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. These books 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).
This page contains an overview of all fragments of the History of the Persians and the History of India. These summaries are based on an ancient re-telling (by Diodorus of Sicily) and two excerpts by the Byzantine scholar Photius (Persica; Indica). It would be wrong to conclude that they offer a very reliable impression of Ctesias' books.
Ctesias of Cnidus: overview of all fragments
History of the Persians
- Books 1-3: Assyrian history
- Fr.1 (= Diodorus of Sicily, World history, 2.1-28): §2, the story of Ninus, the founder of the Assyrian empire; he subdues all Asia, except for Bactria and India; §3, he builds Nineveh; §4, youth of Semiramis; §5, Ninus marries Semiramis and attacks Bactria with a large army; §6, Ninus conquers Bactria; §7, Ninus dies and Semiramis improves Nineveh; §8, further improvements of the city; §9, Semiramis builds the temple of Zeus in Babylon (= the Esagila shrine); §13, Semiramis builds a monument at Bagistan (= the Behistun monument) and a palace in Ecbatana; §14, Semiramis in Egypt; §15, Nubian burial customs; §16, Semiramis wants to attack India; description of India; §17, the Assyrian and Indian armies; §18, Semiramis invades India; §19, her defeat; §20, Semiramis falls victim to a coup by Ninyas, son of herself and Ninus; §21, reign Ninyas; §22, Assyrian support to the Trojans in their war against the Greeks; §23, reign and decadence of Sardanapalus; §24, anti-Assyrian coalition of Arbaces the Mede and Belesys the Babylonian; §25, siege of Nineveh; §26, continuation of the siege of Nineveh; §27, fall of Nineveh; §28, end of the Assyrian empire.
- Books 4-6: Median history
- Fr.5 (= Diodorus of Sicily, World history 2.32-34): §32, reign of Arbaces (28 years), reign of Maudaces (50 years), reign of Sodarmus (30 years), reign of Artycas (50 years), reign of Arbianus (22 years), reign of Artaeus (40 years); §33, war between the Medes and the Cadusians; §34, reign of Artyntes (22 years), reign of Astibaras (40 years), revolt of the Parthians, reign of Aspandas/Astyages.
- Books 7-9: history of the Persian king Cyrus the Great
- Book 10: history of the Persian king Cyrus the Great
- Fr.9 (= Photius, Summary #72.7): §7, Cyrus defeats the Indian Derbices.
- Book 11: history of the Persian king Cyrus the Great
- Fr.9 (= Photius, Summary #72.8): §8, death of Cyrus.
- Books 12: Cambyses
- Book 13: the coup of the magian
- Fr.13 (= Photius, Summary #72.11-16): §11, the magian Sphendadates accuses Cambyses' brother Tanyoxarces of plotting against the king, but he is not believed; §12, the magian makes a plan to seize the throne: he makes him disappear, pretends to be Tanyoxarces and proclaims himself king; §13, everybody believes that the magian is Tanyoxarces, except for a few trusted courtiers of Cambyses; §14, death of Cambyses; §15, the courtier Izabates explains the truth to the Persian army; §16, seven Persian nobleman kill the magian: Onophas, Idarnes, Norondabates, Mardonius, Barisses, Ataphernes and Darius I the Great;.
- Book 14: Darius
- Fr.13 (= Photius, Summary #72.17-23): §17, Darius becomes king of the Achaemenid empire; §18, the Magophonia-festival; §19, Darius' tomb; §20, Darius' general Ariaramnes, satrap of Cappadocia, attacks the Scythians; §21, Darius' Scythian expedition; §22, Darius' general Datis attacks Greece but is defeated at Marathon; §23, death of Darius.
- Book 15: Xerxes
- Fr.13 (= Photius, Summary #72.24-33): §24, Xerxes becomes king; his relatives; §25, Xerxes attacks Greece because the Athenians have refused to return the body of Datis; §26, the Babylonians revolt and kill Zopyrus, but are subdued by Megabyzus; §27, Xerxes attacks Greece; the battle at Thermopylae; §28, the Spartans defeat the Persians at Plataea; §29, death of the Persian general Mardonius; §30, Xerxes attacks Athens but is defeated at Salamis; §31, return of Xerxes to Asia; §32, return of Xerxes to Babylonia; §33, murder of Xerxes.
- Books 16-17: Artaxerxes I Makrocheir
- Fr.14 (= Photius, Summary #72.34-46): §34, beginning of the reign of Artaxerxes: fall of Artapanus; §35, unsuccessful rebellion of the Bactrians under another Artapanus; §36, rebellion of the Egyptian king Inarus: with Athenian help, the Persian satrap Achaemenides is defeated and killed; §37, the Persian commander Megabyzus subdues a large part of Egypt; §38, the Persians promise to spare Inarus and the Athenians; §39, Achaemenes' mother Amestris -the wife of Xerxes- wants revenge and has Inarus and the Athenians crucified; §40, Megabyzus, who feels cheated, revolts and is victorious; §41, another victory of Megabyzus; §42, the king pardons Megabyzus; §43, after an incident during a lion hunt, Artaxerxes exiles Megabyzus to the Red Sea, where he dies; §44, the Greek doctor Apollonides of Cos; §45, Zopyrus, the son of Megabyzus, defects to the Athenians; §46, death of Amestris and Artaxerxes.
- Book 18: Darius II
- Fr.15 (= Photius, Summary #72.47-56): §47, beginning of the reign of Xerxes II; §48, his brother Sogdianus revolts and kills Xerxes; §49, beginning of Sogdianus' reign; §50, Sogdianus' brother Ochus refuses to do homage, revolts and becomes king; §51, beginning of the reign of Darius II; his relatives; §52, unsuccessful revolt of Darius' brother Arsites and Megabyzus' son Artasyras; §53, revolt of Pissuthnes; §54, unsuccessful conspiracy of the eunuch Artoxares; §55, a tragedy in the royal family; §56, Darius' last years.
- Books 19-20: early reign of Artaxerxes II Mnemon
- Fr.16 (= Photius, Summary #72.57-67): §57, Death of Darius; accession of Artaxerxes II Mnemon; §58, execution of Udiastes; §59, Tissaphernes entices Cyrus the Younger to rebel against his brother, king Darius; §60, Orontes accused; §61, death of Orontes; §62, discussion of a man who had burnt the body of his father; accusations against Herodotus; §63, revolt of Cyrus the Younger; §64, battle at Cunaxa, death of Cyrus (click here for quote); §65, the Greek mercenaries of Cyrus retreat; negotiations; §66, Parysatis, the mother of Cyrus and Artaxerxes, mourns; §67, Artaxerxes gives presents to men who have served him well during the war.
- Fr.17 (= Plutarch of Chaeronea, Life of Artaxerxes, 3): accession of Artaxerxes.
- Fr.18 (= Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes, 8): the battle at Cunaxa.
- Fr.19 (= Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes, 9): the battle at Cunaxa
- Fr.20 (= Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes, 11-13): death of Cyrus
- Fr.21 (= Xenophon, Anabasis 1.8.23-27): the battle at Cunaxa, the death of Cyrus.
- Frs.22-23 (= Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes, 13.3-5): casualties at Cunaxa.
- Fr.24 (= Demetrius, On rhetorics 216): Parysatis learns of the death of Cyrus.
- Fr.25 (= Apsines, The art of rhetoric p.320, 22 Sp-Ha): Parysatis learns of the death of Cyrus.
- Fr.26 (= Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes, 14): after the battle of Cunaxa
- Books 21-22: later reign of Artaxerxes II Mnemon
- Fr.27 (= Photius, Summary #72.68-71): §68, Tissaphernes plots against the Greek mercenaries; §69, execution of the Greek commander Clearchus; §70, digression on poisoning; §71, the tomb of Clearchus.
- Fr.28 (= Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes, 18-19): death of Clearchus, court intrigues
- Book 23: Lists
History of India
Photius, Summary: §1, size of the Indus; §2, number of the Indians; §3, the river worm; §4, the desert; §5, irrigation; §6, the pantarbe-stone; §7, elephants; §8, birds, including the parrot; §9, a fountain of gold; §10, Indian dogs, capable of chasing lions; §11, precious stones; §12, the extreme heat, due to the enormous size of the sun; §13, because of the heat, fish cannot live in the seas; §14, bamboo; §15, the martichora; §16, righteousness of the Indians; §17, the holy mountain, dedicated to the Sun and Moon; §18, India's hot climate; §19, why the Indians are black; §20, a brief period of freshness explained; §21, the Pygmees; §22, the lambs of the Pygmees; §23, number of Pygmees; §24, hunting; §25, an oil producing lake; §26, Indian gold; §27, great size of Indian lambs and goats; §28, great size palms and dates; §29, a honey river; §30, Indian justice, loyalty and acceptance of death; §31, a mysterious lake; §32, good health and extreme age of the Indians; §33, a giant snake; §34, the dicairus-bird; §35, the parebus-tree; §36, the river Hyparchus; §37, the Cynoscephalae a mountain tribe of people with dogs' heads; §38, a purple flower near the sources of the Hyparchus; §39, a giant red chaver; §40, hunting habits of the Cynoscephalae; §41, other habits of the Cynoscephalae; §42, cave dwellings of the Cynoscephalae; §43, righteousness and extreme age of the Cynoscephalae; §44, the mountain-Indians; §45, the rhinocerus; §46, the river worm; §47, the carpius-tree; §48, sweetness of cheese and wine; §49, a strange fountain; §50, a warrior tribe in the mountains; §51, statement that the author has spoken the truth.