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The plot is laid: if all things fall out right,
I shall as famous be by this exploit
As Scythian Tomyris by Cyrus' death.
— Henry VI ptI, act II, sc.iii.

Basic Information

Tomyris was queen of the Massagetae, a nomadic steppe-dwelling people related to the Scythians, who lived in what is today parts of Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great invaded her territory in a brutal and treacherous campaign. At one point the Achaemenids abandoned a camp, leaving behind a great quantity of wine, which they knew the Massagetae had no experience with. As expected, the Massagetae who came upon the camp overly indulged, and while much of their army was inebriated the Achaemenids attacked and massacred them. They captured Tormyris' son Spargapises, who later commited suicide in captivity to avoid being used as a hostage.

After that, Tomyris herself issued a public challenge to Cyrus and led her army to settle the score. She defeated the Achaemenids in 530 BC, slew Cyrus, beheaded him, and stored his head in a wineskin or wine barrel full of blood.


2. Trailer for a movie about Tomyris - I don't know how accurate (or entertaining) the film is, but this gives you an visually-compelling interpretation of what these characters and their world may have looked like

Game and Story Use

  • The Massagetae and Scythians and Achaemenid Empire are interesting cultures largely ignored by gaming. You could use one of them as a basis for one of the factions in your setting to give your story a unique feel.
  • Tomyris could serve as a model for what happens when an underdog is pushed too far by an evil empire. She would make a heck of PC, or the patron that the PCs work for directly.
    • Or, if the PCs are the sort who engage in wholesale slaughter, she could be the model for the ruler who rises up from those who survive their raids and adventures to oppose them.
    • Tomyris clearly had a good sense of dramatic irony, putting Cyrus' head in a wine container filled with blood after he'd used wine as a weapon. Characters in your setting might emulate that aspect by finding an ever-so-appropriate way to punish a defeated foe based on said foe's prior acts of evil.
  • Player characters are unlikely to fall for the wine trap, but it could be used as a bit of backstory or character motivation, an event happening elsewhere in the setting that the PCs need to avenge, or even a possible stratagem for the PCs to use against NPCs if you don't mind a bit of values dissonance, etc.
    • Or, the GM might figure out how to make the PCs fall for it by being especially sneaky and unfair. Like, if it was a trove of healing potions that had an addictive property or incapacitating side effect. If your game is the sort where a cursed item is in keeping with the setting, there's no reason a crafty enemy couldn't intentionally "lose" one while retreating.
  • The head of Cyrus could make for an interesting artifact, possibly ensorcelled via blood magic. See Brazen Head and Honeyed Head of Archonides for ideas about things you can do with a severed head.
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