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Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes

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Artaxerxes II on the Mausoleum of Pericles of Limyra. Archaeological Museum of Antalya (Turkey). Photo Jona Lendering.
Artaxerxes II on the Mausoleum of Pericles of Limyra (Archaeological Museum of Antalya)
The Achaemenid king Artaxerxes II Mnemon (ruled 404-358) is the subject of one of the biographies written by the Greek philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea (46-c.122). It is a remarkable treatise, because its author has inserted much confused and disjointed information, includes unusually lengthy quotations (from Ctesias), and is -Plutarch always being a Greek in the first place- uncharacteristically kind towards "the barbarian". In other words, it is possibly not written by Plutarch.

The translation offered here was made by Bernadotte Perrin; it was originally put online (with all original notes from the Loeb edition) by Bill Thayer on LacusCurtius. This hyperlinked version was prepared by Jona Lendering.
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Nevertheless, restless and factious men thought that affairs demanded Cyrus, a man who had a brilliant spirit, surpassing skill in war, and great love for his friends; and that the magnitude of the empire required a king of lofty purpose and ambition. Accordingly, Cyrus relied quite as much upon the people of the interior as upon those of his own province and command, when he began the war. He also wrote to the Lacedaemonians, inviting them to aid him and send him men, and promising that he would give to those who came, if they were footmen, horses; if they were horsemen, chariots and pairs; if they had farms, he would give them villages; if they had villages, cities; and the pay of the soldiers should not be counted, but measured out.

Moreover, along with much high-sounding talk about himself, he said he carried a sturdier heart than his brother, was more of a philosopher, better versed in the wisdom of the Magi, and could drink and carry more wine than he. His brother, he said, was too effeminate and cowardly either to sit his horse in a hunt, or his throne in a time of peril. The Lacedaemonians, accordingly, sent a dispatch-roll to Clearchus ordering him to give Cyrus every assistance.

[401] So Cyrus marched up against the king with a large force of Barbarians and nearly thirteen thousand Greek mercenaries, alleging one pretext after another for his expedition. But the real object of it was not long concealed, for Tissaphernes went in person to the king and informed him of it. Then there was a great commotion at the court, Parysatis being most blamed for the war, and her friends undergoing suspicion and accusation. And above all was she vexed by Stateira, who was greatly distressed at the war, and kept crying: "Where now are those pledges of thine? And where are the entreaties by which thou didst rescue the man who had plotted against the life of his brother, only to involve us in war and calamity?"

Therefore Parysatis hated Stateira, and being naturally of a harsh tempest and savage in her wrath and resentment, she plotted to kill her. Deinon says that her plot was carried out during the war. Ctesias, however, says that it was accomplished afterwards, and neither is it likely that he was ignorant of the time since he was at the scene of action, nor had he any occasion, in his narrative of the deed, to change the time of it on purpose, however often his story turns aside from the truth into fable and romance. I shall therefore give the event the place which he has assigned to it.

As Cyrus proceeded on his march, rumors and reports kept coming to his ears that the king had decided not to give battle at once, and was not desirous of coming to close quarters with him, but rather of waiting in Persia until his forces should assemble there from all parts. For he had run a trench, ten fathoms in width and as many in depth, four hundred furlongs through the plain;[1] and yet he allowed Cyrus to cross this and to come within a short distance of Babylon itself. And it was Teribazus, as we are told, who first plucked up courage to tell the king that he ought not to shun a battle, nor to retire from Media and Babylon, as well as Susa, and hide himself in Persis, when he had a force many times as numerous as that of the enemy, and countless satraps and generals who surpassed Cyrus in wisdom and military skill. The king therefore determined to fight the issue out as soon as possible.

So, to begin with, by his sudden appearance with an army of nine hundred thousand men in brilliant array, he so terrified and confounded the enemy, who were marching along in loose order and without arms because of their boldness and contempt for the king, that Cyrus could with difficulty bring them into battle array amid much tumult and shouting; and again, by leading his forces up slowly and in silence, he filled the Greeks with amazement at his good discipline, since they had expected in so vast a host random shouting, and leaping, with great confusion and dissipation of their lines. Besides this, he did well to draw up in front of his own line, and over against the Greeks, the mightiest of his scythe-bearing chariots, in order that by the force of their charge they might cut to pieces the ranks of the Greeks before they had come to close quarters.

Now, since many writers have reported to us this battle, and since Xenophon brings it all before our eyes, and by the vigor of his description makes his reader always a participant in the emotions and perils of the struggle, as though it belonged, not to the past, but to the present, it would be folly to describe it again, except so far as he has passed over things worthy of mention.

The place, then, where the armies were drawn up, is called Cunaxa,[2] and it is five hundred furlongs distant from Babylon. And we are told that Cyrus, before the battle, when Clearchus besought him to remain behind the combatants and not risk his life, replied: "What sayest thou, Clearchus? Dost thou bid me, who am reaching out for a kingdom, to be unworthy of a kingdom?"  It was a great mistake for Cyrus to plunge headlong into the midst of the fray, instead of trying to avoid its dangers; but it was no less a mistake, nay, even a greater one, for Clearchus to refuse to array his Greeks over against the king, and to keep his right wing close to the river, that he might not be surrounded. For if he sought safety above everything else and made it his chief object to avoid losses, it had been best for him to stay at home. But he had marched ten thousand furlongs up from the sea-coast under arms, with no compulsion upon him, but in order that he might place Cyrus upon the royal throne; and then, in looking about for a place and position which would enable him, not to save his leader and employer, but to fight safely and as he pleased, he was like one who, through fear of instant peril, had cast aside the plans made for general success and abandoned the object of the expedition. For had the Greeks charged upon the forces arrayed about the king, not a man of them would have stood his ground; and had these been routed and the king either slain or put to flight, Cyrus would have won by his victory, not only safety, but a kingdom.

This is clear from the course of the action. Therefore the caution of Clearchus rather than the temerity of Cyrus must be held responsible for the ruin of Cyrus and his cause. For if the king himself had sought out a place to array the Greeks in which their attack would be least injurious to him, he could have found no other than that which was most remote from himself and his immediate following, since he himself did not know that his forces had been defeated there, and Cyrus could take no advantage at all of the victory of Clearchus, because he was cut down too soon. And yet Cyrus well knew what was for the best, and ordered Clearchus to take his position accordingly in the center. But Clearchus, after telling Cyrus he would see to it that the best was done, ruined everything.

For the Greeks were victorious to their hearts' content over the Barbarians, and went forward a very great distance in pursuit of them; but Cyrus, riding a horse that was high-bred, but fierce and hard to guide (his name was Pasacas, as Ctesias tells us), was met in full course by Artagerses, commander of the Cadusians, who cried with a loud voice: "O thou who disgracest the name of Cyrus, that noblest name among the Persians, thou most unjust and senseless of men, thou art come with evil Greeks on an evil journey after the good things of the Persians, and thou hopest to slay thine own brother and thy master, who hath a million servants that are better men than thou. And thou shalt at once have proof of this; for thou shalt lose thine own head here before thou hast seen the face of the king."

With these words he hurled his spear at Cyrus. But the breastplate of Cyrus stoutly resisted, and its wearer was not wounded, though he reeled under the shock of the mighty blow. Then, as Artagerses turned his horse away, Cyrus hurled his spear and hit him, and drove its head through his neck past the collar-bone.

Thus Artagerses died at the hands of Cyrus, as nearly all writers are agreed in saying; but as regards the death of Cyrus himself, since Xenophon makes simple and brief mention of it, because he was not present himself when it happened, there is no objection perhaps to my recounting, first what Deinon says about it, and then what Ctesias says.

Accordingly, Deinon says that after Artagerses had fallen, Cyrus charged furiously into those drawn up in front of the king, and wounded the king's horse, and that the king fell to the ground; but Teribazus quickly mounted him upon another horse, saying, "O king, remember this day, for it deserves not to be forgotten"; whereupon Cyrus again plunged in and dismounted Artaxerxes. But at his third assault, the king, being enraged, and saying to those who were with him that death was better, rode out against Cyrus, who was rashly and impetuously rushing upon the missiles of his opponents. The king himself hit him with a spear, and he was hit by the attendants of the king. Thus Cyrus fell, as some say, by a wound at the hands of the king, but as sundry others have it, from the blow of a Carian, who was rewarded by the king for this exploit with the privilege of always carrying a golden cock upon his spear in front of the line during an expedition; for the Persians call the Carians themselves cocks, because of the crests with which they adorn their helmets.

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Note 1:
A reference to the Royal River -in fact a canal- between the Euphrates and Tigris, near Nippur.

Note 2:
This piece of information is not in Xenphon's Anabasis.
Online 2007
Revision: 25 April 2007
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