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Syloson's Cloak

Darius I (Old Persian Dârayavauš): king of ancient Persia, whose reign lasted from 522 to 486. He seized power after killing king Gaumâta, fought a civil war (described in the Behistun inscription), and was finally able to refound the Achaemenid empire, which had been very loosely organized until then. Darius fought several foreign wars, which brought him to India and Thrace. When he died, the Persian empire had reached its largest extent. He was succeeded by his son Xerxes.

In the following text, Herodotus of Halicarnassus tells how Darius found a loyal supporter on Samos - although the story is told from another perspective. In 522 or 521, the leader of Samos, Polycrates of Samos, had been killed by the Persian satrap of Lydia Oroetus, who wanted to obtain Polycrates' navy, to strengthen his position in the chaotic situation after the death of the Persian king Cambyses in 522., Darius had already replaced Oroetus by another satrap, but still needed a loyal Greek as leader of Samos. The following story tells how Syloson of Samos used Darius, and how Darius used him. The translation of Herodotus' Histories 3.139-141 was made by Aubrey de Selincourt.

These events were followed by the capture of [the Greek island] Samos, which was the first place, either inside or outside the Greek world, to fall to Darius. During the campaign of Cambyses in Egypt, a great many Greeks visited that country for one reason or another: some, as was to be expected, for trade, some to serve in the army, others, no doubt, out of mere curiosity, to see what they could see. Amongst the sightseers was Aeaces' son Syloson, the exiled brother of Polycrates of Samos.

While he was in Egypt, Syloson had an extraordinary stroke of luck: he was hanging about the streets of Memphis dressed in a flame-coloured cloak, when Darius, who at that time was a member of Cambyses' guardnote and not yet of any particular importance, happened to catch sight of him and, seized with a sudden  longing to possess the cloak, came up to Syloson and made him an offer for it. His extreme anxiety to get it was obvious enough to Syloson, who replied that he would not sell it at any price, but added that, if it was really necessary that the cloak should be his, he would give it him as a free gift. Darius thereupon thanked him and took it. Now subsequent events showed that Syloson must have been inspired to answer as he did, though at the moment he merely thought that he had lost his precious cloak by his own stupidity.

But as time went on and Darius, after the death of Cambyses and the revolt of the seven against the Magian, ascended the throne, things began to look very different; for Syloson now had the pleasant news that the man whose request for the flame-coloured cloak he had formerly gratified in Egypt, had become king of Persia. He hurried to Susa, sat down at the entrance of the royal palace, and claimed to be included in the official list of the King's Benefactors.note

The sentry on guard reported his claim to Darius, who asked in surprise who the man might be. 'For surely,' he said, 'as I have so recently come to the throne, there cannot be any Greek to whom I am indebted for a service. Hardly any of them have been here yet, and I certainly cannot remember owing anything to a Greek. But bring him in all the same, that I may know what he means by this claim.'

The guard escorted Syloson into the royal presence, and when the interpreters asked him who he was and what he had done to justify the statement that he was the king's benefactor, he reminded Darius of the story of the cloak, and said that he was the man who had given it him. 'Sir,' exclaimed Darius, 'you are the most generous of men; for while I was still a person of no power or consequence you gave me a present - small indeed, but deserving then as much gratitude from me as would the most splendid of gifts to-day. I will give you in return more silver and gold than you can count, that you may never regret that you once did a favor to Darius the son of Hystaspes.'

'My lord,' replied Syloson, 'do not give me gold or silver but recover Samos for me, my native island, which now since Oroetus killed my brother Polycrates is in the hands of one of our servants. Let Samos be your gift to me - but let no man in the island be killed or enslaved.'

Darius consented to Syloson's request, and dispatched a force under command of Otanes, one of the seven, with orders to to as Syloson had asked; and Otanes, accordingly, went down to the coast.