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Appian's History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars 91-95


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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Bust of Pompey the Great. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Pompey the Great (Louvre)
[91] [67] So it turned out that the Mithridatic war under [the Roman commander Lucius Licinius] Lucullus came to no fixed and definite conclusion. The Romans, torn by revolts in Italy and threatened with famine by pirates on the sea, considered it inopportune to undertake another war of this magnitude until their present troubles were ended. When [king] Mithridates [VI Eupator of Pontus] perceived this, he again invaded Cappadocia and fortified his own kingdom. The Romans overlooked these transactions while they were clearing the sea.

When this was accomplished, and while [Gnaeus] Pompey, the destroyer of the pirates, was still in Asia, [66] the Mithridatic war was at once resumed and the command of it given to Pompey.[1] Since the campaign at sea was a part of the operations under his command, which was begun before his Mithridatic war, and has not found proper mention elsewhere in my history, it seems well to introduce it here and to run over the events as they occurred.


 
[92] [88] When Mithridates first went to war with the Romans and subdued the province of Asia ([Lucius Cornelius] Sulla being then in difficulties respecting Greece), he thought that he should not hold the province long, and accordingly plundered it in all sorts of ways, as I have mentioned above, and sent out pirates on the sea.

In the beginning they prowled around with a few small boats worrying the inhabitants like robbers. As the war lengthened they became more numerous and navigated larger ships. Relishing their large gains, they did not desist when Mithridates was defeated, made peace, and retired. Having lost both livelihood and country by reason of the war and fallen into extreme destitution, they harvested the sea instead of the land, at first with pinnaces and hemiolii, then with two-bank and three-bank ships, sailing in squadrons under pirate chiefs, who were like generals of an army. They fell upon unfortified towns. They undermined or battered down the walls of others, or captured them by regular siege and plundered them. They carried off the wealthier citizens to their haven of refuge and held them for ransom. They scorned the name of robbers and called their takings the prize of warfare. They had artisans chained to their tasks and were continually bringing in materials of timber, brass, and iron.


Coracesium, modern Alanya. Photo Jona Lendering.
Coracesium, the main base of
the Cilician pirates

Being elated by their gains and determined not to change their mode of life yet, they likened themselves to kings, tyrants, and great armies, and thought that if they should all come together in the same place they would be invincible. They built ships and made all kinds of arms. Their chief seat was at a place called the Crags in Cilicia, which they had chosen as their common anchorage and encampment. They had castles and towers and desert islands and retreats everywhere. They chose for their principal rendezvous the coast of Cilicia where it was rough and harborless and rose in high mountain peaks, for which reason they were all called by the common name of Cilicians. Perhaps this evil had its beginning among the men of the Crags of Cilicia, but thither also men of Syrian, Cyprian, Pamphylian, and Pontic origin and those of almost all the Eastern nations had congregated, who, on account of the long continuance of the Mithridatic war, preferred to do wrong rather than to suffer it, and for this purpose chose the sea instead of the land.

Relief of the tomb of Lucius Cartilius Poplicola, Ostia Antica (Photo Jona Lendering.
Relief of the tomb of Lucius Cartilius Poplicola, Ostia Antica (**

[93] Thus, in a very short time, they increased in number to tens of thousands. They dominated now not only the eastern waters, but the whole Mediterranean to the Pillars of Hercules. They vanquished some of the Roman praetors in naval engagements, and among others the praetor of Sicily on the Sicilian coast itself. No sea could be navigated in safety, and land remained untilled for want of commercial intercourse.

The city of Rome felt this evil most keenly, her subjects being distressed and herself suffering grievously from hunger by reason of her very greatness. It appeared to them to be a great and difficult task to destroy so large a force of seafaring men scattered everywhither on land and sea, and so nimble of flight, sallying out from no particular country or any known places, having no habitation or anything of their own, but only what they might chance to light upon.

Thus both the greatness and the unexampled nature of this war, which was subject to no laws and had nothing tangible or visible about it, caused perplexity and fear on all sides. [Lucius Licinius] Murena had attacked them, but accomplished nothing worth mention, [78-74] nor had [Publius] Servilius [Vatia] Isauricus, who succeeded him. And now the pirates contemptuously assailed the coasts of Italy, around Brundusium and Etruria, and seized and carried off some women of noble families who were traveling, and also two praetors with their very insignia of office.

[94] [67] When the Romans could no longer endure the damage and disgrace, they made Gnaeus Pompey, who was then their man of greatest reputation, commander by law for three years, with absolute power over the whole sea within the Pillars of Hercules, and of the land for a distance of 75 kilometers from the coast.[2]

They sent letters to all kings, rulers, peoples, and cities, that they should aid Pompey in all ways. They gave him power to raise troops and to collect money from the provinces, and they furnished a large army from their own enrollment, and all the ships they had, and money to the amount of 6,000 Attic talents - so great and difficult did they consider the task of overcoming such great forces, dispersed over so wide a sea, hiding easily in so many nooks, retreating quickly and darting out again unexpectedly.

Never did any man before Pompey set forth with so great authority conferred upon him by the Romans. Presently he had an army of 120,000 foot and 4,000 horse, and 270 ships, including hemiolii. He had twenty-five assistants of senatorial rank, whom they call lieutenant-generals, among whom he divided the sea, giving ships, cavalry, and infantry to each, and investing them with the insignia of praetors, in order that each one might have absolute authority over the part entrusted to him, while he, Pompey, like a king of kings, should course among them to see that they remained where they were stationed, lest, while he was pursuing the pirates in one place, he should be drawn to something else before his work was finished, and so that there might be forces to encounter them everywhere and to prevent them from forming junctions with each other.

[95] Pompey disposed of the whole in the following manner.

  • He put Tiberius Nero and Manlius Torquatus in command of Spain and the Straits of Hercules.
  • He assigned Marcus Pomponius to the Gallic and Ligurian waters.
  • Africa, Sardinia, Corsica, and the neighboring islands were committed to [Gnaeus Cornelius] Lentulus Marcellinus and Publius Atilius,
  • and the coast of Italy itself to Lucius Gellius [Publicola] and Gnaeus [Cornelius] Lentulus [Clodianus].
  • Sicily and the Adriatic as far as Acarnania were assigned to Plotius Varus and Terentius Varro;
  • the Peloponnese, Attica, Euboea, Thessaly, Macedonia, and Boeotia to Lucius Sisenna;
  • the Greek islands, the whole Aegean sea, and the Hellespont in addition, to Lucius Lollius;
  • Bithynia, Thrace, the Propontis, and the mouth of the Euxine to Publius Piso;
  • Lycia, Pamphylia, Cyprus, and Phoenicia to [Quintus Caecilius] Metellus Nepos.
Thus were the commands of the praetors arranged for the purpose of attacking, defending, and guarding their respective assignments, so that each might catch the pirates put to flight by others, and not be drawn a long distance from their own stations by the pursuit, nor carried round and round as in a race, and the time for doing the work protracted.

Pompey himself made a tour of the whole. He first inspected the western stations, accomplishing the task in forty days, and passing through Rome on his return. Thence he went to Brundusium and, proceeding from this place, he occupied an equal time in visiting the eastern stations. He astonished all by the rapidity of his movement, the magnitude of his preparations, and his formidable reputation, so that the pirates, who had expected to attack him first, or at least to show that the task he had undertaken against them was no easy one, became straightway alarmed, abandoned their assaults upon the towns they were besieging, and fled to their accustomed citadels and inlets. Thus the sea was cleared by Pompey forthwith and without a fight, and the pirates were everywhere subdued by the praetors at their several stations.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Mithridatic wars   :   part 20





Note 1:
By the Lex Manilia of 66 BCE. Cicero's speech for this law (Pro lege Manilia or De imperio Cn. Pompeii) survives.

Note 2:
By the Lex Gabinia of 67 BCE.





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