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;
and they know (it is said) of trees bearing a fruit whose effect is this: gathering in groups and kindling a fire, the people sit around it and throw the fruit into the flames; then the fumes of it as it burns make them drunk as the Greeks are with wine, and more and more drunk as more fruit is thrown on the fire, until at last they rise up to dance and even sing. Such is said to be their way of life.
The Araxes [Note] flows from the country of the Matieni (as does the Gyndes, which Cyrus divided into the three hundred and sixty channels) and empties itself through forty mouths, of which all except one issue into bogs and swamps, where men are said to live whose food is raw fish, and their customary dress sealskins.
The one remaining stream of the Araxes flows in a clear channel into the Caspian sea.
This is a sea by itself, not joined to the other sea. For that on which the Greeks sail, and the sea beyond the pillars of Heracles, which they call Atlantic, and the Red Sea, are all one:
but the Caspian is separate and by itself. Its length is what a ship rowed by oars can traverse in fifteen days, and its breadth, where it is broadest, is an eight days' journey. Along its western shore stretches the range of Caucasus, which has more and higher peaks than any other range. Many and all kinds of nations dwell in the Caucasus, and the most of them live on the fruits of the forest.
Here, it is said, are trees growing leaves that men crush and mix with water and use for painting figures on their clothing; these figures cannot be washed out, but last as long as the wool, as if they had been woven into it from the first. Men and women here (they say) have intercourse openly, like beasts of the flock.
This sea called Caspian is hemmed in to the west by the Caucasus: towards the east and the sunrise there stretches from its shores a boundless plain as far as the eye can see. The greater part of this wide plain is the country of the Massagetae, against whom Cyrus was eager to lead his army.
For there were many weighty reasons that impelled and encouraged him to do so: first, his birth, because of which he seemed to be something more than mortal; and next, his victories in his wars: for no nation that Cyrus undertook to attack could escape from him.
Now at this time the Massagetae were ruled by a queen called Tomyris, whose husband was dead. Cyrus sent a message with a pretence of wanting her for his wife, but Tomyris would have none of his advances, well understanding that he wanted not her but the kingdom of the Massagetae.
So when guile was of no avail, Cyrus marched to the Araxes and openly prepared to attack the Massagetae; he bridged the river for his army to cross, and built towers on the pontoons bridging the river.
But while he was busy at this, Tomyris sent a herald to him with this message: “O king of the Medes, stop hurrying on what you are hurrying on, for you cannot know whether the completion of this work will be for your advantage. Stop, and be king of your own country; and endure seeing us ruling those whom we rule.
But if you will not take this advice, and will do anything rather than remain at peace, then if you so greatly desire to try the strength of the Massagetae, stop your present work of bridging the river, and let us withdraw three days' journey from the Araxes; and when that is done, cross into our country.