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Appian's History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars §§41-45


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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Sulla. Glyptothek München (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Sulla (Glyptothek, München)
[§41] [86] Thence Archelaus withdrew to Thessaly by way of Boeotia and drew what was left of his entire forces together at Thermopylae, both his own and those brought by Dromichiaetes. He also united with his command the army that had invaded Macedonia under Arcathias, the son of king Mithridates [VI Eupator of Pontus], which was fresh and at nearly its full strength, and had lately received recruits from Mithridates; for he never ceased sending forward reinforcements.

While Archelaus was hastily gathering these forces, [the Roman commander Lucius Cornelius] Sulla burned Piraeus, which had given him more trouble than the city of Athens, not sparing the arsenal, or the navy yard, or any other of its famous belongings.




Then he marched against Archelaus, proceeding also by way of Boeotia. As they neared each other, the forces of Archelaus just from Thermopylae advanced into Phocis, consisting of Thracian, Pontic, Scythian, Cappadocian, Bithynian, Galatian, and Phrygian troops, and others from Mithridates' newly acquired territory, in all 120,000 men. Each nationality had its own general, but Archelaus had supreme command over all. Sulla's forces were Italians and some Greeks and Macedonians, who had lately deserted Archelaus and come over to him, and a few others from the surrounding country, but they were not one third the number of the enemy.

[§42] When they had taken position opposite each other Archelaus repeatedly led out his forces and offered battle. Sulla hesitated on account of the nature of the ground and the numbers of the enemy. When Archelaus moved toward Chalcis Sulla followed him closely, watching for a favorable time and place. When he saw the enemy encamped in a rocky region near Chaeronea, where there was no chance of escape for the vanquished, he took possession of a broad plain nearby and drew up his forces in such a way that he could compel Archelaus to fight whether he wanted to or not, and where the slope of the plain favored the Romans either in advancing or retreating.


The battle field of Chaeronea. Photo Jona Lendering.
The plain of Chaeronea, seen from the east. The mountain is the Parnassus,

Archelaus was hedged in by rocks which, in a battle, would not allow his whole army to act in concert, as he could not bring them together by reason of the unevenness of the ground; and if they were routed their flight would be impeded by the rocks. Relying for these reasons on his advantage of position Sulla moved forward in such a way that the enemy's superiority of numbers should not be of any service to him.[1]

Archelaus did not dream of coming to an engagement at that time, for which reason he had been careless in choosing the place for his camp. Now that the Romans were advancing he perceived sorrowfully and too late the badness of his position, and he sent forward a detachment of horse to prevent the movement. The detachment was put to flight and shattered among the rocks. He next charged with sixty chariots, hoping to sever and break in pieces the formation of the legions by the shock. The Romans opened their ranks and the chariots were carried through by their own momentum to the rear, and before they could turn back they were surrounded and destroyed by the javelins of the rear guard.




[§43] Although Archelaus might have fought safely from his fortified camp, where the crags would perhaps have defended him, he hastily led out his vast multitude of men who had not expected to fight here, and drew them up, in a place that had proved much too narrow, because Sulla was already approaching. He first made a powerful charge with his horse, cut the Roman formation in two, and, by reason of the smallness of their numbers, completely surrounded both parts.

The Romans turned their faces to the enemy on all sides and fought bravely. The divisions of Galba and Hortensius suffered most since Archelaus led the battle against them in person, and the barbarians fighting under the eye of the commander were spurred by emulation to the highest pitch of valor. But Sulla moved to their aid with a large body of horse and Archelaus, feeling sure that it was Sulla who was approaching, for he saw the standards of the commander-in-chief, and a greater cloud of dust arising, released his grasp and began to resume his first position.

Sulla, leading the best part of his horse and picking up two new cohorts that had been placed in reserve, struck the enemy before they had executed their maneuver and formed a solid front. He threw them into confusion, put them to flight, and pursued them. While victory was dawning on that side, [Lucius Licinius] Murena, who commanded the left wing, was not idle. Chiding his soldiers for their remissness he, too, dashed upon the enemy valiantly and put them to flight.

[§44] When Archelaus' two wings gave way, the center no longer held its ground, but took to promiscuous flight. Then everything that Sulla had foreseen befell the enemy. Not having room to turn around, or an open country for flight, they were driven by their pursuers among the rocks. Some of them rushed into the hands of the Romans.

Others with more wisdom fled toward their own camp. Archelaus placed himself in front of them and barred the entrance, and ordered them to turn and face the enemy, thus betraying the greatest inexperience of the exigencies of war. They obeyed him with alacrity, but as they no longer had either generals to lead, or officers to align them, or standards to show where they belonged, but were scattered in disorderly rout, and had no room either to fly or to fight, the pursuit having brought them into their very narrowest place, they were killed without resistance, some by the enemy, upon whom they could not retaliate, and others by their own friends in the jam and confusion.

Again they fled toward the gates of the camp, around which they became congested. They up braided the gate-keepers. They appealed to them in the name of their country's gods and their common relationship, and reproached them that they were slaughtered not so much by the swords of the enemy as by the indifference of their friends. Finally Archelaus, after more delay than was necessary, opened the gates and received the disorganized runaways. When the Romans observed this they gave a great cheer, burst into the camp with the fugitives, and made their victory complete.

[§45] Archelaus and the rest, who made their escape singly, came together at Chalcis. Not more than 10,000 of the 120,000 remained. The Roman loss was only fifteen, and two of these turned up afterward. Such was the result of the battle of Chaeronea between Sulla and Archelaus, the general of Mithridates, to which the sagacity of Sulla and the blundering of Archelaus contributed in equal measure.

Sulla captured a large number of prisoners and a great quantity of arms and spoils, the useless part of which he put in a heap. Then he girded himself according to the Roman custom and burned it as a sacrifice to the gods of war.

After giving his army a short rest he hastened with his best troops after Archelaus, but as the Romans had no ships the latter sailed securely among the islands and ravaged the coasts. He landed at Zacynthus and laid siege to it, but being attacked in the night by a party of Romans who were sojourning there, he reembarked in a hurry and returned to Chalcis more like a robber than a warrior.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Mithridatic wars   :   part 10





Note 1:
A more complete account of the battle, based on Sulla's own commentaries, can be found in Plutarch's Life of Sulla, 17-19.




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