300 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
to the Persian Empire.1 In these events Nabonadius had borne no hand, being occupied with
the defenses of his own capital. These were completed. A period of fourteen years elapsed
before Cyrus turned his attention to the great power which by the Lydian alliance had
thrown down the gage of battle. The actual invasion of Babylonia did not begin until B. C.
539, and then Nabonadius behind his ramparts regarded the movement with contempt. It was
not thought possible that the Persian could penetrate to the capital, or that if he did,
he could make the slightest impression upon the massive fortifications of the city.
Cyrus was now on the march. About midway between Ecbatana and Babylon an incident occurred
highly characteristic of the times. In crossing the river Gyndes one of the white horses
which drew the chariot of the sun was drowned. The Persian king thereupon ordered a halt,
and consumed the better part of the summer and fall in punishing the river, which he did
by scattering its waters through three hundred and sixty channels into the desert! In
the following spring he was enabled to resume the less important work of overthrowing an
Empire! Such was the folly of antiquity.
Cyrus crossed the Tigris without opposition, and found himself in Babylonia. He proceeded
to the immediate vicinity of Babylon, where he was encountered by the army of Nabonadius,
who had resolved to risk a battle in defense of his capital. In the conflict which ensued
the Babylonians were completely defeated. The larger portion of the army retreated into
the city, but the king with the remainder threw himself into Borsippa, thus perhaps
l It is narrated in a tradition which has gone into the literature of all lands, that the
Lydian king was condemned to die by fire. When the pyre was prepared and Croesus was
seated thereon awaiting the application of the torch, he cried out, "0, Solon, Solon!" For
he remembered the declaration of the Athenian sage that none might be truly considered
happy until they were dead. This exclamation led to an inquiry on the part of Cyrus as to
what god it was that Croesus called upon. On hearing the story of Solon and his sayings,
the half-barbaric mind of the Persian was struck with admiration, and Croesus was released
from the penalty.
hoping to divide the forces of his antagonist. But the hope was vain. He who was fool
enough to attack the Gyndes for drowning a horse, was wise enough to know that Babylon was
the object of his endeavor.
Meanwhile in the city there was little alarm. Belshazzar, the eldest son of the king, had
remained therein, and to him, when his father went forth to contend with the Persians, the
general direction of affairs was naturally intrusted. The queen" his mother, also
remained in the city, against the walls of which for a season the hosts of Cyrus beat in
vain. Indeed, the Persian soon despaired of taking Babylon by any director open means. He
therefore resorted to an audacious expedient, which was planned and executed with entire
success. Leaving a portion of his troops to occupy the attention of the Babylonians before
the city walls, he withdrew with the remainder to a safe distance up the river, and there
having marked the topography of the country, undertook the work of dispersing a large part
of the waters of the Euphrates from the natural beds into canals which he had cut for the
purpose. When the work was done, and everything was in readiness to dissipate tie river,
Cyrus still delayed. He had learned that the great annual festival of the Babylonians was
about to be celebrated, and he awaited the coming of that event as the best time to strike
the impending blow.
Meanwhile, the Babylonians, in contempt of an enemy whom they supposed to be foiled in his
purposes, made unusual preparations for the great feast. The young prince, Belshazzar,
gave himself up recklessly to the occasion. A thousand nobles were invited to a royal
banquet at the palace. There was splendor within and darkness without. It was the night of
doom. While the revel was going on in the wild abandonment of victorious debauchery, the
hardy Persian was opening the sluices into his canals above the city. The river began to
sink, but made no moan. The invaders hurried along the banks to the wall of the city.
There was no alarm. The river had left on