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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book II. - 10/26 -


in the time of his great-grandson Alyattes, a war of twelve years with that splendid colony was terminated by a solemn peace and a strict alliance. Meanwhile, the petty but warlike monarchy founded by Gyges had preserved the Asiatic Greeks from dangers yet more formidable than its own ambition. From a remote period, savage and ferocious tribes, among which are pre-eminent the Treres and Cimmerians, had often ravaged the inland plains--now for plunder, now for settlement. Magnesia had been entirely destroyed by the Treres--even Sardis, the capital of the Mermnadae, had been taken, save the citadel, by the Cimmerians. It was reserved for Alyattes to terminate these formidable irruptions, and Asia was finally delivered by his arms from a people in whom modern erudition has too fondly traced the ancestors of the Cymry, or ancient Britons [250]. To this enterprising and able king succeeded a yet more illustrious monarch, who ought to have found in his genius the fame he has derived from his misfortunes. At the age of thirty-five Croesus ascended the Lydian throne. Before associated in the government with his father, he had rendered himself distinguished in military service; and, wise, accomplished, but grasping and ambitious, this remarkable monarch now completed the designs of his predecessors. Commencing with Ephesus, he succeeded in rendering tributary every Grecian colony on the western coast of Asia; and, leaving to each state its previous institutions, he kept by moderation what he obtained by force.

Croesus was about to construct a fleet for the purpose of adding to his dominions the isles of the Aegaean, but is said to have been dissuaded from his purpose by a profound witticism of one of the seven wise men of Greece. "The islanders," said the sage, "are about to storm you in your capital of Sardis, with ten thousand cavalry."-- "Nothing could gratify me more," said the king, "than to see the islanders invading the Lydian continent with horsemen."--"Right," replied the wise man, "and it will give the islanders equal satisfaction to find the Lydians attacking them by a fleet. To revenge their disasters on the land, the Greeks desire nothing better than to meet you on the ocean." The answer enlightened the king, and, instead of fitting out his fleet, he entered into amicable alliance with the Ionians of the isles [251]. But his ambition was only thwarted in one direction to strike its roots in another; and he turned his invading arms against his neighbours on the continent, until he had progressively subdued nearly all the nations, save the Lycians and Cilicians, westward to the Halys. And thus rapidly and majestically rose from the scanty tribe and limited territory of the old Maeonians the monarchy of Asia Minor.

IX. The renown of Croesus established, his capital of Sardis became the resort of the wise and the adventurous, whether of Asia or of Greece. In many respects the Lydians so closely resembled the Greeks as to suggest the affinity which historical evidence scarcely suffices to permit us absolutely to affirm. The manners and the customs of either people did not greatly differ, save that with the Lydians, as still throughout the East, but little consideration was attached to women;--they were alike in their cultivation of the arts, and their respect for the oracles of religion--and Delphi, in especial, was inordinately enriched by the prodigal superstition of the Lydian kings.

The tradition which ascribes to the Lydians the invention of coined money is a proof of their commercial habits. The neighbouring Tmolus teemed with gold, which the waters of the Pactolus bore into the very streets of the city. Their industry was exercised in the manufacture of articles of luxury rather than those of necessity. Their purple garments.-their skill in the workmanship of metals--their marts for slaves and eunuchs--their export trade of unwrought gold--are sufficient evidence both of the extent and the character of their civilization. Yet the nature of the oriental government did not fail to operate injuriously on the more homely and useful directions of their energy. They appear never to have worked the gold-mines, whose particles were borne to them by the careless bounty of the Pactolus. Their early traditional colonies were wafted on Grecian vessels. The gorgeous presents with which they enriched the Hellenic temples seem to have been fabricated by Grecian art, and even the advantages of commerce they seem rather to have suffered than to have sought. But what a people so suddenly risen into splendour, governed by a wise prince, and stimulated perhaps to eventual liberty by the example of the European Greeks, ought to have become, it is impossible to conjecture; perhaps the Hellenes of the East.

At this period, however, of such power--and such promise, the fall of the Lydian empire was decreed. Far from the fertile fields and gorgeous capital of Lydia, amid steril mountains, inhabited by a simple and hardy race, rose the portentous star of the Persian Cyrus.

X. A victim to that luxury which confirms a free but destroys a despotic state, the vast foundations of the Assyrian empire were crumbling into decay, when a new monarchy, destined to become its successor, sprung up among one of its subject nations. Divided into various tribes, each dependant upon the Assyrian sceptre, was a warlike, wandering, and primitive race, known to us under the name of Medes. Deioces, a chief of one of the tribes, succeeded in uniting these scattered sections into a single people, built a city, and founded an independent throne. His son, Phraortes, reduced the Persians to his yoke--overran Asia--advanced to Nineveh--and ultimately perished in battle with a considerable portion of his army. Succeeded by his son Cyaxares, that monarch consummated the ambitious designs of his predecessors. He organized the miscellaneous hordes that compose an oriental army into efficient and formidable discipline, vanquished the Assyrians, and besieged Nineveh, when a mighty irruption of the Scythian hordes called his attention homeward. A defeat, which at one blow robbed this great king of the dominion of Asia, was ultimately recovered by a treacherous massacre of the Scythian leaders (B. C. 606). The Medes regained their power and prosecuted their conquests--Nineveh fell--and through the whole Assyrian realm, Babylon alone remained unsubjugated by the Mede. To this new-built and wide-spread empire succeeded Astyages, son of the fortunate Cyaxares. But it is the usual character of a conquering tribe to adopt the habits and be corrupted by the vices of the subdued nations among which the invaders settle; and the peaceful reign of Astyages sufficed to enervate that vigilant and warlike spirit in the victor race, by which alone the vast empires of the East can be preserved from their natural tendency to decay. The Persians, subdued by the grandsire of Astyages, seized the occasion to revolt. Among them rose up a native hero, the Gengis-khan of the ancient world. Through the fables which obscure his history we may be allowed to conjecture, that Cyrus, or Khosroo, was perhaps connected by blood with Astyages, and, more probably, that he was intrusted with command among the Persians by that weak and slothful monarch. Be that as it may, he succeeded in uniting under his banners a martial and uncorrupted population, overthrew the Median monarchy, and transferred to a dynasty, already worn out with premature old age, the vigorous and aspiring youth of a mountain race. Such was the formidable foe that now menaced the rising glories of the Lydian king.

XI. Croesus was allied by blood with the dethroned Astyages, and individual resentment at the overthrow of his relation co-operated with his anxious fears of the ambition of the victor. A less sagacious prince might easily have foreseen that the Persians would scarcely be secure in their new possessions, ere the wealth and domains of Lydia would tempt the restless cupidity of their chief. After much deliberation as to the course to be pursued, Croesus resorted for advice to the most celebrated oracles of Greece, and even to that of the Libyan Ammon. The answer he received from Delphi flattered, more fatally than the rest, the inclinations of the king. He was informed "that if he prosecuted a war with Persia a mighty empire would be overthrown, and he was advised to seek the alliance of the most powerful states of Greece." Overjoyed with a response to which his hopes gave but one interpretation, the king prodigalized fresh presents on the Delphians, and received from them in return, for his people and himself, the honour of priority above all other nations in consulting the oracle, a distinguished seat in the temple, and the right of the citizenship of Delphi. Once more the fated monarch sought the oracle, and demanded if his power should ever fail. Thus replied the Pythian: "When a mule shall sit enthroned over the Medes, fly, soft Lydian, across the pebbly waters of the Hermus." The ingenuity of Croesus could discover in this reply no reason for alarm, confident that a mule could never be the sovereign of the Medes. Thus animated, and led on, the son of Alyattes prepared to oppose, while it was yet time, the progress of the Persian arms. He collected all the force he could summon from his provinces--crossed the Halys--entered Cappadocia--devastated the surrounding country--destroyed several towns--and finally met on the plains of Pteria the Persian army. The victory was undecided; but Croesus, not satisfied with the force he led, which was inferior to that of Cyrus, returned to Sardis, despatched envoys for succour into Egypt and to Babylon, and disbanded, for the present, the disciplined mercenaries whom he had conducted into Cappadocia. But Cyrus was aware of the movements of the enemy, and by forced and rapid marches arrived at Sardis, and encamped before its walls. His army dismissed--his allies scarcely reached by his embassadors--Croesus yet showed himself equal to the peril of his fortune. His Lydians were among the most valiant of the Asiatic nations--dexterous in their national weapon, the spear, and renowned for the skill and prowess of their cavalry.

XII. In a wide plain, in the very neighbourhood of the royal Sardis, and watered "by the pebbly stream of the Hermus," the cavalry of Lydia met, and were routed by the force of Cyrus. The city was besieged and taken, and the wisest and wealthiest of the Eastern kings sunk thenceforth into a petty vassal, consigned as guest or prisoner to a Median city near Ecbatana [252]. The prophecy was fulfilled, and a mighty empire overthrown. [253]

The Grecian colonies of Asia, during the Lydian war, had resisted the overtures of Cyrus, and continued faithful to Croesus; they had now cause to dread the vengeance of the conqueror. The Ionians and Aeolians sent to demand the assistance of Lacedaemon, pledged equally with themselves to the Lydian cause. But the Spartans, yet more cautious than courageous, saw but little profit in so unequal an alliance. They peremptorily refused the offer of the colonists, but, after their departure, warily sent a vessel of fifty oars to watch the proceedings of Cyrus, and finally deputed Latrines, a Spartan of distinction, to inform the monarch of the Persian, Median, and Lydian empires, that any injury to the Grecian cities would be resented by the Spartans. Cyrus asked with polite astonishment of the Greeks about him, "Who these Spartans were?" and having ascertained as much as he could comprehend concerning their military force and their social habits, replied, "That men who had a large space in the middle of their city for the purpose of cheating one another, could not be to him an object of terror:" so little respect had the hardy warrior for the decent frauds of oratory and of trade. Meanwhile, he obligingly added, "that if he continued in health, their concern for the Ionian troubles might possibly be merged in the greatness of their own." Soon afterward Cyrus swept onwards in the prosecution of his vast designs, overrunning Assyria, and rushing through the channels of Euphrates into the palaces of Babylon, and the halls of the scriptural Belshazzar. His son, Cambyses, added the mystic Egypt to the vast conquests of Cyrus--and a stranger to the blood of the great victor, by means of superstitious accident or political intrigue, ascended the throne of Asia, known to European history under the name of Darius. The generals of Cyrus had reduced to the Persian yoke the Ionian colonies; the Isle of Samos (the first of the isles subjected) was afterward conquered by a satrap of Sardis, and Darius, who, impelled


Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book II. - 10/26

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