Ancient Leadership in the Era of Donald Trump

The “Barbarian” Other

The “Barbarian” Other


From Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World: An Anthology of Sources by RF Kennedy, CS Roy, and ML Goldman

All translations in this unit are from Kennedy, Roy, and Goldman unless otherwise noted.


The great empires of ancient Mesopotamia were intertwined in the history of ancient Greece and Rome. Interactions began in earnest with the colonization of the Asia Minor (modern Turkey) coastline by various Greeks between the 9th-7th centuries BCE. The Greeks and Persians, for all their expressed antagonism, shared many cultural traits. The eastern end of the Persian empire, however, was a land of marvels, the city of Babylon being one of the greatest. As the Greeks continued to spread out in the ancient Mediterranean, conflict with the powers in Asia Minor became inevitable. The Persian Wars of the fifth century yielded to the conquests of Alexander in the 4th century and the establishment of Greek kingdoms throughout Asia from the 4th-2nd centuries BCE. Rome conquered each of these kingdoms in turn, and controlled much of Asia Minor between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE. During that period, a number of native dynasties emerged either to ally or to contend with Rome. One such dynasty, the Parthians, were their greatest foe in the east.


1. Aeschylus Persians, 1–92, 176–199, 231–245, 249–301, 402-405, 535–597, 623–906 (5th century BCE). Aeschylus’ Persians was produced in 472 BCE, only seven years after the events it fictionalized. The play is set in the city of Susa, an imperial capital of the Persian Empire, and is a fictionalization of when the royal court of Persia (made up of elder counselors and the mother of King Xerxes) received word of the Persian defeat at the hands of the Greeks at Salamis. (RFK)


1–92. A Chorus of Elders opens the play.


Chorus: We here are called the counselors of the Persians, gone to Greece, and are guardians of their rich and gold-strewn land; our lord, King Xerxes himself, chose us to watch over the land because of our age. [10] Our hearts, prophets of evil, are already overly troubled within concerning the homecoming of the King and of his many-manned army. For the entire strength of Asia has gone, and our hearts cry out for the young men. Nor has any messenger come, on foot or horse, to the city of the Persians.

    No news about those who departed and left behind Susa, Agbatana and the ancient walls of Cissia, [20] some setting forth on horse, others aboard ship, and others still as foot-soldiers, densely arrayed for war: men such as Amistrês and Artaphrenês, Megabatês and Astapês—rulers of Persia, kings, who are subject of the Great King, ephors driving forward the vast army, unconquerable archers and cavalry, dreadful to look upon and terrible in war with steadfast self-confidence in their souls.

    No news about Artabarês the charioteer and Masistrês, [30] and noble Imaios, unconquerable bowman, and Pharandakês. The great and many-nourishing Nile sent others: Susiskanês, Egyptian-born Pegastigôn and great Arasamês, the ruler of sacred Memphis. Add to this Ariomardos, the governor of ancient Thebes and his dread and [40] innumerable marsh-dwelling rowers.

    A mob of Lydians follows—men living in luxury, a completely land-locked people led by Mitragathes and noble Arcteus (kingly commanders)—and much-gilded Sardis sent forth upon numerous chariots—both two- and three- poled—a fearful sight to behold.

    Those dwelling near sacred Tmolos, Mardon, Tharubis, anvils of the spear and the Mysian javelins, [50] threaten to cast the slavish yoke around Greece. Wealthy Babylon sends a mixed-race mob, straggling behind in a long line, both sailors in ships and those who put their faith in their skill with the bow. A saber-bearing host made from the whole of Asia follows at the dreaded command of the King.


Such a flower of the men of Persia’s land has gone! [60] The whole Asian land groans in fierce longing for them! Their parents and wives tremble, counting the days as they stretch on and on.

    The Destroyer of Cities, a kingly army, already has crossed into the neighboring land lying opposite us; by means of a bridge of boats bound together with flaxen ropes, they cross over the strait [70] called Helle (after Athamas’ daughter) tossing a well-bolted yoke round the neck of the sea.

    Savage in war, ruling over many-peopled Asia, he drives his extraordinary flock across the whole earth in two ways, [80] entrusting them to his stout, reliable commanders by both land and sea—a godlike mortal of the golden race.

    His eyes glare with the dark stare of a murderous snake and he, speeding his Syrian chariot along, accompanied by many men, drives his war of archers against spear-famous men.

    No one is so experienced that he can stand against this great flood of men or keep them off with firm defenses; [90] they are a tsunami force. The Persian army cannot be withstood, the Persian people stout-hearted.


176–199. The Queen and mother of Xerxes, Atossa, has entered and recounts her dream, a clear premonition of Xerxes defeat at Salamis.


Queen to Chorus: I’ve become accustomed to continuously having dreams every night since my son gathered up his army and decided to head off to destroy Ionia. But this last vision was…it was as if it was happening right in front of me! [180] I’ll describe it to you: Two well-dressed women seemed to appear before my eyes. One was decked out in Persian garb, the other in Dorian. They were much taller than is normal for people today and their beauty was flawless. They were sisters of the same race. One of the women dwelt in Greece, her fatherland obtained by lot, while the other resided in a barbarian land. It seemed to me that discord arose between the two women. When my son learned of the conflict, he tried to control and quiet them. [190] He yoked them under his chariot and put a leather strap under their throats. One woman stood proudly in the harness and held the reigns in her easy-to-control mouth. The other struggled and ripped the harness from the chariot with her hands. She seized it and dragged it away by force without the bridle. She smashed the yoke in the middle and my son fell. His father Darius stood by, pitying him. And when Xerxes saw him, he tore the robes around his body.


231–245. The Queen and Chorus discuss the war.


Queen: Where on the earth do they say Athens is located?

Chorus: Far to the west where Lord Helios dips his head.

Queen: Why would my son want to capture that city?

Chorus: Then all Greece would become subjects of the king.

Queen: Do they have a surplus of men available for an army?

Chorus: They have a large enough army; it did a lot of damage to the Medes.

Queen: Besides this, what else is there? Do they have wealth in their palaces?

Chorus. They have a flowing spring of silver, a treasury from the earth.

Queen: Are they good archers, using bow and arrow to good end?

Chorus: Not at all. [240] They use spears in close combat and carry shields for defense.

Queen: Who is the shepherd and rules over the army?

Chorus: They are called slaves of no mortal nor are they subjects.

Queen: How then would the men stand against their enemy?

Chorus: Well enough that they destroyed Darius’ large and noble army.

Queen: You say something awful for parents of our young men to consider.


249–301. A Persian messenger arrives from Greece to give word to the Queen and her counselors about the defeat at Salamis and its aftermath.


Messenger: Cities of all Asia, land of Persia, [250] vast haven for wealth, how in a single blow your great wealth has been destroyed. Calamity has struck—the flower of Persia is fallen. To deliver first word of evils is evil. But necessity calls! Here’s the whole disastrous tale revealed, Persian. Our entire barbarian army? Gone.

Chorus: The horror! The horror! Unheard of and cruel! Ah! Persians weep [260] as you hear of this horror!

Messenger: That’s right—everything has been destroyed. I didn’t even think I’d make it home alive.

Chorus: We are too old for this—we have lived too long that we should hear of this unexpected woe.

Messenger: I was there, Persians. This isn’t secondhand information. [270] I can tell you all about the disaster.

Chorus: Good grief! In vain did our multi-national, numerous weapons leave Asia and march to Greece, Zeus’ land.


402-405. During his description of the battle at Salamis, the Messenger recounts the Greek battle cry as they attacked the Persian fleet.


(Messenger imitating the Greeks): “Oh sons of Greece, come on! Free your fatherland, free your children, your wives, the shrines of your paternal gods, the graves of your ancestors! The contest now is for them all!”


535–597. The Persian Chorus and the Queen lament the destruction the Persia upon hearing the Messenger’s tale.


Chorus: Oh Zeus, king! Now you have destroyed the army of the boastful, innumerable Persians and darkened the cities of Susa and Agbatana with a murky grief. Many women are tearing their veils with soft hands.

    Staining, drenching their robes with tears, [540] the wailing women of Persia who yearn to see their newly-wedded husbands, the soft sheets of their marriage beds, the delight of their luxurious youth, they yearn to give themselves over to grief with insatiable weeping. I myself am greatly grieved and suffer truly for the doom of the departed. For now indeed all the land of Asia groans at its emptiness.

    Xerxes led them. (Grief!) [550] Xerxes destroyed them. (Pain!) Xerxes governed all foolishly with his sea-faring ships. Why, tell me, was Darius, lord of the bow, ever so unhurtful toward his citizens? [560] Darius. Dear leader of Susa!

    The first to greet their doom, (Alas!) [570] possessed by necessity, (Aye!) they are wrecked near Cynchreia. (groan) Groan and grieve, cry deeply over our divinely sent fate. (groan) Raise your sadly wailing, wretched voice!

    Torn apart by the dread-filled salt sea (alas!) they are rent by the silent children of the undefiled sea. [580] Our homes, emptied of men, grieve; parents now childless grieve for their divinely sent doom (groan). Mourning their old age, they know indeed an all-encompassing pain.

    No longer throughout Asian land are they governed by Persian law, and no longer do they pay tribute with kingly necessity, [590] nor do they stand in awe, falling prostrate onto the land; the kingly power has been destroyed.

    No longer are men’s tongues under guard; for people have been loosed to speak freely, since the yoke of strength was demolished. The sea-girt island of Ajax, having been bloodied, holds the [remains] of Persia.


623–906. After their initial mourning, the Queen returns from the palace and asks the Chorus to help her raise the ghost of the dead king Darius in order to seek advice.


Chorus: Queen, lady revered by Persians, pour the libation upon the grave. We will ask with our hymns that the leaders of the dead under the earth be well intentioned. Pure spirits of the Underworld, [630] Gaia and Hermes and the King of those below, send up his soul from below into the light! For if he knows anything further to aid us in our evils, he alone of mortal men could tell us how to fix things.

    Blessed King, equal to a god, hear our barbarian cries! Do you hear me sending forth these varying, sad-sounding, mournful cries? I shall cry out our grievous troubles. Does he hear me from below?

    But you, both Gaia and the other leaders of the Underworld, [640] allow that very glorious spirit, the Susa-born god of the Persians, to come to me from your halls. Send him up! The earth of Persia has not ever covered over such a one as he.

    Dear was the man! Dear was his burial mound! For, dear was the character of the one it hides. Aidoneus guide him upward, [650] Aidoneus guide the divine rule Darian to us.

    For he never destroyed our men through reckless wastes of war. He was called divine counselor for the Persians, and a divine counselor he was since he controlled the army well.

    Shah, ancient Shah come! Come to the highest peak of your funeral mound. Raising your saffron-dyed slippered feet, [660] showing us the peak of your kingly tiara. Come father Darian, innocent of evil.

    Come so that you may hear about our troubles, new and shared by all. King of Kings, appear! Some Stygian mist hovers over us; [670] for all our young men have recently been destroyed. Come father Darian, innocent of evil. Woe! Woe!

    You who died much lamented by friends, why, why master, master, are we suffering twice over because of this mistake? All our triple-banked ships all throughout the land have been destroyed. [680] No ships, no ships.

Ghost of Darius: Oh faithful of the faithful, companions of my youth, Persian elders! Does the city (polis) suffer some grief? The earth groans, mourns, and is angry. I behold my wife near the tomb and am struck with fear; but I received the libation favorably. You wail standing near my tomb and shrieking with soul-guiding groans pitiably, you summon me. [690] However, there is no easy route from Hades since the gods below are altogether better at taking than letting go.    Nevertheless, I have come since I have dominion among them. But hurry! I don’t want to be reproached for spending too much time here. What new grievous evil has befallen the Persians?

Chorus: We are awe-struck at the sight of you. We are as awe-struck to speak face to face with you as one is of a god because of our ancient fear.

Ghost of Darius: That’s fine, but since I was persuaded by your dirge and came up from below, don’t give me some long and tedious speech, but set aside your awe at me and, speaking concisely, tell me everything.

Chorus: We are afraid to gratify your request. [700] We are afraid to tell you face-to-face tidings that are hard to tell to friends.

Ghost of Darius: Well then, since your ancient fear has blocked your ability to think, you, my aging bed-mate and high-born wife, stop crying and groaning and tell me something clear. It’s a part of being human that misfortune befalls mortals. For, men encounter many evils both at sea and on land and, the longer the lifetime, the more one experiences.

Queen: Oh, you who was fortunate enough to surpass all mortals in prosperity! You were enviable so long as you gazed upon the sun’s light and as though a god, you made life happy for the Persians. I envy you now as well since you died before seeing the depths of our misfortune. The short of it, Darius, is this: [710] the prosperity of the Persians is destroyed absolutely.

Ghost of Darius: How so? Did some plague strike? Or is there civil strife in the city?

Queen: Not quite. The entire army has been wiped out near Athens.

Ghost of Darius: Who of my sons led the expedition there? Tell me.

Queen: Savage Xerxes—he emptied the entire continent.

Ghost of Darius: [720] Was the wretch mad enough to attempt this venture with the army or the navy?

Queen: Both. It was a double front, a two-pronged expedition.

Ghost of Darius: How did such an infantry force succeed in crossing to Greece?

Queen: He engineered a path over the Hellespont.

Ghost of Darius: Did he really manage to close up the great Bosporus?

Queen: He sure did. Perhaps some god drove him to the idea.

Ghost of Darius: It must have been a great god indeed who came upon him that he so lost his senses.

Queen: Clearly—the terrible results are the evidence.

Ghost of Darius: Tell me—what happened to our forces that you are all in such mourning for them?

Queen: [730] The navy was destroyed and this led to the destruction of the land forces as well.

Ghost of Darius: Was the entire army, then, destroyed by their spears?

Queen: It was, which is why all of Susa groans at its lack of men…

Ghost of Darius: (So much for the protection and aid of the army!)

Queen: …and why the entire population of Bactrians has perished to a man.

Ghost of Darius: (Poor Xerxes. Such allies he lost! They were in the prime of their youth!)

Queen: They say that Xerxes alone (but with a few men)…

Ghost of Darius: Wait. How and where did Xerxes end up? Is he safe?

Queen: …he alone had the relief of reaching the bridge that linked the two continents.

Ghost of Darius: So, it’s true that he has returned safely to this land?

Queen: On this part of the account, everyone is agreed. Yes, he has returned.

Ghost of Darius: [740] Ah! How quickly were the oracles fulfilled! Zeus has hurled my son toward the realization of the prophecies, although I somehow believed that their accomplishment was far off in the future. Whenever someone is in a hurry, though, a god helps him along. Now all my loved ones have discovered a spring of evils. My child achieved this ignorantly in his youthful audacity, my son who hoped to shackle the sacred flowing Hellespont as a slave, the divine flow of the Bosporus. It was my son who altered the path of the sea and, casting around it wrought iron shackles, supplied a wide road for his vast army. Being mortal he foolishly thought to overcome all the gods, especially Poseidon. [750] Surely, some disease of the mind took hold of my son? I fear that all my gathered wealth will become plunder for whatever man comes first to snatch it.

Queen: Savage Xerxes got the idea from talking with evil men. They told him that, while you had obtained great wealth for our children through your military campaigns, he only played the warrior at home and didn’t increase his paternity at all. He often heard these sorts of approaches from those wicked men and so laid the plans for his expedition to Greece.

Ghost of Darius: [760] Instead, he accomplished a great deed! An unforgettable deed! A deed with no precedent, not since the time when lord Zeus bestowed the honor that one man rule over all of sheep-nourishing Asia and wield the scepter of authority! He managed to empty out the city of Susa. Medus was the first commander of the host, but another, his son, first accomplished this work. For his wits guided the rudder of his courageous spirit. Third after him was Cyrus, a man blessed by the spirit, who by his rule brought peace for all those dear to him: [770] he acquired the host of Lydians and Phrygians for the Persian realm and by force drove all of Ionia into subjugation: for the god did not hold him hateful, since he was sound of mind. The son of Cyrus was the fourth to manage the host. Fifth to rule was Mardus, a source of disgrace to his fatherland and to the venerable thrones. Him noble Artaphrenes killed by guile in his own palace, aided by men dear to him who undertook this duty, and sixth was Maraphis; seventh was between Artaphrenes and I, and [780] I obtained the lot I wished for.

    Many were the campaigns I fought with my great army, yet I did not inflict such a great evil on my city.  My young son Xerxes thinks young thoughts and doesn’t recall my advice. For know well and clearly, men of my generation, none of us, had we such authority to wield, would be shown to have brought about suffering such as this.

Chorus: What then, King Darius? [790] What point are you making? What, given the circumstances, would be the best course of action for the Persian people?

Ghost of Darius: Don’t make any expeditions into Greece, not even if the Median army is larger. For the land of Greece is itself an ally to the Greeks.

Chorus: What do you mean? How is it an ally?

Ghost of Darius: It starves any excessively large population.

Chorus: But we will gather together a well-equipped, select force.

Ghost of Darius: But the army that is even now in Greece [800] will not find a safe homecoming.

Chorus: What are you saying? Is the entire barbarian army not crossing the Hellespont from Europe?

Ghost of Darius: Few from many. Seeing what has now happened, it is necessary to trust in the oracles of the gods. Every single oracle is coming to pass. If indeed this is so, then Xerxes has been blinded by false hope and has left behind his select force in vain. [810] They wait where the Asopos waters the plain with its flood; a precious enrichment of the soil of Boeotia. The greatest miseries are waiting there for them to suffer, a penance for their hubris and disrespect for the Greek gods. When they entered Greece, they had no qualms about plundering the images of the gods or burning their temples. Altars were annihilated; the shrines of the gods were hurled down to the ground from their foundations in mass confusion. Behaving badly, they suffer in amounts equal to what they have done, [820] nor yet have they reached the end of their woes. Still the cost rises. For the bloody slaughter caused by Dorian spears on the Plataean plain will be tremendous. Heaps of corpses will serve as a silent symbol to the eyes of men for three generations to come that a mortal must not consider himself greater than he is. Hubris flowered and yielded a crop of ruin, and from it a tearful harvest was reaped. See the penalties of such actions! Remember Athens and Greece [830] lest someone disdain his present fortune, lust after the wealth of another and so squander his own prosperity. For Zeus, a grievous judge, is charged with punishing the arrogant who think beyond their station. In this light, use sensible warnings and admonish Xerxes to stop offending the gods with his arrogant boasting. But you, aged and beloved mother of Xerxes, go into the house and get a seemly robe for him and greet him when he arrives. Grieved at all his troubles, he has rent from his body the splendid robe he wore. [840] It is in shreds. Comfort him with gentle words. Only your voice, I know, will lift his spirits.

    I must return back to the darkness. You, elders, farewell. Despite these evil times, give your lives over to pleasure while the sun shines on you still, [850] since wealth is of no use to the dead.

Chorus. Hearing about the many misfortunes, present and future, of we barbarians was grievous.

Queen. Oh, divinity! How many painful misfortunes afflict me! But the misfortune that stings the most is the disgrace of the robes that cover my son’s body. I will go inside and get a robe for him from the palace and try to meet him. [860] For I will not abandon those dearest to me in times of trouble.

Chorus: O woe! What a great and excellent life of civic order we partook of when old, all-powerful, untainted by ill, peace-loving, god-like Darius ruled the land. First, we demonstrated how glorious was our army, then our laws, bulwarks, kept all in order. [870] Homecomings from war, without toil or harm, have led us, well accomplished, home again. And what a number of cities he captured!—without crossing the stream of Halys [880] or even stirring from his own hearth: such as the Acheloan cities on the Strymonian sea located beside the Thracian settlements. And those outside the lake, the cities on the mainland, surrounded with a rampart, obeyed him as their king; those, too, obey who boast that they are on both sides of the broad Hellespont and Propontis, deeply-recessed, and the outlet of Pontus. [890] The sea-washed islands, also, off the projecting arm of the sea, lying close to this land of ours, such as Lesbos, and olive-planted Samos, Chios and Paros, [900] Naxos, Mykonos, and Andros which lies adjacent to Tenos. And he held under his sway the sea-girt islands midway between the continents, Lemnos, and the settlement of Icarus, and Rhodes, and Cnidos, and the Cyprian cities Paphos, Soli, and Salamis, whose mother-city is now the cause of our lament. And the rich and populous cities of the Hellenes of Ionian heritage he controlled by his own will; and at his command he had an unwearied strength of men-at-arms and of allies from every nation. But now, defeated completely in war through disasters on the sea, we endure this change of fortune no doubt god-sent.

4. Herodotus Histories 1.131-140 (5th century BCE). After describing how Cyrus became king of Persia (550-530 BCE), Herodotus relates a number of Persian customs, including religious practices, various social customs, education, and burial practices. (RFK)


1.131. I know that the Persians use the following customs: they do not set up statues, temples, or altars, but consider those who do so foolish. This is the case, it seems to me, because they do not attribute human qualities to their gods as the Greeks do. [2] They are accustomed to ascend to the highest mountain peaks and to perform sacrifices to Zeus. They even refer to the entire heavens as Zeus. They sacrifice to the sun and moon as well as to earth, fire, water, and the winds. [3] From earliest days, they sacrificed only to these gods, but later learned from the Assyrians and Arabians to sacrifice in addition to Heavenly Aphrodite. The Assyrians call Aphrodite Mylitta, the Arabians call her Alilata, and the Persians call her Mithra.

    132. Persians perform sacrifices to their gods according to the following customs: they neither set up altars nor are they accustomed to offer burnt sacrifices. Nor do they make drink-offerings, play flutes, wear garlands, or use barley meal. Instead, if anyone wishes to sacrifice to one of the gods, he leads an animal to an unpolluted location while crowned with a tiara, preferably of myrtle. [2] No private individual is allowed to pray just for himself, though. He prays for the King and all Persians (of course, he is himself included in “all Persians”). Then the sacrificer cuts the animal into pieces and boils the meat. Next, he places the meat on a bed of the softest grasses he can find, preferably clover. [3] Once he has made all these preparations, a Magus stands beside the offering and recites the story of the origins of the gods, which the Magi say is the appropriate spell for this. It is not their custom to perform sacrifices without a Magus. After a short interval, the sacrificer carries the meat away and uses it however he chooses.

    133. The Persians think that the day most important for a person to honor is one’s own birthday. On this day, they see fit to lay out a feast larger than on any other day. At this birthday feast, the wealthier serve ox, horse, camel, and donkey, cooked whole over flames. The poorer folks serve goat or sheep. [2] They eat few breads or grains, but have many dessert courses. In fact, the Persians say that Greeks stop eating though still hungry because Greeks, unlike Persians, serve nothing worth eating after the dinner courses. But if they did serve something worth eating, the Greeks would also eat and not stop while still hungry. [3] Persians are also greatly devoted to wine. They consider it inappropriate, however, to vomit or urinate in the company of others, so they take precautions against such occurrences while in their cups. They are accustomed, in fact, to make plans concerning the most weighty matters while drunk. [4] Whatever decision they found pleasing while drunk, though, is re-presented to them by their evening’s host the next morning when they are sober. If the idea still appeals to them even when sober, they use it. If, however, they find it wasn’t such a good idea, they give it up. Just to keep themselves honest, they also reconsider while drunk any decisions they made while sober.

    134. When Persians happen upon each other in public, one can tell the relative social rank of people by how they interact. If they are equals, instead of saying hello, they kiss each other on the mouth. If one is of slightly lower status, they kiss on the cheek. But if one is of significantly lower status, that one falls to the ground and prostrates himself before the other. [2] They honor the various ethnic groups according to their proximity to Persia: those who live nearest come first in honors, second place goes to the next nearest and so on in an outward progression with those living furthest away being least regarded. Persians believe that they are the most noble of men in all ways and that the rest of mankind partakes in excellence according to their nearness to Persia, in accordance with the order of the world. Since Persia is at the center, those living furthest away are thus the worst of all men. [3] The Medes ruled their various ethnic groups under a similar structure, exerting rule especially over those nearest them and then depending upon those peoples to rule over the peoples on their own borders. Persian honors are distributed in a similar fashion and, indeed, their empire and its administration function this way.

    135. Persians are especially keen to adopt foreign customs. For example, they wear Median clothes because they think Median clothes are more attractive than their own. They also wear Egyptian breastplates into battle. They tend to examine the assorted pleasures of others and pursue some of them—like their borrowing of pederasty from the Greeks. Each Persian also marries many “official” wives and then procures many more concubines for himself in addition.

    136. A man’s masculinity is based, first, on his prowess in war, and second, on his ability to produce many children. Throughout each year, the king sends gifts to whatever man has produced the most sons. They believe there is strength in numbers. [2] From the age of five until twenty, children are trained in three things only: horsemanship, archery, and speaking the truth. Until they turn five, the boys do not enter their father’s sight, but live among the women. The reasons for this practice is to spare the father grief if a son should die while still nursing.

    137. I commend that particular custom, and this other as well: the king does not condemn anyone to death for a single offense, nor does any Persian inflict irreparable harm on a member of his household for a single offence. Instead, everything is added up, and if the crimes outweigh the good service, then the king or master acts on his anger. [2] They say that no one kills their own mother or father. They say that on such occasions when this has occurred, investigations revealed that the murderer was either adopted or a child of adultery since they say that no parent would be killed by a true-born child of their house.

    138. It is not permitted for them to speak about things they are not permitted to do. They consider lying the worst of all habits. Being in debt ranks second among offenses. There are many reasons for such thinking, but, in particular they believe it inevitable that a debtor will at some point lie. Citizens with leprosy or “the whiteness” are excluded from the cities and from mingling with other Persians. They say that such a disease marks one as having wronged the sun. [2] The many drive out from the land any foreigner with these conditions and they consider white doves also to be thus afflicted and for the same reason. They consider rivers especially sacred and neither permit others nor themselves to urinate, spit or wash hands in them.

    139. There is an additional peculiarity among the Persians, something they themselves have failed to notice, but we have not: their names, which are meant to reflect their physiques and their noble status, all end in the same letter, what the Dorians call san and the Ionians sigma. If you investigate the matter, you will find that not just some Persian names, but all Persian end in this same way.

    140. I speak of those matters from my knowledge and experience. Further tales, however, are hinted at in whispers. Concerning the dead, specifically, it is said that no Persian man is buried before his corpse has been torn apart by birds and dogs. [2] I know for certain that the Magi do this, for they practice it openly. Persians also cover the bodies of the dead with wax before burial. The Magi are as different from the priests of Egypt as they are from other men. [3] Egyptian priests consider it a religious imperative not to kill any living thing except during a sacrificial rite. The Magi, however, kill everything with their own hands except dogs and men. They make great sport, likewise, of killing ants, snakes, flaying creatures and other beasts. Well, let us be satisfied with knowing of this custom as it originated. I’ll now return to my previous tale.


Herodotus Histories 1.196-199 (5th century BCE). After recounting the capture of Babylon by Cyrus, Herodotus describes the social practices of the Babylonians. (RFK)


196. The wisest of their customs, in our opinion, is one that I have learned about through inquiry and was also followed by the Eneti in Illyria. Once a year in each village, they used to do the following: whatever girls had reached marriageable age were all gathered together in a single place and the men crowded around. [2] A herald then stood the girls up one at a time and he sold them starting with the most attractive. After she sold, and earned a high price, he then called up the second most attractive girl and so on until all the attractive girls had been sold as wives. The wealthier of the Babylonians who were looking to marry could outbid each other for the fairest of all, while those from the lower classes who were looking for wives, but were uninterested in beauty, could take home the less attractive girls as well as some money. [3] For, once the herald finished selling all the attractive girls, he would ask the least attractive, or maybe a disabled girl, to stand up and he sold her announcing that she would fall to whoever was willing to take her home to wife with the lowest dowry. The sale continued on until the last girl had been married off. The amount paid the man along with the girl came from the proceeds of the sale of the attractive girls so that their sales provided a dowry for the unattractive and disabled girls. Further, no man was permitted to give his daughter to whomever he wanted, nor was it possible for a man to lead away the girl he bought without first guaranteeing a marriage contract. [4] This was necessary or, by law, the sale was invalid. It was also possible that someone from a neighboring village would come and buy himself a wife. [5] This, then, was the best custom among the Babylonians, but they do not follow it anymore. Instead, recently they’ve invented a new custom [in order to prevent their girls from being taken to another city]. Because the submission of Babylon to the Persians caused great financial hardship for the people, everyone who lacks a livelihood now sets their daughter up as a prostitute.

    197. The second wisest custom is as follows: the Babylonians do not use doctors. Instead, they carry the sick and ailing into the marketplace where passersby, if they have suffered from the same affliction or know someone else who did, offer advice to the sick. They approach the sick and tell them about how they managed their own recovery, or how someone they knew brought about their own, and give comfort. No one is allowed to pass the sick in silence. Everyone must inquire into their illness.

    198. They embalm their dead with honey, and their funeral dirges are similar to those in Egypt. Whenever a Babylonian man has sex with his wife, they both sit before a burnt offering of incense until dawn, when they bathe. They touch no vessels until they have bathed. The Arabians follow a similar practice.

    1.199. This is the worst of all Babylonian customs: they require every local woman to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have sex with a strange man once during her lifetime. Many women of wealth, who think highly of themselves and consider it beneath them to mingle with the other women, arrive at the temple in covered chariots and stand behind a wall of servants. [2] The majority of women (and there are many coming and going) sit in the sacred precinct with a corded crown on their heads. Pathways are marked allowing the men to wander throughout the crowd of women and choose. [3] Once a woman is seated there, she is not free to return home until some stranger has tossed his money into her lap and she has sex with him outside the temple. When a man throws the money at her, he must say “I summon you in the name of Mylitta” (Mylitta is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). [4] The amount of money is irrelevant, nor is it lawful for her to refuse it. This money is sacred. It is also “first come, first serve” and she can not refuse anyone. Once she has had sex, she is purified by the goddess and free to go home. After this experience, there is no amount of money you would give to her that would be enough to win her affections. [5] Now, there are many great beauties in the temple and they are typically released from their obligation rather quickly. The unattractive women, however, who are unable to fulfill their obligation, remain in the temple a long time. Indeed, some have remained for three years. There is a custom similar to this in parts of Cyprus.


Aristophanes Archarnians 61-125 (5th century BCE). The play is set during the Peloponnesian War. The hero, Dicaiopolis, tired of the war and tired of the inaction of the Assembly, decides to make his own peace treaty with Sparta. The visit of the Persian ambassador is the final straw for Dicaiopolis. (RFK)


Herald: The Ambassadors to the King!

Dicaiopolis: What king? I’m annoyed by these ambassadors and their peacocks and preening.

Herald: Quiet!

Dicaiopolis: Wowzers! Look at that Ecbatana of an outfit!

Ambassador: You sent us to the Great King back when Eutheneus was archon with a pay of two drachma per day…

Dicaiopolis (to himself): Oh my! That’s a lot of drachmas!

Ambassador: …and we wore ourselves out roaming around and camping upon the Caustrian plains. [70] We were just dying, lounging around on soft litters.

Dicaiopolis: Geez. And here I thought I was really taking care of myself by living under whatever piece of rubbish happened to float by me.

Ambassador: Being entertained as guests, we were forced to drink only the sweetest wines from crystal and gold goblets.

Dicaiopolis: Oh city of Cranaus! Do you hear these jeering, mocking ambassadors?

Ambassador: Barbarians consider the best men only those capable of eating and drinking the most.

Dicaiopolis: The measure of our men is in cocksuckers and ass lovers.

Ambassador: We finally, three years into our journey, arrived at where the King [80] was. At this point, though, the King had taken off with his army to some far off toilet of a region and spent eight months crapping on the golden hills…

Dicaiopolis: And at what point did he tighten up his asshole? Full moon?

Ambassador: …and then he came back. He then showed us proper hospitality and set before us as dinner an entire oxen in a baking pot.

Dicaiopolis: Who’s ever seen an ox in a baking pot? What a load of crap.

Ambassador: I swear by Zeus that he also fed us a bird three times the size of Cleomenes. He called it a “quack.”

Dicaiopolis: Sounds about right—[90] you’ve been cheating us with your two drachma a day.

Ambassador: Now, at last, we have returned! We bring you…THE KING’S EYE!

Dicaiopolis: Well, throw me down and let a crow peck out my eyes! And the ambassadors’, too!


Dicaiopolis: Lord Heracles! By the Gods! Man, you look like a battleship at arms! Or are you looking about the next bend for a dock? Do you have a rowlock down under that eye of yours?

Ambassador: Come on, now, Pseudoartabas, and tell the Athenians what the King sent you to say.

Pseudoartabas: [100] Iarta namê xarxana pisona satra.

Ambassodor: Do you understand what he’s saying?

Dicaiopolis: By Apollo, I don’t.

Ambassador: He says that the King is sending us gold. (to Pseudoartabas) Tell them loudly and clearly about the gold.

Pseudoartabas: Not getting gold, you gigantic Ionian assholes.

Dicaiopolis: Well, that was pretty damn clear.

Ambassador: Huh? What is he saying?

Dicaiopolis: What? He says that the Ionians are huge assholes if they are expecting any gold from the barbarians.

Ambassador: No, no, no! He says “many medimnoi of gold!

Dicaiopolis: How many “many medimnoi”? You are a big fat liar. Get out of here! I’ll put the screws to this “Eye” myself. [110] Come on, tell me clearly (see my stick here?). Don’t make me dip you in Sardian dyes. Will the Great King send us a lot of gold? (Pseudoartabas shakes head) So, in other words, we are being swindled by these ambassadors? (Pseudoartabas nods). Wait. Hold on! These two men here, the Eye and his companion? They nod like Athenians. They aren’t Persian! They’re Athenians! This one, the eunuch. I know you! You’re Cleisthenes, son of Sibyrtius. Oh, you shaver of your own hot-headed anus. You ape. What a beard you’ve got yourself! [120] And you come here all decked out like a eunuch? And whose your sidekick? Don’t tell me it’s Strato!

Herald: QUIET! SIT DOWN! The Council invites the King’s Eye to dine in the Prytaneum.


8. Isocrates Panegyricus 150-152 (4th century BCE). Isocrates’ panegyric (circulated sometime around 380 BCE) was intended to convince the Greeks to stop fighting each other and unite against the “barbarian” menace, Persia. (RFK)


150. None of these things has happened without reason, but all have resulted naturally. For it is impossible that men nourished and governed as the Persians should be able to share the virtues of others or to set up battle trophies over their enemies. For how, given their way of life, is it possible that they produce a clever general or noble soldier? The majority of the Persians are an unorganized mob and have been taught slavishness better than people in our own lands.

    151. Those among them with the greatest reputations never live for equality, the common good, or the state. Their whole lives are passed either committing outrages on some men or playing the slave to others. Thus these men especially would be corrupted in their natures. Because of their wealth, they wantonly indulge their bodies. Because of the monarchy, they have souls humbled and timid. They present themselves before the royal palaces, fall down prostrate before others, and in all ways practice low-mindedness. They bow down before a mortal man and address him as if he were a divinity. They think less of the gods than they do of men. 152. So for example, those among them who come down to the sea, whom they call satraps, they do not disregard their upbringing, but maintain these same behaviors abroad—they are untrustworthy to their friends and lack courage before the enemy, they live sometimes humbled, but at other times overbearing, and they hold their allies in contempt while flattering their foes.


Philostratus the Lemnian Imagines 2.31.1-2 (3rd century CE). The Imagines is a collection of short descriptions of imaginary paintings. Here is a painting of the Athenian general Themistocles and hero of the battle f Salamis who went to Persia after his ostracism from Athens. (RFK)


1. A Greek among barbarians, a man among non-men (seeing as they are ruined and effeminate), certainly an Athenian judging by his threadbare cloak, he pronounces some wisdom, I think, and tries to change their habits and to woo them away from luxury. Here are Medes, the center of Babylon, the royal insignia—a golden eagle on a shield—and the king here sits on his golden throne decked out like a spotted peacock. The painter does not think it worthy to seek praise of how well he has represented the tiara and royal robe or the Median cloak with its large sleeves or the marvelous animal patterns with which barbarians embellish their clothes. He should be praised, however, for how he draws and preserves the design of the threads upon the gold fabric. He should also be praised, by Zeus, for the faces of the eunuchs! The golden courtyard, may he be praised for that as well—it seems so realistic as to not be a painting at all, but a real building. We can smell the frankincense and myrrh with which the barbarians corrupt the air of freedom. One spearman converses with another about this Greek man and marvels at him and what they have learned of his great deeds.

    2. Themistocles son of Neocles has come to Babylon, I think, after the battle at divine Salamis and when he was at a loss as to where in Greece it could be safe. He is conversing with the king about how he aided Xerxes while still commander of the Greek fleet. He is undisturbed by his Median surroundings, but is as bold as if he were standing on a speaker’s platform in Athens. His speech is not his native tongue; Themistocles is using the Median language, which he learned while there. If you doubt this, just look at his listeners. They indicate with their eyes that they understand what he is saying. Look at Themistocles also; his head is tilted as if he is speaking, but his eyes indicate a hesitation, as if he is searching for what he wants to say like one who has just learned the language.


Horace Odes 1.2.50-54, 1.19.9-12, 1.38.1-4, 2.13.13-20 (1st century CE). Horace frequently mentions the Parthians in his poetry, conflating them with the Medes and Persians, their ancestors known from Classical Greek sources. (CSR)


1.2.50-54. Enjoy great triumphs here instead, here may you love to be called father and princeps. And do not allow the Medes to ride their horses unavenged by us while you are our leader, Caesar.


1.19.9-12. Venus attacks me in full force, she has deserted Cyprus, and prevents me from singing about Scythians or Parthians bold on their turned horses and other such things which have no point.


1.38.1-4. I hate Persian trappings, boy. Crowns woven with linden displease me. Do not chase after where, of all places, the late rose lingers.


2.13.13-20. A man is never cautious enough, hour by hour, about what he should avoid: a Punic sailor shudders at the Bosporus, but fears not from any source his fate unseen beyond that moment. The soldier fears the arrows and quick flight of the Parthian, while the Parthian fears chains and the Italian dungeon, but what is unseen in the death that has seized, and will seize, all the races of men.


14. Ovid Ars Amatoria 1.177-228 (1st Century CE). In a discussion of how a triumphal procession would be a good place to find girls, Ovid digresses on a prospective Roman campaign in the East. He specifically addresses the return of the standards taken by the Parthians from Crassus. (MLG)


Behold! Caesar is preparing to add to our possession the part of the world still unconquered. Inhabitant of the eastern end of the world, you will soon belong to us. You will pay the penalty, Parthia. Crassus and son, although you are dead and buried, rejoice! Rejoice, [180] Roman regimental standards - you dislike being handled by barbarian hands. An avenger is at hand and, though young, claims leadership and manages a war not to be waged by a child. But cease, timorous men, enumerating birthdays of gods! Caesars obtain their manly valor early: divinely inspired talent ascends more quickly than its years and will not tolerate any debt to slovenly delay. Heracles was a tiny child when he strangled two snakes in his hands and was worthy of Jupiter even in the cradle. You are still a boy, Bacchus, and how big were you [190] when you conquered India and inspired them with fear of your thyrsus? Under the legitimate authority and age of your father, young man, you will wage war and you will conquer under the legitimate authority and age of your father. Such is the commencement you owe to so great a family name, since you are already the leader of the youths and will soon be leader of the senate. Since you have brothers, avenge the harm done to brothers! Since you have a father, defend the rights of fathers! Your father and the father of the country puts your arms on you; the enemy has wrenched the kingdom from his own unwilling father. You will wield dutiful spears; he, criminal arrows. Justice and duty will stand in front of your legionary standards. [200] The Parthians’ cause is conquered; let them be conquered in arms as well. Let my leader add the riches of the east to Rome. Father Mars and father Caesar, grant your divine favor to him on his journey. One of you is a god, the other one will be.

    Behold! I prophesy and shall repay with a promised poem. We shall have to sing of you in grand strains. You will stand firm and encourage the troops in battle array with my words (ah, let my words not betray your spirit!). I shall speak of Parthian backs and Roman hearts and [210] of the weapons that the enemy shoots from his horse in flight. Parthian, since you run away to conquer, what will be left to you when conquered? Parthia, even now your army stands under an ominous cloud. And therefore that day will come when you, Gaius, most beautiful man in the world, will dress in gold and be carried by four white horses. The enemy leaders will walk in front with their necks weighed down by chains. In this way they will be unable to run away as they did before. Young men and girls will gather together and gaze with joy. That day will spread great enthusiasm to all. When some girl asks for the names of the kings, [220] when she asks what are the images of foreign lands, mountains and rivers carried in procession, reply to her every inquiry—reply, indeed, even if she does not ask. Whatever you don’t know, reply as if you know it well: “this here is Euphrates, with his forehead crowned with reeds. That guy there with the sea blue locks hanging low, he’s Tigris.” Pretend that these men are Armenians, that this here is Persia descended from Danae. That guy, or that guy, let them be leaders. Some you will name truly, if you can, but if you can’t, just give them appropriate names.


Plutarch Life of Crassus 24-28, 31. (2nd century CE). Plutarch describes Parthian customs and practices as part of his account of the Parthian campaign of Crassus and the results. (CSR)


24. While the Romans were panic-stricken from the noise, suddenly their enemies threw off the coverings on their weapons and appeared to gleam from their helmets and breastplates, the Margianian iron flashing sharp and glittering, and their horses were covered with bronze and iron armor. [2] Surena himself was the tallest and most beautiful, and the effeminacy of his beauty did not match his reputation for courage. He was dressed more in the Median fashion—he had painted his face and parted his hair; whereas the other Parthians wore their hair in long bunches over their foreheads like Scythians. [3] First, the Parthians intended to push and attack with their pikes and thus carry the front ranks by force. But when they saw the depth of the ranks with overlapping shields and the constancy and steadfastness of the men, they went back and seemed to scatter and break up their battle lines but in secret they circled the square battle formation. [4] When Crassus ordered his light-armed troops to advance, they did not advance far, but after quickly coming under fire from many arrows they retreated and took cover with the heavy infantry. There they caused the beginning of disorder and fear, for the heavy infantry saw the force and strength of arrows that could break armor and that could be sent through every sort of armor, both strong and soft alike. [5] But the Parthians stood at intervals and began to shoot from all sides at once, and not without accuracy (for the dense unbroken line of the Romans would not allow even someone who wanted to miss not to hit a man), but they were making strong and powerful shots from strong and large curved bows so that their arrows had great force. [6] Immediately, the Roman situation became horrendous; for if they remained in their battle lines they were wounded in great numbers and if they tried to close the distance and fight, they were equally far from doing anything and suffered just the same. For, the Parthians shoot as they flee, and they do this more effectively than anyone other than the Scythians. It is very intelligent to head to safety while still defending yourself and it lifts the shame of the retreat.

    25. As long as the men had hope that their enemies would run out of arrows and hold off from battle or engage in hand-to-hand combat, they remained steadfast. But when they saw the many camels nearby loaded with extra arrows, from which those who first had ridden around them could get new ones, Crassus, seeing nothing more to do, became discouraged. He sent messengers to his son and ordered him to force a fight with the enemy before he was completely surrounded because their cavalry was attacking and encircling his wing in particular trying get behind him. [2] Therefore, his son took 1300 horsemen, 500 of whom had been Caesar’s, 500 archers, and eight cohorts of men with shields who were closest to him and led them in an attack. But, the Parthians surrounding him turned back and ran off either, as some say, because they came upon marshland or because their strategy was to attack the younger Crassus as far away from his father as they could. [3] Crassus’ son, after shouting that the men were not standing their ground, pushed on, and Censorinus and Megabacchus went with him. Megabacchus was known for his bravery and strength, Censorinus had the rank of a senator and was a strong speaker. They were companions of the younger Crassus and near in age. The horsemen followed them and the infantry did not remain behind filled with eagerness and joyful anticipation. They thought that they had won and were chasing the enemy until they recognized the trick after they had advanced a good way. The Parthians, seemingly in flight, turned around and additional men joined them. [4] The Romans stopped there, thinking that the enemy would fight at close quarters with them since they were so few. But the Parthians arrayed their heavy-armored cavalry opposite the Romans and sent their light-armed cavalry around them. They stirred up the plain and raised huge dust clouds from the earth that reduced the Roman’s vision and communications. [5] Thus, the Romans were corralled and shot as they fell on one another.  They died neither easily nor quickly, but rather, wracked by spasms of pain and thrashing around the arrows, they broke them off in their wounds and tried by force to drag out the barbed arrow-heads that had pierced through their arteries and tendons. The result was repeated tearing and self-mutilation. [6] Many died. And those who lived were useless in a fight. When Crassus’ son Publius called on them to attack the heavily-armored cavalry, they showed him that their hands were stuck to their shields and that their feet were nailed to the ground making them incapable of either retreat or defense. [7] Publius himself urged on the horsemen and vigorously charged and joined battle with the enemy, but he was unequal to the attack or to defending himself. His men were striking steel and hide covered breastplates with small weak spears. The light-armed and bared-bodied Gallic soldiers were struck repeatedly with long pikes. Publius placed great confidence in these men, and with them he accomplished marvelous deeds. [8] Since the heaviness of their armor weighed them down, they took hold of the spears and wrestled the Parthians from their horses. Many of the Gauls left their own horses behind, dove under the Parthians’ horses and struck them in their stomachs. The horses would rear up from the pain and, as they died, would trample on riders and enemies alike. [9] Heat and thirst especially bothered the Gauls, for they were unaccustomed to both. Most of their horses had been killed, driven onto the enemies’ pikes, and so they were forced to retreat to the infantry. They brought a badly injured Publius with them. They saw a sandy hill nearby and retreated to it. They tied their horses in the center and fastened their shields together on the exterior. They thought that they would thus easily ward off the barbarians. [10] The result was the opposite, for, on level ground the men in the front ranks offer some respite for those behind them, but here the unevenness of the ground elevated one man above another and raised up even more the man behind. There was no escape, everyone was being hit equally as they lamented their inglorious and useless deaths.

    [11] Two Greek men were with Publius who lived nearby in Carrhae, Hieronymus and Nicomachus. These men assisted in persuading Publius to withdraw with them and flee to Ichnae, a city connected to Rome and not far away. But Publius said that he feared no death so terrible that he would leave those who were dying for him. He then ordered Hieronymus and Nicomachus to save themselves and, after grasping their hands, sent them away. Then, since he was unable to use his right hand (it had been struck through with an arrow), he offered his side to his armor-bearer and ordered him to strike him with a sword. [12] They say that Censorinus died the same way. Megabacchus did the same to himself, as did the noblest of the rest. The Parthians climbed the hill and pierced the remaining fighters with their pikes. It is said that no more than 500 were captured alive. The Parthians cut off the heads of those around Publius and pushed on against Crassus.

    26. This is how it went for Crassus: once he ordered his son to attack the Parthians and someone announced to him that Publius had soundly routed the enemy and was pursuing the enemy vigorously, he saw that they were no longer pursuing him (for most had gone away to fight Publius) and recovered his courage a little. He drew his men together and gathered them on rising ground, expecting that his son would come back from the chase to aid him. [2] The first messengers sent by Publius to his father said that he was in danger died after falling upon the barbarians. The later ones escaped with much effort and pain and announced that Publius was done for unless his father quickly sent reinforcements. [3] Many emotions began to overwhelm Crassus and he was no longer able to think rationally.  He did not know what to do: fear for everyone encouraged him not to send reinforcements; longing for his son provoked him to. Finally, he urged his forces to go forward. Then the enemy, ever more frightening, assaulted them with noise and battle cries, and their many drums roared around the Romans who expected the beginning of the next battle. [4] The Parthians who carried the head of Publius fixed on a spear rushed forward and displayed it, arrogantly inquiring into his parents and family. They said it was not fitting for Crassus, a most cowardly and base man, to be the father of a son who was so noble and brilliant in his excellence. This sight, more than all the other terrible things they had experienced, exhausted and broke the spirits of the Romans. They were overcome by shivering and quaking rather than a desire for revenge, which would have been fitting. [5] They say, however, that Crassus appeared most brilliant in that time of suffering, for, while riding along the ranks, he shouted: “O, Romans, this sorrow is mine and private; the great fortune and reputation of Roman stands unbroken and unbeaten in you who are saved. If you have any pity for me, robbed of the noblest of all sons, make this clear in your rage against the enemy. Strip them of their joy! Punish them for their cruelty! Do not be laid low by what has happened! It is necessary for those aiming at great things to suffer as well. [6] Lucullus did not bring down Tigranes without bloodshed, nor did Scipio Antiochus. Our ancestors lost a thousand ships around Sicily, and many commanders and generals in Italy. None of them, by being beaten, prevented them from defeating the ones who had conquered them. For the Roman state came to its present power not by good luck but by the endurance and excellence of those who advanced against terrible things in its name.

    27. Even after saying such things and encouraging them, Crassus saw that not many men were listening to him eagerly, but when he ordered them to shout out together, the dejection of the army was evident, they made such a weak, small, and uneven shout. The splendid and brave shout of the barbarians overcame them. While they turned to their work, the enemies’ light-armored cavalry at their sides circled round them and shot at them, and their front line, using their pikes, drove the Romans into a narrow space except for those who, fleeing death from the arrows, recklessly dared to attack their enemies. [2] They did little harm but died quickly from serious, mortal wounds as the Parthians thrust pikes heavy with iron into their horses, pikes that could, if thrust with sufficient force, go through two men. They fought in this way until night fell and then withdrew. The Parthians said that they would give Crassus one night to mourn his son, unless he thought better about his situation and was willing to go to Arsaces rather than to be dragged there. [3] The Parthians set up their camp nearby and were in high hopes, but a difficult night took hold of the Romans. They made no plans to bury their dead nor to treat their wounded or dying, rather each cried about his own situation. It seemed impossible to escape if they waited for the day or went into the vast plain at night. Those who were wounded presented a great challenge: should they take them and let them impede the swiftness of their flight or should they leave them to announce their escape with their shouts. [4] As for Crassus, although they considered him at fault for everything, they longed for his face and his voice. But he lay covered in darkness, a paradigm of bad luck to many, and to the wise a symbol of bad planning and ambition. Driven by ambition, he was not content with being first and greatest among so many men. Because he was judged to rank below only two other men, he thought that he lacked everything.

    [5] The legates Octavius and Cassius then raised him up and tried to encourage him, but since he had completely given up, they summoned the centurions and captains. When those deliberating decided not to remain, they roused the army without a trumpet call and in silence at first. When the incapacitated realized that they were being left behind, a terrible disorder and confusion of wails and shouts overcame the camp. [6] Then disorder and fear that they enemy was attacking overtook those retreating as they marched. They turned aside often, and often they got into formation. Whosoever of the wounded who were following them had to be picked up or put down at intervals. They were wasting time, except for 300 horsemen, whom Ignatius led to Carrhae around midnight. [7] Ignatius called out to those guarding the walls in the Roman language. When they heard him, he ordered them to announce to their leader Coponius that a great battle had occurred between Crassus and the Parthians. Saying nothing else, not even who he was, he rode away to Zeugma, thereby saving his men along with himself, but evil is spoken of him since he left his commander. [8] The message sent to Coponius did, however, benefit Crassus, for Coponius thought that the speed and confusion of the message implied that it announced nothing good. He commanded his army to ready for battle and when he first learned that Crassus was on the move he went out to meet him, took over the army, and escorted them into the city.

    28. The Parthians realized the Romans were escaping that night but did not pursue them; as soon as it was day they went into the camp and cut the throats of those who were left behind–not less than 4000 of them–then they rode off and captured many who were wandering in the plain. [2] Also, four cohorts, which broke away with Vargontius while it was still night, were surrounded on a hill as they wandered from the road and were slaughtered as they tried to defend themselves, all of them except twenty men. The Parthians admired these twenty men, who had pushed their way through with their swords, and they let them through. They gave them a clear road to Carrhae as they were leaving. A false report came to Surena that Crassus had escaped along with other noblemen, and that the crowd that flowed into Carrhae was a mixed group of men not worthy of worry. [3] Surena thought that the result of his victory had gotten away, but he was still unsure and wanted to learn the truth so that he might either wait there and besiege Crassus or pursue him and let the people of Carrhae go unpunished. Therefore he sent one of his men who was bilingual to the walls and bid him to call for Crassus or Cassius in the Roman language and say that Surena wished to meet with them to speak terms. [4] After the interpreter said these things it was reported to Crassus, who accepted the proposal. After a little while some Arabs came from the barbarians who knew Crassus and Cassius well by sight since they had been in their camp before the battle. These men saw Cassius from the wall and told him that Surena proposed a peace and offered to protect those who were friends of the king so long as they left Mesopotamia. He saw this as more profitable to both forces instead pursuing an extreme position. [5] Cassius accepted and asked that a place and time be determined for when Surena and Crassus would come together. The messengers said that they would do this and went away.


Surena besieges the city and Crassus flees. Surena fears that the Romans will be able to get away and so promises again to come to terms with Crassus. He agrees unwillingly.


31. Octavius and those around him did not remain, but went down the hill with Crassus. Crassus forced back the lictors who had accompanied him. Two Greeks of mixed blood were the first of the barbarians to encounter him. They jumped down from their horses and prostrated themselves before him. They addressed him in the Greek language and encouraged him to send some people ahead who would see that Surena and those around him were coming forward without shields or swords. [2] Crassus told them that if he had even the least thought for his life, he would not have come into their hands. For all that, however, he sent two brothers, Roscii, to find out how many were coming and on what terms. Straightaway Surena captured and held these men and went forward on horseback with his top men and said: “What is this? A Roman commander goes on foot, but we ride?” He ordered a horse to be brought to Crassus. [3] Crassus said that neither he nor Surena was making a mistake, for they were carrying out the meeting in a way typical of each man’s country. Surena said that from that moment on there were treaties and peace between King Hyrodes and the Romans, but that it was necessary for the treaties to be written after they reach the river (“For you Romans, indeed, are not completely mindful of agreements”) and he held out his right hand. He then said it was not necessary to send for a horse, “for the king has given this one to you.” [4] When he said this, a golden-bridled horse stood next to Crassus and the grooms lifted him up, mounted him on the horse, and attended him while hurrying the horse along with blows. Octavius was the first to lay hold of the bridle, and after him it was Petronius, one of the commanders. Then the remaining men surrounded him and tried to stop the horse; they also drove back those who were pressing against Crassus on either side. [5] After some pushing, disorder, and then blows, Octavius drew his sword and killed the groom of one of the barbarians, but then another killed Octavius by striking him from behind. Petronius did not have a weapon, but after being hit in the breastplate he leapt off his horse unharmed. A Parthian named Pomaxathres killed Crassus. [6] Some deny that it was this man and claim that someone else was the killer, and they say that he cut off the head and the right hand of Crassus as he was lying there. These facts are inferred rather than known, for, out of those who were present, some of the men fighting there around Crassus were killed and others fled back up the hill right away. [7] The Parthians approached them and said that Crassus had paid the penalty, but Surena bid the rest of them to take heart and come down. Some of the men came down and entrusted themselves to Surena, others scattered during the night, and few of these men escaped altogether. Some of them the Arabs tracked, captured, and killed. It is said that twenty thousand all told died, and ten thousand were taken alive.