Persians and Medes: Herodotos on customs (mid-fifth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Daniel Mitchell, 'Persians and Medes: Herodotos on customs (mid-fifth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified December 3, 2022,

Ancient author: Herodotos of Halikarnassos, Histories, or Inquiries, portions of books 1, 3 , 5, 7, 8, and 9 (link to Greek text and translation)

Comments (by Daniel Mitchell):Β Writing about 420 BCE, Herodotos (also Latinized as Herodotus) of Halikarnassos in Karia (Caria) provides our earliest material about Persian and Median peoples. Historically, the Persian empire was built on the foundation of the Median empire, and both peoples could self-identify or be identified by others using the umbrella category (also a linguistic category) of “Aryans” or “Arians” (from which we derive our transliterated term “Iranians”). In light of these historical developments and often due to a lack of close attention to the details, the ancient Greeks perceived little distinction between the Persians and Medes in terms of culture and custom. Consequently, Herodotos seldom discusses Persians and Medes in mutual exclusivity (beyond the first book of his history). Many subsequent Greek authors followed suit in not making many clear distinctions. This grouping together of other peoples who would themselves (at least at times) self-identify differently is very common in Greek ethnographic writing (e.g. the umbrella categories of Celts, Iberians, Germans, Scythians, etc).

Herodotos’ account of the Persians and Medes covers a variety of topics including their social customs, customs related to the gods, and laws. While his characterizations of individual members of the Persian and Median aristocracies are often negative, he tends to present their communities, laws, and customs in a more neutral or even a positive light. This tension underscores the ironic Greek perception that Persian royality and the Persian empire were built on the back of slaves. This then serves to emphasize that the peoples threatened by, or living under, Persian rule were victims or potential victims, including the Greeks. The Greeks had just narrowly avoided subjugation sixty years prior to Herodotos’ writing during the second Persian invasion of Greece (ca. 480 BCE). Looming memories of Greek-Persian interactions haunt the narratives of Herodotos and others. It is important to remember that the very concept of “barbarian” among the Greeks owes much to this same dynamic, with “barbarian” often serving as a synonym for “Persian.”

Source of the translation: A. D. Godley,Β Herodotus, 4 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920-25), public domain, adapted and modernized by Daniel Mitchell and Harland.


Book 1

[Median rule]

[Fall of the Assyrians and rise of the Medians as a backdrop for the Persians]

95 But the next business of my history is to inquire into who this Cyrus was who took down the power of Croesus [king of the Lydians, ca. 587-546], and how the Persians came to be the rulers of Asia. I mean then to be guided in what I write by some of the Persians who desire not to magnify the story of Cyrus but to tell the truth, though there are no less than three other accounts of Cyrus which I could give. (2) After the Assyrians had ruled Upper Asia for five hundred and twenty years [ca.1299 to 709 BCE], the Medes (Medoi) were the first who began to revolt from them. These, it would seem, proved their bravery in fighting for freedom against the Assyrians. They cast off their slavery and won freedom. Afterwards, the other subject peoples also did the same as the Medes.

[Deioces, the first king of the Medians]

96 All of those on the mainland were now free men, but they came to be ruled by monarchs again, as I will now relate. There was among the Medes a clever man called Deioces: he was the son of Phraortes. (2) Deioces was infatuated with sovereignty, and so he set about gaining it. Already a notable man in his own town, one of the many towns into which Media was divided, he began to profess and practice justice more constantly and ethusiastically than ever. Deioces did this even though there was much lawlessness throughout the land of Media, and he knew that injustice is always the enemy of justice. Then the Medes of the same town, seeing his behaviour, chose him to be their judge, and he was honest and just (because he wanted sovereign power). (3) By acting in this way, he won considerable praise from his fellow townsmen. He received this praise to such an extent that when the men of the other towns learned that Deioces alone gave fair judgments (because before this time they had been subject to unjust rulings), they came often and gladly to plead before Deioces, and at last they would submit to no arbitration but his. 97 The number of those who came grew ever greater, for they heard that each case turned out in line with the truth. Then Deioces, seeing that everything now depended on him, would not sit in his former seat of judgment, and said he would give no more decisions. For it was of no advantage to him, he said, to leave his own business and spend all day judging the cases of his neighbours.

[Establishment of kingship]

(2) This caused robbery and lawlessness to increase greatly in the towns. The Medes gathered together and conferred about their present affairs. The Medes said (here, as I suppose, the main speakers were Deioces’ friends): (3) β€œSince we cannot go on living in the present way in the land, let us set up a king over us and in this way the land will be well governed. We ourselves will attend to our business and not be defeated by lawlessness.” With such words they persuaded themselves to be ruled by a king. 98 The question was at once propounded: Whom should they make king? Then every man was loud in putting Deioces forward and praising Deioces, until they agreed that he should be their king. (2) He ordered them to build him houses worthy of his royal power and to strengthen him with a bodyguard. The Medes did this. They built him a big and strong house wherever in the land he chose, and they let him choose a bodyguard from among the Medes. (3) After he had obtained power, he forced the Medes to build him one city and to fortify and care for this more strongly than all the others. The Medes did this for him, too. So he built the big and strong walls, one standing inside the next in circles, which are now called Agbatana [Ekbatana; modern Hamadan, Iran].

[Justice under the new king Deioces]

100 When he had made these arrangements and strengthened himself with sovereign power, he was a hard man in the protection of justice. They would write down their pleas and send them in to him. Then he would pass judgment on what was brought to him and send his decisions out. (2) This was his manner of deciding cases at law, while he conducted other affairs in the following way: if he heard that a man was doing violence, he would send for him and punish him as each offense deserved. He also had spies and eavesdroppers everywhere in his domain. 101 Deioces, then, united the Median people (ethnos) alone and ruled it. The Median descent groups (genΔ“) are these: the Busians (Busai), the Paretakenians (Paretakenoi), the Struchatians (Strouchates), the Arizantians (Arizantoi), the Budians (Budioi), the Magians (Magoi). That’s how many descent groups there are. . . [omitted material].


[Cyrus leads the Persians in revolt against Median rule]

125 When Cyrus read this [secret letter from Harpagos the Median encouraging Cyrus to revolt against the Median king Astyages], he deliberated as to what was the best way to persuade the Persians to revolt. Cyrus did what he thought was most effective: (2) Writing what he liked on a paper, he assembled the Persians and then unfolded the paper and declared that in it Astyages appointed him leader of the Persian armies. β€œNow,” he said in his speech, β€œI command you, men of Persia, to come, each being provided with a sickle.” This is what Cyrus said. (3) Now there are many descent groups in Persia and some of them Cyrus assembled and persuaded to revolt from the Medes. These assembled groups were the Pasargadians (Parsagadai), the Maraphians (Maraphioi), and the Maspians (Maspioi), upon which all other Persians depend. The noblest of these groups is the Pasargadians, among whom belongs the Achaemenidians (Achaemenidai), from which Persian kings are born. (4) The other Persian descent groups are the Panthialaians (Panthialaioi), the Derousiaians (Derousiaoi), and the Germanians (Germanioi). Collectively these are ploughmen, while the Daians (Daioi), Mardians (Mardoi), Dropikians (Dropikoi), and Sagartians (Sargartioi) are nomads. . . [omitted material].

130 Thus Astyages [king of the Medes ca. 585–550 BC] was deposed from his sovereignty after a reign of thirty-five years, and the Medes had to bow down before the Persians in consequence of Astyages’ cruelty. They had ruled all Asia beyond the river Halys for one hundred and twenty-eight years [687-559 BCE], from which must be subtracted the time when the Scythians held sway [634-606 BCE]. (2) Later on the Medes repented of what they did at this time, and they rebelled [ca. 520 BCE] against Darius [king of Persia], but they were defeated in battle and brought back into subjection. But now, in Astyages’ time, Cyrus and the Persians rose in revolt against the Medes, and from this time they ruled Asia. (3) Cyrus did Astyages no further harm and kept him in his own house until he died.

This is the story of the birth and upbringing of Cyrus, and of how he became king [of the Persians], and afterwards, as I have already related, he subjugated Croesus [the king of Lydia] in punishment for the unprovoked wrong done to him. After this victory he became sovereign of all Asia.


[Customs relating to the gods]

131 As to the customs of the Persians, I know them to be these: It is not their custom to make and set up statues, temples and altars, but those who do such things they think foolish. I suppose this is because they have never believed the gods to be like men [i.e. anthropomorphic], as the Greeks do. (2) So then they call the whole circuit of heaven Zeus, and to him they sacrifice on the highest peaks of the mountains. They also sacrifice to the sun, moon, earth, fire, water and winds. (3) From the beginning, these are the only gods to whom they have ever sacrificed. They learned later to sacrifice to the Heavenly (Ourania) Aphrodite from the Assyrians and Arabians. She is called by the Assyrians Mylitta, by the Arabians Alilat, and by the Persians Mitra.

[Sacrificial customs and the Magians]

132 The following is their method of sacrifice to the gods mentioned above: when about to sacrifice, they do not build altars or kindle fire, nor do they employ libations, music, fillets, or barley meal. When a man wishes to sacrifice to one of the gods, he leads a beast to an open space. Then he calls on the godΒ  while wearing a myrtle wreath on his tiara. (2) It is not lawful for the sacrificer to pray for blessings for himself only; instead he prays that the king and all the Persians will be well, for he counts himself among them. He then cuts the sacrificial victim limb from limb into portions. After boiling the flesh, he spreads the softest grass, trefoil usually, and places all of it on this. (3) Then, when he has arranged each piece in this way, a Magian (Magus) [i.e. Persian priest] comes near and chants over it the song of the birth of the gods, as the Persian tradition relates it.Β  For no sacrifice can be offered without a Magian. Then after a little while the sacrificer carries away the flesh and uses it as he pleases.

[Banqueting customs]

133 The day which every man values most is his own birthday. On this day, he thinks it is right to serve a larger meal than on other days: oxen, horses, camels or asses are roasted whole in ovens and set before the rich people.Β  On the other hand, the poorer serve less valuable cattle. (2) Persians’ courses are few but the desserts that follow are many and not all served together. This is why the Persians say that Greeks leave the table while still hungry, because not much dessert is set before Greeks. If such desserts were also given to Greeks, as the Persians say, the Greeks would never stop eating.

(3) Persians favour wine. No one may vomit or urinate in another’s presence: this is prohibited among them. Moreover, it is their custom to deliberate about the most serious matters when they are drunk. (4) Whatever they approve in their [drunken] deliberations, the master of the household (where they deliberate) proposes it to them on the next day.Β  If they still approve of it while sober, they act on it, but if not, they drop it. And if they have deliberated about a matter when sober, they decide upon it when they are drunk.

[Socioeconomic and ethnic hierarchies]

134 When one man meets another on the road, it is easy to see if the two are equals: If they are equal, they kiss each other on the lips without speaking. If the difference in status is small, the cheek is kissed. If the status is very significant, the humbler person bows and does obeisance to the other. (2) They honour most highly those who live closest to them, next those who are next closest, and so on, assigning honour by this reasoning. Those who live farthest away they consider least honorable of all. For they think that they are the best of all people in every respect and that others rightly cling to some virtue (aretΔ“) until those who live farthest away are the worst.

The Medes worked with a similar principle: they ruled over all peoples together but exerted the most direct rule over those situated closest to them, who in turn ruled their neighbors farther out. For the [Median] people kept advancing its rule and dominion.

[Adoption of foreign customs]

135 But the Persians more than all men welcome foreign customs. They wear Median clothing since they consider it more beautiful than their own, and they use Egyptian breast-armour in war. They have all kinds of luxurious practices which they have borrowed: the Greeks taught them pederasty. Every Persian marries many lawful wives, and keeps even more concubines.

[Education and virtue]

136 The character of a virtuous man is judged first by his valour in battle and next by his capacity to father the greatest number of sons. The king sends annual gifts to him who bears the most sons. Strength, they believe, is in numbers. (2) They educate their boys from five to twenty years old, and teach them only three things: riding, archery and honesty. A boy is not seen by his father before he is five years old, but lives with the women. The point of this practice is that, if the boy should die in the interval of his rearing, the father would suffer no grief.

[Customs limiting fatal treatment of subordinates as well as murder of parents]

137 I not only praise but ethnusiastically commend this Persian law that does not allow the king himself to slay any one for a single offense, or any other Persian to do incurable harm to one of his servants for one offense. Not until an accounting shows that the offender’s wrongful acts are more and greater than his services may a man follow through on his anger. (2) They say that no one has ever yet killed his father or mother. When such a thing has been done, it always turns out upon inquest that the acting party is shown not to be a genuine child or to be the result of adultery. For they say that it is not believable that a son would kill a true parent.

[Social customs]

138 Anything that the Persian people are not permitted to do is also not to be talked about. They hold lying to be the most disgraceful thing of all, and next to this is owing money. Owing money is considered a disgrace for various reasons but in particular because it is inevitable, as they say, that the debtor also tells some lie.

The citizen who has leprosy or the white sickness may not come into town or mingle with other Persians. They say that he is so afflicted because he has sinned in some way against the sun. (2) Many drive out of the country any stranger who gets such a disease, and they do the same to white doves for the same reason. They especially revere rivers. They will not urinate, spit or wash their hands in rivers, nor will they let anyone else do those things.

[Naming practices]

139 There is another thing that always happens among them (I have noticed it, although the Persians have not) namely that their names, which agree with the nature of their persons and their nobility, all end in the same letter. They end with what the Dorians call san, and the Ionians sigma [i.e. an “s” sound]. You will find, if you search, that not some but all Persian names end with this letter in the same way.

[Burial customs]

140 Up to this point, I have given information based on my own certain knowledge. But there are other matters concerning the dead which are secretly and obscurely told: how the dead bodies of Persians are not buried before they have been mangled by birds or dogs. (2) I know for certain that this is the way of the Magians, for they do not conceal the practice. But it is certain that Persians embalm the dead body in wax before they bury the body in earth,. These Magians are as unlike the priests of Egypt as they are unlike all other men: (3) for other priests consider it sacrilege to kill anything that lives, except what they sacrifice, yet the Magians kill with their own hands every creature, except dogs and men. They kill all alike, ants and snakes, creeping and flying things, and take great pride in it. Leaving this custom to remain as it has been from its origins, I return now to my former story. . . [omitted material].

[The Persian king on campaign: the cartage of the king’s personal provisions from the Persian capital of Susa]

188 Cyrus, then, marched against Nitocris’ son… Now when the Great King [i.e. the king of Persia] campaigns, he marches well provided with food and flocks from home, but he also takes with him water from the Choaspes river, which flows past Susa [i.e. the capital of the Persian Empire] and is the only river from which the king will drink. (2) This water of the Choaspes [modern: Kerkheh river, Iran] is boiled, and very many four-wheeled wagons drawn by mules carry it in silver vessels, following the king wherever he goes at any time.


Book 3 (on Persians)

[Physical differences between Persians and Egyptians: Skulls]

12 I saw a strange thing on the site of the battle [between Persia and Egypt], after learning about it from the native population. For out of the bones of those slain on each side in the battle, which are strewn around (for the Persian bones lay in one place and the Egyptian in another, where the armies had first separately stood), the skulls of the Persians are so brittle that if you throw no more than a pebble it will pierce them but the Egyptian skulls are so strong that a blow of a stone will hardly crack them. (2) The people said (and I readily believed them) that this is the reason: the Egyptians shave their heads from childhood, and the bone thickens by exposure to the sun. (3) This also is the reason why they do not grow bald, for nowhere can one see so few bald headed men as in Egypt. (4) Their skulls then are strong for this reason, while the Persian skulls are weak because they cover their heads throughout their lives with the felt hats (called tiaras) which they wear. This is true. I also saw the skulls of those Persians at Papremis who were killed with Darius’ son Achaemenes by Inaros the Libyan, and they were like the others [i.e. brittle]. . . . [material omitted].

[Deification of fire]

16 From Memphis Cambyses [king of Persia] went to the city Sais [San Hal Ajar], desiring to do that which he ultimately did. Entering the house of Amasis [pharaoh of Egypt, ca. 570-526 BCE], right away he ordered Amasis’ body to be brought out from its place of burial. After this was done, he gave orders to flog the corpse, pull out the hair, and to both stab and disparage it in every way possible. When they were tired of doing this (for the body, being embalmed, remained whole and was not dissolved), Cambyses gave orders to burn it. This was a sacrilegious command because the Persians consider fire to be a god. Therefore, neither people considers it right to burn the dead: the Persians for the reason assigned, as they say it is wrong to give the dead corpse of a man to a god, while the Egyptians believe fire to be a living beast that devours all that it catches, and when sated with its meal dies with the end of that whereon it feeds. . . [material omitted].

[Persian and Ethiopian diets and longevity compared]

22 (3) . . . But when [the king of the long-lived Ethiopians] came to the wine and asked about its making, he was vastly pleased with the drink, and asked further what food their king [i.e. the Persian king, Cambyses] ate, and what was the greatest age to which a Persian lived. (4) They told him their king ate bread, showing him how wheat grew, and they said that the full age to which a man might hope to live was eighty years. Then the Ethiopian said it was no wonder that they lived so few years, if they ate dung [i.e. grain fertilized by manure]. For they would not even have been able to live that many years unless they were refreshed by the drink. As he said this to the Fish-eaters (Ichthyophagoi) [who had beeen sent in an embassy from Ethiopia], he pointed to the wine. In this respect he admitted that the Ethiopians were inferior to the Persians.

[Royal judges]

31 This, they say, was the first of Cambyses’ evil acts. Next, he destroyed his full sister, who had come with him to Egypt, and whom he had taken as his wife. (2) He married her in the following way (for before this, it had by no means been customary for Persians to marry their sisters): Cambyses was infatuated with one of his sisters and when he wanted to marry her, because his intention was contrary to custom, he summoned the royal judges and inquired whether there was a law that granted permission to one inclined to marry his sister. (3) These royal judges are men chosen out from the Persians to function until they die or are detected in some injustice. It is they who decide suits in Persia and interpret the laws of the land, and all matters are referred to them. (4) These judges then replied to Cambyses with an answer which was both just and prudent, namely, that they could find no law that permitted a brother to marry his sister, but that they had found a law permitting the king of Persia to do whatever he liked. (5) So they did not break the law even though they feared Cambyses and they found another law in support of one who wished to marry sisters in order to save themselves from death for upholding the law. (6) So Cambyses married the object of his desire. Yet, not long afterwards he took another sister as well. It was the younger of these who had come with him to Egypt, and whom he now killed.


Book 5

[Persian and Macedonian banqueting customs compared]

18 . . . [2] After dinner, the Persians said to Amyntas [king of Macedonia] as they sat drinking together: β€œMacedonian, our host, it is our custom in Persia, whenever we have organized a large banquet, to bring in both the concubines and lawful wives to sit by the men. We ask you, then, since you have received us heartily, are entertaining us nobly and are giving Darius our king earth and water, to follow our custom.” [3] To this Amyntas replied, β€œ We have no such custom, Persians. Among us, men and women sit apart, but since you are our masters and are making this request, it will be as you desire.” . . .


Book 7

[Persian royal succession: hereditary monarchy without primogeniture]

2 But while Darius was making preparations against Egypt and Athens, a great quarrel arose among his sons concerning the chief power in the land. They held that he must declare an heir to the kingship according to Persian law before his army marched. (2) Three sons had been born to Darius before he became king by his first wife, who was the daughter of Gobryas, and four more after he became king by Atossa daughter of Cyrus. Artobazanes was the oldest of the earlier sons, while Xerxes was the oldest of the later. (3) As sons of different mothers they were rivals. Artobazanes pleaded that he was the oldest of all Darius’ offspring and that it was everywhere customary that the oldest should rule. Xerxes argued that he was the son of Cyrus’ daughter Atossa and that it was Cyrus who had won the Persians their freedom.


[Persian offerings before crossing the Hellespont into Greece]

54 All that day they made preparations for the crossing [the Hellespont / modern Dardanelles]. On the next they waited until they could see the sun rise, burning all kinds of incense on the bridges and covering the road with myrtle boughs. (2) At sunrise Xerxes poured a libation from a golden bowl into the sea, praying to the sun that no accident might happen to him which would keep him from subduing Europe before he reached its farthest borders. After the prayer, he cast the libation bowl into the Hellespont and along with it a golden bowl and a Persian sword which they call β€œakinakes” [i.e. perhaps a short-sword or scimitar]. (3) As for these, I cannot rightly determine whether he cast them into the sea for offerings to the sun, or whether these gifts to the sea were attempts to repent after punishing the Hellespont [cf. Herodotos 7.35]. . . [material omitted].

[Persian and Median military dress and equipment with an aside on the umbrella category of Arians / Aryans / Iranians]

61 . . . The Persians were equipped in this way: they wore on their heads loose caps called tiaras, and on their bodies embroidered sleeved tunics, with scales of iron like the scales of fish in appearance, and pants (or: trousers) on their legs. For shields they had wicker bucklers with quivers hanging beneath them. They carried short spears, long bows, reed arrows, and daggers that hung from the girdle by the right thigh. . . [material omitted]. 62 The Medes in the army were equipped like the Persians. In fact that style of armour is Median, not Persian. Their commander was Tigranes, an Achaemenid [i.e. a member of Persian aristocracy]. The Medes were formerly called by everyone “Arians” (Arioi; or: Aryans, sometimes expressed as Iranians in modern terms). But when the Kolchian woman, Medea [i.e. wife of Jason, leader of the Argonauts in myth], came from Athens to the Arians, they changed their name, like the Persians. This is the Medes’ own account of themselves. . . .[omitted material].


[Persian army’s ten thousand β€œimmortals”]

83 These were the generals of the whole infantry, except the Ten Thousand. Hydarnes, son of Hydarnes, was general of these picked ten thousand Persians, who were called β€œimmortals” (athanatoi) for this reason: when any one of them was forced to fall out of the number by death or sickness, another was chosen so that they were never more or fewer than ten thousand. (2) The Persians showed the richest adornment of all, and they were the best men in the army. Their equipment was such as I have previously described, but beyond this they stood out by the abundance of gold that they had. They also brought carriages bearing concubines and many well-equipped servants. Camels and beasts of burden carried food for them apart from the rest of the army. . . [material omitted].


[Persian Magians and supposed human sacrifice]

113 . . . (2) All this region around the Pangaian mountian range [near Kavala, Greece] is called Phyllis. It stretches westwards to the river Angites, which issues into the river Strymon [Struma], and southwards to the Strymon itself. At this river the Magians [i.e. Persian priests] sought good omens by sacrificing white horses. 114 After using these and many other enchantments on the river, the Magians passed by the bridges, which they found thrown across the Strymon at the β€œNine Ways” (Ennea Hodoi) in Edonian land. When they learned that β€œNine Ways” was the name of the place, they buried alive that number of boys and maidens, children of the local people. (2) To bury people alive is a Persian custom. I have learned by inquiry that when Xerxes’ wife Amestris reached old age, she buried seven sons of notable Persians on two separate occasions as an offering on her own behalf to the fabled god beneath the earth.


Book 8

[Persian royal communication network]

98 . . . It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey. These are stopped neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed. (2) The first rider delivers his charge to the second, the second to the third, and from there it passes on from hand to hand, even as in the Greek torch-bearers’ race in honour of Hephaistos. This riding-post is called β€œangareion” in Persia.


Book 9

[Persian infantry tactics from a Greek perspective]

61 . . . (3) [The Spartans and Tegeans] could not get a favourable omen from their sacrifices. In the meantime many of them were killed and far more wounded. For the Persians set up their shields for a fence [i.e. formed a shield wall], and shot showers of arrows. . . 62 While [Pausanias, regent of Sparta] was still in the act of praying, the men of Tegea [in Arkadia, Greece] leaped out before the rest and charged the barbarians, and immediately after Pausanias’ prayer the sacrifices of the Spartans became favourable. Now they too charged the Persians, and the Persians met them, throwing away their bows. (2) First they fought by the fence of shields [i.e. shield wall]. When that was down, there was a fierce and long fight around the temple of Demeter itself until they came to blows at close quarters. For the barbarians laid hold of the spears and broke them short. (3) Now the Persians were neither less valorous nor weaker, but they had no armour. Moreover, since they were unskilled and no match for their adversaries in cunning, they would rush out individually and in tens, or in groups both great and small, hurling themselves on the Spartans and so perishing. . . [omitted material].


[Persian gendered insults]

107 The few barbarians who escaped were driven to the heights of Mykale mountain [Samsun Dağı, Turkey] and made their way from there to Sardis [near Salihli, Turkey]. While they were making their way along the road, Masistes son of Darius, who happened to have been present at the Persian disaster, reviled the admiral Artayntes very bitterly. Along with a lot of other insults, Masistes told Artayntes that such generalship as his proved him worse than a woman and that no punishment was too severe for the harm he had done the king’s estate. Now it is the greatest of all taunts in Persia to be called worse than a woman. . . [material omitted].


[Gift giving among the elites]

109 Xerxes’ wife, Amestris, wove and gave to him a great multi-colored mantle that was amazing to see. Xerxes was pleased with it and went to Artaynte wearing it. (2) Being pleased with her too, he asked her what she wanted in return for her favours, for he would deny nothing at her asking. At that point (because she and all her house were doomed to evil), she said to Xerxes, β€œWill you give me whatever I ask of you?” He promised this, supposing that she would ask anything but that. When he had sworn, she asked boldly for his mantle. (3) Xerxes tried to refuse her, for no reason except that he feared that Amestris might have clear proof of his doing what she already guessed. Xerxes accordingly offered her cities instead and gold in abundance and an army for none but herself to command. Armies are the most suitable of gifts in Persia. But as he could not move her, he gave her the mantle. Being extremely happy with the gift, she went around flaunting her outfit.

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