Cornelius Nepos : Life of Eumenes

Translated by J.C. Rolfe (1929). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.


XVII.   Agesilaus   


  [1] L   Eumenes of Cardia. ** If this man's merit had been attended by equal good fortune, he would not, it is true, have turned out greater (for we measure a man's greatness by his merit and not by his fortune), but he would have been much more famous and even more honoured. 2 For his lifetime fell in the period when the Macedonians were at the height of their power, and living as he did in their country, it was greatly to his disadvantage that he was a native of a foreign state; for he lacked nothing except noble descent. ** 3 Although he was of the highest rank in his own country, yet the Macedonians were indignant that he was sometimes preferred to them; but they were obliged to put up with it, since he excelled them all in diligence, in watchfulness and in endurance, as well as in skill and mental alertness.   

  4 Eumenes, when very young, became the friend of Philip, son of Amyntas, and soon grew very intimate with the king, being conspicuous even in his youth for his high character. 5 Therefore Philip kept him near his person, in the capacity of secretary, a position much more highly honoured among the Greeks than with the Romans. With us, indeed, scribes are considered hirelings, as in fact they are; in Greece, on the contrary, no one is accepted for such a position unless he is of respectable family and of proven fidelity and ability, since he is necessarily acquainted with all his superior's plans. ** 6 This position of friendship with Philip Eumenes held for seven years. When Philip was assassinated, he held the same rank with Alexander for thirteen years. During the latter part of that time ** he commanded one of the two corps of cavalry known as 'The Band of Comrades.' Moreover, he was always asked for his advice by both kings and given a share in all their affairs.   

  [2] L   When Alexander died at Babylon, his provinces were divided among his friends and the supreme power was committed to the care of Perdiccas, to whom Alexander on his death-bed had given his ring. 2 From this act of Alexander's all had inferred that he had entrusted the rule to Perdiccas until his own children should come of age; for Craterus and Antipater were not present, who obviously had better claims than Perdiccas; Hephaestion was dead, whom Alexander esteemed most of all, as could readily be seen. At that time Cappadocia was given to Eumenes, or rather, promised to him, since it was then in possession of the enemy. 3 Perdiccas had made every effort to win his friendship, realising the man's great loyalty and ability, and had no doubt that, if he should gain his regard, Eumenes would be very useful to him in carrying out his plans; for it was his design to do what almost all who hold great power aspire to, namely, seize the shares of all the others and unite them. 4 But he was not the only one who had this design, for it was entertained by all the rest who had been friends of Alexander. First, Leonnatus proposed to usurp Macedonia, and tried by many lavish promises to induce Eumenes to desert Perdiccas and form an alliance with him. 5 Failing in that, Leonnatus tried to kill Eumenes, and would have succeeded if his intended victim had not eluded his guards by night and made his escape.  

  [3] L   Meanwhile those notorious wars of extermination broke out which followed the death of Alexander, and all united in an attack upon Perdiccas, to rid themselves of him. Although Eumenes saw the weakness of his friend's position, in being obliged to resist all the others single-handed, yet he did not desert him nor desire safety at the expense of loyalty. 2 Perdiccas had made him governor of the part of Asia lying between the Taurus mountains and the Hellespont and had left him to face his European opponents alone; he himself had gone to Egypt, to war against Ptolemy. 3 The troops of Eumenes were neither numerous nor strong, since they had been enrolled not long before and lacked training; moreover, it was said that Antipater and Craterus, two men eminent both for their renown and their military experience, had crossed the Hellespont with a great army of Macedonians. In those days the Macedonian soldiers had the reputation that the Romans now enjoy, 4 since those have always been regarded as of the greatest valour who rule the whole world, and Eumenes understood that if his troops knew against whom they were being led, they would not only refuse to go, but immediately on hearing the news would melt away.   

  5 It therefore seemed wisest to lead the soldiers over by-ways, where they could not learn the truth, and make them believe that they were marching against some barbarian tribe or other. 6 And so well did Eumenes carry out this plan, that his army was already drawn up and had begun the battle before the soldiers knew with whom they were to fight. He also, by choosing his ground in advance of the enemy, made the brunt of the battle fall on his cavalry, in which he was the stronger, rather than on the infantry, in which he was inferior.   

  [4] L   They engaged for a greater part of a day in a fierce struggle, in which Craterus fell, the leader of the enemy, as well as Neoptolemus, who was second in command. With the latter Eumenes fought hand to hand. 2 When the two had grappled and had fallen from their horses to the ground, it could easily be seen that they were personal enemies, and that their contest was one of the spirit even more than of body; for they could not be separated until one of the two had been killed. From his opponent Eumenes suffered several wounds, but he did not on that account leave the field, but attacked the enemy with renewed vigour. 3 Then, after the cavalry had been routed, their leader Craterus killed, and many prisoners taken besides, including men of very high rank, the enemy's infantry was decoyed into a position from which it could not escape without the consent of Eumenes, and sued for a truce. Having obtained it, they did not keep faith, but returned as soon as possible to Antipater.   

  4 Eumenes tried to cure Craterus, who had been carried off the field still living; when that proved impossible, bearing in mind the high position of the deceased and their former friendship (for the two had been intimate during the lifetime of Alexander) he gave him a funeral with great ceremony and sent his ashes to his wife and children in Macedonia.   

  [5] L   While these events were taking place at the Hellespont, Perdiccas was slain near the river Nile by Seleucus and Antigenes, and the supreme power passed to Antipater. Then those who had not sided with the new ruler were condemned to death in their absence by vote of his army, including Eumenes. He, although the blow was a heavy one, did not succumb to it, but continued none the less to carry on the war; but his slender resources, although they did not break his high spirit, nevertheless impaired it. 2 Antigonus pursued him, but although he had an abundance of troops of every kind and often harassed Eumenes on the march, he never succeeded in engaging him in battle except in places where a few could resist great numbers. 3 At last, however, though he could not be taken off his guard by strategy, Eumenes was surrounded by superior numbers. Yet he made his escape with the loss of many of his men, and took refuge in a fortified place in Phrygia, called Nora.   

  4 Being besieged there and fearing that by remaining in one place he might ruin the horses of his army, because there was no room for exercising them, Eumenes hit upon a clever device by which an animal standing in one place might be warmed and exercised, so that it would have a better appetite and not lose its bodily activity. 5 He drew up its head ** with a thong so high that it could not quite touch the ground with its forefeet, and then forced it by blows of a whip to bound and kick out behind, an exercise which produced no less sweat than running on a racecourse. 6 The result was that, to the surprise of all, the animals were led out of the fortress after a siege of several months in as good condition as if he had kept them in pasture. 7 During this blockade, as often as he wished, he set fire to some part of the works and fortifications of Antigonus and threw down others. Furthermore, he remained in the same place as long as the winter lasted, because he could not camp in the open. When spring drew near, pretending a surrender, he outwitted Antigonus' officers while the terms were under discussion, and made his escape without the loss of a man.   

  [6] L   To Eumenes, when he was in Asia, Olympias, the mother of Alexander, had sent a letter and messengers, to ask his advice as to coming to Macedonia to claim the throne (for she was then living in Epirus) and to make herself ruler there. 2 He advised her above all things to make no move, but to wait until Alexander's son ** gained the throne; but if she was strongly drawn towards Macedonia, to forget all her wrongs and not exercise her power with too great severity against anyone. 3 She adopted neither of these recommendations; for she proceeded to Macedonia and conducted herself there most cruelly. Then she besought Eumenes, who was far away, not to allow the bitter enemies of Philip's house and family to destroy his stock as well, but to bear aid to the children of Alexander. 4 If he would grant her prayer, she said, he must equip armies and lead them to her assistance as soon as possible. In order to make that easier, she had sent letters to all the governors who had remained loyal, instructing them to obey him and follow his directions. 5 Deeply moved by these communications, Eumenes thought it better, if such were Fortune's will, to lose his life in requiting kindnesses than save it by ingratitude.   

  [7] L   Accordingly, he mustered his forces and prepared to make war upon Antigonus. Since he had with him a number of Macedonian nobles, including Peucestes, formerly Alexander's body-guard ** and then governor of Persia, and Antigenes, commander of the Macedonian phalanx, he feared ill-feeling (which after all he could not escape) if he, a foreigner, should hold the chief command rather than one of the Macedonians, ** of whom there were very many there. 2 He therefore set up a tent at the army headquarters in the name of Alexander, and gave orders that there should be placed in it the golden throne with the sceptre and diadem, and that all should meet there daily, in order to make it the place where matters of highest moment were discussed. For he believed that he would arouse less jealousy if he seemed to carry on the war with the mere appearance of leadership, and pretended to act in the name of Alexander. 3 And so it turned out; for since they met and held council, not at the headquarters of Eumenes, but at those of Alexander, Eumenes remained to a certain extent in the background, while in fact everything was done by his direction alone.   

  [8] L   He fought with Antigonus at Paraetacae, not in order of battle, but while on the march, and having worsted him, compelled him to return to Media to pass the winter. He for his part in the neighbouring region of Persia distributed the winter quarters of his soldiers, not according to his own wishes, but as their desires dictated. 2 For that famous phalanx of Alexander the Great, which had overrun Asia and conquered the Persians, after a long career of glory as well as of licence claimed the right to command its leaders instead of obeying them, even as our veterans do today. And so there is danger that our soldiers may do what the Macedonians did, and ruin everything by their licence and lawlessness, their friends as well as their enemies. 3 For if anyone should read the history of those veterans of old, he would recognise a parallel in our own, and decide that the only difference is one of time. But let me return to those of former days. They had chosen their winter quarters with an eye rather to their own pleasure than to the requirements of war, and were widely separated. 4 When Antigonus learned of this, knowing that he was no match for his opponents when they were on their guard, he decided to resort to some new plan.   

  There were two roads leading from Media, where he was wintering, to the winter quarters of the enemy. 5 The shorter of these was through desert regions, which because of lack of water were uninhabited, but it was a journey of only about ten days; the other, however, which everyone used, was a circuitous route of twice that length, but rich in supplies and abounding in all kinds of commodities. 6 If he marched by the latter road, he knew that his opponents would be informed of his coming before he had gone a third part of the way; but if he made a quick march through the desert, he hoped to surprise the enemy and rout him. 7 With that end in view, he ordered the greatest possible number of bladders as well as leathern bags to be procured, then forage, and finally cooked food for ten days, wishing to make the fewest possible camp-fires.. He concealed his proposed route from everyone. Thus prepared, he set out by the road which he had selected.   

  [9] L   He had covered nearly half the distance, when the smoke from his camp ** led Eumenes to suspect that the enemy were approaching. He held a meeting with his generals; they deliberated as to what should be done. It was evident to all that their own troops could not be assembled quickly enough to meet the arrival of Antigonus. 2 At this juncture, when all were in a panic and believed that they were lost, Eumenes said that if they would act quickly and obey his orders, which they had not done before, he would save the day. For whereas the enemy had but five days' journey left, he would contrive to delay them at least as many days longer; therefore his officers must go about and each collect his own troops.   

  3 Now, to check the speed of Antigonus he devised the following plan. He sent trustworthy men to the foot of the mountains which crossed the enemy's line of march, with orders to light great fires in the early part of the night over the widest possible space and let them die down in the second watch. 4 In the third watch they must let them nearly go out, and thus, by imitating what was usual in a camp, lead the enemy to suspect that Eumenes was encamped there, and that their coming had been reported ; and they must do the same on the following night. 5 Those to whom these orders had been given executed them to the letter. Antigonus saw the fires at nightfall; he believed that his coming was known and that his foes had massed their forces there to meet him. 6 He altered his plan, and since he thought that he could not attack them unawares, he changed his course and chose the longer detour where supplies were plentiful, halting where he was for one day to rest his men and refresh his horses, ** in order to fight with his army in better condition.    

  [10] L   Thus it was that Eumenes outwitted a crafty general and checked his rapid advance, but it did not profit him greatly; 2 for through the jealousy of his fellow-generals and the treachery of the Macedonian veterans, although he was victorious in the  battle, he was betrayed into the hands of Antigonus. And yet the army had on three separate occasions before that sworn to defend him and never desert him. But some of them were so ill-disposed towards true worth, that they preferred to break their oath rather than not to ruin him.   

  3 Yet after all, Antigonus would have saved him, although Eumenes had been his bitter enemy, if his associates would have consented, knowing as he did that no one could render him greater assistance in the crisis that all now perceived to be imminent. For Antigonus was menaced by Seleucus, Lysimachus and Ptolemy, men already possessed of formidable power, with whom he must fight for the supremacy. 4 But his associates would not consent, because they saw that if he should be reconciled with Eumenes, they would all be of small account in comparison with that great man. And besides, Antigonus himself was so incensed that he could not be appeased except by great hope of the greatest advantages.   

  [11] L   Therefore, when he had put Eumenes in prison, and the commander of the guards had asked how he wished him to be guarded, Antigonus replied: "Like the fiercest of lions or the most savage of elephants." For he had not yet made up his mind whether to spare his life or not. 2 Now, Eumenes was visited by two classes of men, those who because of hatred wished to feast their eyes on his misfortune, and those who because of long-standing friendship desired to talk with him and console him; there were also many who were eager to see how he looked, what manner of man it was that they had feared so long and so mightily, that on his downfall had depended their hope of victory.   

  3 But Eumenes, after having been in prison for some time, said to Onomarchus, who held the chief command of the guards, that he was surprised that he had been thus confined for three full days; that it was not in accordance with Antigonus' usual wisdom thus to mistreat a defeated enemy; why did he not bid him be executed or set free ? 4 Since it seemed to Onomarchus that this remark was over-arrogant, he retorted: "Well, if that was your feeling, why did you not die in battle rather than fall into the hands of your enemy? " 5 To which Eumenes answered: "Would that what you say had happened; but the reason that it did not is because I have never encountered a foeman stronger than myself; for I have never joined battle with anyone that he did not yield to me." And that was true, since it was not the enemy's valour, but a friend's treachery, that undid him ** . . . for he had an imposing appearance, powers of endurance that enabled him to bear hardship, and a graceful figure rather than great size of body.   

  [12] L   Since Antigonus did not dare to decide the fate of his enemy on his own responsibility, he referred the matter to a council. In that assembly all were at first disturbed, wondering at the delay in executing a man from whom they had suffered so much during so many years, that they had often been reduced to despair, and who had slain their greatest generals; 2 in short, the only man who, so long as he lived, could threaten their peace of mind, and whose death would relieve them from all trouble. Finally, they asked, if Antigonus spared him, on what friends could he rely ? For, they said, they would not remain in his service in company with Eumenes. 3 Antigonus, after learning the decision of the council, nevertheless allowed himself a period of six days for reflection. But then, beginning to fear the outbreak of a revolt in the army, he forbade anyone to have access to the prisoner, and gave orders that he should be deprived of his daily food; for he declared that he would not do violence to a man who had once been his friend. 4 However, Eumenes had not suffered hunger for more than two days when, as they were moving camp, he was strangled by his guards without the knowledge of Antigonus.   

  [13] L   Thus it was that Eumenes at the age of forty-five, having from his twentieth year served Philip, as I said above, having held the same position with Alexander for thirteen years, and having during that time commanded a corps of cavalry for a year; having been, after the death of Alexander the Great, at the head of an army and either defeated or slain the greatest generals, fell victim, not to the valour of Antigonus, but to the false witness of the Macedonians, and ended his life as I have described. 2 How high he stood in the estimation of all those who after the death of Alexander the Great assumed the title of king may most easily be judged from the fact that while Eumenes lived no one was called king, but only prefect. 3 But after his death those same men at once assumed the state and name of king, and no one, as all had professed in the beginning, attempted to maintain that he was keeping the throne for the children of Alexander, but after getting rid of their only champion, the rivals disclosed their real designs. The leaders in that crime were Antigonus, Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus and Cassander.   

4 Antigonus, however, sent the body of Eumenes to his relatives for burial. They gave him a funeral worthy of a soldier and an eminent man, which was attended by all the army; and they had his ashes taken to his mother, wife and children in Cappadocia. 

XIX.   Phocion →



1.   A different person, of course, from Eumenes of Pergamum, mentioned in xxiii. 11.   

2.   That is, from a noble Macedonian family.   

3.   This applies only to such exceptional positions as that of Eumenes. There were similar positions in Rome; thus Horace was offered the post of secretary to the Emperor Augustus (Suet. Vit. Hor.).   

4.   That is, after 325 B.C. 

5.   That is, the front part of its body.

6.   Namely, Alexander, son of Roxane.  

7.   The body-guard of Alexander was an official of high rank. 

8.    "The others, of the (that is, 'who were') Macedonians" ; Eumenes was not a Macedonian.   

9.   The soldiers, because of the cold, disobeyed Antiochus and built fires at night; it was the light from these, rather than the smoke, that betrayed him.   

10.   For iumenta in this sense cf. 5. 4.   

11.   A lacuna after falsum was inferred by Buchner.   

XIX.   Phocion →

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