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Appian's History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars §§26-30


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)
[§26] [Autumn 88] About the same time the land forces of [king] Mithridates [VI Eupator of Pontus] set sail in merchant vessels and triremes, and a storm, blowing from Caunus, drove them toward Rhodes. The Rhodians promptly sailed out to meet them, fell upon them while they were still scattered and suffering from the effects of the tempest, captured some, rammed others, and burned others, and took about 400 prisoners.

Thereupon Mithridates prepared for another naval engagement and siege at the same time. He built a sambuca, an immense machine for scaling walls, and mounted it on two ships.[1] Some deserters showed him a hill that was easy to climb, where the temple of Zeus Atabyrius was situated, surrounded by a low wall. He placed a part of his army in ships by night, distributed scaling ladders to others, and commanded both parties to move silently until they should see a fire signal given from Mount Atabyrius; and then to make the greatest possible uproar, and some to attack the harbor and others the wall. Accordingly they approached in profound silence.


 
The Rhodian sentries knew what was going on and lighted a fire. The army of Mithridates, thinking that this was the fire signal from Atabyrius, broke the silence with a loud shout, the scaling party and the naval contingent shouting all together. The Rhodians, not at all dismayed, answered the shout and rushed to the walls in crowds. The king's forces accomplished nothing that night, and the next day they were beaten off.

[§27] The Rhodians were most dismayed by the sambuca, which was moved against the wall where the temple of Isis stands. It was operating with weapons of various kinds, both rams and projectiles. Soldiers in numerous small boats circled around it with ladders, ready to mount the wall by means of it. Nevertheless the Rhodians awaited its attack with firmness. Finally the sambuca collapsed of its own weight, and an apparition of Isis was seen hurling a great mass of fire down upon it. Mithridates despaired of his undertaking and retired from Rhodes.

[Winter 88/87] He then laid siege to [the Lycian town] Patara and began to cut down a grove dedicated to Latona, to get material for his machines, until he was warned in a dream to spare the sacred trees. Leaving Pelopidas to continue the war against the Lycians he sent Archelaus to Greece to gain allies by persuasion or force according as he could.

After this Mithridates committed most of his tasks to his generals, and applied himself to raising troops, making arms, and enjoying himself with his Stratonicean wife. He also held court to try those who were accused of conspiring against him, or of inciting revolution, or of favoring the Romans in any way.

[§28] While Mithridates was thus occupied the following events took place in Greece: Archelaus, sailing thither with abundant supplies and a large fleet, possessed himself by force and violence of Delos and other strongholds which had revolted from the Athenians. He slew 20,000 men in these places, most of whom were Italians, and turned the strongholds over to the Athenians. In this way, and by boasting about Mithridates and extravagantly praising him, he brought the Athenians into alliance with him.

[87] Archelaus sent them the sacred treasure of Delos by the hands of Aristion, an Athenian citizen, attended by 2,000 soldiers to guard the money. These soldiers Aristion made use of to make himself master of the country, putting to death immediately some of those who favored the Romans and sending others to Mithridates. And these things he did although he professed to be a philosopher of the school of Epicurus.

(Nor was it only in Athens that men played the part of tyrants as did he and before him Critias and his fellow philosophers. But in Italy, too, some of the Pythagoreans and those known as the Seven Wise Men in other parts of the Grecian world, who undertook to manage public affairs, governed more cruelly, and made themselves greater tyrants than ordinary despots; whence arose doubt and suspicion concerning other philosophers, whether their discourses about wisdom proceeded from a love of virtue or as a comfort in their poverty and idleness. We see many of these now, obscure and poverty stricken, wearing the garb of philosophy as a matter of necessity, and railing bitterly at the rich and powerful, not because they have any real contempt for riches and power, but from envy of the possessors of the same. Those whom they speak ill of have much better reason for despising them. These things the reader should consider as spoken against the philosopher Aristion, who is the cause of this digression.)

[§29] Archelaus brought over to the side of Mithridates the Achaeans, the Lacedaemonians, and all of Boeotia except Thespiae, to which he laid close siege. At the same time Metrophanes, who had been sent by Mithridates with another army, ravaged Euboea and the territory of Demetrias and Magnesia, which states refused to espouse his cause.

Bruttius [2] advanced against him with a small force from Macedonia, had a naval fight with him, sunk one large ship and one hemiolia, and killed all who were in them while Metrophanes was looking on. The latter fled in terror and, as he had a favorable wind, Bruttius could not overtake him, but stormed Sciathos, which was a storehouse of plunder for barbarians, and crucified some of them who were slaves and cut off the hands of the freedmen.

Then he turned against Boeotia, having received reinforcements of 1,000 horse and foot from Macedonia. Near Chaeronea he was engaged in a fight of three days' duration with Archelaus and Aristion, which had an indecisive result. When the Lacedaemonians and Achaeans came to the aid of Archelaus and Aristion, Bruttius thought that he was not a match for all of them together and withdrew to Piraeus until Archelaus came up with his fleet and seized that place also.


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

[§30] [Lucius Cornelius] Sulla, who had been appointed general of the Mithridatic war by the Romans, now for the first time passed over to Greece with five legions and a few cohorts and troops of horse and straightway called for money, reinforcements and provisions from Aetolia and Thessaly. As soon as he considered himself strong enough, he crossed over to attack Archelaus. As he was passing through the country, all Boeotia joined him except a few, and among others the great city of Thebes which had rather lightly taken sides with the Mithridateans against the Romans, but now even more nimbly changed from Archelaus to Sulla before coming to a trial of strength.

When Sulla reached Attica he detached part of his army to lay siege to Aristion in Athens, and himself went down to attack Piraeus, where Archelaus had taken shelter behind the wall with his forces. The height of the wall was about twenty meters and it was built of large square stones. It was the work of Pericles in the time of the Peloponnesian War, and as he rested his hope of victory on Piraeus he made it as strong as possible.[3]

Notwithstanding the height of the walls, Sulla planted his ladders against them at once. After inflicting and receiving much damage (for the Cappadocians bravely repelled his attack), he retired exhausted to Eleusis and Megara, where he built engines for a new attack upon Piraeus and formed a plan for besieging it with mounds. Artifices and apparatus of all kinds, iron, catapults, and everything of that sort were supplied by Thebes. Sulla chopped down the grove of the Academy [4] and constructed his largest engines there. He demolished the Long walls, and used the stones, timber, and earth for building mounds.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Mithridatic wars   :   part 7





Note 1:
A covered scaling ladder, placed on an undercarriage.

Note 2:
Quintus Braetius Sura: deputy (pro quaestore) of the governor of Macedonia, Gaius Sentius Saturninus.

Note 3:
Piraeus was the port of Athens. During the Peloponnesian War (431-404), the Athenian leader Pericles evacuated the countryside and ordered the Athenians to remain inside the city, which was to be supplied from overseas.

Note 4:
The site of the school of Plato.





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