home   :    index    :    ancient Greece    :    ancient Persia

Photius' excerpt of Ctesias' Persica (3)


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.



[52] Ochus (also called Dariaeus[II Nothus]) thus became sole ruler. Three eunuchs, Artoxares, Artibarzanes, and Athous had the greatest influence with him, but his chief adviser was his wife. By her he had had two children before he became king, a daughter Amestris and a son Arsaces, afterwards called Artaxerxes. After his accession she bore him another son, called Cyrus from [Persian Khur] the sun. A third son was named Artostes, who was followed by several others, to the number of thirteen.

The writer says that he obtained these particulars from Parysatis herself.

Most of the children soon died, the only survivors being those just mentioned and a fourth named Oxendras. Arsites, his own brother by the same father and mother, revolted against the king together with Artyphius the son of Megabyzus. Artasyras was sent against them, and, having been defeated in two battles, gained the victory in a third, after he had bribed the Greeks, who were with Artyphius, so that only three Milesians remained faithful to him. At length Artyphius, finding that Arsites did not appear, surrendered to the king, after Artasyras had solemnly promised him that his life should be spared. The king was anxious to put Artyphius to death, but Parysatis advised him not to do so at once, in order to deceive Arsites and induce him also to submit; when both had surrendered, she said they could both be put to death. The plan succeeded, Artyphius and Arsites surrendered, and were thrown into the ashes. The king wished to pardon Arsites, but Parysatis by her importunity persuaded him to put him to death. Pharnacyas, who had assisted Secydianus to kill Xerxes, was stoned to death. Menostanes was also arrested and condemned, but anticipated his fate by suicide.

[53] Pissuthnes also revolted, and Tissaphernes, Spithradates, and Parmises were sent against him. Pissuthnes set out to meet them with Lycon the Athenian and a body of Greeks, who were bribed by the king's generals to desert him. Pissuthnes then surrendered, and, after having received assurances that his life should be spared, accompanied Tissaphernes to the court. But the king ordered him to be thrown into the ashes and gave his satrapy to Tissaphernes. Lycon also received several towns and districts as the reward of his treachery.

[54] Artoxares the eunuch, who had great influence with the king, desiring to obtain possession of the throne himself, plotted against his master. He ordered his wife to make him a false beard and mustache, that he might look like a man. His wife, however, betrayed him; he was seized, handed over to Parysatis, and put to death.

[55] Arsaces the king's son, who afterwards changed his name to Artaxerxes, married Statira, daughter of Hydarnes, whose son Terituchmes, who had been appointed to his father's satrapy after his death, married the king's daughter Amestris. Terituchmes had a half-sister Roxana, of great beauty and very skillful in bending the bow and hurling the spear. Terituchmes having fallen in love with her and conceived a hatred of his wife Amestris, in order to get rid of the latter, resolved to put her into a sack, where she was to be stabbed to death by 300 accomplices, with whom he had entered into a conspiracy to raise a revolt. But a certain Udiastes, who had great influence with Terituchmes, having received letters from the king promising to reward him generously if he could save his daughter, attacked and murdered Terituchmes, who courageously defended himself and slew (it is said) thirty-seven of his assailants.

[56] Mitradates, the son of Udiastes, the armor-bearer of Terituchmes, took no part in this affair, and when he learnt what had happened, he cursed his father and seized the city of Zaris to hand over to the son of Terituchmes. Parysatis ordered the mother of Terituchmes, his brothers Mitrostes and Helicus, and his sisters except Statira to be put to death. Roxana was hewn in pieces alive. The king told his wife Parysatis to inflict the same punishment upon the wife of his son Arsaces. But Arsaces by his tears and lamentations appeased the wrath of his father and mother. Parysatis having relented, Ochus spared Statira's life, but at the same time told Parysatis that she would one day greatly regret it.

[57] In the nineteenth book the author relates how Ochus Dariaeus fell sick and died at Babylon, having reigned thirty-five years. Arsaces, who succeeded him, changed his name to Artaxerxes[II Mnemon].

[58] Udiastes had his tongue cut out and torn out by the roots behind; and so he died. His son Mitradates was appointed to his satrapy. This was due to the instigation of Statira, whereat Parysatis was greatly aggrieved.

[59] Cyrus, being accused by Tissaphernes of designs on the life of his brother Artaxerxes, took refuge with his mother, by whose intervention he was cleared of the charge. Disgraced by his brother, he retired to his satrapy and laid his plans for revolt.

[60] Satibarzanes accused Orontes of an intrigue with Parysatis, although her conduct was irreproachable;

[61] Orontes was put to death, and his mother was greatly enraged against the king, because Parysatis had poisoned the son of Terituchmes.

[62] The author also mentions him who cremated his father contrary to the law, Hellanicus and Herodotus being thus convicted of falsehood.

[63] Cyrus having revolted against his brother collected an army composed of both Greeks and barbarians. Clearchus was in command of the Greeks; Syennesis, king of Cilicia, assisted both Cyrus and Artaxerxes.

[64] The author then reports the speeches of the two princes to their troops. Clearchus the Spartan, who was in command of the Greeks, and Menon the Thessalian, who accompanied Cyrus, were always at variance, because Cyrus took the advice of Clearchus in everything, while Menon was disregarded. Large numbers deserted from Artaxerxes to Cyrus, none from Cyrus to Artaxerxes. For this reason Artabarius, who meditated desertion, was accused and thrown into the ashes. Cyrus attacked the king's army and gained the victory [at Cunaxa], but lost his life by neglecting the advice of Clearchus. His body was mutilated by Artaxerxes, who ordered his head and the hand with which he had struck him to be cut off, and carried them about in triumph.

[65] Clearchus the Spartan withdrew during the night with his Greeks, and after he had seized one of the cities belonging to Parysatis, the king made peace with him.

[66] Parysatis set out for Babylon, mourning for the death of Cyrus, and having with difficulty recovered his head and hand sent them to Susa for burial. It was Bagapates who had cut off his head by order of Artaxerxes. Parysatis, when playing at dice with the king, won the game and Bagapates as the prize, and afterwards had him flayed alive and crucified. At length she was persuaded by the entreaties of Artaxerxes to give up mourning for her son.

[67] The king rewarded the soldier who brought him Cyrus' cap, and the Carian who was supposed to have wounded him, whom Parysatis afterwards tortured and put to death. Mitradates having boasted at table of having killed Cyrus, Parysatis demanded that he should be given up to her, and having got him into her hands, put him to death with great cruelty. Such is the contents of the nineteenth and twentieth books.

[68] The twenty-first, twenty-second, and twenty-third books conclude the history. Tissaphernes began to plot against the Greeks, with the assistance of Menon the Thessalian, whom he had won over.

[69] In this manner, by cunning and solemn promises, he got Clearchus and the other generals in his power, although Clearchus suspected and was on his guard against treachery and endeavored to avert it; but the soldiers, being deceived by the words of Menon, compelled the unwilling Clearchus to visit Tissaphernes. Proxenus the Boeotian, who had been already deceived, also advised him to go. Clearchus and the other generals were sent in chains to Artaxerxes at Babylon, where all the people flocked to see Clearchus.

Ctesias himself, Parysatis' physician, bestowed every attention upon Clearchus while he was in prison and did all he could to mitigate his lot. Parysatis would have given him his freedom and let him go, had not Statira persuaded the king to put him to death. After his execution, a marvelous thing happened. A strong wind sprang up and heaped a quantity of earth upon his body, which formed a natural tomb. The other Greeks who had been sent with him were also put to death, with the exception of Menon.

[70] The author next tells us of the insults heaped by Parysatis on Statira, and the poisoning of Statira, which was brought about in the following manner, although she had long been on her guard against this kind of death. A table knife was smeared with poison on one side. One of the little birds, about the size of an egg, called rhyndace, was cut in half by Parysatis, who herself took and ate the portion which had not been touched by the poison, at the same time offering Statira the poisoned half. Statira, seeing that Parysatis was eating her own portion, had no suspicions, and took the fatal poison. The king, enraged with his mother, ordered her eunuchs to be seized and tortured, including her chief confidant Ginge. The latter, being accused and brought to trial, was acquitted by the judges, but the king condemned her and ordered her to be tortured and put to death, which caused a lasting quarrel between mother and son.

[71] The tomb of Clearchus, eight years afterwards, was found covered with palm trees, which Parysatis had had secretly planted by her eunuchs.

[72] The author next states the cause of the quarrel of Artaxerxes with Euagoras, king of Salamis. The messengers sent by Euagoras to Ctesias about the receiving of letters from Abuletes. The letter of Ctesias to Euagoras concerning reconciliation with Anaxagoras prince of the Cyprians.

[73] The return of the messengers of Euagoras to Cyprus and the delivery of the letters from Ctesias to Euagoras.

[74] The speech of Conon to Euagoras about visiting the king; and the letter of Euagoras on the honors he had received from him. The letter of Conon to Ctesias, the agreement of Euagoras to pay tribute to the king, and the giving of the letters to Ctesias. Speech of Ctesias to the king about Conon and the letter to him. The presents sent by Euagoras delivered to Satibarzanes; the arrival of the messengers in Cyprus. The letters of Conon to the king and Ctesias. The detention of the Spartan ambassadors to the king. Letter from the king to Conon and the Spartans, delivered to them by Ctesias himself. Conon appointed commander of the fleet by Pharnabazus.

[75] The visit of Ctesias to Cnidus, his native city, and to Sparta. Proceedings against the Spartan ambassadors at Rhodes, and their acquittal. The number of stations, days, and parasangs from Ephesus to Bactria and India.

[76] The work concludes with a list of the Assyrian kings from Ninus and Semiramis to Artaxerxes.

This writer's style is clear and very simple, which makes the work agreeable to read. He uses the Ionic dialect, not throughout, as Herodotus does, but only in certain expressions, nor does he, like Herodotus, interrupt the thread of his narrative by ill-timed digressions. Although he reproaches Herodotus for his old wives' tales, he is not free from the same defect, especially in his account of India.

The charm of his history chiefly consists in his manner of relating events, which is strong in the emotional and unexpected, and in his varied use of mythical embellishment. The style is more careless than it should be, and the phraseology often descends to the commonplace, whereas that of Herodotus, both in this and other respects as far as vigor and art are concerned, is the model representative of the Ionic dialect.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine




<< part two
Ctesias




 home   :    index    :    ancient Greece    :    ancient Persia