Daniel 5:1-31

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King Belshazzar made a big feast (literally, “great bread” or a “great meal” [as in the Greek text of Theodotion]; estiatoría [“feast” (LXX)]) for a thousand (two thousand [LXX prologue]) nobles in the realm. In the presence of the invited guests, he drank wine. In view of the account that follows, this appears to have been a considerable quantity. (5:1; regarding the LXX prologue and inscriptions about Belshazzar, see the Notes section.)

With his senses seemingly dulled from having drunk wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring in the gold and silver vessels that “Nebuchadnezzar his father” had taken from the temple in Jerusalem. It was Belshazzar’s purpose to drink from these vessels and also to have his nobles, his concubines, and his royal consorts or wives do likewise. According to the Septuagint, Belshazzar’s “heart was exalted.” The Septuagint indicates that the silver and gold vessels were from the “house of God” and had been brought by “Nebuchadnezzar his father” from Jerusalem. Belshazzar wanted wine to be poured into these vessels for his companions. In view of their being sacred vessels, their use for a profane purpose constituted an act of blasphemy. (5:2)

Nebuchadnezzar was not the actual “father” of Belshazzar, for he was the firstborn son of Nabonidus. There is a question as to whether Nabonidus was married to Nitocris (the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar), as some have concluded. The original-language word for “father” does not have to mean a father, grandfather, or an ancestor. In certain contexts, it is used to designate the founder of a profession. (Compare Genesis 4:20, 21.) If Nebuchadnezzar was not the grandfather of Belshazzar, he may here be designated as “his father” because of being a predecessor in the royal Babylonian dynasty to which the crown prince Belshazzar came to belong. It is debatable, however, whether the word “father” is being used with this meaning in chapter 5 of Daniel. (5:2)

In keeping with Belshazzar’s command, the “golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem,” were brought in to the location where he and the others were feasting. Then Belshazzar, his nobles, his royal consorts or wives, and his concubines drank from the sacred vessels. (5:3; see the Notes section.)

While they were drinking wine, they praised the gods that were represented by images made of gold and of silver, bronze or copper, iron, wood, and stone. The Septuagint is explicit in identifying the “gods” as idols. “And they blessed their handmade idols, and they did not bless the eternal God [literally, the God of the age], the one having authority over their spirit,” or the God who had in his hand or power their life principle or life breath and, therefore, their very life. (5:4)

At that “hour,” or at that very time, the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began to write in front of the lampstand (or opposite the lampstand) on the “plaster of the wall of the king’s palace.” According to Josephus (Antiquities, X, xi, 2), the hand came “out of the wall.” From his location among the invited guests, Belshazzar could see the hand that was writing. Illuminated by the light from the lampstand, the section where the writing was done would have been clearly visible. The Greek version of Theodotion says that Belshazzar watched the “knuckles of the hand that was writing.” (5:5)

In view of what Belshazzar saw, his “color” changed, probably meaning that he turned pale from fright. The thoughts that came to his mind alarmed him. Physically, the “joints of his loins” gave way as if he had been deprived of his strength, and one knee knocked against the other one. According to the Septuagint, Belshazzar’s “appearance” changed, and his “suspicions” rushed or pressured him. Therefore, he hurriedly stood up (literally, “hurried and stood up”) and continued looking at the writing on the plaster of the wall, “and his companions around him were boasting.” This suggests that, under the influence of wine, they had become loud and boisterous and were completely unaware of what had taken place. (5:6)

With a loud voice, Belshazzar cried out for the enchanters (“magi” or astrologers [Theodotion]; “enchanters and sorcerers” [LXX]), the Chaldeans (men among the Chaldeans who were experts in the occult arts), and the astrologers (Gazarenes [LXX and Theodotion], a transliteration of the Aramaic designation translated “astrologers”) to be brought in to the area where he had been feasting with his invited ones. To the “wise men” of Babylon, he then said that whoever could read the writing and interpret it for him would be clothed with purple, would receive a gold necklace, and would rule “third in the kingdom.” The Greek version of Theodotion expresses the same thought about rulership. It says “Third in my kingdom he will rule.” In the Septuagint, the reference is not to a third position in the realm, but it says that the individual would be given “authority” over a “third part of the kingdom.” (5:7; see the Notes section.)

In response to Belshazzar’s request, all his “wise men” (“enchanters and sorcerers and Gazarenes” [LXX]) arrived. They, however, could not read the writing nor interpret it. The letters may have been written in the ancient Hebrew script with which the wise men were unfamiliar; or, without a context, they would not have known which vowel sounds were needed to read the words that consisted solely of consonants. (5:8)

It greatly frightened or alarmed Belshazzar that his wise men could neither read nor interpret the writing. His “color changed,” or his countenance became pale from fright, and his nobles were “perplexed” (“troubled” or “confounded” [syntarásso, Theodotion]). In the Septuagint, there is no corresponding mention of this development, but it provides a transition for the entrance of the queen, a transition that is missing in the Aramaic text and the Greek version of Theodotion. “Then the king called for the queen concerning the sign, and he showed her how large it was [apparently referring to the size of the letters] and [told her] that no man was able to relate to the king the interpretation of the writing.” (5:9; see the Notes section.)

The Aramaic text and the Greek version of Theodotion imply that the queen came to know about the “words of the king and his nobles” respecting the writing. Therefore, she entered the banqueting hall (“house of drinking” or feasting [Theodotion]) and initially addressed the king with the customary formal wish for his well-being, “O king, live forever” (“to limitless time” or, according to the version of Theodotion, “live into the ages”). She then reassured him that he need not let his thoughts frighten him nor let that fright change his color or make his countenance become pale. According to the Septuagint rendering, the queen reminded Belshazzar concerning Daniel who was from the body of the Judean captives. (5:10)

According to the Aramaic text, the queen told Belshazzar about a “man in [his] kingdom” who had the “spirit of the holy gods in him” (“spirit of God” or “spirit of a god” [Theodotion]). “In the days of [Belshazzar’s] father,” this man had “light” or “illumination and insight and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods [wakefulness (watchfulness or alertness) and understanding (Theodotion)],” and King Nebuchadnezzar made him “chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans” (men among the Chaldeans who were skilled in the occult arts) and “astrologers” (Gazarenes, a transliteration of the Aramaic designation for “astrologers” [Theodotion]). In the shorter text of the Septuagint, the queen is quoted as referring to Daniel as a man who was “prudent and wise and [who] excelled all the wise men of Babylon.” (5:11; see 5:2 regarding “father.”)

Continuing with the description of Daniel to whom Nebuchadnezzar gave the name Belteshazzar (see 1:7 for comments), the queen spoke of him as possessing an “extraordinary spirit and knowledge and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles” or puzzling sayings, and to solve problems. Therefore, she advised Belshazzar to have Daniel summoned so that he might make known the interpretation of the writing. The Septuagint indicates that a “holy spirit” was in Daniel and that he showed exceptionally difficult interpretations to Nebuchadnezzar the “father” of Belshazzar. (5:12; see the Notes section and 5:2 regarding “father.”)

“Daniel was brought in before the king.” Belshazzar then asked him whether he was the Daniel from among the Judean exiles whom his “father” Nebuchadnezzar had brought out of Judah. Although the Septuagint mentions that “Daniel was brought in before the king,” it does not include the question about his being from among the Judean exiles. The Septuagint just includes a phrase that serves to introduce what Belshazzar next said to Daniel (“and responding, the king said to him”). (5:13; see 5:2 regarding “father.”)

Belshazzar mentioned having heard that Daniel had within him the “spirit of gods” (“spirit of God” or “spirit of a god” [Theodotion] and “light” or illumination, “insight,” and exceptional “wisdom.” (5:14; see the Notes section.)

Belshazzar related that, although the wise men and conjurers (wise men, magi, and Gazarenes [a transliteration of an Aramaic designation found elsewhere in the account], Theodotion) had been brought before him, they were unable to read the writing and could not provide an interpretation for the “matter,” word, or message. (5:15)

After mentioning about having heard that Daniel could provide interpretations and solve difficult problems, Belshazzar offered to have him clothed with purple, to receive a gold necklace, and to rule as “third in the kingdom.” The Septuagint quotes Belshazzar as saying, “O Daniel, are you able to show me the interpretation of the writing? And I will clothe you with purple, and I will place a gold necklace on you, and you will have authority over a third part of my kingdom.” (5:16; also see 5:7 and the accompanying comments in the Notes section.)

Daniel told Belshazzar to keep the gifts and to bestow them on others. He, however, would read the writing and make known its interpretation to him. According to the Septuagint, “Daniel stood in front of the writing and read” it. He then interpreted it for the king, saying, “Numbered, reckoned, removed, and the writing hand stood” or stopped writing. “And this is their interpretation” (the interpretation of the words). (5:17)

Daniel reminded Belshazzar that the Most High God had given the “kingdom and greatness and glory and majesty” to his “father” Nebuchadnezzar. The implication of these words was that Nebuchadnezzar should have conducted himself as one who recognized that he ruled and enjoyed the accompanying greatness, dignity, and splendor by divine permission and that he was personally accountable to the Most High. (5:18; see the Notes section; and regarding “father,” see 5:2.)

By reason of the “greatness” or the tremendous authority Nebuchadnezzar had obtained by divine permission, “all peoples, nations [tribes (Theodotion)], and languages” (those speaking languages other than that of the native Chaldeans) trembled and were in fear before him. He killed whom he wanted and preserved alive whom he wanted. Nebuchadnezzar exalted or debased whomever he wished. (5:19)

When Nebuchadnezzar’s “heart,” or he in his inmost self, was “lifted up” or became arrogant and his “spirit” or disposition became hard or harsh, resulting in his dealing presumptuously or with unrestrained haughtiness, he was deposed from the “throne of his kingdom, and his glory,” dignity, or “honor” (Theodotion) “was removed from him.” (5:20)

Nebuchadnezzar was driven from among the “sons of men” (collective singular in Aramaic) and “his heart [his mind or mental faculties] was made like that of a beast [deprived of the reasoning capacity of humans], and his dwelling was with the onagers.” “He was fed grass like a bovine.” Out in the open, his body became wet with dew (the “dew of heaven,” or the dew that the ancients perceived as coming down from above). This happened to him “until he knew” or recognized that the “Most High God rules the kingdom of men” (collective singular in Aramaic). “And he sets over it whom he wishes.” (5:21)

Daniel then focused on Belshazzar, saying, “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart.” He did not manifest a submissive spirit toward the Most High God. This was despite the fact that, as Daniel is quoted as having said, “You knew all this.” (5:22)

Instead of humbling himself before the “Lord of heaven,” Belshazzar lifted himself up against him, acting in an arrogant manner toward him by using the vessels of God’s house for a profane purpose. These were the sacred vessels that Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon after the destruction of the city and the temple, and Belshazzar and his nobles and royal consorts or wives and concubines used them for drinking wine. As for the gods represented by images fashioned from silver and gold, bronze or copper, iron, wood, and stone and which do not see, hear, or know anything, he praised them, but he did not honor the God in whose “hand” or power his life principle or life breath and all his ways, actions, or dealings were. (5:23; see the Notes section for the Septuagint rendering.)

After the blasphemous act involving the sacred vessels from his temple, God, as Daniel went on to explain, sent from his presence “the palm of the hand,” and the writing that Belshazzar saw “was inscribed.” (5:24; see the Notes section.)

“And this [is] the writing that was inscribed: mene mene tekel and parsin. The literal meaning for the three designations relates to weights — mina, shekel, and either half shekels or half minas. The terms can, however, be pronounced to mean “numbered,” “weighed,” and “divided [the singular of parsin].” In the Greek version of Theodotion, the corresponding term for mene appears only once. Its occurrence twice in the Aramaic text and the plural form parsin in the Aramaic text may allude to the fact that two peoples — the Medes and the Persians — would come into possession of the realm of Babylon. (5:25)

At this point the actual interpretation of the “word,” message or matter starts. Mene — “God has numbered your kingdom” (as to the time it would last) “and brought it to an end.” The Septuagint reads, “This [is] the interpretation of the writing: The time of your kingdom has been numbered; your kingdom is ending.” (5:26)

Tekel — You have been weighed in the balances and found lacking [value].” The divine estimation of Belshazzar was such that he was not deemed worthy to be preserved. In the Septuagint, the thought expressed applies to the kingdom. “Your kingdom has been cut short and has been brought to a finish.” (5:27)

Peres — “Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” The Septuagint reads, “To the Medes and the Persians [your kingdom] is being given.” In the Aramaic text, the consonants for the designation peres and those for the proper noun “Persians” are identical. (5:28)

In keeping with his word, Belshazzar gave the command for Daniel to be clothed with purple and to have a gold necklace placed around his neck. The proclamation was made that he was to become “third ruler in the kingdom.” According to the Septuagint, Belshazzar gave Daniel “authority over a third part of his kingdom.” (5:29; also see 5:7 and the accompanying comments in the Notes section.)

That very night Babylon fell to the conquering forces of Medes and Persians, and Belshazzar was slain. Xenophon, the ancient Greek historian (c. 431 to c. 352 BCE) related that the “king” in the palace at Babylon was killed on the very night the forces of Cyrus entered the city. (Cyropaedia, VII, v, 33) According to the Nabonidus Chronicle, it was on the sixteenth day of Tishri (corresponding to mid-September to mid-October), “Gobryas (Ugbaru), the governor of Gutium and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon.” When Nabonidus returned to Babylon, he was arrested. Seventeen days after the conquering forces entered the city, Cyrus did so. The Jewish historian Josephus omitted mentioning that Belshazzar was killed. This may have been because it contradicted his representing Nabonidus (Naboandelus) as Belshazzar (Baltasar). (Antiquities, X, xi, 2) In his Against Apion (I, 20), Josephus quoted from Berosus (a Babylonian priest who wrote in the early third century BCE), stating that Cyrus treated Nabonidus kindly and gave him Carmania (a region that has been linked with the Kerman Province of Iran), where he then spent the rest of his time until his death. (5:30; see the Notes section for the accounts of Herodotus and Xenophon regarding the fall of Babylon.)

At the age of 62, Darius the Mede received the kingdom of Babylon. According to the oldest Greek manuscript (P967), Xerxes the Mede was the one who received the kingdom of Babylon. The basis for this reading may be the opening verse of chapter 9, where Darius is identified as the son of Xerxes (Ahasuerus [Masoretic Text]). (5:31 [6:1])

In the absence of extant inscriptions that mention Darius the Mede, the identification with a known individual is problematic. Josephus, in his Antiquities (X, xi, 4), wrote that Darius was the son of Astyages. Both Herodotus (I, 107, 108) and Xenophon (Cyropaedia, (I, ii, 1) identified Cyrus as the son of the Persian king Cambyses and Mandane, the daughter of Astyages. This would mean that Cyrus was the grandson of Astyages and that Darius the Mede was his uncle. Based on the sources available to him for his commentary on Daniel, Jerome noted that, although Cyrus the Persian king “was the victor” and “Darius was only king of the Medes,” the granting of the throne of Babylon to Darius “was an arrangement occasioned by factors of age, family relationship, and the territory ruled over. By this I mean that Darius was sixty-two years old, and that, according to what we read, the kingdom of the Medes was more sizable than that of the Persians, and being Cyrus’s uncle, he naturally had a prior claim, and ought to have been accounted as successor to the rule of Babylon.” (5:31 [6:1])


The Septuagint, including the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967), contains a prologue for the narration found in chapter 5. In P967, this prologue with the rest of the material appears at the end of what would be chapter 8 in the Masoretic Text. The following is included in the prologue:

On the day for the dedication of his palace complex, Baltasar (Belshazzar) arranged for a “great reception” or “great feast.” From among his nobles, “he invited 2,000 men.” In that day, Baltasar (Belshazzar), being emboldened from wine and boasting, “praised all the gods of the nations” that were represented by molten and carved images, but “he did not give praise to the Most High God. In the same night, fingers like [those] of a man, came forth and wrote on the wall of his house” or palace, “on the plaster opposite the lampstand, mane phares thekel. Their explanation, however, is: mane — it has been numbered; phares — it has been removed; thekel — it has been established.”

In his Antiquities (X, xi, 2), the first-century Jewish historian says that the Babylonians called Baltasar (Belshazzar) Naboandelus (Nabonidus). His comments suggest that, from very early times, the name of Belshazzar appears to have been unknown outside the biblical record. This changed in the nineteenth century with the discovery of inscriptions that identified Belshazzar as the firstborn son of Nabonidus. The Nabonidus Cylinder from Ur (as translated by Paul-Alain Beaulieu) reads, “As for me, Nabonidus, king of Babylon, save me from sinning against your great godhead and grant me as a present a life long of days, and as for Belshazzar, the eldest son — my offspring — instill reverence for your great godhead in his heart and may he not commit any cultic mistake, may he be sated with a life of plenitude.” Although not mentioning Belshazzar by name, the Nabonidus Chronicle refers to him as the “crown prince.” With reference to the ninth year of Nabonidus, the chronicle says, “Nabonidus, the king stayed in Temâ; the crown prince, his officials and his army were in Akkad. The king did not come to Babylon for the ceremony of the month of Nisanu.” Since Belshazzar functioned in an official ruling capacity in Babylon, it would not be out of the ordinary for him to be spoken of as king.

In verse 1, the Septuagint rendering is briefer than the Aramaic text and the Greek version of Theodotion. It reads, “Baltasar [Belshazzar] the king made a great feast for his companions, and he was drinking wine.”

Verse 3 in the Septuagint contains fewer words than the Aramaic text and the Greek version of Theodotion. “They [the vessels] were brought, and they drank from them.”

Among those who consider the account as historical, verses 7, 16, and 29 are regarded as confirming this. By the first century CE (if not already much earlier), as evident from what Josephus wrote, any extra-biblical knowledge about Belshazzar had been lost. Belshazzar’s offering the third position in the realm appears to reflect the reality that he occupied the second position in the kingdom as the crown prince. This detail could suggest an early composition for the account, and it is, if correctly understood, a detail that did not become historically verifiable until the discovery of ancient inscriptions in the nineteenth century. The reading of the Septuagint, however, cannot be interpreted to apply to a third position in the realm, for it refers to a “third part.” In his narration, Josephus (Antiquities, X, xi, 3) agrees with the Septuagint reading, for his words may be rendered, “the third part of his own dominion.”

A common view is that the “queen” mentioned in verse 9 is the “queen mother” Nitocris (whom the Greek historian Herodotus of the fifth century BCE mentioned), the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar who had intimate knowledge about events during her father’s reign. There is, however, no extant historical confirmation for this identification of the queen.

In verse 12, two Dead Sea Daniel scrolls (4QDana and 4QDanb) say regarding Daniel, “and he will read the writing.” One of the scrolls (4Qdanb), contains only three letters of the phrase, and many of the words of this verse are not preserved in either scroll.

No words from verses 14 and 15 are included in the Septuagint.

The words of verses 18 through 22 that are found in the Aramaic text and the Greek version of Theodotion are not included in the Septuagint.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 23 is: “O king, you have made a feast for your friends and have drunk wine, and the vessels of the house of the living God were brought to you, and from them you and your nobles drank. And you praised all the handmade idols of men, and the living God you did not bless. And your spirit [is] in his hand, and he gave you your kingdom, and you did not bless him nor praise him.” In this context, “friends” probably refers to court officials. The “spirit” or life breath that was essential for life was in God’s power. Yet even though he depended on God for his life and occupied a position of rulership by his permission, Belshazzar showed no regard for the Most High.

In the Septuagint, the words found in verses 24 and 25 of the Aramaic text and the Greek version of Theodotion are not included.

As translated by G. C. Macaulay (with minor changes), the following is the account of Herodotus (fifth century BCE) concerning the fall of Babylon (I, 190, 191):

“When Cyrus had taken vengeance on the river Gyndes by dividing it into three hundred and sixty channels, and when the next spring was just beginning, then at length he continued his advance upon Babylon: and the men of Babylon had marched forth out of their city and were awaiting him. So when in his advance he came near to the city, the Babylonians joined battle with him, and having been worsted in the fight they were shut up close within their city. But knowing well even before this that Cyrus was not apt to remain still, and seeing him lay hands on every nation equally, they had brought in provisions beforehand for very many years. So while these made no account of the siege, Cyrus was in straits what to do, for much time went by and his affairs made no progress onwards.

“Therefore, whether it was some other man who suggested it to him when he was in a strait what to do, or whether he of himself perceived what he ought to do, he did as follows: The main body of his army he posted at the place where the river runs into the city, and then again behind the city he set others, where the river issues forth from the city; and he proclaimed to his army that so soon as they should see that the stream had become passable, they should enter by this way into the city. Having thus set them in their places and in this manner exhorted them he marched away himself with that part of his army which was not fit for fighting: and when he came to the lake, Cyrus also did the same things which the queen of the Babylonians had done as regards the river and the lake; that is to say, he conducted the river by a channel into the lake, which was at that time a swamp, and so made the former course of the river passable by the sinking of the stream. When this had been done in such a manner, the Persians who had been posted for this very purpose entered by the bed of the river Euphrates into Babylon, the stream having sunk so far that it reached about to the middle of a man’s thigh. Now if the Babylonians had had knowledge of it beforehand or had perceived that which was being done by Cyrus, they would have allowed the Persians to enter the city and then destroyed them miserably; for if they had closed all the gates that led to the river and mounted themselves upon the ramparts which were carried along the banks of the stream, they would have caught them …: but as it was, the Persians came upon them unexpectedly; and owing to the size of the city (so it is said by those who dwell there) after those about the extremities of the city had suffered capture, those Babylonians who resided in the middle did not know that they had been captured; but as they chanced to be holding a festival, they went on dancing and rejoicing during this time until they learned the truth.”

The following (with minor changes) is taken from the translation by Henry Graham Dakyns of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (VII, v, 7-33):

“Cyrus called a council of his officers and said, ‘My friends and allies, we have surveyed the city on every side, and for my part I fail to see any possibility of taking by assault walls so lofty and so strong: on the other hand, the greater the population the more quickly must they yield to hunger, unless they come out to fight. If none of you have any other scheme to suggest, I propose that we reduce them by blockade.’

“Then Chrysantas spoke: ‘Does not the river flow through the middle of the city, and it is not at least a quarter of a mile in width?’ ‘To be sure it is,’ answered Gobryas, ‘and so deep that the water would cover two men, one standing on the other’s shoulders; in fact, the city is even better protected by its river than by its walls.’

“At which Cyrus said, ‘Well, Chrysantas, we must forego what is beyond our power: but let us measure off at once the work for each of us, set to, and dig a trench as wide and as deep as we can, that we may need as few guards as possible.’

“Thereupon Cyrus took his measurements all round the city, and, leaving a space on either bank of the river large enough for a lofty tower, he had a gigantic trench dug from end to end of the wall, his men heaping up the earth on their own side. Then he set to work to build his towers by the river. The foundations were of palm trees, a hundred feet long and more — the palm tree grows to a greater height than that, and under pressure it will curve upwards like the spine of an ass beneath a load. He laid these foundations in order to give the impression that he meant to besiege the town, and was taking precautions so that the river, even if it found its way into his trench, should not carry off his towers. Then he had other towers built along the mound, so as to have as many guard posts as possible. Thus his army was employed, but the men within the walls laughed at his preparations, knowing they had supplies to last them more than twenty years. When Cyrus heard that, he divided his army into twelve, each division to keep guard for one month in the year. At this the Babylonians laughed louder still, greatly pleased at the idea of being guarded by Phrygians and Lydians and Arabians and Cappadocians, all of whom, they thought, would be more friendly to themselves than to the Persians. However by this time the trenches were dug. And Cyrus heard that it was a time of high festival in Babylon when the citizens drink and make merry the whole night long. As soon as the darkness fell, he set his men to work. The mouths of the trenches were opened, and during the night the water poured in, so that the riverbed formed a highway into the heart of the town. When the great stream had taken to its new channel, Cyrus ordered his Persian officers to bring up their thousands, horse and foot alike, each detachment drawn up two deep, the allies to follow in their old order. They lined up immediately, and Cyrus made his own bodyguard descend into the dry channel first, to see if the bottom was firm enough for marching. When they said it was, he called a council of all his generals and spoke as follows:

“‘My friends, the river has stepped aside for us; it offers us a passage by its own high road into Babylon. We must take heart and enter fearlessly, remembering that those against whom we are to march this night are the very men we have conquered before, and that too when they had their allies to help them, when they were awake, alert, and sober, armed to the teeth, and in their battle order. Tonight we go against them when some are asleep and some are drunk, and all are unprepared: and when they learn that we are within the walls, sheer astonishment will make them still more helpless than before. If any of you are troubled by the thought of volleys from the roofs when the army enters the city, I bid you lay these fears aside: if our enemies do climb their roofs we have a god to help us, the god of fire. Their porches are easily set aflame, for the doors are made of palm wood and varnished with bitumen, the very food of fire. And we shall come with the pine torch to kindle it, and with pitch and tow to feed it. They will be forced to flee from their homes or be burned to death. Come, take your swords in your hand: God helping me, I will lead you on. Do you,’ he said, turning to Gadatas and Gobryas, ‘show us the streets, you know them; and once we are inside, lead us straight to the palace.’

“‘So we will,’ said Gobryas and his men, ‘and it would not surprise us to find the palace gates unbarred, for this night the whole city is given over to revelry. Still, we are sure to find a guard, for one is always stationed there.’ ‘Then,’ said Cyrus, ‘there is no time for lingering; we must be off at once and take them unprepared.’

“Thereupon they entered: and of those they met some were struck down and slain, and others fled into their houses, and some raised the hue and cry, but Gobryas and his friends covered the cry with their shouts, as though they were revelers themselves. And thus, making their way by the quickest route, they soon found themselves before the king’s palace. Here the detachment under Gobryas and Gadatas found the gates closed, but the men appointed to attack the guards rushed on them as they lay drinking round a blazing fire, and closed with them then and there. As the din grew louder and louder, those within became aware of the tumult, till, the king bidding them see what it meant, some of them opened the gates and ran out. Gadatas and his men, seeing the gates swing wide, darted in, hard on the heels of the others who fled back again, and they chased them at the sword’s point into the presence of the king.

“They found him on his feet, with his drawn scimitar in his hand. By sheer weight of numbers they overwhelmed him: and not one of his retinue escaped, they were all cut down, some flying, others snatching up anything to serve as a shield and defending themselves as best they could. Cyrus sent squadrons of cavalry down the different roads with orders to kill all they found in the street, while those who knew Assyrian were to warn the inhabitants to stay indoors under pain of death. While they carried out these orders, Gobryas and Gadatas returned, and first they gave thanks to the gods and did obeisance because they had been suffered to take vengeance on their unrighteous king, and then they fell to kissing the hands and feet of Cyrus, shedding tears of joy and gratitude. And when it was day and those who held the heights knew that the city was taken and the king slain, they were persuaded to surrender the citadel themselves.”