Among my Cracked Histories, Tomyris and the Massegetae is one of my favorites. A version appears in the book listed below at the end of the piece. It can also be found in my blog Trenz Pruca’s Journal (https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/every-now-and-then-we-should-stop-what-we-are-doing-and-consider-tomyris-and-the-massengetae/)
I believe, it is worthwhile to occasionally contemplate Tomyris and the Massegetae, if not for its impact on history than for its elucidation of the ability of a determined woman to lead her country in a time of crisis.
Tomyris Queen of the Massegetae reigned over a semi-nomadic nation in South-central Asia at the time Cyrus the Great Emperor of Persia and ruler of just about every other place anyone had heard of, ravaged that part of the world. (This was about four or five hundred years before Jesus walked the earth preaching peace and unleashing, often in his name, 2000 years of bloodshed far beyond that which the world had experienced for the previous 4000 years.)
“One day, Cyrus marched his armies into the land of the Massegetae, an area he noticed he had forgotten to conquer. He exclaimed to his comrades in arms, “Hey here’s a place where I haven’t killed many people yet. Let’s have some fun.”
Tomyris’ son and about a third of the Massegetae troops rode out to meet Cyrus and his marauders. They were quickly defeated and Tomyris’ son (clearly not a chip off his mom’s block) taken prisoner. This was familiar stuff to Cyrus who whenever he wanted to kill some people usually was confronted by their young sons who shouted at him that they would fight back if he tries to kill them. He would kill them anyway and make the rest slaves. It was good being Cyrus.
So Cyrus walked or rode or however conquerers traveled back then, up to what passed for a wall surrounding what passed for a city to the nomadic Massegetae. With Tomyris son in tow, he strutted back and forth in front of those walls and shouted to Tomyris that she should surrender her town and country, such that it was.
Tomyris that tough old bird, climbed to the top of those walls, hiked up her skirt, stared down at the strutting Cyrus, and shouted back:
“Now listen to me and I will advise you for your good: give me back my son and get out of my country with your forces intact, and be content with your triumph over one-third of the Massegetae. If you refuse, I swear by the sun our master to give you more blood than you can drink, for all your gluttony.”
Thus, Tomyris Warrior Queen of the Massegetae responded to Cyrus the Great, Emperor of Persia, conqueror of the greatest empire of the ancient world and leader of the largest and most technologically advanced army of the time.
Cyrus refused Tomyris’ advice. So, she personally led the charge of her forces and destroyed his army. After her victory, she searched the battlefield herself until she found Cyrus’ body, then she cut off his head and thrust it into a wineskin full of blood and declared, “See now, I fulfil my threat. You have your fill of blood.” Later was reputed to have made his skull into her favorite goblet.
This leads me to conclude that one should never mess with a woman named Tomyris, or for that matter a Massegetae who some ancient historians believe became the Huns. (I heard that there is a biker gang in South Dakota named the Massegetae whose leader is a six-foot-six-inch transsexual named Tomyris.)
For those interested in learning more about the Massegetae, this is what the ancient Greek historian Herodotus had to say about them:
“In their dress and mode of living, the Massegetae resemble the Scythians. They fight both on horseback and on foot, neither method is strange to them: they use bows and lances, but their favorite weapon is the battle-axe. Their arms are all either of gold or brass. For their spear-points, and arrow-heads, and for their battle-axes, they make use of brass; for headgear, belts, and girdles, of gold. So too with the caparison of their horses, they give them breastplates of brass, but employ gold about the reins, the bit, and the cheek-plates. They use neither iron nor silver, having none in their country; but they have brass and gold in abundance.”
“The following are some of their customs; – Each man has but one wife[…]“yet all the wives are held in common; for this is a custom of the Massegetae and not of the Scythians, as the Greeks wrongly say. Human life does not come to its natural close with this people; but when a man grows very old, all his kinsfolk collect together and offer him up in sacrifice; offering at the same time some cattle also. After the sacrifice they boil the flesh and feast on it; and those who thus end their days are reckoned the happiest. If a man dies of disease they do not eat him, but bury him in the ground, bewailing his ill-fortune that he did not come to be sacrificed. They sow no grain but live on their herds, and on fish, of which there is great plenty in the Jaxartes. Milk is what they chiefly drink. The only god they worship is the sun, and to him they offer the horse in sacrifice; under the notion of giving to the swiftest of the gods the swiftest of all mortal creatures.”
I have a few concerns and questions about the Massegetae life-style: 1. How does one have one wife held in common? 2. How old do you have to be before they come for you and boil you up with a cow or two? 3. How pissed off with your lot in life would you be if you were forced to live on beef, fish, sour milk and a grandfather or grandmother now and then? Enough to want to go and beat the shit out of someone, I would imagine.”
Excerpt From: J. E, Petrillo. “Trenz Pruca’s Musings.” iBooks. ”