Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 4 The Persian Campaigns Against The Scythians Summary

Histories | Study Guide


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Histories | Book 4, The Persian Campaigns Against the Scythians | Summary



Darius marches to fight the Scythians. On his way, he erects a series of pillars marking his passage. He fights and defeats a people called the Getae, and adds them to his great army. Darius orders his army to cross the Danube River using a bridge. Confident in his success, he then orders the bridge to be destroyed. The commander of the Ionian Greeks, Histiaeus, who is part of Darius's army, cautions Darius to reconsider, arguing that it is an unwise move to cut off their line of retreat. Darius agrees and orders the Ionians to guard the bridge and await his return. The Ionians are to wait by the bridge for 60 days. If Darius has not returned by that time, they are free to destroy the bridge and return to their home country.

The Scythians hold a council to decide what action they should take in the face of Darius's invasion. They decide to raise armies but not fight the Persian armies directly. Instead, they lure Darius's army deeper and deeper into the country, trampling pasture and blocking up wells to deny resources to their Persian enemies as they retreat. With these and other tricks, the Scythians drain the Persians of the will to fight, and Darius is eventually convinced to march home. The Ionians have waited for over 60 days at this point. Scythians arrive and try to convince the Ionians to go home. The Ionians trick the Scythians by pretending to dismantle the bridge, and Darius is able to escape Scythia.


Histiaeus (d. 494/493 BCE), who will prove to be a major figure in ensuing events, is first introduced here. Although the Ionian Greeks are rebellious and have caused Darius trouble over the years, Histiaeus provides Darius good service by preserving the bridge. Darius's initial order to destroy the bridge behind him is a testament to his arrogant belief in Persian supremacy. As Histiaeus points out, destroying one's own line of retreat is an extremely reckless move. Darius's agreement with Histiaeus's plan and his command to wait 60 days for his return set up a drama that is resolved later in the section.

The Scythian strategy to defeat the Persians is masterful. It shows that the Scythians had better knowledge of themselves and their capabilities than Darius, who is blinded by his arrogance. Despite this, the tale is not a simple fable. Herodotus points out that the Scythian strategy of destroying wells and pastures suits them well on the retreat, but it also means they have difficulties pursuing the Persians when they flee.

The episode with Histiaeus and the bridge is concluded at the end of the section. Histiaeus has waited dutifully for 60 days, but he holds on a little longer, ensuring that Darius is able to escape. This dutiful service will be remembered by Darius, even after Histiaeus starts to aid his enemies later in the narrative.

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