Dan Carlin's Hardcore History - Show 56 - Kings of Kings

Episode Date: October 29, 2015

Often relegated to the role of slavish cannon fodder for Sparta's spears, the Achaemenid Persian empire had a glorious heritage. Under a single king they created the greatest empire the world had ever... seen.

Discussion (0)
Starting point is 00:00:00 December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy. The events. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. The figure has so far gone. From this time and place. I take pride in the words, Ish Bin Aang Bialina. Mr. Gorbachev, the drama, teared down this world. Eight-six to one-half, urgent.
Starting point is 00:00:46 Marine six. Now a two has had a major explosion and would appear to be a complete collapse surrounding the entire area. I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their presence is a crux. Well, I'm not a crux.
Starting point is 00:01:00 If we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. It's hardcore history. The dictionary defines the word laconic as a form of speech that is blunt or pithy, that uses an economy of words to make a point. And sometimes the point is particularly biting or on target or maybe mysterious.
Starting point is 00:01:36 And I love the word, because the word refers to a way of speaking that was popular amongst a particular group of people in ancient Greece. People known as Lacodemonians. Otherwise known as Spartans. Laconic speech is Spartan speech. That's the way they're supposed to have talked. Imagine, you know, the loved child of Clint Eastwood
Starting point is 00:02:02 and Batman, and that's the way they spoke, you know? Man's got to know his limitations. Man's got to know his limitations. Spartans are the kings of the one-liners in ancient Greek history. And they are cinematic in character. I mean, there's not a movie maker out there that wouldn't want Clint Eastwood during his various movie years
Starting point is 00:02:26 playing various forms of Spartans. You know, from his spaghetti Western era in his 20s, he could play your average Spartan warrior. Then he gets into the Dirty Harry films, you know, 72, 73, 1974, and he begins to age a little bit more, but he plays one of those older Spartan warriors. And then you get him, you know, after the Dirty Harrys are over and he's an older man, and now he's the king.
Starting point is 00:02:47 And he talks like he talks in all his other movies combined with Batman. And you have, you know, the way the Spartans are supposed to have spoken, laconically. How cool is it that 25 centuries after those people were at the height of their fame and power, we still know the way they talked. It's famous, and it's famous because people wrote about it.
Starting point is 00:03:06 People whose works we still have. Telling you the way a certain people spoke that long ago, describing some of the things that they said, all these sorts of little details help bring color to the story. They help us all relate to these people a little bit more. These are human touches that flesh out these historical figures. When you begin to get this sort of stuff, the sorts of details that you were likely to hear
Starting point is 00:03:37 in an oral tradition anywhere in the world before this time period, but when you begin to get these stories that have come down to us, you begin to see truly cinematic type creations. Stories that you could take with very little changes and updating and make movies out of them today and have them be popular. And it's not just the character development either. The themes can be epic in these stories.
Starting point is 00:04:04 Take, for example, the most famous story involving Sparta. At all, the famous incident in 480 BCE, at the pass of Thermopylae, the so-called Hot Gates. This may be because of the movies and because of the books that have been written forever. This may be the earliest confirmable historical event most Americans know about. The defense of 300 Spartans against a million or so Persians.
Starting point is 00:04:32 A battle that some have described over the eras for the existence of Western civilization. By the way, if those are the stakes, who side are you rooting for? What was it the Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi supposedly said when someone asked him what he thought of Western civilization? Didn't he say something like, I think it would be a good idea? Nonetheless, the way the story is framed from the get-go is designed to have you affiliate with one side over the other.
Starting point is 00:05:02 One side is like the plucky little republic with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and they're beleaguered and they're good and they're under pressure and they're trying to survive against Darth Vader and the empire that will snuff out all freedom and hope and happiness and all those kinds of things. That's the way the ancient story is handled of what are called the Greek and Persian Wars.
Starting point is 00:05:28 A moment that has sometimes been portrayed in apocalyptic like terms for what has sometimes been called the West once upon a time Christendom. So already many in the West are going to feel like it's a sporting event and we're the home team, right? We're all homers when it comes to the Greek and Persian Wars unless of course you're more like the people who were portrayed as the Persians back then.
Starting point is 00:05:54 Remember this is not just an ethnic thing, this is a values thing and in the narrative sometimes called the grand narrative by some, Greece is fighting for things like liberty and freedom and democracy and artistic. I mean everything that the evil empire is and the evil empire will snuff it all out and make slaves of everyone.
Starting point is 00:06:14 The story of Thermopylae is one of those that is absolutely dramatic beyond anything you get in earlier history and it's because you have a master storyteller imparting the story to you. When I started in news reporting an editor said to me your job is to relate the facts of the story, the true information and do so in the most compelling way you can. If you imagine the battle of Thermopylae as written by say
Starting point is 00:06:42 the scribes of Babylonia, it might sound like this. In the fourteenth year the king of lands by the will of Marduk overcame the Spartan army at a place called the Hot Gates. 297 of the enemy were counted. The Spartan king went to his destiny. The Babylonians had been riding that way forever. They were great record keepers.
Starting point is 00:07:07 Things were a little dry though. Now, north of them were the Assyrians, a culture that existed sort of alongside the Babylonians, a lot more aggressive and big on the propaganda front and didn't mind shoving people's nose in their defeats and they like to maintain shall we call a muscular foreign policy. There's what sound a little bit more like Darth Vader's PR firm issuing a press release.
Starting point is 00:07:33 They would have described the battle of Thermopylae like this. Like a storm I overthrew them, all I slew. Their king I crucified, their land I devastated. Now you may notice that there's not a lot of character development there unless making the king of Assyria frightfully terrifying is the development you're after. Nonetheless, as I said in this story, Darth Vader's really the only character on the other side
Starting point is 00:08:02 that gets fleshed out very much. Compare the sample Babylonian and Assyrian approaches to this story to something like the description you get from people like Herodotus of Halakarnassus, sometimes called the father of histories, occasionally called the father of lies, writing his history a generation after the events at Thermopylae. He talks about, you know, the Spartans blocking this road.
Starting point is 00:08:27 And there's a tale that has developed over the hundreds of years afterwards of an event that people have been adding a few screenwriting touches to since the very beginning. As the story is often told, there's a bunch of Greeks trying to block the army of the Persians from coming into southern Greece. Xerxes, the crack of doom named Persian king, the only truly free person in his whole society,
Starting point is 00:08:54 the story would have you believe, rules all of Asia and so many other lands that he is entitled a king of kings. All his people are the equivalent of slaves who could live or die on his whim, and when he orders them to fight the Spartans in this past, they obey and are whipped by overseers onto the spears of the Spartans. The last stand as it's called at Thermopylae, the greatest last stand probably in all human history,
Starting point is 00:09:21 was not supposed to be the kind of last stand it turned out to be. There were thousands of Greek soldiers at Thermopylae initially, but eventually became apparent that it was going to be a death trap. And so the Spartan king, a guy named Leonidas, supposedly sent the other Greeks away and kept a sort of rear guard, if you want to stick with the narrative, a rear guard for Greek and Western freedom
Starting point is 00:09:44 behind to hold off the Persians. There were other Greeks who were involved in the so-called last stand at Thermopylae, but it's the Spartans who get the most attention, about 300 of them. And again, you can understand why. The characters, they were fascinating in their own time. The Spartans are a kind of a cultural experiment. A better way to put it is,
Starting point is 00:10:05 when you think about all human history together, there's enough law of averages stuff working where you can see all kinds of little human experiments going on in various communities. In Sparta, it's whether or not the culture can infuse a certain fighting quality to its human beings if they grow up a certain way, pressured by the culture in certain facets
Starting point is 00:10:25 that just make them more likely to be extremely nasty in combat. Spartan warriors, Spartiates do nothing but fighting. There is no other job for them. The entire culture seems to be designed from much of what we know now to reinforce this, including a code of laws and behavior that tended to make these Spartans enough alike so that laconic became a term that described,
Starting point is 00:10:49 you know, most of them, they're not a lot of chatty Spartans in history. The culture didn't encourage that. Listen to the color, though, that's come down from this story. The great king Xerxes, with his army reported to be a million men so large that it drinks the river's dry that it passes through, comes to this road with this pass that has to be crossed
Starting point is 00:11:10 and these small group of Greek hoplites guarding it, and Xerxes, according to Herodotus, doesn't know what to do. Can't quite believe what he's seeing. Look at the color in this story. According to Herodotus, Xerxes sends a spy to go up to the Spartan lines and try to figure out what's going on and not get caught. Not only does he not get caught, but according to Herodotus,
Starting point is 00:11:37 he reports back to Xerxes and says that the Spartan warriors couldn't have cared less that he was there. They were fine with him looking around. They didn't care. He said they were doing exercises and combing their hair. Again, you have to imagine Clint Eastwood with long hair and a beard. Right there, that would be worth the price of admission with his tall, sinewy guy, not a big muscle bound guy
Starting point is 00:11:59 doing body weight exercises, calisthenics, push-ups, sit-ups, gymnastics, that's how they prepped. And the combing the long hair was a Spartan thing. Xerxes could not get his mind around. Herodotus basically says the idea that these people, a couple hundred of them, were going to try to take on his reportedly million man army. So he calls in an advisor that he has.
Starting point is 00:12:21 He's got a Spartan king with him, a guy who fell out of favor and he hooked up with the Persians, thinking that if they conquer all of Greece, it might be good for him. He's been the advisor to the great king of kings up till now. He had told the king earlier about these people and they'd made fun of him, so now Xerxes called him back to report on what the spy had said these Spartans were doing.
Starting point is 00:12:43 I'll let Herodotus, this ancient screenwriter, handle the story from there, writing 2,500 years ago, quote, Xerxes listened but could not understand that the Lachodemonians were really preparing to kill or be killed? To fight as much as was in their power seemed to him to be the height of folly, the action of fools.
Starting point is 00:13:06 So he sent for Demeritus, son of Eraston, who was in the camp. And when Demeritus arrived, Xerxes questioned him about everything he had been told, trying to understand the meaning behind what the Lachodemonians were doing. Demeritus answered, you heard what I said about these men before, when we were just setting out against the Greeks,
Starting point is 00:13:25 and you made me a laughingstock when you heard my view of how these matters would turn out. But it is my greatest goal to tell the truth in your presence. So hear me now once again. These men have come to fight us for control of the road, and that is really what they are preparing to do. For it is their tradition that they groom their hair whenever they are about to put their lives in danger.
Starting point is 00:13:45 Now know this. If you subjugate these men, and those who have remained behind in Sparta, there is no other race of human beings that will be left to raise their hands against you, for you are now attacking the most noble kingdom of all the Greeks, and the best of men. What Demeritus said,
Starting point is 00:14:01 Herodotus writes, seemed quite incredible to Xerxes, and he asked for a second time how they could possibly intend to fight his whole army, since there were so few of them. Demeritus replied, Sire, if things do not turn out just as I claim they will, treat me like a liar.
Starting point is 00:14:18 End quote. To lie to the great king of kings, of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, was a capital crime. He was basically saying, if this doesn't turn out exactly like I told you it will, you can kill me. That's pretty darn colorful right there.
Starting point is 00:14:37 But it gets even better. The great king of the Persians was supposed to have sent a messenger to the Spartan lines, to King Leonidas and say, basically join us. We'll make you the overlords of Greece. You'll have more than you ever had before.
Starting point is 00:14:53 A lot of nations had done that. Joining the Persian Empire was not a bad idea sometimes. He's basically saying we can make a deal here. It'll be worth your while. His father Darius was a great deal maker. And the Xerxes was coming from a position of negotiation here, and the Spartans basically dressed him down morally.
Starting point is 00:15:09 Saying something to the effect of, you know, you have all this land already, but you need to bother us. We'd rather die for Greece than own anything. It was one of those wonderful Spartan moralistic put-downs. Again, spoken with as few words as possible. And then famously, as recorded by Plutarch
Starting point is 00:15:27 600 years after the event, Xerxes sends another messenger to the Spartan lines, supposedly. Another message for the king of the Spartans. And says to all the men who can hear him, you can all go home. All will be forgiven. Just put down your arms.
Starting point is 00:15:43 And then you get the wonderful phrase, Boulang Pave. Translated many different ways, but it just is good, pretty much any of them. Come and take them. Lay down your arms. Come and take them. Come and get them.
Starting point is 00:15:59 Having come, take. You can take them when we're all alone. You can take them when we're all dead. A lot of the different ways. The difficult to translate Greek is used. It's still, by the way, the motto of the Greek First Army Corps.
Starting point is 00:16:15 It's been used for many causes all throughout history, because it's such a great, dramatic, colorful spit-in-the-face-of-death line, isn't it? It's a Clint Eastwood line. Do you feel lucky, punk? Come and take them. How do you not stand up in the theater
Starting point is 00:16:31 when that moment hits? That's every screenwriter's dream, to have a scenario like that, and if it can be true, how wonderful is that? The Greek chroniclers who wrote about this stuff did not skimp on the drama, and it makes it colorful, it makes it real,
Starting point is 00:16:47 it makes it compelling even 2,500 years later, and you'd give your right arm to have this kind of stuff right out of the mouths of the oral historians from all these places that didn't have them. And look black and white because of it. The Persian story must be magical also.
Starting point is 00:17:03 We don't have that story. And traditionally it's difficult for us to imagine that we'd like to hear from a pro-perspective the story of Darth Vader and the Empire, but throughout history they weren't always Darth Vader, and some of the
Starting point is 00:17:19 greatest chroniclers of all time have gone to great lengths to show, in fact, that they may have been on God's side, if you will. If that turns out to be the case, whose side are you rooting for then? Of course, in this time period,
Starting point is 00:17:39 the Iron Age, ancient world, and in this area, the Mediterranean and the Near East, you'd have to be a heck of a lot more specific when you start talking about deities than to just say God, the likely response during that era might have been which God?
Starting point is 00:17:55 It was a wild and crazy time for religion in that part of the world, and they had a lot of different ones, and they ran the gamut from things you might understand today to wild and crazy and everything in between. Most of these religious beliefs had a pantheon of gods, a bunch of them,
Starting point is 00:18:11 some of them had a dominant lead god, but having multiple gods was normal. There were groups especially one known for only having one god, and they were the ones that put together with divine
Starting point is 00:18:27 or without divine help, take your pick, a tome, a combination of catalog of events and stories and accounts and perspectives and admonitions and hymns
Starting point is 00:18:43 and it's hard to describe exactly what the Old Hebrew Bible is. It's also hard to know when it was written, are the accounts from the period around the time the Persians first appeared on the scene legitimate from that period? Most biblical experts think they were written
Starting point is 00:18:59 later. Nonetheless, we use Plutarch 500 years after the fact, and so does everyone else, so when the Old Hebrew Bible in multiple places talks about the Persians, we should probably at least note the attitude
Starting point is 00:19:15 and the attitude that the writers whomever they may have been of those works had toward the Persians, especially early on, wasn't just positive, it was divine. Meanie, meanie, tekel, you farsen. Number,
Starting point is 00:19:31 number, weight, divisions. That's my favorite part of the Bible, the Old Hebrew Bible, which is so full of wonderful stuff, you know, the Greeks don't have the market totally cornered on color, there's just not a ton of stuff from the parts of the world
Starting point is 00:19:47 during the time period represented by the Bible, but remember, there's a lot of discussion over when various pieces of the Bible were written. A lot of this good stuff might have been written well into the prose period, so we've entered into the color era, because there's so much color. The Book of Daniel
Starting point is 00:20:03 has this scary story, spooky story, it's not like a horror movie, but it's a spooky movie, and today you'd have to have a little CGI help to make it work, but it's my favorite scene, it's out of the Book of Daniel, and it involves a ghostly hand writing words on a wall,
Starting point is 00:20:19 meanie, meanie, tekel, eupharsen. And you have to back up a little bit in the story to set the scene, but the King of Babylon, who the Bible calls Belshazzar, is having a party, he and his buddies and some concubines, that's the way
Starting point is 00:20:35 the Bible puts it, probably have to imagine some loud music, you know, and there's booze, I mean, they're drinking, and at a certain point the King of Babylon wants the really nice, you know, silverware brought in, and the big cups of gold and silver, the ones they took
Starting point is 00:20:51 from Jerusalem when they sacked the capital of Judah not that long ago, because that's what the Babylonians had done. Scattered a bunch of Jews everywhere, forced a lot of the premier families and craftsmen and artisans to deport all the way back to Babylon
Starting point is 00:21:07 and destroyed Solomon's temple. When it comes to PR, this Belshazzar guy and the Babylonians are not getting a ton of it positive from the Bible. And while he's drinking out of his big, you know, looted cup, hanging out with the concubines,
Starting point is 00:21:23 all of a sudden a ghostly hand with a finger appears right under the lamp and it starts writing on a wall, meany, meany, tackle, you farsan and everybody freaks out. My King James version
Starting point is 00:21:39 of the Bible makes it sound like he essentially couldn't control his bowels, he was so scared. My later, more colloquial version just sticks to the knees shaking version. Nonetheless, he couldn't figure out what it meant.
Starting point is 00:21:55 So the Bible says this Babylonian leader called in all his sorcerers and necromancers and astrologers, all these people, you know, the wizards that advised, you know, the high Babylonian king. And part of what makes Babylonians so frickin wonderful
Starting point is 00:22:11 is their a combination of like rational, logical, hard, observational science and mathematics and all these kinds of things with divination. You have to imagine a Stephen Hawking type character but a Ouija board is an integral part of how he goes about
Starting point is 00:22:27 his business. It's fascinating. But none of these people the Bible says can explain to Belchazar what the writing means. And then someone reminds him that his father used this guy, this deportee from Judah after the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem there. And he was
Starting point is 00:22:43 here in Babylon and we could bring him in and see if he knows what the ghostly writing means. And Belchazar grabbed the guy and brought him in and it was Daniel who was indeed a deportee. And Belchazar gives him the same offer he gave to his soothsayers. Listen, you tell me what this means and, you know, gold chains
Starting point is 00:22:59 and you'll rule a third of the kingdom and all this kind of stuff. And Daniel says, you know, keep your gifts or give them to somebody else. I'll tell you what the writing means. And I have a lot of different versions of the Bible, the Torah all these things in front of me. And all the versions are good, but the King James
Starting point is 00:23:15 Bible with its, you know, wrath of God style, you know, sums it up perfectly. Daniel looks at the meanie, meanie, tekel you farsen and describes the words as meaning number, number, weight divisions and then defines
Starting point is 00:23:31 that as meaning this from the King James version quote. This is the interpretation of the thing. God have numbered thy kingdom and finished it. Thou art weighed into balances and art found wanting. Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the
Starting point is 00:23:47 Persians. End quote. That's pretty colorful stuff, isn't it? And in that version, the King of the Persians, a guy named Darius conquers Babylon that night and kills the Belches are. Well, none of that's true, but that's how the Bible
Starting point is 00:24:03 story goes. Nonetheless, it's clear from that perspective that the Persians in this story are not going to be the bad guys, they're going to be the instrument of God that rectifies things. If God is on any one side in that story,
Starting point is 00:24:19 he's on the side of the Medes and the Persians. Who the heck are these Medes and Persians? And if they're so good in this story with the Babylonians, how do they go from that to the evil the Greeks see two or three rulers later?
Starting point is 00:24:35 Well, let's remember, Darth Vader wasn't always evil. And in fact the guy who will kick off the Persians first real appearance on the world stage will be a guy that is so
Starting point is 00:24:51 beloved by at least the Hebrew God he will be the only non-Jew ever proclaimed a Messiah. The person who will get this honor is known in your history books by the name Cyrus the Second or Cyrus the Great.
Starting point is 00:25:07 If you wanted to make it sound a little bit more like it probably sounded in Persian you would say Kourosh. He's probably the greatest conqueror in world history up until the time of Alexander. He's got some of the best historical press anybody's likely
Starting point is 00:25:23 to get. Nobody has a bad word to say about the guy. Even the Greeks like him. Xenophon will write a whole book essentially romanticizing Cyrus as the greatest perfect world leader and wouldn't you like to be like him and here's how you could emulate what he did and that kind of thing.
Starting point is 00:25:39 Cyrus becomes part of a Greek motif that western tradition will continue for a long time that portrays the East as decadent and soft and corrupt. But then how do you explain how some of these great empires got started?
Starting point is 00:25:55 The way the Greeks do it is Cyrus is fantastic and he builds up this entire thing and bequeaths it to the Persians who proceed to become soft and rich and lazy and decadent and ruin what the great Cyrus gave them. Even the Greeks portray Cyrus as this great figure and yet we know so little
Starting point is 00:26:11 about the guy. If you contrast what we know about him and the guy who probably takes the crown from him as greatest conqueror in the world to that point, Alexander the Great, it's night and day. Alexander the Great exists in a fully colorized historical world.
Starting point is 00:26:27 A post-herodotus world, a world where Alexander will bring his own publicists with him from place to place so they can record his latest deeds and sayings and doings. Cyrus the Great founds the last great empire in maybe what you could call
Starting point is 00:26:43 the black and white era in the Near East. An era where we know the majority about the people back then because of things like monoliths and statues and reliefs and carvings and tomb paintings and architecture
Starting point is 00:26:59 and ruins. When you do have writing you get business records and proclamations and transactions. Some of the best stuff you get from this era are the correspondences, the letters between diplomats and governors and rulers.
Starting point is 00:27:15 What none of those people are doing is writing to amuse or entertain anybody. All of the writing from the black and white period of human history is colder. They all have a purpose beyond being entertaining.
Starting point is 00:27:31 It might be a religious purpose, a business purpose, a governmental purpose or even two important officials writing each other about, you know, matters of state and a few personal things creep in. That's very different than writing something performed in front of a live audience for their entertainment and enjoyment.
Starting point is 00:27:49 I read something historian Michael Grant had written about Herodotus, suggesting that the reason Herodotus has the interesting structure that he does to his histories is because it was not meant to be read as much as it was meant to be performed live, read allowed by Herodotus himself.
Starting point is 00:28:05 And that the digressions and the tangents in the work represent things that would have worked much better in a live situation that would be broadcasting, if you will, an orator, as opposed to somebody writing something to be read by somebody else remotely.
Starting point is 00:28:21 If that's the case, then you don't really have the first written prose history with Herodotus. You have the script for Herodotus's live show, if you will, which would explain a lot considering that if you want to get drama and color and stories before the period of Herodotus, you're looking at things like the Iliad
Starting point is 00:28:37 by Homer Gilgamesh from Mesopotamian history, both of which are believed, by the way, to have been stories told for hundreds of years that were finally compiled and written down. Same thing with like a Beowulf in Scandinavian history. Maybe Herodotus is more like the ancient
Starting point is 00:28:53 storytellers than first meets the eye. To give him some credit, Herodotus was trying to be a chronicler at the same time, though he was trying to do the same thing I was told to do in news reporting, to relate the facts as best as he understood them in the most compelling way he could.
Starting point is 00:29:09 So, what you have here in this ancient story is not so much myth. That wouldn't be fair, not just to people like Herodotus, but all of the great historians over time who have found all these records and put together, you know, like a jigsaw puzzle, a viewing of the past that is always being
Starting point is 00:29:25 redone and improved, but wouldn't have even existed there if a ton of different pieces of the puzzle hadn't been brought together. But at the same time, while it's not myth, it's not exactly truth either. There are historians who've spent their whole lives trying to separate the truth from the
Starting point is 00:29:41 fiction in works like Herodotus. I actually laughed out loud when I read Pierre Brion's book from Cyrus to Alexander. Brion is one of the great historians of ancient Persia, and this book is like the Encyclopedia. I mean, it's very detailed, very specific. It's 1200 pages.
Starting point is 00:29:57 It's an enormous, comprehensive book, and the very first lines in it are as part of the, you know, opening page where he quotes an artist who says, quote, and even if it is not true, you need to believe in ancient
Starting point is 00:30:13 history, end quote. Does anything better set up the dichotomy here, and how wonderful that in a 1200 page book that is exhaustive as all get out, the very first line from the historian is yeah, it might not be true, but you have to
Starting point is 00:30:29 believe it anyway. It's wonderful, and it sums up the problem with ancient history, and that is that you have the feeling that most of what you're reading here is the truth, and these events did happen, but there's a lot of fiction mixed in, and it's difficult to know what's what, and it's difficult to separate one from the other.
Starting point is 00:30:45 It's also difficult to know where to begin the story. This is a classic problem anybody has trying to explain something, right? How do you begin a story of Cyrus II and the Persians? When does that start? All history is connected, as we know, right? It's all a bunch of ruling dominoes, and one event
Starting point is 00:31:01 and series of events leads up to other ones and sets it all up. Where's the logical starting point? I'm terrible at this, by the way. I did a whole series on the decline and fall of the Roman Republic, hours and hours and hours, because I was trying to find the logical place to start a story about Cleopatra. I never even got practically to Cleopatra.
Starting point is 00:31:17 It was all dominoes before then. Herodotus starts with the earliest thing he knows about it, and it's a miracle he knows about it at all. He begins by talking about the Assyrians. He also talks about having multiple versions of this
Starting point is 00:31:35 story, so Herodotus being Herodotus, he says, listen, I've heard a lot of different things. Here are my sources. The story begins, boom, and here's what he writes. Quote, From here, our story demands that we inquire further about Cyrus and the Persians. Who was this
Starting point is 00:31:51 man who destroyed the Empire of Cresus? And how did the Persians become the leaders of Asia? I shall write this account using as my sources certain Persians who do not intend to magnify the deeds of Cyrus, but rather to tell what really happened, although I know of three other ways in which the story of Cyrus
Starting point is 00:32:07 is told. End quote. And then he begins the story using a phrase that should probably be preceded by a line like, once upon a time, quote, The Assyrians ruled inland Asia for 520 years and the Medes were the first
Starting point is 00:32:23 to revolt from them. It would seem that they proved themselves to be truly courageous men by fighting the Assyrians for the cause of freedom, and they succeeded in casting off slavery and were liberated. Afterwards, the other ethnic groups freed themselves as the Medes had done. End quote.
Starting point is 00:32:39 Well, the Medes need a little explaining. Just like at the biblical story of Belshazzar's Feast when he said that the Empire was going to be divided between the Medes and the Persians. The Medes and the Persians are a related people. The Greeks used the terms interchangeably.
Starting point is 00:32:55 They were, you know, practically like brothers in the eyes of the Greeks. When I was growing up, they were just starting to change from the brothers' sort of interpretation to maybe saying, ah, maybe they were more like first cousins. Some of the more recent histories I've been reading, maybe you could say would downgrade the relationship even a step
Starting point is 00:33:11 further to something like second cousins who fought sometimes. Historians differ on when these related peoples arrived in the area where they can now play a role in the history of this you know, enclosed sort of geopolitical world with Egypt and Babylon
Starting point is 00:33:27 and Assyria and all these places. There's even a few historians who think they may have always been there. You just didn't hear about them. Nevertheless, the world upon which they have intruded is so old it's hard for modern people to get our minds around because it's hard
Starting point is 00:33:43 for us to imagine something 2,500 years ago, you know, when a monopoly is happening. Now imagine something from 2,500 years before that. And that's how old this world is. I love the way in the 1940s historian A.T. Olmsted
Starting point is 00:33:59 tried to give the reader a sense of how old this world was and how the people who lived in it knew it was old. He starts by talking about Cyrus the second, or Cyrus the great person after he takes over Babylon, trying to describe how old the world is that
Starting point is 00:34:15 Babylon represents, and he says quote. When Cyrus entered Babylon in 539 B.C.E., the world was old. More significant, the world knew its antiquity. Its scholars had compiled long dynastic lists and simple addition appeared to
Starting point is 00:34:31 prove that kings whose monuments were still visible had ruled more than four millenniums before. Yet earlier were other monarchs, sons of gods, and so themselves demigods, whose remains covered several generations of present-day short-lived men.
Starting point is 00:34:47 Even these were preceded, the Egyptians believed, by the gods themselves who held sway through long eons. Before the universal flood, the Babylonians placed ten kings, the least of whom ruled 18,600 years, the greatest
Starting point is 00:35:03 43,200 years. Other peoples, he writes, knew this flood and told of monarchs, nanochists of Icodium, for example, who reigned in pre-Diluvian times, meaning, you know, the times before the biblical flood. He continues, the sacred history of the Jews
Starting point is 00:35:19 extended through 4,000 years, modest as were their figures when compared with those of Babylon or Egypt, they recorded that one pre-Diluvian patriarch almost reached the millennium mark before his death. Greek poets chanted a legendary history
Starting point is 00:35:35 which was counted backward to the time when the genealogies of the heroes ascended to the god. Each people and nation, each former city-state, boasted of its own creation story with its own local god as creator. He then goes on to diagram
Starting point is 00:35:55 that in the 600s and 700s BCE there were quite a few rulers in quite a few of these old countries that became archeological buffs where they would go back and pay for the excavation of earlier rulers that ruled 1,000-1,500 years before them.
Starting point is 00:36:11 And in Egypt may have dressed similarly. That's the continuity of the Egyptian fashion look. My favorite story that really gives you an idea of the antiquity of things and how the peoples of this region understood it and knew it in a way that you don't normally think
Starting point is 00:36:27 about has to do with an archeological excavation that happened in late 1800s, early 1900s in modern day Iran, in a city through much of the historical period that was called Sousa. Sousa is a very old city, ancient city. It will be important
Starting point is 00:36:43 in the Persian period. It will be important after that period for a very long time of people called the Elamites resided in Sousa and it was in a strata where the Elamite period was that these archeologists began to uncover some of the greatest treasures
Starting point is 00:36:59 and antiquities in Near Eastern history and they didn't belong there. They found, for example, the famous steel or steely. Take your pick of Hammurabi. Something that is huge. I mean, it's a giant 7 foot
Starting point is 00:37:15 tall or something heavy big thing and they find it there. What's it doing there? That should be in Babylon. Now if you think the steel of Hammurabi is old, circa 1700s
Starting point is 00:37:31 BCE or something like that, archeologists then find something that's a good deal older than that. It's called the victory steel of Narum Sin. He was an Akkadian king from the 2200s BCE. So by the
Starting point is 00:37:47 time they were making the steel of Hammurabi, the victory steel of Narum Sin was half a millennia old. There were other antiquities that they found too, all of them from elsewhere. They were the spoils, the loot,
Starting point is 00:38:03 the stuff that the Elamites took back with them when they sacked Babylon. And in fact, you could tell because somehow all this stuff was on display and below the original inscriptions in the original language
Starting point is 00:38:19 explaining what this was was an Elamite inscription explaining when it was taken from the Babylonians as loot and spoils and as a piece of memorabilia commemorating a great victory. I keep imagining a bunch of trophies
Starting point is 00:38:35 in like a college or university or school trophy case. You know, commemorating the victories over the eras over your school rivals, the Okan bucket, the apple cup, the steel of Hammurabi. You know, that kind of thing.
Starting point is 00:38:51 And by the way, it wasn't just cultural artifacts that were taken from the famous Elamite invasion that happened in the 1100s. They took the god of Babylon with them. They took Marduk with them. The statue that represented the god. And this is one of my favorite things
Starting point is 00:39:07 about ancient history is this idea sometimes that these statues that represented the gods were somehow connected to the god, him or herself. And sometimes were. I mean, there were some beliefs that they were the gods and so you'll see for example the Assyrians in a lot of their stone reliefs
Starting point is 00:39:23 showing the conquest of some civilization or city, they've got the god that their soldiers are carrying away along with all of the loot. And it's kind of symbolic when you think about it. It's a sign, our god stronger than your god, after all, we've got your god.
Starting point is 00:39:39 And in a lot of these Near Eastern civilizations the historians wrote that you can't reestablish some of these cities until the god is returned. So in other words, when Babylon gets sacked and the god is taken away, they can't do a building thing until the god is brought back. We got your god.
Starting point is 00:39:55 I mean, talk about rubbing your nose in a defeat there. I mean, I was trying to think about what the equivalent would be in the modern world. Certainly if somebody took over the United States if the Elamites had done it they would have the Statue of Liberty in their little museum there with a little notation
Starting point is 00:40:11 underneath. Taken from New York City after we crushed the Americans. I love the Elamites and would love to know more about them. They're one of those people that just not a lot is known. What you can say for sure is that they are the great long-standing urban power
Starting point is 00:40:27 in what's now modern day Iran for thousands of years. The big contemporaries and the big power from that region that rival the Babylon's and the Assyrias and the Egypt's. There's usually a power in the north to north of Assyria, but that changes. It could be
Starting point is 00:40:43 Mitanni, it could be the Hittites, it could be Urartu. Nonetheless, you have a relatively stable geopolitical balance going on for a long time, even through the ups and downs. And then that world begins to be consciously
Starting point is 00:40:59 destroyed. And that opens up the door to an instability where, you know, anything can happen. And shocking things did. It starts with the absolute sky rocketing
Starting point is 00:41:15 by historical standards of the military dominance of the Assyrians. Now you may be thinking we were just talking about the Medes a minute ago and now we've shifted over to the Assyrians and what does one have to do with the other? But it's their paths crossing
Starting point is 00:41:31 that sort of set up the stage for the next period in western Asian history. The Medes will turn out to be one of a couple of Davids in this story who will take down Goliath in order to understand what a big deal that is. You need to understand
Starting point is 00:41:47 how big of a deal Goliath was in this story. The Assyrians are Goliath. And they were transformed in the 700s BCE from one of the great powers, sometimes the greatest of the great powers, sometimes not, into the regional superpower.
Starting point is 00:42:03 And as far as these people were concerned, the region was the entire world. And this quickly growing absolutely devastating new empire in terms of its military abilities would have been the ones fighting the Greeks
Starting point is 00:42:19 and the Spartans at Thermopylae had the Medes and their allies not been able to take down this Goliath. And I got news for you. I don't think the Neo Assyrian armies at their height would have beaten Alexander the Great and his Macedonians.
Starting point is 00:42:35 I'm not sure, but I don't think. But I think they'd crush the ancient Greeks of Athens and Sparta. And so maybe if the past at Thermopylae and the Greco-Persian Wars really was a war for western civilization, we should be thankful that there were people
Starting point is 00:42:51 like the Medes to take down the people who I think would have been the odds on favorite in any Vegas betting pool to take down the ancient Greeks in 480 BCE. They weren't around in 480 BCE in part because of these people, the Medes, who in the
Starting point is 00:43:07 hundreds when this story really heats up and gets strange, were a people on the periphery of the known universe at the time. To the Assyrians, the Medes are sort of the eastern edge of the known galaxy. And beyond those Medean tribes
Starting point is 00:43:23 with all their petty little kinglets are groups of half human, half monsters called the Umen-Manda in Assyrian annals. The Umen-Manda, by the way, an old Cadian term that means the horde from who knows where.
Starting point is 00:43:39 And it's believed that this refers to the nomadic peoples of the steppe, the cultural forebears of the Huns and the Turks and the Mongols and all those people. In fact, the Medes and the Persians were supposed to be able to speak
Starting point is 00:43:57 to the Umen-Manda without the use of translators. How'd you like to be related enough to a people known as the horde from who knows where to be able to understand their language without anybody helping? Nonetheless,
Starting point is 00:44:13 it's in this period right around 750 BCE where you get a sort of an unusual happening in ancient history where a lot seems to happen in a relatively short period of time. Because in ancient history you get these long stretches where it seems like very little
Starting point is 00:44:29 changes. In 745 BCE with the arrival of a new Assyrian king, a guy named Tiglath Pileser III Assyria begins to go on this sprint maybe you could call it a historical sprint that will last
Starting point is 00:44:45 until about 615-612 BCE and will be like maybe you could say the last burst of rocket fuel of that historical era, of that ancient world about to give way to the era of the Greeks and classical antiquity and all that kind of stuff
Starting point is 00:45:01 and rockets it to the heights where the Assyrian army for example in say 700 BCE are the equivalent of like the Roman Empire's armies at their height for their era. The Assyrians will
Starting point is 00:45:17 systematically smash the other great powers in that area and it's difficult by the way, they're powerful, they're sophisticated, they have a lot of money in some of these places. The Assyrians often have to face not single states, but
Starting point is 00:45:33 coalitions of states, big allies that allied simply to deal with the Assyrians and they lose most of the time anyway. I'll try not to geek out on the army too much but it's the gold standard for the era. Richard Gabriel and Karen Metz in their book from Sumer to Rome
Starting point is 00:45:49 sort of describe it in a nutshell in terms of just giving you a mental picture of the capabilities of an army from this era. You know the so called Biblical era when I was growing up they write quote. The Assyrian army of the 8th century BCE was comprised
Starting point is 00:46:05 of at least 150,000 to 200,000 men and was the largest standing military force that the Middle East had witnessed to this time. An Assyrian combat field army numbered approximately 50,000 men with various mixes of infantry, chariots and cavalry.
Starting point is 00:46:21 In modern times the size of an Assyrian field army was equal to five modern heavy American divisions or almost eight Soviet field divisions. When a raid for battle the army took up an area of 2,500 yards across and 100 yards deep.
Starting point is 00:46:37 The Assyrian army was also the first army to be entirely equipped with iron weapons. End quote. Boy doesn't that Soviet reference date me. Nonetheless you get an idea that we're talking about armies that were exponentially larger than in the recent past.
Starting point is 00:46:53 In the Bronze age you know Narum Sin was putting like 6,000 guys into the field and thinking he had a lot of men. The Assyrians have multiple divisions of 50,000 each. They will smash the power of the mountain state
Starting point is 00:47:09 of Urartu at one point during this period. That's where modern Armenia is. They will several times have to deal with Babylon. Another one of their great kings Snakarib takes care of that and then they just have to do it again and again. Babylon is the thorn in the
Starting point is 00:47:25 side perpetually of Assyria. And the Elamites always get in trouble with the Assyrians because they always support the Babylonians because after all all of them would like to see the Assyrians cut down to size. Eventually the Assyrians will cut the Elamites down to size too.
Starting point is 00:47:41 One of the most horrifying of all the Assyrian reliefs and you know there's a lot of them and historians don't always know how to classify them. You can't tell if you want to say that these are real scenes that they're showing when you see these
Starting point is 00:47:57 carvings which were probably painted at one time and were often displayed in the waiting room before you got to see the king. What are you looking at while you're cooling your heels waiting to see the Assyrian king? The things he did to the people like you who maybe turned against him. Sometimes historians think
Starting point is 00:48:13 that they're taking a sadistic sort of cruel love in this. Sometimes it's meant to be terrifying and they enjoy that Saddam Hussein style. Sometimes they think of it as a convention. In the same way the Egyptians always seem to show them you know wearing certain kinds of clothing whether or not they did anymore
Starting point is 00:48:29 it was an artistic convention. Showing people getting their heads locked off is just you know if you go to Assyria you expect to see the Assyrian things. That kind of deal. That's who we are. It's a staple. Nonetheless one of my favorite Assyrian relief shows the aftermath
Starting point is 00:48:45 of the era where the Assyrians finally decided to deal with the ongoing Elamite problem. It shows the Assyrian king Asher Bonipal reclining on one of those wonderful oriental near eastern you know kinds of things that they used to lay down on like a couch where they would
Starting point is 00:49:01 have somebody feed you grapes or something and he's sitting there drinking wine or eating food in a luxurially relaxing sort of pace in a garden with little palm trees if I recall it correctly and there's a woman there with him and you get the feeling like he and that woman are together and then right over nearby
Starting point is 00:49:17 up on the side of a wall or a post or a pillar is a head the head of the Elamite king pickled or otherwise and that woman who you think maybe is
Starting point is 00:49:33 Assyria Bonipal's wife or maybe a royal concubine some historians think is the wife of that Elamite she having to be there with the person who killed him and have him looking on in a body list the whole time the Assyrians just had this wonderful
Starting point is 00:49:49 historical reputation for something that once again is cinematic now it's not color it's not like Herodotus and all that we don't have it in color but it's a really scary black and white horror film if you're on the receiving end of Assyrian violence
Starting point is 00:50:05 I should point out that you know focusing so much on geopolitics and Assyrian foreign policy may you know sort of color the picture in a very negative way because to live in an Assyrian city during this time period might have been awesome might have been the height of civilization you know it was a society
Starting point is 00:50:21 that was in some respects one of the most literate at all time periods it was wealthy it was cultured might have been great to live in Assyria you just didn't want to be on the wrong end of Assyrian foreign policy and from about 745 BCE to about the
Starting point is 00:50:37 early 600s a lot of people were and very few people came away doing very well after that they systematically battered down the structures of this region now battering down the structures of the region were very important if you wanted to kind of make it
Starting point is 00:50:53 amenable to being incorporated into a single political entity like an empire everybody's individualistic nature had to be curtailed somewhat the problem will come when the unifying force that did this disappears to get an idea
Starting point is 00:51:09 by the way of how many peoples were talking about here and as a wonderful way to sort of contradict the earlier way the story was told which was focusing on peoples ethnicity a lot and to say you know the Assyrians were Semitic and the Iranian peoples the Medes and the Persians were
Starting point is 00:51:25 Indo-European and all that is to realize when you deal with a place that is so filled with different ethnic groups intermarrying living together that it doesn't take very long for peoples languages to change which used to be the way we judged who was whom
Starting point is 00:51:41 it also means that the job of any unifying force that wants to turn all these different freedom loving groups into a single political entity is huge historian Will Durant tries to lay the foundation and basically says you know just so you know
Starting point is 00:51:57 look at how many peoples there are in this part of the world and they're all interacting all the time and they're intermarrying it's an ethnic melting pot he says quote to a distant and yet discerning eye the near east in the days of Nebuchadrezzar would have seemed like an ocean
Starting point is 00:52:13 in which vast swarms of human beings moved about in turmoil forming and dissolving groups enslaving or being enslaved eating or being eaten killing or getting killed endlessly behind and around the great empires
Starting point is 00:52:29 Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria and Persia flowered this medley of half nomad half settled tribes Khmerians, Kalikians, Cappadocians Bephinians, Ashkanians Messenians, Mionians Kerrians, Likeians
Starting point is 00:52:45 Pamphlians, Pisidians Lakenians, Philistines, Amorites Canaanites, Edomites Ammonites, Moabites and a hundred other peoples each of which felt itself the center of geography and history and would have marveled at the ignorant prejudice of a historian who would reduce
Starting point is 00:53:01 them to a paragraph end quote. Now I've got a bunch of historians who talk about how difficult the task is to meld all these individualistic different peoples into a single political entity Chester Star writing in the middle 1960s put it this way as he tries
Starting point is 00:53:17 to sort of counterbalance this ruthless image the Assyrians have with the job they're trying to do quote. This ruthless spirit perhaps proves not so much that the Assyrians were inhuman monsters as it shows the sternness required to break and harness the near
Starting point is 00:53:33 east. The Assyrian period was in reality one of the greatest turning points in the civilized history of the area and in this fact must be sought the justification for the booty and the tribute of empire. If empire needs justification. Politically such kings as Tiglath
Starting point is 00:53:49 Pylissier III took decisive steps towards uniting the Fertile Crescent the next great empire the Persian reaped the benefit and so could afford to exercise its sway in a more lenient style end quote. This is actually key to one of the things we've been talking
Starting point is 00:54:05 about. The fact that even though the Greeks portrayed you know the Persians as sort of Darth Vader and the empire history outside the Greeks knew them as a comparatively tolerant empire comparatively lenient who were they being compared to
Starting point is 00:54:21 the Assyrians but it may have taken what the Assyrians did to make an empire that was docile enough for the Persians to treat them that way and have it all work out I should also point out that there are quite a few historians that would suggest
Starting point is 00:54:39 that the Assyrians have another legacy that we should potentially credit them with a much more noble sounding one by the way despite the horrific marketing and the frightful branding of the Assyrians perhaps you might look
Starting point is 00:54:55 at them during this time period depending on your viewpoint in more of a Captain America style role fending off the hordes of barbarism from swamping the civilized world with their you know murder and robbery
Starting point is 00:55:11 because in the last years of the 700s BCE the Uman Manda breakthrough and when they do it will take the greatest military of that age to be able
Starting point is 00:55:27 to resist and go up against what is a revolutionary military challenge the first peoples in history probably who had to try to figure out how you defeat an army where everyone in the army is mounted on horseback
Starting point is 00:55:43 now our modern era is so different than how the dynamics of warfare worked for most of human history that sometimes we have to reintroduce the more obvious things to sort of click a light bulb on in your head and remind you
Starting point is 00:55:59 oh yeah we're talking about something this basic for example and I love these military revolution periods can you imagine what it must have been like when the first chariots attacked the first you know settled civilizations out there in the first time an army
Starting point is 00:56:15 that was composed entirely of people walking had to deal with something moving at the speed of a horse and by the way the way that they usually functioned was that the person inside the chariot had a very powerful bow and shot arrows at people
Starting point is 00:56:31 and never really tried to contact them at all until they were broken and running away so you couldn't catch them and they move faster than you did and it changed warfare and sometimes it's funny by the way to read some of the records that have been kept that you have from some of these very early chariot societies
Starting point is 00:56:47 and you realize how little they know about horses because people who knew anything about horses are these really high paid important individuals and they have this hidden knowledge about you know here's how you take care of the feet of a horse and here's what you do if they get bloat I mean things that today zillions of people know back then
Starting point is 00:57:03 this was like privileged information how do you care for these things right and the horse in the settled societies the Egypt's the Babylon's and the Syria at first you can see that they don't know how to deal with the animal I mean there are wonderful little figurines
Starting point is 00:57:19 and what not showing you know the Egyptian maybe it's like an Egyptian scout during maybe the first 200 years or something that the Egyptians were really trying to use horses and he's sitting way back over the tail of the horse like he hasn't even figured out that that's not the right spot to sit in but we take it for granted
Starting point is 00:57:35 that this is an obvious thing it might not have been about 1000 BCE cavalry first appears and it generally appears you know in a way that once again makes you think that these people are not very comfortable
Starting point is 00:57:51 riding and remember there are no saddles there are no spurs there are no stirrups I mean there's a lot of knack to knowing what you're doing here and remember also that riding horses can be injurious and fatal if you're not used to it right
Starting point is 00:58:07 and none of these people are growing up doing a whole lot of horse riding and about 900 BCE you can see carvings showing Assyrian cavalry which is probably if you think about it you know cutting edge for the time period for the settled civilizations and they send the cavalry
Starting point is 00:58:23 riders out in pairs because one guy has to hold the reins for the other guy's horse when the other guy decides he's going to shoot or anything in other words they don't even feel comfortable enough to shoot and ride you know independently you got to have someone there
Starting point is 00:58:39 to hold the horse when you do it in other words you can watch the evolution right it's different when the armies from the Middle East the Ancient Near East first run into the step troops that will make up one of the dominant important tribal areas in world history
Starting point is 00:58:55 for almost ever I mean it's only the last couple hundred years that the Eurasian step part of which you would refer to as Central Asia today Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan those kind of places it's only in the last couple hundred years those places have not been massively
Starting point is 00:59:11 relevant to you know what's going on I was reading a book not that long ago that was going into all of the things that China and Russia of the 1700s CE so only a couple hundred years ago all the things that they had to do to deal with the tribes on the step
Starting point is 00:59:27 it's crazy because you know when you look at history you become very accustomed to watching the so called civilized societies just rolling over tribal peoples you know to a certain point in history once the momentum gets going and you have like Julius Caesar
Starting point is 00:59:43 and Roman armies just rolling over Celtic society you're already prepared to get to the part where the colonial Europeans you know show up on these distant shores and run into people with wooden clubs and bows and arrows when you've got guns I mean it's a foregone conclusion right but you look at the step and you see the
Starting point is 01:00:01 one place in history where for a number of different reasons the odds are much more equal between settled and tribal peoples first of all it's likely that the odds in terms of fighting power in terms of manpower was probably pretty close the settled societies
Starting point is 01:00:17 had a lot more people but a lot of them weren't fighters the tribal societies usually had most of their male people as fighters and some females by the way the weapons technology was probably comparable the bows used by the
Starting point is 01:00:35 step people are famously some of the best ever made but there would have been other things that the settled so called settled societies had in their favor so probably a wash there but imagine the native Americans with a rough parody in fighting men and a rough parody
Starting point is 01:00:51 in weapons technology what would the native Americans have done to the settlers then who knows but at least it's a fair fight add to that the geographic conditions and the distance right this is a harsh environment the step sometimes if you're not adapted to it and it's a long way
Starting point is 01:01:07 from point A to point B no matter where you're going and you had a part of the world that was protected by step peoples for millennia where they maintained their way of life and were shall we say relevant relevant is a good non bias in any direction we're relevant
Starting point is 01:01:23 to the societies and world powers around them and we've known them forever right we've seen wave after wave of these people come forward from the Magyars to the Turks to the Huns to the Mongols this is the first period in recorded history where these people break through and and someone's there
Starting point is 01:01:39 to record it there's always been a historical school of thought that chariot invasions from central Asia long before this period represent earlier versions of these kinds of invasions but this is the first one recorded where you get to see
Starting point is 01:01:55 you know the kinds of step armies you will expect for the next 2000 years mounted on horseback with people who are you know as we said about the Spartans that they were sort of a laboratory experiment to see if a culture could create a super soldier the step societies are
Starting point is 01:02:11 are a kind of a laboratory experiment to if you put people on a horseback from the time when they're toddlers and put a bow in their hand from not much later and have them ride all the time and do everything on horseback and use those bows continually and develop
Starting point is 01:02:27 tactics where they never really come into contact with people they don't want to come in I mean what do you end up with and the answer is as you end up with a weapon system that was so effective that even after guns were developed modern societies were having
Starting point is 01:02:43 a tough time pardon the pun corralling these people even up until relatively modern times now when you think about how long that is people trying to contend with the step people think about how much admiration we should have
Starting point is 01:02:59 with the first people who had to try with no track record or experience the Assyrians would develop a kind of a broad policy of dealing with these tribal step people that resembles what very sophisticated people who dealt with them for a very long time came up
Starting point is 01:03:15 with the Chinese and the Byzantines for example would use a mix of diplomacy intermarriage warfare and you know keeping the tribes divided and fighting amongst themselves and the Assyrians did all this stuff too they'd use some of these people as allies sometimes they'd have
Starting point is 01:03:31 mercenaries who were you know people from these tribes the tribes like the Khmerians and the Skithians and the various Sakha tribes and the Masajidi they have all these wonderful tribal confederations and one is scarier than the next and if you're one of those settled society people barbarians in air quotes
Starting point is 01:03:47 always scared you I mean there was just something scary to settle people about you know people like the Celts for example the Skithians are no different the various step peoples are no different their headhunters for example famously will drink from the skulls of their dead enemies
Starting point is 01:04:03 make cups out of them and if you want to see how the wonderful continuity of step culture sometimes go they were doing this in ancient times and they were doing this up until relatively you know Mongol type history the drinking cup skull thing was a perennial favorite but
Starting point is 01:04:19 that's just a cultural thing right I mean the Assyrians are hanging enemies heads on walls so that they can watch their you know wife have relations with the Assyrian king who killed them I mean everybody's got their thing right at the same time you know these people are scary
Starting point is 01:04:35 they're effective they are entirely mounted which means they have amazing challenges to the militaries of the day because remember you move at the speed of your slowest person if you have an entire army mounted the entire army moves at the speed of a horse these are huge challenges and the Assyrians
Starting point is 01:04:51 managed to ward off the worst of the attacks and in a sense you know you could make a case that they protected this entire area of civilization from marauding and scary peoples who were not going to leave it intact and you know this because there were several
Starting point is 01:05:07 invasions that did break through there's a horde of Scythians that will rape and pillage all the way down to Egypt before the Egyptians either buy them off or militarily turn them back and they go bouncing around the region like a snooker ball the fact that
Starting point is 01:05:23 in a lot of these step armies every single person was mounted was also revolutionary and huge the armies of the day if you were lucky had 15 or 20% of their force mounted sometimes quite a bit less you still
Starting point is 01:05:39 move at the speed of your slowest troops though if you don't if you break the cavalry off so you can operate independently you'll have a nice small group of cavalry that gets overwhelmed by an entirely mounted force so nonetheless an army with infantry moves at the speed of infantry these armies that the settled
Starting point is 01:05:55 societies in this geopolitical realm and China are trying to deal with move at the speed of a horse strategically on the map that's a devastating thing to try to counter the fact that the Assyrians could as a testimony to how great the greatest military the world had ever seen was
Starting point is 01:06:11 and how well led nonetheless you could see how big the challenge was in 705 BCE Sargon II arguably the greatest king Assyria ever had will as an elderly man lead the Assyrian army
Starting point is 01:06:27 in person up to modern southeastern Turkey near the border a Neo-Hittite area called Tabal and probably fighting in conjunction with some of these Neo-Hittite cities
Starting point is 01:06:43 Eurasian steppe troops Khmerians or Skithians and Sargon II will disappear with the army the body will never be recovered that is a very rare event when the body is not recovered
Starting point is 01:06:59 the assumption is that nobody got out because one of the last things you will do is grab the king's body and spirit it away it's like saving the flag times 10 there will be an Egyptian king too famously whose bones
Starting point is 01:07:15 will stay on the battlefield and they end up getting it later and mummifying a body that's been mutilated on the battlefield you can still look at the mummy today and see oh wow they didn't get to him for a while Sargon II will never be found
Starting point is 01:07:31 I've often thought it's not a coincidence his son Sinakarib never actually led a force in person when he was king he left that to the generals there's very important things in Nineveh that need taken care of as we all understand anyone who could do that to an Assyrian army at the height
Starting point is 01:07:47 of Assyrian power is formidable indeed now even though Assyria could protect some of this region they couldn't protect all of it and some of these tribes filtered down into the area where the people we're ostensibly talking about here are the Medes the Persians, the Elamites
Starting point is 01:08:03 the Zagros Mountains, Iran the peoples in this region are about to go through a one-two punch that will change them forever the second of these punches will be delivered by the Assyrians surprise surprise they're throwing punches everywhere
Starting point is 01:08:19 shouldn't this region get hit too the first will be delivered by these steppe people these tribes of Khmerians and Skithians who will at a certain point I said filtered I thought that was a nice ambiguous way when you don't really know what happened but the traditional idea
Starting point is 01:08:35 is that the Skithians and the Khmerians attacked and broke into and assaulted the Medes in a giant invasion there's even a year associated with it 653 BCE about it's like 50 years after Sargon II dies
Starting point is 01:08:51 up into Baal about 55-60 years since these horse people first appeared and they're still managing to totally disrupt huge areas of this geopolitical ecosystem I'm going to use that word from now on we all know what I mean
Starting point is 01:09:07 right filtered is a good word though because it also allows room for a theory where warfare sort of doesn't dominate the reasoning behind why all of a sudden all these Central Asian tribes moved into this part of Iran one of the things that's
Starting point is 01:09:23 really changed since I first started studying this story is the concept that historians have about who these Medians were and what kind of state they had when I was growing up the histories all made it sound like the Medes were like the Babylonians and the Assyrians by this time a centralized state with cities
Starting point is 01:09:39 and governance and bureaucracies and all that historians today and you know I'm not one I just read the best they make it sound much more like the current state of theory is that these Medes are much more tribal than we had previously assumed and if so might not be
Starting point is 01:09:55 that much different than these Schittians and Khmerians coming into their area this could be much more like a tribal relationship what did we say the Medes and the Persians were second cousins who fought sometimes these step peoples are like third cousins who fight a lot remember they could
Starting point is 01:10:11 allegedly speak to each other without the use of a translator when you're that close to another people what appears to be a conquest from outside might be much more like dynastic marriage or someone having to change their alliance status
Starting point is 01:10:27 or becoming a vassal of someone else or having to pay tribute Herodotus might see all of that stuff as a version of slavery but when he calls it slavery he might be picturing something else entirely Herodotus says that the domination of the Medes
Starting point is 01:10:45 last 28 years and an interesting little you know tidbit that might confirm what he says is during that time period the Assyrians and the Babylonians who keep records and who know and mention the Medes from time to time start calling everyone who lives
Starting point is 01:11:01 in that whole region the Umen Manda and Risesargami among others suggest that this might mean that the entire area has just been sort of overwhelmed and that you can't tell one tribe from another without a scorecard
Starting point is 01:11:19 Herodotus if you want to go with this tells one of his really fun stories you know if you're like me about how the Medes eventually threw off the nomadic yoke you know that was oppressing them and he tells a story about how they invited the Skithian
Starting point is 01:11:35 leaders to a banquet and then got them all drunk and then when they were all so inebriated they could hardly stand they went in and killed them all I guess you could call that you know decapitating the enemy leadership literally or maybe the tactic is
Starting point is 01:11:53 drunken mass homicide whatever you want to call it it seems like a motif another one of these recurring sorts of things you see all throughout history and the writing and one of those aspects of the story that oftentimes professional historians will discount because after all we see this
Starting point is 01:12:09 all the time this sounds just like blah blah blah and they're almost always right here's the weird part though this is something that you actually see in history confirmably the relationship between using alcohol as some sort of a trap
Starting point is 01:12:25 to ensnare other people who then become vulnerable I mean we've seen this in recorded history like not that long ago Native American tribes had this treatment done to them sometimes multiple times in other words what might look in this case like a recurring motif
Starting point is 01:12:41 might actually be a recurring historical occurrence how would you tell the difference in any case it'll happen again in this story which once again makes you say okay is this just a recurring motif or is this a tactic that worked
Starting point is 01:12:57 last time so we're trying it again nonetheless somehow the Medes regain freedom of action from these people who are then thrown out leaving behind another wonderful ethnic strain of the Central Asian bloodline that will run through Iran over
Starting point is 01:13:13 the ages and that will be added to with new blood sometimes tragically from time to time the guy who is supposedly the king of the Medes during this period of domination by the Skithians is a mead named
Starting point is 01:13:29 Ksiaksaris Herodotus credits him with totally reorganizing the military of the Medes he says that Ksiaksaris becomes the first Asian leader to you know separate an army into
Starting point is 01:13:45 component parts you know archers and spearmen and cavalry he says before that they all fought together in a chaotic mass which is not true at all but some historians think he's preserving some sort of a memory of this important Median ruler who reorganized the military
Starting point is 01:14:01 and made it much more powerful and considering what he was about to do with it there seems to be some historical evidence for the Medes all of a sudden becoming very formidable indeed right about the same time when the great traditionally great power in that region
Starting point is 01:14:17 gets mortally wounded by Assyria and we alluded to this earlier part of Assyria's laying waste to all these you know competitors for their superpower status right there's not going to be anybody that even gets to put up a little resistance
Starting point is 01:14:33 the Elamites once again get on the hit list for doing the same thing they always do Babylon revolts against Assyria Elam helps Babylon as soon as the Assyrians take care of Babylon they come for the Elamites and this happens under the last
Starting point is 01:14:49 of the great Assyrian rulers Ashurbanipal Ashurbanipal who's a very long ruling guy and at the start of his reign the empire could not be at a higher place by the end of his reign
Starting point is 01:15:05 he's writing these woe is me tales what did I do to have the gods turn against me everything sucks but I'll die soon at least kinds of writings Assyria will go out of its fortunes to 1945
Starting point is 01:15:21 Berlin follow the Third Reich devastation never to rise again in a very short period of time and some have argued that part of the reason why is because of what they did to the people around them they destroyed
Starting point is 01:15:37 the other powers who might have acted as barriers against new rising ones whether the new rising ones are skithians and chimerians from the Eurasian steppe or whether they're an obscure tribal people known as the Meads who all of a sudden are really getting powerful and well led
Starting point is 01:15:53 who otherwise would have been dealing with the Elamites but the Elamites get smashed by Ashurbanipal in 646 BCE and the devastation is arguably mortal we already mentioned
Starting point is 01:16:11 a scene from the aftermath of the Elamite final solution when Ashurbanipal is lying on his couch with that woman there and then the severed head up on the pillar of the wall that's part of the aftermath of dealing with the Elamites this way
Starting point is 01:16:27 Ashurbanipal leads the great Assyrian army all the way it's a long way again to Susa devastates Elam as his scribe writing for himself recounts for a distance of one month
Starting point is 01:16:43 and 25 days march I devastated the districts of Elam I spread salt and thorn bush there to injure the soil sons of the kings sisters of the kings members of Elam's royal family young and old, prefix
Starting point is 01:16:59 governors, knights, artisans as many as there were inhabitants, male and female big and little, horses, mules asses, flocks and herds and a swarm of locusts I carried them off as booty to Assyria the dust of Susa
Starting point is 01:17:15 of Madaktu, of Haltermash and of the other cities I carried it off to Assyria in a month of days I subdued Elam in its whole extent the voice of man the steps of flocks and herds the happy shouts of mirth
Starting point is 01:17:31 I put an end to them in its fields which I left for the asses, the gazelles and all manner of wild beasts to people end quote the Assyrians were thorough they even removed
Starting point is 01:17:47 the bones of the old going back to ancient times Elamite rulers from their tombs and took them back to Assyria with the loot historian A.T. Olmsted says they put them in particularly awful spots so that they would
Starting point is 01:18:03 get no rest ever again in a foreign land and paying an eternal price for their enmity to Assyria that may have happened in the deep misty eras of the past I mean we said to you earlier that if the Elamites conquered
Starting point is 01:18:19 the United States they'd take the Statue of Liberty back as a prize of war to be displayed well the Assyrians wouldn't stop at the Statue of Liberty they'd steal our constitution they'd take the Washington Monument they'd snuff out the flame at these grave and take the bones
Starting point is 01:18:35 with them the Assyrians were sort of setting the bar for this region people like the Babylonians who come afterwards will be just as brutal like they're trying to imitate whatever the standard of the day is but the standard of the day is even today
Starting point is 01:18:51 I mean try making a movie out of it it's gonna be a cable one for sure I mean the story Olmsted tells of the parade is that a good word Ashurbanipal and his army arrive back home in Nineveh displaying the loot
Starting point is 01:19:07 and the prisoners and meeting out punishment by the way to all in Sundry is frightful first of all the head of that Elamite ruler that will be sitting up on Ashurbanipal's wall or what have you was transported from
Starting point is 01:19:23 Susa on foot around the neck of the Elamite general imagine how freaky that would have been to live through who did the walk in chain supposedly and then the various generals are brought out and punished
Starting point is 01:19:39 and there's a psychological twist to a Syrian punishment by the way that is part of kind of what the Persians will sort of do away with here's what A.T. Olmsted writes and I'm gonna try my best at some of the pronunciations of these Mesopotamian names they are wonderful
Starting point is 01:19:55 he writes quote Aplia son of Nabu Ushalom and grandson of the famous Meridoc Baladan was extradited from Elam Manu Kiyahi Danunu and Nabu Ushalom the Gambulu chieftains had spoken blasphemy against the
Starting point is 01:20:39 Assyrian gods and for this crime they had their tongues pulled out by the roots and were skinned alive the horrible scene is represented on one of the reliefs although strangely enough Olmsted writes the names have never been filled in the blanks left for the purpose Danunu was
Starting point is 01:20:55 placed on the rack and slaughtered like a lamb his brother Samgunu and Aplia were slain and their flesh distributed among the surrounding lands Nabu Naid and Belatyr sons of Nabu Shumarish were forced to crush the bones of their father and the head of the
Starting point is 01:21:11 Elamite king found its final resting place over the gate which led to Asher end quote Asher being a primary Assyrian city the forcing the sons to crush the bones of the father is one of those really psychologically horrible things
Starting point is 01:21:27 and you'll see this in other occasions the Babylonian king for example who supposedly once he took Jerusalem took the ruler the king and forced him to watch the slaughtering of his two young sons in front of his eyes and then had his eyes put out
Starting point is 01:21:43 so that the last thing he saw was that I mean those are the extra little cruelties that just seem calculated to subdue somebody's will to resist but you could easily see how it might have the opposite effect you could see how
Starting point is 01:21:59 a people coming after this time might be able to make all sorts of political hay selling themselves as the alternative to this kind of cruelty and you can also see why when Assyria
Starting point is 01:22:15 fell there were not a lot of tears cried for what was gone in fact you know even the biblical prophets are rejoicing as I was trying to come up with some sort of analogy to try to define the stakes
Starting point is 01:22:33 here with what's about to happen all I could think of in my uncreative mind was the idea of the United States over the next five or so years somehow you know with jaw dropping astonishing
Starting point is 01:22:49 events fell apart or imploded and broke into some kind of a civil war ended up getting involved in maybe a foreign war at the same time I mean you never know how these things are going to turn remember how you felt if you were old enough to remember what the 9-11 attacks
Starting point is 01:23:05 looked like on live television while you watched them there's almost nothing positive that comes out of something like that but one of the few things that was in my mind was as you watched it you were reminded that the most astonishing things not only can happen but will
Starting point is 01:23:23 happen they're like earthquakes you know there's going to be a big one you just don't know when you know there's going to be some massive jaw dropping historical event in the future you just don't know the date ahead of time like a 9-11 but when you watch that happening that astonishment is how mankind has felt
Starting point is 01:23:39 over and over and over again as you look back on it there's about to be an astonishing moment in this story it's not really a moment 5-15 years it just appears astonishing now but it's akin to the United States imploding
Starting point is 01:23:55 really I think it's more than the Soviet Union falling but a little less than the modern United States going away nonetheless if the United States did go away in the next 5 years what does the international situation look like then I mean what world instantly
Starting point is 01:24:11 springs up to replace such an important cog and how does that go this is actually the world that is going to exist as soon as this story that must be you know one of the great events in all human history but we don't know
Starting point is 01:24:27 because we don't have a Herodotus there to give it even with a bunch of lies and exaggerations and untruths that may have filtered in over the hundreds of years we don't have his version or anyone like him to explain it to us we lack the color Herodotus by the way promised he was going to tell
Starting point is 01:24:43 this story in one part of his histories and then never did or it didn't come down to us or something you have a few terse Babylonian sources and that's it in fact the stuff you thought you could count on like those wonderful Assyrian you know pronouncements by the king of kings
Starting point is 01:25:01 I went in there I planted thorn bushes I killed everybody that ends in like 89 BCE ominously and mysteriously all of a sudden what the heck's going on I love the different ways that historians try to describe this to one one historian says it was unclear what was happening
Starting point is 01:25:17 author Markeely explained the importance though of this period silence because he says quote and it is in the silence of those years that is written the fate of the Assyrian Empire end quote so the important stuff is happening we just don't
Starting point is 01:25:33 know much of what it is open to interpretation is how another historian put it but here's what basically goes on Asher Bonapal's reign at the end you start to see things fraying you begin to see places that were under Assyria's
Starting point is 01:25:49 control on the margins break free a lot of historians think that it's rather telling that all of a sudden you can have these schitian tribes riding roughshod now in areas where the Assyrians used to keep them out it must mean that they can't while no one is really paying a lot of attention
Starting point is 01:26:05 the Meads are beginning to fuse sort of and it's unclear how they did this with the Elamite civilization could have been peaceful could have been war like could have been diplomatic marriage but it's making both civilizations stronger
Starting point is 01:26:21 and Asher Bonapal dies and his sons go to war with each other now this is not uncommon in Assyrian royal succession but this is coming at a particularly bad time
Starting point is 01:26:37 because all of a sudden the Babylonians are resurgent again they've got a new dynasty they've got an army that is modeled it's a not as effective copy of the Assyrians the Assyrians copy the Babylonian civilization not quite as well as the Babylonian original
Starting point is 01:26:53 and the Babylonians copy the Assyrian military though it's not quite up to the original standards either but when you've been fighting one half of your army against the other which is what the Assyrians were doing in a civil war that's why they're so ruinous you know you have outside powers starting to
Starting point is 01:27:09 loom over you and what do you do with your army you divide it in half and fight it against each other worst possible thing that could happen and then the Babylonians starting in about 616 start sending out an army taking some of these border cities between Assyria
Starting point is 01:27:25 and Babylon and then the war heats up a little bit and they're fighting back and forth and the Assyrian army seems to be a shadow of its former self but you could see how strong it still is because they're holding their own against these Babylonians pushing them back sometimes chasing them back sometimes but it's all they
Starting point is 01:27:41 can handle and then in like 615 BCE the Medes jump in from the east and the north they start taking cities in the east the next year the Medes come forward
Starting point is 01:27:57 under their king Caxires and advances on you know one of the capitals Nineveh they can't take it because Nineveh is this massively fortified probably the most fortified city west of China in this whole human history up to this point
Starting point is 01:28:13 I mean just an incredible feat, a human marvel and it pushes these Medes sideways they just can't deal with it right now but unfortunately for the Assyrians if you can't go out there and defeat that Medean army they can do whatever they want
Starting point is 01:28:29 so they go sack in the air by city that's not as well defended it just happens to be Asher one of the great once upon a time Assyrian capitals vital connected to their religion and their god and moral and everything else it's a big deal
Starting point is 01:28:45 at the last minute the Babylonians run up to be a part of it this is a famous event they don't want to allow the Medes to take this important city by themselves be left out of the spoils the reputation everything but they arrive too late with their army the Medes have already sacked the place
Starting point is 01:29:01 maybe rushing the attempt so that they'd beat the Babylonians there they treat it the way the Assyrians would have treated it and it's a horrific event the Babylonian king and the Medean king pledged their friendship to each other as
Starting point is 01:29:17 Asher burns in the background and the killing continues and the slaves are being dragged off and all of a sudden a week into Syria has Babylon and the Medes working together
Starting point is 01:29:33 and advancing on Nineveh in 612 BCE if this wasn't bad enough at the last minutes allegedly not everybody says this but the standard belief is at the last minute a horde of skithians
Starting point is 01:29:49 rides in the wild northern horsemen and joins both the Medes and the Babylonians in this last assault upon this greatest of West Asian military fortresses and together they take it down
Starting point is 01:30:07 they had to fight three battles on the planes supposedly before they even got a chance to get near the walls with this last old aging damaged lion of Assyria swatting them away and fighting well as long as they could the Babylonian king
Starting point is 01:30:23 in the terse style that those people wrote in described what he did to what he calls the land of Subarum which is their word for Assyria and by the way notice how he's couching this in terms of liberation from the
Starting point is 01:30:39 Assyrian yoke the records say quote and you have a basic problem when discussing events of the past like this if we're discussing something from recent history say the end of the third Reich at the Second World War all that emotion is still
Starting point is 01:31:15 felt right you get a real feel for the kinds of things historians don't want to touch once you get back a certain distance some day they're not going to look at the Nazis as the kind of evil that we do they're going to somehow say well they were
Starting point is 01:31:31 on the far end of the spectrum of what people did then which is kind of what a lot of modern ones would say about Assyria they're not doing anything anybody else isn't doing they just may be at the far end of the spectrum of you know conduct
Starting point is 01:31:47 it's all kind of relative right but you could certainly see the anger and vengeance in the people that goes beyond mere you know the taking of loot and slaves and the things that have motivated soldiers sometimes in the heat of battle at all times
Starting point is 01:32:03 this involved some payback historian Mark Vandy Maroup explains that you can still see that vengeance today I mean there's an eternal bit of payback that was done he writes quote
Starting point is 01:32:47 for example only the face of a soldier cutting off the head of the king of Elam was similarly destroyed probably by the Medes who saw the Elamites as their ancestors likewise the records of loyalty oaths that king Isar Haddan had forced Medean bodyguards to swear
Starting point is 01:33:03 and which had been stored at Calhoun were smashed the palaces were burnt down only after the lengthy task of defacing images and destroying symbols of submission to Assyria had been completed end quote if you go to the British Museum
Starting point is 01:33:19 today and look at the Assyrian reliefs you can see you know the defacing done by some angry vengeful and probably rightfully so soldier as they took down Assyria piece by piece but stunningly quickly by historical
Starting point is 01:33:35 standards and while there may be no Herodotus to give color to this story there is one of the most I guess for military history fans one of the most colorful sections of the Old Testament of the Bible that deals with the fall
Starting point is 01:33:51 of Assyria and I'm sure Assyrian descendants and people who are big Assyrian fans think this is very unfair sort of propaganda again it's just their bad luck to get bad PR sometimes in the Bible and the Biblical prophet Nahum was
Starting point is 01:34:07 prophesizing supposedly that you're going to get it and then once they did get it he was sort of saying see this is what you get now what's kind of interesting about Nahum unlike some of these other prophets there's a decent chance he was a contemporary a lot of this stuff was put together in the Hellenistic period later
Starting point is 01:34:23 you know from earlier stories or all kinds of things dealing with that era but some of this goes back and it's tough to know and historians argue but it's possible that this prophet Nahum guy was maybe even a predecessor to some of these events so who knows you know I won't get into something like that
Starting point is 01:34:39 I just found it interesting because when he recounts what happens first of all he gives you the color and tells you a little bit about the story in a religious sort of framework still doesn't sound like Herodotus there's a religious tone to it but at the same time it's very colorful
Starting point is 01:34:55 so he describes for example what the battle is like after prophesizing that you're going to get it for a long time quote end quote then Nahum describes the unleashing of the rivers I guess the dams were broken
Starting point is 01:35:43 or they reroute the course of the rivers or what have you to help undermine the walls that's not that unusual a tactic but with a big city like this not a small engineering feat prophet Nahum says quote her handmaidens moan like doves
Starting point is 01:36:07 upon their breasts they are beating Nineveh was a tank of water from it they are now escaping stand stand they cry not one of them looks backward and then he basically tells everybody to take back the stuff that Assyria took from them
Starting point is 01:36:23 and that they're housing in this immensely wealthy city he says quote take ye the spoil of silver take ye the spoil of gold there is no end to the store an abundance of all goodly objects she is empty and void and waste hearts melt
Starting point is 01:36:39 knees shake there is pain in all loins and pale have waxed all the faces end quote then he does a little trash talk gloating you know where he says you know great lions now and all the people who took all this stuff
Starting point is 01:36:55 and then like again so many of the people during this era this was seen to involve you know a little proof that their God was superior or in the case of some of these people by this point in history the only God
Starting point is 01:37:11 and Nahum says quote behold I am against thee says Yahweh of hosts thy lair I will burn with smoke down the sword shall devour I will cut off thy prey from the earth no more be heard thy messenger's voices and he continues
Starting point is 01:37:27 to rub it in and basically blame this on karma if you will woe to the bloody city full of lies and robbery the crack of the whip and the thunder of the rumbling wheel the prancing horse and the bounding chariot
Starting point is 01:37:43 the horsemen mounting and the flash of sword the gleam of spear and a mass of slain a heap of corpses there are no end to the dead bodies for the many infidelities of the well-favored harlot the mistress of incantations who sold states for her wicked deeds
Starting point is 01:37:59 and clans through her incantations behold sayeth Yahweh of hosts I am against thee I will strip thee of thy clothing and show thy shame to the nations filth I will cast upon thee and disgrace thee I will set thee up as a warning
Starting point is 01:38:15 all who see thee shall flee shall cry desolate Nineveh who shall bewail her well listen they may not have a ton of dramatic stuff from the Near East during this time period
Starting point is 01:38:31 but that's awesome all history aside that's awesome stuff and it does give you a feel for the emotion of the time period we may think that it's all been drained but that's somebody who is clearly thinking that Assyria is reaping
Starting point is 01:38:47 what she sowed again I pity the poor Assyrian people who have to live with one piece of horrible PR making it down through the eras the most widely read book in history and near people get some negative PR in it the last Assyrian king is rumored
Starting point is 01:39:05 it's a good way to put it there's not enough information to know on this is rumored to have the enemy was closing in pile all of his worldly possessions that were in his palace around him and the gold and the silver and have family members killed and eunuchs
Starting point is 01:39:21 and concubines thrown on the pile of stuff with him and then have it all set alight with him sitting in the middle of it there's a scene like that in the Lord of the Rings too apparently in this time period it happened a few times probably it was a motif they certainly referred back to
Starting point is 01:39:37 for a short time an Assyrian successor state maybe you could call it maybe you could call it the last gasp of resistance tried to make a stand but by 605 that was destroyed too and the Assyrians will turn into a people
Starting point is 01:39:53 that never disappeared but whose destruction was so massive and so sustained and so total that they seem like they did you will hear Assyrians trying to tell the world still today they're still here
Starting point is 01:40:09 and try to fight that idea that every last one of them was killed in their version of a holocaust at the end of that era well it's not true but you could certainly say that within a very short period of time those massive top of their era
Starting point is 01:40:25 cities and fortresses were almost unrecognizable in a famous passage the Greek general Xenophon with his 10,000 Greeks fleeing a Persian civil war will get chased all the way through what's now northern Iraq
Starting point is 01:40:41 he will come upon these great massive cities by their standards of the day simply rotting in the dust deserted but the walls are so high
Starting point is 01:40:57 and the workmanship on the streets and everything so modern that he doesn't understand where it came from the locals don't know anything about Assyria they think the Medes built it in other words within 200 years these cities are lying in ruins
Starting point is 01:41:13 they're still larger than almost anything new being built at that time and nobody even remembers that they were Assyrian the account by Xenophon of these ghost cities by the way I've spoken about them before
Starting point is 01:41:29 it's the ultimate statue of liberty in the sand sort of historical moment you know what I mean when I say that right the end of the planet of the apes where Charlton Heston believes he's been on a distant planet the whole time in the very last scene in the movie he looks and in the distance
Starting point is 01:41:45 you know with the surf crashing against it he sees the statue of liberty three quarters buried in the sand if you could take an Assyrian individual from three, four, five hundred years before Xenophon lived
Starting point is 01:42:01 and bring him forward or her forward in a time machine so that she could hang out there you know by the ruins of Nineveh with Xenophon what would run through her head what would run through your head if you could go forward in a time machine and see
Starting point is 01:42:17 our ghost cities someday and I marvel at the size I mean 200 years later Xenophon says and he can't really lie there's a lot of people who know you know what Xenophon's talking about here and have seen it and could call him a liar
Starting point is 01:42:33 I mean he says the base of the fortification he's camping by is 50 feet broad and 50 feet high and then has a brick wall 50 feet broad and another hundred feet high on top of that and that the circumference
Starting point is 01:42:49 of the fortifications is 18 miles he says there are some people sort of little like refugees and small villages and you know semi-nomadic groups of people camping by but that city used to have hundreds of thousands maybe a million people
Starting point is 01:43:07 living there that's a ghost city from a dead era by the times Xenophon's there only a couple hundred years later and when a Syria falls it's like that moment we spoke about earlier what would happen if the United States disappeared
Starting point is 01:43:23 in 5 or 15 years what's the world then look like without that center spoke of the wagon wheel anymore it's hard even to think for people born in the last 20-30 years maybe of any other sort of reality
Starting point is 01:43:39 maybe that's the case for the people who live through it maybe they were blinking and just waking up to a new day it really does have sort of an end of the Second World War sort of feel like everything's been devastated and a whole bunch of people who had allied together for this common interest of taking down
Starting point is 01:43:55 the Assyrian Empire were now staring over the rubble wondering who gets what and all of a sudden like in 1946 you know Europe especially allies were turning into potential adversaries very quickly there were four
Starting point is 01:44:11 you know if we look at this as a encapsulated little micro world here geopolitically speaking which is how I look at these stories sorry for all you folks who'd like a little bit more culture or religion nonetheless in this geopolitical setup we really have four great powers
Starting point is 01:44:27 now you go from one hegemonic power Assyria to Babylon picking up a lot of Assyrian territory in this whole deal by the way you also have the Medes obviously doing the same thing you know moving into territory in the north
Starting point is 01:44:43 Assyria owned you have Egypt always a great power if they can be but not that long ago under Assyrian domination like everyone else they start moving towards the modern day area around Israel and in there
Starting point is 01:44:59 and they are a player and finally a fourth power called Lydia Lydia is the power that's now in modern day Turkey for the most part like everyone else they benefited from the Assyrians going away they were able to move and expand into other
Starting point is 01:45:15 areas they are generally credited with the ones inventing metal money at least in the western world and you will begin to see at least in the long term view of things
Starting point is 01:45:31 all sorts of conflicts breaking out now as all these new powers sort of vie with each other the Egyptians and the Babylonians for example will go at it you know several times trying to figure out you know is anybody going to conquer anybody where's the border going to be
Starting point is 01:45:47 and all that kind of stuff and a lot of the littler states just get totally screwed in this deal it's a little like the cold war where some states in the middle try to decide do I side with the Soviets or do I side with the western and then if you screw up all kinds of bad things can happen that's exactly what
Starting point is 01:46:03 happened to poor Judah that was sacked by the Babylonian king during this era for continually swaying sort of between the two powers that were vying for them Babylon on one side and Egypt on the other and finally exasperating
Starting point is 01:46:19 the Babylonian king you know to the breaking point there are Jews in Iraq today whose ancestors were a part of the Babylonian king you know taking them out of the city of Judah that he was just destroying
Starting point is 01:46:35 that's where by the way Solomon's temple was destroyed by the Babylonians again earning them bad PR in one of the most important PR books of all time the Medes will scare the Babylonians to the point
Starting point is 01:46:51 where the Babylonians will build something called the Median wall to hopefully slow them down and Xenophon saw that too about 150 years later it was a wall that supposedly ran across the narrowest part of the division between the
Starting point is 01:47:07 Tigris and Euphrates river so you'd have the river on two sides and then this wall in the middle and Xenophon says that 200 years later it was quote made of burnt bricks laid in bitumen it was 20 feet thick 100 feet high and said to be
Starting point is 01:47:23 60 miles long it is quite close to Babylon end quote again if he's lying about that there's a lot of people who would know that he was he'd have a reputation for that that would follow him unto our own time now the Medes
Starting point is 01:47:39 will famously go to war with the Lydians and this is when some of Herodotus is really Herodotus has a little bit of a horror story an Alfred Hitchcock side to him sometimes or maybe just the people
Starting point is 01:47:55 he talks to happen to because during this little period which would really only last like 40-45 years between the fall of the Assyrians and the rise of the Persians there's going to be incidents that are eerily similar and you start to wonder whether the guy telling you about them
Starting point is 01:48:11 or the people existing in this era have a certain weakness for that sort of incident in this case Herodotus says this is how the war with the Medes and the Lydians started there were some Scythians who were hunters for the Median king
Starting point is 01:48:27 that guy Syaxarys right and normally they'd bring back food but one time they show up Herodotus says empty-handed in front of Syaxarys who supposedly Herodotus says has this awful temper freaks out and starts abusing including
Starting point is 01:48:43 so physical abuse one must imagine him kicking maybe these Scythian archers now the Scythians were never known to have particularly non excitable temperaments shall we put it that way is that fair and Herodotus says
Starting point is 01:48:59 he went and in their anger killed one of the boys probably from the royal court that the Median king had sent to learn archery from these same Scythians wow they're great archers let's send some of the royal boys out there and they can learn how to shoot bows like an ancient
Starting point is 01:49:15 Eurasian step archer and they killed one of these boys Herodotus says and cut him up like the game that they normally give to the Median king showed up gave him the food watched him eat it haha it's like putting urine in someone's beer before you give it to
Starting point is 01:49:31 them the king finds out you know goes after them they run to Lydia and then the Median king says I want those Scythians who cut up that boy and made me eat him and Herodotus says that the king of Lydia said no can't have him
Starting point is 01:49:47 boom war now we'll run into Herodotus telling a similar story with an even greater psychological twist very soon after this nonetheless this war with the Medians and the Lydians are going for like five years Herodotus says and we'll
Starting point is 01:50:03 end with and we have a fact here we can play with something that's real we don't have to say he says she says this historian claims we've heard from Herodotus there is a solar eclipse that happens on May 28th 585 BCE
Starting point is 01:50:19 and at the time that solar eclipse happened which by the way Herodotus says a Greek predicted claiming it was the first time that had ever been done I'm sure the Babylonians probably hold off a few of those correctly who knows
Starting point is 01:50:35 modern astronomers of course have no problem going back and with precision calculating the date of that past astronomical event which is why we have a rare confirmable fact at this point in the story but when that eclipse happened
Starting point is 01:50:51 the Medians and the Lydians happened to be fighting a battle and Herodotus says as it was warming up as the battle was getting hot there goes the sun now if you are an ancient person with the religious
Starting point is 01:51:07 beliefs you must imagine many of these ancient people had there are few atheists in the ancient world and sometimes it can be very superstitious indeed as you might imagine now you're involved in a battle man killing man
Starting point is 01:51:23 both sides have almost certainly had sacrifices and the omens examined and they're looking at the liver and saying is this a good day to attack and all these kinds of things and then in the middle of the battle the sun goes out what are you going to think well as you might imagine
Starting point is 01:51:39 the Medians and the Lydians stopped fighting in the heat of the fighting they stopped fighting we're talking about thousands of people on each side and everybody just stops that's the way it's portrayed anyway but think about it this way
Starting point is 01:51:55 if an eclipse is really going to stop a battle it's going to happen fast because the eclipse doesn't last that long the peace was brokered we are told by another of the great powers Babylon and also the calichians involved maybe you would call them
Starting point is 01:52:11 a mid-sized power in that region regional power in that part of the world and the deal sealed we are told in the traditional way although the Greeks did it a little differently we're not told how both rulers slit their skin and sucked blood
Starting point is 01:52:27 from each other also you know gave daughters and what not in marriage that's the part I left out too of the deal when the Babylonians and the Medes you know signed that agreement probably the same way a little vampiric bloodsucking to go along
Starting point is 01:52:43 with it outside of Asher as they destroy that Assyrian city they also married off daughters to each other and I mean it was one of these things where all of a sudden the families are related as though that's really going to stop anything given the history nonetheless they did the exact same deal here got a few daughters
Starting point is 01:52:59 we can spread around got some blood we can suck and forever friends that battle is known as the battle of the Haley's river or the battle of the eclipse sometimes now one thing that it's worth pointing out
Starting point is 01:53:15 from this period because it's going to matter in the northwest and very west parts of modern day Turkey Anatolia as it was called earlier are settlements and villages and cities
Starting point is 01:53:31 of Greeks they're called Ionian Greeks but Greeks of one kind or another being such as seafaring people around that region had colonized that whole area a very long time ago and they had
Starting point is 01:53:47 relationships with the Greeks on the mainland where places like Athens are for example you got to imagine trade routes back and forth people going back and forth in fact the part of the Greek world that was located in modern day Turkey at this time was the more sophisticated
Starting point is 01:54:03 the more cultured the more learned the Greeks in Athens and Sparta might say the more effeminate the more corrupted the more lazy the more opulent you know connected to all that eastern opulence as they were see how that motif works nonetheless those
Starting point is 01:54:19 Greeks in Anatolia will become a big part of you know the problem because they are the part that links Asia back to the Greek mainland and the Greek mainland has an interest in how their shall we call them cousins
Starting point is 01:54:35 second cousins how they're doing at the time the battle of the eclipse figures out what's going on between the Lydians and the Medes those Greeks are for the most part subject to the Lydian king that's going to change
Starting point is 01:54:51 that's going to change for everybody what's about to happen in this region that will affect the Greeks and everyone else is every bit as shocking and unexpected as the fall of Assyria was and it's interesting that they will happen within a reasonably historically
Starting point is 01:55:07 speaking short period of time from each other you have to imagine that analogy we had of the United States disappearing in 5 to 15 years and what would the world look like after that well what if I told you that within you know another 20 or 30 years after that one country
Starting point is 01:55:23 that you'd never you know some out of the way place had taken over the entire planet that's how this analogy works when we start trying to realize that somehow this people call the Persians will first get their control over the Medes and how that even happens
Starting point is 01:55:39 I mean Risa Sargami the author has a great line when he points out that you know between the fall of the last great Assyrian monarch and the rise of Cyrus the Great there's no mention of these Persian people in any text in any politically significant way they are virtual nobodies
Starting point is 01:55:55 and within a generation they're running the show for everyone in this part of the world how did that happen judging from the overwhelming number of historians from ancient times all the way to the
Starting point is 01:56:11 you know the latest often contrarian writings the lion's share of the answer seems to have something to do with this incredible leader Cyrus the second also called as we said earlier Cyrus the Great
Starting point is 01:56:27 there are lots of stories by the way and some of them are fantastic one of Herodotus is best is one of the ones you know he tells about the rise of Cyrus but you have to remember something this person Cyrus the Great is to Persian and Iranian
Starting point is 01:56:43 history sort of what George Washington is to American history what King Arthur is to British legend I mean this is a legendary figure and because there's so little that talks about him during his rise to power historians are you know really thrust into the
Starting point is 01:56:59 detective role trying to figure out what it is you know is going on I like the way historian Pierre Brandt kind of tries to explain what sort of assumptions you should maybe build into this and I'm not a historian so he was writing as a historian trying to explain to a lay person like yours truly let's hope the lay
Starting point is 01:57:15 person understood but he kind of said listen if something appears to happen out of nowhere but it's unlikely that it could you should assume that there was stuff bubbling up under the surface you know a foundation taking place but that's hidden from our eyes through the historical veil
Starting point is 01:57:31 right so when a Cyrus the Great all of a sudden takes over the Median Empire and it looks like a lightning bolt strikes it's probably safe to assume things had been leading up to this somehow for a while for a long time one of the things historians like to suggest was percolating
Starting point is 01:57:47 you know beneath the scene that you couldn't see it was something like that I guess you could say maybe moral rot this is something that is you know part of earlier histories and because it's impossible to quantify I mean we could even ask these questions today is there any truth to the idea
Starting point is 01:58:03 and we have by the way that the older generations in tougher times are tougher than we are today if there is any truth to that could that have been true in the past how would a historian even measure that so they don't anymore writing in 1935 and I love him
Starting point is 01:58:19 but it was written in 1935 historian Will Durant tries to tie you know the downfall of the Meads to their moral degeneration and the fact that they were sort of Nouveau Riche he writes quote their degeneration was even more
Starting point is 01:58:35 rapid than their rise osteages who succeeded his father xiaxeries proved again that monarchy is a gamble in whose royal succession great wits and madness are nearly allied he inherited a kingdom with equanimity and settled down
Starting point is 01:58:51 to enjoy it under his example the nation forgot its stern morals and stoic ways wealth had come too suddenly to be wisely used the upper classes became the slaves of fashion and luxury the men wore embroidered trousers the women covered
Starting point is 01:59:07 themselves with cosmetics and jewelry the very horses were often comparison in gold these once simple and pastoral people who had been glad to be carried in rude wagons with wheels cut roughly out of the trunks of trees now rode in expensive chariots from feast
Starting point is 01:59:23 to feast end quote the truth is though that what Durant writes there in 1935 isn't a whole lot different from what the ancient Greeks saw the ancient Greeks sort of saw themselves as Marlboro men compared to these people from the east that were
Starting point is 01:59:39 at best sort of metro sexuals the Greeks like to point out the use of makeup as part of their idea that these easterners were effeminate writing hundreds of years later by the way Xenophon talks about osteologies the last king of the Meads and his guy
Starting point is 01:59:55 liner I guess you would call it today his stenciled eyes the rouge on his face and Xenophon who would have no way of knowing says a wig of fake hair now here's the thing though in the east these kinds of things were cultural norms
Starting point is 02:00:11 it wasn't a sign of effeminacy the pharaohs and the Egyptians had been using the dark coal around the eyes forever just a different cultural thing but the Greeks saw it as just another sign of these oriental effeminate opulent
Starting point is 02:00:27 weak clever sneaky you know fill in the blank easterners I will leave it to the credible historians to decide someday whether there's any truth to this motif about the Meads sort of slouching
Starting point is 02:00:43 towards Gomorrah or what have you most of the modern stuff I read today looks at that as a as a terribly old fashioned way to view the situation but as I said how do you quantify something like that anyway but if you follow that narrative the way a guy like Herodotus is taking it or a guy like Will Durant
Starting point is 02:00:59 writing in 1935 is taking it there's an almost opportunity created by the decadence of the Meads and the cruelty of their ruler right and that can be exploited by somebody who has the opposite values from the people that are busy slouching towards Gomorrah in other words
Starting point is 02:01:15 people that were less corrupted by luxury who were not as decadent who were more shall we say possessors of the old time virtues if you will and this gets us back to a secondary value that a guy like Herodotus has for us remember like I said he's like the color era the
Starting point is 02:01:31 first real screenwriter you know showrunner and you learn two things from a guy writing the way he writes in the way a lot of people after him write one you learn about these events he's trying to relate to you which may or may not be true and are probably a combination of the two right we learn about
Starting point is 02:01:47 you know the rise of Cyrus at least the story that this guy heard but at the same time you're having like a Vulcan mind meld with a 2500 year old basically alien mind a one way conversation
Starting point is 02:02:03 with a 2500 year old guy and when you read Herodotus I this you know I really wish I could speak the ancient Greek and read it and understand the little nuances so I could really hear this guy in his own
Starting point is 02:02:19 words as he meant every specific word but you're getting a chance to see you know what this guy from a completely different time period likes and dislikes his worldview what he thinks is good and what he thinks is bad
Starting point is 02:02:35 you know his view sort of on the supernatural and the gods his biases and his prejudices you're learning about he and his world when you read his stuff it's part of why you have to filter it so carefully because just like all of us his world
Starting point is 02:02:51 pollutes his worldview so that you know we don't get as non biased of you now as we might want but what Herodotus does in this story is kind of say that because osteogies was the way he was a Cyrus
Starting point is 02:03:07 arises on the scene modern day historians can't decide or argue over whether or not there was some war fought between the Medes and the Persians remember these are for the most part semi-tribal peoples probably at this time
Starting point is 02:03:23 they used to think they were more like states now no one sure maybe a combination of some cities with some pastoral people that were lied to it it's an interesting sort of hybrid and there might have been a lot of these kinds of societies around back then when they're transitioning from you know an old tribal world
Starting point is 02:03:39 to something more along the lines of a centralized bureaucratic state when you're in sort of a tweener zone if you will so either a war between these Medes and these Persians or the tribes that they controlled or sort of like as one historian describes it the Median
Starting point is 02:03:55 empire getting a change in management with maybe some Median nobles helping to rebel against this osteagies person and modern historians have some interesting understandable sort of common sense reasons why they might want to
Starting point is 02:04:11 the theory is that this osteagies guy is trying to convert the Medes into more of a typical centralized Mesopotamian government where the king is more bureaucratic and has a lot more authority it sounds like maybe he has to share a lot of
Starting point is 02:04:27 authority with these different tribal rulers and as you might imagine it's almost like a law of nature they're unlikely to like that this may have led some modern historians think to sort of an uprising an internal coup if you will and this Cyrus the second guy
Starting point is 02:04:43 might be the person who gets to lead this now as the greatest early screenwriter Herodotus has his own view of sort of what turns the tables on this now it's one of these stories that again maybe tells us more about
Starting point is 02:04:59 Herodotus and the audience he's trying to please but he must have heard this story somewhere this is a typical tale by the way of oriental cruelty but he's setting up something that actually seems to have happened in the story and trying to give you a reason why it happened
Starting point is 02:05:15 without having any real way of knowing other than these people he's talking to and he tells one of the most horrific stories in his writings but he tells it like Alfred Hitchcock or Wes Craven or someone like that we alluded to it earlier when we said
Starting point is 02:05:31 an earlier story you know those Skithians you know killed a boy and served it to the Median king and he didn't like that well in this story it's that same thing but with an extra twist I have several different versions of Herodotus but let me set this up
Starting point is 02:05:47 what happens in the story is it concerns this Osteagi's guy the son of Seaxerys and nowhere near his father in terms of greatness and kind of a jerk and that's the way he's portrayed and he has a dream and these dreams
Starting point is 02:06:03 you gotta love ancient history because they're always so wild Herodotus relates it by the way the dream has something to do with his daughter urinating over the whole world or something as I said gotta love the ancient history and he asked the Magi to interpret it and they say
Starting point is 02:06:19 not very good this daughter's gonna give birth to something or she's the seed of something that's maybe gonna overthrow you and so to play it safe Herodotus says he marries her off to some Persian you know maybe a great Persian guy but this is the Median Empire and no son of a Persian
Starting point is 02:06:35 is gonna be ruling the Median Empire so that's been taken care of but then about a year later Herodotus says he has another dream about his daughter who's about to give birth to her first child and in this dream he sees I think it's like vines coming out of her womb and then encompassing
Starting point is 02:06:51 the whole earth or something again akin to that and the Magi come in and interpret that and as you might imagine it's not good and it scares Ostiajis who thinks that she his daughter is going to give birth to a person who takes his throne so in a story that you see in other
Starting point is 02:07:07 tales in other words it's a pretty common motif with different twists Ostiajis calls in a general a guy named Harpigus who seems to be a historical figure and tells Harpigus to get rid of the baby
Starting point is 02:07:23 now Harpigus Herodotus says doesn't want to get rid of the baby just let me stop for a second in this story Herodotus is lovingly telling this story he knows what the colorful pieces are and he says Harpigus doesn't want to get rid of the baby
Starting point is 02:07:39 he doesn't want to kill the baby so he gives the job to a shepherd and gives the shepherd the baby and says get rid of the baby expose it you know out into the open and let it die and the shepherd doesn't want to get rid of the baby and it just so happens his wife is pregnant
Starting point is 02:07:55 and she gives birth at just this time to a stillborn child doesn't this sound like a bunch of old Grims fairy tales at this point so as you might imagine they take the stillborn child wrap it in the royal keep the live when they were supposed to kill and give the stillborn child back to Harpigus
Starting point is 02:08:11 to give to his boss the king and say see it was done fast forward like 13 years later or something like that and a boy is brought before this is the Herodotus story, Astiages because he's been whipping you know boys higher on the social standing scale than he
Starting point is 02:08:27 after a bunch of questioning it is determined and again this is the wonderfulness of the ancient mind meld you're having with Herodotus that basically Astiages can tell that this boy is a king it's like in your DNA you can tell the difference between blue bloods and non blue bloods by the way
Starting point is 02:08:43 they just handle situations and it's inbred besides that Astiages notices that the kid looks like him and after all he is his grandfather he calls in Harpigus then he calls in the shepherd he does a little investigation figures the whole story out and pretends he's
Starting point is 02:08:59 not mad tells Harpigus he's often felt I'm paraphrasing here from Herodotus but tells Harpigus he's often felt bad about the whole thing afterwards so he's secretly relieved that the whole thing went the way it did why don't you go home tell your wife we're going to have a banquet
Starting point is 02:09:15 to celebrate all this and you can come over and we'll highlight you at the banquet send your son over your 13 year old son so he can keep the new boy you know my grandson company and you know we'll have a party tonight and Herodotus says that Harpigus goes back home and he's relieved because he knows
Starting point is 02:09:31 he could have gotten in big trouble and the wife is happy and they go to this banquet and this is where Alfred Hitchcock Herodotus of Hala Karnassus takes the story over and again I keep telling myself I don't think Herodotus is making this stuff up somebody told him this
Starting point is 02:09:47 story this is what somebody somewhere believed now listen to this and try to imagine a story like this from the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the ancient Mesopotamians they just didn't write this way Herodotus's story
Starting point is 02:10:03 has the 13 year old son of Harpigus going to the palace as requested and then picks up the story and says this is from my discellant core translation by the way quote when Harpigus's son arrived at the palace Asdiagis had
Starting point is 02:10:19 him butchered cut up into joints and cooked roasting some boiling the rest and having the whole properly prepared for the table dinner time came and the guests assembled with Harpigus among them dishes of mutton were placed in front of Asdiagis and of everyone
Starting point is 02:10:35 else except Harpigus to Harpigus was served the flesh of his son all of it except for the head the hands and feet which had been put separately on a platter covered with a lid when Harpigus thought he had eaten as much as he wanted Asdiagis asked him if he'd enjoyed
Starting point is 02:10:51 his dinner he answered that he had enjoyed it very much indeed where upon those whose business it was to do so brought in the boy's head hands and feet in the covered dish stood by Harpigus's chair and told him to lift the lid and take what he fancied
Starting point is 02:11:07 Harpigus removed the cover and saw the fragments of his son's body as he kept control of himself and did not lose his head at the dreadful sight Asdiagis asked him if he knew what animal it was whose flesh he had just eaten I know my lord was Harpigus's reply and for my part
Starting point is 02:11:23 may the kings will be done he said no other word but took up what remained of the flesh and went home intending I suppose to bury all of it together and that was how Harpigus was punished If that had been in a Syrian record it would have said
Starting point is 02:11:39 something like his son I divided the pieces I fed to him I mean it would be a straightforward sort of thing you wouldn't have anybody setting up the suspense of having him eat and not know what it is and then having the platter brought in having the king ask the question do you know what you ate
Starting point is 02:11:55 did you like it and then the platters lifted up I mean those moments where you set up the tension and the drama it's a movie you could do that movie and change nothing it's living color
Starting point is 02:12:11 What's more Herodotus is clearly setting up these moments for his audience to do the equivalent of what we would do in a movie theater when some great scene on the screen happens that we're all really glad to see and you clap or something he's got these moments because when you make
Starting point is 02:12:27 Astiagis out to be such a jerk when he gets what's coming to him in the story it's a crowd pleaser and in this story of course he does and while it's tempting to think that the entire thing is just a great tale somebody's great tale maybe not Herodotus's initially there are definite
Starting point is 02:12:43 facts mixed in and you can see Herodotus trying to explain the reasons behind the facts today maybe a screenwriter would call it dramatic license because Babylonian records indicate that there was a general who corresponds
Starting point is 02:12:59 to this Harpagus guy and that that general was involved in a battlefield betrayal maybe you could say in a key battle Astiagis had a large part of his army
Starting point is 02:13:15 desert him on the battlefield and go to the other side it very well may have been this Harpagus person who led them to do that and Herodotus wants you to think that see he was a jerk
Starting point is 02:13:31 and now this is what he gets and who would think that you could trust a man whose son you had served to him for dinner with the entire army in the first place but nonetheless the moment when Harpagus and the Medes cross over to Cyrus' side of the battlefield must have been a crowd-pleasing and satisfying moment
Starting point is 02:13:47 for the audience right the jerk got what he deserved in the Babylonian records it's much more stark as you might imagine one of the texts from Babylon as quoted by Pierre Briond reads quote
Starting point is 02:14:03 Astiagis mobilized his army and he marched against Cyrus King of Anshan to conquer the army rebelled against Astiagis they handed him over to Cyrus Cyrus marched towards Ekbatina the royal city end quote
Starting point is 02:14:19 by 550 BCE or thereabouts Cyrus and the Persians were basically in control of the old Elamite territories and now had inherited control of the Median empire which was already
Starting point is 02:14:35 one of the great empires in this particular world stage it's kind of possible that the Lydian king for example that in three years Cyrus will be at war with doesn't even really have a key idea
Starting point is 02:14:51 who the Persians are I'm not sure but I mean judging from the sources this is quite the turnaround and as I said in 547 Cyrus and the new Persian empire is fighting those same people the Medes were fighting when that eclipse
Starting point is 02:15:07 caused everyone to think that maybe they shouldn't be fighting and it's a great story because the guy who runs the Lydian empire now at this time is a guy named Cresus and there's a saying about him you may have heard rich as Cresus and that's the stereotype of the Lydians at this time
Starting point is 02:15:23 as I said they're known as people who invented metal coinage don't know if that's really true or not but that's their reputation and it's attached to them because they're thought to be extremely wealthy and Cresus is supposed to have gone
Starting point is 02:15:39 to one of the famous oracles maybe the most famous oracle in the entire Greek world the oracle at Delphi which he may have been giving money to influence there was a whole big problem during this period where some questioned the reliability of these oracles
Starting point is 02:15:55 can you imagine because of them taking money to keep operating from people and Cresus was a rich and he gave money to everybody he's a little Donald Trumpish maybe you might say and asked the oracle you know now what would happen if I went to war
Starting point is 02:16:11 with the Persian Empire now little sidetrack here maybe only worthwhile for the betting people amongst you but if you went to an advisor in Las Vegas who gave you betting advice and you said
Starting point is 02:16:27 will the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl and the answer was if the Green Bay Packers play in the Super Bowl they will add to a great legacy do you bet Cresus was told by the oracle at Delphi
Starting point is 02:16:43 that if Cresus attacks the Persians he will destroy a great empire you could take that a number of different ways couldn't you you could say hey the Green Bay Packers are going to win or you could say listen if the Dallas Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers
Starting point is 02:16:59 they have added to a great championship legacy too it's just the Dallas Cowboys championship legacy when Cresus and the Lydians fight Cyrus and the Persians he loses he destroys a great empire
Starting point is 02:17:15 the one that invented metal coinage I would love to get into the kind of army that Cyrus had and what he used to accomplish this victory over the Lydians but you know the military system is not well understood anyway
Starting point is 02:17:31 and it was only in the 1980s that they started putting together realistic reconstructions of the army in the days that are much better known than this period I mean during the Greek and Persian wars or after against Alexander in this period it's all conjecture what the heck Cyrus was using I mean you can say
Starting point is 02:17:47 well he probably used this and it's logical to assume that but nobody knows when you read Herodotus he's always got some little stratagem in play that keeps you from having to know really what the army was doing and one of these big battles against Cresus you know the Persians were told
Starting point is 02:18:03 will take their baggage camels and take the baggage off of them and put them in front of the army so that when the Lydian horses who've never seen camels ride up to the front they'll be scared off by the camels I mean you know you get a victory in a battle just with that doesn't really help you know much about an army that must have been really
Starting point is 02:18:19 really good to do all these things Cyrus was doing with it he does look like a very bold commander from the sources I mean one of the things Herodotus talks about is this shall we call it a misunderstanding between Cresus and Cyrus after this big battle that
Starting point is 02:18:35 starts off the campaign and it's bloody and inconclusive and winter's coming so Cresus does what any ancient commander would have done during that period he went home went to the capital at Sardis this giant fortified city and dismissed his mercenaries and let most of the army go home
Starting point is 02:18:51 and told his allies in four months show up here and we'll deal with this emerging Persian threat his allies by the way included the great powers Babylonia and Egypt so maybe Cyrus was starting to be seen as the destabilizing force in that little
Starting point is 02:19:07 geopolitical ecosystem in that part of the world nonetheless Cyrus didn't disband the army he didn't go home for winter we're told pursued the Lydians right on their heels this is bald strategy and he forced another battle
Starting point is 02:19:23 and we're told it was after Cresus had already basically sent most of the people home the Persians win that battle I think that's the camel battle and then they face this monstrous fortification at Sardis the capital of Lydia that could easily hold out until all those allies show up in four months you would think
Starting point is 02:19:39 we're told it holds out for like 14 days and again we have another Herodotus story about a back path to the Citadel being found by a Persian who spies one of the guards hats falling off, helmets falling off and the guard retrieving it down some
Starting point is 02:19:55 path again you wouldn't know about what amazing siege engines maybe Cyrus had because we always have some little story that accounts for how one of the great fortified cities in this part of the world gets taken in 14 days nonetheless we also get
Starting point is 02:20:11 some accounts now of something we've spoken about about how the Persians took Darth Vader to the Greeks but they have something and you know you don't know if you want to call this propaganda or a sincere and clever and common sense
Starting point is 02:20:27 and realistic approach to things you could sort of take either way but shall we call it the tolerance bomb we're told Deodorosiculus especially mentions that Cyrus gave a deal to the Lydians before this whole thing started he said listen submit to me
Starting point is 02:20:43 and I'll leave you in charge of this whole area it's basically the same deal Xerxes offered the Spartans at Thermopylae come on let's make a deal put down those weapons and not only will you get to go home I'll put you in charge of all these people you'll benefit submit and profit
Starting point is 02:20:59 maybe you could call this combination of sort of Machiavelli in thinking with a sort of Gandhi like ethic that's going too far but I love the connection a realistic hard headed
Starting point is 02:21:15 knife in the back sort of diplomacy with tolerance and mercy and leniency as your weapon I'm going to knife you with leniency and you know you would have to suggest perhaps that there were two ways this lenient
Starting point is 02:21:31 idea could go either not work at all and then you see why the Assyrians had to be as harsh as they were or because the Assyrians were as harsh as they were and the Babylonians who followed after them the area was ripe for somebody who would
Starting point is 02:21:47 offer I mean if everybody was going to be under somebody's control wouldn't you want to go with the tolerant guy and remember we are grading on a curve here when we talk about tolerance the Persians could be every bit as atrocious as any other ancient people on occasion
Starting point is 02:22:03 it just seemed like once they took over there were a lot fewer of those occasions maybe the historians or some of them that I grew up with would say something like well that's because the Assyrians already broke all the troubles and people to the yoke of empire seems a bit far-fetched certainly you can say though
Starting point is 02:22:21 that the whole sort of mood and attitude was altered and you don't get any more of those really intimidating reliefs showing things like you know heads of your enemies staring up at you or horrible violence or the flying of live captives
Starting point is 02:22:37 and you don't get the writings where there's a boasting and a propaganda value where you're saying this is what will happen to you if you rebel against us Risa Sargami quotes the Rasam cylinder it's called and it's Ashurbanipal the last great king
Starting point is 02:22:53 of Assyria boasting of what he did to Babylon after his brother who he put on the throne of Babylon rebelled against him in 649 BCE first he besieged the people until they were cannibalistic and then picks up the narrative saying
Starting point is 02:23:09 quote in this way I placated the wrath of the gods who had become incensed by their ignominious deeds then Sargami picks up the narrative saying quote this grizzly passage related to events that transpired in Babylon precedes a brief description
Starting point is 02:23:53 of the restorative work that Ashurbanipal undertook in that city that the Assyrian king was unabashed about intertwining the account of his brutality and that of his clemency indicates that Mesopotamian royalty did not frown upon the infliction
Starting point is 02:24:09 of vicious reprisals against conquered populations this attitude enabled the Assyrian and Babylonian kings to base their policies largely on terror during the two centuries preceding Cyrus's rise to power the Assyrians and Babylonians had sacked nearly every major
Starting point is 02:24:25 near eastern capital and their preferred practices of population deportation and kidnapping sacred images had deeply traumatized the people of the ancient Near East end quote in other words if you had ever wanted to find a
Starting point is 02:24:41 winning military strategy this might be the time where mercy, tolerance, and being the cool conquerors really worked in your favor Cyrus is the one who initiates this idea that we're not going to impale everybody
Starting point is 02:24:59 and we're not going to flay them and we're not going to force them to convert to our religion you join us, pay your taxes I may have some representatives in a garrison in your city but life will be good this Persian deal was very seductive
Starting point is 02:25:17 now here's where the story begins to dovetail with what we've already talked about earlier the peoples that we spoke about these Greeks who were in Anatolia some of them spoke a language that was called Ionian
Starting point is 02:25:33 so they're often called Ionians but there were other types of Greeks there too Asiatic Greeks is a term that's sometimes used these people had been pang-tribute