I'm trying to understand this passage in Herodotus's Histories (Book 1 chapter 208):

So these opinions contended; and Cyrus set aside his former plan and chose that of Croesus; wherefore he bade Tomyris draw her army off, for he would cross (he said) and attack her; so she withdrew as she had promised before.

I'm unsure where exactly Tomyris promises to withdraw.

I might be misunderstanding what she says in chapter 206:

"Cease, king of the Medes, from that on which you are intent; for you cannot know if the completion of this work will be for your advantage. Cease, and be king of your own country; and be patient so see us ruling those whom we rule. But if you will not take this counsel, and will do all rather than remain at peace, then if you so greatly desire to essay the strength of the Massagetae, do you quit your present labour of bridging the river, and suffer us to draw off three days' journey from the Araxes; and when that is done, cross into our country. Of if you desire then to receive us into your country, do you then yourself withdraw as I have said."

Can someone explain where she promises to retreat and what exactly Tomyris means in the last 2 sentences of her message?


Here’s another translation of I.206:

While he [Cyrus] was busied about this labour [that is, bridging the Araxes], Tomyris sent a herald and said thus: “O king of the Medes, cease to press forward the work which thou art now pressing forward; for thou canst not tell whether these things will be in the end for thy advantage or no; cease to do so, I say, and be king over thine own people, and endure to see us ruling those whom we rule. Since however I know that thou wilt not be willing to receive this counsel, but dost choose anything rather than to be at rest, therefore if thou art greatly anxious to make trial of the Massagetai in fight, come now, leave that labour which thou hast in yoking together the banks of the river, and cross over into our land, when we have first withdrawn three days’ journey from the river: or if thou desirest rather to receive us into your land, do thou this same thing thyself.”

Herodotus. Histories I.206. Translated by G. C. Macaulay (1890). The History of Herodotus, volume I, p. 101. London: Macmillan.

Tomyris thus offers Cyrus a choice: instead of contesting the crossing of the Araxes, she offers to march her army away from the river for three days so that Cyrus can cross unopposed and attack her on her own land; or, if Cyrus so chooses, vice versa. This offer constitutes the “promise” that she carries out in I.208.

In A. C. Godley’s translation (the one quoted in the question), “draw off” is used in the sense “withdraw (troops) from a particular position, or from the scene of action” (OED).

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