsus with their spears, when the son, who had never spoken before, called out, "It is Crœsus; do not kill him." The soldiers were arrested by the words, and saved the monarch's life. They made him prisoner, and bore him away to Cyrus.

Crœsus had sent, a long time before, to inquire of the Delphic oracle by what means the power of speech could be restored to his son. The answer was, that that was a boon which he had better not ask; for the day on which he should hear his son speak for the first time, would be the darkest and most unhappy day of his life.

Cyrus had not ordered his soldiers to spare the life of Crœsus in battle from any sentiment of humanity toward him, but because he wished to have his case reserved for his own decision. When Crœsus was brought to him a captive, he ordered him to be put in chains, and carefully guarded. As soon as some degree of order was restored in the city, a large funeral pile was erected, by his directions, in a public square, and Crœsus was brought to the spot. Fourteen Lydian young men, the sons, probably, of the most prominent men in the state, were with him. The pile was large enough for them all, and they were placed upon it. They were all laid upon the wood. Crœsus raised himself and looked around, surveying with extreme consternation and horror the preparations which were making for lighting the pile. His heart sank within him as he thought of the dreadful fate that was before him. The spectators stood by in solemn silence, awaiting the end. Crœsus broke this awful pause by crying out, in a tone of anguish and despair,

"Oh Solon! Solon! Solon!"

The officers who had charge of the execution asked him what he meant. Cyrus, too, who was himself personally superintending the scene, asked for an explanation. Crœsus was, for a time, too much agitated and distracted to reply. There were difficulties in respect to language, too, which embarrassed the conversation, as the two kings could speak to each other only through an interpreter. At length Crœsus gave an account of his interview with Solon, and of the sentiment which the philosopher had expressed, that no one could decide whether a man was truly prosperous and happy till it was determined how his life was to end. Cyrus was greatly interested in this narrative; but, in the mean time, the interpreting of the conversation had been slow, a considerable period had elapsed, and the officers had lighted the fire. The pile had been made extremely combustible, and the fire was rapidly making its way through the whole mass. Cyrus eagerly ordered it to be extinguished. The efforts which the soldiers made for this purpose seemed, at first, likely to be fruitless; but they were aided very soon by a sudden shower of rain, which, coming down from the mountains, began, just at this time, to fall; and thus the flames were extinguished, and Crœsus and the captives saved.

Cyrus immediately, with a fickleness very common among great monarchs in the treatment of both enemies and favorites, began to consider Crœsus as his friend. He ordered him to be unbound, brought him near his person, and treated him with great consideration and honor.

Crœsus remained after this for a long time with Cyrus, and accompanied him in his subsequent campaigns. He was very much incensed at the oracle at Delphi for having deceived him by its false responses and predictions, and thus led him into the terrible snare into which he had fallen. He procured the fetters with which he had been chained when placed upon the pile, and sent them to Delphi with orders that they should be thrown down upon the threshold of the temple—the visible symbol of his captivity and ruin—as a reproach to the oracle for having deluded him and caused his destruction. In doing this, the messengers were to ask the oracle whether imposition like that which had been practiced on Crœsus was the kind of gratitude it evinced to one who had enriched it by such a profusion of offerings and gifts.

To this the priests of the oracle said in reply, that the destruction of the Lydian dynasty had long been decreed by the Fates, in retribution for the guilt of Gyges, the founder of the line. He had murdered his master, and usurped the throne, without any title to it whatever. The judgments of Heaven had been denounced upon Gyges for this crime, to fall on himself or on some of his descendants. The Pythian Apollo at Delphi had done all in his power to postpone the falling of the blow until after the death of Crœsus, on account of the munificent benefactions which he had made to the oracle; but he had been unable to effect it: the decrees of Fate were inexorable. All that the oracle could do was to postpone—as it had done, it said, for three years—the execution of the sentence, and to give Crœsus warning of the evil that was impending. This had been done by announcing to him that his crossing the Halys would cause the destruction of a mighty empire, meaning that of Lydia, and also by informing him that when he should find a mule upon the throne of Media he must expect to lose his own. Cyrus, who was descended, on the father's side, from the Persian stock, and on the mother's from that of Media, was the hybrid sovereign represented by the mule.

When this answer was reported to Crœsus, it is said that he was satisfied with the explanations, and admitted that the oracle was right, and that he himself had been unreasonable and wrong. However this may be, it is certain that, among mankind at large, since Crœsus's day, there has been a great disposition to overlook whatever of criminality there may have been in the falsehood and imposture of the oracle, through admiration of the adroitness and dexterity which its ministers evinced in saving themselves from exposure.

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