A Persian commander during the reign of Darius I.

During the reign of the Persian king, Kambyses (Cambyses), a Mede, commonly called false-Smerdis, assumed the throne of the Persian Empire; Kambyses had been in Egypt and died before he could return to Susa and confront the usurper; false-Smerdis took the throne by deception and ruled for seven months before Darius and six other Persians were able to organize a revolt and restore Persian rule to the empire; as one of the seven revolutionaries, Darius was chosen as the new king.

Taking advantage of the confusion caused by the rule of false-Smerdis and the subsequent rebellion, the city of Babylon declared its independence from the Persian Empire; the first Persian king, Kyrus the Great, was able to capture Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River and sending his troops into the city through the dried-up riverbed; the Babylonians had learned from their mistakes and Darius was unable to beach the walls or enter through the riverbed; the Babylonians were so confidant of their position that they taunted the Persians by saying, You will take the city when a mule bears an offspring, meaning of course that the city would never fall to the Persians again.

After nineteen months of frustrating defeats a miraculous thing happened in the ranks of the Persian contingent around Babylon: a mule belonging to a Persian commander named Zopyrus gave birth to a foal; Zopyrus correctly presumed that this was a divine message and that the fall of Babylon was eminent; he devised a clever plan that he knew Darius would never sanction so he proceeded in secret until it was too late for Darius to stop him.

Zopyrus cut off his nose and ears and presented himself to Darius; the king was horrified that Zopyrus would do such a thing to himself but, as he heard the plan that Zopyrus had devised, he realized that Babylon was within his grasp; Zopyrus planned to surrender himself to the Babylonians and say that Darius had mutilated him because he had advised the king to depart and give up the siege; Darius was to position his most expendable troops at various gates of the city armed only with daggers; Zopyrus would gain the trust of the Babylonians by leading forays against the lightly armed Persians which Darius had positioned at the predetermined city gates and slaughtering them.

This was supposed to impress the Babylonians with Zopyrus’ military abilities and allow him to gain command authority of the defensive forces; leading the Babylonian army on three separate raids, Zopyrus killed a total of seven thousand Persians and consequently was promoted to captain of the army and warden of the walls of the city; with his new authority, Zopyrus then opened two of the city gates and allowed the Persian army to enter and capture the city.

Darius tore down the walls of Babylon so that no such rebellion could be accomplished in the future; he made Zopyrus the ruler of Babylon and required no tribute (taxes) be paid as long as Zopyrus lived; Zopyrus’ son Megabyzus distinguished himself as a loyal Persian but his grandson, also named Zopyrus, betrayed the Persians and deserted to the Athenians.

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