Pharnabazus, fl.413-373

Pharnabazus (c.413-373 BC) was a successful Persian military commander who fought against the Greeks and Egyptians during the reigns of Darius II and Artaxerxes II.

Pharnabazus was the hereditary satrap of Dascylium in Asia Minor, ruling Hellespontine Phrygia. He succeeded his father to the post in about 413. His family had ruled the area for around 90 years by the time Pharnabazus inherited the satrapy.

In 413 Persia entered the Great Peloponnese War, supporting Sparta against Athens. Pharnabazus operated in support of the Spartans in the Hellespont. At first his main role was the help the Spartans avoid the worst consequences of a series of naval defeats. In 411 he sent his cavalry into the sea to help rescue the Spartan survivors of their defeat at Abydos. In 410 he led the Persian contingent during successful siege of the Athenian-held city of Cyzicus, but then had to help the Spartan survivors of their defeat at sea in the battle of Cyzicus. The Spartans were in a rare state of despair after this battle, as revealed in a letter from their second-in-command 'Timbers gone, Mindarus gone, men starving, we know not what to do'. Pharnabazus revived their spirits, providing them with funds to repair some of the damage. This didn't prevent a Spartan army raiding his satrapy during the winter of 410/9 and defeating him in battle.

At first he had been working alongside Tissaphernes, a fellow satrap and rival, but in 407 Tissaphernes was replaced by Cyrus the Younger, Darius's younger son. After this the war effort was better coordinated. The Persian support allowed the Spartans to come back from their defeats, and eventually they destroyed the last Athenian fleet at Aegospotami in 405 BC, effectively winning the war.

In 404 Pharnabazus was probably responsible for the death of the Athenian leader Alcibiades, either because of Spartan pressure, or because he learnt that Alcibiades was going to warn Artaxerxes that his brother Cyrus was planning to revolt, and Pharabazus wanted to take the credit for bringing that news to court. If the second version is true Pharnabazus waited too long, and his local rival Tissaphernes brought the new to court just in time to allow Artaxerxes to raise and army and defeat his brother at Cunaxa.

In 400 war broke out between Sparta and Persia, after the Spartans supported the rebel Cyrus the Younger. At first the Spartans concentrated their efforts against the satrap Tissaphernes, but their first commander was replaced. The new commander, Dercylidas, arranged a truce with Tissaphernes and spent the next two campaigning seasons operating against Pharnabazus. Dercylidas had a grudge against Pharnabazus that came from the period when he had been serving as harmost of Abydos under Lysander, and had been forced to stand guard after Pharnabazus complained about some of his actions. This didn't stop the campaign from being punctuated by truces between Pharnabazus and Dercylidas.

In 397 the Spartan government ordered Dercylidas to move south to campaign in Caria. Tissaphernes have been made overall commander in Asia Minor, and he was able to summon Pharnabazus and his army to held defeat the Spartans. The combined Persian armies and the Greeks came face to face on the road to Ephesus, and a battle seemed likely. Pharnabazus wanted to fight, but Tissaphernes didn't want to risk another defeat at the hands of Greek hoplites, and peace negotiations began. The Spartans demanded that the Persians leave the Greek cities alone. The two satraps demanded that the Spartans leave Asia Minor. A truce was arranged while the two sides considered these demands. Pharbabazus decided to take his case to Susa, where he was able to convince Artaxerxes II to construct a new fleet.

When the news reached Sparta that the Persians were preparing 300 triremes in Phoenicia the peace talks ended, and early in 396 a new Spartan army under King Agesilaus crossed to Asia Minor. His first action was to arrange a truce with Tissaphernes. When this ended he pretended that he was planned to attack Caria, but then turned north and raided Pharnbazus's lands instead.

In 395 Agesilaus inflicted a damaging defeat on Tissaphernes at Sardis. The two men then agreed to a truce, and the Spartans moved to attack Pharnabazus. Soon afterwards Tissaphernes was killed on the orders of Artaxerxes. In the meantime Pharnabazus was the victim of a fresh attack. He had already lost the support of Spithridates, one of his noblemen. He now lost control of Mysia, in the north-west of his province, and the Spartans also won over the ruler of Paphlagonia. Pharnabazus was driven out of his own capital at Dascylium, and his camp was successfully plundered by some of Agesilaus's men. However this was the low point of the war for Pharnbazus. In the aftermath of this victory the Spartans fell out with their allies over the division of the plunder. Spithridates and the Paphlagonians both changed sides again, although tellingly they sided with the new ruler at Sardis, one Ariaeus. In the spring of the next year Agesilaus was forced to return to Greece after Lysander was killed in the first major battle of the Corinthian War, at Haliartus, lifting the pressure on Pharnabazus.

In 394 command of the Persian fleet was shared between Pharnabazus and the Athenian Conon, after Conon managed to convince Artaxerxes to provide enough money to support it. The new naval policy paid off when the Persian fleet, under their joint command, destroyed the Spartan fleet at Cnidus (394), ending Spartan naval power. Conon commanded the first line of the Persian fleet, made up of Greek ships, and was responsible for seeing off an initial Spartan threat, but Pharnabazus with his Phoenician and Cilician ships played a part in the final victory. In the aftermath of their victory Pharnabazus and Conon cruised around the coast of Asia Minor, where a whole series of cities changed sides (possibly because of the poor quality of Spartan rule over the previous few years). Sparta's brief period of naval domination was over.

In 393 Pharnabazus and Conon appeared in Greek waters, raiding along the coast of the Peloponnese. They captured the island of Cythera, off the southern tip of the peninsula, to use as a naval base, and then visited the Greek allies at the Isthmus of Corinth and Athens. At Athens they helped fund the rebuilding of the walls of Piraeus and the Long Walls linking the city to the port. Persian money also allowed Corinth to raise a fleet with which she temporarily gained control of the Gulf of Corinth.

In 388 Persia changed sides, supporting Sparta against the revived power of Athens, helping to produce the King's Peace (387/6). Pharnabazus was now too closely connected to the anti-Spartan policy and was moved from Asia Minor. In c.387/6 Xenophon reports that he had moved 'up country' to marry a daughter of Artaxerxes II.

Pharnabazus was given the task of trying to restore Persian control over Egypt but this time he was less successful. He led two invasions of Egypt, in 385 and 373, but both ended in failure. The second attack came closest to success, but Pharnabazus argued with Iphicrates, the commander of his Greek troops and was forced to retreat by an inundation of the Nile.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (8 January 2016), Pharnabazus, fl.413-373 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_pharnabazus.html

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us -  Subscribe in a reader - Join our Google Group - Cookies