Kings are chosen in a variety of ways, but perhaps the most bizarre is recorded by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, that anthologist of the bizarre, the strange and the weird – how Darius became king of Persia around 520BC.
Following the death of King Cambyses, the throne of the Persian Empire had been usurped by a powerful Median religious cult called the Magi, which had installed its own puppet to it.
Seven Persian noblemen plotted a coup d’état to topple the puppet and destroy the influence of the Magi. In this they were successful. What remained was to choose who among them should become king. Let Herodotus tell the story in his own words…
They discussed the fairest way of deciding who should have the throne. To choose which should be king, they proposed to mount their horses on the outskirts of the city, and he whose horse neighed first after the sun was up would have the throne.
Darius had a clever groom called Oebares. After the meeting had broken up, he went to see this fellow, and told him of the arrangement they had come to. “So if,” he added, “you can think of some dodge or other, do what you can to see that this prize falls to me, and to no one else.”
“Well, master,” Oebares answered, “if your chance of winning the throne depends upon nothing but that, you may set your mind at rest; you may be perfectly confident – you, and nobody else, will be king. I know a charm which will just suit our purpose.”
“If,” said Darius, “you really have got something that will do the trick, you had better hurry and get it all worked out. Tomorrow’s the day – so there isn’t much time.”
Oebares, accordingly, as soon as it was dark, took from the stables the mare which Darius’ horse was particularly fond of and tied her up in the outskirts of the city. Then he brought along the stallion and led him round and round the mare, getting closer and closer in narrowing circles, and finally allowed him to mount her.
Next morning, the noblemen, according to their agreement, came riding on their horses through the city and when they reached the spot where the mare had been tethered on the previous night, Darius’ horse started forward and neighed.
At the same instant, though the sky was clear, there was a flash of lightning and s clap of thunder; the double miracle was like a sign from heaven; the election of Darius was assured, and the others leapt from their saddles and bowed to the ground at his feet.
That is one account of how Oebares made the horse neigh. The Persians also have another, namely that he rubbed the mare’s vagina and then kept his hand covered inside his breeches. When the sun was rising and the horses were about to be released, he drew his hand out and put it to the nostrils of Darius’ horse, which at the smell of the mare at once snorted and neighed.
In this way Darius became king of Persia.