Isaurians: Diodoros on their bravery and noble death (mid-first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Isaurians: Diodoros on their bravery and noble death (mid-first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 25, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=18614.

Ancient author: Diodoros (ca. 36 BCE), Library of History 18.22 (link).

Comments: In the context of discussing incidents during the time of the successors (Diadochi) of Alexander of Macedon), Diodoros describes the siege of the city of the Isaurians in Pisidia (ca. 322 BCE). Here he portrays the Isaurians as brave warriors, having them prefer a noble death for themselves and their families over the humiliation of defeat. Ammianus Marcellinus’ much later passage about the Isaurians likewise emphasizes their war-like character, but he spins that negatively in casting them as bandits (link).

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[For Diodoros’ preceding discussion of Chaldeans, go to this link.]

(18.22) Now when Perdikkas [Macedonian military general] and king Philip [III Arrhidaeus of Macedon] had defeated Ariarathes [Persian satrap of Cappadocia] and delivered his satrapy to Eumenes,​74 they departed from Cappadocia [ca. 322 BCE]. After arriving in Pisidia, they decided to destroy its two cities, that of the Larandians and that of the Isaurians. This was because, while Alexander was still alive, these cities had put to death Balakros the son of Nikanor, who had been appointed general and satrap. Now the city of the Larandians they took by assault, and after killing the men of fighting age and enslaving the rest of the population, destroyed the city.

The city of the Isaurians, however, was strongly fortified and large and moreover was filled with brave warriors. So when they had besieged it vigorously for two days and had lost many of their own men, they withdrew, because the inhabitants, who were well provided with missiles and other things needed for withstanding a siege and were enduring the dreadful ordeal with desperate courage in their hearts, were readily giving their lives to preserve their freedom.

On the third day, when many had been killed and the walls had few defenders because of the lack of men, the citizens performed a heroic and memorable deed. Seeing that the punishment that hung over them could not be averted, and not having a force that would be adequate to repel the enemy, they determined not to surrender the city and place their fate in the hands of the enemy, since in that way their punishment combined with terrible acts of violence were certain. But at night all with one accord, seeking the noble (eugenē) kind of death, shut up their children, wives, and parents in their houses, and set the houses on fire, choosing by means of the fire a common death and burial. As the blaze suddenly flared up, the Isaurians cast into the fire their goods and everything that could be of use to the victors.

Perdikkas and his officers, astounded at what was taking place, stationed their troops around the city and made a strong effort to break into the city on all sides. When at this point the inhabitants defended themselves from the walls and struck down many of the Macedonians, Perdikkas was even more astonished and sought the reason why men who had given their homes and all else to the flames should be so intent upon defending the walls. Finally, Perdikkas and the Macedonians withdrew from the city. The Isaurians, throwing themselves into the fire, found burial in their homes along with their families.​ When the night was over, Perdikkas gave the city to his soldiers for plunder. After they had put out the fire, the soldiers found an abundance of silver and gold, as was natural in a city that had been prosperous for a great many years.

[For Diodoros’ subsequent discussion of Arabians and Nabateans, go to this link.]

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Source of translation: R.M. Geer, Diodorus Sicilus: Library of History, volume 9, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1947), public domain (copyright not renewed), adapted by Harland.

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