Coin of Tissaphernes
|Battles/wars||Battle of Cunaxa|
Family and early life
Tissaphernes was born in 445 BC. He belonged to an important Persian family: he was the grandson of Hydarnes, an eminent Persian general, who was the commander of the Immortals during the time of king Xerxes' invasion of Greece.
In 413 BC, Tissaphernes suppressed the rebellion of Pissuthnes and had him arrested. As a reward, Tissaphernes was appointed as satrap of Lydia and Caria, and commander in chief of the Persian army in Asia Minor. When Darius II ordered the collection of outstanding tribute from the Greek cities, he entered into an alliance with Sparta against Athens, which in 412 BC led to the conquest of the greater part of Ionia.
But Tissaphernes was unwilling to take action and tried to achieve his aim by astute and often perfidious negotiations. Alcibiades persuaded him that Persia's best policy was to keep the balance between Athens and Sparta, and rivalry with his neighbour Pharnabazus of Hellespontic Phrygia still further lessened his willingness to act against the Greeks. When, therefore, in 408 BC the king decided to actively support Sparta, Tissaphernes was removed as a general and his responsibilities were limited to the satrapy of Caria, with Lydia and the conduct of the war being entrusted to Cyrus the Younger.
On the death of Darius II in 404 BC, Artaxerxes II was crowned king of Persia. Tissaphernes, who found out about Cyrus the Younger's plan to assassinate his brother, informed the king about the conspiracy, who then had Cyrus imprisoned. But by the intercession of his mother Parysatis, Cyrus was pardoned and sent back to his satrapy. According to Plutarch, "his resentment for [his arrest] made him more eagerly desirous of the kingdom than before."
In the spring of 401 BC, Cyrus united all his forces into an army, which now included Xenophon's "Ten Thousand", and advanced from Sardis without announcing the object of his expedition. By dexterous management and promises of large rewards, he overcame the misgivings of the Greek troops over the length and danger of the war. A Spartan fleet of 35 triremes sent to Cilicia opened the passes of the Amanus into Syria and a Spartan detachment of 700 men under Cheirisophus was conveyed to Cyrus. However, Tissaphernes managed to warn Artaxerxes II and quickly gathered together an army. Cyrus advanced into Babylonia before he met with any opposition. In October 401 BC, the battle of Cunaxa ensued. Cyrus had 10,400 Greek hoplites (heavy-armed citizen-soldiers), 2,500 peltasts (light infantry) and an Asiatic army of approximately 10,000 under the command of Ariaeus.
Cyrus saw that the outcome depended on the fate of the king. He therefore wanted Clearchus of Sparta, the commander of the Greeks, to take the centre against Artaxerxes. Clearchus, out of arrogance, disobeyed. As a result, the left wing of the Persians under Tissaphernes was free to engage the rest of Cyrus' forces. Cyrus in the centre threw himself upon Artaxerxes but was slain. Tissaphernes claimed to have killed the rebel himself.
The Greek soldiers of Cyrus, once they heard about the news of his death, realised that they were in the middle of a massive empire with no provisions, no-one to finance them, and no reliable allies amongst the Persian nobles. They offered to make their Persian ally, Ariaeus, king, but he refused on the grounds that he was not of royal blood and so would not find enough support among the Persians to succeed. They then offered their services to Tissaphernes, but he refused. However, the Greeks refused to surrender to him.
Tissaphernes was left with a problem: he faced a large army of heavy troops that he could not defeat by frontal assault. He supplied them with food and, after a long wait, led them northwards for home, meanwhile detaching Ariaeus and his light troops from the Greeks. The senior Greek officers foolishly accepted an invitation from Tissaphernes to attend a feast. There they were made prisoners, taken before the king, and decapitated. As a reward for his loyalty, Artaxerxes gave Tissaphernes one of his own daughters in marriage and restored him as governor of Lydia and as the commander in chief of the Persian army in Asia Minor.
Later life and death
After returning to Asia Minor, Tissaphernes attacked the Greek cities to punish them for their allegiance to Cyrus. This led to a war with Sparta in 399 BC. Tissaphernes, who once again tried to rely on subtle diplomacy, was beaten by Agesilaus II on the Pactolus near Sardis in 395 BC. At last the Persian king yielded to the representations of Pharnabazus, strongly supported by the chiliarch (vizier) Tithraustes and by the queen-mother Parysatis, who hated Tissaphernes as the principal cause of the death of her favourite son Cyrus. Tithraustes was sent to execute Tissaphernes, who was lured to Ariaeus' residence in Colossae and slain in 395 BC.
Encyclopædia Iranica comments that:
|“||Tissaphernes has been described, on the one hand, as impetuous and forthright, on the other, as a liar and treacherous deceiver (to Xenophon, he seemed “the supreme example of faithlessness and oath-breaking in the Anabasis”). Nevertheless, as one scholar has noted, “it is only fair to him to say . . . that in an epoch when disloyalty was becoming the normal he remained the most loyal subject of the two Kings whom he served”. That Tissaphernes appeared to the Greeks as one of their most dangerous enemies and no doubt the model of an unscrupulous diplomat is not surprising; this bias has so deeply marked Greek traditions that it now seems nearly impossible to form a balanced judgment about him, especially as no Persian sources are available and the pertinent sections of the Lycian Xanthos stele are not yet understood.||”|
- J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (USA: Oxford University Press, 2006: ISBN 0-19-929668-5), p. 329.
- Plutarch. Ed. by A.H. Clough. "Artaxerxes," Plutarch's Lives. 1996. Project Gutenberg
- ČIΘRAFARNAH, Rüdiger Schmitt), Encyclopaedia Iranica
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Meyer, Eduard (1911). "Tissaphernes". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Schmitt, Rüdiger (1991). "ČIΘRAFARNAH". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition. Retrieved 20 December 2013.