Theophanes of Mytilene

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Theophanes of Mytilene (Greek: Θεοφάνης ο Μυτιληναίος Theofanis o Mytilineos) was an intellectual and historian from the town of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos who lived in the middle of the 1st century BC.[1] He was a friend of Pompey and wrote a book about the latter's expedition to Asia. According to Plutarch Pompey granted freedoms to Mytilene for Theophanes' sake.[2]


Theophanes was one of the most intimate friends of Pompey, whom he accompanied in many of his campaigns, and who frequently followed his advice on public as well as private matters.[3] He was not a freedman of Pompey, as some modern writers have supposed,[4] but the Roman general appears to have made his acquaintance during the Mithridatic War, and soon became so much attached to him that he presented to the Greek Roman citizenship in the presence of his army, after a speech in which he eulogised his merits.[5] This occurred in all probability about 62 BC, and Theophanes must now have taken the name of Pompeius after his patron. Such was his influence with Pompey that, in the course of the same year, he obtained for his native city the privileges of a free state, although it had espoused the cause of Mithridates VI of Pontus, and had given up the Roman general Manlius Aquillius to Pontus.[6]

Theophanes came to Rome with Pompey after the conclusion of his wars in the East. There he adopted, before he had any son, Lucius Cornelius Balbus, of Gades, a favourite of his patron.[7] He continued to live with Pompey on the most intimate terms, and we see from Cicero's letters that his society was courted by many of the Roman nobles, on account of his well-known influence with Pompey.[8] On the breaking out of the civil war he accompanied Pompey to Greece, who appointed him commander of the Fabri, and chiefly consulted him and Lucceius on all important matters in the war, much to the indignation of the Roman nobles.[9] After the Battle of Pharsalus Theophanes fled with Pompey from Greece, and it was owing to his advice that Pompey went to Egypt.[10] After the death of his friend and patron, Theophanes took refuge in Italy. He was pardoned by Julius Caesar, and was still alive in 44 BC, as we see from one of Cicero's letters.[11] After his death the Lesbians paid divine honours to his memory.[12] Theophanes wrote the history of Pompey's campaigns, in which he represented the exploits of his hero in the most favourable light, and did not hesitate, as Plutarch more than hints, to invent a false tale for the purpose of injuring the reputation of an enemy of the Pompeian family.[13]

Theophanes left behind him a son, M. Pompeius Theophanes, who was sent to Asia by Augustus, in the capacity of procurator, and was at the time that Strabo wrote one of the friends of Tiberius. The latter emperor, however, put his descendants to death towards the end of his reign, in AD 33, because their ancestor had been one of Pompey's friends, and had received after his death divine honours from the Lesbians.[14]

The people of Mytilene commemorated Theophanes as a hero after his death and put his portrait on their bronze coins. From the likeness a marble portrait of the man has been identified as well as dozens of his images in relief on the bottom of special bowls perhaps made to celebrate his posthumous status. Excavations both in the Castle of Mytilene and elsewhere in the town have uncovered a variety of them.


  1. ^ Gold, Barbara K. (Autumn 1985). "Pompey and Theophanes of Mytilene". The American Journal of Philology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 103 (3): 312–327. 
  2. ^ Yarrow, Liv Mariah (2006). Historiography at the End of the Republic: Provincial Perspectives on Roman Rule. Oxford University Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-19-927754-4. 
  3. ^ Caes. B. C, iii. 18 ; Strab. xiii. p. 617.
  4. ^ Burmann, ad Veil. Pat. ii. 18
  5. ^ Cic. pro Arch. 10 ; Val. Max. viii. 14. § 3.
  6. ^ Plutarch, "Pompey", 42.
  7. ^ Cic. pro Balb. 25 ; Capitol. Balbin. 2.
  8. ^ Cic. ad Ait. ii. 5, 12, 17, v. 11.
  9. ^ Plutarch, "Cicero", 38; Caes. B. C. iii. 18 ; Cic. ad Att. ix. 3, 11.
  10. ^ Plutarch, "Pompey", 76, 78.
  11. ^ ad Att.xv. 19
  12. ^ Tacitus, Annales, vi. 18.
  13. ^ Plut. Pomp. 37, et alibi ; Strab. xi. p. 503, xiii. p. 617 ; Cic. pro Arch. I.e.; Val. Max. L c.; Capitol. I. c.
  14. ^ Strab. xiii. p. 617; Tacitus, Annales, vi. 18; comp. Drumann, Geschichte JRoms, vol. iv. pp. 551–553 ; Vossius, de Hist. Graec. pp. 190, 191, ed. Westermann.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1870). "article name needed". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.