Appian, The Mithridatic Wars 16

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.

Third Mithridatic War (cont'd)

[76] When winter camenote Mithridates was deprived of his supplies by sea, if he had any, so that his whole army suffered from hunger, and many of them died. There were some who ate the entrails according to a barbarian custom. Others were made sick by subsisting on herbs. Moreover the corpses that were thrown out in the neighborhood unburied brought on a plague in addition to that caused by famine. Nevertheless Mithridates continued his efforts, hoping still to capture Cyzicus by means of the mounds extending from Mount Dindymus. But when the Cyziceans undermined them and burned the machines on them, and made frequent sallies upon his forces, knowing that they were weakened by want of food, Mithridates began to think of flight.

He fled by night, going himself with his fleet to Parius, and his army by land to Lampsacus. Many lost their lives in crossing the river Aesepus, which was then greatly swollen, and where Lucullus attacked them. Thus the Cyziceans escaped the vast siege preparations of the king by means of their own bravery and of the famine that Lucullus brought upon the enemy. They instituted games in his honor, which they celebrate to this day, called the Lucullean games.

Mithridates sent ships for those who had taken refuge in Lampsacus, where they were besieged by Lucullus, and carried them away, together with the Lampsaceans themselves. Leaving 10,000 picked men and fifty ships under Varius (the general sent to him by Sertoriusnote), and Alexander the Paphlagonian, and Dionysius the eunuch, he sailed with the bulk of his force for Nicomedia. A storm came up in which many of both divisions perished.

[77] When Lucullus had accomplished this result on land by starving his enemies,note he collected a fleet from the Asiatic province and distributed it to the generals serving under him. Triariusnote Triarius sailed to Apamea, captured it, and slew a great many of the inhabitants who had taken refuge in the temples. Barba took Prusias, situated at the base of a mountain, and occupied Nicaea, which had been abandoned by the Mithridatic garrison. At the harbor of the Achaeans,note Lucullus captured thirteen of the enemy's ships.

He overtook Varius and Alexander and Dionysius on a barren island near Lemnos (where the altar of Philoctetes is shown with the brazen serpent, the bows, and the breastplate bound with fillets, to remind us of the sufferings of that hero), and dashed at them in a contemptuous manner. They stoutly held their ground. He checked his oarsmen and sent his ships toward them by twos in order to entice them out to sea. As they declined the challenge, but continued to defend themselves on land, he sent a part of his fleet around to another side of the island, disembarked a force of infantry, and drove the enemy to their ships. Still they did not venture out to sea, but hugged the shore, because they were afraid of the army of Lucullus. Thus they were exposed to missiles on both sides, landward and seaward, and received a great many wounds, and after heavy slaughter took to flight.

Varius, Alexander, and Dionysius the eunuch were captured in a cave where they had concealed themselves. Dionysius drank poison which he had with him and immediately expired. Lucullus gave orders that Varius be put to death, since he did not want to have his triumph graced by a Roman senator, but he kept Alexander for that purpose. Lucullus sent letters wreathed with laurel to Rome, as is the custom of victors, and then pressed forward to Bithynia.

[78] As Mithridates was sailing to Pontus, a second tempest overtook him and he lost about 10,000 men and sixty ships, and the remainder were scattered wherever the wind blew them. His own ship sprang a leak and he went aboard a small piratical craft although his friends tried to dissuade him. The pirates landed him safely at Sinope.

From that place he was towed to Amisus, whence he sent appeals to his son-in-law, Tigranes the Armenian, and his son, Machares, the ruler of the Cimerian Bosphorus, that they should hasten to his assistance. He ordered Diocles to take a large quantity of gold and other presents to the neighboring Scythians, but Diocles took the gold and the presents and deserted to Lucullus.

Lucullus moved to the front with the prestige of victory,note subduing everything in his path and subsisting on the country. Presently he came to a rich district, exempt from the ravages of war, where a slave was sold for four drachmas, an ox for one, and goats, sheep, clothing, and other things in proportion. Lucullus laid siege to Amisus and also to Eupatoria, which Mithridates had built alongside of Amisus and named after himself and where he had fixed the royal residence.

With another army Lucullus besieged Themiscyra, which is named after one of the Amazons and is situated on the river Thermodon. The besiegers of this place brought up towers, built mounds, and dug tunnels so large that great subterranean battles could be fought in them. The inhabitants cut openings into these tunnels from above and thrust bears and other wild animals and swarms of bees into them against the workers.

Those who were besieging Amisus suffered in other ways. The inhabitants repelled them bravely, made frequent sallies, and often challenged them to single combat. Mithridates sent them plenty of supplies and arms and soldiers from Cabira, where he wintered and collected a new army. Here he brought together about 40,000 foot and 4,000 horse.

[79] When spring camenote Lucullus marched over the mountains against Mithridates, who had stationed advanced posts to hinder his approach, and to start signal fires whenever anything important should happen. He appointed a member of the royal family, named Phoenix, commander of this advance guard. When Lucullus drew near, Phoenix gave the fire signal to Mithridates and then deserted to Lucullus with his forces.

Lucullus now passed over the mountains without difficulty and came down to Cabira, but was beaten by Mithridates in a cavalry engagement and retreated again to the mountain. Pomponius, his master of horse, was wounded and taken prisoner and brought to the presence of Mithridates. The king asked him what favor Pomponius could render him for sparing his life. Pomponius replied, "A great one if you make peace with Lucullus, but if you continue his enemy I will not even consider your question."

The barbarians wanted to put him to death, but the king said that he would not do violence to bravery overtaken by misfortune. He drew out his forces for battle several days in succession, but Lucullus would not come down and fight; so he looked about for some way to come at him by ascending the mountain.

At this juncture a Scythian, named Olcaba, who had deserted to Lucullus some time before and had saved the lives of many in the recent cavalry fight, and for that reason was deemed worthy to share Lucullus' table, his confidence, and his secrets, came to his tent while he was taking his noonday rest and tried to force his way in. He was wearing a short dagger in his belt as was his custom. When he was prevented from entering he became angry and said that there was a pressing necessity that the general should be aroused. The servants replied that there was nothing more useful to Lucullus than his safety. Thereupon the Scythian mounted his horse and went immediately to Mithridates, either because he had plotted against Lucullus and now thought that he was suspected, or because he considered himself insulted and was angry on that account. He exposed to Mithridates another Scythian, named Sobdacus, who was about to desert to Lucullus. Sobdacus was accordingly arrested.

[80] Lucullus hesitated about going down directly to the plain since the enemy was so much superior in horse, nor could he discover any way around, but he found a hunter in a cave who was familiar with the mountain paths. With him for a guide he made a circuitous descent by rugged paths over Mithridates' head. He avoided the plain on account of the cavalry, and came down and chose a place for his camp where he had a mountain stream on his front. As he was short of supplies he sent to Cappadocia for corn, and in the meantime had frequent skirmishes with the enemy.

Once when the royal forces were put to flight, Mithridates came running to them from his camp and, with reproachful words, rallied them to such good purpose that the Romans became terrified in turn and fled up the mountain side with such swiftness that they did not know for a long time that the hostile force had desisted from the pursuit, but each one thought that the fleeing comrade behind him was an enemy, so great was the panic that had overtaken them.

Mithridates sent bulletins everywhere announcing this victory. He then sent a detachment composed of the bravest of his horse to intercept the convoy that was bringing supplies from Cappadocia to Lucullus, hoping to bring upon him the same scarcity of provisions from which he had himself suffered at Cyzicus.