Herodotus of Halicarnassus (a Greek polis in Asia Minor), excerpts from The Histories (ca. 430 BC)

(Book 1.0)  Here are presented the results of the enquiry carried out by Herodotus of Halicarnassus.  The purpose is to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time, and to preserve the fame of important and remarkable achievements produced by both Greeks and non-Greeks; among the matters covered is, in particular, the cause of the hostilities between Greeks and non-Greeks . . . .

(1.123) My job, throughout this account, is simply to record whatever I am told by each of my sources.  The Egyptians say that Demeter and Dionysus are the rulers of the underworld kingdom.  The Egyptians were also the first to claim that the soul of a human being is immortal, and that each times the body dies the soul enters another creature just as it is being born.  They also say that when the soul has made the round of every creature on land, in the sea, and in the air, it once more clothes itself in the body of a human being just as it is being born, and that a complete cycle takes three thousand years.  This theory has been adopted by certain Greeks too – some from a long time ago, some more recently – who presented it as if it were their own.  I know their names, but I will not write them down. 

(2.109) The priests also told me that Sesostris divided the country among all the Egyptians, giving each man the same amount of land in the form of a square plot.  This was a source of income for him, because he ordered them to pay an annual tax.  If any of a person’s plot was lost to the river, he would present himself at the king’s court and tell him what had happened; then the king sent inspectors to measure how much land he had lost, so that in the future the man had to pay proportionately less of the fixed tax.  It seems to me that this was how geometry as a land-surveying technique came to be discovered and then imported into Greece.  But the Greeks learned about the sundial, its pointer, and the twelve divisions of the day from the Babylonians. 

(3.38) I will give this one proof among many from which it may be inferred that all men hold this belief about their customs. When Darius was king, he summoned the Greeks who were with him and asked them for what price they would eat their fathers' dead bodies. They answered that they wouldn’t do it for any amount of money.  Then Darius summoned those Indians who are called Callatiae, who eat their parents, and asked them (the Greeks being present and understanding through interpreters what was said) what would make them willing to burn their fathers at death. The Indians cried aloud, that he should not speak of so horrible an act. So firmly rooted are these beliefs; and it is, I think, rightly said in Pindar's poem that custom is king of all.


(5.18-20) The Persians who had been sent as envoys came to Amyntas {the Macedonian king) and demanded earth and water for Darius the king. He readily gave to them what they asked and invited them to be his guests, preparing a dinner of great splendor and receiving them hospitably. [2] After dinner, the Persians said to Amyntas as they sat drinking together, “Macedonian, our host, it is our custom in Persia to bring in also the concubines and wedded wives to sit by the men after the giving of any great banquet. 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, “ 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 shall be as you desire.” With that, Amyntas sent for the women. Upon being called, the women entered and sat down in a row opposite the Persians. [4] Then the Persians, seeing beautiful women before them, spoke to  Amyntas  and said that there was no sense in what he had done. It would be better if the women had never come at all than that they should come and not sit beside the men, but sit opposite them to torment their eyes. [5]  Amyntas , now feeling compelled to do so, bade the women sit beside them. When the women had done as they were bidden, the Persians, flushed as they were with excess of wine, at once laid hands on the women's breasts, and one or another tried to kiss them . . . . “ [in response, the Macedonians dress up their  beardless young men as women and kill the Persians}.


Persian invasion of Greece


(7.9, a Persian general is the spokesman) “We (the Persians) conquered the Sacae, the Indians, the Ethiopians, the Assyrians, and plenty of other important races, and we now hold them in slavery.  Why?  Not because they did us any wrong, but just because we wanted to increase our dominion.  It would be a terrible thing, then, for us not to punish the unprovoked aggression of the Greeks.


What do we have to fear?  The number of troops they can muster?  Their wealth and the power it gives them?  No, we know how they fight and we know that their power is limited.  We have overcome and hold subject their offspring – the so-called Ionians, Aeolians, and Dorians, who settled here on our continent . . . Besides, from all I hear, the Greeks usually wage war in an extremely stupid fashion, because they’re ignorant and incompetent.  When they declare war on one another they seek out the best, most level piece of land, and that’s where they go and fight.  The upshot is that the victors leave the battlefield with massive losses, not to mention the losers, who are completely wiped out. “


(7.186, size of Persian army that invades Greece): “When all these tens of thousands are added to the  figures from Asia, the total number of fighting men comes to 2,641,610.”


(7.101-2, Persian king asks a deposed king of Sparta if Greeks will fight back):  “So tell me: will the Greeks stand their ground against me?  Will they resist?  It seems to me that all the Greeks, and even the combined forces of the entire western world, would be incapable of withstanding my advance, unless they formed a unified front.”

“So Demaratus said, . . . ‘There has never been a time when poverty was not a factor in the rearing of the Greeks, but their courage has been acquired as a result of intelligence and the force of law.  Greece has relied on this courage to keep poverty and despotism at bay.  I admire all the Greeks . . . but I shall restrict what I have to say to the Spartans alone.  First, then, there’s no way in which they will ever listen to any proposals of yours which will bring slavery on Greece; second, they will certainly resist you, even if all the other Greeks come over to your side.  As for the size of their army, there’s no point in your asking how, in terms of numbers, they can do this.  If there are in fact only a thousand men to march out against you, then a thousand men will fight you.’  Xerxes’ response was to laugh.”


Battle of Plataea

(9.28) Presently the whole Greek army was arrayed as I will show, both the later and the earliest comers. On the right wing were ten thousand Lacedaemonians; five thousand of these, who were Spartans, had a guard of thirty-five thousand light-armed helots, seven appointed for each man. [3] The Spartans chose the Tegeans for their neighbors in the battle, both to do them honor, and for their valor; there were of these fifteen hundred men-at-arms. (Corinthians, Potidaeans, Arcadians, etc.)   At the end, and first in the line, were the Athenians who held the left wing. They were eight thousand in number, and their general was Aristides.  The sum total, then was 38,700, all of whom were hoplites, except for the seven assigned to each of the Spartans. 


9. 49 Mardonius (the Persian general) sent his cavalry to attack the Greeks [2] The horsemen rode at them and shot arrows and javelins among the whole Greek army to its great hurt, since they were mounted archers and difficult to deal with in an encounter; they spoiled and blocked the Gargaphian spring from which the entire Greek army drew its water. [3] None indeed but the Lacedaemonians were posted near the spring . . . . Under these circumstances the Greek commanders met with Pausanias on the right wing to discuss various matters, including the loss of the army’s water supply and their harassment by the Persian cavalry . . . . The upshot of the commanders’ conference was that they decided to move their forces to the island. . . .”


9.59 With that, he led the Persians with all speed across the Asopus in pursuit of the Greeks, supposing that they were in flight; it was the army of Lacedaemon and Tegea alone which was his goal, for the Athenians marched another way over the broken ground, and were out of his sight. [2] Seeing the Persians setting forth in pursuit of the Greeks, the rest of the barbarian battalions straightway raised their standards and also gave pursuit, each at top speed, no battalion having order in its ranks nor place assigned in the line.

9.60. So they ran pell-mell and shouting, as though they would utterly make an end of the Greeks.  Pausanias, however, when the cavalry attacked him, sent a horseman to the Athenians with this message: “Men of Athens, in this great contest which must give freedom or slavery to Hellas, we Lacedaemonians and you Athenians have been betrayed by the flight of our allies in the night that is past. [2] I have accordingly now resolved what we must do; we must protect each other by fighting as best we can. If the cavalry had attacked you first, it would have been the duty of both ourselves and the Tegeans, who are faithful to Hellas, to aid you; but now, seeing that the whole brunt of their assault falls on us, it is right that you should come to the aid of that division which is hardest pressed. [3] But if, as may be, anything has befallen you which makes it impossible for you to aid us, do us the service of sending us your archers. We are sure that you will obey us, as knowing that you have been by far more zealous than all others in this present war

9.61. When the Athenians heard that, they attempted to help the Lacedaemonians and defend them with all their might. But when their march had already begun, they were set upon by the Greeks posted opposite them, who had joined themselves to the king. For this reason, being now under attack by the foe which was closest, they could at the time send no aid. [2] The Lacedaemonians and Tegeans accordingly stood alone, men-at-arms and light-armed together; there were of the Lacedaemonians fifty thousand and of the Tegeans, who had never been parted from the Lacedaemonians, three thousand. These offered sacrifice so that they would fare better in battle with Mardonius and the army which was with him. [3] They could get no favorable omen from their sacrifices, and in the meanwhile many of them were killed and by far more wounded (for the Persians set up their shields for a fence, and shot showers of arrows). Since the Spartans were being hard-pressed and their sacrifices were of no avail, Pausanias lifted up his eyes to the temple of Hera at Plataea and called on the goddess, praying that they might not be disappointed in their hope.


9.62. While he was still in the act of praying, the men of Tegea leapt out before the rest and charged the barbarians, and immediately after Pausanias' prayer the sacrifices of the Lacedaemonians became favorable. Now they too charged the Persians, and the Persians met them, throwing away their bows. [2] First they fought by the fence of shields, and 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 courageous nor weaker, but they had no armor; moreover, since they were unskilled and no match for their adversaries in craft, they would rush out singly and in tens or in groups great or small, hurling themselves on the Spartans and so perishing.


9.63. Where Mardonius was himself, riding a white horse in the battle and surrounded by a thousand picked men who were the flower of the Persians, there they pressed their adversaries hardest. So long as Mardonius was alive the Persians stood their ground and defended themselves, overthrowing many Lacedaemonians. [2] When, however, Mardonius was killed and his guards, who were the strongest part of the army, had also fallen, then the rest too yielded and gave ground before the men of Lacedaemon. For what harmed them the most was the fact that they wore no armor over their clothes and fought, as it were, naked against men fully armed.




This translation is partially from http://www.perseus.tufts.edu, with modifications based on R. Waterfield, Herodotus The Histories (Oxford:  1998).