THE MITHRIDATIC WARS
Prusias, King of Bithynia -- His Attack upon Attalus -- His Son Nicomedes -- Conspiracy against Prusias -- Death of Prusias
THE Greeks think that the Thracians who marched to the Trojan war with Rhesus, who was killed by Diomedes in the night-time in the manner described in Homer's poems,584 fled to the outlet of the Euxine sea at the place where the crossing to Thrace is shortest. Some say that as they found no ships they remained there and possessed themselves of the country called Bebrycia. Others say that they crossed over to the country beyond Byzantium called Thracian Bithynia and settled along the river Bithya, but were forced by hunger to return to Bebrycia, to which they gave the name of Bithynia from the river where they had previously dwelt; or perhaps the name was changed by them insensibly with the lapse of time, as there is not much difference between Bithynia and Bebrycia. So some think. Others say that their first ruler was Bithys, the son of Zeus and Thrace, and that the two countries received their names from them.
So much by way of preface concerning Bithynia. Of the forty-nine kings who successively ruled the country before the Romans, it does not concern me to make special mention in writing Roman history. Prusias, surnamed the Hunter, was the one to whom Perseus, king of Macedonia, gave his sister in marriage. When Perseus and the Romans, not long afterward, went to war with each other, Prusias did not take sides with either of them. When Perseus was taken prisoner Prusias went to meet the Roman generals, clad in a toga which they call the tebennus, shod in the Italian fashion, with his head shaved and wearing on it a pilleus585 in the manner of slaves who have been made free in their masters' wills, and making himself appear base and insignificant in other ways. When he met them he said in the Latin tongue, "I am the freedman of the Romans, which is to say 'emancipated.' "They laughed at him and sent him to Rome. As he appeared equally ridiculous there he obtained pardon.
Some time later, being incensed against Attalus, king 587 of the Asiatic country about Pergamus, Prusias ravaged his territory. When the Roman Senate learned of this they sent word to Prusias that he must not attack Attalus, who was their friend and ally. As he was slow in obeying, the ambassadors laid stern commands upon him to obey the orders of the Senate and to go with 1000 horse to the boundary line to negotiate a treaty with Attalus, who, they said, was awaiting him there with an equal number. Despising the handful of men with Attalus and hoping to ensnare him, Prusias sent the ambassadors in advance to say that he was following with 1000 men, but actually put his whole army in motion and advanced as if to battle. When Attalus and the ambassadors learned of this they took to promiscuous flight. Prusias seized the beasts of burden belonging to the Romans that had been left behind, captured and destroyed the stronghold of Nicephorium, burned the temples in it, and besieged Attalus, who had fled to Pergamus. When these things became known in Rome a fresh embassy was sent, ordering Prusias to make compensation to Attalus for the damage done to him. Then Prusias became alarmed, obeyed the order, and retired. The ambassadors decided that as a penalty he must transfer to Attalus twenty decked ships at once, and pay him 500 talents of silver within a certain time. Accordingly he gave up the ships and began to make the payments at the prescribed time.
As Prusias was hated by his subjects on account of his extreme cruelty they became greatly attached to his son, Nicomedes. Thus the latter fell under the suspicion of Prusias, who sent him to live in Rome. Learning that he 588 was much esteemed there also, Prusias directed him to 589 petition the Senate to release him from the payment of the money still due to Attalus. He sent Menas as his fellow-ambassador, and told him if he should secure a remission of the payments to spare Nicomedes, but if not, to kill him at Rome. For this purpose he sent a number of small boats with him and 2000 soldiers. As the fine imposed on Prusias was not remitted (for Andronicus, who had been sent by Attalus to argue on the other side, showed that it was less in amount than the plunder), Menas, seeing that Nicomedes was an estimable and attractive young man, was at a loss to know what to do. He did not dare to kill him, nor to go back himself to Bithynia. The young man noticed his delay and sought a conference with him, which was just what he wanted. They formed a plot against Prusias and secured the coperation of Andronicus, the legate of Attalus, that he should persuade Attalus to take back Nicomedes to Bithynia. They met by agreement at Bernice, a small town in Epirus, where they entered into a ship by night to confer as to what should be done, and separated before daylight.
In the morning Nicomedes came out of the ship clad in the royal purple and wearing a diadem on his head. Andronicus met him, saluted him as king, and formed an escort for him with 500 soldiers that he had with him. Menas, pretending that he had then for the first time learned that Nicomedes was present, rushed to his 2000 men and exclaimed with assumed trepidation, "Since we have two kings, one at home and the other going there, we must look out for our own interests, and form a careful judgment of the future, because our safety lies in foreseeing correctly which of them will be the stronger. One of them is an old man, the other is young. The Bithynians are averse to Prusias; they are attached to Nicomedes. The leading Romans are fond of the young man, and Andronicus has already furnished him a guard, showing that Nicomedes is in alliance with Attalus, who rules an extensive dominion alongside the Bithynians and is an old enemy of Prusias." In addition to this he expatiated on the cruelty of Prusias and his outrageous conduct toward everybody, and the general hatred in which he was held by the Bithynians on this account. When he saw that the soldiers also abhorred the wickedness of Prusias he led them forthwith to Nicomedes and saluted him as king, just as Andronicus had done before, and formed a guard for him with his 2000 men.
Attalus received the young man warmly and ordered Prusias to assign certain towns for his occupation, and territory to furnish him supplies. Prusias replied that he would presently give his son the whole kingdom of Attalus, which he had intended for Nicomedes when he invaded Asia590 before. After giving this answer he made a formal accusation at Rome against Nicomedes and Attalus and cited them to trial. The forces of Attalus at once made an incursion into Bithynia, the inhabitants of which gradually took sides with the invaders. Prusias, trusting nobody and hoping that the Romans would rescue him from the toils of the conspiracy, asked and obtained from his son-in-law, Diegylis, the Thracian, 500 men, and with these alone as a body-guard he took refuge in the citadel of Nicta. The Roman prtor, in order to favor Attalus, delayed introducing the ambassadors of Prusias to the Senate at Rome. When he did introduce them, the Senate voted that the prtor himself should choose legates and send them to settle the difficulty. He selected three men, one of whom had once been struck on the head with a stone, from which he was badly scarred; another was a diseased cripple, and the third was considered almost a fool; wherefore Cato made the contemptuous remark concerning this embassy, that it had no understanding, no feet and no head.
The legates proceeded to Bithynia and ordered that the war be discontinued. Nicomedes and Attalus pretended to acquiesce. The Bithynians had been instructed to say that they could no longer endure the cruelty of Prusias, especially after they had openly complained against him. On the pretext that these complaints were not yet known at Rome the legates adjourned, leaving the business unfinished. When Prusias despaired of assistance from the Romans (in reliance upon whom he had neglected to provide 591 means for his own defence) he retired to Nicomedia in order to possess himself of the city and resist the invaders. The inhabitants, however, betrayed him and opened the gates, and Nicomedes entered with his army. Prusias fled to the temple of Zeus, where he was stabbed by some of the emissaries of Nicomedes. In this way Nicomedes succeeded Prusias as king of the Bithynians. At his death his son, Nicomedes, surnamed Philopator, succeeded him, the Senate confirming his ancestral authority. So much for Bithynia. To anticipate the sequel,592 another Nicomedes, grandson of this one, left the kingdom to the Romans in his will.