Tissaphernes (d.395 BC)

Tissaphernes (d.395 BC) was the Persian satrap of Lydia and Caria in Asia Minor and played part in the defeat of Athens in the Great Peloponnesian War and the defeat of the revolt of Cyrus the Younger in 401, but was executed for his failures against the Spartans in 395.

Tissaphernes first came to prominence in 415 BC when he defeated Pissuthnes, the ruler of Lydia. Pissuthnes had hired some Greek mercenaries commanded by an Athenian called Lycon and rebelled against the Persians. Tissaphernes bribed Lycon by giving him control of a number of towns. Pissuthnes was arrested, taken to court and executed. His son Amorges managed to hold on at Iasus for some time, but the danger of a serious revolt had been averted.

In 413 Tissaphernes, then satrap of Lydia and Caria for Darius II, helped form an alliance between Persia and Sparta, bringing Persia into the Great Peloponnesian War. His aim was to regain the Greek cities of Asia Minor, which had been ruled by Athens since the end of the Greco-Persian Wars in 449/8. By the end of 412 the Persians had retaken most of the lost cities, and Tissaphernes reduced the amount of aid he gave to the Spartans, to prevent them from winning a total victory.

During this period Tissaphernes had become close to Alcibiades, one of the most controversial Athenian leaders of this period, who at this point was working for Sparta. Alcibiades now wanted to return to the Athenian side, and in 411 he played a part in bringing about negotiations between Tissaphernes and an Athenian delegation. These ended in stalemate, and the chief negotiator, Pesiander, returned to Athens where he attempted to overthrow the democracy. For some time there was a standoff between the oligarchic regime at Athens and the democratic fleet, based at Samos, and Alcibiades was able to use the promise of money from Tissaphernes to return to favour. The oligarchy soon collapsed, and Alcibiades briefly returned to favour in Athens, but without actual support from Tissaphernes. Early in 410 Tissaphernes even moved north towards the Hellespont to play a public part in the anti-Athenian war effort. Alcibiades made a daring visit to his court in an attempt to maintain his relationship with the satrap, but instead he was arrested and thrown into jail. He managed to escape after thirty days, but his arrest did prevent Tissaphernes from coming under too much suspicion.
In 407 Darius II decided to give Sparta his full support. His younger son, Cyrus the Younger, replaced Tissaphernes as commander-in-chief of the Persian forces in Asia Minor and as satrap of Lydia. Tissaphernes kept Caria and acted as Cyrus's advisor, although the relationship was probably always rather uneasy. With the full support of Persia the Spartans were finally able to defeat Athens, destroying their fleet at Aegospotami in 405 and forcing them to surrender in 404.

In the same year Darius II died. He had two sons, Artaxerxes and Cyrus, both with Queen Parysatis. She favoured Cyrus, but Darius chose Artaxerxes as his successor. Cyrus was accused (possibly by Tissaphernes) of being involved in an assassination bid against his brother at this point, but his mother got him a pardon and he returned to his post in Lydia. However the tribute from the local cities was allocated to Tissaphernes. As a result an undeclared war broke out between Cyrus and Tissaphernes. Most of the Greek cities of Asia sided with Cyrus, although Miletus remained loyal to Tissaphernes because he had expelled the city's oligarchs.

Cyrus soon began to raise an army to revolt against his brother. He hired a large number of Greek mercenaries, telling them that they would be used against rebels in eastern Asia Minor and to watch Tissaphernes. Tissaphernes wasn’t fooled, and when Cyrus began his march east in 401 he sent a warning message to Artaxerxes. As a result Artaxerxes was able to raise an army in time to defeat Cyrus at Cunaxa (401), ending the revolt. Tissaphernes commanded the left wing of Artaxerxes's army at Cunaxa, and suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the Greek hoplites. He then betrayed the surviving Greek leaders, killing them at a meeting, and pursued the survivors into the mountains of Asia Minor. The surviving Greeks (the '10,000'), managed to escape to the Black Sea coast and eventually fought on the Spartan side against Persia. 

As a reward Tissaphernes was restored to his former post as satrap of Lydia and Caria, and given a Royal wife. His first job was to restore Persian control of the Greek cities of Asia Minor, lost during Cyrus's revolt. He began with an unsuccessful attack on Cyme, called off as winter approached. The Greeks of Asia called for help from the Spartans, who had offered some support to Cyrus. Sparta sent a small army at first, under the command of Thibron who campaigned against Tissaphernes (Persian-Spartan War). He was largely ineffective and was soon replaced by Dercylidas. The new Spartan commander arranged a truce with Tissaphernes, and then attacked his fellow satrap, Pharnabazus. In 397 Dercylidas was ordered to move back south to defend the Greek cities under Tissaphernes's rule. Tissaphernes was the senior of the two satraps, and was able to summon Pharnabazus to his aid. The two sides nearly clashed on the road to Ephesus. Pharnabazus wanted to fight, but Tissaphernes wanted to avoid a repeat of the battle of Cunaxa, and agreed to peace negotations. A truce was put in place while the rival peace offers were considered by the two governments. Pharnabazus didn't agree with this, and went to Susa where he was able to convince Artaxerxes II to fund the construction of a new fleet.

Towards the end of 397, while peace negotiations were underway, news reached Sparta that 300 triremes were being prepared in Phoenicia. The Spartans decided to send King Agesilaus II to Asia Minor with a larger force. He arrived in the spring of 396, and immediately arranged a further truce with Tissaphernes. Most of our sources suggest that Tissaphernes used this time to ask for reinforcements from Susa. Once these reinforcements arrived, Tissaphernes demanded that the Spartans leave Asia, a declaration of renewed war. Tissaphernes then fell for a Spartan trick. Agesilaus ordered the creation of a series of markets on the road east into Caria (so that his men could purchase food as they went). Tissaphernes moved to intercept this raid, at which point the Spartans moved north instead and raided Pharnabazus's satrapy.

In 395 Agesilaus reversed the trick. This time he ordered markets to be set up on the road to Tissaphernes's capital of Sardis. Assuming that this was another bluff Tissaphernes moved into Caria once again, but this time the Spartans went exactly where they said they were going. Tissaphernes moved north quickly in an attempt to stop them ravaging the area around Sardis, but part of his army was defeated and his camp captured (battle of Sardis, 395 BC).

This played into the hands of Tissaphernes's enemies at court, and in particular the Queen Mother Parysatis. Artaxerxes sent one of his senior officials, Tithraustes, to Sardis, with orders to dispose of Tissaphernes. The killing was carried out by Ariaeus, one of Cyrus's supporters at Cunaxa who had since been pardoned. Tissaphernes was beheaded in his bath while he was at Colossae in Phrygia.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (8 January 2016), Tissaphernes (d.395 BC) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_tissaphernes.html

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy