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Appian's History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars 71-75


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)
[71] [74] When [king]Mithridates[VI Eupator of Pontus] had finished speaking and exciting his army, he invaded Bithynia. [Its king] Nicomedes [IV Philopator] had lately died childless and bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans. [Marcus Aurelius] Cotta, its governor,[1] was a man altogether unwarlike. He fled to Chalcedon with what force he had.

Thus Bithynia again passed under the rule of Mithridates. The Romans from all directions flocked to Cotta at Chalcedon. When Mithridates advanced to that place Cotta did not go out to meet him because he was inexperienced in military affairs, but his naval prefect, Nudus, with a part of the army occupied a very strong position on the plain. He was driven out of it, however, and fled to the gates of Chalcedon over many walls which greatly obstructed his movement. There was a struggle at the gates among those trying to gain entrance simultaneously, for which reason no missile cast by the pursuers missed its mark. The guards at the gates, fearing for the city, let down the gate from the machine. Nudus and some of the other officers were drawn up by ropes. The remainder perished between their friends and their foes, holding out their hands in entreaty to each.


 
Mithridates made good use of his success. He moved his ships up to the harbor the same day, broke the brazen chain that closed the entrance, burned four of the enemy's ships, and towed the remaining sixty away. Nudus offered no resistance, nor Cotta, for they remained shut up inside the walls. The Roman loss was about 3,000, including Lucius Manlius, a man of senatorial rank. Mithridates lost twenty of his Bastarnae, who were the first to break into the harbor.

[72] Lucius [Licinius] Lucullus, who had been chosen consul and general for this war, led one legion of soldiers from Rome, joined with it the two of [Gaius Flavius] Fimbria, and added two others, making in all 30,000 foot and 1,600 horse, with which he pitched his camp near that of Mithridates at Cyzicus.

When he learned from deserters that the king's army contained about 300,000 men and that all his supplies were furnished by foragers or came by sea, he said to those around him that he would presently reduce the enemy without fighting, and he told them to remember his promise. Seeing a mountain well suited for a camp, where he could readily obtain supplies, and could cut off those of the enemy, he moved forward to occupy it in order to gain a victory by that means without danger.

There was only one narrow pass leading to it, and Mithridates held it by a strong guard. He had been advised to do so by Taxiles and his other officers. Lucius Magius, who had brought about the alliance between Sertorius and Mithridates, now that Sertorius was dead, opened secret communications with Lucullus, and having secured pledges from him persuaded Mithridates to allow the Romans to pass through and encamp where they pleased. "The two legions of Fimbria," he said, "want to desert, and will come over to you directly. What is the use of a battle and bloodshed when you can conquer the enemy without fighting?"

Mithridates assented to this advice heedlessly and without suspicion. He allowed the Romans to go through the pass unmolested and to fortify the great hill on his front. When they had possessed themselves of it, they were able to draw supplies from their rear without difficulty. Mithridates, on the other hand, was cut off by a lake, by mountains, and by rivers, from all provisions on the landward side, except an occasional supply secured with difficulty; he had no easy way out and he could not overcome Lucullus on account of the difficulty of the ground, which he had disregarded when he himself had the advantage. Moreover, winter was now approaching and would soon interrupt his supplies by sea. As Lucullus looked over the situation, he reminded his friends of his promise, and showed them that his prediction was practically accomplished.

[73] Although Mithridates might perhaps even now have been able to break through the enemy's lines by force of numbers, he neglected to do so, but pressed the siege of Cyzicus with the apparatus he had prepared, thinking that he should find a remedy in this way both for the badness of his position and for his want of supplies. As he had plenty of soldiers he pushed the siege in every possible way. He blockaded the harbor with a double sea wall and drew a line of circumvallation around the rest of the city. He raised mounds, built machines, towers, and rams protected by tortoises. He constructed a siege engine 50 meters high, from which rose another tower furnished with catapults discharging stones and various kinds of missiles. Two quinqueremes joined together carried another tower against the port, from which a bridge could be projected by a mechanical device when brought near the wall.

When all was in readiness he first sent against the city on ships 3,000 inhabitants of Cyzicus whom he had taken prisoners. These raised their hands toward the wall in supplication and besought their fellow citizens to spare them in their dangerous position, but Pisistratus, the Cyzicean general, proclaimed from the walls that as they were in the enemy's hands they must meet their fate bravely.

[74] When this attempt had failed, Mithridates brought up the machine erected on the ships and suddenly projected the bridge upon the wall and four of his men ran across. The Cyziceans were at first dumbfounded by the novelty of the device and gave way somewhat, but as the rest of the enemy were slow in following, they plucked up courage and thrust the four over the wall. Then they poured burning pitch on the ships and compelled them to back out stern foremost with the machine.

In this way the Cyziceans beat off the invaders by sea. Three times on the same day all the machines on the landward side were massed against the toiling citizens, who flew this way and that way to meet the constantly renewed assault. They broke the rams with stones, or turned them aside with nooses, or deadened their blows with baskets of wool. They extinguished the enemy's fire-bearing missiles with water and vinegar, and broke the force of others by means of garments suspended or linen cloth stretched before them.

In short, they left nothing untried that was within the compass of human zeal. Although they toiled most perseveringly, yet a portion of the wall, that had been weakened by fire, gave way toward evening; but on account of the heat nobody was in a hurry to dash in. The Cyziceans built another wall around it that night, and about this time a tremendous wind came and smashed the rest of the king's machines.

[75] It is said that the city of Cyzicus was given by Zeus to Proserpina by way of dowry, and that of all the gods the inhabitants have most veneration for her. Her festival now came around, on which they are accustomed to sacrifice a black heifer to her, and as they had none they made one of paste. Just then a black heifer swam to them from the sea, dived under the chain at the mouth of the harbor, walked into the city, found her own way to the temple, and took her place by the altar. The Cyziceans sacrificed her with joyful hopes.

Thereupon the friends of Mithridates advised him to sail away from the place since it was sacred, but he would not do so. He ascended Mount Dindymus, which overhung the city, and built a mound extending from it to the city walls, on which he constructed towers, and, at the same time, undermined the wall with tunnels. As his horses were not useful here, and were weak for want of food and had sore hoofs, he sent them by a roundabout way to Bithynia.

Lucullus fell upon them as they were crossing the river Rhyndacus, killed a large number, and captured 15,000 men, 6,000 horses, and a large amount of baggage.

While these things were transpiring at Cyzicus Eumachus, one of Mithridates' generals, overran Phrygia and killed a great many Romans, with their wives and children, subjugated the Pisidians and the Isaurians and also Cilicia. Finally Deiotarus, one of the tetrarchs of Galatia, drove the marauder away and slew many of his men. Such was the course of events in and around Phrygia.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Mithridatic wars   :   part 16





Note 1:
He was in fact consul.




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