Babylonians and Assyrians: Herodotos on legendary queens and outstanding customs (mid-fifth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Daniel Mitchell, 'Babylonians and Assyrians: Herodotos on legendary queens and outstanding customs (mid-fifth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified January 18, 2023,

Ancient author: Herodotos of Halikarnassos, Histories, or Inquiries, portions of books 1, 2, 3 and 7 (link to Greek text and translation)

Comments (by Daniel Mitchell and Phil Harland): Writing about 420 BCE, Herodotos (also Latinized as Herodotus) of Halikarnassos in Karia (Caria) provides our earliest account of peoples in the area of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers down to the Persian gulf (Mesopotamia / modern Iraq and Kuwait). Herotodos’ main focus is on the Babylonians (although he calls them “Assyrians”) and their capital city of Babylon (now near Baghdad). It seems that Herodotos relies on a variety of unstated or stated sources, including Persian sources and orally transmitted information (e.g. from Chaldean priests).  He or his informants also just made things up. Herodotos’ description of Babylonian marriage and sexual customs specifically is striking in the total absence of any reference to sources of information (see below).

This ethnographic excursus is somewhat difficult to navigate, since Herodotos tends to conflate peoples in this area under the rubric of “Assyrians” (when he more often than not is thinking of peoples around Babylon itself, Babylonians). This is not unlike other Greek (and sometimes Roman) outsider designations that, in fact, encompass a variety of peoples who would self-identify more specifically or entirely differently (e.g. the general categories of “Scythians,” “Celts / Gauls,” “Germans,” “Iberians,” “Indians”). Herodotos is by no means alone in such outsider generalizations that are not likely to capture the reality of ethnic diversity.

Further complicating matters is that Herodotos himself is aware that the term “Syrians” is what a Greek would sometimes use to refer to what might otherwise be designated “Assyrians” (7.63; see Andrade 2014, 302-305, on this paragraph generally). Then Herodotos sometimes speaks as though Syria and therefore “Syrians” are to the west of the Euphrates river (over to the Mediterranean Sea) and that those to the east of the Euphrates are “Assyrians.” The result is that those living in Phoenicia or Palestine could also be called “Syrians” by Herodotos (2.104; 3.5; and 7.89). Royal Persian inscriptions show that the Persian authorities did not distinguish between “Syrians” and “Assyrians,” which were generally interchangeable designations. In the Hellenistic and Roman eras, Aramaic speakers might sometimes self-identify as “Aramaians” even though outsiders might designate them “Syrians” or “Assyrians” (e.g. Poseidonios of Apameia in Syria and Strabo, Geography 1.2.34 and 16.4.27 – link). Much more could of course be said, but this may be sufficient to show how complicated the matter of geographic and ethnic designations could be not only in Herodotos but in the broader world as well.

Herodotos’ account of Mesopotamian peoples overlaps with the rise and fall of three separate empires between the rivers as identified by scholars:

  • the Neo-Assyrian empire (tenth–seventh centuries BCE as discussed by Herodotos in 1.95–103, 106);
  • the Neo-Babylonian empire (late-seventh–late-sixth century BCE, as discussed in 1.106, 178–187, 192-200 and 3.150–159); and,
  • the Persian empire (mid-sixth–fourth centuries BCE, as discussed in 1.193, 196; 3.150–159; 7.63).

Although Herodotos provides little information about the Neo-Assyrian empire, it is likely that its long hegemony and cultural impact led to a tendency for Greeks like Herodotos to generalize about “Assyrians” (cf. 7.63) when speaking about eastern peoples and powers around the two rivers generally. Despite Herodotos’ lack of reliable information or confusions, there was some cultural and administrative continuity in the development of Mesopotamian societies from Sumer (the earliest known society between the two rivers) in the far south to Akkad just to the north (the second known society) and up to Babylonia (centred on Babylon / south of modern Baghdad) and Assyria (centred on Assur / modern al-Shirqat district, Iraq). Some of these administrative or imperial structures would also come to influence how the Medes and Persians organized their empires. So confusion on the distinctions might be common for ancient outside observers with limited information (as was also the case in distinguishing Medes and Persians: link).

It is worth saying something about Herodotos’ most emphatic moral judgement and negative stereotype regarding the Babylonians with regard to sexual customs. While he praises Babylonians for their supposed custom of selling wives based on level of beauty, he abhors their supposed practice of each woman taking a turn as a prostitute in the temple of “Aphrodite” (identified by Herodotos with a native deity called Myllita). The concept of “sacred prostitution” was to be a potent one that got repeated in various subsequent contexts where the member of one ethnic group wished to put down another (e.g. Greeks putting down Babylonians, as here, or Israelites or Judeans putting down Canaanites or Babylonians). It is sometimes repeated (drawing on Herodotos or the subsequent citation of Strabo, Geography 16.1.20) as a reality by certain Classicists and scholars who may not be focussed on ethnic or gender stereotyping more generally. However, as most recently underlined by Stephanie Lynn Budin, the notion of Near Eastern “sacred prostitition” is a myth. The passage in Herodotos (1.199) in particular has all the signs of fabrication and no signs of confirmation in any ancient Babylonian sources or in archeological materials (see Budin 2004, 102-103; Budin 2008, 58-92). As we know well from so many other ethnographic descriptions of the sexual practices of others (see the gender and sexuality category, for instance), there was a widespread habit of presenting the customs of other peoples as inversions or perversions of the customs of the person speaking or writing. In this case, Herodotos’ use of the superlative “most shameful” in reference to the custom that follows is a clear indication of the sensational paradox (to Greeks, he hopes) that follows.

Works cited: Nathanael Andrade, “Assyrians, Syrians and the Greek Language in the Late Hellenistic and Roman Imperial Periods,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 73 (2014): 299–317 (link); Stephanie L. Budin, “A Reconsideration of the Aphrodite-Ashtart Syncretism,” Numen 51 (2004): 95–145 (link); Budin, The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity (Cambridge: CUP, 2008).

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


Book 1

[Medians’ success in overthrowing Neo-Assyrian rule]

95 After the Assyrians (Assyrioi) had ruled Upper Asia for five hundred and twenty years [ca. 1229–709 BCE], the Medes were the first who began to revolt from them. These Medes, 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 [i.e. revolted from Assyrians, including the Babylonians]. . . [sections omitted].

102 Having inherited it, [Phraortes, king of the Medes] was not content to rule the Medes alone: marching against the Persians, he attacked them first, and they were the first whom he made subject to the Medes. (2) Then, with these two strong peoples at his back, he subjugated one people of Asia after another until he marched against the Assyrians, that is, against those of the Assyrians who held Ninos [i.e. Nineveh, capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire; modern Mosul, Iraq]. These Assyrians had formerly been rulers over all, but now their allies had deserted them and they were left alone, though well-off themselves. Marching against these Assyrians, then, Phraortes and most of his army perished, after he had reigned twenty-two years.

103 Collecting all his subjects, [king Cyaxares, successor of Phraortes] marched against Ninos [i.e. Nineveh], wishing to avenge his father and to destroy the city. He defeated the Assyrians in battle. Yet while he was besieging their city there came down upon him a great army of Scythians led by their king Madyes son of Protoithyes. These Scythians had invaded Asia after they had driven the Kimmerians out of Europe. Pursuing the Kimmerians as they retreated, the Scythians came to the Median country. . . [sections omitted].

106 The Scythians, then, ruled Asia for twenty-eight years, and the whole land was ruined because of their violence and their pride. Besides exacting from each the tribute which was assessed, they rode around the land carrying off everyone’s possessions. (2) Most of them were entertained, made drunk and then slain by Cyaxares and the Medes. In this way the Medes took back their empire and all that they had formerly possessed, and they took Ninos (how they did this, I will describe in a later part of my history) and brought all Assyria, except the province of Babylon, under their rule. . . [sections omitted].

[Persian and Assyrian customs related to deities]

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 and temples and altars, but those who do such things they think foolish. I suppose this is because the Persians have never believed the gods to be like men, as the Greeks do. (2) Instead, the Persians call the whole circuit of heaven Zeus [Greek interpretation of Ahura Mazda], and to him they sacrifice on the highest peaks of the mountains. They sacrifice also 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 Mylitta by the Assyrians, Alilat by the Arabians, and Mitra by the Persians.


178 When Cyrus had made all the mainland submit to him, he attacked the Assyrians [i.e. Babylonians in this case under the Neo-Babylonian empire, which lasted 626–539 BCE]. In Assyria there are many other great cities, but the most famous and the strongest was Babylon. This is where the royal dwelling had been established after the destruction of Ninos [Ninevah, with Herodotos not clear on distinctions between Assyrian and Babyloanian empires or peoples].

Babylon was a city such as I will now describe: (2) Babylon lies in a large square-shaped plain with each side measuring fifteen miles long. So the complete circuit of the city is sixty miles. Such is the size of the city of Babylon, and it was planned like no other city of which we know. (3) Around it runs first a moat deep and wide and full of water, and then a wall eighty-three feet thick and three hundred thirty three feet high. The royal measure is greater by three fingers’ breadth than the common measure.

179 Furthermore, I must relate where the earth was used as it was dug from the moat and how the wall was constructed. As they dug the moat, they made bricks of the earth which was carried out of the place they dug, and when they had moulded bricks enough, they baked them in ovens. (2) Then using hot bitumen for cement and interposing layers of wattled reeds at every thirtieth course of bricks, they built first the border of the moat and then the wall itself in the same fashion. (3) On the top, along the edges of the wall, they built houses of a single room, facing each other, with space enough between them to drive a four-horse chariot. There are a hundred gates in the circuit of the wall, all made of bronze, with door-posts and lintels made of the same metal. (4) There is another city called Is [modern Heet/Hīt, Iraq] eight days’ journey from Babylon, where there is a little river also named Is, a tributary of the Euphrates river. From the source of this river Is, many lumps of bitumen rise with the water. The bitumen was brought from there to build the wall of Babylon. 180 That is how this wall was built.

The city is divided into two parts because it is cut in half by a river named Euphrates, a wide, deep, and swift river, flowing from Armenia and emptying into the Red Sea. (2) The angles of the wall, then, on either side are built quite down to the river. Here they turn, and from here a fence of baked bricks runs along each bank of the stream. (3) The city itself is full of houses three and four stories high. The roads that traverse it, those that run crosswise towards the river and the rest, are all straight. (4) Further, at the end of each road there was a gate in the riverside fence, one gate for each alley. These gates were also made of bronze, and these too opened on the river. 181 These walls are the city’s outer armour. Within these walls there is another encircling wall, nearly as strong as the other, but narrower.

[Babylonian customs associated with the patron deity Bel Marduk, supposedly based on reports by Chaldean priests]

(2) In the middle of one division of the city stands the royal palace, which is surrounded by a high and strong wall, and in the middle of the other division still to this day is the sacred enclosure of Zeus Belos [i.e. the Esagila sanctuary for Marduk as Bel, “Lord”, patron deity of the Babylonians], a square of four hundred and forty yards in each direction with gates of bronze. (3) In the center of this sacred enclosure a solid tower [i.e. ziggurat] has been built, which is two hundred and twenty yards long and broad. A second tower rises from this sacred enclosure and from it yet another, until at last there are eight towers. (4) The way up to these towers, which is located on the outside, goes around every single one of them in spiral fashion [i.e. spiral staircases]. About halfway up is a resting place with seats for rest, where those who ascend sit down and rest. (5) In the last tower there is a great shrine, and in it stands a great and well-covered couch and a golden table nearby. But no image of a god has been set up in the shrine, nor does any human creature lie there for the night, except one native woman, chosen from all women by the god, as the Chaldeans say, who are priests of this god.

182 These same Chaldeans [priests] say – though I do not believe them – that the god [Marduk] himself is accustomed to visit the shrine and rest on the couch, as he does at Thebes in Egypt, as the Egyptians say. (2) For in Egypt a woman also sleeps in the temple of Theban Zeus [i.e. the temple of Amon-Api], and neither the Egyptian nor the Babylonian woman, it is said, has intercourse with men. . . [sentences omitted].

183 In the Babylonian temple there is another shrine below, where there is a great golden image of Zeus [again Bel Marduk] sitting at a great golden table, and the footstool and the chair are also made of gold. As the Chaldeans reckoned, all these things were made of gold measuring eight hundred talents in weight. (2) Outside the temple there is a golden altar. There is also another great altar on which the full-grown animals of the flocks are sacrificed. Only new-born animals may be sacrificed on this second golden altar. Furthermore, the Chaldeans offer a thousand talents of frankincense in weight per year on the greater altar, when they celebrate the festival of this god. Even in the days of Cyrus there was still a statue of solid gold twenty feet high in this sacred enclosure. (3) I myself have not seen it, but I relate what is told by the Chaldeans. Darius son of Hystaspes proposed to take this statue but did not dare to do it. Xerxes his son took it and killed the priest who warned him not to move the statue [perhaps in 482-481 BCE]. Such is the furniture of this temple, and there are many private offerings besides.

[Legendary Assyrian queen Semiramis’ supposed contributions to civilization]

184 Now among the many rulers of this city of Babylon who finished the building of the walls and the temples and who I will mention in my Assyrian history, there were two that were women. The first of these lived five generations earlier than the second, and her name was Semiramis [a legendary queen who may be based loosely on Shammuramat of the ninth-eighth centuries BCE, among others]. She was the one who built dikes on the plain, a notable work. Before that the whole plain used to be flooded by the river.

[Legendary queen Nitokris’ supposed contributions]

185 The second queen, whose name was Nitokris, was a wiser woman than the first. She left behind monuments that I will record. Moreover, seeing that the kingdom of Media was great and restless and that Ninos [i.e. Nineveh] itself among other cities had fallen to it, Nitokris took such precautions as she could for her protection. (2) First she dealt with the river Euphrates, which flows through the middle of her city. This river had been straight before, but by digging canals higher up, she made the river so crooked that its course now passes one of the Assyrian villages three times. The village which is approached by the Euphrates in this fashion is called Ardericca. And now those who travel from our sea to Babylon must spend three days as they float down the Euphrates coming three times to the same village. (3) Such was this work.

She also built an embankment along either shore of the river, marvellous for its greatness and height. (4) Then a long way above Babylon she dug the reservoir of a lake, a little way off from the river, always digging deep enough to find water, and making the circumference a distance of fifty two miles. She used the material that was extracted from digging this hole to make embankments on either edge of the river. (5) After she had it all dug out, she brought stones and made a stone-wall all around the lake.

(6) Her purpose in making the river wind and turning the hole into marsh was this: that the current might be slower because of the many windings that broke its force, and that the passages to Babylon might be crooked, and that right after them should come also the long circuit of the lake. (7) All this work was done in that part of the land where the passageways are and the shortest road from Media, so that the Medes might not mix with her people and learn of her affairs. 186 So she made the deep river her protection.

This work also led to another which she added to it. Her city was divided into two parts by the river that flowed through the middle. In the days of the former rulers, when one wanted to go from one part to the other, one had to cross in a boat. I suppose this was a nuisance. But the queen also provided for this. When the digging of the basin of the lake was done, she made another monument noteworthy of her reign which stemmed from this original project. (2) She had very long blocks of stone cut, and when these were ready and the place was dug, she turned the course of the river into it, and while it was filling (the former river channel now being dried up), she built with baked bricks – in the same fashion as the city’s wall – both the borders of the river in the city [i.e. river walls] and the descent path from the gate leading down to the river. Near the middle of the city she built a bridge with the stones that had been dug up, binding them together with iron and lead. (3) Each morning she laid square-cut logs across the bridge on which the Babylonians crossed; but these logs were removed at night in order that the citizens might not always cross over it and steal from one another. (4) Then, when the basin she had made for a lake was filled by the river and the bridge was finished, Nitokris brought the Euphrates back into its former channel out of the lake. In this way, she had served her purpose, as she thought, by making a swamp out of the basin and a bridge made specially for her citizens.

187 There was a trick as well that this same queen contrived. She had a tomb made for herself and set high over the very gate of that entrance of the city which was used most. The inscription on the tomb read: (2) “If any king of Babylon in the future is in need of money, let him open this tomb and take as much as he likes. But do not let him open it unless he is in need, because it will be the worse for him.” (3) This tomb remained untouched until the kingship fell to Darius [king of the Persians]. He thought it a very strange thing that he should never use this gate or take the money, when it lay right there and the inscription itself invited him to it. (4) The reason he did not use the gate was that the dead body would be over his head as he passed through. (5) After opening the tomb, he found no money there, only the dead body, with writing which read: “If you were ever satisfied with what you had and did not disgrace yourself seeking more, you would not have opened the coffins of the dead.” Such a woman, it is recorded, was this queen [i.e. Nitokris]. . . [sections omitted, including the narrative of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon, supposedly during the reign of Nitokris’ son].

[Persian conquest of Babylon, and the wealth of Babylon]

192 For the first time, Babylon was taken in this way [by Cyrus in 539 BCE]. I will show how great the power of Babylon is by many other means, but particularly by this: all the land that the great king rules is parcelled out to provision him and his army, and pays tribute besides. Now the territory of Babylon feeds him for four of the twelve months in the year, the whole of the rest of Asia providing for the other eight. (2) So the wealth of Assyria [i.e. all peoples of Mesopotamia and Babylonia rather than the long defunct Assyrian empire] is one third of the entire wealth of Asia. The governorship of this land, which the Persians call “satrapy,” is by far the most powerful of all the governorships, since the daily income of Tritantaichmes son of Artabazos, who governed this province by the king’s will, was an “artaba” [about 12.75 gallons or 48 kg] full of silver. (3) (The “artaba” is a Persian measure, containing more than an Attic medimnos by a measure three Attic choinikes [i.e. about 12 gallons/ 45 kg]). Besides warhorses, Cyrus had eight hundred stallions in his stables and sixteen thousand brood mares, each stallion servicing twenty mares. (4) Moreover he kept so great a number of Indian dogs that four great villages of the plain were appointed to provide food for the dogs and exempted from all other burdens. Such were the riches of the governor of Babylon.

[Climate and resources of “Assyria” but really with a focus on Babylonia]

193 There is little rain in Assyria [i.e. Mesopotamia]. This nourishes the roots of the grain; but it is irrigation from the river that ripens the crop and brings the grain to fullness. In Egypt, the river [i.e. the Nile] itself rises and floods the fields; in Assyria, they are watered by hand and by swinging beams [i.e. by means of a lever with a bucket attached, revolving on a post]. (2) For the whole land of Babylon, like Egypt, is cut across by canals. The greatest of these is navigable: it runs towards where the sun rises in winter, from the Euphrates to another river, the Tigris, on which stood the city of Ninos [i.e. Nineveh].

This land is by far the most fertile in grain which we know. (3) It does not even try to bear trees, fig, vine, or olive, but Demeter’s grain is so abundant there that it yields for the most part two hundred fold and even three hundred fold when the harvest is best. The blades of the wheat and barley there are easily four fingers broad. (4) For millet and sesame, I will not say to what height they grow, though it is known to me, because I am well aware that even what I have said regarding grain is completely disbelieved by those who have never visited Babylonia. They use no oil except sesame oil. There are palm trees there growing all over the plain, most of them yielding fruit, from which food, wine and honey is made. (5) The Assyrians [i.e. Babylonians and other peoples near the two rivers] tend these palm trees like fig trees. The main way they do this is that they tie the fruit of the palm, which the Greeks call male-palms, to the date-bearing palm so that the gall-fly may enter the dates and cause them to ripen and so that the fruit of the palm may not fall off the tree. The male palms, like unripened figs, have gall-flies in their fruit.

[Babylonian customs and way of life]

[Transportation of goods and wine]

194 I am going to indicate what seems to me to be the most amazing thing in the land, next to the city itself. Their boats which ply the river and go to Babylon are all of skins and are round. (2) They make these in Armenia, higher up the stream than Assyria. First they cut frames of willow, then they stretch hides over these for a covering, making as it were a hold. They neither broaden the stern nor narrow the prow, but the boat is round, like a shield. They then fill it with reeds and send it floating down the river with cargo. It is for the most part palm wood casks of wine that they carry down-river. (3) Two men standing upright steer the boat, each with a paddle, one drawing it to him, the other thrusting it from him. These boats are of all sizes, some small, some very large. The largest boats are capable of ferrying as much as five thousand talents in weight [i.e. as much as 130,000 kg, Herodotos claims]. There is a live ass in each boat, or more than one in the larger boat. (4) So when they have floated down to Babylon and disposed of their cargo, they sell the framework of the boat and all the reeds. The hides are set on the backs of asses, which are then driven back to Armenia (5) because it is not at all possible to go upstream by water due to the swift current. It is for this reason that they make their boats of hides and not of wood. When they have driven their asses back into Armenia, they make more boats in the same way.


195 Such then are their boats. For clothing, they wear a linen tunic reaching down to the feet. Over this the Babylonian puts on another tunic made of wool and wraps himself in a white mantle. He wears the shoes native to his people, which are like Boiotian sandals. Their hair is worn long and covered by caps. They perfume the whole body. (2) Every man has a seal and a carved staff, and on every staff is some image, such as that of an apple, rose, lily or an eagle. No one carries a staff without an image. 196 This is the equipment of their persons.

    [Supposed marriage customs]

I will now speak of their established customs. The wisest of these, in our judgment, is one which I have learned by inquiry is also a custom of the Enetians (Enetoi) in Illyria. It is this: once a year all the unmarried women (parthenoi) in every village (when they came to a marriageable age) were collected and brought together into one place with a crowd of men standing around. (2) Then an announcer would display and offer them for sale one by one, starting with the most beautiful one. Then, when she had sold for a large price, he put up for sale the next most attractive, selling all the unmarried women as lawful wives. Rich men of Assyria [i.e. Babylonia] who wanted to marry would outbid each other for the most beautiful, while the ordinary people who desired to marry and had no use for beauty could take the ugly ones and money in addition. (3) After the announcer had sold all the most attractive unmarried women, he would put up for sale the one that was least beautiful or crippled, and offer her to whoever would take her as a wife for the least amount, until she went to the man who promised to accept least. The money came from the sale of the attractive ones, who in this way paid the dowry of the ugly and the crippled. But a man could not give his daughter in marriage to whomever he liked, nor could one that bought a girl take her away without giving security that he would in fact make her his wife. (4) And if the couple could not agree, it was a law that the money would be returned. Men might also come from other villages to buy wives if they wanted to. (5) This, then, was their best custom, but it no longer continues to be practised. They have invented a new one lately. Since the Persian conquest of Babylon made them afflicted and poor, everyone of the people that lacks a livelihood prostitutes his daughters.

    [Customs regarding health and burial]

197 I come now to the next wisest of their customs. Having no use for physicians, they carry the sick into the market-place. Then those who have been afflicted themselves by the same illness as the sick man’s, or seen others in like case, come near and advise him about his disease and comfort him, telling him by what means they have themselves recovered from it or seen others recover. No one may pass by the sick man without speaking and asking about his sickness. 198 The dead are embalmed in honey for burial, and their funeral songs are like those of Egypt. Whenever a Babylonian has had intercourse with his wife, they both sit in front of a burned offering of incense, and at dawn they wash themselves. They will touch no vessel before this is done. This is also the custom in Arabia.

[Other sexual customs involving strangers]

199 The most shameful Babylonian custom is the one that forces every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite [i.e. Mylitta] and have intercourse with some stranger (xeinos) once in her life. Many women who are rich, proud and disdain mingling with the rest of the people are transported to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. (2) But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite with crowns of cord on their heads. There is a great multitude of women coming and going. Passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. (3) Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has throw money into her lap and has had intercourse with her outside the temple. But when he throws the money, he must say, “I invite you in the name of Mylitta” (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). (4) No matter what the amount of money is, the woman will never refuse because that is the established law. The money is considered sacred by this act. So she follows the first man who throws it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home. Afterwards, there is no bribe, however great, that would get her. (5) So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the ugly have long to wait because they cannot fulfill the law. Some of them remain for three or four years. There is a custom like this in some parts of Kypros (or: Cyprus).


200 These are established customs among the Babylonians. Furthermore, there are three clans (patriai) in the country that eat nothing but fish which they catch and dry in the sun. Then, after throwing it into a mortar, they pound it with pestles and strain everything through linen. Then whoever wants some kneads it as if it was a cake, and eats it. Others bake it like bread.


Book 2

[Babylonian contributions to time-keeping]

109 (3) From this [the land partitions conducted under Pharaoh Sesostris of Egypt], in my opinion, the Greeks learned the art of measuring land, while the sun-clock, the sundial, and the twelve divisions of the day came to Greece from Babylonia and not from Egypt (cf. Herodotos, 2. 4; see link). . .


Book 3

[Babylonian revolt against Persia under Darius and the second capture of Babylon: Babylonian ingenuity and the Persian plot]

150 While the fleet was away at Samos, the Babylonians revolted [ca. 531 BCE, although the revolt may have taken place earlier according to the Behistun inscription]. They had made very good preparation, because during the reign of the Magus and the rebellion of the seven they had taken advantage of the time and the confusion to provision themselves against the siege. Somehow – I cannot tell how – this went undetected. (2) Finally, they revolted openly and did this: sending away all the mothers, each chose one woman, whomever he liked of his domestics, as a bread-maker. As for the rest, they gathered them together and strangled them so they would not consume their bread during the siege. . . [material omitted]. 152 A year and seven months passed, and Darius and his whole army were bitter because they could not take Babylon. Yet Darius had used every trick and every device against Babylon. He tried the strategy by which Cyrus took it, and every other strategy and device, yet with no success because the Babylonians kept a vigilant watch, and he could not take them. . . [material omitted].

157 When the Babylonians saw the most well-respected man [Zopyros the Persian nobleman] in Persia without his nose and ears and all lurid with blood from the scourging, they were quite convinced that he was telling them the truth and came as their ally, and were ready to give him all that he asked. Zopyros asked the Babylonians for a military command. (2) When he got this from them, he did exactly as he had arranged with Darius. On the tenth day he led out the Babylonian army, surrounded and slaughtered the thousand Persian soldiers whom he had instructed Darius to put in the field first. (3) Seeing that he produced works equal to his words, the Babylonians were overjoyed and ready to serve him in every way. When the agreed number of days was past, he led out once more a chosen body of Babylonians and he slaughtered the two thousand men of Darius’ army. (4) When the Babylonians saw this work too, the praise of Zopyros was on everyone’s lips. The agreed number of days once again passing, he led out his men to the place he had named, where he surrounded the four thousand and slaughtered them. And when he had done this, Zopyros was the one man for Babylon: he was made the commander of their armies and guard of the walls.

158 So when Darius assaulted the whole circuit of the walls, according to the agreed plan, then Zopyros’ treason was fully revealed. For while the townsmen were on the wall defending it against Darius’ assault, he opened the gates called Kissian and Belian, and let the Persians inside the walls. (2) Those Babylonians who saw what he did fled to the temple of that Zeus whom they call Belus [i.e. Marduk]. Those who had not seen it remained in position until they also discovered how they had been betrayed.

159 In this way, Babylon was taken a second time. When Darius was master of the Babylonians, he destroyed their walls and tore away all their gates, neither of which Cyrus had done at the first taking of Babylon. Moreover he impaled about three thousand men that were prominent among them. As for the rest, he gave them back their city to live in. (2) Further, as the Babylonians, fearing for their food, had strangled their own women, as I described above, Darius provided wives to give them a posterity by appointing that each of the neighbouring peoples should send a certain number of women to Babylon. The sum of the women collected was fifty thousand: these were the mothers of those who now inhabit the city.


Book 7

[“Assyrians” in Xerxes’ Persian army]

63 The Assyrians in the army wore on their heads helmets of twisted bronze made in an outlandish fashion not easy to describe. They carried shields, spears and daggers of Egyptian fashion, and also wooden clubs studded with iron, and they wore linen breastplates. They are called by the Greeks “Syrians,” but the foreigners called them “Assyrians.” With them were the Chaldeans [here soldiers]. Their commander was Otaspes son of Artachaes.

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