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Legend of Tomiris – Queen of the Massagets

Legend of Tomiris – Queen of the Massagets: An epic chapter in history

In the vastness of the Eurasian steppe, the legendary nomadic warriors of the Scythians once ruled – they included the Saka, Massagetae, Sarmatians and Scythians. For over a millennium, from the eighth century BC to the fourth century AD, they terrified the civilisations of the East and Europe, including Greece, Rome, Egypt and Persia. The eastern tribes included the Saka and Massagetae, who were indigenous to Central Asia.

In the sixth century BC, the first world empire of the Achaemenids was founded in Persia. After the unification of the lands of Mesopotamia by King Cyrus II, he began a more expansive policy. He originally planned a major conquest of Egypt. However, Cyrus recognised the challenges of such a campaign against a powerful empire that had been strengthened under the leadership of the pharaoh Amasis. He therefore decided to postpone the Egyptian campaign and instead secure the eastern borders of the empire, where the nomads of the Saka and Massagetae lived in the vast steppes.

These steppe tribes possessed remarkable military strength and were characterised by the unpredictability of their movements. This enabled them to invade the Central Asian territories conquered by the Persians at any time of year. In 530 BC, Cyrus the Great led his mighty army eastwards.

During their reign, the Massagetae ruled under the leadership of Queen Tomiris. She was the only daughter of Spargypis, the head of all the Massagetae peoples. When her father died, Tomiris inherited power over the tribes as his only child. Despite this succession, many tribal leaders were dissatisfied at being ruled by a woman and attempted to overthrow her rule.

Queen Tomiris fought tirelessly for her right to lead the Massagetae. Through her bravery, military prowess and unwavering devotion to her people, she proved her ability to guide the destiny of her people. Her life story is characterised by her unwavering determination to stand her ground against all odds and defend the traditions of her people.

There is a fascinating legend about Tomiris’ choice of husband, which provides a deep insight into the social and cultural practices of the Sakan tribes. During a period of war, Spargapis, a Sakan chieftain, asked his ally Tigrahaud Kawad for support against enemy tribes. As Kawad was also confronted with conflicts on his borders, he sent his son Rustam as a proxy.

When Rustam arrived at the fortress of the Massagetae, a competition arose between the bravest warriors for the hand of Tomiris, the chieftain’s daughter. The competition was to catch up with Tomiris in a horse race, and the winner would become her husband. As Tomiris was an outstanding rider within her tribe, only the most skilled warriors could hope to catch her.

Rustam, skilful and determined, eventually won the competition and secured Tomiris’ hand in marriage. This legend not only reveals the traditional practices of Sakan society, but also provides insight into the values, skills and character of the warriors and women of the time.

The historical events between Tomiris and Cyrus II involve a complex interplay of strategic manoeuvring and diplomatic intrigue. When Tomiris learnt of Cyrus II’s attack, she decided to order the Massagetans out of their camp and lead them into the vastness of the steppe.

Cyrus II, however, faced with the power of the Massagetans, decided to use a subtle ruse to gain control over them. He sent an emissary with a letter to Queen Tomiris, praising her beauty and intelligence and proposing that she become his wife. This move was intended to spare his people a bloody war.

However, the wise Tomiris recognised the Persian ruler’s true intentions: his real goal was not herself, but her kingdom. She resolutely rejected his offer, thereby thwarting his plans.

Initially, the campaign seemed to be successful for the Persians. The Massacrean cavalry, skilfully covering the advancing nomads in the steppe, avoided direct confrontation and retreated before the advancing Persian army. However, this was part of a sophisticated tactic to lure the enemy into the steppe.

Despite occasional skirmishes, the Massagetans always managed to successfully escape the Persian pursuit thanks to their skill and fast horses. In this way, the Persians finally reached Yaxart.

In this decisive battle, Cyrus decided to use a deceptive tactic that had a profound effect on the course of the conflict. Under his command, all the wounded and sick soldiers in the camp were poisoned while he himself lurked in ambush with the main forces.

The Massagetes, led by Tomiris’ son Spargapis, attacked the camp during the night, but without encountering any serious resistance, as they mistakenly believed that the Persians had fled. They then celebrated their supposed victory by drinking the wine the Persians had left behind, which had been poisoned.

As night fell and most of the Massagetes slept, the Persians launched a surprise attack that resulted in a devastating defeat for the Massagetes, wiping out almost the entire unit. Meanwhile, the son of Tomiris was captured.

After Queen Tomiris learnt of her son’s capture, she sent a messenger to Cyrus and demanded the release of her son. She argued that he had not been captured in a fair fight and should therefore be released.

Tomiris, the queen of the Massagetes, threatened the Persian ruler in no uncertain terms that if he refused, she would swear by the sun god, the ruler of the Massagetes, to give him blood, no matter how insatiable he was. Despite these threats, Cyrus refused Tomiris’ offer.

As a result, Spargapis, the son of Tomiris, committed suicide to prevent Cyrus from manipulating his mother for his own ends. These events marked a turning point in the relationship between the Persians and the Massagetae and in the history of ancient warfare.

Tomiris’ decision to attack the Persians came after the tragic loss of her son. A fierce battle broke out in the steppe, in which the Massagetes unleashed their unbridled strength and fury against the Persian army. It was in this battle that Cyrus II, the ruler of the Persian Empire, lost his life.

After defeating Cyrus, Tomiris ordered a wineskin to be filled with blood. With bold determination and resolve, she beheaded Cyrus and threw his head into the blood-filled hose, saying: “You wanted blood, so drink it in abundance!”

Tomiris’ triumph over Cyrus became a legend that has endured through the centuries. The Saka and Massagetae were able to successfully defend their borders against the Persians for a long time. Tomiris itself became a symbol of freedom and the indomitable strength of the armies of the Saka and Massagetae.

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