Our Young Folks' Plutarch - Rosalie Kaufman


Lucullus was descended from a Roman family of distinction, and at a very early age was so impressed with the advantages of oratory that he made up his mind to devote himself to that branch. As he grew older he became remarkable for his eloquence, and made speeches, both in Greek and Latin, which showed considerable ability.

He had a brother named Marcus, whom he loved so devotedly that he could not be prevailed upon to accept a public office unless he also had one. This brotherly affection pleased the Romans so much that, although Marcus was the younger, he and Lucullus were elected ædiles at the same time. Ædiles were magistrates who had charge of public buildings, streets, roads, games, and processions.

Lucullus was only a youth at the time of the Marian or Social War, yet Sylla, the consul under whom he served, had such a high opinion of his honesty and talents that he employed him in enterprises of great importance. Sylla showed still further confidence in Lucullus when he made his will and appointed him guardian of his son, and neither this nor any other trust was ever betrayed.

Lucullus had nothing to do with the misery Sylla and Marius caused in Italy, for during that whole period he was in Asia on business. Shortly after the death of Sylla he was chosen consul, with Marcus Cotta for his colleague. At that time it was proposed to begin the war against Mithridates again, and Lucullus was so anxious to command the Greek army that he left no stone unturned until he gained his point.

As soon as he got his appointment, therefore, he crossed over to Asia with his legion, and there met the rest of the troops that were to compose his army. Some of them had been badly disciplined, but Lucullus soon showed them what it was to have a real commander who would stand no trifling. While he was completing his arrangements, his colleague, Cotta, was so afraid of being outdone in the triumph of which he felt sure that he hurried on a battle; but he was defeated both by land and by sea, and nothing remained but for him to call on Lucullus for assistance. The soldiers did not wish their commander to go to Cotta, who, they said, had ruined himself by his own imprudence; but he told them that he would rather deliver one Roman out of the hands of the enemy than gain all the wealth the enemy had. He then marched against Mithridates with thirty thousand foot and twenty-five hundred horse soldiers.

Just as the challenge was accepted and the signal for battle given, there was a sudden explosion in the air, and an immense bright object, shaped like a barrel and of the color of melted silver, fell just between the two armies. Both were so affected by this wonderful occurrence that they parted without a single blow and retired to their camps. This took place in Phrygia.

Lucullus had been amazed at the size of the enemy's army, and, knowing that it would be impossible for them to get supplies enough for such myriads of men for any length of time, he caused his camp to be stocked with an abundance of provisions, and then resolved to wait.

Meanwhile, one dark, stormy night, Mithridates marched over to the country of the Cyzicenians, got there before daybreak, and posted himself upon Mount Adrastia. The Cyzicenians with Cotta's army had been beaten in the late battle, and had lost three thousand men and ten ships. As soon as Lucullus discovered that Mithridates had escaped, he followed, and posted his forces in the best places for cutting off the enemy's supplies. Then he called the soldiers together and said, "In a few days you shall gain a victory that shall not cost you one drop of blood." But the Cyzicenians, who were friendly to the Romans, were in a state of great alarm when they beheld Mithridates's troops in every direction, and wondered where Lucullus could be. They could see his camp plainly enough, but they had been told by the Persians that those were the Medes and Armenians, so they thought that there was no help for them with such an army on all sides. It was an immense relief, therefore, when a Roman made his way to the town and assured them that Lucullus was near. They could scarcely believe the good news at first, but when some soldiers arrived during the night they could no longer doubt.

Mithridates laid siege to Cyzicus, but Lucullus had so guarded the roads that the Persian could get no food for his soldiers, so he was obliged to lead them off. But Lucullus followed in a dreadful snow-storm, and the cold was so intense that many of his men perished. He overtook the enemy at last, however, slew a great number, and took fifteen thousand prisoners, besides six thousand horses and many camels. Mithridates then made his escape to the sea, leaving his generals to get off as best they could, but Lucullus followed again, and again caused great havoc. It is said that in that campaign the Persians lost nearly three hundred thousand men in all.

There was great rejoicing in Cyzicus when Lucullus entered, but he had no time to make a long stay there, for he had resolved to go to the Hellespont to gather a fleet and pursue Mithridates into Bithynia, where he hoped to find him. But the Persian king heard of this, and made all haste to reach Pontus before Lucullus could stop him. A violent storm destroyed so many of his ships that for several days the shore was covered with the wreck which the waves threw up, and the king himself was only saved by pirates, who, when his ship was going to pieces, took him on their little boat, and, after passing through great suffering and danger, landed him safe at Heraclea, in Pontus.

Then Lucullus was advised by his officers to let the war rest awhile, but to that he would not consent. He pushed on into Pontus, where one city after another surrendered, much to the dissatisfaction of the soldiers, who preferred to take them by storm and so secure the plunder. But Lucullus was a mild, merciful man, and always rejoiced when he could gain what he desired with little bloodshed. This ought to have made him a favorite with his soldiers, but it was not so, for he was less popular than many a more brutal general had been.

He was resolute, however, and, once having started in pursuit of Mithridates, he stopped at nothing until he had chased that monarch into Armenia, where he placed himself under the protection of Tigranes, his son-in-law, who was king of Armenia.

Then Lucullus turned his attention to the reforms that were much needed in the Greek cities of Asia. The inhabitants had been for many years so oppressed by bad laws that any change could be only an improvement for them, and they soon had reason to bless that which Lucullus brought about. Their taxes had been so heavy that the poor creatures had been forced in many cases to sell their own sons and daughters, as well as the ornaments in their temples, in order to pay them, and, after that was done, had become slaves to their creditors, by whom they had been treated with horrible cruelty. When Lucullus came to their relief, after all the misery they had endured, he made himself universally beloved, and by the end of four years he had managed so well as to have freed the cities from debt and restored estates to their original owners.

Meanwhile, Appius Clodius was sent by Lucullus to Armenia as an ambassador, but when he got there he was ordered to wait for Tigranes, who was then engaged in a war in Phœnicia. He wasted no time, for while he waited he won over to the Roman interest many princes who had submitted to Armenia out of pure necessity, and a number of cities that Tigranes had conquered sent to let Clodius know that they were friendly to Rome. He promised them all the aid Lucullus could give, but desired them to remain quiet for the time being.

Tigranes was one of the haughtiest kings in the world, because he had been prosperous so long that he thought nothing was beyond his reach. He had conquered so many nations that several kings were servants at his court, and four in particular ran before him as footmen when he rode on horseback. When he gave audience, these captive kings were obliged to stand by with clasped hands, which was a token that they had forever resigned their liberty and were now the humblest of slaves.

When Tigranes returned, Clodius was admitted to his presence, and, without appearing in the least awed by his splendor, told him plainly that he had come to demand Mithridates, whom Lucullus claimed for his triumph, and that if he refused to give him up war would be declared. Such bold speech astonished Tigranes, who for more than twenty years had been used to the most servile conduct on the part of those to whom he deigned to grant an interview. However, he merely replied, "I will not deliver up Mithridates, and if the Romans begin war, I am able to defend myself." He was displeased not only at the way in which Clodius had spoken, but at Lucullus's having addressed him in his letter merely as king, and not as king of kings; therefore, in his answer, he gave Lucullus no title at all. But he sent Appius some magnificent presents. They were declined; then more were offered, out of which Appius selected a goblet, and returned the rest.

It must not be supposed that the haughty Tigranes had been kind or considerate to the fallen monarch for whom he now proposed to fight; on the contrary, he had treated him with contempt and kept him a prisoner in a sickly country some distance away. Now, for the first time, he was called to court and treated with respect.

When Appius Clodius returned to Lucullus, who was at Ephesus, he found that general enjoying the peace and good laws he had established in the Grecian cities of Asia by treating the inhabitants to all sorts of shows, processions, and trials of skill between wrestlers and gladiators. But without loss of time he went back to Pontus, put himself at the head of his troops, and prepared for war with Tigranes.

He had a long way to march, and subdued several cities on the route, but at last he reached the river Euphrates. It was so swollen by recent heavy rains that Lucullus stood wondering how he could collect boats to form a bridge for the passage of his army. In the evening the water began to subside, and by morning the river had returned to its natural size, which was so unusual that the people of the country declared Lucullus must be more than mortal. His importance was increased by a favorable omen that appeared just after the army had crossed. A number of heifers, sacred to the goddess Diana in Persia, and used only for sacrifice, appeared on the banks of the river while the army was going over, and one of them, leaving the flock, went and stood by a rock which was considered sacred to the goddess, and hung its head when Lucullus approached, as though offering itself for a victim. That animal, as well as a bull, was sacrificed to the Euphrates, and then the army rested before proceeding.

The next day Lucullus marched through Sophene, without doing the least injury to those who offered no resistance. When his men wanted to stop and take a fort which was supposed to be full of treasure, he pointed to Mount Taurus in the distance, and said, "Yonder is the fort you are to take; as for these things, they will of course belong to the conqueror." And so the Roman army moved on, crossed the Tigris, and entered Armenia.

The first man who told Tigranes of the approach of the enemy was executed on the spot, and after that no one had the courage to announce bad news until it could no longer be kept secret. Then Mithrobarzanes, one of the king's favorites, ventured to tell him how near Lucullus was, and the reward he got was a small army of cavalry and foot-soldiers, with which he was ordered to take the Roman general alive and tread down his troops. He would have obeyed had he been able, for he fought bravely; but he was slain in the battle, his soldiers took to flight, and most of them were cut to pieces.

Then Tigranes retired to Mount Taurus, where he collected such a tremendous force that, as he viewed them, he turned proudly to those nearest him, and said, "My only fear is that I shall have Lucullus alone to fight, and not all the generals of Rome at once."

Lucullus, meanwhile, laid siege to Tigranocerta, the great city which the king had built, and when the grand Persian army came up he held a council of war. Some of his officers advised him to quit the siege and meet Tigranes with his whole army, while others thought it would be unsafe to leave so many enemies behind. Lucullus said both were right; so, dividing his forces, he left part to continue the siege under Muræna, while he led the other part to the battlefield.

He encamped on a large plain with a river in front of him, and his army looked so small as compared with that of the enemy that the Persian officers laughed at it, and cast lots for the spoils before the battle. Tigranes himself joined in the jeers of his officers. "If the Romans have come as ambassadors, they are too many; if as soldiers, they are too few," he said.

Next morning, at daybreak, Lucullus drew out his army, and as they marched in haste to a bend in the river, Tigranes thought they were retreating, and said to one of his generals, with a scornful smile, "Seest thou not, Taxiles, these invincible Romans taking to flight?" Taxiles answered, "Would indeed, O king, that some such piece of ill fortune might be yours; but the Romans do not, when going on a march, put on their best clothes or use bright shields and naked head-pieces, as now you see them; this is a preparation for war of men just ready to engage with their enemies."

While Taxiles was speaking, an eagle of the foremost legions moved to the right, by command of Lucullus, and the cohorts, according to their divisions and companies, formed in order and proceeded to pass over the river. Then Tigranes changed his tone, and, starting up as from a dream, exclaimed two or three times, "What! are these men coming upon us?" He then drew up his army in a hasty, disorderly manner, taking command of the main body himself, giving the left wing to the king of the Adiabenians, and the right to the king of the Medes.

As Lucullus was crossing the river, some of his officers bade him beware of that day, for it was an unlucky one to the Romans. "I will make it a happy day to the Romans," replied Lucullus. It was the sixth of October, and the anniversary of a defeat of the army.

Having thus spoken, Lucullus, armed with a breastplate of steel, formed of bright, shining scales, and wearing a fringed mantle, led on his men, sword in hand, to show them that the fight must be a close one. This was wise, because the Persians could only make use of their great, heavy weapons at a distance, and their armor was so unwieldy that unless they could use their pikes they had no means of defending themselves or attacking the enemy. Their legs and thighs alone were uncovered, and at those parts the Romans were ordered to deal their blows. But they had not much chance to do so, for with a cry of terror the Persians turned and fled, they and their horses, in heavy armor, falling upon the foot-soldiers and creating a panic. Their ranks were so thick and deep that they became entangled, wounded one another, and got trampled down, while multitudes were slain by the Romans, who followed them up and helped to increase the dreadful disorder.

Tigranes was among the first to fly, and when he met his son, who was sharing his misfortune, he took off his crown and bade him take it and save himself by another road if possible. Fearing to place it on his head, the young prince gave it in charge to one of his most faithful servants, who was afterwards taken prisoner by Lucullus. So that, besides killing nearly all the cavalry, and more than a hundred thousand foot-soldiers, the Romans secured a large number of captives and the crown of Tigranes. They lost only five men, and had one hundred wounded. Never was such a remarkable fight seen in the world, and one of the writers of the day said that the Romans were ashamed of themselves for having tried their arms against such a pitiful enemy.

Lucullus followed up his victory, took and burnt many of the royal palaces in Asia, and might have seized the kings themselves had they not fled like wild beasts and hidden themselves in the forests. Both Mithridates and Tigranes were so subdued that they never dared to make further resistance against the Roman army. Still, Lucullus could not derive all the advantage from his conquests that he ought to have done, for he was never a favorite with his troops, and after eight years of fighting they declared that they had had enough of hardship, and wanted to go home and enjoy their deserved repose.

Then the popular party in Rome, taking advantage of the complaints of the army, accused Lucullus of prolonging the war in order that he might lay up stores of wealth for himself, and at last succeeded in having him removed from command and Pompey made general in his stead. On account of this accusation many were opposed to allowing a triumph to Lucullus on his return to Rome, but some of the noblest statesmen used their influence to get this honor for him, because they thought he really deserved it. His procession was not as long as many others had been, but it made a splendid display of the arms and other warlike implements taken from the enemy. There were the cavalry captives, ten splendid chariots armed with sharp scythes and followed by sixty high officers of the Persian army. After these were drawn a hundred and ten war-vessels with brazen prows, preceding a massive gold statue of Mithridates six feet high, on which was his shield set with precious stones. Then came men carrying twenty large silver urns, gold cups, vases, arms, and a quantity of coin. These were followed by eight mules bearing golden couches, and fifty-six more laden with silver bullion. The procession closed with one hundred and seven other mules carrying two million seven hundred thousand drachmas in silver coin. A grand entertainment was provided for the whole city and all the neighboring villages besides.

Now the senate had hoped that Lucullus was going to support the Patrician party, which had suffered a good deal from the tyranny of Pompey, but they soon found their mistake, for he thought he had endured hardships enough, and had returned with the determination to pass the rest of his life in ease and luxury. He built for his own use superb villas near Naples and Tusculum, and had everything in such magnificent style that even the wealthiest men of the day were astonished. His gardens excelled those owned by any king of his time, and his houses were adorned with the most costly paintings and statuary that could be found. Lucullus was a man of learning and refinement, as was clearly shown by the splendid and costly library he collected. It was so complete that the learned men of the time never lost an opportunity to visit it, and they were always made welcome by the owner.

Like most people who become suddenly rich, Lucullus was fond of display. His beds were covered with costly quilts, his side-boards groaned under the weight of silver and gold drinking-vessels and dishes set with precious stones, and the variety and cooking of the provisions that were served to him daily were marvellous. When he entertained his friends, the most renowned musicians and comedians were engaged to perform for them, at an enormous expense.

Once, when some Grecian travellers were in Rome, they were invited to the house of Lucullus a number of times, but at last refused to go, because they feared he was incurring too great an expense for their entertainment. When Lucullus heard their excuse, he smiled, and said, "It is true, my friends, that some of the preparations are made for you, but the greatest part is for Lucullus."

He prided himself upon his extravagance, and nothing gave him more pleasure than to have it spoken of. Quite a moderate repast was set before him one evening when he chanced to dine alone; thereupon he summoned his chief cook and took him to task for it. "I thought that, as there were to be no guests, my master would not want an expensive supper," said the man, by way of apology. "What!" exclaimed Lucullus, "didst thou not know that this evening Lucullus sups with Lucullus?"

On entering the Forum, one day, he met Cicero, who stood conversing with Pompey. They were intimate friends of his, and, after saluting him familiarly, asked, "Are you at leisure to receive us at your house?" "Nothing could give me greater pleasure; come at once," answered Lucullus. "No, we will wait on you this evening," said Cicero, "on condition that you make no great preparations, but give us only what is provided for yourself." Lucullus objected at first, but, as they insisted, he turned to a servant who accompanied him and said, "I shall sup to-night in the Apollo." The friends did not suspect the stratagem, but this is what it meant: each dining-room had its own china and plate, as well as style of entertainment; the Apollo was the most magnificent of them all, and when the servants received an order to serve a meal there they knew that it was to cost no less than fifty thousand drachmas, and to consist of the very best of everything. Knowing only that Lucullus had merely named the dining-room, and not aware of the orders connected with it, Cicero and Pompey were amazed at the splendor of the repast that was laid before them a few hours later.

And so Lucullus lived on, taking no part whatever in public affairs, until, as he grew old, he lost his mind. Then the brother to whom he had always been devotedly attached took care of him and his estates. He died in the sixty-seventh year of his age, much regretted by the people, who attended his funeral procession in great numbers.