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Appian's History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars §§1-5


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. Fortunately, the Mithridatic wars belong to these better preserved parts. They are a very valuable source for the history of the Roman expansion in what is now called Turkey.

The translation was made by Horace White; notes and additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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  [§1] The Greeks think that the Thracians who marched to the Trojan War with Rhesus, who was killed by Diomedes in the nighttime in the manner described in Homer's poems, fled to the outlet of the Euxine sea at the place where the crossing to Thrace is shortest. Some say that as they found no ships they remained there and possessed themselves of the country called Bebrycia. Others say that they crossed over to the country beyond Byzantium called Thracian Bithynia and settled along the river Bithya, but were forced by hunger to return to Bebrycia, to which they gave the name of Bithynia from the river where they had previously dwelt; or perhaps the name was changed by them insensibly with the lapse of time, as there is not much difference between Bithynia and Bebrycia. So some think. Others say that their first ruler was Bithys, the son of Zeus and Thrace, and that the two countries received their names from them.

[§2] So much by way of preface concerning Bithynia. Of the forty-nine kings who successively ruled the country before the Romans, it does not concern me to make special mention in writing Roman history. Prusias [II], surnamed the Hunter, was the one to whom Perseus, king of Macedonia, gave his sister in marriage. When Perseus and the Romans, not long afterward, went to war with each other, Prusias did not take sides with either of them.

[168] When Perseus was taken prisoner Prusias went to meet the Roman generals, clad in a toga which they call the tebennus, shod in the Italian fashion, with his head shaved and wearing on it a pilleus in the manner of slaves who have been made free in their masters' wills, and making himself appear base and insignificant in other ways. When he met them he said in the Latin tongue, "I am the freedman of the Romans, which is to say 'emancipated.'" They laughed at him and sent him to Rome. As he appeared equally ridiculous there, he obtained pardon.

[§3] [154] Some time later, being incensed against Attalus[II Philadelphus], king of the Asiatic country about Pergamon, Prusias ravaged his territory. When the Roman Senate learned of this, they sent word to Prusias that he must not attack Attalus, who was their friend and ally. As he was slow in obeying, the ambassadors laid stern commands upon him to obey the orders of the Senate and to go with 1,000 horse to the boundary line to negotiate a treaty with Attalus, who, they said, was awaiting him there with an equal number.

Despising the handful of men with Attalus and hoping to ensnare him, Prusias sent the ambassadors in advance to say that he was following with 1,000 men, but actually put his whole army in motion and advanced as if to battle.

When Attalus and the ambassadors learned of this they took to promiscuous flight. Prusias seized the beasts of burden belonging to the Romans that had been left behind, captured and destroyed the stronghold of Nicephorium, burned the temples in it, and besieged Attalus, who had fled to Pergamon.

When these things became known in Rome a fresh embassy was sent, ordering Prusias to make compensation to Attalus for the damage done to him. Then Prusias became alarmed, obeyed the order, and retired. The ambassadors decided that as a penalty he must transfer to Attalus twenty decked ships at once, and pay him 500 talents of silver within a certain time. Accordingly he gave up the ships and began to make the payments at the prescribed time.

[§4] As Prusias was hated by his subjects on account of his extreme cruelty they became greatly attached to his son, Nicomedes. Thus the latter fell under the suspicion of Prusias, who sent him to live in Rome. [149] Learning that he was much esteemed there also, Prusias directed him to petition the Senate to release him from the payment of the money still due to Attalus. He sent Menas as his fellow ambassador, and told him if he should secure a remission of the payments to spare Nicomedes, but if not, to kill him at Rome. For this purpose he sent a number of small boats with him and 2,000 soldiers.

As the fine imposed on Prusias was not remitted (for Andronicus, who had been sent by Attalus to argue on the other side, showed that it was less in amount than the plunder), Menas, seeing that Nicomedes was an estimable and attractive young man, was at a loss to know what to do. He did not dare to kill him, nor to go back himself to Bithynia. The young man noticed his delay and sought a conference with him, which was just what he wanted. They formed a plot against Prusias and secured the cooperation of Andronicus, the legate of Attalus, that he should persuade Attalus to take back Nicomedes to Bithynia. They met by agreement at Bernice, a small town in Epirus, where they entered into a ship by night to confer as to what should be done, and separated before daylight.

[§5] In the morning Nicomedes came out of the ship clad in the royal purple and wearing a diadem on his head. Andronicus met him, saluted him as king, and formed an escort for him with 500 soldiers that he had with him. Menas, pretending that he had then for the first time learned that Nicomedes was present, rushed to his 2,000 men and exclaimed with assumed trepidation, "Since we have two kings, one at home and the other going there, we must look out for our own interests, and form a careful judgment of the future, because our safety lies in foreseeing correctly which of them will be the stronger. One of them is an old man, the other is young. The Bithynians are averse to Prusias; they are attached to Nicomedes. The leading Romans are fond of the young man, and Andronicus has already furnished him a guard, showing that Nicomedes is in alliance with Attalus, who rules an extensive dominion alongside the Bithynians and is an old enemy of Prusias."

In addition to this he expatiated on the cruelty of Prusias and his outrageous conduct toward everybody, and the general hatred in which he was held by the Bithynians on this account. When he saw that the soldiers also abhorred the wickedness of Prusias he led them forthwith to Nicomedes and saluted him as king, just as Andronicus had done before, and formed a guard for him with his 2,000 men.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Mithridatic wars   :   part 2
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