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The father of Cyrus is said to have been1 Cambyses, king of the Persians: this Cambyses belonged to the stock of the Persidae, and the Persidae derive their name from Perseus. His mother, it is generally agreed, was Mandane; and this Mandane was the daughter of Astyages, sometime king of the Medes. And even to this day the barbarians tell in story and in song that Cyrus was most handsome in person, most generous of heart, most devoted to learning, and most ambitious, so that he endured all sorts of labour and faced all sorts of danger for the sake of praise. [2]

Such then were the natural endowments, physical and spiritual, that he is reputed to have had; but he was educated in conformity with the laws of the Persians; and these laws appear in their care for the common weal not to start from the same point as they do in most states. For most states permit every one to train his own children just as he will, and the older people themselves to live as they please; and then they command them not to steal and not to rob, not to break into anybody's house, not to strike a person whom they have no right to strike, not to commit adultery, not to disobey an officer, and so forth; and if a man transgress anyone one of these laws, they punish him. [3] The Persian2 laws, however, begin at the beginning and take care that from the first their citizens shall not be of such a character as ever to desire anything improper or immoral; and the measures they take are as follows.

They have their so-called “Free Square,” where the royal palace and other government buildings are located. The hucksters with their wares, their cries, and their vulgarities are excluded from this and relegated to another part of the city, in order that their tumult may not intrude upon the orderly life of the cultured. [4] This square, enclosing the government buildings, is divided into four parts; one of these belongs to the boys, one to the youths, another to the men of mature years, and another to those who are past the age for military service. And the laws require them to come daily to their several quarters—the boys and the full-grown men at daybreak; but the elders may come at whatever time it suits each one's convenience, except that they must present themselves on certain specified days. But the youths pass the night also in light armour about the government buildings—all except those who are married; no inquiry is made for such, unless they be especially ordered in advance to be there, but it is not proper for them to be absent too often. [5]

Over each of these divisions there are twelve3 officers, for the Persians are divided into twelve tribes. To have charge of the boys, such are chosen from the ranks of the elders as seem likely to make out of the boys the best men; to have charge of the youths, such are chosen from the ranks of the mature men as seem most likely on their part to develop the youths best; to preside over the mature men, those are selected who seem most likely to fit them best to execute the orders and requirements of the highest authorities4; and of the elders also chiefs are selected who act as overseers to see that those of this class also do their duty. And what duties are assigned to each age to perform we shall now set forth, that it may be better understood what pains the Persians take that their citizens may prove to be the very best. [6]

The boys go to school and spend their time in5 learning justice; and they say that they go there for this purpose, just as in our country they say that they go to learn to read and write. And their officers spend the greater part of the day in deciding cases for them. For, as a matter of course, boys also prefer charges against one another, just as men do, of theft, robbery, assault, cheating, slander, and other things that naturally come up; and when they discover any one committing any of these crimes, they punish him, [7] and they punish also any one whom they find accusing another falsely. And they bring one another to trial also charged with an offence for which people hate one another most but go to law least, namely, that of ingratitude; and if they know that any one is able to return a favour and fails to do so, they punish him also severely. For they think that the ungrateful are likely to be most neglectful of their duty toward their gods, their parents, their country, and their friends; for it seems that shamelessness goes hand in hand with ingratitude; and it is that, we know, which leads the way to every moral wrong. [8]

They teach the boys self-control also; and it greatly conduces to their learning self-control that they see their elders also living temperately day by day. And they teach them likewise to obey the officers; and it greatly conduces to this also that they see their elders implicitly obeying their officers. And besides, they teach them self-restraint in eating and drinking; and it greatly conduces to this also that they see that their elders do not leave their post to satisfy their hunger until the officers dismiss them; and the same end is promoted by the fact that the boys do not eat with their mothers but with their teachers, from the time the officers so direct. Furthermore, they bring from home bread for their food, cress for a relish, and for drinking, if any one is thirsty, a cup to draw water from the river. Besides this, they learn to shoot and to throw the spear.

This, then, is what the boys do until they are sixteen or seventeen years of age, and after this they are promoted from the class of boys and enrolled among the young men. [9]

Now the young men in their turn live as follows:6 for ten years after they are promoted from the class of boys they pass the nights, as we said before, about the government buildings. This they do for the sake of guarding the city and of developing their powers of self-control; for this time of life, it seems, demands the most watchful care. And during the day, too, they put themselves at the disposal of the authorities, if they are needed for any service to the state. Whenever it is necessary, they all remain about the public buildings. But when the king goes out hunting, he takes out half the garrison; and this he does many times a month. Those who go must take bow and arrows and, in addition to the quiver, a sabre or bill7 in its scabbard; they carry along also a light shield and two spears, on to throw, the other to use in case of necessity in a hand-to-hand encounter. [10] They provide for such hunting out of the public treasury; and as the king is their leader in war, so he not only takes part in the hunt himself but sees to it that the others hunt, too. The state bears the expense of the hunting for the8 reason that the training it gives seems to be the best preparation for war itself. For it accustoms them to rise early in the morning and to endure both heat and cold, and it gives them practice in taking long tramps and runs, and they have to shoot or spear a wild beast whenever it comes in their way. And they must often whet their courage when one of the fierce beasts shows fight; for, of course, they must strike down the animal that comes to close quarters with them, and they must be on their guard against the one that threatens to attack them. In a word, it is not easy to find any quality required in war that is not required also in the chase. [11]

When they go out hunting they carry along a lunch,9 more in quantity than that of the boys, as is proper, but in other respects the same; but they would never think of lunching while they are busy with the chase. If, however, for some reason it is necessary to stay longer on account of the game or if for some other reason they wish to continue longer on the chase, then they make their dinner of this luncheon and hunt again on the following day until dinner time; and these two days they count as one, because they consume but one day's provisions. This they do to harden themselves, in order that, if ever it is necessary in war, they may be able to do the same. Those of this age have for relish the game that they kill; if they fail to kill any, then cresses. Now, if any one thinks that they do not enjoy eating, when they have only cresses with their bread, or that they do not enjoy drinking when they drink only water, let him remember how sweet barley bread and wheaten bread taste when one is hungry, and how sweet water is to drink when one is thirsty. [12]

The divisions remaining at home, in their turn, pass their time shooting with the bow and hurling the spear and practising all the other arts that they learned when they were boys, and they continually engage in contests of this kind with one another. And there are also public contests of this sort, for which prizes are offered; and whatever division has the greatest number of the most expert, the most manly, and the best disciplined young men, the citizens praise and honour not only its present chief officer but also the one who trained them when they were boys. And of the youths who remain behind, the authorities employ any that they may need, whether for garrison duty or for arresting criminals or for hunting down robbers, or for any other service that demands strength or dispatch.

Such, then, is the occupation of the youths. And when they have completed their ten years, they are promoted and enrolled in the class of the mature men. [13] And these, in turn, for twenty-five years10 after the time they are there enrolled, are occupied as follows. In the first place, like the youths, they are at the disposal of the authorities, if they are needed in the interest of the commonwealth in any service that requires men who have already attained discretion and are still strong in body. But if it is necessary to make a military expedition anywhere, those who have been thus educated take the field, no longer with bow and arrows, nor yet with spears, but with what are termed “weapons for close conflict”—a corselet about their breast, a round shield upon their left arm (such as Persians are represented with in art), and in their right hands a sabre or bill. From this division also all the magistrates are selected, except the teachers of the boys.

And when they have completed the five-and-twenty years, they are, as one would expect, somewhat more than fifty years of age; and then they come out and take their places among those who really are, as they are called, the “elders.” [14]

Now these elders, in their turn, no longer perform11 form military service outside their own country, but they remain at home and try all sorts of cases, both public and private. They try people indicted for capital offences also, and they elect all the officers. And if any one, either among the youths or among the mature men, fail in any one of the duties prescribed by law, the respective officers of that division, or any one else who will, may enter complaint, and the elders, when they have heard the case, expel the guilty party; and the one who has been expelled spends the rest of his life degraded and disfranchised. [15]

Now, that the whole constitutional policy12 of the Persians may be more clearly set forth, I will go back a little; for now, in the light of what has already been said, it can be given in a very few words. It is said that the Persians number about one hundred and twenty thousand men13; and no one of these is by law excluded from holding offices and positions of honour, but all the Persians may send their children to the common schools of justice. Still, only those do send them who are in a position to maintain their children without work; and those who are not so situated do not. And only to such as are educated by the public14 teachers is it permitted to pass their young manhood in the class of the youths, while to those who have not completed this course of training it is not so permitted. And only to such among the youths as complete the course required by law is it permitted to join the class of mature men and to fill offices and places of distinction, while those who do not finish their course among the young men are not promoted to the class of the mature men. And again, those who finish their course among the mature men without blame become members of the class of elders. So, we see, the elders are made up to those who have enjoyed all honour and distinction. This is the policy by the observance of which they think that their citizens may become the best. [16]

There remains even unto this day evidence of their moderate fare and of their working off by exercise what they eat: for even to the present time it is a breach of decorum for a Persian to spit or to blow his nose or to appear afflicted with flatulence; it is a breach of decorum also to be seen going apart either to make water or for anything else of that kind. And this would not be possible for them, if they did not lead an abstemious life and throw off the moisture by hard work, so that it passes off in some other way.

This, then, is what we have to say in regard to the Persians in general. Now, to fulfil the purpose with which our narrative was begun, we shall proceed to relate the history of Cyrus from his childhood on.

1 His parentage

2 The Persian system of education

3 Its organization

4 I.e., a Council of Elders, under the presidency of the king.

5 Its method and curriculum: A. Boys

6 B. Youths

7 The oriental bill was a tool or weapon with a curved blade, shorter than a sabre and corresponding very closely to the Spanish-American machete.

8 The chase a school for war

9 The Greeks ate but two meals a day: the first, ἄριστον, toward midday, the other, δεῖπνον, toward sun-down.

10 C. Mature men

11 D. Elders

12 The constitutional policy of Persia

13 This number is meant to include the nobility only, the so-called “peers” ὁμότιμοι, and not the total population of Persia.

14 Each class a prerequisite to the one above it

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  • Cross-references to this page (4):
    • Harper's, Persia
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), COMA
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter IV
    • Smith's Bio, Camby'ses
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