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Literature: The Histories
"The Battle of Salamis" by Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1868)

"These are the inquiries of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, put forth so that the great and terrible deeds of Greeks and barbarians alike shall not be forgotten for all of time; and more importantly, to show how the two races came into conflict."

Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c. 484-425 BC) is the author of The Histories, an account of the rise of the Persian Empire and its conflicts with neighboring states and peoples, particularly the Greeks, culminating in Xerxes the Great's invasion of Greece and its defeat by an alliance of Greek city-states in 480-79 BC.

Herodotus is the main source on the Greco-Persian Wars, as well as one of the only surviving sources on many other matters. His book is what gives the word 'history' the sense of an account of the past. As such, Herodotus is often considered to be the Father of History.

Herodotus' Histories provide examples of:

  • Action Girl: Artemisia, who commands a small fleet in service of Persia so that her son doesn't have to.
  • The Alliance: Sparta and Athens form an improvised anti-Persia alliance with many other city-states.
  • Amazon Brigade: They say that some Amazons ended up in Scythian territory, eventually mating with Scythians to form the Sauromatai - who still have some Amazon customs regarding women.
  • Armor Is Useless: Inverted - armor is actually a decisive factor in battles, with Persians and Spartans being of equal bravery.
  • Battle Trophy: Herodotus describes how certain Scythian tribes gilded over the skulls of their dead enemies and used them as drinking cups.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Spargapises, son of Queen Tomyris of the Massagetai, kills himself as soon as he gets the chance.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Herodotus claims that natives of what is now the Kashmir region of India would collect gold dust from the anthills of giant ants in the morning, but would leave by noon because the ants would wake up and chase down their camels.
    • "Giant ants" might have been a mistranslation of "marmots": "ant" in Greek is "myrmex", and even nowadays the Minaro tribes collect gold dust excavated from the Himalayan marmots' burrows. Not that giant marmots are much more plausible, of course
  • But Thou Must: Xerxes and Artabanos try so very hard to resist the urge to invade Hellas (ancient Greece). But, a dream-spirit compels both of them.
  • The Caligula: Cambyses, son of Cyrus The Great comes across as this. Married his own sisters? Check. Flipped out and killed people all the time? Check. Bad at strategy? Check.
  • Cassandra Truth: Most of Xerxes' advisors tell him that the Hellenes are really stubborn and will fight to the bitter end no matter what - including Demaratos, a Spartan king-in-exile who would certainly have firsthand experience. Xerxes refuses to plan for such details until after he sees what Spartans can do.
    • Artemisia tells the rest of the Persians not to pursue a sea battle as it would be pointless, and a slow and steady pace should be followed for the rest of the war. Xerxes agrees with her, but decides to act in accordance with the majority opinion amongst his advisors instead.
    • Mardonios' advisors and Hellene allies tell him that he can break the anti-Persian alliance with bribery. But, Mardonios insists on doing things the hard way, resulting in the Battle of Plataea.
  • Costume Porn: Herodotus describes the uniforms worn by the different factions of the diverse Persian Army in great detail.
  • Darkest Hour: The Battle of Thermopylae was merely a speedbump to the Persian invasion force, and eventually Athens falls. According to Xerxes' casus belli, the war is actually won at this point. But then comes the Battle of Salamis and the Battle of Plataea.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship: Cyrus defeated Croesus and nearly burned him at the stake, but the gods had mercy on Croesus and spared him from such a fate. Thereafter, Cyrus and Croesus were friends.
  • The Eeyore: Solon believed that having good fortune and then dying immediately was happiness - and that simply not being alive was happiest of all - or so says Herodotus about him.
    • One of the Thracian tribes, the Trausians, mourn childbirth and celebrate death.
  • The Good Queen: Assyrian queens of Babylon are noted, each one contributing to economic and defensive projects.
  • Guile Hero: Themistokles, who uses carefully-chosen words and flat-Out lying to secure victory as much as he uses military means.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The Hellenes say that Herakles (Hercules) did a snake-woman, and one of her children was father of the Scythians.
  • History Marches On: Something Herdotus is prone to in his account of the Near Eastern empires. Examples:
    • Herodotus has Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops, the king who built the Great Pyramid) living at around 900 BC or so. Khufu actually lived around 2500 BC. Herodotus claims Khufu was a cruel tyrant but modern historical evidence suggests Khufu was well loved and his reign prosperous.
    • There was probably no "Median empire", not if the contemporary literary and archeological evidence is anything to go by. Medes, yes, but they were probably more like a patchwork of tribes and city-states that miiiight have been on the road to forming an empire.
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics: The Scythians harass the army of Darius in this manner, eventually forcing him to leave.
  • Hobbes Was Right: Those who support tyranny and monarchy state this frequently, especially Darius of Persia.
  • How We Got Here: Nearly once per page, starting with the very first lines of the book. Herodotus is therefore infamous for "digressions" (which may then have their own digressions), infuriating anyone looking for a linear narrative.
  • I Love the Dead: They say that an Egyptian embalmer once did a beautiful corpse, but was reported by his co-worker.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Medean emperor Astyages punished a disobedient member of his court, Harpagus, by killing Harpagus's thirteen-year-old son and secretly feeding it to him during a banquet.
    • Also, many northern tribes ate their dead.
  • Impostor Exposing Test: Smerdis son of Cyrus had normal ears, while Smerdis the Magi had his ears cut off. So, it's up to a royal concubine to bang Smerdis and check out his ears while he sleeps.
  • Insane Troll Logic: When Cambyses became aware that the Persian court generally regarded him as insane, he declared to his friend Prexaspes that, if he could kill the cup-bearer (who also happened to be Prexaspes' son) with an arrow through the heart, then he couldn't possibly be mad. After murdering the boy in front of his father, he had his servants cut the body open, and found that the arrow had indeed hit the heart. Apparently this was enough to convince Cambyses that he was completely sane.
  • Jerkass: Cambyses, who kills many Egyptians and crashes a big celebration just because he suspects that Egypt is celebrating a recent misfortune that he had.
  • Kissing Cousins: This is what Herodotus says. Leonidas and Gorgo were cousins, if one looks at their lineage.
  • Lady of War: Artemesia, who commanded a Persian warship in the Greco-Persian wars.
  • Merciful Minion: Astyages orders his subordinate Harpagus to kill his grandson Cyrus, who was destined to overthrow him, but Harpagus passed the job on to a shepherd, who spared the child. An interesting case in that Harpagus was mostly acting out of his own self interest. He didn't want to get in trouble with Astyages, but he also knew that when Astyages's daughter ascended to the throne, she'd want to punish the one responsible for killing her son.
  • The Mole: Zopyros son of Megabyzos, a Persian who gained the trust of the Babylonians only to turn the city over to Darius.
  • Never Found the Body: Or bodies, in this case. When Cambyses launched a military campaign against Nubia, he simultaneously sent a second army to conquer Libya. They got lost somewhere in the African desert, were never heard from again. The Libyans themselves claimed that no invading army ever reached them, and to this day the lost army of Cambyses remains something of a mystery.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: The Oracle of Delphi prophesied that a certain baby (Cypselus) would overthrow the ruling house of Corinth and become a tyrant. The ruling house of Corinth tried to have the baby killed, but failed.
    • Similarly, the attempts to kill infant Cyrus contributed to the rise of Cyrus.
  • No Ending: The book abruptly ends with some Persian intrigues after the war.
  • Noble Savage: The Scythians.
  • Perspective Flip: With respect to the Old Testament. In The Histories, the Persians are the Big Bads. In the Old Testament, the Persians (especially Darius) are considered heroes by the Jews, because they gave support to the Jews to go back to Israel and build a new temple.
  • Phantom Thief: An unnamed thief pulls quite a few tricks to plunder the treasure of King Rhampsinitos, remove evidence of his acts, and hook up with the king's daughter. The only reason why the secrets of any of his exploits were known was because the king pardoned him in order to hire him.
  • Prophecy Twist: Crœsus, the King of Lydia, is told by the Oracle of Delphi that if he attacks Persia, he will bring down a great empire. The great empire the Oracle is referring to is Crœsus's own empire, the Lydian empire, which falls to Persia after Crœsus attacks.
    • The prophecies leading Sparta to conquer Tegea also had a few twists.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Persians considered the Hellenes to be such:
"As a matter of fact, according to what I hear, the Hellenes are in the habit of starting wars without the slightest forethought, out of obstinacy and stupidity... What they ought to do, since they speak the same language and use heralds and messengers, is to thus put an end to their differences and employ means other than battles to become reconciled... Thus the Hellenes do not employ intelligent strategies..." - Mardonios
  • Rain of Arrows: Invoked by a Greek native of the region near Thermopylæ, who was trying to warn the Greek army about the multitude of their Persian enemies: "...when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by their multitude".note 
    • This warning is replied to with one of the great Badass Boasts in history:
    Dienekes: "Good. Then we will fight in the shade."
  • Realpolitik: For, although speeches are made concerning freedom and honor, they also appeal to the lust for glory, wealth, and power.
    • For instance, Xerxes had nothing against Hellas (Ancient Greece) until someone persistently convinced him to invade - and it was primarily that one advisor who stood to gain anything. Xerxes also had multiple chances to cancel the war, and even cancelled it verbally once, but was pushed on by the need to appear to be a strong king.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Inverted - Cambyses is mortally wounded from an accident and consequently confesses to one of his plots.
  • Regime Change: The Spartans are frequently involved in these throughout Hellas (ancient Greece).
  • Retcon: Helen of Sparta (more often known as Helen of Troy) visited a temple on the Nile Delta in Egypt after going off with Alexandrus - and this was only the latest in a long series of two factions taking each others' women. In fact, Herodotus says Helen never made it Troy, and thus the Trojan war was all for naught. After the war, Menelaus found her in Upper Egypt.
  • The Rival: Many city-states have such a rivalry that they choose sides in the Greco-Persian Wars just to spite some city-state on the other side.
  • Salt the Earth: The Scythians do this to deny Darius any supplies.
  • Science Marches On: Herodotus describes the world as flat.
    • Whether it was the Egyptians or the Phrygians who were the first humans, and the method by which this was ascertained.
    • The explanation for why Egyptians and Persians would have such differing thicknesses for their skulls. Nowadays, we would know this is because of nutrition, matching accounts of early Persians being relatively impoverished.
    • However, one story he relates is interesting. The Phoenecians claimed to have sailed around the tip of Africa, from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean, and they say the Sun was on their right side while passing the southernmost point. Herodotus dismisses the claim, but this is exactly what actually happens: the Sun is found in the northern sky in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Secret Path: Persia is able to break the stalemate at the Battle of Thermopylæ when Ephialtes of Trachis, a Greek, told them about a secret path around the pass.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: For, by rebellion against the oracles of the gods, mortal men only succeed in sealing their fates ever more strongly. Astyages trying to prevent the rising of Cyrus is a big example of this.
  • The Siege: When a city is actually prepared for one, they do take quite a while and require epic efforts to finally take the city.
  • Snake People: He relates a myth about the Scythian people being descended from a snake-woman and a human warrior.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: "...since the Athenians had come with two great gods, Persuasion and Necessity, the Andrians certainly had to give them money. To this the Andrians replied that it made sense for Athens to be great and prosperous, since she had the good fortune that came with useful gods; but the Andrians had come to a point of extreme deficiency in land, and they had two useless gods - Poverty and Helplessness - who apparently wished to remain on their island forever and refused to leave it."
  • Succession Crisis: Several. The most notable was after the death of Persian Emperor Cambyses, in which Darius and several of the Persian nobility deposed an usurper, Darius eventually becoming emperor.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Periander, the second tyrant of Corinth, killed his wife Melissa. Later, when Periander consulted her through an oracle of the dead, Melissa's ghost would not reveal the information he sought, but did reveal that "the oven was cold when he baked his loaves in it".
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: The tyrant Thrasybulus of Miletus cut off the tallest stalks of grain in a field when Periander of Corinth asked for advice about keeping people in line. This is probably the inspiration for Tarquin's trope naming actions.
  • A Taste of the Lash: When the pontoon bridge across the Strait of Hellespont, meant to carry the Persian army into Greece, is damaged in a storm, Xerxes has the strait lashed as punishment.
  • Toilet Humor: "...Amasis, who happened to be sitting on his horse at that moment, lifted himself from the saddle, broke wind, and told Patarbemis to take that message back to Apries."
  • Villainous Valor: Herodotus always gives credit where credit is due, and individual Greeks and Persians are both singled out for their bravery during the wars.
  • War Is Hell: "The one to blame is the god of the Hellenes; it is he who encouraged me to go to war. Otherwise, no one could be so foolish as to prefer war to peace..." So say the Lydians were the words of Croesus when he was captured by the Persians.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The Hellenic alliance against Persia is only held together by Sparta's reputation and the fact that Athens is the direct target of the invasion. There are many strains over who has command rights over which army or fleet, who was the most honorable, who contributed the most, etc. Whole city-states refuse to join in just because they won't have any share of the command rights, or because they don't think the current allotment of command rights is honorable.
  • We Have Reserves: Darius sends 7000 of his own troops into ambush and slaughter at the hands of Zopyros, to help Zopyros gain the trust of the Babylonians.
  • Wicked Stepmother: The Cyrenaeans say that King Etearchos of Axos, a city on Crete, had a daughter Phronime. Phronime's mother died, so Etearchos married another woman, who "assumed the right to play the role of stepmother. She abused and harassed the girl..." Apparently this trope was well-known even in the day of Herodotus.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: The Spartans at Thermopylae "would turn their backs and feign flight all together, and the barbarians, seeing this, would pursue them with much clatter and shouting; the Lacedaemonians [mostly Spartans] would allow the barbarians to catch up with them and then suddenly turn around to face them..."
  • Xanatos Gambit: Themistokles carves a message telling the Ionians to switch their allegiance from Persia to their fellow Hellenes, or at the very least fight like cowards. Either the Ionians would actually obey the message, or the Persians would distrust the Ionians, or both.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Oh so very much...
    • Croesus trying, and failing, to prevent his son's prophesied death.
    • After his Magi interpret a dream of Medean king Astyages to mean that his baby grandson Cyrus would overthrow him, Astyages gave Cyrus to a shepherd (indirectly) to be killed. The shepherd instead raised Cyrus as his own child, and the child went on to overthrow Astyages and became Cyrus the Great, the first emperor of Persia.
    • Although there is some lampshading in all the times the oracle gets bribed.
  • You Killed My Father: Lykophros refuses to have anything to do wth his father Periandros or the inheritance, for Periandros had killed his wife Melissa (Lykophros' mother).


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alternative title(s): The Histories; Herodotus; Histories; Herodotus
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