DIE LEGENDE VON SCHIRAK, The Legend of Shirak, La Légende de Chirak, La leggenda di Shirak, Легенда о Ширак

The Legend of Shirak

The Legend of Shirak: An Epic of Courage, Honor, and Eternal Love

In the seventh century BC, the Scythian tribes dwelling to the east along the lower Syr Darya launched an assault on Mydia, which later became the foundation of the Persian Empire. These tribes were known as the Saka.

In 530 BC, Cyrus II’s forces suffered a defeat in a confrontation with the Massagets, led by Queen Tomaris. These defeats deeply humiliated the Persians, spurring Darius I’s resolve to launch a campaign against the Sakas in 520 BC to decisively quell the nomadic resistance.

Darius I assembled a massive army of 700,000 soldiers to confront the Sakas. This not only aimed at subjugating the Saka but also served broader strategic objectives. Conquering the Scythians would undermine the power of the Black Sea Scythians, potentially facilitating their submission to the Persians without the support of their eastern kin.

The conquest of the Scythians allowed Darius to exert control over the Black Sea region, paving the way for subsequent successful campaigns against the Greek city-states. This expansionist strategy aimed at consolidating Persian dominance over vast territories.

During this era, the land of the Sakas was marked by a lack of unified authority. Various Saka tribes vied for territory and grazing land, frequently engaging in conflict with one another. Within these tribes was a notable figure, Skunkha, whose son Shirak distinguished himself as one of the Sakas’ finest warriors. Despite his prowess in battle, Shirak yearned for a peaceful existence, preferring to shepherd flocks and revel in familial bliss.

However, tranquility eluded Shirak when his tribe fell victim to a surprise attack orchestrated by neighbouring Sakas, influenced by Dareus’s treachery. In the ensuing battle, Shirak’s wife perished, and he himself suffered grave injuries. Devastated by his loss, Shirak retreated deep into the steppe, where he laid his beloved to rest and mourned her passing for a span of seven days.

On the seventh day, standing beside his wife’s grave, Shirak made a solemn vow to avenge her death and confront the treachery of both the Sakas and the Persians, who had orchestrated the attack.

Upon returning to his tribe, Shirak found himself among the chiefs of the Sakas – Omar, Tamir, and Saqesfar – assembled for a council. Together, they deliberated on a defensive strategy against the impending Persian invasion. Shirak presented his bold plan, emphasizing the harsh reality of their situation. He proposed leading the Persians into the heart of a desolate, waterless desert, ensuring their demise. Shirak philosophized on the value of sacrifice, stating that a death in defense of homeland and people would be remembered by posterity. His only plea was for the welfare of his children.

In an act of extreme sacrifice, Shirak mutilated his own face, severing his ears and nose, before presenting himself at the Persian camp. When confronted by Darius, he claimed betrayal by his people and pointed to his disfigured appearance as evidence of their cruelty. He vowed to lead the Persians through hidden paths to the rear of the Scythian army, seeking vengeance for the scorn he endured.

Shirak’s plan succeeded, leading the Persians into a trap and ensuring the defeat of the Scythian army. Despite his act of betrayal, Shirak’s legacy endures as a symbol of selfless sacrifice and strategic brilliance. His tale is immortalized in the folklore and legends of Central Asia, a testament to the enduring power of courage and patriotism.

The Persians placed their trust in Shirak, who advised them to ration their food for just seven days. Guided by Shirak, they ventured into the arid desert, where many succumbed to thirst and scorching temperatures along the journey. Despite Shirak’s assurances of leading them to oases, the troops pressed deeper into the desert, finding no respite. In a desperate moment, Ranasbat, the Persian commander, aimed his sword at Shirak’s throat in an attempt to end his deception. With his final breath, Shirak declared, “This is victory!” before succumbing to the blade.

Retreating from the desert, the Persian forces suffered substantial casualties. Although King Darius I survived, he ordered Shirak to depart the land of the Sakas. While Darius would achieve numerous triumphs over other Asian and European peoples, the Sakas remained beyond the grasp of Persian conquest.

Shirak’s legacy of unwavering dedication to his people has endured across the ages, immortalized in the folklore and ballads of Central Asian cultures.

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