Cornelius Nepos : Life of Datames

Translated by J.C. Rolfe (1929). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.

XIII.   Timotheus   


  [1] L   Datames, son of Camisares, a Carian by nationality,  born of a Scythian mother, ** began his career as one of the corps of soldiers who guarded the palace of Artaxerxes. ** His father Camisares, because of his personal bravery and valour in war, and because he had on many occasions proved his loyalty to the king, governed that part of Cilicia which adjoins Cappadocia and is inhabited by the Leucosyri, or 'White Syrians.'  2 Datames, while serving as a soldier, first showed his quality in the war which the king waged against the Cadusii, in which, although many thousands of the king's troops were slain, his services were of great value. The consequence was, that since Camisares had fallen in the course of that war, Datames became governor of his father's province.   

  [2] L   He later showed himself equally valiant when Autophrodates, at the king's command, was making war upon the peoples that had revolted. For when the enemy had already entered the Persian camp, it was owing to Datames that they were routed and the rest of the king's army was saved. And because of that exploit he began to be entrusted with more important commands.  2 At that time there was a prince of Paphlagonia called Thuys, of an old family, being a descendant of that Pylaemenes who, according to Homer, was slain by Patroclus in the Trojan War. **  3 He did not own obedience to the king, who for that reason determined to make war upon him. He gave the management of the campaign to Datames, who was a near relative of the Paphlagonian; for the father of the one and the mother of the other were brother and sister. That being the case, Datames wished first to try to recall his kinsman to his duty without resort to arms. But having come to him without an escort, because he feared no treachery from a friend, Datames all but lost his life; for Thuys tried to kill him secretly.  4 Datames was accompanied by his mother, who was the maternal aunt of the Paphlagonian; she learned of the plot and warned her son,  5 who escaped the danger by flight and declared war upon Thuys. Although in the course of that war Datames was deserted by Ariobarzanes, governor of Lydia, Ionia and all Phrygia, he kept on with undiminished vigour and took Thuys alive, along with his wife and children.  

  [3] L   Datames took pains to prevent the news of his success from reaching the king before his own arrival. Therefore, without the knowledge of anyone, he came to the place where the king was, and on the following day, he dressed up Thuys - who was a man of huge size and fearful aspect, being very dark, with long hair and flowing beard - putting on him the fine raiment which the king's satraps are accustomed to wear, adorning him too with a neck-chain and bracelets of gold and the other trappings of a king.  2 Datames himself, wearing a peasant's double cloak and a shaggy tunic, with a hunter's cap on his head, in his right hand a club and in the left a leash to which Thuys was attached, drove the Paphlagonian before him as if he were bringing in a wild beast that he had captured.   

  3 When their strange garb and the unusual appearance of the captive had attracted all eyes, and in consequence a great crowd had gathered, someone recognised Thuys and informed the king. 4 At first, Artaxerxes was incredulous and so sent Pharnabazus to investigate. Having learned the truth from him, he at once ordered the two to be admitted, greatly pleased with the capture and the masquerade, in particular because the notorious king had come into his power sooner than he expected. 5 Accordingly, he rewarded Datames munificently and sent him to the army which was then being mustered under Pharnabazus and Tithraustes for the war in Egypt, giving him equal authority with the two Persians. In fact, when the king later recalled Pharnabazus, the chief command passed to Datames.   

  [4] L   While Datames was busily engaged in organising this army and preparing to embark for Egypt, suddenly a letter was sent to him by the king, ordering him to attack Aspis, the ruler of Cataonia; that country lies beyond Cilicia, next to Cappadocia. 2 The reason for the attack was, that Aspis, dwelling in a region that was wooded and fortified with strongholds, far from acknowledging allegiance to Artaxerxes, even overran the regions neighbouring to Persia and carried off what was being brought to the king. 3 Datames was far distant from the regions in question and was drawn in the opposite direction by a more important enterprise ; but nevertheless he thought that he ought to do what the king desired. He therefore embarked upon a ship, taking with him only a few, but brave, soldiers, believing - as turned out to be the case - that it would be easier to crush his enemy with a small force by taking him off his guard, than with any possible numbers when he was ready to defend himself.   

  4 Sailing to Cilicia and disembarking there, Datames marched day and night, crossed the Taurus, and arrived at his destination. On inquiring where Aspis was, he learned that he was not far off, and that he had gone a-hunting. While Datames was considering what to do, the reason for his arrival became known, and Aspis prepared to resist him with the Pisidians ** in addition to the soldiers that he had with him. 5 When Datames heard of this, he took up arms, ordered his men to follow; he himself rode at full speed to meet the enemy. Aspis, catching sight of him afar off, as he rushed upon him, was seized with fear, and abandoning any thought of resistance, gave himself up. Datames put him in irons and delivered him to Mithridates ** to be taken to the king.   

  [5] L   While all this was going on, Artaxerxes, remembering from how important a war he had sent his leading general on so insignificant an errand, thinking that Datames had not yet started, sent a messenger to the army at Acē, telling him not to leave the army; but before the messenger arrived at his destination, he met on the way those that were bringing Aspis to the king. 2 Although by that rapid action Datames gained high favour with Artaxerxes, he incurred equally great jealousy from the courtiers, because they realised that he was more highly esteemed than any of them. Because of that they all united in a conspiracy to ruin him. 3 Of this plot Pandantes, keeper of the royal treasure, who was a friend of Datames, gave him full information in a letter, telling him that he would be in great danger if he suffered any check during his command in Egypt. 4 He added that it was the habit of kings to attribute disasters to men, but success to their own good fortune; that consequently they were easily led to bring about the ruin of those who were reported to have suffered defeat; and that Datames would be in the greater peril because he had the bitter enmity of those who had special influence with the king.   

  5 When Datames had read that letter, although he had already reached the army at Acē, knowing that what had been written him was true, he determined to leave the king's service. Yet he did nothing to stain his honour; 6 for he put Mandrocles of Magnesia in command of the army, and he himself with his own men went off to Cappadocia and took possession of the neighbouring district of Paphlagonia, concealing his feelings towards the king. Then he secretly came to an understanding with Ariobarzanes, gathered a band of soldiers, and entrusted the fortified cities to the protection of his friends.   

  [6] L   But because of the winter season these preparations did not advance rapidly. Hearing that some of the Pisidians were arming troops against him, he sent his son Arsidaeus with an army to meet them, and the young man fell in the battle that followed. Then the father set out against them with not so very large a force, concealing the severe wound that he had suffered, because he wished to encounter the enemy before the report of the defeat came to his men, for fear that the news of his son's death might affect the soldiers' spirits. 2 He arrived at his destination and pitched his camp in such a position that he could not be surrounded by the superior numbers of his adversaries nor prevented from having his own force ready for battle.   

  3 He had with him Mithrobarzanes, his father-in-law, as commander of his cavalry, but he, regarding the position of his son-in-law as desperate, deserted to the enemy. When Datames heard of this, he knew that if it was bruited about that he had been forsaken by a man so nearly related to him, all the rest would follow the example. 4 He therefore circulated the report that it was by his command that Mithrobarzanes had gone, under pretence of deserting, in order that he might, once received by the enemy, destroy them the more easily; therefore it would not be right to abandon him, but all ought to follow him at once. If they would act vigorously, the enemy would be unable to resist, since they would be assailed inside and outside of their entrenchments. 5 When this idea met with favour, he led out his army and pursued Mithrobarzanes; and when the deserter had reached the enemy, Datames gave the order to attack. 6 The Pisidians, surprised by this strange manoeuvre, were led to believe that the deserters had acted in bad faith and by prearrangement, in order that when received among the enemy they might cause a greater disaster. First they attacked the deserters, and since the latter did not understand what was going on or why it was done, they were forced to fight against those to whom they had deserted and side with those whom they had abandoned; and since neither army showed them any mercy, they were quickly cut to pieces. 7 The Pisidians, who remained, ** continued to resist, but Datames fell upon them, routed them at the first onset, pursued the fugitives, killing many of them, and captured the enemy's camp.   

  8 By this stratagem Datames at the same time punished the traitors and vanquished the enemy, thus making the plot which had been devised for his ruin the means of his safety. Never have I read anywhere of a cleverer stratagem of any commander, or one which was more speedily executed.   

  [7] L   Yet this man was deserted by Sysinas, his eldest son, who went over to the king and reported to him his father's defection. The news of this disturbed Artaxerxes, since he knew that he had to do with a brave and energetic man, who, when he had reflected, had the courage to carry out his plan, and was in the habit of reflecting before acting. Accordingly, he sent Autophrodates to Cappadocia. 2 To prevent him from entering the country, Datames wished to occupy the wooded gorge in which the Cilician Gates are situated; but he could not muster his forces with sufficient speed. 3 Thwarted in that, with the band which he had assembled he chose a position where he could not be surrounded by the enemy, one which his opponent could not pass without being caught in an unfavourable situation; and if the latter decided to fight there, the enemy's great numbers would not have much advantage over his own small force.   

  [8] L   Although Autophrodates realised the situation, he nevertheless determined to engage rather than retreat with so great a force or linger for so long a time in one spot. 2 Of barbarians he had twenty thousand horse and a hundred thousand foot, of the troops that the Persians call Cardaces, ** besides three thousand slingers of the same nationality; and in addition, eight thousand Cappadocians, ten thousand Armenians, five thousand Paphlagonians, ten thousand Phrygians, five thousand Lydians, about three thousand Aspendians and Pisidians, two thousand Cilicians, the same number of Captiani, and three thousand Greek mercenaries, along with an enormous number of light-armed troops.   

  3 For encountering these forces Datames' sole hope lay in himself and in the nature of his position; for he had not a twentieth part as many men. Relying upon such forces as he had, he accepted battle and slew many thousands of his adversaries, while of his own army he lost not more than a thousand men. To commemorate his victory, he erected a trophy on the following day on the spot where he had fought the day before. 4 Then he moved his camp and departed, having come off victor in all his engagements, although always outnumbered, since he never joined battle except when he had shut his foes in some narrow defile; which often happened, owing to his knowledge of the country and his skilful strategy. 5 Then Autophrodates, seeing that to prolong the war was more disastrous to the king than to his adversaries, urged peace and friendship, and reconciliation with the king. 6 And although Datames had no faith in the king's sincerity, he nevertheless accepted the proposal and promised to send envoys to Artaxerxes. Thus the war which the king had made upon Datames came to an end. Autophrodates withdrew into Phrygia.    

  [9] L   The king, however, having conceived implacable hatred of Datames and finding that he could not get the better of him in war, tried to kill him by treachery; but Datames escaped many of his plots. 2 For example, when it was reported to him that certain men were conspiring against him who were included among his friends, he thought that charges against friends, made by their personal enemies, ought neither to be believed nor disregarded; but he wished to find out whether what had been reported to him was true or false. 3 Accordingly, he set out for the place on the road to which it was reported that the ambuscade would be laid. But he selected a man who closely resembled him in figure and stature, dressed him in his own costume, and directed him to take the place in the line which he himself usually occupied. Then Datames, equipped and dressed like a common soldier, began the march among his bodyguard.   

  4 Now the traitors, when the army reached the appointed place, misled by his place in the line and his costume, made their attack upon the man who had taken Datames' place. But Datames had ordered those with whom he was marching to be ready to do what they saw him doing, 5 and he, as soon as he saw the traitors rushing forward, hurled weapons at them; and since the whole troop did the same, before the assassins could reach the man whom they wished to attack they all fell, pierced with wounds.   

  [10] L   Yet this man, cunning as he was, finally fell victim to the craft of Mithridates, the son of Ariobarzanes; for he had promised the king to kill Datames, provided the king would allow him to do with impunity anything that he chose, and would give him a pledge to that effect in the Persian fashion with his right hand. 2 When he had received that pledge from the king's messenger, ** Mithridates prepared his forces and made friends with Datames without meeting him. He then began to raid the king's provinces and storm his fortresses, gaining a great amount of booty, of which he divided a part among his soldiers and sent a part to Datames; he likewise handed over several fortresses to the Carian. 3 By continuing this conduct for a long time he convinced Datames that he was engaged in implacable war against the king, while nevertheless, to avoid exciting any suspicion of treachery, he neither sought an interview with his intended victim, nor did he try to meet him face to face. From a distance he played the part of a friend, in such a way that they seemed to be united, not by mutual services, but by the common hatred which they felt for the king.   

  [11] L   When Mithridates thought that he had made his enmity to the king sufficiently evident, he informed Datames that it was time to raise greater armies and make war directly on Artaxerxes; .and he invited him to hold a conference about that matter, if he approved, in any place that he wished. The proposition was accepted, and a time and place appointed for their meeting. 2 Mithridates went to the spot several days in advance, with a single companion in whom he had the greatest confidence; and in several different places, which he carefully marked, he buried swords. And on the very day of the meeting both parties sent men to examine the place and search the generals themselves; then the two met.   

  3 After they had conferred there for some time, they departed in opposite directions; but when Datames was already a considerable distance away, Mithridates, in order not to arouse any suspicion, returned to the place of meeting before joining his attendants, and sat down at a spot where a weapon had been buried, as if he were tired and wished to rest; then he called Datames back, pretending that he had overlooked something in the course of the conference. 4 In the meantime he took out the hidden sword, drew it from its sheath, and concealed it under his cloak. When Datames came, Mithridates said to him that just as he was leaving he had noticed a spot, visible from where they sat, which was suitable for pitching a camp. 5 He pointed out the place, and as Datames turned to look at it, the traitor plunged the sword into his back and killed him before anyone could come to his help. Thus that great man, who had triumphed over many by strategy, but never by treachery, fell a victim to feigned friendship. 

XV.   Epaminondas →



1.   Since 2. 4 seems to indicate that the mother of Datames was a Paphlagonian, some take Scythissa as her name.   

2.   Artaxerxes Mnemon, as everywhere in xiv.   

3.   In Iliad v. 576 he is said to have been slain by Menelaus.   

4.   A warlike and independent people of that region, who served as mercenaries.   

5.   Son of Artaxerxes; see 10. 1.   

6.   See note on 'reliquam phalangem', xii. 1. 2.   

7.   A Greek word - kardakes, a translation of the term applied by the Persians to mercenary soldiers belonging to the barbarian tribes of the Persian empire.   

8.   The messenger gave his right hand to Datames as the king's representative; of. Justin, xi. 15. 3, dextram fert; Xen. Cyrop. iv. 2. 7, etc. The custom of sending a representation of a hand as a token (Tac. Hist. i. 54; ii. 8) is a later one. 

XV.   Epaminondas →

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