Cilicia in Herodotus’ Histories

Translated by A. D. Godley


List Excerpts


List of mentions of Cilicia

1.28 Cilicia and Lycia were not subject to the Lydian king Croesus (ca. 585 – 546 BC).
1.72 The river Halys and Cilicia.
1.74 The ruler of Cilicia together with the king of Babylon brokered a peace agreement between Lydia and Media.
2.17.1 The inhabitants of Cilicia are Cilicians.
2.34 The position of Cilicia Trachea in relation to Egypt and the distance to Sinope.
3.90.3 The annaul tax assessed on Cilicia by Darius I (522 – 486 BC).
3.91.1 Posideion, a city on the border of Cilicia and Syria.
5.49.6 The location of Cilicia and the amount of tax in silver.
5.52 Cilicia and the Persian Royal Road.
5.108 Cilicia as the starting point for the Persian army in suppressing the rebellion in Cyprus (497 BC).
5.118 Daughter of the Syennesis of Cilicia, wife of Pixadaros of Kindya (496 BC).
6.6 Cilicians in the Persian war fleet at the Battle of Lade (494 BC).
6.43 Cilicia was the starting point of Mardonios’ move to Ionia at the beginning of the first Persian invasion of Greece (492 BC).
6.95.1 Gathering of troops in Cilicia at the beginning of Darius I’s second campaign against Greece (490 BC).
7.77 Mention of Cilicia in connection with the armament of the Kabelees in the description of the invading army of Xerxes I (480 BC).
7.91 The number of Cilician ships and the armament of the Cilicians in the description of the invading army of Xerxes I (480 BC). The origin of the name Cilicia after Kylix, the mythical founder of Cilicia.
7.98 The Cilician ruler Syennesis II, son of Oromedon, mentioned among the commanders of the invading fleet of Xerxes I (480 BC).
8.14 On the second day of the Battle of Artemisium, the Allied Greeks destroyed a patrol of several Cilician ships (480 BC).
8.68c Mention of the Cilicians in a speech by Artemisia of Halicarnassus, who tried to dissuade Xerxes I from the Battle of Salamis (480 BC).
8.100.4 Mention of the Cilicians in the speech of Mardonius, who, after the Battle of Salamis, asked permission to subdue Greece if Xerxes chose to return (480 BC).
9.107 Xenagoras of Halicarnassus appointed new ruler of Cilicia (479 BC).


Excerpts from Herodotus’ Histories

1.28: As time went on, Croesus subjugated almost all the nations west of the Halys;1 for except the Cilicians and Lycians, all the rest Croesus held subject under him. These were the Lydians, Phrygians, Mysians, Mariandynians, Chalybes, Paphlagonians, the Thracian Thynians and Bithynians, Carians, Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians, and Pamphylians.

1.72: Now the Cappadocians are called by the Greeks Syrians, and these Syrians before the Persian rule were subjects of the Medes, and, at this time, of Cyrus. For the boundary of the Median and Lydian empires was the river Halys, which flows from the Armenian mountains first through Cilicia and afterwards between the Matieni on the right and the Phrygians on the other hand; then, passing these and still flowing north, it separates the Cappadocian Syrians on the right from the Paphlagonians on the left. Thus the Halys river cuts off nearly the whole of the lower part of Asia from the Cyprian to the Euxine sea. Here is the narrowest neck of all this land; the length of the journey across for a man traveling unencumbered is five days.2

1.74: After this, since Alyattes would not give up the Scythians to Cyaxares at his demand, there was war between the Lydians and the Medes for five years; each won many victories over the other, and once they fought a battle by night. They were still warring with equal success, when it happened, at an encounter which occurred in the sixth year, that during the battle the day was suddenly turned to night. Thales of Miletus had foretold this loss of daylight to the Ionians, fixing it within the year in which the change did indeed happen.3 So when the Lydians and Medes saw the day turned to night, they stopped fighting, and both were the more eager to make peace. Those who reconciled them were Syennesis the Cilician4 and Labynetus the Babylonian; they brought it about that there should be a sworn agreement and a compact of marriage between them: they judged that Alyattes should give his daughter Aryenis to Astyages, son of Cyaxares; for without strong constraint agreements will not keep their force. These nations make sworn compacts as do the Greeks; and besides, when they cut the skin of their arms, they lick each other’s blood.

2.17.1: We leave the Ionians’ opinion aside, and our own judgment about the matter is this: Egypt is all that country which is inhabited by Egyptians, just as Cilicia and Assyria are the countries inhabited by Cilicians and Assyrians, and we know of no boundary line (rightly so called) below Asia and Libya except the borders of the Egyptians.

2.34: The Ister, since it flows through inhabited country, is known from many reports; but no one can speak of the source of the Nile; for Libya, though which it runs, is uninhabited and desert. Regarding its course, I have related everything that I could learn by inquiry; and it issues into Egypt. Now Egypt lies about opposite to the mountainous part of Cilicia; from there, it is a straight five days’ journey for an unencumbered man to Sinope on the Euxine; and Sinope lies opposite the place where the Ister falls into the sea.5 Thus I suppose the course of the Nile in its passage through Libya to be like the course of the Ister.

3.90.3: The fourth province was Cilicia. This rendered three hundred and sixty white horses, one for each day in the year, and five hundred talents of silver. A hundred and forty of these were expended on the horsemen who were the guard of Cilicia; the three hundred and sixty that remained were paid to Darius.6

3.91.1: The fifth province was the country (except the part belonging to the Arabians, which paid no tribute) between Posideion,7 a city founded on the Cilician and Syrian border by Amphilochus son of Amphiaraus, and Egypt; this paid three hundred and fifty talents; in this province was all Phoenicia, and the part of Syria called Palestine, and Cyprus.

5.49.6: „Next to the Lydians,“ said Aristagoras,8 „you see the Phrygians to the east, men that of all known to me are the richest in flocks and in the fruits of the earth. Close by them are the Cappadocians, whom we call Syrians, and their neighbors are the Cilicians, whose land reaches to the sea over there, in which you see the island of Cyprus lying. The yearly tribute which they pay to the king is five hundred talents. Next to the Cilicians, are the Armenians, another people rich in flocks, and after the Armenians, the Matieni, whose country I show you. […]“

5.52: „Now the nature of this road is as I will show. All along it are the king’s road stations and very good resting places, and the whole of it passes through country that is inhabited and safe. Its course through Lydia and Phrygia is of the length of twenty stages, and ninety-four and a half parasangs. Next after Phrygia it comes to the river Halys, where there is both a defile which must be passed before the river can be crossed and a great fortress to guard it. After the passage into Cappadocia, the road in that land as far as the borders of Cilicia is of twenty-eight stages and one hundred and four parasangs. On this frontier you must ride through two defiles and pass two fortresses. Ride past these, and you will have a journey through Cilica of three stages and fifteen and a half parasangs. The boundary of Cilicia and Armenia is a navigable river, the name of which is the Euphrates. In Armenia there are fifteen resting-stages and fifty-six and a half parasangs. Here too there is a fortress. From Armenia the road enters the Matienian land, in which there are thirty-four stages and one hundred and thirty-seven parasangs. Through this land flow four navigable rivers which must be passed by ferries, first the Tigris, then a second and a third of the same name, yet not the same stream nor flowing from the same source. The first-mentioned of them flows from the Armenians and the second from the Matieni. The fourth river is called Gyndes, that Gyndes which Cyrus parted once into three hundred and sixty channels. When this country is passed, the road is in the Cissian land, where there are eleven stages and forty-two and a half parasangs, as far as yet another navigable river, the Choaspes, on the banks of which stands the city of Susa.“9

5.108: Now while the message concerning Sardis was making its way to the king, and Darius, having done as I said with his bow, held converse with Histiaeus and permitted him to go to the sea, the following events took place. When Onesilus of Salamis10 was besieging the Amathusians, news was brought him that Artybius, a Persian, was thought to be coming to Cyprus with a great Persian host. Upon hearing this, Onesilus sent heralds all through Ionia to summon the people, and the Ionians, after no long deliberation, came with a great force. So the Ionians were in Cyprus when the Persians, crossing from Cilicia, marched to Salamis by land, and the Phoenicians were sailing around the headland which is called the Keys of Cyprus.11

5.118: It so happened that news of this was brought to the Carians before Daurises’ coming, and when the Carians heard, they mustered at the place called the White Pillars by the river Marsyas which flows from the region of Idria and issues into the Maeander. When they had gathered together, many plans were laid before them, the best of which, in my judgment, was that of Pixodarus of Cindya, the son of Mausolus and husband of the daughter of Syennesis, king of Cilicia. He proposed that the Carians should cross the Maeander and fight with the river at their back, so that being unable to flee and compelled to stand their ground they might prove themselves even braver than nature made them. This opinion, however, did not prevail, and it was decided instead that the Persians and not the Carians12 should have the Maeander at their back, the intent being that if the Persians were overcome in the battle and put to flight, they would not escape but be hurled into the river.

6.6: Such were the doings of Histiaeus and the Mytilenaeans. Against Miletus itself a great fleet and army were expected, for the Persian generals had joined their power together and made one army, which they led against Miletus, taking less account of the other fortresses. Of the fleet, the Phoenicians were the most eager to fight, and there came with them to the war the newly subdued Cyprians, and the Cilicians and Egyptians.

6.43: But at the beginning of spring the other generals were deposed by the king from their offices, and Mardonius son of Gobryas, a man young in years and recently married to Darius’ daughter Artozostre, came down to the coast at the head of a very great army and fleet.13 When Mardonius reached Cilicia at the head of this army, he himself embarked on shipboard and sailed with the rest of his ships, while other captains led the land army to the Hellespont. When Mardonius arrived in Ionia in his voyage along the coast of Asia, he did a thing which I here set down for the wonder of those Greeks who will not believe Otanes to have declared his opinion among the Seven that democracy was best for Persia: Mardonius deposed all the Ionian tyrants and set up democracies in their cities. He did this and hurried to the Hellespont. When a great multitude of ships and a great army were assembled, the Persians crossed the Hellespont on shipboard and marched through Europe, with Eretria and Athens as their goal.

6.95.1: When these appointed generals on their way from the king reached the Aleian plain in Cilicia, bringing with them a great and well-furnished army, they camped there and were overtaken by all the fleet that was assigned to each; there also arrived the transports for horses, which in the previous year Darius had bidden his tributary subjects to make ready.

7.77: The Cabelees,14 who are Meiones and are called Lasonii, had the same equipment as the Cilicians; when I come in my narrative to the place of the Cilicians, I will then declare what it was. The Milyae had short spears and garments fastened by brooches; some of them carried Lycian bows and wore caps of skin on their heads. The commander of all these was Badres son of Hystanes.

7.91: The Cilicians furnished a hundred ships. They also wore on their heads their native helmets, carried bucklers of raw oxhide for shields, and were clad in woollen tunics; each had two javelins and a sword very close in style to the knives of Egypt. These Cilicians were formerly called Hypachaei, and took their name from Cilix son of Agenor, a Phoenician. The Pamphylians furnished thirty15 ships: they were armed like the Greeks. These Pamphylians are descended from the Trojans of the diaspora who followed Amphilochus and Calchas.

7.98: After the admirals, the most famous of those on board were these: from Sidon, Tetramnestus son of Anysus; from Tyre, Matten son of Siromus; from Aradus, Merbalus son of Agbalus; from Cilicia, Syennesis son of Oromedon; from Lycia, Cyberniscus son of Sicas; from Cyprus, Gorgus son of Chersis and Timonax son of Timagoras; and from Caria, Histiaeus son of Tymnes, Pigres son of Hysseldomus, and Damasithymus son of Candaules.

8.14: These men, then, perished at the Hollows of Euboea. As for the barbarians at Aphetae, when to their great comfort the day dawned, they kept their ships unmoved, being in their evil plight well content to do nothing for the moment. Now fifty-three Attic ships came to aid the Greeks, who were encouraged both by the ships coming and by the news that the barbarians sailing round Euboea had all perished in the recent storm. They waited then for the same hour as before, and fell upon certain Cilician ships when they put to sea. After destroying these when night fell, they sailed back to Artemisium.

8.68c: „But if you hurry to fight at sea immediately, I fear that your fleet if reduced to cowardice may also injure your army on land. In addition, my King, take this to heart: Good people’s slaves tend to be base, and the slaves of the base tend to be good. You, who are best among men, have base slaves, who are accounted your allies, the Egyptians and Cyprians and Cilicians and Pamphylians, who are of no use at all.“

8.100.4: „Do not, O king, make the Persians the laughing-stock of the Greeks, for if you have suffered harm, it is by no fault of the Persians. Nor can you say that we have anywhere done less than brave men should, and if Phoenicians and Egyptians and Cyprians and Cilicians have so done, it is not the Persians who have any part in this disaster.“16

9.107: The few barbarians who escaped were driven to the heights of Mykale, and made their way from there to Sardis. While they were making their way along the road, Masistes son of Darius, who happened to have been present at the Persian disaster, reviled the admiral Artayntes very bitterly, telling him (with much beside) that such generalship as his proved him worse than a woman, and that no punishment was too severe for the harm he had done the king’s estate. Now it is the greatest of all taunts in Persia to be called worse than a woman. These many insults angered Artayntes so much that he drew his sword upon Masistes to kill him, but Xenagoras son of Praxilaus of Halicarnassus, who stood behind Artayntes himself saw him run at Masistes, and caught him round the middle and lifted and hurled him to the ground. In the meantime Masistes’ guards had also come between them. By doing so Xenagoras won the gratitude of Masistes himself and Xerxes, for saving the king’s brother. For this deed he was made ruler of all Cilicia by the king’s gift.17 Then they went on their way without anything further happening and came to Sardis.


1Herodotus’ knowledge of the course of the Halys River was distorted and inconsistent with reality. For a detailed analysis of the Halys River as a geographic, ethnic and political dividing line in Herodotus, see Leloux 2016, pp. 41-49.

2See footnote 1.

3Based on the solar eclipse mentioned, the battle is dated to 28 May 585 BC.

4The term Syennesis probably does not denote the antroponym of the Cilician ruler, but a royal title. This title could mean „Dog’s son“ in the Luwian language. It is possible that this title was related to the positive qualities of dogs, their sociability, loyalty and guarding role. Moreover, in Indo-European ideology, warriors are sometimes called „dogs“ or „wolves“. See Casabonne 2004, pp. 61-63, and Leloux 2016, p. 40.

5Herodotus’s knowledge of Anatolia’s inland topography was distorted. See Leloux 2016, pp. 41-49.

6In section 3.89.2 Herodotus states that: „Those that paid in silver were required to render the weight of a Babylonian talent; those that paid in gold, of a Euboic talent; the Babylonian talent being equal to seventy-eight Euboic minae.“ The Babylonian talent weighed approximatelly 30.3 kg. The total tax was therefore 360 horses and more than 15 metric tons of silver.

7This city (also called Posidium or Posideium) may be identical to the present-day city of Ras al-Bassit in northern Syria, but this is not certain.

8The ruler of the Ionian city of Miletus who instigated the Ionian revolt against Persia.

9Aristagoras’ speech again, see footnote 8. It is not certain whether the Royal Road passed through Cilicia. Herodotus’ knowledge of the topography of Anatolia was distorted, see footnote 1.

10Onesilos was the brother of King Gorgos of the Greek city-state of Salamis in Cyprus. After the outbreak of the Ionian revolt, Onesilus seized the government of Salamis. He succeeded in capturing all the cities on the island except the Greco-Phoenician city-state of Amathus, which remained loyal to the Persians. However, the Persians regained control of Cyprus, and Onesilus’ brother Gorgus was then reinstated as king of Salamis by the Persians.

11The Cape Saint Andrew (Cape Apostolos Andreas), the north-easternmost promontory of Cyprus. See How and Wells 1928, v.108.

12Godley’s translation, which is used here (see References / Ancient Texts), has the word „Cilicians“ in this place. This makes no sense, however, because the text is talking about the battle of the Carians against the Persians. See also Lacus Curtius, Herodotus: The Histories, 5.118, footnote a by William P. Thayer and Jona Lendering.

13Mardonios’ father Gobryas helped Darius I to the throne. Mardonios commanded the first invasion of Greece in 492 BC. After the retreat of Xerxes I during the second invasion of Greece, he was entrusted with the command of the remaining army left in Greece and perished in the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC.

14From a district bordered by Caria, Phrygia, Pisidia, and Lycia (A. D. Godley’s note).

15A. D. Godley’s translation states a hundred ships. I give the value based on the Greek text, see Lacus Curtius, Herodotus: The Histories, 7.91, footnote b by William P. Thayer and Jona Lendering.

16On Mardonios, see footnote 13.

17The Cilian king Syennesis participated in the campaigns of Xerxes I (see Hdt. 7.98 above) and according to Aeschylus (Persians, 327) fell at the Battle of Salamis:

Syennesis, also, the governor of the Cilicians, foremost in courage, he whose prowess did the foe most harm, found there a glorious death.

Certainly there was a family connection between the Syennesis family and the Carian dynasts, see Hdt. 5.118 above. However, it is not clear whether he died without an heir and Xenagoras received the title of Syennesis (see footnote 4), or whether Xenagoras was appointed as a high official subordinate to the new Syennesis. See also Briant 2002, pp. 559-560.


2 November 2022 – 23 January 2023