Earth and water
In the writings of the Ancient Greek chronicler Herodotus, the phrase earth and water (γῆ καί ὕδωρ ge kai hydor) is used to represent the demand of the Persians from the cities or people who surrendered to them.
Usage in Herodotus' histories
In Book 4, Herodotus mentions for the first time the term earth and water in the answer of king Idanthyrsus of the Scythians to king Darius. In Book 5, it is reported that Darius sent heralds demanding earth and water from king Amyntas I of Macedon. In the 6th book, Darius sent heralds throughout Hellas bidding them demand earth and water for the king. In Book 7, he recounts that when the Persians sent envoys to the Spartans demanding the traditional symbol of surrender, an offering of soil and water, the Spartans threw them into a deep well, suggesting that upon their arrival at the bottom, they could "Dig it out for yourselves."
The demand for earth and water symbolized that those surrendering to Persians gave up all their rights over their land and every product of the land. Giving earth and water they recognized the Persian authority over everything; even their lives belonged to the king of Persians. Then negotiations would take place to specify the obligations and the benefits of the liegemen.
The phrase earth and water, even in modern Greek, symbolizes unconditional subordination to a conqueror.
According to the modern historian J. M. Balcer, the significance of earth and water is that they were Zoroastrian symbols and representative of vassalage to the Persian Empire. "Persian heralds traveled throughout Greece demanding the recognition of Persian Suzerainty and the Zoroastrian symbols of earth and water, the marks of vassalage...".
- Herodotus The Histories, Book Seven, section 133.
- J. M. Balcer, "The Persian Wars Against Greece: A Reassessment", Historia;; 38 (1989) p. 130