Appian, The Mithridatic Wars 8

Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165): one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians, author of a Roman History in twenty-four books.

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, about Rome's struggle with the kingdom of Pontus, 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 by Jona Lendering.

First Mithridatic War (cont'd)

[36] When Sulla had raised his mound to the proper height at Piraeus, he planted his engines on it.note But Archelaus undermined the mound and carried away the earth, the Romans for a long time suspecting nothing. Suddenly the mound sank down.

Quickly understanding the state of things, the Romans withdrew their engines and filled up the mound, and, following the enemy's example, began in like manner to undermine the walls. The diggers met each other underground, and fought there with swords and spears as well as they could in the darkness.

While this was going on, Sulla pounded the wall with rams erected on the tops of mounds until part of it fell down. Then he hastened to burn the neighboring tower, and discharged a large number of fire-bearing missiles against it, and ordered his bravest soldiers to mount the ladders. Both sides fought bravely, but the tower was burned.

Another small part of the wall was thrown down also, over against which Sulla at once stationed a guard. Having now undermined a section of the wall, so that it was only sustained by wooden beams, he placed a great quantity of sulfur, hemp, and pitch under it, and set fire to the whole at once. The walls fell -now here, now there- carrying the defenders down with them. This great and unexpected crash demoralized the forces guarding the walls everywhere, as each one expected that the ground would sink under him next. Fear and loss of confidence kept them turning this way and that way, so that they offered only a feeble resistance to the enemy.

[37] Against the forces thus demoralized Sulla kept up an unceasing fight, continually changing the active part of his own army, bringing up fresh soldiers with ladders, one division after another, with shout and cheer, urging them forward with threats and encouragement at the same time, and telling them that victory would shortly be theirs.

Archelaus, on the other hand, brought up new forces in place of his discouraged ones. He, too, changed their labor continually, cheering and urging them on, and telling them that their salvation would soon be secured.

A high degree of zeal and courage was excited in both armies again and the fight became very severe, the slaughter being substantially equal on both sides. Finally Sulla, being the attacking party and therefore soonest exhausted, sounded a retreat and led his forces back, praising many of his men for their bravery.

Archelaus forthwith repaired the damage to his wall by night, protecting a large part of it with a lunette curving inward. Sulla attacked this newly built wall at once with his whole army, thinking that as it was still moist and weak he could easily demolish it, but as he had to work in a narrow space and was exposed to missiles from above, both in front and flank, as is usual with crescent-shaped fortifications, he was again worn out. Then he abandoned all idea of taking Piraeus by assault and established a siege around it in order to reduce it by famine.

[38] Knowing that the defenders of Athens were severely pressed by hunger, that they had devoured all their cattle, boiled the hides and skins, and licked what they could get therefrom, and that some had even partaken of human flesh, Sulla directed his soldiers to encircle the city with a ditch so that the inhabitants might not escape secretly, even one by one. This done, he brought up his ladders and at the same time began to break through the wall. The feeble defenders were soon put to flight, and the Romans rushed into the city.note

A great and pitiless slaughter ensued in Athens, the inhabitants, for want of nourishment, being too weak to fly. Sulla ordered an indiscriminate massacre, not sparing women or children. He was angry that they had so suddenly joined the barbarians without cause, and had displayed such violent animosity toward himself.

Most of the Athenians, when they heard the order given, rushed upon the swords of the slayers voluntarily. A few had taken their feeble course to the Acropolis, among them Aristion, who had burned the Odeum,[1] so that Sulla might not have the timber in it at hand for storming the Acropolis.

Sulla forbade the burning of the city, but allowed the soldiers to plunder it. In many houses they found human flesh prepared for food. The next day Sulla sold the slaves at auction. To the freedmen who had escaped the slaughter of the previous night, a very small number, he promised their liberty but took away their right as voters and electors because they had made war upon him. The same terms were extended to their offspring.

[39] In this way did Athens have her full of horrors. Sulla stationed a guard around the Acropolis, to whom Aristion and his company were soon compelled by hunger and thirst to surrender. Sulla inflicted the penalty of death on Aristion and his bodyguard, and upon all who exercised any authority or who had done anything whatever contrary to the rules laid down for them after the first capture of Greece by the Romans.

Sulla pardoned the rest and gave to all of them substantially the same laws that had been previously established for them by the Romans. About forty pounds of gold and 600 pounds of silver was obtained from the Acropolis - but these events at the Acropolis took place somewhat later.

[40] As soon as Athens was taken Sulla, impatient at the long siege of Piraeus, brought up rams, and projectiles of all kinds, and a large force of men, who battered the walls under the shelter of tortoises, and numerous cohorts who hurled javelins and shot arrows in vast numbers at the defenders on the walls in order to drive them back.

He knocked down a part of the newly built lunette, which was still moist and weak. Archelaus had anticipated this from the first and had built several others like it inside, so that Sulla came upon one wall after another, and found his task endless. But he pushed on with tireless energy, he relieved his men often, he was ubiquitous among them, urging them on and showing them that their entire hope of reward for their labors depended on accomplishing this small remainder.

The soldiers, too, believing that this would in fact be the end of their toils, and spurred to their work by the love of glory and the thought that it would be a splendid achievement to conquer such walls as these, pressed forward vigorously. Finally, Archelaus was dumbfounded by their senseless and mad persistence, and abandoned the walls to them and betook himself to that part of the Piraeus which was most strongly fortified and enclosed on all sides by the sea.note As Sulla had no ships he could not attack it.