The Yellow Emperor

The Battle of Banquan took place sometime around 2500BCE, perhaps near modern day Yuncheng in Shanxi province. The battle was between the tribe led by the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) and the Flame Emperor (Yandi).

The Chinese mythical hero Shennong, whose name literally means Divine Farmer taught farming as well as knowledge of herbs to the people. Shennong is considered to be amongst the Three Sovereigns known for imparting essential knowledge to mankind. It is believed that Shennong was the first of the Yan Emperors. The lineage lasted for perhaps more than 500 years from Shennong to the last Yan Emperor.

Shennong eating herbs to identify their properties
Shennong eating herbs to identify their properties

Yellow Emperor or Huangdi improved the lot of nomadic people by imparting knowledge of building shelter, taming of wild animals (he apparently tamed six special beasts, bear, brown bear, pi and xiu (Pixiu), Chu and tiger), building of carts, boats etc. He is also credited with growing of five Chinese cereals though some sources credits Shennong with this. He also invented Chinese calendar, astronomy, musical instruments, math calculations and also helped invention of Chinese character writing system.

Huangdi - The Yellow Emperor

Huangdi – The Yellow Emperor

The Yan emperor led his tribe in a campaign to conquer the nearby tribes who promptly turned to the Yellow Emperor for protection. Three battles were fought, last of which was the Battle of Banquan which resulted in the defeat and murder of the Yan Emperor and unification of the two tribes under the Yellow (Huang) Emperor. The new tribe was known as Yan Huang. Descendants of Yan and Yellow Emperor is a term to denote the Han Chinese people. The confederation of tribes was known as Huaxia which is an ancient term to refer to the Chinese civilization.

The fame of the Yellow Emperor led to the conflict with the tribe of Nine Li under Chi You. Chi You was some sort of supernatural creature who some believe was descendant of the Yandi (Yan Emperor). He could have been leader of an allied tribe of the Yan Emperor. He had 81 fierce brothers which may mean 81 allied clans. The resulting battle between the Yellow Emperor and Chi You was the Battle of Zhuolu.

Chi You

Chi You

During the battle, Chi You brought forth a thick fog which resulted in initial losses to the Huaxia. The Yellow Emperor then invented a South Pointing Chariot that helped orient the troops to the correct direction and brought them out of the fog. The South Pointing Chariot was a non-magnetic contraption. The chariot is first set up pointing towards South and then each twist and turn of chariot triggers a gear mechanism that keeps the pointer towards south. Chi You then brought down and ferocious storm. Yellow Emperor called upon her daughter, Nuba, a drought demon who dispelled the storm. Chi You was slain by Yinglong, the winged dragon.

Due to his ferocity in battle, Chi You was revered as the God of War. The tribes that were united under Chi You were dispersed or assimilated into the Huaxia tribes. Many Far Eastern people including the Koreans consider Chi You as their ancestor.

The Yellow Emperor thus established the primacy of the Huaxia tribe and laid the foundation of the Han Chinese civilization.

Cyrus The Great

As we have seen , many of the emperors of the land of Sumer and Akkad crowned themselves the King of the Four Corners of the world. None deserved this title more than Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire, the  First Persian Empire. His empire stretched from Hellespont in the Dardanelles, to the Israeli coast of Mediterranean Sea to the Azerbaijani, Iranian and Turkmen coast of the Caspian Sea, all the way up to include modern day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and to the east Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cyrus was perhaps the most honorable emperor in history.

Cyrus The Great
Cyrus The Great
Standard of Cyrus The Great
Standard of Cyrus The Great

 

The founder of the Achaemenid dynasty was purported to be Achaemenes, a shadowy figure which some historians believe to be a product of Darius’s imagination, created to give legitimacy to his rule. Achaemenes had a son Teispes, who captured the Anshan and enlarged his kingdom to include Pars proper. Teispes had a son Cyrus I who inherited the throne of Anshan. Teispes had another son Ariaramnes who was ancestor of Darius the Great.

We have already seen the rise of Cyrus. We will now look at how Cyrus conquered his way to create the greatest empire of his time.

Croesus was the king of Lydia in Asia Minor during the early half of sixth century BCE. Croesus was known in the early Greece for his legendary wealth – As wealthy as Croesus. Due to various events in his life, he became a more mythical figure in classical antiquity. Once Solon, a Greek philosopher and statesman, had an audience with Croesus. Croesus showed him his wealth and opulence and asked him “Which man is happy?”. Solon replies that there are three who are happier than Croesus: Tellus, who had children and grandchildren and who died old, gloriously fighting for his country; Brothers Kleobus and Biton, who pulled the oxcart containing their mother who wanted to attend the festival of Hera. Pleased by their devotion, their mother prayed to Hera to give her children the best gift the Gods can give to a Mortal. Hera gave them immortality, figuratively, by letting them die peacefully in their sleep during the festival, thus ensuring that they would be remembered as heroes and their fame would live on, giving them immortality. Croesus was obviously not satisfied with the answer that Solon gave. Tyche (Fate) had other things in mind for Croesus. Croesus gave refuge to a Phyrgian prince, Adrastus. Adrastus was the son of Gordias (Of Gordian knot fame) and had killed his brother in a fit of rage. Croesus had a vision that his son, Atys, would fall victim to an iron spear and had prevented him from participating in any war and had married him off early to continue the line. Atys convinced Croesus to let him go on a boar hunt. Since the boar would not obviously carry a spear, Croesus let him go. During the hunt Adrastus tried to spear the boar but missed and killed Atys instead. Adrastus begged Croesus to let him be killed ritually as a penance which Croesus refused. Unwilling to live with the blood of another innocent on his hand, Adrastus committed suicide.

Now this Croesus looked at the rise of Cyrus and was in two minds whether to accept the sovereignty of Cyrus or oppose him. He asked the Delphic Oracles whether he should attack Cyrus. The Oracles replied that if Croesus crosses River Halys (The treaty boundary of Lydia and Media), he would destroy a great empire. The answer was clear enough for Croesus. He made an alliance with the Nabonidus, the Chaldean of Babylon, Spartans and Egyptians and attacked and captured the Median city of Pteria. Persians tried to incite revolt in Lydia using the Ionian Greeks, which failed. Cyrus then marched on to the city Pteria. The resulting battle was a stalemate and Croesus retreated to his capital of Sardis. In those times, armies withdrew during the Winter months and reformed for attack in the spring. Cyrus, however wanted to give Croesus a surprise party and marched on to Sardis.

North of Sardis, near Thymra, the two armies met. As an aside, Thymra was the location of a famous temple to Apollo where Achilles murdered Troilus, whom fate had linked with the city of Troy, thus foreshadowing the fall of Troy. Thymra was also the temple where Cassandra had received her prophetic visions. If you have seen the movie Troy, this was the temple on the beach where Brad Pitt’s Achilles cuts of the head of statue of Apollo and captures Cassandra.

Cyrus’s army was outnumbered 2:1 in the battle with his ~200,000 strong army facing ~420,000 Lydian alliance troops. Cyrus had maintained his army in a loose square formation with the strong camel and cavalry in the rear with he leading the right rear cavalry. The square contained the Phalanx, archers, slingers and archer towers and perhaps the Persian Immortals as well. Chariots were front and center. Croesus on the other hand had his Egyptian infantry in the center and elite cavalry on the flanks. The chariots were facing the Persian chariots.

Battle of Thymbra
Battle of Thymbra

Croesus attacked with the chariots and his flanks to envelope the Persian center not realizing the potential of the elite shock troops at the rear of the Persian lines. Soon after, Cyrus’s rear cavalry attacked the flanks that had developed cracks due to archer fire from the square as well as overextension. The scent of the camels in the Persian rear left flank caused the horses on the Lydian right flank to panic. This resulted in the right cavalry of Lydian army to fight dismounted. Heavy attack by the Persian cavalry flanks resulted in Croesus’s flanks dissolving and fleeing. Persians then enveloped the Lydian infantry which surrendered after a valiant fight back. The remaining Lydians fled back to Sardis.

The siege of Sardis lasted for 14 days after which the entire Asia minor including the Greek colonies of Ionia was annexed into the Persian empire. Legend has it that Cyrus ordered Croesus to be burnt alive on a pyre. Croesus remembered his conversation with Solon and realized the fickle nature of fate called out “Solon!” three times. Puzzled by this outburst, Cyrus asked the pyre to be extinguished without success. Apollo then intervened and a great downpour snuffed the fire. Apparently Croesus then became a loyal adviser to Cyrus.

Persian Empire before the conquest of Babylonia
Persian Empire before the conquest of Babylonia

Nebuchadnezzar II, the Chaldean king of Babylon, the destroyer of the First Temple, built a wall from the Tigris river to the Euphrates river, called the Median Wall, to protect the city of Babylon. The wall was reportedly around 20 feet wide and 100 feet high and stretched from the city of Opis to the Sippar (See map below for the locations). Neo-Babylonian empire of Chaldean Nabonidus was the only remaining power in the Mesopotamia in conflict with the Persians. It was thus critical for Cyrus to bypass the Median Wall via Opis in his drive for supremacy in the Mesopotamia.

Invasion of babylon
Invasion of babylon

The conquest of Babylonia was a culmination of Cyrus’s publicity campaign portraying his as a just and tolerant ruler in contrast with Nabonidus as well as his campaign of bribery to bring the regional governors of Babylonia under his fold.

The armies of Cyrus and Nabonidus met near Opis as per the Nabonidus Chronicle. The details of the battle are not given but it resulted in the defeat of Babylonians probably a complete rout. There is mention of a massacre but whether it is massacre of Babylonian Army by Cyrus or of Babylonian citizenry by Cyrus or a brutal crushing of a possible revolt by Nabonidus is not clear. Cyrus Cylinder though portrays Cyrus as peacefully conquering Babylon. The contemporary evidence from Nabonidus Chronicle and Cyrus Cylinder are contradicted by later historical accounts that imply that a Cyrus laid siege to the city of Babylon and massive engineering works were undertaken to dredge the Euphrates to allow the troops to reach the city. This account though is not supported by any archaeological evidence.

After the conquest of Cyrus crowned himself the King of the Four Corners of the World. His empire was the largest empire that the world had ever seen.

Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus The Great
Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus The Great

Details of death of Cyrus is lost to history with Herodotus giving what appears to be a heavily fictionalized death in battle with Massagetae with their ruler Tomyris. Tomyris defeated Cyrus in the second battle and to avenge the death of her son, beheaded Cyrus and dipped his head in a vessel filled with blood to quench his thirst for blood. Herodotus, wisely adds a “disclaimer” that this was one of the many accounts of death of Cyrus that he had heard.

Cyrus was buried in his capital city of Pasargadae where his tomb still remains. Alexander the Great, visited the tomb after his conquest of Persia and Plutarch reports the below inscription on the tomb

O man, whoever you are and wherever you come from, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus who won the Persians their empire. Do not therefore begrudge me this bit of earth that covers my bones

Tomb of Cyrus
Tomb of Cyrus

Cyrus allowed the people of Israel who were uprooted and sent into exile by Nebuchadnezzar to return to their homeland thus earning him the title of “Lord’s Messiah” in the Jewish Tanakh. Cyrus innovations in politics and administration of the satrapy system of governance allowed governance of empires with massive size. Cyrus was an inspiration to many of the great politicians and emperors including Alexander the Great and Thomas Jefferson. Xenophon in his Cyropedia describes Cyrus as the perfect ruler.

Median Empire

Astyages was the son of the “empire ender” Cyaraxes of Media. Astyages came to throne in 585 BCE after the death of Cyaraxes shortly after the battle of Halys river. The battle had taken place on May 28, 585 BCE. The battle ended abruptly due to a total solar eclipse. And this same total solar eclipse helps in identifying accurately the date of the battle.

Astyages was a “dreamer”. He dreamt that the son of his daughter Mandane would destroy his empire. Similar to the legend of Kansa (Krishna’s uncle), King Priam (Paris’s dad), and Laius (Father of Oedipus), Astyages decided that this is “not happening”. He looked around and decided that Cambyses I of the Achaemenid was “Quiet and Thoughtful Prince” to quote Herodotus and married Mandane of to him believing Cambyses I to be no threat. Later Astyages had another dream when Mandane become pregnant in which a vine tree from her womb took over the world. Astyages was a worried man. He sent his trusted general Harpagus to kill the child. Harpagus though was moral man loath to shed the royal blood. So he switched the child with a stillborn child of a shepherd, Mitradates. Remember that Krishna was also raised by a shepherd Vasudeva, Paris was raised by shepherds while Oedipus was also initially with couple of shepherds. Whats with abandoned children and shepherds!

The child was found to be alive and kicking at the age of ten playing King of the Hill. Astyages stupid magi told him that winning the game fulfills the prophecy of the child becoming king and thus is no longer a threat. Astyages lets the child live but decides to teach the treacherous Harpagus a lesson. Astyages orders the murder of only son of Harpagus and feeding him the general in a banquet. Harpagus did not react to this horrific act and bid his time.

The child became the king of the Achaemenid dynasty after his father Cambyses I, who was a vassal of the Median empire. Goaded by Harpagus, the grandson rebelled against his grandfather. After three years of struggle, Astyages’s troops mutinied during the battle of Pasargadae, probably arranged by Harpagus who led the troops. Astyages was defeated and captured, thus ending the Median empire in 550 BCE.

The child was Cyrus II also known as Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire (Achaemenid Empire) that at its peak was the largest empire in the history of the world in terms of percentage of world population under it.  About 50 million out of the then 112 million people, 44.48% of the total world population, lived and died under Cyrus.

The End of An Empire

Royal Library of Ashurbanipal was a great library discovered in the ruins of Nineveh in modern Iraq. Ashurbanipal was the last strong king of Assyria with his reign lasting almost 40 years (668 – 637 BCE). Ashurbanipal was a learned man, perhaps the only Assyrian king who could read and write. He built a great royal library which was perhaps the inspiration for the later Library of Alexandria. His library consisted of more than 10,000 distinct texts consisting of 30,000+ clay tablets and numerous wax boards and payrii. He was a strong king and used his wars and threats of war to stock his library with knowledge gleaned from various regions of Mesopotamia. This library is the best source of such classics as the Epic of Gilgamesh (the epic traces its origin to sometime around 18th century BCE) and the creation myth of Enuma Eli. I can imagine the king reclining on his bed with pretty ladies of the harem, enjoying the sweet taste of most expensive wine of the period and reading the epic of Gilgamesh and imagining himself doing the deeds of Gilgamesh.

 

Library of Ashurbanipal
Library of Ashurbanipal

The alliance of Nabopolassar of Babylonia and Cyaxares of Media was formalized by a marriage between the daughter of Cyaxares, Amytis, and the son of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar II. It was this Amytis, the legend has it, for whom Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Garden of Babylon, so that she would not miss her native Media. It was this Nebuchadnezzar II after whom Saddam Hussein named one of his Elite Republican Guard Division. The alliance later included the Scythians and Cimmerians. Taking advantage of the internal strife in the Assyrian empire, this alliance of nations that were under the domination of Assyria for a long time waged a war against the Assyrian empire for almost ten years (616 BCE – 605 BCE). This long war included another battle of Megiddo where Necho II of Egypt, who was on his way to assists the Assyrians, defeated King Josiah of Judah. Nineveh, the great capital of Assyrian empire, fell in 612 BCE. The capital of the empire was then moved to Harran that survived a two year siege but fell in 610 BCE. The capital was again moved to Carchamesh. The battle of Carchamesh in 605 BCE finally sealed the fate of the Assyrian Empire. Within 20 years of death of mighty Ashurbanipal, Assyrian empire that had been one of the strongest and greatest kingdom/empire in the greater Mesopotamia for almost 1500 years (21st Century BCE – 7th Century BCE) ceased to exists as an independent nation.

Armageddon

The book of Revelation, verse 16:14-16, implies that the Devil will gathered the Kings of Earth and the whole world into a place called in hebrew, Armageddon or Har Megiddo i.e. the Mountain of Megiddo. Megiddo is a plain in Israel, which was the location of many old Fortresses and consequently many battles. Apparently, the memory of the battles had such an impact that the writers of Bible accorded it the honor of hosting the Last Battle.

Thus it should not come to us as a surprise that the first detailed historical account of a battle was of the Battle of Megiddo which took place in the season of battles (Spring) of 1457 BCE i.e. almost 3500 years ago. The battle was fought between the Egyptian empire under Pharaoh Thutmose III and his vassal states of Kadesh, Megiddo, Canaan that rose in rebellion.

Tuthmose III
Tuthmose III

Forces under Thutmose III that numbered between ten to twenty thousand and consisted of chariots and infantry marched from their border fortresses to first Gaza and then to Yahem. In total, this journey took 22 days (10 days to Gaza, one day rest and then 11 days to Yahem). The opposing forces numbered between ten to fifteen thousand. Battle of Megiddo is the first battle for which such detailed description is provided.

There were three routes to the fortress of Megiddo from Yehem. The northern and southern approaches were easy and the middle approach was a difficult one where in the soldiers could move only in single file. This would make an ambush catastrophic. Thutmose’s generals advised him to take the northern or southern approach. But the “Napoleon  of Egypt” decided that his enemies would also expect him to do the same and thus followed the difficult route. It was revealed then that the northern and southern routes were defended by rebel infantry.

Battle of Megiddo
Battle of Megiddo

Thutmose III attacked next day quickly defeating the defenders who retreated to the city. Here is where the discipline that would be there in a professional standing army (like that of Tiglath Pileser III) was found missing in the Egyptian forces. Instead of pressing their attack to the city, the “army” took to plundering the enemy camp. This gave the defenders enough time to regroup inside the city. The inability to capture the city quickly resulted in a long siege of the city by Thutmose’s forces. The siege took seven months and at the end of it the city fell with plunder of 340 prisoners, 2,041 mares, 191 foals, 6 stallions, 924 chariots, 200 suits of armor, 502 bows, 1,929 cattle, 22,500 sheep, and the royal armor, chariot and tent-poles of the King of Megiddo coming Egyptian’s way. I believe that the reference to royal armor and tent poles implies complete subjugation of the King of Megiddo and may be his execution. There is reference of King of Kadesh escaping but nothing about the King of Megiddo.

The battle reasserted the Egyptian dominance of Canaan and was the first step in Thutmose III extending the Egyptian empire to its greatest extent.