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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book III. - 10/24 -


in age and person. This brother, the chief of the household, with the general connivance of his sacerdotal caste, who were naturally anxious to restore the Median dynasty, suddenly declared to be the true Smerdis, and the impostor, admitted to possession of the palace, asserted his claim to the sovereign power. The consent of the magi-- the indifference of the people--the absence, not only of the king, but of the flower of the Persian race--and, above all, the tranquil possession of the imperial palace, conspired to favour the deceit. [39] Placed on the Persian throne, but concealing his person from the eyes of the multitude in the impenetrable pomp of an Oriental seraglio, the pseudo Smerdis had the audacity to despatch, among the heralds that proclaimed his accession, a messenger to the Egyptian army, demanding their allegiance. The envoy found Cambyses at Ecbatana in Syria. Neither cowardice nor sloth was the fault of that monarch; he sprang upon his horse, determined to march at once to Susa, when the sheath fell from his sword, and he received a mortal wound from the naked blade. Cambyses left no offspring, and the impostor, believed by the people to be the true son of Cyrus, issued, from the protecting and august obscurity of his palace, popular proclamations and beneficent edicts. Whatever his present fraud, whatever his previous career, this daring Mede was enabled to make his reign beloved and respected. After his death he was regretted by all but the Persians, who would not have received the virtues of a god as an excuse for the usurpation of a Mede. Known to the vast empire only by his munificence of spirit--by his repeal of tribute and service, the impostor permitted none to his presence who could have detected the secret. He never quitted his palace--the nobles were not invited to his banquets--the women in his seraglio were separated each from each--and it was only in profound darkness that the partners of his pleasures were admitted to his bed. The imposture is said by Herodotus to have been first discovered in the following manner:--the magian, according to the royal custom, had appropriated to himself the wives of Cambyses; one of these was the daughter of Otanes, a Persian noble whom the secluded habits of the pretended king filled with suspicion. For some offence, the magian had been formerly deprived of his ears by the order of Cyrus. Otanes communicated this fact, with his suspicions, to his daughter, and the next time she was a partaker of the royal couch, she took the occasion of his sleep to convince herself that the sovereign of the East was a branded and criminal impostor. The suspicions of Otanes verified, he entered, with six other nobles, into a conspiracy, which mainly owed its success to the resolution and energy of one among them, named Darius, who appears to have held a station of but moderate importance among the royal guard, though son of Hystaspes, governor of the province of Persis, and of the purest and loftiest blood of Persia. The conspirators penetrated the palace unsuspected--put the eunuchs who encountered them to death --and reached the chamber in which the usurper himself was seated with his brother. The impostors, though but imperfectly armed, defended themselves with valour; two of the conspirators were wounded, but the swords of the rest sufficed to consummate the work, and Darius himself gave the death-blow to one of the brothers.

This revolution was accompanied and stained by an indiscriminate massacre of the magi. Nor did the Persians, who bore to that Median tribe the usual hatred which conquerors feel to the wisest and noblest part of the conquered race, content themselves with a short-lived and single revenge. The memory of the imposture and the massacre was long perpetuated by a solemn festival, called "the slaughter of the Magi," or Magophonia, during which no magian was permitted to be seen abroad.

The result of this conspiracy threw into the hands of the seven nobles the succession to the Persian throne: the election fell upon Darius, the soul of the enterprise, and who was of that ancient and princely house of the Achaemenids, in which the Persians recognised the family of their ancestral kings. But the other conspirators had not struggled solely to exchange one despot for another. With a new monarchy arose a new oligarchy. Otanes was even exempted from allegiance to the monarch, and his posterity were distinguished by such exclusive honours and immunities, that Herodotus calls them the only Persian family which retained its liberty. The other conspirators probably made a kind of privileged council, since they claimed the right of access at all hours, unannounced, to the presence of the king--a privilege of the utmost value in Eastern forms of government--and their power was rendered permanent and solid by certain restrictions on marriage [40], which went to maintain a constant alliance between the royal family and their own. While the six conspirators rose to an oligarchy, the tribe of the Pasargadae-- the noblest of those sections into which the pure Persian family was divided--became an aristocracy to officer the army and adorn the court. But though the great body of the conquered Medes were kept in subject inferiority, yet the more sternly enforced from the Persian resentment at the late Median usurpation, Darius prudently conciliated the most powerful of that great class of his subjects by offices of dignity and command, and of all the tributary nations, the Medes ranked next to the Persians.

IV. With Darius, the Persian monarchy progressed to that great crisis in the civilization of those states founded by conquering Nomades, when, after rich possessions are seized, cities built, and settlements established, the unwieldy and enormous empire is divided into provinces, and satrap government reflects in every district the mingled despotism and subservience, pomp and insecurity, of the imperial court. Darius undoubtedly took the most efficient means in his power to cement his sway and organize his resources. For the better collection of tribute, twenty provinces were created, governed by twenty satraps. Hitherto no specific and regular tax had been levied, but the Persian kings had been contented with reluctant presents, or arbitrary extortions. Darius now imposed a limited and annual impost, amounting, according to the computation of Herodotus, to fourteen thousand five hundred and sixty talents, collected partially from Africa, principally from Asia [41]. The Persians, as the conquering and privileged race, were excluded from the general imposition, but paid their moderate contribution under the softer title of gratuity. The Colchians fixed their own burdens--the Ethiopians that bordered Egypt, with the inhabitants of the sacred town of Nyssa, rendered also tributary gratuities--while Arabia offered the homage of her frankincense, and India [42] of her gold. The empire of Darius was the more secure, in that it was contrary to its constitutional spirit to innovate on the interior organization of the distant provinces--they enjoyed their own national laws and institutions--they even retained their monarchs--they resigned nothing but their independence and their tribute. The duty of the satraps was as yet but civil and financial: they were responsible for the imposts, they executed the royal decrees. Their institution was outwardly designed but for the better collection of the revenue; but when from the ranks of the nobles Darius rose to the throne, he felt the advantage of creating subject principalities, calculated at once to remove and to content the more powerful and ambitious of his former equals. Save Darius himself, no monarch in the known world possessed the dominion or enjoyed the splendour accorded to these imperial viceroys. Babylon and Assyria fell to one--Media was not sufficient for another--nation was added to nation, and race to race, to form a province worthy the nomination of a representative of the great king. His pomp and state were such as befitted the viceroy over monarchs. A measure of silver, exceeding the Attic medimnus, was presented every day to the satrap of Babylon [43]. Eight hundred stallions and sixteen thousand mares were apportioned to his stables, and the tax of four Assyrian towns was to provide for the maintenance of his Indian dogs.

But under Darius, at least, these mighty officers were curbed and kept in awe by the periodical visits of the king himself, or his commissioners; while a broad road, from the western coast to the Persian capital--inns, that received the messengers, and couriers, that transmitted the commands of the king, brought the more distant provinces within the reach of ready intelligence and vigilant control. These latter improvements were well calculated to quicken the stagnant languor habitual to the overgrowth of eastern empire. Nor was the reign of Darius undistinguished by the cultivation of the more elegant arts--since to that period may be referred, if not the foundation, at least the embellishment and increase of Persepolis. The remains of the palace of Chil-Menar, ascribed by modern superstition to the architecture of genii, its graceful columns, its mighty masonry, its terrace-flights, its marble basins, its sculptured designs stamped with the unmistakeable emblems of the magian faith, sufficiently evince that the shepherd-soldiery of Cyrus had already learned to appreciate and employ the most elaborate arts of the subjugated Medes.

During this epoch, too, was founded a more regular military system, by the institution of conscriptions--while the subjection of the skilful sailors of Phoenicia, and of the great maritime cities of Asiatic Greece, brought to the Persian warfare the new arm of a numerous and experienced navy.

V. The reign of Darius is also remarkable for the influence which Grecian strangers began to assume in the Persian court--and the fatal and promiscuous admission of Grecian mercenaries into the Persian service. The manners of the Persians were naturally hospitable, and Darius possessed not only an affable temper, but an inquisitive mind. A Greek physician of Crotona, who succeeded in relieving the king from the effects of a painful accident which had baffled the Egyptian practitioners, esteemed the most skilful the court possessed, naturally rose into an important personage. His reputation was increased by a more difficult cure upon the person of Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, who, from the arms of her brother Cambyses, and those of the magian impostor, passed to the royal marriage-bed. And the physician, though desirous only of returning through some pretext to his own country, perhaps first inflamed the Persian king with the ill-starred wish of annexing Greece to his dominions. He despatched a commission with the physician himself, to report on the affairs of Greece. Many Hellenic adventurers were at that time scattered over the empire, some who had served with Cambyses, others who had sided with the Egyptians. Their valour recommended them to a valiant people, and their singular genius for intrigue took root in every soil. Syloson, a Greek of Samos, brother to Polycrates, the tyrant of that state, who, after a career of unexampled felicity and renown, fell a victim to the hostile treachery of Oretes, the satrap of Sardis, induced Darius to send over Otanes at the head of a Persian force to restore him to the principality of his murdered brother; and when, subsequently, in his Scythian expedition, Darius was an eyewitness of the brilliant civilization of Ionia, not only did Greece become to him more an object of ambition, but the Greeks of his respect. He sought, by a munificent and wise clemency, to attach them to his throne, and to colonize his territories with subjects valuable alike for their constitutional courage and national intelligence. Nor can we wonder at the esteem which a Hippias or a Demaratus found in the Persian councils, when, in addition to the general reputation of Greeks, they were invested with the dignity of princely rank--for, above all nations [44], the Persians most venerated the name and the attributes of a king; nor could their Oriental notions have accurately distinguished between a legitimate monarch and a Greek tyrant.

VI. In this reign, too, as the empire was concentrated, and a splendid court arose from the warrior camp of Cyrus and Cambyses, the noble elements of the pure Persian character grew confounded with the Median and Assyrian. As the Persians retreated from the manners of a nomad, they lost the distinction of a conquering people. Warriors became courtiers--the palace shrunk into the seraglio--eunuchs and favourites, queens [45], and above all queen-mothers, rose into pernicious and invisible influence. And while the Greeks, in their


Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book III. - 10/24

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