Scythian queen Tomyrus and Iranian Cyrus

     Herodotus (480 BC) says: “When Cyrus had achieved the conquest of the Babylonians, he conceived the desire of bringing the Massagetae under his dominion. Now the Massagetae are said to be a great and warlike nation, dwelling eastward, towards to the rising of the sun, beyond the river Araxes, and opposite the Issedonians. By many they are regarded as a Scthyian race.

  ‘’On the west then, as I have said, the Caspian Sea is bounded by the range of Caucasus. On the east it is followed by vast plains, stretching out interminably before the eye, the greater portion of which is possessed by those Massagetae, against whom Cyrus was now so anxious to make an expedition. Many strong motives weighed with him and urged him on – his birth especially, which seemed something more than human, and his good fortune in all his former wars, wherein he had always found, that against what country so ever he turned his arms, it was impossible for that people to escape.”

  Were Massagetae Indians? At that time India was not a political union of states. There lived numerous tribes following their own independent political system, mostly a sort of clan democracy. These tribes had different ethnic origins that might have had some common connection in remote past and were scattered throughout length and breadth from the centre to the fringes at places like Gandhar and eastwards from Caspian Sea. They had felt certain affinity with each other on account of similar ancient traditions and customs but there was certainly no feeling of political community among them. Massagetae tribe was one among them.

  Some of these tribes, going through the natural process of mutation and multiplication, have been able to survive to this day and their traces may still be found in the names of countless number of surnames, gotras and sub-castes not only among Hindus but also among Muslims and Christians. Scythian race is splintered today in many countries of central Asia and South-East Asia, and in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan of today they are found in plentiful numbers under many tribal castes and subcastes, including Balochis, Pashtuns, Hazaras, Chahar Aimaks, Sindhis, Turkmen, Uzbek, Ajeris (Ajerbaijanis), Kazakh, Tatar, Tajik, Rajputs, Jats, Ahirs, Gujjars etc.The word ‘Rajput’ is the corrupted form of ‘Rajputra’, that is,  “son of a king” and signifies more a title than ethnicity of the tribe to which they belong. Customs, habits and culture that worships valour, all indicate their common origin from Sythic race in prehistoric times.

  However, several tribes that were living in the times of Buddha became extinct leaving behind no trace of their once flourishing tribe. Herodotus had described events that had taken place before him (480 BC when he was born). He has given an account of war waged by Cyrus against Massagetae people and their gallant leader, queen Tomyris. The narration tells a marvelous story of simplicity of heart, good faith and gallantry of these ancient people.

  In pursuit of his desires, man, over a period of time, has unlearnt the virtues of simplicity of heart, capability to have faith and boundless courage. At the individual level for realization of the supreme Truth lying behind appearance – material world – one has to again learn them. Also at the collective level, if a nation wants to rise and lead mankind (which India did for long) towards greater heights of human evolution, she has to cultivate these virtues among her citizens. To true India these have always been very dear. Herodottus tells us, “At this time the Massagetae were ruled by a queen, named Tomyris. At the death of her husband, the late king, she had mounted the throne. Cyrus sent to her ambassadors with instructions to court her, on his part, pretending that he wished her to marry. Queen Tomyris, however, being aware that it was her kingdom, and not herself, that Cyrus courted, forbade him to approach her. Cyrus finding that he did not advance his designs by this deceit marched towards these people. He openly displaying his hostile intentions, set to work to construct a bridge over Araxes so that his army might cross the river.

 “The envoys of the Scythians, on being introduced into the presence of the kings of these nations, who were assembled to deliberate, made it known to them, that the Persian had thrown a bridge over the connecting river and crossed into their country with an aim to enslave them all, and not merely Scythians. It was pointed out that from the moment of his entry, he has subjugated, without exception, all nations that came in his way, and that all the tribes of the Thracians have been brought under his sway, and among them even their next neighbors, the Getae.

  “The assembled princes of the nations, after hearing all that the Scythians had to say, deliberated upon the matter, but their opinion was divided and they could not reach a unanimous decision.

  “When this reply reached the Scythians, they resolved that they would not openly venture on any pitched battle with the enemy, but would retire before them, driving off their herds, choking up all the wells and springs as they retreated, leaving the whole country bare of forage.

  “They divided themselves into three bands, one of which was to be joined by the Sauromatae, and in face of the Persian advance, it was to retreat along the shores of the Palus Maeotis and make for the river. While the Persians retired, they were to pursue at once and harass them. The two other divisions were to unite in one, and joined by the detachments of the Geloni and Budini, were to keep at the distance of a day’s march from the Persians, falling back as they advanced, and doing the same as the others.

  “When these measures had been determined on, the Scythians went out to meet the army of Darius, sending on in front as scouts the fittest of their horsemen. Their wagons, wherein their women and their children lived, and all their cattle, except such a number as was wanted for food, which they kept with them, were made to precede them in their retreat, and departed, with orders to keep marching, without change of course, to the north.”

   Now, one of the Scythians’ tribes was being lorded by Queen Tomyris as her husband had died and their son was still not of mature age. Herodotus informs of this incident in his ‘Histories’ in these words:

  “While Cyrus was occupied with this work, Tomyris sent a messenger to him. The messenger said to Cyrus:

   “0 king of Iranians (Medes), cease to press this enterprise, for you cannot know if what you are doing will be of real advantage to you. Be content to rule in peace your own kingdom and bear to see us reign over the countries that are ours to govern.

  “However, as I know that you will not choose to listen my counsel – since there is nothing you less desire than peace and quietness – come on if you are so mightily desirous of meeting the Massagetae in arms.”

  Herodotus informs us what Tomyris said to Cyrus and narrates the story thus: “Leave your useless toil of bridge-making; we will retreat back ourselves three days’ march from the river bank and you do come across the river without molestation with your soldiers. However, if you prefer to give us the battle on your side of the river then retreat yourself back an equal distance.”

  ‘’Cyrus, on this offer, called together the chiefs of the Persians, and laid the matter before them, requesting them to advise him what he should do. All the votes were in favor of letting the queen cross the stream, and giving the battle on Persian ground.

  ‘’But Croesus, a trusted servant of Cyrus, advised to the contrary. On comparing the two plans, Cyrus changed his mind and preferring the advice of Croesus, returned answer to the Queen that she should retire and that he would cross the stream.

  “The Queen retired as she had agreed.

  “Cyrus sent his son Cambyses to take care of the government of Persia and himself crossed over the river to the Massagetae territory with his army without any molestation from them. Cyrus, having advanced a day’s march from the river, did as Croesus had advised him. He leaving behind the worthless portion of his army in the camp left himself with his good troops towards the river.

  “Soon afterwards, a detachment of the Massagetae, one third of their entire army, led by Spargapises, the son of the Queen Tomyris, coming up to the camp fell upon the body of army that had been left behind by Cyrus. On their resistance Massagetae put them to the sword. This victorious army on seeing the feast prepared did not give a second thought and set down and began to feast. When they had eaten and drunk their fill, and were now sunk in sleep, the Persians under Cyrus arrived, slaughtered a great multitude, and made even a larger numbers prisoners. Among these prisoners was Spargapises himself.

  “When Queen heard what had befallen her son and her army, she sent a herald to Cyrus, who thus addressed the conqueror:

   “You blood-thirsty Cyrus, pride not thyself on this poor success! It was the grape-juice (wine) which, when you drink it, makes you so mad, and as you swallow it down brings up to your lips such bold and wicked words! It was this poison wherewith you ensnared my child, and so overcame him, not in fair open fight.

  “Now listen what I advise, and be sure I advise thee for thy good. Restore my son to me and get thee from the land unharmed, triumphant over the third part of the host of the Massagetae.”Refuse, I swear by the sun, the sovereign lord of Massagetae (this shows Massagetae regarded sun their God), blood-thirsty as thou art, I will give thee thy fill of blood.”

  “To these words of the Queen Cyrus paid no regard.

  “As for Spargapises, the son of the queen, when the wine went off, and he saw the extent of his calamity, he made request to Cyrus to release him from his bonds. Then, when his prayer was granted, and fetters were taken from his limbs, as soon as his hands were free, he destroyed himself.

  ‘’When Tomyris found that Cyrus paid no heed to her advice, she collected all the forces of her kingdom and gave him the fiercest battle. First, the two armies stood apart and shot their arrows at each other; then, when their quivers were empty, they closed and fought hand-to-hand with lances and daggers.

  ‘’Thus they continued fighting for a length of time, neither choosing to give ground. At length the Massagetae prevailed. The greater part of the army of the Persians was destroyed and Cyrus himself fell, after reigning twenty-nine years.

  “A search was made among the slain by order of the queen for the body of Cyrus, and when it was found she took a skin, and, filling it full of human blood, she dipped the head of Cyrus in the gore, saying, as she thus insulted the corpse, “I live and have conquered thee in fight, and yet by thee am I ruined, for thou tookest my son with guile; but thus I make good my threat, and give thee thy fill of blood”.”

  Herodotus has reported the customs of Massagetae thus: “In their dress and mode of living the Massagetae resemble the Scythians. They fight both on horseback and on foot, neither method is strange to them: they use bows and lances, but their favorite weapon is the battle-axe… Each man has but one wife, yet all the wives are held in common; for this is a custom of the Massagetae and not of the Scythians, as the Greeks wrongly say. … They sow no grain, but live on their herds, and on fish, of which there is plenty in the Araxes. Milk is what they chiefly drink. The only god they worship is the sun, and to him they offer the horse in sacrifice, under the notion of giving to the swiftest of the gods the swiftest of all mortal creatures.”

( Additional readings HERE )

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