The Legend of Shirak

The shepherd who defeated the whole army

In the 7th century BC Scythian tribes, inhabiting the east of the lower reaches of the Syr Darya river, attacked Medes – the heart of the future Persian empire. These tribes were the Scythians. In 530 BC Cyrus II troops were defeated in a battle with Massagetae headed by Tomyris. The Persians never forgave these nomads and a humiliating defeat, so in 520 BC Darius I decided to undertake a military campaign against the Saka, which would finally break the resistance of the nomads.
Darius I gathered 700,000 soldiers against the Saka. It evidences that he intended not only to conquer the Saka but also had other purposes. The conquest of the Saka would have weakened the positions of the Scythians in the Black Sea region who would have surrendered to the Persians in the absence of the aid by their eastern relatives. Conquering the Black Sea region, Darius planned to launch a successful campaign against the Greek city-states.

At that historical period the country of the Saka had no single government. Many Saka tribes fought for territory and pastures and were constantly attacking each other. Among them was a tribal chief Skunk whose son Shirak was one of the best Saka warriors. But Shirak preferred to maintain a peaceful lifestyle and to shepherd flocks of sheep, living in love and happiness with his family. Once, Shirak’s tribe was attacked by the neighboring Scythians, who were bribed by Darius the Great. During the battle Shirak lost his wife and was also wounded. He galloped away into the steppe, buried his wife and grieved at her for seven days. On the seventh day he swore over the grave of his wife that he would take revenge upon the Saka traitors and the Persians.

Upon his return to the tribe, he came to the council, which brought together tribal chiefs Omar, Tamyr and Skhefar. They discussed a protection plan. Shirak offered his plan. He said: "We are now at the edge of a desolate and arid desert. We are followed by Darius with his army. If we trap the Persians, if we get them into the heart of the desert, they will die. Life is given only once, and then comes death. So isn’t it better to die in such a way that future generations would remember you as a man who sacrificed his life for the sake of his motherland, for the sake of his people?! "The only thing he asked them was to take care of their children.

After that Shirak jagged all of his own face, cut off his own ears and nose and went to the camp of the Persians. When he was brought to Darius, Darius asked him why he betrayed his people, Shirak said: “Here, look what they did to me! I need to take revenge! I will show you a roundabout way and bring you to the rear of the Scythian army. So I will avenge for the humiliation!”.

The Persians believed Shirak. He told them to take the food for seven days only. Shirak led them to the barren desert. Many Persians perished during the journey from thirst and heat. Shirak promised to take the troops out to the oases, but they were going deeper into the desert and there was no water. Then the commander of the Persians Ranasbat put a sword to the throat of Shirak intending to kill him. Shirak said: “This is a victory!” and dropped dead.

The Persian troops came out of the desert with heavy losses. The King Darius I survived, but ordered to leave the land of the Saka. Later he conquered many other nations in Asia and Europe, but the Saka remained beyond the reach of Persian arrows.
The memory of Shirak and his great devotion to his people swept through the millennia, and even today it is praised in legends and folk songs of Central Asian peoples.