The Secret Strategic Plans of Darius the Great

The Secret Strategic Plans of Darius the Great

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To the north of the Persian Empire, around both sides of Caucasus Mountain, various Scythian (Palaeo-Slavian / Staroslavianskje) tribes lived. They were nomadic, i.e. not yet permanently settled in agricultural communities, whereas their neighbors had been settled into sedentary societies since Neolithic times (mainly in Mesopotamia). Thus Scythians, as well as Cimmerians in northeast Turkey, and others too such as Medeans (or even Persians themselves), along with the hunting activities, sacked and abducted of the wealth of their (mainly southern) neighbors, especially after Sumerian times.

Valuable Resources

This wealth was not negligible at all, since it included slaves, animal herds, agricultural products, various hand made goods (cloths, tools, saddles, jewelry), as well as young, beautiful women for reproduction and other “needs”. Besides the significant gains there were casualties, which were probably negligible for the invaders, since these were effectively balanced by the perspective of adventure and amusement.

Guerilla Attacks

The success of invasions was based upon sudden attacks of flexible “guerilla” bodies, composed almost exclusively by horsemen. These invasions were concentrated on regions that were scarcely guarded by comparatively few soldiers, distributed in various spots along the border. Such guards offered little more than the sensation of security to the permanent inhabitants and/or the ability to alert bigger armies, than that of real protection. Thus, while an effective army could be concentrated in order to pursue the invaders, the latter had already retreated into the vast territories they had covered in their rough and inhospitable path.

Scythian Horseman depicted on felt artifact, circa 300 BC.

Scythian Horseman depicted on felt artifact, circa 300 BC. ( Public Domain )

Therefore, to the imperial (Assyrian, etc.) courts, the corresponding casualties of farmers, besides a blow against their prestige, also translated into fewer taxes from the invaded regions. It was only natural for the regular army to pursue the invaders, being however aware in advance that no significant result would be achieved. Thus, it is probable that all of the matter was finally reduced into statistical calculations as, for example, how many taxes were lost during the invasions or whether it was convenient to employ more expenses and efforts for the preservation of more army.

Darius on the Move

Over time the invasions came more and more often, in relation also to how the Scythian populations were (even if slowly) growing. Taking into consideration the above, but also that the Persian Empire (as any other) either would expand or would start to shrink, the emperor Darius (550-486 BC) personally campaigned to the north of Danube River in 512 (most probably during summer), along with an unprecedented huge army.

Achaemenid Empire at its greatest extent under Darius I.

Achaemenid Empire at its greatest extent under Darius I. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

As the ‘father of history’, Herodotus writes, Darius, the “king of the kings” instructed the tyrants he had installed in the Ionian cities (Ephesus, Mellitus, Smyrna etc.) along with the skippers of the massive fleet, was to wait for his return for 60 days after he crossed the Danube, and only afterwards could they drive back to their homelands.

Because the Danube Scythians (also increasingly reinforced by more soldiers) applied the tactic of falling back and feinting, this forced the Persian army to pursue, exhausting them to the point of near annihilation.  Despite the Scythians’ goading, the imperial divisions were finally rescued by the Ionian fleet, since the tyrants had (most probably alerted by Darius) remained at Danube River. (Indeed the Ionians had enormous impact on the outcome a few years later at the battles at Marathon in 490 and Salamis in 480).

Darius I of Persia.

Darius I of Persia. ( Public Domain )

Calculating a middle daily travelling distance through the costal plans of approximately 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) (via what is now Romania, Ukraine and S. Russia), and considering that Darius crossed the “Quite Don” River, the imperial army must have had proceeded about 1000 km (621 miles) (arriving to the East of Stalingrad, probably what is today the Rostov area). However, the Persian army did not ever seem to engage the Scythians, and certainly never battled with the Scythian king. Herodotus writes that after skirmishes and battles (and with the Scythians constantly falling back) eventually they could no longer afford or be bothered to pursue the nomads any farther. Thus, by similar calculations it is deduced that Darius returned to the Danube River about 70 (or even 90) days after his departure.

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