Gorgus and Onesilus


Herodotus on Onesilus rebellion against the Persians

493 BC

[5.104.1] All the Cyprians too, excepting those of Amathus, of their own proper motion espoused the Ionian cause. The occasion of their revolting from the Medes was the following. There was a certain Onesilus, younger brother of Gorgus, king of Salamis, and son of Chersis, who was son of Siromus, and grandson of Evelthon. This man had often in former times entreated Gorgus to rebel against the king; but, when he heard of the revolt of the Ionians, he left him no peace with his importunity. As, however, Gorgus would not hearken to him, he watched his occasion, and when his brother had gone outside the town, he with his partisans closed the gates upon him. Gorgus, thus deprived of his city, fled to the Medes; and Onesilus, being now king of Salamis, sought to bring about a revolt of the whole of Cyprus. All were prevailed on except the Amathusians, who refused to listen to him; whereupon Onesilus sate down before Amathus, and laid siege to it.

[5.105.1] While Onesilus was engaged in the siege of Amathus, King Darius received tidings of the taking and burning of Sardis by the Athenians and Ionians; and at the same time he learnt that the author of the league, the man by whom the whole matter had been Planned and contrived, was Aristagoras the Milesian. It is said that he no sooner understood what had happened, than, laying aside all thought concerning the Ionians, who would, he was sure, pay dear for their rebellion, he asked, "Who the Athenians were?" and, being informed, called for his bow, and placing an arrow on the string, shot upward into the sky, saying, as he let fly the shaft- "Grant me, Zeus, to revenge myself on the Athenians!" After this speech, he bade one of his servants every day, when his dinner was spread, three times repeat these words to him- "Master, remember the Athenians."

[5.106.1] Then he summoned into his presence Histiaeus if Miletus, whom he had kept at his court for so long a time; and on his appearance addressed him thus "I am told, O Histiaeus, that thy lieutenant, to whom thou hast given Miletus in charge, has raised a rebellion against me. He has brought men from the other continent to contend with me, and, prevailing on the Ionians- whose conduct I shall know how to recompense- to join with this force, he has robbed me of Sardis! [5.106.2] Is this as it should be, thinkest thou Or can it have been done without thy knowledge and advice? Beware lest it be found hereafter that the blame of these acts is thine." [5.106.3] Histiaeus answered- "What words are these, O king, to which thou hast given utterance? I advise aught from which unpleasantness of any kind, little or great, should come to thee! What could I gain by so doing? Or what is there that I lack now? Have I not all that thou hast, and am I not thought worthy to partake all thy counsels? [5.106.4] If my lieutenant has indeed done as thou sayest, be sure he has done it all of his own head. For my part, I do not think it can really be that the Milesians and my lieutenant have raised a rebellion against thee. But if they have indeed committed aught to thy hurt, and the tidings are true which have come to thee, judge thou how ill-advised thou wert to remove me from the sea-coast. [5.106.5] The Ionians, it seems, have waited till I was no longer in sight, and then sought to execute that which they long ago desired; whereas, if I had been there, not a single city would have stirred. Suffer me then to hasten at my best speed to Ionia, that I may place matters there upon their former footing, and deliver up to thee the deputy of Miletus, who has caused all the troubles. [5.106.6] Having managed this business to thy heart's content, I swear by all the gods of thy royal house, I will not put off the clothes in which I reach Ionia till I have made Sardinia, the biggest island in the world, thy tributary."

[5.107.1] Histiaeus spoke thus, wishing to deceive the king; and Darius, persuaded by his words, let him go; only bidding him be sure to do as he had promised, and afterwards come back to Susa.

[5.108.1] In the meantime- while the tidings of the burning of Sardis were reaching the king, and Darius was shooting the arrow and having the conference with Histiaeus, and the latter, by permission of Darius, was hastening down to the sea- in Cyprus the following events took place. Tidings came to Onesilus, the Salaminian, who was still besieging Amathus, that a certain Artybius, a Persian, was looked for to arrive in Cyprus with a great Persian armament. So Onesilus, when the news reached him, sent off heralds to all parts of Ionia, and besought the Ionians to give him aid. After brief deliberation, these last in full force passed over into the island; and the Persians about the same time crossed in their ships from Cilicia, and proceeded by land to attack Salamis; while the Phoenicians, with the fleet, sailed round the promontory which goes by the name of "the Keys of Cyprus."

[5.109.1] In this posture of affairs the princes of Cyprus called together the captains of the Ionians, and thus addressed them:- "Men of Ionia, we Cyprians leave it to you to choose whether you will fight with the Persians or with the Phoenicians. [5.109.2] If it be your pleasure to try your strength on land against the Persians, come on shore at once, and array yourselves for the battle; we will then embark aboard your ships and engage the Phoenicians by sea. If, on the other hand, ye prefer to encounter the Phoenicians, let that be your task: only be sure, whichever part you choose, to acquit yourselves so that Ionia and Cyprus, so far as depends on you, may preserve their freedom." [5.109.3] The Ionians made answer- "The commonwealth of Ionia sent us here to guard the sea, not to make over our ships to you, and engage with the Persians on shore. We will therefore keep the post which has been assigned to us, and seek therein to be of some service. Do you, remembering what you suffered when you were the slaves of the Medes, behave like brave warriors."

[5.110.1] Such was the reply of the Ionians. Not long afterwards the Persians advanced into the plain before Salamis, and the Cyprian kings ranged their troops in order of battle against them, placing them so that while the rest of the Cyprians were drawn up against the auxiliaries of the enemy, the choicest troops of the Salaminians and the Solians were set to oppose the Persians. At the same time Onesilus, of his own accord, took post opposite to Artybius, the Persian general.

[5.111.1] Now Artybius rode a horse which had been trained to rear up against a foot-soldier. Onesilus, informed of this, called to him his shield-bearer, who was a Carian by nation, a man well skilled in war, and of daring courage; and thus addressed him:- "I hear," he said, "that the horse which Artybius rides, rears up and attacks with his fore legs and teeth the man against whom his rider urges him. Consider quickly therefore and tell me which wilt thou undertake to encounter, the steed or the rider?" Then the squire answered him, "Both, my liege, or either, am I ready to undertake, and there is nothing that I will shrink from at thy bidding. But I will tell thee what seems to me to make most for thy interests. As thou art a prince and a general, I think thou shouldest engage with one who is himself both a prince and also a general. For then, if thou slayest thine adversary, 'twill redound to thine honour, and if he slays thee (which may Heaven forefend!), yet to fall by the hand of a worthy foe(makes death lose half its horror. To us, thy followers, leave his war-horse and his retinue. And have thou no fear of the horse's tricks. I warrant that this is the last time he will stand up against any one."

[5.112.1] Thus spake the Carian; and shortly after, the two hosts joined battle both by sea and land. And here it chanced that by sea the Ionians, who that day fought as they have never done either before or since, defeated the Phoenicians, the Samians especially distinguishing themselves. Meanwhile the combat had begun on land, and the two armies were engaged in a sharp struggle, when thus it fell out in the matter of the generals. Artybius, astride upon his horse, charged down upon Onesilus, who, as he had agreed with his shield-bearer, aimed his blow at the rider; the horse reared and placed his fore feet upon the shield of Onesilus, when the Carian cut at him with a reaping-hook, and severed the two legs from the body. The horse fell upon the spot, and Artybius, the Persian general, with him.

[5.113.1] In the thick of the fight, Stesanor, tyrant of Curium, who commanded no inconsiderable body of troops, went over with them to the enemy. On this desertion of the Curians- Argive colonists, if report says true- forthwith the war-chariots of the Salaminians followed the examplm set them, and went over likewise; whereupon victory declared in favour of the Persians; and the army of the Cyprians being routed, vast numbers were slain, and among them Onesilus, the son of Chersis, who was the author of the revolt, and Aristocyprus, king of the Solians. This Aristocyprus was son of Philocyprus, whom Solon the Athenian, when he visited Cyprus, praised in his poems beyond all other sovereigns.

[5.114.1] The Amathusians, because Onesilus had laid siege to their town, cut the head off his corpse, and took it with them to Amathus, where it was set up over the gates. Here it hung till it became hollow; whereupon a swarm of bees took possession of it, and filled it with a honeycomb. On seeing this the Amathusians consulted the oracle, and were commanded "to take down the head and bury it, and thenceforth to regard Onesilus as a hero, and offer sacrifice to him year by year; so it would go the better with them."

[5.115.1] And to this day the Amathusians do as they were then bidden.As for the Ionians who had gained the sea-fight, when they found that the affairs of Onesilus were utterly lost and ruined, and tha| siege was laid to all the cities of Cyprus excepting Salamis, which the inhabitants had surrendered to Gorgus, the former king, forthwith they left Cyprus, and sailed away home. Of the cities which were besieged, Soli held out the longest: the Persians took it by undermining the wall in the fifth month from the beginning of the siege.

492 BC

[5.116.1] Thus, after enjoying a year of freedom, the Cyprians were enslaved for the second time.


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2001/2005 HEC and Argyros Argyrou. Updated on 9 January 2005.