16. An Ancient Persian King’s Attempt to Tame the Scythians
King Darius I assembled a huge army, and launched an invasion along the western Black Sea coast and into today’s southern Ukraine and Russia. The Scythians simply retreated into the vastness of the Steppe, took their families and herds with them, and avoided the decisive pitched battle sought by Darius. King Idanthyrsus laid waste the countryside, blocked wells and destroyed pastures, and all the while, his warriors attrited the invaders with skirmishes and hit and run attacks. A frustrated Darius challenged Idanthyrsus to stop his flight and fight, or admit his weakness, submit, and recognize the Persians as his lords. The Scythian’s response, as recorded by Herodutus, highlights just how difficult it was to bring turbulent nomads to heel and force them to fight if they did not want to.
Idanthyrsus replied to Darius: “This is my way, O Persian. I have never fled in fear from any man and I do not flee from you now … We have neither cities nor cultivated land for which we might be willing to fight with you, fearing that they might be taken or ravaged … As for lords, I recognize only my ancestors Zeus and Hestia … As to you calling yourself my lord, I tell thee to ‘Go weep’“. Darius had to give up and turn back, and his invasion amounted to little more than an expensive and fruitless demonstration. Scythians continued to raid the Persian Empire for centuries after until its destruction by Alexander the Great, and continued to raid the former Persian lands for centuries beyond that.