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Photius' excerpt of Ctesias' Persica (2)


Darius the Great on a relief from Persepolis, now at the National archaeological museum of Tehran (Iran). Photo Marco Prins..
Darius, relief from the northern stairs of the Apadana of Persepolis (Archaeological museum, Tehran)
Ctesias was a Greek physician who stayed at the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes II Mnemon from 404 to 398/397. He wrote several books about Persia and India. They are now lost but were quoted by ancient authors; consequently, we are able to judge their value as history (low) and as works of art (entertaining).

The following text is the second part of an excerpt from the Persica by the Byzantine scholar Photius (c.815-897). The first part can be found here. The translation was made by J.H. Freese and was found at Tertullian.Org.



[25] Xerxes decided to make war upon Greece, because the Chalcedonians had attempted to break down the bridge as already stated and had destroyed the altar which Darius had set up, and because the Athenians had slain Datis and refused to give up his body. But first he visited Babylon, being desirous of seeing the tomb of Belitanes, which Mardonius showed him. But he was unable to fill the vessel of oil, as had been written.

[26] Thence he proceeded to Ecbatana, where he heard of the revolt of the Babylonians and the murder of Zopyrus their satrap. Ctesias' account is different from that of Herodotus. What the latter relates of Zopyrus is attributed by Ctesias, with the exception of his mule giving birth to a foal, to Megabyzus, the son-in-law of Xerxes and the husband of his daughter Amytis. Babylon was taken by Megabyzus, upon whom Xerxes bestowed, amongst other rewards, a golden hand-mill, weighing six talents, the most honorable of the royal gifts.

[27] Then Xerxes, having collected a Persian army, 800,000 men and 1000 triremes without reckoning the chariots, set out against Greece, having first thrown a bridge across at Abydus. Demaratus the Spartan, who arrived there first and accompanied Xerxes across, dissuaded him from invading Sparta. His general Artapanus, with 10,000 men, fought an engagement with Leonidas, the Spartan general, at Thermopylae; the Persian host was cut to pieces, while only two or three of the Spartans were slain. The king then ordered an attack with 20,000, but these were defeated, and although flogged to the battle, were routed again. The next day he ordered an attack with 50,000, but without success, and accordingly ceased operations. Thorax the Thessalian and Calliades and Timaphernes, the leaders of the Trachinians, who were present with their forces, were summoned by Xerxes together with Demaratus and Hegias the Ephesian, who told him that the Spartans could never be defeated unless they were surrounded. A Persian army of 40,000 men was conducted by the two leaders of the Trachinians over an almost inaccessible mountain-path to the rear of the Lacedaemonians, who were surrounded and died bravely to a man.

[28] Xerxes sent another army of 120,000 men against Plataea under the command of Mardonius, at the instigation of the Thebans. He was opposed by Pausanias the Spartan, with only 300 Spartiates, 1000 perioeci, and 6000 from the other cities. The Persians suffered a severe defeat, Mardonius being wounded and obliged to take to flight.

[29] He was afterwards sent by Xerxes to plunder the temple of Apollo, where he is said to have died from injuries received during a terrible hailstorm, to the great grief of Xerxes.

[30] Xerxes then advanced against Athens itself, the inhabitants of which manned 110 triremes and took refuge in Salamis; Xerxes took possession of the empty city and set fire to it, with the exception of the Acropolis, which was defended by a small band of men who had remained; at last, they also made their escape by night, and the Acropolis was fired. After this, Xerxes proceeded to a narrow strip of land in Attica called Heracleum, and began to construct an embankment in the direction of Salamis, intending to cross over on foot. By the advice of the Athenians Themistocles and Aristides archers were summoned from Crete. Then a naval engagement took place between the Greeks with 700 ships and the Persians with more than 1000 under Onophas. The Athenians were victorious, thanks to the advice and clever strategy of Aristides and Themistocles; the Persians lost 500 ships, and Xerxes took to flight. In the remaining battles 12,000 Persians were killed.

[31] Xerxes, having crossed over into Asia and advanced towards Sardes, dispatched Megabyzus to plunder the temple at Delphi. On his refusing to go, the eunuch Matacas was sent in his place, to insult Apollo and plunder the temple.

[32] Having carried out his orders he returned to Xerxes, who in the meantime had arrived in Persis from Babylon.

[33] Here Megabyzus accused his wife Amytis (the daughter of Xerxes) of having committed adultery. Xerxes severely reprimanded her, but she declared that she was not guilty. Artapanus and Aspamitres the eunuch, the confidential advisers of Xerxes, resolved to kill their master. Having done so, they persuaded Artaxerxes[I Makrocheir] that his brother Dariaeus had murdered him. Dariaeus was taken to the palace of Artaxerxes, and, although he vehemently denied the accusation, he was put to death.

[34] Thus Artaxerxes became king, thanks to Artapanus, who entered into a conspiracy against him with Megabyzus (who was bitterly aggrieved at the suspicion of adultery against his wife), each taking an oath to remain loyal to the other. Nevertheless, Megabyzus revealed the plot, the guilty conduct of Artapanus came to light, and he met the death which he had intended for Artaxerxes. Aspamitres, who had taken part in the murders of Xerxes and Dariaeus was cruelly put to death, being exposed in the trough. After the death of Artapanus there was a battle between his fellow-conspirators and the other Persians, in which the three sons of Artapanus were killed and Megabyzus severely wounded. Artaxerxes, Amytis, and Rhodogyne, and their mother Amestris were deeply grieved, and his life was only saved by the skill and attention of Apollonides, a physician of Cos.

[35] Bactra and its satrap, another Artapanus, revolted from Artaxerxes. The first battle was indecisive, but in a second, the Bactrians were defeated because the wind blew in their faces, and the whole of Bactria submitted.

[36] Egypt, under the leadership of Inarus a Libyan, assisted by a native of the country, also revolted, and preparations were made for war. At the request of Inarus the Athenians sent forty ships to his aid. Artaxerxes himself was desirous of taking part in the expedition, but his friends dissuaded him. He therefore sent Achaemenides his brother with 400,000 infantry and eighty ships. Inarus joined battle with Achaemenides, the Egyptians were victorious, Achaemenides being slain by Inarus and his body sent to Artaxerxes. Inarus was also successful at sea. Charitimides, the commander of the forty Athenian ships, covered himself with glory in a naval engagement, in which twenty out of fifty Persian ships were captured with their crews, and the remaining thirty sunk.

[37] The king then sent Megabyzus against Inarus, with an additional army of 200,000 men and 300 ships commanded by Oriscus; so that, not counting the ships' crews, his army consisted of 500,000. For, when Achaemenides fell, 100,000 of his 400,000 men perished. A desperate battle ensued, in which the losses were heavy on both sides, although those of the Egyptians were heavier. Megabyzus wounded Inarus in the thigh, and put him to flight, and the Persians obtained a complete victory. Inarus fled to Byblos, an Egyptian stronghold, accompanied by those of the Greeks who had not been killed in battle. Then all Egypt, except Byblos, submitted to Megabyzus.

[38] But since this stronghold appeared impregnable, he came to terms with Inarus and the Greeks (6000 and more in number), on condition that they should suffer no harm from the king, and that the Greeks should be allowed to return home whenever they pleased.

Having appointed Sarsamas satrap of Egypt, Megabyzus took Inarus and the Greeks to Artaxerxes, who was greatly enraged with Inarus because he had slain his brother Achaemenides. Megabyzus told him what had happened, how he had given his word to Inarus and the Greeks when he occupied Byblos, and earnestly entreated the king to spare their lives. The king consented, and the news that no harm would come to Inarus and the Greeks was immediately reported to the army.

[39] But Amestris, aggrieved at the idea that Inarus and the Greeks should escape punishment for the death of her son Achaemenides, asked the king [to give them up to her], but he refused ; she then appealed to Megabyzus, who also dismissed her. At last, however, through her constant importunity she obtained her wish from her son, and after five years the king gave up Inarus and the Greeks to her. Inarus was impaled on three stakes; fifty of the Greeks, all that she could lay hands on, were decapitated.

[40] Megabyzus was deeply grieved at this, and asked permission to retire to his satrapy, Syria. Having secretly sent the rest of the Greeks thither in advance, on his arrival he collected a large army (150,000 not including cavalry) and raised the standard of revolt. Usiris with 200,000 men was sent against him; a battle took place, in which Megabyzus and Usiris wounded each other. Usiris inflicted a wound with a spear in Megabyzus' thigh two fingers deep; Megabyzus in turn first wounded Usiris in the thigh and then in the shoulder, so that he fell from his horse. Megabyzus, as he fell, protected him, and ordered that he should be spared. Many Persians were slain in the battle, in which Zopyrus and Artyphius, the sons of Megabyzus, distinguished themselves, and Megabyzus gained a decisive victory. Usiris received the greatest attention and was sent to Artaxerxes at his request.

[41] Another army was sent against him under Menostanes the son of Artarius, satrap of Babylon and brother of Artaxerxes. Another battle took place, in which the Persians were routed; Menostanes was shot by Megabyzus, first in the shoulder and then in the head, but the wound was not mortal. However, he fled with his army and Megabyzus gained a brilliant victory. 

[42] Artarius then sent to Megabyzus, advising him to come to terms with the king. Megabyzus replied that he was ready to do so, but on condition that he should not be obliged to appear at court again, and should be allowed to remain in his satrapy. When his answer was reported to the king, the Paphlagonian eunuch Artoxares and Amestris urged him to make peace without delay. Accordingly, Artarius, his wife Amytis, Artoxares (then twenty years of age), and Petisas, the son of Usiris and father of Spitamas, were sent for that purpose to Megabyzus. After many entreaties and solemn promises, with great difficulty they succeeded in persuading Megabyzus to visit the king, who finally pardoned him for all his offenses.

[43] Some time afterwards, while the king was out hunting he was attacked by a lion, which Megabyzus slew as it reared and was preparing to rush upon him. The king, enraged because Megabyzus had slain the animal first, ordered his head to be cut off, but owing to the entreaties of Amestris, Amytis, and others his life was spared and he was banished to Curtae, a town on the Red Sea. Artoxares the eunuch was also banished to Armenia for having often spoken freely to the king in favor of Megabyzus. After having passed five years in exile, Megabyzus escaped by pretending to be a leper, whom no one might approach, and returned home to Amytis, who hardly recognized him. On the intercession of Amestris and Amytis, the king became reconciled to him and admitted him to his table as before. Megabyzus died at the age of seventy-six, deeply mourned by the king.

[44] After his death, his wife Amytis, like her mother Amestris before her, showed great fondness for the society of men. The physician Apollonides of Cos, when Amytis was suffering from a slight illness, being called in to attend her, fell in love with her. For some time they carried on an intrigue, but finally she told her mother. She in turn informed the king, who left her to do as she would with the offender. Apollonides was kept in chains for two months as a punishment, and then buried alive on the same day that Amytis died.

[45] Zopyrus, the son of Megabyzus and Amytis, after the death of his father and mother revolted against the king. He visited Athens, where he was well received owing to the services his mother had rendered to the Athenians. From Athens he sailed with some Athenian troops to Caunus and summoned it to surrender. The inhabitants expressed themselves ready to do so, provided the Athenians who accompanied him were not admitted. While Zopyrus was mounting the wall, a Caunian named Alcides hit him on the head with a stone and killed him. The Caunian was crucified by order of his grandmother Amestris.

[46] Some time afterwards, Amestris died at a great age, and Artaxerxes also died after having reigned forty-two years. Here the seventeenth book ends.

[47] Artaxerxes was succeeded by his son Xerxes[II], his only legitimate son by Damaspia, who died on the same day as her husband. The bodies of the king and queen were conveyed by Bagorazus to Persis. Artaxerxes had seventeen illegitimate sons, amongst them Secydianus by Alogyne the Babylonian, Ochus (afterwards king) and Arsites by Cosmartidene, also a Babylonian. Besides these three, he also had a son Bagapaeus and a daughter Parysatis by Andria, also a Babylonian, who became the mother of Artaxerxes and Cyrus. During his father's lifetime, Ochus was made satrap of Hyrcania, and given in marriage to Parysatis, the daughter of Artaxerxes and his own sister.

[48] Secydianus, having won over the eunuch Pharnacyas, who had the greatest influence over Xerxes next to Bagorazus, Menostanes, and some others, entered the palace after a festival, while Xerxes was lying in a drunken sleep and put him to death, forty-five days after the death of his father. The bodies of both father and son were conveyed together to Persis, for the mules which drew the chariot in which was the father's body, refused to move, as if waiting for that of the son; and when it arrived, they at once went on rapidly.

[49] Secydianus thus became king and appointed Menostanes his azabarites [vizier]. After Bagorazus returned to court, Secydianus, who cherished a long-standing enmity against him, on the pretext that he had left his father's body in Persis without his permission, ordered him to be stoned to death. The army was greatly grieved, and, although Secydianus distributed large sums amongst the soldiers, they hated him for the murder of his brother Xerxes and now for that of Bagorazus.

[50] Secydianus, then summoned Ochus to court, who promised to present himself but failed to do so. After he had been summoned several times, he collected a large force with the obvious intention of seizing the throne. He was joined by Arbarius, commander of the cavalry, and Arxanes, satrap of Egypt. The eunuch Artoxares also came from Armenia and placed the crown on the head of Ochus against his will.

[51] Thus Ochus became king and changed his name to Dariaeus[II Nothus]. At the suggestion of Parysatis, he endeavored by trickery and solemn promises to win over Secydianus. Menostanes did all he could to prevent Secydianus from putting faith in these promises or coming to terms with those who were trying to deceive him. In spite of this Secydianus allowed himself to be persuaded, was arrested, thrown into the ashes, and died, after a reign of six months and fifteen days.

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