Cornelius Nepos : Life of Conon

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.


VIII.   Thrasybulus   

  IX.   CONON   

  [1] L   Conon the Athenian began his public career at the time of the Peloponnesian War, and in that war he rendered important service; for he commanded the land forces with the rank of general, and as admiral of the fleet he did great deeds on the sea.  In recognition of this an unusual honour was conferred upon him; he was given sole charge of all the islands, and while holding that commission ** he took Pherae, a colony ** of the Lacedaemonians. 2 He was also commander-in-chief at the close of the Peloponnesian War, when the Athenian forces were defeated by Lysander at Aegospotamoi; but he was absent at the time, and in consequence the affair was badly managed; for he was skilled in military science and a careful commander. 3 Hence no one who lived in those times doubted that, if he had been present, the Athenians would not have suffered that disaster.   

  [2] L   But when the calamity came and he heard that his native city was in a state of siege, he looked about for a place, not where he could himself live in safety, but from which he could be a defence to his fellow-citizens. So he went to Pharnabazus, satrap of Ionia and Lydia, who was also son-in-law of the king and his near relative, with whom he succeeded in winning great influence by hard toil and many dangers. 2 For the Lacedaemonians, after vanquishing the Athenians, did not remain true to the alliance which they had concluded with Artaxerxes, but sent Agesilaus to Asia to make war, being especially influenced by Tissaphernes, one of Artaxerxes' intimate friends, who, however, had betrayed his king's friendship and come to an understanding with the Lacedaemonians. Against him Pharnabazus was nominally commander-in-chief, but in reality Conon headed the army and everything was done as he directed. 3 He proved a serious obstacle to that great general Agesilaus and often thwarted him by his strategy; in fact, it was evident that if it had not been for Conon, Agesilaus would have deprived the king of all Asia as far as the Taurus. 4 Even after the Spartan was summoned home by his countrymen, because the Boeotians and Athenians had declared war ** upon the Lacedaemonians, Conon none the less continued his relations with the king's prefects and rendered them all great assistance.   

  [3] L   Tissaphernes had revolted from the king, but that was not so clear to Artaxerxes as it was to all others; for because of many important services the satrap retained his influence with his sovereign, even after he had ceased to be faithful to him. And it is not surprising that the king was not easily led to believe in his treachery, remembering, as he did, that it was thanks to him that he had overcome his brother Cyrus. ** 2 In order to accuse the traitor, Conon was sent to the king by Pharnabazus and as soon as he arrived, he went first, according to the Persian custom, to Tithraustes, chief of the Thousand, ** who held the highest power next to the king, and explained that he wished an interview with the monarch. 3 As a matter of fact, no one is admitted to the royal presence without that formality.   

  Tithraustes replied to his request: "There is nothing to prevent, but do you consider whether you prefer a personal interview rather than to communicate what you have in mind by letter. For it is essential, if you come into his presence, to do homage to the king (which the Greeks call proskynesis). If that is repugnant to you, you may equally well accomplish what you wish through me, by instructing me as to your wishes." To this Conon answered: "To me personally it is not repugnant to pay any possible honour to the king, but I fear that my country may be shamed if, having come from a state which is accustomed to command the other nations, I should conform rather to the customs of barbarians than of Athens." Accordingly, he wrote out what he wished and handed it to the satrap.   

  [4] L   When the king had read the communication, Conon's prestige had so much weight with him that he pronounced Tissaphernes an enemy and commissioned Conon to carry on the war with the Lacedaemonians, authorising him to chose anyone he wished as his paymaster. To make that choice, Conon declared, was not his province, but that of the king, who ought to know his own subjects best; but his recommendation was that the position be given to Pharnabazus. 2 Then, after receiving valuable presents, Conon was sent to the seacoast, to levy ships of war on the Cypriotes, Phoenicians and other maritime states, ** and to fit out a fleet with which in the following summer he could make the sea safe; Pharnabazus was appointed to help him, as Conon himself had asked. 3 When this was reported to the Lacedaemonians, they made their preparations with care, thinking that a more serious war threatened them than if the contest was merely with the barbarian alone; for they saw that a brave leader was going to direct the king's power with foresight, and that they would have an adversary who would be their equal both in skill and in power. 4 Because of this conviction they got together a great fleet and set sail under the command of Pisander.   

  But they were attacked by Conon off Cnidus and put to flight in a great battle; many of their ships were taken, several were sunk. That victory secured the freedom, not only of Athens, ** but of all the Greek states which were under the rule of the Lacedaemonians. 5 Conon with a part of his ships went to his native city, saw to the rebuilding of the walls both of the Piraeus and of Athens, which had  been destroyed by Lysander, and gave to his fellow-citizens the sum of fifty talents, which he had received from Pharnabazus.   

  [5] L   But Conon had the same experience as the rest of mankind, and showed less wisdom in good fortune than in adversity. For after his decisive victory over the fleet of the Peloponnesians, thinking that he had avenged his country's wrongs, he entertained ambitions beyond his powers. 2 These, however, were both patriotic and commendable, since he desired to increase the strength of his native land at the expense of that of the great king. ** For since the famous naval battle that he had fought off Cnidus had given him high standing, not only with the barbarians, but with all the Greek states as well, he began to plot the restoration of Ionia and Aeolia to the Athenians.   

  3 Since his design was not concealed with sufficient care, Tiribazus, governor of Sardis, summoned Conon, pretending that he wished to send him to the king on a mission of importance. Conon obeyed the summons, but on his arrival he was thrown into prison and remained in confinement for some time. 4 Then, as some writers say, he was taken to the king and there met his end; Dinon, on the contrary, an historian in whose account of Persian affairs we have the most confidence, has written that he made his escape; but he is in doubt whether it was with or without the connivance of Tiribazus. 

X.   Dion →



1.   The islands between Greece and Asia Minor are meant. Conon never had such a commission. He took Pherae in 393 B.C., when he was in the service of the Persian king;   

2.   'Colony' is used in the Roman, not the Greek, Pherae had been made subject to Sparta.   

3.   The so-called Corinthian war, 396-387 B.C.   

4.   At Cunaxa, 401 B.C.; see vii. 9. 6, above.   

5.   The king's bodyguard, the mēlophoroi, so called because the butts of their spears were adorned with golden apples.   

6.   See note to ix. 1. 1.   

7.   Athens recovered its freedom in 403 B.C. ; the Lacedaemonians now lost their hegemony over the islands and the Greek cities of Asia.   

8.   The term applied by the Greeks to the King of Persia.   

X.   Dion →

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