Then a crier would display and offer them for sale one by one, first the fairest of all; and then, when she had fetched a great price, he put up for sale the next most attractive, selling all the maidens as lawful wives. Rich men of Assyria who desired to marry would outbid each other for the fairest; the ordinary people, who desired to marry and had no use for beauty, could take the ugly ones and money besides;
for when the crier had sold all the most attractive, he would put up the one that was least beautiful, or crippled, and offer her to whoever would take her to wife for the least amount, until she fell to one who promised to accept least; the money came from the sale of the attractive ones, who thus paid the dowry of the ugly and the crippled. But a man could not give his daughter in marriage to whomever he liked, nor could one that bought a girl take her away without giving security that he would in fact make her his wife.
And if the couple could not agree, it was a law that the money be returned. Men might also come from other villages to buy if they so desired.
This, then, was their best custom; but it does not continue at this time; they have invented a new one lately [so that the women not be wronged or taken to another city]; since the conquest of Babylon made them afflicted and poor, everyone of the people that lacks a livelihood prostitutes his daughters.
I come now to the next wisest of their customs: having no use for physicians, they carry the sick into the market-place; then those who have been afflicted themselves by the same illness as the sick man's, or seen others in like case, come near and advise him about his disease and comfort him, telling him by what means they have themselves recovered from it or seen others recover. No one may pass by the sick man without speaking and asking after his sickness.
The dead are embalmed in honey for burial, and their dirges are like the dirges of Egypt. Whenever a Babylonian has had intercourse with his wife, they both sit before a burnt offering of incense, and at dawn they wash themselves; they will touch no vessel before this is done. This is the custom in Arabia also.
The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants.
But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice.
Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, “I invite you in the name of Mylitta” (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite).
It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her.
So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfill the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus.
These are established customs among the Babylonians. Furthermore, there are three tribes in the country that eat nothing but fish, which they catch and dry in the sun; then, after throwing it into a mortar, they pound it with pestles and strain everything through linen. Then whoever desires kneads as it were a cake of it and eats it; others bake it like bread.
When Cyrus had conquered this nation, too, he wanted to subject the Massagetae. These are said to be a great and powerful people dwelling towards the east and the sunrise, beyond the Araxes and opposite the Issedones; and some say that they are a Scythian people.
The Araxes is said by some to be greater and by some to be less than the Ister. It is reported that there are many islands in it as big as Lesbos, and men on them who in summer live on roots of all kinds that they dig up, and in winter on fruit that they have got from trees when it was ripe and stored for food;