Siege of Rhodes 88 B.C.

The siege of Rhodes of 88 B.C. was one of the first defeats suffered by Mithridates VI of Pontus in the early period of the First Mithridatic War against Rome. Having defeated an army under Nicomedes IV of Bithynia at the Amnias River, and an army under Manius Aquillius at Protopachium, Mithridates soon established his control over most of the Roman province of Asia. Soon the only major independent power left around the coast of Asia Minor was Rhodes. The island state had traditionally been a friend of both Mithridates and of Rome, and now decided to maintain the friendship with Rome, despite her temporary eclipse in the Aegean.

This inevitably meant that Mithridates would attack Rhodes, and the siege would be one of the last military engagements of the war in which he would command in person. The Rhodians were aware that Mithridates would be coming and so strengthened their fortifications and prepared for a siege.  

The attack on Rhodes probably came after Mithridates had sent his main fleet to attack Greece. As a result the attack on Rhodes was to be made in two waves, with warships in the first wave carrying part of the army and transport ships in the second with the main force.

The Rhodian Navy made a limited attempt to block the first wave, before withdrawing from the battle. The Rhodians then withdrew into their harbour, and while Mithridates waited for the rest of his army to arrive their fleet inflicted two minor defeats on his ships. When the transports finally left Caunus they were scattered by a storm, allowing the Rhodians to inflict serious damage on Mithridates' army.

Despite this Mithridates now had enough strength to attempt to carry out a night attack by land and sea, which ended in disaster. After that he decided to build a massive siege engine, in this case a flying bridge which was to be carried on two ships lashed together. This was to be raised against the wall using pulleys on the ship's masts to allow Mithridates's troops to storm the walls.

This siege engine, nicknamed the sambuca (probably after a triangular four-stringed instrument favoured by Rhodian musicians), caused great concern in the city, but before it could be used against Rhodes, the sambuca collapsed under its own weight. Some of the credit was later given to the goddess Isis, whose temple was to be the site of the assault. After the collapse of his siege engine Mithridates retreated back to the mainland, to avoid being trapped on Rhodes by winter storms.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 December 2008), Siege of Rhodes 88 B.C. , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_rhodes_88_BC.html

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