The romantic history of the Scythian queen Zarina, and the Median prince Stryangaeus is but little known, even among scholars: it is, nevertheless, too curious not the deserve a particular regard.
Reconstruction of a hat
Saka/Scyth - 5th c BC
Kurgan 3 of Khirovka (Bogdanovka) Kazakhstan
the Circumstances of this very ancient story are to be collected only from fragments of ancient historians. The principal, if not the only, soruce, is Ctesias, the Cnidian, who attended Cyrus, the son of Darius, in his expedition against his brother Artaxerxes, was taken prisoner by the Persian about 404 BC. And cultivated medicine and literature at the court of Artaxerxes for many years. He wrote copious histories of Persia and India, all of which are lost, except the substance of them contained in the cummary given by Photius, in Diodorus Siculus, Aelian, and one or two other authors. Diodorus has given a brief account of Queen Zarina; but fuller details are found in a fragment of the first book of the Universal History of Nicolaus Damascenus, the frien of Augustus and the preceptor of Herod the Great. The relics of this history have been published by Valesius and Orellius, from the extracts of Constantine Porphrogenetes. The queen is called by Nicolaus, Zarinaca, but his facts were probably drawn from Ctesias.
The authority of this ancient historian is questinoble. It is evident that he was relied upon by old writers, or at all events that his history was not considered fabulous. Modern authors, however, and Dr.Vincent amongst them, consider that his history is fable. Were we, indeed, to judge of his fidelity by what he has written of India, in the extracts which Photius has given, we should be tempted to teat him as a mere romancer....
... The scattered facts respecting the history of Queen Zarina have been brought together with great industry by M.Boivin, in a curious paper printed in the Memories de l'academie des inscription, & for 1736, in which he has illustrated the subject by a variety of historical notes. We shall select our facts from this paper, prefacing them with the following succinct account of Zarina, given by Diodorus.
"The Sacae were at this time ruled by a queen named Zarina, a woman of very warlike habits, who far excelled all the Sacian women in valour and in the administration of affairs. This people were remarkable for the masculine character of their women, who participated with the men the perils of war. In beauty, moreover, Zarina transcended all her contemporaries, as well as in wisdom and resolution. She subdued the neighbouring barbarians in battle, who had attacked the Sacae, and had endeavoured to reduce them to servitude. She extended cultivation over the country; she built many cities, and rendered her people much happier. Wherefore, on her death, they testified their grateful sense of the benefits she had conferred upon them by erecting a magnificent tomb, far more so than that of former princes, with a triangular pyramid at each angle, of which each side was three stadia in lenght, and the height was one stadium. A colossal statue (of gold according to some copies) was placed upon the summit of the tomb."
Amongst the Scythian tribes, women seem to have possessed an extraordinary degree of power in the direction of public affairs. The history of Tomyris, queen of the Massagetae, and her contest with Cyrus 529 BC, is well known. We find in the relics of Ctesias, given by Photius, an account of another queen of the Sacae, who seems to have almost realized a gynocracy. He says: "Ctesias relates that Cyrus made war on the Sacae, and took prisoner their king. Amorges, the husband of Queen Sparethra, who as soon as she heard that her husband was taken, collected an army, and advanced against Cyrus with three hundred men and two hundred thousand women, vanquished him, and took prisoners, with many others, Parmises the brother of Amyntius, and his three children. Whereupon Amorges was set at liberty in exchange for them."
The victory of Cyrus over this prince seems to have gained by a ruse, according to the account given by Strabo, who says, that Cyrus was defeated by the Sacae and obliged to fly; at some distance he left his tents standing, and all his baggage, giving the enemy, when they came up, reason to think he had deserted them; the Sacae finding abundance of provisions, and above all, wine in the camp, stupefied themselves with these good things, so that, on Cyrus coming suddenly upon them, they could make no resistance.
To proceed, however, to the history of Queen Zarina and her lover, in the memoir of M.Boivin, who prefaces his account by observing that "the subject seems expressly adapted for the theme of a tragedy. The chief personages are royal and heroes of antiquity. The example of a lover killing himself on receiving a refusal is a singular circumstance, as rare in fact as it is common in the lips of vulgar lovers. But especially the heroic sentiments of Queen Zarina, herself deeply in love, have something so admirable in them, that they might inspire not only philosophers but even Christians with envy. It is impossible to hear a Sacide princess - a Scythian - reason with so much good sense, understanding, refinement, and virtue, without beingashamed of ourselves, and of our weaknesses."
The event which we are to relate took place in the reign of Cyaxares, the king of the Medes, son and successor of Phraortes, who reigned between the years 634-594 BC. Previous to this period the Scythians had exerted a powerful sway in the East. Herodotus says that the Scythians, under their king Madyas, in expelling the Cimmerians, precipitated themselves in vast numbers into this part of Asia; that they wrested Media from Cyaxares, and were for twenty-eight years absolute masters of Asia, which they lost by their negligence and violence. Cyaxares became their tributary till the year 606 BC, when he recovered his kingdom. During his war with Zarina queen of the Sacae, which lasted two years, Cyaxares took into pay a troop of Scythian archers, who had been driven from their own country, and whom he employed in teaching the young Median nobles the use of the bow, and also in procuring him game for his table. Being angry with these archers because they did not provide him with venison on a certain day, they resented it by an act of cruelty upon one of the nobles, their disciples, and fled into Lydia, to Alyattes, which of Croesus, which occasioned a war between Cyaxares and Alyattes, which Cyaxares conducted in person, leaving the management of the campaing in Parthia against Zarina, to his son-in-law Stryangaeus.
Cyaxares, called also by Ctesias in Diodorus, Astybaras, and who is supposed by some to be the ahasuerus of Scrpiture, had one son, Astyages, who succeeded him, and two daughters, women of great beauty, and renowned for their understanding and various accomplishments. One of them, named Rheteae, he had given to Stryangeaus, one of the bravest, most handsome, and accomplished princes in the East. The other daughter was the celebrated Nitocris, who was eventually married to Nabuchodonosor the Great, according to Herodotus and Josephus.
The manner in which Cyaxares recovered his independence from the Scythians is related by Herodotus as follows. He prepared a sumptuous banquet, to which he invited the king of the Sacae and his principal nobles, who soon, as was their custom, became intoxicated, and were easily massacred. The kingdom of the Sacae, after the death of Marmares, the king, devolved to Zarina or Zarinaea, who was joined by the Parhians, these people having revolted against Cyaxares, and surrendered their capital and provinces to the queen of the Sacae. A war of two years, as before stated, took place, very sanguinary in its events.
The valour of the respective chieftains, the queen on the one side, and prince Stryangaeus on the other, inspired them with mutual esteem for each other; and being of different sexes, and their personal accomplishments se engaging, esteem changed into secret love, and whilst the two armies were furiously engaging each other, the commanders were cherishing a more delicate passion than glory, and as the French author expresses it, "it was a contest who should conquer in the heart as well as in the field."
In this extraordinary state of things, a decisive battle took place, and Stryangaeus, in a personal conflict with his mistress and antagonist, struck the queen from her horse. It appears that these warlike ladies fought on horseback in armour like men.
"The prince" says our gallant author, "was more afraid of dying than she was, and more ashamed of being the conqueror than she of being conquered. He gave the queen her life, at the same time that he implored his own from her eyes; and far from tearing her heart away, he offered her his own." The prince made other proffers of a less complimentary but of a more substantial kind. He offered peace, with every advantage the queen could desire, and the guarantee of all her possessions, excepting Parthia, which belonged to Cyaxares, and had been the sole occasion of the war. The terms were agreed to and the contest was at an end. Diodorus, who reports the result, contest himself with saying, that "the Parthians returned to the dominion of the Medes, and each party remained in possession of their former territory." M.Boivin expresses it thus: "with these conditions, a perpetual alliance was sworn between the Medes and the Sacae, and one more sincere still between their two chiefs."
On the conclusion of peace, entire confidence took place between the two lovers. The Median prince solicited permission to pay a visit to the queen in her capital, called Rhoxonace. Zarina, too happy at the request, invited him to come there with his whole army.
The queen set off for Rhoxonace in order to make preparations for the reception of her congueror and slave. Meantime the prince was bitterly regretting his lot in being the son-in-law of Cyaxares, which prevented him from offering an undivided heart to the queen of the Sacae.
Zarina advanced to meet the prince at some distance from the city. She made no scruple to reveal her love for him even in public. As soon as she perceived him, she descended from her carriage, and ran to meet him on foot, saluted him, kissed him on the cheek, and ascended the prince's car. She spoke to him with the utmost tenderness, complimenting him in the most polished terms on his heroism; and in this manner they entered the capital of the Sacae, the people lining the way wtih the loudest demonstrations of applause, till they reached the palace, where Stryangaeus was lodged in the handsomest apartment. The Median army was most hospitably treated.
When the prince retired, after the banquet which the queen had prepared for him, he found that he was mastered by his passion, and he imparted it to the most trusty eunuch of his suite, who advised him to reveal it to Zarina. He did so. She received him graciously. He hesitated for a long time, he sighed he changed colour, at length he grew bolder, and declared that he was dying for love of her. The reply of the queen is thus given by Nicolaus Damascenus:
"The queen refused him with great politeness, pointing out to him the disgrace and prejudice which such an act would occasion to her, and which would be even still more disgraceful and injurious to him, inasmuch as he was the husband of Rhetaea, the daughter of Astybaras (Cyaxares), who was reputed to be more beautiful not only than herself, but than other famous beauties. She told him that he must learn to contend with these mental enemies, as well as with those he met with in the field of battle; she desired him to converse on some other topic, and assured him that she would deny him nothing consistent with her own honour."
After she had thus spoken, the prince remained silent for some time. He then took his leave, with a kiss, and retired. But when he was alone, he found his passion more powerful than before. He became utterly dejected, lameting in sorrowful terms, in the presence of his faithful eunuch, his hard fate. At length he wrote a letter to Zarina, which he entrusted to the eunuch, with directions to carry it to the queen when he was dead, and before any one knew of the fact. The letter was as follows:
Stryangeaus to Zarina
"I saved your life, and am the cause of all the happiness you now enjoy; but uou, alas! have destroyed me: you have robbed me of the power of enjoyment. If you are justified in thus using me, may every good attend you, and may you live happily! But if not, if you ought not thus to have treated me, may you fall into the same misery as I have, for you it is who have inspired me with the resolution of doing what I am about to do! "
Having written this letter, he placed it under his pillow, and demanding his dagger, he - plunged it into his heart, it is presumed, for here, unfortunately, the manuscript of Porphyrogenetes ends.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus and John Tzetzes refer to this remarkable event, which both of them state they borrowed from Ctesias; but they add nothing to the aforegoing particulars. Dionysius says, very unromantically, that there was a certain Mede, named Stryaglicus, who, having struck a Sacide woman from her horse, observed she was very pretty and attractive, and grave her liberty. Afterwards, when peace was made, he fell in love with her, but being refused, he killed himself, having previously written a letter of reproach, saying, "I saved your life, and it is through me that you are living, yet it is through you that I am dead."
As to Zarina,although we are not informed of the effect which the prince's suicide had upon her, we know, from the passage already cited from Diodorus Siculus, that she continued to reign in great splendour over her Sacae.
The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India
Vol III , 1830
32 1 Since the earliest writers of history are at variance concerning the mighty empire of the Medes, we feel that it is incumbent upon those who would write the history of events with a love for truth to set forth side by side the different accounts of the historians.
2 Now Herodotus, who lived in the time of Xerxes, gives this account: After the Assyrians had ruled Asia for five hundred years they were conquered by the Medes, and thereafter no king arose for many generations to lay claim to supreme power, but the city-states, enjoying a regimen of their own, were administered in a democratic fashion; finally, however, after many years a man distinguished for his justice, named Cyaxares, was chosen king among the Medes.
3 He was the first to try to attach to himself the neighbouring peoples and became for the Medes the founder of their universal empire; and after him his descendants extended the kingdom by continually adding a great deal of the adjoining country, until the reign of Astyages worth was conquered by Cyrus and the Persians. We have for the present given only the most important of these events in summary and shall later give a detailed account of them one by one when we come to the periods in which they fall; for it was in the second year of the Seventeenth Olympiad, according to Herodotus, that Cyaxares was chosen king by the Medes.
4 Ctesias of Cnidus, on the other hand, lived during the time when Cyrus made his expedition against Artaxerxes his brother, and having been made prisoner and then retained by Artaxerxes because of his medical knowledge, he enjoyed a position of honour with him for seventeen years. Now Ctesias says that from the royal records, in which the Persians in accordance with a certain law of theirs kept an account of their ancient affairs, he carefully investigated the facts about each king, and when he had composed his history he published it to the Greeks.
5 This, then, is his account: After the destruction of the Assyrian Empire the Medes were the chief power in Asia under their king Arbaces, who conquered Sardanapallus, as has been told before.
6 And when he had reigned twenty-eight years his son Maudaces succeeded to the throne and reigned over Asia fifty years. After him Sosarmus ruled for thirty years, Artycas for fifty, the king known as Arbianes for twenty-two, and Artaeus for forty years.
33 1 During the reign of Artaeus a great war broke out between the Medes and the Cadusii, for the following reasons. Parsondes, a Persian, a man renowned for his valour and intelligence and every other virtue, was both a friend of the king's and the most influential of the members of the royal council.
2 Feeling himself aggrieved by the king in a certain decision, he fled with three thousand foot-soldiers and a thousand horsemen to the Cadusii, to one of whom, the most influential man in those parts, he had given his sister in marriage.
3 And now that he had become a rebel, he persuaded the entire people to vindicate their freedom and was chosen general because of his Severus. Then, learning that a great force was being gathered against him, he armed the whole nation of the Cadusii and pitched his camp before the passes leading into the country, having a force of no less than two hundred thousand men all told.
4 And although the king Artaeus advanced against him with eight hundred thousand soldiers, Parsondes defeated him in battle and slew more than fifty thousand of his followers, and drove the rest of the army out of the country of the Cadusii. And for this exploit he was so admired by the people of the land that he was chosen king, and he plundered Media without ceasing and laid waste every district of the country.
5 And after he had attained great fame and was about to die of old age, he called to his side his successor to the throne and required of him an oath that the Cadusii should never put an end to their enmity towards the Medes, adding that, if peace were ever made with them, it meant the destruction of his line and of the whole race of the Cadusii.
6 These, then, were the reasons why the Cadusii were always inveterate enemies of the Medes, and had never been subjected to the Median kings up to the time when Cyrus transferred the Empire of the Medes to the Persians.
34 1 After the death of Artaeus, Ctesias continues, Artynes ruled over the Medes for twenty-two years, and Astibaras for forty. During the reign of the latter the Parthians revolted from the Medes and entrusted both their country and their city to the hands of the Sacae.
2 This led to a war between the Sacae and the Medes, which lasted many years, and after no small number of battles and the loss of many lives on both sides, they finally agreed to peace on the following terms, that the Parthians should be subject to the Medes, but that both peoples should retain their former possessions and be friends and allies for ever.
3 At that time the Sacae were ruled by a woman named Zarina, who was devoted to warfare and was in daring and efficiency by far the foremost of the women of the Sacae. Now this people, in general, have courageous women who share with their husbands the dangers of war, but she, it is said, was the most conspicuous of them all for her beauty and remarkable as well in respect to both her designs and whatever she undertook.
4 For she subdued such of the neighbouring barbarian peoples as had become proud because of their boldness and were trying to enslave the people of the Sacae, and into much of her own realm she introduced civilized life, founded not a few cities, and, in a word, made the life of her people happier.
5 Consequently her countrymen after her death, in gratitude for her benefactions and in remembrance of her virtues, built her a tomb which was far the largest of any in their land; for they erected a triangular pyramid, making the length of each side three stades and the height one stade, and bringing it to a point at the top; and on the tomb they also placed a colossal gilded statue of her and accorded her the honours belonging to heroes, and all the other honours they bestowed upon her were more magnificent than those which had fallen to the lot of her ancestors.
6 When, Ctesias continues, Astibaras, the king of the Medes, died of old age in Ecbatana, his son Aspandas, whom the Greeks call Astyages, succeeded to the throne. And when he had been defeated by Cyrus the Persian, the kingdom passed to the Persians. Of them we shall give a detailed and exact account at the proper time.
7 Concerning the kingdoms of the Assyrians and of the Medes, and concerning the disagreement in the accounts of the historians, we consider that enough has been said; now we shall discuss India and then, in turn, recount the legends of that land.
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