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The Old and the Restless - The Egyptians and the Scythians in Herodotus' Histories by Robert J. Hagan

29 away, when you could

29 away, when you could do something different? For instance, if you think you have the ability to resist my power, then stop this aimless wandering, stay in one place and fight” (4.126). Darius clearly does not know what to make of these strange tactics that are characteristic of a culture that does not value personal territory or the idea of a town. 20 As well as sending divisions to attack foraging Persian troops (4.128), Idanthyrsus leads his men, with Darius in close pursuit, through the territories of the tribes that refused his alliance in order to draw them into fighting (4.125). The chaos that is stirred within these territories proves the Scythian plan to be correct, given that most of the non-allied tribes choose to flee north, just as the Scythians have done all along. The scene where Darius finally realizes his folly shows Herodotus at his narrative best. Finally drawn up in battle, the Scythians choose instead to chase after a hare, proving to Darius their contempt for the Persians and displaying their uncatchable nature (4.134). Herodotus sees the Scythians as an exemplar of sound military strategy. He makes no secret of his admiration for their tactics, writing, “Although in other respects I do not find the Scythians particularly admirable, they have come up with the cleverest solution I know of to the single most important matter in human life. The crucial thing they have discovered is how to prevent anyone who attacks them from escaping, and how to avoid being caught unless they want to be detected” (4.46). Indeed, the tactics of the Scythians are new and effective, and they demonstrate that the Persians can be defeated, even with inferior numbers, by evasion and surprise. 20 Hartog, F. The Mirror of Herodotus, 51.

30 As Francois Hartog has pointed out, Scythian strategy foreshadows the Greek experience in their war against Xerxes much later in the Histories 21 . After the Greek allies are overrun at Thermopylae, they struggle to decide their next course of action. Themistocles leads the evacuation of the Athenians from Attica onto the nearby island of Salamis instead of raising a defense of the city (8.41). The Athenians then lure the Persian navy into calamitous defeat in the straits of Salamis (8.86). Idanthyrsus’ leadership of the Scythians parallels that of Themistocles and the Athenians. Themistocles too leads a tactical retreat of his entire people, saving them from slavery and pillage. However, unlike the Scythians, the Athenians do have homes, which are destroyed after the Persians sack Athens. To make the analogy as strong as Hartog does would be overreaching, but Herodotus does implicitly form a tie between the cleverness of the Scythians under Idanthyrsus and the clever maneuvers of Themistocles. Age and Tactics The Scythians, being a “new race,” have a fresh outlook and do not hold to the many traditions of their more ancient neighbors. Herodotus depicts them as inventive and clever. The Egyptians have been around for a long time, but Herodotus shows that their long-cultivated wisdom does not necessarily aid them in fending off the Persian onslaught. Their venerable and trusted traditions actually work against them in the Battle of Pelusium. Egypt at the time of Persian ascension is characterized by its economic and artistic prosperity but also by its declining power in foreign affairs. The crushing loss against the Babylonians at Carchemish in 605 BC begins the dwindling of Egyptian influence over the 21 Hartog, F. The Mirror of Herodotus, 55.