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Appian's History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars §§21-25


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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King Mithridates VI of Pontus as Heracles. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Mithridates VI as Heracles (Louvre)
[§21] [88] Not long afterward he [king Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus] captured Manius Aquilius, one of the ambassadors and the one who was most to blame for this war. Mithridates led him around, bound on an ass, and compelled him to introduce himself to the public as "maniac". Finally, at Pergamon, Mithridates poured molten gold down his throat, thus rebuking the Romans for their bribe-taking.

After appointing satraps over the various nations he proceeded to Magnesia, Ephesus, and Mitylene, all of which received him gladly. The Ephesians overthrew the Roman statues which had been erected in their cities - for which they paid the penalty not long afterward.

On his return from Ionia Mithridates took the city of Stratonicea, imposed a pecuniary fine on it, and placed a garrison in it. Seeing a handsome virgin there he added her to his list of wives. Her name, if anybody wishes to know it, was Monima, the daughter of Philopoemen. Against those Magnesians, Paphlagonians, and Lycians who still opposed him he directed his generals to make war.


Sulla. Glyptothek München (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Sulla (Glyptothek, München)

[§22] Such was the state of affairs with Mithridates. As soon as his outbreak and invasion of Asia were known at Rome the Romans declared war against him, although they were occupied with grievous dissensions in the city and a formidable Social war, almost all parts of Italy having revolted one after another. When the consuls cast lots, the government of Asia and the Mithridatic war fell to [Lucius] Cornelius Sulla.

As they had no money to defray his expenses they voted to sell the treasures that [the legendary] king Numa Pompilius had set apart for sacrifices to the gods; so great was their want of means at that time and so great their ambition for the commonwealth. A part of these treasures, sold hastily, brought 90,000 pounds' weight of gold and this was all they had to spend on so great a war. Moreover Sulla was detained a long time by the civil wars, as I have stated in my history of the same.




In the meantime Mithridates built a large number of ships for an attack on Rhodes, and he wrote secretly to all his satraps and magistrates that on the thirtieth day thereafter they should set upon all Romans and Italians in their towns, and upon their wives and children and their domestics of Italian birth, kill them and throw their bodies out unburied, and share their goods with himself. He threatened to punish any who should bury the dead or conceal the living, and offered rewards to informers and to those who should kill persons in hiding, and freedom to slaves for betraying their masters. To debtors for killing money-lenders he offered release from one half of their obligations.

These secret orders Mithridates sent to all the cities at the same time. When the appointed day came calamities of various kinds befell the province of Asia, among which were the following:

  • [§23] The Ephesians tore fugitives, who had taken refuge in the temple of Artemis, from the very images of the goddess and slew them.
  • The Pergameans shot with arrows those who had fled to the temple of Aesculapius, while they were still clinging to his statues.
  • The Adramytteans followed those who sought to escape by swimming, into the sea, and killed them and drowned their children.
  • The Caunii, who had been made subject to Rhodes after the war against [the Seleucid king] Antiochus[III the Great] and had been lately liberated by the Romans, pursued the Italians who had taken refuge about the Vesta statue of the senate house, tore them from the shrine, killed children before their mothers' eyes, and then killed the mothers themselves and their husbands after them.
  • The citizens of Tralles, in order to avoid the appearance of blood-guiltiness, hired a savage monster named Theophilus, of Paphlagonia, to do the work. He conducted the victims to the temple of Concord, and there murdered them, chopping off the hands of some who were embracing the sacred images.
Such was the awful fate that befell the Romans and Italians throughout the province of Asia, men, women, and children, their freedmen and slaves, all who were of Italian blood; by which it was made very plain that it was quite as much hatred of the Romans as fear of Mithridates that impelled the Asiatics to commit these atrocities. But they paid a double penalty for their crime - one at the hands of Mithridates himself, who ill-treated them perfidiously not long afterward, and the other at the hands of Cornelius Sulla.

Gold sealing ring with a portrait of Ptolemy XI Alexander (?). Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Jona Lendering.
Gold sealing ring with a portrait of Ptolemy XI Alexander (?) (Louvre, Paris)

In the meantime Mithridates crossed over to the island of Cos, where he was welcomed by the inhabitants and where he received, and afterward brought up in a royal way, a son of [the Ptolemaic king Ptolemy X] Alexander, the reigning sovereign of Egypt, who had been left there by his grandmother, Cleopatra, together with a large sum of money.[1] From the treasures of Cleopatra he sent vast wealth, works of art, precious stones, women's ornaments, and a great deal of money to Pontus.

[§24] While these things were going on the Rhodians strengthened their walls and their harbor and erected engines of war everywhere, receiving some assistance from Telmessus and Lycia. All the Italians who escaped from Asia collected at Rhodes, among them Lucius Cassius, the proconsul of the province.[2]




When Mithridates approached with his fleet, the inhabitants destroyed the suburbs in order that they might not be of service to the enemy. Then they put to sea for a naval engagement with some of their ships ranged for an attack in front and some on the flank. Mithridates, who was sailing around in a quinquereme, ordered his ships to extend their wing out to sea and to quicken the rowing in order to surround the enemy, for they were fewer in number.

The Rhodians were apprehensive of this maneuver and retired slowly. Finally they turned about and took refuge in the harbor, closed the gates, and fought Mithridates from the walls. He encamped near the city and continually tried to gain entrance to the harbor, but failing to do so he waited for the arrival of his infantry from Asia. In the meantime there was continual skirmishing going on among the soldiers in ambush around the walls. As the Rhodians had the best of it in these affairs, they gradually plucked up courage and kept their ships well in hand in order to dart upon the enemy whenever they should discover an opportunity.

[§25] As one of the king's merchantmen was moving near them under sail a Rhodian two-bank ship advanced against it. Many on both sides hastened to the rescue and a severe naval engagement took place. Mithridates outweighed his antagonists both in fury and in the multitude of his fleet, but the Rhodians circled around and rammed his ships with such skill that they took one of his triremes in tow with its crew and tackle and much spoil, and brought it into the harbor.

Another time, when one of their quinqueremes had been taken by the enemy, the Rhodians, not knowing this fact, sent out six of their swiftest ships to look for it, under command of their admiral, Demagoras. Mithridates despatched twenty-five of his against them. Demagoras retired before them until sunset. When it began to grow dark and the king's ships turned around to sail back, Demagoras fell upon them, sunk two, drove two others into Lycia, and returned home on the open sea by night. This was the result of the naval engagement, as unexpected to the Rhodians on account of the smallness of their force as to Mithridates on account of the largeness of his.

In this engagement, while the king was sailing about in his ship and urging on his men, an allied ship from Chios ran against his in the confusion with a severe shock. The king pretended not to mind it at the time, but later he punished the pilot and the lookout man, and conceived a hatred for all Chians.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Mithridatic wars   :   part 6





Note 1:
This Egyptian prince was at Cos because his father was in deep troubles, and had sent his family abroad. King Ptolemy X Alexander had to flee and was killed on Cyprus (December 88). The young man managed to escape from Mithridates and reached Rome. Sulla appointed him as king of Egypt, and he accepted the same name as his father, i.e., Ptolemy XI Alexander. His reign was a failure.

Note 2:
His first name was not Lucius, but Cassius.





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